Update on the “Places to Explore” Map and Summer Adventures
First, let’s talk about the map for a minute. I’ve now entered all the Wisconsin State Parks onto the map. You can view them simply be selecting the State Park/State Forest option and view the location and a short description of each of the state parks. Let me remind you that this map is interactive and viewable on your smart phone, so if you’re on the road and hoping for a state park in the area, check it out! Virtually every one of the state parks has room to explore, though not all are good for large wildlife observation, every one of them has bugs and birds.
Secondly, I’ve put in most of the known waterfalls. I’m aware that I still have some to go but for now, there’s a good representation of the Wisconsin waterfalls on there. To see those locations click on the Waterfalls option. If you’re aware of a waterfall that isn’t shown on the map and you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear from you!
Third, my next goal will be to input the states best birding spots. Yes, it’s true that you can see birds almost anywhere but I’ll select the very best locations and get them on the map as well. After that, I’ll work on State Natural Area and National Wildlife Refuges. I have a few other thoughts after that and then I’ll get on to some neighboring states.
So what have you been doing this summer? I’ve put in many hours of bird atlasing. Wisconsin did a bird atlasing project back in the 1990’s. Now that it’s been twenty years, we’ve started working on another one. This will give ornithologists and biologists an idea of how our birdlife is doing in the state. Sadly, it will be painfully obvious that some bird populations, though fairly healthy only twenty years ago, have seriously declined. Two that come to mind quickly are Western Meadowlark and Black Tern.
The Western Meadowlark was at one time reasonably common in most the state. It prefers more open land than its cousin, the Eastern Meadowlark. Yet, even though I think there is still much of its preferred habitat intact, it’s numbers have crashed tremendously to the point it is now considered quite rare in the state. If I were to make a list of the ten things that every naturalist should have on their bucket list, one of them would be to find a spot you can immerse yourself in a western prairie where the song of the Western Meadowlark surrounds you. It’s an amazing experience.
The Black Tern was also quite common, found in virtually every wetland of significance in the state. That is not true anymore. It no longer nests in either of the two counties I spend most my time and in those places I go to find it, the numbers have dropped from dozens to a handful.
Hopefully this atlas project will shed some light on both of these birds current distribution and allow them to put controls into place where the remaining populations are protected.
As a living witness to the decline of many species of birds, atlas projects like this are very important. Birdwatching is becoming an increasingly popular pastime. Many people have only been doing it for a few years and haven’t yet seen the reduced numbers. Though some might say of a species, “seems like I saw more of them last year”, year by year fluctuations are not sufficient to understand, and act on, long term trends.
On the bright side, we’ll also add some species that are new to nesting in the state and we did not have any records (or very few) of them nesting during the last atlas. Among them will be Whooping Crane, Kirtland’s Warbler and Black-necked Stilt. So it’s not all bad news.
The task of atlasing involves observing the birds behavior in an effort to determine whether or not the bird is in the act of nesting. Sometimes, confirmation of a birds nesting is as easy as seeing it fly in front of the car carrying food in its mouth. Easy. Other times it takes multiple trips watching their behavior before they finally spill their secret. This morning, I confirmed Bobolink for the first time and I had watched multiple pairs over the last month. Today was the first time I saw the male bringing food into a well grown begging fledgling! It’s a combination of patient hard work mixed with a ton of luck it seems!
As bird nesting winds down over the next few weeks, I’ll start turning my attention more to the insects. It’s always fun to walk the fields and forests beneath the summer sun looking for tiny critters that do their best to hide on you.
Till we meet again, how’s your summer been treating you?