Autumn is wrapping up in the Northland, with just a few leaves clinging to the trees and the sun into its low winter angle where it’s always in your eyes. Birdwatchers might catch a few stray fall migrants these days, but most of them have made their way to warmer climes. It was a weird fall for bird-watching around here since we didn’t get the usual swarm of dark-eyed juncos and palm warblers in October; in fact, I saw just a few juncos and exactly one palm warbler. I wonder where they all went!

This transition between fall and the snowy season can be a wonderful time of year to walk in the woods and watch for the winter birds that are moving in or the year-round birds that hang out in big flocks. This time of year reminds me of how winter is for much of the eastern half of the country where the snow is ephemeral. But the woods up north are uniquely beautiful during this narrow seasonal transition: You have the contrast of the evergreens and the white birch trunks along with the few colored leaves still up, and some remaining bright green ground cover from ferns and shrubs. Let’s explore a few places where you can soak in some of this local flavor.

Waterfalls are pretty any time of year and are always spectacular during the spring melt, but the great thing about November is that you don’t have to compete with crowds of people to get a good view or a nice peaceful spot to sit and enjoy them. Siskiwit Falls near Cornucopia is one I’d heard about through word of mouth, but while it’s easy to get to, it doesn’t announce its presence. In fact, if you try to use Google Maps to find it, you’ll end up in a random spot in the woods. It’s easy enough to find because the parking area is located on Siskiwit Falls Road off of Highway C, and the parking area is just past a bridge. The Siskiwit River Preserve is a 102-acre parcel that’s owned by Bayfield County and was set aside as a preserve in 2018. There’s a short trail down to the river and several cascades from east of the bridge down to a kettle that looks like a good fishing spot. The trail goes along the river and has a section of boardwalk. I was there in the morning when the sun over the waterfall was spectacular, and the rock formations along the river are reminiscent of the area around Baraboo and Wisconsin Dells. There’s also a trail loop that goes through a meadow that looks like a terrific bird and butterfly habitat in warmer months. This time of year you might be lucky enough to see a flock of snow buntings landing and taking flight again around the meadow. As long as you’re in the area, you can also take in the well-marked trail back to Lost Creek Falls with its beautiful mature pines and natural gorges.

This is also a great time of year to beat the crowds at Copper Falls State Park. Camping is still open for the brave or the well-equipped, and you can see parts of the cascades that are behind the leaves during tourist season. I like the section of the North Country Trail that goes from the beach area at Loon Lake over to the concession and waterfall area. This is also the walking trail from the campgrounds to the beach and waterfalls, so it’s well-worn and easy to follow. It’s a lovely woods walk and there are lots of ferns that often are still green come springtime. To the west of the trail you’ll see Murphy Lake, which is hard to see in summer. There was a pair of swans, probably trumpeters judging by the size, resting there. Birds on the trails were mostly large flocks of black-capped chickadees and nuthatches, and smaller but noisy flocks of goldfinches and pine siskins. The coolest bird find of the day was a single juvenile trumpeter swan hanging out with the gang of Canada geese on Loon Lake.

There’s plenty of outdoors to enjoy before the snow flies. Just remember that we all share our natural resources, so wear blaze orange or pink for safety when you’re taking in those natural wonders.

Sarah Morris is a bird-watcher and outdoorswoman who explores northern Wisconsin from her home base in the town of Gingles. She can be reached at morrisoutside@gmail.com.

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