Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory

See the new Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas webpage at: http://wsobirds.org/atlas

The Challenge of Doing Good Avian Science in the Era of COVID-19


For those of us at the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, some of the fun may have to be put on pause, but the work definitely will go on. There is simply too much at stake for us not to push through these challenging days. With last year’s major study documenting the loss of 3 billion birds across North America in just the last 50 years, and the dwindling populations of once common Wisconsin birds, the work here that you have helped make possible is more critical than ever. But we wanted to take just a moment to 1) share our concern for your health and well-being and urge each of you to follow the science and take the necessary steps for your personal health, and 2) let you know what we are doing to keep our staff, volunteers and attendees safe and to adjust our public activities to meet the latest state and federal health guidelines. That means canceling the following public events that the Observatory had planned for this spring: 

  • Bird hikes for “Love Our Great Lakes Day” on May 2 
  • “Gardening for Monarchs and Other Pollinators” on May 9 
  • Our annual World Migratory Bird Day celebration and native plant sale on May 17 
  • From Bogies to Birdies and Beyond” field trip on May 18 

Our science director, Dr. Jennifer Phillips-Vanderberg, and her new administrative assistant, Sarah Stoll, are working remotely from their homes and pushing forward to extend the system of Motus towers to monitor this spring’s migration (already under way!) and to continue planning for this fall’s Western Great Lakes Conservation Summit. The Observatory also remains involved with the Midwest Migration Network and the Great Lakes Wind Wildlife Coalition. Meanwhile, our waterbird counter, Calvin Brennan, maintains his solitary watch from where the beach used to be at Harrington (Beach) State Park. He already has reported some new rarities this spring, including a Slaty-backed Gull. 

The board and its committees are using online tools to meet and collaborate and plan a stepped-up effort to stay in touch with or friends and supporters via our web siteFacebook and Instagram. Look for news and activities you can use and hopefully even some FUN. In the meantime, please feel free to contact us at with questions, concerns, and well wishes. We’d be happy to hear from you. The American Bird Conservancy said it well in its message this week: “As we continue to adapt, some constants and familiar comforts are sure to lift our spirits. Birds are among these constants, and we hope you are getting a chance to enjoy some birding and bird song as they begin their northward movements and spring migration picks up.”  

Changes to Our Summer Events Calendar


Due to the COVID-19 virus and the need to keep all our supporters healthy, we have cancelled our May events. July through October events will remain on the calendar until further notice. Please stay safe and well!

      Blackburnian warbler joel trick   


Learn about the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory - CANCELLED
Month of April
W.J. Niederkorn Library, 316 W. Grand Ave., Port Washington, WI 53074

Visit the display case at the upper-level entrance to the library to learn about what the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory does to help Monarchs, birds, and other pollinators in our community.  


Bird Hikes for Love Your Great Lakes Day - CANCELLEDport harbor18 3rz
Saturday, May 2
Tours will begin at 1 p.m., 1:30 p.m., and 2 p.m.

Memorial Pavilion in Coal Dock Park (meet at the gazebo)

Join the Observatory’s new director, Dr. Jennifer Phillips-Vanderberg, and Observatory board members and bird experts Kate Redmond and Carl Schwartz for a tour of the harbor, the We Energies bird sanctuary, and Coal Dock Park to identify the waterfowl, gulls, ducks, and early migrating songbirds. Bring binoculars if you have them and dress for the weather. Walks should last about 45 minutes.


Gardening for Monarchs and Other Pollinators - CANCELLED
Saturday, May 2
11 a.m.
Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, 2220 N. Terrace Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53202
Observatory board member Jill Kunsmann has raised and released hundreds of Monarchs from her butterfly nursery. In this talk, she will share how you can fill your yard with butterflies and other pollinators. Learn which plants are butterfly magnets, and the important things to remember when creating a Monarch-friendly habitat in your yard. 


Gardening for Monarchs and Other Pollinators - CANCELLED
Saturday, May 9
10 a.m.
W.J. Niederkorn Library, 316 W. Grand Ave., Port Washington, WI 53074
Observatory board member Jill Kunsmann has raised and released hundreds of Monarchs from her butterfly nursery. In this talk, she will share how you can fill your yard with butterflies and other pollinators. Learn which plants are butterfly magnets, and the important things to remember when creating a Monarch-friendly habitat in your yard. 

