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Cofrin Center for Biodiversity

A Winter Filled with Finches

Wisconsin birders are looking forward to an excellent finch winter! 

Birds that usually winter in Canada are moving south. These atypical “irruptive migrations” are usually caused by changes in winter food availability and can occur in several northern species especially finches, owls and evening grosbeaks. This year finch species that normally winter in Canada and the northern United States are ranging farther south due to a massive crop failure of fruit and cone bearing trees in Canada.  Birding expert and Ontario resident Ron Pittaway compiles local seed crop and late summer bird observations to create a detailed “Winter Finch Forecast”  available through Ebird every autumn. The Wisconsin Ebird group uses the Pittaway data to create detailed forecasts for our area. Based on the two forecasts we should expect to see Red and White-winged Crossbills, Redpolls, Pine Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, and Evening Grosbeaks joining resident Goldfinches, House and Purple Finches this winter in northeastern Wisconsin.

Pine Grosbeak photo by  Tom Prestby

Pine Grosbeaks are large finches with heavy black bills and gray sides and red washed black back and reddish pink rump.

Pine Grosbeaks have been steadily moving into the state in small flocks. Look for them on the UW—Green Bay campus feeding on crab apples, especially near the Kress Center. This is a taiga species which is considered an irruptive winter visitor across the Midwest and east.  The last really large widespread movement into Wisconsin was in 1977 and again in 1985. They love to dine on crabapples, high bush cranberries, left over apples in orchards, sumac, mountain ash, and when food supplies are exhausted, the seeds of the box elder ash. Pine Grosbeaks will also switch to backyard feeders when black sunflower seeds are offered, but for now, it is find the fruit trees first!!

Evening Grosbeak photo by Tom Prestby

Evening Grosbeaks are striking birds, identifiable by their large pale bills and black, white, and bright yellow coloration.

Evening Grosbeaks have been on the decline in Wisconsin in recent years and are usually only seen reliably in the far north of the state. Evening Grosbeaks nest as close as Lakewood, Oconto County, annually. However, based on arrival data, the birds being seen now are coming from the northwest. Observations were reported from Duluth as birds rounded Lake Superior. So far this year there are a few reports in Oconto, southern Brown, and Manitowoc counties.  Their preferred seeds are box elder and other maple species. They will also visit platform feeders supplied with black oil sunflower seeds.

Red and White-winged Crossbill species have staged a massive irruption into Wisconsin. Although these birds are unlikely to come to backyard feeders, look for them in conifer swamps and bogs in the far North, the Green Bay area, and in conifer groves along the Lake Michigan Lake shore from Manitowoc down to Chicago. Interestingly, according to Ebird, the Red crossbills arriving in Wisconsin are from western Canada escaping a hemlock seed crop failure in the Pacific Northwest.

Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins, and Goldfinches are common winter residents throughout northeastern Wisconsin and while abundant are not occurring in higher than expected numbers. Purple Finches have apparently moved on and are now below expected numbers. House Finch populations are way up after declining for a number of years. These birds prefer small seeds including birch, alder, willow, tamarack, and weedy field forbs. They will visit backyard nyjer (thistle) and black oil sunflower seed offered in feeders.

Two non-finch species are also irrupting south in response to the seed failures in Canada.

Bohemian Waxwings, while not finches, are another fruit loving bird that is irrupting southward because of the Canadian fruit crop failure and are expected to appear in large numbers in our area this year. In fact a flock of over 250 Bohemian Waxwings seen in Door County was recently reported to Ebird. These birds are voracious fruit feeders so look for them in urban or natural areas with fruit bearing trees like mountain ash, Juniper, and crabapples. These assertive birds will compete with Pine Grosbeaks for access to fruit trees. Bohemian waxwings form pure flocks of their own species or in mixed flocks with Cedar Waxwings.

Bohemian Waxwings are very similar to Cedar Waxwings. Bohemians are larger and have black, yellow, and white wing bars.

Rose-breasted Nuthatches feed on conifer seeds and so are also arriving in high numbers from the same northern regions because of the cone failure. They are often seen at platform feeders eating sunflower seeds and also will feed at suet feeders.

