Goose Pond Sanctuary July Butterfly County

A question mark butterfly obscured by the cup plant it nectars on is one of the hundreds of butterflies counted at Goose Pond Sanctuary this July. Photo by Maddie Dumas

A question mark butterfly obscured by the cup plant it nectars on is one of the hundreds of butterflies counted at Goose Pond Sanctuary this July. Photo by Maddie Dumas

Friday, July 28th was a sunny day to tour the beautiful prairies at Goose Pond Sanctuary. We took the opportunity to grab the butterfly nets and take an inventory of the butterflies using our prairies for food, shelter, and egg laying. Over the course of the day, we counted a record number of 3,144 wings -- butterflies have two pairs of membranous wings (forewing and hindwing) on each side -- or 786 butterflies.

Goose Pond volunteer and Madison Audubon board member Topf Wells with butterfly guide in hand checking out a sighting. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Goose Pond volunteer and Madison Audubon board member Topf Wells with butterfly guide in hand checking out a sighting. Photo by Arlene Koziol

For the past three years, Goose Pond staff and volunteers participated in the Mud Lake North American Butterfly Count held at the beginning of July. This year we decided to conduct a separate count later in the month to see if we found different species or a change in numbers.

Fifteen counters divided into four parties lead by Mark, Maddie, Jim Otto, and Greg Tiedt. Overall we found 19 species. Check the spreadsheet below for count data. 

Eastern tiger swallowtails were new to the count along with Jim Otto’s find of a giant swallowtail, a more southern species that sometimes strays north into Wisconsin in late summer. In the past four years we have found 24 species of butterflies on the counts.

An eastern tiger swallowtail on cup plant. Photo by Mark Martin

An eastern tiger swallowtail on cup plant. Photo by Mark Martin

The count date can account for a difference in species found and the insect numbers. We found that in the past some species were more numerous in early July counts including the skippers, and sulphurs. However, we found many more viceroys, common buckeyes, pearl crescents, and painted ladies in our late July count.

A monarch finds energy and nourishment from the nectar of a meadow blazing star. Photo by Maddie Dumas

A monarch finds energy and nourishment from the nectar of a meadow blazing star. Photo by Maddie Dumas

The highlight was finding 344 monarchs compared to 23 found last year on July 2nd.  Maddie and her team counted 131 monarchs, many of them nectaring on meadow blazing stars that were just beginning to flower. Meadow blazing stars may be at the tail end of flowering when monarch tagging begins so we will have to concentrate on searching the showy goldenrod flowers. 

Monarch tagging is a great citizen science activity for the whole family. Accessible, mown trails wind through some of the best nectaring habitat on the sanctuary, so people of all ages and abilities are welcome. Our 1,500 monarch tags arrived last week and if you would like to come out and tag in September you can sign up at Madison Audubon website.

Thanks to the summer interns and volunteers for helping out on a day of counting our winged friends. It was a great learning experience for everyone. If you would be interested in helping count butterflies next July contact us at goosep@madisonaudubon.org.

A butterfly in-hand is worth two on the flower -- look at the beautiful coloring of this pearl crescent butterfly! Photo by Maddie Dumas

A butterfly in-hand is worth two on the flower -- look at the beautiful coloring of this pearl crescent butterfly! Photo by Maddie Dumas

Written by Mark Martin and Susan Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary resident co-managers, and Maddie Dumas, Goose Pond Sanctuary land steward

Bobolink

The bobolink is gone/ the Rowdy of the meadow/ and no one swaggers now but me.
— Emily Dickinson, “The Bobolink is Gone”
A male bobolink is a distinctive sight in our grasslands. Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

A male bobolink is a distinctive sight in our grasslands. Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

Bobolinks are leaving southern Wisconsin at about this time of year, beginning a tremendous migration to the Pampas of South America, a trip of over 6,000 miles.

For all of the fanfare the bobolink's call elicits in May, its exit is matched in melancholy. William Cullen Bryant wrote of bobolinks in his poem “Robert of Lincoln” stating, “Summer wanes; the children are grown;/ Fun and frolic no more he knows;/ Robert of Lincoln's a humdrum crone.”

