Let's keep this short and sweet. The holiday season is speeding by. If the idea of Christmas shopping makes you break out in a sweat, and you've run out of ideas, you're not alone. I've compiled a list of gift ideas for the Wisconsin nature lovers, birders, and gardeners in your life. There's sure to be something for everyone.
The gift that lasts all year... State Park, County Park and National Park stickers and passes, and yearly Nature Center Memberships, are gifts that keep on giving all year long. It's a great gift for families, too.
Wisconsin State, National, and County Park Stickers:
Wisconsin State Park Sticker
A National Park Sticker
Waukesha County Parks Sticker
Washington County Parks Sticker
Nature Center Memberships:
Schlitz Audubon Nature Center
Wehr Nature Center
Boerner Botanical Gardens
River Bend Nature Center
Riveredge Nature Center
Retzer Nature Center
Nature Centers across the state
Books and Publications: You can't go wrong with books and magazine subscriptions that focus on a persons interests.
Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine
Our Wisconsin Magazine
Books for the Wisconsin Hiker and Local Park Explorer
Explorer's Guide - 50 Hikes in Wisconsin
Best Easy Day Hikes - Milwaukee
Ice Age Trail Guidebook
101 Things to Do in Milwaukee Parks: A Guide to the Green Spaces in Milwaukee - by Barbara Ali
Books For the Birder
Field Guide to the Birds of Wisconsin by Charles Hagner
The Wonder of Birds: What They Tell Us About Ourselves, the World, and a Better Future - b
Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in a Life of an Extreme Birder - by Kenn Kaufman
National Geographic Kids Guide of Birding North America
One More Warbler by Victor Emanuel
A Season on the Wind: Inside the World of Spring Migration - by Kenn Kaufman
National Geographic Backyard Guide to the Birds of North America by Jonathan Alderfer and Noah Strycker
The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human - by Noah Strycker
Books For the Nature Lover and Gardening for Wildlife
Zooburbia - by Tai Moses
The Urban Bestiary - by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Mozart's Starling - by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds - by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Welcome to Subirdia - by John M. Marzluff
Humane Gardener: Nurturing a Backyard Habitat for Wildlife - by Nancy Lawson
Wildlife in Your Garden - edited by Karen Lanier
Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and Other Backyard Wildlife - by David Mizejewski for the National Wildlife Federation
Specialized Gear: There are some great local shops that can help you find the right gear for those on your list.
Sherper's A wide selection of outdoor gear, including boots, camping equipment, binoculars and more can be found at this Milwaukee area local outdoor gear shop
Stan's Fit For Your Feet Hiking Boots, Socks and Accessories
Yellow Wood - A Premier Outdoor Gear Shop
Backyard Birding Gear:
Wild Birds Unlimited Stores - Bird feeders of all kinds, bird food of all kinds, bird baths, books on birding, and a wealth of knowledge in feeding backyard birds.
Wisconsin Garden & Pet Supplies - Wauwatosa - Featuring a wide selection of wild bird feeders and food
Stein's Garden & Home - Wild bird feeders and food in several Wisconsin locations
I tripped over a garden hose. No big deal. Or so I thought. I fell on the inner part of my right knee. I brushed it off. Walked it off. No big deal. No big bruises or swelling. The very next day we went for a short hike to exercise it, keep it limber.
But that didn't do the trick. Within the week I was in major pain, and could barely walk on it. I put my leg up, iced it, took ibuprofen, stretched. Tried to hike again. We did a short hike at Grobschmidt Park. Just about a mile. By the end of that mile I felt like I'd run a marathon. I don't do marathons. I got a couple different knee braces and lamented, "why didn't I get one of these sooner?" - it seemed to be helping. Giving me some stability.
I saw my massage therapist. I did PT exercises, narrowed down what the specific issue was (pes anserine - a group of three tendons), then catered to that. It took 3 months. Three months! But it finally improved. I had about a week where I was feeling pretty good. Then, the other leg started acting up. Stiff knee and sciatic pain. I guess the left side was tired of compensating for the right side...So we're in week three of that. I'm doing PT, massage, cold therapy, ultra sound therapy, Tens therapy, heat therapy. Trying to walk short distances. Once the knee stiffens up, though, that's tricky. So, I'm guessing it will be another few weeks or more before this has settled.
