Nature Explorers brave the ice to check out Wood Duck and Kestral nests

By Paul Noeldner

This is the Weekly Wild Warner Nature Explorers Report from Madison, Wisconsin.  About 35 Sherman Middle School students participate in this ongoing after-school outdoor education program advised by UW professor Jack Kloppenburg and led by PhD student Trish Okane, a number of UW grad students, Madison Audubon Bird Mentor Paul Noeldner and Wild Warner’s Tim Nelson.  DSCN2596

Wednesday’s activities took the kids out over the thick ice to the Warner Park Island, a big marshy cattail and cottonwood island in the center of Warner Park Springs, a large spring-fed lagoon in the wild area of Warner Park.  It was very cold and there were no birds in sight!

Warner Park's first American Kestrel nest is attached to a tree on the marsh island 2/20/13 by Tim Nelson of Wild Warner, Paul Noeldner of Madison Audubon and the Nature Explorers from Sherman Middle School and UW Madison. For more on their bird nest work, click on our blog

So instead we shared pictures and info about the topic of the day, which was Wood Ducks and Kestrels, and passed around stuffed Audubon birds for these species that play the actual Cornell Lab sounds, and a couple portable media players with John Feith’s super Birds Birds Birds DVD to look at videos.


The kids then helped monitor two Wood Duck houses that they helped put up a couple of years ago on the shoreline of Warner Park Island where the boxes can be viewed from walking paths along the lagoon.


We had seen at least one family of baby Wood Ducks last season by one box but were not sure how many had hatched, or whether any had hatched from the other box.  By carefully picking through the soft down and nesting material layer on top of the old wood chips, students helped find  the leathery shell remnants of about 4 to 6 eggs in each house!


This means we had two healthy hatchings, a nice success in what is by and large mostly an urban area.  The boxes were then cleaned out with help by the kids and new pine wood shavings added to be ready for this year’s mating pairs.


The Nature Explorers also got a bonus, they helped put up a new American Kestrel house provided just the day before by Mark Martin, Madison Audubon’s Goose Pond Sanctuary Manager, and installed on the Warner Park Island with authorization from Russ Hefty, Madison Parks conservation parks supervisor.  The Kestrel house is mounted on a two-by-four attached to an old tree trunk using two large lag screws so that it can be pivoted down by removing one lag screw for yearly maintenance without having to climb a ladder.