Feeding Finches:

Ebird recommends that people hoping to attract winter finches to their yards put out platform or other large flat surface feeders with black oil sunflower seeds. All finches like small seeded sunflower seeds and some finches like Goldfinches, Redpolls and Siskins also will feed on nyjer in tube or bag feeders. Most finches are attracted to water, so maintaining a heated bird bath or water feature will bring birds to your yard.

It is going to be a very delightful finch winter. 


More Information:

  •  Tom Erdman contributed to the text and Tom Prestby provided photos


Understanding a forest by measuring the trees!

Sara Smith and Austin Carter presented a poster titled “Ecological Dynamics of an Upland Mesic Forest in Brown County, Wisconsin” at the Wisconsin Alliance for Minority Participation (WiscAMP) conference in Madison on October 18, 2012. This annual conference highlights research by WiscAMP student scholars and brings together minority students from throughout the UW system. Sara described her experience at the Madison conference as “Amazing!” She said “It was a bit nerve-racking at first, but I got to meet a lot of very influential and interesting people while I was there. It gave me the opportunity to see what other students are doing across the state, along with an opportunity for networking.” The WiscAMP program provides scholarships to qualified minority students to participate in research in the sciences and mathematics at UW-System universities including UW—Green Bay.

Sara Smith in Mahon Woods.

Sara Smith in Mahon Woods

Their poster described the results of a summer-long survey of trees in a forest plot on the UW—Green Bay Cofrin Memorial Arboretum. Along with 3 other undergraduates worked through the summer to measure and identify over 2400  trees in a rectangular (60 m x 270 m) 1 hectare plot in Mahon Woods. They also mapped and tagged new trees and documented mortality of trees that had been marked in 2007.The Mahon Plot was established in 2007 as a satellite plot designed to help ecologists at UW—Green Bay and the US Forest Service to prepare for the installation of a 25 hectare plot in located near Wabikon Lake the Nicolet National Forest. Every tree or shrub with a diameter at breast height over 1 cm on the plot was identified to species, measured and tagged. Smith, Austin and the other students re-censused the plot in order to better understand forest ecology.

The results of the re-census indicate that the forest has changed over the last 5 years. They found that tree mortality was three times as high as tree establishment indicating that the number of trees in the forest has declined. However, they also found that the total woody biomass and average size of trees increased between 2007 and 2012. So, while the total number of trees the number of trees in the plot is decreasing but the average size of trees is increasing. Their findings illustrate that the forest is undergoing the process of ecological succession. Although oaks are dominant today, the relative basal area of shade tolerant species like American basswood is increasing.

The Big Picture

So why would we want to measure and tag all of the trees in small plot like this? Permanent research sites like the Mahon Woods Forest Dynamics Plot establish a baseline and opportunities for many future studies of forest dynamics and ecology.  The scientific value of the site is that it will provide long term data on growth and change of trees in an urban forest. This plot may seem small but its value lies in the fact that it is part of a global network of forest plots managed by the Center for Tropical Forest Science at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. The network includes over forty forest research plots across the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe. Sites vary in size from 1-5 hectares for satellite plots to 25-50 hectares for primary plots. Ecologists use identical methodology to census the trees on each plot, regardless of location. This allows data to be compared among sites, even when the forests are separated by 1000s of miles. The goals of this global forest program are to better understand forest ecosystems, monitor the impacts of climate change, and develop long-term strategies of sustainable forest management in a changing global environment.

The educational value of the plot is important as well. This campus location allows students at UW—Green Bay to walk right out the back door of the classroom and participate in an important international research project. Students gain valuable field and research skills and also gain insight into possible career paths. Sara Smith said about her research experiences have guided her educational decisions. “I have learned a great deal about myself and my interests. It has solidified my decision in changing one of my majors to Biology with an emphasis in Conservation and Ecology.” Sara plans on continuing her involvement with WiscAMP program next semester by working with NAS professor Dr. Matt Dornbush on a native grassland biofuel project on the Oneida Reservation.

WiscAMP Scholarships at UW–Green Bay

Funding forSara and Austin was provided by the Wisconsin Alliance for Minority Participation (WiscAMP).  WiscAMP is a consortium of 21 colleges and universities throughout Wisconsin funded by the National Science Foundation in a nation-wide effort to increase the number of underrepresented students achieving undergraduate degrees (and eventually graduate degrees) in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines within five years.

