WNC Science Research
Lee and Rose Warner Nature Center, a unique and pristine nature area, has long been a key location for science research. Our citizen scientists share their projects with the naturalists, students and national databases. Knowledge gained is incorporated in courses and shared with students in trail guiding sessions.
Apiary and Honey House:
In 2011, a honey bee observation hive was installed in the Warner Trailside Museum. It was so popular with school children that in 2012 an apiary and adjacent honey house were built as a safe environment to observe honey bees, host educational programs, and perform yearly extraction of honey. The “Bee Squad” team of volunteers meet weekly to inspect the hives, work with the school children, and provide demonstrations during open house public days. The Pollinator class, covering the role of the honey bee in plant pollination and how it is responsible for one third of our food crops, was derived from the work of the Bee Squad.
The first recorded research of Bernie’s Bog indicated that it was originally a lake more than 30 feet deep. This is in keeping with research of the origins of bogs from glacial lakes created at the end of the last ice age some 10,000 years ago. This bog was most likely formed from a kettle lake as the glaciers retreated. In 2007, staff and volunteers collected core samples in a depth of 16 feet at which point they hit the bottom comprising original glacial sand and gravel. The sediment in the cores, called peat, is a time capsule of the plants. In this study volunteers also created an inventory of the plants in the bog. In 2013, as part of a St Croix Master Watershed Stewards certification, a volunteer began a chemical analysis of the water in the bog to determine the health of the bog and to begin to document the changes and their causes. As other volunteers joined, the study expanded to include additional chemical analysis, photo records of the bog and an inventory of the plants. This citizen science project is designed for perpetuity.
Warner has been bird banding for all its 52 years. During the fall and spring migration seasons, birds are caught in nearly invisible “mist” nets and banded with a metal band, each with a unique number. The species, age, sex, and where and when banded is entered in the Federal Bird Banding Laboratory database. Information from banded birds helps us understand the distribution of species, their movements, rising and falling populations, life span, and causes of death, which allows us to better manage and conserve them. School children who attend Warner’s programs during the school year are taught the process and value of banding and gain a deeper appreciation of these remarkable animals.
Begun in 1973, volunteers count and track this threatened Minnesota species, listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Warner Nature Center is ideal habitat for the Blanding’s turtle with its marshes, ponds, shallow muddy areas of its lakes and sandy areas for nesting. Staff worked to design a transmitter for these turtles that can transmit under water and ice. With its permit from the DNR, using radio telemetry, the staff and volunteers are better able to track and understand the seasonal movements of these elusive turtles. School age summer day campers help locate the turtles as part of their activities. Since starting this research, twenty uniquely identified Blanding’s turtles have been recorded on the Warner Nature Center property.
The Bluebird Trail project was stated in 1995 by one volunteer who passed it on to others to maintain the study. Nest boxes were cleaned, refurbished, and replaced as needed until 2005 when the Gilbertson brand and style replaced all the boxes. Two volunteers now maintain records of the nests, mating and occupations, and successful rearing of young. This Bluebird Trail has been successfully monitored every year through the summer of 2019, weekly from late April through the middle of August; a total of 24 years. All yearly reports are sent to the Minnesota Bluebird Recovery Program by October 15th each year.
The Minnesota Odonata Survey Project is citizen science-based throughout Minnesota. Volunteers learn the basics of odonatan, carnivorous insects encompassing dragonflies and damselflies, ecology and behavior. They learn where and when to look for dragonflies, techniques in tracking, proper handling, and the distinguishing characteristics of the various species. The focus was on discovering which species inhabit Warner, and discovering rare and uncommon species.
Frog and Toad Survey:
Modeled after Minnesota’s survey to track these amphibians, volunteers meet at dusk in the spring to go to the various wetlands throughout Warner Nature Center to listen for and identify frogs and toads by their song. The information is maintained so comparisons can be made about their population declines or increases, and their geographic locations.
