Millions of Canadia geese head for Horicon Marsh on their way to warmer climate
Putnam Pit managing editor
Every autumn, birds by the million fill the sky above the Horicon Marsh Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin as travelers by the thousands crane their necks for a view of the great fall waterfowl migrations.
They start to arrive in mid-September and stay until the winter freeze, but the peak occurs in mid-October, when as many as 200,000 geese settle on the marsh. It's a haven for wildlife watchers, who flock to the flyway for the breathtaking sight of thousands of birds beating their wings against the sky. Honks, whistles, chortles and quacks fill the air from the sun's first glimmer until its evening fall to the west. Prime viewing is at dawn and dusk. At dawn, waterfowl rise by the thousands and fly off to forage in farm fields for miles around. They return at sundown in great V formations, like waves of incoming bombers.
To visitors who see the marsh as a pristine jewel of nature, Bill Volkert, state wildlife educator and naturalist for the Department of Natural Resources here, loves to tell the true story of Horicon Marsh.
It's a story of all the ways people could possibly wrong a piece of
land, from damming the river, then undamming it, to hunting the marsh,
draining it for farming, then letting its wet and heavy peat, ill-suited
for crops, dry out into a wasteland. It's a history that now
Today the area thrives -- 32,000 acres of rich wildlife habitat. More than 250 species of birds have been sighted, about half of them nest here. There are black-crowned night herons, double-breasted cormorants, great blue herons, and great egrets. Visitors can also see white-tailed deer, red foxes, coyotes, otters, raccoons and muskrats, year round residents of the area.
One of the best ways to see the geese and other wildlife is to drive the roads surrounding the marsh. A route designated as Wild Goose Parkway makes a 30-mile loop around the marsh, offering spectacular vistas.
43E30'N 88E38'W Area 12,911ha
Location Approximately 105km northwest of the city of
Milwaukee and 65km west of Lake Michigan, in Dodge and Fond du Lac counties,
in the state of
Date of Ramsar Designation 4 December 1990.
Other International Designations None.
National Designations National Wildlife RefugeP (Horicon NWR - 8,489ha; northern two-thirds of the marsh); Wildlife AreaP (Horicon Marsh WA - 4,422ha; southern third of the marsh, State designation); State Natural AreaP (Fourmile Island - 6ha).
Principal Features Horicon Marsh is one of the largest
freshwater wetlands in the USA. It is bounded to the east by the steeply
rising ridge of the Niagaran
The best viewing spot is along State 49 at the northern edge of the
refuge. There are wide gravel shoulders along the road -- you can
simply pull over, park, and see geese by the thousands. For the more
adventurous, canoes can be rented at the Blue Heron Landing at the bridge
in Horicon. This is also the place to get aboard a pontoon boat for
an up-close look at wildlife. Plus six miles of hiking trails are
accessible on the south side of the marsh. For more information about Horicon
Marsh and other spots to see great fall color in Wisconsin, call 1-800-432-TRIP
or visit the state's web site at http://tourism.state.wi.us
[Putnam Pit Managing Editor Christine R. Grant also works for a Milwaukee public relations firm that represents Wisconsin tourism]