Sara Smith and Austin Carter with their poster at the WiscAMP  conference in Madison, WI.

Austin Carter  and Sara Smith with their research poster at the WiscAMP conference in Madison, WI.

Students considered to be underrepresented minorities (see No. 3 in the application form) in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines are eligible for scholarships. Projects involving any of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields normally supported by NSF are eligible. Human biology majors are also welcome to apply. Recipients must be US citizens or permanent residents.

Scholarships are available for student scholars and student mentors. Scholars gain valuable research experience and a better understanding of the challenges and rewards of scientific research. Mentors share their academic experience with incoming freshman, sophomore students and others, less experienced, junior and senior students and hold weekly meetings with their mentees and organize activities such as study groups, workshops, etc.

 How to Apply for a WiscAMP Sholarship

Interested students should apply to Dr. Alma Rodriguez by submitting a completed application form, a brief description of the proposed research experience (if applying for a research scholarship), letter of intention describing leadership capabilities and motivation to be a mentor (if applying for a mentor scholarship) and an up-to-date academic transcript (does not have to be official copy). All WiscAMP scholars are required to attend and present their work in progress at the WiscAMP annual meeting and/or present their work at the academic excellent symposium on campus. A final report will be required at the end of the award term.

Application Deadlines

  • Spring term: December 12th, 2012
  • Summer: April 26th, 2013

Biodiversity and West Nile Virus

2012 is the worst year on record for West Nile Virus (WNV) in the United States since the disease first appeared in New York in 1999. Forty-seven states, including all states in the Western Great Lakes have reported cases of both infected birds and humans and all 50 states have reported infected birds.

West Nile Virus is transmitted by the bite of a mosquito. While several species of mosquitoes can harbor the disease, the most common species we are likely to encounter in urban and suburban areas is Culex pipiens, the northern house mosquito. Culex and the other suburban mosquitoes prefer to breed in small containers or stagnant water with lots of organic debris like animal droppings or decaying leaves. The disease is transferred when a mosquito bites an infected bird. That mosquito can then pass the virus on by feeding on other birds, or susceptible mammals including humans.

Culex pipiens (Northern House Mosquito)

Culex pipiens (Northern House Mosquito), photo by G. Fewless

Unfortunately, the disease can heavily impact bird populations. Crows are particularly sensitive to WNV and populations in North America declined by as much as 45% after the WNV epidemic in 2002. Robin populations were increasing in the 1990s, but have leveled off since the introduction of WNV.

Increased biodiversity provides an advantage against infection. Scientists have shown that areas with more bird species tend to have fewer mosquitoes carrying WNV and fewer cases of human infections (Ezenwa et al., 2006; Swaddle and Carlos, 2008). Researchers believe the effect is related to the susceptibility of different bird species to the virus. Some birds like American robins are known to be good hosts and are better at spreading the disease because mosquitoes seem to like to feed on them and they are better carriers than some other species. According to Tony Goldberg, an epidemiologist at UW—Madison, robins are good hosts and can act as “super-spreaders” of the disease. In areas with lots of robins and few other bird species there are higher total number of human infections. But not all bird species are good hosts for the disease so it is thought that higher bird diversity reduces infection rates because mosquitoes are less likely to encounter a good host and therefore less likely to become infected and transmit the disease. The presence of birds that are poor hosts reduces or “dilutes” transmission rates of the disease between birds and also to humans. Similar results have been shown for other animal vectored  diseases like Lyme and Hantavirus (Keesing et al. 2010).

Controlling mosquitoes

  • Large ponds and healthy wetlands contain fish and invertebrate predators like dragonfly larvae that feed on mosquito larvae that naturally keep mosquito populations in check. The problem mosquitoes are those that prefer to breed in stagnant water like puddles, tree-holes, and other small containers.
  • Make sure you are not inadvertently providing mosquito breeding containers. Be sure to make sure your gutters are not clogged and that old tires or children’s toys or other containers cannot hold water.
  • Empty containers of water such as bird baths, kiddie pools, plant trays, twice each week.
  • Consider using mosquito dunks that contain Bt in yard water features that are too large to empty each week. The dunks contain the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis Israliensis, which produces a toxin that kills mosquito larvae, but is non-toxic to other wildlife.
  • Where long sleeves and long pants and use CDC recommended mosquito repellants
  • Fans can be effective at deterring mosquitoes in a small area such as on a deck or a patio area. Mosquitoes are weak flyers and fans will keep them at bay. Fans also blow away exhaled carbon dioxide that attracts mosquitoes.

