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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

October 1997

Wisconsin Traveler
Goin' South

Follow bird migrations in Wisconsin.

It's getting to be that time of year, isn't it? When the wind has more of a bite than a nip. When the clouds assume that sullen adolescent scowl. When the trees say, "We've been holding up these leaves all summer, and we've had enough." Yes, you're thinking about packing up and sneaking off to someplace civilized, where winter is inaugurated with a slathering of SPF 40 sunblock and a pina colada on the beach.

Well, forget it. You're too late. There are others who planned for departure months and years ago; all you can do is say "hasta la vista" and watch them fly away.

Many will say you have the better end of the bargain. Wisconsin's fall bird migrations are wonderful spectacles to behold, even if you can't go along for the ride.

If you're an early riser, plan a trip to Gallagher Marsh, in the Sandhill State Wildlife Area near Babcock in Wood County. From mid- to late October thousands of sandhill cranes congregate here to gather strength for the long trip. Get to your perch before sunrise and you'll be treated to the raucous song-and-dance of 3,000 to 5,000 sandhills greeting the day's first light.

If it takes more than a crane to haul you out of bed that early, you can still see plenty of wildlife along Sandhill's Trumpeter Trail. This 14-mile self-guided auto tour winds through hardwood forests, meadows, oak savannas, prairies and flowages. Pause to stop at the three observation towers, where you won't have to crane your neck too far to get a panorama of the landscape and its temporary and permanent residents.

South of Sandhill, the 44,000-acre Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Juneau County offers viewing points where you can see flocks of waterfowl resting and staging before their flights are called. Hiking trails weave through the refuge. Stop at the visitors' center six miles northwest of Necedah for maps and other information.

To the west, the Mississippi River guides the winged on their journeys to warmer climes. At Rieck Lake Park in Alma, Buffalo County, 2,500 tundra swans refresh themselves for a few weeks before moving south in early November. Look for herons, bitterns and great egrets, too.

Of course, no pass on migration would be complete without mentioning Horicon Marsh near Horicon, Dodge County. Thousands upon thousands of Canada geese claim this vast cattail marsh in autumn, but more than 265 other bird species also have been spotted here. A trip to Horicon is a fine way to bid fall a fond farewell.

For more details, call:

  • Sandhill State Wildlife Area: (715) 884-2437
  • Necedah National Wildlife Refuge: (608) 565-2551
  • Rieck Lake Park: (608) 685-4249 (swan watch recording), 685-3330 (office)
  • Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area: (414) 387-7860
  • Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge: (414) 387-2658