Project Snapshot: One Year Photo Documentary of Birds at Goose Pond Sanctuary

Last October, we installed a DNR Project Snapshot wildlife trail camera at Goose Pond Sanctuary as part of a DNR program that includes assisting organizations with their education efforts. Our camera is located south of the Kampen Road residence, where three mowed trails meet adjacent to prairie, cropland and a food plot.

  Project Snapshot Camera 01138, sited at Goose Pond Sanctuary. Photo by Mark Martin

Project Snapshot Camera 01138, sited at Goose Pond Sanctuary. Photo by Mark Martin

When there is motion in front of the camera, a series of three quick-burst shots are taken. On April 5, the camera worked overtime when it took 80 (240 in the series) photos of Canada geese!

We check the camera once a month and use a DNR software program to classify the photos by species and number of individuals. Blank photos (vegetation moving with high winds) and human photos are deleted.

When we installed our camera, we were expecting to document mammals including raccoons, coyotes, red fox, and white-tailed deer (and we do see those! Check out our FFF from December 1, 2017). However, in the second week we were surprised and pleased to capture a photo of a Cooper’s hawk. Eleven species of birds were photographed from October 2017 to September 2018. Three of the most photographed species were ring-necked pheasants, Canada geese, and sandhill cranes (see table).

  A comparison of bird species photographed through Project Snapshot at Goose Pond Sanctuary. Table by Graham Steinhauer

A comparison of bird species photographed through Project Snapshot at Goose Pond Sanctuary. Table by Graham Steinhauer

Pheasants were photographed (97 series of 3 photos) on 37 days; many of the August photos included a pheasant brood. We were surprised to see the number of brood photos with a rooster in them.

Canada geese were common in spring migration and the camera was sensitive to record geese flying a long distance away.

Sandhill cranes also liked to have their picture taken. Hopefully next year we will have photos of a pair and their colts — usually there is only one pair in this area.

Additional species photographed were red-winged blackbirds (10 days in April and May), northern harriers (9 days in March and April), Cooper’s hawks (5 days in October, November, and August), American robins (5 days in March through May), red-tailed hawks (2 days in February and April), tundra swans (1 day in March), snowy owl (1 in December), and bobolinks (1 day in August).

Click on the photo to advance the slideshow. Photo descriptions: 1 & 2) Canada geese, 3) Cooper’s hawk, 4) Northern harrier, 5) Immature red-tailed hawk, 6) Red-winged blackbird, 7) Pheasant brood, 8) Pheasant roosters establishing territories, 9) Pheasant rooster, 10) Sandhill cranes, 11) Snowy owl. All photos by Project Snapshot Camera 01138.

The raptors, except for the harriers, were photographed as they landed on the post that held the camera. Bobolinks were found feeding in the food plot near the camera.

We look forward to checking the photos and learning what has been photographed. Thanks to the Department of Natural Resources for providing the trail camera.

Written by Mark Martin and Susan Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary resident managers




Project Snapshot Information:

 Learn more at the Snapshot Wisconsin website:  dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot

Learn more at the Snapshot Wisconsin website: dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot

Snapshot Wisconsin is a volunteer-based, citizen science project which utilizes a statewide network of trail cameras to monitor wildlife year-round. From coniferous forests to vast prairies, volunteers host trail cameras throughout Wisconsin’s landscapes. The photos of diverse wildlife captured on Snapshot Wisconsin cameras are hosted online, where they can be classified by volunteers across the globe. The resulting dataset is used to inform WDNR management decisions, and help us learn more about Wisconsin’s wildlife.

As of September 2018, 1,019 volunteers monitored 1,264 cameras and that took 24,236,000 photos.

Recently the DNR opened Project Snapshot statewide. Anyone can request a camera if they have 10 acres and as long as there is not another snapshot camera in the same nine square mile block.

Vesper Sparrow

Vesper, a rather antiquated word originating from the evening star, actually refers to a planet rather than a star—Venus. Wonderful integrations of this word relate in some way to the setting of the sun and the coming of night. Vesperate is a verb meaning to darken or become night. Vespertilio is a delightful 17th century word for bat. Vespering describes anything headed toward the setting sun, coined by poet Thomas Hardy. You could say the vesperate sky witnessed thousands of vespertilios vespering, while the vesper sparrows headed east, into the darkness, their chattery and cheery call complementing the peace of the setting sun.

