Tag Archives: Silent Sports

On Wisconsin Outdoors: Birding Continues Growing in Popularity

Birding Continues Growing in Popularity
Searching for Wisconsin’s Most Unique Birds

Birding continues to grow in popularity around the United States with an estimated 85 million Americans taking advantage of the popular outdoor activity. Interest ranges from keeping a life list of birds and travelling to find new species to those that like to feed wild birds in their yards. Wisconsinites are lucky with over 400 different species recorded and an abundance of viewing opportunities in every corner of the state. We also host some very unique birds.

Photo Credit: International Crane Foundation

Birding is a natural outdoor hobby for those that hunt, fish, and camp throughout Wisconsin because you are already near the best locations. My interest was sparked by my uncle Mark, who teaches in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, and just notched his 500th bird. Started in 2002, my list of 269 birds, spanning 11 countries and 17 states, has many more adventures to go to match that lofty feat.

For anyone interested in great birding opportunities Mark had this to say, “I’d mention Wyalusing State Park as a place to visit. I also saw a Western Tanager and Harris’s Sparrow at the same time in Gay Mills in Crawford County, along with both cuckoos. Willets and Avocets were two rare sightings for me at Wyalusing beach. Thayer’s and Iceland Gulls in Milwaukee County were biggies for me as well.” Definitely some great places to explore and near the top of my list. To find the most unique Wisconsin birds, it will take some work, but like anything that requires hard work, the reward is also greater.

Standing nearly five feet tall, Whooping Cranes instantly come to mind as a unique Wisconsin bird. At one time, there were only 15 Whooping Cranes remaining. Thanks to Operation Migration, a program using ultralight aircraft to help the cranes to their migration grounds in Florida that recently ended, and other volunteers the population is now over 600, including those in captivity. Still endangered, and one of the rarest birds in the United States, a flock that hovers around 100 lives in Wisconsin each spring and summer before returning to Florida. They make their Wisconsin home where Mark discovered his first years ago, “I was able to add the Whooping Crane at the Necedah Wildlife Refuge,” he said happily recalling the memory as all birders do when asked about a personal discovery.

Kirtland’s Warbler’s are another extremely rare bird that can be found in Wisconsin. Placed on the endangered species list in 1967, they were thought to only breed in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Now they nest in the Upper Peninsula, Canada, and Wisconsin. From only two successful nesting pairs found in Adams County during monitoring in 2008, the monitoring census has grown to observations of 30 singing males last spring in Bayfield, Vilas, Marinette, and Adams Counties. Adams County reached a high of 12 successful nesting pairs in 2015 and is still the best location to find the elusive Kirtland’s Warbler. Habitat is vital when searching. They generally only live and breed in relatively large, dense stands of jack pines that are 5 to 20 feet tall (6-22 years old).

Piping Plovers are a small, endangered shorebird that live along the shores of the Great Lakes. Only a handful of breeding pairs have thrived in Wisconsin in recent years, but 2016 saw a big announcement for the Piping Plovers. For the first time in 75 years, Piping Plovers nested at the newly restored Cat Island Chain in the Lower Green Bay area. Prior to that, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was the only regular nesting sites. Several other areas have been established as critical habitat in Marinette, Manitowoc, Douglas, and Ashland County to continue that momentum.

All of these locations are great places to begin or continue your journey. The great thing about birding is you only need a backyard or local park to begin and Wisconsin has a lifetime of destinations to explore.

Published in On Wisconsin Outdoors on May 1, 2017

Ice Age Trail Chronicles: Turtle Rock

Ice Age Trail Chronicles:
Turtle Rock Segment, Lincoln County
October 10, 2016

Another Federal holiday, another day to hike the Ice Age Trail. The Turtle Rock was our destination on this beautiful fall day. Kevin parked his truck on Burma Road, where we met that day. I picked him up and off we went to start on Highway E. When hiking a longer segment like this, it works best to have two vehicles. As it turns out though, we would only need one.

We started into the south, planning to complete the approximately four mile segment, and end at Kevin’s truck on Burma. Simple enough in theory, as long as you follow the clearly marked trail. Bright yellow spray paint illuminates the path thanks to Ice Age Trail volunteers.

