Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Hike major bird habitat in Crex Meadows

Hay Creek Trail
A plethora of trails run through the Crex Meadows Wildlife Area, an expansive, 30,000-acre wetlands in southwest Burnett County, Wis. Among the most popular of those walking paths is Hay Creek Trail, a 1.5-mile loop.

To reach the trail, from Grantsburg, take the road north at the Hwys. 70. 87 and 48 intersection. Watch for and follow the yellow goose painted on the roadway, which winds you through town until reaching the intersection of County Roads D and F. Turn right onto County Road D then take the next left into the visitor center parking lot. The trailhead is behind the center.

Pine barrens
Take the trail clockwise. It heads through a forested area to the Lower Hay Creek Flowage. A flowage is a lake created when a river or creek is dammed, typically to prevent flooding, but when in an urban setting often for hydroelectric power.

The forested area is among the higher elevations of land in Crex Meadows. The wildlife area preserves sedge marshes and brush prairie habitats, and boasts the largest remaining section of Wisconsin’s endangered pine barrens ecosystem.

The pine barrens once stretched for about 1500 square miles across northwest Wisconsin. When the last ice age’s glacier retreated some 13,000 years ago, it left a sandy plain; the marshes in the area are all that remain of Glacial Lake Grantsburg. Red and jack pines along with prairie grasses dominate the barrens.

Migrating birds, butterflies
Today, the protected ecosystems ensure that Crex Meadows annually is a major stop for migrating birds. Indeed, more than 270 bird species – including sandhill cranes, whose wingspans can reach up to seven feet – inhabit the wildlife area. Their stop off here in October draws birdwatchers from around the world.

Nearly 100 types of butterflies can be found here as well. Otters, black bears, wolves and a number of other animals also call the wildlife area home.

If you have a family dog, Rover is welcome on the trail. From April 15 to July 31, dogs must be leashed, though.

On the way back to the parking lot, stop at the visitor center for displays of local animals. A warning if children are with you: There’s a gift shop at the center.

Read more about day hiking Crex Meadows in my Hittin’ the Trail: Day Hiking Crex Meadows Wildlife Area guidebook.