Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Power of Pollinators

In honor of National Pollinator Week last week, Nature Net is here for your pollination education!  

Pollination occurs when the pollen from the male part of the flower (stamen) is transferred to the female part of the same or another flower (stigma). This fertilizes the plant and leads to the production of fruits and seeds!

Pollinators play an essential role in flowering plant and gymnosperm reproduction, as only about 20% of plants are pollinated without the assistance of animals -- and one out of every three bites of food is pollinated by pollinators! Without these hard-working critters, we would be without many fruits, vegetables, and nuts that we enjoy on a daily basis.  

Pollinators can be found just about everywhere during the summer months! The majority of pollinators in Wisconsin are flying insects, including bees, flies, wasps, butterflies, moths, and beetles. Hummingbirds and bats are other very important pollinators in the state.

This is what your grocery store would look like
without bees!
From: Whole Foods Market and Xerces Society
Bees are the most important local pollinators for most native     plant species.  Bees pollinate more than 100 types of crops in the US (and 2/3 the world’s crop species), including many favorites, like berries, peppers, melons, and avocados. There are over 400 native bee species that play a crucial role in pollinating Wisconsin’s food crops. Bumble bees are more effective than honey bees at pollinating highly-valued crops, because they fly at cooler temperatures, damper conditions and lower light levels, which can extend pollination by several hours daily. Bees have been disappearing in huge numbers in recent years due to a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder, of which scientists are just beginning to understand the cause.

Hummingbirds are another very interesting and important species. Along with being incredibly fun to observe -- they beat their wings as much as 80 times per second! -- they are also important pollinators. The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only common species in the Midwest.  It is easily attracted to feeders, and quickly accustomed to human presence, so it’s very easy to entice these birds to come to your yard!

Bats are also incredibly important pollinators and seed dispersers in Wisconsin. Additionally, they are important predators of biting insects, and may be extremely important in reducing insect-borne diseases, such as the West –Nile virus, which is becoming more and more prevalent in Wisconsin.

Butterflies and moths are other very important local pollinators. Some important Wisconsin butterfly and moth species include the Viceroy, Meadow Fritillary, American Snout, Black Swallowtail, Monarch and Hummingbird Moth.

These pollinators all play an incredibly important role in maintaining biological diversity in ecosystems and food chains throughout Wisconsin. Humans and wildlife both depend on these pollinators as a food source. Unfortunately, some of these important pollinators are declining due to pesticide use, habitat destruction, invasive species, climate change and disease. However, there are many things you and your family can do to help these local pollinators continue helping you!

What you can do to help your local pollinators:

Without pollinators, we would be without so many of the things we enjoy on a daily basis. So the next time you eat an apple or have your morning cup of coffee, think of who (or what) made it possible, and thank a pollinator near you! 

If you're interested in learning more about bees, be sure to check out the UW Arboretum's event on July 19th called Bumble Bees and Pollination!  For more information, click here.

Happy Strawberry Season!
Lauren, Communications Intern

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monarch Madness

The arrival of the Monarch butterfly is an exciting phenological event that is a sure sign of summer in Wisconsin. They can be found throughout the state beginning in early May when they migrate north from Mexico and Southern California, and until the last butterflies leave in October, migrating south again for the winter. Unfortunately, this beautiful migrating species, and the migratory phenomena that they rely on are in danger. 
Monarch butterfly, Aldo Leopold Nature Center

Monarch butterflies have an important migration process that spans four generations annually. The first generation migrates north in the spring and breeds there. This generation goes through the same life cycle as the following two summer generations, which lasts 6-8 weeks. This cycle consists of egg, caterpillar, chrysalis (also called cocoon or pupa), and adult butterfly. The adult butterfly then breeds and creates the new generation. As the summer comes to an end in late August, and the fourth generation becomes an adult butterfly, migration plays a key role. Unlike its parents and grandparents, this generation does not breed and die soon after it becomes an adult butterfly. They cannot adapt to the colder temperatures and lack of moisture of northern autumn, so instead of staying in the north and laying eggs, they put their energy into migrating south, up to 2,500 miles away. There, they live for six to eight months in Mexico or Southern California, where they enter a deep sleep called torpor, which is a very long, still sleeping state similar to hibernation. When spring arrives, they breed and create the new first generation. 
The Monarch Butterfly Annual Cycle from Journey North

