Spring show: Migrants returning to the region in the coming weeks

By Charlie Frisk

The next month and a half will feature some of the most exciting outdoor shows of the year.

Over the next few weeks most of the spring migrants will arrive, animals will court each other and woodland flowers will be on show.

American Woodcock

One of conservationist Aldo Leopold’s favorite natural spectacles was the American woodcock’s sky dance, often referred to as the timberdoodle.

The male woodcock begins its sky dance on the first warm evening of April and continues until June.

The best places to see sky dancing are open grasslands surrounded by woods.

The male woodcock begins its display about 15 minutes after sunset and continues for about an hour, although on moonlit nights the display lasts longer.

The first part of the show takes place on the ground and consists of a jerky dance accompanied by a “peenting sound”.

The dance must take place on bare ground, as the woodcock has very short legs and the parade would be spoiled if there were vegetation to obstruct the view.

Leopold described the sky dance better than anyone – “Suddenly the peenting ceases and the bird floats skyward in a series of wide spirals, emitting a musical twitter. It rises and rises, the spirals steeper and steeper, the chirps louder and louder, until the performer is just a speck in the sky, then, without warning, he tumbles like a crippled plane, emitting his voice in a soft liquid chirp that a March bluebird might envy.A few feet off the ground, it stabilizes and returns to its peenting ground, usually to the exact spot where the performance began, and there it resumes its peenting.

Wilson’s snipe

The Wilson’s snipe, a relative of the woodcock, offers an equally spectacular display of flight.

Snipes are most often found in wet meadows or shrubby wetlands and usually occur early in the morning or at dusk, but I have also seen them show up in the middle of the day.

The snipe’s flight parry is called “winnowing”, because that’s what it sounds like. The birds circle high in the air then suddenly dive at high speed.

Air rushing past their outstretched tail feathers produces a low, pulsating, hissing sound.

The sound varies depending on whether the birds are ascending, turning at the top of their ascent, or plunging toward the ground.

Folklore has grown about where these strange sounds come from.

The Nunamiut people of Alaska believed that snipe winnowing sounded like the sound of a walrus. In Sweden, people thought the sound came from a horse that had been miraculously transported into the sky.

And in northern Germany, they compared the noise of winnowing to that of goats.

Display of locations

The best place to see both woodcocks and snipes is at the Baird Creek Preservation Foundation property on Horkman Road.

You should research the sounds made by woodcocks during sky dancing and woodcock winnowing before you go as there are so many other sounds of Canada Geese, Sandhill Cranes and Wood Frogs in this location.

Plan to go around 7:30 p.m.

To get to Horkman Road, exit Highway 43 onto East Mason Street and head east.

Mason Street becomes Finger Road – stay on Mason Street/Finger Road for approximately two miles after crossing Northview Road.

You will pass Phillips Road and the next street that only goes right is Horkman Road.

Turn right and drive to the end of the road.

lake sturgeon

The next spectacular spectacle is not given by a bird, but by a fish.

Residents of northeastern Wisconsin are fortunate to live in one of the few places where lake sturgeon still survive.

Lake sturgeon are found in Lake Michigan, Green Bay, and Lake Winnebago and spawn in the Wolf, Fox, and Menominee rivers.

Sturgeon populations have been either wiped out or drastically reduced in many parts of the country by overexploitation, water pollution, and dams blocking access to their spawning grounds.

They have a very slow reproduction; females do not reproduce until they are at least 24 years old, and then only spawn once every four to six years.

Males mate at age 15, but usually only breed every two years.

The female lake sturgeon lives from 80 to 150 years and can exceed 200 pounds.

Males live for around 55 years and usually do not exceed 100 pounds.

The sturgeon begins to spawn when the water temperature reaches around 53 degrees Fahrenheit if the water has warmed slowly.

If the warming has been rapid, they will not appear until the water temperature reaches 58 degrees.

The sturgeon put on a spectacular show during spawning.

The females, easily identified by their larger size, enter shallow rocky areas and shake violently as they release their eggs, called eggs, and then several males compete to release their sperm, called milt, onto the eggs.

Area locations that offer excellent sturgeon viewing include:

Riverwalk Park just below DePere Dam.

Wolf River Sturgeon Trail on County Highway X, west of New London.

Bamboo Bend, Shiocton on Hwy 54.

In Shawano at Sturgeon Park below the Shawano Dam.

As temperatures warm up, regularly check online to see if sturgeons have started spawning in these locations.

These events only occur for a short period of time.

If you are lucky enough to witness it, you will remember it all your life.