Great Wisconsin Birdathon 2020

Finch Gang

  • 43
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  • 651

You, our supporters, had been warned, and you came through. Thank you so much for your donations and/or for cheering us on! (For those who still wish to contribute look for Finch Gang at As we had said, in this, the year of the VIRUS, the notorious Finch Gang would be splitting up, and we did. We could be anywhere, and we were, using social distancing and the proper bad guy bandanas. From Jefferson to Watertown, Lake Mills to Cambridge, and even as far as Madison, our combined efforts produced 131 species, a new record. Tuesday, May 12, was one of those perfect spring days, filled with birds. Here are our individual stories.


Notorious J and Nancy Big Ears McDraw returned to the scene of past gold heists for Prothonotary Warblers on the Bark River to start our day. In fact it was an entire day of gold! We rustled up some Blackburnian, Black-throated Green, Yellow, and Yellow-rumped warblers over in our Breeding Bird Atlas territory of old. Baltimore Orioles flashed, too. There was a confusing moment when we looked up at the call of a Canada Goose flying over only to find it was a Sandhill Crane. Incognito? More confusion when Nancy spotted a Wood Duck in a tree that turned out to be a Hooded Merganser. Could the birds be trying to confuse the humans who are acting so strange lately? What's a bird or an outlaw to do when the ones wearing masks nowadays are the good guys? Who knows who's who!?! Jeanne tried to round up a couple Clay-colored Sparrows at Rose Lake with no luck, but lassoed a Barred Owl in the late afternoon. Our day ended at the Gang's old homeplace, Zeloski Marsh, where the Soras made such a ruckus that we were lucky it didn't bring the law in!

            --Jeanne Scherer, Nancy Stanford, Jefferson


For Gang member, Brad Webb, the day started at 4:30 a.m., listening to the dawn chorus close to home in Watertown. That produced the usual city birds, like cardinals, robins, and Chipping Sparrows, always a listening pleasure. On a trip to the Rock River, which winds through the city, I located the family of Cooper's Hawks who have been breeding here for years, as well as Canada Geese, Mallards, and a single Wood Duck who was not pleased to see me. Next was a trip to Tivoli Island Natural Park, also in the city, a good place to find warblers. Black-and-White, Palm, Yellow, and Yellow-rumped were added. Gray Catbird, Solitary Sandpiper, Barn Swallow, Turkey Vulture, Song Sparrow, and Downy Woodpecker also made appearances.


Then it was off to the new Interurban Trail, which runs from Watertown to Oconomowoc. Red-winged Blackbirds were added to the list at once, with Sedge Wren an especially welcome addition. I spent most of the afternoon at Mud Lake Wildlife Area west of town. One treat was observing an adult Bald Eagle on a nest with young. Warblers were everywhere. Listening to a Wood Thrush singing was a highlight, as was a Great-crested Flycatcher showing its colors in the sun. All in all, it was a very pleasant day to be out "Birdathoning" though I missed the camaraderie of birding with the rest of the Gang. I'm already looking forward to that next year!

            --Brad Webb, Watertown


What could be better than spending an entire day searching for and finding hidden treasure? Doing so entirely by bike, of course, as no one, including the birds, can hear you coming. I was on the road prior to full light, heading west on the Glacial Drumlin Trail toward our Finch Gang hideaway at London (aka Zeloski) Marsh, traveling at a snail's pace. The first surprise was finding an entire FAMILY of Carolina Wrens already off the nest. Warblers and White-throated Sparrows were so abundant, in the Trail itself, I was almost tripping over them. A Golden-winged Warbler glowed in sunlight, followed by Forster's and Black Terns seen from the trestle on Rock Lake. By the time I got to the Marsh, I had tallied more than 55 species. Zeloski, where I met up with the notorious Carlsons, produced another 34 species, including Common Gallinule, Osprey, Bufflehead, Canvasback, Orchard Oriole, Lincoln's Sparrows, Red-headed Woodpecker, and the first Sedge Wren of the year. Altogether, in 6.5 miles of travel (not counting getting to the Trail and the ride back, which didn't yield any new birds), I tallied 89 species, with another 6 found at home, for a grand total of 95. Not a bad haul for one member of the Gang!

            --Karen Etter Hale, Lake Mills


Knowing that the rest of the Gang was not expecting to find many shorebirds, we, who are intermediate level birders and rank beginners at identifying shorebirds, set out to search a small marsh amidst the cornfields north of Madison. We spent several hours there gazing through our spotting scope, thumbing through our Sibley guide, and chatting with a few other birders through our bandanna “masks” while maintaining physical distance. By the time we left, we had studied and learned to identify five new shorebirds such as Short-billed Dowitchers and Willet, and we saw and/or heard 18 species of birds, including a close-up look at Yellow-headed Blackbirds.


