Birders! Mississippi Valley Conservancy needs your HELP! We are seeking volunteers to look and listen for birds to help determine presence or absence of declining bird species on different sites throughout southwest Wisconsin. Volunteers essentially would go to a site in early morning and make a list of any birds seen and/or heard. Sites vary between MVC nature preserves or private lands MVC is working to protect. These bird lists provide invaluable information will help to guide our restoration activities and prioritize sites with breeding populations of declining birds. If interested, email Abbie Church, MVC Conservation Director at firstname.lastname@example.org with your preference for habitat (forest, wetland, grassland); geographical interest (La Crosse County, Monroe County, anywhere, etc) and availability. We’re hoping to schedule site visits throughout May. Sites include woodlands, grasslands, and pastures in Trempealeau, La Crosse, Jackson, Monroe, Crawford, and Vernon Counties.
Our farm lies perched above a broad wetland valley. Back in the mid-80s I heard something we had never heard before, the unison calls of a pair of nesting sandhill cranes. When it was verified by our local conservation warden and by the University of Wisconsin, we could claim to have reported the first nesting pair of sandhill cranes in the La Crosse area in a very long time.
Since then, our neighborhood has maintain a spring “Crane Watch.” Some of those dates and comments appear below. For more recent years, please use the SEARCH button to see stories about the cranes! The quote at the end of this piece is one of my favorites from Aldo Leopold.
3/2/2011 “Eight Sandhill Cranes arrived TODAY, making their earliest arrival in our records. Ground is still frozen with several inches of crusty snow. ”
March 12, 2008 “3 Sandhill cranes fly over Goose Island near La Crosse.
March 11, 2007 “Sandhill Cranes on the islands off Goose Island Park south of La Crosse. Temps in upper 40s, two weeks after record snowfalls in Western Wisconsin, so lots of snow on the ground. March 12 the cranes are reported along Coon Creek and other valleys off the Upper Mississippi River.”
Feb 23, 2005 (a good two weeks earlier than normal!)
March 15, 2003
March 13, 2002
March 13, 2001
March 1, 1998
March 10, 1997
March 13, 1996
March 18, 1993
April 4, 1992
March 9, 1988
March 17, 1987
Excerpt from A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
“The sadness discernible in some marshes arises, perhaps in their once having harbored cranes. Now they stand humbled, adrift in history.
“Someday, perhaps in the very process of our benefactions, perhaps in the fullness of geologic time, the last crane will trumpet his farewell and spiral skyward from the great marsh.
“High out of the clouds will fall the sound of hunting horns, the baying of the phantom pack, the tinkle of little bells, and then a silence never to be broken, unless perchance in some far away pasture of the milky way.”
–Aldo Leopold, Marshland Elegy
Bald Eagles clustered… sometimes as many as 12 in close proximity… fishing along the edge of melted ice sheets. My guess is that as the ice melts, fish carcasses are released to make an easy meal for our favorite scavengers! At one spot, I quickly counted 12 eagles and then left uncounted a much larger cluster of fishing and flying eagles just beyond.
Prairie du Chien had their annual Eagle Days this coming weekend, March 5, .Ferryville offers theirs. Eagle days are an excellent time for visitors to have access to expert guides in accessible spots in our small town communities!
It was hard to imagine that our Sandhill Cranes would let a 50 degree day slip by without making a run for Wisconsin, so we made it home by 5 to form a welcoming committee. Sure enough, a single crane came in by 5:15 pm. Like the last crane to leave the valley in October, this first arrival was mostly focused on finding out who might already have arrived. Its calls were constant as it moved eastward from the river, but no responses as yet. By March 13, most of our local birds will be settled in and claiming their nests.
I have to say this was the first time in 15 or 20 years of crane watching that I have been so confident the cranes would show up that I have literally set up a lawnchair to wait for them!! What a wonderful river valley to call home! You can find a HISTORY of Sandhill Crane arrival dates I’ve recorded in a near-by post. Use the SEARCH option to find previous posts on Eagles, Pelicans, and Sandhill Cranes along the Mississippi River!
So 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 in 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!
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!
What could possibly be the connection Victorians saw between dead birds and Christmas?!
