Finding New Life

On Monday we posted some pictures to Facebook that got a bigger response than we had anticipated. These wild turkey feet caused quite a commotion! Some people loved them, others found the images startling. We’re glad that it gives us an opportunity to share some behind-the-scenes stories from our education department!

Dead things are some of my favorite teaching tools. Whether you call them study skins, specimens, or mounts, kids find them fascinating. Usually when I bring specimens into a classroom I'm met with questions. First: "is that REAL?" Then, "what IS that?!" Followed quickly by "did it used to be alive?" and "how did it die?" As I've mentioned before, I love questions like this. It’s one way I know that kids are actively engaged and learning.

Hank, our Great Horned Owl Ambassador, gets to meet a lot of kids. Photo credit: Carolyn Byers

Hank, our Great Horned Owl Ambassador, gets to meet a lot of kids. Photo credit: Carolyn Byers

Our teaching specimens are found by scientists, citizen scientists, and Madison Audubon members. Many are window strikes or have been hit by cars. A few of our furs were donated to us by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The UW Madison Entomology Department donated three trays of pollinators, all lined up in neat rows. Some game birds were hunted for meat, and the inedible parts were gifted to Madison Audubon. Most of our specimens come to us needing some work before we’re able to teach with them, and the turkey feet were no exception.  

Matt, Brenna, and I work to prepare these animals in the most professional way we can- we aim for museum quality pieces every time. I wanted to make sure those turkey feet would be free-standing when I was done, and in as natural a position as possible. The quickest and easiest way of doing it was to zip-tie them to a chair. Voila! Perfect turkey feet. When the feet are dry and solidly in position, they will be removed and placed in our traveling collection. With care, they will last for decades and meet thousands of children.

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ABOVE: These photos of our turkey feet preparation methods caused quite a stir on Monday! The feet will be removed from the chair when they’re dried and ready, and added to our traveling collection. The other feet in our collection have delighted children and inspired many scientific illustrations. Photo credits: Carolyn Byers

Most kids are curious about how these specimens came to be with me. They're fascinated that I prepared some of them, and have lots of questions about the process (most about eyeballs and brains). A large part of the discussion is always what to do if they find a dead animal: how to respectfully look at dead animals we find on hikes, and also that we should leave these animals in nature. We talk about how Madison Audubon has special permits that allow us to keep certain animals, nests, feathers, and eggs, but if you don’t have those permits, keeping those items for yourself is illegal.

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ABOVE: This thrush was killed after striking a window, and was picked up by a Madison Audubon Bird Collision Corps volunteer. Matt Reetz prepared the bird by turning it into a study skin, similar to what you might find in a museum’s collection. This bird has spent the last few months touring Madison schools, meeting kids, and posing for portraits. Photo credits: Carolyn Byers

The important thing is that we are respecting these animals by giving them new life. I tell kids that it's sad that these animals died, but by turning them into teaching tools, we're allowing thousands of kids to see them up close. These kids get to compare the predatory feet of a screech owl with the more generalist feet of a crow. They can run their fingers through an otter's fur, and discover the differences between guard hairs and the under coat. Kids hone their observation skills, learn how to ask insightful questions, and wonder together about their findings.  

We use our teaching specimen collection for a wide variety of lessons. Our skulls help kids learn about comparative anatomy: we feel the bones in our own skulls and look at how they compare to different animals. Our collection of bird wings, feet, and beaks help kids explore the many different adaptations birds have evolved.  Some of my favorite lessons are scientific illustration (the kids call it "drawing dead stuff"), indoor scavenger hunts ("find an animal that is very well camouflaged. Find an animal that is adapted to be a good chewer"), and all about owls (our screech and great horned owl are minor celebrities in Madison classrooms). 

Kids LOVE skulls. Holding a skull is equal parts exciting, gross, cool, and wildly interesting. Questions usually flow too quickly for me to answer them all! Photo credit: Carolyn Byers

Kids LOVE skulls. Holding a skull is equal parts exciting, gross, cool, and wildly interesting. Questions usually flow too quickly for me to answer them all! Photo credit: Carolyn Byers

Exploring deceased animals doesn't require careful preparation or a classroom. We also take advantage of teachable moments while we're out on the trail. Dead fish along Madison lakes, rabbit fur caught in the brush, and a wild scattering of feathers under a fencepost all help me teach kids about the natural world. I'm careful to approach each situation with respect for the animals and kids involved, and we always help the kids to be good scientists and citizens. 

