Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Photo of saw-whet owl in hand © Christine Tanzer

Take part in banding saw-whet owls.
© Christine Tanzer

April 2010

Round up swans, track a bat, make a difference

Grasp the nature of wild Wisconsin on field trips spring through fall.

Jeffrey Potter

Head to Crex Meadows in northwest Wisconsin this summer and you might see a strange sight: dozens of people on foot, in canoes and kayaks, and even overhead in planes, chasing trumpeter swans through the marsh. Part rodeo, part ballet, and all in the name of science, the Trumpeter Swan Round-Up is just one of more than 85 field trips offered in the thawed-out seasons by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin (NRF).

DNR Avian Ecologist Pat Manthey, who leads the swan round-up trip for the NRF, touts the benefits of the trips for both the participants and the swans. "It's always a high point of my field season," Manthey says. "When someone has a hands-on experience with nature, it makes them care in a deeper way and, in the case of the swan banding, the participants are doing real field work that helps us track and care for these beautiful birds," she concludes.

"It's the personal touch and the scientific perspective that makes these trips special," notes Christine Tanzer, field trip coordinator for the Foundation. "People who join our trips have fun while they learn about Wisconsin's natural wonders from some of the best ecologists in the state," Tanzer says.

This year, the Foundation offers a variety of experiences, including 30 different birding trips, 25 trips to state natural areas, 12 canoe and kayaking adventures and 18 family-friendly trips. "The physical requirements of each trip vary and we rate them for participants ranging from easy walks to rugged off trail hikes," Tanzer notes. "Some of our most popular trips include a train ride into Tiffany Bottoms State Natural Area, kayaking bays, estuaries and backwaters near Lake Superior, and banding a variety of birds such as saw-whet owls, American kestrels, bald eagles and golden-winged warblers," she adds.

For the 2010 season, the Foundation is promoting "citizen science" by providing opportunities for participants to learn about and participate in scientific research that will benefit our understanding of Wisconsin's wildlife. With global warming on the rise, the need for this type of background data tracking is more important than ever and the average citizen can make an important contribution. These trips include opportunities to monitor Wisconsin's bat populations, tag monarch butterflies, and track the state's growing population of elk.

Photo of stream field trip © Jenna Assmus
See what rises to the surface as streams are dipped and sampled.
© Jenna Assmus

John Loe, who joined the swan trip in 2009, recalls citizen science as a rewarding experience. "We splashed, slogged and paddled our way through the marsh to corral the swans for capture," he recounts. Participants helped collect and hold the young swans, known as cygnets, while they were measured, examined and banded on shore. "All of us were at once exhausted, giggly and completely in awe of those magnificent birds in our arms," Loe continues. Once the data were recorded, the birds were released back into the wild where their progress continues to be monitored.

"Our trips give participants an opportunity to be a field ecologist for a day," Tanzer notes. "And especially for people who work in an office all week, it's a nice break from the routine," she adds. This is the sixteenth year that the Foundation has offered seasonal field trips. Over the years, thousands of Wisconsin residents and tourists have attended Foundation trips. According to Tanzer, "the program has been successful because we keep prices low and provide experiences you can't find anywhere else in the state." Tracking Wisconsin bats with the state's bat ecologist, Dave Redell, is a perfect example.

"There are usually one or two individuals who get a little squeamish, but by the end of the night they have settled in to view the bats in a new light," Redell says. He uses the trips to dispel common myths about bats and to recruit volunteers for the Wisconsin Bat Monitoring Program – a citizen science effort to improve our understanding of bat population trends. "My hope is that, through the trips, more people will understand the benefit of bats and be inspired to get involved," Redell concludes.

If you've never attended a Foundation field trip, now is a great time to start. Registration is open for the general public. Trips run from late April through October and are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Space is limited and some trips fill very quickly so Tanzer recommends early registration. Unless otherwise noted in the descriptions, trips fall on Saturdays.

You will find a complete list of trips and registration instructions at Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. Online registration is fast, secure, provides up-to-the-minute details on whether space is still available to join a trip, and gives instant confirmations. Registration fees and any additional fees to offset transportation, equipment rental and meal costs, where provided, are also listed.

Jeffrey Potter writes, plans special projects and conducts outreach for the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin.