July 2018 Keystone Volunteer: Kerry Wilcox

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The birding world is blessed to have people with a variety of skills and interests, and a willingness to share them. Kerry Wilcox is a perfect example of this: he came to Madison Audubon with the idea to run a "Birding by Ear" field trip that was particularly geared for folks with visual impairments. His idea blossomed into a wonderful class that exceeded all of our expectations!

"I'd recently moved back to Wisconsin after a couple decades in California where I worked for the National Audubon Society as a biologist and was looking to get involved with the local Audubon chapter," said Kerry. "I'd also had a long time interest in birding by ear--in particular with people who had different levels of sightedness." So Kerry pitched that we partner with a local non-profit, the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired, to host a meaningful, enriching class that opens up the birding world to those who might otherwise be unable to fully experience it.

  Kerry leads one of the small groups through Pheasant Branch Conservancy to listen for and learn a variety of bird calls. MAS Photo

Kerry leads one of the small groups through Pheasant Branch Conservancy to listen for and learn a variety of bird calls. MAS Photo

The class was part of our new Audubon Naturalists Series, and had both an indoor and outdoor component, and the 20 participants learned a variety of songs, calls, and other identification cues -- as well as the importance of knowing when and where you are to help hone in on which potential species you can hear. Kerry took the lead on creating all class materials and pulling together a variety of resources for participants, with support from Madison Audubon and great partners at the Council.

We're so grateful to Kerry for being such a champion for birders of all varieties and an advocate for increasing accessibility to birding. We look forward to working with Kerry and the Council for another Birding by Ear class! To learn how you can volunteer with Madison Audubon, visit our volunteer page.

Written by Brenna Marsicek, Director of Communications

Into the Nest: #Momlife

Raising chicks in a grassland is challenging enough, but prairie storms take it to a whole new level. This grasshopper sparrow is trying to keep her chicks warm and dry despite the thunderstorm, but these rowdy young'uns keep bouncing her around. The chicks are 8 days old, and close to fledging. Sometimes at this stage, the adults will leave the chicks on their own and go catch some shut-eye somewhere nearby. (Sound familiar to anyone?) I don't blame them!

One of these is not like the others

One of these is not like the others

Orphaned kestrel chicks find a home in foster nests

North America’s smallest falcon, the American kestrel, is getting a leg-up in south-central Wisconsin. Four orphaned kestrel chicks were discovered and brought in for rehabilitation, and placed into foster kestrel nests that allowed the chicks to be raised by wild mothers with nestlings their own age.

  A female kestrel surveys the land at MAS Goose Pond Sanctuary for unassuming prey. Photo by Jim Stewart

A female kestrel surveys the land at MAS Goose Pond Sanctuary for unassuming prey. Photo by Jim Stewart

American kestrels are a beloved falcon for their tiny stature, big personality, and beautiful coloring. However, the kestrel population in southern Wisconsin declined 41% between 1966 and 2014, according to Wisconsin Breeding Bird Survey data, and the stark downward trend continues today. This is partly due to loss of their natural nesting sites in trees with cavities.

Kestrels now largely rely on man-made nest boxes for nesting habitat, and readily take to them. However, sometimes kestrels will nest in other structures, such as barns. In the case of the orphaned chicks, a barn containing a kestrel nest was torn down and the nest abandoned by the parents. The chicks were recovered, and sent to the Dane County Humane Society’s Wildlife Center for rehabilitation and care.

  Volunteer Stacy Taritas served as a caregiver for the orphaned chicks and as the liaison between the Dane County Humane Society’s Wildlife Center, Madison Audubon Society, and Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program. Photo provided by Stacy Taritas. June 15, 2018

Volunteer Stacy Taritas served as a caregiver for the orphaned chicks and as the liaison between the Dane County Humane Society’s Wildlife Center, Madison Audubon Society, and Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program. Photo provided by Stacy Taritas. June 15, 2018

“The barn was demolished on [June 9, 2018], and the chicks came to us shortly after,” explained Stacy Taritas, volunteer for both the Wildlife Center and Madison Audubon Society. The four chicks were placed into an incubator and “fed with tweezers while volunteers wore masks” to avoid the birds from “imprinting on”, or becoming too attached to, their human caregivers. The chicks were approximately 10 days old when they arrived at the Wildlife Center.

Serendipitously, Madison Audubon Society, a local organization which focuses on bird conservation and environmental education, and the Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program based in Stevens Point, had a joint kestrel banding outing scheduled for Friday, June 15 around MAS Goose Pond Sanctuary in Columbia County.

