Archive by Author | Claire Viellieux

Virtual Bald Eagle Watching Days 2021

Bald Eagle Watching Days has been an established community event in Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin since 1987. Bald eagles can often be found near rivers that provide ample fish, and the Wisconsin River that runs through Sauk Prairie has made this a perfect location for eagle watching.

With public health and safety a main concern, the annual Bald Eagle Watching Days have been moved online this year. The events will be live-streamed for everyone to watch from the comfort of their own homes and can be accessed by clicking here.

Events will take place on Jan. 16th and 23rd as well as Feb. 6th and 20th. As is custom, Bald Eagle Watching Days is kicking off with a live release of rehabilitated bald eagles!

Other exciting events include presentations on eagles in Native American culture, the wintering ecology of eagles in the lower Wisconsin riverway, bald eagle behavior, a bird of prey show, and many more!

In 2019, I was able to attend Bald Eagle Watching Days in person. Hundreds of people crowded together in a park along the Wisconsin River to witness the release of a few rehabilitated bald eagles. It was a frigid January day, and I remember questioning whether standing out there was worth it. However, as the wildlife rehabilitators began to prepare the eagles for release, I decided it was definitely worth it. As far away as I was, I remember being awe-struck by how large they were. The rehabilitators told us the story of how the eagles had come into their care, and then with a huge woosh, one by one they soared into the air. A hush fell across everyone at the park as we were all overcome by strong emotions. Viewing these magnificent raptors online may not be exactly the same experience as seeing them in person, but I have no doubt that their majesty and power will be conveyed just the same. Help send them off with your support and well-wishes by tuning in on January 16th!

Partnering with the Natural Resources Foundation and a New Snapshot Store!

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

Some of our volunteers may already know that Snapshot Wisconsin recently partnered with the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin (NRF), but we at Snapshot haven’t shared many of the details about this partnership yet, including new opportunities available to volunteers and a Snapshot merchandise store!

Christine Anhalt-Depies, Project Coordinator for Snapshot Wisconsin, virtually sat down with Cait Williamson, Director of Conservation Programs within the NRF, to chat about what this partnership means to their programs, as well as highlight how their volunteers benefit from this partnership.

What is the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin?

The NRF is a non-profit foundation that is all about funding conservation work. The NRF has a long history of supporting the DNR’s priority projects, especially those that involve species with the greatest conservation need. The NRF also connects people to conservation opportunities throughout the state through their Field Trip program, the Great Wisconsin Birdathon and many other funded programs.

The NRF was established in 1986 after significant cuts to the DNR budget. The DNR leadership at the time recognized a need to have an independent foundation to bridge private sector support for natural resources and conservation work being done, so the NRF grew to fill that need.
Williamson added, “We support over 200 different projects each year from small-scale school projects to large-scale conservation projects, even [projects] at the federal level. Our niche is conservation funding, leveraging resources from corporations, foundations and individuals. Putting those financial resources to the highest priority conservation needs for Wisconsin.”

Snapshot Wisconsin fits well into the types of projects that the NRF funds, so this partnership was a natural fit. Plus, forming this partnership had a special twist in store for Anhalt-Depies and Williamson.

A logo for the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin

Forming this Partnership

Anhalt-Depies and Williamson first sat down over coffee over a year ago to discuss forming this partnership. However, the meeting was more than just a brainstorming session about what the partnership would look like. It was a reunion for Anhalt-Depies and Williamson.

The pair first met while Anhalt-Depies was working on her project for her master’s degree nearly a decade ago. Part of the project involved radio-collaring wolves, so Anhalt-Depies collaborated with the DNR. Meanwhile, Williamson was an intern with the DNR, assigned to work with the wolf program. Anhalt-Depies and Williamson worked together very closely for months until the field work was done, then they went their separate ways.

