My first visit to Fond du Lac and Horicon Marsh was in late September last year and I immediately fell in love with the endless parade of migrating birds. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay until the last migrator was winging it’s way south. Fond du Lac and Horicon Marsh are not just the place to be for birders and birdwatchers in the fall, but also for waterfowl hunters.
My introduction to Horicon Marsh began with a beautiful early drive from Fond du Lac to the Heron’s Landing. It’s a quick, less than half hour drive from Fond du Lac to Horicon, and you will be treated to excellent wildlife viewing if you take some of the less traveled county rounds that will have you to your destination in a jiffy.
My first stop at Blue Heron Landing was for a guided boat tour through the Marsh. Our guide was not only able to point out excellent viewing and photography opportunities for the migrators that call the Marsh home in late September and early October, but also provided me with an excellent history of the marsh and it’s human inhabitants. Trust me when I tell you, no visit to Fond du Lac or Horicon Marsh is complete without taking one of these five star boat tours.
Following the boat tour I met with Jeff Bahls of the Horicon Marsh Bird Club at the Horicon Marsh Educational Center. Jeff is a lifelong resident of Dodge County, Wisconsin, and has been an avid waterfowler for nearly 40 years. His vast knowledge of the Horicon Marsh where he works part time for the Wisconsin Dept of Natural Resources, enabled me to see whooping cranes and sand hill cranes feeding and flying in the wild. Jeff has been a Member of Horicon Marsh Bird club for the past 15 years and is the current President. He currently sits on the board of the Wood Duck Society, a nationwide organization devoted placement and care of wood duck boxes and wood duck habitat. Additionally, Jeff was a member of Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2007 search team, for Ivory Billed Woodpecker in Arkansas. You can well imagine that I had so many questions for Jeff about so many topics related to migrating birds and waterfowl that our day together simply was not long enough!
The marsh, often called the Everglades of the North, is an important rest stop for migrating ducks, geese, warblers and other birds. It’s also the home of great blue herons, egrets, redhead ducks and more than 200 other species. Each fall, amid the gently swaying waves of cattails, stretching 14 miles from north to south, hundreds of thousands of Canada geese and other birds stop at Horicon Marsh to refuel along their journey.
Nearly a century ago, farmers tried to claim the marsh for themselves, draining it and planting crops. But, alas, the wet, peaty depression, scoured out by a lobe of the last glacier, was no good for farming, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began to buy up the land. Interestingly enough following the resoration of the marsh, Canada geese soon found it so attractive that they simply refused to leave, and were there in such numbers that they became a bit of a nuisance. Not only were they considered nuisances, it had a very detrimental impact on the number of geese winging it on down to Southern Illinois. Consequently there was short time in the history of Horicon known as the “The Great Goose Haze” and a large variety of hazing methods were employed to send the geese on south during their migration.
Today, the 21,000 acres in the north is the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, and the 11,000 in the south is the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area, administered by the Wisconsin DNR.
Both areas have hiking trails, observation decks and visitors centers. A 50-mile auto route girds the marsh, and the 34-mile Wild Goose State Trail skirts its western edge. From April to November, naturalists and local birders lead tours and programs, delving into every aspect of the marsh’s flora and fauna. Upcoming events this year include Audubon Days, Learn to Hunt Waterfowl programs, and guided hikes.
Fond du Lac makes a great location for a fall migration to Horicon and the surrounding areas, whether you visit to bird watch or to hunt, contact the Fond du Lac Convention and visitor’s bureau for assistance in planning your trip to maximize your bird watching and water fowling opportunities. One visit to Horicon and Fond du Lac in the fall will certainly leave you longing to return to enjoy the natural beauty surrounding Fond du Lac during each season of the year.
Travel Tips: Horicon Marsh
Getting there: Horicon, on the south end of the marsh, is about an hour northwest of Milwaukee. Waupun, at the northwest side of the marsh, is about 20 minutes southwest of Fond du Lac.
Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area: The DNR field office on Palmatory Street, just north of Horicon, has information on birding and maps for hiking and canoeing. 920-387-7860.
Horicon National Wildlife Refuge: The Visitor Center in Mayville is open weekdays year-round and also weekends during fall migration. 920-387-2658.
Boat tours: From its landing off Wisconsin 33 in Horicon, Blue Heron Landing gives pontoon-boat tours from May through late October, 920-485-4663. This is must do when visiting the area for bird watching. The guides are excellent and the boat tour offers an insiders look at the Marsh that is not available by foot or auto.
Accommodations: Fond du Lac offers a wealth of lodging styles to fit every budget. For those interested in history, the Historic Retlaw Plaza in downtown Fond du Lac can’t be beat as a great place to begin all of your adventures in the Fond du Lac area. Just imagine walking the same halls that Eleanor Roosevelt walked!
Dining: No visit to Fond du Lac is complete without a stop at the famous Schreiner’s. Consider it for breakfast lunch, or best of all an afternoon rest break at their Pie Happy Hour!
Bicycling: The 34-mile crushed-limestone Wild Goose State Trail goes between Fond du Lac and Clyman and cuts through many different bird habitats. This is an excellent way to view even more birds and wildlife at a leisurely pace.
