Schlitz Audubon Nature Center

The Schlitz Audubon Nature Center feels like a (Wisconsin) state park that’s fully-funded. Located along Lake Michigan at the east end of Brown Deer Road in Bayside, this smallish park has a lot to offer. The location of the land itself takes up what’s known as Fox Point, which is not to be confused with the city of Fox Point adjacent to Bayside to the south…and which doesn’t actually include Fox Point the landmark.

Access to the Nature Center isn’t normally free, unless you score a free pass from your local library as we did. And I have the feeling that, unlike the office at many state parks these days, the office at this park will always be occupied. In other words, no sneaking in without paying.

From the parking lot, we headed toward the Visitor Center, but before we got there, we heard someone explaining about the raptors they have in captivity here. There are over a dozen birds they tend to – birds that, for one reason or another, couldn’t make it on their own in the wild.

On this day we got to see Skywalker. She’s an old (24 years, I think) Red-tailed Hawk that likes humans.

Skywalker the red-tailed hawk
Skywalker the Red-tailed Hawk's head

We then spent a little time inside the Visitor Center where we found two turtles.

Snapping turtle

I think this active one was called Harley.

Soft-shell turtle

When we went back outside, we hiked the northern half of the Lake Terrace Loop trail. This trail takes you along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Well, actually you have to go down a few metal stairs to get to the beach. From there you get a nice view of the sand, water, and any sailboats that may be upon it.

Sailboats on Lake Michigan

I was somewhat surprised that there were no gulls along the shore. (We didn’t see any until we got closer to home. More on that later.)

I did see this one bird flying over the water. It’s not a gull, but I’m not sure what it really is either.

Bird over Lake Michigan

We would have taken in the entire Loop, but we accidentally took the shortcut that leads to the tower.

And that brings me to my one complaint about the Nature Center. The signage can be quite confusing. (Sorry, no pictures.) There are square signposts at certain points along the trails that attempt to tell you where you are and what you’ll find in each direction you could walk. The problem is that those directions are quite easy to misinterpret. I did so several times, as you can tell from the shortcut we accidentally took above.

The signs don’t seem to always agree with the map of the park. Then again, maybe they do if you interpret them properly.

In any case, we eventually got to the tower which is virtually the same 96-step (technically, 97) structure found in many state parks. Since this one is located near Lake Michigan, you can actually see something kind of interesting in one direction.

Lake Michigan from the tower
Sailboat from the tower

In all the other directions you get the usual treetops.

Somewhere in the vicinity of the tower is the Great Acorn. Not sure why it’s here. I guess someone figured, “Where else would you put it?”

Great Acorn
Great Acorn sign

After the Lake Terrace Loop, we headed to the western end of the park via the Gateway Trail. We took the closest of the two West Meadows loops counterclockwise.

Along this route is the “ephemeral” Gentian Pond. In addition to being ephemeral (lasting for a markedly brief time), it’s also virtually invisible. The foliage (at this time of year, at least) completely obscures your view of the pond. If the map hadn’t told us it was there – and maybe it wasn’t – we would never have known it…was…there…maybe.

We saw a cardinal, who was too skittish for pictures, and heard a blue jay, but other than that, we didn’t encounter any birds. There was this birdhouse which, I think, is the only one I’ve ever seen with a baffle beneath it. Was someone afraid that squirrels might disturb the house?

Birdhouse with baffle

No birds, but I did spot this one monarch.


And there were dozens of dragonflies, but they too were in no mood for sitting for a portrait.

Buried in the background along this trail are these two rusty pieces of farm machinery. It would be nice if someone attempted to explain what they are called, what they did, and why they were there.

Farm machine #1
Farm machine #2
Farm machines sign

I have the feeling that no one knows anymore.

So, those gulls? I saw several in the parking lot of a strip mall near our house where we did a little shopping on the way home. I think these are Ring-billed Gulls. The gray one is more mature. The spotted one is a juvenile who apparently hasn’t quite figured out what is food and what isn’t yet.

Mature Ring-billed Gull
Juvenile Ring-billed Gull

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