Chapter 1: Issuing a New Year’s Resolution…In Summer

I have a tendency to overdo things.

It’s a trend that started back in high school. While others used senior year to slack off, I used it to create a bad feature-length film. Five years later, I did the same thing for my senior thesis at UW-Milwaukee, though I’d like to think winning an award and getting into some film festivals made it slightly less bad. As an adult, the trend continues in ways that are both productive and the exact opposite of that. Ever try October’s “31 Days Of Horror Challenge” where you watch a horror movie every single day? I don’t recommend it. Scares lose their effect when watching a spooky movie turns into a chore only two weeks in. The pandemic forced my wife and I to go through two wedding ceremonies, which were special, but I think both of us would have preferred two honeymoons instead. And I’m still doing the film thing, this time trading narrative features for my first ever documentary (highlighting the ethics surrounding the sale of dinosaur fossils).

My hobby time is also overfull, which brings me to the point of writing this column. In addition to book reading, miniatures painting, haunted house exploring, and watching things like Star Wars, wrestling, and Bucks basketball, I added wildlife photography, birding, and becoming a Wisconsin Master Naturalist to my list of things I love to do. Through the Wisconsin Master Naturalist program I’ve dedicated myself to volunteering for conservation-based causes, many of them local to Milwaukee. It’s been great and it gives me purpose. It’s also what spurred this challenge.

One of the ways I volunteer is by recording my bird sightings through eBird, the world’s leading resource for ornithological research. I do most of my sightings here in Milwaukee, but it’s always fun to create an eBird checklist when I find myself somewhere new. I’ve wanted to explore more that Wisconsin has to offer, so I decided why not explore everywhere Wisconsin has to offer? So I issued a challenge to myself—let’s hit every single county in Wisconsin this year!

The only problem is it’s already the middle of the year. Oh, and it was only after I issued the challenge to myself (which, come on, no take-backs) that I found out just how many counties are in this great state. Are there 40? No. Fifty? Nope. Make it 72! SEVENTY TWO!!! If you ask me, it seems like Wisconsin overdid it on the counties, but whatever. Challenge accepted. Before I go hog wild, I better recap the counties I’ve already been to this year.

Ozaukee County

This past winter, my wife and I joined up with a friend of ours who lives up in Port Washington. We hiked at one of her favorite spots, Harrington Beach State Park. Winter is one of my favorite times to bird. You don’t see a ton of species, but the ones you do see tend to be active, as they search for what food resources are still available. The Lake Michigan shoreline is usually lined up with various waterfowl species, and that day we saw over a dozen Common Goldeneye. One hiker sat down to hand out nuts, bringing out a few other bird species including the Black-capped Chickadee.

Total Ozaukee County Species Observed: 5
Favorite Ozaukee County Sighting: Black-capped Chickadee

Sheboygan County

Sheboygan County is a place I frequent throughout the year, and I’ve logged a few quick eBird checklists. The allure of finding a rare Harlequin Duck makes the Sheboygan Harbor Marina worth checking out, though I haven’t come across the harlequin pair during my trips this year. In early May, I volunteered some time for the Glacial Lake Conservancy and afterward spent time birding at Willow Creek Preserve. There I experienced one of my favorite birds of prey, the tiny American Kestrel, unsuccessfully hunting for voles while a Turkey Vulture hovered across the preserve. Willow Creek is a peaceful place and the GLC has a ton of volunteer opportunities at the location. I highly recommend it.

Total Sheboygan County Bird Species Observed: 20
Favorite Sheboygan County Sighting: American Kestrel, though nothing beats last year’s Harlequin Duck sighting

Dodge County

I was fortunate enough to join a Schlitz Audubon field trip to Horicon Marsh this past April. It’s the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States and it’s a gem.

Halfway through our trip Schlitz Audubon, legend Don Quintenz (pictured above) pointed out in the distance at the most important bird found in Horicon, the Whooping Crane. There are literally only a couple hundred of these birds left in the world, and many of them choose to nest in the waters of Horicon Marsh. Photo-wise, the day was unseasonably freezing and I didn’t do the place justice, but I will make many return trips here because this place deserves it. You could literally fill books with the wildlife experienced at Horicon.

Total Dodge County Bird Species Observed: 22
Favorite Dodge County Sighting: Yellow-headed Blackbird

Milwaukee County

And of course, Milwaukee County. I’ve already logged 50 eBird checklists in the county this year. From owl sightings to spring warbler madness to frequenting the Humboldt Park lagoon, Milwaukee County has so much to offer. The wild areas throughout our city are a place to cherish. I’m already thinking I might just challenge myself to go birding in every park in Milwaukee County next year (there are only 169 of them, no biggie)…but I better not get ahead of myself. I’ve already got a challenge I most likely will not be able to complete.

Total Milwaukee County Bird Species Observed: 104
Favorite Milwaukee County Sighting: tie between a few really cool owl sightings and seeing a Ruby-throated Hummingbird grab webbing for its nest.

So, four counties in. Not, uh, what you’d call a great start per se. But what the heck. The worst thing I can do is add a bunch of data points to science while seeing only some parts of this great state. I might bankrupt myself in gas costs along the way, but regardless, I’m sure it’ll be fun to read about.

2022 County Count: 4
eBird Checklists: 58
Chances of hitting my goal: Never tell me the odds

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About The Author

Kyle Arpke is a freelance filmmaker, wildlife & conservation photojournalist, and naturalist from the Milwaukee area. Through the Wisconsin Master Naturalist Program Kyle volunteers for a slew of organizations including Humboldt Park Friends, Schlitz Audubon, Glacial Lakes Conservatory, eBird, and more. Follow Kyle’s photo work on Instagram @thekarp14.

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