Go off the beaten path for Wisconsin’s best spring birding
In Wisconsin, springtime brings some of the year’s best birdwatching. Birds returning north from their winter grounds stop in Wisconsin to rest or make their nests. Birdwatchers have a chance to see a huge variety of different species, from rare warblers to seldom-seen shorebirds.
One of the best aspects of birding is the chance to get away from it all, with nothing to disturb you except bird songs and the opportunity to see a bird you’ve never seen before.
Having an unforgettable birdwatching excursion starts with finding a great birding spot. In a state with a large number of high-quality birdwatching locations, here are three of Wisconsin’s very best—and least utilized.
Wild Rice Hotspot
In Oneida County, just three miles north of Three Lakes, you’ll find the Thunder Lake Wildlife Area. Within this nature preserve, you’ll also find a smaller parcel—the Rice Lake State Natural Area, designated as such because of its high-quality habitat. Rice Lake is large and shallow and has an abundance of wild rice. The wild rice provides a rich source of food for birds of all types, making this a birding hotspot.
Species seen at this site include sedge wren, common yellowthroat, swamp sparrow, red-winged blackbird and Le Conte’s sparrow. Some years, birdwatchers can see more than 20 species of warbler. During the spring, migrating diving ducks, particularly the ring-necked duck, are sometimes seen. The occasional bald eagle can be seen soaring over the sedge meadows. Osprey, which are known to nest nearby, often make an appearance at Thunder Lake.
Find more Oneida County trails and birding locations at www.oneidacountywi.com.
A Wilderness Wonder
The Catherine Wolter Wilderness Area in Vilas County offers birdwatchers a smorgasbord of habitat types. Few places in the Northwoods offer such an ecological variety. Birdwatchers can expect to see a wide range of birds.
This wilderness area consists of 2,189 acres of northern forest and 15 lakes and ponds. Bird sightings at the Catherine Wolter Wilderness Area include loons, osprey and bald eagle, as well as a variety of warblers, including black-throated green, black-throated blue, golden-winged, magnolia and mourning.
To get to the property, head southeast from Presque Isle on Hwy B and travel approximately 3 miles to East Bay Road. Turn north and travel a half mile to the parking area.
Find more Vilas County birding opportunities at www.vilas.org.
If you’re looking for a unique birdwatching trip, grab your paddle and head to Rusk County. The Thornapple River, a tributary of the Chippewa River, runs through untouched wilderness. With the help of a canoe or kayak, a birdwatcher can access pristine forests and remote backwaters. It’s an absolutely outstanding birdwatching destination.
The forested banks of the Thornapple attract the full range of woodland birds, from the tiny ruby-crowned kinglet to the brawny pileated woodpecker. Wetlands associated with the river are home to nesting wood ducks and mergansers. Don’t be surprised if you see other forest inhabitants, such as white-tailed deer and even otter.
For your first trip on the Thornapple River, try the stretch between Highway 27 and the confluence with the Chippewa River.
Learn more about the Thornapple River and other Rusk County rivers at www.ruskcountywi.com.