Burnham Nature Sanctuary and Path

This page brought to you by Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference Parks Committee and HPKCC's website, www.hydepark.org. Join the Conference! Contact the Committee Chair. Contact Site Steward.

Burnham Park. Green Resources and Calendar. Parks home page. Promontory Point home. Other Sections of Burnham Park, sub pages incl Final 45th-51st shore park and nature area plan. Burnham Park Framework Plan. Burnham Park Timeline. To Burnham Sanctuary from its signs. Woods/ wetland boardwalk views. Prairie views are in this page. Destruction in 2008 raises disturbing questions.

George Davis, day: 312 260-8976 kenwoodgwd@yahoo.com and Pam Holy stewards. Schematic map.

Contents: Events/Activities. About. News and Natural History from Burnham. Frog monitoring program (great place for reptiles too). Birds in Burnham. Autumn Colors and 2004 plantings (2005 aborted by lapse of contract and oversight.) 2005 Summer Solstice Walk.

1st Sundays?, 9-1. Burnham long walk. Meet in the lot north of 47th. 3 miles each way. Dress for conditions. Rain or shine.

1st Saturday, 9 am WORKDAY. Gen 1st Sat, starting in spring through autumn, Saturday, 9 am-noon. Burnham Nature Sanctuary monthly workday. Meet in lot north of Cornell/47th. Tools and training provided; bring gloves; wear long pants, hat, long sleeves, tight appropriate shoes. Katherine Taylor, 773 924-2738.

The Park District has a video about the wildlife habitat expansion on the west side of Lake Shore Drive that can be seen on the WBEZ blog written by Chris Bentley. The dates are a little off, but the project is underway with plantings of native species planned for this year.



Quarterly walks (Equinox or Solstice)- . Next: 3rd December Sunday, 9:30 am. Meet in the lot north side of 47th St. between Metra and the Drive. 773 268-4856.

1st Sundays?, 9 am -1 pm. Burnham Nature sanctuary Long Walk- 47th to 39th, or to McCormick Bird Sanctuary.

Monthly Workdays 1st Mondays. (8:45 am-noon) Burnham Nature Sanctuary Workday. Meet a bit before 9 in lot on north side of 47th at Cornell Dr. Rec. long pants and sleeves, closed shoes, hat, sun protection. Gloves, tools, water, training provided. Kathleen Taylor,773 924-2738.

Preparation: See about, and in News winter solstice walk/winter at Burnham, eco-corner/winter plant and mustard ID, Spring Equinox Walk, April Workday, An April in the Nature Area, from Sept. 04 Newsletter. 'O5 Summer Solstice Walk

timeliness expired.

About Burnham Nature Sanctuary

The Chicago Park District designated Burnham Natural Area or Sanctuary, also known as the 47th Street Nature Area/Center or Burnham Prairie/Butterfly Garden, is located north of the parking lot north of 47th Street and stretching to north of 45th Street, between Lake Shore Drive and Canadian National/Metra railroad right of way. It is one of several sanctuaries and nature areas being created in the "passive links" of Burnham Park (12th to 56th Streets) between the "active rooms" (anticipated for where the major thoroughfares of 31st, 35th, 39, and 47th intersect the lakefront).

It has a small committee or team led by George W. Davis, working under the Chicago Park District's Department of Natural Resources.

Contacts: George Davis (Volunteer Site Steward, also with OpenLands, HPKCC board. Also Pam Holy. )

Amenities include a bike rack. Comfort stations across the Drive at 43rd and 49th (overpass at 47th but construction may start soon).

Butterfly meadow Buterfly meadow.

The Area is comprised of a number of different environment, including a fairly large forb*- dominated prairie (*broad-leaved herbaceous plants), a test plot of prairie wildflowers and a Butterfly Garden in the southwest corner, an "emergent wetland prairie" in the center (unfortunately needing a now-leaking membrane to hold water and with the most wet-tolerant plants such as winterberry planted high and dry), with a swale topography and the much-remarked-upon boardwalk, a north-end old prairie, and a woodlot with still too many end-stage invasive canopy trees, little understory, and choking ground plants that are hard to replace and keep away. Much can be seen by carefully and silently watching the edge habitats between sectors, or knowing when to turn over a rock or piece of concrete.