It put us behind on any major hikes, and I had to cut back on some gardening work. That will have to wait until next spring, anyway. But it did force me to look at nature from a different perspective. From the perspective of someone who has an injury, or a disability, or a health issue that makes it difficult for them to endure some of the heartier trails.
We focused on simpler trails, shorter trails, a boardwalk, or just a scenic spot to rest and observe nature. After all, the point is to get outside. To observe nature, be with nature. Recovery takes time. It's not a prerequisite that the trail be difficult, or long.
So whether you are recovering from an injury, an illness, or have limited ability for hiking trails, don't let that keep you home. Get outside. Be it in your own backyard, your neighborhood park, or local nature preserves and gardens. Following is a list of some of the spots we favored these past few months:
Greenfield Park Lagoon - West Allis
This park is a perennial favorite of mine, in every season. It's close to home, and if I'm short on time, feeling tired, or it's bitter cold, the half-mile paved trail around the lagoon is do-able. The trees along the shore are often filled with bird song, and scenic views. They do a great job of plowing the paved trail during the winter months as well.
Wehr Nature Center - Franklin
Wehr has many attributes. Accessibility is one of them. There is a soft trail leading from the nature center building, to a newly expanded boardwalk trail. With viewing stops along the way. Walk as much or as little of it as you like. It's beautiful in every season.
McCarty Park Lagoon - West Allis
Another West Allis park, McCarty Park features paved trails throughout the park, and around the lagoon. Park benches beckon you to stop and enjoy the view. Water fowl swim in the pond, and birds and squirrels decorate the trees. In winter, kids can enjoy sledding down a couple of the snow-covered hills.
Elm Grove Park - Elm Grove
Lovely in every season, Elm Grove Park has a pristine beauty in the depths of winter. The paved trail around the fishing ponds (there are two) are a nice winter walk. Most often plowed, the paved trail traverses around the ponds and through a bit of woodland. Deer are often sighted here along the perimeter of the park and creek.
Franklin Woods Preserve - Franklin
The winding nature trail here is part pavement, part crushed gravel. It's low-impact effort, but high-impact beauty. At just about a mile in/out, it's laden with trees, birdsong, and sunlight in every season. Bonus: it's got a great kids playground at the entrance to the preserve.
Paradise Springs - Eagle
A hike in Kettle Moraine State Forest doesn't have to be arduous. Paradise Springs offers maximum beauty for minimal effort. There's a paved trail that leads to the scenic spring house and back, well under a mile. There is also a sheltered picnic area near the entrance.
A State Park sticker is required.
Ben Hunt Prairie and Cabin - Hales Corners
The prairie here is adjacent to Hales Corners Park, but it has its own parking lot. There is a short paved trail to the cabin, which is open the first Saturday each month (May-Nov) for free tours. Behind the prairie and cabin is a short woodland trail that exits towards the sports field. It's a beautiful bit of nature with birds, trees, and a native prairie garden.
We were backyard birding. That's what started this whole TheParkNextDoor thing. We put up feeders in our tiny urban backyard, and, lo and behold, the birds came. Lots of House Sparrows, of course, but then Goldfinches, House Finches, Downy Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Robins, Starlings, Cardinals. We loved looking out the bedroom window onto the backyard and watching the birds come and go. And not just in summer, but in every season. The bright red of a Cardinal in snow white winter is a stunning sight.
Then we started visiting local parks to see more birds. Turned out, there are lots of birds in Wisconsin. And the first spring migration we witnessed in earnest was amazing. We visited Greenfield Park in West Allis a lot. I can still recall the robust influx of Cedar Waxwings that summer. They were everywhere at Greenfield Park. I was in awe of their beauty.
Then more parks: Brown Deer, Grant, Estabrook, Jacobus, McCarty; and Wisconsin State Parks - Harrington Beach, Aztalan, Havenwoods, and more. Then preserves: Stigler Nature Preserve, Wehr Nature Center, Lion's Den, Lakeshore, Lulu Lake, and on and on. So many green spaces, so many birds!
We discovered warblers (these tiny little songbirds that migrate to Wisconsin in spring), woodpeckers, shorebirds, gulls, herons, cranes, bigger songbirds, thrushes. It was thrilling to see these birds live and in such close proximity. We started our life lists. We added to it.
