October 24, 2011

See the Best Part of the Fall Migration

Late fall brings some of the most exciting birdwatching of the year

As the wind takes the last leaves off the trees, many birdwatchers head indoors for the season. That’s too bad. Some of the most exciting birdwatching of the year comes in late fall. If you enjoy watching large waterfowl, then you need to be in Wisconsin in October and November. Here are two of the best places to see swans, ducks and geese.

Tundra SwansWisconsin Great River Road – Tundra Swans and Diving Ducks
At a number of places along the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River, tundra swans stop to rest before heading further south for the winter. Birds arrive in late October or early November and stay for two to three weeks. The best spots to see these birds are Lake Onalaska and the mouth of the Buffalo River near Alma.  These huge white birds are hard to miss. The swans eat aquatic plants, including the roots. Their singing is similar to the call of a sandhill crane. Keep your eye on the skies over the Mississippi River this fall.

Another sight to behold in late fall on the Mississippi River is the migration of diving ducks. Diving ducks begin their trip south long after mallards, teal, wood ducks and other less cold tolerant species have left for warmer climates. There are many kinds of diving ducks found along the Mississippi River. Species include canvasbacks, bluebills, buffleheads and redheads. Diving ducks are easily spotted as they congregate in large rafts out in the middle of the Mississippi River’s largest pools. Their black and white feathers show up even in the foulest late fall weather. The best place to see these magnificent birds is between Prairie du Chien and La Crosse, particularly around the tiny communities of Ferryville and DeSoto.

Canadian GeeseHoricon Marsh in Dodge County – Giant Canada Geese
Throughout the fall, the Horicon Marsh is a flurry of activity. Every variety of waterfowl, shorebird, songbird and raptor passes through this huge cattail marsh. But as the leaves fall off the trees and the temperatures decline, the marsh is left to its most famous inhabitant: the Canada goose.

Tens of thousands of giant Canada geese inhabit the Horicon Marsh in late fall. The birds roost on the marsh at night and feed in surrounding cornfields during the day. In the morning, huge flocks of birds stream out of the marsh, forming immense V’s that grow and grow as they rise above the wetlands. A pre-dawn trip to the marsh will give you a view of this spectacle. But the experience is more than visual. The sound of the countless geese is unlike anything you’ve ever heard. Imagine thousands and thousands of voices all singing at the same time. Don’t miss this incredible fall birding experience.

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