This event was part of an ongoing research project involving Janet and Amber Eschenbauch with CWKR, along with Madison Audubon volunteers and members, to retrieve adult kestrels and chicks from nest boxes to band, weigh, and provide feather and toe nail samples from the birds before placing them back into the nest. The bands allow researchers to understand kestrel movement, migration, and nesting territory. The feather and toe nail samples help researchers determine more in-depth information about where the kestrels have been living and who they are related to.

Taritas transported the four orphaned chicks from the Wildlife Center to the event, and they were easily integrated into four nests in the wild. Event attendees asked questions about whether the mother notices or objects to the new addition.

 Four orphaned chicks were rehabilitated and await placement into wild kestrel nest boxes with foster families.  Photo by Madison Audubon Society. June 15, 2018

Four orphaned chicks were rehabilitated and await placement into wild kestrel nest boxes with foster families. Photo by Madison Audubon Society. June 15, 2018

“The short answer is: kestrels can’t count,” said Janet, who runs the Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program. “Kestrel mothers don’t know that they have four chicks in the morning and five in the afternoon.” Kestrels typically raise between four and six young, so nests with five or fewer and of the same age as the orphaned chicks were good candidates for receiving an extra nestling.

“We also make sure to add only one orphaned chick to any nest so we don’t overburden the foster parents,” added Amber, fellow bander and researcher for CWKR. In a normal year, food is plentiful and the mother can easily feed all of the young, including the added chick. Kestrels eat mice, voles, insects, small snakes, and other small prey items.

“We get about 4, 5, 6 orphaned chicks each year,” explained Janet, who said most come to them after an old building is demolished or a tree snag falls down and later a nest with chicks is discovered. Those chicks are either placed into foster nests if they’re young enough, or are raised in a facility and released into a kestrel family group after they’ve learned to fly.

  Janet Eschenbauch of Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program carefully guides a kestrel chick into its nest box. Four orphaned kestrel chicks were placed into foster nests to be raised by wild kestrel parents and young. Photo by Stacy Taritas. June 15, 2018

Janet Eschenbauch of Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program carefully guides a kestrel chick into its nest box. Four orphaned kestrel chicks were placed into foster nests to be raised by wild kestrel parents and young. Photo by Stacy Taritas. June 15, 2018

The nest boxes which received the orphaned chicks are enrolled in Madison Audubon’s kestrel nest box monitoring program that involves regular, non-invasive visits by volunteers to monitor nest development. The active nests in the program have a high success rate for raising young kestrels, and a growing number of previously banded kestrels are found as nesting adults each year.

“These four kestrel chicks are extremely fortunate that there has been an ongoing kestrel program with Madison Audubon Society and Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program,” said Brand Smith, who coordinates the kestrel nest box monitoring program with Madison Audubon. “These organizations are made up of passionate people that want to do good by nature. This concept is also ingrained in the people that work and volunteer with the Dane County Humane Society’s Wildlife Center. I am very happy that our organizations could come together to find homes for these displaced chicks.”

  Local kestrel program coordinators (L to R): Janet Eschenbauch, CWKR coordinator and biologist; Brand Smith, MAS volunteer; Amber Eschenbauch, CWKR biologist; Mark Martin, MAS Goose Pond Sanctuary resident co-manager; Matt Reetz, MAS executive director. Photo by Madison Audubon Society. June 15, 2018

Local kestrel program coordinators (L to R): Janet Eschenbauch, CWKR coordinator and biologist; Brand Smith, MAS volunteer; Amber Eschenbauch, CWKR biologist; Mark Martin, MAS Goose Pond Sanctuary resident co-manager; Matt Reetz, MAS executive director. Photo by Madison Audubon Society. June 15, 2018

To learn more, visit the following links:

Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program:  facebook.com/central-wisconsin-kestrel-research

Dane County Humane Society’s Wildlife Center: giveshelter.org/four-lakes-wildlife-center.html

Madison Audubon Society and the kestrel nest box monitoring program: madisonaudubon.org/kestrels

 

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About Madison Audubon Society
Madison Audubon Society, is a non-profit organization based in Madison and serving eight counties in south-central Wisconsin.  MAS provides land protection and restoration, environmental education for all ages, and science-based advocacy on behalf of its land and constituents.  Visit madisonaudubon.org to learn more.

