Not snow flakes. Snowy owls. Formerly a rare visitor to Wisconsin and the Lower 48, in recent winters the large Arctic birds have been showing up around here in increasing numbers. This year, well in advance of the first snows, researchers have already documented at least 30 “snowies” in Wisconsin, including a half dozen locally at the limited-access Cat Island chain across the bay from campus. One of UW-Green Bay’s lead researchers, Richter Museum curator Tom Erdman says, simply, “It’s unprecedented. It’s causing us to ask, ‘Why?’” Erdman has a theory, and he’s quoted extensively in a fine Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article.
Nearly 100 students and teachers from participating Northeastern Wisconsin high schools will spend the day on the UW-Green Bay campus Tuesday (April 14) for the 12th annual Student Watershed Symposium. The symposium brings together the high schoolers and UW-Green Bay faculty researchers who partner on monitoring the health of the Fox River basin through the Lower Fox River Watershed Monitoring Program. The day’s activities run from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with the morning presentations in the Phoenix Rooms of the University Union free and open to the public. In the afternoon, participating students will have the opportunity to tour the Richter Museum and Fewless Herbarium, take part in a frog-monitoring workshop, and compete in a quiz bowl.
Among the featured high school presentations:
• Duck Creek Team: Website — Students from Green Bay Southwest H.S. have created a website for their science club that showcases their involvement with LFRWMP.
• Trout Creek Team: Public Awareness — Students from Pulaski H.S. have created videos promoting public awareness on issues such as nutrient pollution, dead zones, PCB cleanup and northern pike restoration.
• Spring Brook Team: Nitrates by the Stream — Students from Oshkosh North H.S. have investigated the cause of high nitrate levels in “their” stream, and contacted landowners near the brook to identify potential sources.
• Ashwaubenon Creek: Frogs, Their Importance and Why We Monitor — An introduction to frogs and their importance to watershed ecosystems by Green Bay East H.S. student Jermaine Toliver-Marx.
For more, see the full news release.
Snowy owls have been capturing the attention of birders in Northeast Wisconsin. The owls spend their summers near the Arctic Circle, moving south in the winter, but usually not this far south. NPR has an expansive story about tracking these mystery birds, and an astute listener found a UW-Green Bay tie. UWGB alumnus Dave Brinker http://www.projectowlnet.org/?page_id=296, an ecologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, is banding and tracking the birds. The class of 1977 Science and Environmental Change major learned his banding craft from UW-Green Bay’s Tom Erdman, curator of the Richter Museum… Plenty more interesting reading about Brinker and this phenomenon. Read story.
Members of your Log news team had noticed, but not given much thought to, the sizeable number of pelicans hanging out near the Fox River Dam in De Pere. It turns out the birds are part of a pelican resurgence in our area, as UW-Green Bay’s Tom Erdman explained in a Fox 11 News story that aired Thursday (July 18). Erdman, curator of the Richter Museum on campus, told reporter Eric Peterson that the huge colony of pelicans on the waters off Green Bay wouldn’t have been possible two decades ago — but now, there are perhaps 1,200 pairs of the birds in the Cat Island area of the bay. They’ve drawn attention (including ours) down in De Pere, where they gather to look for food, Erdman said. Interested parties should check ‘em out soon — by August, many of the pelicans will be gone, Erdman said, opting to winter in Florida and along the Gulf Coast. But they’ll be pack, part of a continuing expansion of the population in our area. Full story.
About 100 local second-graders got to experience the fun of hands-on science last month when they toured the Richter Museum of Natural History on campus. Museum Curator Tom Erdman hosted three classes over three days, showing and telling about the numerous animal specimens the museum contains. Remarked one teacher, “they all want to be scientists now!” Check out our too-cute-to-miss photo gallery.
Close to 100 local second-graders got an up-close look at science and the natural world during recent field trips to the Richter Museum of Natural History.
Housed on the UW-Green Bay campus, the Richter Museum contains one of Wisconsin’s most significant collections of animal specimens for scientific research and education. Curator Tom Erdman shared some of the Museum’s coolest displays with the second-graders, who attend Danz Elementary School on Green Bay’s east side. The students were so impressed, remarked one teacher, that “they all want to be scientists now!”
See more information on the Richter Museum.
Bird enthusiasts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay are taking an “if you build it, they will come” approach toward attracting peregrine falcons to nest atop the campus’ tallest building.
Observers could know as early as this month whether peregrines will return to nest, and they’ve constructed a specialized box to make the eight-story Cofrin Library an attractive place to do so. At least two of the falcons, which are endangered in Wisconsin, made the library their temporary home last spring, and the female laid a trio of eggs — but something went awry in mid-May, and the eggs failed to mature.
Now officials have replaced a nesting tray with a standard nesting box, a larger structure that is more clearly visible atop the eight-story building. Upon recommendation from Greg Septon of Wisconsin Falconwatch, Facilities Management Director Paul Pinkston agreed to provide a specially designed box, and Richter Museum Curator Tom Erdman signed on to monitor for any activity. Facilities’ Jay Rickaby (photo above, left) constructed the box, and with the help of Chris Kieper (photo above, right), on Feb. 20 placed the box on the north side of the library, on the very edge of the roof nearest Theatre Hall.
“We are now in the waiting mode, similar to the Field of Dreams movie — if we build it, will they come?” Erdman said, referring to the famous 1989 baseball flick. “The probability is pretty good that we should see some activity by mid-March. … Chances are probably in the range of 75 to 80 percent that we will have birds, and hopefully success in breeding.”
