Canal Shores Golf Course encourages community to appreciate nature through weekly birdwatching walks


Photo courtesy of Patrick Hughes

Bird watchers gathered on Canal Shores Golf Course. Guided birdwatching walks will occur every Sunday at 7:30 a.m. until May 29.

Luke Jordan, Reporter

For Matt Rooney, vice president of the Canal Shores Board of Directors, weekly birdwatching walks allow the greater community to appreciate and make use of the public golf course’s ecology. 

“We want the golf course to be a community space, not just for golfers,” Rooney said. “We like to think of it as a really good asset of … open space.”

A fifth-year organizer, Rooney has been leading the walks that, since April 24, have been happening every Sunday at 7:30 a.m. at the course located in Evanston and Wilmette. 

The event, free and open to the public, will continue until May 29. 

In 2010, Canal Shores’ management changed hands after the previous group in charge neglected much of the course’s wildlife, allowing many invasive species to take hold of the course, Rooney said. Having completed its ecology master plan in 2017, the course focuses on ecology as one of its core missions, someone said.

A facet of the plan includes restoring native wildlife habitats along the course that can provide native species a place to live. Canal Shores organized the walks as a way to appreciate the return of many bird species, though other native populations have also returned. 

“There have definitely been foxes out there,” Rooney said. “There are coyotes — I’m not sure if people are crazy about that.”

Today, plenty of birdlife is present on the golf course, thanks in part to these restoration efforts. As of his last count, the number of different species seen on the course totaled 187, Rooney said.

According to the Canal Shores’ website, this is partially because the north end of the course lies close to Lake Michigan, making it a natural pathway for migratory birds.

For any resident unable to attend the Sunday morning walks, Rooney said birdwatching is welcomed on the course at all times, as long as participants are respectful of the course and give golfers the right of way.

To attend the walks, Rooney said residents need to register beforehand. 

Evanston resident Larry Jones, a regular attendee of these walks, said this is the best time of the year to go birdwatching, as many migratory birds are present and are the most brightly colored during mating season. The trees’ leaves are also still budding, making seeing birds easier than in the summer or fall.

“The large influx of colorful birds this time of year is just one more lively thing,” Jones said.

Orioles and robins are two of the birds Jones said bird watchers can hope to see this time of year, although there can also be surprise sightings. Jones said he recently spotted a Great Egret flying overhead.

Jones, 72, said he’s been attending these walks for about three years, though he has had an interest in birdwatching for more than 60 years. He said birdwatching helps him appreciate nature.

“It gets me out of a sense of hibernation,” Jones said. “It’s just one more lovely thing about the beginning of the spring and the summer.”

Last week, Evanston resident Patrick Hughes attended the birdwatching walk for the first time. While Hughes has been involved in some of the golf course’s ecology restoration efforts, he said it was interesting to see a new aspect of how the course is being used. 

Though he said he recognizes his sole visit hasn’t made him a birdologist quite yet, he did appreciate the time it gave him to step away from social media and enjoy nature.

“I prefer the sounds of the real birds instead of that fake one on Twitter,” Hughes said.

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Twitter: @lukehjordan

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