Citizen Science Spotlight: Wingra Springs Monitoring and Common Loon Migration


Spring beckons us to get outside. It’s an eventful time of year to observe nature with the reappearance of many plants and animals. And it’s also a great time to consider participating in a citizen science project.

The Arboretum organizes and participates in a wide range of citizen science projects. From frogs to fungi, bluebirds to bumblebees, and much more, perhaps there’s a project that speaks to your interests. And since April is recognized and celebrated as Citizen Science Month, we are spotlighting two projects that you can get involved with this spring.

Wingra Springs Chloride Monitoring Project

The Big Spring on the north side of Wingra Woods
Big Spring on the north side of Wingra Woods

The Lake Wingra Springs Chloride Monitoring Project began in 2011 as part of the Urban Road Salt Study. More than a decade later, this project continues to assess chloride levels in groundwater at springs surrounding Lake Wingra.

A team of citizen scientists, Friends of Lake Wingra volunteers, and Arboretum and Edgewood College staff monitor eight different springs each month. While there is not yet enough data to show long-term trends, five of the springs have reported chloride levels that exceed National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations, and one site, Cadwallader Washburn spring, has chloride levels that are considered toxic to native aquatic organisms.

Removing chloride from freshwater systems is difficult, but mitigation is still possible. Consider minimizing salt use or switching to sand. Wisconsin Salt Wise provides tips and practical suggestions on salt use.

Are you interested in participating? Contact Julia Whidden, Arboretum citizen science coordinator, at

Common Loon Spring Migration with Journey North

Common loon in northern Wisconsin. Photo: Linda/Journey North
Common loon in northern Wisconsin (Photo: Linda/Journey North)

The common loon is an iconic species, particularly in the Midwest with its bountiful lakes. Did you know that you can track the spring migration of common loons with Journey North?

Since 1998, Journey North citizen scientists across North America have submitted over 8,000 observational records of loons. And Journey North also tracks ice-out dates. Why? Ice cover melt from lakes and other bodies of freshwater is a good indicator as to when loons may arrive in spring.

These observational records provide valuable data to researchers. Are loons finding suitable habitat and resources? Are they being observed in their expected range? Are they arriving earlier or later in spring than in the past?

Here’s how you can join this project: register with Journey North to submit your loon observations. Watch migration unfold on Journey North’s spring maps, and explore resources that cover topics such as characteristics, life cycle, ecology, and conservation of loons.

Questions or other inquiries? Contact Nancy Sheehan, Journey North program coordinator, at

Explore Other Projects

Check out our citizen science webpage if you are interested in learning more about Arboretum-related projects. You can also find upcoming trainings and additional resources to explore projects beyond the Arboretum.

Citizen science enriches our connections to nature and provides valuable scientific data in a rapidly changing world. We encourage you to celebrate citizen science this month and participate however you can.

—Scott Dyke, communications specialist