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

Our Amazing Birds: Crow

Our Amazing Birds  by Robert S. Lemmon, published in 1951

Our Amazing Birds by Robert S. Lemmon, published in 1951

I’ve recently had the delight of discovering Our Amazing Birds: The little-known facts about their private lives (1951), a collection of short essays with cooky, humorous, and less commonly known tidbits about common birds in the US. The book was written by Robert S. Lemmon, a naturalist in the early-mid 1900’s and author of books on a variety of topics, ranging from Training the Dog to All About Moths and Butterflies. Click here to read his obituary from 1964.

In this series, I share with you excerpts from some of my favorite essays. They’re light-hearted reads to get your bird-nerd fix on a fall afternoon. To read the full stories, find a copy of this book — I promise you won’t regret it!


Painting included in the book by Don R. Eckelberry

Painting included in the book by Don R. Eckelberry

Crow: Smartest of our native birds

“Of all our native American birds, the crow has most thoroughly mastered the problem of how to thrive in the face of heavy odds. Tough, resourceful, amazingly intelligent, it prospers despite the handicaps of large size and a jet-black uniform which make it almost startlingly prominent. Man’s hand is ever against it, yet it caws derisively and flaps away in safety almost every time. It is incredible the way crows make crime pay. And yet, if it’s not your corn that has been stolen or your nestling robin that has been gobbled, you can’t help admiring their skill and daring.

“How does a crow manage so successfully that today its tribe is probably more numerous all over central and Eastern North America than when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock? Well, for one thing, crows stand together against the world, helping each other on every possible occasion; so strong is their communal spirit that they even spend the night together in crowded flocks that may number fifty thousand bird or more. By means of variations in their far-carrying calls they signal the approach of danger, the discovery of food, the presence of natural enemies like foxes and large hawks and owls. When several are feeding together, a sentinel is detailed to stand guard in a nearby tree and sound a warning in crow language if its keen eyes detect anything suspicious. It is as though, living by their wits and faced by constant perils, they have perfected as their family slogan, ‘United we stand, divided we fall.’

“Here, then, are a few highlights on an exceedingly smart bird. Perhaps Henry Ward Beecher gave us the best summation of this sable fellow’s intelligence when he remarked that if men wore feathers and wings a very few of them would be clever enough to be crows.”

Continue reading in “Our Amazing Birds: The little-known facts about their private lives” by Robert S. Lemmon

Photo by Phil Brown

Photo by Phil Brown

Introduction by Brenna Marsicek, Director of Communications

Cover photo by Arlene Koziol

Into the Nest: Time to fledge!

Into the Nest: Time to fledge!

We know that human kids grow, mature, and gradually move towards a life that is independent of their parents’ home. The same is true for baby birds: they also have to decide when the time is right to leave the nest and start on their journey to independence. This seems to involve a balancing act between making sure they are big and healthy enough to survive independently, while leaving the nest quickly to avoid predators.

Our Amazing Birds: White-Breasted Nuthatch

Our Amazing Birds  by Robert S. Lemmon, published in 1951

Our Amazing Birds by Robert S. Lemmon, published in 1951

I’ve recently had the delight of discovering Our Amazing Birds: The little-known facts about their private lives (1951), a collection of short essays with cooky, humorous, and less commonly known tidbits about common birds in the US. The book was written by Robert S. Lemmon, a naturalist in the early-mid 1900’s and author of books on a variety of topics, ranging from Training the Dog to All About Moths and Butterflies. Click here to read his obituary from 1964.

In this series, I share with you excerpts from some of my favorite essays. They’re light-hearted reads to get your bird-nerd fix on a fall afternoon. To read the full stories, find a copy of this book — I promise you won’t regret it!


Painting included in the book by Don R. Eckelberry

Painting included in the book by Don R. Eckelberry

White-breasted nuthatch: Our champion upside-down bird

“A young farmer neighbor of mine, untrained in the niceties of ornithology but, like many countrymen, keenly observant of its facts, calls the white-breasted nuthatch “that upside-down bird.” No name could be more appropriate, for this nuthatch, at least during waking hours, spends fully as much time with its head lower than its tail as it does in a more conventional position. Why the bird seems to think no more about running headfirst down a vertical tree trunk than of climbing straight up it is doubtless its own affair. To us it looks fool-hardy and provocative of cerebral hemorrhages. But nobody has ever seen a nuthatch come to grief that way!

“This trim little scrap of light gray, black and white with a touch of rusty around its tummy has the special build and temperament of an all-around acrobat. Watch one closely as it searches a nearby tree for insects or gyrates comically at your feeding station while snatching a bit of suet or a sunflower seed, and you will notice how perfectly its legs, with their unusually long-toed feet, are designed to give full stability to the body weight regardless of position. That with the backward tilt of the head when upside down, enables a nuthatch to look literally straight out at the world if it wants to. There is no long tail to get in the way while its owner scrambles about with apparent disregard for all the laws of gravity and safety. The bird is so stocky and perfectly balanced that a somersault means no more to it than a mere flip of a wing.

“With it all, the white-breasted nuthatch is remarkably calm and matter-of-fact. You feel that it has a strong streak of friendliness toward people, too, and no little curiosity about them and their strange ways. With patience you can coax one to take a peanut from your fingers in winter when the hardships of cold and dwindling natural food supply make the birds constant visitors to the feeding tray or suet holder. Speaking in a purely figurative sense, they always maintain a level head, carrying their nonchalance even to the point of not bothering to migrate like so many other birds. Wherever you find them, from Quebec to Florida, they stay around and take care of their own affairs from year’s end to year’s end. The name, incidentally, comes from the birds’ habit of tucking acorns and other nut-like foods in bark crevices as provision against hard times.”

Continue reading in “Our Amazing Birds: The little-known facts about their private lives” by Robert S. Lemmon

Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

Introduction by Brenna Marsicek, Director of Communications

Cover photo by Monica Hall