Increasing backyard bird diversity

  • There is no reason to stop feeding or watering birds because the disease can only be transmitted by the bite of a mosquito. The disease cannot be transmitted from bird to bird, from birds to people or from people to people.
  • Provide a variety of feeders and feeds that attract different species.
  • Create as much quality habitat as possible. Include vegetation, shrubs, and trees that provide forage and cover from predators.
  • Try to match natural habitats by planting vegetation that includes a diversity of plants and plant types.
  • Provide bathing and watering areas, but be sure to keep them mosquito free.
  • Keep your feeders and feeding areas clean to prevent the transmission of bird diseases. There are no known cases of West Nile transmission between birds in nature, but stressed, injured, or birds sick with other diseases will be more susceptible to West Nile infection from mosquitoes.


Ezenwa, V.O. et al. 2005. Avian diversity and West Nile virus: testing associations between biodiversity and infectious disease risk. Proceedings of the Royal Academy: Biological Sciences 273:109-117.

Kessing et al. 2010. Impacts of biodiversity on the emergence and transmission of infectious diseases.    Nature  468: 647–652

Swaddle JP, Calos SE (2008) Increased Avian Diversity Is Associated with Lower Incidence of Human West Nile Infection: Observation of the Dilution Effect. PLoS ONE 3(6): e2488. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002488

Zimmer, C (2012) West Nile Virus: The Stranger that Came to Stay. Discovery Magazine “The Loom” Blog.


Point au Sable Phragmites Burn

The Point au Sable Natural Area is an unmodified estuarine wetlands, one of the few in the Lake Michigan ecosystem. This area plays a very important role for the migratory birds passing through. This is the main reason why this area has stayed protected from development. In recent findings, it was shown over 200 different bird species in one year have stopped to enjoy the Point au Sable Natural Area. For more information about the Point au Sable Natural Area click on the link

Recently the Point au Sable Natureal Area was burned in an effort to try and stop the Phragmites invasion. Phragmites australis, also known as the common reed, is an exotic invasive species. It can grow up to 3-4 meters.



 It was estimated the flames reached 75-100 feet. If you look closely you can see a burn crew member just at the base of the Phragmites.








According to the Arboretum Project Coordinator, Joshua Martinez, “the lagoon should be a mixture of open water, submerged aquatic plants, emergent marsh, cattail marsh, and sedge meadow.  The Lagoon system is ever changing with water levels of the great lakes (more specifically the bay).  As a result, Point au Sable was historically a heavily disturbed site, not because of people but rather because of water level cycles of the great lakes.  Phragmites was present on the site in the last flooding of the lagoon in 2000, and once the water levels had receded the Phragmites was able to spread very fast because of its growth patterns of stolons and rhizomes.  This was because the soil surface of the lagoon was exposed with little vegetation on it and allowed the Phragmites to spread fast with little resistance from native plant competitors.  In addition, the lakes levels have not been following their typical water level cycle, and have been staying low for longer than expected and provides great potential for Phragmites to spread aggressively.”

For more detail on Phragmites australis and it’s growth patterns click on the link


The final product after the burn. We are now able to see straight across the lagoon.










 Looking at the photos below we can see that Phragmites has greatly increased as the water levels have decreased over the years.

Lagoon 1999

Lagoon 2012










Phragmites must be monitored because they “threaten the ecological health of wetlands as well as the Great Lakes coastal shoreline.” Phragmites can

  • over take native plants and animals
  • block shoreline views
  • reduce access for swimming, fishing, and hunting
  • create fire hazards from dry plant material

One of the most effective procedures to control the Phragmites population is to use an integrated pest management approach. This approach includes

  • treating the area with herbicides
  • mechanical removal (cutting, mowing, burning)
  • annual maintenance


We have taken the first steps in burning Phragmites and we will continue to treat the Point au Sable area by using herbicides to control the Phragmites population.