Anhalt-Depies later went on to work with Snapshot Wisconsin and eventually became the project coordinator. On the other hand, Williamson started working at the NRF and became the one who builds partnerships with the DNR (and other conservation or education groups), as well as determines what the NRF’s priorities are. Williamson said, “I have the fun job of giving away the funds we help raise and knowing those are going to have the most impact they can.”

Anhalt-Depies explained what motivated her to reach out to Williamson again. “As Snapshot grew to a state-wide program, we identified the need to partner with groups that could help us expand our reach, especially in the area of supporting education. NRF seems like a natural fit, based on their goals and mission. I reached out to [Williamson]. We sat down and had a great brainstorming session about what a partnership between the two would look like and how we could help each other reach our goals.”

Williamson added, “It was fun to reconnect with [Anhalt-Depies]. We [at the NRF] have heard about and been informally in-the-loop on Snapshot Wisconsin, so it seemed like a natural fit because of what Snapshot is – engaging people and providing critical data. It was a no brainer for us.”

“It’s awesome to be able to offer yet another opportunity for our members and our partners to engage with Wisconsin’s natural resources,” said Williamson, and engage, they can. Not only do Snapshot volunteers benefit, but so do the NRF’s members.

How do Snapshot Volunteers and NRF’s Members Benefit?

Anhalt-Depies shared how this partnership benefits Snapshot volunteers. “This partnership helps expand our reach,” said Anhalt-Depies. “It brings the Snapshot program to a new audience, helping us to continue to grow.”

Anhalt-Depies continued, “The fundraising support NRF brings to the partnership will also help to increase our educational impact. Roughly 15% of Snapshot volunteers are educators. This partnership will expand the resources available to these educators, helping them to better integrate conservation education into their classroom.”

At the same time, the NRF and its members benefit from connecting to Snapshot Wisconsin. Williamson said, “From a conservation side, we [the NRF] are all about supporting priority needs for our state. Science-based conservation and the data that informs it is super critical, so we are happy to be able to support Snapshot and growing the program.”

“For our members, Snapshot Wisconsin is a really good way to connect them with something they can do,” continued Williamson. “Whether they are hosting cameras or classifying images on Zooniverse, it gives them one more way that they can give back to Wisconsin’s natural resources.”

A blue sweatshirt with the Snapshot Wisconsin design

A Message From Our NRF Partners

Another important way that the NRF is helping Snapshot Wisconsin is through providing funding opportunities, either through donations or merchandise sales. Our partners shared with us a special message for Snapshot volunteers, announcing these new ways to help out the Snapshot program.

At the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, we believe that nature has inherent value and that people have the ability to make a difference. We are the bridge connecting people who want to help with meaningful opportunities to make a lasting impact on Wisconsin’s lands, waters, wildlife and future stewards. We are very excited about our new partnership with Snapshot Wisconsin, which will connect our NRF members with meaningful volunteer opportunities, directly fund efforts that inform conservation decisions and help us learn more about Wisconsin’s amazing wildlife.

Want to show off your love for Snapshot Wisconsin and help support this incredible program? Check out our Snapshot Wisconsin storefront, featuring t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and mugs – every purchase directly supports Snapshot! You can also donate directly by visiting
WisConservation.org/donate and designating your gift to Snapshot Wisconsin.

Between connecting our volunteers to the resources of the NRF network and new funding to expand what Snapshot is able to do, the Snapshot team is excited for this partnership. There is so much synergy between Snapshot’s goals and NRF’s mission that this partnership is a natural fit.

The partnership has also brought back together Anhalt-Depies and Williamson, and each shared some parting words for readers.

Williamson said, “Five years back, we had a visioning session about what we were really accomplishing for conservation in the state. We are not the boots on the ground ourselves, but what we do is connect people to that. There are so many ways people can make a difference. Whether it is through philanthropy, volunteering their time or just the personal choices they make to support our state’s natural resources… We are all about how people can make a difference, and Snapshot is one of those ways.”

