Atlaser Spotlight: Dan Belter

By Carrie Becker June 1, 2017
Dan Belter 2

The Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II is a volunteer-driven effort to survey the distribution and abundance of our state’s breeding birds. Since the project started in 2015, our volunteer team has grown to include more than 1,300 Atlasers who have submitted nearly 70,000 checklists.

Who are these incredible volunteers? It turns out that once you get past the binoculars, our Atlasers are as varied as the bird species they observe. This series turns the spotlight on a few of the many dedicated men and women who have helped the Atlas achieve such tremendous success to date.

This month, meet Dan Belter of Marathon County!

Dan Belter

Except for an 8 month stay in Green Bay back in the mid-80s, I have lived in Wausau all my life.


Number of years birding:
30 years. I started my “life list” back in 1987.

Other citizen science experience:
I’m a past member of the WSO Records Committee, I submit my bird sightings into eBird, I took part in the first Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas, and for the past few years now I have been part of the Wausau Bird Nerds team for The Great Wisconsin Birdathon.

Favorite bird:
For me, this is a very hard question to answer. I like family groups like Flycatchers, Thrushes, and Shorebirds, but I would have to say my favorite bird is my next “life bird,” whatever that next bird will be.

Motivation to Atlas:
I took part in the first Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas project, so I had an idea of how this worked. What I really like about the current atlas project is that we have the use of entering our data into eBird instead of the old checklist cards we used, and all of the information we need is available on the WSO website, including the quad maps. This is a big improvement over the first atlas project.

One of Dan Belter’s many atlas confirmations in the Wausau area include Dickcissel.

Primary atlasing location:
I atlas all inside my home county, which is Marathon County. It is a big county with 36 priority blocks, so it’s been a challenge so far, but this year should be better with the help of a paid tech on board.  I’m currently the primary atlaser for four blocks that I’m hoping to finish up this year. Then I’ll pick up any other blocks that are still open, or I’ll help others with their blocks.

Most exciting Atlas find:
New species in areas where they were not found during the first atlas project. An example was just last year when I found a Grasshopper Sparrow along the eastern side of the county in an area where I thought I’d never find one. Another was confirming Dickcissel as breeding in an area west of Wausau.

Most rewarding part of Atlasing:
Finding something new that wasn’t found during the first atlas project, or confirming a breeding bird in a block that wasn’t confirmed during the first atlas project.

How has participating in the Atlas changed the way you bird?
It has made me more aware of the diversity of birds that call Marathon County home. By visiting the different habitats in my home county, you become more knowledgeable of the birds you have, and the conservation needs for them to breed here.

Advice for someone “on the fence” about participating:
Come on in and join the fun! You’ll become more knowledgeable with identifying birds and the habitats they use to breed, and there is always something fascinating to find. If you’re unsure if you have the skills or knowledge needed to participate in this project, don’t be. You can get a mentor to help out, or learn as you go. This is a great, and fun, citizen science project to be involved with.