2019 Spring Fawn Survey

The goal of the Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study is to comprehensively examine factors that could impact deer survival and deer population growth in southern Wisconsin. Those include Chronic Wasting Disease, predation, habitat suitability and hunter harvest. In late May and early June, members of the Snapshot Wisconsin team had the opportunity to help out with the project’s spring fawn search. Snapshot staff joined the CWD team and volunteers from across the state to search for fawns in the study areas near Dodgeville.

Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study Areas

Study areas to the east and west of Dodgeville, WI.

On each day of the 3-week survey, DNR employees and volunteers assembled into a line spread fingertip to fingertip to sweep across the survey area. It takes a keen eye and diligent searching to spot a fawn, as newborn fawns can be as small as a football. When less than 5 days old, fawns stay bedded down and in hiding amongst tall grass and brush. Does often leave their fawns for hours at a time to give the fawn a better chance of survival.

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When a staff member or volunteer came upon a fawn, they rested their hands on the fawn’s back to gently keep the fawn from getting up. A children’s sock was then placed over the fawn’s eyes to keep it calm as DNR employees promptly fitted the fawn with ear tags and a radio collar. These collars are made of elastic material with pleats sewn into them that pop, expand, and eventually fall off as the fawn grows – usually within 18 months. Important information such as the fawn’s sex, weight, and rear leg length was recorded before carefully placing the fawn back where it was bedded down.

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The Snapshot Wisconsin team learned a lot about fawns, CWD, and how the Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study gathers valuable data about white-tailed deer. This unique fieldwork opportunity also gave our team an up-close look at the wildlife we usually see in trail camera images!

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For more information, please visit the Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study’s webpage.

Check out these other Snapshot Wisconsin blogs related to the project:
1) Southwest Deer and Predator Study
2) In the Field with the Southwest CWD, Deer and Predator Study

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Science Update: Whooping Crane Sighting

The following piece was written by OAS Communication Coordinator AnnaKathryn Kruger for the Snapshot Wisconsin newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this link

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Whooping crane 1-17 is, according to his personal biography, a natural-born leader. He is confident, vigilant, quick to take a jab at a potential threat and allegedly able to spot a worm at 50 yards.

This two-year-old crane, born and raised from captive breeding stock at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland, is one of a rare species that has been newly restored to North America after overexploitation in the mid-20th century nearly drove them to extinction.

Whooping crane 1-17 appeared this spring on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera in Jackson County, much to the excitement of the Snapshot Wisconsin crew and the researchers stewarding 1-17’s journey across the landscape. View an interactive story map outlining 1-17’s journey here

“The conservation story behind [whooping cranes] is a marvelous story, involving a lot of effort and a lot of money,” said Davin Lopez, conservation biologist with the National Heritage Conservation Bureau in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “Although they’re recovering, they’re an incredibly rare species – I mean, people come from far and wide to see them – they’re a big, five-foot-tall, charismatic, pure white bird, so they’re pretty striking out there, very visible on the landscape. People find them very beautiful.”

Efforts toward the reintroduction of migratory whooping cranes to eastern North America began in 1999 with the formation of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP). WCEP was founded as a collaborative project between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the International Crane Foundation, Operation Migration, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the United States Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin.

The whooping crane is critically endangered in North America and has only one major migratory population, the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population (AWBP). This flock breeds in Canada, winters in Texas and comprises 505 birds as of December 2018.

Per the stipulations of the International Whooping Crane Recovery Plan, which outlined the need to establish one or more migratory crane populations in addition to the AWBP, WCEP has overseen the successful establishment of an eastern migratory population (EMP) of whooping cranes. In 2001, 7 individual cranes were guided in their migration from Wisconsin to Florida by aircraft, and 6 were guided back in the spring. As of July 2019, the estimated population size of the EMP is 87 individuals.

One significant barrier to the growth of wild whooping crane populations is the high mortality rate amongst wild chicks. Since 2002, WCEP has supplemented the wild crane population with chicks raised in captivity. These chicks were originally raised through costume-rearing, wherein the chick is raised by a human in costume. In recent years, researchers have transitioned to parent-rearing, where birds are raised in captivity by adult cranes, with minimal human intervention. 1-17 himself was a supplemental, costume-reared chick.

“Depending on the year, we get a certain number of chicks to release to supplement our wild population, and the bird in question, 1-17, is one of those birds. We also rely on natural reproduction, though historically we haven’t had a lot of it. That’s been one of our major struggles,” said Lopez. “Ultimately, we want to get to the point where we have a self-sustaining population out there that is above 100 birds at least, where we wouldn’t have to supplement any more birds.”

