Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory

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

Non-Profits in the Pandemic

July 9, 2020 - Readers of many Wisconsin newspapers in the USA Today Network probably saw the same article that drew the attention of Observatory staff and board members. 

“Wisconsin nonprofits could be in dire financial straits in the months, and possibly years, ahead as they continue to cancel or scale back vital fundraising events due to the coronavirus pandemic. One in five nonprofits that responded to a University of Wisconsin System survey said they worry about meeting payroll for the next eight weeks. Almost 50% have laid off staff already, and 93% said they’re considering future layoffs.” 
The survey of more than 500 nonprofits statewide to assess COVID-19’s effect on Wisconsin nonprofits was led by UW-Milwaukee’s Helen Bader Institute for Nonprofit Management with the Institute for Nonprofit Management Studies at UW-Whitewater. 
“This survey tells people not to forget about this sector. The nonprofit sector helps our quality of life,” said co-author Lora Warner of the UW-Green Bay Center for Public Affairs. “Businesses will struggle and do the best they can. Governments will serve whom they can with fewer tax dollars, but nonprofits step in with shows, environmental protections, trail management and more. They’re doing so many things for our communities.”
According to Bob Holzrichter, the Observatory’s Treasurer, the economic effects of COVID-19 on our own situation have not been kind. “By March of this year,” he reports, “it became obvious to the board that our fund balances needed to be watched closely.” 
We have weathered the pandemic so far—thanks to the diligence, planning and ingenuity of our two staff members, the hard work of our volunteer directors and the continued financial backing of a growing group of supporters. There have been no layoffs, although the Observatory did suspend its seasonal Waterbird Watch at Harrington Beach State Park at the end of the spring survey. 
“We’ve been facing multiple challenges all at the same time,” says Board Chair Charles Hagner. “While we were retooling our research objectives under a new science director, we reached the expiration of a significant Fish and Wildlife Service grant connected with our leadership of the Midwest Migration Network and we were forced to cancel many of our spring educational events, which double as fundraisers.”
These included a World Migratory Bird Day celebration and native plant sale that draws hundreds to Forest Beach Migratory Preserve each May, as well as a field trip for the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. More recently, the Observatory has had to cancel a planned pollinator tour and Monarch workshop at Coal Dock Park and our annual Monarch tag-and-release celebration.
To compensate, the Observatory is taking advantage of the social-media skills of recently hired administrative assistant Sarah Harsson Stoll to greatly expand our outreach via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
Holzrichter points out an additional challenge: “After the Land Trust decided to close the clubhouse at Forest Beach, we were obligated to rent office space in Port Washington at a cost of $3,600 a year, but we haven’t been able to occupy it since early March.” Both Sarah and Science Director Jennifer Phillips-Vanderberg are working from home. 
So the board tackled the things they could control on both the revenue and expense sides. Actions taken so far include:
1) Conducting our first spring giving appeal. The campaign has raised $11,521 so far (it’s not too late to contribute!) and is helping offset our lost events revenue. 
2) Offering for sale our own “United by Birds” shirts, which emphasize our work for birds of the Great Lakes. The shirts may generate only a modest amount of funds, but they’re causing a big increase in awareness of the Observatory. 
3) Securing a $16,000 Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan, with the anticipation that the entire balance will be forgiven under current Small Business Administration rules. This will, in turn, help offset the loss of federal grant support.
4) Taking several cost-saving measures. Since wages are by far our largest outlay, we reluctantly suspended our Waterbird Watch after avian technician Calvin Brennan (an independent contractor) announced plans to seek a similar position elsewhere, and we opted not to replace our part-time development specialist when she took a full-time position closer to her home. 
In addition, planning continues for an alternative to our annual fall conservation summit, which last year drew nearly 200 people to the clubhouse at Forest Beach and this year had been scheduled for the Pieper Power Education Center at the Mequon Nature Preserve. Some form of virtual meeting(s) seems in the cards instead, perhaps coupled with an online silent auction.
Meanwhile, the board and staff are reaching out to brief supporters on two key initiatives:
Motus: The Observatory is working to expand the Motus wildlife-monitoring network by partnering with environmental-education organizations to use Motus as part of environment, science, technology, engineering and math (E-STEM) programs. Environmental-ed organizations offer both knowledge of E-STEM and great locations for Motus towers, while we provide expertise in bird migration and the cutting-edge technology of Motus. Together we aim to gain both an increased understanding of migration and hands-on opportunities for students to engage in real science. 
Habitat: The use of nonnative and invasive species in urban and suburban areas is a major cause of habitat loss and degradation. The Observatory is developing a program to minimize the use of nonnative plant species in yards while studying the effects this shift to native plants would have on birds. Building on successful past outreach about monarchs and native plants and our experience with ornithological research, this program is a hybrid educational and biological research program. By doing these two things together, we can gain insights into how to maximize benefits for birds and help homeowners make bird-friendly decisions. 
Both programs will require dedicated grant funding and the continued support of Observatory donors. COVID or not, with your help this will be an exciting growth year for the Observatory. You can make a donation at https://wglbbo.org/donate . 

Our Pledge to Listen and Learn

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In recent days, we have seen dramatic examples of our society’s systemic racism, which is often either ignored or denied. The Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory recognizes that the Black Community is both publicly and silently subjected to terror and brutality far too often, and we stand with those who are calling for justice and accountability. We stand especially with the community of Black birders. Black Lives Matter. 

