Barrington resident brings love of birds back home
Mark Spreyer holds a barred owl Sept. 20 at the Stillman Nature Center. As the executive director of the nature center, Spreyer takes care of the animals and 80 acres. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 8, 2012 7:42AM
BARRINGTON — When Mark Spreyer was growing up in Barrington, he noticed one day that a group of birds, which he later identified as barn swallows, had begun nesting in his family’s garage.
He’s had an interest in birds ever since.
“There’s one bird that sort of hooks you,” Spreyer said. “The idea of a bird moving into a house is kind of interesting.”
Spreyer is now the executive director of the Stillman Nature Center in South Barrington.
Spreyer first came to the local nature center in 1984 when Alexander Stillman, a conservationist and World War II veteran, died and left his estate on Penny Road. Spreyer helped turn the property into a functional nature center. After leaving the Barrington area for Minnesota, Spreyer returned to Barrington and the Stillman Nature Center in 1995.
Spreyer and his team of volunteers teach classes at Stillman. They lead tree walks, bird walks, insect classes and pond studies.
“I want this to be an outdoor classroom or lab,” said Spreyer, explaining that Stillman can tailor its programs to a participant’s specific interest.
“We’re small enough that we can adjust to your curriculum,” Spreyer said.
Stillman also hosts field trip programs for elementary school groups. One program Spreyer recently started involves first graders coming to Stillman in the spring to study life in the pond and woods.
“We’re trying to show them life in a real pond,” Spreyer said. “The children then come back in the early fall to see how the environment has changed with the seasons. We can build on that the second time.”
The Stillman Nature Center, which spans 80 acres, is not the only nature and conservation facility that Spreyer has worked. Just out of college, Spreyer went to New York to work at a nature center where he helped rehabilitate injured owls. That work led Spreyer to Minnesota, where he did his graduate work on Great Gray Owls. He returned to Barrington in 1995 after working with the Minnesota National Wildlife Refuge.
Spreyer has brought several owls and raptors to Stillman, all of which are indigenous to the area. Spreyer explained that the birds at Stillman have been injured to the point where it would be dangerous to introduce them back into nature. Such injuries, he explained, include blindness in one eye and permanently damaged wings.
He said he thinks a close up, hands-on approach is the best way to teach.
“There’s an educational opportunity with a bird up close,” he said. “The scientific ideas are less important to me than getting people interested.”
Spreyer, who also has done conservation work in Canada and Africa, said he thinks too many people see the natural world and the built world as separate entities.
“You don’t have to go far. Nature is everywhere,” he concluded. “Nature is part of your world.”