Anhalt-Depies added, “Snapshot is people-powered research. We have thousands of volunteers who are donating their time and making a huge impact on the number of photos collected and total information gathered on our state’s natural resources. This partnership with the NRF helps to make their efforts go just a bit further, and at the end of the day, that is what matters.”

What Happens to Photos Once Uploaded?

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

Since Snapshot reached 50 million photos, the Snapshot team felt it was a good time to address one of the most asked questions about photos: what happens to photos once they are uploaded by volunteers? At first, the process seems complicated, but member of the Snapshot team, Jamie Bugel, is here to walk us through the process, one step at a time.

Bugel is a Natural Resources Educator and Research Technician at the DNR, but she works on the volunteer side of Snapshot. Bugel said, “I mainly help volunteers troubleshoot issues with their equipment or with their interactions with the MySnapshot interface. I am one of the people who answer the Snapshot phone, and I help update the user interface by testing functionality. There is also lots of data management coordination on the volunteer side of the program that I help with.”

Bugel listed off a few of the more common questions she and the rest of the Snapshot team get asked, including who reviews photos after the initial classification, what happens to the photos that camera hosts can’t identify and how do mistakes get rectified. “We get asked those [questions] on a weekly to daily basis,” said Bugel.

It Starts With a Three-Month Check and an Upload

Every three months, trail camera hosts are supposed to swap out the SD card and batteries in their trail camera. At the same time, volunteers fill out a camera check sheet, including what time of day they checked the camera, how many photos were on the SD card and if there was any equipment damage.

“You should wait at least three months to check their camera, because you won’t disturb the wildlife by checking more often. We want to view the wildlife with as minimal human interference as possible,” said Bugel. “At the same time, volunteers should check [their camera] at least every three months, because batteries don’t last much longer than three months. Checking this often is important to avoid missing photos.”

After the volunteer does their three-month check, they bring their camera’s SD card back to their home and enter the information on their camera check sheet into their MySnapshot account and upload their photos.

Bugel said it can take anywhere from 4 to 48 hours for the photos to appear in the volunteer’s MySnapshot account. Fortunately, the server will send an email when the photos are ready, so volunteers don’t have to keep checking. Volunteers can start classifying their photos after receiving the email.

A fisher walking through the snow

Initial Classification By Camera Hosts

The first round of classification is done by the trail camera hosts. The returned photos will sit in the Review Photos section of their MySnapshot account while the host classifies the photos as Human, Blank or Wildlife. The wildlife photos are also further classified by which species are present in the photo, such as beaver, deer or coyote.

This initial classification step is very important for protecting the privacy of our camera hosts, as well as helps on the back end of data processing. Over 90% of all photos are classified at this step by the camera hosts. When they are done classifying photos, they click “review complete,” and the set of photos is sent to the Snapshot team for the second round of classification.

Staff Review

The second round of classification is the staff review. Members of the Snapshot team review sets of photos to verify that all human or blank photos have been properly flagged. “For example, a deer photo may include a deer stand in the background. That type of photo will not go to Zooniverse because there is a human object in the photo,” said Bugel. Fortunately, nearly all human photos are taken during the initial camera setup or while swapping batteries and SD card, so they are usually clumped and easy to spot.

The second reason that staff review photos after the initial classification is for quality assurance. Since some animal species are tricky to correctly classify, someone from the Snapshot team reviews sets to verify that the photos were tagged with the correct species. This quality assurance step helps rectify mistakes. “Sometimes there are photos classified as blank or a fawn that are actually of an adult deer,” said Bugel. “We want to catch that mistake before it goes into our final database.”

In cases where the set of photos wasn’t classified by the camera host, the team will also perform the initial classification to remove human and blank photos. The Snapshot team wants to make sure any photos that reveal the volunteer’s identity or the location of the camera are removed before those photos continue down the pipeline.

