Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory

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

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. Shirts purchased before May 26th will be shipped June 3rd. Please refer to the website for shipping dates on purchases made after May 26th.

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

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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

2020 OBSERVATORY CALENDAR OF EVENTS 

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. 


MonarchWaystation

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.

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