This span of generations and annual life cycles could not exist without
migration. However, the number of migrating monarchs has been plummeting for the last few years. There are many reasons for this decline in monarch migration. One reason is that monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed plants. When the young caterpillars hatch, they rely on milkweed for food.  However, there has been a widespread loss of milkweed, due to deforestation, development, and farming. Global climate change has also had a significant effect on the migration patterns of monarchs, due to climate fluctuations such as extreme temperatures and precipitation events and changes in seasonal cycles.

In addition to being esthetically pleasing, monarchs are also important plant
pollinators. Therefore, they play extremely important roles in many ecosystems. They even pollinate some crops that humans rely on, such as corn. So what can you do to help stop the decline of migratory monarch butterflies and help this important and beautiful species?

As a child, I used to observe monarch butterflies undergo metamorphosis every summer. Being able to witness this natural phenomenon was a great learning experience for me, and it’s a wonderful way to teach your children about insect life cycles and the wonder of nature. It just wouldn’t be summer in Wisconsin without these beautiful butterflies!  Hopefully, with the collective efforts of citizens in Canada, the United States, and Mexico, these populations will be able to recover, so we can enjoy this unique and beautiful species for generations to come. 

Happy Summer!
Lauren, Communications Intern

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Trip to The International Crane Foundation

A few weeks ago Nature Net Intern, Emma, went with her Birds of Southern Wisconsin class on a field trip to one of Nature Net's member centers, The International Crane Foundation. The International Crane Foundation has been around for approximately 40 years and does conservation work with many species of cranes, has a resident pair of each species, does education work, and much more! Their site is located in Baraboo, Wisconsin, but they are involved with organizations all over the world.

The class got an exclusive tour with one of our teaching assistants, Matt, who actually works for ICF. He gave us an overview of each species, told little anecdotes about the pairs that no one else would know, and outlined any cultural significance the species may have. Many of these cranes are pictured in their culture's stories and illustrations. You can find out more about each of the species by clicking the links below, which will take you to the ICF species pages. 

Black Crowned Crane
Black-necked Crane
Blue Crane
Female (left) and Male (right) Sandhill Crane at
the Aldo Leopold Nature Center
Demoiselle Crane
Eurasian Crane
Grey Crowned Crane
Hooded Crane
Red-crowned Crane
Sandhill Crane
Sarus Crane
Siberian Crane
Wattled Crane
White-naped Crane
Whooping Crane

The two types of Cranes we have in Wisconsin are Sandhill and Whooping Cranes. While Sandhill Cranes were once endangered, they are now plentiful and inhabit Wisconsin between the months of March and October. In fact, they are the must abundant species of crane in the world. You have likely seen or heard these beautiful birds near your home. Pairs will frequently use the same site for nesting year after year, and the Aldo Leopold Nature Center has a resident pair of its own! If you have noticed cranes in the same area many years in a row, it could be the same pair; they know that that area has allowed them to safely raise their chick(s), and trust it to be safe in the future.