Branching Paths

At this point in the process, photos branch off and go to different locations, depending on what classification they have. Blank (43%) and human (2%) photos are removed from the pipeline at this point. Meanwhile, the wildlife photos (20%) move on to either Zooniverse for consensus classification or move directly to the final dataset. The remaining photos don’t fall into one of our categories, such as the unclassified photos still awaiting initial review.

Photos of difficult-to-classify species, such as wolves and coyotes, are sent to Zooniverse for consensus classification. Bugel explained, “The photos [of challenging species] will always go to Zooniverse, even after volunteer classification and staff member verification, because we’ve learned we need more eyes on those to get the most accurate classification possible,” another layer of quality assurance.

Alternatively, photos with easy-to-classify species, such as deer or squirrel, go directly to the final dataset. Bugel said, “If a photo is classified as a deer or fawn, we trust that the volunteer correctly identified the species.” These photos do not go to Zooniverse.

A deer fawn leaping through

Zooniverse

Photos of difficult-to-classify species or unclassified photos move on to Zooniverse, the crowdsourcing platform, for consensus classification. “Wolf and coyote photos, for example, always go to Zooniverse, because it is so hard to tell the difference, especially in blurry or nighttime photos,” said Bugel.

The Snapshot team has run accuracy analyses for most Wisconsin species to determine which species’ photos need consensus classification. All photos of species with low accuracies go to Zooniverse.

On Zooniverse, volunteers from around the globe classify the wildlife in these photos until a consensus is reached, a process called consensus classification. Individual photos may be classified by up to eleven different volunteers before it is retired, but it could be as few as five if a uniform consensus is reached early. “It all depends on how quickly people agree,” said Bugel.

Team members upload photos to Zooniverse in sets of ten to twenty thousand, and each set is called a season. Bugel explained, “Once all of the photos in that season are retired, we take a few days break to download all of the classifications and add them to our final dataset. Then, a Snapshot team member uploads another set of photos to Zooniverse.” Each set takes roughly two to four weeks to get fully classified on Zooniverse.

To date, over 10,400 people have registered to classify photos on Zooniverse, and around 10% of the total photos have been classified by these volunteers on Zooniverse.

Expert Review

It is also possible for no consensus to be reached, even after eleven classifications. This means that no species received five or more votes out of the eleven possible classifications. These photos are set aside for later expert review.

Expert review was recently implemented by the Snapshot team and is the last step before difficult photos go into the final dataset. The team has to make sure all photos have a concrete classification before they can go into the final dataset, yet some photos never reached a consensus. Team members review these photos again, while looking at the records of how each photo was classified during initial review and on Zooniverse. While there will always be photos that are unidentifiable, expert review by staff helps ensure that every photo is as classified as possible, even the hard ones.

The Final Dataset and Informing Wildlife Management

Our final dataset is the last stop for all photos. This dataset is used by DNR staff to inform wildlife management decisions around the state.

Bugel said, “The biggest management decision support that Snapshot provides right now is fawn-to-doe ratios. Jen [Stenglein] uses Snapshot photo data, along with data from other initiatives, to calculate a ratio of fawns to does each year and that ratio feeds into the deer population model for the state.”

Snapshot has also spotted rare species too, such as a marten in Vilas county and a whooping crane in Jackson county. Snapshot cameras even caught sight of a cougar in Waupaca county, one of only a handful of confirmed sightings in the state.

The final dataset feeds into other Snapshot Wisconsin products, including the Data Dashboard, and helps inform management decisions for certain species like elk. Now that the final dataset has reached a sufficient size, the Snapshot team is expanding its impact by feeding into other decision-making processes at the DNR and developing new products. 

The Snapshot team hopes that this explanation helps clarify some of the questions our volunteers have about what happens to their photos. We know the process can seem complicated at first, and the Snapshot team is happy to answer additional questions about the process. Reach out to them through their email or give them a call at +1 (608) 572 6103.

An infographic showing how photos move from download to final data

The Snapshot Team’s Favorite Photos from the First 50 Million!