In the 5 years since this adventure began, we've visited well over 100 green spaces in search of wild birds. The variety we've seen has been stunning. Unfortunately, over the past couple years the number of migrating birds seems to be declining. Though there is certainly a natural ebb and flow, and weather patterns can affect migration paths, I've noticed a decline in the number of birds we see. It's disheartening, and concerning.
So, my husband and I talked about what we can do in our every day life that might make a difference. We moved last fall from our little house with our tiny backyard, to a home with a little bigger backyard. Still in the city, still just minutes from the freeway. But, a fresh start, as backyards and gardens go. And we decided that we would create a garden space not just for us, but for wildlife.
So the journey to a Certified Wildife Habitat began this spring. We already have the same kinds of birds visiting our yard that visited our old backyard. But we were hoping to see more. The new garden already has a good start. It came with two big pine trees, great shelter for our feathered friends, and for squirrels, too. There is a garden with wildflowers already in progress. We weren't sure what would sprout this spring, but it is wild and green. Some weeds, yes, but we've been pulling some of those and filling in with native plants. We've added some bushes that will produce berries in the fall and winter. Some Juniper that will provide berries in the winter months. A crabapple tree that will flower in spring, provide perches and shelter for the birds, and fruit for the birds to eat as well.
We started composting old leaves, and composting greens and vegetables. We put up feeders, and two bird baths. We planted climbing honeysuckle for hummingbirds, and lavender, milkweed, and bee balm, too. It's a good start. The bushes are small, but they will grow. The tree, too. But we've already received rewards aplenty with added wildlife visitors.
This spring migration we had our first Indigo Buntings, Baltimore Orioles, Kinglets, Nashville Warblers, Catbirds, Red-breasted Grosbeaks, Swainson's Thrush, and Red-breasted Nuthatches. All of these sightings in our own backyard!
And the cast of everyday wildlife is impressive, too. Robins, Goldfinches, Blue jays, Starlings, Grackles, Clay Colored Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, House Sparrows, Chickadees, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Chipmunks, Squirrels, Monarch Butterflies, Opossums, Rabbits. An impressive array of nature right beyond our back door. It's a wildlife party beginning at sunrise.
We're still hiking. We're still in search of nature, and wildlife sightings. There's so much here in Wisconsin to explore. But this little bit of green in the city is impressive in its possibility. And it sure is a blessing to come home to after a long day.
We've learned a lot so far. And, we'll be sharing what we learn along the way. So tune in from time to time as we discover humane gardening for wildlife. For all of us, actually.
Where do the days go? Seems we were just dragging our souls through the winter, anxious for spring, and now summer has actually arrived.
Summer, with it's blue skies, thunderstorms, nestling birds, baby ducks, wildflower blooms, leafed-out trees. Summer, with the buzzing of bees, humid afternoons, cricket song, fireflies. Summer, lush and green, hot and hotter, picnics, hiking, boating, fishing. Summer in Wisconsin, all of these things and more. And I want more. More summer. More green. More Wisconsin nature. Greedy. Yup. That's me. But, I'm willing to share.
Over the past few months, from early spring, to, well, just last Sunday, we have been out in nature, seeking out new adventures. New preserves (to us), new hikes, new local parks, historic trails. And we've found quite a few. In seven different counties, a dozen different gifts of nature to share. All of these listings can be found under the header NEW LISTINGS 2018 at theparknextdoor.com. Following are a few of my favorites:
GORDON TABOR MEMORIAL WOODS - Caledonia (Racine County)
Gordon Tabor Memorial Woods is one of 18 preserves and trails in this Racine County community. My sister lives near the preserve, and I was surprised that I had never noticed it before. Although it is hidden off of a residential area, it is easy to find.
You'll find well-marked walking and equestrian trails, wildflowers, plenty of birds, a creek running through it, and benches to relax on and just enjoy the view.
ICE AGE VISITOR CENTER NATURE TRAIL and VISTA TRAIL - Campbellsport (Fond du Lac County)
The Nature Trail clocks in at just under a mile, but it's a wonderful little hike of hills, woodlands, wild birds, and blooming flowers and trees. Here you'll find Shagbark Hickory, wild Umbrella plants, and wild roses.