Whooping Crane on Nest, ICF
Perhaps the most amazing story was of the Whooping Cranes. I had heard of this species, but never seen them, and there's a good reason for this. In the 1940s, the species was decimated to 21 individuals in the wild. With the help of ICF, though, it now numbers almost 600 birds (both captive and wild). Conservationists have used "costume rearing" to help raise Whooping Crane chicks, in which volunteers put on a crane costume and used a hand puppet to feed the chicks to keep them from imprinting on humans. Teaching the first group to migrate was a bit more difficult: they used an ultra-light plane and flew with a flock to Florida! You can find out more about this process on their species page. ICF has a beautiful "theater" for their Whooping Crane exhibit. There's a little wetland area with a pair of cranes and their nest, all located in front of a seating area with information on the cranes.
Whooping Cranes, ICF

Many of the cranes are quite vocal individuals, and throughout the morning we heard them calling. What's interesting about cranes (and some other species of birds, as well) is that they do what is called a "unison call." This involves both the male and female calling at once. The pitches of their voices are different, and the combination of the two creates a cool, unique sound.

If you're looking for something fun and educational to do this summer, why not go to Baraboo, and see all 15 of the world's crane species in one day! For hours, directions, and prices, click here.

Happy Birding!
Nature Net Intern

Friday, May 9, 2014

Technical Difficulties - Missing Blog Photos

We are experiencing technical difficulties with our photo files disappearing from our Google account. We are working to recover this and apologize for the inconvenience!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Finches, Sparrows, and Their Allies--Birding Adventure, Week 6

Sparrows are difficult to tell apart, which is often why they get lumped into one big group. However, there are many different types of them and once you can identify their distinguishing characteristics, sparrows are a bit easier to differentiate between. It will make spotting a Chipping Sparrow that much more exciting, instead of dismissing it as "just another House Sparrow."
A female (left) and male (right)
House Sparrow

Speaking of House Sparrows, they're a great place to start this week. These little birds are ubiquitous in urban areas. They were actually introduced by the American Acclimatization Society around the 1850s because a member of the society happened to love Shakespeare and decided to introduce each avian species he mentions in his plays to America. That's why we have birds like House Sparrows and European Starlings; they do very well here, but they are not native. The House Sparrow is actually not related to native North American sparrows at all. Its body type is "chunkier" and its head is usually larger. These are good birds to practice your identification skills on, but if you go out to the woods, you will not find them--they like urban areas best and generally need humans to survive.If you live in a city, though, you can definitely look out your window and see some! The male has a black chin and chest with a darker "chestnut" brown back and eye stripe and a grey crown. The female has a buffy chest with a mottled brown back.
Here's that bird topography map again,
just for your reference

We in North America have a number of native sparrows that you are likely to see if you venture just a short ways away from urban life. In order to identify these natives, I think it is important to talk about what ornithologists refer to as "field marks." A field mark is a characteristic that is distinguishable in the field and can help you to correctly identify a species. Remember when we talked about bird topography a few weeks ago? Well, this is where it comes in especially handy. Many of these little sparrows have one or two field marks by which they can clearly be identified, and it is easier to explain those field marks if you have a general knowledge of bird topography. For our class, we used a "dichotomous key" to learn the different sparrows, which was really helpful. It divided them by those with rusty-red colored crowns, black-and-white striped crown, or a streaked/striped crown. Some sparrows have yellow just above their eyes, some have very streaky chests, and others have spots on their chests. These are all little characteristics that will help you determine which type of sparrow you are looking at.

1. Swamp Sparrow
2. Chipping Sparrow
3. Field Sparrow
4. Lark Sparrow
5. American Tree Sparrow
6. Fox Sparrow
7. Grasshopper Sparrow
8. Clay-colored Sparrow
9. White-crowned Sparrow
10. White-throated Sparrow
11. Vesper Sparrow
12. Savannah Sparrow
13. Lincoln's Sparrow
14. Song Sparrow

Passeriformes: Emberizidae
Eastern Towhee
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco

Passeriformes: Fringillidae
House Finch
Purple Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

Passeriformes: Passeridae
House Sparrow

Passeriformes: Calcariidae
Lapland Longspur
Snow Bunting

Most recently in our birding lab, we have seen Song Sparrows and Fox Sparrows hopping about. These little guys are coming back and more are on their way, so get outside and test your identification skills! The links to the birds, as always, provide pictures, characteristics, and calls. Enjoy this beautiful weather with a pair of binoculars and a field guide!

