citizen science

Goose Pond's Butterfly Count

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A beautiful day for a butterfly count! MAS Photo

A beautiful day for a butterfly count! MAS Photo

Monday, July 2 was a sunny day, with light winds, and warm weather: perfect for meandering through Goose Pond Sanctuary's beautiful prairies and count butterflies. Butterflies are important members of the food web (they eat and are eaten) and play a significant role in pollination. Thanks to their spread of pollen from one plant to another (which ideally results in a plant successfully producing seed and a new plant), we have diverse landscapes, and a variety of foods, medicines, and materials. Some butterfly species, such as the monarch, are experiencing huge declines and this annual butterfly count helps a network of scientists to understand population changes and help make better conservation decisions. These counts are done all over the country, in roughly the same time frame to get a large-scale perspective.

Graham Steinhauer, Goose Pond Sanctuary land steward, takes a shift keeping data for the butterflies his group counts. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Graham Steinhauer, Goose Pond Sanctuary land steward, takes a shift keeping data for the butterflies his group counts. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Goose Pond staff and volunteers participated for the fifth year in the Mud Lake North American Butterfly Count. At Goose Pond, eleven counters divided into three parties while count coordinators Karl and Dorothy Legler surveyed with four others in wooded habitat at the nearby Rocky Run State Natural Area, Mud Lake Wildlife Area, and Schoeneberg Marsh Waterfowl Production Area.

Counters choose a route to walk, and one data-keeper tracks all of the individuals and species found throughout the walk. Each group had butterfly nets, binoculars (if you turn the binoculars around it works as a great magnifying glass!), identification guides, and tally sheets. Ready, set, go, and each group walks at a comfortable pace through the prairie, calling out "Clouded Sulphur!" or "What's that one coming at you, Graham?" Within 10 minutes, you get very good at picking out the common ones, even from a few yards away. However, once in a while a counter will net a butterfly and all of the volunteers will gather round to debate whether it's a Northern or Pearl Crescent ("that patch of orange is very open, but is it open enough to be a Pearl?"). It's a wonderful way to spend a few hours with like-minded nature-lovers.

Our count's highlights were counting a record 970 butterflies and a record of 476 monarchs. In the past we averaged 545 individuals. We were disappointed to record a low of 14 species compared to an average of 17 species. In the past four years we found 24 species of butterflies on the counts. However, this year we found the only orange sulphur and five northern crescents for the Mud Lake Count, which as a whole ended up with 38 species. Both counts found high numbers of clouded sulphurs and ended with a count total of 598. Check the two tabs in the attached spreadsheet for count data

The first three years we conducted the count on July 1 or 2 and counted 23 to 68 monarchs.  Last year we conducted the count on July 28 and found 344 monarchs. We always find more monarchs in late July compared to early July. The other two parties found 77 monarchs, and their past high monarch count in the past 29 years was 40 in 1991.

It was 3:30 p.m. when we finished the count on the Manthe Prairie after finding 28 monarchs on 30 acres of restored prairie. Manthe Prairie contains a low number of common milkweeds, and in hopes of finding more monarchs by the end of the day, we decided to do one survey on nearby Erstad Prairie. Erstad Prairie has a 16 acre brome grass field with about 21,000 common milkweed stems per acre (yep, that's right: over 300,000 milkweed stems), adjacent to a seven acre restoration that was burned in spring and was full of blooming flowers!

Mark Martin and Mark McGinley spent 45 minutes at Erstad Prairie and at first were not impressed since few monarchs were seen in the air. However, it did not take long to learn that the monarchs were resting in the vegetation. They found an impressive 10 mating pairs and ended with 201 monarchs! What a difference to have a high density of milkweeds.

A monarch sips nectar from a common milkweed plant during the Goose Pond Butterfly Count this summer. Photo by Gail Smith

A monarch sips nectar from a common milkweed plant during the Goose Pond Butterfly Count this summer. Photo by Gail Smith

Each fall, Madison Audubon hosts monarch tagging events at Goose Pond to improve scientists' understanding of monarch migration and population trends. Monarchs are caught in nets, and teeny-tiny stickers are placed on one wing (in the perfect spot so as to not throw off their balance and flying capabilities). Monarchs with tags continue on their migration south, and are recorded in Mexico where the vast majority overwinter. It's fun, family-friendly, and unforgettable. Accessible, mown trails pass through some of the best nectaring habitat on the sanctuary, so people of all ages and abilities are welcome.

The monarchs we found during the count will mate and lay eggs; those eggs will hatch, and the caterpillars will metamorph into adults that will lay more eggs. The adults that come from that generation are the ones we hope to tag this September. We have our fingers crossed that we will have a large monarch population in migration. If you would like to come out and net and tag monarchs in September you can sign up through the Madison Audubon website (keep an eye on madisonaudubon.org/events for registration to open in August).

The butterfly counting crew. Photo by Arlene Koziol

The butterfly counting crew. Photo by Arlene Koziol

If you would be interested in helping count butterflies next July contact us at goosep@madisonaudubon.org.

