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

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

 “Mike’s Railroading books are for people who love to immerse themselves in the days of Steam. They are colorfully written, well-edited and take one through a gamut of emotions. You will read them more than once!”   ~ Purchaser comment

 

This is a great opportunity also to Purchase all FOUR of our DISCOVER! AMERICA’s Great River Road series and SAVE 40% over the regular individual pricing! 1000+ pages of fascinating information about the Heritage and Natural History of the Mississippi River. A first class collection for Traveler and resident alike by River Author, Pat Middleton. Order on line at Great River Arts and use the discount code FOLKS or phone 888-255-7726 to order by April 26!  We have never made an offer like this!  Save more than $30! 

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


 

 Lisa New Logo

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!


SPECIAL MAP OFFER for our river buffs:  Purchase 2 of our newest custom designed maps and save 40%.  Get BOTH MAPS for just $35.  This is a special $62.50 value from Great River Publishing! Available by phone only.   888-255-7726DRIFTLESS AREA

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.

Perfect for Dad, a brother or other MAP buff in your family! Or keep one for yourself! Each map includes extensive historical and geologic notes.


 

How Fun is This? Cruising on the River Steamer, African Queen

African Queen Key Largo

How fun is this? The actual little river steamer from the movie, AFRICAN QUEEN, with Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart is docked in Key Largo, Florida at Mile Marker #100.



I was able to take the helm and pilot it during most of our cruise, and the gentle put-put of the engine and its “naked” operation was a huge delight. The boat itself celebrated its 100th year in 2012. It has been fitted with an 1880s steam engine and is available for short sightseeing and Dinner cruises through the canals of Key Largo and out into the Key Largo Sound.  It only carries a maximum of 10 people, there were 4 of us on our little excursion!

The iconic vessel was made famous in the 1951 movie of the same name and she still remains a timeless classic. This famous steamboat is available for daily canal cruises and dinner cruises in the Port Largo Canal area and also for private events. 54BE53F1-6C83-4CF9-8163-95498905E7DA   Engine and today’s diesel boiler.

A LITTLE HISTORY: The African Queen was built in Lytham, England in 1912 for service in Africa for the East Africa British Railways company. She was used to shuttle cargo, missionaries and hunting parties across the Victoria Nile and Lake Albert which was located on the border between the Belgian Congo and Uganda.

In 1951 she starred in the famous movie directed by John Huston. Afterwards she remained in service in Africa until 1968 when she was brought to the United States working in San Francisco, Oregon and Florida. She has been the pride and joy of  Key Largo since 1982, where she is registered as a National Historic site and in 2012 celebrated her centennial year.  Below is a video of the steam engine. It should be horizontal, not vertical!

It has been fitted with an 1880s steam engine and is available for short cruises through the canals of Key Largo and out into the Key Largo Sound.  Below left shows the steam engine and boiler (diesel). I also tried to insert a video of the engine operating.

 

CONTACT:  PHONE: 305.451.8080  Website: africanqueenflkeys.com  There is a lot of interesting info on the boat, the movie, and the history of its service in Africa!

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If the Florida Keys is one of your favorite places, check out our hand-painted historic and custom designed maps of Florida available for purchase or viewing by clicking HERE on our FLORIDA FINE ART MAP site!

Everyglades LR

Everyglades LR

Find the Everglades, all five coasts of Florida, and beautifully painted historic hand-painted historic and custom designed maps of Florida by clicking HERE on our FLORIDA FINE ART MAP site! 

Use the SEARCH BOX at Great River Arts to search ALL our extensive collection of Fine Art Maps from across the country and the world!! 

Exploring Lake Superior’s North Shore!

Enjoy exploring Lake Superior’s north shore through the eyes of our map artist and the early explorers! Thank you, Courtney for writing us! See maps at www.greatriverarts.com   Entire map title or region in a Search Box.

5 out of 5 stars
“I’m absolutely in love with these maps! My fiance and I purchased these to go along with pictures we took while visiting the boundary waters and these maps are the icing to the cake!”   Courtney

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Boundary Waters, custom artisan design by Lisa Middleton

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Custom map by Lisa Middleton  A fun combination of past and present!

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Carver’s historic map of his travels includes so many historic notes… and the Grand Portage is carefully noted by extra large dots!