Happy Birding!
Nature Net Intern

Friday, March 14, 2014

Ancient Assemblages of Birds: Rails, Herons, Cranes, and Landfowl--Birding Adventure, Week 5

Wisconsin finally seems to have decided that spring is on its way, and with spring will come some pretty amazing and wildly-colored rails, herons, cranes, and other landfowl. Some landfowl do stay in Wisconsin for the winter, such as Ring-necked Pheasants and Wild Turkeys, and American Coots, but most others in this week's list migrate to places with more open water.

Great Blue Heron
A few weeks ago, our morning birding group was down by a little spot of open water off of Lake Wingra in the UW Arboretum and we saw a Great Blue Heron flying overhead. It was snowing and cold and we were baffled--Great Blue Herons usually fly south where there is more open water because they feed on fish and small amphibians. It was early February when we saw it, so what was more amazing than the fact that it had stayed for the winter was the fact that it had survived the winter. Maybe it just came back early, but no matter the situation, that is one hearty bird! What do you think it was surviving on? We were hypothesizing all morning.

When it warms up a bit more, the rails will start arriving. Have you ever heard the expression, "As thin as a rail?" That actually comes from the members of the family Rallidae, not from a rail on a staircase. If you check out some of the rails' All About Birds pages, they may seem rather plump if you look at them head on. However, when they turn to the side, they're quite skinny; this makes it easier for them to weave through the reeds, as they are mostly marsh-dwellers and moving through their habitat quickly and quietly helps them catch their prey.

Galliformes: Odontophoridae

Northern Bobwhite

Galliformes: Phasianidae
Gray Partridge
Ring-necked Pheasant

Galliformes: Phasianidae (Tetraoninae)
Ruffed Grouse

Galliformes: Phasianidae (Meleagridinae)
Wild turkey

Suliformes: Phalacrocoracidae
Double-crested Cormorant

Pelecaniformes: Pelecanidae
American White Pelican

Pelecaniformes: Ardeidae
American Bittern
Least Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron

Gruiformes: Rallidae
Virginia Rail
Common Gallinule
American Coot

Gruiformes: Gruidae
Sandhill Crane
Whooping Crane

Columbiformes: Columbidae
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove

Some of this week's birds have some very interesting calls. My two favorites are probably those of the Sora and American Bittern. The Sora sounds like it is saying its name: "Sor-ah! Sor-ah!" The American Bittern, however, sounds like water being slowly poured out of a jug. It is important to learn the calls because you will often hear these birds before you see them. Many have very camouflaged plumage and are good at staying hidden, but if you hear them, you'll have a better idea of where to start looking--that is, when the ice finally melts!

Happy Birding!
Nature Net Intern 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Mixed Winter Flocks and More--Birding Adventure, Week 4

In the winter months, birds often gather into large, mixed-species flocks. When you think about it, it's not such a bad idea! They can keep one another warm, find food together, and protect one another from predators (like the birds of prey discussed in the last blog). Many of these birds are repeats from the first week of class because common winter birds are often found in mixed flocks. Let's take a look at some of the ones we haven't discussed yet!

Belted Kingfisher
The Belted Kingfisher is on the list for this week, thought it is not a winter bird. These awesome creatures make their nests in the banks near bodies of water and fish (as their name suggests) on lakes, ponds, and rivers, so when the ground freezes and the lakes ice up, they have to migrate. They're still pretty amazing, though, and if you learn them now you'll be able to spot them right away when they get back in the spring. Often, I hear them before I see them; their call is a really neat rattle that is very distinctive.

The other birds that are new on the list this week include the
Northern Flicker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Northern Flicker. These are both types of woodpeckers that will be coming back very soon! The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker looks almost like a Hairy Woodpecker, but it has more red on its head and a yellow wash on its belly. The Northern Flicker, however, has a black "bib" below its chin and polka-dots on its chest and belly.

