goose pond sanctuary

The (ongoing) tale of the elusive Whooping Crane and Goose Pond Sanctuary

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On October 2nd, a friend of Sue’s left a message on our phone that he had seen a whooping crane with sandhill cranes about three miles from Goose Pond, about 100 yards from the intersection of Kampen and Harvey Roads, east of Highway 51. He had an excellent look could see that the whooping crane was banded with colored bands.

A sandhill and whooping crane fly overhead. Photo by Arlene Koziol, taken in 2014

A sandhill and whooping crane fly overhead. Photo by Arlene Koziol, taken in 2014

Mark checked out the area the next day and finally found the whooping crane about a half mile south of Kampen Road not far from Highway 51 along with 230 sandhills. At that distance, the whooping crane easily stood out.  

The following day, Mark found the whooping crane late morning within a few yards of where it was the previous afternoon. He called Graham and the seed collecting fall employees, and they were all treated to a life bird. At that time the color bands were recorded and reported to the International Crane Foundation. Later that afternoon, Mark was lucky to see the whooper flying about one mile to the east.

A closeup of a captive whooping crane, taken at International Crane Foundation. Photo by Arlene Koziol

A closeup of a captive whooping crane, taken at International Crane Foundation. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Most people know that whooping cranes reached a low of 15 birds in the wild in the 1940s and were close to extinction. This population of cranes nests at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and winters at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Last winter, that population totaled 504 birds including 13 young. We really enjoyed our visits to Rockport, Texas to view the whooping cranes up close.

In 1991, Sam Robbins wrote in Wisconsin Birdlife that there were a few bird whooping crane records from southeast Wisconsin in mid 1800s along with enormous flocks of sandhill cranes. Kumlien and Hollister spoke of “unquestionable breeding to some extent,” however nesting was never confirmed. Sam mentioned that the last historic whooping crane record was from 1878 in Green County that included a specimen.

The next record for Wisconsin was in April 1959 when Owen Gromme observed two birds in Waukesha County. The wild population was still very low and these birds were about 500 miles east of their migration route.

The Robert Lerch family sold Madison Audubon the first parcel of land at Goose Pond Sanctuary in 1968. We remember Robert talking about seeing a whooping crane in back of their house in 1959. The only record of that sighting was Roberts note of the sighting on the back of the passage door for their garage. Robert was a waterfowl hunter and trapper with very good observational skills.

On October 4, 2010 many bird watchers observed and photographed three adult whooping cranes about five miles southeast of Goose Pond at the farmed wetland at Harvey Road and County DM.

Three whooping cranes stand in the shallows. Photo by Arlene Koziol, taken in 2014

Three whooping cranes stand in the shallows. Photo by Arlene Koziol, taken in 2014

A few years after that we spend many evenings looking for the whooping crane that spent the summer at the Anderson Waterfowl Production Area on Highway K, east of Highway 51.

On March 26, 2014 Matt Giovanni, Wildlife Biologist, and Richard Armstrong, Wildlife Photographer were out searching for snowy owls around Goose Pond and both reported spotting a whooping crane. The next day we observed the whooping crane with 10 sandhill cranes just north of the Goose Pond. That evening, Mark was heading out looking for snowy owls and he ran into George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation.  

George was out with three Russian crane researchers looking for snowy owls. Mark told them he was searching for a whooping crane. They were surprised to learn of a whooping crane at Goose Pond. The Russian researchers had never seen a snowy owl and one had not seen a whooping crane. Mark and George split up to search a larger area. Not long after that Mark called George and said he found a snowy owl that was in the farmed wetland in Jill’s Prairie. Mark called George and when they arrive they set up their scope and everyone had excellent looks at a whooping crane. Mark said, “I thought you were interested in seeing a snowy owl.” George said they “were interested in seeing a snowy owl and wondered where the owl was that you reported.”  Mark said look in your scope at the whooping crane but look past the crane and you will see a snowy owl! They were thrilled to see a snowy owl and shortly after that two more owls were found including one they photographed from their van at 40 feet.

The International Crane Foundation, the Department of Natural Resources, and Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership has worked from many years restoring a population of whooping cranes in Wisconsin. The International Crane Foundation reported, “The [September 2019] estimated population size is 85 (40 F, 42 M, 3 U). This includes three wild-hatched chicks from 2019. To the best of our knowledge, as of October 1, at least 73 Whooping Cranes are in Wisconsin, 4 are in Michigan, 1 is in Iowa and 1 is in Illinois.”  There is a long story with the reintroduction history with this population that would take pages to cover.