Michigan Department of Environmental Quality,4561,7-135-3313_3677_8314-178183–,00.html

Keith White Priaire is Alive with Color!

The summer months are a time when our prairies and grasslands come alive with color. In the Cofrin Memorial Arboretum, on the UW—Green Bay campus, a prairie was established by botanist Dr. Keith White and his students in 1974. This demonstration of mesic prairie, where the soils are moderately damp, and dryer oak opening habitats provides students an opportunity to experience these ecosystems firsthand, without having to travel off-campus. It is now a popular walking and biking destination for community members and students who need a break from the stress of classes and work. Our main objective on this prairie is to manage for plant diversity that will support other native species including increasingly rare grassland nesting birds.

If you have a chance to walk the trail through the prairie you will see many unique plant species in flower during the mid-summer.  As in all prairies, the plant community in the Keith White Prairie is dominated by a few grass species including Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans). Grasses are wind pollinated and so do not typically have large showy flowers. Instead, grasses have small inflorescences on spikes that become showier in the late summer and fall as the seeds mature.

Purple and yellow Coneflower (upper left), Prairie Dock (upper right), Culver’s root (lower left), and Compass Plant (lower right).


The colorful jewels of the prairie are the forbs or showy flowering plants.  These plants produce flowers that attract insect or hummingbird pollinators and are often showy and colorful. Flowers in the prairie are primarily yellows and purples, which attract insects like bees and butterflies.  The most common tall plants you will see in flower in mid-July through August include  Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum), Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum), Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium), many species of Goldenrods (Solidago Spp.), Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium), Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum), Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), and Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa).  

Nodding Pink Onion (upper left), Purple Prairie Clover (upper right), White Prairie Clover (lower left), and Spotted Bee Balm (lower right).


When the prairie was planted, careful consideration was made to match different plants to their preferred soil conditions (e.g. water moisture, productivity).  As a result, the numbers and types of flowers vary in different parts of the prairie, even from year to year, in response to weather conditions.  A careful observer will be rewarded with a display of flowers that bloom below the grasses and tall  forbs.  Some of the species to look for are Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea) and White Prairie Clover (Dalea candida), which are adapted to dry soils; and Bush Clover (Lespedeza capitata), Spotted Bee Balm (Monarda punctata), and Nodding Pink Onion (Allium cernuum), which are adapted to mesic (moderately damp) soils.

The Keith White Prairie is alive with color in the summer and fall and is always a great place to walk. You never know what plants or animals you might see.

Want to feel better? Go For a Walk in the Woods!

Are you trying to decide between working out at the gym and taking a walk in the woods? If you are interested in improving your mental, as well as your physical health, new research recommends heading for the woods.

A quiet path through Mahon Woods in the Cofrin Arboretum on the UW--Green Bay campus.

Most people would probably agree that a walk in the woods (barring mosquitoes) has a reviving effect on our mental well-being. Writers, from Pliny to Thoreau, have touted the recuperative benefits of nature. Frederick Law Olmsted, the Landscape Architect who founded The Clearing, located in Door County, WI, wrote in 1865 “the enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system.” In 1985 E. O. Wilson explored this love of nature in his book “Biophilia”. In it he championed the idea that our attraction to nature goes beyond the aesthetic to the genetic, that our love of nature is actually genetically programmed.

A new study led by Richard Mitchell of the Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health, at Glasgow University agrees with Wilson’s assertion. They looked at the locations that 1800 physically active people chose for exercise and then compared that data to measures of their mental health. Interestingly, only activity in the natural environment was associated with a lower risk of poor mental health. Those that chose to exercise in woodlands or parks had a 50% greater effect on positive mental health compared to those who chose the gym. The study also indicates that the positive effects of activity in a natural area cause a physiological change that goes beyond the effect of positive thought. Our biology actually changes when we experience nature.

There have been a number of theories that have been proposed to try to explain the physiological beneficial influence of nature, but probably the two best-known theories are the Attention Restoration Theory of Kaplan and Kaplan (1989) and the psycho-evolutionary theory developed by Ulrich and his colleagues in the 1990s. These theories explain the influence of nature, especially plants, on the reduction of stress and mental fatigue. Both theories consider the recovery effects of viewing nature to have a biological cause.