Burnham Sanctuary is a fascinating place to study natural and unnatural succession, and what interventions work for various purposes. Woodland and prairie types. Lots of bird varieties too- espec. rec. is going in early morning and waiting quietly near the entrance, then follow the woods bark trail (especially watching them flushed by the trains!), then into the different prairies where the birds always seem to find seeds and flowers except in winter.

Learning: Ancona School middle students under teachers including Zeus Preckwinkle have been using the Area as a living biodiversity laboratory. They census then track changes and sample soil in transects. They also planted a section in the north.

They don't say dept.: StreetWise's description of the Sanctuary section of its quickie tour of the Lakefront Birding Trail and places to cool off (!): "The one-acre Burnham Park Sanctuary, at 45th Street, includes a butterfly meadow, overgrown prairie and preserved woodland, with wildflowers blooming through autumn."

More Detail, by Gary Ossewaarde

Amidst plenteous trash to be collected, one can in winter see, naked, the stems and heads of the great variety of grasses and forbs that make up prairies (no wonder it's called a "sea of grass") and in their glorious branching the brush and trees. The latter are of great size variety (although predominantly invasives and heavy in cottonwood and locusts including a nice line of black locusts). By summer the grasses and woody-stem plants will have shot up obscuring what grows on the ground--early spring is a good time to see the many kinds of mushrooms. A prairie burn is unlikely here because of proximity to the Drive and railroad. Instead, mowing and plug-planting are used. Of course, there is as much or more root and underground wildlife as there is biomass above ground--visit Field Museum's Life Underground exhibit.

The nature area is actually quite large, and a number of such--even though separated and broken up-- are needed to maintain sustainable wildlife habitat. It's fortunate that there is a long railway and fairly adjacent highway, and spaces along the nearby shoreline, to allow a critical mass of such wild areas along the Lake Michigan Flyway (even if the trains flush the birds). Many seeds are regularly collected in the natural areas and either replanted here or used to restore and maintain other natural areas.

Follow the informative (and attack-resistant) signage for generalized information and hints of what to look for. One sign will come explaining the Area's role in the Lakefront Migratory Bird Trail. View/read signs.

Most of the planted prairie habitat areas in the Burnham Natural Area are artificial, intended to increase, and make more varied and food-rich, habitat for wildlife, break up invasive mono cultures (including the tree plantings along the Drive) and provide educational/stewardship training . It's a difficult row to hoe since such invasives as garlic mustard run wild and shut off space and sunlight for other plants. Also, soil and subsoil conditions vary greatly, consisting of varied glacial tills, successive "great lakes" shores and bottoms, and especially fill, dumped first for the railroad then in successive expansions of Lake Shore Drive and the park--the shore was west of the Sanctuary in the 1850s! The later fills were often of better soils, especially after Daniel Burnham's vision was published of a broad neck of parklands and wetlands with a winding drive, then lagoons, points, piers and islands blending into the Lake.

Views of the large center forb prairie (for details go to the Burnham Signs page) early in a drought-stricken and hot 2005 summer. It's quite successful; hopes are that more species will be gradually added. In time, as individual plants' roots as well as species compete more, the average individual plants may be smaller. A limiting factor may be depth of the right subsoil. Another is ban on burns as too close to the Drive. Rye and small bluestem are the main grasses and are prominent at edges, but do not dominate in this type prairie. Here that role seems to belong to cupflower (2nd down right). The cobra-head dinosaur-suggesting necks belong to Lake Shore Drive. The area ends with the scraggly (on first appearance) but essential-to-wildlife prairie-verging- into a meadow's edge, definitely-not-scraggly and also essential. Human intruder is an Open Lands volunteer. Photos by Gary Ossewaarde

