Rabbits have moved out onto the dune. That may sound trivial to some since rabbits live all over the neighborhood, in backyards and presumably in the park. The fact that they live out on the dune says to me that it has become enough of a habitat to support mammalian life. The more animals such as rabbits (and mice and voles) that live out there, the more food there is for predators such as the peregrine falcon pair that resides at Loyola University.
The rabbits join the two species of nesting birds, morning doves and killdeer that make their home in this little plot. This year saw an expansion of native plant cover, as exotic plants (those that are native to other environments) did quite poorly in the harsh environment that was even harsher this year due to the drought. We had many fewer exotics to weed this summer and fall. The expansion area (created by the moving of the fence two years ago) has started to fill in with native plants. Almost no exotic plants have been able to establish in that area. Sand has blown in creating terrain where artificially flat sand had been before. A favorite of mine is the sand reed grass that self seeded, creating the straightest line ever seen in nature and already trapping a foot of sand behind it.
But back to rabbits. My co-steward Sharon was teaching a group of summer camp kids and had them find tracks. They found rabbit tracks and followed them, to the excitement of those involved, all the way to the rabbit!
Although rabbits are a classic prey animal, they cannot cope, and neither can nesting birds with the quantity of dogs that are running loose. If you are a dog owner, as I am, please control your dog while walking through the area. Please do not bring your dog through at all during migration. One or two dogs, the birds and rabbits can cope with. But it isn’t just your dog. It could be 100 dogs in a day. That is too much harassment for any of these critters. Many of the migrating birds are exhausted from their trip and are resting in this little bit of cover. Your dog chasing them could use up their last bit of energy. Your dog would probably be just as happy chasing a ball. This area is too small to allow for hunting, even in play, by as many dogs as live in the neighborhood.
So please, throw a ball outside of the fence on the flat sand, let the birds rest this fall and spring. And be pleased that the habitat is becoming complex enough and healthy enough to support more wildlife.
For more information in the idea of an urban game park, see the links below. Although focusing on squirrels, one can extrapolate to rabbits, possum, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes, all common or becoming common in Chicago.