We hope that you visit Goose Pond area in the next month and hopefully you will find a large population of sandhill cranes and one white crane.

Written by Mark Martin and Susan Foote-Martin, Resident Managers, Goose Pond Sanctuary

A whooping crane soars overhead. Photo by Arlene Koziol

A whooping crane soars overhead. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Welcome to Fall Migration

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There is an abundance of “welcoming” habitat at Goose Pond for the fall migration.  Today, there are 660 monarchs still roosting in spruce trees and one white pine in the yard at the Kampen Road residence.  The monarchs are nectaring on large patches of the colorful purple New England aster and showy goldenrod flowers.

Monarchs on New England aster, photo by Monica Hall

Monarchs on New England aster, photo by Monica Hall

Grassland birds can still be seen fliting around in the prairie or in the shrubs including silky dogwood.  Sedge wrens, common yellowthroats, and a few eastern meadowlarks along with warblers are with us now.

Sedge wren, photo by Arlene Koziol

Sedge wren, photo by Arlene Koziol

Water levels are at a record high for this time of the year.  Usually the shallow wetlands are dry with much of the area planted to corn or soybeans. However, this year instead of seven-foot high corn plants there is a diversity of emergent vegetation including water plantain, smartweeds, barnyard grass, bidens, softstem bulrush, cattails, and the first wild rice plant seen at Goose Pond.  Many of the emergent plants, especially those in bold above are providing an abundance of high energy food for migrating ducks.  Goose Pond is about seven-feet deep and most of the wetland birds are feeding in the 100 acres of shallow wetlands on Audubon property and adjacent landowners.

The southern shorebird migration began in July and there are still flocks of migrating shorebirds including yellowlegs.  The shorebirds love the mud flats where they are busy searching for invertebrates.

Great egret, photo by Monica Hall

Great egret, photo by Monica Hall

Fish eating birds, including great egrets and double crested cormorants are feasting on abundance of fat head minnows.  It has been reported that female fat head minnows can spawn every week when the water temperature is between 64 to 85 degrees.  Goose Pond may contain hundreds of thousands of minnows.  The downside to having minnows in the pond is that they also feed on invertebrates, frog, and salamander eggs.  Ducklings need an abundance of invertebrates to feed on.  

The record number of 95 great egrets has declined however over 20 egrets and great blue herons can still be photographed as they fish. Arlene Koziol photographed an osprey on the causeway.  We assume the osprey would rather feed on large fish and quickly moved south.

Other raptors observed recently include northern harriers, American kestrels, a peregrine falcon and a record number of five bald eagles seen by Arlene Koziol.  The peregrine is probably looking for shorebirds and ducks and was last seen in the tree on the Goose Pond Road causeway.

Bald eagle, photo by Monica Hall

Bald eagle, photo by Monica Hall

The pair of bald eagles whose nest is about three miles north of Goose Pond are frequent visitors.  It is not hard to tell when eagles are present as they flush egrets and ducks.  Sue was rewarded by seeing the flock of 95 great egrets overhead after they were flushed by the eagle.  Recently Mark and Graham observed two flocks of 30 blue-winged teal in the open water and then spotted the bald eagle.

The last of the migrating bobolinks will be moving south shortly after feeding on smartweed seeds and seed in our sorghum and sunflower food plot.  Red-wing blackbirds, mourning doves, and American goldfinch numbers are increasing in the food plot.

Pied-billed grebe, photo by Arlene Koziol

Pied-billed grebe, photo by Arlene Koziol

There are over 30 pied billed grebes present and they will remain for a couple of weeks.  Canada geese, ducks, and American coot numbers will be increasing.  

We welcome you to come out and enjoy the habitats and birds.  You can visit the Wingspan viewing area on Prairie Lane or enjoy the views from the benches and newly landscaped area along Prairie Lane adjacent to the spotting scope, or hike the trails, especially the trails that begins at the Browne Prairie parking.  