My very favorite of this bunch has to be the Pileated Woodpecker. It is one of the largest, most iconic forest birds in North America, and while it is not endangered, it can still be difficult to find. We went out to the UW Arboretum to go birding as a class for the first time this semester earlier this month. It was snowing the whole time and the temperature was around -5 degrees, but we found a patch of open water. Not only did we see a Great Blue Heron (which usually migrate south in the winter), but we got a good look at a Pileated Woodpecker! It was our first time out, and already I was able to see one of my "life birds." A "life bird" is a species that you have not yet seen in your life. Most birders keep a running list of all the species they have seen and what they most want to see, and now I can add the Pileated Woodpecker to my life list!

Pileated Woodpecker

Coraciiformes: Alcedinidae
Belted Kingfisher

Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker

Passeriformes: Corvidae
Blue Jay
American Crow

Passeriformes: Paridae
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse

Passeriformes: Sittidae
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch

Passeriformes: Certhiidae
Brown Creeper  

As usual, the list of birds for this week and links to their informational pages can be found above. Start looking for woodpeckers in your back yard--Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers are especially common, and I have seen quite a few Red-bellied Woodpeckers lately.

Happy Birding!
Nature Net Intern 

Eagles and Owls and Hawks, Oh My! --Birding Adventure, Week 3

Birds of prey are on the docket for this week's session of Birds of Southern Wisconsin! Raptors such as these are cool because many of them stay in Wisconsin in the winter and they are big, amazing birds that are more common than you might think. Let's explore some of their habitats and places that you might encounter these awesome specimens.

Sharp-shinned Hawk--Note the
squared edges of its tail
Cooper's Hawk--Its tail is
more rounded
Sharp-shinned Hawks are the smallest hawk species in North America and have adapted very well to urban settings. While they do hunt small mammals like mice and voles, their diet is approximately 90% songbirds.
Anything smaller than an American Robin is fair game to these guys, though they have been known to eat birds that are a bit larger, as well. Once this past fall, I saw two Sharp-shinned Hawks on two different telephone poles right in the middle of the Brentwood Village on the North side of Madison. Spotting a Sharp-shinned can be as easy as looking out your front window! The females, as in most species of hawks, are larger than the males and can be as large as a male Cooper's Hawk. Cooper's Hawks look very similar to Sharp-shinned Hawks, but there's a little trick to tell them apart. Cooper's Hawks have rounded tails while Sharp-shinned Hawks have a more squared-off tail.

A Northern Saw-whet Owlet
Turkey Vultures are another raptor that may be easily spotted during Wisconsin winters. They can often be spotted near roads feeding on roadkill or circling above open fields. American Kestrels are notorious for sitting on telephone wires, and even Bald Eagles can be spotted this time of year.

Owls, on the other hand, are a bit more difficult to spot because they are nocturnal. You are probably more likely to hear them than see them, but if you go out on a night hike you could be lucky enough to get a glimpse of one. My favorite bird of this week's bunch is definitely the Northern Saw-whet Owl. It is so cute and tiny, but don't let that fool you! It is still a fierce hunter. You can listen to its call on All
About Birds--I think it sounds almost like sonar.

Adult Northern Saw-whet Owl

Accipitriformes: Cathartidae
Turkey Vulture

Accipitriformes: Pandionidae

Accipitriformes: Accipitridae
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk

Falconiformes: Falconidae
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon

Strigiformes: Strigidae
Eastern Screech-Owl
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Long-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl

Passeriformes: Laniidae
Loggerhead Shrike
Northern Shrike

Some of these birds look remarkably similar, and their only defining characteristics are most easily described by using bird topography, as discussed in last week's blog.  For example, the Loggerhead and Northern Shrike look almost identical except for their size, but the eye-stripe on a Loggerhead Shrike is much thicker than that of a Northern Shrike. It is much easier to say eye-stripe than "the line through its eye," and this is one of the many cases in which bird topography is so helpful.

