Saturday, August 11, 2018

29-30 July: Big trip part 2: Devil's Lake area

Day 2

The morning of the second day, I woke to a calling Barred Owl, Eastern Wood-Pewees everywhere (they would become a theme for much of the trip), and blackberries all over the campground for breakfast! The mosquitoes were much less active in the cool morning, so I could pack up camp in peace. I headed down the hill from the campground and rejoined the trail in Elroy, which quickly became the 400 Trail, so named for the train that used to travel 400 miles in 400 minutes from Chicago to Minneapolis/St. Paul. It would be wonderful if that whole line had been converted to trail - but the 400 Trail only runs 22 miles southeast of Elroy to Reedsburg. The trails I'd ridden yesterday all had regular rest stops (marked on the map with symbols to indicate where you could find water, restrooms, etc.), but the 400 Trail had more standardized rest areas - each of which had a bike pump along with water, restrooms, and picnic tables.

While on the trail, I heard my first two FOGYs of the trip! First was a Black-billed Cuckoo (#211), which I have somehow managed to miss so far this year in La Crosse. It seems they're more abundant in southcentral Wisconsin than in the La Crosse area, because I heard and saw several more on the first half of my trip. This first one was calling in the distance when I happened to stop for a rest in the shade. 

Farther along, I heard a Winter Wren (#212) singing next to the trail! I hadn't expected them in this area, so that was a nice surprise. Amazing how you can search and search for birds in one area... then bike 70 or 80 miles to a new area, which doesn't appear all that different to me, and find them all with no problem. Of course, some luck helps too - but several other species that I'd found in La Crosse with much effort turned out to be fairly common on parts of this trip (e.g. Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Bobolink, Henslow's Sparrow, Red-headed Woodpecker).

After Reedsburg, I left the rail trails behind and biked east on the road. Once I'd left the town behind, the roads were all super quiet, which was very nice. But then they started to get hilly! I'd checked the elevation profiles for my route, but not in enough detail to realize that today's climbs would be a series of steep hills, rather than more gradual inclines adding up over the course of the day. The first hill was a beast, but there was a nice view at the top.

Then it was all downhill to Baraboo... then a series of hills through Baraboo... bike path to Devil's Lake State Park... and then the hills really got serious! I climbed a big one to reach the campground where I'd made my reservation. But then it turned out that you can't get to the campground from there. It's right next to the highway - but there is no road. You have to go back down that giant hill you just climbed, up another series of small but steep hills through the entire state park (which is full of people and traffic because this place is seriously popular), through a tunnel under that road where you'd just climbed (and gone back down) that big hill, and up another fairly beastly hill to the campground. Then of course you've made your reservation for what seemed to be a nice remote part of the campground.... which is up two more short but steep hills. I couldn't make it up the last one. I had to stop in the shade off the road, rest for a while, and eat and drink something - which I had failed to do for the last hour or so while I kept thinking I had nearly reached my campground! My legs were shaking and I was totally beat. The rest and food helped a lot, so then I continued the remaining five minutes (one minute if you're going downhill!) to my campsite. That was the most exhausted I would ever be on this trip (fortunately!). I never regretted doing the trip as a whole - but I would probably not bike to Devil's Lake State Park again (or at the very least, choose a different campground!).

Today was a total of 48 miles, and I added 13 new species to the trip list.

Day 3

Fortunately, I'd already planned to spend two nights here to rest and bird the park. After yesterday's exhaustion, I scaled back my birding plans in favor of more resting! I took a nice morning ride (yes, over a big hill) to Burma Rd on the west side of the park. Unlike everywhere else, this road was not at all crowded with people! There were also some nice birds here - several of the same species that are found at the Coulee Experimental State Forest near home, but that are otherwise absent from the area. I'm not sure what makes those two pockets favorable for those species. Acadian Flycatchers were calling, a Broad-winged Hawk flew through, and I counted four Hooded Warblers, which was flagged as a high count in eBird. Two were singing, one was an alarm-calling female with a bill full of food (confirmation of breeding for the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas!), and the last was a male who came in to check out the female (completely ignoring me), perching below eye-level right next to the road and offering stunning views for a couple of minutes. Alas, I did not have my camera at hand (I had moved a few steps away from my bike while watching the female), but that was my first-ever view of a male Hooded and it was a great one! Then I retrieved my camera, snapped a few photos of the female (in dim forest light), and moved on to leave her in peace.

I spent the rest of the day resting, reading, cleaning my bike, and washing clothes. Nearly every campground on this trip had showers, which was much appreciated after a long sunscreen-covered day of biking! This campground (and most of the park) was remarkable in having no biting insects at all! A thunderstorm rolled past in the evening, but I felt only a couple of drops of rain. Later, a band started up in the main part of the park, and I could hear it clearly even from this relatively remote campground - an interesting experience in a place that's supposed to be all about enjoying nature. 

I biked just 11 miles today and added 8 species to the trip list.

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