WGLBBO - At Work!

Nov./Dec. Newsletter
We are the only Wisconsin organization conducting

both offshore and near shore waterbird monitoring ...

and the only fulltime bird observatory on Lake Michigan.
Western Great Lakes
Bird and Bat Observatory
Pine Grossbeak by Joel Trick

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.

Our Vision -  Throughout the Western Great Lakes Region, knowledge of birds and bats is widespread, decisions affecting them are based on good science, and citizens care about conservation and participate in it, so common species are kept common and imperiled populations are restored.

Keep Up With Us

  • The Observatory Welcomes a New Director
  • Pardon Our Dust
  • In Brief
  • 2019 Southeastern Wisconsin Conservation Summit
  • Did You Know ...
  • Bonaparte's Gull - A Most Un-Gull-Like Gull
  • Passing the Baton to a New Editor
Dr. Jennifer Phillips-Vanderberg, Observatory's new Science Director with retiring Director William Mueller

Dr. Jennifer Phillips-Vanderberg has begun her tenure as the Science Director of the Observatory, succeeding Bill Mueller, who retired in mid-October after nearly 10 years in that role. She comes to the organization with extensive experience conducting ornithological research and, as a Michigan native, with a lifelong affection for the Great Lakes and a deep appreciation of the issues faced by the region and its bird life. She most recently worked as a life scientist in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chicago office, where she addressed pollution-control issues in the Great Lakes Region.

Jennifer earned her undergraduate degree from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon and received her Ph. D. from the University of California-Davis. She has also worked as a naturalist at the Michigan DNR’s Saginaw Bay Visitor Center 

Among Jennifer’s new duties was hosting the recent third annual Southeastern Wisconsin Conservation Summit, where both she and Bill Mueller gave presentations (See story below.)
This year’s shift from summer to winter office hours will be a little different than that of past years. Due to the closure of the clubhouse at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, we are moving our office to nearby Port Washington. Stay tuned for more about that story, and in the meantime, please contact for office hours. 
Photo by Kate Redmond
Big Sitters count at Forest Beach On Saturday, October 12, members of the Noel J. Cutright Bird Club held their 10th annual Big Sit on the Hawk Tower at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve. The count was started by Observatory founder Noel Cutright. At a Big Sit, birds are counted from a fixed location. The weather was challenging – cold and windy - but throughout the period from sunrise to 2:00 PM, 9 birders participated in the event and 66 species of birds were seen. The most species seen on a Forest Beach Bit Sit was 70 species in 2014. The most exciting bird of the day was a Harris’s Sparrow. 
Harrier by Kate Redmond

Hawk Watch 2019.  The season’s not over yet, but here are preliminary tallies for a few species gathered during this fall’s all-volunteer watch.  Bald Eagle - 25; Golden Eagle – 1; Red-tailed Hawk – 209; Broad-winged Hawk – 185; Sharp-shinned Hawk – 305; Peregrine Falcon – 14; and Merlin – 145. Smaller raptors like Merlins and Sharpies peak earlier in the season; migrating Merlins feed on migrating Common Green Darner dragonflies that they grab out of the air. Eagles and the larger hawk species continue to filter through until the end of fall, so there’s still time to get out on the tower.  
Photo by Joel Trick
The Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin is looking for a Coordinator for their Great Wisconsin Birdathon. The job involves recruiting and supporting teams, soliciting donors, and managing marketing and communication. For more information, click HERE.
Northern Waterthrush by Kate Redmond
Introduction to Bird Song Workshop
Ever wonder about the different kinds of vocalizations used by birds?  Ever wish you were better at identifying them by ear?  Join Bill Mueller, retired director of the Observatory, for this 8 week course, meeting at the UWM Cedarburg Bog Field Station on Wednesdays from February 5 to March 25, 7:00 – 8:30 pm. Space is limited and the fee is $80; for more information or to register, click HERE.  
The third annual Southeastern Wisconsin Conservation Summit is history. The Summit is an opportunity for researchers, land managers, and others to talk about their on-going projects. This year’s event featured 27 speakers, presenting on diverse topics like remnant oak ecosystems, the Motus wildlife tracking system, Wisconsin’s Bumble Bee Brigade, reducing bird strikes on buildings, mapping stream habitat, amphibian decline, and mussel monitoring.  

More than 180 people attended the two-day event.  New this year was outreach to students in the form of resume’ coaching and of break-out sessions where students could ask questions about professional development of people already working in conservation and environmental fields. More than 70 students took advantage of these opportunities.  

The Observatory Board thanks everyone who attended, and especially those who shared their knowledge and expertise so generously. For making this year's Summit possible, we also thank our Platinum sponsors, the We Energies Foundation, Milwaukee County Parks, and the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust; Gold sponsor Horicon Bank; Silver sponsor Country Inn and Suites and Charter Steel; and Bronze sponsors Thompson & Associates Wetland Services, Friends of the Cedarburg Bog, Sherpers, and the Milwaukee Area Land Conservancy. 

