goose pond

Green-winged Teal

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North America’s smallest waterfowl carries a descriptive, charming name. Male green-winged teal sport a chestnut brown head with an iridescent green streak that appears to run through their eyes, have gray bodies, and sport a beige patch near the tail. A vertical white stripe on their sides is a prominent field identification mark. Females are mottled brown in color, and both sexes have an iridescent green wing speculum, for which they are named. The green-winged teal is a common migrant and uncommon summer resident at Goose Pond Sanctuary. In November 2008, we counted a record high count of 550 individuals at Goose Pond. We frequently find green wings feeding in shallow water for seeds and aquatic invertebrates along with northern shovelers.

Female (left) and male (right) green-winged teal. Photo by USFWS

Female (left) and male (right) green-winged teal. Photo by USFWS

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “Green-winged Teal are numerous and their population has increased over recent decades, according to waterfowl surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They estimated the North American breeding population in 2015 was at least 4 million, almost double the long-term average… Most of the population breeds in Canada and Alaska, where relatively remote and inaccessible nesting areas buffer this species from habitat losses farther south caused by agricultural and urban development.”

Green-winged teal range map, courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s    allaboutbirds.org

Green-winged teal range map, courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s allaboutbirds.org

Volunteers have been busy surveying birds for the Breeding Bird Atlas II that is ending this summer. One of our goals this year at Goose Pond was to confirm green-winged teal, the smallest waterfowl species in North America. Brand Smith recently confirmed nesting trumpeter swans, the largest waterfowl species in North America, about three miles away at Schoeneburg Marsh/Erstad Prairie.

One of the four photos taken in the past five years of a breeding female green-winged teal in Wisconsin. Photo by Richard Armstrong

One of the four photos taken in the past five years of a breeding female green-winged teal in Wisconsin. Photo by Richard Armstrong

Comments from our June 20th Breeding Bird Atlas report:

“We have small numbers of green-wings nesting at Goose Pond every year. Usually we do not see the broods due to the emergent arrowhead. The water is too high for arrowheads at this time and broods are easier to see. Mark was walking along a wetland edge south of the Kampen Road residence when a female green-winged flushed and did a detraction display. The green on the speculum was visible without field glasses from 25 feet. Could see at least six young… Mark went back for the field glasses and this time saw the female and a male about 20 yards from the female. This spring we had two pairs and two males but have not seen any green wings since about mid-May. What a pleasant surprise.” 

Later that evening we searched for more waterfowl broods and were pleased to find six broods of blue-winged teal along with broods of mallards, northern shovelers, and hooded mergansers. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology states that “The male green-winged teal defends its mate from copulation attempts by other males, then deserts the female once incubation is underway. A few hours after they hatch, the chicks can swim, dive, walk, and forage for themselves, although the female continues to brood them at night and to protect them when the weather turns cold.”  It is interesting that we saw the male nearby even after the eggs hatched. We have also noticed one male blue-winged teal interacting with a brood and female.

A green-winged teal male hangs out at Goose Pond, near the female and brood, an unusual behavior for this species. Photo by Richard Armstrong

A green-winged teal male hangs out at Goose Pond, near the female and brood, an unusual behavior for this species. Photo by Richard Armstrong

Ours is the first green wing confirmation in Columbia County and the nineteenth confirmation state-wide.  In Breeding Bird Atlas I (1995-2000), Brand confirmed the only brood of green wings in Columbia County at Grassy Lake State Wildlife Area, and greens wings were confirmed in 35 blocks. Most bird books show that green wings only migrate through Wisconsin on their range maps.  We assume that the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II data will be used in the future to update summer range maps.

We hope you visit Goose Pond Sanctuary this summer to see ducklings and other wetland bird broods. Abundant water has receded little due to above normal rainfall including 5.7 inches of rain in the past week, and wildlife viewing opportunities are excellent.  

Thanks to Richard Armstrong for taking photos to document the green-winged teal.

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

Cover photo by USFWS

The 2019 Great Backyard Bird Count in a Tough Winter

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The 2019 Great Backyard Bird Count in a Tough Winter

We always look forward to participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). This year we kept close watch at the bird feeders at both Madison Audubon residences at Goose Pond Sanctuary on Monday, February 18, the last of the four-day time period. The Martins also counted birds at feeders at their cabin (Wildland) north of Rio in Columbia County on Sunday, February 17.

The GBBC gives us a snapshot of bird usage at our feeders in late winter. Despite the name, birds can also be counted and reported from anywhere, not just backyards. Nine of the 14 species observed at three feeders were in the top 10 species recorded world-wide in 2018 (see spreadsheet below).

