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

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.”

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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!

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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

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.

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.

Save 40% until APRIL 26! Great Gifts for Mom, Dad, Siblings, Friends!

Save 40% UNTIL APRIL 26 on any of TWO of our $19.95 books at GREAT RIVER ARTS! Order on line and use the Discount Code FOLKS at checkout. (No other discounts apply) Order to 888-255-7726. Or Phone your Order to 888-255-7726.Steam Railroad 2 book gift set by Michael Gillespie

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Limited time offer: One Man's Treasure- Featuring Discover! America's Great River Road $1 Ebook Sampler! 


 

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Larger format FINE ART Prints (18×20 and larger) of ALL Lisa Middleton Maps are available for 40% off at greatriverarts.com when you use the code FOLKS, at checkout. PicMonkey Collage murals

This is an amazing opportunity for those who prefer a larger format of any map from Great River Arts. Only until April 26!! Check this out today! Or call 888-255-7726 to ask about having a CUSTOM MAP designed!


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215 The Ice Age Trail Map, Wisconsin Designed by Lisa Middleton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The  DRIFTLESS Region map (above) captures portions of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois anchored by the Mississippi River.

Its corollary is the ICE AGE TRAIL that follows the moraines of the last Ice Age from Door Count, Wisconsin, to the St. Croix River and Minnesota border.

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Pelicans! the 2nd of April, 2018

Had the pleasure of greeting several big mobs of Pelicans the day before another winter storm moves across the Mississippi River. In one swoop of the binocs, between Goose Island and the Stoddard Dike, I saw Pelicans in rich white circular clusters, our 8 Trumpeter Swans feeding in last year’s rice beds, and a large loose flock of migrating Tundra Swans in a sheltered open pond.. Also Lesser Scaup, a puddle duck easily recognized by its grey-white back coloring. My guess is that the Tundra swans recognized the front of incoming snow and stopped to rest. Didn’t see them today as the river was engulfed in a whiteout of snow and fog.  A good day to stay off the road!

For more on the recent history of pelicans on the river, CLICK HERE for our archive, or use the SEARCH box above.

Four Trumpeter Pairs Just North of the Stoddard Dike.

In March 2017, I watched a lone pair of beautiful Trumpeter Swans working the open water just above the Stoddard Dike. Today there were 4 pair!

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The Trumpeter Swan is a huge bird, with a wingspread up to 10 feet! But notice the very black bill which makes an almost perfect triangle and stretches right to the eye.

Image above is from the Trumpeter Swan society site. The society offers a detailed identification guide free if you CLICK HERE.

Image below is of a Tundra Swan, which is just slightly smaller and has a more curved bill and a light spot near the eye. Tundra Swans pass through in the Spring migration to the North, but will be seen in large groups. The Trumpeter, which was first established in Iowa in the last decade (I believe) now nests on the Upper River. Still very unusual to see.

D1045F73-408E-4790-84F9-8E2029A264C4-6632-000006C6C0F1FCE8  Tundra Swan Image for comparison.

 

Sandhills, Eagles, and Ducks Galore! March 1, 2018

crex-meadow-sandhill-11-copyBecause the Mississippi River is so reluctant to give up the ice this year, we probably have just this weekend where much of the river will still have ice. It opens up quite a bit during the day, and freezes over again at night. That means resident waterfowl and migratory birds are overlapping with gusto!



Easy to see 7 or 8 eagles at a glance around any open water. As of March 1, we were getting reports of Sandhill cranes widespread along the river. I always consider March 1 and early date, but might have to start thinking of it as normal! Amazingly, at least one group of March 1 arrivals had 23 sandhills flying overhead! Thank you, Marilyn and Laura for the early reports!

Oh, and Tundra Swans are also heading north again. Haven’t heard of pelicans yet, but expect them soon.

Winter Swans!

I just heard from the La Crosse Audubon group that there are four trumpeter swans in Perrot S.P, and 16 in the Whitewater Wildlife management area. ( Open water on the north side of 74, before you hit the pavement coming from Weaver.) Waterfowl are certainly creatures of habit, but, they aren’t pinned down! So keep your eyes open!
Thank you for the heads up, Pat Schmidt!



Images below and in header are found at the Trumpeter Swan society site.

6766D7B9-E03E-4AD0-8800-8BD68A0249B6-6632-000006C6A857921C  Trumpeter

The Trumpeter is a huge bird, with a wingspread up to 10 feet! But notice the very black bill which makes an almost perfect triangle and stretches right to the eye.

The society offers a detailed identification guide free if you CLICK HERE.

D1045F73-408E-4790-84F9-8E2029A264C4-6632-000006C6C0F1FCE8  Tundra