Bird Banding at Point au Sable

Almost 80% of songbirds that nest in Wisconsin are migratory, many traveling vast distances every spring and fall. Songbirds typically migrate at night and seek out patches of natural habitat at daybreak where they can rest. These areas must provide shelter from storms and predators, as well as provide high quality food resources so the birds can refuel for the next leg of their journey.  Unfortunately, stopover habitats are becoming scarcer as natural habitat is converted for human use and landscapes become more fragmented.

UW--Green Bay graduate student Stephanie Beilke measures a bird while undergraduate Kirsten Gullett records data.
UW–Green Bay graduate student Stephanie Beilke measures a bird while undergraduate Kirsten Gullett records data.

Stopover habitats are a critical resource for these birds, but the ecology of birds during stopover periods is not well understood. And because increasingly large numbers of birds congregate in these fragmented habitats, ecological interactions can be intense. This may because there are many species interacting under highly variable environmental conditions. Graduate student Stephanie Beilke is banding birds to learn more about how migratory birds are affected by the type of stopover habitats they choose.  Her research on migratory bird assemblages will provide insights into the resource demands and evolutionary history of migratory birds and will ultimately provide a better understanding of stopover site ecology and help guide the conservation and protection of Great Lakes coastal habitats for migratory birds.

Point au Sable offers a perfect opportunity to learn more about stopover ecology. It is a mosaic of different natural habitats including lowland and upland forest, wetlands, and Great Lakes beach.  Since the late 1990s, migrating passerines have been studied at Point au Sable Natural Area, a peninsula that juts out into the lower Green Bay, just north of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus.  Through the years, Point au Sable has experienced many ecosystem changes including invading exotic vegetation, declining water-levels in the Bay of Green Bay, and ongoing habitat management and restoration. Despite these changes, point counts and mist-netting operations conducted by UW – Green Bay researchers have shown that large concentrations of avian migrants use Point au Sable during both spring and fall migration

This fall Stephanie and her group of volunteers set up nearly invisible finely-meshed mist nets in openings where birds are likely to fly through. Birds fly into the nets and become entangled. Trained technicians collect the birds, and then take measurements and either read the existing band or place a new a U.S. Geological Survey aluminum numbered band on the bird’s leg. Volunteers help to set up and take down the nets, alert the technicians to new arrivals, and help to record data collected.  In this study netted birds will be weighed and scored for visible chest fat.  Different length and width measurements are also collected.  Technicians work quickly and carefully to limit the amount of stress endured by the birds.

They banded birds on 25 different days at two locations at Point au Sable Natural Area. Six mist nets were set up in either coastal shrub or in upland forest. The average capture rate was 40 birds per net, but one net in the coastal area caught 79 new birds as well as 3 recaptured birds. Forty-seven different species were banded, including 100 Tennessee Warblers. They also captured large numbers of White-throated Sparrows, American Robins, Hermit Thrushes and Golden-crowned Kinglets.

Some of the species they caught were “firsts” for the project, meaning they had never been captured before, including Black-billed Cuckoo, Blue-headed Vireo, Purple Finch, and Winter Wren. The crew also banded one Yellow-bellied Flycatcher on October 12, which, according to the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, makes it a record late observation for the state. Most Yellow-bellied Flycatchers have migrated south by the end of September.

Stephanie will be banding again Spring 2014, stay tuned to the blog or like us on Facebook to find out how to volunteer.

Some of the birds captured in Autumn 2013

2012/2013 Christmas Bird Count

The Christmas Bird Count is 113 years old and is the longest running citizen science survey in the world! Groups of birders get together to count birds over a single 24 hour period between mid December and early January.

This year counts will be held on any day from December 14 to January 5 inclusive. You can find a Christmas Bird Count for your area in Wisconsin at the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology in Wisconsin, there are over 100 counts that take place from mid-December through early January. http://wsobirds.org/?page_id=2353

The Cofrin Center for Biodiversity will be joining the Dykesville Count on December 16th as this circle includes the Point au Sable Natural Area.  Contact graduate student Tom Prestby at prestbyt@uwgb.edu for more information. A Green Bay count that includes the UW—Green Bay campus will occur on December 15th. Contact John Jacobs at Jacobs_jp@co.brown.wi.us for more information.

