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  • HDT Team

Nature Notes: Birding Bonanza in the Driftless Region

Last Thursday, Michelle and Quinn traveled down to visit me in Trempealeau, Wisconsin, home of the new Happy Dancing Turtle – Driftless Region! They’ve heard me talking about the area for months and finally came down to check it out for themselves. Although, I must say I think I accidentally misled them. I’ve been talking about blue skies and 70s/80s temps for the last few weeks, but naturally, temps dropped to the 40s/50s and we received a lot of rain. Despite the rather unfortunate weather, there was still much to enjoy! When they arrived, I toured them through Perrot State Park on our way into Trempealeau. We enjoyed dinner at

The Trempealeau Hotel, a quintessential restaurant of the Driftless Region located in a historic building from the 1880s. It is one of many restaurants featuring sustainably-sourced, locally grown ingredients on the menu. It also highlights the variety of live music events in the area, complete with an outdoor porch, beautiful gardens, and a bandstand overlooking the Mississippi and riverside bluffs.

On Friday, after touring around Winona, Minnesota (including the  historic downtown, myriad of parks and historic places, awesome co-op, beautiful bluffs, fascinating backwaters, campgrounds, deer park, and coffee shops), we headed over to the Elmaro Winery for the Birding Festival kick-off event. Small, local, family-owned wineries are another common characteristic of the Driftless Region. Here we joined many other bird enthusiasts for Laura Erickson’s talk related to her book, 101 Ways To Help Birds. She had many interesting facts to share and great ideas to implement in our own lives. The bottom line? Be mindful. Everything we do has an impact, and there are lots of things we can do to minimize or mitigate some of those impacts. Lucky for you, she has shared her whole book of ideas on her website.


The Birding Festival at the Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge began bright and early on Saturday morning for a bird walk with professional birders. Our guide, an ornithology professor from the UW-La Crosse, helped us identify many birds, including tons of the small, fast-moving warbler species currently found in the refuge! Over 30 species of warblers come through Minnesota and Wisconsin in the early spring. Most of them are headed to breeding grounds far north of here, though some of them will stick around for the remainder of the spring. This is the best time to see them though, because once the trees are fully-leafed out, they are nearly impossible to spot as they feed in the dense foliage of the tree tops. So get outside and see how many you can find! Here’s some of the ones we found – click for larger image.

In addition to songbirds, we also saw waterfowl, cranes, herons, pelicans, terns, hawks, eagles, & osprey! Within a little over an hour, we had spotted 37 species of birds!

The festival continued with a wide variety of educational activities for the whole family. The interpretive center was open and I lost no time finding the “ducks on a stick” to aid in my duck identification skills! The River Valley Raptors Inc. was there with three educational falcons to share with folks. The US Fish and Wildlife Service was also onsite, banding birds for research. They hang very thin, hard-to-see nets up in the woods. When the birds get caught in the net, they remove them, check their band number or add a small band around their leg, and record data about the bird (location, species, weight, wingspan, etc.). In addition, two workshops were offered – Brilliant Birding Apps and Camera Tips & Tricks – to help people become better birders.

By the end of the day, the HDT staff had logged 71 birds in the Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas! Overall, a great weekend with the birds & we’re excited to share our new knowledge!


The Stewardship & Sustainability Team in the Driftless Region!


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