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Factors contributing to the higher species count and higher number of individuals included more diverse the 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, medium sunflower chips, white millet, and suet. This year our sunflower chip feeders were new Wild Birds Unlimited Eco-clean feeders, which reduce disease transmission when birds congregate in high densities. 

On Thursday afternoon, February 21, GBBC reports were still being entered but at that time, world-wide totals included 178,200 (160,000 in 2017) checklists, 6,293 (6,031) species, and 28,700, 000 (25,300,000) birds counted as part of the event. This is an impressive number that reflects the amount of people interested in birds, and more people participated this year than last. In Wisconsin, bird watchers submitted 2,454 (2,400) checklists and reported 115 (121) species.

Last year we had good numbers of common redpolls and pine siskins, which are very uncommon this year in southern Wisconsin. The eight turkeys at the Wildland cabin were feeding on sunflowers at the bird feeders and on apples in the orchard. The Goose Pond wildlife food plot of sorghum and sunflowers is helping 250 tree sparrows and 25 ring-necked pheasants make it through the winter.

Shelter is another critical need for birds in the winter. The Kampen Road residence contains an “old growth” Norway spruce windbreak and mature pines, and spruces on the neighbor’s land at the Martin’s cabin provide birds with ideal winter roosting cover. Nine years ago at the Kampen Road residence we planted Norway spruce, white cedar, red osier dogwoods, apples and crab apples. These plantings offer additional cover and also serve as a windbreak.

The Kamepn Road residence windbreak offers important shelter for birds and other wildlife. Photo by Mark Martin

The Kamepn Road residence windbreak offers important shelter for birds and other wildlife. Photo by Mark Martin

We are planning on planting more woody species this year and encourage others to provide habitat around their residences.  In addition to creating cover for the birds, the trees help stop the wind and reduced energy costs.

Thanks to everyone that feed birds already. If you live in suitable habitat we encourage you to start feeding them as well. A friend mentioned the importance of feeding the birds and asked us “how would you like to go to the store in winter and find the shelves empty.” 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.

Goldfinches.jpg

The winter weather has been tough on other birds as well. On Wednesday January 30, Jerry Schulz who works at the UW Arlington Research Farms was driving on Goose Pond Road when he saw an eagle in the road "jumping up and down" close to the Manthe farm. As he approached he could see an adult eagle, and it appeared the eagle had just killed a snowy owl. The adult eagle flushed carrying the owl. That day felt like the arctic with a low of - 30 degrees and a high of -12 with -50 wind chill. Snowy owls can withstand the weather, but we have no idea why the eagle was able to take the owl or why the owl was in this location. It is possible that the owl had been hit by a vehicle or had health problems. It is sad to lose one of our feathered friends, and very surprising to learn of this report.

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

Snowy Owls Galore

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Snowy Owls: Goose Pond, Arlington, and Coddington

Madison Audubon’s involvement with Project SNOWstorm began in February 2015 when Goose Pond Sanctuary experienced many observations of snowy owls as winter visitors. Project SNOWstorm was just getting started as a non-profit that studies snowy owls’ winter ecology after the historic snowy owl irruption of 2013-14.

What had once been simple (excited) observations of snowy owls near Goose Pond led to a parntership with Project SNOWstorm and local biologists to safely capture, place a transmitter on the back of, and release these birds back to the wild. We hope that those involved with “our” two snowy owls at Goose Pond — Goose Pond and Arlington — enjoy the memories of those events, and that new birders can learn about the snowy owl project. And now, we have the pleasure of watching a third owl associated with our organization: Coddington.

The three snowy owls Madison Audubon and its donors have supported as part of Project SNOWstorm. Left: Goose Pond (2015), photo by Richard Armstrong. Center: Arlington (2018), photo by Madison Audubon Society. Right: Coddington (2019), photo by Brad Zinda.

Over the past four decades snowy owls are seen infrequently at Goose Pond but sightings increased in the winter of 2013-2014 in our area. Ryan Brady, DNR Conservation Biologist provides updates on snowy owls, and this winter, 85 have been sighted in Wisconsin, but so far not on our sanctuary.   

Over 75 snowy owls have been tracked by Project SNOWstorm throughout the United States and Canada, including three owls with transmitters funded by MAS donors. The first bird, “Goose Pond”, was caught and released on February 14, 2015; “Arlington” on January 4, 2018; and “Coddington” and on January 3, 2019.


