Birding in the Midwest

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Beautiful Birds of the Midwest 

The every popular Western Meadowlark.  The western meadowlark has distinctive calls described as watery or flute-like, which distinguish it from the closely related eastern meadowlark. The western meadowlark is the state bird of six states: Montana, Kansas, NebraskaNorth Dakota, Oregon, and Wyoming.

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The Hooded and Common Merganser.  In most places, the common merganser is as much a frequenter of salt water as fresh water. In larger streams and rivers, they float down with the stream for a few miles, and either fly back again or more commonly fish their way back, diving incessantly the whole way. In smaller streams, they are present in pairs or smaller groups, and they float down, twisting round and round in the rapids, or fishing vigorously in a deep pool near the foot of a waterfall or rapid. When floating leisurely, they position themselves in water similar to ducks, but they also swim deep in water like cormorants, especially when swimming upstream. They often sit on a rock in the middle of the water, similar to cormorants, often half-opening their wings to the sun. To rise from water, they flap along the surface for many yards. Once they are airborne, the flight is strong and rapid. They often fish in a group forming a semicircle and driving the fish into shallow water, where they are captured easily. Their ordinary voice is a low, harsh croak, but during the breeding season, they (including the young) make a plaintive, soft whistle. Generally, they are wary, and one or more birds stay on sentry duty to warn the flock of approaching danger. When disturbed, they often disgorge food before moving. Though they move clumsily on land, they resort to running when pressed, assuming a very upright position similar to penguins, and falling and stumbling frequently.

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The Ruffed Grouse.  Ruffed grouse have two distinct morphs: grey and brown. In the grey morph, the head, neck and back are grey-brown; the breast is light with barring. There is much white on the underside and flanks, and overall the birds have a variegated appearance; the throat is often distinctly lighter. The tail is essentially the same brownish grey, with regular barring and a broad black band near the end (“subterminal”). Brown-morph birds have tails of the same color and pattern, but the rest of the plumage is much more brown, giving the appearance of a more uniform bird with less light plumage below and a conspicuously grey tail. There are all sorts of intergrades between the most typical morphs; warmer and more humid conditions favor browner birds in general.

Displaying male

The ruffs are on the sides of the neck in both sexes. They also have a crest on top of their head, which sometimes lies flat. Both genders are similarly marked and sized, making them difficult to tell apart, even in hand. The female often has a broken subterminal tail band, while males tend to have unbroken tail bands, though the opposite of either can occur. Females may also do a display similar to the male. Another fairly accurate sign is that rump feathers with a single white dot indicate a female; rump feathers with more than one white dot indicate a male.

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The red-necked grebe is a migratory aquatic bird found in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Its wintering habitat is largely restricted to calm waters just beyond the waves around ocean coasts, although some birds may winter on large lakes. Grebes prefer shallow bodies of fresh water such as lakes, marshes or fish-ponds as breeding sites.

The red-necked grebe is a nondescript dusky-grey bird in winter. During the breeding season, it acquires the distinctive red neck plumage, black cap and contrasting pale grey face from which its name was derived. It also has an elaborate courtship display and a variety of loud mating calls. Once paired, it builds a nest from water plants on top of floating vegetation in a shallow lake or bog.

 National Geographic Birds

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                 Birds of the Midwest

The barred owl, also known as northern barred owl or hoot owl, is a true owl native to eastern North America. Adults are large, and are brown to grey with barring on the chest. Barred owls have expanded their range to the west coast of North America, where they are considered invasive.

The common loon or great northern diver is a large member of the loon, or diver, family of birds. Breeding adults have a plumage that includes a broad black head and neck with a greenish, purplish, or bluish sheen, blackish or blackish-grey upperparts, and pure white underparts except some black on the undertail coverts and vent. Non-breeding adults are brownish with a dark neck and head marked with dark grey-brown. Their upperparts are dark brownish-grey with an unclear pattern of squares on the shoulders, and the underparts, lower face, chin, and throat are whitish. The sexes look alike, though males are significantly heavier than females.