Please contact us at to learn how you can become a sponsor of next year’s Southeastern Wisconsin Conservation Summit.
American Woodcock by Kate Redmond
….that unlike many of their shorebird relatives, American Woodcocks are not long-distance migrants? American Golden Plovers may cover 20,000 miles on the round trip from their breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra to winter grounds in Patagonia, but woodcocks, which feed on earthworms and insect larvae that they find in the soil, only need to fly south to where the ground isn’t frozen.  

Woodcocks can be found year-round east of the Great Plains and south of a line from the Mid-Atlantic States through Arkansas, and the northern birds migrate south and join them there. According to the Audubon Society’s website, climate change could impact woodcocks by producing more favorable nesting conditions farther north into Canada, but the Southeast could become less hospitable for breeding birds due to drought or excessive rain, fire, or heat waves.  
Bonaparte Gulls by Kate Redmond
One of the treats of watching migration along the edge of Lake Michigan is finding a flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls floating offshore, hunting for invertebrates in a farmer’s field, or catching fish in a harbor.  

Compared to Herring Gulls, which are about two feet long with a wingspread close to five feet, and Ring-billed Gulls (17” long with a 48” wingspread), these are petite gulls – just over a foot long, with a 33” wingspread. They’re often described as “swallow-like,” “tern-like,” and “buoyant.” Of the species of gulls on the Wisconsin state bird list that have black heads in breeding plumage, they are by far the most common.  

Bonaparte’s Gulls (Chroicocephalus philadelphia - Larus philadelphia in older field guides) were named for one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephews, an ornithologist whose bird studies in America in the 1820’s helped clarify the taxonomy of American species. Their range encompasses most of North America – they winter in the southeastern US and along the East and West Coasts, nest far north into Canada and Alaska, and spread out across the rest of the continent and coastal waters during migration.  They have wandered to Europe, Japan, Israel, and Morocco. 

They are peculiar among gulls because they nest on the edges of far northern forests – in conifer trees – and although they are found in large flocks in winter and during migration, they prefer solitary nesting over large breeding colonies.  

Their status in Wisconsin has had its ups and downs. According to the Madison Audubon website, they were “abundant spring migrants at Lake Koshkonong” in 1890, but in 1990, Sam Robbins listed them in Wisconsin Birdlife as uncommon migrants in southern Wisconsin. Robbins wrote, “Kumlien and Holliser wrote in 1903 that ‘The systematic slaughter of this beautiful gull for millinery purposes has so reduced its numbers that we can no longer claim it as our most abundant species.’ They mentioned how plume-hunters from Chicago would shoot these birds by the hundreds in southeast Wisconsin.”  

These are beautiful little gulls, with black heads and bills, red legs during the breeding season, and bright, white primary feathers that form a wedge at the end of the wing that flashes in flight. Their calls are tern-like, too.  

The vast majority (about 95%) of Bonaparte’s Gulls nest in Canada and Alaska, where boreal forests and wetlands intersect. They court with aerial maneuvers and perched displays. Nests are sometimes built on the ground but are usually in trees, near the trunk, on a horizontal branch that is six to twenty feet off the ground (but sometimes considerably higher). Nests are made of twigs and lined with grass, lichens, and mosses. The young are covered with down when they hatch and, like the young of tree-nesting ducks, they jump out of the nest after a few days and follow their parents to water.  

Adults generally dive-bomb intruders but will sometimes tolerate a few other pairs of Bonaparte’s Gulls in the vicinity of their nest. If their nest is threatened, they take to the air with loud calls and pursue the intruder, and there are stories of them following people for a half mile to make their point. 

There are anecdotal accounts of Bonaparte’s Gulls breeding in Wisconsin in the 1880’s. Robbins mentions three records of Bonaparte’s Gull breeding here, and they are probable breeders today.  

Bonaparte’s Gulls are equally adept at grabbing small fish from the water (they sometimes submerge) and flying insects from the air. Their summer diet is mainly insects, and their winter diet is mostly fish, but they may rob a shorebird, duck, or other waterbird of a morsel of food. In farm fields, they eat grasshoppers, earthworms, grubs, and ants, but they’re rarely seen at dumps with their larger relatives. Peregrine Falcons prey on them, and they are sensitive to acid rain, heavy metal pollution, habitat destruction due to human activities, and to declines in prey due to climate change.  

If you see a flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls, be sure to check for the rarer gulls that sport black heads – birds of a feather often flock together. You might find a Black-headed, Little, Laughing, or Franklin’s Gull, or even a Sabine’s.  

Or more information, click HERE.
Beginning with this issue, Kate Redmond is the new editor of the Observatory’s newsletter. Kate’s husband, the late Noel Cutright, was the visionary behind the formation of the Observatory, and Kate carries forward Noel’s passion and deep commitment to this organization.

Kate, who serves on the Observatory’s Board, is a well-known local interpretive naturalist/environmental educator. She is excited about photography, wetlands, prairies, photography, writing, insects (especially dragonflies), carnivorous plants, native orchids, and photography. She served for 10 years as a founding board member of the Friends of the Cedarburg Bog, wrote the online field guide to the Mequon Nature Preserve, is the Sturgeon Papparaza at Riveredge's annual Sturgeon Fest, and, as the BugLady, has written more than 558 essays about local insects and other invertebrates.

Thanks to retiring editor, Jill Kunsmann.
Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory
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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