Four out of 5 years of field work are now complete for the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas!
We owe a sincere THANK YOU to the more than 1,700 atlasers who have contributed to Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II to date. It is simply not possible to accomplish a project of this scale without the dedication of atlasers in every corner of the state.
We just released this cool infographic and a DNR news release highlighting results through Season 4, but let’s dig even deeper into this year’s results to get a better understanding of the impact of our efforts.
We have now recorded 242 possibly breeding species and confirmed 225 of those, which is similar to the 237 possibly breeding species and 226 confirmed species reported by Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas I (WBBA I; 1995–2000).
This year we added one new confirmation for WBBA II, a Worm-eating Warbler found by Randy Hoffman in Pepin County along the Chippewa River near Five-mile Bluff SNA.
We added four new species as Probable/Possible:
Ryan Brady found a pair of American Three-toed Woodpeckers in Bayfield County. They lingered into May but eventually vanished. Read Ryan’s great write-up on the saga.
Eared Grebes oversummered at Goose Pond in Columbia County. A pair was observed building a copulatory platform, and likely attempted a nest but no nest or eggs were ever definitively found. At least one individual was last seen on July 27.
A Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was seen in Jefferson County in June. Although we often see dispersed juveniles of this species heading northward in late summer, pinning down nesting birds this atlas has proven difficult. This bird was no exception.
Several Barn Owls were seen in southwestern Wisconsin. This species has been doing well of late in Illinois and Iowa, so we have high hopes for confirming as breeders in 2019.
Best documented flight of Red Crossbills in Wisconsin history:
Red Crossbills irrupted into the state from typical haunts in the western U.S., including Types 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 10. The observations of Types 1, 4, & 5 were the first ever recorded here. Atlasers confirmed breeding for Types 2, 3, 4, and 10, with Type 2 being most common, Type 4 uncommon, and Types 3 & 10 the rarest as breeders. Types 3 & 4 had never been documented as nesting in Wisconsin previously. While the north woods hosted the majority, crossbills were commonly reported throughout the Kettle Moraine State Forest and as far south as the Illinois state line.
Other interesting finds and photo highlights:
A Chimney Swift nest from Green Lake County
An albino American Crow fledgling in Waukesha County
A fuzzy baby Eastern Whip-poor-will chick in St. Croix County
A second White-eyed Vireo confirmation for this atlas, in Rock County
An unusual nest site for American Robin in Dodge County
A Spruce Grouse brood in Vilas County
Amazing pictures of nestling Northern Saw-whet Owls in Waushara County
A Summer Tanager that lingered on territory for over 2 weeks in Rock County
We are now down to only 1 species confirmed in more than 2 blocks during WBBA I that we have not yet confirmed in WBBA II: White-winged Crossbill, a finch that breeds in northern conifer bogs, but primarily after irruption years. If an irruption does not occur during the period of this atlas, it’s unlikely we’ll get them as breeders. Maybe 2019 will be the year?
There remains a list of very rare breeders found during Atlas I that we have not yet confirmed (number of WBBA I confirmed blocks in parentheses, zero means it was a possible or probable breeder in WBBA I):
Northern Pintail (2)
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (2)
Yellow Rail (2)
Barn Owl (2)
Philadelphia Vireo (2)
Nelson’s Sparrow (2)
Lesser Scaup (1)
Western Grebe (1)
Snowy Egret (1)
Great Black-backed Gull (1)
Great Gray Owl (1)
Western Kingbird (1)
Rusty Blackbird (1)
Eared Grebe (0)
Tennessee Warbler (0)
Bay-breasted Warbler (0)
Wilson’s Warbler (0)
But compared to some of those rare breeders, we’re just as likely to find another first state breeding record – What will 2019 bring? Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Prairie Warbler, Chuck-will’s-widow, Tennessee Warbler, or some other surprise? See our previous story about the likeliest new species and keep your eyes peeled!
In 2018, we saw the roll-out of:
Effort Maps that allow you to see the number of hours, nocturnal hours, species, and confirmed species in each block. This is very useful going into our final season! To get ideas about blocks near you that need help, toggle on the completed block overlay (which blacks out blocks that are finished) and browse nearby blocks.
New Atlas Top 100 Statistics that show your personal atlasing tallies at a state, county, or block level.
Atlas Target Species that helps you figure out which species you still need to personally confirm.
Here are a few maps showing our progress so far.
Over 14,000 individual locations were plotted for Atlas eBird checklists in 2018:
This is the breakdown of species by county (including only species that got at least an H breeding code):
Several factors affect a county’s species total including county size, species diversity present (in general more species in the northern counties) and, of course, how much coverage each county received. Let’s take a look at the remaining work we have to do, based on the number of blocks that still need to be completed in each county (dark colors indicate more work to be done):
You can see that the southeast is in the best shape, but we need lots of help beyond that region, and even some cleanup on blocks within that region. Moving forward, the darkest counties are in the need of the most help, so if you live in or travel to these areas, please do some atlasing! Our success in the final year will depend upon dedicated atlasers completing the last priority blocks. If you have been waiting to participate or know of a birder in one of these areas, NOW is the time to step up! If you live in an area where your local blocks are filling up, please consider traveling to help us finish off a few more. There should still be a needy block near you (check out the sign-up map!) and as we complete the season 4 data review we will close or open blocks to make the picture of final remaining open blocks increasingly clear.
Now that we are filling in the state and most of us have honed our atlasing skills, we’re going to need a laser focus on priority blocks going forward. This off-season, think about where you might be available to help in the final season. We need all the help we can get covering priority blocks – every birder in the state needs to be out birding specifically in priority blocks next summer. While we have a good start in a lot of blocks, we still have about 500 blocks to finish in the final year!
All these statistics, as well as species maps, are available on the Explore Data tools within the Atlas eBird website. We encourage you to poke around yourself to learn more about which species are breeding near you and where there are coverage gaps. Just remember that the totals are still preliminary: a few errors have not yet been corrected, and a few hidden species are not tallying, making the eBird tallies slightly different from what is reported elsewhere.
And lastly, just for fun, here’s the top atlaser (by number of species confirmed) in each county. These are just a few of the very dedicated atlasers helping us all across the state. Great work, folks!
Again, A HUGE THANKS TO ALL WHO ATLASED THIS YEAR! Here at Atlas HQ, we will continue sifting through the data and preparing for the next season. If you’ve still got a backlog of checklists, please buckle down and get those in ASAP!