Falling Into Field Work in the Flambeau

The Snapshot Wisconsin team recently completed a second round of elk camera fieldwork in the Flambeau River State Forest. Below, Michael Kamp describes his field work experience along with his Snapshot teammate, Jamie Bugel.

The late morning sun was beginning to peek out as the Flambeau River glided serenely by. I watched downed maple leaves, their edges curled up, drifting down the river to unknown destinations. No boats traveled by this early fall morning. Taking one last look at the silent flow, Jamie and I walked back to our separate vehicles. Field work could not wait forever.

A river and trees

Nearby the Chippewa River. Photo by Ally Magnin.

After coasting down County Highway M, all the while on alert for crossing elk, we pulled off onto a gravel road. Shortly down the gravel road we parked in front of a gate to a walking trail. Stepping out of my vehicle, I gazed down the corridor of stunning fall colors. Auburn, golden, and rosy hues led the way to the site of our trail camera deployment. We strode down the path, following our GPS, towards the specific coordinates. A raven flew overhead cawing loudly – much throatier than its cousin the crow. Once we were within 20 meters, we veered off the treeless path to work our way through downed branches and a cluster of aspen trees. We selected a paper birch tree within a couple meters of the GPS point and positioned the trail camera facing north.

Truck and Subaru in front of trees

Field work vehicles parked in Flambeau River State Forest. Photos by Jamie Bugel (left) and Michael Kamp (right).

Next on the schedule was checking a trail camera down Lost Mile Road – a fitting name for such a lane far removed from town streets and city blocks. The sun now shone high above as the Subaru took the bumps and puddles of Lost Mile Road in rhythm. Once again, a metal gate impeded any vehicles hoping to pass, so Jamie and I continued on foot. This trail camera was further from the walking path, through swaying sandy brown grass and over the occasional muddy spot. A couple of eastern hemlocks, seemingly out of place in this open area, stood sentinel as we checked the trail camera. The batteries replaced and SD card in hand, we trekked back to our vehicles.   

Snapshot team member hiking in woods

Snapshot team member walking to trail camera. Photo by Ally Magnin.

Using the bed of Jamie’s pickup truck as an impromptu table, we ate a pleasant lunch before heading to the following trail camera. We drove a short way as a light breeze swirled fallen leaves on and off the road. The trail camera lay a couple hundred meters south of this gravel way.  We headed into the woods, ducking under dense shrubbery and paused to marvel at a towering yellow birch tree. Maybe elk wandered beneath that tree’s branches in the late 1800’s before they were extirpated from the state. After reintroduction efforts and over 100 years later, the same tree might experience elk again. Moving on, we found the trail camera without much difficulty, lying just above a small marsh. Another trail camera checked.

Checking the last trail camera for the day passed in much the same manner – hiking quietly through the forest undisturbed by anyone else. Walking back from the trail camera, we lingered on the crest of a hill to observe the late afternoon sun. The brilliant rays pierced a forest opening and illuminated our surroundings in a golden glow. A photo could simply not do the scene justice. However, I can still picture that scene. Rather than a digital likeness, it is instead an enduring image etched in my mind’s eye.

A road with trees

Views from Flambeau River State Forest. Photo by Ally Magnin.

When I think back to that sunny Friday during the tail end of September, I do not solely think about the trail cameras checked and data collected. I think about a day where Jamie and I had no cell service. There were no pings from our phones regarding news alerts or social media posts. There were no interruptions from the outside world. There was only a radio to call for help if needed. The gift of that day was we were truly present in the moment. That was the experience of fall in the Flambeau.

Building The Data Dashboard – From Inception to Release

The following piece was written by OAS Communications Coordinator Ryan Bower for the Snapshot Wisconsin newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this link.

This edition of the Snapshot newsletter is focused on a new Snapshot Wisconsin product, the Data Dashboard. The Data Dashboard is an interactive tool that let’s the public explore the data that Snapshot has collected in a new and exciting way. This dashboard marks an important step towards Snapshot’s goal of making its data more accessible to the volunteers who helped collect it, as well as the public more broadly.

You can learn more about the development of the dashboard, as well as what features are currently available on it, in this edition of the Snapshot newsletter, or you can check out the dashboard for yourself at https://widnr-snapshotwisconsin.shinyapps.io/DataDashboard/.

