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Sandhill cranes and spectacular color highlight fall at Navarino

Oct. 16, 2013
 
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Enjoy one of autumn's wonders as hundreds of migrating sandhill cranes return to the Navarino marshes each evening at sunset to roost together in the safety of the wetlands. / Rob Zimmer/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com

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NAVARINO — The colors of autumn paint the Navarino hills in the seasonís brightest palette of golds, oranges, yellows and reds.

The fall wind rustles through the treetops, while the voices of hundreds of sandhill cranes rain down across the valleys, marshes and waterways here at this pristine wilderness area just north of Appleton.

The evening sun sinks toward the southwest horizon, and the voices of the sandhill cranes grow louder and more excited. At times, the voices become a roar, as massive flocks of sandhills on the move begin to parade from surrounding croplands back into the roost areas in the Navarino marshes.

As the setting sun paints the sky in colors that rival the autumn trees, the sandhills begin to return with astonishing spectacle.

Across the sky, rippling waves of sandhill cranes wing into the marsh, gathering in a single roost area that may contain more than 2,000 birds during the peak of migration.

The sound of sunset

When the sandhills begin to move at sunset, the thundering roar of their voices can be heard for miles across the landscape. As they wing in from all directions to the central roost, the birds began to descend to the wetlands below, first circling wide, then funneling down to land in the shallows.

As they descend, the huge birds extend their legs downward and their necks up so that they are almost standing upright as they cascade through the air and reach the ground below. Calling excitedly as they drop through the autumn skies, the birds, at times, form a living twister of life as they swirl noisily over the marshes on their way down.

Once they land, the newly arrived cranes trumpet loudly to their fellow companions, a greeting, a bonding, perhaps. If youíve ever heard the rich, impossibly loud cry of a single sandhill crane, imagine the wildness and beauty in a chorus of hundreds or thousands.

At 15,000 acres, Navarino Wildlife Area, located 25 miles north of Appleton, just northwest of Navarino, is home to a huge variety of wildlife, habitat, plant communities and geological treasures.

In all four seasons, Navarino Wildlife Area is teaming with natural wonders. From migrating swans, geese and cranes, to snakes, salamanders, frogs, toads and butterflies of all types, the area has something to offer 12 months of the year.

Fall glory

Now, in fall, the rich colors of the season brighten the Navarino slopes. The mighty oaks, with their towering, sprawling forms, carry the seasonís most complex colors. In a mixture of red, green, orange, gold and brown, sometimes all found on one leaf, the oaks transform the hillsides into a tapestry of autumn color. As you stroll beneath the canopy of ancient oaks along the rolling sand trails, the fall breezes, as well as hungry squirrels, toss acorns to the ground all around.

Among the oaks, flashy maples rise from the sandy soils and flame bright gold, orange, scarlet and burgundy. Tamaracks, evergreens that lose their needles each fall, form great stands along the edges of Navarinoís vast flowages and waterways.

Besides the glory of the fall color, Navarinoís other fall treasure is the staging of the cranes. The cranes gather here, beginning as early as August, and will remain until the wetlands freeze over. In some years this may be as late as early December.

Frogs, turtles and salamanders are also active during fall, with species of tree frogs singing in the treetops from dawn to dusk. Spring peepers, with their high-pitched, bird-like chirps, and gray treefrogs, with their loud, chattering songs, fill the autumn days with their sweet song.

Hiking trails at Navarino are extensive, with well over 20 miles of beautiful trails to explore. These trails lead from the Wolf River on the far western edge of the wildlife area east to Navarino nature center and beyond. A self-guided auto tour of the Navarino Wildlife Area is available, leading along quiet country roads and lanes to explore not only the natural wonders of the region, but historical marks, as well.

Leading to a variety of wilderness habitats, the trails of Navarino lead you deep into a pristine, mixed forest that at times appears so remote it recalls the boundary waters area or the wilds of Alaska. Beaver lodges rise from the still waters, bald eagles and ravens soar on silent wings. Whitetails bound between the shadowy trees.

Wildlife is abundant here, on the wing, and on foot. Wild turkey, ruffed grouse, woodcock, as well as many varieties of ducks, herons and egrets, all of Northeast Wisconsinís woodpeckers, and many varieties of songbirds can be found here during the year. Fall is a great time to witness the annual migration, as birds, large and small, move across land and sky.

Mammals, such as whitetail deer, squirrels, raccoons, possum, black bears, badgers, foxes, coyotes, skunks, mink, weasels, beavers and others call Navarino home.

For more information, as well as downloads of trail maps and the self-guided auto tour booklet, visit www.navarino.org

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Rob Zimmer: 920-993-1000, ext. 7154, yardmd@postcrescent.com

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