Western Great Lakes
Bird and Bat Observatory

Check it out ...
Spring Migration Underway!
Red-winged Blackbird fledgling by Kate Redmond

Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory
Headquarters at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve
Our Mission - To advance the conservation of birds and bats in Wisconsin and the Western Great Lakes Region through coordinated research, monitoring, and education.

We are the only Wisconsin organization conducting both offshore and near shore waterbird monitoring, and the only full-time bird observatory on Lake Michigan.

Keep Up With Us


American Kestrel Partnership Project
American Kestrels by Joel Trick
We work with The Peregrine Fund on its nation-wide American Kestrel Partnership, and the Observatory is the “Wisconsin node” for partner activities and data management.

This winter, we worked with Dr. Neal O’Reilly of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Conservation and Environmental Science program, and a group of his students, to develop a Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) with the kestrel nestbox data from our WI partners, incorporating landcover data and the variables within this growing dataset (approaching 200 nestboxes).

I recently met with Bill Stout, a well-known local researcher who has worked on Cooper’s Hawks for many years. Bill will connect with our project in several ways: (a) banding young kestrels, and contributing samples to the AKP Genoscape Project; and (b) managing/monitoring additional nestboxes with a group of new participants near his location.
Two Different Offshore Waterfowl/Waterbird Projects
Horned Grebe (left) and Great Scaup (right) by Kate Redmond 
These projects are funded in part by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin’s Bird Protection Fund. We are the 10th Priority Project for the BPF.

1. Our Lake Michigan waterfowl/waterbird aircraft survey project is moving into another chapter. Reports were submitted at the end of three distinct phases - the first for US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the second and third for the Great Lakes Commission, as part of the work of a regional group of researchers (myself, Kevin Kenow of US Geological Survey, Dr. Mike Monfils of Michigan Natural Features Inventory, and Dr. Dave Luukonen of Michigan DNR). Several reports were published, a number of posters and presentations were submitted and given at seven regional, two national, and two international conferences. A publication is in review at the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution. We are currently working on analyses of a sub-set of our own Great Lakes data with Dr. Jim Reinartz of the UW-Milwaukee Field Station. Dr. Allison Sussman, who is the senior author of the paper mentioned above, will assist with a new round of GIS “hot-spot” analyses of these data.
2.  Dr. Gary Casper and I submitted a manuscript for peer review from the Milwaukee Harbor AOC Winter Waterfowl project. It is in revision.
Aerial Insectivore Project
Cliff Swallows (left) and Tree Swallow (right) by Joel Trick

This is one part of a three-part Urban Birds project, funded by a grant from US Fish and Wildlife Service.
We collected Chimney Swift (CHSW is the banders’ code for this species) and Common Nighthawk (CONI) survey data with the help of seventeen cooperators across urban Milwaukee County, from summer and autumn of 2018. Data will be analyzed in 2019. As part of modeling where CHSW were found in the urban zone, we also collected data on chimneys and their “status” along the monitoring routes. Stay tuned for more news on this project.
Thursday, March 28, 2019 - Spring Training Session
Morning session:10 a.m.- noon
Evening session: 5 - 7 p.m.

Our band of enthusiastic Raptor Watch volunteers will reconvene, after a winter hiatus, to dust off our identification skills. Whether you are a seasoned birder or a total newbie, we welcome you to join our group. Training and field work will be at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, 4970 Country Club Rd., Port Washington, WI 53074.

What are we likely to see this spring? Director, Bill Mueller reports that, "we usually get both eagles early, with the Golden Eagle the first to pass through, and also the first to be done with its spring passage at this latitude. The Golden Eagles that pass Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, 300 miles NNE of our location, have moved through Wisconsin mostly unnoticed for a list of reasons. They count 70-100 each spring. We could see maybe 15-30 of those at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, if only someone was watching!"

Of course, we look forward to welcoming the return of our "usual suspects" including the Turkey Vultures, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned, Cooper's, Northern Goshawk, Red-shouldered, Red-tailed, Rough-legged, American Kestrel, Merlin and Peregrine Falcon.

In mid-March we will begin to send out weekly "weather announcements" to those on our list of the target days when there are likely to be appropriate conditions. If you are interested in joining our volunteer group, please contact us at
Red-tailed Hawk (left) and Bald Eagle (right) by Kate Redmond

