I like to think of Fontenelle Forest as the best single place to see eastern birds near the western edge of their ranges and western birds near their eastern borders. For example, the Tufted Titmouse is common here, but it’s uncommon to rare just 50 miles west of Bellevue. Similarly, Western Kingbird turns up in fields next to the forest but is rare east of here.
I bird Fontenelle Forest often during spring migrations. Starting in mid-April, Yellow-throated Warblers and Northern Parulas arrive to set up breeding territories. Cerulean Warblers are reported every year, as well as many other warblers. In the marsh near the Missouri River, I watch for Nelson’s, Le Conte’s, White-crowned, Lincoln’s, Fox, Harris’s, and White-throated Sparrows.
And we’ve had our share of rarities, including Lazuli Bunting, White-eyed Vireo, and Hooded, Cape May, and Bay-breasted Warblers. A pair of Red-shouldered Hawks nested in Fontenelle Forest up until four years ago — again at the extreme western edge of the breeding range outside of California. — Clem Klaphake
Clem Klaphake is a professor of sociology at Bellevue University, the president of the Audubon Society of Omaha, and a past president of the Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union.
Upland forests, deep hollows with natural springs, floodplain populated with cottonwood, sycamore, and maple trees, and a large marsh.
Eighteen miles of hiking trails, ranging from steep to flat. Two wheelchair-accessible boardwalks: one in the woods and the other in the marsh.
Spring: Cerulean, Connecticut, Mourning, Magnolia, Black-throated Green, Blackpoll, Black-and-white, Chesnut-sided, and Blackburnian Warblers, Philadelphia Vireo, Swainson’s, Hermit, and Gray-cheeked Thrushes, Veery, Alder, Acadian, Willow, Least, Yellow-bellied, and Great Crested Flycatchers, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Pewee. Breeding: Red-eyed, Yellow-throated, and Warbling Vireos, Wood Thrush, Ovenbird, and Scarlet and Summer Tanagers. Prothonotary Warbler has nested occasionally. Migrating Osprey near the river.
When to go
For the most variety, mid-April to late May in early mornings.
Bird club meets the first Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. Two-tiered blind on boardwalk near river. Restrooms in nature center. Checklist.
Non-profit organization property. Fees: $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, $5 for children. Annual memberships also available. Open daily, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s days. Hours 8-5. Trails open dawn to dusk for members and visitors who enter before 5 p.m.
Spotting scope not necessary. Hiking the wooded trails can involve considerable up-and-down effort.