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The Gunflint Trail includes lots of local landmarks which will have you remincing about when you went where and with who!

Lisa’s maps are available all along the Gunflint Trail and at many better gift shops along Hwy 61… or visit www.greatriverarts.com and search for Lake Superior maps!  Have fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tundras Arriving; but Later and in Lower Numbers

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!

Rail Trespass Law Hearing, Stoddard, WI. Continued.

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.”

 

Fall Color HOTLINES along the Mississippi River

Fall Foliage Hot Lines from greatriver.com

It’s fall and few locations in the country offer the same natural beauty as the easel-like bluffs of the Mississippi River Valley. We’ll keep you posted on color hot-spots as the season progresses, but you will also find the following sites and hotlines of interest. Peak color periods for each state are noted in paragraphs.

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.

 

 

WHAT’S NEW ON WWW.GREATRIVER.COM ?

 

Now Available! Quality 5×7 photo note cards featuring fall  color on the Mississippi River. Visit our online bookstore to see more options!

Return to www.Greatriver.com and the Mississippi River Home Pag!

 

 


 

 

Monarch Butterflies Migrate Along the Mississippi River…Destination, Mexico!

Bellevue State Park Butterfly Sanctuary

Bellevue State Park, near Bellevue, Iowa, just south of Dubuque, is located atop a 300-foot high limestone bluff with panoramic views of the Mississippi River valley and Lock & Dam 12. It also shelters the largest Butterfly Garden in Iowa.

The Garden Sanctuary for Butterflies contains over 100 separate plots, each featuring plants which provide nectar for adult butterflies and/or host plants for caterpillars. Pathways allow visitors to enjoy the wide variety of butterflies and flowers. An area has been established next to the garden to allow close-up viewing of the butterflies.

According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, butterflies found in Iowa are either in the process of migration or are completing one of the various stages of their life cycle. Approximately 60 species of butterfly can be expected to make their appearance at the Butterfly Garden each year. Host plants for butterflies include wild aster, ragweed, goldenrod, lamb’s-quarters, daisy fleabane, milkweed, cottonwoods, wild cherry, hackberry and willows.

ALMANAC, August 3,  MONARCHS IN THE CEDAR TREE
c Pat Middleton. May not be reproduced or used in any format without permission.

beautiful monarch cluster DAVE COLLINS IMAGE

beautiful monarch cluster DAVE COLLINS IMAGE

The gentle shift to fall is palpable around us. The sun sets southward, over the neighbor’s pathway, rather than behind the northern bluffs. Geese fly from cornfield to cornfield in great flocks. 64 degrees today, 40 tonight. We gather firewood.

For the second year in a row, a swarm of Monarch butterflies have set up camp in the old cedar in the side yard. They hang motionless from the branches–like dull brown seed pods–until a late-comer flutters by. Then all gently beat their orange-colorful “hello” and “where’ve you been” until the traveler, too, is accommodated comfortably to its own berth for the night.

September 6, 2015  Each night this week we have had a single Monarch roost in the old Cedar tree and we remember how we once saw 100s. It takes our nightly guest a long time to settle in… perhaps it too “remembers” that there should have been more of his fellows here…

Along the Mississippi by Ruth Nissen, Wisconsin DNR

Monarchs Ready to Head South

About this time of year we begin to notice more monarch butterflies fluttering in the wind and congregating (or staging) in areas where bountiful supplies of nectar are available.

But what isn’t readily apparent is that those butterflies are moving with a purpose and direction. Every year, in late summer and early fall, millions of monarch butterflies from the Eastern United States and Southern Canada find their way to Central America. This is a journey of more than 2,000 miles from the Upper Mississippi River.

The monarchs are heading to the Transvolcanic Mountain Range, located west of Mexico City, to spend the winter. They gather there in huge colonies of tens of millions of butterflies, literally hanging from fir trees in clusters so thick they look like bundles of dead leaves.

The butterflies arrive in November and remain largely inactive until undertaking the return trip north in mid-March. How they find their way is a mystery because the monarchs that leave Mexico in spring are at least three generations removed from those that will make the journey back in the fall.