While Bryant is right—the August bobolink is humdrum, hardly a shadow of its boisterous self—the bird is busy engorging itself with insects and seeds; the weight of a 6,000 mile trip means colossal weight gains for the bobolink as it puts on half of its body weight in fat reserves.

The male marks a mid-May meadow with his male pattern baldness and an exotic tuxedo, white on his back and black underneath. Even more distinctive is his call, which rattles like R2D2, always enlisting a wry smile from those hearing it for the first time in spring.

Adult female bobolink. Photo by Carolyn Byers

Adult female bobolink. Photo by Carolyn Byers

Often overlooked, the female bobolink accomplishes her share of work alone, in subdued brown plumage with brown streaks on her feathers. She builds the nest herself, making a 2-inch cup of grasses and sedges, which can take up to two days. After laying an average of five purple-specked eggs, she alone incubates the eggs.

William Cullen Bryant depicts the female bobolink as dutiful yet boring, a “Quaker wife,/ pretty and quiet.../ passing at home a patient life.” Bryant's “Robin of Lincoln” is “modest and shy as a nun/...one weak chirp her only note/... Nice good wife that never goes out.” Here Bryant perhaps grapples with the formation of a new American nationalism, branching off from Great Britain. He's describing a uniquely American bird and envisioning the roles of man and woman mirroring those of the bobolink.

Years later, Emily Dickinson would modify these ideas and adapt them to her own experiences. In her poem “Some keep the sabbath going to church,” Dickinson instead keeps the sabbath “staying at home,/ with a bobolink for a chorister.” This imagines a new role for women, contrasting Bryant's womanly work as a sort of boring prison and instead making her homely life an innovation and an act of rebellion.

Bobolinks were among the first birds that were discovered to be polyandrous, with a clutch of a single female having multiple fathers. This innovation of the female bobolink is thought to bring about the advantage of having two males to feed the brood. It may also increase genetic diversity. Males will exhibit polygyny, with more than one female mate.

Bobolink eggs with their lovely purple speckling. Photo by Carolyn Byers

Bobolink eggs with their lovely purple speckling. Photo by Carolyn Byers

Bobolinks are among our most recognizable grassland birds, but practices in both North and South America have contributed to population declines. In Wisconsin, for instance, conversion from pasture to frequently mowed alfalfa fields has decreased available habitat. Some fields in Jefferson County have been mowed 7-8 times already this year, which provides no opportunity for grassland birds.

In the Pampas, huge flocks of bobolinks are shot and poisoned as they decimate rice fields and farmers' crops.

At Faville Grove, bobolinks find refuge down Prairie Lane, on our expansive floodplain prairies. Catch them soon before they leave. In Martin, Tillotson, and Charles prairies the “rowdy of the meadow” should never leave, should always swagger on June mornings.

Written by Drew Harry, Faville Grove Sanctuary land steward

Japanese Beetles and the Value of Birds

The beautiful but devastating Japanese beetle can lace plants faster than your granny with a crochet hook. Photo by Joshua Mayer

The beautiful but devastating Japanese beetle can lace plants faster than your granny with a crochet hook. Photo by Joshua Mayer

On a recent early morning, I was looking out our kitchen window and bemoaning the fact that both the swamp white oak and tamarack tree in my view were full of Japanese beetles.  I had noticed hundreds of these shiney bugs in both trees the day before and we were making plans on how to rid the trees of these damaging insects. 

The early light enabled me to notice a number of birds actively feeding in those trees.  First, an eastern phoebe with two young perched nearby was plucking the beetles from the leaves and feeding them to the young.  Next, a gray catbird flew into the action and ate a few before carrying some away, and then a song sparrow, followed by some house sparrows that eagerly ate some too.  Before long, a beautiful Baltimore oriole came by to partake of the feast!  I had to know more.

My research showed that the champion beetle eaters are European starlings followed by blue jays, robins, crows, grackles, kingbirds, woodpeckers and purple martins, to name a few.  Some birds eat the grubs, some the adult beetles, and some both.

