Seasons of Wildlife
Wake up! In spring, animals that lay dormant over the winter begin to wake up, and old friends that migrated south return. The refuge becomes very lively as choruses of wood frogs and spring peepers sing mating songs, and colorful warblers flit and flutter around the refuge. Chipmunks and ground squirrels scamper around on their never ending search for food. Use the spotting scopes at the observation deck to watch waterfowl while listening to them fill the air with their calls. Visitors at this time may be lucky enough to see the mating dance of the sandhill crane.
Summer is one of the best times of year to view wildlife and their young. Turtles loaf on logs soaking up the sun while busy beavers build elaborate dams. Black terns zip and dart above the water as great blue herons and great egrets stand on the shoreline fishing for food. Picturesque flowers fill the prairies where monarch butterflies flutter to milkweed plants and songbirds search for seeds. Take a drive or bike along our prairies edge tour loop and hike or bike along the dikes and trails to catch a glimpse of the ever changing excitement, here at the refuge.
As leaves turn to beautiful fall colors, wildlife begins preparing for winter. Migratory birds and monarch butterflies anticipate winter food shortages and start their long journeys to their wintering grounds. They flock to the refuge along their way to relax and gain sustenance. Monarchs fly from as far north as Canada, all the way to Mexico where they will over winter. A new generation will somehow find its way back to their northern ancestral home in spring. Deer sightings become more prevalent in fall as they enter their mating season. Discover frogs at the refuge soaking up their last bit of sun rays before snuggling under mud and fallen leaves to stay warm. Observe squirrels and chipmunks scurry to find and store food to eat in the winter months.
Don't let the cold weather and snow cover fool you. There is still a lot of action on the refuge. Animal tracks in fresh snow tell a story of their own. Spot otter slides that plummet into open icy water. Look for coyote and fox tracks following their prey and the elaborate mouse tunnels under the snow. Raptor birds become easier to spot in barren landscapes with less leaf cover. Shorter daylight hours and lower prey abundance mean that animals will be out hunting more during daylight hours. Break your own path by snowshoe or cross-country ski on our ungroomed trails and see what animal activity you observe.
A small, graceful bird, the social black tern nests on the refuge. During the breeding season, the distinctive plumage, black head and dark grey wings is like no other. Black terns breed in colonies on floating mats of vegetation. This refuge is home to one of the largest colonies of black terns in Wisconsin. Flocks of a few to hundreds can be seen from the observation deck in mid-June zipping and darting above the water and quickly diving with their bills pointed at the water seizing insects at the water surface.
Sandhill cranes can be seen dancing in the spring breeding season. A sandhill crane does not breed until it is two to seven years old. Mated pairs stay together year round and migrate south as a group with their offspring. There are usually six to 10 nesting pairs on the refuge each year. Once the young colts have fledged you can see the cranes traveling in family groups. Cranes feed mostly on grains, seeds, some insects, other invertebrates and small vertebrates in the marshes and fields. Their signature trumpeting call is heard throughout the refuge spring, summer and fall.