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Pat Middleton is the founder/publisher of the Mississippi River Home Page at www.greatriver.com and Great River Publishing which has produced quality river heritage and natural history books since 1987.

Charting Our Course

A note from map artist, Lisa Middleton
Friends,we are all charting the course day by day in this confusing time. It seems if we miss the news a single day, everything changes the next, and the world is upside down. Kudos to all of you who are staying home to save lives! My sincerest regards to those who are personally affected by COVID-19. Thank you to those in essential industries who keep the world turning at times like this.

Maps represent our human experiences, memories, and a thousand little stories of the ancestors who beat impossible odds to create the historical maps we hold in our hands today. Our current circumstances are no less difficult, and we can chart the course together, day by day.

What makes our Museum Quality Prints Special

Our maps are unique in the industry! You may have loved ones who had to cancel their vacation, or know of a young couple who had to cancel their wedding or honeymoon. Maybe there is a grandparent in your life who has to be alone in quarantine thousands of miles away from you. There is no better way to tell them you care than to send them a map of a memory, a family legacy or even their dream!

“In her hands, a torn black-and-white 1883 plat of Montana Territory blossoms into a vividly colored snapshot of what the land once was. It remains a map by definition, but by execution it is now an ornate showpiece fit for the living room wall, touched by an artist’s hand with its essential purpose still intact.”
Myers Reese, Montana Quarterly Fall, 2014

We invite you to browse our galleries of more than 400 antique, Mississippi River, East Coast, West Coast, and original custom designed map art at Great River Arts…. greatriverarts.com !! Enter a key word in the orange SEARCH BOX at the top of the map page to explore the cartographer, the year, region or title that is meaningful to you. We hope you enjoy this gift of art and history!!

Leucistic or “White Phase” Birds.

I have been thoroughly enjoying a conversation on the Wisconsin Bird network online list. The chatter just now includes quite a bit about leucistic birds in Wisconsin… apparently it all started when someone reported a leucistic pileated woodpecker that returns annually to the same area. This fellow, while mostly white, retains its red crest!

Leucistic Turkey Vulture

Every so rarely a genetic WHITE PHASE appears in animals that are normally not white (except as albinos). But leucistic birds (deer, bear, moose!) are not albinos, and they can have s matters of white and smatterings of more colored feather, fur, or skin.

Albinism is a condition in which there is an absence of melanin. Melanin is what is present in the skin and is what gives skin, feathers, hair and eyes their color. … Leucism is only a partial loss of pigmentation, which can make the animal have white or patchily colored skin, hair, or feathers

The pictures on this page show not albinos, but a “white phase” or leucistic variation of the various species. Unfortunately, things are never as easy as you think that they should be!

John, from Mercer, Wis., contacted a genetistic who added the following information:

The literature on albinism clearly states that there are different kinds of albinism, and that some albinos may show some color in their irises – often a light blue or gray. An animal can be a pure albino or a partial albino. The most critical factor in producing melanin, the organic pigment that produces most of the color seen in mammals and birds, is the presence of a special enzyme called tyrosinase – the “TYR” gene (google this for all sorts of technical treatises). If the TYR gene fails completely, an all-white, light-eyed albino animal will be born. However, the TYR gene can be altered in dozens of ways, producing other albino variations, such as albinos with light eyes but with some color on their fur.

What caught my attention in the conversation was a post from Maryland. She commented that most leucistic animals she hears about seem to come from Wisc., Minn, and the Northwest.

“Does anyone know why that is?” she queried. Numerous learned responses indicate that it is entirely genetic, and not more common in the North.

That got me thinking about some of theories that abounded about birds, white buffalo, deer, and other such white or “Spirit Creatures” in the early 2000s.

Then, popular theory seemed pretty settled that these “white phase” or “Spirit” creatures are expressing recessive genes that helped to protect the species during the ice ages. I saw data which I didn’t save which demonstrated how quickly dark mammals would turn white as the dark animals turned into prey and those with a recessive white gene began to multiply.

In Wisconsin, a northern game warden told me that in his life time, he’s heard of two white phase bear cubs… both in the vicinity of Superior, Wisconsin. Hmmm… makes sense. The same game warden has seen only one white phase sparrow… nearly 40 years ago. I saw a white English sparrow in our yard a few year ago.

I wonder if the white phases of various birds of prey are also expressing recessive genes related to living along the edge of glaciers? I’ve also heard of Mississippi River islands with concentrations of white phase muskrats, and white phase deer  I’d love it if you could share photos of your “white phase” creatures for use in a future feature article.

