sanctuary

A snowy owl who almost made it back home

The intense gaze of Arlington will be remembered by those who worked with and tracked Arlington as he wintered near Goose Pond Sanctuary in 2018. Photo by David Rihn

The intense gaze of Arlington will be remembered by those who worked with and tracked Arlington as he wintered near Goose Pond Sanctuary in 2018. Photo by David Rihn

In January 2018, a snowy owl near Arlington, WI was outfitted with a GPS transmitter and tracked by hundreds of scientists and community members. In April, he was found dead in Benton County, Minnesota. The story of “Arlington”, the snowy owl, is one of science, conservation, and community.

Snowy owls hatch and spend their summers and fall in the tundra of northern Canada, and migrate south in early winter, especially in years of high lemming populations when many young are raised. One particular snowy owl was six months old in December when he stopped to spend the winter near Madison Audubon Society’s Goose Pond Sanctuary and the UW Arlington Agricultural Research Station, 17 miles north of Madison. He was one of thousands of snowy owls that flooded into the northern United States and southern Canada during this snowy owl “irruption year”.

Staff and volunteers with Madison Audubon Society, a local non-profit organization that works on bird conservation, seized the opportunity to study one of the five snowy owls in the local area. On January 4, 2018 master bird bander Gene Jacobs and MAS staff and volunteers caught two young male snowy owls at the UW Research Station. Both owls were banded and after taking detailed measurements, the larger owl was outfitted with an ultra-light transmitter that allowed Project SNOWstorm, a national non-profit that studies snowy owl winter ecology, and the public to track the whereabouts of the owl. He was lovingly named “Arlington”.

Arlington was outfitted with a GPS transmitter on January 4. The ultra-light backpack was recovered after Arlington was likely struck by a vehicle in central Minnesota. These transmitters are shown to have no impact on the birds' ability to lead normal lives. MAS Photo

Arlington was outfitted with a GPS transmitter on January 4. The ultra-light backpack was recovered after Arlington was likely struck by a vehicle in central Minnesota. These transmitters are shown to have no impact on the birds' ability to lead normal lives. MAS Photo

“It was an incredible experience,” say Mark Martin, resident co-manager of Goose Pond Sanctuary. “The rollercoaster that led up to his banding, the intense thrill of working with a snowy owl, and the prospect that we would be able to track how he used the Wisconsin landscape in winter and into the future will live in my memory for a long time.”

Arlington showed interesting behaviors over the winter, such as significant side trips to Lake Koshkonong in Jefferson County and Puckway and Rush Lakes in Green Lake County. Each time, he returned to the area where he was caught and banded. Project scientists, MAS members, UW Agricultural Research Station staff, and the public followed his movements on an online map that provided over 2,700 hourly locations.

Arlington was in the local area until March 2, when he began what should have been his 1,500 mile migration back to the tundra. He visited Puckaway Lake again, then Pentenwell Flowage, Alma Center, and stopped in northwest of the Twin Cities in Cambridge, Minnesota, where he spent most of April in an industrial park and nearby residential area. He then headed northwest to Benton County, where his journey ended after he was likely struck by a passing vehicle on a county road on April 29, 2018.

April 2018 was one of the coldest and snowiest Aprils on record for the upper Midwest. Deep snow and north winds kept Arlington grounded in Minnesota when in a normal year he would have been far north by the end of April.

“We were fortunate to have Arlington in our lives,” said Susan Foote-Martin, resident co-manager at Goose Pond Sanctuary. Arlington will be missed by his Madison Audubon family, followers at the UW Arlington Agricultural Research Station, local residents, and Project SNOWstorm volunteers, and followers. “Photographers and youngsters in particular have really enjoyed learning about snowy owls and seeing him this winter,” Sue shares. “We are saddened by his loss, but hopefully we will have the opportunity to work with another wintering snowy owl this coming winter.

