On Saturday, February 3, Dick Dubielzig led a field trip, "The Eyes Have It", at the School of Veterinary Medicine. The Comparative Ocular Pathology Laboratory of Wisconsin has a collection of eyes from over 600 different species, used for comparative anatomy and for study of eye diseases in animals. His fascinating talk concentrated on differences between mammalian and avian eyes. These groups evolved from ancestors with very different habits. The ancestors of birds (and most reptiles) were active in the day, while those of mammals were active at night or at least in the dim light of dawn and dusk, when they were a lot less likely to be eaten. As such, bird eyes are far more sophisticated in their form and structures, and mammal eyes are comparatively much simpler. For example, most bird eyes contain bone and cartilage to help shape the eye and for better muscle attachment, allowing much faster changes to the focus. Mammal eyes are more like spheres and are kept rigid just by internal pressure. Birds can also vary the shape of the cornea of the eye as well as the lens, again for better focus – many can focus right down to the end of their beak. Old-world primates (like us) can see in three colors, but birds typically see in four or more. Birds also have a nictitans, an extra eyelid, to keep the tear layer over the eye clean and extremely smooth, another adaptation for sharp vision. It's no wonder that when we go out birding, they always see us before we see them. Thank you for teaching us, Dick. The Friends host was Steve Sentoff who also provided the top photos. All other photos are from Arlene Koziol's Flicker site, with permission.
A group of hardy nature lovers gathered for this walk on a cold, icy and overcast Sunday. Chuck Henrikson, our experienced leader from the UW Dept of Comparative Biosciences, helped participants to spot the few birds out in the open, and also taught us why feathers help birds to fly and keep warm. He had brought feathers from the tail of a turkey and down feathers, and even some hybrid feather with down toward the bottom of the shaft and interlocking barbs and barbules present in flying feathers on the top part. These barbs and further branching barbules keep the feathers smooth and windproof. When the individual barbs come apart for some reason, the bird will reconnect them by preening. The downy feathers close to the bird’s body have no interlocking barbs, instead they are fluffy and trap air in spaces and keep the bird warm. When we held a down feather in our hand, it felt like a little oven, warming the hand. Chuck compared the barbs in the feathers to the edges and crystals in snowflakes that interlock in intricate patterns. Flurries were conveniently falling to demonstrate this point.
On the way out to the Point, we spotted a bunch of birds in the trees near the second fire place, toward the bay side. A Brown Creeper, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, a bunch of Robins and others, were foraging and flitting from branch to branch, all puffed up to keep warm. We were delighted with the variety of birds we saw. The group went on, mainly looking down to navigate the slippery trail and no other birds were sighted. Thank you Chuck, for leading and teaching us, and thank you to Kennedy Gilchrist, our hosts of the Friends. Gisela Kutzbach was able to catch glimpses of the birds with her camera.
6 species sighted
Red-bellied Woodpecker 2 Black-capped Chickadee 2 Brown Creeper 1
Downy Woodpecker 2 White-breasted Nuthatch 2 American Robin 5
Sunday, January 7 was a perfect day for a field trip and the subject was animal tracking in the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. More than 25 interested hikers took advantage of a fresh fallen snow and mild temperatures to join leader UW Professor and wildlife ecologist David Drake as they looked for tracks in the snow and other signs of the winter movement of the many species of animals in the Preserve. David discussed the habits of coyotes, foxes and other mammals in the winter and ways of detecting their activities otherwise not available in the other seasons. As the hikers progressed toward the lake, they were treated to owl sightings while looking for evidence of the movement and habits of foxes and coyotes and other small mammals within the Preserve. He described the various programs within UW that trap, tag and release animals for habitat research and showed the group the “bait piles” and snares used by the researchers. One treat was the opportunity to see a beaver tail up close, a sight that many, including the kids in attendance, had never experienced.
Along the way, David explained how to determine whether animal tracks belong to cats, e.g. bobcats – hint – cats retract claws in the snow, most other mammals do not. And how to tell if the tracks belong to dogs or coyotes – hint – dogs wander and generally have a splayed print, coyotes travel in a straight line to conserve energy. Please visit Prof Drake's Urban Wildlife website to learn more about this fascinating project and how YOU can get started supporting wildlife in your backyard.
David sprinkled stories of Aldo Leopold as he described how to keep notes about nature, whether it includes animal sightings or conditions encountered when hiking. When the field trip was finished, the group was chilled but totally satisfied, as everyone felt that the take-away was well worth the effort on this wonderful day in the Preserve. Paul Quinlan and Peter Fisher were the field trip hosts of the Friends. Peter also provided all photos.
t least 25 people including 2 high school students joined the 4th Sunday of the month Bird and Nature Outing at Lakeshore Preserve on Christmas Eve afternoon, led by Paul Noeldner. The group enjoyed beautiful fresh snow and leisurely closeup observation of hundreds of Tundra Swans and other waterfowl on University Bay. Woodpeckers perched just overhead and the calling of crows alerted us to a nearby juvenile Bald Eagle atop a tree eating what appeared to be a Bluegill. When we reached the beach view of Lake Mendota we saw 3 more Bald Eagles on the edge of the ice with 2 Common Loons swimming nearby. Another Bald Eagle was,perched on Frautschi Point and one more adult circled overhead, for a total of at least 5. We talked about the importance of not using lead shot or fishing tackle to avoid poisoning the Swans, Eagles and other birds that feed in wetlands and shallow water or up the food chain. Highlights were 3 fluffed up American Robins and a very unexpected fluffed up Gray Catbird in a shoreline bush near the Picnic Point path entrance. Everyone braved the cold and insisted on keeping on birding instead of stopping to make a fire, but were quite ready for it at the end at the end. A great way to end a year of Bird and Nature Outings!
The Photo by Arlene Koziol were taken a few days earlier. View Arlene's photos collection of this fall's spectacular Fall migration in University Bay at her Flicker site.
Mitchell Thomas, a third-year veterinary student at UW–Madison’s School of Veterinary Medicine and student member of the Friends Board, loves taking his dog River on a stroll in the Preserve. And River loves to take in the sights and the warmth of the stone wall at Picnic Points.