This made me think about the economic value of birds and their work as pest controllers, especially given the fact much of the credit for this service is given to our declining cave bat mammal species who struggle with white nose syndrome.  I continued to look for more evidence of the value of these flying bug exterminators.

The most recent summer edition of Living Bird magazine (7/17) contains an article on this topic titled Analysis: The Economic Value of Birds by Cagan H. Sekercioglu.  In his article, he mentions a recently published book called Why Birds Matter, authored by himself along with Chris Whelan, University of Illinois, Chicago and Dan Wenny, San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory. 

Sekercioglu talks about the large economic value of pest control by birds saying, “Birds can reduce the intensity of spruce budworm outbreaks and mitigate damage on spruce tree plantations comparable to effective insecticides.  In Washington (state) avian control of spruce budworm was calculated to be worth at least $1,473 per square kilometer per year.”  He goes on to site many other examples of ecosystem services of birds as pollinators, seed dispersers, and even carcass cleaners (disease control).

A female dickcissel captures a large insect at Schoeneberg Marsh Waterfowl Production Area. Photo by Jim Otto

A female dickcissel captures a large insect at Schoeneberg Marsh Waterfowl Production Area. Photo by Jim Otto

We love to watch birds, feed birds, and study birds.  Many of us plan our vacations and lives around birds. We love to work with non-profits like Madison Audubon, restoring habitat at our sanctuaries where we welcome and count the birds, monitor their populations, and provide nest boxes for cavity nesting birds.  We band birds to learn more about their life cycles and travels across the landscapes.

No matter why you connect with birds, you might agree that they bring value to our lives by providing color and beautiful songs for our senses, and wonder which piques our curiosity, lifts our spirits, and builds a lifetime appreciation and connection to nature. 

And, birds eat Japanese beetles.

Susan Foote-Martin, Resident Co-Manager, Goose Pond Sanctuary

Indigo Bunting

Indigo bunting photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

Indigo bunting photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

The Indigo Bunting, cerulean on its body and a brilliant indigo on its head, enjoys brushy early successional habitat throughout Wisconsin. These birds settle into the summer breeding season with the blooming Blephilia, exploding onto the scene with the blue spiderwort. Blue is a rare color in the matrix of communities and animals calling southern Wisconsin home. Bellflower, spiderwort, bottle gentian, and the alien roadside chicory are some of the few plants with blue blooms.

Indigo Bunting by Jim Hudgins, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Indigo Bunting by Jim Hudgins, US Fish and Wildlife Service

But the indigo is not truly blue. The bird does not have blue pigment, but rather refracts blue light. If you hold a bunting feather facing the sun, you will see, the dull brown color of melanin. If instead the sun comes from behind the feather, microscopic structures will refract that unmistakable cerulean back toward you.

Indigo Buntings use stars as more than just plumage enhancement. Besides refracting the sun's rays, the birds also use the stars to orient themselves during migration. The behavior is learned, as a sort of map from other buntings. Researchers discovered this by studying Indigo Buntings in a planetarium versus a natural setting under the night sky.

Another extraordinary feature of the bird is that they have worked around brown-headed cowbird nest parasitism. Indigo Buntings will abandon their nest if cowbirds parasitize it, or they will build over the cowbird egg. They will readily re-nest and will sometimes nest late enough to avoid the cowbird breeding season and thus avoid parasitism. 

Indigo Buntings and their young have been making their distinctive call ("fire, fire, where where here here") along Prairie Lane and throughout the sanctuary. Impressive numbers of buntings sing along woodland edges early each morning, waking me with their warning of fire.

By Drew Harry, Faville Grove Sanctuary land steward

Purple Martins

Purple martins perched above a nest box are at ease around humans due to their peaceful co-existence with their Amish landlords. Photo by Arlene Koziol.

Purple martins perched above a nest box are at ease around humans due to their peaceful co-existence with their Amish landlords. Photo by Arlene Koziol.

The bird enthusiasts of Wisconsin have a long history with the purple martin, a species that has become reliant on humans for nesting throughout the country. For hundreds of years, purple martin supporters have constructed nest boxes to house these charming birds each summer. In recent decades, purple martin populations have been in decline for reasons that are not yet fully understood.

