Move over Magee Marsh: Birding in Madison

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State Capitol of Wisconsin

So I heard the news that Magee Marsh is one of the best places to bird in the United States. I knew I had to visit and put the destination on my bucket list. I finally got to Magee Marsh for the first time the first week of May 2015. This happened to be before the Biggest Week in American Birding. This event draws people from all over the world to come out and see the warblers and other birds at the height of spring migration. Magee Marsh is the last stop in the United States for many Canada bound birds.

I can confirm that Magee Marsh is a must see! It is a cool place to bird with a long boardwalk and close up views of warblers. I got more “life birds” here in a few hours than anywhere else. So it is a great place to visit, however, I prefer to bird without a whole bunch of other birders with humongous cameras and scopes. There were so many people on the marsh boardwalk!!! It was noisy and people were even yapping on their cell phones. I thought this was rude. Too bad cellular service works on the boardwalk. Anyway, all of this commotion was a little bit much.

I cannot even imagine being at Magee Marsh during the actual Biggest Week. I heard from others that the crowd is much bigger! I decided to move on northward to look for migratory birds elsewhere.

A couple of days later I ended up in Madison, Wisconsin. I am so glad I visited this amazing college town. It is a great place with plenty of places to bird.

The first birding I did was at the Turville Point Conservation Park. There is a nature trail on the far right of the parking area. It is well maintained so you can hike on dirt and short grass through the woods. Turville Point has 3.1 miles of trails. While on the trails you can see seven acres of prairie. I spotted many song birds here and had the place almost to myself! Best of all was that other people around were just hiking…no big cameras or crowds. It was just a peaceful place that made me feel like I was far from the city. I even spotted a raccoon nestled in a tree. Check the photo and see if you can spot it peeking out.

Racoon nestled in a tree
Racoon nestled in a tree

Turville Point Conservation Park is adjacent to Olin Park (It really just feels like one big park).  Olin Park has a lakefront area with public restrooms. In this area, there are many old trees along the drive. Many song birds were in these trees too.

Turville Point and Olin Park are a short drive from great places to stay, great places to eat, and good coffee spots. Often these are missing from birding areas. You can even walk to downtown Madison from Turville Point. The walk is largely along Lake Monona so you may spot some shore birds on the way. Plus, you’ll have views of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designed conference center on the lake. I recommend stopping in for a self-guided tour while here.

On my last day in Madison, I got up early and headed over to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum.  I got there before the visitor center opened. I had the place to myself. I had perfect timing with my mid-May visit because the flowers were at peak.

Near the arboretum parking lot were beautiful flowering trees. The lilacs were in full bloom and perfumed the air. I started birding among these trees and found a few American Robins and American Goldfinches nesting in some of these trees. I then moved on through towards the Marsh.

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As I walked through the lawn of the arboretum, I spotted a Wild Turkey and snapped a photo:

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The Arboretum is very large for a university! It has 1,200-acres. It is open year from 7 am to 10 pm. The visitor center has different hours though. On the day I visited, it opened later at 9:30 am (weekday). There is a large parking lot at the visitor center and several smaller parking areas along the drive toward the visitor center that offer additional areas to bird.

I can’t wait to return and visit additional Wisconsin areas including other parks in the greater Madison area. I heard the news that I must visit the  International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin! I have added it to my bucket list.

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