Written by Mark Martin, Susan Foote-Martin (Goose Pond Sanctuary resident managers), and Brenna Marsicek (director of communications)

2018 Great Backyard Bird Count

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This year marks the 20th Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), coordinated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon, Bird Studies Canada, and eBird. Over 160,000 people across the globe spend a chilly February weekend (this year: Feb. 16-19) simultaneously taking a snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds by counting and submitting online the number of species and individual birds they find in their yards. It’s a fun and comfortable way to participate in citizen science, especially during 2018 -- the Year of the Bird!

Snowy owl, photo by Monica Hall

Snowy owl, photo by Monica Hall

Mark Martin and Sue Foote-Martin, who are year-round residents and managers at Goose Pond Sanctuary, have participated in the GBBC since 2001. Maddie Dumas, Goose Pond land steward, is in her second year of GBBC. Birds can also be counted and reported from anywhere, not just backyards. For example, Mark and Curt Caslavka, longtime friend and volunteer at Goose Pond Sanctuary, reported a snowy owl on Feb.16, seen across Highway County I directly west of Jill’s Prairie.

Each year brings the regular characters to the count: blue jays, black-capped chickadees, tree sparrows. Some years bring unusual faces, like ring-necked pheasants, and some years bring bumper crops of other species. This year, thanks to the GBBC, we have a new record of 110 common redpolls for Goose Pond Sanctuary, surpassing the record of 50 birds seen by Aaron Stutz in 1997. The high count in Wisconsin for common redpolls was a flock of 150 in Langlade County.  

House finches (with the red faces and breasts) and common redpoll (with the red cap) feasting during the GBBC. Photo by Maddie Dumas

House finches (with the red faces and breasts) and common redpoll (with the red cap) feasting during the GBBC. Photo by Maddie Dumas

We kept close watch of the bird feeders at both Goose Pond residences on Monday, February 19, the last day of the four-day Great Backyard Bird Count. Mark and Sue were surprised to see a large flock of winter finches flying back and forth from the spruce windbreak to the ash trees in the Kampen Road residence and identified them as common redpolls. The flock stayed high up in the spruce and only one redpoll was seen at the sunflower fine feeders.

The Martins also checked their feeders at their cabin (Wildland) north of Rio in Columbia County. The habitat around the cabin consists of restored prairie, oak savanna and wetland. This setting provided the greatest diversity of bird species (see spreadsheet), totaling 19 as compared to 6 species at the Kampen Road residence and 9 species at the Prairie Lane residence.

Goldfinch (top left), common redpoll (bottom center), and pine siskins (all the rest) converge on one feeder at Wildland. Photo by Mark Martin

Goldfinch (top left), common redpoll (bottom center), and pine siskins (all the rest) converge on one feeder at Wildland. Photo by Mark Martin

The Goose Pond residences are in an open landscape with few trees and restored prairie within one half mile of a wildlife food plot of sunflowers and sorghum.  The food plot helps attract birds to the area.  Mourning doves, American tree sparrows, common redpolls, and American goldfinches have been in the food plot since December and move back and forth to the residences.

Ring-necked pheasants are uncommon in the GBBC and Maddie found a pair feeding at her feeders. Good numbers of mourning doves and American tree sparrows were found at all three residences. Pine siskins are also more common in Wisconsin this winter and have been feeding in high numbers at the Wildland feeders for many weeks.

Factors contributing to the higher species count and higher number of individuals included more diverse habitat, the number and types of feeders, and the variety of seeds present. We find that the best seeds for us are black-oil sunflowers, sunflower fines, white millet, and suet. Nine of the 20 species observed at three feeders were in the top 10 species recorded world-wide in 2017 (see spreadsheet).

On Thursday afternoon, February 22 GBBC reports were still being entered.  Thursday totals included 160,000 checklists, 6,031 species and 25,300,000 birds counted. This is an impressive number that reflects on the number of people interested in birds. In Wisconsin, birdwatchers submitted 2,400 checklists and reported 121 species.

Downy woodpeckers munching on suet. Photo by Mark Martin

Downy woodpeckers munching on suet. Photo by Mark Martin

We really enjoy counting birds and participating in the GBBC that gives us a snapshot of bird usage at our feeder in late winter. Thanks to everyone that feeds the birds, and if you live in suitable habitat we encourage you to begin feeding the birds. Winter feeding, in particular, can make the difference in helping some species make it through cold and snowy weather. The color and variety of species brighten our winter days and make us feel good knowing that we can provide them with quality habitats and nutritious food.  

P.S.  This time of year is a good time to start thinking about planting native shrubs and plants for wildlife habitat in your yard! Check out this list of nurseries that sell Wisconsin native plants and offer lots of resources like catalogs, planting recommendations, and more. Dream big and make your yard a little haven for birds (you’ll be making it a haven for lots of other great wildlife as a byproduct, too!).

