Great Wisconsin Birdathon 2019
Please note: donations are not being accepted by this participant at this time.

Goal $13,000.00



Cutright’s Old Coots Big Day (May 16, 2019):
168 species

In Year 8, a record for Coots and predecessor Ancient Murrelets as they scour Ozaukee, Fond du Lac and Dodge Counties to raise conservation funding for the Great Wisconsin Birdathon  (COMPLETE SPECIES LIST FOLLOWS)

For those of who look for omens, the Barred Owl who was calling even as we gathered just before 3 a.m. in the driveway of painter and birder Tom Uttech’s Saukville-area farm was a good one. Even better was the much rarer Long-eared Owl who called for us repeatedly several miles away along the Milwaukee River.

We would hear several other birds in the predawn darkness (Marsh Wren and Swamp Sparrow but no Eastern Whip-poor-will this year) before we’d be able to check off the other two owls we were seeking -- an Eastern Screech Owl at the Riveredge Nature Center and a Great Horned Owl along Knollwood Rd. – and with the addition of Tree Swallow, Gray Catbird and Red-Winged Blackbird we were at 9 species before 4 a.m. with sunrise still 87 minutes away.

We would spend all of those predawn minutes and then some working the roadsides in the area of the Cedarburg Bog and its adjacent Upland Woods before moving back over to the west end of Riveredge and then on to Hawthorne Hills County Park, which like Riveredge lies along the Milwaukee River. We made some targeted stops for Pine Warbler in a pine plantation and Bank Swallow at a repurposed gravel quarry, but our general strategy was pretty simple: keep moving in a variety of habitats with our eyes and ears wide open.

The list would reach 30 by 5 a.m. and 75 by 7 .a.m. By the time we left Hawthorne Hills around 8 a.m. we had recorded 90 species – but it was clear we were about to get wet… real wet if we birded on foot. So we opted for some alternatives, birding from Tom’s studio windows for a bit (3 new sparrows and a hummingbird), made a dash down County I to find the nesting Osprey and birded Waubedonia Park (again along the Milwaukee) by car, watching a slew of warblers dance around a downed tree in the water and catching sight of 4 Hooded Mergansers and a Green Heron under another downed tree on the opposite side of the river.

When it really poured we camped out in a picnic shelter and watched warblers forced lower in the trees by the rain. Park total: 27 species, and by 9:15 a.m. our list had crept past the century mark. This was at least 90 minutes ahead of the previous year’s pace when we ran a similar route on May 17. We felt inspired by the generosity of our many donors, knowing that our effort was going to be of significant support to the Bird Protection Fund. And we knew that a good start boded well for meeting several challenge gifts pegged to us beating last year’s total of 156 species; but would we be able to meet one donor’s second stipulation: more birds in fewer miles traveled? Only time would tell…. but we’d need to do both if we stood a chance of meeting our $13,000 goal.

So on a Big Day you can’t just sit all day so the five of us climbed back in our minivan and resumed our roadside search, targeting spots we were familiar with for Eurasian Collared Dove and Sora and Virginia Rails, as well as what has been the best shorebird pond in Ozaukee County at Hawthorne Rd. CR-KK. The latter yield 8 shorebird species and two herons. In each case our scouting paid off, and by now the rain had moved out to the south and would not bother us again all day despite an iffy forecast.

Missing from this area of the county (along was much of its former grasslands) are birds that used to nest there like Upland Sandpiper, Western Meadowlark, Gray Partridge and Loggerhead Shrike.

By now it was getting harder and harder to record new species as we reached Harrington Beach State Park at noon (22 species and a previously-missed Brown Thrasher) and Forest Beach Migratory Preserve (27 species with Bald Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk and Eastern Kingbird) at 12:30 before we headed into Port Washington to scan the harbor and record 5 gull species and more than 1,000 Common Terns (a highlight) along with a pair of nesting Peregrines.

Missing from our waterfowl list, however, were the Surf and White-winged Scoters, Green-winged Teal, Lesser and Greater Scaup and Bufflehead we recorded last year, as well as Glaucous and Great Black-backed Gulls.

