The La Crosse Audubon Club has released its count for Christmas 2016… This year, we had 27 reports from 29 available sections and we also had 41 feeder counts. Conditions were poor, but we still were able to find just over 12,000 birds of 66 species. That included some great species that are normally unusual for this count. The best were a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and White- winged Scoters, but other unusual species included Northern Saw-whet Owl, Hooded Merganser, Red- breasted Merganser, Winter Wren, Northern Harrier, Fox Sparrow, Trumpeter Swans, and Golden Eagles. Great results on a tough day to count!! Effort-wise, we had 48 section counters and 45 feeder counters who contributed over 330 hours of effort. That is truly impressive and I want to say thanks again for your help with this year’s La Crosse Area Christmas Bird Count!!!
Feature story by Pat Middleton may not be used without written permission from Great River Publishing
Birders craving an excuse to “head on down to the river” during the months of December through March, take note! The major concentrations of American bald eagles in the entire continental U.S. now winter near the open waters at the Locks and Dams of the Mississippi River.
From Red Wing, Minnesota, to Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee, organized public eagle watches are celebrating one of our nation’s brightest environmental come-backs.
The American Bald Eagle is nothing if not resilient. In the 1960’s Rachel Carson drew attention to their devastating decline with her report that on the entire Mississippi River her counters found only 59 eagles. The effects of DDT, habitat destruction, and human persecution had taken a toll on a population, which once counted many thousands on the Upper River. The few remaining birds tended to winter near Union Dam in Keokuk, Iowa, where fish stunned by the turbulence and aeration of the water offered eagles easy foraging. Opposite Keokuk, along the Illinois shore, large trees, sheltered by the Iowa bluffs provided excellent perching and roosting sites.
Although DDT was banned in 1972, it wasn’t until 1985 that people started to notice a true increase in the eagle population. Pat Schlarbaum, at the time a Fish & Wildlife Specialist with the Iowa DNR, thought it was time to celebrate.
“The Keokuk Eagle Watch Days were really instigated as a celebration of the success of our wintering population of eagles,” Pat says. “We had no idea the notion would catch on along the entire river. The Keokuk Watch now features nearly 500 wintering eagles, volunteer spotters, donated binoculars and spotting scopes. It’s exciting enough to draw viewers from around the nation. In addition, the public lectures and presentations by DNR personnel, volunteers from Raptor Rehab Centers, and the Army Corps of Engineers have provided our agencies with an outstanding opportunity to educate the general public about raptors, our birds of prey. Volunteers bring not only live eagles, but owls, hawks, and even peregrine falcons to the presentations.” (continued below, Click CONTINUE READING)
Thank you to my favorite photographer for his first Tundra Swan alert:
“After a long and arduous wait the Tundra Swans have finally arrived in number on Pool 8 of the Mississippi River. (Usually I am busy photographing along the MS during the whole month of November, but not this year.)
Click this blue link to Read Alan’s Swan report for 2016.“
Enter Swans in the Search Box at the upper right to pull up historical arrival dates back to 2008! Interested in Eagles? Enter Eagles in Search Box… or anything else you are curious about!!
Happy Thanksgiving to all!
Reports of perhaps 1000 Swans resting off the Brownsville, MN, overlook. Saw about a dozen south of Goose Island at the overlook. Large numbers of Pelicans as well! Naturalists were available with spotting scopes. Thanks, folks!
A few days ago, my Tundra Swan search on the Mississippi River south of La Crosse came up empty. Today, small groups are out there south of Goose Island and most likely Brownsville, MN, as well.
If you spot Swans, let us know!!
For those who might be interested in a guided Swan watch, the La Crosse Audubon Society is offering a Swan watch on Sunday Nov 13 at noon. Here is the full story.
Today and the week to follow is a great time to explore the coulees, streams and river valleys, bluffs and trails of the Driftless Region of Western Wisconsin, NW Illinois, SE Minnesota and and NE Iowa!
Pelicans are mobbing up into great clusters of pristine white on the Mississippi River. Bald Eagles are abundant… we saw several pairs just hanging out in nests, enjoying the day as much as we were! Can’t say I’ve seen Tundra Swans as yet…which is fine with me as they remind us a frozen river is not far behind!!
The river has finally dropped a bit, so fishing has picked up. Fishing Barges and boat landings we saw were busy.
