Sunday, August 12, 2018

31 Jul - 1 Aug: Big trip part 3: Sauk Prairie, Goose Pond, Mud Lake

Day 4

Feeling much better after my mostly-rest day yesterday, I tackled the hills around Devil's Lake once more to leave the area. I biked out of the park, onto a highway that was busy but had a sufficient shoulder, and into Sauk Prairie State Recreation Area. This interesting area used to be an ammunition plant and is now set aside for nature and recreation. The "prairie" part was a bit of an optimistic designation, as shrubs are happily taking over the area. Much of it is still closed to the public, but there's a series of old roads that are open and provided lovely, quiet, flat bike-birding.

Sauk Prairie, with Devil's Lake hills in the background - good riddance!
I added a few trip birds there, including Brown Thrasher (finally - so abundant and vocal in the spring, yet so reclusive in the summer!), Clay-colored Sparrow, and Dickcissel. I was really hoping to find an Upland Sandpiper family that had recently been reported here, but had no such luck.

After a few miles on the brand-new Great Sauk Trail (a lovely paved bike path), I crossed the Wisconsin River and headed east through gently rolling hills. The first highway turned out to be far busier than indicated by the color-coding on my bike map, but luckily the shoulder was just wide enough for me and my trailer. After that, I was on extremely quiet country roads for the rest of the day (and the next). Of course, quiet roads don't provide much in the way of services, but an old church provided a shady rest stop that helped revive me during the midday heat. Most days of the trip saw highs in the mid 80s F, which is usually bearable, but started to get to me after hours of cycling on open sunny roads.

Then I biked past a couple of potential shorebird spots - but they were all cornfields with no water in sight at this time of year - and on to Goose Pond, an Audubon sanctuary of birding fame. But there was scarcely any water in sight there, either!

That dark green vegetation behind the top of the sign is all emerging from water (I think a lot of it is pickerelweed), but it's all much taller than duck head height, so scoping the pond was mostly a futile effort. I'd been hoping to see the pair of Eared Grebes that attempted to nest here this year - big news, as normally that species is only rarely seen on migration through the state. No sign of them, but I did find some Ruddy Ducks at the back and enjoyed listening to a family of American Coots in the vegetation in the front - both new birds for the trip. A picturesque monarch on a coneflower was a consolation prize.

I wish I'd counted the monarchs I saw along the way - there were many!

I stopped in Arlington for a much-needed water refill, then headed toward the campground... but was foiled by road construction! I had to detour on an indirect route over back roads, some of which had non-negligible hills, before I could finally cross the highway that was under construction and reach the campground. My ride for the day totaled 57 miles, and I felt surprisingly good considering the distance and hills - I was relieved that yesterday's rest had put me back into condition. Now that I was out of the Devil's Hills, the rest of the trip was expected to be much flatter, so now I was confident that I would make it (barring accident or injury). Just 6 new trip birds today and no FOGYs.

Day 5

This morning I did a little birding at Mud Lake State Wildlife Area next to the campground. One of the first birds I saw was a FOGY! Common Gallinule for #213, which tied the total number on my 2017 bike-birding list (assuming I made it all the way back home on my bike!). They were backlit and distant, but I took a poor photo to document the chicks and confirm that gallinules were breeding there. 

I was much more impressed with Mud Lake SWA than I'd expected to be - possibly because the name doesn't inspire high expectations! In addition to the marshy area with the gallinules, there were some very nice tracts of prairie.

I spent the rest of the day biking on quiet roads toward Horicon Marsh - my ultimate destination! It was exciting to be nearly there. But then road construction struck again! I'd planned to spend tonight at the south end of the marsh, bike-bird north through the marsh tomorrow, and spend two more nights at the north end. The road construction meant I had to backtrack along an unpleasant road that was full of big bumping cracks in the pavement... and then, just as I turned around, the factory next to the road closure must have had a shift change, because suddenly there was tons of impatient traffic following me back along the road. When I reached the point where I could either head south (as planned) or north along the refuge, I decided to scrap the trafficky constructiony south end, head straight to the north end today, and spend at least three nights there while birding the refuge. It meant missing one spot that I would have liked to bird, but setting up and leaving camp in one place for a few nights is definitely a time-saver.

Today was once again warm and sunny, and for the first time there was a bit of wind! It was a direct tail wind almost all day, and it was blowing at about the same speed I was biking. As a result, the air around me was essentially still even while I was moving, so that got very hot very quickly! I was also wearing a long-sleeved shirt after getting a touch of sunburn the previous day. So it was a relief to get on the shady Wild Goose Trail to bike up the west side of the marsh to Waupun, where I set up camp at a very quiet (until the weekend, anyway), very shady county park. That night I fell asleep to the periodic screeching of a fledgling Barred Owl begging for breakfast. I'd ended up biking 63 miles today, once again with only 6 new trip birds, and I was exhausted! But my average speed for the day was a new record: a whole 9.5 mph... and I would finally get to bird Horicon Marsh the next day!

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