birding

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

July 2018 Keystone Volunteer: Kerry Wilcox

JULY 2018 - Keystone Volunteer.png

The birding world is blessed to have people with a variety of skills and interests, and a willingness to share them. Kerry Wilcox is a perfect example of this: he came to Madison Audubon with the idea to run a "Birding by Ear" field trip that was particularly geared for folks with visual impairments. His idea blossomed into a wonderful class that exceeded all of our expectations!

"I'd recently moved back to Wisconsin after a couple decades in California where I worked for the National Audubon Society as a biologist and was looking to get involved with the local Audubon chapter," said Kerry. "I'd also had a long time interest in birding by ear--in particular with people who had different levels of sightedness." So Kerry pitched that we partner with a local non-profit, the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired, to host a meaningful, enriching class that opens up the birding world to those who might otherwise be unable to fully experience it.

Kerry leads one of the small groups through Pheasant Branch Conservancy to listen for and learn a variety of bird calls. MAS Photo

Kerry leads one of the small groups through Pheasant Branch Conservancy to listen for and learn a variety of bird calls. MAS Photo

The class was part of our new Audubon Naturalists Series, and had both an indoor and outdoor component, and the 20 participants learned a variety of songs, calls, and other identification cues -- as well as the importance of knowing when and where you are to help hone in on which potential species you can hear. Kerry took the lead on creating all class materials and pulling together a variety of resources for participants, with support from Madison Audubon and great partners at the Council.

We're so grateful to Kerry for being such a champion for birders of all varieties and an advocate for increasing accessibility to birding. We look forward to working with Kerry and the Council for another Birding by Ear class! To learn how you can volunteer with Madison Audubon, visit our volunteer page.

Written by Brenna Marsicek, Director of Communications

Deck the Halls with Bird Counters

Holiday birders are searching for feathered friends on Lake Mendota during the 2017 Christmas Bird Count. Photo by Carolyn Byers.

Holiday birders are searching for feathered friends on Lake Mendota during the 2017 Christmas Bird Count. Photo by Carolyn Byers.

The 118th Christmas Bird Count period is officially over, and the Madison CBC data has been submitted! Huzzah and thank goodness! It was an awesome year in many ways: over 100 participants, a record 97 species observed (previous record was 95 in 1997 and 1998), 60,151 individual birds counted, 9 species high-counts, and some cool and unusual birds for this time of year (like an ovenbird and Iceland gull!).

Christmas Bird Count is not for the weak of heart. It takes place in the dead of winter, and requires an extraordinary attention span. It looks a little like 17 layers of the warmest long-johns and balaclavas you own to achieve as little skin exposed as possible, and forget about hot cocoa that is just a distraction, but wait I'm freezing while standing around waiting for birds to grace us with their tiny, fluffy presence, oh there goes another robin, whoop-dee-do, let's try a new spot, no wait, what's that, OH MY GOODNESS IT'S AN EASTERN PHOEBE, WHAT IS THAT DOING HERE! Did you mark that down? Are we sure? Ok mark it down. That was cool. Now what else is out there...? My binoculars are frozen to my eye sockets.

Triumph is just one of the emotions a Christmas Bird Counter feels when reviewing the tally list at the end of the day. Photo by Carolyn Byers

Triumph is just one of the emotions a Christmas Bird Counter feels when reviewing the tally list at the end of the day. Photo by Carolyn Byers

But boy, is it fun. It consists of the perfect stew of birds, bird nerds, and the challenge to overcome the conditions. And at the end of the day, when we sit around a table and eat chili and slowly start to thaw out, it's smiles all around.

The goal of Christmas Bird Count is to tally as many species of birds on one single day as possible to get a snapshot of bird diversity and abundance across the US, Canada, and many other countries in the western hemisphere. To participate you have to join a "circle" -- basically a group of folks who are signed up to survey an area. There are hundreds of circles that survey their area and turn in data, and this century-old activity makes up the longest-running formally organized citizen science program ever. The Madison CBC has been running for 68 years now, and some of the participants have been involved for 30 years or longer!

