Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory

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

Cutright Bird Club, Observatory team up for successful 13th annual Big Sit at Forest Beach 


Photo by Kate Redmond
Big Sitters standing on the Bill Cowart Hawk Watching Platform on Oct. 9 (left to right) were Kathy Gallick, Carl Schwartz, Anita Carpenter, Bettie Harriman, Mike Wanger and photo-shy Marilyn Bontly.

By Carl Schwartz
NJCBC Program Chair
WGLBBO Board Member

The Noel J. Cutright Bird Club, in cooperation with the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, held its 13th annual Big Sit! at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, five miles north of Port Washington, on Saturday, Oct. 9.

The count officially began at 6:26 a.m., about a half hour before sunrise. It was both dark and foggy which made it a little tricky maneuvering the food and scope laden golf cart out of the former Squires Country Club’s Caddyshack garage and down Country Club Road and onto a path out toward  the Bill Cowart Memorial Hawk Watch Platform at the northeast corner of the preserve.

We had let it be known that if the simple joy of birding were not enough to attract participation, those arriving for the early morning shift would find bagels and donuts on hand. Apparently, that was not sufficient to attract a crowd but what we lacked in the quantity of birders we made up in quality. First to join me on the platform was Marilyn Bontly. The two of us birded alone for several hours before the arrival of former WSO president and WGLBBO board member Bettie Harriman and columnist Anita Carpenter, who drove down from Oshkosh. A short time later we were joined by eBird reviewer Mike Wanger, bird club stalwart and Habitat Healer Kathy Gallick and Kate Redmond, who has spent more hours on the hawk watching platform doing just that than anybody else associated with the observatory.

The temperature hovered around 60 degrees and the fog remained quite heavy for several hours before gradually lifting around 9:30 but then drifting back around 11 as the wind switched around to the southeast.

There actually was a dawn chorus -- made up mostly of sparrows singing their weak fall songs accompanied by an abundance of chip notes. The chorus was noisiest between 6:15 and 6:45 with sunrise coming at 6:58. It would have been nice if Kate's late husband, Noel Cutright, had been on hand to decipher some of these calls. (It was Noel who launched this Big Sit! back in 2009 so the Riveredge Bird Club could support the Observatory.) But then Marilyn remembered we had the next best thing, and we fired up the Merlin app on her phone and identified the presence of several birds (Lincoln’s Sparrow and Hermit Thrush) we probably would have missed. And I must say we were impressed with its spot-on identification of many other species we were hearing.

Around 11 a.m. we were joined by about 10 WSO members from a rescheduled field trip to Harrington Beach State Park that was rained out the previous weekend. Not only did they help us find a few more birds, they also greatly reduced the burden of carrying home leftover donuts and bagels.

Shortly after noon several of us had to leave to deal with other business, including leading a field trip for “Love Our Great Lakes Day” in Port Washington. Kate stayed behind until 2 p.m. to continue her hawk watch while adding three additional species to our morning total. Our final total was 47:

Highlights included seven species of sparrows (but only one warbler) and a significant migration of Blue Jays. The 500+ we recorded paled in comparison with the more than 2,300 recorded from the platform the previous day.

Here is our tally in eBird:
Canada Goose  150
Wood Duck  3
Mallard  5
Wild Turkey  10
Pied-billed Grebe  1
Mourning Dove  3
Sora  1
Sandhill Crane  2
Killdeer  4
Herring Gull  3
Turkey Vulture  1
Sharp-shinned Hawk  7
Cooper's Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Belted Kingfisher  1
Red-headed Woodpecker  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  2
Downy Woodpecker  2
Hairy Woodpecker  1
American Kestrel  1
Merlin  2
Peregrine Falcon  2
Blue Jay  520
American Crow  14
Black-capped Chickadee  2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet  4
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
Brown Creeper  1
Winter Wren  2
European Starling  2
Brown Thrasher  1
Hermit Thrush  1
American Robin  9
House Finch  3
American Goldfinch  13
Field Sparrow  2
Dark-eyed Junco  5
White-crowned Sparrow  7
White-throated Sparrow  5
Song Sparrow  7
Lincoln's Sparrow  1
Swamp Sparrow  2
Eastern Towhee  4
Red-winged Blackbird  250
Palm Warbler  10
Northern Cardinal  1

Big Sit! events are held at multiple locations each fall in Wisconsin as part of an annual, international, noncompetitive birding event held during the second weekend in October. The Big Sit! is like a Big Day or a birdathon in that the object is to tally as many species as can be seen or heard within 24 hours while staying inside a real or imaginary circle 17 feet in diameter and recording them via eBird. The hawk watch platform is almost perfectly-sized for this event.

The high Big Sit count at Forest Beach was 70 species in 2014; and in 2018, 66 species were recorded. Since 2007, birders have recorded a total of 262 species at Forest Beach, with 13 of them new just in the last five years: Blue Grosbeak, Spotted Towhee, White-eyed Vireo, Grasshopper Sparrow, Common Raven, Trumpeter Swan, Swainson’s Hawk, Bell’s Vireo, Iceland Gull, Brewer’s Blackbird, Eurasian Collared Dove, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Eastern Whip-poor-will.

Forest Beach is owned and managed by the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust and is the former site of the Old Squires Country Club. The club’s old pro shop formerly housed the Observatory, whose mission is to advance knowledge of bird populations and their conservation through coordinated research, monitoring and education.

The 116-acre site is one of the largest tracts of open land remaining in Ozaukee County along Lake Michigan. Its geography - and the extensive habitat development and creation of 27 wetlands begun in 2009 -- have achieved a significant part of Cutright's vision for the Preserve: diverse habitat, abundant seed and invertebrate sources for migratory birds. It’s large species list demonstrates what excellent stopover habitat makes possible: a place for a diverse group of migratory birds to rest and refuel – as well as a wonderful place to stage a Big Sit. 