Monarchs leaving the wintering areas migrate 800 miles to the Southern United States, where they lay their eggs. The next generation on monarchs continues the northward migration to the upper United States and Canada. This continued movement north is necessary because southern milkweed plants die out in June. Two to three more generations are produced during the summer before the monarchs begin to flutter their way back to Mexico.

About 12 wintering sites have been identified in this mountain range of central Mexico. The monarchs are attracted to the high altitude fir forest of these sites because the combination of temperature, humidity, and wind velocity create the conditions essential to their survival. The canopy of the fir trees also protects them from large temperature fluctuations and winter storms.

Unfortunately, monarch experts say bad weather is not the greatest threat to the butterflies. As is the case in other forested areas, habitat destruction by humans is a much more serious concern. A monarch reserve has been created by the Mexican Government, but the reserve on includes five of the known wintering sites. In addition, logging pressure is heavy on 75% of the reserve area. Logging affects the microclimate to such an extent that either the monarchs may not use the site, or if they do, their survival over the winter is dramatically impacted.

In order to insure that the phenomenon of migration doesn’t disappear, it is very important that humans find some way to work together to preserve the livelihood of the local people in the wintering sites, which in turn would lower the economic pressure on the monarch reserve.

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Along the Mississippi is an ongoing series related to the Mississippi River. Articles are prepared by officials with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and comments can be directed to the DNR office in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

 

Sandwich Islands, Mexico, Central America, Caribbean, West Indies1878

DESTINATION MEXICO!!

    We’ve recently added this section for those who wish to follow the Monarchs to Mexico. The most visited sanctuary is El Rosario, and the best place to base yourself is the town of Angangueo, an old mining town. Seeing the butterflies, so thick that they sometimes BREAK tree branches (!) will require hikes of up to three hours, though it is not a strenuous hike. It is recommended that visitors hire a local guide or travel with a guided tour group.

If you travel independently:
If you approach from Brownsville, the first important city you will reach will be Ciudad Victoria, capital city of the state of Tamaulipas. By continuing on south you will cross the Tropic of Cancer at Jaumave, and at every mile you will notice more and more butterflies which often take the attention of even the disinterested tourist. At CiudadMante you will be at the very foot of the Sierra Madre Oriental range. Just south of Ciudad Mante the highway divides — one route goes to Tampico on the coast; the other veers southwest into the mountains towards Mexico City. Be sure to choose the latter route for best butterfly viewing. This route takes you to Nuevo Morelos and CiudadValles, and there is good butterfly viewing all the way from here down to Tamasunchale.

Our guided tour itinerary will give readers and idea what to expect from a journey. Looking for a good organization to travel with? Search the Internet and also have a look here.  Natural Habitat World Wide Tours offers tours (you guessed it!) world wide.

Rosario / Angangueo
From Mexico City, travel through the central highlands to the picturesque mountain village of Angangueo. The nearby Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary offers your first encounter with the king of the butterflies. The path is groomed, but sometimes fairly steep, trail with convenient benches for occasional rests. At the epicenter of millions of monarchs cover the tall oyamel and fir trees! Mexico’s sanctuaries may be the only places in the world where you can actually hear butterflies’ wings beating. Many Mexicans still hold the Aztec belief that the souls of the dead are reborn as monarchs.

Chincua / Angangueo
The Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary offers a second memorable experience with the monarchs. For those who choose, horses are available for this excursion. As Carlos Gottfried, president of Mexico’s Monarca A.C., says, “When you stand in a monarch sanctuary, your soul is shaken and your life is changed.” In Chincua, we ride our horses most of the way then walk down into the area of high butterfly density.

Piedra Herrada Sanctuary / Toluca / Mexico City
Relax in luxury at the luxurious Hotel Avandaro Spa & Resort in Valle de Bravo. A visit to the Piedra Herrada Sanctuary is the newest spot opened for viewing the monarchs. Once again, horses take us most of the way and we then walk, often through thick vegetation, to the spot where the butterflies are located. This area is “wilder” than the other two sanctuaries and often provides a more remote nature experience. During your return trip to Mexico City, stop in Toluca, originally an Indian settlement dating back to the 13th century.

 

Information: The El Rosario Sanctuary is accessible from either Angangueo or Ocampo. Angangueo is approximately 115 kilometers from Morelia and 205 kilometers from Mexico City.

When to Go: August through October