Thank you for supporting the first Great Wisconsin Birdathon at Holy Wisdom Monastery


The Great Wisconsin Birdathon is Wisconsin’s largest fundraiser for bird conservation. Each year bird enthusiasts from across the state form teams with the goal of finding as many unique bird species as possible within a 24-hour period while raising important funds for bird conservation.

Holy Wisdom Monastery created a team called Wrens of Wisdom Prairie and 64 people came to the monastery on May 8, 2021 to help with our bird count. You exceeded our expectations and identified 70 different bird species!

We would like to thank all of you who participated and donated! We extend a special thanks to the Madison Audubon Society for lending us 6 pairs of binoculars and 6 copies of their children’s field guide to Wisconsin Birds. The 10 children who attended the Birdathon put these to good use. We would also like to thank all the volunteers who helped with the day, including our tour guides. We couldn’t have done it without you!

Bird tour reports

During the Great Wisconsin Birdathon at Holy Wisdom we offered four different tour groups throughout the day. Here is what these groups saw and heard.

Howard Fenton’s report:


Our team of seven early birders were out from 6:30 to 10:50 am – we were having so much fun finding birds we didn’t want to quit. We saw 46 species of birds in addition to an unidentified hawk that swept over Lost Lake trying to scare up an unlucky bird for breakfast. It went away unsatisfied.

The highlights of the morning were getting to watch a female Baltimore oriole working on the nest in which she would lay her eggs. Baltimore orioles, besides being very colorful and having a sweet sounding song, lay their eggs in hanging nests woven to the branch of a tree. This female had her nest in a cottonwood tree, and it was well hidden amongst the emerging leaves. Oriole nests usually aren’t seen until the fall when the leaves have come off the trees and the nest is fully exposed. But by that time the birds, young and old, have flown south for the winter season.

Another highlight was getting to see two of the three juvenile Great horned owls recently fledged at Holy Wisdom. One was seen perched high in the loft door of the old barn. While we were getting good looks at this young owl one of its siblings flew through the doorway and into the barn. Since these young owls are only recently out of the nest they still fly a bit clumsily, especially when it comes to navigating through narrow openings, or landing on a perch. The three young owls will continue to stay at Holy Wisdom and be fed by the parents through the summer while they develop their flying and hunting skills. Then they will be off in search of mates and territories of their own.

From the very small Ruby-crowned Kinglet to the largest of the hawks for our region, the Red-tailed Hawk, these “early birders got the worm” on this, the inaugural Global Big Day event at Holy Wisdom. While we may have been done with birding for the day at 10:50 am, we were all excited for the prospects of future days birding at Holy Wisdom.


Sylvia Marek’s report:


Our team of seven adults birded from 8:00 until 10:30 am. We took time to enjoy and learn about the 34 species that we saw or heard. Everyone enjoyed the view from the top of the hill overlooking Lake Mendota and the newly planted shrub area.  It was there that we saw many different kinds of birds eating dandelion seeds next to the road. We saw a white-crowned and white-throated sparrow, pine siskin, goldfinch, chipping sparrow and others. A gray-cheeked thrush was seen on the grass near the shrubs. Catbirds were chattering and flying back and forth.

We walked past the hermitages and everyone enjoyed seeing a redstart flit among the trees while singing a sweet little tune. We walked through the woods, around the pond and stopped to get a fantastic sighting of a baby great horned owl.  That really made the day for everyone. We didn’t cover a lot of ground and never made it to Lost Lake. We took time to watch birds and to listen to their calls and songs.  It was a beautiful day and a lot of fun.


Julie Melton’s report:


Ten of us started birding at 10:00 am. Our family friendly tour included three children aged three to ten. With the benefit of binoculars and bird guides borrowed from Madison Audubon Society, everyone was ready for a birding adventure.

It didn’t take long for everyone to see our first birds as we walked up to the highest point at the Monastery. What a beautiful view we had of Lake Mendota. We saw birds in the shrubs, the conifers, and in the branches of saplings. We didn’t see any shy warblers, but we did see and hear some white-throated sparrows feeding in the pine and deciduous woods near the sister’s vegetable garden.

Tree swallows flew over us and poked their heads out of bluebird nest boxes. Three deer dashed away through the forest. Our most unusual sighting was of a wild turkey sitting on a nest. The hen was well camouflaged against a pine tree snag. We got good looks at a red-tailed hawk. Everyone heard a gray catbird, but we couldn’t see it. Our walk was great fun. We enjoyed listening for bird sounds and finding the birds in the bird guide.

One of our last stops was Lost Lake. There we heard a Baltimore oriole. A kildeer was wading in the water along the edge of the lake. It was well hidden, but we all saw it. Altogether we saw or heard 29 species

It sure was fun!


Amy Alstad’s report:


The 7:00 pm tour was out until it was quite dark – we wrapped up about 8:45 pm. The real highlight was seeing all five great horned owls. We got really good looks at one adult and two juveniles who were in the barn, and we also got quick looks at one juvenile and the other adult flying around in the vicinity of the barn. I had three young (12 yrs old and younger) birders in this group, who were especially thrilled to see the owl family. We also watched a bluebird flying in and out and perched on top of the nest box just west of the barn. And a final highlight was getting very familiar with all of the different calls made by robins.  It got to be a bit of a joke among our group, actually. We saw and heard SO MANY robins, and after several iterations of them asking “what was that call?” and me responding “that’s the flight call… or alarm call… or song… of a robin” they started preempting me with “Let me guess… that is another kind of robin vocalization”


Our team raised $1,865

All of the dollars raised will directly support bird conservation. Half of the funds raised will stay at Holy Wisdom Monastery and be used to create and maintain bird habitat here, with the remaining funds going to the Natural Resources Foundation.

It’s not too late to donate

Currently our team is in 8th place out of 59 teams for funds raised. Help move us into the top 5 by donating today.


Help us get in the top 5!

Currently our team is in 8th place out of 59 teams for funds raised. Help move us into the top 5 by donating today.


Bird species

Here is a list of the 70 bird species seen and heard on May 8 at Holy Wisdom:

Canada goose Wood duck
Mallard Blue-winged teal
Wild turkey Great blue heron
Red-tailed hawk Sandhill crane
Killdeer Spotted sandpiper
Solitary sandpiper Lesser yellowlegs
Least sandpiper Ring-billed gull
Mourning dove Great horned owl
Barred owl Chimney swift
Ruby-throated hummingbird Red-bellied woodpecker
Downy woodpecker Hairy woodpecker
Northern flicker Least flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe Great crested flycatcher
Warbling vireo Blue jay
American crow Tree swallow
Northern rough-winged swallow Barn swallow
Black-capped chickadee Red-breasted nuthatch
White-breasted nuthatch House wren
Ruby-crowned kinglet Blue-gray gnatcatcher
Eastern bluebird Veery
Gray-cheeked thrush Swainson’s thrush
American robin Gray catbird
Brown thrasher European starling
Nashville warbler Northern parula
Yellow warbler Chestnut-sided warbler
Palm warbler Black and white warbler
American redstart Common yellowthroat
Eastern towhee Chipping sparrow
Field sparrow Song sparrow
White-throated sparrow White-crowned sparrow
Northern cardinal Rose-breasted cardinal
Red-winged blackbird Common grackle