The Air/Water Connection: Lakes Crucial to Songbird Survival

by Meredith Smalley

TROUT LAKE STATION — While most projects at the University of Wisconsin’s Trout Lake Station put their boats into lakes to perform research, one project team heads into the forests surrounding lakes for their data collection.
Paul Schilke, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is looking at how aquatic insects that emerge out of lakes impact populations of birds that breed in the surrounding forests. Research finds that many of the birds that eat flying insects have declined in recent years and lakes may be a key food source for these species.
With the help of undergraduate field technicians Cody Lane and Sammie Buechner, Schilke is supervised by Dr. Anna Pidgeon, assistant professor of forest and wildlife ecology at UW-Madison. Dr. Pidgeon made a visit to help catch and band birds, a process that requires a special license. The crew went into the forest surrounding Allequash Lake in Boulder Junction to assemble the long, tall nets that are well-camouflaged for catching birds.
Within an hour of setting the first round of nets, two birds were captured: a least flycatcher and a yellow-rumped warbler. Clipping a piece of feather from each bird allows for later examination of the birds’ diets. The birds are then banded and released unharmed.
As the nets are used over the course of several days, bird crew ends their session by folding up the nets to avoid trapping other animals.
All video and text by Meredith Smalley, a UW-Madison School of Journalism undergraduate serving as Trout Lake Station’s summer outreach intern this field season.