Upcoming Event: Tuesday, October 18th – Monarch Butterflies: Dwindling numbers for an iconic insect

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Tuesday, October 18th – 7 p.m. @ UW Arboretum
Madison Audubon and WSCB Present: Monarch Butterflies: Dwindling numbers for an iconic insect

An Evenings with Audubon presentation by nationally-renown monarch expert Karen Oberhauser

Monarch butterflies populations have been declining over the last 20 years. Because insect numbers are notoriously difficult to assess, and because they often show large year to year fluctuations, simply documenting this decline has been a challenge. It is now important to move beyond simple documentation, and toward responding to the challenge posed by monarch conservation, and insect conservation in general. Monarchs are negatively impacted by many human activities, and various scientists and monarch advocates have implicated habitat degradation and loss, pesticide use, climate change, vehicular collisions, invasive species, and pathogen spread in their dwindling numbers.

In this presentation, Karen Oberhauser, one of the nation’s top monarch conservation biologists, will describe the amazing biology of migratory monarch populations, and the work of citizens and scientists in documenting monarch numbers at all stages of their migratory cycle. She will discuss threats to monarchs, and potential responses to these threats. Because conservation biology must be, at its essence, a science of hope, Karen’s focus is on positive changes as well as on the challenges posed by declining monarch numbers.

Karen Oberhauser is a Professor in the Dept. of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology at the University of Minnesota, where she and her students conduct research on several aspects of monarch butterfly ecology. Her research depends on traditional lab and field techniques, as well as the contributions of a variety of audiences through citizen science; this research has resulted in over 100 scientific publications. Her strong interest in promoting a citizenry with a high degree of scientific and environmental literacy led to the development of a science education program that involves courses for teachers, and opportunities for youth to engage in research and share their findings with broad audiences. In 1996, she and graduate student Michelle Prysby started a nationwide Citizen Science project called the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, which continues to engage hundreds of volunteers throughout North America. Karen is passionate about the conservation of the world’s biodiversity, and believes that the connections her projects promote between monarchs, humans, and the natural world promote meaningful conservation action. She is the chair of the Monarch Joint Joint Venture, and a founding officer of the Monarch Butterfly Fund. In 2013, Karen received a White House Champion of Change award for her work with Citizen Science.

More information can be found at monarchjointventure.org

Photo: Joshua Mayer

Volunteers wanted for DNR prairie seed collection day

Come join WSCB as we assist Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources restoration crews on Sunday, September 11th at Empire Prairies State Natural Area (near Madison). From 2 – 5pm we will be collecting seeds to be used in future restoration projects to expand the prairie. We will meet along the road near 5197 Brabender Rd in Middleton and will ride in from there. Please contact Yasi at yasi.rezai@gmail.com to RSVP, and if you can offer a ride or need a ride from downtown.

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Join us in the field for our first annual WSCB Birdathon!

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We’re excited to announce that WSCB is doing its first Birdathon this year, as the WSCB Bino Bird Hunters! Our Birdathon date is Sunday, May 15th, from 8:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. near Mt. Vernon and Mt. Horeb, WI. you can join us for all or part of this fun day in the field!

What is a Birdathon? 
“See a Bird, Save a Bird!” – Birdathon is a fundraising tool to help support bird conservation. Friends and organizations make birding teams, raise money by asking for donations or a pledge per species, and then have a 24-hour period to count as many bird species as possible.

What is the Great Wisconsin Birdathon?
The Great Wisconsin Birdathon is an annual statewide event to raise money for the Bird Protection Fund, and is a joint effort between the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative. The Bird Protection Fund was established in response to declining bird populations and supports bird conservation projects throughout Wisconsin. The statewide goal for 2016 is to raise $70,000! The Great Wisconsin Birdathon is also a great way to support WSCB, since 50 percent of the funds that we raise goes back to our organization. We see this as a great opportunity to bring our WSCB members together for a day of birding, learning, and fun, while raising money for Wisconsin’s 284 native bird species and, as a bonus, to fundraise for our organization.

