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La Crosse Area Visit

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Old Wednesday 30th November 2011, 03:24   #1
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La Crosse Area Visit

When visiting La Crosse in the late autumn I usually do my daily bird survey in a little area informally called "Holmberg Trails" at the base of the bluffs in the Shelby neighborhood on the south end of La Crosse, behind the ominous Trane office building, a nursing home (and old hospital) and an elementary school. (access is from the school yard - Trane has rent-a-cops that hassle birders, dog walkers and little old ladies who dare to walk on their driveways) This spot has a nice mix of deciduous and conifer, sheltered bluffs and open field, many fruiting plants, areas with broken canopy, and a pond. With this mix of habitat and sheltered location there are always plenty of birds to count in the morning. My dawn survey route is about a kilometer long and usually takes 100 minutes. I usually fuel up with coffee pre-dawn at Bean Juice, Javavino or Kwik Trip, depending on who's open first.

It was kind of an unusual visit this year - warmer and quieter than normal. Mornings were overcast with warm (30-40F) wonderfully calm weather - ideal. Holmberg normally has hordes of robins and starlings in the fruiting shrubs and trees, but this year no starlings and only a few robins. Perhaps this was due to the warm November - I guess the typical colder mornings encourages birds to seek shelter at the base of the bluff and to use the tall sunning trees around the pond. The fruit area was quiet this year, and the sunning trees were empty. Cedar waxwings were also unusually scarce. Goldfinch are usually abundant around the pond, and were just a little less abundant this year. However, I found northern cardinals in larger numbers than usual.

The main group of birds under the forest canopy were found in normal numbers - junco, chickadee, nuthatch, titmouse, woodpeckers, brown creeper. Crows and blue jays moved through now and then in small numbers, and the occasional bald eagle or red-tailed hawk overhead. No accipiters this year, which I concluded was due to the lack of robins. House finches and doves were very scarce, and the only sparrow I saw was a single white-throated sparrow on 2 mornings.

Mammals were more prominent than usual this year at Holmberg Trails. Lots of squirrels, of course. Most days a couple deer. A few bunnies. The highlight was a tiny white ermine that hunted very close to me one day - I had never seen one before.

Most years I've found one or two interesting birds at Holmberg - eastern bluebird, purple finch, red-breasted nuthatch, varied thrush, great horned owl, pine siskin - but not this year. This year's only curiousity was the ermine.

I had a rental car last year, but this year was the first time I made use of my rental to survey NEW areas. The first new area I hit was the Bliss Road trail in the Hixon Forest. (between Granddad Bluff and the golf course) The area has entirely deciduous canopy, so it was extremely quiet in comparison to the more varied Holmberg Trails location. The one highlight of Hixon was that brown creeper are much more visible and audible with the tall straight trunks and sparse undergrowth. The usual winter forest birds were here in lesser numbers than Holmberg, including all 4 common woodpeckers. (Hixon was the only place I found pileated woodpecker this year) 1-2 crow and blue jay, and no robins, starlings, finches or sparrows. I guess I wasn't missing much when I failed to get to Hixon Forest last year. Hixon Forest web site:

The second NEW place I visited was Beier Lake Trail in Goose Island County Park. I almost didn't go there, and almost gave up on it 15 minutes into the first visit, which would have been a shame since it was quite a bit different than Holmberg. The trail was extremely QUIET at first, but when I did find birds they came through in mixed flocks. The first knot of birds included the first purple finches I saw on the trip, and the purple finches were there all 3 visits. On my last visit I was delighted to encounter a few golden-crowned kinglets with them. Otherwise this forest was eerily quiet.

About 700 meters into the trail it reaches a backwater of the Mississippi River called Beier Lake that was full of waterfowl. I guess hunting isn't allowed in this backwater. About 10-20 each of tundra swan and canada goose, but most of the water was covered with hundreds of ducks. I saw my first green-winged teal on the first visit. Pintails, mallards, shovelers and gadwalls dominated, with some green-winged teal and a few widgeons. There were probably other species, but I'm not too good with ducks, the light was poor, and the ducks were shy from all the surrounding gunfire. Always 1-2 bald eagles zooming around here and there - fewer than over in the main river channel on the Minnesota side of the river. I only had time for a 1 hour visit so I turned back at that point each day. There were a few joggers and dog walkers on the trail. PDF map:

It always seems like I'm going to have lots of time to visit places on these trips, but 1-2 outings a day was all the time I could get away family activities. I never did get to scout out any of the Mississippi Valley Conservancy areas. ( We also didn't go to the usual swan and eagle watching corridor south of La Crescent this year, which was fine with me because I had a much better view of the swans on Beier Lake.

Holmberg Trails:

Hixon Forest:

Beier Lake Trail:
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Last edited by bkrownd : Wednesday 30th November 2011 at 03:59.
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Old Wednesday 14th December 2011, 03:14   #2
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I'm glad to see someone went to La Crosse (and is posting in the Wisconsin forum!). I have relatives in that area so I head out there about once a year. I don't spend a lot of time birding there, but I have stopped with my family to set up a scope by the river a few times.

There's a lot of birds there we don't see in the Madison area a lot, like pelicans and black terns. I also swear I've seen more great egrets there than I do anywhere else and most of those are in roadside marshes while I'm passing through.
No, I don't like Katrina. She smells like soup. Have you ever smelled her? I mean, her whole house smells like soup!
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