Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Photo of group of birders © Kim Wheeler

Join other other birders at Crex Meadows for early morning tours.
© Kim Wheeler

April 2012

Wisconsin Traveler

Birding treks

Kathryn A. Kahler

Resolve this spring to join the hardy ranks of spring birders who wake before dawn, don boots and binoculars, navigate darkened backroads and traipse into nature to experience the sights and sounds of Wisconsin's avian fauna. Choose from treks and festivals in all parts of the state.

Make a point – and an appointment, please – to watch the daybreak two-step of the sharp-tailed grouse at Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area in the northeast corner of Burnett County. These native grouse are only found in isolated areas of the state so the chance to see them dance is truly an awesome opportunity. Reserve a spot in one of three DNR-maintained blinds and help wildlife managers survey sharptail populations. Dancing activity peaks from about April 15 to May 15. To learn more and make a reservation, go to Friends of the Namekagon Barrens, where you will find documents with directions, hotel information and guidelines that will maximize both your viewing opportunity and the birds' mating success. If you have questions, call (715) 635-4091.

Watch another feathered dancer of Wisconsin fame about 100 miles to the southeast at the Central Wisconsin Prairie Chicken Festival, April 13-15. The greater prairie chicken is so revered in these parts that it is celebrated at six locations across four counties over a three-day period each year. Join the birder migration and immerse yourself in events that include prairie chicken viewing at dawn, wildlife presentations, guided birding tours, children's crafts, bird banding and more. Visit Central Wisconsin Prairie Chicken Festival, or call (715) 343-6215 for more information.

Horicon Marsh Bird Festival, May 11-14, is the oldest birding festival in the state and typically brings in over 1,500 people. Naturalist-led bus and boat tours are available for a fee, but there are plenty of free events and demonstrations for all ages. Learn why birds are banded, collect wetland water bugs, learn how to spot a good pair of binoculars, or come early Sunday morning and plant yourself at the "Big Sit" where you'll help identify every bird seen or heard from a 17-foot circle on the observation deck of the DNR office. Visit Horicon Marsh Bird Club for a list of events and registration information, or call (920) 485-4663.

The Chequamegon Bay Birding & Nature Festival, May 17-19 draws birders and nature lovers of all skills and ages to some of the best birding and spectacular viewing opportunities the Midwest offers. The Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center (at the intersection of U.S. Highway 2 and County Highway G in Ashland) is the home base for the event. For more information call Mary McPhetridge, Ashland Chamber of Commerce, (800) 284-9484.

Crex Meadows Wildlife Area, just north of Grantsburg in Burnett County, hosts several bird events and tours during April and May. Join expert birders as they explore the wetlands and prairies for spring migrants and returning resident birds on Saturday, April 28, May 5, and May 12 from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Carpool from the Crex Meadows Wildlife Education Center. Cost is $5/person; registration required. For more information about these tours and other events, check out Crex Meadows Wildlife Area, call (715) 463-2739 or email Friends of Crex.

Beginners and experts alike will enjoy Spring Bird Hikes at Richard Bong State Recreation Area (just south of Kansasville in northwest Kenosha County). Hikes are planned once a month to catch the earliest and latest of migrants: March 17, 7:30 to 9 a.m. at the visitor center; April 14, 7 to 9 a.m. at the visitor center; and May 12, 7 to 9 a.m. at the vista picnic area. There's no fee but participants will need a Wisconsin State Park sticker.

We know they aren't birds, but these tiny furred creatures need all the friends they can get. Learn about resident bats and others from around the world at the Wisconsin Bat Festival, May 12, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center, 1625 Northport Drive, Madison. You'll find events and activities for all ages; $10/adult over 16; kids free with paying adult. Proceeds benefit the Wisconsin Bat Conservation Fund. For details, visit Wisconsin Bat Monitoring Program.

Kathryn A. Kahler is a staff writer for Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.