Project SNOWstorm will continue to collect data on 20-25 owls outfitted with transmitters. Scott Weidensaul, with Project SNOWstorm, wrote, “We’d like to again extend our thanks to Madison Audubon for sponsoring Arlington’s transmitter — this is a hard loss for them as well as us, but Arlington’s movement data is and will remain a valuable legacy.”

For more information about Madison Audubon’s adventures with Arlington, visit madisonaudubon.org/arlington.

'Tis the Season to be Burning

 Bur oaks and fire in the Uplands South. Photo by Drew Harry

 Bur oaks and fire in the Uplands South. Photo by Drew Harry

Spring is prescribed burn season here at Faville Grove, and across southern Wisconsin. There's a lot that goes into a prescribed burn: We take into account the relative humidity, soil moisture, wind speed and direction, temperature, and sky cover. We also need to notify neighbors, the county sheriff, and round up a crew of volunteers on days of a burn. Setting fire to the landscape can be a thrilling experience, but the best burns are those that are boring--excitement means something unplanned has occurred and unplanned events with fire are not a good thing!

You can see in these photos that we only burn when conditions are ideal for what we're trying to accomplish; in both photos with the road, you'll see that the wind is sending the smoke billowing away from the driving lanes, which is necessary for us to conduct a burn along these areas.

A rabbit escapes the burn at Faville Grove. Note the smoke control off the road. Photo by Drew Harry

A rabbit escapes the burn at Faville Grove. Note the smoke control off the road. Photo by Drew Harry

A wall of smoke running away from 89, just what we like to see . Photo by Drew Harry

A wall of smoke running away from 89, just what we like to see . Photo by Drew Harry

Spring is typically the best time for us to accomplish our goals in a prescribed burn. The vegetation is not actively growing, and the strong underground roots systems of prairie plants have evolved with fire and are not at all damaged by these burns, in fact, these burns stimulate nutrient cycling, flowering, and seed production--making it a booming area for pollinators, birds, and seed collectors who are gathering seed for future prairie restorations. We will occasionally burn in late fall in areas like Martin and Tillotson Prairies--wet prairies that are often too wet to burn in the spring. However, these burns somewhat limit habitat for overwintering birds and mammals, so we try to limit the area burned. We'll also burn in summer during the growing season, usually in small areas to control problematic weeds like sweet clover or to kill woody vegetation that has invaded prairies. These summer burns would have occurred historically through lightning strikes or indigenous fires. Summer burns are small units, usually less than one acre, but they allow us to knock back a large area of weeds that would take forever to pull by hand. Units are kept small to avoid harming nesting birds, insects, and mammals.

Burning the savanna around the kettle pond. Photo by Drew Harry

Burning the savanna around the kettle pond. Photo by Drew Harry

Our burn rotations can vary, but typically a unit will not go more than three years without being burned. As these prairie restorations progress and become more mature, it's possible that they won't need to be burned as frequently. There's also a topographic difference in the need for burning. Lowland areas like Martin and Tillotson Prairies need to be frequently burned every year or two or willows and aspen will invade. Dry upland knolls can go longer without being burned as woody vegetation is less likely to become invasive there. Upland woodlands and savannas have a rather longer return interval on fire, but as we are re-introducing fire to these systems, it's best to burn every other year to suppress unwanted woody invasion.

The General’s first fire in perhaps a century. Photo by Drew Harry

The General’s first fire in perhaps a century. Photo by Drew Harry

The big bur oak overlooking the kettle pond, The General, has not seen fire for decades and possibly over a century. Since European settlement the area was grazed and fire was suppressed. Once grazing stopped, invasive brush like buckthorn and honeysuckle moved in and eliminated the grasses and forbs which would have helped carry a fire, along with the oak leaf litter. Now that we've restored this area by cutting the invasive brush we have returned the fire regime as well. You can see in the picture that the flames, backed by the wind, are only a foot or two off of the ground--these savanna burns tend to creep along fueled mainly by oak leaves, compared to the dramatic 15 foot tall flames of a prairie headfire.

