Flying Squirrels

Squirrels are so common in Wisconsin that many of us take them for granted. They’re everywhere, stealing bird seed, digging holes, chattering from the tree outside of your window. Of all the animal photos we’ve collected at Snapshot Wisconsin, squirrels and chipmunks make up 9%, making them our second largest animal category after deer. Most people know of the gray squirrel and fox squirrel, but Wisconsin is home to eight other squirrel species as well. I was most surprised to learn that we have not just one, but two distinct species of flying squirrels (the northern flying squirrel and the southern flying squirrel).

A fox squirrel looking right at the camera
Fox squirrel captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera.

Growing up, I had no idea we had flying squirrels in our state. I had assumed that these unique gliders were only found in vast tracks of forest out west. Two years ago, a family friend told me a story about a flying squirrel that snuck in through a hole in their old farmhouse and took a nap inside one of their pillows. It wasn’t until they laid their head on the pillow that they startled the squirrel, which quickly bolted for safety. Thankfully, most of us don’t have alarming encounters with squirrels, but this story made me realize that I had been living alongside these small creatures all my life and I had no idea they were there. I decided to learn more about them. 

A small flying squirrel on a log at night.
Flying squirrel captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera at night.

Flying squirrels are nocturnal, which explains why they only show up on our Snapshot Wisconsin cameras at night. They have large, glassy eyes and cinnamon-colored fur. During the day, flying squirrels make themselves at home in old woodpecker holes or other naturally occurring cavities in trees. You might be able to catch a glimpse of one if you’re in the woods a few hours after dark, or just before dawn when they’re most active.

A flying squirrel spread out mid-flight
A ventral view of a flying squirrel captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera.

“Flying” is actually a misleading term since these tiny squirrels get around by jumping from the trunk of a tree, then using their extra skin to help them glide to the next trunk. The farthest observed glide was over 290 feet, but most glides are around 60 feet.  

Although the southern flying squirrel is found across the state, the northern flying squirrel is mostly found in the old-growth forests in the northern part of our state. The northern flying squirrel is a species of “special concern” in Wisconsin. This means it is not yet threatened or endangered, but they are still protected and monitored. A flying squirrel’s diet can include nuts, fruits, buds, and insects, but a large portion also comes from mushrooms. They help spread the spores of these fungi, which assist coniferous trees with water and nutrient absorption. The flying squirrels themselves are also prey for a large number of species, some of which include owls, coyotes, weasels, fox, and hawks.

I was surprised to learn just how much these small creatures contribute to our state’s ecosystems. It just goes to show that there’s always more to learn about the wildlife around you.

Sources:
https://www.eekwi.org/animals/mammals/flying-squirrel
https://dnr.wi.gov/files/PDF/pubs/er/ER0678.pdf
https://academic.oup.com/jmammal/article/88/4/862/909098#15736779

Black Bear Hidden Talent

You may be surprised to learn that black bears are excellent climbers! Although you may think otherwise based on their size and build, their strong curved claws provide the perfect resource. Check out these adorable bear cubs from Portage County catching an early start on learning to climb.

Are you interested in exploring the wonders of Wisconsin wildlife from your home? Visit www.SnapshotWisconsin.org to view images captured from trail cameras across the state. It’s a fun and educational activity for all!

A Late Summer’s Night in the North Woods

A Snapshot Wisconsin team member, Michael, moved up north for the summer to help the DNR in the Northern Highland State Forest. Below is a short piece he wrote about his experience in northern Wisconsin.

Sunset on Wildcat Lake, WI. Photo by Michael Kamp.

The gravel crunched under the tires of my Subaru as I wove down Wildcat Road one August evening. A Snowshoe Hare dashed for cover into the forest. A toad slowly hopped across the road. The tamaracks waved softly at me as I drove over Wildcat Creek. Upon pulling into the garage, darkness had nearly fallen.


