Colored Sands Forest Preserve has been recognized as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. Though there are 92 IBAs in Illinois, Colored Sands is the first forest preserve in Winnebago County to receive the honor.
Every year, thousands of birds visit the 306-acre forest preserve. Many of them have been counted, banded and documented by a dedicated team of volunteers at the preserve's Sand Bluff Bird Observatory. Because they documented
so many migratory birds, the forest preserve was able to qualify for the IBA distinction.
Sinnissippi Audubon Society spearheaded the campaign. Their board president Jennifer Kuroda said that it took "a few years" to achieve success.
"Between attending different board meetings with the Forest Preserve and Sand Bluff -- and just going through the waiting period and filling out that application -- it's been a long haul," she admitted.
But Kuroda also said the collaboration demonstrated the commendable efforts between the local organizations. She said parts of the process were "easy" because of Sand Bluff Bird Observatory.
"They've been in operation for years," she said "and have been collecting data on our migratory bird patterns for a very long time. They had all this data built into their database so we were able to take a look at that."
Kuroda said Sand Bluff has documented significant congregations of migratory birds including 32 warbler species and high counts of 32 migratory species.
"Because of the high species counts," she said, "it really was beneficial to make sure that we preserve that area so birds continue to come there and use it as a migratory stop."
Besides the accumulation of important scientific data, Kuroda said Colored Sands is "a wonderful place."
"It's a beautiful preserve to visit and it's very important for our birds and that we continue to protect that piece of property."
The forest preserve is open from 7:00 a.m until a half hour after sunset. Because of COVID restrictions, the public is no longer invited to the bird banding sessions.
"That's just an effort to make sure everyone's protected," she said. "Hopefully, in the future, people will be able to go out there again and see the banding process."
If you do go out to Colored Sands to hike, Kuroda said to be mindful of the signs and nets.
"When they are out there banding, there are signs on the trails or the nets are down -- please stay off those trails. Those trails are closed during banding hours," she said. "There are still plenty of other areas on the preserve to go and hike. You can hike down to the Sugar River."
But what about when they aren't banding and the nets are still there?
"You can certainly walk through those trails," Kuroda said. "But don't disturb the nets."
If you can't make it to the forest preserve in person, but would like to celebrate their IBA distinction, Kuroda said Sinnissippi Audubon is hosting a free Zoom event on Saturday, October 10 at 6:30 p.m., which happens to be World Migratory Bird Day.
"We will be talking about technologies that we use to track birds," she said, "and how that information can be used to inform conservation."
She said they will also screen a video by Charles Johannsen and provide updates on Rockford's peregrine falcons. Spoiler alert: they're doing great.
Click here to register for the free Zoom event. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
"I know we're all distracted by politics and the pandemic, but you can look out the window and see birds and enjoy them and forget about everything else for a while."