Mark Martin releasing the newly tagged Goose Pond owl. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Mark Martin releasing the newly tagged Goose Pond owl. Photo by Arlene Koziol

“Goose Pond” (2015)

Our first snowy owl was caught at the Central Wisconsin Airport at Mosinee, released at the UW Arlington Research Station one mile south of Goose Pond, and named after our nearby iconic wildlife sanctuary. (Conservation groups actively work on relocating owls that are found at or near airports due to the high risk for the birds and planes.) On March 19, Goose Pond flew southwest to Grant County, and his last transmitted data was six miles northwest of Dubuque, Iowa on March 29. Shortly after that his transmitter failed. We later learned that he spent time near Highway 151 near Platteville. When learning that he moved to a rural area in Grant County, Mark Martin, Matt Reetz, and raptor biologists from Eagle Valley tried trapping him so that his failed transmitter could be removed, but were unsuccessful.


Arlington’s piercing gaze is unforgettable. Photo by David Rihn.

Arlington’s piercing gaze is unforgettable. Photo by David Rihn.

 “Arlington” (2018)

Of all the transmitted owls in the Midwest, Arlington made the most movements away from and back to his release sight at the UW Farms. Project SNOWstorm scientist Scott Weidensaul wrote in the February 18, 2018 Project Snowstorm blog that “Arlington took a little walkabout Feb. 12-13, making a 90-mile (144 km) jaunt east to the outskirts of Watertown, south to Lake Koshkonong, and then back up to his normal (Arlington) territory.” Arlington later took a cruise to Rush Lake near Ripon and returned. That April, the Midwest was hit with giant spring snowstorms, delaying the bird’s migration back to the tundra.

A map of Arlington’s extensive travels while in Wisconsin. Image provided by Project SNOWstorm.

A map of Arlington’s extensive travels while in Wisconsin. Image provided by Project SNOWstorm.

From Project SNOWstorm’s May 13, 2018 blog: “…there’s been a lot going on, so let’s bring everyone up to speed. Unfortunately, the biggest news is also the saddest. Arlington, who was tagged Jan. 4 at Madison Audubon’s Goose Pond Preserve near Arlington, Wisconsin, was found dead along a roadside in Benton County, Minnesota, on April 29. Although we’ll conduct a necropsy to be sure, it appears he was killed by a vehicle collision — our third such loss this winter. A passerby saw a snowy owl sitting along a country road, not moving, and when they returned half an hour later, the owl — Arlington — was lying dead.

We’re deeply grateful to Carroll Henderson and the other folks at Minnesota DNR, who recovered Arlington, for reaching out to us immediately and making arrangements to have him and his transmitter shipped to us — just another example of the terrific cooperation we’ve enjoyed over the years from state, provincial and national wildlife agencies.  And we’d like to again extend our thanks to Madison Audubon for sponsoring Arlington’s transmitter — this is a hard loss for them as well as us, but Arlington’s movement data is and will remain a valuable legacy.”

Project SNOWstorm sent us the results of his necropsy that found low (sublethal) levels of Brodifacoum rodenticide, and also DDE, the breakdown product of DDT, which we find at varying levels in many snowy owls, and significant levels of mercury. We’re looking hard at what such toxins mean for snowy owl health. He had a moderately heavy load of parasitic nematodes, which we’ve seen at fatally high levels in some snowy owls.

Fortunately, Project SNOWstorm was able to recover Arlington’s transmitter and refurbish it for another bird in the future. While Arlington’s death was a blow, the prospects of tagging another owl with the transmitter gives Arlington’s followers and the donors to the $3,000 transmitter a second chance to hope.


Coddington, the snowy owl outfitted with Arlington’s transmitter, in profile. Photo by Brad ZInda.

Coddington, the snowy owl outfitted with Arlington’s transmitter, in profile. Photo by Brad ZInda.

“Coddington” (2019)

And a second chance came this winter! Coddington, an adult male snowy owl, was caught and released at Buena Vista Marsh on January 3, 2019 and outfitted with “Arlington’s” transmitter. The perils of winter life for snowy owls continue, however, as we learned this week that he made a narrow escape from disaster with help from a farm family in Plover and the Raptor Education Group, Inc. (REGI). Likely after chasing prey into a barn and getting stuck inside, and in a lagoon of cow manure no less, Coddington was rescued by the Biadasz family, cleaned up, examined, and is currently in rehab with REGI.

Because Coddington will be in rehab and stationary for three to four weeks, his transmitter was removed and we’re hoping to be able to capture, tag, and release another snowy owl with that transmitter. We are so glad Coddington will recover and in time to migrate north!


Arlington sits at the rock quarry outside of Goose Pond Sanctuary in 2018. Photo by Monica Hall

Arlington sits at the rock quarry outside of Goose Pond Sanctuary in 2018. Photo by Monica Hall

As you can see, snowy owls — indeed, most bird species — face numerous challenges when interacting with the human world. But programs like Project SNOWstorm, which work to understand those specific challenges, people like you and I, who work hard to take action to help birds like Goose Pond, Arlinton, and Coddington, can make a world of difference.