WMBD 2020 poster

World Migratory Bird Day - CANCELLED 
Sunday, May 17
7:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. 
Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, 4970 Country Club Rd., Port Washington, WI 53074
The public is invited to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day on Sunday, May 17, 2020, at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve! Buy native plants, get a free milkweed plant, hear great speakers, and go on bird hikes. Proceeds from the plant sale will support the Observatory's monitoring and research initiatives. All other activities are free.  


Natural Resources Foundation Field Trip: From Bogies to Birdies and Beyond - CANCELLED
Monday, May 18

Enjoy the peak of spring migration at three hot spots along the Lake Michigan shore and learn about the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory and Forest Beach Migratory Preserve. Enjoy breakfast in the Observatory’s new downtown HQ and meet its new director, Dr. Jennifer Phillips-Vanderberg. She will team up with board member Shawn Graff, regional VP of the American Bird Conservancy, and Board Chair Chuck Hagner, the former editor of BirdWatching magazine, to offer an introduction to the region’s only bird observatory. Learn about Monarch butterfly conservation and tour the redeveloped (and very birdy) Port Washington lakefront before heading five miles north to Forest Beach. Conclude the day at Harrington Beach State Park to observe the work of the Observatory’s waterbird counter, Calvin Brennan. Breakfast included. Fundraiser for the Bird Protection Fund.


Learn about the Monarch Gardens on Grand Avenue - CANCELLED
Saturday, May 23   
10 a.m. – noon
Port Washington City Hall Monarch Waystation Garden, 100 W. Grand Ave., Port Washington, WI 53074, and W.J. Niederkorn Library native gardens, 316 W. Grand Ave., Port Washington, WI
Join Observatory board members and Monarch and native garden enthusiasts Shelly Culea and Jill Kunsmann at City Hall, and meet Library Director Tom Carson at the W.J. Niederkorn Library, for an introduction to the native plant gardens installed at these sites, both of which provide important habitat for Monarch butterflies and other pollinators. Volunteers interested in helping with garden clean-up are more than welcome to join in. Bring garden gloves and a trowel.


Pollinator Tour of Coal Dock Park and Monarch Workshop - STILL SCHEDULED
Saturday, July 25 
8:30 – 10:30 a.m.
Coal Dock Park, 190 S. Wisconsin St., Port Washington, WI 53074

Monarch and bird experts from the Observatory will lead a workshop and tour through Coal Dock Park in Port Washington, where attendees will learn about habitats that serve not only Monarchs but also a rich diversity of other insects and birds. Participants will learn how to identify and collect Monarch eggs, create a nursery, and raise healthy butterflies.

 monarch tagging

Monarch Tag-and-Release Celebration - STILL SCHEDULEDMonarch Event Kate Redmond 5
Saturday, August 29
1 – 3 p.m. Note: tagging will be from 1:45 to 2 p.m.
Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, 4970 Country Club Rd., Port Washington, WI 53074 
Fun for the whole family! Attendees will tag and release Monarchs, take guided tours of Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, and enjoy Monarch-decorated cakes. Most important, participants will become citizen scientists as they help record the tag number, sex, and other information of each butterfly. This data will be submitted to Monarch Watch (monarchwatch.org) at the University of Kansas. Tagging and release will take place at 1:45 p.m.


Western Great Lakes Conservation Summit - STILL SCHEDULED
October 30-31
Mequon Nature Preserve, 8200 W. County Line Rd., Mequon, WI 53097. More details to come.
SEWCSFormerly known as the Southeastern Wisconsin Conservation Summit, this annual two-day conference is designed to foster collaboration and networking by providing an opportunity to meet and listen to the people who are conducting terrific conservation work throughout the Western Great Lakes region.

As in past years, this year’s summit will focus on all topics environmental -- past, current, and future research and monitoring, conservation advocacy, and ecological restoration -- and it will feature a diverse cast of speakers: university faculty and undergraduate and graduate students; staff members of nonprofit organizations, land trusts, nature centers, and county governments; landowners; consultants; and many other interested parties from throughout the Western Great Lakes Region.

New Wisconsin Field Guide to Appear in November

Wisconsin birders will soon have a new field guide to help them find and identify birds in the Badger State.

The American Birding Association and Scott & Nix, Inc., have announced the publication of the American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Wisconsin, the latest volume in their popular series of state field guides.

The author is former BirdWatching editor-in-chief and Wisconsin resident and birder Chuck Hagner. 

