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Making The Nature Scene: Outdoors is for the birds—and the humans!

There’s outdoor fun to be had locally in the relative safety of nature.

There’s outdoor fun to be had locally in the relative safety of nature.

A snow bunting nestles into the shore along Lake Mendota at Tenney Park. With a white underside, light brown head, black and brown wings, and a dusting of copper tones, this snow bunting is one of many migratory visitors to Wisconsin during the winter. Photo by Caitlyn Schuchhardt. Illustrated frame by Maggie Denman.

In Making The Nature Scene, Tone Madison explores the splendor of the outdoors in the Madison area (and beyond), and encourages Madisonians to think more deeply about their natural and built surroundings.

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In early December, I was walking off the pier at Tenney Park. No, not into the water, but back toward the land. I noticed four women geeking out with cameras and binoculars over what appeared to be a pile of mud by the shore. I had to inquire. Turns out they had spied a snow bunting, a rare sight at that time of the year. One woman was a former colleague and they were all members of Feminist Bird Club. I was elated by this concept and reality. Please note that it is not a bird that is feminist, but the club. Is feminist. 

In a time when it’s safest to be social outdoors, Feminist Bird Club (FBC—but not that FBC) is for the humans. The local chapter of the national organization creates a safe space for LGBTQIA+, BIPOC folks and women to connect to the natural world. There’s also a local BIPOC Birding Club. Who thought birding could be so progressive? The pastime got national attention in 2020 when an iconic Karen hysterically called 911, saying a Black man had threatened her and her illegally unleashed dog in New York City’s Central Park. The man, who was innocently birding, had simply requested that she adhere to the law. He took a video that later went viral. Fortunately, birding is being reclaimed. 

And now, back to Madison. FBC participated in the 122 annual Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count last year and spotted 20 species, including dueting Great Horned Owls just before dawn. Overall, 95 species were counted in the Madison area. Here’s a link to the FBC newsletter if you’re so inclined. The Madison Audubon Society also hosts cool bird-related field trips each month. I’m probably going to need some binoculars. Binos, if you will. 


Members of Madison’s Feminist Bird Club pose for a photo as they stand along a mowed path through Cherokee Marsh in the summer, toting binoculars. Photo by Caitlyn Schuchhardt.

And there’s a plethora of local outdoor activities besides nerding out on birds.

If you’re not pumped about How Lovely Are Thy Branches temporary labyrinth project, which opened Sunday, January 30 at Olbrich Park, you’re not a woo-woo hippie. But check this. The project, the brainchild of local Madison Artist Lillian Sizemore, uses donated last year’s Tannenbaums to create a mystical spiral walk. With a single path in and out, labyrinths are a means to quiet the mind, reflect and contemplate. The labyrinth (probably with no David Bowie) is open through February near The Biergarten.

Do you like to skate? Would you like to try? There are more than a dozen ice and hockey rinks and lagoons in Madison. Madison has skate rentals at Elver, Tenney, and Vilas Parks Wednesdays through Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m., Saturdays from 12 to 8 p.m., and Sundays from 12 to 6 p.m. Here’s the full deets on skating at Madison City Parks and a link to subscribe to the city’s Winter Recreation News email list

On February 12, you can skate around and then sit down and watch a film on Tenney Park ice rink. It starts with music from 4 to 5:30 p.m. followed by Skate Cinema: Space Jam: A New Legacy. It’s free, no registration required. Just bring a lawn chair and blanket and zone out to Don Cheadle, y’all. And LeBron James if you’re into that sort of thing. In more skating news, the city hosts Groove & Glide events each Friday through February 11, with music and games for all ages. 

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Maybe you’re a skier or considering getting into it. There’s cross-country skiing across Dane County Parks, state parks, and city parks.  Some of these require a pass and/or state parks sticker on your vehicle. Nearby, Governor Nelson and Devil’s Lake have six miles of ski trails each. Mirror Lake, which is often outshined by Devil’s Lake in the Baraboo area, has a whopping 19 miles of ski trails. Not too shabby. 

Perhaps you prefer to skillfully fall down a hill for fun. There are a handful of sledding hills in the city, with Elver Park being the most popular. It’s even lit up at night for sledding under the stars! 

I’m waiting for my first pair of snowshoes to arrive in the mail! I’m headed to do some pet sitting on land that abuts Nicolet-Chequamegon National Forest and it’s going to be gorgeous. Local snowshoeing is an option in Madison in parks with four inches of snow—Vilas Park even rents snowshoes on days the ice rinks are open. Please don’t snowshoe on groomed ski trails in parks and conservation parks, or off trail. It can mess up the habitat of tiny mammals that live there, making them an easy snack for something bigger. (Sidenote: Please don’t eat the tiny mammals.) Here’s a handy-dandy snowshoeing guide.  

And for Madison’s badass fat bikers, there’s a single track bike trail at Aldo Leopold Park. It’s .25 miles, so maybe you can go around it like 8 or 17 times? 

Some parting words for Wisconsin and Madison winter hikers, snowshoers, and skiers: If it might be a mound, please go around. I wish you happy winter outdoor activities! May you be blessed by the sight of Nolan the snowy owl.

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