Observatory Seeks New Board Members


The Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, an independent 501(c)(3) research, conservation, and advocacy organization, is seeking volunteer leaders to join its board of directors. More information about the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory is available at wglbbo.org.

Board members are actively involved in Observatory activities and are expected to attend quarterly board meetings, either virtually or in person; participate in at least one board committee; and make an annual gift to the Observatory at a level that is personally significant and assist in raising funds for the Observatory. Board members serve three-year terms.

Observatory directors are passionate about the environment and conservation, are familiar with conservation issues in the western Great Lakes region and in Wisconsin in particular, and believe strongly in the Observatory’s mission.

 The board is looking to add a variety of skills but is seeking especially candidates who are willing to serve on its Science subcommittee or its Finance and Governance subcommittee; who possess legal, accounting, or scientific expertise; who hail from communities along Lake Michigan and Green Bay; who add to the board’s diversity; who represent and advocate for the youngest members of the natural science field and those who aspire to join it; or who have prior experience serving on a nonprofit board.

To apply:

Complete the application available here and email your resume to . The Nominating Committee is accepting applications until October 22, 2021, and it will conduct orientation sessions and interviews before the full board votes to elect new board members. The Observatory expects to hold elections in January 2022.

The Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory (https://wglbbo.org) is an independent 501(c)(3) organization. Its mission is to conduct coordinated research, monitoring, and education that advances the conservation of birds and bats in Wisconsin and throughout the western Great Lakes region.

Love Our Great Lakes Day Speakers


Dan Egan is the journalist in residence at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Center for Water Policy. He is the author of The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, a New York Times best seller. A native of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Egan was a two-time Pulitzer prize finalist as a reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He lives in Milwaukee with his wife and four children.


Susan Bence began her radio journalism in career in 2008 after twenty years working in the nonprofit health field.

Susan studied journalism at University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, interned at Milwaukee Public Radio and was then invited to join the news team.  In 2009 she was asked to take on environmental reporting, becoming WUWM's first beat reporter

Susan has received multiple awards for her work, including from the Milwaukee Press Club and the Midwest Broadcast Journalists Association.


Russ Green is a maritime archaeologist and Great Lakes regional coordinator for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. After graduating from the University of Rhode Island he spent time as a college football coach, commercial fisherman, and small business owner before making his way to East Carolina University for a graduate degree in Maritime Studies. Russ has worked in Great Lakes conservation for 20 years, first as an underwater archaeologist for the state of Wisconsin and later as deputy superintendent at NOAA’s Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Michigan. He’s contributed to dozens of maritime archeology projects along the east and west coasts, Bermuda, Micronesia, and Japan, and regularly leads fieldwork in the Great Lakes. When not diving the Inland Seas, he contributes to NOAA’s documentation of the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor and World War II shipwrecks in North Carolina’s “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Russ is currently leading start-up efforts for the new Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

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Jennifer Phillips-Vanderberg is a Ph.D. biologist with extensive experience conducting ornithological research. 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 assumes her Observatory position, 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.


Dr. Paul Roebber is a Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee’s (UWM) School of Freshwater Sciences. Dr. Roebber is the Founder and Director of Innovative Weather, an experiential learning program which trains undergraduate and graduate students in providing weather decision support services to community partners in the upper midwest. He is an Affiliate Faculty with the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute in Milwaukee. Since 2016, Dr. Roebber has been contributing to the National Weather Service’s Meteorological Development Laboratory data science efforts, which seek to improve weather forecast model information across all of North America, and he holds active grants with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation.


Dr. Roebber holds advanced degrees in meteorology and physical oceanography from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and McGill University. He has edited and published extensively in the scientific research literature, with 80 papers and book chapters in print, and is a co-author of a book published by MIT Press on Expert Forecasting ("Minding the Weather"). In support of this work, Roebber has won 43 grants from Federal and State agencies, as well as the private sector and the Government of Canada. He has directed 33 thesis students at the doctoral and masters level at UWM since 1994.


Dr. Roebber has extensive experience in public and private weather forecasting, synoptic and mesoscale modeling, forecast verification and data science. Paul is the recipient of multiple awards including the American Meteorological Society's Editors Award, the MIT Club of Wisconsin Individual Tech Award, the UWM Research Foundation Senior Faculty Award, and the UWM Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award.

Love Our Great Lakes Day is October 9th!

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COVID 19 brought an unwelcome pause to the annual celebration of Love Our Great Lakes Day in Port Washington, WI. The community has Bill Moren, local resident and conservation advocate, to thank for this day of celebration. Grant support from the Fund for Lake Michigan in 2018 enabled Bill to bring in renowned experts to speak on topics related to the Great Lakes and to engage the community businesses for afternoon activities that continued the Lake Michigan theme.

This year, to assist with the relaunch of this important day of celebration, Bill has pulled together a group of supporting partners that include Lakeshore Natural Resources Partnership Executive Director Tom Mlada, Science Director of the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory Jennifer Phillips-Vanderberg, Treasures of Oz founder Marjie Tomter, the Ozaukee Press, Director of Ozaukee County Planning and Parks Andrew Struck, City of Port Washington Superintendent of Parks and Forestry Jon Crain, and volunteers from the community.

The celebration will include both speakers and activities.  Presentations will be held via Zoom to make the shared information accessible to a wider audience, but afternoon activities will be predominantly outdoors in Port Washington and will include guided field site visits of restoration work at Mineral Springs Creek and Birchwood Hills, a bird hike through Coal Dock Park led by Observatory staff, music by the Green Sails, tours through the Port Washington Exploreum, and more.

Learn more about our speakers HERE.