Fall colors of Wisconsin.

Fall colors of Wisconsin.

Having arrived late on the evening of October 16 from a talk in Springfield, Illinois, Cindy and I left early the following morning for Wausau, Wisconsin, the home of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum. On our way up we stopped at the Baraboo Wisconsin High School: Paul Roth, a chemistry teacher, had reached out earlier to tell me that they had two passenger pigeon pigeons in their collection and we arranged that I would give a talk on our way to Wausau. Back in 1895, Charles Deininger donated his bird collection to the high school. With 265 mounts of 150 species, it is said to have been the largest privately owned bird collection in Wisconsin.

Baraboo High School.

Baraboo High School.

The talk was in the library, now known as the “media center,” and was well attended by upper level science students and some middle school students who are members of their Science Club.  Paul also reached out to the local media, International Crane Foundation, and the Aldo Leopold Foundation all of which were represented. (I met for the first time Buddy Huffaker, the Leopold Foundation’s executive director who was so helpful to David Mrazek and me in the making of our documentary.) It is always interesting what students bring away from a presentation. One of the television reporters who was supposed to be present called Paul and told him she could not make it because of illness. I quipped that I hoped she did not have Ebola. When Paul later talked to  students, one cited that joke as a highlight.

On the approach to the Woodson.

On the approach to the Woodson.

The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Museum of Art has as its “guiding spirit the marriage of art and nature.” The families who created the museum, all with deep roots in Wausau, wanted to share their love of these elements and the museum has grown over the years so that it now holds over 5,000 objects and is one of the country’s premier wildlife  art museums. Every year since 1976, the museum has mounted its internationally acclaimed Birds in Art  where artists are encouraged to send in their works related to related: a jury selects 100 of the top submissions which are then put on display from September through November. After the exhibit closes, 60 pieces are selected for a traveling show that is hosted by museums across the country.

Kestrel and magnolia warbler carving.

Kestrel and magnolia warbler carving.

Stan Temple had contacted Kathy Foley, the museum’s director, to see if they would be interested in offering any exhibits or programming for the anniversary. Kathy was very enthusiastic and not only put together an exhibit, but invited me to spend two days at the museum giving programs. I was to give a talk on Saturday and they considered having me give a different talk on Sunday,  but they were afraid the Green Bay Packers game would reduce attendance, so instead, we scheduled a screening of the movie. When we arrived on Friday, I realized I had not brought a copy of the film so in panic I called David Mrazek,  my partner on the documentary, and asked if he could send a copy that would arrive the next day. (Although it would be dreadful, I was prepared to drive home to pick up a copy and then return) Fortunately, the documentary arrived in time and, football game or not, a nice crowd came to see the movie and participate in the discussion afterwards.

Passenger pigeon's by Wisconsin's own Owen Gromme.

Passenger pigeon’s by Wisconsin’s own Owen Gromme.

Our stay at the museum was  wonderful. Most unexpected was running into long-time birding friends Jerry Rosenband, Larry Balch, and their respective spouses. We had dinner together.  In addition, Cindy and I had the privilege of spending quality time with Kathy (who at one time was the director of Leigh Block Gallery at Northwestern University: it is always nice to see local ties), Catie Anderson  (curator of education), and other staffers.  Cindy and I were put up in the guest house across the street from the museum. Often such facilities have a book, where guests are encouraged to leave comments. Because most of those who stay here are world class artists, the guest book was brimming with stunning images. I felt quite inadequate with my few lines of enthusiastic prose.

Final word by a former guest.

Final word by a former guest.

On our first morning, Kathy arranged for us to go birding with Susan Ford-Hoffert, a local birder who is very active. She took us to several areas, including some neat wetlands, but unfortunately we did not see very much in way of birds. (The highlight was a group of  wild turkeys.)  It was duck hunting season and the reports of gunfire sounded frequently. The following morning we followed Susan’s suggestion that we explore Rib Mountain State Park. Again we did not see many birds but being surrounded by the autumn colors of northern Wisconsin was a fine experience.

Wild turkeys.

Wild turkeys.

About 40 miles south of Wausau, is Stevens Point which hosts a University of Wisconsin branch with a particularly strong natural resources program. It also has a museum of natural history. Ray Reser, the museum’s director, had asked me if I would be interested in giving a presentation on the Monday Cindy and I were returning home. Even though the only time I could do it was mid-morning, there was a nice turnout by students and others. Cindy had lesson plans to prepare so we scooted home without delay.

Wetland near Wausau.

Wetland near Wausau.

 

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