Friday, November 1, 2013

Spot rare bird species nesting near Dike 1

LeConte’s Sparrow.
Photo courtesy Wisconsin DNR
Hikers can spot a plethora of rare and endangered birds on the Dike 1 Sedge Marsh Trail in Wisconsin’s Crex Meadows Wildlife Area.

To reach the trailhead, from the County Road F and D junction, take County Road D east. In about three miles, turn left/north onto East Refuge Road. In about 2.5 miles, turn right/east onto the jeep trail (If you’ve reached North Refuge Road, you’ve gone too far.). Park at the lot at the edge of a sedge meadow that a water transfer ditch runs through.

Take the out-and-back trail to East Refuge Road for a half-mile round trip.

Keep an eye to the north for flying ducks. Though Zalesky Pond can’t be seen through the trees, ducks love the potholes and the small wetlands surrounding that nearby waterbody.

During spring, you probably won’t see any female ducks in the air, as they’re tending nests in the grassy areas that they and their drakes have built. The drake defends the surrounding territory. After the eggs hatch, the pair lead their ducklings to larger bodies of water.

The massive sedge marsh east of the trail stretches from Dike 1 Flowage in the south to Reed Lake in the north. Several rare, endangered bird species reside in the marsh, including:
g LeConte’s sparrow – Among the smallest sparrow species in the United States, watch for it on the ground under the cover of tall grass.
g Nelson’s sharp-tailed sparrow – You may spy them probing in mud for insects to eat. They have a raspy trill.
g Yellow rail – A small, secretive bird, the yellow rail typically builds its nest on damp ground under the cover of dead grass. Birders often come to Crex Meadows each spring to spot these three species.

A variety of other, more common birds also can be spotted or heard on the trail near the sedge meadows, including American bitterns, bobolinks, sandhill cranes, sedge wrens, and Virginia rails.

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