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River Raptors (formerly Madison Green Team)

In a variation on the “Go Green” theme, captain Sumner Matteson, formerly of the Madison Green Team, has organized the River Raptors, that will travel Wisconsin’s rivers and streams by canoe and kayak during the months of May and June, tallying Wisconsin birds to raise money for the Natural Resources Foundation’s Bird Protection Fund.

Our goal is to raise $4,000 for The Bird Protection Fund in 2017.

We have 8 subteams (2 individuals each) who will be participating in 2017, with May or June dates of their canoe/kayak trips yet to be determined:

  • Sumner Matteson, bird biologist for DNR’s Natural Heritage Conservation Program, and  community organizer Nina Utne will bird the Kinnickinnic River in western Wisconsin. 
  • Sumner and Woodland Dunes communication and development coordinator, Nancy Nabak, will kayak the West Twin River in northeastern Wisconsin.
  • DNR biologists Andy Paulios and Mike Foy will tackle the lower Sugar River. 
  • DNR avian ecologist Kim Grveles and retired trucker Cherie Barnes will bird the Rock River.
  • Writer and naturalist John Bates and friend will cover the Manitowish River. 
  • Conservationist Charlie Luthin and Leopold biographer and crane advocate, Curt Meine will bird the lower Wisconsin River. 
  • Research scientist Robert Rolley with wife and conservationist Karen Mesmer will kayak the Baraboo River.
  • Naturalist Daryl Christensen and conservationists Karen Weiss, Kari Stauffer,and Mark Stauffer (also the top fundraisers and bird-finders of MuirLand Merlins fame) will bird the Fox River.

Conducting a “green” Birdathon has some benefits and drawbacks. We don’t get as many bird species as our gas-guzzling counterparts, but we may get more bird species per square mile of effort. And we have a wonderful opportunity to get to know our rivers and streams in a unique way.

Please donate today to help us reach our team’s goal of raising $4,000.

If you would like to make a per-species pledge, rather than a single donation to our whole team, please pledge to Sumner Matteson's page.

Where the money goes

Funds raised during the Birdathon will be directed to these projects:

  • Wisconsin’s Second Breeding Bird Atlas – Now in its third year, this is a vast citizen-based documentation of all of Wisconsin’s breeding birds, 22 years after the first atlas was initiated.
  • Wisconsin Bird Monitoring Program Surveys of shorebirds, owls, nightjars, and marsh birds.
  • Bird City Wisconsin – Initiative to deliver bird conservation and education resources to over 100 Wisconsin communities.
  • Wisconsin Stopover Initiative – Comprehensive coastal program to protect, manage, andenhanceresting and refueling sites for migratory birds.
  • Conservation of federally endangered Kirtland’s Warblers and Whooping cranes.
  • Southern Forests Initiative – Development of regional bird conservation strategies.
  • Protection of Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula – Manage and enhance wintering habitat for several Wisconsin bird species.
  • Local bird conservation and education activities across Wisconsin.

Special thanks to our official sponsor, Rutabaga Paddlesports LLC!

Birding the Kinnickinnic River for the Great Wisconsin Birdathon, 16 May 2017

By Sumner Matteson, The River Raptors

I awoke on 16 May to cloudy skies after a night of rumbling storms in the River Falls area of western Wisconsin.Windy, overcast, and cool (50oF at 6:00 a.m.), a planned river trip with fellow birdathoner Nina Utne was delayed by thunderstorms and reports of lightning in the area.

While waiting for Nina to arrive from the Twin Cities (about 40 minutes away) to our rendezvous spot at Glen Park, I birded the river’s edge and adjacent hardwoods.I picked up 20 species, including Tufted Titmouse, Great Crested Flycatcher, Pileated Woodpecker, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, but there were only two warbler species present, Nashville and Yellow-rumped, and I wondered about the paucity of warbler species I had seen thus far in spring, mostly in the Madison and Green Bay areas.

Finally, at 9:45 a.m., we were able to embark in our kayaks—mine donated to The River Raptors by Rutabaga Paddlesports LLC of Madison.

Leaving from the put-in spot just below the dam at River Falls, I was concerned that the delayed start meant fewer species recorded, but I also knew that we still had a band of showers (but no forecasted lightning according to Nina’s special AP on her smartphone), and potentially long-distance migrants with the storm, coming from the southwest, which might mean some good luck.

Across from our put-in spot was a limestone outcrop, and here 3-4 pairs of Northern Rough-winged Swallows were coming and going from rock crevices and openings, suggesting likely nesting.  Tree Swallows and a few Bank Swallows were also present.

