bird count

A Banner May: Goose Pond bird count

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May is a busy month for birding!  It is designated as American Wetlands Month; is the month for Big Day counts that are often tied in with the Natural Resources Birdathons; a month to add species to priority Breeding Bird Atlas blocks and confirm early nesters; a major month of for migrating songbirds warblers, and shorebirds; the month when most ducks and wetland birds begin nesting and an ideal month to enjoy the spring weather and birds (just check out all the field trips we’re hosting this month).  Put all of these factors together, and you have the makings of a great bird migration spring!

A pied-billed grebe paddles through Goose Pond. Photo by Arlene Koziol

A pied-billed grebe paddles through Goose Pond. Photo by Arlene Koziol

This is the 40th year that waterfowl pair counts have been conducted at Goose Pond and it also happens to be a record year for high water. Water is present from Highway I on the west side of the Sanctuary and goes east one for one and a half miles to Ankenbrandt Prairie. The large amount of shoreline habitat and shallow wetlands are attracting large numbers of marsh birds.

Mark and Graham conducted a 3.5-hour bird survey on May 2, with a focus on breeding waterfowl and cranes, and found 42 species of and 1,048 birds!  This count was very good considering that only three shorebirds were found including 46 yellowlegs, and one warbler, a yellow-rumped. And that doesn’t even include the grassland birds flittering about, but were not a focus of this count.

Five species were found nesting including one Canada goose nest, a clutch of 16 hooded merganser eggs in the duck box at Sue Ames Prairie, two sandhill crane nests (another pair was seen building a nest earlier in the day), a robin nesting on a window ledge of the smoke house at the Kampen Road residence, and unfortunately, a pair of starlings nesting in the kestrel box at Hopkins Road Prairie. 

Blue-winged teal pair, photo by USFWS Midwest Region

Blue-winged teal pair, photo by USFWS Midwest Region

Puddle ducks were the focus of the count and a record of 141 mallards were seen. Lone drakes count as pairs since the females may be already be incubating eggs on a nest. Mark and Graham estimated a high of 118 mallard pairs compared to a previous high of 93 pairs in another high-water year. They believe the 49 pairs of blue-winged teal will stay and nest along with some of the 16 pairs of green-winged teal and eight pairs of northern shovelers. One drake pintail was observed, and while pintails have not been confirmed in the current Breeding Bird Atlas, the hope is that the female is nesting and we will locate a brood!

Most diving ducks are at the tail end of migration, however we found 117 ring-necked ducks, 70 lesser scaup, and seven buffleheads. Also found were a pair of redheads and hopefully that pair will nest. There are no records for nesting redheads at Goose Pond even though they nest every year at Schoeneberg Marsh about three miles to the northeast.

Ninety-nine American coots and 28 pied-billed grebes were present and we could have record numbers nesting for both species.

American coot, photo by Arlene Koziol

American coot, photo by Arlene Koziol

Other interesting observations were a merlin at the Lapinski-Kitze Prairie just north of Goose Pond, a sora rail that Mark flushed along the Manthe wetlands to the east of the pond, and a flock of eight turkeys adjacent to Hopkins Road with two gobblers in full display.  There are few trees in our area and are always surprised to see turkeys.

Goose Pond is in two atlas blocks and you see the species and totals on

On a sad note, there was a dead gray squirrel on Goose Pond Road between the ponds.  In the past 40 years there have been less than 10 squirrels observed at Goose Pond, not surprising due to the lack of trees.

We hope you will visit Goose Pond in May to view the wetlands and enjoy the birds.  And consider participating in the Great Wisconsin Birdathon by forming and team and going birding or supporting one of the many teams raising funds for bird conservation.  Half of the funds that our “Reckless Wrens” team raises goes to Madison Audubon.

This is the final year to participate in the Breeding Bird Atlas. You can contact Mark and Sue, Columbia County Coordinators, at to participate. No experience is necessary. In Columbia County we will be going out in teams to survey atlas blocks or search for priority species such as families of screech owls. The highlight this spring so far was finding at least six red-shouldered hawk nests!

Written by Mark Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary resident co-manager and Graham Steinhauer, Land Steward

Cover photo by Arlene Koziol