Photos and article by Greg Peck
If you want to watch birds in Janesville, it can be as simple as hanging a feeder in your own backyard.
But for both residents and visitors, Janesville holds many opportunities for observing birds. In large part, that’s why Janesville was designated a Bird City by a statewide organization in 2013.
It starts with the Rock River not just bisecting the city but carving a meandering path. Add to it the fact Janesville is known as Wisconsin’s Park Place with 65 parks and more than 2,600 acres of parkland.
The larger parks that hold great opportunities for birding include Rockport, Riverside, Palmer, Lustig and Sheiffer, all of which hold vast tracts of habitat. The city offers 31 miles of paved bike trails, many cutting through 15 miles of green belts. In winter, you can even traverse 10 miles of cross-country ski trails.
Also, Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail cuts through Janesville and its Robert O. Cook Memorial Arboretum. That 160-acre arboretum might be the pinnacle of bird-watching opportunities in Janesville. Its eight miles of trails wind through mature forest, a prairie, marsh and wetlands, making it an excellent place for birding. In fact, more than 125 bird species have been identified there.
During this pandemic, all these outdoor options have proved inviting to residents and visitors alike when they were looking for opportunities to soak in nature and get exercise and fresh air while social distancing.
I’ve lived in Janesville more than 30 years, and birding opportunities inspired me two years ago to upgrade my camera. I chose the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX80 for more zoom lens capability, and the little camera quickly paid dividends with shots of a bald eagle in a tree just south of the Racine Street bridge.
A few days later, I captured nice photos of cedar waxwings flocking to a berry tree, and I was off to the races. The photos that accompany this story—including several found at Rotary Botanical Gardens, another prime viewing spot—show three-dozen species, all photographed in the city of Janesville.
The proximity to Lake Koshkonong, a massive flowage five miles upriver, and its wetlands enhance Janesville’s value as a migratory stopover. That’s likely why some 200 white pelicans stopped in Janesville two years ago and continued to appear in Janesville in 2020, and why you’ll find many waterfowl species here.
The local Bird City organization is one of a handful that support bird populations here. Two more prominent ones are the Green-Rock Audubon Society and the Ned Hollister Bird Club. Neil Deupree has been involved in all three groups and helped lead outings the past two years to observe hundreds of chimney swifts descend on the smokestack over Washington Elementary School.
Colorful birds and their equally colorful songs won’t always be around, Deupree warns,
if we don’t take steps to protect them.
“Most bird species are in decline,” he notes. “If people want to continue to see birds, we have to do what we can to, one, increase their habitat; two, keep cats indoors; and, three, guard against window strikes.”
I urge residents to take these sensible steps to help ensure that our feathered friends continue to enhance living in and visiting Janesville for decades to come.