6 Things to Know About Bird-Watching

Bird-watching is one of the most popular activities at Lakeshore State Park, and it can be done in lots of different ways.

Whether you’ve got binoculars or an iPhone, you’re on your lunch break or making a special trip, it’s a rewarding and relaxing experience.

Blogger and birder Nathaniel Wegner shared some of his tips about birding at LSP, where a combination of lakeshore and prairie habitats create great bird-watching opportunities year-round. And check out Sunday Birders, Nathaniel’s blog about birding and exploring nature throughout Wisconsin.

1. Spring migration is a great time to view visiting species.

March through June is the peak of spring migration season, when you can spot species that are just passing through. This is when you can see unique shorebird species like the American Avocet (one of Nathaniel’s favorites) and Hudsonian and Marbled Godwits in addition to the more common Willets.

“Certain days each May can be amazing, especially with winds from the southwest, which push the birds towards the lake.”

Nathaniel Wegner

Birders have observed over 100 species in a single day during this time of year. Nathaniel’s tip: Always check the beach for the shorebirds and any terns that are migrating through.

2. Fall migration is, too!

Humans may pack up their beach towels when fall comes, but shorebirds come back again.. “This is also the time when rarities such as Whimbrel, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and Nelson’s and LeConte’s Sparrows have shown up,” said Nathaniel.

jim edlhuber black-belled plover
A Black-belled Plover, one of many birds you can spot at Lakeshore State Park. Credit: Photo by Jim Edlhuber

In addition to the beach, don’t overlook the large grassy area in the middle of the park, said Nathaniel. “It’s a good spot to check in fall, as a few of the shorebird species have been seen there, and sometimes a Cackling Goose will show up, too.”

3. Check out the rain garden area in summer.

“Summer is the quietest season in terms of birding in Milwaukee, but the rain garden area could have species like Sora or a Green Heron lurking in the reeds.”

4. The lakeshore rocks see action in cold months.

Starting in late October through January, the rocks along the lake are a great place to look for late migrants, said Nathaniel. These include Snow Bunting, Horned Lark and American Pipit, which sometimes will even winter in the area. You might even find a Short-eared Owl.

5. Visit the lagoon in winter

In the winter months, the lagoon is the place to spot many species of diving ducks, especially Long-tailed Ducks and scoter species.

6. Give eBird a try!

Nathaniel recommends that anyone interested in birds try eBird, a website and app from the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. “You can keep track of all the species you’ve seen, get rare bird alerts, see what species are usually seen at a specific park, and help science along the way.”

jim edlhuber green heron
A Green Heron, one of many birds you can spot at Lakeshore State Park. Credit: Photo by Jim Edlhuber


Spring migration, when many bird species visit town en route to their final destination, is a special time for birders. And Lakeshore State Park, with its mix of lakefront and prairie habitats, is a special place to take advantage of this opportunity.

Since June is the last month of spring migration season, we asked blogger and birder Nathaniel Wegner for some tips about taking advantage of it. Nathaniel, a home-schooled high school student who lives in Greendale, has been birding since 2017. He travels the state to explore parks and other natural environments and appreciates the unique experience each place offers.

“The number of species moving through our area is extremely fun to witness,” said Nathaniel. “The majority of Milwaukee’s shorebirds, warblers, and thrushes (and many sparrows and flycatchers) are migratory, so spring and fall are our only shot at seeing most of these species.”

At LSP, Nathaniel’s personal favorite during spring migration is the American Avocet. “Through the years, Lakeshore has been the best area in Milwaukee county to see this species,” he said. “It’s such a distinctive looking species in a class of birds that’s notorious for looking very similar, with its cinnamon colored head, black and white wings, and blue-grey legs.” You can usually find American Avocets on the beach along with other migrating shorebirds.

Nathaniel has been to many other parks with beaches, large grassy areas, rocks by the lake or rain gardens, but he considers LSP unique. “I think it’s the combination of all of these habitats (and in a relatively small area, in the middle of downtown) that gives it such bird diversity.”

You can learn more about birding at Nathaniel’s blog, Sunday Birders. And watch the Friends’ website for more tips from him about bird-watching at LSP.