Crane 1-17 began his journey in the fall of 2017 in White River Marsh in Wisconsin with his sisters 2-17 and 8-17. When the birds failed to migrate on their own in a timely manner, they were relocated to Goose Pond in Indiana, and from there the trio flew to Talladega County in Alabama, where they spent the winter.

Come spring, the three cranes aimed north, but it swiftly became clear to researchers that they did not know the way back to Wisconsin. They spent some time in Illinois, and then 1-17 and 2-17 split from their sister and moved on to summer in Iowa.

At the end of November 2018, 1-17 and 2-17 took off from a stint in Northern Illinois and headed for the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. Though they were met with a snowstorm en route, the pair persevered and were briefly reunited with 8-17 before she migrated to Tennessee in December.

In spring of 2019, 1-17 and 2-17 were observed wandering north and south through Indiana and Illinois, and eventually they found their way back to Wisconsin. The pair went their separate ways in April of 2019, and 1-17 was soon after captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera in Jackson County.

There is something of a learning curve when it comes to migratory behavior, and, as demonstrated by crane 1-17, there is sometimes a significant amount of wandering before whooping cranes grow to a reproductive age and settle.

The privilege of seeing one of these magnificent birds may be reserved for the select few who happen upon them out of sheer luck, but the population has been stable for several years and researchers look to the future of this species with optimism. Rare species like the whooping crane also become more visible as the state’s capacity for monitoring wildlife expands, and Snapshot Wisconsin spearheads this mission with a growing network of trail cameras posted throughout the landscape. As the project progresses, it will become easier to track the species that typically go undetected in wildlife surveys, better informing conservation efforts as well as broadening the public’s experience of Wisconsin wildlife.

“If you want to see a crane, we hope that you’re able to go out and find one,” said Lopez. “They may be rare in Jackson County, but we hope they’re a permanent fixture on the landscape in Wisconsin during the summer.”

Piebald Deer Captured on Camera

Snapshot Saturdays are a weekly feature on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s Facebook page. Give them a Like to keep up with recent DNR news and to view the weekly Snapshot Saturdays. 

Piebald deer make for quite the spectacle, but what is responsible for their unique coloration? Recessive genes must be inherited from both parents to produce a piebald deer, making them quite rare. In fact, only 2% of deer present this coloration! Although it is illegal to shoot a white deer, piebald deer are legal to harvest during regulated seasons in Wisconsin.

Check out this piebald buck captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera in Iowa County last fall.

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Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/.

July #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap features a coyote (Canis latrins) as it approaches a Snapshot Wisconsin camera deployed in Racine County. Snapshot Wisconsin recently surpassed 30 million trail camera images – staff members and volunteers alike are consistently amazed by some of the images coming out of the project. Thank you to Zooniverse volunteers WINature and Swamp-eye for nominating this series!

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Continue classifying photos on Zooniverse and hashtagging your favorites for a chance to be featured in the next #SuperSnap blog post. Check out all of the nominations by searching “#SuperSnap” on the Snapshot Wisconsin Talk boards.

Elk Monitoring Opportunity

Snapshot Saturdays are a weekly feature on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s Facebook page. Give them a Like to keep up with recent DNR news and to view the weekly Snapshot Saturdays. 

Are you curious to see what Wisconsin elk are up to? Get an up-close look at the elk herds in the Flambeau River State Forest, Clam Lake or Black River Falls areas by monitoring a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera. Trail cameras provide valuable data for herd management and give volunteers a unique window into Wisconsin’s woods.

No experience necessary, all training and equipment are provided. Volunteers must be able to participate for at least one year and check the camera at least once every three months. Submit a volunteer application today at www.SnapshotWIElkSignup.org.

Past Pieces: “Wisconsin’s prickly rodent”

The article below, “Wisconsin’s prickly rodent” by Alan D. Martin, was originally published in Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine in February 1996. We hope this article gives you a newfound enthusiasm for the “barbed quill-pig of the woods” as well! 

The common porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) is a wonderful, necessary member of Northwoods wildlife, and I’m glad it is here in large numbers. Throw stones if you want, but I’ll stand by porkies.

They kill trees, you say? Well, owls, wood ducks, hooded mergansers and woodpeckers need homes too, and porcupines are part of nature’s snag-making team.

