You may have noticed a platoon of people, often early in the morning, looking through binoculars and scanning the wooded areas near the Des Plaines River in Riverside over the weekend.
No, an army of peeping toms is not marshaling its troops on the village’s riverbanks. Rather, they are birders attempting to spot species presently flying through town during peak migration season.
They are part of a larger, concerted effort to have Riverside recognized as an Important Bird Area – yes, that’s an official designation – by the Audubon Society, which administers the program in the U.S. for BirdLife International, a global partnership comprising conservation organizations.
Riverside officials are trying to heighten awareness of their quest to have the village designated an Important Bird Area – or IBA, for short — through a couple of events this month.
Last week, Village President Ben Sells proclaimed May 12 World Migratory Bird Day in Riverside to coincide with the annual spring celebration of migratory birds as they make their way back north from their winter havens.
On Saturday, May 12 residents are invited to meet in front of the Riverside Public Library, 1 Burling Road at 9 a.m. From there, groups will walk along the river to the Scout Cabin, take a break and then stroll back to the library. The roughly two-mile excursion should be over by noon.
On Saturday, May 19 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the village has invited Audubon Great Lakes to host a plant sale fundraiser, the proceeds of which will go to local Audubon chapters.
While the deadline for ordering specific plants has ended, the Audubon Society will have plenty of native plants available for purchase. The organization will set up in the Green Parking Lot at 63 E. Burlington St.
Some of those participating in the May 12 walk, like Sells and his wife, Jill Mateo, a small-mammal biologist and avid birder, are sure to be part of the ongoing data collection effort undertaken to obtain the IBA designation from the Audubon Society.
The Audubon Society asks for three years of data regarding significant numbers of 15 notable species in order for an area to be considered as an IBA, said Sells. But after just one week, Mateo, Sells and about 20 other volunteers identified significant numbers of eight species, with another wave of migratory birds coming through the area over the next few weeks.
“We saw more than 200 yellow-rumped warblers and a bumper crop of orioles,” said Sells of last week’s birding sessions. “I’m having a blast. This is all new to me.”
It’s also new to Cathy Maloney, chairwoman of the Riverside Landscape Advisory Commission, who said the idea of approaching Audubon Great Lakes about designating Riverside an IBA was the result of informal meetings she had with Mateo, whom Maloney identified as the person spearheading the data collection effort, and fellow Riverside residents Melinda and Steve Pruett-Jones.
Melinda Pruett-Jones is the executive director of the American Ornithological Society while her husband, Steve, is professor of ornithology at University of Chicago.
“We have some Riversiders who really know their stuff,” Maloney said.
According to Sells, the new initiative to get the village recognized as an IBA fits with Riverside’s renewed focus on the river as a benefit not only naturally, but economically. It’ll also be something of a feather in the village’s cap.
Most IBA’s are sections of towns or forest preserve areas – Salt Creek Woods, for example is among the 90 or so such areas designated in the state since 2000. If Riverside is accepted, it would be the first entire municipality so designated in the state.
“When you start looking at your town as a natural spot, it changes what you see and how you think about where you live,” Sells said.
Since he’s started birding, Sells said he and Mateo have identified scores of bird species in Riverside. The two started a Riverside Birding Network community page on Facebook last week, one they hope may end up converting to a nature network after also noticing snakes, turtles and other wildlife along the river during their birding excursions.
Since the two dams were removed in 2012, the river has sprung to life, said Sells.
“The comeback of the river is a remarkable story,” he said.