In my library is “How to be a (Bad) Birdwatcher” by Simon Barnes of London, a 2004 book that I think of often when chirps and honks fill the air.
I seldom know what species of bird is talking or flitting, but great is my appreciation for all of them – even those whose wake-up calls begin as dawn arrives.
“The first aim of being a bad birdwatcher,” Barnes writes, is “the calm delight of the utterly normal, and the rare and sudden delight of the utterly unexpected.” Develop a willingness to pay attention and appreciate, he explains, and you’re on your way to deepen gratitude for all feathered flights.
It doesn’t matter if your only binoculars are opera glasses, or if you can barely distinguish a goose from a duck.
We recognize something special when we see or hear it, and the easiest way to find extraordinary birds is to head toward Baraboo. The newly reopened International Crane Foundation is the only place in the world that is home to all 15 species of crane, each elegant and graceful in its own way.
Only four of those species are not threatened or endangered. That includes the sandhill crane, which almost turned extinct in Wisconsin by the 1940s because of overhunting and a loss of wetland habitat. The population rebounded after aggressive conservation measures.
A $10 million expansion and revamp of the 300-acre ICF campus includes about 10 acres for new exhibits. Visitors follow paved outdoor paths to see the big birds – three or four feet tall – strut in natural settings that are both protected and roomy. Signage explains what you see.
There’s room to sit and watch. The outdoor area is designed so photographers can sometimes avoid shots through exhibit fencing. Listen for other birds while walking a couple of miles of nature trails that weave through oak savanna, native prairie and wetlands.
Outdoor artwork reinforces the birds’ understated international flair. Spin a handmade prayer wheel from Nepal. Rake the zen garden. Look for mobiles of origami cranes.
The nonprofit conservancy exists, in part, because of the work and vision of co-founder George Archibald, who soon turns 75 years old. Tune in to savingcranes.org from 7-8 p.m. July 15 for a virtual birthday party that includes conservation stories and an auction of crane-themed merchandise and experiences.
The ICF is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, through October. Admission is $12.50 (less for children, senior citizens). savingcranes.org
What else, bird lovers? Nine more diversions to keep in mind.
Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau: Art of the natural world, especially avian varieties, are a year-round specialty. The annual “Birds in Art” exhibition, which opens in September, draws international attention. Museum admission is free. lywam.org
James Newman Clark Bird Museum, Eau Claire: Inside Phillips Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus is a farmer-turned-taxidermist’s collection of at least 500 mounted birds. Most are Wisconsin species; exceptions are exotic, tropical birds from South America that Mr. Clark acquired through bird sales and trades. Free admission. uwec.edu (search “james newman clark”).
Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center: No freshwater cattail marsh in the nation is larger than this one, which the United Nations has recognized as a Wetland of International Importance. That makes the 30,000 acres a fine home or stopover for all kinds of birds. Free admission but exhibits, for now, remain closed because of the pandemic. horiconmarsh.org
Open Door Bird Sanctuary, Jacksonport: On 33 acres are hiking trails and nature/bird education. Hawks, eagles, owls and falcons live here. Open from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays until early September; raptor presentation at 1 p.m. Admission $8 (less for children). Private tours available by appointment. opendoorbirdsanctuary.org
Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, Milwaukee: Ninety-minute guided bird walks begin at 7:30 a.m. July 17, 24 and 31 but reach capacity quickly; $20. On July 3 and 10 is a two-part Bird Song Workshop, $55. schlitzaudubon.org
Andercraft Woods, Mishicot: Birdhouses are a specialty at this under-the-radar business in a tiny (population 1,500) Manitowoc County village. Also for sale: bat houses and rustic décor for gardens and yards. Much is made with weathered barn boards. Search for the business on Facebook.
Wyalusing State Park, Grant County: In the park is a monument to the extinct passenger pigeon, erected in 1947 by the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. The bird used to be the continent’s most common: 25 percent of all birds were passenger pigeons at the end of the 18th century, and Wisconsin was a prime nesting spot. wsobirds.org, passengerpigeon.org
In the state are 112 communities that qualify as Bird City Wisconsin members. Efforts to provide habitats that attract, nurture and protect birds were patterned aftr the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA initiative. birdcitywisconsin.com
The Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail was introduced in 2004, separating the state into auto trails for five regions – Lake Michigan, Mississippi/Chippewa Rivers, Lake Superior, Northwoods, Southern Savanna and Central Sands. wisconsinbirds.org/trail