Nathaniel Wegner Credit: Photo by Steve Wegner
Nathaniel Wegner Credit: Photo by Steve Wegner

Park Property Supervisor Update – March 2022

Red Wing Blackbird

It’s been a while since the red-winged blackbirds migrated south for winter, but the return of one to the park this week suggests spring is just around the corner! Red-winged blackbirds are some of the ‘early nesters’ in the park, often making their homes in emerging cattails, and bunches of prairie grass when the cattails are slow to sprout for the season. We are anxiously awaiting warmer weather and the return of hikes, bonfires, and prairie plants blooming!

red wing blackbird

Speaking of hikes and programs, we have another exciting hiring update! The DNR is currently recruiting for a full-time Natural Resources Educator that will be stationed out of Havenwoods State Forest, and work with our Milwaukee Work Unit (including Lakeshore). This position will act as the lead in facilitating field trip and public interpretive offerings at Havenwoods, as well as provide coordinated outreach and marketing to the community. The deadline to apply is 11:59pm on Sunday, March 6th. For more information and to apply, visit https://wj.wi.gov/4123.

Interested in Volunteering? The Wisconsin State Park System has implemented a new way to sign up for volunteer interests, and be notified when opportunities align with your general interests. Please visit Volunteer Opportunities | Wisconsin State Park System | Wisconsin DNR to learn more about types of volunteer opportunities and sign up for specific properties! Opportunities at Lakeshore State Park, Hank Aaron State Trail, and Havenwoods State Forest will be updated as we move into the spring, but you can sign up to show your interest at any time. The Volunteer Impact System will be used to communicate spring/summer planting days, litter cleanups, invasive species removal and more! If you’re an individual interested in helping out long-term, some of those activities are currently posted.

See Something, Say Something! Please report any suspicious behavior or potential violations you observe to the 24/7 DNR Violation Tip Line. Reporting can be done anonymously, and can be done through call/text to 1-800-847-9367 or online at Report a Violation | Wisconsin DNR.

Angela Vickio

Naturalist Notes May 2018

Naturalist Notes

March 2018

While some winter birds still enjoy our waters until they migrate to cooler regions, others are just beginning their return. Still in the waters are the Goldeneyes, Lesser Scaups, and Red-breasted Mergansers.

We have sighted the first Tree Swallows of the season. Their wings and tails are dark grey and forked, while their upper bodies are an iridescent blue and underparts are white.   Over the summer, the population will reach to about 100 Tree Swallows. As adults, these birds eat about 2000 insects a day!

The Red-Wing Blackbirds are back too & can be seen, and heard, staking out their territories, especially by the raingardens.

Naturalist Notes April 2018

Naturalist Notes

April 2018

As Spring begins to provide us with warmer weather, the first forbs, or flowering plants, are finally bringing a little color to the gardens at the front of the park. Prairie Smoke is the first to emerge!

Geum triflorum: Native North American herbaceous perennial in the Rose family
Common names: Prairie Smoke, Old Man Whiskers, Praire Avens, Purple Avens

Interesting facts: Prairie Smoke is one of the earliest bloomers on the prairie, and is an important food source for insects coming out of hibernation. Clusters of nodding           reddish-pink flowers emerge from hairy, fern-like leaves. The flowers are fused and cannot open completely, so bees have to force their way in to pollinate them. It is only after     pollination that the flowers will stand upright to expose feathery tufts of seed heads that look like wafting smoke. These puffs of seeds are a treat for birds and also form cover for the prairie’s small rodents. Watch this Wisconsin native over the next month to see these blooming stages.

As more native plants begin to emerge & bloom, watch the north kiosk for “What’s Blooming” posts. Feel free to take a Prairie Plants Brochure from the stand by the north kiosk for more information. Additionally, plant ID signs will be posted by the blooming plants, providing interesting facts about each species.

Naturalist Notes March 2018

Naturalist Notes

March 2018

The weather is beginning to warm up and the animals are starting to become more active. During the winter months, you may have seen some Coyote tracks around, and thanks to one of our park visitors, Michael DeBoer, we have photographic evidence of its presence. While Coyotes (Canis latrans) have been known to take over fox dens, this one has been primarily seen on the Summerfest property and likely was just using the park as hunting grounds. It was seen by park staff in January, wandering around the Summerfest stages, and Michael DeBoer’s photographs were taken earlier this month on the berm area behind the American Family Amphitheater at the south entrance. Our Red Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) typically den in the rocky area in the northern half of the park.

The birds are also becoming a bit frisky. Male Common Goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula) can be seen bobbing their head up and down while verbally calling for females. The Red Breasted Mergansers (Mergus serrator) are back, and the males will soon appear to be racing around the lagoons, showing off their speed to potential mates. Our yearly visitor, a leucistic (low-pigment) female Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) appeared to have already chosen a mate, as she chased a particular male around the lagoon earlier this month.

While you’re walking through, enjoy the mild weather and watch the waterfowl behavior. Share your photos of the park, or of your catch, with us on our facebook page, or email them to Angela.Vickio@wisconsin.gov.  We’d love to see your photos! We’re getting closer to spring, so make sure to check our website or facebook page often for upcoming events!