The Fourth Sunday field trip for July was a tour of the Bluebird Trail with monitor Jeff Koziol. Bluebirds require cavities in trees formed by woodpeckers to nest, but removal of standing dead trees and competition from other cavity-nesting birds had reduced their population by 90%. As a result, Bluebird trails consisting of multiple houses have been erected as a conservation measure, which is greatly helping with their recovery. The Friends Bluebird trail consists of eight houses this year and has successfully fledged six Bluebirds.
Jeff explained that several other species of birds are also cavity nesters and compete for the use of the houses, including Tree Swallows, House Wrens and House Sparrows. Each of these species builds a distinct type of nest. Bluebird nests are woven from grass; Tree Swallow nests are similar but include feathers. House Wrens build nests of sticks that nearly fill the whole box. And the nests of House Sparrows contain bits of just about anything they can find including paper, plastic and string. Although Bluebird conservation is the primary reason for the trail, all these species except the House Sparrow are protected species and their nests are left undisturbed. House Sparrow are non-native invaders and thus they are not protected like the other songbirds. Monitoring is done at least weekly to remove the Sparrow nests, or else they would monopolize all the houses.
Bluebirds, as well as the other species, can have two or sometimes even three successful nests in a season. Our walk came after the second fledging and we checked to see if there were any signs of a third nesting. Most of the houses were empty, but one had a current House Wren nest in it with eggs.
Our trip also provided us the opportunity to see the Biocore Prairie in its full glory, with many prairie species in full bloom, as well as a short diversion into the Community Gardens to see the diversity of gardens that have been planted there. Friends host Steve Sentoff. Photos Doris Dubielzig and Steve Sentoff.
On this beautiful cool Sunday morning, UW Arboretum naturalist Susan Carpenter met the group of 7 Friends who gathered for her Pollinator Tour at the entrance to Picnic Point. She prepared us for our observations of these important pollinators by reviewing the life cycle of a bumble bee colony. I was fascinated by her description of the hardworking queen bumblebee, who emerges in the spring from her solitary underground hibernation, collects nectar from flowers and sets up a nest nearby. Working alone, she lays her first batch of eggs, fertilized in the previous summer, and sits on them to warm them. The queen has to leave the nest to gather more nectar and pollen to feed the hatched larvae which mature into adult female worker bees. As the season progresses, the queen lays unfertilized eggs which develop into haploid males that leave the nest in search of other queens to fertilize. Susan gave each of us a laminated copy of the Bumble Bee Brigade Field Guide to Females and Males of 21 bumblebee species. She also gave us a Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Midwest Plant Guide to native plants that will attract most of the other bumblebee species, too.
We looked for, and found, bees in the rain garden inside the Picnic Point entrance, on the jewelweed opposite Bill’s Woods, and in milkweed in the East Savannah, and then in galore, in the Biocore Prairie. A Tawny emperor butterfly landed on Doris' bike helmet as we entered the prairie, and it stayed there for much of the rest of the tour. Contrary to what one might guess,
Seth, noted, milkweed plants are mostly pollinated by bees, not butterflies. Butterflies prefer to frequent flowers with a kind of a flat surface for landing, like asters or purple coneflowers. Monarchs use milkweeds to lay their eggs, and the Monarch caterpillars feed on milkweed leaves.
Steve was intrigued by the effects that changing climate was having on the bumble bees. The warmer temperatures are forcing the southern boundary of the range north, but there is little opportunity for the bees to disperse farther north, since the queens must begin to form their colonies immediately after they emerge. This means that cooler microclimates within their current range will be vital to conservation and that greater diversity of habitats will be key. As an example, Susan explained about how edges between the woods and prairie are important to the bumble bees.
Susan encouraged us to take our own photos of bees and submit them to the Wisconsin DNR’s Bumble Bee Brigade, wiatri.net/inventory/bbb. As the insects' territory is squeezed by climate change, and they face threats from pesticide use, loss of habitat and disease, the DNR and the Xerces Society can use our observations to guide their bumblebee conservation efforts.
Bumblebees sighted today:
Bombus auricomus black and gold
Bombus bimaculatus twospotted
Bombus griseocollis brownbelted
Bombus impatiens common eastern
Bombus vagans half-black
The federally-listed-as-endangered bee that we were hoping to see, but did not:
Bombus affinis rusty patched
Many thanks to Susan for her very engaging and informative tour. Report by Doris Dubielzig and Friends host Steve Sentoff, Photos by Glenda Denniston, Doris Dubielzig, Seth McGee, Steve Sentoff
On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, Professor Glen Stanosz shared his knowledge of trees with five enthusiastic guests. As attendees strolled through the shaded paths near Picnic Point, Glen identified ash, oak, red pine, and white pine trees among other woody species.
