The Twitcher: A birding column

Bird of the week: Downy Woodpecker

About: A small woodpecker with a short bill, white belly, black wings with white spotting and black head with white bands. Males have a red spot on their nape, which females lack. Very similar to hairy woodpecker, which is larger and has a longer bill. 

Where to find this bird: Look for downies in trees on Main Hall Green and forested areas along the Fox River.

When to find this bird: Year-round

Fun fact: Woodpeckers do not sing songs, but drum loudly against wood or metal for the same purpose. This drumming is often mistaken for feeding sounds, but when woodpeckers feed, they are actually surprisingly quiet even when vigorously tapping.

A downy woodpecker clings to a tree branch. Photo by Kai Frueh.

Birding spots around Appleton

As spring approaches and birds start migrating through, I thought I would share some of my favorite birding spots around Appleton. These spots are a bit further from campus, but are easily biked to or are just a short drive away.

1. Buboltz Preserve is one of my favorite spots and is fun to visit year-round. Located on the northwest side of town, on the outskirts of Appleton, Buboltz has a mixture of habitats, from forest to grassland, and has a number of trails. It also has a few ponds, and much of the forest is a bog, which attracts some unique birds. In the spring, parts of the path flood and it becomes very muddy, so either bring boots or be ready to turn around when it gets mucky.

2. 1,000 Island Preserves is a great place to catch migrating birds. Located along the Fox River in Kaukauna, this preserve features beautiful boardwalks along the river where the river spreads out and flows among many small islands full of trees. Past all the islands, there is a large bay that the river has carved out, which creates a great spot to see migrating waterfowl in early spring. Pelicans and cormorants also like to loaf on exposed rocks in this area. Starting in April, baby geese rule much of the nearby sports fields.  If you visit 1,000 Islands, I recommend also checking out the Konkapot trail, which is located about a block away in more central Kaukauna. This path follows along Konkapot Creek and is a great spot to see migrating warblers, thrashers and sparrows.

3. Heckrodt Wetland Preserve is a great place to take a walk in migration. Even in winter, this place is always active and good views are provided with a couple of feeders. Located near Lake Winnebago on the edge of Menasha, this preserve features boardwalks that meander through marshy forest. There is also a small prairie that compliments the marshy forest and attracts a different variety of birds. This place is a very popular one and frequently gets crowded on the weekends by humans and deer.

4. Jefferson Park in Menasha is a great place to view waterfowl during migration. While most of Lake Winnabago freezes over and stays frozen into early spring, Jefferson Park is situated right where the Fox River flows out of the lake and thus stays unfrozen. This pushes many ducks closer to shore and allows for great viewing of goldeneyes, common mergansers and scaup. Rarer waterfowl also show up here, including red-breasted mergansers, tundra swans and scoters. Binoculars or a scope are helpful for viewing the birds that are further out on the water. 

5. Apple Creek/Thrivent ponds is a bit of an odd birding spot, but very productive. It features a number of ponds surrounded by open fields. On the north side of town, these ponds are easily viewed from a nice bike path that meanders through the fields just north of I-41. It is a great place to view waterfowl and sparrows, and when water levels are lower and mud is exposed along the edges, it’s a terrific spot for shorebirds.

Those are just some of my favorite spots to bird and I cannot wait to visit them again this spring as birds return north. I hope you too will have the chance to visit one of these spots and experience the amazing spring bird migration!