I am a graduate student from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was fortunate to be awarded a Wisconsin Society for Ornithology (WSO) Steenbock Award to help fund my project.  I am working with the Madison Audubon Society to study purple martin nesting and the factors that contribute to successful colonies throughout south central Wisconsin. Colony success throughout the area is thought to be mainly attributed to the regular cleaning, maintenance, and management of nest boxes with large cavities, conducted each year by purple martin “landlords.” In Columbia County, purple martin colonies are a rare sight, with one major exception: Amish farms.

Amish landlords in the Dalton/Kingston area, near the junction of Columbia, Green Lake, and Marquette Counties, are a prime example of how proper management and stewardship can make all the difference for the success of this species. Amish communities throughout the country have strong cultural ties to the purple martin, with many establishing gourds and nest boxes simply because their families have hosted martins for generations. In mid July a team of Madison Audubon Society purple martin enthusiasts, including Mark and Sue-Foote Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary Managers; Maddie Dumas, Goose Pond Land Steward; Brenna Marsicek, Director of Communications; Toft Wells, Board Member, and his granddaughter Annie; Arlene Koziol, Madison Audubon volunteer and photographer; Goose Pond interns, and WSO president Michael John Jaeger, and myself set out to take inventory and band martin chicks. Photos of the banding effort by Arlene Koziol are available on her Flickr account.

Dick Nickolai (blue denim) shows Annie, granddaughter of MAS board member Topf Wells (orange), how bands fit around the legs of purple martin chicks. Photo by Arlene Koziol.

Dick Nickolai (blue denim) shows Annie, granddaughter of MAS board member Topf Wells (orange), how bands fit around the legs of purple martin chicks. Photo by Arlene Koziol.

Leading this endeavor was retired Wisconsin DNR Wildlife Biologist Dick Nikolai, who now spends much of his time traveling throughout the state banding purple martins on behalf of the Wisconsin Purple Martin Association. Dick has been involved in purple martin conservation for over thirty years and has banded at over 20,000 martins to date. Dick is also providing guidance to my study. To say that Dick is an expert on purple martin breeding and behavior would be an understatement!

About 35 Amish farms and businesses in the area have at least one purple martin nest box, with some families erecting as many as seven nest boxes, each one offering fourteen cavities for pairs to build their nests (commonly referred to as a T14 nest box).  One Amish family makes and sells T14 boxes and poles.  Some families also hang hollowed-out gourds for nesting, which were historically used by Native Americans before European settlement in North America.

Two purple martin chicks from the same brood are distinctly different in size. Photo by Arlene Koziol.

Two purple martin chicks from the same brood are distinctly different in size. Photo by Arlene Koziol.

Over the course of two days, at just six colony locations, the purple martin team was able to band 838 chicks, as well as one female adult. Such large colonies, some with over 60 pairs of martins, are likely the result of the strong relationship that the Amish families have with their birds. Many families take pride in their large colonies and consider it a family affair to check their nests weekly, by providing suitable nesting materials, removing invasive house sparrow nests, and cleaning out excess waste. The Amish children often take particular interest in monitoring the nest progression and can provide plenty of details on the status of each nest box. Each family that was visited by the team was more than happy to allow, and often assist, the banding efforts. As one Amish landlord remarked, “we love the purple martins and the purple martins love us!”

If you would like to see purple martins visit the Amish community, where even many of the businesses maintain purple martin nest boxes which are easy to see from parking lots and the road.  Martins will be present for a couple more weeks before moving to staging areas before heading to Brazil. You could begin at the Columbia – Marquette County line.  Go north of Pardeeville on Highway 22 to the County line where County CM goes to the west while Barry Road goes east.  Take a right on Barry Road.  A good place to stop is Michler’s County Store and pick up a map of the Amish community. The map has the location of 50 Amish businesses including a number of bakeries, green houses, and furniture shops.  There are also families that sell garden produce.

One of the Amish farms hosting gourds for purple martin nesting. Photo by Arlene Koziol.

One of the Amish farms hosting gourds for purple martin nesting. Photo by Arlene Koziol.

By Erin Manlick, Masters Candidate, Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies