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Local Advocates Celebrate Bird & Bee Days

Susan Bence
World Bee Day was created to bring attention to the importance and fragile situation facing bees around the globe.

This Sunday, May 20, is the first World Bee Day, and also is World Migratory Bird Day. A couple of groups in the Milwaukee area that are concerned about the health of bees and birds will use the day to shine a light on their importance.


On December 17, 2017 the General Assembly of the United Nations unanimously declared May 20 World Bee Day:

(Inviting) all Member States, organizations of the United Nations system, other international and regional organizations and civil society, including non-governmental organizations…to observe World Bee Day in an appropriate manner…through education and activities aimed at raising awareness of the importance of bees and other pollinators, the threats that they face and their contribution to sustainable development….

The idea came from the small country of Slovenia, located east of Italy and south of Austria.

Credit Charlie Koenen
Charlie Koenen was able to travel to Slovenia, the country that inspired World Bee Day, to learn more about its bee culture.

Milwaukee-based bee advocate Charlie Koenen knows a lot about Slovenia's long history in nurturing native bees. He says the country "has the most beekeepers – one in every 200 people is a beekeeper.”

Slovenia lobbied to create an international awareness day to mark the birth of an 18th century native beekeeping pioneer Anton Janša. In 1770, Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa named Janša the first royally appointed head of the first beekeeping school in Vienna.

In Milwaukee, Charlie Koenen says the current president of Slovenia’s beekeeping association, Boštjan Noč, played an important role establishing World Bee Day.

“This guy...was able to get the entire United Nations to agree that this problem is big enough that we should make World Bee Day like we made Earth Day."

Koenen spearheaded a celebration that will take place Sunday at Redeemer Church in downtown Milwaukee.

Once a computer programmer and consultant, Koenen says fate drew him to beekeeping. What started with a visit to Will Allen’s Growing Power back in 2002 turned into "beevangelism."

Credit Charlie Koenen
Koenen hopes to borrow from Slovenia's focus on bees by building a Slovenian style bee house.

He doesn't just raise his own bees who produce honey, Koenen designed his own horizontal bee hive system as an alternative to traditional stacked boxes. He also eases people into the art of beekeeping.

Koenen’s vision doesn’t stop with the celebration of World Bee Day.

Slovenian beekeepers construct what look like colorful multi-unit villas for bees. Koenen calls them efficient and bee-friendly. He wants to construct one here.

An order of Catholic nuns in St. Francis is offering him the location. All Koenen has to do is raise the money.


Credit Susan Bence
This spot in Harrington Beach State Park is waterfowl watch technicians's monitoring spot - 6 hours a day, 6 days a week - during the spring and fall migratory bird seasons.

The Western Great Lakes Bird & Bat Observatory's work is featured in this Lake Effect segment prepared by WUWM Environmental Reporter Susan Bence.

Western Great Lakes Bird & Bat Observatory (WGLBBO)’s celebration of World Migratory Bird Day will start first thing Sunday morning at the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve in Port Washington.

Tracking migrating birds is a core element of WGLBBO’s work. So is building awareness that conserving habitat and safe passage for birds is important.

One of the group’s key monitoring spots is Harrington Beach State Park located along Lake Michigan, between Port Washington and Sheboygan.

Just one of the places Calvin Brennan keeps a running list of migratory birds.

That’s where Calvin Brennan stands with binoculars and a special scope in hand, keeping track of the birds in the area.

Brennan is on the job both spring and fall, six hours a day, six days a week.

WGLBBO director Bill Mueller says Brennan’s focus is migrating waterfowl. But migratory songbirds get counted too, when they’re heard or seen.

Mueller considers the plight of bird species on the Wisconsin landscape. He says about one-third are stable, a little less than a third are increasing, including peregrine falcons, wild turkeys, bald eagles and trumpeter swans. “But then there’s another 35 to possibly even 40 percent of our bird species that are in decline for a wide variety of reasons."

Credit Kate Redmond
The Common Tern is one of the migratory birds that wings through Wisconsin. The bird is endangered here.

The risks presented by huge storms and disease have always existed, he says, “but now human beings have altered the environment tremendously."

Invasive species like quagga and zebra mussels have altered Lake Michigan’s ecosystem, changing the food that's available for migrating waterfowl.

Climate change is evident in plants’ leaves opening and insects emerging earlier, which could be an issue for migratory songbirds who stop off in Wisconsin to rest and rejuvenate on their long journey.

Mueller says the data amassed by waterbird watch technician Calvin Brennan, combined with the work of monitors and researchers throughout the Midwest, will help in efforts to establish effective conservation measures.

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Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.