Burnham-main forb prairie longview. Photos by Gary Ossewaarde summer 2005 Burnham main forb prairies closer at clumps of cupflower
Burnham main forb prairie- grasses. Coneflowers area also in this prairie. Burnham forb prairie cupflower
Burnham forb prairie, near mor open edge Burnham forb praireie edge, volunteer
Forb prairie Forb prairie edge
Forb prairie  


There are three distinct planted areas, made in stages (see at top of this section). The central, first- replanted area--the one with the long boardwalk--has liners to hold rains and snow melt to create an "emergent wetland prairie." However, the deepest part, at the boardwalk, has a broken liner, so rains drain away- and the wet-tolerants were planted in the wrong place anyway. However, should new plants be planted and become established, this should be a good swale area for habitat, including for wildlife that already burrows into the hillsides or hides under the boardwalk--look for them here as well as in the woods. More replanting is done and planted areas extended yearly, usually fenced at first. Ancona school projects planted one of the sections, in the north. In 2004, one of the trails was extended further north in the wooded/brush area. Several of these experimental natural planted sections took- but now need maintenance, new materials and rain. It's amazing how much just a few can do whacking out and cut-poisoning overgrown invasives and planting/seeding new plants. This includes especially replacing buckthorn etc. so that serviceberry and other bird-friendly bushes can establish a middle story while native ground plants also get enough sun to thrive. (Unfortunately, someone has gone through and systematically destroyed milkweed pods--essential to monarch butterflies and as native as one can get.) Among the most dramatic successes is the large forb prairie. Of course it could use more variety in plants and insects and, being new, it grows taller than do plants in established prairies, where the competition for root space is ferocious.

At some times, the chance to move ahead in the Sanctuary is frustrated by failure to date by the District to hire a contractor to provide plants, treatment and maintenance, as well as dearth of volunteer coordination staff- taken into the District but not yet up to strength. The district has expressed commitment citywide for the long run on all these fronts including woodland management.

Habitat landscaping/prairie gardens are a bit different from attempts to establish prairie patches per se, such as that shown above. In this garden approach, native mostly prairie plants are set in garden settings or scattered in meadows. This is necessary where soils are poor or shallow and compacted, but are also used to create a varied set of habitats both for birds and other wildlife and for demonstration/teaching of youth and others. Top left is in the center of the sanctuary, right is in the butterfly garden at the south entrance. Several of these sections were planted or seeded by school classes and scout groups. Some become overgrown or the plants squeezed out by invasives if not constantly tended. Drought is a big problem in 2005. Photos by Gary Ossewaarde

Burnham- a prairie planting in the interior. Note invasive plantain. Burnham butterfly meadow
Burnham. A patch of prairie becoming thick, maybe threatened by invasives, but productive. Juneberry or serviceberry.  



Expect a prairie burn this fall!

Still problems with trash pickup!

Eco-Corner. Nathan Schroeder, formerly nature site manager for Aramark/CPD wrote in 2004: "During a winter walk, some of you might have noticed odd bulging in the stems of Goldenrod. These are called galls and can be found on many species of Goldenrod. Over 50 different types of insects, including moths, beetles and mites, create galls in Goldenrods. It is typically formed when an insect larvae burrows or eats its way from the tip of the plant, through the stem, stopping in about the middle of the plant. The plant then hardens off a "chamber" around the insect where it will overwinter and pupate. In the spring, the adult fly will burst through the wall of the gall leaving a small hole as evidence of its emergence. The gall usually does not harm the Goldenrod [which] will flower despite its guest. Galls can be found in many species of plants including Oaks, Willow and Spruce.
For more information on Galls, see: www.facstaff.bucknell.edu/abrahmsn/solidago/main/html, www.fcps.k12.va.us/StratfordLandingES/Ecology/mpages/goldenrod.htm, Guide to Nature in Winter by Donald Stokes. Top

Winter Plant ID. "Don't be frightened by visiting the natural area during the winter and early spring. Many of the plants are more readily identified during the winter than during the summer. Grasses are often easier to identify in the winter because there is less background vegetation and they tend to look more like the pen-and-ink drawings that you find in many guidebooks." Among those easy to find are Bergamot (monarda fistulosa), Aster sp., Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis), Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), Garlic Mustard (Alliaria officianalis), Big Bluestem Grass (Andro), Bottle Brush Grass (Andro), and Switch Grass (all Andro). Among trees: Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) and Serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.)"

