christmas bird count

Goose Pond's 2018 Christmas Bird Count

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On Saturday December, 29 we ended 2018 “The Year of the Bird” by coordinating the 47th Poynette Christmas Bird Count (CBC), with assistance of 26 field counters and 10 households as feeder counters.  Fifty-nine species and 10,816 individual birds were documented.

It is very rewarding to spend a day at Goose Pond Sanctuary seeing the winter bird usage as the result of 50 years of land acquisition and habitat restoration. For the 19th year Goose Pond Sanctuary was searched as a unit of the Poynette CBC count with the assistance of Jim Hess, Bill Walters, and JD Arnston. 

Jim Hess, Bill Walters, and Mark getting ready to head out. Not pictured: JD Arnston. Photo by Sue Foote-Martin

Jim Hess, Bill Walters, and Mark getting ready to head out. Not pictured: JD Arnston. Photo by Sue Foote-Martin

The count day was slow for many species, however we had a number of firsts and highlights at Goose Pond Sanctuary and the adjacent area. Twenty-seven species, a record high for our count, were found in the Goose Pond area. Black ducks and northern pintails were new to the species list bringing the total species observed to 44. Record high numbers included 1,340 mallards (only found on two other counts with a previous high of 61), 3 American kestrels, and 87 dark-eyed juncos. The second highest number of birds was found – 2,045, thanks to the large number of mallards. 

Northern pintail, photo by Monica Hall

Northern pintail, photo by Monica Hall

Mark, Jim, and Bill spent an enjoyable hour walking the sorghum and sunflower food plot. Ring-necked pheasant tracks were easy to see with the recent half inch of snow. Eight hens and two roosters were flushed and judging from the tracks there might have been 25 birds using the food plot. 

The highlight of the food plot walk was the 300 American tree sparrows flitting around. They were not easy to count! At first there were 30 sparrows, then 50, and half-way through the plot we estimated 200 tree sparrows were present. Another 100 were found in the second half of the food plot.

Sorghum in the food plot. Photo by Mark Martin

Sorghum in the food plot. Photo by Mark Martin

Chickadees, cardinals, juncos and two cottontails were also found in the food plot, mostly where the spruce trees were adjacent to the food plot. The winter birds fly into the surrounding restored prairie but feed mostly in the food plot on 10 varieties of sorghum. Thanks to the Columbia and Dodge Counties Pheasant Forever chapters for donating sorghum and sunflower seed.

With the abundance of waste corn in the fields and the relatively open winter mallards were still feeding in the Arlington area. The ducks usually visit Goose Pond in mid-morning and on the 29th they found about a tenth of an acre of open water. It was nice to see the black ducks and pintails in the dense flock of mallards roosting on the ice or swimming. 

The hawks and great horned owl were present due to the large amount of habitat that resulted in a high number of prey species.

At Christmas time we like to watch Jimmy Steward in It's a Wonderful Life where George Bailey learned how different life would have been in Bedford Falls without him.  As we end the 50th year of Goose Pond Sanctuary we wonder how different bird life would have been at Goose Pond Sanctuary without Madison Audubon. 

There probably would not be a Poynette CBC and the low number of species would mostly be dominated by rock pigeons, horned larks, and European starlings.

Birds found:  Canada goose (6), tundra swan (1), American black duck (3), mallard (1,340), Northern pintail (2), ring-necked pheasant (15), northern harrier (2), Cooper’s hawk (2), red-tailed hawk (1), rough-legged hawk (2), American kestrel (3), rock pigeon (47), mourning dove (68), red-bellied woodpecker (1), downy woodpecker (5), hairy woodpecker (1) feeding on emerald ash borer larva, blue jay (3), American crow (6), horned lark (4), black-capped chickadee (18), European starling (5), American tree sparrow (329), dark-eyed junco (87), northern cardinal (6), house finch (44), American goldfinch (28), and house sparrow (15).

