Tag Archive | park

On Not-So-Golden Pond

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As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, our local park is not exactly the most idyllic place to view wildlife, but it’s better than nothing, especially if I want to conserve a limited weekly allotment of gas or don’t particularly want to drive for at least half an hour before reaching the next nearest sizeable body of water.

There are times when I see more wildlife in my garden than I do at the park but one thing, at least during the summer months, is certain; there is always a good chance that I’ll see a heron, egret or cormorant at the pond that is just a five, or on a slow day, ten minute walk from our house. It never ceases to surprise me that these birds would choose this rather dubious setting to while away their daylight hours when, if they traveled just a few miles further, they could settle for something a little more up-market. But for some inexplicable reason they have made our park their home.
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You wouldn’t think there would be enough food there to sustain even one hungry heron but sure enough, when I arrive this morning there are three great blue heron, two cormorants and an egret not to mention numerous ducks, geese and sea gulls, all diving into or trawling about in the water, looking for some tasty morsel.

The first order of business is to find somewhere fairly close to the birds, with the sun behind me and where I’m not in danger of attack from the aggressive red-wing blackbirds that patrol the few trees that reach down to the water’s edge. I can hear their tinny shrill as I approach and note with some satisfaction that they are taking out their animosity on a heron that has waded too close to their territory. Better him than me! I’ll stay clear of that area.
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I manage to creep down close to the tiny, almost non-existent island where another heron is sunning himself on a fallen tree limb. Up above him, miraculously clinging to a branch with webbed feet that seem ill-adapted for such a purpose, a cormorant surveys the pond (I’m still not sure what constitutes the difference between a lake and a pond just as I’m uncertain what qualifies a town to be a town and not a village.)
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Fortunately the weather has cooled off from its recent 80 and 90 degree temperatures and there is a slight breeze blowing across the water making it slightly less noisome as the little waves lap gently over plastic bags, old socks and empty soda cans. What on earth do the birds find to eat in this murky brown liquid. It beats me how they can even see what’s in there.

I gaze down into the turbid waters and get quite excited when I think I see a fish which upon further inspection ends up being nothing more than a stick bobbing about. On the other hand, a dark blob that I take to be another uninteresting piece of flotsam turns out to be a turtle trying to haul himself out of the soup and onto a nearby rock, until he sees me fumbling about with the camera and plops back from whence he came. His place is taken by a dragonfly who doesn’t seem to mind having its picture taken.
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The cormorant suddenly drops down into the water but comes up empty and flaps away to the other side of the pond while the heron, feeling that he has somehow had the last laugh, opens his beak and lets out a hoarse cry.
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I’d like to get comfortable and sit down on the grass but it’s difficult to find a spot that isn’t littered with goose droppings and, looking about me, I can see that there are other items besides, that I would not care to sit beside; a fish skeleton for one thing.
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Well, maybe it’s time to go home anyway. The planes from O’Hare Airport are beginning to roar overhead and the traffic is starting to hum along the nearby roadway. I’ll stop by again sometime to get another look at the birds before they fly off for the winter but for now I’ll leave today’s inhabitants of the pond to enjoy the rest of the day.
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It’s Not Pretty…But It’s Ours

The park in our neighborhood began its life as a water retention basin and still basically serves that purpose. The biking/walking path that runs around the perimeter is 0.75 miles long which gives you some idea how much of an area the park covers.   I suppose, as far as retention basins are concerned, this one could be considered fairly large for a village of this size and they have gone some way toward utilizing the area to its best advantage.

The path is populated mostly by walkers and joggers, although there are sometimes people on roller blades and bicycles. The local school uses it to run the kids around as part of their gym class, also giving them lessons in agility as they jump and swerve to avoid the goose poop.

There are tennis courts, a shelter and a children’s playground situated at the top of the basin and at the bottom is a lake with a fountain that I assume is there for aeration purposes. Apart from acting as a year-round  catch-all for the rainwater that runs off the surrounding area, the lake also plays host to an annual fishing contest run by the park district, although I haven’t seen too many fish in the water lately, other than the dead ones that can occasionally be found floating on the surface.

The water, brown and downright stinky especially in high summer, was never by any stretch of the imagination crystal clear, which is in itself rather ironic given the name of the park, but there was a time when, especially in the early evening, you could see fish leaping out of the water by their dozens.  The only reason they’d leap out now is to avoid the detritus that clings to the water’s edge. Garbage clean-up is evidently only done sporadically especially in those areas that are not directly involved in the grass-cutting process.

The village can do little to prevent the erosion of the shoreline, which I suppose is understandable since, when the rains prove particularly heavy and prolonged, the whole area floods. But it is particularly unfortunate with regard to the island in the middle of the lake, at one time large enough to support several pairs of nesting waterfowl, but which has now dwindled almost into oblivion, consigning almost all the plant life thereon to the mercy of the water.

There also used to be a bank of wild flowers and small trees that was allowed to grow along the upper slopes of one side of the basin. It was always such a pleasure to see them as I walked around the track but for some reason they’ve decided to do away with that feature and have mowed it flat along with the rest of the lower area which is mostly covered with grass, unless we have a sustained amount of flooding when it turns into a muddy mess.

On one occasion, when the weather had been more than excessively wet, the flood waters filled the entire basin and surged across the sidewalk and over the road, threatening the houses on the other side of the street, the only time I ever remember this happening. A group of us got together and helped stack sandbags along the length of the park in order to slow the flow of water. When I look at the park now it absolutely amazes me how much water there must have been to fill that area. When the waters finally receded they left behind a lot of stranded fish, garbage and one little baby bunny that I found that hadn’t been able to make it out of the basin in time. It took a long time for the park to get back to anything like its normal state.

It also suffered an outbreak of avian botulism one summer.  It doesn’t matter how many signs you put up asking people not to feed the ducks & geese, they still do it. If only they realized how harmful it can be.  It encourages more waterfowl than our little lake can possibly sustain and the results can be catastrophic!  It broke my heart to walk around and see those poor things, paralyzed and  struggling to keep their heads up, some of them drowning in the water. I don’t know how many birds we lost that year. It was an awful thing to see.

But despite all its shortcomings, the park is ours and we’re lucky to have it.  It’s still capable of attracting a limited amount of wildlife including turtles, frogs and wading birds such as egrets and heron, the occasional cormorant and the usual gulls, geese and ducks.  It’s great for people who walk their dogs and in the winter it provides a super hill for sledding.