Want to join us in the field for our Birdathon on Sunday, May 15th?
To join our team, simply go to: http://wibirdathon.org/participantpage.asp?fundid=2097&uid=4048&role=3 and select “Join a team” under the “Participate” heading. Select the “WSCB Bino Bird Hunters”, set a personal fundraising goal, and that’s it! You’re ready to helping the birds! And remember to mark your calendars for Sunday, May 15th! Birdathon details follow:

We will meet at 8:30 am at Donald County Park just outside Mt. Vernon, at the north parking area off of Hwy 92. We plan to bird until roughly 11:00 am. At that time we will make our way back to the parking area and head to The Grumpy Troll Brew Pub in Mt. Horeb for lunch! Following food, more conversation, and a bit of relaxation, we plan to head to Stewart County Park on the north end of town for a couple more hours of birding. We’ll meet at the parking area just southwest of the lake.

Can’t join us in the field, but still want to support our Birdathon team? To make a donation, visit our team Birdathon page. We thank you for your contributions to bird conservation in Wisconsin, and also for helping support the Wisconsin Chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology!

Bat Conservation in Wisconsin

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Photo: Northern long-eared bat. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, via Flickr Creative Commons

By: Christa Droste

Before Batman became the legendary vigilante superhero who fought for justice in Gotham City, he fell down a well and became trapped among bats who called it home. Bruce Wayne then took his fear of bats and turned it into a symbol of strength—and why not? Bats are amazing and provide us with ecosystem services ranging from biological pest control to pollination and seed dispersal. They’ve also aided in advancing the areas of medicine and technology with anti-coagulants (thank you vampire bats) and improved airplane flight design. Not to mention they’re responsible for bringing us foods such as cocoa, bananas, and mangos, and pollinating the agave plant used to make tequila.

Unfortunately, due to a combination of popular culture, myth, and ignorance, bats have gotten a bad rap. Now, the creatures of the night we so heavily depend on need our help more than ever. Since its discovery in New York in 2006, researchers have been tracking the westward spread of the deadly fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), otherwise known as White Nose Syndrome or WNS. The fungus was carried on the clothes of a researcher or spelunker who had previously walked through a Pd-positive site in Europe whose bats, incidentally, are resistant to the fungus.

Little Brown Bat J. N. StuartPhoto: Little Brown Bat, J. N. Stuart via Flickr Creative Commons

The temperature and humidity in caves support the growth and reproduction of Pd, which grows as a white fuzz (thus the name), on the nose, ears, and wings of bats. During hibernation, many species can be found clustering tightly together, increasing the rate of spread of WNS. During this time, bats typically wake for very short periods of time to drink water and groom; however, the fungus irritates the bats causing them to wake more frequently resulting in a rapid loss of stored nutrients meant to carry them through winter hibernation. Infected and starving, bats are often found flying during cold winter days to seek non-existent insect prey before either succumbing to hunger or the cold and freezing to death.

To date, caves in the U.S. and Canada have experienced a 90-100% decline in hibernating bats resulting in an estimated 5.7 million bats lost to the disease (whitenosesyndrome.gov). One species, the Northern Long-Eared Myotis (Myotis septentrionalis), which is found in Wisconsin, was the first to have been placed on the endangered species list due to the impact of White Nose Syndrome.

In 2014, WNS made its way across the Great Lakes, and has since been found in eight Wisconsin counties including Dane, Grant, Door, and Iowa where it was first detected. Winter surveys for the 2015-2016 season have not yet been released, but will likely indicate further spread throughout the state. Wisconsin has eight species of bats, half of which utilize caves and mines for overwintering and are listed as threatened in the state, while the other four are on a ‘watch list’. Of the four threatened species, Little Browns (Myotis lucifugus), Northern Long-Eared bats (Myotis septentrionalis), and Eastern Pipistrelles or Tri-Colored bats (Perimyotis sublavus) are more heavily impacted due to their small size. Big Brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus), while also vulnerable to WNS, have a slight advantage in size over the other three and therefore have shown moderate resistance to the fungus. Unquestionably, losses will be felt hardest in the agricultural sector of the state.

In Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resource’s Wisconsin Bat Program monitors and manages our state’s bat populations. According to John Paul White, a conservation biologist with the DNR, research suggests that bats could save the agriculture industry more than $3 billion dollars in pest control each year by eating insects. He added that further research estimated the economic value of Wisconsin’s bats to be between $658 million and $1.5 billion.