Come take a seat at the beautiful south edge of Goose Pond. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Come take a seat at the beautiful south edge of Goose Pond. Photo by Arlene Koziol

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

Rusty patched bumble bee

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When the phrase “endangered species” is used, large animals like Asian elephants, whooping cranes, black footed ferrets, and Bornean orangutans most frequently come to mind. Consider the logos for major wildlife conservation organizations. Again, these species are usually large animals, frequently mammalian, and high on the food chain. While some of the Earth’s mammal species are declining at alarming rates, other less charismatic groups with critical ecosystem roles such as fish, mollusks, and plants make up a far larger proportion of listed endangered species. At Goose Pond Sanctuary, we host three endangered insects including the silphium borer moth, red-tailed leaf hoppers, and as of August 3, the rusty patched bumblebee.

Provided by International Union for Conservation of Nature

Provided by International Union for Conservation of Nature

The rusty patched bumble bee was the first bee listed as endangered in the continental United States when it was official added to the federal endangered species list in 2017. In the 1900’s, the rusty patch was formerly abundant across the Midwest, eastern US, and southeastern Canada. Major contributors to declines in rusty patch populations are habitat loss, pesticide use, and pathogens. Recent surveys show that the range of the rusty patch has decreased dramatically over the last decade, and their overall population has decreased by at least 87%. This is one of the reasons that we were ecstatic when Taylor Tai, a graduate student from UW Madison whose focus is on bumble bee habitat requirements, successfully captured and identified a rusty patch bumble bee at Goose Pond during a tour. 

Participants of our August 3, 2019 bumble bee walk field trip at Goose Pond Sanctuary got to see first-hand the rusty-patched bumble bee! Photo by Graham Steinhauer

Participants of our August 3, 2019 bumble bee walk field trip at Goose Pond Sanctuary got to see first-hand the rusty-patched bumble bee! Photo by Graham Steinhauer

Rusty patch bumble bees can be found in a variety of habitats including open woodlands, backyard gardens, and prairies. They have short tongues relative to other bumble bees and therefore prefer open flowers. Sun flowers, bee balm, and goldenrods are some of their favorites. Sunflowers at the Goose Pond food plot just began to bloom, and they’re covered in bumble bees and butterflies. The rusty patch is known to pollinate 65 genera of plants including some species that are highly beneficial to humans like cherries, apples, cranberries, and alfalfa. 

Sunflowers provide awesome fodder for pollinators. Photo by Mark Martin

Sunflowers provide awesome fodder for pollinators. Photo by Mark Martin

Prior to the discovery of a rusty patch bumblebee this summer, eight of the seventeen Wisconsin bumble bee species have been observed at Goose Pond Sanctuary. Most bumble bee colonies are composed of a single queen along with 30 to 200 female workers. Nests are usually located a foot or two below the soil surface in abandoned rodent holes or in insulated above ground cavities. Males do not inhabit the colony. Bumble bees and other pollinators need high quality nectar plants throughout the season which is why prairies with high plant diversity and variable bloom times provide excellent pollinator habitat. 

On August 2, Eva Lewandows and Terrell Hyde, both conservation biologists from the WI DNR’s Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation, visited Goose Pond in search of bumble bees. Their objective was to test survey methods and establish protocol for citizen volunteers assisting with the Wisconsin Bumble Bee Brigade. If you want to learn bumble bee life history, how to identify them, or how you can help, visit the Wisconsin Bumble Bee Brigade home page. You can read about Wisconsin bumble bee species, explore datasets, or submit your own observations.

Bee balm are in full bloom at Goose Pond Sanctuary. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Bee balm are in full bloom at Goose Pond Sanctuary. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Our rusty patched bumble bee was found nectaring on bee balm (also referred to as bergamot or Monarda fistulosa) in the Lapinski–Kitze Prairie. Now is an excellent time to view bumblebees at Goose Pond. All you need is short range binoculars or better yet a camera with a zoom lens. The best places to park are at Lapinski–Kitze Prairie off of Goose Pond Road, and the Land Managers’ residence (W7503 Kampen Road) which is adjacent to our food plot. These insects are large and technically can sting, but they’re some of the fuzziest and friendliest critters out there. Throughout all of her time capturing thousands of bumblebees in pursuit of research, Taylor Tai has not been stung a single time. 

