We kick off our new Backyard Explorer series with a visit to the French Creek Wildlife Area which is located about 35 minutes north-east of Devil’s Lake State Park, just 6 miles north of Portage, Wisconsin. The French Creek Wildlife Area is a 3,506 acre slice of wetlands, grasslands, savannas, fens, tamarack bogs and sedge meadows. French creek is a recommended stop for birding and was worth a visit during the spring migration.
Leaving from our home here in Baraboo just after 5pm, we still had plenty of time to enjoy the sights. (In fact, this is the best time if you want to see lots of active birds.) There are no trails per se, but it’s possible to watch the wildlife from highway F which cuts through the lower section of French Creek. You can also head into the French Creek Fen State Natural Area where you can walk a maintenance road through the wetlands. If you have a day, canoeing or kayaking would also be a great option!
From our first stop in a parking area along county highway F, we were surprised to see that there seemed to be no ducks nearby. Well, that was until we saw a Marsh Hawk (Nothern Harrier) gliding in from the east. After the hawk slid by, the ducks began to move out into the open water once again.
After watching the area from the road for awhile, we drove down to the south end of the wildlife area and found the small, rough dirt road that took us into the interior of the preserve and to a small parking area that marked the beginning of the French Creek Fen State Natural Area. From the parking area strewn with garbage and beer cans (and a deer carcass hanging in a tree), we walked passed a gate riddled with shotgun holes out onto a maintenance road that traveled right through the center of the wetlands.
From 100 yards into the hike you feel as though you have traveled deep into the wilderness. The air was filled with the calls of Sandhill Cranes, Canada Geese, Red-Wing Blackbirds and occasional chattering of ducks. The road was flat and made walking no effort at all. Every few minutes we would stop to take in all the action. We saw coots making their way through the grass as Blue Winged Teels flew past and splash landed in the distance. A pair of Canada Geese begrudgingly moved as we walked by their nesting area which they were building right next to the road. Overhead, cranes, geese & ducks were continually flying may and calling as they went. In the light of the setting sun, the birds in flight glowed in awesome hues of yellows and orange.
We knew we were running out of daylight, but we were being called forward by the road which seemed to continue on and curve off in the distance. Using the old finger trick to measure the amount of time we had before the sun would slip below the horizon, we decided to continue on for a few moments before turning back. We finally came to another curve in the road. Although tempted to continue on, we knew we simply had to turn back if we wanted to return to the car before darkness fell. We’ll certainly be going back to explore some more.. next time we may have to take the kayaks!
Check back for more “Backyard Explorer” posts over the coming weeks and months as we explore the many natural areas and interesting sights right here in our part of Wisconsin. Even if you only have a few hours, you can still find awesome new places to explore right here in your back yard!
The take aways:
- Again, the drive is about a half hour from Baraboo and only 6 miles from Portage, so you are always close to a small town for gas and supplies.
- Bring bug spray from late spring to late fall!
- French Creek is a great place to go hunting for birds, especially during migration seasons. (In the post above I didn’t name every species we saw, but there were quite a few more.)
- For kids the road through the state natural area will be an easy walk and you can expect encounters not only with ducks, but frogs and other wetland creatures as well.
- From a canoe or kayak you’re going to feel like you’ve been transported to Canada.
If you’d like to learn more about the French Creek Wildlife Area or The French Creek Fen State Natural area we would recommend these links.
- French Creek Wildlife Area (DNR)
- French Creek Fen State Natural Area (DNR)
- French Creek – Great Wisconsin Birding & Nature Trails