At Pheasant Branch Conservancy, the early morning spring forest was filled with the songs of orioles, cardinals, catbirds, and migrating warblers. The sun cast its lustrous silvery sheen over a palette of pastel greens and yellows of baby leaves, perfect imitations of the full-sized richly colored leaves of summer. We were both awestruck by their beauty and promise and filled with gratitude that these lovely little leaves were as yet too small to hide the birds from view.   


While we missed the company, camaraderie, and expertise of the Gang this year, we were grateful for the opportunity to gain confidence in identifying and getting to know some new birds on our own!

            --Eric Mosher & River Sandy, Madison


Matt and Clare Carlson, ruthless members of the notorious Finch Gang Birdathon team, started their long-day’s ride at 5 a.m., walking the woods of the Carlson compound in good ole’ Towne of Deerfield. Early bird standouts were the Wood Thrush and a handful of warblers, including Northern Waterthrush and Nashville Warbler. The Carlsons then moseyed into London Towne down an old dusty road to see what birds could be rustled up on the Glacial Drumlin Trail. Here, the trail crosses the County line – what troubles could lie ahead? A Cape May Warbler was spied over the London Tavern, a tricky sight! Of course, many birds were hiding out in the woods surrounding London’s bridge, but the Carlsons took their time to get an eye or ear on ‘em and even got one glimpse of that sneaky Eastern Towhee!


In the afternoon, this pair met up with fellow Finch Ganger, Karen Etter Hale, who was seen riding her famous “black horse” around the Zeloski Marsh. These three outlaws felt right at home at the original stomping grounds of the Gang, checking every nook and cranny of the marsh’s ponds. Gadwall, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Forster’s Terns, Ruddy Ducks, a Spotted Sandpiper, and Sedge Wren were identified, to name a few. The day wrapped up back across the County line at the Carlson compound. A Red-headed Woodpecker and Brown Thrasher were feasting at the feeder, a nice surprise. Matt and Clare had a swell time birding the Gang’s Territory Cornavirus-style this year, and they look forward to riding with the full Gang in 2021.

            --Clare & Matt Carlson, Cambridge


Thank you so much for supporting the Great Wisconsin Birdathon!



WARNING: This year, the year of the VIRUS, the notorious Finch Gang will be splitting up. You will not know when or where we will be riding. We could be anywhere, at anytime. So give - or else! It will be your only protection. You have been warned.


Seriously, though, we hope you are well and staying safe in these unsettled times. Because birds are our hope and because we believe we can conduct our birdathon safely, we will be heading into the field (separately and close to home!) on Tuesday, May 12. If you could support the Gang with a pledge or donation of any amount, we would appreciate it very much, but if not, please cheer us - and the birds - on!


Our record for the past eight years is 112 species, found almost exclusively at or near our hangout in the historic London (aka Zeloski) Marsh. That's where the notorious Finch Brothers, along with the horses they stole, hid from the law back in the mid-1800s - or so they say. Look for the history of the Fighting Finches, stories compiled in 1937 for the Folklore Section of the Federal Writers’ Project of the WPA (Works Progress Administration), at


Members of the Finch Gang include Karen Etter Hale, leader of the gang; Brad Webb, co-founder of the Jefferson-Dodge Bird Walks; Matt and Clare Carlson, co-founders of the Friends of Glacial Heritage Area; Jeanne Scherer, troublemaker, especially if you're an invasive species; and River Sandy and Eric Mosher - disreputable characters one and all.


Please support the Gang by donating or pledgingany amount. All money raised will go toward Wisconsin's most important bird conservation projects. Birds Matter. Please give now. You have been warned.


Thank you for supporting our efforts to make a difference to birds.


The Finch Gang

Give! Or else!


If you would like a copy of our 2019 report, please contact Karen at


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Donations and Comments

  • Stanley & Cecilia

    about a week ago

    thanks for doing this

  • Carol Falk & Alan

    about a week ago

    We enjoyed reading the reports of the gang's stealthy escapades!

  • Penny and Gary

    about 3 weeks ago

    Hope you find lots of birds!

  • Kathryn

    about 3 weeks ago

    Thanks for finding the birds!

  • Barb

    about 3 weeks ago

    Happy searching!

  • Nancy

    about 3 weeks ago


  • Michael

    about 4 weeks ago


  • Elaine

    about a month ago

    Have a great birding day!

  • Anonymous

    about a month ago

    Round’em up and git’em

  • Carl and Peggy

    about a month ago

    Made this decision when it was "my money or my life!" Good luck gangsters!

  • Lori

    about a month ago

    Good luck! Be safe out there and watch out for any low down nasty cowpoke!

  • Michael

    about a month ago

    Good luck!

  • Jeanne

    about a month ago


Team Information

This is the general team page for 'Finch Gang'.

See the Team Finch Gang.