The Vista Trail is about a .25-mile trail up a lengthy (but manageable) flight of steps to a vista viewed from a wooden deck. The trail winds about in a short loop, then down another flight of stairs, and exits out the entrance to the Zillmer loop trails. Along the trail you will find wild Columbine, and a gorgeous view of the surrounding Kettle Moraine.
MUSH-KO-SE-DAY PARK - Fort Atkinson (Jefferson County)
Mush-Ko-Se-Day Park is a lush 52 acres and includes tall and short grass prairie, woodlands, a large pond, and an ephemeral pond as well. Wanie's Pond has a short boardwalk and viewing deck for bird watching. The pond is a haven for migrating waterfowl and songbirds. Easy, well plotted hiking trails traverse the prairie and the woods. We hiked, maybe a mile, but daylight was fading. So, there's plenty more to explore next time.
So, there you have it. A quick preview of more Wisconsin beauty to enjoy. There's so much to be found here, in our state. We plan to make the most of the summer days, and adventure locally. We hope these new listings will help you to do the same.
Last week my heart broke. My pet cockatiel, Google, passed away quite suddenly. Though I thought I had picked up on his ailment early, it wasn't early enough. Birds are fragile creatures. Google, all of 9 years old, declined swiftly, though several valiant trips to the vet were made, and last Thursday night he passed away. My darling is gone, and my heart is in tatters.
He passed away late that night, and neither my husband or I slept much. The shock, the grief, the guilt, too much to bear. He was ingrained in our lives so thoroughly. We have a flock of parakeets as well, but Google thought he was human. He spent all his waking time with us when we were at home. In fact, whenever I worked late, or when I worked Saturdays, I usually sent a text to my husband to let him know I was on my way home. His response would be "Google and I will be waiting."
Having had pet birds for over 12 years now, we have known our share of losses. I grieve these greatly. But during the past nine years, when we suffered a terrible loss, I would tell myself, at least we still have Google. I thought we would grow old together. Cockatiels can live to be 25 years old, sometimes more. Even our oldest parakeet lived to be 12. Most live to be 5-9 years old in our experience. And though they get great care, loss comes with the territory. Loss, as we all know, is the great price that comes with Love.
In the past several days I have struggled to come to terms with this loss. It has just been a week after all. And those of you who have loved and lost pets know the sadness of which I speak. He's not calling to us before we even open the door when we arrive home, he's not yelling to us to get out of bed and come let him out in the morning. He's not preening my hair while I edit nature photos, or chewing on my latest copy of whatever magazine. I don't think there is a book in the house that he hasn't nibbled on. We often would hang out together at the back window in our bedroom watching the wild birds outside, the rabbits, the squirrels. Google often liked to sit in the warmth of the sun on the windowsill. Something he was at least able to do in the last few days he was with us. He often ate dinner with us as well. He'd finish his dinner first, then make his way over to sit on my husbands knee while we ate. He napped with us, sang with us, whistled with us, showered, even. This loss is going to be hard to overcome.
In the past several days I have begun the process of cleaning out his things. Since we have a flock of parakeets, it is imperative that we make sure to minimize any chance of any of them getting the infection that Google had. So, no closing the door and weeping in bed. Things need tending to. The desire to go hiking and expound on the beauties of nature low on my list.
But at my husband's insistence, I have gone out to a couple local parks briefly. And, though it's been sad, it has been helpful, at least a bit. Saturday morning I dropped dear Google off at the vet to be cremated. I could barely stand the idea of going back home, to where he would not be. I took a brief walk in the park, tears in my eyes, grief in my heart. The sound of the wild birds in the trees a thimbleful of comfort.
For me, the love of pet birds, and wild birds, coincides deeply in my life. We had pet birds first, then became fascinated by the birds visiting our backyard feeders. Even here, in the midst of the city, the variety is wonderful. Everyday birds like sparrows and finches, chickadees, cardinals, crows, mourning doves, blue jays, downy woodpeckers, nuthatches, starlings, and the occasional visit by a hawk. Precious creatures all.
