The Mink River-Newport IBA covers an extensive area of conservation lands near the tip of the Door Peninsula on the Lake Michigan side. A variety of habitat types and extensive undeveloped shorelines make this one of the most ecologically important sites in Wisconsin. The site includes two significant protected areas: The Nature Conservancy?s Mink River Preserve (including the Mink River Estuary State Natural Area) and Newport State Park (including the Newport Conifer-Hardwoods and Europe Bay Woods State Natural Areas). Newport State Park is Wisconsin?s only formally designated wilderness state park; camping sites are accessible by hiking and canoe or boat only. The Mink River Preserve includes an excellent example of a freshwater estuary with coastal wetlands at the mouth of the Mink River composed of sedges and blue-joint grass in the shallower areas bordering the river, and bulrush, cattail, bur-reed and wild rice in the deeper areas (WDNR 2007a). A variety of northern forest types are found adjacent to the coastal zone, including lowland white cedar swamps, mesic forests of sugar maple, white birch, beech, and ash, and boreal forests of hemlock, balsam fir, and white spruce. Smaller areas of low dunes, sandy and cobblestone beach, and exposed dolomite bedrock also are present. This mosaic of natural communities creates a unique landscape that is rich in animal and plant species characteristic of the Lake Michigan coastal zone. Rare species include the federally threatened dune thistle and dwarf lake iris, bird?s-eye primrose, dune goldenrod, Lake Huron locust, beach-dune tiger beetle, giant pinedrops, variegated scouring-rush, and round-leaved orchid (WDNR 2007a, b, c). Both Newport and Mink River have quality trail systems that provide access to relatively remote forests and shorelines. Access to the Mink River is possible from the Wagon Trail Resort on Rowley?s Bay.
This IBA provides high-quality habitats for both wetland and forest birds. Sedge meadows and emergent marshes host a robust assemblage of breeding species, including the rare Yellow Rail. Other wetland species include Osprey, American Bittern, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Virginia Rail, Blue-winged Teal, Common Merganser, and Sedge Wren. Caspian Terns forage along the shoreline. Forested parts of the site support disjunct populations of northern species such as Golden-crowned Kinglet, Blackburnian Warbler, Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Canada Warbler (confirmed nesting), and Northern Waterthrush. At least 13 species of wood warblers can be found at this site during the breeding season. While migration data specific to this site are scarce (but see Feucht 2003), it undoubtedly it is an important area for landbird migration based on evidence from similar coastal areas in the Great Lakes region?Apostle Islands, Whitefish Point, Point Pelee, etc. Because this area is relatively far from large population centers, it probably receives far less attention from birders than it deserves.
This area has a high degree of protection and receives relatively low levels of use, although Newport State Park is popular during summer. Canoeists and watercraft at the mouth of the Mink River might create disturbance for breeding populations of Yellow Rails when they are present (likely dependent on Lake Michigan water levels). Real estate development in northern Door County is a potential threat to the integrity of this area. While many key tracts have been acquired already, surrounding development may negatively impact hydrology. Invasive species probably are the most serious threat to the wetland habitat. Carp are abundant in the Mink River waters and likely affect wetland dynamics and vegetation. Phragmites australis and other aggressive invasive plants represent an ongoing threat. Excessive deer herbivory may threaten the regeneration of forest trees and understory plants and remove nesting and foraging habitat for forest songbirds. Monitoring and control of invasive and overabundant species will be an ongoing management need at this site. Additional breeding and non-breeding season bird surveys of the site also are necessary to better document populations of priority species.