Getting Out in Nature: Madison Audubon's Protected Places

Photo by Drew Harry

The great outdoors is great for a reason. According to Yale Environment 360, not only can nature lower blood pressure and reduce stress and anxiety levels, it can also enhance our immune systems, increase our self-esteem, and improve our mood. A study by the University of Exeter found that, as long as people feel safe, only two hours of time in green spaces per week can foster a stronger sense of well-being.

Wisconsin has a lot of two-hour (or more) outdoor opportunities with many beautiful parks and natural areas to explore. Madison Audubon is one of many organizations that protects and stewards nature and wildlife habitat in our part of the state.


Out of the 450 Audubon chapters nationwide, Madison Audubon is one of the few that is also a nationally accredited land trust. Out of that group, we manage the third most habitat for wildlife, about 2,000 acres. When Madison Audubon purchased its first piece of land in 1968, it accepted the enormous responsibility to take care of that area for birds, wildlife, and people in perpetuity.

Our sanctuaries are on land belonging to Wisconsin’s First Nations, including the forcibly and unjustly removed Ho-Chunk Nation, now and since time immemorial. Respecting and honoring this history and connection is necessary, and Madison Audubon seeks to engage, welcome, and reinstate their presence on the land we steward.

Photograph by Arlene Koziol


From wetlands and woodlands to tallgrass prairies and oak savanna, Madison Audubon’s sanctuaries provide high-quality habitat for all kinds of wildlife: birds, rare plants, and insects. All are welcome to travel the public trails, listen to birdsong, and take in the gorgeous natural beauty of each season.

Goose Pond Sanctuary
Madison Audubon’s first land purchase was 60 acres with a house, buildings, a pond, and some land that became known as Goose Pond Sanctuary. In the 50 years since, members and supporters have helped our organization preserve hundreds more additional acres containing tallgrass prairie and grass-lands, wetland scrapes, and potholes. These remaining and restored ecosystems are part of the vast Empire Prairie that once covered the county and is now listed as an Important Bird Area, providing appropriate nesting and stopover habitat for a variety of avian species.

What you might find:
• 266-plus species of birds, including dickcissels, purple martins, American golden plover, snowy owls, clay-colored sparrows, trumpeter and tundra swans
• Other iconic Wisconsin fauna, including badgers, tiger salamanders, and rusty patched bumblebees
• Native plants, like prairie dock; compass plant; wood betony; bee balm; wood lily; and uncommon species, such as purple fringed orchid

Photograph by Brenna Marsicek

Otsego Marsh
About 10 miles northeast of Goose Pond sits Otsego Marsh, teeming with diverse wildlife. The sounds of frogs, toads, waterfowl, and insects ring through the area. The wetland includes a woodland with a mowed trail and Hawkos Pond, where you put your canoe or kayak into the water along Old County Road F between May 15 and September 1.

What you might find:
• 146-plus species of birds, including belted kingfishers, nuthatches, pileated woodpecker, great blue heron, spotted sandpipers, sandhill cranes, blue- and green-winged teals
• Other iconic Wisconsin fauna, including crayfish and bullhead, plus a variety of rare and common dragonfly species
• Native plants, like white water lilies, wild geranium, swamp milkweed, mayapples, Dutchman’s breeches, and bloodroot

Faville Grove Sanctuary
Established in the late 1990s, Faville Grove Sanctuary showcases the rich geological history and biodiversity in our area. Here you can visit the Lake Mills Ledge, Precambian rock that makes up the eastern edge of the ancient Baraboo range (among the oldest exposed rocks in North America). Sweeping vistas include the Crawfish River floodplain and uplands, centuries-old bur oak on quartzite outcroppings, a small slice of floating tamarack and sphagnum bog, and short grass prairies filled with sedges.

What you might find:
• 171 species of birds, including red-headed woodpeckers, northern harriers, Henslow’s sparrows, short-eared owls, upland sandpipers, bobolinks, and American woodcock
• Other iconic Wisconsin fauna, including otters, grey and red foxes, and Blanding’s turtles
• Native plants, like big and little bluestem; prairie blazing star; sky blue aster; valerian; and uncommon species, such as nodding lady’s tresses orchid and prairie milkweed

Photograph by Kelly Colgan Azar from Flickr Creative Commons

All of Madison Audubon’s sanctuaries aren’t just wonderful places to be outside: they’re also sites of conservation work that provide crucial data to our community and scientists. These protected habitats are useful places to survey native species, including endangered and threatened ones, like the silphium borer moth.

Much of this year-round work is done with the support of partners, stewards, and volunteers; we always welcome new folks to get involved! Each year, citizen science projects monitor nest boxes for wood ducks, American kestrels, and eastern bluebirds. We also participate in national and international efforts for bird banding and monarch butterfly tagging to track populations and ensure their success for future generations. In the fall, community volunteers assist us with a robust native seed collecting program that preserves local-genotype seeds from remnant and restored prairies.

Hope you all have a chance to visit our sanctuaries and enjoy the summer season. We’ll be back next issue to share more ways to join us outdoors. Until then, happy adventuring!

Kaitlin Svabek is a communications specialist for Madison Audubon. Connect with the team at or follow them on social media @madisonaudubon.

General resource lists consulted: