A bird-rich preserve built from scratch on the site of a former 18-hole golf course along Lake Michigan.
By Carl Schwartz | Published: 12/14/2012
It’s hard to decide what makes the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve such a special place. My friend Tom Schaefer says it’s because you never know what you might see next, and he should know. He has helped log a number of firsts, including a Plegadis ibis and an American Golden-Plover.
Four years ago, the preserve was an 18-hole semi-private golf course — hardly the kind of pristine habitat conservationists seek to preserve. A local land trust’s audacious concept of building a sanctuary from scratch took off with government and private assistance, and now wetlands and native plant communities are being restored.
I’ve had several special moments here. During the 2011 Big Sit, I watched at dawn as a Short-eared Owl flew silently in from Lake Michigan and sailed over my head. In May 2010, thousands of Tree, Barn, and Northern Rough-winged Swallows zipped south along the beach in a reverse migration thanks to a cold snap. And just last spring, I pished a Connecticut Warbler out of a spruce tree. It perched in front of me for 20 seconds — the best look I’ve ever had at the little skulker! — Carl Schwartz
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location: 43°27’30.43″N 87°48’53.39″W
Five-acre hardwood forest, seasonal ponds, open grassland, prairie, partially wooded ravine, and beach.
Formerly a golf course, so it’s walkable. Cart paths converted to trails that are abutted and bisected by paved and gravel roads; birding by car is possible. Portions of property are wheelchair-accessible.
232 species. Long-tailed Duck, Common and Red-throated Loons, Horned Grebe, 23 duck species, all three scoters, Caspian, Common, and Forster’s Terns, American Bittern, Great Egret, American White Pelican, Virginia Rail, Golden- and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, mixed flocks of warblers, thrushes, and flycatchers in spring and fall, Upland Sandpiper, Willet, Hudsonian Godwit, Wilson’s Phalarope, and Whimbrel. Hawk watch has turned up 12 raptor species, including Golden Eagle, Northern Goshawk, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, and Northern Harrier. Rarities: Northern Mockingbird, Western Meadowlark, and Connecticut, Mourning, and Kentucky Warblers.
When to go
Year-round. Best from April to May and September to October for passerines, mid-September to early November for migrating hawks.
Several viewing platforms and blinds, 3.5-mile trail system, kiosk with map at clubhouse parking lot. The Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory is headquartered in the old clubhouse.
Ozaukee Washington Land Trust preserve. No fees. No public transportation, but Ozaukee Shared-Ride Taxi Service is available.
Bring your scope. Be prepared to walk through high grass, which often can be wet. Wear layers.
For more info
Harrington Beach State Park
Three miles north of preserve; follow Lake Church Rd. north to Hwy. D and go east to park entrance. Largest bird list of any state park in Wisconsin.
Lion’s Den Gorge
511 High Bluff Dr., Grafton. 79 acres of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline adjacent to a 44-acre wetland complex. Great spot for spring and fall songbird and hawk migrations, plus vagrants.