If you did use that sentence, the most modern clause might include the vesper sparrow, as this bird name appropriately clings to the sparrow because the bird routinely sings at dusk and into the vesperate sky.

While its initial song notes resemble the song sparrow, the vesper song ends in repeated notes. You can find these repeated notes in a variety of dry, open habitats, from sand barrens to pine and oak barrens, to prairies and orchards. Because of the necessity of open ground for nesting, the vesper sparrow will often nest in agricultural fields. This sparrow is an early nester, beginning egg laying in late April to early May, however; later nesting attempts in agricultural fields may result in nest failure due to damage caused by heavy machinery.

  Photo by Tom Murray

Photo by Tom Murray

Despite its preference for open habitats across the state, the vesper sparrow has seen declines in line with other grassland bird species. In Wisconsin's second Breeding Bird Atlas, only a half dozen vesper sparrows have been confirmed nesting in the southeastern part of Wisconsin. This species is most common in the central sands, where abundant open and sparse habitats create excellent nesting opportunities.

These birds follow cold fronts during their migrating months of September and October, and now might be a good time to see vesper sparrows moving through Faville Grove Sanctuary. While these migrating birds likely won't be singing their dusk song, identification can be determined in flight with their white outer tail feathers. As these October skies see the earlier setting of the sun, you'd be unlikely to see any vespering vesper sparrows, as they instead head south to their wintering grounds of Mexico and the southern United States.

Written by Drew Harry, Faville Grove Sanctuary land steward

Cover photo by Lynnea Parker

American Goldfinch

Quiz time: How many birds on our Goose Pond Bird List begin with their common name “American”? Answer at the end.

Every September, we look forward to seeing flocks of American goldfinches at Goose Pond Sanctuary. This year is no exception. We noticed the first flocks the first week of September.

Goldfinches nest throughout Wisconsin and are found in the southern two-thirds of Wisconsin year around. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 42 million, with 91% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 33% in Canada, and 6% wintering in Mexico. The North American Breeding Bird Survey found a small decline between 1966 and 2014 in their numbers.

American goldfinches are the latest nesting species nest in Wisconsin. Goldfinch nests with eggs have been found from June 26 to August 30, while young have been found in nests from July 1 to September 25. They nest after the peak of nesting of brown-headed cowbirds and so their nests are rarely parasitized by cowbirds.

  American goldfinch nests are perfect bundles of promise. Photo by Carolyn Byers. More information in the Into the Nest series,    madisonaudubon.org/into-the-nest   .

American goldfinch nests are perfect bundles of promise. Photo by Carolyn Byers. More information in the Into the Nest series, madisonaudubon.org/into-the-nest.

They like to nest in a variety of habitats from rural to urban areas, especially where there are low shrubs to place their nest. According to researchers the nest is an open cup of rootlets and plant fibers lined with plant down, often woven so tightly that it can hold water. The female lashes the foundation to supporting branches using spider silk, and makes a downy lining often using the fluffy “pappus” material taken from the same types of seed heads that goldfinches so commonly feed on. It takes the female about 6 days to build the nest. The female usually has a clutch of 2-7 eggs, an incubation period of 14 days, and 17 days to fledging.

In September, we found a nest at Goose Pond with two eggs which appeared to be a nest that fledged young but two eggs did not hatch.

  Photo by Rich Hoeg

Photo by Rich Hoeg

Goldfinches are active, acrobatic finches that balance on the seed heads of thistles, dandelions, and other plants to pluck seeds. They have a bouncy flight during which they frequently make their “po-ta-to-chip" calls. By being late nesters, they can take advantage of many plant species with tasty seeds that are ripe for the flocks of goldfinches.

  Saw-toothed sunflowers are a favorite among lots of species — American goldfinch and grasshoppers included! Photo by Mark Martin

Saw-toothed sunflowers are a favorite among lots of species — American goldfinch and grasshoppers included! Photo by Mark Martin

In September, flocks of goldfinches are first seen feeding on saw-tooth sunflower that has small seeds. After they have cleaned up the sunflowers they concentrate feeding efforts on prairie dock that has a larger “sunflower” seed. We collect prairie dock seed in large quantities for our restorations and it have to collect prairie dock just before the seeds are fully ripe to avoid losing them all to goldfinches. (Don’t worry, we leave plenty for the birds!)