As always, you can look these birds up and listen to their calls by clicking on their names, which are linked to their All About Birds pages. Listen to the iconic screech of the Red-tailed Hawk or the "hoo hoo hoo" calls of a Great Horned Owl, and see if you can recognize any calls around your home or favorite park!

Happy Birding!
Nature Net Intern

Friday, February 7, 2014

More than Just Mallards--Birding Adventure, Week 2

Here's a bird diagram with all of its different parts labeled
During Madison summers, male and female mallards and their ducklings can be found almost everywhere, but did you know that amongst these highly common ducks are a number of other less-well-known species? Grebes are tiny diving ducks that can be seen all over lakes Mendota and Monona, and in the spring and fall, Buffleheads will begin to gather by the dozen. This week in Birds of Southern Wisconsin, we're learning all about water fowl. The three Orders of birds we have to memorize are Anseriformes (swans, geese, and ducks), Gaviiformes (loons), and Podicipediformes (grebes). Alongside bird species, we're familiarizing ourselves with "bird topography." Bird topography is basically a nomenclature for the different physical parts of most birds. For example, the top of the head is referred to as the "crown," the back of the neck is the "nape," the sides are the "flanks," and so on. We're learning about bird topography so we can more accurately describe birds in the field. Instead of saying, "The bird has stripes on its wings and the top of its head is red," we can be more descriptive and precise by saying, "The bird has white wing bars and a red crown." This way, we will know exactly where to look for certain field markings and can more quickly find and identify the bird.

Field markings are useful tools for identification, especially when birds are very similar. For example, the Greater Scaup and Lesser Scaup look almost identical, but the Lesser Scaup has a "top knot," or tuft of feathers on the back of its head. Because size is difficult to determine in the field unless the two subjects are close to one another, such field markings are a more accurate way to determine the species of a bird. Phenology, the study of appearance, is a science that is made more exact with the addition of technical terms for specific features. In the field, birders rely on phenology, and bird topography makes our jobs easier.

Our lab session this week involved going to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Zoological Museum to view mounted specimens of all the birds that we'll be learning this semester. The Museum has over 24,000 avian specimens, some of which date back as far as 1845! It was very helpful to view the birds up close and examine their features more fully.

I am particularly fond of water fowl, so choosing a favorite bird out of this week's list is difficult for me. It is probably a tie between the Tundra Swan and Pied-billed Grebe. Tundra Swans are graceful and iconic, and
Tundra Swans

the first time I identified one I was over the moon. I happened to be on Lake Mendota in November of 2012 and it was snowing lightly. Mostly, I was amazed that a bird so large and, in my mind, so rare (though that is not quite true) could end up on the lake right next to my campus. It opened my eyes to the amazing biodiversity we experience right here in Madison.

Pied-billed Grebe
The Pied-billed Grebe on the other hand, is a tiny diving duck. They have big, lobed toes that are placed quite far back on their body. The placement makes them excellent swimmers, but they're more than a little clumsy on land. When I started birding, I saw one of these little guys sink quickly straight down into the water instead of diving and thought it was the funniest thing. When I started reading  about them, though, I learned that they actually do that when they feel threatened. They can quickly push all the air out from between their feathers and sink straight down like a submarine!

If you want to learn more fun facts about these birds, here's a list of the species we're learning with links to their All About Birds pages. You may want to listen to their calls, as well. I think waterfowl have some of the most amazing calls; for example, the Common Loon makes the most beautifully haunting call, while the Pied-billed Grebe sounds almost like a monkey.