The idea of the Data Dashboard originated about two years ago, stemming from a desire to bring what Snapshot has learned full circle back to the volunteers and public. However, no one knew at the time what would eventually manifest from that desire. No one knew that the Data Dashboard was on the horizon.

The core purpose of Snapshot Wisconsin is to provide data for wildlife decision support and bringing citizens into that process. Citizen science projects like Snapshot Wisconsin rely upon the public’s aid to accomplish tasks that would be unfeasible or impossible otherwise, and making sure volunteers feel fulfilled and satisfied with their time investment is important to the Snapshot team.

As part of her dissertation research, Christine Anhalt-Depies, the project coordinator of Snapshot Wisconsin, investigated why volunteers joined the program, hoping to learn their motivations and reasons for staying. Her surveys taught the team much about what they needed to focus on to keep volunteers feeling fulfilled.

Two of the survey’s findings stood out to the team. First, many volunteers cared deeply about contributing to wildlife monitoring and wanted to see what wildlife was in their area and the state. Volunteers also wanted to see the fruit of their work, how the project was contributing to wildlife management decisions across Wisconsin. The Snapshot team knew from these findings that they needed something that would close the loop, bringing the data full circle.

To help close the loop, the Snapshot team decided to focus on making Snapshot findings more available and accessible to the public. They needed a tool that everyone could use and learn from. With that daunting task in front of them, the team started by investigating what kinds of platforms were even available for this type of visualization tool.

The Snapshot team explored many options but ultimately settled on R Shiny, an extension of the statistical software R, and soon a prototype was being built. The initial prototype of the dashboard started as a map of Wisconsin, but the team wanted to show more. The team needed a specialist with a vision of what the tool could become.

A Fresh Face Joins The Team

In November of this last year (2019), a new member joined the Snapshot Wisconsin team, and he would play a leading role in developing the Data Dashboard.

Ryan Bemowski, Data Scientist and Engineer at the Wisconsin DNR and developer of the Data Dashboard, recalled what it was like joining the project at this time. “There were many discussions still going on about what the tool was going to look like. The team was trying to figure out how they could best display the data in a way that was meaningful to volunteers and the public,” said Bemowski. “My primary task was to get the visualizations made by deciding what data to display and come up with ideas for the visualizations.”

Bemowski spent the next eight months reimagining the look and feel of the Data Dashboard. Bemowski kept one central piece of the prototype, the map of Wisconsin, but simplified it to show the percentage of cameras in each county or management unit that have detected the selected species at least once.

During these months, he also dived into what other data would be shown on the dashboard. Snapshot Wisconsin cameras have taken over 47 million photos to date, but many of these photos don’t contain animals. The majority of the photos that do contain animals will be classified correctly. However, the team knows that not all the photo classifications are accurate, complicating their use. Some species are particularly difficult to classify, often being mistaken for similar species, such as wolves (below left) and coyotes (below right).

Bemowski and the team wanted to show as much data as possible. However, they didn’t want to add data to the dashboard that was inaccurate, so they needed a way to determine how accurate the community was at classifying each species.

Bemowski explained the team’s approach to solving the inaccuracy issue. “We ran a round of accuracy analyses to see how accurate [classifications] are for each species, but we ended up only able to do the analysis for certain subsets of species,” said Bemowski. An accuracy analysis is a test to determine how many of the photos of a species are correctly classified using a sample of photos. The team’s accuracy analysis yielded an accuracy rate for most species. However, it didn’t work for certain species. “When you run an accuracy analysis, you must have a big enough sample for each species. In our case, some species like beaver just didn’t have enough photos to be analyzed properly.”

Additionally, a few species were analyzed but still excluded because of their low accuracy rate. Volunteers are overall very good at identifying most Wisconsin species, but some species are difficult and had a low accuracy. Bemowski mentioned that the team will continue to run more accuracy analyses and work towards getting all species on the dashboard eventually.

The Soft Launch, Feedback And Improvements

After much work, Bemowski and the team were ready mid-July to test out their tool with a soft launch to a handful of volunteers. They chose the 1,700 volunteers who host Snapshot trail cameras and asked for feedback on the dashboard. Around 90 responses came back, and three main themes emerged that the team began to think about.

First, the volunteers wanted clearer explanations about why species were included or excluded. Second, there was a desire that certain species be added to the dashboard, namely wolf and elk. Lastly, volunteers wanted to see data at a more granular scale, such as being able to see the data for specific cameras instead of countywide.