This loss will not pass easily. The pain in my heart, and the knot in my stomach tell me so quite clearly. But I will let our flock of parakeets, and the coming bird migration, help me to heal. And we will let nature work her magic. Though she has her work cut out for her. Google, my fine-feathered little search engine, I miss you with all my heart.
Winter has, indeed, arrived! The golden tones of autumn have faded, and the bright whites and subdued grays of winter have taken over. Soon the holidays will be over, and, for me at least, the winter blues will settle in. I'm vowing not to let them win this year.
There is so much beauty here in Wisconsin. It's a shame to let cold and snow keep us from it. In fact, the cold and snow offer a different view of the state altogether. While the temptation to huddle deep under blankets on frigid days is hard to resist, I'm going to layer up the warmth, grab my camera, and get outside for some fresh air and frozen beauty. I have a list of places I want to hike over the next few frigid months, places I haven't been in winter; but I thought I would share a few places I've already been. So bundle up and get outside. If only for the reward of a cozy evening and a mug of something hot upon your return.
Natureland County Park - Whitewater, WI
There are four main trails in the park, totaled together, a bit over 4 miles. The park has a natural spring running through it, and nestles along the tip of Whitewater Lake. Winter witnesses flocks of geese taking off at sunset for the south. The Prairie Trail is popular for cross country skiing. The park has an open sided pavilion available for day use. It is located about an hour southwest of Milwaukee.
For more information click here.
Badertscher Preserve - Muskego, WI
Just over 20 minutes from Milwaukee, Badertscher Preserve is a great hike for a winter day. The preserve is 104 acres of former farmland, featuring foot trails for hiking the wetlands, woodlands, oak savanna, hills and prairies. There are plenty of steep hills for climbing, and a scenic, peaceful pond with benches for sitting. For more information,
Wehr Nature Center - Franklin, WI
Wehr in winter is a sight to behold! Popular in all seasons, winter brings a different kind of magic to the trails. Found right here in Whitnall Park, Wehr Nature Preserve has so much to offer. Including a nature center building with lots of educational information, and a place to warm up after hiking the trails in cold weather. They also offer all kinds of events in every season, including popular Owl Prowls on winter evenings. Do yourself a favor and get a yearly family membership. It's definitely worth it! For more information, click here.
Cudahy Woods State Natural Area - Cudahy, WI
Cudahy Woods is a favorite spot. Located just south of the airport on College Avenue, it's nearby, and yet, a complete escape! Hit the trail and once inside, you'll disappear into the woods -- 42 acres of hardwood trees, native plants, songbirds, a stream, and winding trails. The winter months bring a pristine beauty to the hills and trails here. For more information, click here.
Beulah Bog - East Troy, WI
Beulah Bog is one of my absolute favorite spots, in every season. Winter brings a special beauty to the hills, trails, and the boardwalk of the bog. Wildlife sightings are common.
Though the rare plants and wildflowers aren't blooming in winter, the trail offers lots of Tamarack trees, and a view of one of the bog lakes at the end of the boardwalk. For more information, click here.
Greenfield Park - West Allis, WI
I can never resist putting Greenfield Park on a best of list. Located in West Allis, Greenfield Park is a stellar visit no matter the season. There are woodland trails, one large lagoon, two small ponds, and even a waterfall. The main paths around the lagoon are usually nicely plowed for easy walking, as are the trails linking the parking lots on both the southwest and southeast sides of the park. Listen carefully and you may hear the call of resident owls. Deer are frequently seen here, too. For more information, click here.
So, there you have it. A handful of nature spots that offer plenty of wilderness rewards this winter. And don't forget to check out your local area parks and travel websites for lots of winter event ideas. Happy Winter!
It's hard to believe it's been 3.5 years since The Park Next Door went live. I was gathering photos long before that time, but the leap to the world wide web was an exciting event for me. Over the past few years we have traveled countless miles, on the road, and on foot. Averaging 2-3 hikes per week, often more. I'm always on the lookout for bits of nature I haven't seen before. Semi-secret spaces hidden within local surroundings. And I am still, after all this time, amazed at the beauty that surrounds us here in Wisconsin. I love returning to these spaces in each different season, to see how they change and evolve. Quiet and cold. Bloom and fade. Sunny and gray.
This week we crossed the 100 location/listing mark. In fact, we're now past 100! Over 100 places to commune with nature. Parks and preserves, botanical gardens, sculpture gardens, neighborhood parks, beautiful cemeteries, and animal sanctuaries. Adventure goes local, Wisconsin! I'd like to give a shout out of thanks to our readers, and to those of you who share with us your favorite nature spaces. Many of these have become favorite hikes.
There are many new places to explore on our ever-growing list. But today I'd like to share with you some of our absolute favorites so far. Go ahead, put them on your list.
Washington Park in Autumn
Washington Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who designed and supervised the creation of New York City's Central Park. Maybe it's the fact that I learned that prior to visiting the park, or maybe it just has that Central Park vibe. Last fall it definitely had that Central Park in Autumn feel. There's a kind of urban romance to it. I've been to Central Park once, but it wasn't in the fall. So, for now, Washington Park will have to do. And that's fine by me.
Stigler Nature Preserve in Winter
Stigler Preserve is located smack dab in the middle of a New Berlin industrial park. But it's a great, and nearby, escape from city hustle and bustle. In winter the trails are easy to follow, and a surprising number of American Robins over-winter here. If you're looking for an easy winter walk in nature, Stigler is a great fit.
Scuppernong Springs in Spring
Scuppernong Springs is one of my favorite hikes in the Southern Kettle Moraine. There are plenty of hills with expansive views of the landscape, lots of birds, and in the spring, when everything is waking up, it's just brilliant. Sunset views along the trail here are magnificent.
Wadewitz Nature Camp in Summer
While Wadewitz Nature Camp is beautiful all-year long, summer brings a vibrancy that's hard to beat. There are well plotted trails that traverse through woodlands and prairie, and the birding is terrific. In fact, that's the initial reason we first made the trek. I took one of my all-time favorite bird photos here - a gorgeous Cedar Waxwing. Since that day we've been back several times, in every season. It has yet to disappoint.
Three years ago I noticed several posts on Facebook about a Sunflower Festival taking place near Middleton, WI. I was intrigued. But by the time I remembered to look it up, I was too late. The festival had passed, and the sunflowers were beyond their peak. The following year I made a point to add the event to my calendar so I wouldn't miss it. It was definitely worth saving the date!
Pope Farm Conservancy is 105 acres that sit on top of three recessional moraines in the Town of Middleton, Wisconsin, where three different watersheds come together. In addition to six prairie restoration projects, a Native American garden, eight miles of walking trails, and numerous picnic areas, late summer brings Sunflower Days, with 9 acres of blooming sunflowers (roughly 500,000) beneath bright summer skies.
The conservancy is worth a visit any day - it's open daily, sunrise to sunset. But 9 acres of peak sunflower blooms are a sight to see. And, so, Sunflower Days is held each summer season during peak bloom.
People come from near and far to witness this sunflower show. Birds come for the seeds. Last year I saw several Indigo Buntings darting in and out of the fields. Many different grassland birds frequent the conservancy as well.
This year peak bloom is anticipated for mid-August. Sunflower Days will be held from August 12-20. The event is free, but plan ahead - read up on the event, rules, parking details and more at the Pope Conservancy website. You're also encouraged to visit their Facebook page for updates as the event gets closer.
Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the view, wear your hiking shoes and tackle the trails, or just come for the sensational sight of 500,000 sunflowers in bloom. But bring your camera. You're gonna wanna get a picture of this.
Sometimes you just want to see a waterfall. And, maybe not have to drive 3 hours from Milwaukee to see one. Believe it or not, there are waterfalls in the Milwaukee area, and some within an hour of the city as well. They might not be the biggest waterfalls; sometimes, quite honestly, little more than a trickle. But if you're really hankerin' for a waterfall view, check out these local sites.
Wehr Nature Center
No visit to Wehr Nature Center seems complete without visiting its waterfall. Located within Whitnall Park, it's nearby, has over five miles of trails linking the Center with Woodland, Wetland, Prairie, Oak Savanna and Lake. There are birds, turtles, ducks, fish, deer, and more to be seen along the trails. Trails are well maintained, and everyone at the Center itself is very helpful. A hot day spent by the cool waterfall is a day well spent. For more information, visit http://www.friendsofwehr.org/
Located along the parkway going through Whitnall Park, adjacent to Boerner Botanical Gardens, are two small waterfalls. One stems from a small pond (frequented by ducks and geese), the other is across the street from the same spot. Not as dramatic as the falls at Wehr Nature Center, but scenic and peaceful just the same. This area is a birding hotspot, so keep your eyes and ears alert. Lots of birds visit this area during spring and fall migration, and several nest here as well. For a map of the park, click here.