Anonomous Photo, White Phase Black Bear Cub, near Superior, Wisconsin

Above is a very rare “white” black bear cub photographed in the west. Also known as Kermode or “spirit” bears. Normally found only in areas where the recessive white gene was encouraged by small populations cut off from the larger populations, probably by glacier formations. The white gene would have been advantageous to bears living on the edge of the snowfields.

Pelican Watch!

Checked out the river yesterday for American White Pelicans. Some success! As I saw a small group doing their “string of pearls” south of Goose Island along Wis 35. Also a report from southern Wis so they should be here in large numbers soon!

Sandhill Cranes Across the State!

I have been checking the Wisconsin Bird Network frequently and seeing reports of Sandhill Cranes (and Trumpeter Swans) across the State since early February… in fact even in January! They may even have over-wintered in some few locations to south, as I heard a bit about last year!

Pool 8 of the Mississippi River
Beautiful POOL 8 Map Design by Lisa Middleton!
Click here to view map DETAILS.

“Your work is beautiful.  We ordered Pool 8.  It will look perfect above our mantel. As a plus – our home is near the center of the image. Could not have commissioned a better map!”
~Mark D., Pool 8

What I keep track of here however, is when we first see/hear Sandhill Cranes in our Pool 8 valley… and yesterday, March 8, was the first “hearing” of the year for us. It was very distant, however, and we haven’t “seen” them yet.

All other spring birds are being reported, and where there is still ice on the river, bald eagles are clustering. Nest sites are busy! No word of pelicans yet, but they follow very closely on the breakup of the ice! Happy Early Spring Birding!

Swans Arrive in Sauk County!

Sunday, February 23, 2020

It’s fun to know that others are celebrating our annual “Heralds of Spring” in the same way we do along the Upper Mississippi! This was posted to the WisBirdNetwork… A good two weeks ago I was hearing local reports that there were numbers of swans in open waters on the Mississippi as well. Some may have been TRUMPETERS as Wisconsin had many Trumpeter Swans overwinter. See post below about Trumpeters and lead pellets in the Twin Cities. Now back to our little swan celebration!!!

“At approximately 4:20 pm, two Swans landed at Bakkens Pond. My thought was 
that perhaps those two wintered in Wisconsin. Within 15 minutes, a 
wedge of 11 Swans was observed. Near sunset, there was another wedge with 
about 20 swans, but the angle of the sun prevented an exact count.Enjoy the coming of Spring!”
~~Sharon
Richland Center–Richland County–

Door County’s Surprising Icelandic Connection

Hand painted map of Iceland. Click image to order!

Washington Island’s Icelandic Heritage

I was truly surprised on a recent visit to Washington Island off the Door County Penninsula to learn that here was one of the largest concentrations of Icelandic heritage outside of Iceland! No wonder we sell so many of our Iceland 1906 maps! (Shown above, handpainted by Lisa Middleton.) Across Death’s Door, a different culture lives on in the community of Washington Island. 

I always love a good map story, and here is one that ties into our Icelandic heritage.. this is a letter to Iceland that literally had a map for the address. And by golly it found it’s way to the right person!

While Irish and German immigrants were the first to settle Washington Island in 1870 a group of four Icelandic men settled on the island, seeking to take advantage of the fishing and farming opportunities on the island. 

Chester Thordarson, an inventor and economist, brought new wealth to the community in the 1930s, and today that proud heritage lives on. Icelandic influence is still felt in the architecture, museums, names, and thick skin of the Islanders who call it home. Rock Island was a family retreat of the Thordarsons and is now Wisconsin’s Rock Island State Park. The only public transportation to the island is by the passenger ferry Karfi from Washington Island. Primitive camping is possible.

 If Wisconsin’s Door County is a favorite for your family, we think you’ll love Lisa Middleton’s historic 1878 Door County Map featuring the penninsula’s historic lighthouses. Click image too see more detail, or to purchase!

037 Door County with Lighthouse Inset 1878

Rain and More Rain!

Much of the central part of the country, along with the Lower Mississippi, is currently experiencing dangerous high water. See up to the minute status reports for American rivers by clicking on our INTERACTIVE FLOOD MAP. Black triangles indicate serious flooding.

Related categories are highlighted above this story. Click on a category above to see more stories from our massive archive!

This map is interactive and constantly updated by the USGS.

us

Looking for more great content, lots of river content available by clicking on any of the category links shown below the comments!