After reading the survey responses, Bemowski and the team set about incorporating this feedback and getting the dashboard ready for the full launch to the public. The first theme was easy to address. Bemowski added a clickable pop-up (below the species list) to the dashboard that shows the accuracy rate for each species. Simultaneously, Bemowski and the team were able to finish the accuracy analyses of three more species and added them to the dashboard: Snowshoe hair, pheasant and fisher.

The second theme that emerged was a desire to see certain, high-interest species on the dashboard. Bemowski explained, “The reason we excluded some species [for the soft launch] is because, below a certain accuracy, we know some of the data is incorrect. If a species has a 50% accuracy rate, for example, we know that 50% of the data being shown is correct and 50% is incorrect.” The data for species with an accuracy rate below 95% is still stored and used in other ways, but the team wanted all the data on the dashboard to meet a minimum quality standard.

The team thought of a clever way to balance the public’s desire to see high-interest species like wolf and elk with their data accuracy standards. The photos of species with low accuracy and species of special interest go through an extra round of classification by species experts to confirm which photos are correct, so the accuracy of the expert-classified subset of photos is 100% and meets the data quality standards. The Snapshot team collectively decided that the best way to include the data for elk and wolves was to only use the expert-confirmed photos on the dashboard. Bemowski said, “We want to show correct data, as accurate as possible, without holding anything back.” This decision was the best compromise the team came up with.

The last theme focuses on granularity, or the scale to which you can “zoom in.” Some volunteers wanted to see beyond the county scale and look at data from individual cameras. Bemowski was conflicted about the topic of granularity though. “We don’t want to give the exact latitude and longitude of the cameras because of privacy concerns, but we still wanted to give as much granularity as possible.” Showing data at the county level is as granular (or “zoomed in”) as Snapshot can currently go, but the team hopes to eventually have individual dashboards for each camera’s host so that they can see the data for their cameras. However, that is still in the planning stage.A map of wisconsin showing bobcat detection by counties

What’s Next For The Dashboard?

Now that the dashboard is released, Bemowski reflected upon what the dashboard means to the project. “I’ve realized recently how big of a step this dashboard is for Snapshot Wisconsin: To go from collecting millions of photos to showing people what the data is saying and really analyzing that in depth. That’s a big step. Looking back, the intention has always been to transform Snapshot data into actionable outcomes,” but the Data Dashboard marks a major step towards Snapshot sharing its findings with the public.

The Data Dashboard’s current version is focused on making Snapshot’s findings available to the public, but more updates and additions to the dashboard are already on the planning board. “The Data Dashboard is an evolving product,” said Bemowski. “We are going to go through many iterations of it to improve the quality and abundance of data and species available. The next step is to build upon the dashboard so it can be more meaningful for decision makers, such as the county deer adivory councils (CDACs) and other wildlife management organizations around Wisconsin.”

Bemowski offered some advice for anyone going outside to interact with nature. “Improve your chances of seeing your favorite species by using the Dashboard to observe wildlife during their times of peak activity or use the dashboard to see if your favorite species have been detected in your county. Even if you don’t see your favorite species, you may be surprised at other wildlife you do see.”

Bemowski and the Snapshot team are momentarily celebrating reaching this important milestone before they continue to improve the dashboard. Bemowski said, “I wish I had something like this as a kid. I grew up in Wisconsin. I grew up a hunter and fisher; someone who enjoys the outdoors. I always heard that there isn’t enough information about wildlife, that people just don’t know what is there, and that all the ‘guesses’ from wildlife organizations [about what is around] aren’t true.”

“But the Data Dashboard is as close as you can get to really knowing what is out there,” continued Bemowski. “Drawing from a growing collection of over 2.3 million animal sightings from over 2,200 cameras locations across Wisconsin, the dashboard is a really awesome way to discover and experience these animal sightings.”

If you want to explore the Data Dashboard yourself, you can access it at https://widnr-snapshotwisconsin.shinyapps.io/DataDashboard/.

A Volunteer Explores The Data Dashboard

The following piece was written by OAS Communications Coordinator Ryan Bower for the Snapshot Wisconsin newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this link.

