Our randomly selected county for June’s Wisconsin eBird Hotspot of the Month is Marathon. Dan Belter, longtime resident birder and Wisconsin eBird reviewer for Marathon County chose to profile Lake Wausau. Lake Wausau is a 1851 acre lake with a mean depth of 7 feet and max depth of 30 feet. It has hosted several local and state rarities. Read on for details!
Species eBirded at hotspot: 209
Checklists in eBird: 428
Featured species: Waterfowl, Shorebirds including Willet, American Avocet, and Marbled Godwit, all three scoter species, Long-tailed Duck, Great Blue Heron, gulls, 25 warbler species
Rare species eBirded: Brant, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Eared Grebe, Western Grebe, Snowy Egret, Sabine’s Gull, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Northern Mockingbird, Summer Tanager, Harris’s Sparrow
Northcentral Wisconsin, in particular Marathon County, has many great birding locations. Local birding hotspots such as the George W. Mead State Wildlife Area, the Big Eau Pleine Reservoir along with the Big Eau Pleine County Park, and the Dells of the Eau Claire County Park are just some of the areas that offer great birding opportunities throughout the year. There are also several birding locations in and around the Wausau area. One such area is Lake Wausau, and the several parks that are located directly on the shoreline of lake. These parks, D.C. Everest County Park, Rookery View Park, Radtke Park, and Bluegill Bay County Park have hosted several Wisconsin rarities and notable birds over the years.
Lake Wausau, located directly on the Wisconsin River, is easily accessed from the City of Wausau, and surrounding communities of Schofield, Rothschild, and Rib Mountain. All of these communities have easy access points to the lake. Lake Wausau is created from a dam connected to a paper mill located on the south end of the lake in the Village of Rothschild. The Wisconsin River runs north to south through the lake. Looking at a map of the lake, one can see it is somewhat divided into three sections, north, middle, and south. The north and middle sections have the best access points to the lake, so these are the areas this article will focus on.Starting on the north end of the lake, we first look at D.C. Everest County Park, which is located at the very south end of South 3rd Avenue (the road dead ends at the park). While this park has few trees and consists mostly of a parking lot servicing the boat landing, the view over the north end of the lake is excellent. There is no high ground here, so viewing is directly from the shoreline southward across the lake. Off in the distance picturesque Rib Mountain is easily seen. Looking southwest from Everest Park, a Great Blue Heron rookery is visible on an island. This rookery hosts 100+ nests. In 2012, the rookery also hosted a pair of nesting Great Egrets. Looking a little further to the west an Osprey nesting platform is also visible. This platform has hosted a nesting pair of Osprey’s for approximately the past fifteen years. Historically, there had been a sandbar visible where the river enters into the lake, but it has been absent for over ten years. When the sandbar was present, it was a magnet for some of the best birds Lake Wausau has ever had! D.C Everest County Park is best birded from early to mid-March when the lake starts to melt until the first week of June, and then again in fall migration, from the end of September until the lake freezes up. The best birds seen here over the years include: Brant (1 record, May 11, 2009), Eared Grebe (5 records), Snowy Egret (1 record, on the sandbar on May 9, 1996), American Avocet (3 records, 2 on the sandbar, 1 at the boat landing; 11 birds on August 26, 1997), Sabine’s Gull (1 record, August 26, 1997, an adult still in breeding plumage flying around the sandbar over the Avocet!!), Franklin’s Gull (3 records), and Iceland Gull (1 record, April 19, 2003). Other sightings of interest, some occurring every one to five years, include: Greater White-fronted Goose, Long-tailed Duck, all three Scoters, Red-necked Grebe, American White Pelican, and Common Tern. Additionally, the park is great for viewing all of the common waterfowl, grebes, loons, gulls, etc. that migrate along the Wisconsin River during spring and fall. On occasion, especially in the spring, the variety of ducks can number in the thousands, Horned Grebes in the hundreds and Common Loons 150 plus. The next park we visit is a newer park called Rookery View Park. This park has already proven to be a local birding hotspot. Like D.C. Everest Park, Rookery View Park also overlooks the north end of the lake, but is more westward from Everest Park. Rookery View Park is located in Rib Mountain along Rib Mountain Drive (a.k.a., Highway N) right on the south end of the causeway, and on the east side of the road. Before the trees leaf out in April, one can easily get close views of the Great Blue Herons in the rookery on the island across from the park. Looking north from the shoreline, one can also see the Osprey nesting platform mentioned earlier. The area near the platform should be carefully birded as several noteworthy birds have been seen in this shallower area of the lake in recent years. A small sandbar has been taking shape just to the west of the platform, and has attracted some noteworthy birds as well. Notable sightings in this area include; Willet (2 records), Marbled Godwit (1 record), Franklin’s Gull (1 record), Caspian Tern, and Peregrine Falcon. At least 16 other species of shorebirds, in addition to the ones mentioned above, have been seen on this sandbar in the past two years, so it’s a spot to keep an eye on. Also, this area of the lake is where American White Pelicans show up from time to time. Another option to consider when visiting Rookery View Park is to walk alongside the road up the causeway to where it connects to the bridge. However, caution is advised as this road has heavy traffic. Walking the causeway places the observer about 10 or 12 feet higher than the lake surface which provides a much better view of the sandbar. Our third Lake Wausau Hotspot is Bluegill Bay County Park. Also located in Rib Mountain, this park has been a favorite local hotspot for various types of birds throughout the year. The variety of habitat found within this 40 acre park will give birders a taste of woodland birds, marsh birds (to a certain extent), and birds found on Lake Wausau. The trail system takes one through all sections of the park, including immediately adjacent to the Wisconsin River and through the woods. The park is accessible from two parking lots. The first lot is located off of Cloverland Lane and the second off of Parrot Lane. Over the years this park has proven to be one of the best places to go birding in the greater Wausau area. The park’s bird list is over 175 species including these highlights: Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (1 record, adult seen on March 22, 1991), Hooded Warbler (1 record, May 7-9, 2004), Summer Tanager (1 record, female on October 28-31, 1999), and Dickcissel (1 record). Other notable species include: Northern Goshawk, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Red-headed Woodpecker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Philadelphia Vireo, Tufted Titmouse, Bohemian Waxwing, both Connecticut and Black-throated Blue Warblers, Harris’s Sparrow, both crossbills, and Evening Grosbeak. Our last park we visit is Radtke Park, located south of the Wausau Airport. The park is accessed from Grand Avenue in Schofield on Radtke Street. Radtke Street dead ends at the park a few blocks from the Grand Avenue intersection. This park is rather small, maybe 5 o 6 acres, but it has a nice wooded shoreline. It sits above the lake by approximately 20 feet, thus making it an excellent location to view the middle section of Lake Wausau. Due to the park’s proximity to the Wausau Airport, one can also find a variety of grassland birds by checking the open fields of the airport property to the north. Spring and fall migration are the best time to visit this park. Walking out to the point, Rib Mountain is visible in the distance and the lake surface below. From Radtke Point one can scan over the lake to look for grebes, loons and waterfowl during both migrations. Highlights over the years include: Barrow’s Goldeneye (1 record, adult male seen on Nov. 1 – 5, 2003), Western Grebe (2 records), and Northern Mockingbird (1 record, April 21 – May 1, 2011). Other notable birds seen from this location include: Long-tailed Duck, all three scoters, and both Upland Sandpiper and Western Meadowlark (on the airport property). In addition, Tundra Swans and a variety of ducks are present in high numbers during spring migration.