Each tree species was paired with a remarkable tale of conquest by fungal or insectivore invaders… occasionally intertwined with hopeful twists of perseverance as researchers discover some tree species are beginning to develop resistance against their pesky assailants:
While trees face incredible feats against fungal and insect invaders alike, Glen described how this harassment is a result of trees’ tempting design. Trees are made of two main components: cellulose and lignin… in other words, trees are made of sugar and glue! So, if trees have the audacity to grow tall and advertise their sweet composition to the decomposers in their ecosystems, that must mean trees have some secret defenses of their own. Indeed, Glen skillfully pointed out trees using their defensive ability to compartmentalize their trunks; these trees created a seal that trapped an invading fungus on the interior of the trunk, allowing the living outer region of the trunk to service the tree unharmed.
Finally, Glen referenced a non-fungal threat to forests: climate change. With observed warming trends in Wisconsin, Glen said it is possible that the composition of forests may change over time. Glen hypothesizes that Wisconsin may lose its maple and conifer trees, but retain hickory trees as hickory trees can be found in southern/warmer regions of the US. Report and Photos by the Friends' host Olympia Mathiaparanam.
On a beautiful Sunday morning, Seth McGee, Biocore Laboratory Manager, led a band of 9 Friends to experience the Prairies. As we walked up the hill past Bill’s Woods, Seth paused for a public service announcement: how to identify poison ivy, growing along the roadside, by its alternate leaf attachment. Box elder, which can also exhibit three leaflets, has leaves that are attached opposite from one another. Eve Emshwiller related that the jewelweed, growing abundantly nearby, is reputed to relieve the skin irritation caused by poison ivy.
When we reached the Biocore Prairie, Seth told how Ann Burgess and Curt Caslavka got permission for UW biology honors program students to learn ecology by restoration of this badly degraded land, beginning with 3/4 acre in 1998. By 2016, the land under restoration had increased to 12 acres, making it the largest laboratory on campus. Seth compares this highly manipulated living laboratory to an Erlenmeyer flask. As one example, he showed us a map of the prairie with the dates of burning identified for individual 20m2 areas. While it is recognized that fire is essential to prairie restoration, this burn study can help to determine the optimum frequency of burning.
Seth showed us some of the other student research projects and identified the plants in bloom, including Michigan lily (Lilium michiganense), bee balm (Monarda spp.) and milkweed. He concluded with a thorough comparison of Prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) to Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum). The Prairie dock’s large basal leaves are covered in rough hairs that trap moisture and the drying wind. Its leaves stand upright and act as big “solar panels”. The Compass plant leaves, which rise higher, are deeply lobed to withstand the drying effects of sun and wind. As we thanked Seth for showing us the Prairie, Roma Lenehan pointed to a pair of cedar waxwings searching for their own nest site in the Prairie. Report and photos by the Friends host Doris Dubielzig.
My first day…as a water quality monitor—Doris Dubielzig reports:
"In our first year as a Lake Forecasting Steward with Clean Lakes Alliance, the Friends recruited a team of volunteers, each of whom committed to collect near-shore data twice a week for a month. Our site is the floating pier at the boat launch on University Bay across from parking lot 60. Steve Sentoff was the first to make observations, beginning shortly after Luke Wynn, Watershed specialist for CLA, trained our 7 member team in late April. Nicole Miller and Genevieve Murtaugh continued in June. I had signed up for July. On Monday night, I drove to Nicole’s home, where she handed me the Instruction Book, the digital thermometer and the turbidity tube.
Today was my first day to make and record the seven visual observations and three measurements. Gisela Kutzbach, ever inquisitive, joined me as I struggled to read my notes from the April training. We had the pier to ourselves this morning. I checked that the plastic tapes marking the boundaries of our observation area, 50 feet on either side of the pier, were still attached to their shrubs, and encountered a handsome catbird in the process.
On the pier, above water about 3 feet deep, I turned on the digital thermometer and held it shaded by my body to read the air temperature, 81.9F. Then I dropped to my knees, stretched out my arm and held the thermometer probe upright in the water. To my surprise, the water temperature, which Steve had recorded at 45 degrees on April 29, and Nicole at 67 degrees just 8 days ago, was now 80.1 degrees F!
Gisela and I observed the water clarity at knee depth (Good—thank you zebra mussels), wave intensity (calm to small ripples = 1), waterfowl (none), and number of people in the water (none). For Surface Algal Bloom, we saw patches of algae near the pier and next to the shore. In addition, we saw patches of floating plants—duckweed (Lemna) and strands of milfoil.
Finally, I dipped the 120cm turbidity tube into the lake at the 3 foot level, filled the tube to the top, and removed it to the shade of a nearby tree. Peering down the vertical tube, I could clearly see the Secchi disk on the bottom, and recorded 120cm, the maximum value. The clarity is all the more impressive, given that Nicole was unable to make a turbidity measurement 6 days ago due to a blue-green algae bloom that ringed the Lake.
I am pleased to be part of the community of Yahara lakes water quality monitors and very grateful to have such an enthusiastic team to share the responsibilities of collecting data. In August and September, Olympia Mathiaparanam, Genevieve Murtaugh and Matt Chotlos complete the data collecting season, which extends to the end of September."
See also summary of all Citizen Science Project sponsored by the Friends Photos Gisela Kutzbach.