For the Birds Radio Program: Crex Meadows and the Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail

Original Air Date: May 19, 2004

The Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail officially opens Thursday, May 20, in a ceremony at Crex Meadows, and Laura will be speaking at the celebration.

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Birding Trail

I’m a Chicago girl. I first visited northern Wisconsin when I was a relatively new birder almost 30 years ago. It was late summer when my husband and I went up to visit his parents in Port Wing, and I was blown away by bazillions of warblers, many still in breeding plumage, a few still singing, in the woods and along the streams. Swallows were gathering on the power lines, and Cedar Waxwings making that delicate snoring sound and flitting out in that lovely, lazy, late-summer way they have. Out in the pastures near and along Highway 13, I found Le Conte’s Sparrows glowing like brand new copper pennies, Sedge Wrens twanging, and Clay-colored Sparrows buzzing like insects. In the cattail marshes there were Soras and Virginia Rails, and lots of Blue-winged Teals. Driving along Highway 13 in forested areas, I’d occasionally find a chunky Broad-winged Hawk sitting on a wire.

When we visited Port Wing in spring, I discovered Big Pete Road, a virgin boreal forest area with nesting Golden-crowned Kinglets and a host of warblers and thrushes. I felt so tiny in among the huge pines, reaching up to the heavens as if I were in God’s own cathedral. I saw my first bear when I was all alone on Big Pete Road, at dangerously close range, but as if she, too, realized that this place was holy, she took a long, leisurely sniff as I said in as authoritative a voice as I could muster, “Go away, please.” And she did.

I was already hooked on birding the first time I went to northern Wisconsin, but Port Wing completely and permanently ensnared me. On a 10- or 12-mile hike through Port Wing on a May morning, I’d amass a list of 80, 90, or even 100 species. I thought it was my own secret, but then I discovered that Port Wing featured prominently in Sam Robbins’s book, “Wisconsin’s Favorite Bird Haunts.” That book, which has been updated several times and is in a fourth edition, lists many of the best birding spots in the state, written by the birders who know them best. It’s published by the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, and so most active birders in the state know about it. But the book isn’t widely distributed, so most people don’t know about it, or about the many lovely little spots, like my dear Port Wing, throughout Wisconsin.

But now, thanks to the Wisconsin DNR, conservation groups, agencies, private nature centers and communities that comprise the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative, many of these special, beloved places will finally get the acclaim they so richly deserve, and many more Wisconsinites will be able to learn about the rich birdlife around them. The Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail officially opens Thursday, May 20, in a ceremony at Crex Meadows. This trail, modeled after a statewide birding trail in Texas, will connects Wisconsin’s best birding spots, providing maps, a checklist, and a booklet for each of the five regions of the state, all which will be widely available, so everyone can share these beautiful spots. What a gift this will be for all of us, whether we are birders looking for the best spots to add new birds or people who have yet to discover the magic of thrushes and warblers and other avian joys.

The opening ceremony Thursday promises to be fun, and, especially during migration, who needs a reason to visit Crex Meadows?