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

Snapshot Wisconsin recently reached an important milestone: its 50 millionth photo! We’ve been watching the tally of photos get closer and closer to 50 million for the last few months, and we are thrilled that the moment is finally here.

Snapshot Wisconsin started as a pilot program in only two counties in 2016 but expanded statewide in 2018. Today, we have over 1,800 volunteers, monitoring over 2,100 trail cameras across the state. Furthermore, the Snapshot program receives approximately 45,000 photos per day from all these cameras. Just stop and think about how incredible that is!

As a thank you to everyone who has helped the program out or followed its success (and to celebrate the 50 millionth photo milestone), the Snapshot Wisconsin team selected some of their favorite photos from the first 50 million and used them to build an interactive map of Wisconsin. This tool highlights each photo and tells a short story about the photo itself or the species shown. It serves as a “snapshot” of how the program has grown over the years.

Rare species sightings, unusual animal behaviors, species facts, and even a few multi-species encounters can all be seen in the interactive map. Check it out!

A collage of wildlife photos in the shape of Wisconsin

November #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap features a curious gray fox from Dunn County checking out our trail camera.

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A huge thanks to Zooniverse participant bzeise 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.

The Cultural History of Turkeys in America

A tom turkey

Turkey from Iowa County captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera.

Thanksgiving arrives next week, and the iconic image that pops into most people’s minds during this holiday is a big, roasted turkey in the middle of the kitchen table. But how did these large birds become a classic representation of this holiday? We took some time to dive a little deeper and learn more about the history of turkeys in North America, how Thanksgiving became a holiday, and how turkeys ended up as the main attraction on this day.

Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) have always been native to the Americas. In fact, there is only one other species of turkey in the entire world: the Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata), which lives in Central America, and has beautiful plumage that more closely resembles a peacock than the wild turkeys we are familiar with.

Importance in Native American Culture

Before their popularity in modern Thanksgiving feasts, turkeys have been an important part of the food and cultural systems of Native Americans for thousands of years. There is archaeological evidence of wild turkeys being domesticated by certain indigenous groups as far back as 2,000 years ago. Not all native communities domesticated the birds since they were so abundant, but tribes in the American southeast, southwest, central Mexico, and Guatemala were especially known for their domestication of turkeys.

Beyond serving as a source of food, the rest of the turkey’s feathers and bones were used for tools, regalia, and art. The reverence of turkeys varied widely from tribe to tribe and has a complex and beautiful history in native culture. The Wampanoag tribe in the east used turkey feathers for cloaks, while the Tuscarora and Catawba in the south used plumage for headdresses. In other tribes, turkeys played a role in traditional stories. The Caddo have a prestigious Turkey Dance related to tribal songs of war, honor and pride. Even through generations of genocide, forced removal from their lands, and substantial portions of culture that have been lost forever, turkeys still carry importance in the lives and ceremonies of many tribes today.

Two tom turkeys displaying

Turkeys captured on Snapshot Wisconsin camera.

Introduction of Turkeys to Europeans

Turkeys made their debut in European and Asian cuisine in the 1500s through Spanish trade routes. Many suspect that they received their name because these birds came to Europe by way of the country of Turkey. They were so popular with Europeans that the colonists even brought domesticated turkeys with them as they sailed to North America. To the colonists’ surprise, the large birds were already fairly abundant here.

Two turkeys and two deer

Turkeys encountering deer on a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera.

The Founding of Thanksgiving

Despite popular legend, wild turkey was not served at the 1621 meal shared between the Wampanoag natives and the pilgrims. Instead, deer meat was provided by Wampanoag hunters.

The pilgrims had many seasonal “days of thanks” for a good fall harvest, and continued this tradition when they moved to North America, however there was not originally one common day that this was celebrated on.

In the mid-1800s, writer Sarah Josepha Hale campaigned to make a single national holiday out of these common thanksgiving celebrations. Her goal was to bring the country together at a time when the Civil War was eminent. In 1863, Lincoln officially declared Thanksgiving as a U.S. national holiday.