This sharp-shinned hawk died after it hit a window. One of our members delivered it to Madison Audubon, and I brought it to visit a classroom before handing it off to a taxidermist. The kids were amazed to see this bird up close, especially because they regularly see a sharpie hunting the soccer fields in their schoolyard. Photo credit: Shannon Richards

This sharp-shinned hawk died after it hit a window. One of our members delivered it to Madison Audubon, and I brought it to visit a classroom before handing it off to a taxidermist. The kids were amazed to see this bird up close, especially because they regularly see a sharpie hunting the soccer fields in their schoolyard. Photo credit: Shannon Richards

So the next time you're out on a hike with kids and come across a squirrel lying prone in the middle of the trail, stop and talk about it. Get a good stick to use as a probe, and flip it over. Look at it's fur, and teeth, and feet. Most importantly, tell kids you'll leave it there so that it can help feed other animals.

Kids use a stick to probe a dead carp found along Lake Waubesa. Photo credit: Carolyn Byers

Kids use a stick to probe a dead carp found along Lake Waubesa. Photo credit: Carolyn Byers

Written by Carolyn Byers, Madison Audubon Education Director

Breeding Bird Atlas: Columbia County meet-up

The Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II project is in its final summer of surveying. The goal of the project is to document how many and which species are using the state to raise young, which is both an indicator of habitat availability and quality as well as bird population trends. It’s very important work, and we need your help in the Columbia County area! Birding expertise is NOT REQUIRED, just enthusiasm and enjoyment for the outdoors!

Mark Martin and Sue Foote-Martin, Madison Audubon’s Goose Pond Sanctuary resident managers, coordinate the Columbia County effort.

Osprey nest, photo by Pat Ready

Osprey nest, photo by Pat Ready

Join us!

We are holding a Columbia County Breeding Bird Atlas meeting on Saturday May 18th at Goose Pond Sanctuary, W7503 Kampen Road, Arlington.

Three months to go and the Breeding Bird Atlas II will be ready for history.  Jim Otto tabulated the info below for 16 priority blocks for Atlas I and Atlas II as of April 2019.  We are confirming more species, however, there are some blocks with much work to be done and others that need night atlas work.  We are also searching for key species such as red-shouldered hawks, nesting screech owls, and new species to confirm such as black-necked stilt, black-billed cuckoo, pine warbler, hooded warbler, and green-winged teal.  Dory Owen provided a large number of spreadsheets that are helping provide direction on where to atlas.  We plan to send this info out to those that are helping out this year.

WBBA1:

  Coded species:  1275 total (79.7 block average)

  Confirmed species: 681 total (42.6 block average)

WBBA2:

  Coded species:  1365 total (85.3 block average)

  Confirmed species: 750 total (46.9 block average)

The plan is to meet at Goose Pond at 7:00 a.m. and to go out in teams to atlas selected areas.  Possible survey projects the teams may cover are (1.) waterfowl and  marsh birds in priority blocks; (2.) Eurasian collared-doves; (3.) Search for red-shouldered hawk nests if  the nest surveys have not been completed; (4.) Osprey nests; (5.) Red-breasted nuthatches and other birds found in pine plantations, (6.) Gibraltar Rock State Natural Area. and (7.) trying to confirm green-winged teal nesting in Columbia County.

We will then reconvene at Goose Pond at 10:00 a.m.and have a program going over key points from the Atlas meeting in April; discuss plans for this years work; and meet others working in Columbia County.  We are also looking at holding a Breeding Bird Atlas Blitz in June and July for a priority block.   

Please RSVP (goosep@madisonaudubon.org or 608-635-4160) to let us know if your are coming Saturday the 18th for the entire morning OR at 10:00 a.m.  We will be providing snacks and lunch.  If you come for the atlas work let us know what you would like to search for.  If you can not make Saturday but would still like to help atlas this summer please let us know.

As Jim Otto says "Everything helps" with completing this atlas project.

Please share with others.  You can also report observations from your yard.

Looking forward to an interesting birding summer.