About Dane County Humane Society
Dane County Humane Society (DCHS) provides refuge, healing and new beginnings to over 9,000 companion animals, exotic species, farm animals and injured or orphaned wild animals every year. DCHS, including the Wildlife Center, is a private, non-profit, open admission shelter accepting all animals that need assistance regardless of age, health status or temperament. DCHS has an adoption guarantee, meaning all healthy or treatable animals can stay at DCHS as long as it takes to find a loving home.

About Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research
Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research is dedicated to the quest for knowledge about American Kestrels, while providing educational programs to the public. The program is run by Janet and Amber Eschenbauch. Both are UWSP graduates with degrees in Biology.

Madison Audubon Contact:
Brenna Marsicek
Director of Communications
Madison Audubon Society
bmarsicek@madisonaudubon.org
608-255-2473
1400 E. Washington Ave., Ste. 170, Madison WI 53703

DCHS Media Contact: 
Marissa DeGroot
PR Coordinator
Office (608) 838-0413 ext. 214
Cell (608) 224-9488
mdegroot@giveshelter.org

Cover photo: An orphaned kestrel chick is seamlessly integrated into a wild kestrel nest box with five other chicks of its same age. MAS Photo. June 15, 2018

June 2018 Keystone Volunteer: Brand Smith

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Brand Smith is in that class of volunteers that is so involved, so integrated, that they are woven into the fabric of an organization. His presence makes the whole picture more vibrant and stronger, and his absence would make a clear and notable difference. Brand has been involved with Madison Audubon in a variety of ways for nearly 30 years (!!) and has done it all: seed collecting, prairie planting, bird counts, board leadership (Brand even served as MAS board president in 2009), and more. These days, his focus is running Madison Audubon's kestrel nest box monitoring program -- arguably one of the COOLEST citizen science programs out there.

In 2009 Brand, with help from friends and staff at Goose Pond Sanctuary, began constructing, installing, and monitoring nest boxes, starting  with 33 boxes. These days, kestrels rely almost exclusively on man-made nest boxes to reproduce and survive. Monitoring involved frequent visits to determine if the nests were active, if the nesting kestrels laid eggs, if those eggs hatched, and if those hatchlings fledged. Because of the success of Brand's program, we now have 153 nest boxes installed in seven counties, visited by over 20 volunteers -- all of which is coordinated by Brand, a volunteer himself!

  Thanks to Brand and his collaboration with the Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program, this young kestrel was banded on June 15, 2018. MAS Photo

Thanks to Brand and his collaboration with the Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program, this young kestrel was banded on June 15, 2018. MAS Photo

"The reason I like to volunteer for MAS is because it is something totally different from what I normally do, and I feel it makes a difference," says Brand. "Whether I am collecting or spreading prairie seed, counting ducks, or being involved with more detailed outdoor activities I feel like I am helping make a difference in the natural world."

And make a difference he does! Incredibly, last year, Brand's band of volunteers documented a record number of 190 kestrels fledge from 47 boxes! In addition to monitoring kestrels, Brand also coordinates a banding effort in partnership with the Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program since 2016. This has resulted in 250 adult and chick kestrels receiving fancy leg bracelets that allows scientists to begin to understand kestrel nesting ecology, migration, territories, and more.

  Least bittern nest, photo by Brand Smith

Least bittern nest, photo by Brand Smith

Brand is also a "keystone" volunteer with the atlas project.  He is the lead on 3 of our priority blocks (27 square miles) in Atlas II. Just in June 2018, he atlased the Rio and Columbus blocks, canoed the Baraboo Waterfowl Production area by himself for 4 hours (and found 16 common gallinules, including 2 broods and 6 least bitterns including 3 nests a species had to find), and surveyed at Lost Lake State Natural Area - a difficult area to walk through - looking for winter wrens. Still on his list is to canoe a large wetland for confirming yellow-headed black birds, marsh wrens, least bitterns and common gallinules, survey a private land owner's 330 acres in the Poynette NW block, and go on two atlas canoe trips down the Baraboo and Wisconsin Rivers. He frequently takes out other volunteers to help him.

Brand has also volunteered hundreds of hours at Goose Pond Sanctuary over the past twenty years on the Poynette Christmas Bird Count an on the Wood Duck Project.  

Brand has left his own brand on Madison Audubon, and we -- and all the birds in south-central Wisconsin -- are grateful for it. To learn how you can volunteer with Madison Audubon, visit our volunteer page.

Written by Brenna Marsicek, Director of Communications