Flock of Turkeys

Flock of turkeys captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera.

How Turkeys Became a Thanksgiving Icon

Turkeys became the meat of choice for Thanksgiving celebrations because they were easy to harvest and their size was enough to feed a large family. Many families even had domesticated turkeys that they raised on their farms specifically for the purpose of a holiday meal.

Unfortunately, their popularity soon became their downfall as wild turkeys were overharvested throughout the 1800s. Soon, they were no longer found in most states. The last turkey disappeared from Wisconsin in 1881.

Startled Turkey

Turkey spreading its wings on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera.

Wildlife Success Story

Fortunately, nationwide efforts to revive turkey populations have been largely successful. In Wisconsin, wild turkeys were reintroduced by the Department of Natural Resources in 1976. Twenty-nine wild turkeys imported from Missouri were released in Vernon County. As they began to flourish, the new turkeys were trapped and relocated to other counties across the state. Now, tens of thousands of wild turkeys are harvested every year in Wisconsin. Click here for more details about hunting turkey in Wisconsin.

Whether you enjoy them for their meat, their beautiful plumage, or the fierce confidence they embody as they strut across the road, take a moment to give thanks that these magnificent birds are still around today!

A tom turkey displaying its feathers in the woods

A tom turkey displaying on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera.

 

Sources
https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/where-did-the-domestic-turkey-come-from/
https://ebird.org/species/ocetur1
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161121111328.htm
http://www.native-languages.org/legends-turkey.htm
https://www.colorado.edu/asmagazine/2018/02/27/native-americans-domesticated-turkeys
https://www.britannica.com/story/why-do-we-eat-turkey-on-thanksgiving
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-eat-ymology-of-the-turkey-48036170/
https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sarah-hale
https://www.eekwi.org/animals/birds/wild-turkey
https://p.widencdn.net/vpukwf/turkupdate
https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/hunt/turkey

Rare Species Update: Moose Sightings

Moose are considered a rare species in the state of Wisconsin. They used to be found across the northern part of the state, but there hasn’t been an established population since the early 1900s1. Sightings of moose that wander over from Michigan or Minnesota are occasionally reported, but still rare.

That’s why our team was excited to discover several recent moose photos on our Snapshot Wisconsin trail cameras. We captured our first moose photo back in 2018 in Vilas County. In the past two months, we’ve had four additional sightings across several counties. It is unclear if this is the same individual, or several different moose.

Below are some photos of the moose captured in Iron, Price, and Burnett Counties.

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We interviewed some volunteers who recently captured these moose photos on their Snapshot Wisconsin trail cameras. Steve from Price County said, “My initial reaction was complete shock. This camera check had been especially fruitful, and I had gone through quite a few pictures when the moose showed up on my screen. It was so drastically different in size and color to the deer we had been seeing up until that point that it took a second for my brain to process what I was looking at. My wife was sitting next to me and we both realized what it was at about the same time. I think she was even more excited about it than I was! We know there are moose that have been occasionally spotted in the state, but we never dreamed we would see one in our own backyard!”

When asked if seeing a rare species has impacted his experience as a Snapshot Wisconsin volunteer, Steve said, “It’s been a lot of fun this whole time but seeing a rare animal like this first-hand really makes it more exciting. The thought that we could potentially see something like this again is a great motivator!”

Amanda from Iron County said she was ecstatic when she first saw the moose pictures. “Even though it took nearly a year for me to finally capture a moose, I have spent countless hours hiking to and from my Snapshot camera and each trip out is an adventure. I feel blessed to live in such a beautiful area and enjoy such amazing wildlife, but the moose in particular have really drawn me in, and I am so lucky to live in an area where we can see them.”

Thank you to all of our volunteers who host trail cameras and help classify photos on Zooniverse. Your work helps us collect important wildlife data! If you’ve recently seen a rare species such as a moose, cougar, or lynx, please report it using the DNR’s Large Mammal Observation form.

