"Sweetheart, I'm gonna check the other side of the road for the Red-Necked Phalaropes" as I kissed Tender Heart, "Wish me luck!" I checked both ways before crossing the road that was blackened with fresh asphalt. The coast is clear.... I get to the other side and see some Baird's Sandpipers on the mudflats worthy to take pics of. VRROOOOOM!!!!!! My body starts to sway with a powerful gust of wind. My teeth get rattled. No doubt that my pic just got ruined. A tank truck carrying milk had just blasted trough! I look to the left to see another birder a hundred feet away from me shaking her head in disgust. She throws her arms up in acknowledgement to what has happened. We exchanged looks as if to say,"This is nuts!" I look down on the gravel on the shoulder-a dead Yellow Headed Blackbird. Obliviously roadkill. This is a typical scene on Highway 49.
Highway 49 is a 128 mile state highway that starts by the Quad Tech Co. off of U.S. 41 and runs east/west to Waupun before it takes a 90° turn north towards Wittenberg in Marathon Co. A portion of it goes through the northern tip of Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, one of Wisconsin's best birding spots. Here is where millions of migrating birds make their pit stop on their respective journeys.
The above picture of Hwy 49 (by the historical marker at Horicon) was taken (by someone else) before road construction took place over the last summer. It may look quiet in the photo, but looks can be deceiving. Tender Heart and I would take this bumpy route from U.S. 41 by Lomira, through the quiet town of Brownsville, to Horicon. Stopping along this 3 1/2 mile stretch of road before the Auto Tour and Trails is mandatory. Here is where the most of the waterfowl, shorebirds and many rarities can be seen. It would take us an hour or more just to drive slowly along the gravel shoulders to get a good view of everything. A birder's paradise!
Over the summer, the bone jarring, bumpy road underwent a facelift. Some brand spanking new asphalt was laid out from Lomira past Horicon Marsh and beyond... Coverts were replaced and added. A smooth ride. Sweet, or so I thought. A highway turned into a speedway! Miles of unstoppable roadway without snapping off the axles. To make matters worse, the road was widened and the gravel shoulders steeper. Now you are sitting there on a 45° angle while a semi buzzes inches close to the side mirrors. Sounds like fun, huh?
These developments caused a quite a stir among the birding community. Birders across the state complained loudly in Wisconsin Birding on Facebook. Not only we fear for our safety, but for the safety of the wildlife as well. There is a sign upon entering the marsh area that says "Give wildlife a brake!", but who reads signs these days? Some birders have petitioned against the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to have the speed limit lowered through the marsh. The WDOT, the only authority on speed limits on the major highways, would NOT budge! To me this is ridiculous! I fully understand that Highway 49 is a commercial route and birding is a low impact recreation. Going the town of Brownsville is 25 mph. Understandable it is a residential neighborhood and it's for safety's sake, why not give the birders and the wildlife the same opportunity? Would it kill the surrounding local businesses if a few minutes were added on to the driving time? Then again, time is money and who's going to make money of bunch of people with binoculars?
Honestly, I'd like to see the speed limit lowered to 35. Personally I don't that happening anytime soon, even with a community of wildlife lovers hovering down the necks of WDOT. I'm at a loss for a solution, but I'll guarantee that we will not stop birding there. It's in our blood.....
Below are some pics taken from that same stretch of road....
From top to bottom.... American White Pelicans, Great Egret, Lesser Yellowlegs, Gadwall