Lots of sunrises, surprises, M&Ms and PB&J sandwiches and pancakes, miles of windshield time, hours with my nose in a map, resetting the stop watch for 3-minute periods, fun, dreaming about singing birds, and hours of being on a birding “high” – the list of Quad 30 Campaign memories goes on and on. Here is my “short” story, but you’ll need to check the Quad 30 website for more details, data, and hopefully entertaining stories – www.quad30campaign.org.
I guess the odyssey really begins in June 1971, since this is when I conducted my first 3 federal Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) in upstate NY. I had survived a difficult Master’s degree program in Plant Pathology at Cornell University and had decided to pursue my PhD in Wildlife Science. I immediately fell in love with the challenges and excitement of trying to identify every bird I could hear and see during a 3-minute period at 50 stops along each route. Each BBS route has a set starting point, and the 50 stops are 0.5 mile apart. Started in 1966, the BBS program has provided data that have become extremely valuable in monitoring changes in breeding bird populations.
I continued to do NY BBS routes until I left the state in 1974, and then signed up for routes in TX and FL, as my work took me there. When I moved to WI in 1977 I immediately contacted Sam Robbins about open BBS routes and soon started doing the 4 surveys in WI (Amberg and Wausaukee – 1980, and Paris and Raymond – 1981) and the Wilson route in MI’s UP (1979) that I’ve completed every year since, including 2004.
Several years ago I began thinking about taking vacation time to conduct a batch of BBS routes, starting in southern states in late May and working north to the UP by early July. I envisioned renting a self-contained camping unit that I would park each evening near a route’s starting point. This idea sat on the back burner during the 1990s as I focused on my family, job, other bird-related activities, including the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas (WBBA). But as my task of editing WBBA accounts neared completion, my dream began to revive, stimulated by an appreciation of how much BBS data were contributing to Atlas discussions of population trends of WI’s breeding bird species. I was aware that there were many routes available in the UP and MN.
The “planets” started lining up toward the end of 2003. I turned 60, decided to go to a 30-hour work week with We Energies, my heavy involvement with the WBBA manuscript was nearly over, and my hearing was still intact. I thought that if I could survey a couple of routes in my home state of OH (something that I’d longed to do), include my 4 “regular” WI routes, and add a large number of presently open routes in MN and the UP of MI, I could fill the month of June with surveys. I ran the idea past my wife Kate, and her response was, “Go for it!”
Having coordinated the Honey Creek Birdathon/Bandathon for the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology (WSO) as well as the Riveredge Bird Club Birdathon/Bandathon for many years, I was confident that I could solicit and receive pledges for my effort. Being involved with WI’s Important Bird Areas (IBA) program, an extremely important bird conservation initiative, [I currently serve as the chair of the IBA committee on behalf of the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative (WBCI)], selecting this program to receive any funds that I could raise was an easy decision. A surprise birthday party held at Harrington Beach State Park in late 2003, where many who attended made financial contributions to the budding effort, was a huge surprise and a real boost. I realized for the first time that the “journey” had truly been launched.
I decided early-on that I would pay for all of my expenses so that I could assure contributors that 100% of their contributions would go to bird conservation. Knowing that BBS expenses are tax deductible also helped in this decision (this activity is considered to be a donation to the federal government). Working with state BBS coordinators in OH, MN, and MI to identify “open” routes, I committed to doing all available routes in western OH (2), MN (14), and the UP (12). I also added one more route in WI, for a total of 5. I assumed that I would be unable to run a few routes because of “bad” weather – heavy rain or strong winds. I considered the 3 extra routes an insurance policy in my quest to complete 30 surveys during the 30 days of June.
Work began on logistics (the order of the routes, lodging, etc.), advertising the Campaign, and developing a way to visualize the pledges. I anticipated raising funds from friends, relatives, co-workers, individual birders, member organizations of WBCI, and others. I knew that the Wisconsin Energy Corporation Foundation would match my donations to the nonprofit WSO, which agreed to administer the Quad 30 funds. The Foundation also made an upfront donation of $5,000 – what a boost to my spirits and a vote of confidence! I anticipated raising some money from birders in OH, MN (where I’m a life member of the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union), and MI (where I’m a life member of the Michigan Audubon Society), but this effort was a complete failure. In hindsight, I needed to have a visible, respected, “local” birder/volunteer in each of these states to “legitimize” me and advertise the Campaign – after all, monies raised in these states were to go to that state’s IBA program and not into WI’s coffers.
A secondary objective of the Campaign was to advertise the importance of long-term bird monitoring programs like the BBS. I wanted to reach the media and as many others as possible with this message. Kate helped design the Quad 30 logo – the name “Quad 30 Campaign” just evolved over time. I knew that a catchy, attractive, well-designed website was essential. I feel that one of the real success stories of the Campaign is the website designed, constructed, and maintained by Monroe County birder, Lennie Lichter, who stepped forward to volunteer for, what to me, was an intimidating chore. I still haven’t spoken to Lennie in person or on the phone about the website; our communication has been entirely by email. And what a job Lennie did! I would suggest something, and he would run with it. The website proved a successful and extremely flexible vehicle that could advertise the upcoming event, provide a running account of the events during June, and display results in a timely manner. Also important was the willingness of Wisconsin Birding to host the Quad 30 website. In hindsight, there is virtually nothing that I would change with this aspect of the Campaign other than posting a daily pancake rating, which ranged all the way from a 10 to a low of about a 2 or 3.