Hike & Go Seek – Copper Harbor

Aerial view of Copper Harbor

  Looking for some of the most scenic trails around Michigan. Copper Harbor is your spot.  It is an all-season resort town in northeastern Keweenaw County, Michigan located on the Keweenaw Peninsula which juts out from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan into Lake Superior.  Due to its natural environment and surroundings it is a popular tourist destination within the Great Lakes region.   One popular spot for visitors is Hunter’s Island which is the name of a non-hilly point running out from the west into Lake Superior.  It was named for an early settler of the area named Mr. Hunter who owned a tract of land on what is now Hunter’s Point or Hunter’s Island.   Situated at the opening of the harbor itself is the historic Copper Harbor Lighthouse built in 1866, replacing an earlier lighthouse made in 1849.  It is only accessible via a short ride in a compact open vessel from the Copper Harbor marina.  Exhibits inside the lighthouse museum cover both the lighthouse history along with the local shipwreck culture of the area.   Another popular site known as “the most beautiful road in Michigan” is the Brockway Mountain Drive that is an 8.8 mile route that follows the backbone of a 753-foot-high ridge between the towns of Copper Harbor and Eagle Harbor and is the highest paved road between the Rocky Mountains to the west and the Allegheny Mountains to the east.  Constructed during the 30’s, this very picturesque road offers stunning views of Lake Superior and Keweenaw Penisula as well as the archipelago of Isle Royale.

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Hike & Go Seek – The Garden of the Gods

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Looking for spectacular views with a short hike among some of the most unique rock formations in the United States? Look no further than Garden of the Gods in Southern Illinois. The most popular hike in the Shawnee National Forest, Garden of the Gods gives tourists amazing insight into the geologic structure of Southern Illinois and a view that stretches for miles high over the pristine hills of Shawnee Forest.

More than 320 million years ago, the wind and rain patiently started to chisel away at large deposits of sedimentary rock located in what is now, Shawnee National Forest . Over the years, the elements have sculpted some of the most stunning and extraordinary rock formations known to man. There are also plenty of trails for backpacking and horseback riding, allowing nature lovers a welcome tour of what the lively environment has to offer.

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Trekking the National Parks Family Board Game

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There are many miles of diverse hiking and backpacking trails in the Shawnee National Forest including the 160-mile River to River Trail.

One of the most photographed locations in the state, Garden of the Gods’ scenic beauty is extraordinary. In the recreation area you can hike, camp, nature watch or picnic.

The Observation Trail features unique sandstone rock formations and panoramic views of the surrounding Garden of the God Wilderness. Interpretive signs explain the geological history. The 1/4-mile trail is made of natural sandstone and takes about an hour to walk. It contains short, steep grades and steps; benches are located along the trail and as a whole the trail is not tiring. Caution should be used due to the high cliffs in the area.

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Wilderness Wednesday – Connecting with nature through birding

White and Black Birds Piercing on Tree Branch

“In order to see birds, it is necessary to become park of the silence” – Robert Lund

A rewilding, brought about first through neglect and now through intentional human effort, is occurring on all over the world and certainly here in the Midwest. Over the years, I have discovered unique beauties on ambling adventures along the Wisconsin and Michigan Shoreline, and even in the heart the city…downtown Chicago. A rewilding, brought about first through neglect and now through intentional human effort, is occurring on all over the world and certainly here in the Midwest. Over the years, I have discovered unique beauties on ambling adventures along the Wisconsin and Michigan Shoreline, and even in the heart the city…downtown Chicago.

Shallow Focus Photography of Gray and Orange Bird

The early interest in observing birds for their aesthetic rather than utilitarian (mainly food) value is traced to the late 18th century in the works of Gilbert White, Thomas Bewick, George Montagu and John Clare   The study of birds and natural history in general became increasingly prevalent in Britain during the Victorian Era, often associated with collection, eggs and later skins being the artifacts of interest. Wealthy collectors made use of their contacts in the colonies to obtain specimens from around the world. It was only in the late 19th century that the call for bird protection began leading to the rising popularity of observations on living birds. The Audubon Society was started to protect birds from the growing trade in feathers in the United States while the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds began in Britain.