Mark and Sue, Columbia County Coordinators

Photo by Pat Ready

Kestrel Nestboxes: The Good, the Bad, and the Just Fine

A male American kestrel sits on a wire in search of food. Photo by Jim Stewart

A male American kestrel sits on a wire in search of food. Photo by Jim Stewart

A kestrel nestbox sits in a grassland in southcentral Wisconsin. Photo by Madison Audubon

A kestrel nestbox sits in a grassland in southcentral Wisconsin. Photo by Madison Audubon

Kestrel nestboxes are busy places this time of year. Because kestrels’ nesting habitat (tree snags) has all but vanished in their range, and because they take readily to man-made and managed nestboxes, our dedicated group of Kestrel Nest Box Program volunteers are also busy this time of year checking out what’s happening in the nests!

To aid in their efforts, Madison Audubon volunteer Pat Ready created a “Guide to Kestrel Box Species” which helps monitors determine who is using the nest (because it’s not always kestrels!), and what to do about it. Download the PDF here.

All photos below are by Pat Ready.

Guide to Kestrel Box Species

Kestrels in Nestboxes

Wood chips with brown speck-led eggs means Kestrel nest! Eggs will hatch in 30-35 days.

Wood chips with brown speck-led eggs means Kestrel nest! Eggs will hatch in 30-35 days.

Kestrel chicks that are a few days old. Huddled together to stay warm & feel safe.

Kestrel chicks that are a few days old. Huddled together to stay warm & feel safe.

Kestrel chicks about 2 weeks old. Developing true feathers to replace downy feathers.

Kestrel chicks about 2 weeks old. Developing true feathers to replace downy feathers.

Kestrel chicks about to fledge. All brown = females, Blue-grey wings = males.  Do not disturb!  Disturbance at this time may cause chicks to pre-maturely fledge.

Kestrel chicks about to fledge. All brown = females, Blue-grey wings = males. Do not disturb! Disturbance at this time may cause chicks to pre-maturely fledge.

 

Intruder Alert: Remove

European Starling.  Nest is made of rough grasses & feathers. Eggs are larger than robins. Exotic & invasive.  Remove nest!

European Starling. Nest is made of rough grasses & feathers. Eggs are larger than robins. Exotic & invasive. Remove nest!

House Sparrow.  Nest is made of rough grasses, feathers, & debris that fill the box. Eggs are grey with speckles. Exotic & invasive.  Remove nest!

House Sparrow. Nest is made of rough grasses, feathers, & debris that fill the box. Eggs are grey with speckles. Exotic & invasive. Remove nest!

 

Sharing Space: Leave Them Be

Tree Swallow.  Nest is made of fine grasses & feathers. Eggs are white & elongated. Native.  Do not remove.

Tree Swallow. Nest is made of fine grasses & feathers. Eggs are white & elongated. Native. Do not remove.

House Wren . Nest is made of sticks & twigs. Wrens will fill entire box with sticks. Native.  Do not remove.

House Wren. Nest is made of sticks & twigs. Wrens will fill entire box with sticks. Native. Do not remove.

Screech Owl.  Owls will use kestrel boxes over winter to roost in. Regurgitaed pellets are sign of owl use.  Clean out in spring.

Screech Owl. Owls will use kestrel boxes over winter to roost in. Regurgitaed pellets are sign of owl use. Clean out in spring.

Eastern Bluebird.  Nest is made of fine grasses and often cover wood chips. Eggs are light blue. Native.  Do not remove.

Eastern Bluebird. Nest is made of fine grasses and often cover wood chips. Eggs are light blue. Native. Do not remove.

Learn more about Madison Audubon’s Kestrel Nestbox Monitoring Program here.

Written by Pat Ready, Madison Audubon volunteer

Our Pond Runneth Over

Goose Pond is a prairie pothole, a pond that is fed only by precipitation and run-off. Because of this, Goose Pond water levels change significantly only two or three days a year after a major run-off event. But right now, we’re seeing something we’ve never seen before! Goose Pond is normally four feet deep, but today, it’s at least seven.

Above: Kampen Road (looking east toward Goose Pond Road).  Water is eight inches deep and covers 1,000 feet of road. So far one car stalled in the high water and had to be towed out. Some of the asphalt was deeply undercut, and there are ongoing road repairs due to safety issues.

Above: Kampen Road (looking east toward Goose Pond Road). Water is eight inches deep and covers 1,000 feet of road. So far one car stalled in the high water and had to be towed out. Some of the asphalt was deeply undercut, and there are ongoing road repairs due to safety issues.

Deep snow cover and ice, frozen ground, rain, and high temperatures resulted in record flooding and runoff levels. There is so much water in our above-ground system that you could now kayak from Ankenbrandt Prairie (east of Goose Pond) into Lake Mendota and only have to get out to maneuver around culverts.

