By Mollee Brown,
Bird Watcher’s Digest
On the east side of Wisconsin, up the coast from Milwaukee and north of Green Bay, a peninsula juts into Lake Michigan. Small, charming towns line the narrow stretch with views of small islands and the gentle waves of the lake glimpsed through towering pines and impressive cliffs that form much of the coastline. This is Door County, where I found myself last summer with a contingent of journalists, there to explore the sights, food, sail boats, cider, lavender fields, and, in my case, bird watching opportunities of the area.
The dozen or so in our group arrived in Door County mid-afternoon on a Tuesday. After settling into our various accommodations—which ranged from quaint bed and breakfasts to lighthouse inns and lakeside resorts—we gathered for a tour of the area via a scenic trolley ride. As we drove through boreal forests and alongside cedar swamps that occasionally opened into grasslands, I kept my eyes peeled for nesting sandhill cranes. Various herons stalked the edges of the waters, and eagles contrasted large among the gulls that flew overhead. Like many other places, bald eagles have made a healthy recovery on the peninsula, with twenty known nesting territories in the county. The trolley’s conductor told folk stories and historical tidbits as we continued along the route, noting that humans had lived on the land continuously since 10,000 B.C. After the tour, we had dinner at a restaurant overlooking the North Bay, with red-breasted mergansers and white pelicans forming silhouettes against a spectacular sunset.
Over the next two days, I hiked, biked, kayaked, and toured much of the county. I encountered several breeding species, including common goldeneye, mute swan, blue-winged teal, red-headed woodpecker, red-breasted nuthatch, brown creeper, Savannah sparrow, and bountiful indigo buntings, scarlet tanagers, and rose-breasted grosbeaks. A birding highlight of the trip were breeding warblers, include chestnut-sided, black-throated green, magnolia, Nashville, Blackburnian, and small populations of mourning, Canada, Cape May, and northern waterthrush.
There are many birding opportunities in Door County on the opposite side of the year as well. Throughout the winter, birders can expect to see tundra swan, long-tailed duck, rough-legged hawk, northern hawk-owl, snowy owl, northern shrike, Bohemian waxwing, pine grosbeak, red and white-winged crossbills, and common redpoll. My next trip to the area will certainly be to get some of these northern specialties.
To celebrate the end of our time in Door County, our group feasted on a fish boil. The pot steamed over a fire pit on a sandy shore of the lake, and was complemented with stories of local legends told by a retired fisherman as he prepared the meal, our stomachs growling as we watched from our circle of Adirondack chairs, local cider in hand. The residents of the peninsula radiated with pride of their homeland throughout the entire trip, and especially during this quiet, simple, and completely delightful show.
If you’re interested in visiting Door County, I’d suggest you check out their tourism website: www.doorcounty.com.
The community prizes Door County’s bird-watching opportunities, which have allowed the county to be dubbed by the state a Bird City Wisconsin community. On the site, you can find links to the many parks and protected areas that are hotspots for birders to visit, along with various groups that lead bird walks and tours. It’s not just the birding, but the communities and people within them that make Door County a fantastic birding destination—and I believe you’ll think so, too.
About the Author
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