Hagner ABA Wisconsin 400x600

Hagner is the board chair of the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, the state director of Bird City Wisconsin, and a member of the Steering Committee of the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative. He was the editor of nationally distributed BirdWatching magazine from 2001 to 2017 and worked as a writer and editor at Time-Life Books for years before that.

His new Wisconsin guide is based on the most recent official checklist of Wisconsin’s birds published by the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, and it incorporates not only the latest sightings submitted to eBird but also the results of the just-completed second statewide Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas.

All 262 of the state’s regularly occurring species and dozens of carefully chosen casual and rare species -- including the Kirtland’s Warbler and Whooping Crane -- are shown in more than 470 large color photos.

Most of the pictures were provided by well-known professional bird and nature photographer Brian E. Small.

Small’s beautiful work has been featured in hundreds of books, magazines, calendars, websites, newspapers, and smartphone apps and appears in every issue of BirdWatching. For 15 years, he served as the photo editor at Birding magazine.

“Our goal was to make an up-to-date, authoritative, helpful field guide that you don’t need to be an expert to understand,” Hagner says. “We want birdwatchers of all skill levels to know when and where to see Wisconsin’s birds and how to identify them.”

A detailed state map and a complete state checklist are also included, along with an index and a handy quick-look-up index.

The American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Wisconsin will appear in bookstores statewide in November 2019, and it is available for purchase now via Amazon and other online retailers.

ABA Wisconsin

For more information:

TITLE: American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Wisconsin

SERIES: American Birding Association State Field Guides

ISBN: 978-1-935622-69-7 • price: $24.95 ($32.95 can)

AUTHOR: Charles Hagner


PUBLISHER: Scott & Nix, Inc. (scottandnix.com)

SIZE: 4.5 x 7.25 inches • pages: 368

FORMAT: Flexibound with rounded corners

AVAILABLE: November 2019


  •  479 beautiful color photographs featuring 299 bird species in natural habitats
  •  Clear and concise introduction, identification, habitat, and birdsong text
  •  Tips on when and where to see birds
  •  Organized by type of bird, from waterfowl to finches
  •  Complete state checklist, detailed state map, index, and quick index
  •  Printed on 100% FSC-certified paper from well-managed forests

For review copies and publicity queries, contact George Scott, Scott & Nix, Inc., 150 W. 28th St., Suite 1900, New York, NY 10001, , (212) 627-5909.

Observatory Announces New Science Director

JPV cropped


The Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory has named Dr. Jennifer Phillips-Vanderberg as its new science director.

Phillips-Vanderberg is a Ph.D. biologist with extensive experience conducting ornithological research. For the last two years, she has worked as a life scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency in Chicago, addressing pollution-control issues in the Great Lakes Region, primarily in eastern and southern Wisconsin.

Phillips-Vanderberg is a graduate of Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. She received her doctorate in animal behavior in 2016 from the University of California-Davis, where she used a combination of museum and field methods to study the evolutionary relationships among climate, life history, and coloration in 101 species of birds.

She arrives at the Observatory, which has its headquarters at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve just north of Port Washington, with a life-long affection for the Great Lakes region and a deep appreciation for the issues facing the region and its birdlife.

She grew up in Michigan in a town on Lake Huron and worked for years as a naturalist at Michigan DNR’s Saginaw Bay Visitor Center, in Bay City, where she taught ornithology, conservation biology, ecology, wildlife management, and other subjects to students, developed an outreach program that used bird banding as a gateway to biology, and surveyed bird populations.

Phillips-Vanderberg succeeds William Mueller, who will retire on Oct. 15, after nearly a decade of service as the Observatory’s director.

Present at every moment of the Observatory’s young life and the author of many of its proudest accomplishments, Mueller has served as director since 2013. He succeeded the Observatory founder, the late Dr. Noel Cutright, one of the state’s leading ornithologists, who died that year.

Both Mueller and Phillips-Vanderberg are among the 28 researchers and conservationists scheduled to deliver presentations at the Observatory’s upcoming Southeastern Wisconsin Conservation Summit on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 1–2.

Phillips-Vanderberg will give an overview of her past research and work. Mueller will discuss the development of Wisconsin’s growing network of automated Motus wildlife-tracking stations and the Observatory’s ongoing study of waterfowl and waterbirds in western Lake Michigan.

The public is invited to the annual two-day conference, which will take place at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, in Ozaukee County.

Learn more about the Southeastern Wisconsin Conservation Summit.

Register for the Summit.