Anseriformes: Anatidae (Anserinae)
Greater White-fronted Goose
Snow Goose
Cackling Goose
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Tundra Swan
Trumpeter Swan

Anseriformes: Anatidae
Wood Duck
American Wigeon
American Black Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Common Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Common Merganser
Ruddy Duck

Gaviiformes: Gaviidae
Common Loon

Podicipediformes: Podicipedidae
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Eared Grebe

These orders of birds need open water, which is a bit scarce during these winter days in Wisconsin. They migrate further south, but they'll be back with us soon enough! Keep your eyes peeled for the first string of Canada Geese that may start coming back as early as next month.

Happy Birding!
Nature Net Intern

Friday, January 31, 2014

Emma's Big Bird Adventure, Week 1

Hello there! Nature Net Intern Emma here. If you're like me, you may be developing a case of cabin fever, what with the bitterly cold temperatures we've been experiencing lately. I love to be outside, observing wildlife and enjoying the weather, but sometimes the cold temperatures make it difficult, and it definitely makes it more challenging for the wildlife living in the snow. My own personal respite has been bird watching. An amazing hobby that I took up about a year and a half ago, bird watching is simple, relaxing, often inexpensive (though there are some really nice binoculars out there!), and satisfying. It is a great way to get outside, if only briefly, and see incredible creatures who can survive our winters. Or, if it's just too cold, you can watch birds from your window, and you can even attract an amazing variety with a homemade bird feeder. Birdwatching, though, can be much more satisfying when you know a few species by name and can recognize who frequents your feeder--this series of blog posts will focus mainly on identification, but I will try to include some behavioral and ecological information, as well. Let's get started!

I learned approximately 70 Wisconsin birds in a class on the UW campus last fall and decided I needed to know more, so this semester I am taking Ornithology with Professor Mark Berres. The lab for the class involves learning to identify 200+ Wisconsin birds, and I thought it would be fun to start a series of blog entries to document and share my pedagogical journey. I plan to post each week about the birds I am seeing and whichever family of species I am required to learn at the time. If you love birds and are an experienced birder, I hope this will be interesting and fun, watching a relatively new birder explore all that Southern Wisconsin has to offer. If you are new to the subject, I hope I can share any tips and tricks I acquire and pass on my love for these amazing creatures.

This week was the first week of classes, or "Welcome Week," as it is known around campus. In my lab on Wednesday morning, we received a list of twenty-three birds to learn for next week. We have to identify each one by sight and sound. The birds we will get to know this week are all common winter birds of Southern Wisconsin, so when we go birding we will be able to recognize what we see and hear. In case you're interested in which birds are still flitting around your back yard, here's a list of this week's study subjects and links to their "All About Birds" pages, where you can find out more about them and listen to their songs and calls.

American Coot
Ring-Billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch 
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

I'm actually quite familiar with all of these birds by sight, but I can only recognize some of their calls, so learning the rest will be a challenge. For beginners and experts alike, though, field guides are extremely helpful in learning to recognize birds by sight. The public library in Madison has quite a few bird field guides on hand, or you can find them in local bookstores and online. My first guide was Birds of Wisconsin by Stan Tekiela. This guide is fantastic for beginners because it organizes birds by color, which is a major determining factor for beginners when identifying a species. My current guide, though, is Birds of Eastern North America by David Allen Sibley. Filled with over 600 species and amazing illustrations, this book is one of my favorites. If you're looking for a few more ecological facts about these birds, you can learn about Black-capped Chickadees and other common birds with distinctive calls or some birding tips for parents in these past issues of Nature Net News.

Cedar Waxwing
Finding a favorite bird made birding all the more exciting to me. I never tire of looking for my dearest feathered friend, and the more I go birding, the more birds I am intrigued by. The Cedar Waxwing is my very favorite bird because it was the first bird with which I really fell in love. These are called "waxwings" because the tips of their wings look as though they have been dipped in bright red wax. Its sleek body and mixture of bold and muted colors were so striking to me when I first flipped past it in my field guide, and the first time I ever spotted one I was ecstatic. Do you have an amazing bird story or a favorite bird? Comment below and share your stories with me!

Happy Birding!
Nature Net Intern