The good news is that scaup, goldeneyes, canvasbacks, mallards, Canada geese, and cranes have arrived and are using the sheet water.

The bad news is there is damage to road infrastructure, and many low lying roadways in the area are closed or have high water advisory.

Above: Goose Pond Road (looking north towards Arlington).  The road is covered by up to three inches of water for almost 1,000 feet. The dark mound to the right (east) of Goose Pond Road is the rock pile. The pull off next to the rock pile is where many people bird watch from the Goose Pond Road causeway, and it is completely flooded.

Above: Goose Pond Road (looking north towards Arlington). The road is covered by up to three inches of water for almost 1,000 feet. The dark mound to the right (east) of Goose Pond Road is the rock pile. The pull off next to the rock pile is where many people bird watch from the Goose Pond Road causeway, and it is completely flooded.

If you are visiting Goose Pond, use safety precautions and common sense. In the 40 years that the Martins have resided at Goose Pond, water has only flowed west out of the pond to Lake Mendota on one other occasion.

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Above: Train Tracks (looking north). The train tracks are flooded up to four inches for 250 feet. A soft rail bed and nearby erosion stranded the train from yesterday evening until this morning.

Above: Video (Kampen Road). Taken at 4:18 p.m. yesterday, this video shows the sheer volume of water flowing under the road and into Goose Pond. The stranded train is shown in the back.

Photos and text by Mark Martin and Susan Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary resident managers, and Graham Steinhauer, Goose Pond Sanctuary land steward

Assisting Visually Impaired Birders

A bird feeder can be a wonderful scene of activity and color! Photo by Monica Hall

A bird feeder can be a wonderful scene of activity and color! Photo by Monica Hall

It was back in October when my friend Dorothy called me about seeing birds in her backyard. Or rather, not seeing them. She had trouble seeing the birds due to aging eyes and Macular Degeneration, a frustrating and usually debilitating visual impairment that millions of elderly experience. Dorothy is in her mid-90’s and, incredibly, still living independently (with assistance from her aides and the Wisconsin Council for the Blind and Visually Impaired). As it happens, Dorothy is also Madison Audubon’s longest-standing member and an avid bird-watcher… that is, until her eye-sight started to fail.

The effects of macular degeneration on vision. From macular.org

The effects of macular degeneration on vision. From macular.org

A few days after Dorothy called, I stopped over to bring her bird seed and rearrange some feeders for better viewing. The Council, which specializes in empowering those with visual impairments to be as independent and fulfilled as possible, set her up with a camera/monitor system to help her get a closer view of the birds at her feeders. She showed me her bird-watching set-up by her large picture window looking out into her backyard. The camera brought in a close-up image of her feeders onto a 24” monitor and she could see her birds again. She could swivel the camera and see all three feeders just fine.

It seemed to fit her needs perfectly. However, it came with a steep price tag. And although to Dorothy, it was worth that much and more to see her birds again, I wondered if I could do the same thing for her for a more modest cost. After all, if it worked, we wanted this to be something that many people in many economic situations could replicate.

The quest began. I stopped at a video store and talked to a salesperson and even showed him the set-up she had. Naturally he led me over to the $1000 video cameras and showed me the features and cables required. It was way more than what I felt was needed and I asked him to show me much less expensive cameras. There were several under $500 that could do the trick. All I needed now was a small flat screen TV for her to see the enlarged image.

With this new information I went back to Dorothy’s house and told her I could get her set up for under $400 for a video camera and 24” TV. She has a large flat screen TV that would work but it was too big for the area. We discussed options. She finally said she would trust my judgement and go ahead and buy what was needed even if it meant spending $500.

Dorothy's enhanced birdwatching station at work! Photo by Pat Ready

Dorothy's enhanced birdwatching station at work! Photo by Pat Ready

So, I set up a video camera to a new flat screen TV. She can zoom in if she wants. She had a tripod for the camera and she can pan left or right to see all her back-yard feeders. The camera cost $180 and flat screen TV was $120. She loves it!

After we got her new bird’s-eye-view set up, The Council also added a large magnifying screen in front of the TV, so she can see the birds even better!

Birding is a wonderful hobby that brings peace, thrills, wonder, and purpose. Helping those with visual impairments continue to enjoy birdwatching takes a little creativity and usually some teamwork, but hopefully this article helps you with a few ideas for getting started!

Written by Pat Ready, Madison Audubon member and volunteer