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

Header photo: Common redpoll, by Emily Meier

 

Wisconsin Snapshot

Tundra swans and Canada geese sleep on the ice at Goose Pond (photo taken Nov. 10). Photo by Arlene Koziol

Tundra swans and Canada geese sleep on the ice at Goose Pond (photo taken Nov. 10). Photo by Arlene Koziol

It’s not for nothing that our sanctuary is called “Goose Pond.”  We are still in the midst of the great treat that is migration season and the ponds are covered in geese, swans (a record number of them at 1,194) and ducks.  The fluttering, honking, quacking, splashing catches our attention at all times, even in the dead of night.  We love to marvel at our waterfowl, but our 660 acres serve a great diversity of less conspicuous wildlife as well.  One way to see and survey these sneakier species is to set up a trail camera.

Goose Pond Sanctuary's new camera trap, part of the Snapshot Wisconsin program. Photo by Maddie Dumas

Goose Pond Sanctuary's new camera trap, part of the Snapshot Wisconsin program. Photo by Maddie Dumas

This fall, Goose Pond Sanctuary signed up to participate in the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) “Snapshot Wisconsin” program.  Trail cameras are distributed to volunteers around the state.  The cameras are set up on on public or private land in areas where there are at least 10 contiguous acres of high-quality natural habitat.  The cameras take motion-activated photos in a series of three and can store enough data to cover three months.  Once the photos are uploaded, the volunteers monitoring the camera can go through them and classify by species (or flag blank or human photos).  As a last step, and a check to the identification skills of the camera monitors, the photos are put online where volunteers all across the world can sign up to look through the photos and identify wildlife.  All over Wisconsin, amazing photos are being taken of everything from porcupines, to bobcats, to bear, to cranes and so much more.  Thanks to this program we have been able to get a glimpse of some of our more elusive Goose Pond Sanctuary dwellers, particularly mammals.

Some of you may be surprised to know that prairie restorations are a great home for deer.  Our camera took 426 photos of deer in October and November.  At least 50 photos of bucks, including three 10-pointers that Mark refers to as “delk” (deer + elk for their massive size!), roam the sanctuary.  We estimate a population of seven or eight bucks is found around the west pond, and at least twice as many antlerless deer.  Without the common woodlots that shelter many deer in the farm country of southern Wisconsin, our deer can sometimes be seen melting into the shadows of sandbar willow clones near the pond, or hiding in plain sight in the tall prairie grasses. 

Click on the photos below to advance the slideshow.

Coyotes were the second most commonly photographed species on our trail camera with 156 photos.  A flurry of coyote activity on the night of October 19 may be related to a deer carcass about a quarter mile northeast of the camera.  At least one of the coyotes appeared to be well-fed, with a big swinging belly that reminded me of the many smaller mammals that we weren’t capturing as often on the trail camera.  Unlike deer, I rarely see a coyote out here, but I hear them yapping at night in a wonderfully wild way.

Click on the photos below to advance the slideshow.

One of our most unusual photographs was of a muskrat.  Muskrats can be seen and photographed swimming in the pond, or darting across Goose Pond Road, but they are rarely seen in the upland area.  Our trail camera is positioned a quarter mile west of the pond where three trails intersect.  The muskrat lumbered past the camera on the evening of November 1st, probably displaced from the pond by the destruction of 62 muskrat houses that were built a few weeks earlier in the open water of the west pond.  The waterfowl use muskrat houses for resting, and throughout the course of the migration season their trampling and wave action reduce the houses down to nothing.  It does not help that the houses are built with arrowhead plants that are not very durable.   This “runner rat”  may have been looking for a new home, but it might find trouble in the form of a coyote before it reaches new waters.

A muskrat looking for a pond that is less crowded. November 1 , 2017

A muskrat looking for a pond that is less crowded. November 1 , 2017

Our favorite photo was one of those rare shots that can only come from trail cameras.  Actually part of a series of photos of a Cooper’s hawk taken on three different days, the best one of the group shows a Cooper’s hawk flying directly into the camera, followed by a series of photos of the ground as the bird perched on the camera and caused the angle of the lens to drop.  This same bird came back on two other days in October and November, flying into the camera at least once more.  Part of the mission of the Snapshot Wisconsin program is to gain deeper insight into animal behavior.  It will be interesting to know how other birds of prey responded to the trail cameras! 

Click on the photos below to advance the slideshow.

Other animals caught on the camera include striped skunks, Virginia opossums, cottontail rabbits, raccoons, and ring-necked pheasants.  We also have badgers, turtles, weasels, turkeys, and other species at Goose Pond but have not yet captured them on camera.  We do not expect to see any photos of red fox since coyotes kill them or drive them out of the area.  We are excited to see what other interesting species, behaviors and numbers we may capture next!

Snapshot Wisconsin is one of the largest citizen scientist project in the state with 792 volunteers, 980 cameras, and over 16.5 million photos already!  Anyone can get involved, either by signing up to monitor a camera (currently they are only looking for volunteers for specific counties), or by going online to view and identify wildlife in trail camera photos that have already been uploaded.  Go to the DNR website here for more information:  dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot

Meanwhile, next time you’re out at Goose Pond, enjoy the waterfowl, and keep your eyes peeled for some of our furrier and quieter residents!

Written by Maddie Dumas, Goose Pond Sanctuary land steward