A shoreline preserve north of Milwaukee that is a great spot for spring and fall migrants.
By Joan Sommer | Published: 6/15/2015
This gem of a preserve protects lakeshore, old fields, wetlands, and a unique gorge, and the property abuts the Ulao Waterfowl Production Area, so the chances of good birds are high. Well-maintained trails, including wheelchair-accessible gravel sections, lead through the area.
The preserve’s namesake, Lion’s Den Gorge, is a coastal ravine sheltering a cedar and hardwood forest that supports a number of rare, mostly northern, relic plant species. Rainfall runoff and springs flowing from the ravine’s walls contribute to an intermittent stream running into Lake Michigan.
I can bird the 72-acre site in two or three hours. I have had incredible spring mornings, with abundant warblers, sparrows, puddle and diving ducks, raptors, and numerous other migrants. Prized species seen fairly regularly include Olive-sided and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Black-throated Blue and Connecticut Warblers, and Rusty Blackbird. Large numbers of waterfowl, including mergansers, loons, Common Goldeneye, and scoters, make their way past the bluffs. On days with winds favorable for raptors, I have seen many falcons, accipiters, and buteos fly by at eye level or pop up over the bluff. — Joan Sommer
Joan Sommer is a librarian at Marquette University. She maintains two bluebird trails and has banded birds for 14 years.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Lake Michigan bluffs and shoreline, fields, wetlands, white cedar and hardwood forest.
Flat, with the exception of a long flight of stairs to shoreline.
More than 220 species. Wood Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, Green and Great Blue Herons, Sora, Sandhill Crane, Herring, Ring-billed, and Bonaparte’s Gulls, Caspian Tern, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied, Downy, and Hairy Woodpeckers, American Kestrel, Alder, Willow, Least, and Great Crested Flycatchers, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, Warbling and Red-eyed Vireos, Northern Rough-winged, Tree, Bank, and Barn Swallows, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Clay-colored, Chipping, Field, Savannah, and Song Sparrows, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting. Unusual: Eared and Red-necked Grebes, Least Bittern, Short-eared Owl, White-eyed Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat, Western Tanager.
When to go
Best in spring and fall. Visit early in the day.
Boardwalks, flat trails, bluff vistas, deck overlooking adjacent federal wetland, picnic tables, portable toilets at main parking area.
County park. No fees. Open sunrise to sunset.
Stay on trails to protect rare plants. Bring a scope for effective lake birding. Watch for large midge hatches in spring and mosquitos in summer. Deer hunting allowed in fall; check dates. Dogs allowed on leash.
For more info
Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, Hotspot Near You No. 156
Eleven miles northeast of Lion’s Den Gorge on Country Club Rd. Former golf course turned sanctuary is great for songbirds, hawks, and shorebirds.
Riveredge Nature Center
About 12 miles northwest of preserve in Saukville. More than 370 acres of riverfront, prairies, forests, and ponds.