By Kate Redmond

After a decade of impromptu hawk watches at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, the Bird and Bat Observatory is organizing the effort.  Following two training sessions in the early fall of 2018, a list of volunteers was put together and for the next two months, these watchers were notified in advance about potentially favorable flight days.  As a result, counters tallied 179 raptors in the 2018 fall season (find the final 2018 count here
The idea of counting raptors (or waterfowl, or anything else) begs the larger questions “Why count something in the first place?” and “Once you’ve counted it, what do you do with the information?”  Censusing wildlife is not a new concept, but it’s one that has taken on a new urgency in an era of habitat destruction, climate change, and other threats.  The problem, say some population biologists, is that for new generations of scientists, the present population levels, levels that are estimated to be more than 50% lower than just a half-century ago, are the norm (it's called Shifting Baseline Syndrome).  They’ve have never seen wildlife in the quantities that their predecessors saw, and today’s populations are their “baselines.”  So, both historical and present-day numbers are critical. 
Because they are large and charismatic, hawks have been noticed and counted for a long time (their migration is mentioned in the Old Testament and in the early journals of the Pilgrims).  Some counts started as an antidote to the wholesale slaughter of birds of prey in the days when all hawks were “Chicken hawks,” considered pests to farmers.  Cape May (NJ) has had a count since 1931; Hawk Mountain (PA) began in 1934, when the site became the world’s first refuge for raptors; and the Cedar Grove Raptor Banding Station (WI) started intermittent counts two years later.  Hawk Ridge (MN) began monitoring in 1972, and Whitefish Point Bird Observatory (MI) in 1975.  Some organizations use paid hawk counters, but many run on Volunteer Power.  
Raptors are canaries in our gold mines; they sit at the top of their food chains, and many of the chemicals that are harmful to them are equally harmful to us and to our environment.  They are important biological controls - when raptor numbers go down, populations of agricultural pests go up.  They are susceptible to changing land use patterns, and the senseless killing of raptors is not completely a thing of the past.  The names of almost one-third of the world’s raptor species appear on various “endangered,” “vulnerable,” “threatened,” and “near threatened” lists.  Hawk migration studies tell us the What, When, Where, and How of this seasonal phenomenon, and they provide a “nose count” that alerts us to changes in population trends.  Having real numbers allows us to pay attention to species that clearly need it. 
The Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA) acts as an umbrella organization for count data.  It collects, crunches, and publishes information from counts in the US, Mexico, and Canada (see a clickable map of state sites.)  Until the 1980’s, most counts were in the east, but HawkWatch International now monitors sites in the western US, along the Gulf Coast, and in Mexico. 
Why is Forest Beach Migratory Preserve a good place to watch raptors?  Hawks fly along the shore because they don’t like to venture out over open water, and as a bonus, the bluffs along some stretches of the shoreline provide an updraft that makes their flight more energy-efficient.  For the same reason – altitude without effort – the birds follow certain ridge lines through the Catskills and Appalachians.  The shoreline also provides visual orientation for these daytime migrants.  Many of the birds that move past the hawk tower will cover some serious distances – a Broad-winged Hawk averages 69 miles per day during a fall flight that will take it to Central or South America.  
There are a bunch of reasons for getting out and counting these birds, and one of the best is that it’s fun.  Raptors are beautiful birds, exquisitely adapted to do what they do, and it’s a thrill to see them in action, whether it’s a Red-tailed Hawk watching for movement in a ditch from its perch on a fence post, a Rough-legged Hawk hovering over a field with deep, loose, wing-strokes, a Sharp-shinned Hawk with its classic “flap-flap-flap-glide” flight pattern, or a kestrel bouncing on an electric wire with a small mammal dangling from its fist.  Raptors aren’t the only birds you’ll see from the hawk tower.  On the final day of the 2018 count, cloudy, breezy, and cold, a Northern Shrike sat at eye level in a neighboring tree, chattering softly as I photographed it.    
So, join us for a training session and find out how to tell the main groups of hawks apart by sight and behavior, how to work the HMANA data sheet, and which combinations of wind direction and frontal passage are most attractive to migrating hawks.  You can join a group of like-minded folks on the hawk tower at Forest Beach (often, with snacks) or you can count solo.  The rewards are great – you’ll be contributing to a growing body of knowledge about raptor movement.  For more information and/or to sign up for our spring training session contact us at 
For more information:
Monarchs on Joe Pye Weed by Kate Redmond
It's been a long time since there was any good news to report about the Monarch butterfly population. Suddenly there is news out of Mexico that gives us a ray of hope. A rumor that a monarch butterfly colony has been wintering  around Mexico's Nevado de Toluca volcano was verified shortly before Christmas.

