bird banding

Cedar Grove turns 70

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I have been lucky to have been involved with Cedar Grove Hawk Research Station State Natural Area since 1985 when I worked with the DNR State Natural Areas program. It seems like only a few years ago that Cedar Grove turned 60 years old when Paul Smith, Outdoor Writer for the Journal Sentinel wrote an article on their first 60 years. 

Since retiring in 2011, I have helped lead annual Natural Resource Foundation tours to Cedar Grove. On October 10, I was outside of the banding building with six people on a Natural Resources Foundation tour and was surprised to see Paul Smith walk up to us. The first thing he said was, “I just heard a merlin.” A tour visitor replied, “We just released a merlin.” Paul is visiting the research station on three days this year and is planning to write an article on Cedar Grove turning 70.

Dan Berger and Helmut Mueller started the banding station in 1950 and caught two red-tails that year. Dan passed away in 2018 and Helmut and Nancy now visit for only a day.

The oldest bander at the station now is John Bowers, 82 from Cedar Grove, who has been volunteering for the past 31 years. When he greets an old visitor he always says, “I have not seen you since the last time I saw you.”  John arrives every day from August 15 to November 15 at noon and heads home after supper. Besides trapping and banding, he enters all the banding data on the “confuser” (computer). In the past 30 years John has volunteered on about 2,670 days and has only missed 30 days.

Tom Meyer and Rick Hill now supervise the banding with two interns this year, Savanna Steward from California and Danny Erickson from Waukesha County, along with many dedicated volunteers.  

This year Tom Meyer reported that Cedar Grove has three records or highlights for 2019: In addition to turning 70, they banded their 44,000th raptor, and now have HOT WATER!

Last year 685 raptors were banded. When I spoke with Rick Hill on November 7, they were banding a northern goshawk, the 700th bird of the year and the third goshawk of the morning. Banding highlights this year included banding a Swainson’s hawk and a broad-winged hawk. Normally broad-wings feed on small mammals, amphibians, and insects. Few saw-whet owls were caught this year due to the many nights of rain when they closed the mist needs. Running totals for this fall include Sept. 27, - 300 birds banded, Oct. 8 - 400, Oct. 16 - 487, and Oct. 26 - 600.

Check out the Cedar Grove Facebook page that includes information on birds banded at Cedar Grove and recovered another year at Cedar Grove or at other locations. Steve and Laura Holzman with Fish and Wildlife Service from the state of Oregon spend a week of their vacation every year at Cedar Grove banding raptors. They complied the species recovery maps.

Graham Steinhauer, Brand Smith and I were visiting the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory a few miles south of the banding station and stopped in to say hi. Graham was handed a red-tail to release and John Bowers then informed us they were closing the road to remove ash trees and if we did not leave in five minutes, the private access road would be blocked for five hours.

Red-tailed hawk, photo by Tim Eisele

Red-tailed hawk, photo by Tim Eisele

Tim Eisele won the “door prize” at the Goose Pond Volunteer Picnic, which was a visit for two to Cedar Grove. On October 16th Tim and Linda Eisele, Jim Otto, and I headed to Cedar Grove. The winds were out of the northwest, the ideal direction; however, the wind gusted over 20 miles per hour and the strong winds impacted the number of birds coming in. About 340 hawks passed over the banding station that day and only 16 were captured; 10 red-tails, 5 sharp-shins, and 1 Cooper's hawk. Usually they catch 10 percent of the birds they see. A merlin came in and perched 25 yards from the banding site. I thought this would be an easy one to catch, but the merlin had just caught a song bird and was not interested in being banded. On October 23, they counted 400 raptors flying past and 43 left with with “jewelry” leg bands.

On October 25, Brand Smith, our American Kestrel volunteer coordinator, took our bird volunteers Dory Owen, Mary Manering, and Sharon Weisenberger to spend some time at Cedar Grove. They had a great time and released three red-tails and five sharp-shin hawks. It is amazing to see the birds coming in at a high rate of speed, the banding operation, the small field station, and visiting with the banders.

Mary Manering watching Brand Smith releasing a red-tailed hawk. Photo by Dory Owen

Mary Manering watching Brand Smith releasing a red-tailed hawk. Photo by Dory Owen

Mary Manering ready to release a sharp-shinned hawk. Photo by Dory Owen

Mary Manering ready to release a sharp-shinned hawk. Photo by Dory Owen

Savanna, a Cedar Grove intern, ready to release a red-tailed hawk. Photo by Dory Owen

Savanna, a Cedar Grove intern, ready to release a red-tailed hawk. Photo by Dory Owen

Sharon Weisenberger holding a sharp-shinned hawk. Photo by Dory Owen

Sharon Weisenberger holding a sharp-shinned hawk. Photo by Dory Owen

Check out Jacqueline Komada’s Friday Feathered Feature post from last year on Cedar Grove.

My best day at Cedar Grove was on a Natural Resources Foundation field trip last year. It was a busy day for everyone. My “job” was to record the banding data in the record book. When we left at 5:00 p.m., 312 hawks were spotted and 56 were banded. Birds seen (and banded) included northern harriers 4 (0); bald eagle 1 (0); sharp-shinned hawk 160 (42); Cooper’s hawk 9 (2); red-tailed hawk 7 (1); merlins 128 (11)  and peregrine falcon 1 (0).  

Cedar Grove Research Station is not a membership organization but receives donations to pay the interns and operate the station. Mist nets are expense and only last a few years. They have over $3,000 of mist nets up every day.

If you would like to visit Cedar Grove, check out the Natural Resource Foundation field trips.  We anticipate heading over to Cedar Grove one or two days with Madison Audubon volunteers/members in the future. If you have questions about Cedar Grove, call Mark at 608-333-9645 or email him at goosep@madisonaudubon.org.

Written by Mark Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary Co-Manager