Bird-friendly Hidden Lake Forest Preserve is worth a visit
(published 10-6-05)

Considering its proximity, I really should visit Hidden Lake Forest Preserve in Glen Ellyn more often. I’ve always known it’s a “birdy” place, and after spending a morning there last month, I appreciate it even more.

The Sept. 17 outing, sponsored by the DuPage Birding Club, had high potential written all over it. We were visiting Hidden Lake during the peak of fall migration and the weather was ideal. Plus, there were 27 birders in our group. With that many eyes, the chances of seeing something good are vastly improved.

Habitat is the most important thing, of course, and Hidden Lake has plenty. At 390 acres, it’s one of the more compact local forest preserves. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in diversity.

“Within steps from the parking lot you can experience diving ducks on Round Meadow Lake, marsh birds in the cattails and shorebirds along parts of the river,” says Scott Meister, animal ecologist for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. “All of this is in addition to the numerous songbirds dwelling in the woods and the prairie upland surrounding the lake. Sharing a border with the Morton Arboretum can’t hurt either.”

Meister told me that Hidden Lake Forest Preserve gets its name from the lake on the south end of the preserve that’s invisible from nearby Route 53. A wide trail encircles the lake, and on the day we visited the most exciting bird activity was concentrated on the west side, where the path runs along a birm between the lake and the DuPage River. We encountered a nice pocket of migrants that included a brown thrasher, scarlet tanager, yellow-throated vireo and several warbler species. Further down the trail we spotted a Philadelphia vireo—the “bird of the day” for most of us. A red-headed woodpecker was another nice find.

The wetland areas of Hidden Lake are well-known for attracting wading birds and various shorebirds. Several birders could recall the time about eight years ago when a pair of American avocets visited the preserve. That was a freakish event, to be sure, but it supports Hidden Lake’s reputation as a shorebird magnet. Meister says the preserve’s open water and mudflats occasionally draw Caspian terns as well.

Mid-September is well beyond the peak period for migrating shorebirds, so our sightings along the river edges were limited to greater yellowlegs, killdeer and several Wilson’s snipe. We searched unsuccessfully for a sora or Virginia rail skulking along the cattails, settling instead for terrific views of several marsh wrens.

Our group tallied about 55 species in all, including a baker’s dozen of migrating warblers. The most numerous species was cedar waxwing—the most I’d ever seen in one day.

When visiting Hidden Lake, don’t expect serenity. It’s located, after all, across from a Wal-Mart. Massive utility towers are in plain view, and traffic noise is constant. But the birds don’t seem to mind, so you shouldn’t either. Just enjoy the show, and be ready for anything.

The preserve entrance is on the east side of Route 53, just south of Butterfield Road. After entering, turn right and park in the south lot. From there, walk 50 yards south to the bridge. On most days, you could stay at this spot and see a great variety of birds. Go another 100 yards or so through a woodland corridor and you’ll come to the “hidden lake” described earlier.

Reiter is a Glen Ellyn, Illinois, resident who enjoys birding at home and in the field. You can reach him at

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