Thank you to:

  • Project SNOWstorm for establishing and coordinating the snowy owl winter ecology research project. Their staff of volunteers is great to work with!

  • Gene Jacobs, Raptor Biologist with Linwood Springs Research Station for catching and banding the three owls.  

  • MAS members that donated to funding two transmitters and to donors to Project SNOWstorm.

  • Everyone who provided sightings and photos, and helped trap the owls.

  • The staff at UW Arlington Research Farms for their reports and cooperation.

Together, we can make a difference!

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

Eared Grebes

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In 1968 Madison Audubon was celebrating the acquisition of the first purchase at Goose Pond Sanctuary. Also in 1968 Sam Robbins celebrated his rare finding on July 6 when he found two newborn young eared grebes riding on the back of an adult in St. Croix County. This is the only eared grebe nesting record for the state.

Eared grebes are small grebes with a peaked head and a thin bill. They are stunning in breeding plumage with their chestnut sides, black head and neck with golden feathers fanning out behind the red eyes.

Photo by John Kendall (Flickr CC)

Photo by John Kendall (Flickr CC)

Eared grebes are the most numerous grebe in the world and three subspecies of eared grebes Podiceps nigricollis are found in Africa, Europe, and Asia, as well at North America. Podiceps means "vent" or "anus" and pes translates to"foot"; this is in reference to the attachment point of the bird's legs—at the extreme back end of its body. The species names nigricollis is Latin for "black-necked": niger means "black" and collis means "neck". In Europe they are called black-necked grebes.

Sam Robbins in 1991 wrote in Wisconsin Birdlife that eared grebes are an uncommon migrant and casual summer resident. There were only four observations in Wisconsin from the late 1800’s up to 1940. After that there were almost 100 records from 1940 to 1985. Sam wrote “This species favors such shallow prairie ponds as …. Goose Pond. On two occasions individuals summered at Goose Pond” (1956 and 1965).  

Eared grebe pair at Goose Pond. Photo by Richard Armstrong

Eared grebe pair at Goose Pond. Photo by Richard Armstrong

The first Wisconsin breeding bird atlas from 1995 – 2000 only found two pairs of grebes and none were confirmed nesting. Minnesota completed their breeding bird atlas in 2013 and confirmed eared grebes nesting only in five blocks. This is a very rare species in Wisconsin; however, researchers estimate the North American eared grebe population is stable at 3.5 – 4.1 million. Most grebes nest in the Great Plains, including in Canada. Years ago we were on an MAS field trip to North Dakota and toured a large prairie wetland and observed several thousand nesting eared grebes. 

Tom Wood, from Menominee Falls wrote on the June 4 WisBirdNet email listserv “there have been 3 Eared Grebes at Goose Pond in Columbia County for at least a few days. This morning I sat on the bench overlooking the west pond. This bench is across the road from the informational kiosk. They were on the far side of the pond so a scope was needed. Two are in breeding plumage and the other partially in breeding plumage (black head with golden plumes, but foreneck rather brownish)."

“Grebe Team” of Sumner Matteson and Daryl Christensen. Photo by Mark Martin

“Grebe Team” of Sumner Matteson and Daryl Christensen. Photo by Mark Martin

The DNR “Grebe Team” of Sumner Matteson and Daryl Christensen surveyed Goose Pond on June 12 and found the pair constructing a second platform in the open water area. They also found a male red-necked grebe (state-endangered) and eight pied-billed grebe nests. This spring there was a horned grebe on the pond. Goose Pond and Rush Lake are the only wetland in Wisconsin where four species have been found in a given year.

Grebes build nesting platforms and we were excited to see the grebes carrying arrowhead stems and constructing a platform. Carrying nesting material is a “confirmation” for most birds except for wrens. We also learned from Nick Anich, DNR Atlas Coordinator, that eared grebes build copulatory platforms. They may build a number of platforms and we have seen them constructing three platforms.

Eared grebe building nesting platform at Madison Audubon Society's Goose Pond Sanctuary in June 7, 2018; video by Patrick Ready

Photo by skinnybrager (Flickr CC)

Photo by skinnybrager (Flickr CC)

We and many others are watching for the pair to begin nesting. Hopefully in July there will be some cute little grebes riding around on their parents backs. The young can climb, swim, and feed an hour after hatching. If you want to see the grebes, a spotting scope is very helpful and you should visit sooner than later since the arrowheads are rapidly growing and the pond will be green instead of blue in a few more days.