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

19 and counting: Goose Pond Christmas Bird Count

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Alert eyes of a rough-legged hawk watch Goose Pond Christmas Bird Counters. Photo by Monica Hall

Alert eyes of a rough-legged hawk watch Goose Pond Christmas Bird Counters. Photo by Monica Hall

Six people participated in the Goose Pond unit of the Poynette Christmas Bird Count (CBC) held on December 30, spending most of the day counting birds at Goose Pond Sanctuary. This year Mark Martin, Maddie Dumas, Jim Hess, Bill Walters, Emily Jorgenson, and JD Arnston participated, making up the biggest group in the history of the Goose Pond CBC! Jim and Bill have participated on the count for many years. 

It was not a pleasant day to be out counting birds, especially on foot, with the temperature of 1 – 4 degrees with 10 mile per hour winds. Snow totals ranged from 1 to 2 inches and due to the cold we only walked 0.2 miles and were glad to have a truck to drive on management trails.

Our 2,000-acre count area includes MAS’s 660 acres, Judi Benadi’s 80 acres, Roland and Lynn Manthe’s 66 acres, and surrounding lands that are mostly cropland. We found 19 species and 438 individuals compared to 20 species and 733 individuals in 2016.

Ten species were found at our fully stocked feeders at the Kampen Road and the Prairie Lane residences.  Feeder birds found included: 1 male ring-necked pheasant, 1 Cooper’s hawk, 70 mourning doves, 2 American crows, 53 American tree sparrows, 14 dark-eyed juncos, 1 purple finch, a record number of 80 house finches, 22 American goldfinches, and 2 house sparrows. Some of the doves and goldfinches moved back and forth from the feeders to the food plot.

Goldfinches love to feed on sunflower fines . Photo by Mark Martin

Goldfinches love to feed on sunflower fines . Photo by Mark Martin

New to the Goose Pond count were 2 common redpolls found in the food plot bringing the total species found in the on in the Goose Pond unit since the year 2000 to 39. Our food plot contained fewer sunflowers and a lot less sorghum last year due to competition from annual foxtails. The result was fewer birds feeding in the food plot. However, the day before when scouting, 12 common redpolls were found feeding with  many goldfinches in the sunflowers.

Other interesting species counted that day included 26 Canada geese (that probably wished they were wintering in southern Illinois), a pair of red-tailed hawks, 1 great horned owl, 20 Lapland longspurs flying over Sue Ames Prairie, 2 other Cooper’s hawks at two feeders at the neighbors, and one American kestrel. Rough-legged hawks were around other days but not on the count day.

Just another Lapland longspur. Photo by Dave Inman

Just another Lapland longspur. Photo by Dave Inman

Due to the cold we only found one European starling compared to much higher numbers in other years. This year, the starlings were most likely resting inside area barns and cattle sheds. Five European collared doves were found just outside the unit.

We wonder if any of the 85 mourning doves banded at Goose Pond are spending the winter with us. Photo by Mark Martin

We wonder if any of the 85 mourning doves banded at Goose Pond are spending the winter with us. Photo by Mark Martin

Maddie and JD had a glimpse of a snowy owl at the UW dairy farm on Badger Road. This was probably Arlington who was later caught just south of the dairy farm on January 4.

The Poynette CBC had 63 species and 10,564 individuals. If the count had been conducted on a warmer and calmer day we may have found at least five more species. The Portage Power Plant’s warm water discharge to Lake Columbia is usually an excellent place to bird but not when there is a large temperature difference between the air and water. Observers at the plant could not see more than 20 yards into the large cooling pond due to rising steam.

In January we have been seeing more common redpolls and snowy owls in the local area.

The bird species and numbers help show the importance of habitat and feeders for our winter friends. Thanks to Mounds Pet Food Warehouse for donating black oil sunflower seeds and sunflower fines for our feeders.

Written by Mark Martin and Susan Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary resident managers, and Maddie Dumas, land steward