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BENEFITS OF BIRDING

  • Bird watching develops patience. …
  • Bird watching will get your children to go outside. …
  • Bird watching allows for introspection and contemplation. …
  • Bird watching can improve cardiovascular health. …
  • Bird watching gives you an excuse to travel. …
  • Bird watching builds a sense of community. …
  • Bird watching quickens reflexes.
Bird Quotes - Quotations about Birds - Famous Quotes - Funny Cartoons

“I realized that if I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes” – Charles Lindbergh

Birding in North America was focused in the early and mid-20th century in the eastern seaboard region, and was influenced by the works of Ludlow Griscom and later Roger Tory Peterson. Bird Neighbors (1897) by Neltje Blanchan was an early birding book which sold over 250,000 copies. It was illustrated with color photographs of stuffed birds.

Here are some great resources if you like birding:  

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What it’s Like to be a Bird

  National Geographic Birds

Traveling Tuesday – Frozen Waterfalls of the Midwest

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Who says you cannot enjoy the Midwest in the Winter. Plan to be surprised and awed at the spectacular natural features found here at Starved Rock in Illinois.

Surrounded by the flat, seemingly endless fields of Illinois farm country, a totally different topography is found within the park. Starved Rock was formed thousands of years ago by the melting of glaciers releasing torrents of water. As the water rushed downstream it eroded and stripped away everything in its path except the resistant St. Peter sandstone. It is that sandstone that formed the steep rock walls and the cool dark valleys of the eighteen canyons. When conditions are right cascades of falling water spill down into these gorges, creating the waterfalls so many come here to enjoy.

WATERFALLS
Although you can technically see waterfalls in 14 of the 18 canyons, some of the most scenic waterfalls are found in St. Louis, French, Wildcat, Tonty, Ottawa and Kaskaskia canyons. The best times to see waterfalls are in the spring when the snow and ice melt or after a heavy rainfall.

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ICEFALLS
Winter brings a whole new life to the canyons. The freezing and melting that happens during this time of year creates amazing ice sculptures in the canyons. Make sure you come back in the winter to see an icefall – they are spectacular!

600 million years ago Northern Illinois was part of a broad upland that was undergoing extensive erosion. The erosion wore
the land down to near sea level. Erosion that forms a near sea
level surface is called a peneplain. This peneplain was submerged several times by sea water and several layers of sediment were laid on the surface.
Starved Rock State Park was once covered with 3000-5000
feet of glacial ice on and off over a course of 700,000 years.
Glacial ice can move forwards never backwards. When a glacier is said to be retreating, it is actually melting faster than it is
moving forward. As glacial ice can only move forward, it picks
up rocks and carries them in the ice. When the ice melts, these
rock particles are dropped at the point of melting. All dropped
rock material is called drift. Drift found at the point of melting is
called till. Till is unsorted glacial drift. When the glacier is stagnant, the drift accumulates into a pile called an end moraine.
After the glacier has retreated, it leaves a range of irregular hills
which are the end moraine. The melt waters of the glacier were
so great that they would accumulate behind the moraines and
form vast lakes. The streams that drain these lakes were gigantic compared to today’s streams. The Illinois Valley was
formed by one of these streams.
15,000 years ago during the Wisconsinan Glacial Age, the glacial meltwater of a large lake overtopped the Marseilles Moraine and formed Lake Ottawa behind the Farm Ridge Moraine
that ran north to south along what we call Starved Rock State
Park today. This lake drained when it overtopped the Farm
Ridge Moraine cutting a channel that became the Illinois River.
Repeated meltwater floods of the Kankakee Torrent poured
through the channels cut through the Marseilles and Farm
Ridge Moraines establishing the drainage for the Illinois, Fox,
and Vermillion Rivers. This repeated drainage also cut the outcrops , overlooks, and 18 canyons that you see today.

