Bald eagles gather in large numbers along the Fox River at 1000 Islands Environmental Center, Kaukauna, to feed on winter-killed fish, waterfowl and other prey. Here, an eagle feasts on fresh fish in a tree overlooking the Fox. / Rob Zimmer/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
NATURE OF THE FOX CITIES: A SERIES
In this series, Rob Zimmer introduces you to the Fox Valley’s nature centers to showcase the richness and wild heritage found here in our back yard. Each of the area nature centers feature habitat and wildlife that separates it from the others. At the same time, these areas complement each other wonderfully, resulting in one of the highest concentrations of public natural areas found anywhere in the state. Follow the series each Tuesday during December and January.
EAGLE DAYS ARE COMING
The 1000 Islands Environmental Center’s annual Eagle Days event takes place Jan. 25. Enjoy eagle viewing and live bird of prey presentations and learn about these spectacular birds over hot cocoa during a day of interaction with bald eagles. The event schedule includes:
• Bald eagle viewing sessions will take place from 7 to 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the fishing pier and eagle overlook area. Meet at the Environmental Center building. Be sure to dress appropriately for the cold. Binoculars and spotting scopes will be available.
• Join an eagle discussion over coffee or hot cocoa from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. in the Environmental Center building. Enjoy a collection of eagle photographs during the discussion.
• Naturalist Debbie Nowak will present a program on bald eagle history and environmental discussion from 10 to 11 a.m. in the Environmental Center.
• Interactive eagle displays and information will be available in the Environmental Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
• From 1 to 2:30 p.m., view live birds of prey and learn all about their habits and natural history from educators in the Environmental Center.
IF YOU GO
What: 1000 Islands Environmental Center
Where: Located along the Fox River in Kaukauna (1000 Beaulieu Court, Kaukauna, 920-766-4733)
When: The nature center building is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Trails are open during daylight hours.
On display: While visiting 1000 Islands, enjoy the display of mounted wildlife from around the world in the Environmental Center. The museum-quality displays are donated from the family of Joe Van Daalwyk, as well as John Barlow and Bob Juneau. They include, among others, lions, tigers and bears.
KAUKAUNA — The music of the river swirls through the open forest in the valley at 1000 Islands Environmental Center in Kaukauna.
When the waters run high along the Fox River, the river dances through its many channels formed in the bottomlands at this precious natural area, creating its own sweet song as it flows and churns among rocks, boulders and fallen trees.
Keeping watch, dozens of bald eagles perch along the banks, their heads gleaming snow white in the sparkling sun as they scan the waters below for fish and waterfowl on which they feed during these cold, midwinter days.
Along the elevated boardwalk trail leading along the edge of the channel, a group of whitetails watches silently from beneath a fallen tree, bedded down for the morning. Every breath a delicate mist in the bitter cold, the animals break from their nocturnal wanderings by seeking shelter here in the thick forest along the banks.
More from this series:
The rich sounds of Canada geese fill the valley as a large group lifts from the open water and travels upstream, low to the river channel, while dozens of colorful mallards chatter along the edge of the ice.
In spring, American white pelicans flock to the marshy areas, their 10-foot wingspans, tipped in jet black, carrying them in powerful flight all along the river. Pelicans feed in the shallows, working together as a team to school fish together, then plunging their foot-long, bright orange bills and classic pelican pouches beneath the surface to catch their prey.
The 1000 Islands Environmental Center and Conservancy Zone was established in 1969 by the City of Kaukauna to preserve this vital area along the shores of the Fox River. Covering some 350 acres, the Environmental Center provides more than seven miles of trails for visitors to enjoy in all four seasons.
More than a river
The 1000 Islands Environmental Center is more than just a river sanctuary, however, and the trail system available to hikers and nature lovers is far more expansive and extensive than the short stretch of boardwalk leading along the channel.
Downstream, the trail system extends along the high bluffs following the river’s south bank.
This section of trail, heavily forested along the river’s edge, is a great place to see wildlife such as deer, squirrel, chipmunks, mink, wild turkey, many species of woodpeckers, hawks, eagles and more. Watch for turtles basking during spring and summer, along with great blue heron.
Trails also lead among wooded ravines and deep forest across from the river. Known as the Upper Woods, this section of 1000 Islands is often overlooked, as visitors spend most of their time enjoying the waterway. Be sure to make time to explore this vast, open woodland to fully enjoy the spectrum of wildlife and wildflowers found here.
The spring wildflower show at 1000 Islands Environmental Center is spectacular, as many species of woodland wildflowers explode into bloom for a few weeks during April, May and early June.
The woodland trails and the Upper Woods offer the best wildflower watching, where large numbers of spring ephemeral, or seasonal, flowers bloom from early spring until the leaf canopy shades the forest floor.
Trillium, trout lilies, mayapples, violets, spring beauty, wild geranium, jack-in-the-pulpit and others adorn the steep ravine walls and trail edges.
It is also during spring that large numbers of migrating wood warblers fill the treetops all along the river.
Tiny, colorful songbirds that are often called “butterfly birds,” warblers arrive in waves during the first or second week of May. Over two dozen species of warblers may be seen here during the annual spring migration, gathering at this natural resting stop along the river where the forest meets the water’s edge.
In addition to the warblers, the forest and trails along the river are a great spot to see other migrant songbirds such as orioles, indigo bunting, thrushes, grosbeaks, swallows and more.
Fall arrives at 1000 Islands and the natural highway formed by the Fox River becomes an important destination for birds and wildlife on the move.
The seasonal journeys of Canada geese, many species of ducks, bald eagles, red-tailed hawks and more funnel them into the narrow channels formed among the islands.
During the peak of fall migration, thousands of Canada geese congregate along the river.
As waters to the north begin to freeze, large numbers of bald eagles move south to join local nesting populations here. This results in one of the largest concentrations of wintering bald eagles east of the Mississippi River.
For more information on 1000 Islands Environmental Center, visit www.1000islandsenvironmentalcenter.org
— Rob Zimmer, Post-Crescent staff writer, writes about nature every Tuesday in his Nature Calling column. He is reachable at 920-419-3734 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @YardMD.