Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory

Noel Cutright, Ornithologist and Founder of WGLBBO, Dies at Age 69

Noel Cutright passed away peacefully Sunday evening at his home outside West Bend with his loving and devoted wife Kate at his bedside after they had spent the weekend with all three of their children.

Noel had told us in advance that he planned to host a gathering of friends after his death. That gathering will be on Tuesday Nov. 12 from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory at the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, 4970 Country Club Road, Belgium. The facility is owned by the Ozaukee-Washington Land Trust and supports migratory birds along the Lake Michigan flyway. There will be no formal service, but everyone will have an opportunity to speak.

From Port Washington, go north on Highway LL to Highway P, also known as Dixie Road. (There is a red tavern/restaurant on the SW corner.) Go east on P. The road curves to the left right up to the old clubhouse and parking lot. Enter at the lower east door.

On Wednesday, Noel will have a green burial at Natural Path Sanctuary http://www.naturalpathsanctuary.org/ 2299 Spring Rose Road, Verona, just west of Madison. Noel personally selected the spot, which is atop a hill. Again, there will be no formal service, but there will an opportunity to speak.

Noel has asked that any memorials go to the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, made out to the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.

This obituary was prepared by his family:

Noel Jefferson Cutright, 69, died Sunday night at his home in northern Ozaukee County. A well-known and beloved Wisconsin ornithologist, he devoted his life to bird conservation and citizen science. Twice president of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, he was the founder of the Riveredge Bird Club in Newburg and the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory in Belgium. He was instrumental in the creation of the Bird City Wisconsin program. He was co-author and senior editor of the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas.

Noel worked for WE Energies as senior terrestrial ecologist for 29 years until he retired in 2006. He continued to serve WE Energies in an emeritus position until the time of his death. He served on the boards of many non-profit environmental organizations like the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, Riveredge Nature Center, the Urban Ecology Center and the Mequon Nature Preserve. He recently retired as a board member and historian of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology.

He received numerous awards for his tireless work on bird conservation projects, including a Lifetime Award for Citizen-based Monitoring from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in 2007, Lifetime Achievement Award from the Gathering Waters Conservancy in 2010, several achievement awards from the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, the first annual Lorrie Otto Memorial Award from the Milwaukee Audubon Society in 2011, and a DNR Special Recognition award in 2013.

Noel was the only child of Harvey and Mabel Thomas Cutright, both deceased, of Hillsboro, Ohio. He grew up in southern Ohio on Fort Hill State Memorial, an Ohio State Historical Society property near Sinking Spring. He met botanists and ornithologists who did research in the park and he helped his father, who was the memorial's superintendent, maintain the property. He attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and was awarded master's and PhD degrees from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Noel was an avid birder who loved introducing newcomers to the wonders of birding.

He gave programs about bird and environmental issues to bird clubs around the state. He participated in hundreds of Christmas Bird Counts and federal Breeding Bird Surveys and served as Wisconsin coordinator of the Great Backyard Bird Count. He was best-known to many as one of the voices on Wisconsin Public Radio's holiday call-in show about birds.

In presenting a recent award to Noel, DNR Lands Division Administrator Kurt Thiede honored his "outstanding service, leadership and passion for conserving Wisconsin's bird populations and their habitats." Added his WPR co-host, Bill Volkert: "The people of Wisconsin are certainly so much better informed about birds because of the work that Noel has done. And I have to say that I believe that the birds of Wisconsin are better off because of his contributions to both education of our wildlife resources and certainly the conservation of birds and their habitats in the state. He's really made a mark on this state, and for that, all the bird watchers, the bird lovers and the birds themselves are thankful for all Noel has done for us."

Noel is survived by his wife, Kate Redmond; his children, Robyn Cutright (Drew Meadows) of Lexington, Ky., Seth Cutright of Port Washington and Laurel Cutright of Milwaukee; Kate's sisters, Molly Redmond (Steve Ring) of St Paul, Minn., Gail Redmond of Kennan; a nephew: Michael Ring (Flannery Clarke); first cousins, Mike (Ronnie) Zindorf, of Richmond, Va., Karen Fuson (Jim Hall) of California, Dede (Art) Agosta, of Scottsdale, Ariz., and John (Jan) Thomas, of Cincinnati, Ohio, and many wonderful friends in the birding community.

There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of birds. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter. -- Rachel Carson

A fuller list of Noel's accomplishments:

  • Senior Terrestrial Ecologist, We Energies, for nearly 30 years until his retirement in 2006.
  • Founder of the Riveredge Bird Club in 1986
  • Past president (twice) of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology (WSO)
  • Historian, WSO
  • One of the leaders in establishing the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative
  • Helped promote the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas and served on the Atlas Steering Committee
  • Senior editor, Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Wisconsin, published in 2006
  • Currently serving on Steering Committee for a second Wisconsin Breeding Birds Atlas
  • Helped launch the Milwaukee County Avian Migration Monitoring Partnership, which won a 2007 WDNR Citizen-based Monitoring Award
  • Received the 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award for Citizen-based Monitoring from WDNR for 30+ years of applying monitoring results to conservation actions. Whether it's supporting efforts to install Osprey platforms, reintroduce Trumpeter Swans, erect Peregrine Falcon nest boxes, create bluebird trails, establish State Natural Areas or important reserves in Belize, Noel has been active in a number of important conservation campaigns.
  • Tirelessly promoted and participated in the Federal Breeding Bird Survey for 40+ years. This culminated in a Quad 30 campaign in 2004 in which he raised >$50,000 for the state's Important Bird Areas program by running 33 consecutive Breeding Bird Survey routes in 33 days!
  • Organized and participated in hundreds of Christmas Bird Counts over the decades and served as the Wisconsin coordinator for the Great Backyard Bird Count.
  • Received prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the Gathering Waters Conservancy in 2010.
  • Received the Silver Passenger Pigeon, Green Passenger Pigeon, and Sam Robbins' Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, and the 1st Annual Lorrie Otto Memorial Award from Milwaukee Audubon in 2011.
  • Long-time advisor to WDNR and FWS on the ecology and management of Wisconsin's breeding birds.
  • Instrumental in creation of Bird City Wisconsin and serves on its Steering Committee
  • Instrumental in promoting migratory bird conservation and founded the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, with headquarters at the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve in Ozaukee County