Leaving Port Washington (and Ozaukee County) our list stood at 137 (compared with 132 at a similar point last year). We were now on a beeline for the Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest, Mauthe Lake and Halthauser Rd. We would however, record three new species en route: our 6th swallow of the day (Cliff) nesting under a bridge, a Warbling Vireo we happened to hear as we befriended a giant Snapping Turtle by escorting him the rest of the way across a busy highway, and Red-headed Woodpecker, tipped to us by a member of the Noel J. Cutright Bird Club who had found them at Lizard Mound County Park while doing field work for the 2nd Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas.

Our visit to NKMSF was the most successful in years, enabling us to add Broad-wing and Red-shouldered Hawk, Northern Harrier, Hooded Warbler, Scarlet Tanager and both Alder and Acadian Flycatcher. But by the time we were ready to head for our final major birding area of the day it already was past 4:15 p.m. It would be almost an hour before we could reach Highway 49 and the northern end of the Horicon Marsh. This was 90 minutes later than last year. Had we left ourselves enough time to do this magnificent IBA and Ramsar Wetland Site justice?

Hard to know the answer for sure, but we would add 22 additional species at Horicon (compared with 24 last year), including Trumpeter Swan, American Bittern, American White Pelican, American Coot, Common Gallinule, Yellow-headed Blackbird, 4 new ducks, 2 new terns and 8 additional shorebird species including both godwits and a dozen Black-bellied Plovers. The final bird of the day: Black-crowned Night-Herons gliding across the marsh at dusk.


Cutright’s Old Coots are six people who strongly believe that birds are valuable and need our help – now more than ever. Recent years have made it clear that conservation action rests in the hands of individuals like us to protect the birds we love and their habitats. Sure there are many discouraging reports about habitat loss, invasive species, window collisions and pesticide perils, but for each of those there are encouraging success stories that give us hope for the birds we love:

-- The bird friendly Fiserv Forum
-- Refreshing changes at the Department of Natural Resources
-- Expansion of Bird City Wisconsin to 109 communities here and the launch of similar programs in 8 other states.
-- The growing success of the Whooping Crane reintroduction program and Kirtland Warbler range extension.

The Great Wisconsin Birdathon is another of those success stories because it has found a way to engage individuals and communities to raise support and awareness for birds in Wisconsin. That’s why we have been proud to be part of an effort by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin that last year raised more than $87,000, bringing its total support for bird protection to nearly $400,000 since 2012.

And we have done it because people like you – those of you reading this page right now – have agreed that birds are valuable and in need of your help, too. Birds do so much to make our lives better; this is one important way we can give back to them. Birds vitally need our help as they continue to face strong political headwinds nationally as we struggle to deal with the issues of habitat loss, outdoor cats, window collisions, lead poisoning, overuse of pesticides and some public indifference to all of the above.

That’s why every year since 2012 we have enlisted as many friends, family and colleagues as possible to support a team for the Great Wisconsin Birdathon. Hawkeye and the Ancient Murrelets helped to launch that effort. But then in 2013 our young Hawkeye Seth Cutright went back to school, and ornithologist and dear friend Noel Cutright passed away. So in 2014 Tom Uttech and Carl Schwartz recruited two new teammates -- Marilyn Bontly and Joan Sommer -- to form Cutright's Old Coots, to honor Noel and continue our support of the Bird Protection Fund. Then in 2015 we had added a 5th teammate, Mike Wanger, and last year were joined by an old friend of Noel's, Ric Zarwell, who spearheaded the formation of Bird Friendly Iowa, modeled on the Bird City Wisconsin program.

We cover all our own costs so every dollar we raise goes to the Great Wisconsin Birdathon to support the Bird Protection Fund, which backs important conservation projects that are particularly close to our hearts, including Bird City Wisconsin (now with 109 communities statewide), the Western Great Lakes Bird & Bat observatory, the Whooping Crane Reintroduction Project and the second Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas.

Here’s a little more background on the Coots:

Tom Uttech – Noted landscape artist, WSO member and Cutright Bird Club member

Marilyn Bontly -- Schlitz Audubon, WSO and Cutright Bird Club member

Joan Sommer -- Former WSO bookstore operator and Cutright Bird Club member

Mike Wanger -- Milwaukee County coordinator for Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II

Ric Zarwell -- Longtime bird conservation advocate, organizer of Bird Friendly Iowa 

Carl Schwartz -- Bird City Wisconsin steering committee chair, former WSO president

And here’s a little background on the Birdathon:

The Great Wisconsin Birdathon was hatched in 2012 as a pilot project by the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative (WBCI) and the Natural Resources Foundation (NRF) to raise the profile of birds and bird conservation statewide. By working together, WBCI's 178 partners can do more for birds collectively than any one partner can do on its own.

