A flock of seagulls get an early start to their day.
PHOTOS: THOMAS CORRAO

Capturing Kenosha: Lake Michigan shoreline a great birding location

A variety of shorebirds stop here to visit while on their annual migrations

By Thomas CorraoKENOSHA.COM

Recently retired after 25 years with the Kenosha Sheriff’s Department, Corrao enjoys fishing, gardening, foraging for wild foods, golfing and photography. His favorite subjects are sunrises and sunsets. Corrao's future retirement plans include traveling the United States in a recreational vehicle with his wife and documenting their journey through a travel blog and YouTube channel.

Kenosha is a great place to visit if you’re a birder.

Whether you’re a professional ornithologist or just a backyard bird enthusiast, Kenosha has more than 10 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline offering a prime opportunity to observe many upper Midwest shorebirds.

With my frequent trips to the Kenosha shoreline throughout the year, I’ve had an opportunity to observe the changing varieties of shorebirds that stop here to visit while on their annual migrations. 

The Lake Michigan shoreline is a perfect place for a bird watcher.

The varieties of birds I see vary by season and change depending on whether the migration is from the north or the south.  

In Kenosha, it’s not uncommon to see huge flotillas of water birds on the lake as the sun is coming up. The Kenosha shoreline offers the perfect scenario for many of these birds to make it safely to their final destinations. 

The lake’s shoreline runs north to south and acts like a liquid highway of sorts for these birds, allowing them to navigate to their spring breeding grounds and back south again to the winter feeding locations. 

Because the lake can experience huge waves at times, the Kenosha Harbor affords these birds a safe place to weather the storm and rest during their migration. 

It’s a favorite location of mine to visit when I know the lakes have been rough because I know there will be an opportunity to see them closer up than when they are on the big lake.

Of course, some of these birds are locals and live here along the shores of our fine town. 

There has been one particular family of geese that comes to mind that have raised their goslings here this year. I’ve been able to watch them turn from goslings to mature geese as they spend their days meandering from Pennoyer Park to the harbor.  

The gander always keeps a close eye on me but has become used to my presence in their world. I saw this skein of geese in the harbor one day and to my surprise, the gander swam his family right up to me along the rocks. He kept his eye on me the entire time as his brood aligned themselves along the rocks, where they began feeding like they were at the cafeteria in the old Woolworth’s store. 

Two geese watch over their brood.

It was an amazing sight and one that I will not soon forget.

Other birds that can be seen are the saw-billed mergansers that sometimes winter in the harbor until the lake freezes over. 

These are interesting ducks to watch because they are diver ducks who dive under the surface and emerge with small fishes in their beaks sometimes hundreds of feet from where they originally dove under. 

There are also cormorants that can be frequently viewed slipping under the surface in much the same way as the mergansers in their quest for small fish in the harbor. I’ve also noticed blue and green-winged teal during the migrations and of course our resident mallards that hang out with the geese around the harbor.

If you walk the shoreline, you will more than likely see the playful plovers that never let you get too close as they are very skittish and will run from you along the waterline of the surf. 

Three playful plovers along the shoreline.

Just the other day, I met three of them who kept scurrying down the shoreline keeping me from getting a photo of them until they walked as far as the North Pier. Once they realized their mistake they simply posed for me so I could snap their pictures.

Gulls abound in the area and will hang out on the shore near the pier until dawn’s first light creeps up from beyond the horizon. It is always at this time that the flock will take to the air in a cloud of flapping wings, crying out together like a symphony of crying babies. 

Now, I realize there are many folks out there that dislike the seagulls, but they do provide community service to Kenosha by removing the carrion of dead fish from the shoreline as well as flying into the city in search of French fries haplessly lost in the parking lot of the local fast food joints.

The Great Blue Heron is common near the shores of open water.

Of all the birds I see along the shores of Lake Michigan, I believe the herons are my favorite birds to run across. This year, I had several nice opportunities to photograph them. I think the Great Blue Heron is my favorite subject to photograph when it comes to birds because of their movements and how they scan the waters waiting for that poor unsuspecting fish to swim by before spearing that long beak out straightening out their neck to grab their breakfast.

Overall, I believe that because of Kenosha’s excellent location on the southwest shores of Lake Michigan, we see a huge variety of water birds during the migrations. 

If you are someone who enjoys watching nature’s drama unfold before your very eyes then please visit our lakeshore. You won’t be disappointed in what you discover.

I wish you all a wonderful day!

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