Invasive Species Research:
A PhD student, conducting research on the invasion of Buckthorn in Minnesota forests, included Warner Nature Center as one of her research study plot sites. Her research included how buckthorn influences native plant diversity, light, and maple abundance. Another PhD student from the University of Minnesota conducted a research project on the effects of garlic mustard on native woodland herbs, and whether buckthorn influences garlic mustard germination and performance. In 2018 Warner had goats brought in to control the spread of buckthorn. Buckthorn is now appearing along the Upper Esker trails in the northern part of Warner Nature Center.
March and maple syruping are looked forward to by volunteers and students alike. Volunteers are trained by staff in gathering sap, logging the locations and amount, and assisting the boilers. Maple syruping is a program available to the school children. They learn the indigenous American’s legends, traditions, and the tools and containers used. They carry buckets on yokes. To learn the gathering process we now use, they drill holes in maple logs, insert spiles, and hang the bags for collecting the sap. They then listen to the boilers explain the process of turning sap to syrup. As their reward, they get a taste of real Warner Nature Center syrup.
Similar to bird banding, a tiny piece of special paper with a unique number is attached to the wing, which is registered on a national registry. Tagging helps answer questions about the origins of monarchs that reach Mexico, the timing and pace of the migration, mortality during the migration, and changes in geographic distribution.
The Northern Saw-whet Owl banding project was initiated in fall 2017. The 11 volunteers include five banders and six net runners. They band from August through mid-November, five to seven days a week. Having acquired the necessary permits, the volunteers capture Saw-whet owls in mist nets using a mechanical audio lure to attract them. Nets are placed in undisturbed thick under-story cover where these small owls feel secure from predators. The Happy Hills site on WNC property is a prime area. WNC has tremendous success, banding 106 owls in fall 2018, more than the three closest metro banding stations combined. The 2019 season surpassed previous ones with more than 200 owls banded to date. Even more importantly, a number of birds previously banded at other stations were caught. WNC reports its data to Project Owlnet, a joint Canada and US project tracking population and migration routes since the late 1990s. WNC’s project and site are in a unique position to continue making valuable contributions to Saw-whet research. This research requires long term commitment.
From 2003 through 2008, Warner Nature Center worked with the St. Croix Watershed Research Station to create a prairie habitat from old farm fields. Research discovered the ideal mix of native forbs and grasses to best establish long term healthy prairie habitats. Much of the seed used was collected within 20 miles of Warner Nature Center. Today the prairie is a vibrant, colorful array of plants that changes as the seasons progress from early spring to late fall. In the winter it is a white wonderland and an excellent place for school children to snowshoe.
Staff naturalists, with the help of volunteers, have for years tracked the phenology of Warner Nature Center. Phenology is the science and study of appearances in nature and how they change with the seasons. A giant monthly calendar is on the wall next to the upstairs classroom. Staff lists the firsts from past years. Things that appear on the calendar are the first birds in spring, first fawn sightings, the start of maple syruping which varies greatly with the weather, the first chorus frog heard, the appearance of sandhill cranes, the first flowers; in all the first of anything in the season.
In 2014, one volunteer armed with a grant and assisted by a graphic designer friend, designed and created the pollinator garden at WNC. The plantings were all native prairie or woodland plants. The purpose was to bring awareness to our native pollinators and to let folks see that they could create beautiful gardens on their own property using native plants. The garden was at times used during trail hikes and school children could sit there to eat lunch. The garden has changed a bit since its installation in 2014; the big oak has shaded more of the garden and some plants have thrived and others not so much. Such is the nature of natural settings!
Since 2006, stationed throughout Warner, the cameras capture Warner’s fauna as an inventory of the number and location of these animals. A staff person reviews the photos and catalogs the animals and location.
In the summer of 2017, a category 1 tornado struct Warner Nature Center damaging an area of woodlands and opening the canopy allowing more sunlight to penetrate to the forest floor. The change in sunlight can affect the plant life on the forest floor. In 2018 a volunteer began creating a photo array of specific areas along specified trails to track the changes.
Wood Bird Project:
Made by volunteers, wooden birds are placed along the trail from the banding station near the museum to the bird blind at the edge of the prairie. The birds are life size, colored as their wild counterparts, and placed as they would exist in the wild so they blend in with their surroundings. School children search for these as an exercise in noticing wildlife and identifying birds.