2017 has been a memorable year for birds at Madison Audubon Society’s Goose Pond Sanctuary, located one mile south of Arlington on Goose Pond Road. Reflecting back, we have had a very good year helping and observing wildlife and also helping people connect with nature at Goose Pond Sanctuary.

The goal of our 660-acre sanctuary is to restore and protect prairie, historically the dominant landscape here, and wetland habitats for plants and animals. Madison Audubon also provides a place for the public to use for non-intensive recreation including hiking and nature appreciation on 12 miles of trails.

Our highlight this spring was having six species of geese – Canada, cackling, snow, white-fronted, Ross’s and brant – visit Goose Pond on the same day. Goose Pond is likely the only place in North America where six species of geese have been seen at one time. Arlene Koziol, a conservation photographer, posted a photo on the internet from Goose Pond in late March featuring five species of geese including the rare brant. Brant are mostly found in Atlantic coastal marshes. It was only a couple hours later when bird watchers began flocking in large numbers to Goose Pond to add the brant to their life list and to be able to say that they saw the six species of geese at one time. One day a person from Florence County arrived at the pond at sunrise and was finally rewarded just before sunset by seeing the brant.

Tundra swans have been the birding highlight of the fall. For 38 years we have been the resident managers and are pleased to report that in late November we counted a record number of 1,194 tundra swans! The swans are stopping over at Goose Pond on a long migration journey that began in Alaska or the Canadian arctic. From the high arctic the swans migrated south to the prairie potholes of North Dakota, then east to Goose Pond and shortly they will be heading further east to winter on the Chesapeake Bay.

Due to the above normal temperatures in late November impressive numbers of waterfowl were still present into early December. In addition to seeing swans, visitors were treated to seeing 2,000 Canada geese, 2,800 mallards, 110 sandhill cranes and a variety of ducks.

Throughout the year Audubon volunteers have been busy monitoring nest boxes for wood ducks, hooded mergansers, eastern bluebirds, tree swallows and American kestrels. An Eagle Scout candidate from DeForest is constructing 100 bluebird/tree swallow nest boxes for our feathered friends.

American kestrels are small falcons that nest in tree cavities or nest boxes and their numbers have been declining. To reverse this downward trend, Madison Audubon volunteers have erected and are monitoring 150 nest boxes. This effort is the largest kestrel project of its kind in North America and kestrels are now increasing. We are fortunate to have 10 nesting pairs in the local area. To learn more about these birds, we banded 32 adults and 102 young last summer. We recaptured a female at Goose Pond and based on her leg band, were able to determine her age at 8 years old. She hatched in the Rockford area, 90 miles to the south. One of our first-year male kestrels was found nesting in the Plainfield area, 65 miles to the north.

Birds are a major part of our life and we enjoy surveying and preserving habitat for them. We count waterfowl in spring and fall, coordinate the Columbia County part of statewide breeding bird atlas project and conduct Christmas Bird Counts. We also plant food plots, maintain nest boxes and feed birds.

The Breeding Bird Atlas II project recently completed the third year of the five-year project. One hundred twenty-one volunteers have found 121 species nesting in Columbia County including the southern-most common raven nest in Wisconsin and the only brood of whip-poor-wills in the state. Our goal next summer is to locate trumpeter swans and white pelicans nesting in Columbia County. We are in need of additional people who feed birds during the summer or observe interesting nesting birds such as chimney swifts, turkey vultures, screech owls, red-headed and pileated woodpeckers (wsobirds.org/atlas).

If you are not a birder we encourage you to learn about, view, photograph, feed, erect nest boxes, count and just enjoy our feathered friends. Birds help everyone connect with the wonderful world of nature and provide us with another reason to enjoy the outdoors. The first snowy owl of the year was seen at Goose Pond on Nov. 30. Over 100 snowy owls are reported to be in the state and Goose Pond will be an area to search for snowy owls this winter.

The highlight of the year was the completion of our Wingspan viewing pavilion located on Prairie Lane. This large, functional sculpture includes an accessible trail, benches and a shelter overlooking Goose Pond. We invite you to visit but ask that you do not walk down to the pond or use the railroad tracks. This disturbance will cause the birds to flush from the pond and leave the area.

In 1968 Madison Audubon Society established Goose Pond Sanctuary and we are looking forward to celebrating the 50th anniversary of Goose Pond Sanctuary in 2018. If you would like to volunteer or have questions contact us at goosep@madisonaudubon.org

Goose Pond Sanctuary is owned by members of the Madison Audubon Society, and is maintained for the plants and animals, and for the enjoyment of its members and the public. Check out the Madison Audubon Society website to learn more about Goose Pond Sanctuary at madisonaudubon.org/goose-pond.

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