Beginning to board the Mississippi Explorer, a heated pontoon cruiser. (Photo by Michelle Milford)

Beginning to board the Mississippi Explorer, a heated pontoon cruiser. (Photo by Michelle Milford)

On Saturday, Nov. 17, the Foundation drew its 2015 field trip season to a close with the ever-popular “Boat Cruise the Mississippi in Autumn Migration” trip. The Mississippi Explorer, captained by Captain Annie, took to the famous Pool 9 in the Mississippi River Wildlife Refuge for both a morning and an afternoon session in search of migrating waterfowl and bald eagles.

As the Foundation’s field trip assistant coordinator, I was able to attend these trips with other Foundation employees: Christine Seeley, Cait Williamson and field trip program coordinator Christine Tanzer. We were joined later by two additional Foundation employees: Barb Barzen and Ruth Oppedahl.

On both trips we spotted numerous birds, including pelicans and swans. We saw hundreds of canvasbacks. At one point, the canvasbacks flushed as a flock from the water. They cascaded from the water like dominoes—one group after another. From our vantage point, they looked like snowflakes blowing across the water.  It was an amazing sight.

Foundation members scan the water looking for more feathered friends together. (Photo by Michelle Milford)

Foundation members scan the water looking for more feathered friends together. (Photo by Michelle Milford)

A few of us also had an encounter with a beaver. She popped her head out of the water in front of the boat twice before swimming under—presumably to her dam located on the right side of the boat.  Captain Annie was very pleased—beaver sightings at that time of day are very rare. For fun, Cait attempted to count the number of bald eagles spotted along the Mississippi; her final count was 83! Barb reported to the group that bald and golden eagle numbers are soaring. Scientists have been tracking their movements and they are covering a lot of ground!

While the wildlife viewing and the boating experience were delightfully unique, connecting with our members made the trip even more memorable. I talked with members about the field program, their suggestions for the next year, and previously attended trips. We discussed going on adventures like Ruth’s river trip and preserving Wisconsin’s natural resources. Some members helped Christine and I hone our bird identification skills. I especially enjoyed seeing some of our youngest attendees become so enthusiastic about finding different birds.  Christine S., Cait, and I also had the pleasure of eating lunch with Foundation members Barb and Bob Mortimore.

We had perfect weather for the boat cruise—just gorgeous! (Photo by Michelle Milford)

We had perfect weather for the boat cruise—just gorgeous! (Photo by Michelle Milford)

I watched the sun rise and set, spent six hours on the sparkling water, and enjoyed every minute with lovely people. On the ride home, we chatted about how lucky we are to be employees at the Foundation. We have jobs that allow us the opportunity to enjoy and share our love of Wisconsin’s natural resources with the public. Our mission is to connect generations to the natural wonders of Wisconsin—it was a treat seeing this come to life firsthand.

This was my first field trip season, and I am unbelievably excited for my second. Next year, 2016, marks the Natural Resources Foundation’s 30th anniversary. We have big things planned for the 2016 field trip season, including our first-ever dogs-welcome trip led by yours truly! Here’s to a wonderful 2015 and an even better 2016. I hope to see you in the field!