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Brown County birders have no shortage of area options

By Ben Rodgers

BROWN COUNTY – You can do it from the comfort of home, simply looking out a window.

You can do it on a hike through the wilderness.

It can be done year-round, and every day you can find something new if you look hard enough.

The Green Bay area is a prime location for birding, the act of wildlife observation that can be just for fun or in the name of citizen science.

“Lake Michigan in general, and especially Green Bay, is a huge migration corridor for birds that come through the United States,” said Amy Carrozzino-Lyon, education and outreach coordinator, for the Northeast Wisconsin Chapter of the Audubon Society. “We get some really amazing mitigatory birds through this area. You can see some special birds at times.”

For example, for flocks of warblers following the natural layout of the Bay of Green Bay migrating in spring, Carrozzino-Lyon said the first thing they notice when coming through is the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, a nice forest area close by and perfect for a rest stop.

Carrozzino-Lyon said now is an active time for waterfowl migration, and area birding hotspots currently are the Barkhausen Waterfowl Preserve, the Ken Euers Nature Area, the wildlife sanctuary and any other parks by the water.

It’s the perfect time to catch a glimpse of a wood duck, blue-winged teal, gadwall, American wigeon, northern pintail, bufflehead, common merganser or goldeneye, but don’t be discouraged with a myriad of mallards.

“Green Bay offers a lot of opportunities because of the access we have to small water and big water,” she said. “We have a lot of waterfowl. They really use Green Bay for a transportation portal. But in addition to that, we have some great wetlands, some great forested areas. We really have a great diversification of wildlife areas, in addition to the bay.”

Brisk winds and dropping temperatures may not seem like the best conditions to spot a bird, but right now there are roughly 110 different bird species in the area, according to an app geared toward citizen science.

“The Merlin app is free to download – it’s a great tool for looking at what types of birds might be possible in the area you are with narrowing things down,” Carrozzino-Lyon said. “It really asks you the key questions for characteristics, what was the general size and colors, and that also can be a really key feature to look at. It’s a great resource and also helpful wherever you go.”

Merlin is offered as part of Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology.

“It’s a great way to keep that in your file, in addition to seeing the bird for the first time,” she said. “Usually when you see a bird and hear it for the first time, that experience will stay with you.”

This pine siskin watches its reflection at a Suamico bird bath recently. Lee Joniaux Photo

When birders use Merlin to identify a bird and record where and when they saw the bird, the information is used to better understand migratory patterns and bird populations.

Merlin also offers birders an easy way to track accomplishments.

A life list is a list birders can keep detailing every bird species they’ve identified in the wild, and it can be done from a pocket or purse, and completed any time of the year.

“Birding can be a year-round activity based on our ability and willingness to maybe be uncomfortable in different environmental extremes,” Carrozzino-Lyon said. “We actually get a lot of birds that will come to this area in the winter from up north.”

Just as ruby-throated hummingbirds and indigo buntings make their way south during Wisconsin’s harsh winters, snowy owls and dark-eyed juncos leave Canada for Wisconsin’s relative warmth.

Get answers to questions

Birders can take the hobby as far as they want, from setting up a birdfeeder in the backyard and using a $10 pair of binoculars, to hiking through the woods with a digital camera and high-end pair of binoculars, which can both cost thousands of dollars.

If people have questions about how to get started, or what type of food to use at a bird feeder, the Northeast Wisconsin Chapter of the Audubon Society can help, even if it isn’t meeting in person during the pandemic.
Carrozzino-Lyon encourages people with questions to visit newiaudubon.org.

Another group for birders in Brown County is the Bay Area Bird Club.

“In non-COVID times, we have monthly field trips that go to different areas of the state, depending on what season it is and what we might find,” said Nancy Nabak, president of the Bay Area Bird Club. “Every other month we sponsor a lecture series with the Northeast Wisconsin Chapter of the Audubon Society. We alternate months bringing in guest speakers talking about nature and focusing on some type of bird aspect, and our organization also leads bird hikes in the city for the spring and fall during peak migration time on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.”

Like Carrozzino-Lyon, Nabak enjoys birding in groups, and recommends it for beginners.

“The more eyes you have on a bird, the more field marks are being identified, the more ways people are hearing and learning to find a bird in a tree. It really helps for beginning birders,” Nabak said.

She said people interested in learning more can email her at [email protected].

When interviewed for this story, Nabak was in remote southwestern Wisconsin, staying alone at a cabin, hiking every day for a week, and finding zen behind a lens.

“Getting behind the binoculars or getting behind the camera is where everything else in the world goes away for me,” she said.

A view unlike any other

Lee Joniaux, a birder in Suamico, gets to see birds in ways most people could only dream of, with a zoom lens that can make birds 100 yards away seem up close and personal.

Sandhill cranes are fairly common in Brown County, like this one from summer, for birders who take the time to look for them. Lee Joniaux Photo

“For me, people often say you get to escape reality,” Joniaux said. “I look at the total opposite. I get to go to reality and do something else. The peace, serenity, the disconnect from the rest of the world, really draws me into it.”

What started as a robin he saw as a boy has led to 22 bird feeders in his yard during the peak season. With fall in full swing, he’s down to 13.

He likes to share his images on various Wisconsin birding Facebook groups, to share what he experiences through a powerful camera lens.

Joniaux said his best birding day was in Baileys Harbor recently where in 30 minutes he captured images of a red-headed woodpecker, scarlet tanager, American redstart and about nine different types of warblers.

But he said days with birds like that are rare, and most times he goes through hundreds of photos to get one or two clean images.

“There’s been literal tears because of the joy and excitement that comes with it,” Joniaux said of getting the perfect picture.

With everything going on in the world right now, he said there has never been an escape for him as relaxing as a good day birding.

“Especially during these times, with the way the world is now, there’s been so much joy, so much serenity that comes along with this,” Joniaux said.

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