1. Watermolen, D. Murrell, M. Checklists of Wisconsin Vertebrates. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. 2001. p 38.

October #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap features two collared elk cows from Jackson County.

Two elk cows with collars

A huge thanks to Zooniverse participant CheezyPie 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.

The Scarcity of Spotted Skunks

Everyone knows what a striped skunk looks (and smells) like. Their reputation precedes them. Around this time of year, they like to hunker down in their dens inside of rock openings or hollow logs. They’ll spend most of their time in these dens until May and June when females give birth to their litter of “kits”. When they do come out to find food, they dig for protein-rich insects and worms, and will also eat plants during the summer.

A stripped skunk

A stripped skunk captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera.

The striped skunk’s smaller cousin, the eastern spotted skunk, is a much rarer sight. Spotted skunks were historically found in the southwestern part of Wisconsin, but their range was primarily across the western plains states and some southern states. They are similar in size to a gray squirrel, and have a distinctive white, upside-down triangle on their foreheads. Their preferred habitat is near open prairies and brushy areas at the edges of woodlands.

A spotted skunk and striped skunk side by side

Graphic created by Sheri Amsel, http://www.exploringnature.org

In addition to spraying perceived threats with a smelly musk, eastern spotted skunks also have an unusual defense behavior. They will do a handstand on their front legs and stick their tail straight up in the air when threatened. They will also stomp the ground with their front paws.

Spotted Skunk Handstand

Spotted skunk performing its defensive handstand. Photo by Holly Agnieszka Bacal, labeled for public use.

The spotted skunk is so rare in Wisconsin that there hasn’t been a confirmed sighting in the state for decades. But it’s not just Wisconsin that they’ve disappeared from. Spotted skunks have been in decline across their entire range for the past century. A study done by Gompper and Hackett in 20051 found that harvest records from the 1980s showed the eastern spotted skunk had declined to less than 1% of what their population had been at the start of the 1900s. We know so little about spotted skunks that their causes of decline are unknown, but hypotheses include habitat loss, pesticide use, overharvesting, and disease1-4.

Spotted Skunk by a Log

An eastern spotted skunk near a log. Photo by Holly Kuchera, labeled for public use.

A group of concerned scientists have banded together to begin learning more about spotted skunks and to promote their conservation. The Eastern Spotted Skunk Cooperative Study Group is comprised of 140 wildlife biologists across dozens of state and federal agencies, universities, and tribal nations. In 2018, they authored a conservation plan for the species with the goal of summarizing what is already known about spotted skunks and identifying areas that need further research.

According to the group’s conservation plan, management of spotted skunks vary by state. Some states recognize spotted skunks as furbearers and allow hunting and trapping of the species, while other states do not. One of the spotted skunk sub-species that lives in the plains is currently under review for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

In the state of Wisconsin, spotted skunks are recognized as rare and the DNR asks that sightings be reported to the Natural Heritage Inventory Form. A photo is necessary to confirm a sighting, so make sure you snap a picture if you suspect you’ve stumbled upon one. Just make sure to give it space if you see it doing a headstand!

Peer-reviewed articles:
1. Gompper, M.E., and H.M. Hackett. 2005. The long-term, range-wide decline of a once common carnivore: The eastern spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius). Animal Conservation 8:195– 201.
2. Choate, J. R., E. D. Fleharty, and R. J. Little. 1974. Status of the spotted skunk, Spilogale putorius, in Kansas. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 76:226-233.
3. McCullough, C.R. 1983. Population status and habitat requirements of the eastern spotted skunk on the Ozark Plateau. M.S. Thesis. University of Missouri, Columbia. 60 pp.
4. Schwartz, C.W., and E.R. Schwartz. 2001. The Wild Mammals of Missouri. Second Edition. University of Missouri Press, Columbia. 392 pp.

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/.