[Earn your natural-area-steward stripes from Open Lands, etc. so you will know which of the above are planted and encouraged and which "rooted out" in natural conservation workdays, and why. See below...]

About Garlic Mustard and look-alike- Up Close and Personals

Garlic Mustard is an extremely aggressive invasive herb native to Northern Europe. Used as a edible green in Europe, it is believed that it was brought to NE US as a potherb and subsequently escaped into the wild. (It was used in a variety of ways: as an antiseptic herb for gangrene and ulcers, as a vegetable (steamed or used in salads), as a garlic flavored herb high in Vitamin A and C, or as vinegar like Horseradish.) Because of its very long growing season, lack of natural enemies and ability to grow in dark shade and create heavy shade as well as to grow sunny areas-all secrets of most invasives-, it is able to force out native plants in woodland areas by shading them out and competing for resources and root space.

Garlic mustard is an obligate biennial reproducing exclusively by seed. The first year the seeds germinate and develop a basal rosette of kidney shaped leaves. . The following year it produces an upright stalk with triangular leaves. The stalk bears terminal clusters of small white flowers. After flowering and producing large quantities of seeds in elongate seed capsules, the plant dies. The large number of seeds are viable up to 5 years and create a large "seed bank" that hinders eradication.

Eradication: Small infestations can be readily controlled by pulling second year plants by hand. The best time to pull plants is when they have just started flowering, but before any seeds have been made. Pulling works best if the soil is moist, after a rain. Be sure to pull all the roots out as they can re sprout if not removed completely. It is best to put all flowering plants in bags and remove from the site. Do not compost the pulled plants. Large infestation are best controlled by spraying with the herbicide glyphosate. Spraying is best in the early spring for second year plants before the other plants emerge and in the late fall for first year plants after the other plants have gone dormant. Because of the long lasting seed bank, garlic mustard eradication is a ongoing effort.

Identification: In the spring in the Burnham Natural Area there are several plants that are similar to the garlic mustard rosette: catnip and motherwort (both aggressive plants but not a bad as garlic mustard). The motherwort leaves are more deeply ridged and do not have the "arrowhead shape" of garlic mustard. The catnip leaves are smaller and ovate.

Gar,jc mustard with two less troublesome look-alikes

Catnip left, garlic mustard ctr, motherwort right. Center is the one that's a a really bad invasive pest.

Close up of garlic mustard is first ydar stage
Garlic mustard in first year expansion

Garlic mustard ready for 2nd year seeding

Garlic mustard: upper right and left: 1st year rosettes, lower right: 2nd year


The Spring Equinox Walk, March 20, 2004

While collecting some trash, the volunteers and visitors learned from naturalist Nathan Schroeder to find mushrooms, look for various ground plants (and evidence of how/where plant plugs and seeds were introduced) not visible later, and identify various grasses and forbs. Some of these are occurrent natives, others invasive (which can be from abroad or plants that take advantage of disturbance), still others once-present native plants being reintroduced. Among the most prevalent plants are the goldenrods and the pernicious garlic mustard and motherwort. Spring is the time to see the garlic mustard in its early rosette stage and compare it to look-alike's. We learned the perils of artificial habitat creation (liners needed to hold water but they can break), economics that requires boardwalks be made of recycled materials that are cheaper but, despite what the district says, need not come in the most unnatural looking gray), and how hard it is to create habitat that doesn't just look overgrown and weedy--and abused by humans or else like gardens. We enjoyed the red-winged blackbirds, juncos that would soon leave, craggy black locusts and the poplars (fast spreaders as they are) and hawthorns--and left with our clothes covered with prairie plant seeds. George Davis said thanks to all.