Trumpeter Swans die on Twin Cities Lake

I’m constantly amazed at the swan stories I’ve seen reported this winter as Trumpeter Swan populations increase on the upper Mississippi River. This particular story is a sad one. If you find a dead Swan, please make a phone call to your local DNR.

More than a dozen swans have died at Twin Cities lake

Lead poisoning is the suspected cause of death. FEB 4, 20

Screen Shot 2020-02-04 at 2.23.55 PM

Vadnais Lake Area Water Management Organization

Trumpeter swans continue to die of suspected lead poisoning at a lake in the Twin Cities metro area. 

Last year, 11 of the majestic swans were found dead at Vadnais Lake in Vadnais Heights. This winter, two additional trumpeter swans have been located deceased at the lake, including one on the lake’s north end/east side, and another at Sucker Channel. 

Sucker Channel is where the 11 birds were found dead last year. Four of those 11 were tested, with results positive for lead poisoning. The trumpeter swan found at Sucker Channel this week has been sent to the University of Minnesota Diagnostic Lab for necropsy and testing.

Vadnais Lake Area Water Management I Organization has a theory about how the swans are being poisoned

“Swans use their long necks to reach the bottom and pick up stones to grind food in their gizzard. Lead sinkers are just the right size for the job, so swans pick them up preferentially. Sinkers get ground up in their gizzard and incorporated into body tissue. These carcasses pose a risk to scavengers and pets that might feed on them.”

The group is urging the public to keep an eye out for more dead swans and for anglers to avoid using lead fishing tackle, instead opting for tin, tungsten, steel, glass and other non-lead alternatives. 

The dead swan on the north end of the lake cannot be safely retrieved, so it will stay there for the time being. Anyone who finds a dead swan is asked to report it by calling 651-204-6070

2019 Birding Updates, Many and Sundry!

TUNDRA SWANS are still in Wisconsin! Several reports from the Wisc. Birding Network indicate there are some 500 tundra swans on the ice and
Water at Madison’s University Bay. One of my favorite scenes is of Swans sliding on ice as they land. By contrast, I had my first report of Tundra Swans arriving at Chesapeake Bay on Nov. 19, 2019.

Sandhill Cranes are also extending their stay in various pockets in Wisconsin!  As of Dec 16  sandhill cranes were reported hanging out in the harvested corn fields near the intersection of Hwy 60 and Rainbow Road just NE of Spring Green, WI in Sauk County.Thank you Donald Maum.

Fred Lesher’s journals are available online at UW La Crosse Murphy Library digital Collection.  Paul and Bernadette Hayes and others have been working
to enter Fred’s extensive historical observations onto ebird.
For example, Fred found a Bewick’s Wren in the La Crosse area in April 1969
(see https://ebird.org/checklist/S34769360)
Scans of the original journals can be found at
https://digitalcollections.uwlax.edu/jsp/RcWebBrowse.jsp;jsessionid=DF2C5CF4
F102FD46DECBADEB4336CF54

Barbara Duerksen
Richland County, WI

SNOWY OWL UPDATE: I post new updates every 10-15 days during November and  I post new updates every 10-15 days during November and December. The latest is up on  2019-20 Update tab at: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/WildlifeHabitat/SnowyOwls.html
Ryan Brady Conservation Biologist, Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT
Dan Jackson, La Crosse Audubon Group

The La Crosse / La Crescent Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was held on Saturday, December 16th    For those who haven’t participated in the past, for the La Crosse CBC, we count all of the birds that we can find on the count day within a 15 mile circle that is centered on the La Crosse County Courthouse.  I divide the circle in 25-30 sections and individuals or teams are then responsible for covering a pre-assigned section on the count day (this year 12/16/17). Yes, we can use help each year to cover all the sections! Please contact Dan if you would like to be on the list for next year.

The Next BACKYARD BIRD COUNT is underway February 14-17, 2020
Here is a great opportunity to participate as a “Citizen Scientist!”  If you have never participated before, and are interested, see the GBBC website to get started and create an account, which you will need to enter data.
http://gbbc.birdcount.org/
Count birds anytime, anywhere, with eBird »

A Christmas Story for Birders….

The Christmas Bird Count has a rather fascinating tie to the Victorian Era and a tradition of the day in which Christmas was sometimes celebrated with a theme of dead birds. What the Heck?? I had many images of birds, both dead and alive in an old postcard collection. Here is what I discovered.

image

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!

christmasrobin

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