Attention restoration theory suggests that fatigue caused by trying to concentrate on a project in the face of continued distractions can be restored by quiet exercise and reflection in a natural environment. It is based on the assumption that natural settings are “quietly fascinating” and draw our attention without our even realizing it. We observe nature in a way that requires no effort, and is pleasing because it creates a sense of order and meaning. However, watching nature is not so attention grabbing that it prevents the reflective thought that allows us to recover from mental fatigue. Natural settings, they argue, also reduce stress because they create a feeling of “getting away” or escaping from the work environment.

Another theory, developed by Ulrich and Parson in the 1990s, argues that our modern world is over-stimulating because it is too visually complex and loud. They argue that natural settings reduce stress because they mimic the natural habitats that we evolved in. We are drawn to and have a positive psychological response to natural settings like woodland edges, grassy meadows and ponds and stream edges. Visiting natural spaces like the Cofrin Arboretum or other natural areas speeds recovery from stress.

Other studies agree with the results reached by Mitchell and his colleagues. Studies by several Japanese researchers have shown that forest walks result in lower blood pressure, pulse rates and cortisol levels, as well as increased heart healthy hormones. A study by Jo Barton and Jules Pretty in 2010 determined that spending just five minutes walking in an outdoor natural setting caused improved mental and emotional health. A study by Roe and Aspinall (2010) found that rural walks had a more restorative effect on mental health than urban walks did. They also found that those with poorer mental health saw even greater restorative effect from walking in a rural landscape. In a different study they found that when children with extreme behavior problems spent time in forest settings, they developed positive emotional responses, like improved trust, over time (Roe and Aspinall 2011).

What is the take home message? Go take a walk in the woods. Nature can help those of us that live and work in complex stressful environments to be physiologically healthier if we take the time to visit natural areas to de-compress. There is a positive biological effect on your body when you experience trees, vegetation, streams and ponds.

Four of UW—Green Bay’s natural areas, The Cofrin Arboretum, Point au Sable, Kingfisher Farm, and Toft Point, provide walking trails. Plan your next walk outside and enjoy the benefits of greater health!


  • Regular exercise in natural environments halves risk of poor mental health:
  • Barton, J.  and Pretty, J. (2010) What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis. Environ. Sci. Technol., 2010, 44 (10), pp 3947–3955
  • R. Kaplan and S. Kaplan. (1989) The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Roe, J. and Aspinall, P. (2011): The restorative benefits of walking in urban and rural settings in adults with good and poor mental health, Health & Place 17, 103-113
  • Roe, J. and Aspinall, P. (2011): The emotional affordances of forest settings: an investigation in boys with extreme behavioural problems. Landscape Research.
  • Ulrich, Roger S., Robert F. Simons, Barbara D. Losito, Evelyn Fiorito, Mark A. Miles, and Michael Zelson. 1991. Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology 11: 201-230.
  • Wilson, Edward O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Birder Certification Online

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

Ever wonder how sharp your bird identification skills are? Now you can put them to the test using the Birder Certification Online website.  This free web-based program offers a rigorous method for verifying field identification skills of both professional and amateur bird observers. One of the main goals is to ensure that volunteer, as well as professional birders develop the skills they need for bird inventory and monitoring projects. The program allows participants to practice and to test their visual and audio bird identification skills through a series of online tests. This program is also a helpful educational tool for students and recreational birders. Getting certified is a great resume builder and can help birders obtain many exciting outdoor jobs.

There are three levels of certification that a birder can earn for different combinations of bird conservation regions (BCR) and habitat types. A BCR describes a defined North American region that has similar bird communities and habitat types. Currently there are tests for eight BCRs including regions in the Midwest, New England, and parts of the southeastern US and for four habitat types (forests, grasslands, wetlands, and comprehensive) per region.  Therefore, a birder can earn different levels of certification for the many different combinations of BCRs and habitat types. Birders can be tested in both visual and audio bird identification and can earn certification levels accordingly.

audio recorder.

