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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Take flight with the American woodcock for a twilight performance. © Woodcock carving by John Beule. Photo by Jack Barthomai
Take flight with the American woodcock for a twilight performance.

© Woodcock carving by John Beule. Photo by Jack Barthomai

April 2008

Wisconsin Traveler

Leap for love

Lover's Leap: a toponym for more than a dozen Wisconsin places where a literal or figurative tumble from a great height marks the stuff of legends.

On the towering limestone bluffs south of Maiden Rock abutting the broad Mississippi, the Native American Princess Winona, daughter of Chief Red Wing, reputedly leapt to her death rather than marry a suitor she did not love. An equally stunning site rising above the Great River Road is Maiden Rock Bluff State Natural Area. The 400-foot bluff is one of six rocky cliffs riverside in Wisconsin where peregrine falcons nest and other raptors including gyrfalcons and eagles hang tight. The site is owned by the Western Wisconsin Land Trust and is about two miles northwest of Stockholm. See Maiden Rock Bluff State Natural Area for directions.

Court House Rock in Viroqua © Vernon County Historical Society
Court House Rock in Viroqua

© Vernon County Historical Society

At Viroqua's lover's leap, the daughter of the Indian Chief Black Hawk was chased by the military and found refuge in a cave running under the city. When subsequently spotted by white men and seeing no escape, story has it she tragically rode her horse over the edge of high rocks atop Court House Rock. Several accounts of her fate are available from the Vernon County Historical Society in "Hometown Heritage...A Celebration of Viroqua's 150th Birthday," available by mail for $3 plus $2 shipping. Better yet, come visit exhibits on the second and third floors of the Historical Society at 410 S. Center Street in Viroqua. Hours are Tuesdays through Thursdays from noon-4 p.m. in the winter months, Monday through Saturday from noon- 4 p.m. from mid-May through mid-September, or call (608) 637-7396 for an appointment. E-mail Vernon County Historical Society.

People are not the only creatures that display signs of undying love or at least impending affection. Prairie chickens, sharp-tailed grouse, cranes and woodcock are among the feathered species that dance, spiral and vocalize in mating rituals for all to see. The predawn rituals of chickens on their booming grounds are a spectacular rite of spring. They thrust their bodies parallel to the ground, throw up their pinnae, inflate gorgeous orange cheek sacs, strut their stuff and emit low cackles, clucks and booms two hours before sunrise. Bookings started in January to reserve a seat in a blind for excellent viewing on the Buena Vista Marsh and Paul J. Olson Wildlife Area in the Golden Sands country (715) 343-6215.

You can still enjoy a heck of a show at the 2008 Prairie Chicken Festival from April 18-20 in portions of five central Wisconsin counties where special events will be held throughout the weekend. Mead Wildlife Area in Milladore will host readings from conservation writers and wildlife craft workshops on Saturday, April 19th.

Necedah Wildlife Refuge in Necedah offers tours to see the rare whooping cranes on Sunday, April 20th from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. On trips through the grasslands of Sandhill Wildlife Area in Babcock, you can practice wiggling like the Blanding's turtles and radio-collared porcupines that are under research. For more festival information, visit Prairie Chicken Festival, call (715) 343-6215, or drop a line to the Golden Sands RC&D office, 1462 Strongs Avenue, Stevens Point, WI 54481.

If you'd rather see sharptails strut their stuff, check out the nine prime locations in northern Wisconsin that we listed in our February 1999 story, Winged sand dancers.

Still want to let your spring spirits soar? Take flight with the American woodcock for a twilight performance through April. Forest edges with grassy openings are a good bet for the singing ground. The male woodcock performance starts with a "peenting" buzz-like sound as it takes a few strutting steps on the ground before launching skyward in an erratic bat-like twittering flight nearly straight up for 200 feet or more. Then he goes into a power dive, twisting at breakneck speed, peenting away before dropping his wing flap about 20 feet off the ground and gently fluttering to an easy landing – thrilling to watch, inimitable and one of the great exhibitions of the avian world. Leapin' lovers! How the female timberdoodle resists his antics is a mystery for other romantics to solve.