I have never been to the Kinnickinnic River before, much less heard it talked about as a desired destination for birders (Daryl Tessen includes a reference to it in his Wisconsin’s Favorite Bird Haunts, Fifth Edition) but Nina knew it well and suggested a trip for The River Raptors and the Great Wisconsin Birdathon.  As we got underway, I was struck immediately by the pace of the water and the frequency with which we encountered shallow rapids.  Then, rounding the first and subsequent bends, it was as if we had entered Eden—fernand shrub-coveredhills and bluffs rose up around us as the river corridor narrowed.Trees were more dominant higher up the bluffs, especially along the ridge tops, where white pine stands were prominent.  Lower down, birch and especially ironwood and yew dotted the hillsides.  Lush stands of polypody ferns, walking ferns, and bulblet ferns grew on rock outcrops, and mosses wet from recent rains added a softness to the scene.  The overwhelming beauty of prominent rich greens dripping towards and surrounding our small kayaks was, and is, unforgettable.

We encountered intermittent rain showers down this Class I river, and as we did we began to experience mini-fallouts of warblers, dominated by Tennessee Warblers, American Redstarts, and Blue-winged Warblers.In fact, the two most commonly detected bird species throughout the 7.5 miles of river we kayaked, were Blue-winged Warblers and Tennessees, in that order.  We ended up with 20 warbler species in total, and the most rewarding and unexpected was a Worm-eating Warbler, heard apart and away from Chipping Sparrows—also quite numerous.  Another fine revelation was a lone Philadelphia Vireo, and four separate and widely spaced Louisiana Waterthrushes—likely breeding here.  The steep, shrubby hillsides and ravines reminded me of parts of the Baraboo Hills, and given what turned out to be miles of intact and undisturbed habitats (we saw only one ridgetop cabin), this gem of a “canyon” river offers an attractive breeding bird refugia in a wider agricultural landscape.

Nina observed bird species number 80—a sweeping Bald Eagle climbing above the river.  After 4.5 hours of kayaking and birding, we reached our take-out at a bridge on County Highway F.We ended the day with 85 species—not bad given our delayed start.  Other notable species present:Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Wilson’s Snipe (flying past us up-river), Common Nighthawk, Red-headed Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, and Evening Grosbeak.

The temperature at the end of the day—a warm and breezy 79 degrees.  As an aside, I would not recommend this trip to a novice kayaker or canoeist due to some sharp turns and occasional fallen trees in the beginning or middle of rapids, unless one fully expects to get soaked occasionally, which on a warm day may not be unwelcome.

Addendum from Nina:

It was a magical day indeed!  From the drama of the initially threatening weather, to the lush, encompassing greenness, to the fact that we had that stretch of the Kinni entirely to ourselves, other than encountering one fisherman standing midstream with his faithful golden retriever by his knee.  But most transporting to me was the privilege of witnessing Sumner’s multi-sensory perception of bird life.  I had never truly listened before and a whole new world began to reveal itself.  I remain in awe, with curiosity bubbling.

List of Birds Observed, 16 May 2017, Kinnickinnic River, Pierce County, 0945-1415 hrs, 7.5 mi

Canada Goose          Yellow-throated Vireo    Louisiana Waterthrush    Baltimore Oriole

Wood Duck                Blue-headed Vireo         Northern Waterthrush

Mourning Dove          Philadelphia Vireo         Blue-winged Warbler

Common Nighthawk  Warbling Vireo              Black-and-white Warbler

Sandhill Crane            Red-eyed Vireo             Tennessee Warbler

Wilson’s Snipe            Blue Jay                        Nashville Warbler

Spotted Sandpiper      American Crow            Common Yellowthroat

Great Blue Heron         Tree Swallow               American Redstart

Turkey Vulture              Northern Rough-winged Swallow    Cape May Warbler

Osprey                           Bank Swallow             Northern Parula

Bald Eagle                     Black-capped Chickadee        Magnolia Warbler

Sharp-shinned Hawk    Tufted Titmouse        Yellow Warbler

Red-shouldered Hawk  White-breasted Nuthatch       Chestnut-sided Warbler

Red-tailed Hawk            Brown Creeper         Blackpoll Warbler

Belted Kingfisher          House Wren              Palm Warbler

Red-headed Woodpecker  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher      Pine Warbler

Red-bellied Woodpecker   Golden-crowned Kinglet   Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  American Robin                 Wilson’s Warbler

Downy Woodpecker           Gray Catbird                       Eastern Towhee

Hairy Woodpecker              Brown Thrasher                 Chipping Sparrow

Northern Flicker                  European Starling             Song Sparrow

Pileated Woodpecker         Cedar Waxwing                  Scarlet Tanager

Eastern Wood-Pewee         House Sparrow                  Northern Cardinal

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher   Purple Finch                       Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Least Flycatcher                 American Goldfinch            Indigo Bunting

Eastern Phoebe                   Evening Grosbeak             Red-winged Blackbird

Great Crested Flycatcher   Ovenbird                             Common Grackle

Eastern Kingbird                 Worm-eating Warbler        Brown-headed Cowbird

Our fundraising goal: $4,000

$3,972 raised so far   $28 to go!