This edition of the Snapshot newsletter is focused on a new Snapshot Wisconsin product, the Data Dashboard. The Data Dashboard is an interactive tool that let’s the public explore the data that Snapshot has collected in a new and exciting way. This dashboard marks an important step towards Snapshot’s goal of making its data more accessible to the volunteers who helped collect it, as well as the public more broadly.

You can learn more about the development of the dashboard, as well as what features are currently available on it, in this edition of the Snapshot newsletter, or you can check out the dashboard for yourself at https://widnr-snapshotwisconsin.shinyapps.io/DataDashboard/.

Snapshot Wisconsin released its new data visualization tool to the public today. The tool is called the Data Dashboard and is a major step towards bringing the project full circle. The Data Dashboard offers volunteers and the public a new way to engage directly with this data, letting people choose which data they want to visualize.

At launch, the data for 18 animal species is available to explore, including how active species are during different times of the day and year and how the species are spatially distributed across the state. Data can be viewed for specific counties or statewide, and the data from maps and graphs can even be downloaded to share with others.

Christine Anhalt-Depies, project coordinator for Snapshot Wisconsin, described the intention and purpose of the dashboard. “The purpose of the dashboard is to close the loop – to make sure that people who are involved in collecting data have an opportunity to see the outputs of their work,” said Anhalt-Depies. “This first iteration of the dashboard is focused on giving the public a chance to explore data they’ve helped to generate.”

Exploring The Data Dashboard With A Volunteer 

One of the best features of the Data Dashboard is that it lets people explore the wildlife in our state at their pace. The dashboard is open ended and can be explored in whatever order you want, but sometimes a guide is nice to follow along with. A member of the Snapshot team virtually sat down with a long-term Snapshot volunteer on Skype and let them explore the Data Dashboard.

Tim Sprain has been a volunteer with Snapshot Wisconsin for nearly 3 years. He hosts three Snapshot cameras in three separate counties. Sprain is a middle school teacher and uses Snapshot in his classroom to describe biology concepts in an interactive way. Sprain shared his screen with Sarah Cameron, a member of the Snapshot team and head of the educator engagement side of Snapshot. Here are some of the highlights from the discussion between Sprain and Cameron.

The Map Of Wisconsin – Counties and Ecological Landscapes

While Sprain was getting set up to share his screen, Cameron said, “One thing I like to remember when talking about the dashboard is the fact that we were literally sitting in a room at the DNR office about two years back, brainstorming how we can share the data that the volunteers were collecting back with them. We had this grand idea of a dashboard but had no idea how we were going to accomplish it. It’s been really exciting to see the progress over the years and have a product now that we can give back to our volunteers – something they can connect to.”

Sprain agreed and added, “A lot of times, people don’t have the knowledge or resources to understand what animals are in their backyard. I see this dashboard as a huge resource to educate them. My goal [as an educator] is to be a catalyst for experiential learning, and Snapshot Wisconsin is all about making sure people get a chance to be involved.”

“Years ago,” continued Sprain, “[DNR staff] pointed me towards what the DNR offers to families and students other than hunting, fishing and trapping, and I’ve kept up on the email updates that the DNR sends out. When Snapshot Wisconsin came onboard, it was a natural fit.” Sprain finished loading the Data Dashboard on his computer and was ready to explore the dashboard. Sprain started with the map of Wisconsin (on the left side of the dashboard). The map shows how many of the trail cameras in a given area have captured the selected species. The map can be broken into counties or ecological landscapes, such as the Northern highlands or Southwest savanna.

Map of bear detections by county

Map of bear detections by ecological landscape

Sprain said, “I’m excited to share the map of Wisconsin with my students, because it has ecological landscapes. It will help them understand how humans and animals use different landscapes and that animals have adaptations to suit the habitat in their landscape. Habitats are the most important piece towards maintaining our rich diversity of animals and flora in the state, which is an indication of our health as humans. This awareness can help build the understanding that we are all in this together. It’s also cool that you have the ecological zones because ecological borders are more real [to wildlife] than county lines.”

Sprain hovered over the three counties he has cameras in and started clicking on different species. Sprain mentioned how he has had to use a different approach this year to incorporating Snapshot into his teaching, since Sprain’s school district is starting virtually. Sprain explained, “In a normal year, [my class and I] would take a trip in the first week of school. I take them to a forested park and ask them what they notice. The kids ask me questions [about the plant and animals they see], and I introduce Snapshot Wisconsin by showing the trail camera pictures. I ask again, ‘What is this,’ or ‘What do you see now?’”

