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Birders take to the woods to view spring migration

Katie Thoresen

Frank Schroyer leads a small group single file down a trail through the Beaver Creek Hemlocks Conservation Area.

He stops the group at an opening in trees, mostly maples with some cedars and balsams, the damned up marsh of the Beaver Creek to the south.

“You can really get the best of both worlds at this point where you can watch marsh bird species and then if we turn around, you can see this really good view of the forest canopy,” said Schroyer. “We’ll listen for just a minute.”

The cacophony of frogs and birds just about drowns out all other sounds.

“I’m so sorry I don’t even know where to direct you where to look because there are so many warblers up here,” said Schroyer.

Katie Thoresen

Without even lifting up his binoculars, Schroyer calls out the birds as he hears them.

“Hearing geese, Red-winged blackbirds. I heard a Golden-crowned kinglet overhead to our left,” he said.

He describes each song so that the group can pick each one out, “I heard what sounded like ‘kidic, kidic, kidic, kidic’ sort of this mechanical chipping. That’s our Virginia rail.”

To help everyone get a better glimpse of the birds, he attempts to call them in by “pishing”

“That actually mimics, some other birds will make those sounds when they encounter predators and it attracts birds to a spot. Because typically what songbirds will do is they find a predator and they all locate it and kind of swarm on the location to get more eyes on it,” said Schroyer.

Hundreds of birds flitted throughout the trees during the three hours spent at Beaver Creek Hemlocks Friday morning.

Most only to be heard, not seen.

The birds found in the 257-acre conservation area in Iron County were just a small sample of the birds migrating right now.

The night before we were in the woods last week, more than 23 million birds are estimated to have crossed Wisconsin.

That’s according to Birdcast, a website that provides summaries of radar-based measurements of nocturnal migration.

Katie Thoresen

At its peak, more than 33 million birds moved through the night skies over Wisconsin in a single night last year.

About 2.5 million crossed through Iron County alone.

“This is really a premier time of year to see our migrant bird species, birds that are moving through Northern Wisconsin to get up to Canada and subarctic for nesting as well as seeing some of our birding resident birds, which there are actually quite a few up here in Northern Wisconsin. We’re quite lucky,” said Schroyer.

Places like Beaver Creek Hemlocks attract a lot of birds like warblers because of the healthy supply of bugs for them to feast on.

“They’re all really hungry this time of year, especially the ones that are moving through. I know the midges and flies are bothering us in our faces, but that’s what they’re here for right now,” said Schroyer. “This property is an absolute mecca for mosquitoes in the summer months. I think I was literally lifted off the ground last year. If you revisit, [do it in the] spring and fall, but all those mosquitoes are so important for the birds that do stick around.”

Katie Thoresen

Schroyer is a Land Conservation Associate with the Northwoods Land Trust, the group that owns Beaver Creek Hemlocks.

“It’s not a perfect old growth forest quite yet, but there’s definitely some old trees in there. It’s sort of a mature hemlock forest that’s moving towards old growth,” he said.

Schroyer’s passion for birding grew out of a job he had in Milwaukee cataloging the different species of birds found in the city’s parks.

It’s a passion he’s more than happy to share with groups like this one on a Natural Resources Foundation field trip.

“I love birding. Any opportunity I can get to share that with other people, I think that’s really exciting. We all have hobbies, right? And to share what we’re good at and what we love with others. That’s kind of what it’s all about,” said Schroyer.

Schroyer hopes this excursion will inspire people to come back and visit again whether it’s just to take in the scenery or to try and add another bird to their list.

The Natural Resources Foundation offers hundreds of field trips throughout Wisconsin each year. You can learn more about them here.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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