By Amy Pflugshaupt, NBC 15 News Anchor

In the busy hustle of our fast-paced lives, sometimes just getting outside, taking in a lung full of fresh air and hearing the sweet chirps of a wood warbler or the mighty squawks from a peregrine falcon can have all kinds of benefits.

Matt Reetz, the executive director of the Madison Audubon Society, couldn’t agree more. “There’s a lot of research that shows being outside leads to better health, wellbeing, it reduces stress, it leads to clearer thinking, it leads to self confidence and that’s for both adults and kids.”

The Madison Audubon Society is a chapter of the National Audubon Society that works locally with eight counties in South Central Wisconsin. Its mission is to protect and improve habitat for birds and other wildlife through land acquisition and management, education and advocacy. And whether you’re an avid birder or just enjoy hanging a bird feeder in your backyard, the Madison Audubon Society invites you to take a walk on the wild side with its members.

Every year, it hosts about 30 free field trips led by its expert volunteers to explore the great outdoors. Carolyn Byers is the director of education and she leads about six field trips per year. “Mine are mostly geared towards beginners or people who aren’t very intense birders. And we spend two to three hours walking around a local park in Madison. So think of it sort of like a ‘staycation’ and learning a little more about your habitat—what’s in your neighborhood.”

You can hear the excitement in Byers’ voice as she paints a vivid picture of what it’s like while out exploring. “During spring migration, the trees are just dripping with birds. Everywhere you look is a new bird. And they’re all singing.  So if you get out there at dawn, and the world is coming awake it’s a really incredible experience.”

If you’re really feeling adventurous, the society also leads field trips to places like Devil’s Lake or to the Great Lakes. “Those trips are really exciting as you get to see slightly different species in a more natural environment. This feels like you’re really traveling even though it’s only about an hour drive,” says Byers. They are also working on planning an exotic trip to Costa Rica next year.

These local and regional mini-adventures are free and geared to all ages. For many, there’s no need to sign up. So pack a sack lunch, wear your comfy shoes, and prepare to be in awe of the creatures in your own backyard.

“You don’t need to know about birds, it’s really just getting people outside and enjoying nature,” says Reetz. “We feel like we’re really in the joy business.”

If you’d like to get out and explore on your own, the Madison Audubon Society has two sanctuaries: Goose Pond in Columbia County and Faville Grove in Jefferson County.  Both are open to the public dawn till dusk. madisonaudubon.org/field-trips/. For more on field trips, see below.


Embrace your inner naturalist and get into the woods—and the prairies and natural areas—near Madison and around the state with the society’s expert volunteers, on these free field trips. Each month features several on and off-trail opportunities to explore Wisconsin’s natural beauty, from its vast flora and fauna to its varied landscapes. Here are just a few highlights.

MAY 5 | EVENING AT NINE SPRINGS: Scan the mudflats and marsh and pond habitats for shorebirds, herons, cranes, terns, swallows and waterfowl.

MAY 21 | BIRDING AT BAXTER’S HOLLOW: In this seemingly primeval landscape of forest with a mountain-like creek in the Baraboo Hills—it’s The Nature Conservancy’s largest Wisconsin preserve and has been deemed a Last Great Place— search for migrants passing through and breeding species such as the winter wren, worm eating, mourning, hooded and cerulean warblers, Louisiana waterthrush and both cuckoos.

JUNE 2 | UW ARBORETUM WARBLER WALK: Watch the sun rise, listen to the birds’ morning chorus.

JUNE 10 | BIRDING AT DEVIL’S LAKE: Keep an eye out for various species, including the yellow-throated vireos, Acadian flycatchers, scarlet tanagers, blue-winged and other warblers at the south end of this favorite Wisconsin state park.

JUNE 17 | BUTTERFLIES AND WILDFLOWERS OF PLEASANT VALLEY: This joint trip with the Wisconsin Butterfly Association and The Prairie Enthusiasts takes you to this state natural area in the Driftless Area featuring marshes, goat prairies and oak savannahs. Keep an eye out for Baltimore checkerspots, wetland skippers, silvery checkerspots, swallowtails, fritillaries and blues flitting and feeding on the native plants.

JULY 5 | EVENING AT RETTENMUND BLACK EARTH PRAIRIE: Explore The Prairie Enthusiasts’ prairie remnant featuring butterfly milkweed, leadplant and coreopsis at their peak bloom.

Visit madisonaudobon.org to register and get details about additional field trips throughout the year, and for information on upcoming Evenings With Audubon, the organization’s discussion series.

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