Service Day at Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary

Check out this recent trip report from Outdoor Afro Leader Vi Ama out of Chicago!
Outdoor Afro Chicago volunteer day was held last Saturday at Montrose Bird Point Sanctuary. Montrose Bird Point Sanctuary is a hidden jewel located in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. The 15-acre property also known as the Magic Hedge Sanctuary was previously leased by the military.
Since the 1980s birders and the city of Chicago have transformed this park into one of the Midwest’s leading parks for bird watchers and migrating birds. The sanctuary includes a bathhouse, sand dunes, beach and pier. Over 300 species of birds migrate to the park during the spring and fall seasons.

What attracts these birds is the location of the park — the sanctuary prominently sticks out into Lake Michigan, which makes it easy for the birds to spot. The sanctuary includes a mixture of native plants, insects, and wildlife that attract migrating birds. The park is not only for birders and migrating birds, but also for artists seeking inspiration from the landscape and educational tours for kids attending local schools.
Upon our arrival to the park, lead steward, David Painter, notified us of a rare visit by a Burrowing owl at the point. This was Chicago’s second visit from a Burrowing owl; the last visit occurred in 2008. Using one of the birders’ scopes, we got an up close view of the owl (here is a great video of the owl’s visit and if you’re curious about this bird check out which has a lot of cool facts).
Following the viewing of the Burrowing owl, we assisted in planting the Rose Bush and Hazelnut shrubs, which are both native to Illinois. We also witnessed one of the largest shrubs I have seen being planted, the witch-hazel shrub (see picture below). Following the planting of the shrubs, we received a tour of the sanctuary by head volunteer, Jo Martinec, who has been volunteering for 10 years. From our tour, we learned the city is focusing on restoring more native plants to the landscape. The landscape for the state of Illinois is highly diverse, including: prairies, wetlands, savannas, cliffs of sandstone and lime-stone, beaches, sand dunes and swales. The sanctuary includes prairies, wetlands and other native plants and trees. Restoring native plants assist in restoring the local ecosystem and creating a diverse wildlife.

Our day of service at the Montrose Bird Sanctuary turned into a great day of learning. We learned a part of Chicago history, picked up some planting skills and hung out with some birders. Look out for more Outdoor Afro Chicago activities.
For more photos check out the photo album, Service Day at Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary.

African American Landscape Artists – The Highwaymen


Twenty-six African American landscape artists of Florida were known as “The Highwaymen”. These men (and a few women!) painted their native Florida landscape and would evolve to become a social group of itinerant artists who ventured along local Florida highways (hence their name) to sell works to hotels and businesses for $25 a piece.

The original artist, Alfred Hair, was introduced to the art world by white artist A.E. “Bean” Backus in the 1950’s. Bean encouraged Hair to sell his works, which was a very challenging feat for black artists in the racialized South. But Hair’s passion for making landscape art was persistent — and infectious. He encouraged several of his friends to paint. Together, these self taught artists produced hundreds of pieces over time out of their backyards and garages. Made of inexpensive and practical materials, these works were an important source of livelihood for the artists until demand for their plein air works fell off.

Today however, the value and collectability of Highwaymen paintings have skyrocketed as a result of publicity in the 1990’s that fueled a renewed interest of these artists, who painted passionately and relentlessly outside of the American mainstream gaze.