Restored Wisconsin habitat brings back birds on Oneida Reservation | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
ONEIDA – The sound of car engines slowly slipped away as Tony Kuchma walked alongside canary-colored blooms of green-headed coneflowers that lined the trail. Stalks of prairie dock towered above.
The colors of the prairie signaled that summer was coming to an end: faded green, bright yellow with touches of purple peeking through.
Kuchma stopped suddenly, pointing toward the ground at a leopard frog that swiftly leaped into the dense grass.
“We’ve got everybody that should be here… it’s just coming alive,” said Kuchma, a project manager with Oneida Nation.
Leopard frogs. Mayflies. Bumblebees. Waterfowl. They’ve all found their way back here to the headwaters of Trout Creek on the Oneida Reservation thanks to Kuchma and his team, which starting in 2018 restored more than 400 acres of native habitat: prairie, wetland and forest.
Grassland birds are one of the most imperiled groups of birds in the country as their native habitat continues to be converted to farmland. In Wisconsin, less than 1 percent of original native grasslands remain.
“There’s no grassland of this size or this quality within an hour and a half drive of this particular spot,” said Erin Giese, a partner on the project who studies birds at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
The next closest native grassland is the Buena Vista Grasslands, nearly 90 miles away.
Giese leads a bird monitoring project on the restored habitats, a collaboration between Oneida Nation, Great Lakes Audubon and Northeastern Wisconsin Audubon. The project is in its second year. Expert volunteers who are birders go out three times per summer to see what birds are using the habitat. They also do a set of migration surveys twice a week during the summer to capture all the kinds of birds that come by. The roster varies based on the time of year, species, gender and age.
After only two years, Giese can’t believe how quickly the birds have come back. Over 50 volunteers have participated, counting over 40,000 birds from nearly 120 species.