On a picture-perfect September Sunday, 38 attendees, mostly students of a Forest and Wildlife Ecology class, appeared for the Friends walk with Sean Gere, certified arborist who has guided many Sunday walks in the Preserve, and Paul Quinlan, naturalist and the Friends' host for this outing, They split the group in two. It was a treat for everyone to see the trees through our guides eyes and learn more about their natural history.
Jackie Sandberg, leader of the Observatory, thanks "all of the volunteers and visitors who made it out to the Biocore Prairie bird banding station this weekend! We had so many students stop by to learn about process, and it was great to see such a big crowd. Unfortunately it was warmer and slower than usual; we only captured 5 birds in 4 hours compared to 20 and 25 birds on each of the previous two days of banding" 28 students and visitors attended over the course of the morning. Jackie, Wildlife Rehabilitation Training Coordinator at the Dane County Humane Society's Wildlife Center and Bird banding sub-permit holder since 2013, worked many years with Mara McDonald who founded the Observatory in 2001.The Friends' host for this fascinating morning was Olympia Mathiaparanam.
On a hot and humid Sunday when many were still cleaning out their flood-soaked houses, Paul Noeldner gave a short show-and-tell presentation on tools for Citizen Science, followed by a walk in the BioCore Prairie area so see the bluebird houses, the purple martin apartment building, and the bat houses. He shared more information about how people could get involved.
Paul brought an impressive number of materials to share, set out on two long tables under a tree by the picnic point entrance. Two children who were waiting for a bus, helped carry materials from the car and were rewarded with a chance to assemble two bluebird houses with the help of some of the trip participants.
Paul's Citizen Science tool kits were full of interesting gadgets, including a temperature gun, camera to see under water, mirror on a long handle for looking into bird houses, water testing kit, little hand-held microscope, a nifty LED loupe, salinity kit, USB endoscope, and a way to measure murkiness of the water based on how clearly you could see the pattern on a disk lowered in the water.
Our observant and knowledgeable participants on our hike illustrated the best characteristics of citizen scientists by sharing their finding and knowledge. We saw beautiful acorns and learned that 2018 is what ecologists call “a big mast year” when we have a bumper crop of acorns. Among other things, we saw coral fungus, the American toad, a cat bird, a blue bird, a number of goldfinches, barn swallows, indigo pods with weevils living inside, and lots of identified prairie flowers. At the Biocore Prairie, we noted several research project areas, and discussed how Citizen Scientists can observe projects like Bird Banding and Canid Research, and in some cases get involved. We discussed how the Bluebird Trail and (PUMA) Purple Martin project are managed by the Friends of the lakeshore Preserve. Paul told us that nest boxes are used for 2-3 broods per season and we found a damaged bluebird egg in bluebird box #7. The boxes on bluebird trail are left for the winter because many different species can be found huddled together to survive in the cold in boxes. We also learned about “hospital fields” where farmers used to let their animals graze in a field of diverse plants, and the animals would find and eat what they needed.
With distant thunder hastening us onward, we made it back to the Picnic Point entrance in time before the first raindrops fell. Talking continued for quite a while under a tree after the tour officially ended, and we hope to see everyone again at a future outing! Report by Paul Noeldner. Photos by the Friends host Lillian Tong.