Friday, March 15, 2013

Watch osprey along Class I trout stream

North American osprey
Day hikers in the Spooner-Shell Lake, Wis., area can enjoy a pleasant walk along a classic trout stream on Beaver Brook Wildlife Area’s East Trail. Along the way, you may spot the impressive osprey or bald eagle.

The wildlife area nicely preserves 1,964 acres of woods and wetlands between Shell Lake and Spooner. A number of loops run off the main trail so hikers can adjust the trail’s length to meet their time restrictions and energy levels. Dogs also are allowed on the trail.

The wildlife area boasts multiple access points. To reach the East Trail, from Spooner head south on U.S. Hwy. 53. Turn south onto Cranberry Drive. After about a mile, just before road curves SE away from Beaver Brook, turn right into the parking lot. This places you at about the wildlife area’s center.

Spring-pond fed stream
From the parking lot’s northeast corner, head north paralleling Cranberry Drive then veer away from the road for a half mile to trail junction B. A 0.8-mile trail loops off here; it rejoins the main trail at junction C.

Most of the trail runs beneath mixed hardwoods, such as maple, oak and aspen. There’s some conifer, pine and tamarack as well with a few red oak stands.

Continuing ahead on the main trail, you’ll follow Beaver Brook for a half mile to trail junction D. There, you can get a close look at the stream in a 0.4-mile loop that rejoins the main trail at junction E. Beaver Brook stands out as a Class I brook and brown trout stream. Well-shaded - the brook doesn’t show up on satellite photos - 10 spring ponds and a number of bank seeps feed it as it heads north into the Yellow River Flowage.

If you skip this loop, the distance between trail junctions D and E is 0.2 miles. At trail junction E, you’ll pass the brook’s largest spring pond on the trail’s left side.

Dive fishing
Keep an eye out for a number of birds, who either appreciate the wooded cover or the brook’s fish. Among the former are the American woodcock, ruffed grouse, and various waterfowl. Among the latter are bald eagles and the North American osprey.

Osprey can reach up to two feet in length with a wingspan of more than five feet. They feed on pan and sucker fish, and if lucky, you may see it dive for one. Osprey typically fly their search patterns some 30-100 feet above the stream and upon spotting prey dive feet first into the water. Once a fish is caught, their feet juggle it around until the prey’s head faces the wind. They then take it to their perch and feed.

Beyond birds, white-tailed deer, squirrels and chipmunks are ubiquitous here.

After walking 0.75 miles, you’ll come to trail junction G and another loop with a variety of options. Going right means you’ll walk roughly northeast back toward Hwy. 53 for 0.68 miles. You’ll hear a small amount of freeway noise, but it’s momentary, as you curve away from it.

At trail junction I, you can either:
g Go left for 0.43 miles to trail junction H; from there, go left for 0.06 miles back to trail junction G and return the way you came.
g Continue straight, looping about 1.12 miles to trail junction G (you’ll pass trail junction H along the way), and then return the parking lot the way you came.

In the winter, these are ski trails with specific rules about which direction you should go on each loop. These directions aren’t particularly relevant for day hikers, though.

Before heading onto the trail, you may want to stop at a local bookstore and pick up Spooner author Peter Hubin’s “A Brook Runs Through It.” His novel is set along Beaver Brook.

Learn about nearby trails in Day Hiking Trails of Washburn County.