A Northern Birding Wilderness - Crex Meadows, WI

A large scale wildlife refuge that is known to birders in the Midwest but probably not well known elsewhere is the Crex Meadows Wildlife Refuge in northern Wisconsin. It comprises 30, 000 acres of mostly sedge marsh and brush prairie ecosystem that is home to 270 species of birds and 600 species of plants. Its large number of bird species and the vastness of the area creates that special feeling that only wild places can generate and makes it a delight to visit.
A couple of the specialties that I found on a visit in July, 2003 are the Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow and the Le Conte's Sparrow (often found in the pump house area). I was never able to lay eyes on these two birds but instead identified them by song - so if you go it is well worth your while to learn these two songs. The interesting thing about the song of the Le Conte's Sparrow is that it is so high in pitch that you cannot hear it without some adjustment. It feels like you are "entering a room" when you finally hear it. Another bird to try for along the pump house road is the always elusive Yellow Rail. I was not lucky enough to hear one on my visit.

A bird that is relatively common at Crex Meadows and is fun to see and hear is the Bobolink (shown above). I think the bird is handsome and I love the unique "burbling" song. Two other birds with unique songs that you will probably find there during the breeding season is the Clay-colored Sparrow and the Upland Sandpiper (this is one of those birds where I always have to check the name because they changed the name from when I was a kid). The insect like buzz of the Clay-colored Sparrow is quite distinctive and Crex Meadows is my life lister of this species. The "wolf whistle" of the Upland Sandpiper is a song that even non-birders enjoy. Be sure to check the fence posts for this species.

One species that the refuge is famous for is the Sharp-tailed Grouse. These birds conduct their mating dances here so if you enjoy this type of spectacle this is the place to see it. There are special viewing areas set up so check with the Visitor's Center as to their location.


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Northern Wisconsin is a very beautiful area and this wildlife refuge is a treat for birders to visit. If you get up into this neck of the woods you will absolutely not regret a visit.

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