Grab a pair of binoculars and get on your way--five Madison bird-watching hotspots.
With the rise of ecotourism across the globe, people are realizing what a fascinating world we live in, and are getting outdoors more often to enjoy it. Enter bird-watching, one of the fastest-growing hobbies in North America. Believe it or not, you don’t have to be an ornithologist to appreciate the amazing colors, shapes and sizes found in the bird world. In fact, it’s this amazing variety that often attracts people of all ages to bird-watching—also called birding—in the first place. In Madison there are several great sites right in the middle of the city, playing host to the roughly two hundred different bird species that call this area home for at least part of the year.
This 1,260-acre preserve lies near the heart of downtown Madison. Stretching from Nakoma Road in the west to Fish Hatchery Road, and from just south of the Beltline to near Mills Street downtown, the Arboretum features diverse habitat areas attractive to a wide variety of birds. Ho-Nee-Um Pond, a spot just off Monroe Street and one of the best birding sites in Madison, is where warblers—small, colorful birds hopping around like they’re working off an intense caffeine buzz—are found in abundance during the spring and fall migrations in April, May, September and October. Because of the pond, an offshoot of Lake Wingra, and the lake itself, a variety of waterfowl and shorebirds are prevalent much of the year. Parking tip: Several convenient lots dot the edges of the Arboretum, and at least two city bus routes have stops right at the edge of the preserve.
A peninsula jutting into Lake Mendota, Picnic Point helps form University Bay, a sheltered, shallow-water haven for ducks, geese and many other types of waterfowl. The Point itself is heavily wooded with well-maintained pathways, and sees numerous warblers and other songbirds move through during migration. Across University Bay Drive from Picnic Point is the Class of 1918 Marsh, a small pond with heavy cattail growth, home to ducks, rails, blackbirds and several varieties of sparrows. Timing tip: Commonly used by bicyclists and runners, Picnic Point can sometimes see heavy human traffic, particularly later in the morning.
North of Lake Mendota, just off the end of Sherman Avenue, is Cherokee Marsh. This wetland lies along the Yahara River, before the river flows into Lake Mendota, and features numerous good walking trails and boardwalks. The marsh is home to sora rails, sandhill cranes, kingfishers, several species of herons and a wide variety of ducks. Most waterbirds favor the mud flats for daily food foraging. The wooded areas see warblers, flycatchers, orioles, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers.
Owen Conservation Park
Located on Old Sauk Road, Owen Conservation Park is right in the middle of a west-side neighborhood. The deciduous woods and restored prairie habitat is home to bluebirds, sparrows, flycatchers, warblers, indigo buntings, vireos and woodpeckers. A storm drainage ditch to the south leads to Mineral Point Road, and is good for spotting songbirds at all times and warblers during the spring and autumn. People running or walking on these trails are not uncommon.
Pheasant Branch Conservancy
Technically in Middleton, the 540 acres of the Pheasant Branch play host to more than two hundred different species of birds. This conservancy features not only the spring-fed marsh, but also open water, prairie, woods and meadows. A trail follows the Pheasant Branch creek through the preserve, and several parking areas are located around the edges of the conservancy.
Spread Your Wings Outside Madison
Goose Pond Sanctuary in Arlington is a major regional stopover for migrating waterfowl.
The Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District connects to the Nine Springs E-way. Its wildlife viewing areas attract cranes, herons and a wide variety of waterfowl and grassland songbirds.
Shoveler’s Sink is a large glacial pothole four miles west of Madison on Mineral Point Road. It attracts a variety of ducks during migration, as well as sandhill cranes, meadowlarks, and other grassland species and waterfowl.
The Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, perhaps the largest stopover for migrating ducks and geese in the area, has offered breeding habitat to a flock of white pelicans for the last several years. Horicon is about an hour east of Madison in Dodge County.
Bird-watching has always been seen as a slightly nerdy hobby, but with the combined offerings of exercise, appreciating the glorious variety nature has to offer and learning more about the world around us, it’s no wonder it has become one of the most popular hobbies in the United States. Look around in your neighborhood; you’ll be surprised at the interesting things you may find.
Bill Bodden is a Madison-based birder.
|Madison Magazine - May 2007|