It is hard to believe that the end of August 2019 has arrived. It seems like it was only yesterday when 200 people gathered at UW-Stevens Point to kick off the Breeding Bird Atlas II back in 2015.
We had the pleasure of coordinating the Breeding Bird Atlas in Columbia County with the help of 183 birders, including many Madison Audubon members. As we wrap up Atlas II in Columbia County, 2,327 checklists have been entered in the data base, birders searched 1,700 diurnal party hours, over 1,500 breeding bird confirmations have been recorded, 171 species have been reported, 137 species have been confirmed, and nocturnal surveys totaled 100 hours. This does not include the hundreds of hours in travel time or entering the checklist data.
We have so many great memories, it is hard to pick out a favorite! But some of our favorite species highlights are listed below:
Eared-grebe – For the first time since 1968, when a pair raised a brood in Dunn County, it appeared last year that a pair of eared grebes were going to raise a brood at Goose Pond. Many visitors observed the pair courting, copulating but they were not successful in raising a family.
Black-billed Cuckoo – Volunteers tried hard this summer to confirm black-billed cuckoos in Columbia County and as the nesting season was winding down, it appeared that this shy bird was not going to be on the Columbia County confirmed list. However, on August 6th Mark and Brand Smith stopped to take a break from carrying a canoe after surveying a wetland and found a family of four! Two more black-billed cuckoo confirmations were then recorded in the next two weeks by Andy Paulios and Jim Otto.
Virginia Rail – One calm early June evening we played calls for nocturnal species at the wetlands at our cabin near Rio and were reward by hearing 11 male Virginia rails.
Black-necked Stilt – We will always remember sightings last May of a pair of stilts at Goose Pond. They copulated and then disappeared. This summer Brand Smith found a pair and a nest with four eggs near Portage. July 13th was a day to remember when Brand, Dory Owen, Sharon Weisenberger, and Mark were thrilled to see the family of six stilts, probably the first brood seen in Columbia County.
Double-crested Cormorant and American White Pelican – Pat Clark, MAS Board Member, organized a boat tour on July 21, 2019 to High Island that his family owns in Beaver Dam Lake. Along for the ride with us were Dory Owen and husband Phillip, Pat, and the boat captain Tim Foulk. We headed to High Island and saw a young pelican being fed and a few more young. We rounded the island and saw about 450 young and ended up seeing over 450 adults in the local area. Next we headed to Babe Island and the dead trees were covered with 450 cormorants including at least 25 young. Two impressive groups of birds.
American Bittern – Graham Steinhauer reported on the American bittern sightings at Goose Pond this summer in a Friday Feathered Feature. Brand Smith, Graham, Tanner Pettit (Goose Pond’s summer intern), and Mark canoed Goose Pond searching for bitterns but came up empty handed. Later on a quest to confirm bitterns, Graham, Calla Norris (another summer intern), and Mark conducted a walking survey along the shoreline in about six inches of water. Mark was lucky at the Manthe farm when he flushed an adult at about 20 feet and 30 yards later flushed a juvenile. Later he flushed a bittern, age unkown, south of the Kampen Road residence.
Turkey Vulture – Sara Kerhli, Columbia County DNR Wildlife Biologist, called to ask if we could check out a turkey vulture nest in a tree near Erstad Prairie. The farmer was excited to show us the vulture nest about nine feet above ground in a large silver maple at the edge of his yard. A ladder was erected and Mark went eye-to- eye with two young vultures in a depression where one of three large limbs had broken off.
Osprey – It was a surprise to find an osprey nesting on a power pole in the Pete Helland Wildlife Area, several miles from fishable water. Three years later we found two pairs nesting five poles apart.
Red-headed Woodpecker - When we saw or learned of a red-headed wooded woodpecker or pair we did not give up until we found them nesting. We were lucky to confirm red-head woodpeckers in nine blocks and learned that they are the only woodpecker to catch flies like a flycatcher. Our best memory was watching a bird on a wetland berm at our cabin catching flies and then flying to feed the young.
Pileated Woodpecker – A highlight for Mark was photographing a nest of our largest woodpecker at Otsego Marsh with the help of Richard Armstrong that located the nesting tree and erected a blind.
Merlin – It was nice to find a pair of merlins along Ridge Road, one of our favorite roads near Baileys Harbor in Door County in late May 2017 while we were listening to a “drumming” ruffed grouse. We were birding on Ridge Road again in early August and were reward with confirming a merlin carrying food to the location where we found the pair.
Common Raven – In April of 2016 we frequently heard ravens north of Rio. On the Great Wisconsin Birdathon on May 12 our team of Jim and Kathy Shurts and Heather Inzalaco, had a goal to add the raven to our checklist. Observations by us and neighbors pinpointed a pine plantation where the ravens could be nesting. There was a raven calling when we exited the car and permission was quickly secured to search the pine plantation. Team members were spaced out along the edge of the plantation and just before we started walking Mark spotted the raven nest within 15 yards of the roadside. This nest failed; however, in late July Sue confirmed a family of four ravens in the local area, probably the result of another pair nesting to the east.
Purple Martin - We had many memories of contacting 30 Amish families that had purple martin colonies and also banding the young with Dick Nikolai. One Amish lady said she enjoys waking up at 4:00 a.m. just as the martins begin calling, saying “We love purple martins and they love us.”
THANKS to everyone who participated with the Atlas project and thanks to the atlas project for the memories. One of Bob Hope’s songs was “Thanks for the Memory”. Victor, Mark’s father attended a Bob Hope performance in World War II. Victor never forgot that performance and we will never forget our atlas memories. If anyone has atlas memories to share please let us know (email@example.com).
Written by Mark Martin and Susan Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary resident managers
Cover photo by Arlene Koziol