The Fishing report from Clements Fishing Barge: “November 3rd: Fishing has been pretty good for walleye and sauger. White bass are done and the perch scarce. Most fish are coming in on minnows or hair jigs. Guys are still using 1 oz jigs, water is still higher than normal, but fish are in.”
Enjoy the weekend!
Many of us have been watching the Decorah eagle cam for several years as we get an intimate look at life in the eagle’s nest. That site again is http://www.raptorresource.org/birdcams/decorah-eagles/
The two eagles born this year are just about ready to take flight, but years of observation and study at the nest has resulted in several detailed reports posted to the site on the Eagles we have watched grow up there.
For example, here is an eagle’s eye view of how our adult eagles differ in appearance, with a U Tube commentary from the Raptor Resource Center: https://youtu.be/5lARYcL5A50 Click to have a look. See also the history of Eaglets fledged in the last year, nesting behavior, and more!
Thank you, Greg Koelker for detailed report on Mississippi River Railroad Trespass Hearings. This is a significant issue for all of us along the Upper Mississippi River. If folks are not allowed to cross the railroad tracks. the trains which rattle our countryside constantly will also become a FENCE to separate us from the recreational resources we ALL love most about the river. It is worth paying attention to the discussions. ~Pat
Railroad Trespass Hearings by Greg Koelker
Some 200 hunters, fishermen, trappers, birders, snowmobilers, business owners, community leaders, government employees and other concerned Mississippi River recreation enthusiasts showed up to be heard by State Senator Jennifer Shilling, Tim Yager from the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Railroad Commissioner of Wisconsin, Yash Wadhwa at the De Soto Community Center and Stoddard Legion on April 22.
After introductions, Tim Yager informed the group that there has been investigation into 17 to 18 additional rail crossings along the Mississippi with good line of sight. He added that these could cost between $15,000 and $250,000 each. He said that the position of the USFW is that they want safe and adequate access to the over 240,000 acres of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge. The river is bordered by railroad tracks on both shores.
Dan Knapek of De Soto asked what percent of the railroad’s profit would it take to create the needed rail crossings. Commissioner Wadwa said there were already 26 possible crossings being investigated. They are looking to define all options and look into shared cost.
Long time member of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, Bill Howe of Prairie du Chien said, “The railroad’s desire to limit access entirely impacts the entire rail system in this country.” Howe called the railroad’s position, “…a great threat.” He added that 15 to 20% of railroads are not on their own lands.
Dan Trawicke of Waukesha, representing the Safari Club, said, “This is not just a Western Wisconsin problem.” He said that safety is a number one concern, but he added that it takes common sense. “Additional crossings are not the answer,” said Trawicke, “we have a constitutional right” to access those lands.
Greg Koelker of Stoddard said, “Safely crossing a railroad track is no different that safely crossing a highway. Look both ways and listen. Then cross if it is safe. Every first grader knows that.” He added, “. . . no amount of legislation will change the minds of suicidal people, drunks, idiots trying to beat a train, protesters of whatever, and especially not terrorists.” Koelker brought up the long tradition of using the tracks to access the river. “I grew up near Cassville and my dad and I would walk the tracks to access ice fishing sports on Bertram Lake. For years, our family members crossed the tracks to trap and hunt ducks and deer and even morel mushrooms. I used to cross the tracks at Shady Maple to ice fish with my family. I have friends who cross the tracks to hunt ducks out on peninsulas along the river. There is no other way to get to those waters for much of the year.” Koelker said he hears from legitimate sources that at least 50% of our legislators already support the change. He added that, “I understand that the Railroad Commissioner has the power to order placement of railroad crossings. I urge you to consider directing more pedestrian railroad crossings and to support changing the trespass law to allow direct crossing of the tracks.”
Marc Schulz of the La Crosse County Conservation Alliance said of the trespass issue, “There is no bigger issue regarding the river.” He added that greatests percentage of fatalities on the railroad happen at designated crossings. Schulz said that, “Young professionals come to western Wisconsin because of its natural resources.” He added that, “This is the people’s land and water.”
John Wetzel representing the Wildlife Federation said, “We need more state oversight. Minnesota has done that. He added that this isn’t just a Mississippi River corridor problem saying there are, “. . .hundreds of places in the state where this is a problem.”