Walking back outside, I climbed the stone steps to the front door feeling the breeze blow off the lake. I started to heat up left over soup on the stove for a late dinner. I sat down to eat the soup and simply listened. The wind whispered through the trees. The rustling among pine needles and maple leaves had become a constant and comforting sound over the last three months. A storm could be heard far in the distance. Thunder rolled across thousands of acres of woods and lakes towards me. Soon after, I heard rain pattering on the surface of the lake. No star gazing tonight.


Instead, I took up my favorite seat in the cabin – a wooden rocking chair on the porch. I picked up Where the Crawdads Sing and read as the storm gained strength. I read about a girl, Kya, who learns the intricacies of a North Carolina coastal marsh. Nature has become her only friend as her family slowly abandons her when they move out into the greater world. Kya knows the tidal cycles by heart and can identify any bird that crosses her path, like the elegant Great Blue Heron – a bird that I have seen out of this very porch in Wisconsin. I have observed it standing stock still and waiting for a hapless fish to swim too close. I sat and thought of how much I still have to learn about the ecosystem surrounding me. The tiniest details that I have yet to notice. What would Kya discern that I have not observed?


The storm eventually passed. I closed the book and listened to loons wailing on the lake. Loon calls have always struck me as hauntingly beautiful. The calls expound on the beauty of the natural world while at the same time lamenting the perils it faces. It is as if the loons can feel the climate shifting drastically. A barred owl soon joined the lonely chorus with the familiar “who-cooks-for-you” call. Both bird calls echoed across the lake. A breeze suddenly picked up, blowing through the screen and onto my face. Gently woken from my reverie, I got ready for bed. Then I crawled under the blankets and drifted off to sleep with the sound of the wind in the trees.


These are the nights I will remember. The nights when nature gave me the chance to slow down. The nights when it was only me and the north woods.

Elk Camera Updates: Fieldwork in Black River Falls

The following piece was co-written by Ally Magnin and Claire Viellieux, with contributions from The Snapshot Wisconsin Team. 

The Snapshot Wisconsin team recently conducted an analysis of trail cameras in the Black River Falls elk reintroduction area. In this analysis, we compared elk collar location data to active cameras. We found that the elk herd range has shifted since their reintroduction in the area and that some of our camera locations are not aligned with where the elk are currently located. To begin to address this mismatch and maintain our grids, we identified cameras that should be removed, replaced, or checked. Below, Snapshot Wisconsin team members share a “snapshot” of their experiences checking cameras in the Black River Falls State Forest.

“While I have helped with elk fieldwork before (check out this blog post!), this was my first experience organizing a trip for the team. It was also my first time heading out into the woods alone – something I never would have been confident enough to do two years ago! Overall, conducting this fieldwork improved my ability to navigate with a GPS unit and made me comfortable with being in the woods alone. The quiet of the forest was a little unsettling at first, but by lunchtime of the first day, I settled in and enjoyed the solitude. I tuned in to the sounds of the forest and felt at ease.” – Ally Magnin

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“Getting back into the field was a great experience this last round of fieldwork. While I am beyond appreciative of the time that volunteers put into monitoring their cameras, I can’t help but jump on an opportunity to get out and contribute to that part of the project. When it came to the luck of the draw for removing elk cameras, I certainly fared well. Although I encountered my fair share of ‘creepy crawlies’ and briars, I was welcomed with beautiful views of the Black River State Forest, including the Pigeon Creek Flowage, and even got to see my first Wisconsin black bear.” – Sarah Cameron

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“What do fly bites and cold toes have in common? They’re both guarantees while doing fieldwork in the extremes of Wisconsin’s weather. While some seasons are more comfortable for meandering through the woods than others, each has its own charm. Summer, for example, is a peak for finding a diversity of flora and fauna. In my two most recent field days, I encountered a doe and a fawn crossing the road ahead of me, was startled by a ruffed grouse that I unintentionally flushed, and enjoyed watching a spring peeper jump through the brush along the path. But the critter that inspired me most was even smaller.