A birder who earns a Certification Level 1 is capable of visually identifying typical backyard birds and at least some of the common species found in natural habitats. A birder who earns a Certification Level 2 is an experienced field observer who can visually identify most/all the birds of this region and habitat type without the help of a field guide and can identify most commonly observed species by song and call. A Level 3 certified birder is capable of conducting complete and accurate bird surveys using point counts, transects, or other standard methods and providing scientifically rigorous data. For more information on certification levels click on the link:

 Birders can also take a newly added specialty test called BCR 101, also known as the Great Lakes Waterbird Visual Test. A birder can be certified in BCR 101 simply by taking any habitat category in the BCR 101 visual test module. There are  no audio test modules for this category.

The Birder Certification Online program is a project coordinated by the Cofrin Center for Biodiversity at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, with funding and collaboration from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Check out the birder certification website and put your birding skills to the test!

Spotting scope.

A spotting scope makes visual identification of distant birds easier.

Invasive Plants: Birdsfoot trefoil

Lotus corniculatus

Lotus corniculatus (Birdsfoot Trefoil)

It seems there is an abundance of Lotus corniculatus (Birdsfoot trefoil) along the edges of the paths in the Cofrin Arboretum right now. The name originates from the seed pods that fan out from the stem like a bird foot. The three-lobed trefoil leaves are found in many species in the pea family (Fabaceae). Unfortunately, like so many other wildflowers it is exotic and can become invasive. This perennial plant is native to parts of Europe, Asia, and North Africa, and was probably introduced from Europe as a forage plant for cattle. It is common throughout the western Great Lakes states where the bright yellow flowers are found in  pastures, roadsides, and disturbed riparian areas throughout the summer months.

Birdsfoot trefoil is able to thrive in low nutrient soils because, like other plants in the pea family, its roots contain nodules filled with symbiotic bacteria that can fix nitrogen. The bacteria are able to convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into a chemical form that is easily absorbed by plants. This allows it to easily invade sunny disturbed sites where it will eventually form a deep perennial root mass.

It can form dense low growing mats that shade out native plants and is considered invasive in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and 5 other states. Because fire increases seed germination it can be a serious threat to our native prairies. Small plants can be dug up, but all of the roots must be removed to prevent it from resprouting. Heavy infestations are usually treated by repeated mowing or with herbicides.

More Information:

Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey

Join us for the 26th Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey!

This year the NNF Bird Survey will be held on June 8-10, 2012 with headquarters at Trees for Tomorrow  in Eagle River, WI. The Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey is the longest running citizen-science based bird monitoring program in a U.S. national forest.

The Bird Survey takes place each year during the second weekend in June. Everyone with an interest in birds and a desire for adventure is invited to participate in the Bird Survey. Dorm style housing for Friday and Saturday are provided free-of-charge for participants and their families. All meals are provided on Saturday. An early continental breakfast is provided on Sunday.

On Friday eveningvolunteers are assigned to small groups that are led by at least one expert in bird song identification. Other members of the team participate as timekeeper, navigator, or data recorder. So don’t be discouraged from volunteering if you are a novice birder.  Each group selects 6 to 12 sites to survey over the weekend. Each year between 60 and 100 volunteers survey about 150 sites.

Over 60 volunteers joined biodiversity center students and staff and US Forest Service personnel at the 2011 Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey.

The Survey Experience

The Bird Survey begins early Saturday morning when participants gather for coffee and a light breakfast of muffins and fruit at 3:30 am and head out to get to their first site by dawn. Sites can be located along roads, while others require a short hike into the target habitat. Road access points are marked in advance, and directions and gps units are provided along with topographic maps. Once at the site the group counts all birds heard and seen every minute for 10 minutes. They then make a 10 minute audio recording of bird songs at the site. Then it is back in the vehicle and on to the next survey point. Most groups complete their assigned sites by approximately 9:00 am. After they return to camp, groups complete the data forms (to facilitate computerized data entry) and check the forms for accuracy. Lunch is provided and the rest of the day is free for exploring the forest, visiting with friends, and of course taking a nap! Depending on the participants’ interests there might be other afternoon activities like a visit to a nearby wetland to view orchids or dragonflies. On Saturday evening there is a dinner and often a presentation and always contests and prizes for the most interesting and unusual observations.

Volunteers record birds.