A spring walk is prelude--come back in May, then at the solstice, and in fall when the most color is seen.


April 3rd 2004 workday

"Our first workday of the year was held on April 3rd. Our usual crew of volunteers was joined by a contingent from local Girl Scout Troop 89 fulfilling part of their public service requirements. A number of tasks were accomplished. Extensive garbage pickup was done at the front part of the Nature Area. Although most of the area south of the locust grave was cleared, there is still a huge amount of trash in the trees and shrubs next to the railroad tracks which will need to be cleared during future work days. Kudos to Pam Holy who put her new pesticide applicator's license to good use and did extensive spraying of garlic mustard and cow parsnip in the wooded areas around the Butterfly Garden. Supplemental seeding was done in several areas including the Butterfly Garden, near the Boardwalk, and in the North Prairie planting. The Girl Scouts also prepared a test patch along the wood chip patch which included a variety of greases (Virginia Rye, Bottlebrush Grass {actually of the myrtle family with conspicuous red and yellow tufts}, Woodreed), Purple angelica, several Asters, and Joe Pye Weed. The Butterfly Garden was seeded with Purple Prairie Clover, Golden Alexander, Aster, Penstemon, Compass Plant, Alumroot and Purple Coneflower. The north Prairie Garden was seeded with Prairie Clover, Great Angelica, Alumroot, Big and Little Bluestem, and Golden Alexander." George Davis


What Happens in a Nature Area such as Burnham-April 04.

By George Davis

If you have been in the Nature Area in the last few days you will have noticed that the Prairie Garden has been mowed and cleared to allow the prairie plants to have an easier time coming up.

If you are interested in birds, the warbler season is upon us. The early spring has had some interesting sightings. People have reported seeing Eastern Bluebirds, and Yellow Crowned Kinglets as well as lots of Flickers, Goldfinches, Red winged Blackbirds, Cardinals, Robins and Juncos.

There are several small areas of special interest that will hopefully be of interest this year. The South Prairie around the Boardwalk should see the various grasses and forbs planted 1 1/2 years years ago coming out more vigorously this season, particularly the Big Bluestem and Switch Grass (1). The Butterfly Garden was cleared of Honeysuckle and Buckthorn last fall and was planted with a variety of butterfly attracting grasses and forbs (2). Also, last fall, Nathan Schroeder cleared the woodchips from a small area in the woodland area and replanted it with a variety of seeds collected on the site (3). The Girl Scouts also cleared an area in the woodland and seeded it with a variety of woodland grasses and forbs. The students from the Ancona School have been planting various prairie plants in an area north of the Locust Grove over the last couple of years (5). Finally, a car drove through the north part of the Prairie Garden last fall, tearing up the plants. Is should be interesting to see if the disturbed area is resettled with the original plants or invasives. (6). (See the adjacent map for location of these sites. )

Map, Burnham Nature Trail and sanctuary


September 2004 News from Burnham

(Slightly modified and updated-Ed.)

What's New!

The woodchips path has been extended to the north ending in the open area near 44th street. The extension is entirely in the wooded area and has helped to open up the existing dense thicket. This area is currently overrun with buckthorn and other invasives, and will have to be eventually cleared out and replaced with native species. but in the meantime it is a pleasant extension of the existing path. The newly opened area appears to have attracted the birds so keep your eyes peeled when you explore the new path.

Birds in Burnham 2004

As you may know, the Burnham Nature Sanctuary is one of 26 sites on the Park District's Lakefront Birding Trail. The Chicago lakefront plays a major role in providing habitat for millions of migratory birds in addition to the permanent and seasonal birds and Burnham is a essential component in this habitat.