Sauk Creek Nature Preserve
I just discovered Sauk Creek Preserve last summer. Just outside of Port Washington, less than an hour from Milwaukee - once on the entrance path, you hear the rushing waterfall. There's a bridge over the creek with a great view of the waterfall, and trails before and after the bridge that lead to the waterfall and the creek. Woodland and prairie trails draw you in, and wildlife is abundant. The day I was there I saw several Indigo Buntings, a hummingbird, and several other songbirds. Dragonflies, deer, and wildlflowers abound as well. For more information, click here.
Even those familiar with Greenfield Park, in West Allis, are often surprised to find out that there is a waterfall there. I'd been hiking the trails there for years before I discovered it. The waterfall isn't big, but it is scenic. And hidden from the road through the park. So you'll need to look for it. It's on the north side of the street, across from the east part of the lagoon. The waterfall flows into the small lagoon on the north side of the street. In the past year or so the parks department has cleared away some of the trees and debris surrounding the waterfall, so it's easier to get to. The water flow is often heavier after a good rain. There are some nice hiking trails just to the west of the waterfall, too. For a map of Greenfield Park, click here.
It took me a lifetime to realize what I'd been longing for. As a child, a young adult, and a grown woman, I longed for something. I can remember stepping outside at night, on some warm, breezy, summer evening, and feeling a longing, a sadness even, stirring inside me. In my teenage years I thought I was yearning for love. Teenage angst and all. But now, decades later, I realize that what I have been yearning for all along has been a connection to nature. Near as my backyard, a neighborhood park, the local nature preserve, the view from a Lake Michigan pier, the sound of a Robin singing at dawn, and again at dusk.
Waxing nostalgic, I recall childhood days spent at my grandparents cabin near Amery, Wisconsin. We would fish from the dock or go out in the fishing boat with my dad. We'd swim in the lake, or go for a walk down the dirt road and wander in the woods. We slept on the enclosed front porch of the cabin and would wake to a view of the lake. To the sounds of American Robins singing in the trees. That glorious early morning wake up song. To this day the song of a Robin is an all-time favorite. No matter where I am, in the city or in the woods, the Robin sings and I listen.
This is not to say that I have ignored nature until now. On the contrary, I have traveled to many parts of the United States and marveled at the glorious landscapes. The mountains, deserts, rivers, streams, woodlands and swamps. I have camped in the mountains of New Mexico, and hiked in the Badlands of South Dakota. Reveling in the beauty of these places. But still, the longing.
I fell in love. Got married. Still the longing. We have pet birds. Many of them. It makes it a challenge to travel far from home. We started backyard birding. I was amazed at how many different wild birds show up in our urban backyard. Amazing. I wanted more. I discovered that our local city parks have birds. All different kinds of them. During migration season even more. More amazement. The exploring began in earnest, every weekend, and any day off, different parks and preserves, in search of birds.
But then, some days, you don't see many birds. And I began to notice other things. The color of the leaves on the trees. The different shades of blue in the sky. The sound of a river flowing. The buzz of a bumblebee on a flower, the vibrant colors of flowers in bloom, or the textures and shades of decaying plants and leaves in the autumn and winter. I began to notice that each season had more beauty than I'd realized before. It's not that I was blind. I just didn't get it. My perspective changed. My view through the lens changed. And the longing was finally identified.
I didn't have to travel across country to appreciate nature. To connect with nature. Nature's beauty is right here. It doesn't mean I won't travel. That there aren't other places I want to see. Adventures to seek. But I've learned an important lesson. Like Dorothy, I needed to go home again. The power had been with me all along. I traded ruby slippers for well worn hiking shoes, opened my eyes, and took a deep breath of the Wisconsin around me. There's no place like home.
A traveler, singer, novice photographer, humane gardener, and nature lover.