Feathers Will Fly

Great Wisconsin Birdathon participants race to count as many species as they can

Bill Hogseth, photos by Margo Dolan

I WOOD IF I COULD. Red-headed woodpeckers, like this one, are among the bird species declining in Wisconsin.
I WOOD IF I COULD. Red-headed woodpeckers, like this one, are among the bird species declining in Wisconsin.

The Chippewa Valley is home to some of the most diverse bird habitats in the entire state of Wisconsin. From the gigantic floodplain forests of the Tiffany Wildlife Area to the expansive oak savannas of the Dunnville Wildlife Area, the landscape in our backyard plays host to iconic birds such as bald eagles as well as threatened birds such as cerulean warblers. In recognition of these incredible natural resources, the Lower Chippewa River has been designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society.

When I was a kid growing up in Eau Claire, I had no idea the landscape of my childhood was teeming with biodiversity. It wasn’t until I returned as an adult, after I had studied ecology at Northland College, that I realized how special this area really is. Nowhere else in Wisconsin can you find the concentrations of rare species and ecosystems that you can on the Lower Chippewa River. Sadly, the tremendous ecology of the Chippewa Valley is an asset largely unrecognized and underappreciated by many who call this area “home.”

The fact that a few birders can locate more than 125 bird species in less than a single day is a testament to the immense conservation value contained within the Chippewa Valley’s fields, forests, and wetlands.

On Sunday, May 22, a few friends and I will set our alarms for 2am. Steve Betchkal, Anne Geragthy, and myself (we call ourselves “the Titmouseketeers”) will drive through the darkness and step out into the cool night to listen for owls and whip-poor-wills. Once the sun peeks over the horizon, we will crisscross the Chippewa Valley trying to find as many bird species as possible. We’ll scour the swamps, forests, bluffs, parks, savannas, ponds, and cities. Over the course of nearly 24 hours, our search will stretch over hundreds of miles across five counties, four state wildlife areas, several county parks, and one national wildlife refuge. In a single day, we hope to be able to find more than 125 bird species.

We will be part of the annual tradition that is the Great Wisconsin Birdathon. Participating teams raise money for each bird species they spot, and the funds go toward bird conservation. Since 2012, the Birdathon has raised more than $200,000 for projects such as monitoring mercury levels in loons and growing Wisconsin’s population of federally endangered whooping cranes.

The fact that a few birders can locate more than 125 bird species in less than a single day is a testament to the immense conservation value contained within the Chippewa Valley’s fields, forests, and wetlands. A person doesn’t have to travel very far from the city of Eau Claire to find habitat for nine threatened and endangered bird species, including Henslow’s sparrows, as well as 26 species of special concern, such as red-headed woodpeckers. Continued protection of habitats in the Chippewa Valley, funded through donations raised by the Birdathon, will help secure a future for the many threatened birds that nest here.

We hope that nature lovers across the Chippewa Valley will support our Birdathon team by visiting the Birdathon website at WIBirdathon.org and by pledging a donation to our team. Your contribution will be put to work for the benefit of the birds and the ecosystems they rely on.

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