“Often times students will recognize a deer, but they get confused when they see a coyote, fox or wolf,” said Sprain. Sprain recalled a special moment of discovery he had with his students. “When they saw a fisher, it was just the most wonderful moment of learning. They didn’t know what a fisher is, but [to them] it looked sort of like a wolverine. They couldn’t quite figure it out.” Sprain used this moment to teach his students something new about fishers. “Now, they feel this connection to knowing something that they didn’t know before about this mysterious creature living in their bluffs.”

A fisher.

A fisher captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera.

Sprain hovered over La Crosse county specifically, since that is where the camera that saw the fisher was located. Sprain was excited to discover that there was only one camera out of 13 in the county that had seen a fisher. It was his camera.

Cameron added, “It will be really cool to share with your students that the data they helped collect got that one point out of 13 in La Crosse county. I’m also glad you mentioned fisher, because that wasn’t there [until recently.]” Fisher, as well as four other species, was added to the dashboard in response to the feedback volunteers gave during a soft launch to trail camera hosts.

Sprain joked, “You should have seen the look on the landowner when I shared the [fisher discovery] with the family. They were dumbfounded. They didn’t even know what a fisher was!”

“Oh, that’s so funny,” said Cameron. “That was one of our early and exciting findings of the project, realizing that fishers were a lot farther south in the state than we expected. We’ve had a lot of people come to us and say, ‘Wow I caught a fisher on my property! I didn’t know they were down here.’”

Why Species Were Included Or Excluded

Sprain moved on from the map and started looking more closely at the Species list next to the map. There are 18 species currently available on the dashboard – some common species and some rare like wolf and elk.

“Students always ask after all the carnivores, as well as ones that are unique like porcupine,” said Sprain. “I love that porcupine is on the list! The kids love porcupine.” Between his three cameras and a few annual field trips, Sprain’s class gets to see quite a few of our Wisconsin species. “We don’t have any wolves on our cameras yet, but I see [on the dashboard] that other cameras have picked them up in my counties… so they are there.”

Sprain and Cameron continued to discuss different animals that his students like seeing, and the conversation turned towards species that weren’t included on the species list, namely beaver.

Cameron directed Sprain to look under the species list at the blue text about missing species. Cameron said, “We thought that would be a question that would come up quite a bit, so this popup provides some extra information [on why some species were included and other excluded.]”

This popup explains the main criteria to be included on the dashboard, having a 95% accuracy rate. An accuracy rate is a measure of how often volunteers correctly classify a given species. If photos of a species are classified correctly at least 95% of the time, then that species was added to the dashboard. There is also a table with every species that Snapshot volunteers can classify, such as the partial table below. Each species on the list has an accuracy rate and explanation if it wasn’t included.

Anhalt-Depies jumped back into the conversation and said, “For species with low accuracy, we will eventually be able to provide an expert review of that species’ photos, such as badger with an accuracy of .624 [which is below the .95 or 95% cutoff]. We will be reviewing those photos and including them in a later version of the dashboard.”

The Snapshot team knows there are some classification errors in the data, but anything with an accuracy above .95 is acceptable for this purpose. Sprain ask Anhalt-Depies about the two cameras in Milwaukee county with snowshoe hare detections, and Anhalt-Depies explained that those are likely misclassified and within the 5% of the time the data was incorrect.

Sprain replied, “I like that there is a discussion of accuracy and human error. Science is not perfection, but to see these [accuracy rate] numbers… now I understand why a species wasn’t included.”

Sprain and Cameron each commented on how impressed they were overall with the accuracy of Snapshot volunteers. Cameron said, “One thing I encourage for volunteers who want to help increase their accuracy is to involve others. You [Sprain] mentioned that your students work together to classify photos. My dad calls me basically every time he checks his camera to verify that a photo is an opossum… or a racoon. Just having a couple eyes on the photos increases accuracy but also makes it a more enjoyable experience working with others.”

Sprain jumped in and added, “That is what it is all about, a social network of citizens contributing to science! Working together for a much bigger purpose but also feeling great about seeing the wilderness and ecology in the state of Wisconsin – that is the goal.”

Visualizing Animal Activity and Detection Rates

Soon, Sprain had moved on to the next section of the dashboard, the graph of animal activity. The graph, located on the right side of the dashboard, plots how many times a species has been seen at each hour of the day or each month of the year, depending on which option you choose.

