Environment
12:16 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

Nature Writer Revels in Wisconsin River's Splendor

Jean Clausen spends part of every day writing about the bird activity and other natural events along the Wisconsin River.

Today is Earth Day. What’s become an international event, was the brainchild of the late Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. Over the years, the U.S. Senator inspired millions of people around the world to address dangers threatening the environment.

Jean Clausen has found inspiration in the world around her. The 95-year-old nature writer helped save the “once endangered” bald eagles that now thrive on the Wisconsin River. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

WUWM environmental reporter Susan Bence motored up to her riverbank cottage, 30 miles northwest of Madison. She caught Clausen in the middle of intense bird watching, and chronicling. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

Jean Clausen is excited! She just spotted a small woodpecker - a yellow-bellied sapsucker - feasting at one of her many feeders. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

“I’m pleased about the sapsucker because he’s a little more unusual,” Clausen says. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

She pencils the find on today’s bird list. Jean has methodically kept tabs on the natural world around her for years. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

“Last spring I went to a field trip given by a retired ornithology professor and he said he said ‘how long have you been keeping your records, Jean and I said, oh about 30 years,’” Clausen says. world to address dangers threatening the environment.
 

Clausen's loyal dog Mopsy

That’s Jean’s aged, but ever protective, scruffy dog, Mopsy. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

“She’s pretty deaf and when she hears something she barks,” Clausen says. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

This nonagenarian is fully in command – white hair elegantly coiffed, she wears a finely woven, lilac-hued jacket. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

“I try to be a fashionable nature nut,” Clausen says.

Back to the birds – every day Jean transfers her hand-written findings to a web-list maintained by Cornell University. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

“First I thought it was such a chore, but I find that I enjoy it more because I’m paying more attention to the birds and I get to see their behavior a little more,” Clausen says. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

Her love of nature stems from growing up on Lake Michigan. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

“Half way between Racine and Kenosha. We used to have lovely beach parties and watch the moon come up over Lake Michigan. I wanted to live on water ever since,” Clausen says. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

That didn’t happen until decades later. First, Jean earned a sociology degree at UW- Madison, worked for a social services agency, married her college sweetheart – a medical student at the time - and raised four children in Madison, where her husband Norm practiced medicine. In the meantime, Jean cultivated another of her interests – writing. She picked up freelance work, not surprisingly, she gravitated to nature themes. Finally, the stars aligned - the Clausen’s found this cottage on the Wisconsin River and at 62, Jean’s husband retired to enjoy river life with his wife. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

Jean’s writing continued. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

“There was a fallen tree at the edge of the bank here and a bluebird built a nest there. So I wrote a short column about that and took it into the local paper in Sauk Prairie. I told him a wanted to do a weekly column. And he said, well, I think we something like that,” Clausen says. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

During the Clausen’s early river years, spotting an eagle in the sky was a rare treat, but Jean says, word went out some were nesting a mile downstream from their cottage in a cliffy area called Ferry Bluff. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

“Ferry Bluff was being considered for development and they asked of if we would mind if they brought a few people to our house and get something organized. And so that was the very beginning of Ferry Bluff Eagle Council,” Clausen says. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

Jean’s group proposed building an observation area in downtown Sauk City to give visitors a good view of eagles as they fished the Wisconsin River and perched in nearby trees, without disturbing their habitat. She remembers, at first the town board resisted the idea, but finally okayed the project. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

“Somebody said ‘I don’t know why we needed it, you can see the eagles just fine from the parking lot.’ And then over the years, they began to realize this is a big thing here,” Clausen says. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

The volunteer group continues to support research and education to protect eagles’ nests and feeding areas. With wonder in her voice, Jean says this winter she counted 47 eagles at a well-known roost in 45 minutes’ time. She says that’s a far cry from the eagle’s endangered days, but adds, her group continues to be watchful. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

“To prevent to much development. There are certain areas that are still privately owned If owners want to sell, why we have to get in there try to convince them to do an easement instead,” Clausen says. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

The goal of all these efforts is to allow native plants and animals to thrive here and to give people the opportunity to drink in the splendor. As she has chronicled nature, Jean Clausen has found her place in it. world to address dangers threatening the environment.

“I’m only a part of nature; I’m not the master of what I see and that is emphasized if you watch birds; you can not talk them into staying where they are so you can see them; they do what they want to and that you’re privilege to watch, you’re lucky,” Clausen says.