The recent Madison-area CBC took place on December 16, 2017. We have 23 areas within our circle, and over 100 people joined the count! We a had record-breaking total of 97 species detected on that one day, and high-counts for nine species: greater white-fronted goose, Canada goose -- by about 10,000!, tundra swans, belted king-fisher, red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, Eastern phoebe, and white-crowned sparrow. And, as I mentioned, the ovenbird and the Iceland gull were cool finds too. The list of species and counts is below.

The date is set for 2018: Saturday, December 15. Mark you calendars if you'd like to participate, and watch for an email in November about the event!

Written by Brenna Marsicek, Communications Director

Day-of Species:
Greater white-fronted goose: 4
Cackling goose: 8
Canada goose: 25,046
Trumpeter swan: 2
Tundra swan: 3,555
Wood Duck: 4
Gadwall: 156
American black duck: 117
Mallard: 3,239
Northern shoveler: 596
Northern pintail: 4
Green-winged teal: 12
Canvasback: 313
Redhead: 21
Ring-necked duck: 47
Lesser scaup: 355
Long-tailed duck: 1
Bufflehead: 417
Common goldeneye: 798
Hooded merganser: 34
Common merganser: 2,540
Ruddy duck: 5
Ring-necked Pheasant: 5
Wild turkey: 173
Common loon: 7
Pied-billed grebe: 4
Great blue heron: 2
Bald eagle: 44
Northern harrier: 6
Sharp-shinned hawk: 6
Cooper’s hawk: 31
Red-shouldered hawk: 2
Red-tailed hawk: 137
Rough-legged hawk: 3
American coot: 1,398
Sandhill crane: 197
Ring-billed gull: 768
Herring gull: 1,426
Iceland gull: 1
Rock pigeon: 440
Mourning dove: 580
Eastern screech owl: 10
Great horned owl: 25
Barred owl: 4
Northern saw-whet owl: 1
Belted kingfisher: 14
Red-headed woodpecker: 2
Red-bellied woodpecker: 362
Yellow-bellied sapsucker: 4
Downy woodpecker: 412
Hairy woodpecker: 148
Northern flicker: 23
Pileated woodpecker: 1
Eastern phoebe: 2
American kestrel: 3
Merlin: 5
Northern shrike: 5
Blue jay: 494
American crow: 844
Horned lark: 24
Black-capped chickadee: 1,520
Tufted titmouse: 59
Red-breasted nuthatch: 52
White-breasted nuthatch: 478
Brown creeper: 57
Carolina wren: 3
Winter wren: 8
Golden-crowned kinglet: 26
Eastern bluebird: 7
Hermit thrush: 1
American robin: 216
Gray catbird: 1
European Starling: 4,895
Cedar waxwing: 295
Lapland longspur: 1
Snow bunting: 1
Ovenbird: 1
Yellow-rumped warbler: 1
Eastern towhee: 1
American tree sparrow: 652
Fox sparrow: 3
Song sparrow: 31
Lincoln’s sparrow: 1
Swamp sparrow: 12
White-throated sparrow: 37
White-crowned sparrow: 8
Dark-eyed junco: 1,434
Northern cardinal: 748
Red-winged blackbird: 68
Common grackle: 46
House finch: 913
Red crossbill: 1
White-winged crossbill: 2
Common redpoll: 1
Pine siskin: 558
American goldfinch: 768
House sparrow: 2,358

Count week species (those seen 3 days before or after the count, but not the day of):
Snow goose
White-winged scoter
Glaucous gull
Snowy owl
Peregrine falcon
Townsend’s solitaire
Clay-colored sparrow
Rusty blackbird
Purple finch

 

Canada geese and tundra swans were at an all-time high for the Madison CBC this year. Photo by Monica Hall

Canada geese and tundra swans were at an all-time high for the Madison CBC this year. Photo by Monica Hall