"At the end of last month, Mexican officials announced that the overall population of monarch butterflies wintering in central Mexico was up 144% over the previous year. Researchers found the butterflies occupying 15 acres of pine and fir forests in the mountains of Michoacan and Mexicos states, compared to only six acres the year before." For a full account of this promising development read here

 We have been waiting for this kind of encouraging news for a long time. Now is the time to redouble our efforts to increase Monarch habitat and commit to "best practices" for Monarch restoration in our own gardens. The Observatory will offer three Monarch events this year at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, where native plants and milkweed will be available for purchase, as well as free workshops on how to raise Monarchs, and a final event in August with a tag and release celebration. Let's all work together to send a bigger-than-ever Generation 5 back to Mexico for the great migration in Fall 2019.
Tundra Swans by Joel Trick
Calvin Brennan, our Waterbird Watch technician, begins his spring counts at Harrington Beach State Park in March. If you're curious about what he's seeing, bring your binoculars and a spotting scope and join him at the blind just south of the rocky point on the shore (in the park, about a third of a mile southeast of the beach parking lot). If he's busy, he won't have much time to talk, but during slower times, he'll be available to answer questions.
Top right by Joel Trick, bottom left and right by Kate Redmond
Sunday, May 19, 2019: World Migratory Bird Day and Native Plant Sale
Bring your binoculars and join Observatory experts on bird hikes through Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, enjoy a live raptor show, and shop for native plants that benefit birds, Monarchs, and other pollinators.

Saturday, June 15, 2019: Treasures of Oz 
Learn how to raise a Monarch from egg to adult butterfly at the Observatory's Monarch Workshop. Attendees who have a good supply of milkweed, the only plant Monarch caterpillars can eat, will be able to adopt Monarch caterpillars.

Saturday, August 24, 2019: Monarch Tag and Release Celebration
Tour the prairie in full bloom, and watch as we tag and release Monarch butterflies for their long trip to Mexico. Fun for all ages!

Friday and Saturday, November 1-2, 2019: Southeastern Wisconsin Conservation Summit
Meet and learn from the naturalists and community scientists who are conducting vital research and monitoring on a wide range of topics in southeastern Wisconsin.

October-November, 2019
Become a member of our Raptor Watch team. Send an email to to sign up for training sessions that begin in September. Field work will begin when the raptors start their fall migration.
All events are held at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve.
Red-winged Blackbird fledgling (left) and Northern Cardinal hatchlings (right) by Kate Redmond
Season 5 Kickoff 
April 5-7, 2019
Holiday Inn and Convention Center, 1001 Amber Ave., Stevens Point

2019 will be the final year of field work for the second Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas, and the organizers need a lot of help to complete this monumental effort by fall. About 15 percent of Atlas survey blocks have seen little to no survey effort, while an additional 25 percent still need some work to be marked complete. Attend the Season 5 Kickoff to learn where and how you can help.  Register at
You won’t want to miss:
  • Keynote address by Ian Davies, eBird Project Coordinator at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
  • Birds and Beers in the Tap Room of Central Waters Brewing Co. 
  • Morning field trips to find Greater Prairie-Chickens, Snowy Owls, and other birds 
  • Nighttime field trips to complete blocks and learn techniques
Who should attend?
  • Prospective and seasoned atlasers
  • Atlas county coordinators
  • Bird researchers and academics
  • Bird conservationists
  • All Wisconsin bird lovers!
Key meeting topics:
  • Overview of results to date
  • Introduction to atlasing for newcomers
  • Strategies for completing field work 
  • Plans for an Atlas II book and other end products
  • Recognition for both our donors and top atlasers
To register, go to the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology’s Atlas webpage
Joel Trick may have retired from the Observatory’s Board of Directors, but he continues to make big contributions to us through his incredible bird photography. You will find many of his photos in our newsletters, annual reports, and Instagram account. He is passionate about sharing his knowledge and expertise to advance educational and conservation purposes.

Joel worked as a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Green Bay, Wisconsin field office for over 20 years prior to retirement in 2012. His work duties included review of federal projects, migratory birds, and endangered species recovery, including Whooping Crane, Piping Plover, Kirtland’s Warbler, Bald Eagle, Gray Wolf and Canada Lynx. He is also a well- known botanist and has collected thousands of plants and butterflies in northeastern Wisconsin.
In retirement, Joel continues to contribute to conservation initiatives and serves as an eBird reviewer for three Wisconsin Counties, as well as being the Manitowoc County coordinator for the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas.

We are grateful to have Joel as an Observatory friend and volunteer.
Enjoy the nature photography of Joel Trick and Kate Redmond, stay up to date on species discoveries at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve and other happenings at Ozaukee Washington Land Trust properties, and learn about the state’s diverse flora and fauna by following the Observatory’s Instagram account! 
If you care for the Observatory and want to make a lasting contribution to its success, consider a gift to the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory Fund.

The Fund is a permanent endowment that was created to provide the Observatory with a perpetual source of funding, so it can continue advancing the conservation of birds and bats in Wisconsin and throughout the Western Great Lakes Region well into the future.

The endowment is managed by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. Contributions to the Fund are tax-deductible. Instructions for giving, and for leaving a bequest to the Fund, are on our website.
Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, Inc.
Forest Beach Migratory Preserve
4970 Country Club Road
Port Washington, WI 53074
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WGLBBO · 116 W. Grand Ave., Ste. 207 · Port Washington, WI 53074 · USA

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