Earth Day is nearly upon us. Each year we pause on April 22nd to think about ecology, climate change, preservation—survival. This past year, people the world over have come together around the protection of our waters, taking up the chant "Water is Life." Now as we think about the health of our planet, I invite you to consider the way we "story" water, the earth, the sky, and all the natural beings in the universe. In The Truth About Stories Indigenous writer Tom King asks, "Do the stories we tell reflect the world as it truly is, or did we simply start off with the wrong story?"
The Urban Ecology Center is pleased to announce the inauguration of the Brew City Birding Festival! This new event is a week-long bird-themed festival from Sunday, May 7th - Saturday, May 13th. Participants will have a chance to partake in field trips, lectures, family-friendly programs and activities, and bird watching opportunities.
Sunday's kick-off celebration includes a bird banding demonstration, bird storytelling, crafts, and live raptor viewing. These family-friendly events are prefect for novices and seasoned birders alike!
Our weekday programs feature field trips, lectures, and bird-themed programs appropriate for everyone, but focused on the more experienced birder.
The festival culminates on Saturday with our popular Green Birding Challenge fundraiser!
So, why are we doing this in May? Besides being the best time of year to view large numbers of birds in colorful plumage, International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) is celebrated every May. This year's IMBD theme is migratory stop-over sites and we are excited to highlight and partner with several local organizations to feature some of Milwaukee County’s most important migratory stop-over sites.
We're kicking off the Brew City Birding Festival with a morning full of fun activities! Observe live birds being banded, meet raptors live and up close, learn basic ornithology and more in this series of programs perfect for families and beginning birders. See the full list below and click on a program to register!
Raptor Educator Sara Sloan presents turkey vulture Tallulah. Photo: Schlitz Audubon Nature Center
Seth Cutright • Eagle Optics • Amberleigh Henschen • Lake Park Friends • Milwaukee County Parks • Milwaukee County Zoo • Milwaukee Public Library • Milwaukee Public Museum • Schlitz Audubon Nature Center • Becca Sher • Maria Terres • Wehr Nature Center • Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory
Our array of weekday events feature field trips highlighting important stopover sites in Milwaukee County and programs designed to help seasoned enthusiasts better their spring birding skills. Check out the full schedule of field trips and lectures below, and click the description to register!
This unique fundraiser is our way of celebrating International Migratory Bird Day with fossil fuel free counts perfect for advanced to beginner level birders. Each participant helps raise money for our Community Science program, providing students and the community opportunities to learn about birds and other members of the natural world.
In addition to promoting fossil fuel free birding, The Green Birding Challenge inspires friendly competition and encourages everyone to get outside to explore the wonders of resident and migratory birds in Milwaukee.
Green Birding Challenge Participants try to spot the most birds to win!
Gather a group and choose from the following three categories:
*A fourth team member is allowed for Soaring Eagle or Rockin’ Robin if they are a beginner level birder. Click here for descriptions and rules of the different challenge types. Note: The challenge types are updated for this year!
Choose your challenge, and gather your flock – whether you’re an experienced birder or just enjoy spending time outdoors with friends, the Green Birding Challenge has something for you!
Many folk tales, urban legends, and myths have led people to believe just plain inaccurate things about some of our wild creatures. Dragonflies were believed to be the Devil’s helpers by sewing naughty children’s eyes shut while they slept. Bats were believed to get tangled in people’s hair in the dark because of misconceived poor eyesight. And, ravens were thought to be premonitions of death. I’ve heard countless critter myths throughout the years, but one creature in particular continues to surprise me with its maligned status: cue the American Toad.
It is the season of showy butterflies, buzzing cicadas, crackling grass hopper wings and CRIKT research. Nope, that is not a typo. CRIKT stands for “Citizens Researching Invertebrate Kritters Together” and this research team at the Urban Ecology Center is leading the nation in its approach to field ecological research. “Invertebrate Kritters” refers to the vast array of animals found in the insect, spider and mite categories. Because invertebrates impact people in a variety of ways: pollinating crops, decimating crops and invoking some of our greatest fears or senses of awe, they have been studied quite a bit over the years. So what sets CRIKT apart? It is WHO is involved and WHERE they work.
A potent odor in Three Bridges Park recently led us to a dead skunk lying next to the Menomonee River. It rested, amazingly intact, on a sewerage outflow pipe lightly covered in snow. Whether he was the victim of hypothermia, winter starvation or a ravenous hawk remained a mystery, but whatever the skunk’s demise, it was clear that two weeks after he had perished, his scent still lingered.
Last fall at Riverside Park, the research and citizen science department was hosting the Wisconsin DNR’s bat biologists for an evening of bat mist netting, when a gregarious little screech owl paid us a visit. As DNR biologist Paul White held the large group of participants enraptured with a live bat, a persistent whinny in the distance distracted those of us at the back of the group.
When I think of the opossum, I think of a scrappy little character; tough, resilient, clever, and tenacious. In fact, one of my first memories of the opossum demonstrates its impressive adaptability. When tree hollows and brush piles provided inadequate shelter, the resourceful opossum sought shelter elsewhere - she would sneak in under our house's raised foundation and hunker down next to the hot water pipes beneath the bathrooms. There, she would build a comfortable bed of dry grass and stay till spring. And sometimes, when my family would take a shower or bath, you could even hear the scratching of little opossum paws against the water pipes, presumably acknowledging the relief provided by the warm plumbing.
The thing I enjoy most about working at the Urban Ecology Center is the occasional unforgettable experience I get to share with volunteers. They don’t happen every day, but sometimes Mother Nature waves her wand at a precise second and a really special moment is created. I’ve seen volunteers cry in reverence to close natural experiences and I’ve experienced the pure magic of nature more times than should probably be allowed. But last week a trio of beat cops shared with me a moment that was surely conjured by the powerful mother herself.
By now you have probably heard about the Riverside Park Beaver. He’s been chewing down Milwaukee River Greenway trees since the summer of 2014, has been featured on local news segments, has been written about in social media and blog articles, and even became the star of our recent Earth Month grant-matching campaign. But, how much do you really know about this busy beaver? You might be surprised to learn that this species is much more complex than one might think.
Thank you to everyone who helped make the 5th Annual Green Birding Challenge a success! 19 teams, comprised of both experienced and fledgling birders, participated in this year's challenge and observed over 100 distinct bird species in a fossil fuel free search around the city. Their efforts inspried more than 150 generous donors to pledge $8,000 for the Center's Citzien Science program. Wow! Read on for more fun facts and photos from the day's birding adventure!