Pat McCabe of De Soto said, “I have property on the other side of the tracks. I will not stop crossing.” He added, “I beg you make them (trains) slow down. Who are you going to call? (if there is an accident.)”
Guy Wolfe of Stoddard representing CARS-Citizens Acting for Rail Safety said, “There is a public trust doctrine law. We have a right to these waters.” He added that he has seen derailed cars on both sides of the tracks on “our property.” He urged people to photograph and report issues with the tracks and rail bridges. He said he feels that after reports about decaying rail bridges the railroad started enforcement of the trespass law. He said after letting the permit to repair the Coon Creek bridge at Stoddard expire, the railroad suddenly worked “24-7” to repair it. Wolf added that at least one bridge still in use along the river was built in 1867. He said, “We can’t afford to let (rail) bridges fail.”
Commissioner Wadhwa replied that, “The new fast act law requires that we put bridge inspection results on websites.”
Kirk Holliday of De Soto said that, “BNSF is making threats to the village sewer.” De Soto’s wastewater treatment plant is across the tracks on the river side. He added, “The government bails them (the railroads) out. They get billions to fix their problems and then they basically hold us hostage.”
Gary Moltert of De Soto told about railroad rolling stock that hauls Bakkum crude and ethanol. He said, “Double hulled tankers are safer. Canada is being very proactive enforcing this. Here investors have $80 to $90K in old tankers and the government allows them six years to replace them with safer cars.”
Commissioner Wadhwa replied, “We can’t do anything, but the feds and USDOT can.” He added that, “New tank cars constructed after 2015 and existing cars must be retrofitted and have an advanced brake system installed.”
Sherry Quamme, representing the Mississippi River Parkway Commission said that, “We’re concerned with Wisconsin issues for eight counties of the Great River Road . . . we want to see that there is legal pedestrian access . . . additional crossings are not the answer because it requires a large capital investment.”
Mike Collins of the La Crosse Snowmobile Alliance said, “We purchased a building across the tracks. We asked the railroad for a recreational crossing. We asked them for $6,000.” The railroad denied the request. Collins added, “They said it’s a safety issue. It’s not. It is straight and level for miles.”
Frank LeMay commented that, “Point of access changes won’t work because the river changes from day to day.”
Joan Wolfe of Stoddard asked about changing Act 179, “What’s the downside? Why wouldn’t the governor want to sign it?”
Senator Schilling said that, Assembly leader Van Wanggaard didn’t bring up the trespass law change proposed by 96th Assembly District representative Lee Nerison in the Assembly because, “Governor Walker would likely veto it and the Republicans in the legislature don’t want to be put in the position of overriding the governor’s veto.”
Phillip Hooker of Victory said that the railroad speed limit is too high. “It should be 45 mph max,” he said.
Monique Hooker of Victory expressed her concern about being able to do river cleanups, “The Friends of Pool 9 need to clean along the Mississippi and on the Wisconsin side. Students and volunteers need access to clean up the river banks. We have to look at the environmental issue and put your money where your mouth is.”
Ralph Knutson of De Soto said, “We need more rail inspections. There is no state accountability – no rail inspectors.” He added that, “The railroad is also interested in having only one person on a train to operate it to save money.”
Commissioner Wadhwa said that, “The federal safety board is taking comments on fewer crew.”
Senator Shilling added, “There is a bill in progress to improve emergency preparedness along the railroad and to train first responders to deal with (railroad) emergencies.”
A larger group attended the 1 PM session at Stoddard. More than half a dozen people said they had received trespassing warnings from BNSF officers. The railroad calls it, “ a public safety education campaign.”
Vernon County Sheriff John Spears asked those who received warnings if the officers were polite and courteous. They all replied, “No.” Spears who supports a compromise, told the Stoddard crowd that his deputies were not enforcing the law. “If anybody gets arrested, they’re not spending a night in my jail. That’s for sure,” he said.
Dick Jensen of Stoddard said, “It’s almost like that railroad track now is a fence.”
Richard Meyer of La Crescent, Minn. ““This whole situation has damaged the state’s reputation and the railroad’s,” he said. “People are furious.”
Mike Widner of Boscobel, “The only folks who will likely obey the laws are hunters, fishers and trappers.”
Stoddard Village President Kevin Gobel said, “The enforcement campaign started soon after rail safety groups and the village complained about the condition of BNSF’s bridges.”