Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas taking shape

MADISON, WI - After the third year of the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas survey, volunteers have documented 220 bird species breeding in the state, most recently including a family of rare and secretive marsh birds called king rails. With this addition, 12 new species have been observed nesting in Wisconsin that weren't found during the first Breeding Bird Atlas survey two decades ago.
"A few of these king rails were reported in the first atlas, but none were confirmed as nesting here," said Ryan Brady, Department of Natural Resources conservation biologist and science coordinator for the Atlas. "So it's exciting to see wetland management efforts having positive benefits for a species that requires high-quality marshes to successfully raise its young."
Good wetland management by state and federal wildlife management staff have also contributed to another Atlas finding - that trumpeter swans are undergoing an impressive expansion in range and numbers since the last survey from 1995-2000, Brady said.
Trumpeter swans were decimated by overhunting by the late 1800s, and the species was mostly absent from Wisconsin until DNR's Natural Heritage Conservation Program and partners began reintroducing the species in 1987.
"Even a decade ago, most breeding pairs kept to the more remote northern lakes," Brady said. "Good wetland management and protection have allowed trumpeters to use unoccupied marshes and increase their numbers to over 5,000 birds."
Volunteers have documented them breeding across the north, northwest, and central regions and birds have even colonized the Lower Wisconsin River.
The purpose of the five-year atlas effort is to document all bird species that breed in Wisconsin, from common year-round residents like northern cardinal to species of high conservation interest like Connecticut warbler. Some of these species may be vanishing, while others are holding their own, or even increasing, but only a statewide effort will reveal these trends, said Nicholas Anich, Breeding Bird Atlas coordinator for DNR.
"The project has already amassed records of 4.9 million birds but we still have a ways to go," Anich said. "We need more volunteers to survey priority areas so we get a complete picture of what's going on with our bird populations and how we can help them moving forward."
More than 1,400 volunteers have contributed to the survey so far, but more are needed to survey remaining priority areas, particularly in northern, central, and western regions of the state.
Volunteers collect data by observing birds, and enter their sightings online, where the information is reviewed by Anich, Brady, and other ornithologists from organizations leading the project: The Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative, and DNR.
All Wisconsin residents are encouraged to participate, especially those who live or travel to priority areas like northern, central, and western Wisconsin. "It's easy to participate and you don't have to be an expert birder to help," said Bill Mueller, director of the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, "We're constantly hearing from people how rewarding atlasing is, and we welcome participants of all ability levels."
To volunteer, visit the project website at wsobirds.org/atlas. Training sessions and field trips will take place throughout Wisconsin in 2018. When the project is completed, the data will be published in a hard-copy book and online for use by researchers, land managers, conservationists, and citizens interested in birds and their habitats.

SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR

Help DNR staff monitor Wisconsin's wolf population

MADISON, WI - Wisconsin's wolf monitoring program relies upon volunteers from around the state who help track animals each winter, and people interested in playing a key role in wildlife management are encouraged to sign up for one of a number of classes offered statewide.
Carnivore tracking classes focus on learning to identify the tracks of medium- to large-size carnivores that inhabit Wisconsin, as well as a few other common mammals. Wolf ecology and management classes cover the history of wolves in Wisconsin, their biology and ecology, how DNR monitors the population, and state management and research. Completion of both classes is required to participate in the wolf monitoring program as a volunteer carnivore tracker.
"DNR staff and volunteers tracked over 14,000 miles last winter searching for wolf, coyote, bobcat, and other medium to large size carnivore tracks in Wisconsin," said DNR assistant carnivore biologist Jane Wiedenhoeft. "It's a great way to get out and enjoy Wisconsin in the winter while helping the department monitor some of the state's most interesting wildlife."
Department of Natural Resources biologists and volunteers have partnered to provide informative classes focused on aspects of wolf ecology, population biology and field study techniques. Tracking is a great way to experience the outdoors in winter and make a contribution to natural resource management. For a list of courses offered, search the DNR website for volunteer carnivore trackingpage and select the "training courses" option on the right side of the page.

SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR

Apply now to serve on DNR fish work groups

Volunteers can apply to join one of the citizen-agency work groups that discuss how the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources manages fish.
There are individual work groups for bass, catfish, panfish and walleye, and one focused on both northern pike and muskellunge.
New members are needed for all of these work groups except the panfish group.
“Fisheries work group members have valuable discussions about topics like fish habitat, bag limits, water quality, fishing’s ties to local economies and angler trends,” said Don Pereira, DNR fisheries chief. “These groups improve the DNR’s relationship with citizens and they go in-depth on fisheries issues and angler points of view.”     
Volunteers can apply to one of the groups from Monday, Oct. 2, to Monday, Oct. 30. Each group of about 15 people will include volunteers and DNR staff who meet two or three times per year to discuss new research, population, harvest trends and fisheries management. Meetings average three to four hours, not including travel time. Applicants must be Minnesota residents age 18 or older.
Participants will be selected by the DNR and can serve a term of either two or three years. The groups are advisory and do not make decisions on policy or fish management.
For more information or an application form, visit mndnr.gov/fishgroups or call 651-259-5182.

SOURCE: Minnesota DNR

Record number of piping plovers nest in Wisconsin

MADISON, WI - There's good news for the recovery of the federally and state-endangered piping plover.
A record number of eight pairs nested in Wisconsin this summer, including at an island restoration site in lower Green Bay. Piping plovers hadn't nested in Green Bay for 75 years until last year.
"This is the highest known number of nesting pairs in the state in a single year," said Sumner Matteson, a Department of Natural Resources avian ecologist. "It's very exciting because plovers returned again to the Cat Island restoration chain this year, where originally we didn't expect to find them. So now we know their nesting there in 2016 wasn't a fluke."
A lone pair turned up to nest in 2016. This year four pairs nested on the island.
Because the number of piping plovers is so low in the Great Lakes - 76 nesting pairs - "Every nesting pair and every nesting site makes a difference," and increases Wisconsin's contribution to the species' recovery in the Great Lakes, Matteson said.
Piping plovers once nested along the shores of all the Great Lakes, but habitat loss, recreational pressure and predation, and shoreline development likely contributed to serious declines. Typically, piping plovers need large isolated beach and dune habitats for their nesting and chick rearing.
By 1948, only one pair of plovers was known to nest in Wisconsin and the piping plover was added to the state endangered species list in 1979. Across the Great Lakes region, the loss of habitat caused numbers to drop below 20 nesting pairs region-wide before the small shorebird was listed as federally endangered in 1986, Matteson said.
With help from federal, tribal, state and local partners, the number of breeding pairs in the Great Lakes has climbed to 76, halfway toward the regional recovery goal of 150 breeding pairs, most of them in Michigan. Wisconsin's contribution of eight breeding pairs in 2017, is up from six breeding pairs in 2016 and five breeding pairs in 2015.
The eight breeding pairs that nested in Wisconsin this summer fledged 13 chicks. Six of those chicks fledged from Cat Island in Lower Green Bay, where a partnership of state, federal and local partners has been restoring the island in a dredging project described in a video, Cat Island - Rebirth of an Environment.
"We've been very pleased with progress at Cat Island and were surprised to see how quickly bird species responded to the habitat improvements there," said Steve Galarneau, who directs DNR's Office of Great Waters, which played a major role in the restoration of Cat Island.
"We are especially excited to see the piping plovers return. Restoration work now underway at Wisconsin Point in Superior should provide additional high quality nesting habitat for plovers and other species."
The seven other piping plover chicks fledging from Wisconsin nests came from Long Island in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore along Lake Superior. For many years, that had been the only Wisconsin site contributing chicks, with more than 100 fledged over the last 11 years following concerted restoration and protection efforts by the National Park Service, Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, DNR, USFWS and The Nature Conservancy are paying off.
Restoration work at Wisconsin Point in Superior, and to a more limited extent at Seagull Bar in Marinette County, by DNR and partners is underway now, and the hope is to expand the number of nesting sites.
The public can help piping plover recovery efforts by reporting their sightings of piping plovers with metal and color bands on their legs. Matteson helps lead efforts at the Apostle Islands site and the Cat Island site to band chicks so that they can be tracked in coming years to learn more about their survival, their migration routes, and their habitats.
The color codes used on bands varies according to the location where they were banded. By getting reports of the birds' whereabouts, the recovery partners can better understand the birds' migratory routes, the habitats they use, and their survivorship.
For more information on piping plovers and how to report your sightings of banded piping plovers, go to the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, and search "piping plover."

SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR

Annual fall migration bus tour on tap

The Friends of the Refuge Headwaters will again offer a bus tour to view the fall migration and changing colors of the Upper Mississippi River from 9 a.m.–3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 11.
Participants will have the opportunity to view migrating tundra swans and other waterfowl up close on the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. The trip will also include a stop at a Refuge Visitor Center on Brice Prairie, WI.
The bus tour will leave from Winona, MN, travel to Brice Prairie, and then travel downriver to the Brownsville Overlook near Brownsville, MN. Interpreters will be on-board to answer questions and binoculars, spotting scopes and brochures will be provided for the day.
There is limited seating and reservations are required. Cost is $25 per person, which includes a box lunch. There will be no refunds issued after  registration deadline.
To make your reservation for the Swan Watch Bus Tour, contact Mary Stefanski by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or at 507-454-7351. Please leave a message if she is unavailable when you call. Registration is due Friday, Nov. 3.

SOURCE: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge

Dedication part of Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener

The public is invited to attend the dedication of Minnesota’s newest public hunting land, the James Meger Memorial Wildlife Management Area, near Marshall, at 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13, as part of the Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener.
The ceremony will include comments from Gov. Mark Dayton, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr, among other local leaders.
The James Meger Memorial WMA was made possible by Pheasants Forever and more than a dozen other conservation groups and large donors.
“This has been a very rewarding project,” said Ron Prorok, Lyon County Pheasants Forever treasurer. “It couldn’t have happened without the hard work and generosity of so many partners.”
The new WMA honors the late James Meger, who was from the Marshall area and a renowned wildlife artist. His artwork raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for wildlife habitat as well as conservation groups.
“We think this is a fitting tribute,” Prorok said. “It’s 155 acres along a creek just a few miles northwest of his hometown of Minneota. James Meger’s art helped raise so much money for public lands, so it’s only fitting that public hunting land with his name on it will have a work of art at its entrance.”
That work of art is a large stone monolith marking Meger’s contributions to conservation. Names of donors and contributing conservation groups also will be etched in to the decorative stone.
The new WMA is located 4 miles north of Taunton in Yellow Medicine County, or about 22 miles northwest of Marshall.
The dedication is part of the 2017 Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener. Dayton leads the weekend festivities, which feature many hunting, recreational and travel opportunities the Marshall area has to offer visitors. More information and updates on the event can be found at exploreminnesota.com/mngpho.

SOURCE: Minnesota DNR

Area refuge friends group receives national award

TREMPEALEAU, WI - The Friends of Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge has been named the 2017 Molly Krival Friends Group of the Year.
This national award is named to honor the late Molly Krival, a pioneer in the Refuge Friends Group movement and is sought after by Friends groups across the country.
The Friends of Trempealeau was established a decade ago by local refuge supporters and aimed to help meet the needs of the refuge. Since that time, the group has developed into an organization with a broader awareness and greater appreciation of the National Wildlife Refuge System mission.
Friends of Trempealeau members have proven to be an essential asset to the small staff refuge. With only four full-time personnel, the refuge could not possibly meet the needs of visitors and wildlife without the determination and perseverance of the Friends.
Friends members work side-by-side with visitor services staff to provide for the needs of school children, disabled duck hunters, birders, bicyclists and weekend tourists.
They work with the refuge manager to address neighboring landowner concerns and encourage environment-friendly best practices. This Friends group has consistently gone above and beyond to help their refuge.
In 2016, Friends of Trempealeau worked endlessly to construct an environmental education classroom for the thousands of school children that visit the refuge every year. The Friends Group secured three different grants for the project: a grant from Trempealeau County to completely fund construction, another grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to build an adjacent outdoor classroom, and a third grant from the Town of Trempealeau to deliver teacher orientation and training.
Working with local contractors and suppliers, the Friends group built the facility to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifications under budget and on schedule. Thanks to the Friends of Trempealeau, the Outdoor Wonders Learning Center has now become an asset not only to the refuge, but to the entire community.
The Friends of Trempealeau strive to make the most of the resources the refuge has to offer by providing more accessibility for everyone. They made a generous contribution to the refuge to purchase an eBird station, the first electronic birding station on the Mississippi River. They have also constructed an accessible photography blind with a grant from North American Nature Photographers Association, who they partner with every year to provide meals for a waterfowl hunt for people with disabilities.
The Friends were also quick to respond to threats posed by invasive plants and continue to work with adjacent landowners and high school students to address the issue.
This Friends group embodies a strong positive influence within the refuge and the surrounding community. They support the refuge in every way that they can and have clearly worked tirelessly to help Trempealeau Refuge grow and prosper.
For more information about this event, contact the refuge at 608-539-2311 or stop in at the refuge office M-F, from 7:30 a.m. to 4 pm. Information may also be found on the Refuge’s webpage at http://www.fws.gov/refuge/trempealeau/.
Connect with our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TrempealeauNWR/
SOURCE: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service