Porcupines hurt my dog, you say? Well, most dogs learn from that first painful mistake and don’t go near porcupines again. Only one of my family’s six hunting dogs hasn’t gotten a snootful of quills in recent years, and only one needed a second dose to learn the lesson. The other grousers now bark, from a distance, at the quill-pig.

Because of such mishaps, some porcupines are shot on sight. That’s a real shame because the porky isn’t only the prickliest resident of the Northwoods, it’s also one of the most interesting.

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Porcupine captured on a Vilas County Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera

Porkies are the second-largest rodent in Wisconsin after the North American beaver. They can weigh 30 pounds or more in summer but their weight drops dramatically during the lean months of winter. Porcupines live in the northern two-thirds of the state in a territory that extends in a V-shape from about the Ellsworth area in Pierce County down to Wisconsin Dells and back up toward Green Bay.

Porcupines, like most rodents, are vegetarians. Their winter diet consists of conifer needles, buds and the bark of pines, hemlock, maples and birch. How these critters survive on foods with a protein content of only two to three percent is truly amazing.

Porcupines are sloppy eaters who drop a lot of greenery that provides a welcome snack for white-tailed deer during deep snows. If you spot a small pile of freshly-snipped branches on a winter walk, it’s likely porcupines are nearby. Their winter dens are easy to find – just follow your eyes and nose. Porcupines winter in caves and hollow logs. They travel the same paths every day. Near their dens you’ll see distinctive fecal piles and smell the strong scent of concentrated urine.

In spring, abundant food allows the porcupines to roam more freely, and they grow fat and healthy while dozing in the dog days of summer. Porkies consume tender shoots, succulent twigs, roots, seeds and (often to the dismay of gardeners) apples, melons, carrots, potatoes and other juicy produce. Nor are the gardener’s tools immune to the porcupine’s gouging incisors. The animals need sodium to rid their bodies of high levels of potassium from leaves and bark. Axe handles, hoes, canoe paddles, gloves and anything else touched by salty human hands are porcupine magnets.

When defending itself, a porcupine sits very still, faces away from its enemy, raises up, bristles and rattles its quill-studded tail, protecting vital areas from potential predators with up to 30,000 barbed quills.

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Porcupine captured on a Sawyer County Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera

Although porkies are slow, ambling creatures, it’s not always easy to keep your distance. A deer-hunting friend of mine still talks about his close encounter. Gary was sitting in his tree stand one day when a young-of-the-year porcupine climbed up the same tree and took a seat directly adjacent to Gary’s face. He was kind of cute (the baby porky, that is), as he sat there making little noises with his teeth and watching this newcomer to the tree. Somehow Gary didn’t find much to admire. He just kept a real close eye on the porky’s tail and slowly, calmly eased out of his stand and made his way down the tree. His heart was pounding pretty hard as he reached the ground and looked up at the porky still perched on a branch.

Only one predator poses a significant threat to porcupines – the fisher. These large weasels will wait for the right moment and inflict quick bites to the porcupine’s face and nose, areas that can take little abuse before the injury is fatal.

The porcupine is relatively silent throughout its life, so many people don’t recognize the whining squeal that sounds like a cross between a piglet and a crying baby. The sound varies in pitch and is most often heard in areas with rocky knobs and a good mix of conifers and hardwoods – prime porcupine habitat.

Native Americans had both respect and use for the porcupine. Its quills were incorporated in elaborate embroidered pieces, baskets and artwork. Porcupine quills were bartered and traded with plains tribes who had less frequent contact with the woodland creature.

So keep an eye out for the barbed quill-pig of the woods on your next winter walk. And if one finds you, show some respect.

To view the full posting of the article in the Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine, click this link.

Wisconsin Turkey

Snapshot Saturdays are a weekly feature on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s Facebook page. Give them a Like to keep up with recent DNR news and to view the weekly Snapshot Saturdays. 

Restoration of the wild turkey population remains one of the greatest wildlife management success stories in Wisconsin. In fact, turkey are the fourth most common animal captured on Snapshot Wisconsin cameras accounting for 4% of the wildlife photos behind deer, squirrel and raccoon.

Check out this tom displaying in front of a Marathon County Snapshot Wisconsin camera!

To learn more about turkey management in Wisconsin, visit “Ecology of Wild Turkey in Wisconsin”. Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/.