Horned Lark, photo by T. Prestby
Dykesville birders will be on the lookout for Horned Larks, like this one in the farm fields around Dykesville, WI (photo by Tom Prestby)

The Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count arose out of a 19th century tradition of competitive holiday hunts where groups of hunters competed to see who could kill the greatest number of birds and mammals killed in a single day.  The participants of an 1896 side hunt in a small community in Vermont shot more than 550 birds and mammals. Frank M. Chapman, noted ornithologist and American Museum of Natural History curator, proposed an alternative contest. In the December 1900 issue of his new magazine “Bird Lore” he proposed that people go out and count rather than kill birds and then send their lists back to the magazine.  The first year 25 lists were made by 27 people across the country.

Today, people are participating in the Christmas Bird Count all over the world. Last over 64 million birds were counted in over 2200 areas across 20 countries including Antarctica. That number represents one quarter of all known bird species. Everyone follows the same methodology regardless of country. “Count circles” with a diameter of 15 miles or 24 kilometers are established and at least 10 volunteers count in each circle. Birders divide into small groups and follow assigned routes counting every bird they see along the way. In most count circles individuals are assigned to watch feeders instead of following routes.  A supervisor is designated for each circle and supervises, compiles, and submits data after the count.  The circle that tallied the highest number of species last year was Yanuyaca, Equador, whose team reported 492 species. In the United States the highest count was 244 species reported by Matagorda County-Mad Island Marsh, Texas.

More information:

Visit the National Audobon Society’s website for links to Christmas bird counts throughout North America and the Caribbean http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count

Christmas Bird Count data summaries  http://birds.audubon.org/american-birds-annual-summary-christmas-bird-count

Can’t make the Christmas Count this year? Consider participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count Feb. 15-18, 2013. http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/

Origins of the Christmas Bird Count from the North Branch Nature Center, Montpelier VT http://www.northbranchnaturecenter.org/cbc.html

June 11-13, 2010: Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey by Erin Gnass

Every year since 1987, a large group of ornithologists have performed breeding bird surveys within the Nicolet National Forest (NNF; see the Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey: (http://www.uwgb.edu/birds/nnf/) in northeastern Wisconsin, now contributing to well over 40,000 records of birds consisting of over 200 total bird species. Whether you are an ornithologist by profession, a volunteer, a student, a back-yard birder, the state’s best expert, or a complete novice who has never seen a Canada Goose in your life, absolutely anyone can come and assist in the survey! Luckily, I was able to be one of the group leaders and engage myself in the survey for the very first time. Having heard about how much fun and exciting it is to participate in such a wonderful annual event, I was not disappointed in the slightest!

On the first day of the survey, I led a small team birders consisting of a young couple and another woman to pine and hardwood forests and a few beautiful bogs. Although the sites were not as biodiversity rich as other sites within the Nicolet National Forest, we were able to observe many interesting but “usual suspect” birds, such as the Ovenbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Chipping Sparrow, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, American Robin, Brown Creeper, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Black-throated Green Warbler, Alder Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and many others. After this first morning of surveys, a large group of us, including (some of my favorite ecologist/biologist friends) UWGB undergraduate student, Aaron Groves, former UWGB Environmental Science & Policy graduate student, Kathryn Corio, Ron Eichhorn (who helped the Nature Conservancy and me with the WRLF project), and a few others went out to a bog near the NNF to look for interesting plants and birds. A few of us chased down a Palm Warbler while others observed uncommon plant species. Please see the photographs that I took down at the bottom of this posting. Thank you to all of the botanists in this group who showed me these beautiful plants.

On the second day, graduate student, Nick Walton, joined our group and helped to lead the surveys.  Near the end of one of the last surveys of the day, we heard a nearby soft chickadee-call where we discovered two Boreal Chickadees—the highlight of my entire summer. Not only did these individuals continue singing throughout the remainder survey, they flew low in the trees only ten meters away from us for quite a few minutes. Not many people have the opportunity to view this species in particular because they are considered an uncommon, northern U.S./Canada dwelling species. Thus, when we shared the news with other birders upon returning to the field houses, everyone expressed their surprise and excitement to us. What a thrilling day it was.

I look forward to next summer’s bird surveys at the Nicolet National Forest.

My photographs:

Me, Erin Gnass, leading one of a few bird surveys in a bog within the Nicolet National Forest
One of a few beautiful bogs that we surveyed.
After the first day of surveys, a small group and I went in search of plants and birds around the bog pictured here.
UWGB undergraduate, Aaron Groves, bird watching at the bog.
Ron Eichhorn and Aaron Groves trying to identify a plant.
Aaron Groves, and his mother, former UWGB Environmental Science & Policy graduate student, Kathryn Corio
A stunningly gorgeous carnivorous pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea)
Another carnivorous plant, the sundew (Drosera rotundifolia)
Aaron Groves and I found a previously made teepee-like structure on a hill leading down to the bog.