A small creek, with a series of old beaver ponds, paralleled our route as we began. Rounding the corner, a wood duck took flight from his hiding spot. Here the creek crossed our path. Up the hill we went through my favorite portion of the trail. Young white birch trees grew thick on both sides to create a tunnel-like effect. Up ahead, the familiar sound of a ruffed grouse could be heard, trying to avoid us intruders. The creek, now on our left, created a deep, scenic ravine. Before long we arrived at it’s final destination. Flowing into the Wisconsin River, we paused for a moment. Another wood duck swam along the shore. Everything was familiar, yet different. As we glanced across the river, we looked at Hwy 107 where we have both driven dozens, if not hundreds of times. During those drives, we stared out across the water to the place we now stood. Same water, different perspective. On we went.

Here, the trail followed the river downstream until we reached the upper portion of the Grandfather dam system. Overlooking this area sits a Leopold chair, perfect for a midway break, thanks again to the faithful volunteers. The river diverges at this point, between the original riverbed and the carefully constructed waterway that now leads the water to two giant tubes, producing power at the lower portion of the Grandfather dam system. Here the two bodies of water converge once again to continue their journey downstream.

The water roared as it navigated the numerous boulders of the original riverbed. Our route followed this path. Before long we headed back into the woods, but paused shortly after we did. There was no sign and nothing indicating that this was the spot, but it was clear. Another one of boulders was located next to our trail, clearly the reason for the trail’s namesake – Turtle Rock.

After admiring the beauty of this mysterious creation and pondering awhile, we continued. Here, the trail was a well groomed network of old logging roads and snowmobile trail. That’s also what got us in trouble. For awhile, we watched for the yellow markers on the trees, but soon we were deep in conversation. Following the path of least resistance, we continued. Finally, Kevin stopped. “This area looks familiar and I don’t see any yellow markers,” he said. Sure enough, our original trail was right in front of us. Somehow, we had lost the path. We clearly missed an arrow, directing us off our nicely groomed trail. But, we made another discovery that we would have missed. At this point, we noticed a pond through the trees. We ventured to take a look, always wondering what is over the next hill. Ducks were everywhere – mallards, mergansers, and more of our wood ducks. It was a beautiful site. Amazing, how life is often like that. Go down a path you didn’t expect and find something better than you imagined.

At that point, we followed the path back and arrived right where we started. Kevin had to complete the segment and finished it that day. For me, that adventure awaits.

Published: April 28, 2017

On Wisconsin Outdoors: Disappear into the Middle of Nowhere

Disappear into the Middle of Nowhere
Backcountry Camping, Hunting and Fishing

Stars shine so bright that it nearly hurts your eyes, despite the fact that it is pitch black outside. With no one around for miles, the only sound you hear is the trickle of a nearby stream and the occasional owl call echoing through the trees. Images like this often conjure up thoughts of an Out-West or Alaskan adventure. However, there are plenty of opportunities right here in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to disappear into the woods for some backcountry camping, hunting, and fishing.

There is no better location here in Wisconsin than the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in northern Wisconsin. Over one million acres of wild forest make up the Chequamegon with lakes and streams around every corner. Dispersed camping is what it’s referred to here in Wisconsin and you don’t even need a permit. Recent easing of regulations for deer transportation and registration including quartering in the field and phone/online registration, have created a perfect opportunity for backwoods hunters here in Wisconsin. For those adventurous souls, what better opportunity to take advantage.

Hilary Markin, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest Public Affairs Officer, recommends that “people that want to participate in dispersed camping call the local offices before proceeding because they can point you in the right direction. Plus, they can update you on storm closures, especially this year, and make sure the area is open.” She added, “it’s best to narrow down what experience you’re after since there are so many opportunities out there.” Trout fishing, mountain bike riding, fishing remote lakes, hiking, grouse hunting, deer hunting, snow-shoeing, the list goes on and on and there are certain places that are better than others. The local offices can provide you the best places based on the experience you are seeking.

Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest Headquarters: (715) 362-1300
Lakewood/Laona Ranger District: (715) 276-6333
Park Falls/Medford Ranger District: (715) 762-2461
Eagle River/Florence Ranger District: (715) 479-2827
Washburn Ranger District: (715) 373-2667
Great Divide Ranger District – Hayward/Glidden: (715) 634-4821

Markin stressed the importance of, “Leave No Trace.” Quite simply, when you leave the area, it should look like you were never there. According to the Dispersed Camping manual, it’s not just for hikers and campers, recreation vehicle (RV) enthusiasts can take advantage of this program as well. They are able to park their RVs at pull off areas on Forest Service roads. This is a perfect opportunity to set up a hunting camp this fall or plan an adventure next summer.

The Chequamegon may be the natural place to start given the size, but it is certainly not the only opportunity to disappear into the woods. County and State Forests as well as State Parks have been expanding opportunities in recent years. “Our members are exploring all over the state,” says Jeff Guerard, Chapter Chair for The Wisconsin Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “I’m actually going after ducks in the Chequamegon this weekend.” Formed in March 2016, this group is new to Wisconsin but one that many people passionate about the outdoors can relate to. “Our focus is on preserving public lands,” Guerard explained. “Our goal is to stop the transfer of federal land to state control, where the state sells it to private ownership. We’ve seen this a lot out west already and now with the bill in 2013 here in Wisconsin to sell state land, our plan is to lobby the Natural Resources Board not to sell.” To do that, they are currently trying to expand their membership to give their organization more clout with state politicians and ultimately protect the great places that so many of us hold dear.

Published in On Wisconsin Outdoors on November 1, 2016

Dispersed Camping Information

Ice Age Trail Chronicles: Eau Claire Dells

Ice Age Trail Chronicles:
Eau Claire Dells Segment, Marathon County
January 18, 2016

Anyone that knows me well, knows that I want to do everything. I guess I’ve always been that way and I’ve learned to love it over the years. One of the things on that list of everything is to hike/bike the entire 1,000-mile Ice Age Trail. With a busy life and missing my family way too much, I’m not able to drop everything in the spirit of Eat, Prey, Love and spend months hiking. Instead, I plan to do it in smaller chunks, an afternoon here, a weekend there, as time permits. It may take 20 years, but that’s okay, even better maybe, because it makes the adventure last.

Last year, my friend Kevin and I got started hiking the Ice Age Trail at Eau Claire Dells. The great thing about having a flexible schedule and a friend that works for the federal government, is that every month or so they get a random day off for an adventure. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was crisp, clear, and extremely cold. Both of us had our snowshoes but quickly saw they were not needed. Well beaten paths could be found throughout this popular destination. That was probably a good thing because at this point we had no maps, and were just winging it. Isn’t that how all good adventures start though?

We started through the woods, linking up with the downriver side. A slight breeze rattled some oaks leaves that have surely seen their share of explorers.  Deer had scraped the ground bare searching for acorns. As we stood on the impressive bluff, we could see the frozen river below. Tracks of the foolish and daring showed that they tempted fate and won, making it across. This time. Upstream was the breathtaking dells. We’d save that best part for last. Our first destination was to head downstream where the river was flowing and still open. It wasn’t long before we came to a bridge spanning the river and connecting to the south side. Here we disappeared into the woods. To our left was mixed forest and to our right we could still see the river flowing through the trees. The conversation was lively as we reached a fork in the road. We continued downstream, coming to a fork in the river, where the water circled an island on both sides. The secluded island was enticing, just as secluded places always are. What would we find there? Pondering we vowed to return and find out one day, maybe on another adventure. At last we came to a sign that we were entering private property. One of the many great things about the trail is the amazing generosity of landowners to open their property for the trail. Without them, the trail would be a patchy mess.

It was here we turned around, working our way upstream to the dells. We weren’t disappointed. Finding an scenic overlook, we sat in silence soaking in the beauty. Large rocks comprised the dells with water flowing every which way as it tumbled over the boulders. The temperature caused the water to freeze in a variety of ice creations. Shelves of ice formed everywhere. The water kept flowing, causing additional sheets to form with a magnificent layering effect. Closing my eyes, I could hear the power of the water rushing through. But, I didn’t want to keep my eyes closed anymore. I wanted to see the beauty one more time before we continued upstream.

