Wisconsin Society for Ornithology to mark major milestones with rededication of Wyalusing monument

WSOLogoClr216x216aWisconsin Society for Ornithology to mark major milestones with rededication
of Wyalusing monument, awards for 4 Passenger Pigeon honorees
and 3 Bird City Wisconsin communities

Prairie du Chien, Wis. – (April 29) -- The 2014 convention of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology will mark two significant milestones: the Society’s 75th anniversary and the centenary of the demise of the Passenger Pigeon.

The convention will be held May 15-18 in Prairie du Chien – at the heart of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, which spans 200,000 acres and supports more than 270 species of birds.

A major focus will be the 2,628-acre Wyalusing State Park, with its somber 67-year-old monument to the Passenger Pigeon high on a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. The monument will be rededicated in a public ceremony at 9:30 a.m. Saturday May 17 organized by WSO and the Friends of Wyalusing State Park. Dr. Stanley Temple, senior fellow at The Aldo Leopold Foundation, will be the speaker.

A major restoration effort of the monument was led by Temple and WSO, linked to observance of the centenary of the Pigeon’s extinction.

The convention will also include a second ceremony beginning at 6:30 p.m. Friday May 16 at The Barn Restaurant, 32800 County Rd. K, Prairie du Chien. WSO will present four of its annual Passenger Pigeon awards, and Bird City Wisconsin will salute Prairie du Chien, Ferryville and Darlington for their commitment to making their communities healthier for birds and people.

Representatives of all three will be on hand to receive Bird City flags, plaques and street signs marking their conservation efforts. Bird City has recognized a total of 81 cities, villages, towns and counties statewide since 2010 and draws its major support from the Bird Protection Fund of the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin.

Being honored for their service to bird conservation and education are Bettie Harriman of Oshkosh, William Mueller of West Milwaukee, Greg Septon of Franklin and Chuck Sontag of Manitowoc. WSO has presented its awards since 1940 and named them in memory of the Passenger Pigeon, a now-extinct bird that once flew over Wisconsin in such numbers that their passage would darken the skies. The last Passenger Pigeon died in 1914 after habitat destruction and market hunting led to its demise.

“These award winners have each worked to help ensure that Wisconsin’s birds will continue to thrive,” said Carl Schwartz of Fox Point, WSO president. “They have devoted their lives to birds that enrich our environment, sing in our forests, soar over our cities and feed in our backyards.”

On Saturday evening, May 18, the convention will conduct a silent auction and banquet featuring the premiere of the documentary film “From Billions to None — The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction.” On hand will be Temple, who is leading Wisconsin’s Passenger Pigeon observance, and David Mrazek, the film’s producer/director/writer, who has been responsible for numerous prime-time national PBS series, including programs for POV and The American Experience. WSO supported production of this film.

Proceeds from this year’s auction will go to the Friends of Wyalusing, the Mississippi Valley Conservancy and the Natural Resources Foundation’s Bird Protection Fund.

The convention also includes Thursday and Friday all-day bus and car-caravan field trips to explore different habitats and southwestern Wisconsin’s bird diversity. The bus group will spend a day in Iowa, including time aboard a special boat plying the birdy nearshore backwaters of the Mississippi River. The car caravans will travel along the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers, and venture further east to such spots as Gov. Dodge State Park and the native prairies of southwest Wisconsin.

Walkup registration for the convention is available beginning at 3 p.m. Friday May 16 and 10:45 a.m. Saturday May 17 at The Barn Restaurant. The registration fee is $40. Details are available at http://wsobirds.org

On Saturday afternoon, WSO will hold its annual meeting and election of officers, followed by presentations focusing on habitat management projects and species recovery efforts that have advanced bird conservation in Wisconsin.

Additional background on the award winners:

Bettie Harriman, retiring editor of the society’s Passenger Pigeon journal and a member of WSO’s board of directors for more than 20 years, will receive the Samuel D. Robbins Lifetime Achievement Award, which was initiated in 2000 to honor individuals who have actively contributed to WSO above and beyond having received both the Silver Passenger Pigeon Award for service to WSO and the WSO Certificate of Achievement, for continued service to WSO.

William Mueller, director of the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory along Lake Michigan near Belgium, will receive the Silver Passenger Pigeon Award, which is presented to members for distinguished service to the society. He is past chair of both the conservation and education committees.

Greg Septon, who has directed the urban Peregrine Falcon recovery effort in Wisconsin for the last 26 years, will receive the Noel J. Cutright Conservation Award, formerly known as the Green Passenger Pigeon. It has been renamed to honor the well-known and beloved ornithologist who died in November.

Dr. Charles Sontag, professor emeritus in biological sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Manitowoc and a lifelong analyst of migratory bird patterns along Lake Michigan, will receive the Bronze Passenger Pigeon, which honors individuals who have made outstanding contributions in their local communities or in the state to promote the field of ornithology.

Harriman, a life member of WSO, joined the WSO board as publicity chair in 1992 and served in that post until 2003 when she took over as editor of WSO’s quarterly journal. Harriman also served as the unpaid project director for the first Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas from 1994 to 2006 and was one of three editors of the atlas book. She was elected vice president of WSO in 1993-’95 and president in 1995-’97.

Outside of WSO, Harriman has been a member of the American Birding Association since 1984 and served on its board of directors from 1999 to 2007. She was vice president from 2002 to 2006 and board president in 2007.

Mueller served on the WSO board for over a decade. In 2003, he was named to chair the Conservation Committee, and did so until taking over the Education Committee in 2012, serving there for an additional two years. Mueller currently is director of the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory and has led the planning team for Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II, which is scheduled to launch in 2015.

Mueller also made “A Long Walk for Birds” in 2013, walking from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River as part of the Great Wisconsin Birdathon and raising more than $10,000 in support of the Bird Protection Fund. He is leading a similar walk in 2014, from the state line south of Kenosha to the Upper Peninsula.

Septon has directed and managed a successful and expanding urban Peregrine Falcon recovery effort in Wisconsin and has banded over 700 wild-produced peregrines over the past 26 years. Working in conjunction with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Office of International Affairs, he also implemented an urban Peregrine Falcon recovery program in Russia and was involved with initiating a similar program in Poland.

Septon also is executive director of the Society of Tympanuchus Cupido Pinnatus (STCP), founded in Wisconsin in 1961 to preserve and protect the Greater Prairie Chicken. Greg has served on the STCP Council since 1992 and chairs its Projects and Research Committee. Septon was with the Milwaukee Public Museum for over 25 years creating exhibits and organizing public programs.

Sontag received a Ph. D. in zoology from UW-Madison and accepted a position at UW-Manitowoc, where he taught until his retirement. When he moved to Manitowoc nearly 50 years ago, he began recording his bird observations on casual walks and along the route of his commute by bicycle to and from the university. As time went on, his observations became more systematic, and about 200,000 of his observations were used in a recent study of migratory bird movements along Lake Michigan by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. To this day, Sontag is well known for his daily ramblings at the harbor, during which he takes time to talk to anyone who has questions.

Sontag has been a member of the Woodland Dunes Board of Directors since 1975, and continues to volunteer his time to help with environmental education and to mentor staff. He has served as vice-president and president of WSO, and has received the Rahr Diamond Award for Conservation from the Isaac Walton League and the Champion of Champions in Conservation award from the Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership.

For additional information, contact Carl Schwartz, WSO president,
at (414) 416-3272 or at cschwartz3@wi.rr.com