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The devastation of WNS in New York was undeniable, and ignited a torrent of research and monitoring efforts east of the Mississippi River. State and federal agencies teamed up with researchers and nonprofits from around the country and scrambled to gather data on the diversity and population abundance of their bats in order to estimate WNS-related losses in the near future. Overwintering sites were located, censuses conducted, and swabbing for the fungus ensued.

In Wisconsin alone, more than 150 bat hibernacula were identified during the winter of 2010-2011. According to White, the four cave bat species were classified as threatened in Wisconsin due to the threat of WNS, “which afforded protections against direct killing, transportation and possession.” Additionally, Pd was added to the prohibitive invasives list under Wisconsin’s invasive species rule, which, in conjunction with decontamination protocols, may help slow the spread of WNS by cave enthusiasts, researchers, rehabilitators, and pest control operators.

Currently, there are several treatments for WNS being field-tested that are immensely promising. However, due to the unique and fragile nature of the cave ecosystem, these treatments must be found to have negligible impacts on other cave-dwelling organisms in order to be applied.

There’s good news though—you don’t have to be a researcher to help save Wisconsin’s bats! Here are some tips from the DNR’s Wisconsin Bat Program, to help protect our state’s bat population:

  1. Provide habitat for bats in the form of a bat house. Here’s a how-to link from the National Wildlife Federation.
  1. If you have bats in your home, examine entry points in your home and cabin during the winter, and use bat-safe exclusion methods from August 16-May 31 to avoid the birthing period.
  1. If you observe bat activity, please complete the DNR’s Bat Mortality Reporting Form, which helps the Wisconsin Bat Program track and respond to wildlife disease issues.
  2. Interested in monitoring bat populations? Consider volunteering with the Wisconsin Citizen-Based Monitoring Network, which trains volunteers to collect data.
  3. Consider donating to the Wisconsin Bat Conservation Fund, which was created by bat ecologist Dave Redell to support bat conservation efforts in perpetuity. Type “bat program” in the endowment fund text box.

Finally, for more information about WNS, to report unusual bat activity, or to donate to and get involved with the Wisconsin Bat Program, please visit http://wiatri.net/inventory/Bats.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Upcoming event: Decoding the Conservation Congress

WI Conservation Congress Logo

What: Decoding the Conservation Congress
When: Wednesday, March 30th, 5 p.m.
Where: UW-Madison, Union South – 1308 W. Dayton Street, Madison, WI 53715

Join the Wisconsin Chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology for a discussion about the upcoming 2016 Conservation Congress spring hearings, the annual opportunity for Wisconsin citizens to advise the Department of Natural Resources and the Natural Resources Board on how to manage Wisconsin’s natural resources.

We’ll learn more about the Conservation Congress, including an overview of its history, and how it works today. We’ll also hear from DNR’s Scott Loomans, who will break down the April 11th spring hearing agenda items, and how they could impact conservation in Wisconsin.

For more information on the spring hearings and the full agenda, visit http://dnr.wi.gov/About/WCC/springhearing.html

The little bird with a big history: The story of Wisconsin’s kestrel population

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Photo: Janet Eschenbauch

By: Christa Droste

Frances Hamerstrom, the only female graduate student of Aldo Leopold, is highly regarded for her work to protect the Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) from extirpation in Wisconsin. But what you might not know is that Fran was also critical in the recovery of the American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) population.

After moving from Boston to the Buena Vista Grasslands area in Wisconsin Rapids to study under Leopold, Fran indulged in her love for raptors and began working with eagles and harriers.  In 1967, Hamerstrom observed only two breeding pairs of kestrels on the Buena Vista Grasslands, and believed their numbers would improve if additional nesting opportunities were provided.  A year later, she erected 40 newly-built nest boxes, giving birth to the Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research —a long-term monitoring project she led for 30 years until her death in 1998.  Shortly after Fran’s passing, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Aldo Leopold Audubon Society breathed new life into the project by installing new nest boxes and continuing to monitor and band the kestrels.  In 2004, Janet Eschenbauch, her daughter-in-law Amber, and three very dedicated volunteers, Maureen Brocken, Sally Ellingboe, and Gerry Janz, proudly took over the project.