Before finding one during fieldwork, I had never seen a bright red dragonfly. I snapped a quick picture and continued along my way – stopping too long is just inviting the flies to bite uncovered fingers. As I hiked, I thought about all the other brightly colored dragonflies I had seen growing up – blue and green, mostly. I wondered if there were dragonflies for every color of the rainbow. Probably not here in Wisconsin, but perhaps I could find something else to represent every color in the rainbow. This created a fun little scavenger hunt for me and made my time go by almost too quickly!”

Emily Buege Donovan

a photo collage of a red dragonfly, fungus, trefoil plant and bee, heal-all plant, blueberries, katydid nymph.

Clockwise starting at top left: red dragonfly, fungus, trefoil plant and bee, heal-all plant, blueberries, katydid nymph.


“As I was driving to my first trail camera location in Black River Falls, I remember noticing how beautiful and lush all the trees were. It was a clear, sunny day and I was looking forward to exploring an area that I had never been to before. Trying to locate my first camera ended up being a bit of a trial by fire. It had rained the night before, creating swampy conditions. I stepped on a patch of mossy forest floor that I expected to be solid, but before I knew it, I had fallen up to my waist in swamp water! Luckily the field clothes I was wearing dried off quickly. Besides this misfortune, the rest of the day went smoothly. I even saw a mother raccoon and her adorable babies waddling across the road. Unfortunately, they were too quick for me to pull over and snap a photo, but I’ve included a picture of my cheery view as I stopped to eat lunch from the back of my car.”— Claire Viellieux

A gravel road and trees

A view of a trail in the Black River Falls State Forest.


“This July was my first experience doing fieldwork with Snapshot Wisconsin and the timing could not have been better! After transitioning to working from home in March, a trip up to Black River Falls State Forest was a sorely needed dose of the outdoors.

I had a few cameras on my list to find and the first one was a super easy walk through a peaceful campground and low-density foliage. I found the camera quickly with just a few mosquitoes flying around me. Finding this camera so quickly and easily gave me a false sense of confidence as I headed towards my second camera.

I hopped in the truck and drove to my next camera. From my maps, it looked like it was right off the road. I spent some time trying to find an easy path. After a few false starts trying to make my way through the ferns, water, moss, and bushes, I plunged in and started walking in as direct a line as possible to the camera. That line turned out not to be so direct. I got turned around and so did the GPS. In the end, I am pretty sure I spent a half-hour walking through the same 20 square meters. I did not end up finding this camera.

After this long search, lunch in the truck bed was a must. The continual feeling of being lost at that last camera site was foreign to me, but it was also a great reminder to get outside my comfort zone and try new things. It definitely gave me a better appreciation for all of the hard work our volunteers put into this project.

I found my final camera with my teammate Emily. Even though most of our fieldwork was done solo in individual vehicles to make sure we were following all the required health precautions, Emily and I hiked the longest distance of the day together while keeping at least 6 feet apart from each other. I’m so glad we were able to go to this final site together because it gave me more confidence. We tromped through logging tracts, chest high ferns, and pockets of moss that made me very grateful for my waterproof hiking boots before finally locating the last camera.

Thank you elk camera volunteers! These cameras are hard to find but it is so rewarding to see those photos of elk becoming established as Wisconsin wildlife once again.” – Jamie Bugel

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If you’re interested in monitoring a camera in Black River Falls, Clam Lake, or Flambeau River, check out our Elk Camera Monitoring Application!

August #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap features a healthy looking black bear from Forest County. After bulking up all summer on its favorite foods, this bear will soon be settling down for its sleepy torpor. To learn more about the difference between hibernation and torpor, check out our earlier blog post: #SuperNap The Science of Hibernation.

A huge thanks to Zooniverse participant Swamp-eye for the #SuperSnap nomination!

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.

What Wisconsin Animal Are You?

Some of us like to stay up late and others prefer to snooze, you might be a homebody or always on the move…in case you didn’t realize – animals are the same way too!

Have you ever wondered what Wisconsin animal best embodies your habits?  Now is your chance to find out!  Take our quiz to find out what Wisconsin animal you are.