Volunteers Mike Grimm, Shirley Griffin, and Bob Ryan record bird songs at an upland hardwood survey point in the Nicolet National Forest.


The quickest way to register is to send an email message to Include the names and ages and sexes of the members in your party and indicate if you will need housing at Trees for Tomorrow and who would like to room together. (Each cabin houses 4 people). You will need to bring your own bedding or sleeping bag and an alarm clock. Also let us know if you will be joining us for lunch and/or dinner on Saturday, so that we can get as accurate a count as possible. Or visit the NNF Bird Survey Website to download an registration form that you can mail in.

Even if you decide to come at the last minute to join us you are welcome. Send us an email or just show up and we will find a place for you!

What to bring besides your personal items.

  • Binoculars!
  • Bird guides
  • Waterproof boots
  • Extra socks
  • Mosquito repellant
  • Field clothes appropriate for the weather
  • Sleeping bag
  • Alarm clock!

Check the website for maps to the camp, schedule, and more information.

History of the Survey

The Nicolet National Forest  encompasses 360,000 hectares of mixed hardwood-conifer forests, lowland swamps, glacial lakes, and wetlands in northeastern Wisconsin. It comprises the eastern portion of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, with headquarters in Rhinelander and Park Falls, Wisconsin. The Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey began in 1987 in response to the lack of quantitative information about the breeding birds in northern Wisconsin.

Wildlife Biologist Gary Zimmer, who helped to organize the first Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey in 1986, speaks to the volunteers at the 2011 Survey.

Following publication of the 1986 Land and Resource Management Plan for the Nicolet National Forest, members of the Conservation Committee of the Northeastern Wisconsin Audubon Society wanted to provide a better foundation for assessing the impacts of forest management on bird populations. A proposal was submitted to Forest Service Biologist Tony Rinaldi, who worked with the Audubon Society members to organize the first Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey at the Boulder Lake Campground. The survey now alternates, surveying points in the northern or southern sections of the forest each year.

Over  400 volunteers, including many of Wisconsin’s premier birders, including Sam Robbins, Noel Cutright, Bettie Harriman, Tom Schultz, Jim, Jeff, and Scott Baughman, Andy Paulios, Laura Erickson, John Feith, and others, have joined biologists from the US Forest Service and the University of Wisconsin Green Bay over the years to conduct the annual survey. Biologists and volunteers have now compiled more than 40,000 records of birds at 522 points, most of which have been sampled every other year since 1987 or 1988. This data has been used by many researchers and has contributed to several theses and scientific publications.  Most importantly, the effort of our outstanding and dedicated citizen scientists has resulted in improved management of our northern forests and a better understanding of the ecology of forest birds.

Lower Fox River Watershed Monitoring Program

Recently the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay held the ninth annual Watershed Symposium for The Lower Fox River Watershed Monitoring Program. The LFRWMP partnered with many programs to aid in their research and give the students an opportunity to learn more about watershed monitoring. These program partners were Appleton East High School, Appleton North High School, Ashwaubenon High School, Boys & Girls Club of Green Bay, Green Bay East High School, Green Bay Preble High School, Green Bay Southwest High School, Luxemburg-Casco High School, Oneida Nation High School, Oshkosh North High School, Pulaski High School, and West DePere High School.



The LFRWMP is a continuing program that provides high-quality data which is used for making decisions about improving water quality and foster habitat restoration within the Fox River Basin. The Lower Fox River Watershed Monitoring Program has four main goals

  1. Strengthen student and teacher knowledge and understanding of land use impacts on water quality and stream ecosystems
  2. Enhance teacher capacity to teach watershed science by providing hands-on training in water quality and biological indicator monitoring techniques and data interpretation
  3. Develop a long-term watershed integrity database that helps users understand changes over time and contributes to improved watershed management strategies
  4. Provide ongoing opportunities for high school students and teachers to engage in hands-on science and to interact with other students, university scientists, resource managers and community professionals


To read more about the LFRWMP go to



Students from the program partners are allowed the opportunity for hands-on field work sampling and their school research posters, presentations, and videos can be found at


The symposium and Lower Fox River Watershed Monitoring Program are supported by a gift from Arjo Wiggins Appleton Ltd.