The American Kestrel, also known formerly as the sparrow hawk, is a grassland predator critical to maintaining shrew and mouse populations. Kestrels have a large range that extends from southern South America to the boreal forests of Alaska and Canada. However, it is estimated that kestrel numbers have actually declined by as much as 48 percent in most of the eastern United States. “Stable numbers in the central United States are offset by sharp declines in the northeast and west coast,” explained Janet Eschenbauch, director of the program.

Although kestrels require open spaces, they are secondary-cavity nesters that tend to utilize old woodpecker holes, natural tree cavities, and rock crevices. They also nest in small openings found on buildings, making them well-suited to human-dominated environments such as New York City, where you can find a healthy breeding population.  However, a combination of the loss of small farms, urbanization, and reforestation has limited habitat and food that kestrels require to thrive in their range.  Additional anthropogenic-related threats such as communication towers, wind farms, pesticides and rodenticides have also aided in their decline.

On the bright side, kestrels are one species that may benefit from climate change.  As a generalist that preys on rodents, snakes, insects, small lizards, and even small birds, they are likely to fare better than species that specialize on a particular food source. Phenotypic mismatch has also allowed kestrels to begin nesting earlier (21 days earlier than 20 years ago), allowing them to claim territories sooner, giving kestrels an advantage in successfully rearing and fledging chicks.“Fledglings are a bit older, stronger, and wiser when they begin migrating south,” explained Eschenbauch.  However, she added that the changing climate “also brings late winter and early spring storms, which may cause an increased rate of nest failure.”  Furthermore, prey species such as frogs and snakes that depend on snowpack for insulation may be negatively impacted by an annual reduction in winter precipitation.  However, rodents will most likely benefit from warmer weather, providing kestrels with a bountiful food supply.

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American Kestrel. Photo by Flickpicpete via Flickr Creative Commons.

Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research has two primary goals: 1) establish more nesting kestrels on the Buena Vista Grasslands, and 2) collect data on how management practices impact nesting kestrels.  Eschenbauch described the first as an active success, while the second goals has not been addressed yet. Each year, the group bands more than 100 chicks and as many adults as they can get their hands on. Data from banding combined with nest box monitoring reveals information such as clutch size, nest site fidelity, and general population stability and health. The long-term monitoring information on kestrel productivity “may offer insights into the cause of the population decline, revealing important information about what might be influencing downward trends,” Eschenbauch said.  Annual banding data for the Buena Vista Grasslands indicates that the number of fledglings have remained stable, thanks to the group’s efforts. “Field research is a very rewarding experience for all of us – this not a job, but a passion,” Eschenbauch said.

Sharing data, advice, and know-how with other researchers is an important part of the research program’s work.  The program collaborates with the Department of Natural Resources, local landowners, and the Raptor Education Group, Inc., a raptor rehabilitation center based in Antigo, WI, to place young kestrels in age-appropriate nest boxes.  “It gives the orphans a chance to grow and fledge with natural parents,” Eschenbauch explained.  The program’s expertise is also shared with up-and-coming practitioners through a Raptor Field Techniques class taught by Eugene Jacobs in conjunction with the Linwood Springs Research Station.  “Sometimes it is doing things outside the normal realm of field research that brings us the greatest joy,” Eschenbauch said.

So, what can you do to help? The greatest contributions to the program are made through donations of volunteer time and financial support. Through their Adopt a Kestrel Nest Box Program, you can adopt a nest box for $50, which is used to replace worn-out nest boxes, replace equipment, and cover travel monitoring costs. Aside from donations, the program stresses education and involvement in ornithological conservation groups and initiatives across Wisconsin such as the Christmas Bird Count and the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative. Private landowners can also make a huge impact by using alternatives to rodenticides, which poison raptor prey, often harming and killing their natural predators.  The program also urges people to be aware of their local wildlife rehabilitates and know how to contact them regarding injured wildlife.

To find out more and get involved with Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research, please visit the program’s website at: http://www.kestrelresearch.com.