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Displaying items by tag: Research

A potent odor in Three Bridges Park recently led us to a dead skunk lying next to the Menomonee River. It rested, amazingly intact, on a sewerage outflow pipe lightly covered in snow. Whether he was the victim of hypothermia, winter starvation or a ravenous hawk remained a mystery, but whatever the skunk’s demise, it was clear that two weeks after he had perished, his scent still lingered.

Last fall at Riverside Park, the research and community science department was hosting the Wisconsin DNR’s bat biologists for an evening of bat mist netting, when a gregarious little screech owl paid us a visit. As DNR biologist Paul White held the large group of participants enraptured with a live bat, a persistent whinny in the distance distracted those of us at the back of the group.

When I think of the opossum, I think of a scrappy little character; tough, resilient, clever, and tenacious. In fact, one of my first memories of the opossum demonstrates its impressive adaptability. When tree hollows and brush piles provided inadequate shelter, the resourceful opossum sought shelter elsewhere - she would sneak in under our house's raised foundation and hunker down next to the hot water pipes beneath the bathrooms. There, she would build a comfortable bed of dry grass and stay till spring. And sometimes, when my family would take a shower or bath, you could even hear the scratching of little opossum paws against the water pipes, presumably acknowledging the relief provided by the warm plumbing.

By now you have probably heard about the Riverside Park Beaver. He’s been chewing down Milwaukee River Greenway trees since the summer of 2014, has been featured on local news segments, has been written about in social media and blog articles, and even became the star of our recent Earth Month grant-matching campaign. But, how much do you really know about this busy beaver? You might be surprised to learn that this species is much more complex than one might think.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015 00:00

Green Birding Challenge Recap

Thank you to everyone who helped make the 5th Annual Green Birding Challenge a success! 19 teams, comprised of both experienced and fledgling birders, participated in this year's challenge and observed over 100 distinct bird species in a fossil fuel free search around the city. Their efforts inspried more than 150 generous donors to pledge $8,000 for the Center's Citzien Science program. Wow! Read on for more fun facts and photos from the day's birding adventure!

I have a confession. A part of me enjoyed when the Riverside Park beaver was a secret. I liked sneaking through the park examining tree trunks along the river for signs of beaver chewing. I enjoyed watching the progress of the chew on the large cottonwood that first revealed signs of the beaver. I enjoyed sharing the location of the tree with nature-loving volunteers and I entertained myself by photographing two of those volunteers with the last name "Beaver" kneeling next to the tree pretending to gnaw at the bark.

Our research program has two unique features: an urban habitat focus and the inclusion of volunteer community scientists.

The urban wilderness research and monitoring we do provides baseline data that allow us to track how our habitat improvements affect wildlife over time. We’re measuring the changes so others can replicate the results in other cities. 

We are one of the leaders of an international movement to facilitate community-led research and monitoring. Our Community Science program focuses as much on the process of engaging community volunteers as it does on the research process itself. What this means is that everyone can contribute in a meaningful way to scientific research.

I once found a frozen snapping turtle in a river. He lay motionless under a sheet of ice still looking very much alive. His long tail and thick neck were unmistakable through the blurry ice. The image served as a reminder of the difficulty of being a wild animal living in a Wisconsin winter: an unfortunate casualty of harsh sub-degree temperatures, unable to find a nourishing morsel when most needed. A short-time after encountering the turtle, I investigated how turtles survive the winter. I was surprised to read that turtles can live motionless under the ice by going into a type of hibernation. Alas, the turtle I had encountered earlier in the winter hadn't been dead, but had been peacefully passing the winter in the unfrozen water just beneath the ice! A slowed heart rate, a drop in body temperature, a winter of no breaths; what a risky and remarkable winter adaptation this creature experiences!

Monday, 08 December 2014 00:00

Native Animal of the Month: Northern Shrike

Imagine a fierce predatory bird that deftly picks off mammals and smaller birds. She spends hours of her day in the cold Canadian taiga, battling food scarcity and searching for sustenance. Once her unsuspecting prey is spotted, she swoops mid-air, stunning the prey with a sharp blow to the head and impales it swiftly on a piece of barbed wire. She may do this several times a day, caching her food in preparation for hard times to come. Such a clever and dominant bird, never letting her diminutive size stop her. For even a songbird the size of a robin can prove a formidable warrior.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014 01:00

Native Animal of the Month: Gray Wolf

Of all the creatures in the animal kingdom, perhaps none has inspired so much folklore and legend as the wolf. From the wolf gods of Norse mythology to the recent pairing of werewolves and vampires in popular culture, stories featuring this misunderstood mammal abound. Separate fact from fiction, however, and you’ll discover a fascinating species with an important place in the ecosystem.

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