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‘A fascinating hobby’

Joliet woman promotes birdwatching for all ages

A great egret takes flight near the Illinois and Michigan Canal on April 7 at the Lower Rock Run Preserve in Joliet.
A great egret takes flight near the Illinois and Michigan Canal on April 7 at the Lower Rock Run Preserve in Joliet.

JOLIET – In 2006, while accompanying her son and other Boy Scouts on a five-day backpacking trip in Alaska, Joliet birdwatcher Rita Renwick set her heart on finding a wandering tattler.

Renwick took some jesting from her family, she said, as they didn’t think she’d find one. As the crew crossed Chilkoot Trail into British Columbia, one of the scouts spotted it, walking back and forth along a rock.

“The fact we actually saw it was a big surprise,” Renwick said.

The sheer variety of birds – species, sizes, colors and shapes, as well as courting and nesting behaviors – make bird watching a fascinating hobby, Renwick said.

“When I ask, ‘How many species of birds do you think you can see in Illinois from the north to the south during 12 months of the year?’ Most people have no idea,” Renwick said. “You can see 332 species of birds just by staying in the state of Illinois.”

The Internet has simplified the spotting process. For instance, Renwick said, bird hotlines provide information on rare bird sightings.

Watching birds is a way of observing nature’s changes. Pelicans and bald eagles, once rare to this area, Renwick said, are now seen in places such as Starved Rock State Park in Utica.

During migration one might see “beautiful warblers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Scarlet Tanagers pass through.” Or, while studying one bird, a hawk might swoop down and gobble it up, she said.

“It’s a game and a challenge,” Renwick said. “You never know what you’re going to see and when you’ll see it.”

Renwick said she grew up near the Vermillion River and explored the area with her father, who loved the woods. Long before the 19-year-old Renwick took an ornithology class in college, Renwick was observing orioles nesting in those woods.

In addition, Renwick said she joined the Illinois Audubon Society 25 years ago, campaigned for eight years to persuade the Will County Forest Preserve to acquire Lake Renwick for the Heron Rookery (and then headed up its volunteer crew) and has been involved at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie for 15 years.

“You can’t enjoy birding and the outdoors and without being an advocate for conservation and the preservation of natural areas and habitats,” Renwick said.

Renwick dotes on Pileated woodpeckers (Woody Woodpecker is modeled after one, Renwick said), which she has found in Joliet’s Pilcher Park. Hummingbirds – their acrobatics and elusiveness – enchant her and Renwick finally spotted a burrowing owl while in Florida.

Just two items are required for birding, Renwick said: a field guide and a good pair of binoculars. Those new to the hobby don’t even require that if they venture out with an experienced birder, she added.

That’s because, during Will County Audubon Society field trips to “hot spots,” someone always sets up a telescope for viewing and members are often willing to share their binoculars, Renwick said, as well as knowledge of wildflowers, butterflies, etc. Best of all, individuals of all ages can enjoy birding.

“We’ve seen some 10- and 12-year-old children who are excellent birders,” Renwick said. “It’s amazing.”

To pique the interest of very young children, simply take them to Lake Renwick. There’s nothing like seeing four foot great blue herons and egrets flying overhead or the equally large cormorants diving for fish, Renwick said.

“That’s one way to get them hooked,” she added.

On April 26 and 27, as part of its spring gathering, the Illinois Audubon Society is offering a variety of field trips to local birding hotspots. The Will County Audubon Society and the Forest Preserve District of Will County is sponsoring the spring gathering.

To register by April 16 and for information, call 815-725-2934 and visit In addition, Will County Audubon Society meets at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of the month at Pilcher Park. Meetings are free and open to the public.


If You Go
What: “Birding Cuba”

When: 6:30 p.m., April 25

Where: Will County Forest Preserve District’s Four Rivers Environmental Education Center, 25055 W. Walnut Lane, Channahon

Etc: Illinois Audubon Society executive director Tom Clay will speak briefly at 6:30 p.m. The presentation will follow. The event is free, open to the public and does not require registration.


What: “Corvids versus Sciuruds: Are crows, jays and squirrels nuts about the same niches?”

When: 7 p.m. April 26

Etc: Presenter is Dr. Joel Brown of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Brown was a featured speaker at the 2013 Wild Things Conference in Chicago. The event is free, open to the public and requires no registration.

Where: Will County Forest Preserve District’s Four Rivers Environmental Education Center, 25055 W. Walnut Lane, Channahon


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