“I like that you can see activity by hour or month,” said Sprain. Sprain started making connections between activity patterns he observed and known behavior of those species. Bears, for example, become more active during the spring and summer months yet are rarely seen during the winter. “I’ll ask my students the question, why are they so active during certain months? Some students think it is a difference in population size, instead of a behavioral difference like preparing for hibernation or reproduction. I get a lot of giggles in the seventh-grade classroom, but the question is very relevant to teaching animal ecology and biology.”

The graph can also be adjusted to show which hours of the day a species is more active. The dashboard shows that sandhill crane, for example, are mainly active during the day but are most active between 10:00am-1:00pm. Bird watchers could increase their chance of spotting one by using the dashboard to find its peak activity times. The same could apply to any of the 18 species shown on the dashboard.

The second tab of the activity chart shows detection rates. Initially set to show the top five species detected state-wide, the detection rate chart can show much more than you may expect. If the selected species isn’t among the top five species, it will appear as a sixth bar on the chart. Additionally, individual counties can be selected to show the data for both the state and selected county. Using these features together, Sprain was able to discover that bobcat, elk, porcupine, and wolf were detected slightly more often in Jackson county, where one of his cameras is located.

Overcoming Insufficient Data

Three counties don’t show species data and are labelled as insufficient data. These counties have less than five cameras. If enough data isn’t being pulled from cameras in a county, then the dashboard doesn’t make a lot of sense. For example, let’s say you live in a county with only one camera. If a rare species like the whooping crane walks across that camera, then that species now has a 100% detection rate (one camera out of one camera) in that county. The dashboard would give off the impression that whooping cranes were extremely common in that county, when the species is actually quite rare. This is why Snapshot requires a minimum of five cameras per county before the dashboard will show data for it. If you live in a county that is labeled as Insufficient Data, then consider hosting a camera or encouraging others to host one. There are a lot of opportunities, not only on private lands, but also on public lands to host Snapshot cameras.

Cameron said, “There are a lot of ways to get involved, no matter where you are or whether you have access to land. Snapshot is a really unique project in that there are so many ways to get involved. You could host a trail camera, classify photos online or just participate in some of the educator resources. There is a lot to explore and to offer!”

Even if you are just interested in learning about wildlife in the state, you can help out Snapshot by giving them feedback on the dashboard. There is a survey at the bottom of the dashboard for anyone, not just volunteers, to offer ideas for future versions of the dashboard. After all, the Data Dashboard is designed to help Snapshot come full circle, so they want to hear from you. While not every idea can be implemented, the major themes in the survey responses impact what the team focuses on moving forward.

Cameron reiterated, “The data dashboard isn’t just for Snapshot volunteers. It is for anyone interested in Wisconsin wildlife. Snapshot and the Data Dashboard are special because they wouldn’t be possible without our trail camera hosts and folks classifying online.”

Let’s Discover Our Wildlife Together

Snapshot’s slogan, “Let’s Discover Our Wildlife Together,” isn’t a mistake. Snapshot is a project about people (from Wisconsin and across the globe) working together to monitor our wildlife. “While we know so much about Wisconsin wildlife, there is still so much we don’t know,” said Cameron. “Having tools like this dashboard help us fill in those gaps and get a more complete picture of what is really happening in Wisconsin.”

Sprain added, “[The dashboard lets] each citizen take away a piece of Wisconsin culture and have it become a part of their life. There is no denying the presence of these animals on the cameras. That is the power of this data.”

Whatever your motivation for wanting to see Wisconsin wildlife, check out Snapshot Wisconsin’s Data Dashboard. Version 1.0 is now available to the public.

Lastly, Anhalt-Depies offered Snapshot’s hope for the future of the dashboard. “We are now at a point where the project has really good coverage across the state. Our hope is that, as the dashboard evolves, it becomes a powerful tool for decision makers,” so keep an eye out for what is available in future versions of the dashboard!

You can visit the Data Dashboard at https://widnr-snapshotwisconsin.shinyapps.io/DataDashboard/.

September #SuperSnap

The gorgeous reds and browns of autumn are already beginning to seep across the state of Wisconsin. This month’s #SuperSnap features an equally gorgeous red fox hunting a small rodent.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A huge thanks to Zooniverse participant gardenmaeve 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.

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.