Our random county for the September hotspot of the month was Iowa. Among the best birding sites in southern Wisconsin, Arena Boat Landing is a gem nestled in the Wisconsin River floodplain. It’s located in northern Iowa County, only a half hour from Madison. We recruited local expert and eBirder Aaron Holschbach who wrote the following piece about this month’s hotspot. Aaron also provided the photos, all of which were taken at the hotspot.
Species recorded on eBird: 236
Checklists submitted: 992
Rare species: Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Franklin’s Gull, Thayer’s Gull, Carolina Wren, Nelson’s Sparrow
The Arena Unit of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway is 1,755 acres of hardwood bottomland forest, marsh, prairie, and pine barrens located two miles north of the village of Arena in northeast Iowa county. The main access point for this area is the Arena boat landing on the Wisconsin River at the north end of River Road. Birding along River Road can be quite productive, as can the walking trail that goes to the east from River Road. This area has a variety of habitats and over 230 species of birds have been recorded. Five unique habitats in this area are detailed below.
Area 2 – Bottomland Hardwood Forest
The Wisconsin River floodplain is the habitat that the Arena Boat Landing may be best known for. Some years Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are found here in spring or summer. The best area to look for the night-herons is the backwaters and flooded woodlands along River Road. In these bottomlands, there are also good numbers of Red-shouldered Hawks, a few of which stay through the winter. Pileated Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, and a few Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers can be found here year-round, while Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Black-billed Cuckoos, and Prothonotary Warblers are present in spring and summer. The backwaters along River Road stay free of ice for all but the coldest winter days, which makes this area attractive to wintering Great Blue Herons, ducks, kingfishers, robins, bluebirds, sparrows, and blackbirds.
Area 3 – Walking Trail, Brush, and Fields
At the curve in River Road there is a walking trail that goes to the east. This trail leaves the bottoms and enters into an area of open fields, brush thickets, and wet fields. This area is usually flooded in spring, but typically dries up in late spring and summer. In summer the trail is not cut, so it is usually very overgrown, but for those who are adventurous enough to hike out into the tall grass, there are good birds to be found. In spring, Sedge Wrens, Willow Flycatchers, Bell’s Vireos, and White-eyed Vireos return to this area. White-eyed Vireos were confirmed to be nesting here in the summer of 2007, and a few pair of Bell’s Vireos nest annually in the thick brush along the trail. In fall migration, hawks and large numbers of migrating sparrows are found in the brush and fields along the trail. A few Nelson’s Sparrows have been found in late September. In winter this area is home to Rough-legged Hawks, Northern Shrikes, and Short-eared Owls. Sandhill Cranes have also stayed here throughout the winter some years.
Area 4 – Wisconsin River
At the end of River Road is a boat landing on the Wisconsin River. From this landing you can view the river both to the east and to the west of the landing. Bald Eagles and Red-shouldered Hawks may be perched in the trees along the river any month of the year.
Area 5 – Cattail Marsh
To the south of the walking trail is a fairly large Cattail Marsh. Although this marsh does not have much open water for waterfowl or large waders, it does host some marsh birds. In spring and summer American Bitterns, Virginia Rails, Soras, Northern Harriers, Marsh Wrens, and Sedge Wrens can be found here. Least Bitterns and Black-crowned Night-Herons have also been found here on occasion. In winter, Rough-legged Hawks and Short-eared Owls can be found in this area. The marsh can also be viewed from Fortier Road which runs along the south edge of the marsh.