We are holding a 50th anniversary celebration on Saturday August 18th and we hope you can join us and hopefully we can also celebrate the second nesting pair of eared grebes in Wisconsin. 

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

Great Wisconsin Birdathon Count - Columbia County

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We spent an enjoyable Mother’s Day participating on the Natural Resource Foundation’s Great Wisconsin Birdathon, listing the birds we found and thinking of how our mothers would have loved being part of our Reckless Wrens team consisting of Mark Martin, Sue Foote-Martin, and Jim Shurts. We split up for part of the day between different birding hotspots in order to cover as much quality habitat in Columbia County as possible. In the end, we found 122 species, a record for the Reckless Wrens. 

Rose-breasted grosbeak, photo by Mark Moschell

Rose-breasted grosbeak, photo by Mark Moschell

Sue surveyed the Martins' Wildland property near Rio and found 29 species in the 160-acre wetland, prairie, and savanna habitats. Madison Audubon Society holds a conservation easement at Wildland. The feeders were crowded with ruby-throated hummingbirds, Baltimore orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and American goldfinches. Highlights included a pair of trumpeter swans, a prothonotary warbler, and pine siskins. We hope to confirm nesting pine siskins as a first for the Breeding Bird Atlas II in Columbia County.

Sue also found six species of woodpeckers including a red-headed woodpecker in the savanna restoration. Other good finds were the great egret, Wilson’s snipe, black-throated green warbler, orchard oriole, and purple finch. 

Mark and Jim surveyed Goose Pond and Otsego Marsh. Goose Pond Sanctuary was unbelievable! Sixty species were found including 14 species of waterfowl. Waterfowl highlights include a greater white-fronted goose, gadwalls, northern shovelers, northern pintails, green-winged teal, redheads, lesser scaup, buffleheads, a female hooded merganser, and ruddy ducks. 

Jim found what at first he thought to be a female canvasback. The duck was all brown, had a sloping forehead, and as it was swimming with a “purpose”, it appeared tapered in the rear.  Mark had a good look at the bird just when Jim interrupted, “A shorebird just landed in the water!” Forgetting about the duck we had a great look at a male Wilson’s phalarope. Males are dully colored since they incubate the eggs. We could not relocate the unknown duck but from our observations we believe it was a scoter - species unknown. 

Wilson's phalarope, photo by Becky Matsubara

Wilson's phalarope, photo by Becky Matsubara

The highlight of the day was seeing two shorebirds in the distance land in the east pond wetlands. They were black on top and white on the bottom. We had permission and walked to the far edge of the Manthe farm, where we were rewarded with observing a pair of black-necked stilts, an uncommon bird in Wisconsin.

Black-necked stilts, photo by Arlene Koziol

Black-necked stilts, photo by Arlene Koziol

Also found at Goose Pond where horned grebe, American bittern, sora, dunlins, and short-billed dowitchers.

American bittern, photo by Arlene Koziol

American bittern, photo by Arlene Koziol

Otsego Marsh was also very productive where we found 39 species. We hiked the trail and began with a female rose-breasted grosbeak carrying nesting material. We found nine of our 11 warbler species at Otsego Marsh including 10 Magnolia, 4 black-and-white, and 2 blackburnian warblers. The highlight was the two male scarlet tanagers that landed close to us. On the water we found four nests and 3 families of Canada geese along with an adult bald eagle and 10 double-crested cormorants.

Scarlet tanager, photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

Scarlet tanager, photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

The three of us checked out Erstad Prairie and Schoeneberg Marsh Waterfowl Production Area, where we found a flock of seven female hooded mergansers, a pair of red-necked grebes, and yellow-headed blackbirds. 

In the county we also added American white pelican, common gallinule, black tern, and Eurasian collared-dove.

Goose Pond in spring is full of life. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Goose Pond in spring is full of life. Photo by Arlene Koziol

It was a very rewarding day to see the results of Madison Audubon Society’s acquisition and restoration efforts. Many birds greatly benefit from the habitat provided.

The Great Wisconsin Birdathon raises funds to support the Bird Protection Fund. Funds raised by the Reckless Wrens are split 50/50 between Madison Audubon and the Bird Protection Fund. (Prior to retirement from the DNR, Sue served on the committee that established the Bird Protection Fund that provides funding for important bird conservation projects. Jim serves on the Great Wisconsin Birdathon planning committee.) If you would like to donate to the Reckless Wrens it is not too late. Ten cents per species would be a donation of $12.20 or you can make a donation of any amount to our team. Thank you for your support!

Written by Mark Martin and Sue Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary resident managers, and Jim Shurts, MAS board member and sanctuaries chair