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Wild Washington Park

Written by Tim Vargo
    Thursday, 05 March 2015
Wild Washington Park

Washington Park has a special place in my heart.

I took my wife there for our first date (a birdwalk, of course), we were married on the island, we bought a house that overlooks the park and it is where we found our lovable force of a Golden Retriever.

You can attend any of the programs at our Washington Park branch to see how vibrant the human community makes the park, but taking a quiet stroll will often reveal an array of wildlife worthy of a show on Animal Planet. Seriously!

I thought of this recently when the lagoon was almost entirely frozen over except for a small patch of open water. The scene reminded me of a Serengeti watering hole. Crows, Herring Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls crowded around the edge while geese, Mallards and a lone grebe took up every inch of space on the open water. I was just waiting for a crocodile to emerge trying to catch a snack.

It reminded me of the time I was commuting across the old field by the Washington Park Senior Center. An opossum was rambling along, completely unaware of a nearby Red-tailed Hawk. Soon, the hawk launched itself to within inches of the intended prey, then changed its mind and flew back to its perch. The opossum was completely unaware that it had almost been lunch.

Then, there was an urgent call from Ms. Tory and her students, “Mr. Tim, come quick, an Osprey is circling overhead.” Not only did I add the Osprey to my Green Birding List, we watched it grab a huge golden Koi from the lagoon. (Did you know Osprey orient fish head-first when flying to make them aerodynamic?)

Recently, Community Science staff and volunteers placed wildlife cameras on one of the islands. One camera recorded White-footed Mice and a Raccoon. How did they get there? Likely during the winter when the lagoon is frozen.

These stories could go on and on — an epic battle between two huge, male snapping turtles, the turkey that hung around the orchard, deer, coyote, fox and some pretty rare birds.

If you haven’t visited Washington Park, I encourage you to attend a program or a volunteer orientation, conduct a Park Use Survey or come to a summer concert at the bandshell. But always keep an eye out for the surprising displays of urban wildlife.  

Tim Vargo

Tim Vargo

Tim’s vast experience in applied biological research with an emphasis on conservation biology, tropical biology and ornithology has allowed him to carry out research around the world, including places Australia, Bolivia, Costa Rica and Panama, and throughout the United States.

Tim received an undergraduate degree in biology from Macalester College in 1995 and a Masters Degree in Biology from Purdue University in 2001.

Tim is the Manager of Research and Community Science at the Center and in his spare time, Tim enjoys playing Ultimate Frisbee and Disc Golf, relaxing at home with a good book, and fossil-fuel free (green) birding.

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