  Prairie dock flowers will soon turn to seeds and will be nutritious food for goldfinches. Photo by Mark Martin

Prairie dock flowers will soon turn to seeds and will be nutritious food for goldfinches. Photo by Mark Martin

After all the prairie dock seed has been eaten, collected, or fallen on the ground, goldfinches head for our food plot and spend the winter feeding on black oil sunflower seeds.

  The bobolinks have been feasting on the ripe sunflowers in our food plot. Goldfinches will be feeding on the sunflowers next. Photo by Mark Martin

The bobolinks have been feasting on the ripe sunflowers in our food plot. Goldfinches will be feeding on the sunflowers next. Photo by Mark Martin

Written by Mark and Susan Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary resident managers

Quiz Answer: 13 species. American wigeon, American coot, American avocet, American golden-plover, American woodcock, American bittern, American kestrel, American crow, American robin, American pipit, American goldfinch, American redstart, and American tree sparrow

Cover photo by Eric Begin

American Bittern

Some birds, so very bird-like in appearance, become mixed up in the particulars of being a bird. Do the auriculars have a dark spot on the rear; is there a white median crown-stripe like in the grasshopper sparrow? Other birds, so very bird-like in sound, become mixed up in the minutiae of sounding like a bird. Was that a Cape May warbler singing or another bird in its flight call?

The American bittern, however, is a singular bird, rivaled in appearance only by the least bittern—whose descriptor eliminates it from competition—and unmatched with its weird and enchanting call.

  Photo by Arlene Koziol

Photo by Arlene Koziol

Looking like a great blue heron that has been squashed into a frame less than a meter tall, the American bittern can be recognized by its squat build, its long stocky neck, and its streaking brown colors along the body. The bird appears to be a shorter cousin of the great blue heron that spends more time in the weight room—squatting and leg pressing, with special attention paid to neck rolls.  

This is a bird rarely seen but more often heard. If seen, the bittern stands vertical and slightly sways with the breeze, becoming uniform with the marsh and cattail environs which it inhabits.

Hearing an American bittern is a special treat. It sounds like the beginning of some strange underwater symphony, a resonant and liquid noise that, to the uninitiated sounds more frog-like. These low frequency calls carry farther than higher pitched calls through dense marsh vegetation, thus enabling males and females to locate one another.

Their interesting and adaptable diet includes: fish, insects, crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals. The birds often sit rigidly still and slowly lower their bill until they suddenly strike the water, swallowing prey with a gulp.

Bitterns inhabit marshlands with cattails, reeds, and sedges. Nesting takes place in these dense marshy areas but can also occur on dry land in grasslands. Because of its crepuscular (active at twilight) and concealed habits, the American bittern is difficult to survey. Wisconsin's second Breeding Bird Atlas has few breeding confirmations, with the bird being uncommon throughout the state.

  Photo by Arlene Koziol

Photo by Arlene Koziol

At Faville Grove, American bitterns are occasionally seen or heard, and just this week I was lucky enough to see a bird on the Kettle Pond as it stalked awkwardly through arrowhead and sedges. For a split second I thought it could be a green heron, but the overwhelming quirkiness of the bird revealed it to be that odd marsh inhabitant, the American bittern. 

Written by Drew Harry, Faville Grove Sanctuary land steward

Ruddy Duck

Our friend and Goose Pond super-volunteer, JD Arnston, phoned us one evening in late August and reported that he just saw a female Ruddy with seven young about a third-grown on the east Goose Pond! Mark’s second favorite duck is the ruddy duck and we were lucky to see the brood a couple days later. We so enjoy seeing Wisconsin’s only stiff-tailed duck so much that we named one of our golden retrievers Ruddy.

Ruddy ducks are the only “stiff-tailed” duck to breed in North America and easy to identify. Male ruddy ducks have blackish caps that contrast with bright white cheeks. In summer, they have rich chestnut bodies with bright blue bills. In winter, they are dull gray-brown above and paler below with dull gray bills. Females and first-year males are brownish, somewhat like winter males but with a blurry stripe across the pale cheek patch.

