Like the mythical Phoenix rising from the ashes, a recent forest restoration project should attract new birds to an area hit by the July 1 blowdown storm along the upper St. Croix.
Riverside Landing, located where the Namekagon joins the St. Croix near Danbury, WI, was flattened by this summer’s storm — which hammered broad swaths in the region, including at St. Croix State Park.
On Friday, October 14, a team of St. Croix National Scenic Riverway staff and citizen volunteers cleared brush and stumps from the area and planted seeds which it is hoped will provide nesting habitat for songbirds that migrate between the region and Costa Rica.
Setting the stage
The Park Service’s Robin Maercklein explained in an email that the first phase of the project was stabilizing the soil and preventing erosion with native plants, and then later work to introduce trees:
“Riverside sits just above the floodplain and our goal is to return it to native vegetation found in the adjacent areas. White pine seem to be seeding in naturally and we have supplemented the ground vegetation with planting of a mix of prairie, savanna and woodland grasses and wildflowers. The latter is in anticipation of the site being eventually a restored forest consisting of red maple, paper birch, red and white oak, white pine, aspen, black cherry and a number of sub-canopy trees and shrubs that will provide food and shelter for wildlife.”
Maercklein also wrote that some 20 trees were also planted among the existing seedlings and saplings, partly to develop a screen from the highway for the group campsite at the landing.
The birds that it is hoped will be attracted to the new forest are “Neotropical migrants,” which migrate between the St. Croix region and Costa Rica. The new residents might also include Golden-winged warbler, an increasingly rare species, Maercklein explained:
In the early stages of restoration, we expect to see song sparrows as they are the most commonly encountered bird species in the Riverway. We also hope to see a number of warblers including American redstart, yellow warbler and common yellowthroat.
The golden-winged warbler is also a possibility as suitable habitat is also found adjacent to the site. This neotropical migrant is currently being evaluated by the US Fish & Wildlife Service to see if it should be added to the threatened and endangered species list. This region of Wisconsin and Minnesota is the best place to find nesting golden-winged warblers.
The area is at the southern edge of the golden-winged warbler’s traditional nesting range, but its population is declining due to habitat loss. Learn more at the Golden-winged Warbler Working Group website.
The bird habitat project is the tangible result of a new partnership between the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway and Osa Conservation, a Costa Rica non-profit that works to preserve the Osa Penninsula, home to Corcovado National Park and many birds which migrate from the St. Croix River area to Central America every winter.
The cost of the native seeds used in the project was funded by a grant from the fund set up by Laurie Allman and Carol Caouette from proceeds from the sale of their CD “River Croix.” Allman presented a check to the Park Service’s Maercklein after his presentation on neotropical migrants at the St. Croix River Association’s fall meeting on Sept. 29. The fund provided a companion grant to Osa Conservation to help protect habitat for neotropical migrants in Costa Rica. Laurie presented a check to Emily Angell of Osa Conservation at the Great Rivers Confluence Symposium in Hastings on Oct. 7.
Thank you to the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway’s Chris Stein and Jonathan Moore for supplying the photos for this article and facilitating the coverage, and to the Riverway’s Robin Maercklein for supplying information about the project.