Last year, the total disbursal from the NRF’s Bird Protection Fund was $87.000. New projects receiving funding were:
-- Monitoring of colonial waterbirds by the Wisconsin DNR.
-- Lake Michigan waterbird and waterfowl monitoring by the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory in Port Washington.
-- Bird monitoring and habitat protection in Peru by the Amazon Conservation Association.
    Receiving continuing support are Bird City Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Stopover Initiative, Osa Conservation, Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II, Wisconsin Bird Monitoring Program, the Whooping Crane reintroduction project and the Wisconsin Kirtland’s Warbler project.

Noel Cutright (1943 - 2013)
A well known and much admired Wisconsin ornithologist, Dr. Noel Cutright devoted his personal and professional life to bird conservation, citizen science, and ecological restoration. After receiving his Master’s and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell University, he worked for We Energies in Wisconsin for 29 years. As their Senior Terrestrial Ecologist, he promoted numerous environmental projects and initiatives throughout the energy industry.

As president of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, Cutright galvanized and advanced the organization’s research, science and conservation efforts. He was senior editor of the landmark Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas. As a long-term advisor to the WDNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he promoted the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative, the State Natural Areas Program, and Neotropical migratory bird conservation efforts. He helped to create the Bird City Wisconsin Program (now recognizing 107 communities statewide); to develop management plans to restore populations of Osprey, Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Trumpeter Swans and Bluebirds; and to establish State Natural Areas in Wisconsin and Neotropic Nature Reserves in Belize and Costa Rica.

Cutright received prestigious awards from the WDNR, Gathering Waters Conservancy, and Milwaukee Audubon Society. As an educator, he shared his knowledge and deep love of the natural world, inspiring countless “new conservationists” to work together to restore and protect ecosystems locally and globally.

Cutright’s Old Coots Big Day
(May 16, 2019): 168 species

(BOLD:  not seen in 2018)

Canada Goose

Trumpeter Swan

Wood Duck

Blue-winged Teal

Northern Shoveler



Northern Pintail

Green-winged Teal


Hooded Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

Ruddy Duck

Ring-necked Pheasant

Wild Turkey

Pied-billed Grebe

Rock Pigeon

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Mourning Dove

Chimney Swift

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Virginia Rail


Common Gallinule

American Coot

Sandhill Crane

Black-bellied Plover

Semipalmated Plover


Hudsonian Godwit

Marbled Godwit

Ruddy Turnstone


Baird’s Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

White-rumped Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper

If you are unable to donate online, please click here for the offline donation form.


  • Robert (about 3 months ago)


  • Ric (about 4 months ago)

    Glad to donate $100. Hope to take part w/team again in 2020.

  • Jennifer (about 4 months ago)


  • Christopher (about 4 months ago)

    Happy Father's Day Dad-From Chris, Jenny, Maggie, and Henry

  • Kris (about 4 months ago)


  • Robert (about 4 months ago)

    Great Effort!

  • Nancy (about 4 months ago)

    Keep up the good work, Carl. You truly make a difference.

  • Jennifer (about 4 months ago)


  • Jack & Holly (about 4 months ago)

    Congrats on the record 168 species! Wow! Happy Birthday Carl, and welcome to the 70's.

  • Eric (about 4 months ago)

    Happy Father's Day Dad!

  • Sarah/David (about 4 months ago)

    Good luck!

  • Thomas (about 5 months ago)

    Oh Coot! oh bold, adventurous Coot, I pray thee tell to me, The perils of that stormy lime That bore thee to the sea!

  • Karen Etter (about 5 months ago)

    Go, Coots! Find a coot.

  • Andrea (about 5 months ago)

    Have a great outing!

  • Kate (about 5 months ago)


  • Ellen (about 5 months ago)

    Old Coots are the best Coots.

  • Frank E. & KC (about 6 months ago)

    2019 Birdathon donation

  • Carl (about 6 months ago)

    Go, Coots!

My Status
Number of pledges received: 107
Goal achievement: 102%
Number of page visits: 1575
Days since event: 121
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