Our randomly selected county for February’s Wisconsin eBird Hotspot of the Month is Sheboygan. Davor Grgic, an avid bird watcher and eBird contributor, chose to profile Sheboygan’s North Point and the surrounding area of the Sheboygan lakeshore. The city of Sheboygan is located on the shore of Lake Michigan, 55 miles north of Milwaukee and 60 miles south of Green Bay. Its lakefront, comprised of Niagara limestone bedrock, sand beaches, a marina and river mouth, has long been known to Wisconsin birders as an excellent birding location for viewing a variety of ducks, shorebirds, gulls, terns, and even passerines. This collection of hotspots, especially North Point, continues to be a popular birding destination due to its reputation for consistently producing rarities.
Sheboygan Lakeshore Hotspots: Sheboygan–North Point, Sheboygan–Lakefront, Sheboygan–Harbor (general), Sheboygan–Outer Harbor, Sheboygan–Inner Harbor
Number of species eBirded at the hotspot: 208
Checklists in eBird: 948
Featured Species: Loons, ducks, gulls and shorebirds including Black, White-winged, and Surf Scoter, Common and Red-breasted Merganser, Greater and Lesser Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Horned Grebe, Red-throated Loon, Ruddy Turnstone, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Semipalmated Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Dunlin, Great Black-backed Gull, Glaucous Gull, Thayer’s Gull, Iceland Gull, and Bonaparte’s Gull.
Rare/Notable Species eBirded: Common Eider, King Eider, Harlequin Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Eared Grebe, Whimbrel, Purple Sandpiper, Little Gull, Franklin’s Gull, Laughing Gull, Slaty-backed Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake, Arctic Tern, Red Phalarope, Willet, Parasitic Jaeger, Carolina Wren, Kentucky Warbler
Winter at North Point by Davor Grgic
North Point is located on the northeast side of Sheboygan, 5 miles east from the I-43 exit at Kohler Memorial Drive (US 23). This city park is just north of the Harbor Centre Marina along Broughton Drive, on a rocky peninsula that extends into Lake Michigan. According to one of the park’s markers, “The exposed shelf of rock at North Point is a rarely occurring geologic formation along the Lake Michigan shoreline. In this location, the uppermost layer of bedrock protrudes through the surrounding glacial drift. This bedrock is known as Niagara limestone and is part of the same bedrock course as the outcropping in New York which forms Niagara Falls.” Although small, the park has produced an impressive variety of bird species including rarities on a fairly regular basis. In the last 2 years, at least 160 species have been recorded in eBird. In addition to a wide variety of gulls, ducks, shorebirds and other typical species found in lakeshore environments, the area has in recent times recorded at least 15 species of warblers, mainly in the wooded bluff area overlooking the shore.
Last year’s notable birds included Snowy Owl (January/November-December), Barrow’s Goldeneye (January-March), Purple Sandpiper (January/November), Whimbrel (May), Laughing Gull (May), Little Gull (June), Kentucky Warbler (September), Red Phalarope (November) and Eared Grebe (November). In the past years a female Harlequin Duck and male Barrow’s Goldeneye (sometimes two) were regular winter visitors, but have been notably absent since the beginning of 2012. Sheboygan is probably the most reliable spot in the state for finding Purple Sandpiper and Red Phalarope- a birding outing here in November or December could produce either, especially when shore ice has not built up yet. For these two species, focus your efforts between the parking lot and the rocky point near the gazebo. Scoping here can be very productive in spring and fall migrations- Red-throated Loon, all three species of Scoters, and Long-tailed Duck are regular if a birder spends enough time scoping. Summer is also a very productive time at the point (and great way to cool off with a lake breeze that typically acts as an air conditioner on hot days) as this is one of the most regular locations in the state for Little, Laughing, Franklin’s, and Lesser Black-backed Gull. For these species, check anywhere between the rocky tip and the sandy beach to the south of the parking lot. Rainy days can be especially good for gulls and shorebirds on the sandy beach because the number of beach-going people is limited. In late fall and winter, the rocky area is one of the best locations in the state to get up close views of “winter gulls” including Great Black-backed and Glaucous regularly, and sometimes Thayer’s and Iceland.
The rocky shore by the parking lot is a favorite spot for observation as is the gazebo overlook on the northern side of the park. Both spots have an excellent view of the shoreline below, permit reasonable wheelchair access/viewing and have good viewing from the car or the shelter in inclement weather. The wooded bluff above the shore path is an excellent area for viewing warblers and other migrating and resident songbirds, raptors Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagles are reported with some regularity in the fall/winter months) and soaring gulls. It can also produce some unexpected passerines. Carolina Wren and Tufted Titmouse have been somewhat regular here in recent years and in migration. Other unexpected birds such as Brown Thrasher and Fox Sparrow have overwintered in the thick brush. This area is easily accessible by stairways on the south end of North Point or by car following Broughton Drive northward around the point and up the hill. Sometimes these birds can even be detected by ear while scoping the lake, so don’t tune out the activity behind you!
Further south along Broughton Drive, the nearby Harbor Centre Marina and Sheboygan River mouth and harbor are also excellent locations for bird watching, particularly in the winter when large numbers of ducks and other wintering species seek water that is productive for feeding and sheltered from the winds. During winter, the ice in the inner harbor is another good spot to find loafing gulls where Iceland or Thayer’s Gull may be found mixed in with the Herring, Glaucous, and Great Black-backed Gulls. Floating ice produces the best loafing flocks, but even when there is no ice present, the breakwalls and water should be checked. Snowy Owl and less commonly, Short-eared Owl have also been found during the winter months in the outer harbor along the rock jetties and breakwall. The harbor area adjacent to the river mouth has been reliable for seeing a wintering male Barrow’s Goldeneye for many years with this current winter season being the exception. This location has historically hosted Barrow’s Goldeneye more frequently than at North Point. The harbor is best viewed from the east end of South Pier Drive just beyond the Blue Harbor Resort or at the east end of Pennsylvania Avenue next to the Coast Guard Station. Each of these viewing locations offers a different vantage of the harbor. Therefore it is worth checking the harbor from both locations. In addition, from South Pier Drive, excellent views of Lake Michigan are afforded where one can scan for ducks, loons, grebes, mergansers and terns. Scoping the open water to the south of the breakwall is often very productive for these species. After a cold day of birding along the lakefront, a stop at one of the numerous historic restaurants/pubs that the city is known for is highly recommended!
Thanks to the following individuals for their contributions on this article:
Davor Grgic, primary author and photos (Winter
at North Point, Snowy Owl atop North Point Shelter, Little Gull,
Dunlin, White-rumped Sandpiper, 2nd Cycle Lesser Black-backed
Tom Prestby, secondary author and editing
Cynthia Bridge, Fun Facts and editing
Rebecca Setzer, North Point Limestone Bedrock photo
Nick Anich, editing