This quiz was developed by Sarah Cameron, Christine Anhalt-Depies, and Ally Magnin of the Snapshot Wisconsin Team, and was originally published on March 12th, 2019.

Observing Wisconsin’s Birds

Do you ever wonder what interesting behaviors birds display when you aren’t watching? The Snapshot Wisconsin Bird Edition season on Zooniverse gives you an eye into the forest to observe birds captured on trail cameras across the state!

sandhill_SSWI000000013030349C

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/.

Oh Deer! Reactions Throughout the Calendar Year

As the pandemic continues to play a large role in all of our lives, many of us have experienced a wide range of emotions throughout 2020. Some people have leaned on their sense of humor as a way to deal with stress and to share a laugh with their friends and family. The Snapshot Wisconsin Team was inspired by the recent “Covid Calendar Reaction” meme, specifically this one created by the National Park Service. We’ve put together our own using the ever-expressive faces of the many deer caught on our trail cameras. We hope it gives you a smile today!

Deer Calendar Meme

Summer Turkey Poults

From deer fawns to fox kits and even turkey poults, summer is a great time to observe young wildlife! This scene featuring a pair of adult turkeys and five poults was captured on a Sawyer County Snapshot Wisconsin camera.

turkeyspoults_sawy035_8.12.17

Are you interested in exploring the wonders of Wisconsin wildlife from your home? Visit www.SnapshotWisconsin.org to view images captured from trail cameras across the state. It’s a fun and educational activity for all!

We’re Teaming up with the Natural Resources Foundation!

We are excited to share that Snapshot Wisconsin is partnering with the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin! The Natural Resources Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to connect generations to the wonders of Wisconsin’s lands, waters, and wildlife through conservation, education, engagement, and giving.

Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin logo

A Rich History of Conservation

The Natural Resources Foundation was founded in 1986 and has grown to fill an important and unique conservation funding niche that no other organization does. Beyond providing funding for our most imperiled species and ecosystems, the Natural Resources Foundation also strives to provide meaningful opportunities for Wisconsin’s residents to connect with our natural resources.

A person standing in a prairie

Bluff Creek State Natural Area restoration work funded by the Natural Resources Foundation’s Cherish Wisconsin Outdoors Fund in 2017. Photo by Bridget Rathman.


Connections With Our State’s Natural Resources

Currently the Natural Resources Foundation offers a variety of nature connections for their members and beyond. Grants are available to educators and conservationists across the state, ranging from supplying classrooms with binoculars to reconstructing the trails of our beloved State Natural Areas.

A group of students holding butterfly nets

Thanks to a 2019 NRF Go Outside Fund grant, Caledonia Conservancy purchased new equipment for their 4th and 6th grader participants in the School to Nature Program. Photo credit: Julia Dreher.

The Foundation also operates their Field Trip program, providing an exciting variety of experiences to witness the wonders of our state’s wildlife and landscapes up close. Snapshot Wisconsin staff members have proudly served as past Field Trip leaders, educating participants about efforts to monitor the reintroduced elk populations.

Kayakers exploring a river

Kayakers explore Coldwater Canyon of the Dells of the Wisconsin River as part of the Natural Resources Foundation’s Field Trip program. Photo by Patty Henry.


What does this mean for Snapshot Wisconsin?

Forming a partnership with the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin will allow the Snapshot Wisconsin team to collaborate outside of the box. We are excited to extend volunteer opportunities to the members of the Natural Resources Foundation, including hosting a series of trail cameras on properties that have received their priority funding. For our current Snapshot Wisconsin volunteers, we are looking forward to new and exciting opportunities for trail camera hosts, students, and educators involved in the project. More to come on that later!

Three students looking at photos on a computer screen

Students classifying Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera photos. Photo by Skylar Primm.


Learn More about the Natural Resources Foundation

You can learn more about the Natural Resources Foundation, their programs and their impact at www.WisConservation.org. We look forward to this partnership and what it will mean for the Snapshot Wisconsin project!