No one knows what happened to the eggs laid atop the library last year, but Erdman has a couple of theories. It’s possible youth and inexperience got the better of the then-2-year-old female falcon — the birds are banded to identify characteristics, including age — and she made some sort of clumsy mistake with her eggs. A great horned owl or crows could have scared the bird or otherwise caused the eggs to break. It’s also possible that a third bird, a female spotted earlier last year, fought the other female and the eggs were harmed during the altercation.
“We really don’t know,” Erdman said then. “All we know is that the eggs got broken, and it was basically it for that year.”
Erdman, a bird expert, and his fellow campus avian enthusiasts aren’t alone in hoping the falcons will return. Citizens and scientists nationwide have been fascinated with efforts to restore the peregrine population after their numbers were once decimated by the widespread use of the chemical pesticide DDT.
The birds have made a comeback, and in 2010 a total of 82 young were produced at 27 nesting sites in the state, according to the Wisconsin Falconwatch 2010 season nesting report. Locally, the Wisconsin Public Service Pulliam Power Plant is perhaps the best-known site for hosting falcons, which are monitored via webcam.
The UW-Green Bay campus is ideal for hosting peregrine falcons, Erdman said, due to its proximity to the bay and ample sources of food for the predators. The birds like to nest up high, so the library is a good spot. Or as Field of Dreams fans might paraphrase, “Is this Heaven? No, it’s Cofrin.”
Richter Museum curator Thomas Erdman is quoted at length in a Tuesday (July 26) Green Bay Press-Gazette story about a local wildfowl artist who’s among the best there is. Gary Eigenberger of Ashwaubenon is recognized as a world-level master for his bird sculptures, which will be on display at the Neville Public Museum of Brown County through Aug. 7. As it turns out, Erdman has had quite a hand in Eigenberger’s success, loaning museum specimens and serving as a resource for the artist. Erdman, Eigenberger said, “is a walking encyclopedia on birds.” To read more about our campus connection to this amazing artist, check out the full story.
Amid the end-of-semester hubbub and finals-time insanity, you may have missed the news that UW-Green Bay and its Cofrin Library building this spring played temporary host to two very special guests — a nesting pair of peregrine falcons. And while the female’s three eggs ultimately failed to produce offspring, Richter Museum Curator Thomas Erdman said there’s a good chance the rare birds will be back — and next time, we’ll be ready for them: read more.
The ubiquitous Phoenix may be the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s most familiar feathered friend, but earlier this spring it was a rare bird of another kind rising to notoriety on campus.
At least two peregrine falcons made themselves at home on the roof of the eight-story Cofrin Library for about a month in April and into May, said Thomas Erdman, Richer Museum Curator at UW-Green Bay. Erdman and his fellow falcon watchers placed a box containing pea gravel on the roof to welcome the birds, which had discovered the location on their own. The female falcon laid three eggs and incubated for more than a week before something went awry, Erdman said.
“Something happened on the night or the very early morning of May 14 and 15 — Saturday and Sunday,” he said. “Everything was fine at dusk on the 14th, and at 6:30 (a.m.) on the 15th, there was a broken egg down below … on the bricks.”
Neither of the other eggs would survive, Erdman said, and with their failure the adult falcons more or less disappeared. Still, this is likely just the beginning, not the end, of the campus falcon story.
First there is the mystery of just what happened to those eggs. And while no one can be certain, Erdman has a few theories about what went down in the wee hours of the night and early morning.
It could be that youth and inexperience got the better of the two-year-old female — the birds are banded to identify characteristics including age — and she made some sort of clumsy mistake with her eggs, Erdman said. A great horned owl or crows could have scared the female bird or otherwise caused the calamity.
Finally, a third falcon had been spotted earlier — and if it was a female, Erdman said, it could have fought the other female bird. It’s possible the eggs were harmed in the melee.
“We don’t really know,” he said. “All we know is that the eggs got broken, and that was basically it for this year.”
But maybe not for good.
Erdman thinks it’s likely the falcons could return next spring, and he intends to be ready. The plan now is to put up a box during the winter — likely on the library, but possibly on the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts — and have it ready to go should the falcons return. From there, a camera could be set up to monitor the birds and the progress of any eggs.
“It’s neat to have them here,” Erdman said. “Our ex-Chancellor, Ed Weidner, would have been thrilled.”
Peregrine falcons have fascinated scientists and citizens nationwide as efforts to restore this once-endangered species have gained notoriety. Their numbers once dwindled severely due to widespread use of DDT, which thinned eggshells and prevented chicks from hatching. Wisconsin was the first state to ban most uses of the chemical pesticide in 1969.
Peregrines have made a comeback, and in 2010 a total of 82 young were produced at 27 nesting sites in the state, according to the Wisconsin Falconwatch 2010 Nesting Season Report.
Locally, the Wisconsin Public Service Pulliam Power Plant is perhaps best known for hosting nesting falcons, which are monitored via Web cam. When chicks hatch, officials hold a contest to name them — this year’s falcons are Cliff and Champ. Green Bay’s Georgia-Pacific mill also is a nesting site.
The UW-Green Bay campus is ideal for peregrine falcons, Erdman said — close to the bay and there’s plenty of food for the predators. Falcons like to nest up high, so the Cofrin Library is a great place for them to be.
No one knows if the birds will be back, but there’s a good chance more of UW-Green Bay’s falcon story is yet to be written.
“When you work with wildlife, there’s always unexpected surprises,” Erdman said. “There are things that are beyond what you can do or predict.”