Community Education

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

The effects of macular degeneration on vision. From

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

Register now for Birds, Bikes, & Brews!

What could be better than spending an afternoon birding, biking, and drinking beer?

Come celebrate three of Wisconsinite's favorite past times with us!

Advanced registration is now open for our third-annual Birds, Bikes, & Brews event - a casual afternoon of biking, birding, and enjoying locally-brewed craft beer with our friends at Next Door Brewing Co.

Your $15 registration includes a Birds, Bikes, & Brews pint glass, coupons and deals from local businesses, plus a free pint of our specially-brewed bird themed ale made by the beer geniuses at Next Door Brewing when you return from your ride. Plus, Madison Audubon receives $1 from each pint of specialty beer sold that day!

Here are the details:

- Join us at any time between 2-6 p.m. at Next Door Brewing Company
- We'll give you a map and a checklist, and you'll head out on the Lake Monona Lake Loop to look for as many birds as you can find while on two wheels!*
- We'll have several birding stations set up along the way, with helpful volunteers. You can stop, take a peek through a spotting scope, and learn something new!
- When you're done birding and biking, the Lake Loop brings you right back to Next Door Brewing, where we'll have a cold one (or two!) waiting for you! Cheers!

*No pressure, no rush! Enjoy the ride, and know that birders of ALL skill levels are welcome. Even if you don't consider yourself a birder, we guarantee you'll have fun (and there's good beer involved)

Here's a little secret we'll let you in on: when you register before August 31 and use code EARLYBIRD16, you can get 15% off of your $15 registration! 

This event is made possible with support from Next Door Brewing Co., Cricket Design Works, and Screen Door Studio.

From the Educators: Summer education programs wrap up

This year has been filled with adventure for kids and young adults in our Madison Audubon programs. Thanks to your support, we have been able to reach 2,259 youth since January – and have built long-term relationships with over 100 of them! Because of your support, local kids are spending more time exploring outside, asking questions, and making observations about nature...and they're unearthing their own special love and connection to our natural world as they explore.

Conservation Academy partcipants from Operation Fresh Start learn about water quality management.  Photo by Carolyn Byers

Conservation Academy partcipants from Operation Fresh Start learn about water quality management. Photo by Carolyn Byers

What were we up to this summer?

Operation Fresh Start Conservation Academy participants celebrate the end of their summer season with Smokey the Bear!  Photo by Carolyn Byers.

Operation Fresh Start Conservation Academy participants celebrate the end of their summer season with Smokey the Bear! Photo by Carolyn Byers.

  • Kids at Vera Court Neighborhood Center and Salvation Army Community Center adventured with insects, water critters, and tiny flowers in our Micro Explorers curriculum.

  • Through our Conservation Academy program, Operation Fresh Start crews learned about career paths in habitat restoration, stream ecology, ornithology, wildlife biology, urban forestry, and water resource management. We celebrated their summer of learning with a retreat at the Mackenzie Environmental Education Center!

  • A partnership with MSCR (Madison School & Community Recreation) allowed us to provide a week of Wildlife Immersion lessons for summer camp kids. Birds, binoculars, scat, tracks, and art projects were our highlights!

This fall, we plan to continue our partnerships with local schools and community centers, and hope to share the wonder of wildlife with as many kids as possible!

- Carolyn Byers
Director of Education

Help tag monarchs at Goose Pond Sanctuary

Releasing a freshly-tagged monarch butterfly.  Photo by Arlene Koziol.

Releasing a freshly-tagged monarch butterfly. Photo by Arlene Koziol.

Bring your whole family and join us at Goose Pond Sanctuary to help with conservation efforts to track declining populations of monarch butterflies. 

Photo by Arlene Koziol

Photo by Arlene Koziol

Madison Audubon works with to capture and tag butterflies at our Goose Pond Sanctuary for monitoring efforts throughout their migration route. You can help with this important citizen science effort!

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the recognizable orange-and-black butterfly species is in trouble. "Threats, including loss of milkweed habitat needed to lay their eggs and for their caterpillars to eat, are having a devastating impact on their populations and the migration phenomenon. Unless we act now to help the Monarch, this amazing animal could disappear in our lifetime. The state of Monarchs reflects the health of the American landscape and its pollinators. Monarch declines are symptomatic of environmental problems that also pose risks to food production, the spectacular natural places that help define our national identity, and our own health. Conserving and connecting habitat for monarchs will benefit many other plants and animals, including critical insect and avian pollinators, and future generations of Americans."

Attend a tagging event at Goose Pond on September 3rd or 10th to help with this important effort. Please register! We will be unable to support additional trip attendees due to limited materials and impact on the land.