The October 24 "Kids Bird Explorers" UW Science Fest and 4th Sunday Friends of UW Lakeshore Nature Preserve, partnering with Madison FUN Bird and Nature Adventure, had a small but steady stream of families and kids. They were full of enthusiasm, conversation, and questions from the moment the event started at 1pm. About 50 people visited the popup canopy at the Picnic Point entrance area, some for only a few minutes and some for an hour or more. They enjoyed taking Linda Malkin's Audubon Bird ID challenge quizzes, looked at the bird education displays and took Friends brochures, Preserve maps and FUN outing flyers. Individuals and families enjoyed bird talks and walks with Chuck Henrikson of the Friends and learned about the magic of feathers. Kids of all ages took home ziplock bags with Owl Binocs and Fuzzy Bird activity kits. Among the participants there were people of all ages and various ethnicities, a number of people from around Wisconsin and from out of state, a family that had given all their kids middle names that are names of birds, and a UW Wildlife Ecology student who is thrilled to be helping with Bird Banding at the Preserve. The impending rain fortunately held off until after 3pm and nobody got wet except about 1000 cackling Coots on University Bay. Host for this field trip, and report and photos: Paul Noeldner.
What’s the most commonly eaten insect on earth? How do dung beetles help farmers around the globe? What do insects, bonsai trees and haikus have in common? *
Preserve visitors explored these questions, and many more, with Dr. Marjorie Rhine on October 23, 2021. Dr. Rhine, a professor in the Department of Languages and Literatures at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, led 18 participants on a hike entitled “Insect Super-Powers in Japanese Pop Culture”. The event, organized and sponsored by the Friends of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve, was part of the 2021 Wisconsin Science Festival. Dr. Rhine engaged visitors with bark and beetles before the hike. During the walk, she used hand puppets and illustrations from an elegant scrapbook to make her points. In addition, she recruited a friend, Dr. Andrea Gargas, to talk about fungi they encountered on the walk.
Strolling down Picnic Point, participants discovered a myriad of invertebrates while discussing their connections to past and present cultures. Slugs, lady bugs, galls, bees, crickets, dragonflies, and (of course) beetles were all examined for their superpowers.
The conversation incorporated conservation; a recurring theme along the hike which highlighted how all the components of an ecosystem are intricately connected: trees communicating through underground fungal networks, dung beetles orienting themselves by the light of the Milky Way, and prairie plants helping to initiate butterfly migration by causing hormonal shifts in monarchs.
The thread that tied all of the group’s observations together was how the intricate ecology of the Lakeshore Preserve is linked to our own lives, present society, and to cultures of the past. Dr. Rhine pointed out how samurai armor is segmented, much like the protective and versatile bodies of insects, how the miraculous metamorphosis of larva to adult butterfly represents hope and rebirth in many cultures, and how many pop icons like Pokémon and Transformers are ideas derived from insects.
The hike was capped off with participants doing the “waggle dance”. A form of communication that is important in bee communities, the waggle dance is how honeybees communicate precise coordinates of a food source to other bees in their colony. Using dance moves to indicate direction (relative to the orientation of the sun) and distance (the duration of the dance) two young Friends waggled their way to a cache of fruit snacks hidden within the Biocore Prairie. A sweet ending to a sensational walk.
* Answers: 1) beetles 2) they improve livestock health and soil quality by “recycling” feces 3) they encapsulate infinitely complex concepts into tiny, elegant packages. Friends Host, report and photos: Seth McGee
Explore these links to learn more about the fascinating world of insects and the interconnectedness of life on Earth.
My Garden of a Thousand Bees (PBS doc)
Suzanne Simard Ted talk about how trees talk
Grave of the Fireflies - Trailer (animated movie)
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind – Trailer (animated movie)
Fantastic Fungi - Trailer (documentary)
The Overstory (novel)
NOVA episode of edible insects
About dung beetles' navigational abilities
Report by Will Vuyk:
Waving under an autumn wind, leaves of vibrant green, yellow and red added visual intricacy to an otherwise grey day. Picking up one of these leaves, pointing out its flattened petiole and triangular shape, field trip leader Paul Quinlan, Madison Parks Conservation Resources Supervisor, added his passion and knowledge to the beautiful fall scene as 25 eager participants arrayed themselves next to a cottonwood tree. Teaching more than just the names of trees and shrubs along the path out to Picnic Point, Paul began to reveal their individual uses and ecologies with insights into landscape architecture, fire ecology, succession, and invasive species management. Bolstered with new knowledge about why oak leaves wrinkle, how to identify the presence of emerald ash borer, and the culinary merits of sumac (just to name a few of anecdotes shared by Paul), when participants emerged from the forest after an hour and a half, they were able to look back and see it for the trees. Report and photos by Friends host Will Vuyk.
On September 26 the Friends hosted a fascinating field trip on fungi of the Preserve, led by UW Associate Professor Marie Trest. It was well attended by 37 participants, almost half of which were students. As it was clear many of the students were completely unfamiliar with fungi, Dr. Trest was able to clearly explain the life cycles and ecological value of fungi. A few times she encouraged everyone to spend a few minutes searching for fungi. She then identified and talked about each one, demonstrating the wide range of fungal biodiversity and ecological functions. Participants left with a good understanding of the diversity and benefits of fungi and the importance of accurate identification prior to consuming any mushrooms.
Friends Host and report- Kelly Kearns. Photos by Marian Farrior and Kelly Kearns