Across the highway that split the park, there is an old dam. A small lake is formed above where summertime campers no doubt have their picnics and swim. Today the otters are the only ones swimming with their trademark slides crossing the ice and disappearing into the icy water below. We cross the dam back to the north, meandering back through the park. Finally, we head back to the truck, our journey almost complete. But before we do, we are drawn back to the dells. Jumping across the rocks, we now find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the dells. For a few blissful moments, we remain, captivated once more. Then our journey had to end, but only for a while. Soon, we would return to our adventure once more.

Published: March 10, 2017

Hawaii through the eyes of Kevin Staus

Hawai’i….the state of beaches, bikinis, surf boards, and tourists. Previously when I thought about Hawaii, that is what came to mind. But recently I had the opportunity to go and visit the island state for a few weeks and for those that like to be adventurous and explore, there is plenty to do that is not necessarily jam packed with people. My trip began on the island of Kaua’i where I met up with my good friend Casey Luskin. The first day was spent as anyone coming from winter in Wisconsin would do, in the sun on the beach (in my case, TRYING to surf). Then we were off to hike the Na Pali coast on the Kalalau Trail. This was a very neat and beautiful experience as this 22-mile round trip hike follows the undeveloped coast, ducking in and out of the jungle with spectacular views of the coast/ocean from vantage points along the numerous mountain peaks crossed.   At the dead end of the trail is a secluded beach basically only accessible to those who hike in – very nice. The hike also included a section of trail along a cliff ledge – not as bad as it seems but a little nerve-wrecking if heights are an issue to you. If time allows, also stop in at the Waimea Canyon State Park to view the canyon. Called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, the views are spectacular.

View from the Kalalau Trail.

Next up was Maui. A beautiful island that recently saw the end of an era of its sugar cane production. Although only there for less than three days, we saw plenty. Being a National Parks nut, Haleakala National Park was a must. The view was breathtaking and to be honest, you sometimes forget you are in Hawai’i as the dormant volcano is high, cold and the Haleakala Crater is pretty much a desert. Opportunities are abundant with biking down the volcano, viewing the sun rise, and hiking to cabins within the park but be sure to make reservations in advance as some may not be available if you “wing it”. Next up was the drive to Hana. Although not far distance wise (especially in mainland terms), don’t plan to get there anytime soon. The road follows the eastern coast, winding this way and that, rain is always a possibility along with mud slides, and the one lane bridges tend to slow you down but the views and the experience is something I will not forget. From the east side of the island, you can also access the east side of the Haleakala National Park, which over here is a jungle and the only time in my life I can remember walking thru a bamboo forest. Be sure to get into the water and snorkel with the sea turtles – very neat. Also if you need to wet your whistle, I highly recommend Charleys in Paia as you never know who you will run into.

Haleakala National Park

Next was a history lesson on the island of O’ahu. Also being a history buff, this also was a must. Pearl Harbor, USS Missouri, and Ford Island were all amazing and I don’t really have the space to explain it all here. Make sure you have the time to soak it all in and remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for your freedoms! Although the world famous north shore did not have a professional surfing competition going on while there, it none-the-less is without a doubt a surfing community.   For the terrible surfers out there (like me), the north shore has many knowledgeable instructors – give it a shot. New Years Eve on Waikiki Beach was a blast, literally, with fireworks over the ocean. And wouldn’t you know it just a short walk from the beach was a Wisconsin bar owned by a guy originally from Madison (this came in handy for the Packers-Lions game!).

Pearl Harbor

The final stop on the trip was Hawai’i, the Big Island. I didn’t have much time here so things were kind of rushed. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was a must (of course). Standing in the middle of the huge lava fields makes you realize the power of these forces of nature. Be sure to visit the Kilauea’s summit caldera at night to get the most visual effect from the visible “liquid hot magma,” – sorry, a reference to Austin Powers. Unfortunately when I was there, a large chunk of the lava shelf had broken off into the ocean, making it difficult to view the spot where the lava enters the ocean. I have heard this is neat though so try to experience it. The park rangers are helpful so ask them on viewing this as well. Also if you are lucky enough, there are private companies that give tours to the lava fields where you can actual poke the lava with a stick – if you do this I am very jealous of you! On my way back to Kona to catch my flight home, I took the Saddle Road from Hilo to Kona. This road passes the world famous Mauna Kea observatories. If you are a star gazer, this is hands down one of the best places to do it. Dress warm, be sure to allow yourself adjust to the rapid altitude change, and have fun.