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Hike & Go Seek – Ice Age Trail

Looking for premier hiking in the Midwest.  Look no furture….The Ice Age Trail is a National Scenic Trail located entirely within Wisconsin. The trail is also one of 42 designated Wisconsin state trails and the only one specifically designated as a “State Scenic Trail.” From Interstate State Park on the Minnesota border to Potawatomi State Park on Lake Michigan, the Ice Age Trail winds for more than 1,000 miles, following the edge of the last continental glacier in Wisconsin.

One of only 11 National Scenic Trails, the Ice Age Trail is intended to be a premier hiking trail and conservation resource for silent sport and outdoor enthusiasts. The trail traverses some of Wisconsin’s most scenic landscapes and helps tell the story of the last Ice Age by highlighting Wisconsin’s unique glacial features.

Primary attractions include topography left by glaciation in the Last Ice Age. Glacial features along the trail include kettles, potholes, eskers, and glacial erratics. Many of the best examples of glacial features in Wisconsin are exhibited in units of the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve, most of which lie along the trail.

The Ice Age Trail is primarily an off-road hiking and backpacking trail that provides excellent opportunities for sightseeing, wildlife viewing and bird watching. In winter, some sections of the trail are open for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Camping

Opportunities are available for camping along the Ice Age Trail in national, state and county forests and in many state and county parks, including some private campgrounds. Campgrounds can vary from primitive walk-in campsites to facilities complete with electric hookups. When planning a trip, it is best to check ahead of time for camping locations and availability. The Ice Age Trail Atlas and Guidebook, which are available for sale from the Ice Age Trail Alliance, provide camping and lodging details for all segments of the trail.

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The Ice Age Trail travels through 30 counties on state, federal, county and private lands, connecting dozens of communities. There are hundreds of trailheads and access points located along the trail route. More than 600 miles of trail are open. The completed sections of the trail are connected by less-traveled roadways and other temporary routes. 

Hikers at Devil's Lake
Stone steps lead the way up the bluff trails at Devil’s Lake State Park.

The Ice Age Trail goes through several state and federal lands in Wisconsin, including traveling many miles through county and private lands. In addition to the state parks and forests listed below (from west to east along the trail), the Ice Age Trail travels through many state wildlife and fishery areas and some state natural areas.

  • Interstate State Park, Saint Croix Falls
  • Straight Lake State Park, near Frederic
  • Chippewa Moraine State Recreation Area, near New Auburn
  • Brunet Island State Park, Cornell
  • Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest 
  • Hartman Creek State Park, near Waupaca
  • Devil’s Lake State Park, near Baraboo
  • Kettle Moraine State Forest
    • Southern Unit, Eagle
    • Lapham Peak Unit, near Delafield
    • Loew Lake Unit, near Monches
    • Pike Lake Unit, near Hartford
    • Northern Unit, near Campbellsport
  • Point Beach State Forest, near Two Rivers
  • Potawatomi State Park, near Sturgeon Bay

The Ice Age Trail includes parts of other Wisconsin state trails.

  • Gandy Dancer, St. Croix Falls to Frederic
  • Tuscobia, Rice Lake to Birchwood
  • Mountain-Bay, near Hatley
  • Military Ridge, near Verona
  • Badger, near Fitchburg
  • Sugar River, Monticello to Albany
  • Glacial Drumlin, near Wales
  • Eisenbahn, near Kewaskum
  • Ahnapee, Casco Junction to Sturgeon Bay

Interstate State Park, Chippewa Moraine State Recreation Area and the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine Forest – all units of the Ice Age Scientific Reserve – have Ice Age Educational and Interpretive Centers with major displays in glacial history and geology.https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/iceagetrail/

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Hike & Go Seek – Indiana Dunes in February

Man Looking at Snow Covered Trees

Love sand and hiking on snow packed sandy paths. Indiana Dunes National Park, designated as the nation’s 61st national park is located in Northwestern Indiana along the southern shores of Lake Michigan.  Hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular in the wintertime. You might want to consider snowshoes.

