The Story Behind the Tradition of an Annual Christmas Bird Count! Dead Birds and Christmas Joy…Huh?!

imageSo what possessed Victorians to send Christmas and other greetings with illustrations of dead birds? One such card reads, “Sweet messenger of calm decays in peace Divine.”

It may hark back to an archaic English celebration of St. Stephens Feast Day, on Dec 26, when folks went out and killed a robin… or a wren… and saved the feathers for good luck. Often young boys in the village would visit homes and exchange feathers for a treat!

During medieval times, Dec 26 was the only day when a wren, considered sacred, could be killed. In fact, “King Wren” was paraded through the village in its death box…  which may actually date back further to a Druid tradition when the priest-king of the tribe was sacrificed to avert disaster for the tribe. Over time, English robins replaced the wren as the symbol.

But were the Victorians really connecting dead birds to tribal druid kings? According to Chan Robbins from an Audubon Science video on Vimeo, another Christmas tradition evolved in New England before the turn of the century which involved birds and small mammals.

The townsmen on Christmas Day engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “Side Hunt”: They would choose sides and go afield with their guns to shoot as many birds and species as they could that afternoon. The resultant pile of feathered (and furred) quarry were sorted by species and counted. The team which had shot the most, won.

Conservation was in its beginning stages around that era, and many observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an early officer in the nascent Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition-a “Christmas Bird Census”-that would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them.

So began the Christmas Bird Count. Thanks to the inspiration of Chapman and the enthusiasm of twenty-seven dedicated birders, twenty-five Christmas Bird Counts were held that day. Those original 27 Christmas Bird Counters tallied around 90 species on all the counts combined. So there is the answer to why we have an annual bird count in the middle of our northern winter!

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English robins continue to festoon modern Christmas cards, though they are alive and nestled among poinsiettas and berries!!

With that, I would like to wish all of you a Very Merry Christmas season!

Pat

New Kindle Versions of our Most Popular Steamboat Book…and a Little Something Extra!

If your favorite River Buff has become a Kindle fan, we now have the following NEW Kindle Editions available for Pre-order for Christmas gifting this year!

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“Treasure Hunting” has been one of our most requested river topics through the years. Pirates, military trails, payroll caches, old maps and steamboat wrecks have all left tales of sudden death and unrecovered treasures. In the first of our Kindle “INSIGHT Series” we  have collected a number of our previously published favorite treasure hunting stories, how-tos, and resources available to the Treasure Prospector here on the upper Mississippi River.

One Man’s Treasure” is now available for pre-order in the Kindle Store. PRE-ORDER RIGHT HERE, now, just $2.99!

bright Come Hell Cover VOL 1 Kindle
Our ever-popular steamboat anthology, COME HELL OR HIGH WATER by Michael Gillespie is newly available as a quality 2-Volume KINDLE edition. Filled with historic photos, witty commentary, footnotes, bibliography, Glossary and fascinating river facts and stories. Each Volume is purchased separately. 

Volume 1 PRE-ORDER RIGHT HERE.   $9.95

 Volume 2 PRE-ORDER RIGHT HERE.  $9.95

 

 

La Crosse Area Plans for Christmas Bird Count 2018

child with chickadee winterThe La Crosse Audubon group will be again sponsor The La Crosse Area Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, December 15th. Birders who want to participate, can contact Dan Jackson <DanJackson@lbwhite.com>

The La Crosse Area CBC is centered on the La Crosse County Courthouse and extends north to County OT, south to the southern tip of Goose Island, west to Hokah, MN, and east past Barre Mills. (See a map at: http://www.couleeaudubon.org/CBC_LaCrosse.pdf). If anyone lives within the count circle and isn’t available to help with a section, we can also use your help by having you count birds at your own feeder.

The annual Christmas bird count reminds me of the little research I did a few years past into why so many old post cards featured a dead bird. Interesting story which I will relate shortly!!!image image

Yep, Tundra Swans Are Moving!

Tundra Swans are beginning to appear in larger numbers on Pool 8. Check at the waysides south of Goose Island on Hwy 35, and south of Brownsville, MN, on Hwy 61 S.  To see historical data on our fabulous Tundra Swans, use the SEARCH Button at the top of the page!!  Look for a sunny day and take a drive along the Upper Mississippi River.  Numbers should increase throughout the rest of November as the Swans move south and then make a Eastern turn toward the East Coast.

A scientific dig for artifacts

sifting at Goose Island 4th Graders at Southern Bluffs had a unique opportunity to work with educators, parents, and archaeologists during a recent archaeological survey at Goose Island.

The survey was required because of planned recreational development of the site. The processed involved digging several test holes to a depth of 45 inches. The dirt from the test holes was sifted and any artifacts were identified and labeled. Interestingly enough, one test hole showed a few chert shards, charcoal, and a bit of pottery. Nice!! Another yielded mostly brown/green glass and rusted bottle caps, while another did not yield anything.test hole

Students then began skimming dirt from an approximately 4×4 square, and recording anything found in layers of approximately 4 inches (10 centimeters). Both sifting and skimming were pretty hard work!

Artifacts shown here include Chert shards, a bit of shattered rock, charcoal and a reddish bit of clay pottery. What a great opportunity for the kids to do a supervised treasure
hunting!! artifacts

Bird migration events set for Nov 10 feature Ferryville, Lansing, and Brownsville

FERRYVILLE — The Ferryville Tourism Council will host its annual Fall Migration Day from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, in River View Park on Highway 35.

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Additional birding events will be held beginning at 8 a.m. at the Driftless Center in Lansing, Iowa, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the birding observation area at Brownsville, Minn., Hwy. 26, all on Nov. 10.

 If you haven’t had the opportunity to explore the excellent DRIFTLESS CENTER in Lansing, Iowa, do take advantage of this opportunity. Enjoy the huge deck/porch that offers a wide view north toward the historic Lansing Bridge. There have been eagles in the vicinity each time I’ve visited.
Additionally, the displays capture our river heritage as well as any museum north of Dubuque.  Live snakes, including a timber rattler, our clamming heritage, driftless geography, commercial fishing and more. Great for kids AND adults.

Fall Color Forcasts for Mississippi River

 


Fall Foliage Hot Lines from greatriver.com

Mid-October seems to be the month when Fall Foliage really POPS along the Upper Mississippi River. You can follow its southward march with the contacts below. Weather is perfect, enjoy the drive!

Arkansas. 800-628-8725; www.1800natural.com (late October to early November)

Illinois.  800-226-6632; www.enjoyillinois.com (early October)

Kentucky. 800-225-8747;  (late October)

Minnesota. 800-657-3700; www.exploreminnesota.com (late September to mid-October)

Missouri. 800-778-1234; www.missouritourism.org (mid-to-late October)

Tennessee. 800-697-4200; www.state.tn.us/tourdev/ (early November)

Wisconsin. 800-432-8747; www.travelwisconsin.com (early through mid-October)


And don’t leave home without the indispensable guides to Mississippi River and Great River Road travel! Every volume of DISCOVER! America’s Great River Road is filled with a variety of fascinating Mississippi River fact and lore.  Photos, maps, charts!  All Volumes contain info on birding, wildlife viewing hotspots. Each highlights Geography, interpretive history and natural history attractions along the Great River Road.  SAVE $10!!!   Purchase ALL FOUR VOLUMES of Discover! America’s Great River Road… St. Paul, Minnesota, to Venice, Louisiana, individually signed by the author.   Four guides for $62.