We acknowledge that the field of conservation too often has excluded people of color and failed to address their concerns fully. The science we practice is intended to benefit all people, but for that to happen we need to be much more inclusive, to hear more voices from more segments of society. 

We are a small organization, and we know we don’t have all the answers, but we are listening and learning. We recognize that it is our responsibility to join with others in doing more to fight inequality, injustice and violence, to speak out when we see hatred, and to recognize the harm that bigotry does to our communities.

We challenge everyone to join us in working against racism, as racism defies the basic human rights of all people of color. We pledge to ensure that our policies, actions and events promote and support inclusivity. To those ends:

  • We will employ our social media to recognize the valuable contributions made to conservation by people of color, work that too often has been overlooked and minimized. 
  • We will strive to reach and engage more communities of color in Observatory educational and outreach activities.
  • We will seek to collaborate with other organizations to support events like #BlackBirdersWeek that celebrate Black nature enthusiasts.
  • We will continue to reach out to students of color through the young professionals track of our annual Western Great Lakes Conservation Summit.
  • We will continue efforts already underway to recruit a more diverse board of directors to guide our way forward.

We also promise to look for additional ways to include more and to hear more, and we welcome your comments and suggestions as we do so. Please feel free to share them at . 

United by Birds

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Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory now has shirts! The shirts were designed by our Science Director to represent that we are united by birds, even in this socially-distanced world.  The design features the Great Lakes formed of silhouettes of our Great Lakes bird species, representing every family commonly seen in the region. If you look closely you may be able to see some of your favorite species, like a sandhill crane, a suite of warblers, a red-winged blackbird or a common loon.

Buying a shirt is a way you can support the Observatory, while showing your love for our Great Lakes and the birds that unite us. Most years we celebrate this capacity for birds to unite us at our annual World Migratory Bird Day. To meet health guidelines, we cancelled all of our spring events. This includes our combined World Migratory Bird Day celebration and native plant sale, which was expected to be our major spring fundraising event. Even though we can't be together in person, we still want to bring the message that we are united by birds to all of you.  

We like to think of our friends and supporters as “investors” in conservation science, and we are enormously grateful for the support our investors have shown for the Observatory's work.  Become an investor today by purchasing a shirt; all of the proceeds go to the Observatory’s work to conserve birds. 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.   

Please visit our store on Bonfire

Preserving the Preserve

At a time when the State of Wisconsin has ordered all nonessential businesses to close, it’s good to know that Forest Beach Migratory Preserve and the Ozaukee WashingtonLand Trust’s other preserves remain open to the public. 

If you visit Forest Beach or another preserve soon, bear in mind that we’re relying on you to help maintain them as places where we all can enjoy nature safely. You can do this, first and foremost, by adhering to all COVID-19 social-distancing guidelines. But you can also help curb the destructive behavior that prompted the recent closure of our state parks. 

The Land Trust’s stewardship staff continues working at the preserves; please assist them. If you see something that causes concern, call the staff at (262) 338-1794. If you suspect illicit behavior, contact the appropriate law enforcement.

And remember, too, that the preserves have many users, and not all of them have just two legs. Some have four, six, or eight -- and some of the most important guests also have wings!

This is especially true at Forest Beach. Alone among the Land Trust’s preserves, it was deliberately rehabilitated to create varied habitats that offer resting places, sources of food, and nesting habitat for migratory birds, some of which travel extraordinary distances to reach it. 

No fewer than 257 species of birds have been recorded on the preserve to date. Not all of them nest at Forest Beach, but many do. American Kestrels, Purple Martins, and Eastern Bluebirds are some of the most conspicuous, but shy Hooded Mergansers, Wood Ducks, and other waterfowl have also nested there. And bird watchers with the recently completed second Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas were able to confirm that Killdeer, Clay-colored Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, and Dickcissel all nest on the preserve and that Savannah Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, and Bobolink probably do. These species are noteworthy because they share a preference for the type of open grassy habitats found at Forest Beach. Each spends its days not high up the treetops but down low, on or just above the ground. 

This means that one misstep or one free-roaming dog is all it would take to disturb a tired, hungry bird or, worse, to devastate a fragile nest. That fact -- combined with the increasing numbers of visitors and the many off-leash dogs we’ve seen these days -- is why the Land Trust has decided to prohibit all dogs at Forest Beach until August, when the birds that breed there finish nesting activities. 

Schlitz Audubon, Riveredge, Wehr, Retzer, and other area nature areas with delicate ecosystems have similar policies. They prohibit dogs year-round because dogs have the potential to introduce disease, spread invasive species, distract and disturb wildlife, and interfere with important conservation-enabling research. 

The staggering conclusions of a recent national report add one more compelling reason to prohibit dogs: Nearly 3 billion fewer birds exist in North America today than in 1970. That’s nearly one in three birds vanished in the last half century. Even more troubling, the report’s authors made clear that it was the grassland species -- the family that includes Forest Beach’s ground-nesting songbirds -- that have fared worst. Some 700 million individual birds across 31 grassland species have vanished since 1970, a 53% drop. 

Eastern Meadowlark, the familiar yellow-breasted bird whose bubbly whistled song makes walks at the preserve such a pleasure, is one. Don’t let your lovable dog deprive another visitor of the opportunity of enjoying it. 

Leave your pet at home. Stay on trails. Leave no trace. And enjoy the birdsong.

Eastern Meadlowlark photo by Andrew Morffew

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