Please comment! Come back before Dec 19 to see my tie-in!
“It is an illustration of the song/nursery rhyme, ‘Who killed Cock Robin?’ Not very christmassy, I agree.”
“It also might have something to do with the Wren King parades in the UK that happen around Dec 26. They used to parade with a real dead bird, but I believe they use a fake bird now. Maybe some connection…
Anyone out to enjoy the last vestiges of fall color along the Upper Mississippi River might enjoy keeping a pair of binocs handy. Some of our larger raptors and waterfowl are on the verge of departing the area and it is a great opportunity for viewing relatively large congregations of Egrets, Great Blue Herons, American White Pelicans. Small groups of Tundra Swans are filtering onto pool 8 and likely pool 7 already. Please comment as to where you are seeing swans.
Eagles are also abundant as the summer and winter Bald Eagles make the winter switch. Our summer residents are soon leaving for permanently open water closer to the mouth of the Ohio, Eagles from the north are moving down to their hunting snags located at the pools. Are you seeing a Golden Eagle? It’s possible!
Saw 14 Eagles flying between Hwy 35 and a bluff top near Genoa on 10/29/15. Others have also reported seeing large and small clusters. Listen for their chittery calls as they interact!
Please use the Search option at the top of the page to read more from our RAMBLIN’ ON Blog about Tundra Swans and Eagles on the Upper River.
Perfectly gorgeous Fall weather…with day-time highs in the lows 60s… should continue for another week and a half into October. Get out and enjoy! Color will make a steady march south for the next several weeks. Hardwoods (hickories, maples, and finally, oaks) have begun to illuminate the bluffs! Red, and sugar maples (yellow), love the southeast facing slopes near Lansing and Mc Gregor, Iowa.
Check out the march of color in the next post. Call hotlines ahead or check online for best color in the 10 Mississippi River states!
A few bright yellow aspens and birch still have their leaves, and hickories are sporting some orangish brown. The last leaves to drop are the oaks, so once the bluffs turn a rich uniform brown, we know the color season has nearly ended. Softwoods in the river bottoms are steadily losing leaves that never become really brilliant.
Additionally, Hummers are gone, and Sandhill cranes departed our valley. Pelicans have gathered up along the river and look like heavy clumps of pure white snow. Egrets and Great Blue Herons are still on the backwaters. Duck hunting is in full swing and adult American Bald Eagles are abundant! Color is great, but lots more to see along your route!
Another great update from Dan Jackson, La Crosse, WI. I will add that I saw my first hummer this morning!
The floodgates opened over the weekend when the winds changed to come from the south and bird migration really increased. Many new species were reported in the area including Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Grey Catbirds, Baltimore Orioles, Shorebirds, Vireos, and about 10 species of Warblers. The next couple of weeks should be wild!!
Steve Houdek reported a huge flock of shorebirds north of Winona:
For the traveler- hundreds of shorebirds (maybe 500+) present at Whitewater Wildlife Management Area about 15 miles north of Winona and 2-3 miles west on MN Hwy 74… This included both Yellowlegs, Pectoral, Least and other Sandpipers…area is drawn down and burned…lots of excellent mud flat
I also had a nice diversity of shorebirds at a pond on the north side of Hwy 162 between Stoddard and Chaseburg (opposite Wing Hollow Road). This included both Yellowlegs, Pectoral, Least & Spotted Sandpipers, Wilson’s Phalarope and Snipe, Short-billed Dowitcher, and Killdeer. There are lots of mudflats at Goose Island and many shorebirds were seen there too!!
This is a great time to get out and enjoy the birds!
Dan Jackson, President
Coulee Region Audubon Society
La Crosse, Wisconsin
Seeing lots of American White Pelicans all this week on the river between Stoddard and La Crosse, WI. No doubt,they are abundant up and down river as well. Look for large groups of “snowballs” clustered near shallow water. Let us what you are seeing!
My observation this year is that the spring migration of Tundra Swans represented a truly significant population moving north up the river. Viewing from the Wisconsin side of the river, swans were visible in great numbers against the Minnesota bluffs. I didn’t get over to Brownsville this year, but the viewing must have been excellent. In the first many years, the swans moved through in small clusters, often barely noticeable. No longer!!