Look for waterbirds, owls, sparrows, flycatchers, and warblers at this wetland complex near Madison, Wisconsin.
By Chuck Heikkinen | Published: 2/22/2008
Once the slightly redolent settling ponds of Madison’s sewage plant and long a magnet for local birders, Nine Springs is now a managed natural area. I go there mainly for wetland species but also because I never know what might turn up.
Migrant shorebirds are the main attraction. Regulars include Baird’s, Pectoral, Least, Semipalmated, and Stilt Sandpipers, both yellowlegs, Dunlin, and Semipalmated Plover. Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper nest there. I consider Nine Springs second only to Horicon Marsh for wetland bird variety in Wisconsin.
My favorite sightings have included Summer Tanager, Black-necked Stilt, Tricolored Heron, Snowy Egret, Laughing Gull, and Red Knot, all unusual for Wisconsin. Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow is a frequent visitor during fall migration in the grassy areas north of the back ponds. It’s sometimes joined by Le Conte’s Sparrow. I found a Surf Scoter once, and others have reported Least Tern and Piping Plover. — Chuck Heikkinen
Chuck Heikkinen is a psychologist and active birder. He leads field trips for Madison Audubon Society and participates in the Breeding Bird Survey.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Wetlands, restored prairie, woods, and grassland.
Flat, hard-packed dirt and gravel dikes. Boardwalk across from parking lot is wheelchair-accessible.
Common: Sora, Virginia Rail, Sandhill Crane, Ring-necked Pheasant (in prairie to the south), herons, sparrows, Blue-winged Teal, Wood Duck, Great Horned Owl, wrens, flycatchers, and warblers. Regular shorebirds: yellowlegs, sandpipers, Dunlin, and Semipalmated Plover. Uncommon shorebirds: Black-bellied and American Golden-Plover, White-rumped Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, and Willet. Target species: Great Horned Owl, Wilson’s Phalarope, Black Tern, and Baird’s, Stilt, and White-rumped Sandpipers (spring); Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow (fall). Rarities: Tricolored Heron, Black-necked Stilt, Red Knot, Laughing Gull, Summer Tanager. In winter, Great Horned and Short-eared Owls and Northern Shrike.
When to go
Best during shorebird migration (April to June and August to October).
Concrete pit toilet at parking lot. Bird sightings list in mailbox on dike just to right after entrance. Madison Audubon organizes field trips in spring and late summer/fall. Food available on South Towne Dr. about half a mile west.
Sewage district natural area. No fees. No permission needed. Hours generally from first to last light. Reachable via bike trail system. Two Metro Bus routes stop a third of a mile from boardwalk.
The ponds are large, so bring a spotting scope. Wear sturdy shoes or boots, and bring insect repellent and sun protection.
For more info
Madison Audubon Society, (608) 255-2473
Madison Birding Hotline, (608) 255-2476.