Canoeing: Canoeing is allowed in the 11,000 acres of the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area, the southern third of the marsh. Blue Heron Landing also rents canoes and kayaks and provides shuttle service, 920-485-4663.
Hiking: The two-mile Horicon Habitat Trail at the southern tip of the marsh is just north of the town of Horicon; from Wisconsin 33, or Lake Street, turn north on Palmatory Street.
Call them what you want, turkey mite or seed tick, these horrible biting nasty little creatures are everywhere in southern Illinois right now. Many a dove hunter is covered in tiny red bites that itch far worse than any bad case of chiggers. The itching is intense, and some folks can be troubled of periods of up to six weeks. Yes, I said six weeks.
I am not about to post any images of the horrible devils spawn creatures, or their bites. Just reading this will likely have you feeling a little itchy scratchy and uncomfortable enough.
What exactly are these demons anyway?
What are commonly referred to as turkey mites or seed ticks in southern Illinois are actually the Lone star tick larvae and nymphs (immature stages). Earlier in the summer, female ticks deposited masses of several thousand eggs on the ground. Anyone unfortunate enough to stand in or to pass through such a site can easily pick up dozens, and given the sheer volume out there this year coming home with hundreds of them is not an exaggeration. Over the years I have learned that a relatively cool wet period that follows a heat wave has the mites hatching with a vengeance. While they are often problematic early in September and can continue through til frost, this year they seem to be especially abundant. It’s almost as if the fields and woods are under siege.
These are teeny tiny little devils. and look somewhat like black pepper has been sprinkled on your skin. They need to feed to continue through their life cycle and humans make a great host. These tiny, 6 or 8-legged creatures, are most active between July and October. During this time, the larvae climb low vegetation and wait with outstretched front legs to latch on to passing animals or humans. Once they make it onto your person they crawl around to find a suitable place to attach and feed. Often you will not notice them until bedtime when suddenly as you snuggle under the covers it feels like a million little itchy pin pricks are all over you.
So now that we know there’s war zone out there, how do we fight? Start by trying to prevent the bites. Knee high boots, pant legs in boots and a swath of duct tape sealing up things can help. Yes, I am even duct taping my shirt sleeve cuffs these days. Any exposed skin is fair game, and they will also hop onto your clothes. Clothing treated with permetherin products does help some, as does a thorough dosing from head to toe with a DEET containing product. A note about DEET containing products - I sprayed one such product directly on a wad of them on boot a few days ago. I am of the opinion they thought it was happy hour. It really didn’t faze them this year.
Be aware that they hang onto clothing, boots, packs, etc that you will carry back to the car or the house. So, if I have been an infested area, I swap out those clothes for fresh ones, and seal them up tight in a plastic bag. Once home they go directly into a washer of hot water and detergent. The last thing I want is an infestation of them in my car or even worse my house.
Then I go directly into a scalding hot shower, and scrub hard with a stiff brush or pumice stone. Remember, they are essentially teeny ticks. they attach themselves just like the grown up ticks. After a good scrub then I soak in a tub full of hot water with a very heavy dose of epsom salts and scrub with a few handfuls of the epsom salts.
I will still have few stray bites, but for the most part this works well for me.
Another plan of attack if you have multitudes of bites is to use an over the counter head lice removal product. Slather it over the affected areas, allow it to sit about ten minutes then scrub it all off.
Once the bites are there and you are giving thought to throwing your body off a bridge just to get away from the painful, relentless itching, topical antihistamine products, oral antihistamines like Benadryl, and any anti itch product are likely to help, but not completely solve it. Particularly bad bites, or large numbers of bites can warrant a trip to the health care provider in order to get some prescription relief and to insure that you do not fall ill from a secondary infection or huge histamine response.
Any way you cut it they are a bad thing to encounter and they are just about everywhere right now. tall weeds, fields, woods, it doesn’t really matter. We are under siege and it’s a war!
Feel free Heartland friends to share any of your own tactics to fighting these tiny terrorists of the outdoors!
Dove season started out well enough in my neighborhood, but numbers took a decline in the days that followed last week. Pyramid is the clear winner in the dove harvests in SW Illinois. For those with lower numbers, several factors including low hunter participation numbers and poor weather contributed to lower than average numbers. Here’s how things stacked up in my neck of the woods for the first five days of dove season 2014.
Kaskaskia River Day Use
9/1 9/2 9/3 9/4 9/5 Total
Hunters 13 5 2 0 5 25
Doves 68 24 2 0 14 108
DPH 5.2 4.8 1 0 2.8 4.3
Peabody River King Fish and Wildlife Area
9/1 9/2 9/3 9/4 9/5 Total
Hunters 119 20 8 16 5 168
Doves 300 44 21 16 4 385
AVG 2.5 2.2 2.6 1 .8 2.29
Pyramid State Park
9/1 9/2 9/3 9/4 9/5 Total
Hunters 331 78 30 15 11 465
Doves 2321 724 130 81 23 3279
AVG 7.0 9.2 4.1 5.4 2.1 7.0
Washington County Conservation Area reported a total of 39 doves harvested and Randolph County Conservation Area a total of 185 from 9/1 through 9/5.