Written by Graham Steinhauer, Goose Pond Sanctuary land steward

Cover photo by USFWS Midwest Region

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  https://ebird.org/atlaswi/view/checklist/S55707690 https://ebird.org/atlaswi/view/checklist/S55706285

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 goosep@madisonaudubon.org 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

Sandhill Crane

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Sandhill crane pair in calling in unison at Goose Pond. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Sandhill crane pair in calling in unison at Goose Pond. Photo by Arlene Koziol

One of my favorite birds is the sandhill crane. Their appearance, ecology, resilience, and their signal of spring all appeal to me. They also brought my wife, Sue, and I together. What’s not to love?

Sandhill numbers have had changed dramatically in the past 175 years. Kumlin and Hollister, early ornithologists in southeast Wisconsin, believed that sandhills were an “abundant and common migrant” around the 1850’s.

Sam Robbins wrote in Wisconsin Birdlife (published in 1991) that people thought that crane numbers greatly declined around the early 1900’s due to hunting, and wetland drainage for agricultural development.

In the mid 1930’s the state wide population was estimated at around 25 pairs mostly in west central Wisconsin. Aldo Leopold thought that sandhill cranes would disappear from Wisconsin and penned “A Marshland Elegy” in the 1940’s to mourn that idea.

Students at UW Stevens Point began studying cranes in the 1970’s. Ernie Gluesing conducted an aerial census and estimated the state population at 850 in 1973. He also studied crane territories and reported that territories averaged 339 acres.

In the 1970’s I enjoyed fall visits to the area around Muir Park in Marquette county where several hundred sandhill cranes staged and fed in the surrounding area. The Fish and Wildlife Service acquired the large wetland complex adjacent to Muir Park for the cranes. At that time cranes were still uncommon in Dane and Jefferson counties.

In the mid 1970’s the International Crane Foundation began their annual sandhill crane count that now covers parts of six states.

I fondly remember attending a February 21, 1978 meeting at Piason’s restaurant to discuss the Dane County crane count. My friend Dorothy Haines was there and brought along her friend Sue Foote. I apparently made a memorable impression on Sue when I ordered milk with my pizza. (You might know the rest of that story: we dated, married, immediately moved to Goose Pond Sanctuary to take over as resident managers, and have been there ever since!) Ron Sauey, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation, joined us and later that evening, according to my diary, gave an “excellent talk on Siberian cranes” at the monthly Audubon meeting.

Two sandhill cranes in flight. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Two sandhill cranes in flight. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Sam Robbins wrote sandhill cranes were that cranes were an uncommon migrant and uncommon summer resident. Sam also mentioned crane researcher found nests with eggs as early as April 22 and that most cranes left Wisconsin in October following the start of the waterfowl hunting season.

Crane numbers and biology have changed much since the 1970’s. The first Breeding Bird Atlas (1990’s) found cranes incubating by March 22. Cranes also nest on small wetlands and appear to have smaller territories. Cranes do not leave Wisconsin when waterfowl hunting season begins. Thousands of cranes stage at Crex Meadows in Burnett County and along the Wisconsin River in Sauk County by the Leopold Shack and Foundation, and do not usually leave until November.

Sandhill crane building a nest at Goose Pond, April 8, 2019. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Sandhill crane building a nest at Goose Pond, April 8, 2019. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Crane numbers have also greatly increased in Columbia County. In 1995, Sue and I recorded the first sandhill crane nest at Goose Pond and continue to participated in the annual crane count. This year, I counted at Goose Pond on April 13. I was excited to be up before dawn and wondered what I would find with record amount of water. It did not take long to hear and see cranes and ended up finding three pairs and two individuals. Usually there are a pair of cranes on the west pond and a pair on the east pond.

Goose Pond was alive with birds. I counted 37 species of birds by 7:30 a.m. and ended the day finding five more species. Highlights that day included 16 species of ducks, a flock of 25 white-fronted geese, two horned grebes, large numbers of American coots, and a pair of northern harriers with the male in courtship display. At dusk I was treated to seeing a short-eared owl hunting about 50 yards east of the house.

Sandhill cranes on the nest. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Sandhill cranes on the nest. Photo by Arlene Koziol

There are two pairs nesting on the west pond with 40 yards of Prairie Lane and Goose Pond Road and probably a pair in the Manthe wetlands on the east pond. Sue and I hope you can visit this summer and enjoy these fascinating birds along with the other wetand and grassland birds.

Written by Mark Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary resident co-manager