Nature Notes: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
By Dan Scheiman, Visitor Engagement Specialist
On Saturday, December 16, I participated in the Ephraim Christmas Bird Count. As a new Wisconsin resident and Ridges employee, it was my first time on this count, which has been going on for 60 years as part of an annual community science program, now in its 124th year.
For Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC), volunteers count all the birds they see and hear within an established 15-mile diameter circle. When done year after year, in circles across the Western Hemisphere, it adds up to a big picture of how bird populations are doing in winter. It is a wonderful way to contribute to bird science and conservation.
My wife Samantha and I had the pleasure of accompanying long-time birder and Ridges volunteer George Cobb in the morning. He’s been doing this CBC for many years and knows the hotspots to hit. We started at Baileys Harbor Ridges Park, where, despite the wind and waves, we managed to identify two White-winged Scoters. It’s the 6th record for this circle of a sea duck that normally winters far offshore. Off Anclam Rd. we found another nice surprise, three Trumpeter Swans, which have largely headed south for the winter; the 2nd record for this circle.
Along the trail at Toft Point, a Bald Eagle perched on the nest closest to the parking lot. I pished (mimicked an alarm call by saying pssh-pssh-pssh) at some chickadees and kinglets, causing a Winter Wren to pop up. Despite its name, this species does not normally spend the winter here (3rd record). Further north on North Bay we counted over 200 Tundra Swans. Seven Sandhill Cranes were still lingering (4th record) along with a very late female Northern Pintail, a first for this circle! Later there were two more cranes in a farm field on Q.
Besides scanning the lake, another way to find concentrations of birds is to look for feeders and fruiting trees. A yard east of Mud Lake was bustling with Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, Cedar Waxwings, and American Robins. For the last couple of hours Samantha and I cruised county roads to tally open country birds like American Kestrel, Wild Turkey, and Mourning Dove.
After dinner we walked the road by our apartment and called up an Eastern Screech-Owl; another first for the count! We ended the day with 37 species for our section of the circle. But it’s not just about how many species we tallied, or even the exciting, rare birds. It’s important to count all birds, even the common ones like Canada Geese and Black-capped Chickadees, so we can track how their populations are doing too. I may be new to the area, but I’m already aware of how climate change is making it easier for more species to linger longer and in larger numbers through the season. Some will benefit, but as climate and ranges change, more species are at risk of extinction.
That’s why we at The Ridges are researching ways to protect the plants and animals on the property now and into the future. If you want to help with monitoring efforts, including by participating in the Ephraim CBC next year, contact Director of Research Tony Kiszonas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan Scheiman comes to the Ridges from the National Audubon Society, where he served as Bird Conservation Director in Arkansas for 18 years. Dan and his wife Samantha recently relocated to Door County, and spend their time enjoying the outdoors and exploring the peninsula landscape.
At the Ridges, Dan serves as a point of contact for visitors, sharing his knowledge about birds and nature and their connection to conservation. Dan can be reached at Dan@ridgessanctuary.org.