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.

tracks fix.jpg

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

Sunny Skies Ahead

Are you ready for a little good news on climate change for a change? Just a smidgen, but good news nonetheless. With help from Midwest Solar Power LLC, Madison Audubon is getting into the business of producing carbon-free, solar electricity. We’re installing a 7.6-kilowatt photovoltaic array at our land steward’s residence on Prairie Lane at Faville Grove Sanctuary. In full sun, the array will produce 7,600 watts of electricity that will run backwards through the electric meter into the local utility’s wires, producing about 10,000 kilowatt-hours of clean energy per year.

Installation begins on October 24, 2018. A beautiful day to harness the sun’s energy! Photo by Roger Packard

Installation begins on October 24, 2018. A beautiful day to harness the sun’s energy! Photo by Roger Packard

Frames for the solar panels are in, as of October 29, 2018. Photo by Roger Packard

Frames for the solar panels are in, as of October 29, 2018. Photo by Roger Packard

Installation of all 26 solar panels was complete as of October 31, 2018! Photo by David Musolf

Installation of all 26 solar panels was complete as of October 31, 2018! Photo by David Musolf

No, this won’t save the planet, but it is a step in the right direction. Plus, it says something about the economics of solar electricity when our finance committee concludes that, aside from its environmental benefits, the project represents a smart investment of donated funds that will return substantial cost savings over its estimated 30-year lifespan.

Prices of solar electric panels have dropped steadily in recent years. If you’re a homeowner with a sunny spot that isn’t already occupied by your vegetable garden, you can claim a federal tax credit of 30% of the cost of a system installed through 2019 and receive a rebate of up to $2,000 from the Focus on Energy program. As a non-profit, Madison Audubon can’t claim a tax credit, but we did secure a Renewable Energy Grant from WPPI Energy, a Solar for Good grant from RENEW Wisconsin, and a Focus on Energy rebate, totaling about half the project cost. One of the 25 panels was donated by Midwest Solar Power, and the remaining panels were paid for by generous donations from MAS members like you!

We hope to install photovoltaic arrays at Goose Pond Sanctuary next year, so for those of you who lack the needed sunny spot (and those of you who just can’t get enough of the sun), you can still get a solar buzz with a contribution to Madison Audubon.

Written by Roger Packard, Madison Audubon board president

October 2018 Keystone Volunteers: Bob and Gerry Bennicoff

Bob and Gerry Bennicoff are the October 2018 Keystone Volunteers

Bob and Gerry Bennicoff do it all. For years, the dynamic duo have volunteered at Goose Pond Sanctuary doing whatever needs to be done: seed collecting, counting frogs, cleaning out the barn, and more. When Bob and Gerry were looking for an organization to volunteer with, we were sure glad they chose Madison Audubon!

Bob and Gerry are a major volunteers for the American kestrel nest box program where they monitor nest boxes, assist with erecting/retroffing nesting boxes, and banding adults and young; they help survey for the Columbia County Breeding Bird Atlas and have assisted with whip-poor-will counts and canoe routes — extra difficult and time-consuming activities; they provide assistance when large groups come out to tag monarchs and they also tag monarch on their own; they are key volunteers with our prescribed burn program and with prairie seed collecting and planting. They also help with the annual butterfly count, frog counts, and other projects at Goose Pond Sanctuary.   

Bob and his granddaughter releasing a newly tagged monarch at Goose Pond in 2016. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Bob and his granddaughter releasing a newly tagged monarch at Goose Pond in 2016. Photo by Arlene Koziol

“Gerry and I first became aware of Goose Pond in the late summer of 2015 at Madison Audubon's Monarch Tagging Event,” Bob recalls. “We fell in love! Oh my — the variety of flowers! Since then we have had the unique opportunity to help in many other ways. The prairie soothes our souls!”

Fortunately for Madison Audubon, the land they help, and the people they interact with, Bob and Gerry don’t plan to stop volunteering any time soon. “Gerry and I plan to volunteer for many years to come,” added Bob. “We feel the Madison Audubon organization and all the volunteers we have worked with are truly remarkable people.”

We are tremendously grateful for this power couple and all they do for the natural world and the people who tend it. If you’re interested in volunteering with Madison Audubon, we’d love your help — click here to find out ways you can best connect.

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