One of the relatively new attractions in Lincoln Park is the Lincoln Park Zoo's Nature Boardwalk (completed in 2010) that transformed the beautiful South Pond into an even more beautiful, friendlier and educational oasis. The changes made by the Studio Gang Architects (famed for its Aqua Tower near the Chicago River and whose principal and founder, Jeanne Gang was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship last year) didn't just stop at improving the inherent beauty of the place but everything was quietly elevated - from the quality, movement and fluidity of the water to accessibility, landscape features and shelter. Even the rocks that serve as benches are so well-placed but you won't know that until you sit on them.
The boardwalk that meanders around the South Pond invites users to stroll at a leisurely pace and stop at designated places to learn about the nature found in the pond - and there is plenty. You will be astonished at what can be seen there. There is a resident colony of black-crowned night herons on the island in the middle of the pond - about 400 of them were counted last July, according to news reports. If you are lucky, you may see many of them sometimes perched on the pilings scattered about. Wait for them to fly- some of them sometimes circle the pond - be ready with your camera as the classic heron formation in the air is worth the wait. There are also a number of water fowls, not just the ubiquitous mallards, Canada geese and ring-billed gulls, but, depending on the season, wood ducks, an occasional herring gull, an errant Caspian tern, a vagrant least bittern, American coots, little green herons, mergansers and grebes. And those are just the common ones, more or less. I don't know much about what kind of birds are in the trees. Or the identities of the growing plants that are now flourishing in the water and around the pond - and the insects like butterflies and dragonflies that alight on them. Or the animals - the furry, scaly or leathery kind in the water or scurrying under the vegetation.
The structure that is a curiosity especially for photographers is the "education pavilion," for want of a better term. It's an airy, and yes, eerie, structure that, obviously, can serve as an open air classroom and as shelter from the elements, say for example if you get caught in the rain. Its design was inspired by the tortoise shell (but to me, it reminds me of the Japanese paper cut outs that we used to make in elementary school for Christmas decorations when I was growing up in the Philippines) - and it really stands out when the light of the setting sun streams in from the west. The shadows, light and patterns make for an incredible backdrop for a photo shoot - weddings, engagements, birthdays etc.
Fall is a great time to visit (it's free!) and photograph - the leaves are just turning and some migrant birds are there resting on their journey to their winter homes, where ever they may be.