For nature areas, go to the Heartland School Illinois Information campus

NORMAL, IL (AP) – A loud Canada Goose screeched across Birky Pond as it chased a potential competitor on a Friday in March.

“Somebody got up on the wrong side of the nest this morning,” noted Janet Beach Davis of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Faculty at Heartland Community College.

Beach Davis has been working on the Heartland green space since construction began on campus along Raab Road 20 years ago.

How many people drive by without noticing the 13 acre lake? Birds will certainly notice it, especially during migration when it attracts a wide variety of waterfowl.

In addition to Canada geese and mallards, Birky Pond has been home to hooded mergansers, buffleheads, redheads, canvasbacks, northern shovels, scaups, and marigolds in recent weeks, to name a few.

The calls of red-winged blackbirds, which Beach Davis regards as a sign of spring, almost drowned out the sounds of nearby Interstate 55. A cardinal sang from the top of a tree and other birds attended the concert.

There are approximately two miles of hiking trails. Bicycles are prohibited, but pets on a leash are allowed.

“Please be attentive and leave nothing but footprints,” said Beach Davis.

The pond was built as a water retention basin to slow the runoff from campus, Beach Davis explained, but it’s also a centerpiece of the green space, which includes 15 acre prairie, 4 acre Forb prairie, wetlands, a bird feeder path, and Heartland Gardens.

“We worked so hard to build diversity,” said Beach Davis. “We started in front of the buildings.”

The work goes on. Volunteers have recently planted more trees and helped with cleanup projects. The green space is also used for educational purposes, not only with classes from Heartland, but also from universities in the state of Illinois and the Illinois Wesleyans.

The pond is stocked with fish such as largemouth bass, bluegill and catfish. Daily limits are posted. Swimming and boating are prohibited.

Birds aren’t the only wildlife that use the green space. At least one eager beaver visits the lake, as evidenced by a row of trees that it has removed. Mink, coyote, and deer are also present.

From Heartland Gardens, you can walk north along the tree line separating the campus from the farm, then follow the trees along the freeway. This part of the trail has great views of the prairie and is also the location of a bluebird trail.

Master naturalists Carol and Clarence Josefson monitored the birdhouses along the way. Although the houses are designed for bluebirds, they also provide nesting sites for tree swallows and wrens. Last year 44 young birds “fled,” meaning they survived and left the nest, according to a report by the Josefsons.

A short walk along an access road takes you to the path at Birky Pond. From there, you can walk around the pond and return the path you came or join the Constitution Trail and return through the main campus.

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