  USFWS Midwest

USFWS Midwest

We have been trying to confirm ruddy ducks nesting at Goose Pond for the past four years for the second Breeding Bird Atlas. Ruddys probably nest here every year; however, Goose Pond is usually covered with a dense growth of arrowheads by mid-summer, making bird observations difficult. This year we estimated there were eight nesting ruddy pairs and a few more males. We thought this would be a good year to confirm nesting ruddy ducks if we could locate them in the two open water areas on Goose Pond.

Seeing and hearing the males' unusual courtship displays is quite an experience. To woo the female of their desire, males stick their tails straight up while striking their bills against their inflated necks, creating bubbles in the water as air is forced from their feathers. They punctuate the end of the display with a belch-like call. Courting males also lower their tails and run across the water, making popping sounds with their feet.

  Dan Streiffert

Dan Streiffert

Male ruddy ducks vying for the attention of one female. The vibrant blue of the bill and use of the stiff tail are unmistakeable. Video by johnfredeen

Sam Robbins in his 1991 Wisconsin Birdlife wrote that ruddy ducks are “Uncommon summer resident south, east, and west.” In 1973, DNR waterfowl biologists estimated the annual breeding population at 400, and within two years their summer numbers rose to 3,200. DNR biologist Jim March was quoted in the mid-1970s saying that “Horicon Marsh attracts the largest summer population each year with smaller numbers scattered over other prairie marshes between Goose Pond and Green Bay.” Ruddys are present at Goose Pond in spring migration, and while the average number of ruddys is typically more modest, on April 24, 2011 Paul Jakoubek reported 200 ruddys just on our humble prairie pothole. (On October 30, 2000, Tom Schultz reported 27,000 ruddy ducks at Lake Maria in Green Lake County!)

Ruddy ducks are a prairie pothole nesting species with 86 percent of the breeding population concentrated in the prairie pothole region of south-central Canada and north-central United States. They are a diving duck that feeds on aquatic invertebrates, especially midge larvae. They feed most actively at night, so you’ll often see ruddy ducks sleeping during the day, head tucked under a wing and tail cocked up.

These diving ducks lay big, white, pebbly-textured eggs—the largest of all duck eggs (2.5 inches long and 1.8 inches wide) relative to body size. Energetically expensive to produce, the eggs hatch into well-developed ducklings that require only a short period of care. 

The females have to be in excellent condition to lay eight eggs, an average clutch size laid in nests built over water in bulrush or cattails. This is one reason that they are the last duck to nest in Wisconsin. It is not unusual to see small ruddy ducklings in September. We remember one year seeing very small ruddy ducklings on October first!

  A delightful little brood of ruddy fuzzballs follows mama on September 1, 2016 at DM and I, south of Goose Pond. Photo by Mark Martin

A delightful little brood of ruddy fuzzballs follows mama on September 1, 2016 at DM and I, south of Goose Pond. Photo by Mark Martin

 Breeding Bird Atlas II map; confirmed nesting is indicated in dark purple.  Click here for interactive map.

Breeding Bird Atlas II map; confirmed nesting is indicated in dark purple. Click here for interactive map.

In the first Breeding Bird Atlas from 1995 to 2000, ruddy ducks (mostly broods) were confirmed in 24 atlas blocks. In the current Breeding Bird Atlas, ruddys have been confirmed in 18 atlas blocks, including three in Columbia County: Goose Pond, Schoeneberg Marsh Waterfowl Production Area/Erstad Prairie, and at a restored 400-acre wetland north of Portage. Nesting observations are in the same area of the state as Robbins reported in 1991 – south, east and west.  Ruddy duck populations were stable across North America from 1966 to 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey.

Ruddy ducks migrate in small groups of 5–15 individuals, usually at night. They follow several migratory corridors fanning to the southwest, south, and southeast from their northern breeding grounds. Note the two breeding areas in Wisconsin.

 Range map by  allaboutbirds.org

Range map by allaboutbirds.org

Hopefully you can visit Goose Pond this fall and see these fascinating ducks before they make their way on south.

By Mark Martin and Susan Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary resident managers

Cover photo by David Mitchell

Data is from Cornell Lab of Ornithology