Natural Design

The destiny of a Snapshot Wisconsin photograph is to contribute to a one-of-a-kind data set, ultimately supporting management decisions related to Wisconsin’s wildlife. However, the development of this data set is not the only goal of the project. The photos, through their collection and distribution, also serve to pursue the goal of public engagement. As the project has grown, as has our collection of incredible wildlife photos, and the photos have begun to speak for themselves. For me, personally, the fact that we can’t entirely control what the photos will look like (i.e. which animals will present themselves for a photo, and what they will be doing) adds to the appeal.  Trail camera photos show life uninhibited – especially with the increasing quality of the photos as technology improves. Many of our crowd-sourcing volunteers and trail camera hosts can attest that not every trigger captures a moment in time with crisp detail, however. That is the nature of trail cameras. Recently achieving the milestone of over 2,000 cameras on the landscape, Snapshot Wisconsin has learned some simple camera deployment tricks to increase the chances of catching a spectacular photo.

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This turkey photo captured in Waupaca County has some diffuse back-lighting, so no details are washed out on the subject.

A trail camera operator who wants to maximize the visual appeal of their photos can benefit from considering some properties of traditional photography. First, let’s talk about light. The camera will read the amount of available light and automatically adjust its settings, but the camera operator does have some control over the direction of light in the photographs.  Some Wisconsin animals have crepuscular activity patterns, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk, when the sun is low on the horizon. We often recommend positioning cameras to face north so that animals will never be back-lit and overpowered by the bright sun, as they may be if the camera is facing east or west. We recommend north over south because Wisconsin’s relatively high-latitude position in the Northern Hemisphere means that the sun will always be hanging in the southern sky, especially in the wintertime. The best compass bearing for the camera will undoubtedly vary from site-to-site, however. Take the above turkey photo, for example. This photo was taken at 10:42 AM, and the shadows cast by the trees indicate that the sun is behind the subject. This camera is likely facing east. In this case, the forest is dense enough to block out the light directly, and the trail appears to be coming up a slope. The key here is to consider where in the camera’s field of view the light will be coming from.

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A Jackson County bobcat entered the camera’s field of view at a distance of around 15 feet.

The next consideration, image sharpness, is a little more difficult to control. There are a lot of factors that can play into how crisp or soft an image will be, including how quickly the animal is moving, where it decides to enter the frame, and when it visits the camera site (sharp nighttime photos are notoriously rare).  For locations along a clearly defined game or maintained trail, a few helpful considerations can be made. Our cameras tend to take the sharpest images when the subject is around 10-15 feet away. Placing the camera at approximately this distance from where animals are expected to cross in front of the camera can increase the chances that the animal will be in focus.

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This red fox from Oneida County seems to pose for a portrait. The snow-heavy branches frame the scene nicely, and the fox’s red coat stands out in contrast with the white background.

The final element that I’d like to touch upon is composition. What makes the composition of a photo “good” is difficult to discuss, not only because it’s a matter of opinion, but also because the composition within the frame can change based on the time of year. Not to mention, we can’t always predict where in the frame the animal is going to be captured and in what position! This is tied to one of my sentiments at the beginning of the post – the composition is often special because we can’t control the details. This concept known as “natural design”. It’s familiar to most of us who have a fondness for nature; a glen of naturally-scattered ferns has a special quality that just wouldn’t be the same if they were hand-placed.  Our trail camera hosts often have a relationship with the natural design of their unique camera site, which has resulted in Snapshot staff curating individual collections of our own favorite snaps.  Of course, being aesthetically pleasing does not give a photo any more weight in our data set, but the potential for such photographs is another reason that Snapshot Wisconsin is such a special project.

Feeling artsy? Check out the past blog, “Getting artsy with Snapshot Wisconsin” to hear more about the creative side of the project.

June #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap features a mink from Waupaca county, stepping into ice cold water. Mink are amazing swimmers and divers. Even in the winter, you ask? Yes, thanks to insulation from a thick underfur & oily hair, minks maintain their aquatic lifestyle year round, although less so when it’s cold.

Thanks @Tjper for nominating this sequence!

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Continue classifying photos on Zooniverse and hashtagging your favorites for a chance to be featured in the next #SuperSnap blog post. Check out all of the nominations by searching “#SuperSnap” on the Snapshot Wisconsin Talk boards.

Snapshot Saturday: June 29th, 2019

Did you know that black bear have short, curved claws that make them exceptional tree climbers? Climbing trees allows a bear to take refuge from predators, gather food and even take a break. Keep an eye out (or up) for bears this summer!

Check out this bear cub captured on a Polk County Snapshot Wisconsin camera learning the ropes.

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Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/.