Lava Fields at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

The people were wonderful, the local food was amazing (you must eat poke), and the beer was always cold. Hawai’i is an amazing time!

Written by Kevin Staus

If you have a travel or adventure story to share, we’d love to hear it. Please send your story (400-500 words with 4-5 pictures) to jimservi10@gmail.com.

Success at the Badger State Games

Here are my Badger State Games boys!


As a family, we went out to compete in the Badger State Games two weeks ago. Joey and Marty surprised both my wife and I with their stamina and energy to sprint the entire kids race. They were rewarded with their very own medals, proudly on display in the picture above.

My race went equally as well, but with a lot less energy. It was simply painful. I’ve done several 5K runs, 10K runs, a half marathon, triathlons, and who knows how many hundreds or maybe thousands of forced Army runs and ruck marches over the last 16 years, but this was among the most painful endurance event I’ve experienced. Maybe I’m getting old? Five kilometers, 3.1 miles, running on snowshoes. And to think some people decided to do the 10 kilometer version. From the beginning, I knew I was in trouble. Looking around, everyone had small, ultralight snowshoes designed just for this purpose. Several made comments regarding my bulky footwear. Sporting my trusty snowshoes, made for adventure in the woods, I was determined.

Coming in at just over 35 minutes, I was happy with my time and took home the gold. Pretty easy when you’re the only one in your age class:)

Recovery took a few days, but it was totally worth the pain. The crowd was also right. It would be worth investing in lighter snowshoes in the future. Along with meeting a lot of great people, we discovered a unique winter culture of snowshoeing. An entire series of races are held throughout the winter with one interesting series called the Braveheart Series. Now, the kilts makes sense! It’s a great way to stay active during our long winters, meet some new friends, and just have fun.


Winter Silent Sports in Wisconsin

Last week, there was a perfect combination for outdoor enthusiasts to take advantage of one of Wisconsin’s most popular and oldest silent sport – snowshoeing. With ten inches of fresh snow in Wisconsin’s Northwoods and a full moon, conditions were perfect for a moonlight snowshoe. Walking around the farm, I could clearly see over a half mile from one corner of the field back to our dirt road, despite the fact it was nearly 10 o’clock at night. The moon glowed off to the east, high enough to light the woods, but low enough for the trees to cast shadows wherever I walked. And the shadows always played tricks. Was that a deer? Or maybe a wolf? Two winters ago they killed a deer in this very location. Or maybe it was nothing at all? More than once, I looked over my shoulders just to be sure. Everything looks different at night, especially in the moonlight. The air was crisp, yet refreshing, as it touched my face. Returning home, I felt energized with the adventure, ready for the next.

The next would be coming soon. In four short weeks, I hoped to be in the woods again during the next full moon. But before that, the Badger State Winter Games will be coming to Wisconsin and if all goes well, I’ll be snowshoeing in the upcoming competition. For those that have never gone, it’s our very own version of the Olympics, complete with alpine skiing, archery, snowboarding, hockey, and more than a dozen other events. Plus, of course the silent sports that I discuss in the article below – fat-tire biking, nordic skiing, and snowshoeing. Last year, some friends of mine and I tried curling. I was trying to relive the glory from the Winter Carnival curling championship I won in college at Michigan Tech over a decade earlier. We were all in for a big surprise at the level of competition. It’s never good when the team you’re competing against wants to stop and give you lessons. 0-3 was our record, but the atmosphere made us forget all about it. Spectators were everywhere enjoying the festivities. This year, I figured I’d give snowshoeing a try and hope to see you all at one of the events. For more information on the events and schedule click on the link below:


To view my latest article on winter silent sports in On Wisconsin Outdoors magazine, please click on the link below:

Jan/Feb 2017 – Silent Sports Make Winter Fun

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