Because of the way my company-issued laptop functioned (or didn’t function) in accessing local phone numbers to dial, I was unable to use email in many of my often very remote overnight locations. I was able to use my home account to email reports to Lennie from public libraries (sometimes with a very strict limit on computer time), coffee houses, college offices, and a MN DNR office. I met a lot of interesting librarians in western MN and in the UP. After being on the road, I realized that I should have printed Quad 30 business cards to hand out to librarians, motel operators, talkative passers-by, waitresses, and others. Several times I gave a librarian the website address as I was leaving. She would enter it into her computer, the site would pop up with my picture, and she would exclaim, “It’s really you.”
Contacting the media once I was on the road also proved far more difficult than I anticipated. Carl Schwartz kindly provided lots of newspaper contact information for areas near the routes, but I found that it was impossible to follow through with contacts once the journey began. I needed a “back home” volunteer who would contact the media (by email, fax, and phone) a few days before I arrived in their neighborhood in order to have made this aspect function successfully. A blanket press release sent to all local media before the start of the trip, pinpointing the date that I would be in their area, may have been effective. The “next time” I do this, I’ll have more of the logistics down.
I invite you to visit the website and view the results. On the website you will find a bird checklist for each of the 33 surveys, plus a daily journal account; a bird-of-the-day piece; checklists for mammals, herps, and butterflies observed while surveying the routes; captioned pictures [though I missed several good photo opportunities (e.g., a line of windmills against a MN sunrise, a few large muddy potholes in the road, my sleepy face, etc.) simply because I forgot I had borrowed a digital camera from Bettie Harriman], and some media accounts. Many people who followed my progress in June have commented that they enjoyed watching the hummingbird feeder fill (under the fundraising menu item) as the checks and pledges arrived.
Needless to say, my biggest accomplishment was actually completing 33 consecutive BBS routes – a feat that any BBS volunteer will readily tell you is statistically and cosmically impossible! It rained some afternoons and evenings; it rained as I drove to the starting point; and it rained immediately after several surveys. It misted on a few occasions, and I experienced a gentle shower or two during a few surveys, but only once did I need to stop during a survey for about 30 minutes to wait for a hard rain to pass. Winds were generally light enough, and I soon realized that the wind always blows in western MN, though there are no tree leaves to interfere with hearing. My uniform for all 33 counts consisted of a bird t-shirt (clean) every morning, although on several mornings extra layers were needed as my car’s thermometer registered 40 degrees in predawn northern MN and not much more 5 hours later) and the same pair of sweat pants (washed occasionally). My biggest worry was finding the starting point for each survey on strange roads (often gravel) in the dark, sometimes many miles away from where I had just spent the night, exactly 30 minutes before sunrise.
I find numbers and statistics to be fun. Based on a review of past survey results for all the routes, I predicted that I would tally 179 species: astonishingly, my campaign total matched that prediction exactly! I also tallied 24,111 individuals. The only species encountered on all 33 surveys were American Crow, American Robin, Common Yellowthroat, and Chipping Sparrow. Species for which more than 1,000 individuals were tallied were American Robin (1,259), Red-winged Blackbird (1,216), Common Grackle (1,083), and Red-eyed Vireo (1,013). These are only some of the interesting tidbits that can be gleaned by scanning the results. PLEASE visit the website to learn more about the results and get caught up in the spirit of June’s odyssey.
Total miles driven were 5,525 with 808 miles being driven on the 33 surveys (each route is 24.5 miles long). Lodging costs averaged $43.20/night (not including nights at home and at the home place in OH). Some motel rooms had no phones, and some had no cable TV. I spent less than $10/day on food!!!!! Total expenses of the Campaign will be around $2,250 + mileage costs. Hours spent actually surveying the 1,650 points (stops) totaled 82.5. I consumed 1,716 M&Ms (see June 21 journal entry on the website for details of my M&M-BBS tradition/ritual). Vacation time needed to cover the May 30 – July 1 period was 150 hours – only having to cover a 30-hour work week and having carried over 80 hours of vacation from 2003 certainly helped. My next book will be Noel’s Field Guide to Birding Cheap in the Upper Midwest.
With your help and support, my original goal of $30,000 was met, and I’ve enjoyed watching the total continue to creep toward the $40,000 level. At this time I do not know exactly how the IBA Program will allocate the funds raised, but I’m hopeful that this Quad 30 contribution can be leveraged further with other grant funding to attain even more funds for this program.
I wanted to wait a while after the completion of the BBS surveys to write this report to give myself some time for reflection. Out of all my recollections of every phase of this project, my most vivid memories continue to be, first, that 33 BBS routes were completed in 33 consecutive days; and second, that you responded with a generous outpouring of support and donations. While I’m encouraged that some folks will contribute financially to bird conservation efforts, I’m discouraged that compared to the number of birders, bird watchers, and wildlife viewers there are, so few contribute to bird conservation in a time when the needs are so great. Given the stunning estimates for an increasing human population, the mounting number of everyday threats posed to our birds, and both day-to-day and long-term changes to our landscape – all of which place stresses on quality habitats for birds – it is clear that much more must be done for bird conservation. Additional support for bird monitoring programs like the BBS also is needed. Truly understanding and communicating the relationships between the land, the plants, the animals (including us), and the integrity of the air we all breathe and the water we all must drink continue to take urgent priority. We must reconnect people and nature!
I sincerely thank each of you for making a financial contribution to my Quad 30 Campaign. Its success would not have been possible without your contributions. It was fun fulfilling a dream, and I’ll be out there in June 2005 doing my 5 “regular” BBS routes plus maybe a couple of extra ones. Please continue to value our birds and appreciate their contribution to life on Earth.
Thanks! Good Birding! Peace! And visit www.quad30campaign.org! Noel
Mailing address – Noel Cutright, 3352 Knollwood, West Bend WI 53095