Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Photo of bird watchers © Jennifer Wenzel

A hike takes bird watchers along a river, looking in all directions.
© Jennifer Wenzel

February 2012

Wisconsin snow birds

Friends of feathers flock together.

Connie and Peter Roop

"Pit-see, pit-see, pit-see."

"Black-and-white warbler," identified Jen.

"Good ear!" complimented our guide Nito.

"Good eye!" Uli, another guide, whispered as Eric pointed to this Wisconsin warbler in the dense foliage of a Costa Rican rain forest.

Photo of black-and-white warbler © Patrick Connolly
Black-and-white warbler
© Patrick Connolly

Jen and Eric gave each other an enthusiastic but silent high five.

Twelve pairs of binoculars focused on the warbler. These Wisconsin "snow birds" had flocked to Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula in February 2011, not to escape Wisconsinís winter but for a chance to see "our" Wisconsin summer birds.

"If our birds spoke, they would speak Spanish," joked group leader Craig Thompson.

Thompson organizes and leads trips that are sponsored by the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative International Program. While he also works for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, these trips are conducted on his own time.

"Spanish-speaking Costa Rica is critical to Wisconsin bird survival," Thompson explains. "Protection of these birds' breeding habitats in Wisconsin is only half the story. The other half is in Latin American countries, like Costa Rica. Without protection of winter habitat, our Wisconsin woodlands and backyards will become increasingly quiet," Thompson warns.

"I became a birder in Costa Rica," commented one reluctant birder. "I want to continue to hear our Wisconsin birds sing every spring. I am an Amigo de Osa now, a Friend of the Osa."

Such statements reinforce Thompson's mission: to create flocks of Wisconsin birders devoted to protecting the Osa Peninsula.

Every February, Thompson takes a group to Osa Conservation scientific research stations adjacent to Corcovado, one of Costa Rica's largest national parks. Mantled howler monkeys are these birders' alarm clocks. Last year's participants birded with local experts, Nito and Uli, Connie and Peter Roop are Wisconsin authors of over 100 published books including Seasons of the Cranes. Watch for Tales of Famous Animals to be published this year. accumulating an impressive list of over 200 species in seven days: Baltimore orioles, black-and-white warblers, scarlet macaws, chestnut-billed toucans, piratic flycatchers and white-crested coquettes.

During lunch the chatter of red-backed squirrel monkeys and the rustle of white-faced Capuchin monkeys hopping from branch to branch is an audible backdrop.

Twelve pairs of binoculars swing into action. Food is forgotten to glimpse a rose-breasted grosbeak, another Wisconsin feathered friend.

"When you save a Wisconsin oriole, you will save a jaguar," explains researcher Ricardo Moreno.

"You will help save endangered turtles and yellow-billed cotingas, too," joined in Karen Leavelle, another researcher with whom the Wisconsin birders worked.

Through these researchers, Wisconsin snow birders learned that the Osa Peninsula supports an immense diversity of endangered and threatened wildlife.

Hooting owls lured the birders out at night. Armed with binoculars, spotting scopes, and flashlights, the snow birds discovered camouflaged insects, flat frogs and ruby-eyed spiders.

These beautiful birds enhance our lives in countless ways. Hate mosquitoes? Grow corn? Many bird species eat massive quantities of insects that threaten Wisconsin crops and make our lives less comfortable. Ruby-throated hummingbirds and sapphire blue buntings are feathered jewels that may visit your feeder.

Preserving the Osa Peninsula is critical, but the clock is ticking. Costa Rica's population is growing rapidly and these people need food, shelter and jobs just like you and me. The birds we share need food and shelter, too. Logging and agriculture, especially beef and palm oil, threaten to replace Osa's rain forest. By hiring guides, like Uli and Nito, the Osa Peninsula generates income and can be valued and conserved by the local community.

Wisconsin is a leader in the large partnership working to save the Osa Peninsula rain forest. The Wisconsin partnership has raised over $100,000 in donations. Each trip participant donates $500 to the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin to support Osa. A sister park relationship is being established between St. Croix National Scenic Riverway and Corcovado National Park.

"Wisconsin and Costa Rica share birds, but we will now share expertise in conservation, outreach and education," notes Robin Maercklein, National Park Ranger from St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.

What can you do to help Wisconsin birds?

  • Put decals in your windows in spring and fall to reduce the death of millions of migratory birds that crash into windows.
  • "Naturally" feed our feathered friends by planting native plants in your yard.
  • Keep our birds flying by keeping your pet cat inside. Each year 40 million Wisconsin birds are killed by Wisconsin cats.
  • Drink shade grown coffee, which provides habitat for hundreds of birds and other rain forest animals.
  • Avoid consuming palm oil and reduce your beef consumption.
  • Reduce or eliminate your use of pesticides.
  • Of course, you can keep our birds flying from Wisconsin to Costa Rica by sending a tax-deductible donation to the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin – Osa Project, P.O. Box 2317, Madison, WI 53701 or at Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. Indicate your donation is for Osa Project.

To learn more about the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative International Program and its trips visit Osa Conservation or Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin.

Connie and Peter Roop are Wisconsin authors of over 100 published books including Seasons of the Cranes. Watch for Tales of Famous Animals to be published this year.