Bailey’s Harbor and The Ridges Sanctuary are focal points for stopover conservation, photo by Ryan O’Connor

WISI in Action

Regional Partners

In October 2016, over 100 partners from across the Great Lakes gathered in Milwaukee for the 2016 State of Stopover Symposium. Considered one of the most informative and innovative migratory bird events in recent history, the Symposium offered a variety of presentations, breakout sessions, and special activities that sparked creative ideas for future work to raise awareness of migratory birds and to protect the stopover habitats they need as they journey through the Great Lakes region. A summary of Symposium sessions is being recorded in a Proceedings document and video of the keynote addresses and other important presentations is being edited for online viewing. Watch for the Symposium recordings to be posted on this website soon!

Land Trust Partners

West Wisconsin Land Trust (WWLT) is one of Wisconsin’s champion protectors of migratory bird stopover habitat. Thanks to the persistent hard work of Jane Anklam, Bob Fitzwilliam, the WWLT staff and partners, over 1300 acres of important habitat on the south shore of Lake Superior will remain protected forever by conservation easement agreements with private landowners. Camp Amnicon, a youth ministry camp in northern Douglas County, donated an easement to WWLT to protect 500 acres of their land, which includes two miles of wild Amnicon River frontage and one half mile of Lake Superior shoreline. An innovative feature of the easement offers an unique opportunity for WISI and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to conduct research and monitoring of migratory birds and their habitats on the property. An additional 800+ acres of private properties neighboring Camp Amnicon are also under conservation easements held by WWLT.

In 2007, the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust (OWLT) expressed an interest in restoring a golf course to provide stopover habitat for shorebirds.  Now called the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, this innovative stopover site provides valuable habitat on an important migratory bird corridor known as the Lake Michigan Flyway, a link between Canada and the Northwest Territories and Central and South America for many shorebirds, flycatchers, vireos, swallows, thrushes, warblers, sparrows, and other birds.

As of June 2014, The Nature Conservancy has protected 1,950 acres at the Mink River Estuary in Door County. This figure includes lands owned and managed by the Conservancy, conservation easements, government co-ops and assists. This regionally important landscape provides Great Lakes estuary and forest habitats for migratory land birds, wetland associated birds, and many other species.

TNC is also developing a Coastal Wetland and Tributary Decision Support Tool for Green Bay Watershed. This web map is designed to help conservationists prioritize sites in the Green Bay Watershed for land protection and restoration projects.  Numerous GIS layers are included so that users can turn on the layers most relevant to their organization’s mission.  The WISI Migratory Bird Habitat Model will be extended to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and added as a web map layer in the near future.

Community Planning

The Door County Planning Department, the Trust for Public Land, and many other partners developed the Door County Greenprint interactive mapping tool for in-depth analysis of lands for natural resource protection and land use planning. “Greenprinting” blends scientific data with conservation goals to help local policy makers make informed, strategic decisions about development proposals and conservation/resource protection.  Project goals were characterized using best available data, scientific review, and advanced analysis, including the WISI Migratory Bird Habitat Models.

State Natural Areas Program and other DNR Partners

The DNR’s State Natural Areas program has used the WISI stopover habitat models and known priority site data to protect and restore stopover habitat along Lake Michigan. Accomplishments (thanks in part to retired DNR biologist Mark Martin) include:

Wisconsin DNR’s Environmental Review Program champions stopover habitat protection and works closely with WISI to develop guidelines for locating communication towers and wind turbines in order to reduce bird collisions.  To learn more about the collision issue, please visit our Conservation Threats page. 

Protective brushpile, photo by Sumner Matteson

Private Landowners

Private lands are a very important part of a network of stopover sites, especially along Wisconsin’s Great Lakes coasts, where much of the land is owned and managed by private individuals and businesses.  Many of these properties contain stopover features (e.g., forest cover, emergent marsh, lowland shrubs, etc.) determined to be of high or very high priority for migratory birds during spring, fall, or both seasons.

WISI has encouraged private landowners to enhance their properties for the benefit of migratory birds.  To date, over 300 private landowners have attended the Grosbeaks Galore workshops and are now equipped with the tools and knowledge necessary to provide valuable stopover habitat on their own land and also at their local parks.  To read more about the creative projects undertaken by these landowners, visit our Landowners Forum.

Research and Monitoring

Colored polygons of the WISI Migratory Bird Habitat Model predict where landbirds are likely to concentrate in southern Lake Michigan basin during the migratory seasons, DNR photo

From our expert ornithologists, we know of many places where birds concentrate during migration and we can show these on a map.  Spaces on the map that occur between these known Migratory Bird Stopover Sites represent gaps in our knowledge of where migrating birds stop to rest and refuel along the Great Lakes coastal areas.  In order to fill in our knowledge gaps, we can consult the WISI Migratory Bird Habitat Models to find where on the landscape important stopover habitat features occur and then direct surveys, monitoring, and research of migratory birds accordingly. 

Understanding migration is a key element to determining what stopover habitat will be most beneficial to migrants. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Avian Radar Project has been operating mobile radar units along the shorelines of the Great Lakes for the past 4 years to gather information about bird and bat migration. By learning about migration routes, areas of high activity, and weather conditions that affect migration, determinations can be made about what areas may be most in need of conserving stopover habitat. Information gathered by the Avian Radar Project also helps to promote actions that help to reduce the risk to migrants while they are traveling in the airspace between stopover habitats. This monitoring effort has been conducted on each of the Great Lakes, but the project has spent both a spring and fall migration along the western shore of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin as well as part of a fall migration season along Lake Superior on the Bayfield Peninsula in Wisconsin.

In addition to the avian radar units, the USFWS has placed acoustic monitors to listen for migrating bird and bat calls along the Great Lakes in the U.S. and Canada, including over 20 sites in Wisconsin along Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. These acoustic and ultrasonic monitors listen passively during the night to detect the flight calls of birds and the echolocation calls of bats as they pass over. These calls can then be analyzed to determine what species are traveling through an area. This may help target conservation towards species that are most at risk. Most of the analysis so far has focused on bat calls, as automated software is not yet available for processing the migratory bird calls. A progress report summarizing the findings of this study so far suggests that migrating birds and bats use the Great Lakes shorelines in high concentrations. By combining the information from the acoustic and ultrasonic monitors with the information from the radar units, the Avian Radar Project will be able to get a more in-depth picture of migration around the Great Lakes.