Among the birds seen in the Nature Sanctuary this year are: Junco, Whitethroat Sparrow, White Crowned Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Brown Thrasher, Hermit Thrush, Eastern Bluebird, Mourning Dove, Catbird, Goldfish, Crow, Starling, Indigo Bunting, Blue Jay, Golden Crowned Kinglet, Ruby Crowned Kinglet, Blue Gray Gnat catcher, Redwing Blackbird, Brown Headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, Rose Breasted Grosbeak, Cardinal, Palm Warbler, Yellow Rump Warbler, Northern Flicker, Robin, various Swallows, House Sparrow, Eastern Kingbird, and the notorious Monk Parakeet (Davis says it is driving out natives). (Many thanks to Gerda Schild for providing her list.) Among the most prominent are the blackbirds.

If you have been quietly observing the birds in Burnham, please let us know what you have seen.

Autumn Color in the Natural Area

... The early turners are Buckeyes and Cottonwoods.

We have a wide variety of trees and shrubs whose fall color covers the range from bright yellow to dark red. Arranged by color, these are:

YELLOW/GOLD: Buckeye, Honey Locust, Black Locust, Basswood [aka Linden], Green Ash, Hackberry, Elm, Cottonwood, Mulberry, Hawthorn, Sweet gum

YELLOW/BROWN: Chinkapin (or Chinquapin) Oak, Bur Oak

ORANGE: Serviceberry, Sumac, Sweet gum

RED: Chokeberry, Virginia Creeper (vine), Dogwood, Serviceberry, Sumac, Hawthorn

RED/BROWN: White Oak

Note: among oaks the park district now seems to prefer planting Swamp Oak, followed by Bur.

What Else is New!

The Burnham volunteers have been working to improve the first impressions of the Nature Sanctuary. The entrance area next to the parking lot has been enhanced with a native species specimen garden. these planting have replaced the weeds and compacted earth on both sides of the path. After prep work, several hundred plugs of a variety of native species were planted on the September Volunteer Work Day.

Keep an eye on this area next year [2005] and see how many you can find. Among the plants to look for including in the forb prairie are: nodding wild onion, leadpoint, columbine, butterfly wed, sky blue aster, aromatic aster, upland white aster, sand coreopsis, prairie coreopsis, shooting star, purple coneflower, prairie smoke, western sunflower, false dandelion, rough blazing star, wild bergamot, wild quinine, sand phlox, downy phlox, prairie cinquefoil, yellow coneflower, black-eyed susan, blue-eyed grass, grey goldenrod, showy goldenrod, spiderwort, heart-leaved parsnip, sideoats gramma, junegrass, prairie panic grass, little bluestem and prairie dropseed. [in 2005 these had indeed generally survived but were highly stressed by drought but least in the prairie, where roots go down many feet.]


Visit us in a few days and we will have some pictures up.

The 2005 Summer Solstice Walk took place on a warm June 26 morning. The distinct sections of the Sanctuary were very evident, especially with the lawn-like sections--low mowed last year and neglected entirely to date this year--brown and in aestivation. Many of the planted native flowers were dying or dead of lack of water except in the prairies or woods. Rye and other prairie grasses were tall and thriving, much of the rye planted by school and other children using seeds from a patch in the south center. The forb prairie is stunning--if this is low in species compared to native prairie, the originals must have been amazing beyond the largest and oldest restorations in the Midwest. It is taller than a long-established such prairie would be, and of course is shorter than grass prairies. But what you see here compares well to longer prairie restorations such as at Markham.

The woodland threatens to be overrun by buckthorn et al lacking new plant material and supervised workdays. We saw what just a few can do whacking out and applying roundup to the open wounds of the invasives and putting in plugs of future ground and understory plants that will thrive with the increased light. Many serviceberry bushes planted in the late 1990's are doing well. Site steward George Davis was concerned about the future of the wood since so much of the canopy is mature stand of invasives from buckthorn to various locusts, to poplars--whole stands of the later are really a single tree. We learned much about natural and unnatural succession, and what management works and what fails.

We enjoyed watching the many red-winged blackbirds (flushed every time a train goes by, but coming back every time, and taking advantage of every habitat). A couple indigo buntings were a highlight; so were the many sulfur butterflies--come back in a few weeks and the butterflies will be different.