Everyone is glad that spring has finally arrived, including the migrating birds! This is an excellent time to get out for some fresh air, to check out the migrating birds, and to participate in Wisconsin’s largest citizen science project, the Breeding Bird Atlas II. This is the start of year four of the five-year project and there are many opportunities to make observations and memories.
The first atlas was conducted from 1995–2000 by over 1,600 (mostly) volunteer observers. The information they collected proved to be a landmark tool guiding species management and conservation activities by federal, state, and private natural resource groups. The second, five-year atlas is documenting changes the last two decades. Major partners leading the atlas project are the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology (WSO), the Department of Natural Resources, the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory. Madison Audubon Society endorsed the project and is sponsoring the Canada goose. Funds from species that are sponsored are used to hire birders to conduct point counts and to atlas in difficult areas.
Kim Kreitinger, former WSO President, said, “The second Atlas project will provide a new snapshot of Wisconsin’s bird community, which will help us address important bird conservation issues in the state. Because the Atlas requires such a massive volunteer effort, it will also help us to elevate public awareness of nature and directly connect Wisconsin’s citizens to conservation.”
In Wisconsin, 1,500 volunteers have submitted almost 95,000 checklists and confirmed 220 species. In Columbia County alone, 129 volunteers have submitted almost 2,000 checklists and confirmed 122 species. The atlas work is conducted by birders that adopt a specific block of land and others that submit random observations. There are 18 priority blocks in Columbia County and an additional 67 blocks. Each block is three by three miles wide.
In Columbia County, we are finding interesting changes in bird populations. Bald eagle and osprey counts are increasing, while other birds like the ruffed grouse and ring-necked pheasant are decreasing. We added common ravens to the list of nesting birds in Columbia County while finding that gray partridges no longer live here.
We are looking for common as well as uncommon birds to atlas. In Columbia County some birds of interest include: hooded mergansers; great blue heron rookeries; green herons; turkey vultures; ospreys; Cooper’s hawks; bald eagles; red-tailed hawks; American woodcock; eastern screech, great horned, barred and northern saw-whet owls; eastern whip-poor-wills; chimney swifts; belted kingfishers (nesting cavities); red-headed and pileated woodpeckers; purple martins; brown thrashers; scarlet tanagers; dickcissels; bobolinks; eastern meadowlarks; and orchard orioles.
Northern pintails have only been recorded as “probably nesting” in two of Wisconsin’s 6,800 blocks. Our goal this spring is to confirm pintails nesting for the first time in Wisconsin Atlas II at Goose Pond. At the pond there are two lone pintail pairs and we will be working with volunteers to also confirm nesting for northern shovelers, gadwalls, green-winged teal, and ruddy ducks.
All the county coordinators can use additional help. The more eyes and ears we can get out there, the better our Atlas results -- and our ability to conserve birds -- will be. Overall in Columbia County, we are doing very well; however, we need more volunteers to help cover priority blocks, report incidental observations, help with special surveys for species like whip-poor-wills, and canoe waterways. (Sounds like a tough job, doesn't it?)
You don’t have to be an expert birder to be part of the atlas! All you need is to be a careful observer, learn the data collection and reporting procedures, and then go out and enjoy observing birds. Those wanting to learn more should visit the Atlas webpage (wsobirds.org/atlas) and the eBird Atlas webpage (ebird.org/content/atlaswi).
If you would like to help in Columbia County you can contact Mark and Sue at 608-333-9645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hopefully you will have many memorable atlas sightings. Some of our favorite sightings and memories are locating the southern-most raven nest in the state, seeing an osprey nest on the tall lights at the Pardeeville High School football field, a landowner with 160 nesting pairs of purple martins, seeing nesting red-headed and pileated woodpeckers, and photographing a vulture nest in a large silver maple nine feet high.
Written by Mark Martin and Sue Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary resident managers and Atlas Coordinators for Columbia County