Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory

Citizen Science


By Jill Kunsmann

I don’t feel that old, but obviously, I have been around long enough — on the same piece of turf — to see remarkable changes. When our family first moved along the shores of Lake Michigan in the 1950s, we occupied just one of three houses on a half-mile stretch of road surrounded by grazing land. There were four Purple Martin houses with boisterous, happy residents. Eastern Meadowlarks and Bobolinks bubbled forth their enthusiasm for spring and were as common as American Robins. If we heard a flock of geese overhead, we ran out of the house for a closer look, since they just weren’t that common. In the summer, we couldn’t drive more than a day without taking a paint scraper to our car’s windshield, for the clouds of bugs we drove through created a thick, sticky smear that seriously compromised visibility.

Fast forward to 2017, and the road I grew up on is filled with homes. There is plenty of deep shade, and MORE than plenty of geese luxuriating in the yards – ALL YEAR LONG! The martins are few and far between, and so are the days of carrying a paint scraper for the windshield in the glove compartment. I no longer run out of the house to listen to a flock of geese, but nothing gets my legs running faster, or my heart beating stronger, than the sound of Sandhill Cranes overhead.

And another change in the scenery? Several years ago, I was chatting with a neighbor, but our conversation came to an abrupt halt when one of us spied an American White Pelican drifting along on the lake close to shore. For all the excitement it generated, it might as well have been the last Great Auk. We still get excited seeing the pelicans — but now it’s a flock… and another flock… and another flock.

Are the pelicans here to stay? Will they become as numerous as the Canada Geese? Our pelican article looks into their interesting background.