June 15, 2010

Birds Birds Birds

Three outstanding summer birdwatching hotspots in Wisconsin

Wisconsin is blessed with a long list of natural areas, protected wetlands and other natural areas. It’s a smorgasbord of birding goodness. But with so many options, it can be hard to pick the best. To help you get your birdwatching adventures kick-started, here are three of Wisconsin’s most outstanding birdwatching opportunities.

HeronAs you pull your car off of Middleton’s bustling Century Avenue and into the parking lot of the Pheasant Branch Conservancy, you wonder if there really could be a pristine nature area so close to such a thriving community. A few steps down the nature trail and you soon find yourself in another world.

The conservancy protects the springs and seepages that feed Pheasant Branch Creek, an important source of clean, clear water for the Yahara River chain of lakes, which includes Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. The 550-acre complex of woodlands, wetlands, ponds and meadows is accessible by a several miles of trails.

Along the trails, you’ll find a number of great places for birdwatching, including some excellent observation platforms. Wetland species include great blue heron and sandhill crane. Dozens of varieties of songbirds thrive in the woods and meadows. Hawks can be seen perched in trees above the fields or soaring over the marshes. Several varieties of warbler frequent the woodlands during the summer months.

Getting to the conservancy is easy. There are parking lots and trailheads on the west side of the conservancy off Pheasant Branch Road and Century Avenue. Other access points include a trailhead at Orchid Heights Park and a parking lot off of Sedgemeadow Road. A community trail system also connects walkers and bicyclists to the trails at the conservancy.

For more information about the Pheasant Branch Conservancy and Middleton’s award-winning community trail system, visit www.visitmiddleton.com.

Yellow WarblerOur next birding hotspot is northern Wisconsin’s Vilas County. Much of Vilas County is made up of the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest. Within the forest are a number of old-growth forest remnants that offer some opportunities to see warblers. Many of the rarest and most fragile sections of the forest are preserved as State Natural Areas.

Protected and maintained by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, these State Natural Areas offer incredible woodland birdwatching. A great example is the Trout Lake Conifer Forest, one of the best warbler spots in northern Wisconsin.

The cedar, spruce, tamarack and balsam firs of this wet forest attract many species of warblers, including Nashville, black and white, Blackburnian, black-throated green, yellow-rumped and northern parula. The dimly lit forest groves, the carpet of mosses, the numerous orchids and other rare plants all give you the sense that you’re in another world.

To get there from the Minocqua-Arbor Vitae-Woodruff area, go north on U.S. Hwy. 51 for six miles, then northeast on County M for two miles. The area is located just a quarter mile past the intersection with County N. The natural area lies northwest of the highway.

For more information about Vilas County and its many State Natural Areas, visit www.vilas.org.

HeronOur last birding hotspot is in west-central Wisconsin. Black River Country is best known for its forests. The more than 200,000 acres of protected forest lands abound with trails and wildlife. Its location right off I-94 makes it a favorite outdoor escape for Minnesotans and Wisconsinites alike.

But this picturesque region of rugged pine forests also offers outstanding birding. One of the best locations in Black River Country is an area known as Dike 17. Located on the easternmost border of the Black River State Forest along Settlement Road, this refuge area features an observation tower that overlooks a large flowage and several other wetlands.

During the summer, the lush green wetland is alive with activity. Sandhill crane, numerous shorebirds and waterfowl use the area. Kingfisher, heron, egret and several raptor species are also common sights, as are a variety of songbirds that utilize the excellent upland habitat that surrounds the wetlands.

But aside from the great birding, the area offers wonderful views of the beautiful Black River Country landscape. One visit and Dike 17 will probably be close to #1 on your list of favorite Wisconsin birding locations.

Learn more about Black River Country by visiting www.blackrivercountry.net.

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