Photo of a Person Pouring Coffee in the Mug

In spring and summer, the park runs for nearly 25 miles alongside of Lake Michigan containing approximately 15,000 acres where you will find sand dunes, wetland, river, prairie and forest ecosystems.  The Park is host to a wide variety of wildlife including white-tailed deer, red fox, raccoons, opossums, cottontail rabbits, various rodents, Canada geese, gulls, squirrels, hawks, turkey vultures , mallards, great blue herons, songbirds and garter snakes.   There are nine different diverse trails to explore!       *  Paul H. Douglas Trail     *  Tolleston Dune Trail     *  Succession Trail.     *  Bailly-Chellberg Trail.     *  Little Calumet River Trail.     *  Cowles Bog Trail.     *  Calumet Dune Trail     *  Glenwood Dune Horse and Hiking Trail   The Indiana Dunes has over 369 species of flowering plants of which thirteen are considered threatened or in danger of extinction.  In addition, there are four invasive flowering plants on the list.  Some of the more common spring flowers you will find include the May apple, 6 varieties of buttercups, and violets.

During the Summer months orchids and lots of goldenrods can be found.   For your first visit to the park, it is highly recommended that you visit the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center located at U.S. Route 20 and Indiana Route 49 near Porter, Indiana.  The center offers standard visitor-center amenities including a video, brochures, hands-on exhibits and a gift shop.  It is free to the general public.   If you like to camp…..check out the Dunewood Campground located on U.S. Route 12 which includes two loops of trailer accessible sites and a RV dump station.  All sites have grills, a picnic table and access to restrooms with running water and showers.  There are also a limited number of camp sites at the neighboring Douglas Loop. The park provides for 45 miles of hiking, fishing, swimming, horseback riding and cross-country skiing.  Cycling is available on the Calumet Trail which is a crushed limestone multi-use trail that runs through the eastern section of the park.  With all the things to see and do here……………….the park will draw over 2 million visitors each year.   (wiki)

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Hike & Go Seek – The Dismal Trail

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Located in the Nebraska National Forest, the Dismal Trail to Scott Lookout Tower is a 7.8 mile lightly trafficked loop trail located near Halsey, Nebraska. It features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options like camping, mountain biking, off road driving, running, forest views and varied wildlife. The elevation climb is 721 feet and the hiking route is a loop-type format. Once you reach the Scott Lookout Tower, you will discover the most beautiful views as seen here below.

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The BIG Winter Sale on Amazon

Start Date: Feb 05, 2021, 02:00 AM

End Date: Feb 17, 2021, 02:00

February Fun in the Midwest

Don’t let a snowy forecast stop you from setting aside time for a enjoying the great outdoors.  Head to the woods for a peaceful hike, snow shoeing or cross country skiing.

Turkey Run State Park, Indiana

For picturesque views!

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You’ll marvel at the natural geologic wonders of this beautiful park as you hike along its famous trails. Nestled along State Road 47 southwest of Crawfordsville, the park offers the chance to explore deep, sandstone ravines, walk along stands of aged forests, and enjoy the scenic views along Sugar Creek.

Door County, Wisconsin

Sightseeing along frozen Lake Michigan

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Many people call Door County the Cape Cod of the Midwest, and that’s no less true in winter, when snow covers the picturesque northeast Wisconsin peninsula. Shops, galleries and inns stay open for visitors who come for cozy shopping and peaceful walks along frozen Lake Michigan beaches. Sleigh rides, trolley tours and wine tastings round out a romantic weekend.

Interstate State Park, Wisconsin and Minnesota

Hardy hikers can snowshoe on fresh white snow

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Interstate Park comprises two adjacent state parks on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, both names Interstate State Park.  The staddle the Dalles of the beautiful St. Croix River, a deep basalt gorge with glacial potholes and other rock formations.

Southwest Lake Michigan shore

A stunning winter lighthouse road trip landscape!

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Every winter, lake-effect storms leave southwest Michigan’s lighthouses and sand dunes cloaked in ice and snow.  From South Haven to New Buffalo and beyond winter is the perfect time to  take a road trip  along Lake Michigan, especially since the beautiful scenes of winter are in full force now.

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PARKS

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