Archive by Author | Claire Viellieux

March #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap features a porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) from Vilas county making its way down a path of prairie flowers. It may seem surprising, but these stout, ambling creatures can often be found at the tip-top of trees snacking away on bark, stems, leaves, fruits, and other springtime buds.

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A huge thanks to Zooniverse participant LynnGrace 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.

February #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap features a couple of curious opossums from Waupaca County. Opossums are usually solitary animals, however they will occasionally interact during the breeding season from February to September.

Two opossums stare at each other

A huge thanks to Zooniverse moderator 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.

A Brief History of Trail Cameras

Blog_Cam3The invention of trail cameras occurred further back in history than some might think. George Shiras III was a politician and lawyer from Pennsylvania who had an interest in using cameras to capture the first photos of wildlife in the 1880s. Most of Shiras’s photos took place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Since cameras at this time were bulky and cumbersome, carrying a camera out to the woods to take photos of elusive wildlife was not an idea that crossed most people’s minds. Shiras, however, had a brilliant idea for baiting a site and using a series of trip wires to trigger an automatic flash bulb and capture photos of animals at night.

A bull elk

A bull elk captured at night at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. July 1913. Photograph by George Shiras.

Another method Shiras used to capture photos of wildlife was a hunting technique he learned from members of the Ojibwe tribe referred to as jacklighting. Jacklighting is the practice of sitting out on a lake in a canoe at night and using a small fire to catch an animal’s attention without scaring them away. As the animals stood still and peered curiously towards the flames, Shiras would take his shot – with his camera that is.

Shiras’s photos were one-of-a-kind at the time, and National Geographic soon began publishing them in 1906. His collection of over 2,000 photos remains in their archives today. Click here to see some of George Shiras’s amazing camera trap photos.

A hundred years later, camera trap technology had evolved considerably. By the 1980s, camera traps were mostly being used by deer hunters, but wildlife researchers were starting to use these tools as well. These cameras worked using an infrared beam that, when broken, would open the shutter on a 35mm camera and snap a picture. The 35mm film resulted in crisp and sharply contrasted images, but the film was also costly and had to be replaced often.  

The advantages of today’s digital cameras show just how far we’ve come in film technology. Cameras are light, portable, self-triggering, hold thousands of images, and can snap photos in 0.2 seconds. The use of trail cameras by hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts make them a great tool for citizen science programs such as Snapshot Wisconsin because many people already have a familiarity with using them.

A volunteer checking his trail camera

A Snapshot Wisconsin volunteer checks his camera.

The Snapshot Wisconsin program currently has over 2,100 active trail cameras in all 72 counties of Wisconsin. We’ve certainly come a long way from George Shiras’s trip wires and flash bulbs. What remains unchanged is people’s enthusiasm for capturing wildlife in a single passing moment.

A red fox

A red fox captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera.

December #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap features six sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) from Waupaca County. Did you know there are many different titles for a group of cranes? This group could be referred to as a “dance,” a “construction,” or a “swoop”. Sandhill cranes migrate across our state every year and can often be spotted in open prairies and marshes.

Thank you to Zooniverse volunteer Swamp-eye for nominating this photo!

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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.

November #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap features a tom turkey dressed up in his best bow-tie wattle and ready for Thanksgiving dinner! Turkeys use their wattles for a variety of reasons. This loose skin around their neck allows them to expel extra heat during the hot summer months. Male turkeys (toms) also use their wattle to attract female turkeys (hens) when blood rushes to the area, causing the wattle to turn a bright red color. If a turkey is frightened, blood may also rush out of their wattle, causing it to turn blue.

A tom turkey

Thank you to all our Zooniverse volunteers for nominating their #SuperSnaps. 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.

Exploring the Plant Side of Citizen Science

In the state of Wisconsin, we are lucky to have so many people who take interest in our natural resources. From the Snapshot Wisconsin project here at the Department of Natural Resources, to university professors conducting environmental research, to individual Wisconsinites, there’s no shortage of people who care.

Before I started working with the Snapshot Wisconsin team, I was fortunate enough to participate in another research project. The goal of the project was to look more closely at the impact that white-tailed deer have on Wisconsin forests when they browse on (or “eat”) sapling trees. My job was to use the Twig-Age method to help collect data across several forest patches in Southern Wisconsin, as well as to build a website to share this new method of data collection with other volunteers who wanted to participate in the research. 

A maple sapling that has been browsed by a deer.

The Twig-Age method involves looking at a tree sapling, measuring its height, and counting the terminal bud scale scars along two of its branches. Terminal bud scale scars are what’s left behind on the twig when a bud falls off naturally during the growing process. Picture marking a child’s height on the wall each year. The more bud scale scars a twig has, the longer a twig has been able to grow without being browsed by a deer. We took hundreds of data points in order to paint a picture of what sort of browsing impacts deer were having on these forests.

One year of growth pointed out on the twig of a Red Maple sapling.

While I was doing this field work, I found myself surprised by how many different species of trees we have in our forests. Usually when I walk through the woods, I don’t take the time to notice all the different plants around me. I notice the birds and the squirrels, but the plants have always been more of a beautiful backdrop. This research project gave me a stronger appreciation for the diverse vegetation that we have in our forests. I had time to get down at eye-level with these saplings and really look at them. It was like playing the part of a historian by recording the age of their twigs and whether or not a deer had eaten from them before. Each data point collected was a personal interview with a tiny tree.

By the end of the summer we created Our Wisconsin Understory, a citizen science project for monitoring deer impacts. The goal is to collect as much data as possible and to hopefully expand data points across the state. Anyone interested in learning more about the Twig-Age method and collecting data for the project can do so at the Our Wisconsin Understory website.