Headfires in the Ledge Uplands South. Photo by Drew Harry

Headfires in the Ledge Uplands South. Photo by Drew Harry

Obviously, the variables of fire are numerous, and it takes a lot of work to plan and implement a prescribed burn. However, done correctly, these burns are safe and an important cultural aspect of prairie restoration. A volunteer a week ago commented that the fire on the landscape felt right, even instinctual, and I think there's something to that. My favorite moments of a burn are when we've accomplished the back burn and have blackened a solid portion of the prairie. Then, we can more or less relax as we watch the head fire, pushed by the wind, as it voraciously consumes the prairie and crashes safely into the area that we've already burned.

Written by Drew Harry, Faville Grove Sanctuary land steward

How do you Goose Pond?

Share your Goose Pond memories

Goose Pond Sanctuary is a cornerstone of Madison Audubon, an exceptional bird-watching site in south-central Wisconsin, and a symbol of Wisconsin's strong conservation legacy. It has grown from 60 acres that included much of the west pond-with-potential into a flourishing 660-acre sanctuary for native habitats, birds, mammals, insects, and amphibians, and the people who love them.

For some of us, Goose Pond has been a frequent destination for decades; for others, Goose Pond is a new-found gem. Regardless, if you have a favorite memory of Goose Pond Sanctuary, help us celebrate it's 50th year of conservation, research, and education by sharing it below. We will showcase these stories at the various celebrations throughout the year.

Robert Lerch (left) lived at Goose Pond for 20 years before selling to Madison Audubon in 1968. He reminisces with Mark Martin, Sanctuary resident co-manager. Image from MAS December 1994 newsletter

Robert Lerch (left) lived at Goose Pond for 20 years before selling to Madison Audubon in 1968. He reminisces with Mark Martin, Sanctuary resident co-manager. Image from MAS December 1994 newsletter

Thank you for your love for Goose Pond Sanctuary and the many hands that have helped shape it.

We'd love to see your photos too!

Please your Goose Pond Sanctuary photographs to Brenna Marsicek (bmarsicek@madisonaudubon.org) with a short explanation. By submitting photos, you give Madison Audubon permission to use them in education and outreach materials. Thank you!

Name *
Name

Good News: DOT Shuts Down Interstate Options Through Goose Pond!

Monarch on goldenrod;  Photo by Arlene Koziol

Monarch on goldenrod; Photo by Arlene Koziol

Good news from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation today: The study looking into how the DOT might expand Interstate-39/90/94 outside of Madison has ended, with the elimination of the "East Reliever" interstate options. That means Goose Pond will remain unaffected and safe from this threat!

Thank you for all of our members who voiced your concerns to the DOT and made our priorities known!

 

Read more about what the threat was here.

Apply for a Restoration Ecology Internship with Madison Audubon!

We are hiring for two teams of Restoration Ecology interns for next summer! Want to get your hands dirty, learn about local prairies and wildlife, and see some of the most beautiful (and endangered) landscapes around -- all while making an income and building your resume?

Check out the job announcement here. Applications are due Monday, February 6, 2017.

The Restoration Ecology Interns spend much of their time on our two sanctuaries, Faville Grove (top right) and Goose Pond (bottom right), as well as other locations. Michigan lilies (left;  photo by Roger Packard ) are just one of the many beautiful species interns will work with during the internship.

The Restoration Ecology Interns spend much of their time on our two sanctuaries, Faville Grove (top right) and Goose Pond (bottom right), as well as other locations. Michigan lilies (left; photo by Roger Packard) are just one of the many beautiful species interns will work with during the internship.

Coordinated by Madison Audubon Society, in partnership with Friends of Lakeshore Nature Preserve, The Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Natural Heritage Land Trust, Friends of Pope Farm Conservancy, and the UW Arboretum