A small but enthused group of hearty nature lovers braved the winter cold on Sunday January 23 to join the "Winter Wonderland" 4th Sunday of the month Bird and Nature Adventure at UW Lakeshore Nature Preserve led by Paul Noeldner and Chuck Henrikson and Friends host Anne Pearce. Several other folks joined for short periods along the way before heading back someplace warm out of the chill wind.
Most birds were taking shelter too but there were enough drumming woodpeckers that made appearances, cheery chickadees grooming oak treetop buds, chipping cardinals in bushes, and yank yanking nuthatches climbing tree trunks to keep cold fingers busy focusing freezing binoculars.
Other Winter Wonderland Wonders the participants enjoyed were walking in sparkling white fluffy snow that blanketed tree limbs and pine boughs, talking about the beautiful fractal patterns of snowflakes and the safe sheltered subnivian (beneath the snow) layer that sintering (coalescing) snow provides for hiding, feeding and shelter out of the wind for a host of wild things, seeing the freshly scattered tracks and trails of mice, voles, squirrels, deer, fox and bunnies that scampered about and dove into holes in the snow and cavities in logs and trees and looking them up in Critter Trax and iTracks apps, celebrating Squirrel Appreciation Day and admiring lofty squirrel dreys cleverly suspended in high branches, spotting an odd looking abandoned wasp nest missing the top half due to blue jays foraging for grubs, and scanning jagged ice edges on University Bay hoping to spot two Snowy Owls recently reported to be in the area from the frozen Arctic.
Winter birding and nature outings are always surprisingly fun and rewarding, just remember to dress warm. Inexpensive hand and toe warmers help when it is especially cold out and Chuck Henrikson showed everyone the latest and greatest solution, a USB rechargable hand warmer!
On Sunday, January 16, David Drake, the UW-Extension Wildlife Specialist and Professor of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, led a group of 52, including 13 children, from the Picnic Point entrance to the old orchard. The crowd that gathered on that chilly afternoon was eager to learn how he and his students attract and track foxes and coyotes in the UW-Madison Lakeshore Nature Preserve. Drake began by describing the categories of animals that live in the Preserve -- birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles -- and identified the numbers of species of each that live in Wisconsin. As he led the group up the hill past Bill’s Woods, a red-tailed hawk flew overhead and Drake pointed out evidence of squirrel and pileated woodpecker activity in the area. He described the differences between the gray, red and flying squirrels that live in this area, and suggested positioning motion-sensored red lights near our birdfeeders to reveal the nocturnal visits by flying squirrels.
The recent snowfall provided fresh turkey tracks and gave the 13 children opportunities for their own ground level discoveries.
Off trail, in the old orchard field where the Urban Canid Project traps coyotes and red foxes, Drake demonstrated how they set cable restraints to trap the animals humanely. Shortly after another red-tailed hawk (a buteo) flew overhead, a sharp-shinned/Cooper’s hawk (an accipiter) winged into Caretaker’s Woods. After noting the anatomical differences that allow the two birds to navigate the different habitats, Drake explained how his researchers handle, examine and outfit the canids with $1200 radio collars that enable the Project to track their movements throughout the Preserve and the city. A small blood sample is collected from each animal and submitted for COVID-19 testing as part of a study to learn whether the canids are carriers of the disease.
The group had many questions for Professor Drake, which he answered expertly and clearly from his vast knowledge of wildlife ecology. As the UW Extension Specialist in Biotechnology, Friends host Tom Zinnen was particularly proud of his colleague’s presentation. Report by Doris Dubielzig and Tom Zinnen