Archive by Author | Sarah Cameron

Snowy Wisconsin Turkey

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

As we trudge into the depths of Wisconsin winter, are you prepared?

While turkeys aren’t our most graceful bird, we can all take lessons from them when it comes to bundling up to stay warm amongst the snowy cold!

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Did you know you can view and classify photos collected from Snapshot Wisconsin cameras across the state at www.SnapshotWisconsin.org?

Striking White Buck Captured on Camera

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

Dennis has been watching this white buck move through the property where he monitors one of his trail cameras for the Snapshot Wisconsin project. Over the course of the year he has witnessed hundreds of pictures of this deer, including several nights of bedding in front of the camera.

During Dennis’s most recent batch of photos he managed to capture this incredible image, he couldn’t wait until he finished reviewing his photos before sending this one to the Snapshot Wisconsin staff. Check it out below!

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

Wisconsin’s Smallest Weasel Fosters Big Connections

The following piece was written by OAS Communications Assistant Claire VanValkenburg for the Snapshot Wisconsin newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this link

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Shifty colleagues, dishonest enemies and slimy adversaries are often referred to as “weasels,” but is this little mammal truly worthy of such a harsh reputation?

In truth, weasels are sprightly balls of energy and elusive hunters. The least weasel is both the smallest species of weasel in Wisconsin and the smallest carnivore in the world. It evades detection so well that they have been identified as a Species with Information Needs in the Wisconsin DNR’s Wildlife Action Plan.

According to Richard Staffen, Zoologist and Conservation Biologist at the Natural Heritage Conservation (NHC), we don’t know much about least weasels because they are not sought after as a furbearer. They are captured infrequently, and their small size exhibits low commercial fur value.

“There is little population data being collected, so not much is known on how they are doing,” Staffen says.

In an effort to bolster our understanding of the least weasel, Snapshot Wisconsin and the NHC have enlisted the help of a few University of Wisconsin-Madison students to tackle a collaborative classification project.

“You’d be surprised how well weasels can camouflage into their environment!” says Elizabeth Cleaveland, who recently completed a work-study position with the Wisconsin DNR as a graduate student with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

Cleaveland worked with Staffen last year to classify roughly 400 Snapshot Wisconsin triggers categorized as weasels by citizen scientists. Cleaveland’s successor is Mace Drumright, who says that while differentiating between species can be challenging, the work is important to better understand rare species like the least weasel.

“Weasels, and mustelids in general to a degree, have a tendency to escape notice and live relatively secretive lives, so any further insight into their behaviors and habitats is useful,” says Drumright.

Of the ~400 triggers students have worked to classify, Staffen says roughly 300 triggers are identifiable enough to assign a species. The least weasel shows up most infrequently on Snapshot cameras. Cleaveland recounts feeling surprised to see a least weasel on the Snapshot Wisconsin database, noting her excitement to learn that the species was still in the state.

“There are a couple of goals tied to this project, the first one being identifying small mammals in the area and the habitats they are utilizing. This is helpful in determining if the species is still present in the area, what types of habitat(s) they are utilizing, and if any wildlife management decisions need to be addressed,” Cleaveland says.

Drumright suspects that, other than martens, the least weasel could be the least photographed Mustelid species on Snapshot Wisconsin cameras.

“Hopefully this project will give better insight into the population and how they’re interacting with their environment,” says Drumright.

Staffen and the NHC are still working on analyzing the data to determine what percentage of the population the least weasel represents compared to other Mustelidae. But he says the information gathered from Snapshot Wisconsin data can be used in conjunction with trap data from Wisconsin fur trappers and small mammal surveys to make informed decisions on the species’ status.

“I think it is one useful tool, of only a couple, to assess the current population status of these infrequently encountered or under-reported species,” Staffen says.

Staffen and the Snapshot Wisconsin team hope to expand the collaboration, moving to chipmunk and squirrels next, which is another group of triggers that are not classified to the species-level.

“I just think it is a win-win project. The students really enjoy working on the project, they learn more about identification of these animals and their biology, we get some information on status and distribution and the Snapshot project gets a more refined classification.”

Keep an eye out for our shy woodland friend. Rather than impish, consider him tactful yet discrete. However you choose to view him, here at Snapshot Wisconsin we believe that while he may be little, he is not least.

Vernon County Red Fox

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

Red fox can often be identified as the black booted, speedy blur zooming past your trail camera at night (at speeds of up to 45 mph!). These primarily nocturnal animals don’t frequently appear during the daylight on cameras, but when they do it can produce a pretty unforgettable image.

Have a look at this striking red fox captured on a Vernon County Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera!

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Did you know you can view and classify photos collected from Snapshot Wisconsin cameras across the state at www.SnapshotWisconsin.org?

Wily Weasels: The Math Behind Mustelid Identification

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

Weasels are the most commonly misidentified animal in the entire Snapshot Wisconsin dataset. What might make them so tricky to identify, and just how do they differ from the other members of their family for whom they are often mistaken, like marten or mink?

As far as their phylogenic standing, weasels belong to the superfamily Musteloidea. Contained within Musteloidea are the families Mephitidae, which includes skunks; Mustelidae, including weasels, otters, ferrets and kin; and Procyonidae, with raccoons and their neotropical brethren. In examining the dataset of Snapshot Wisconsin photos that have received an expert classification, researchers have determined that weasels and mink are the two most difficult species for volunteers to classify.

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The two avenues for classification available to volunteers through Snapshot Wisconsin are MySnapshot and Zooniverse. MySnapshot is the outlet available to those who monitor trail cameras, where they can classify the animals in the photos captured on their own camera. Zooniverse is a public forum where volunteers classify photos that are served up at random from Snapshot Wisconsin cameras across the state. Photos are captured in sets of three, called “triggers”, and volunteers classify the entire set at once.

recall_precision4When evaluating accuracy in classification, researchers focus on two variables: recall and precision. Both variables provide measures of accuracy for a group of volunteer classifiers, either from MySnapshot or Zooniverse, compared to expert classification. Recall addresses the question: out of all the weasel triggers in our dataset, how many did volunteers classify as weasels? Whereas precision addresses the question: how many triggers classified as weasels by volunteers were actually weasels?

Between both MySnapshot and Zooniverse, volunteers generally demonstrate high recall and precision when classifying animals that belong to the whole superfamily Musteloidea. When it comes to classifying individual species, we can see that animals like skunks, otters and raccoons are easier to classify correctly on account of their distinctive traits, but weasels are quite similar in physical appearance to the species with whom they share a family, namely mink. This makes weasels particularly easy to misidentify.

Triggers containing weasels and mink are most often missed completely on Zooniverse, with a recall value for these species of 41%. Out of an expertly classified sample size of 15 weasels, only 10 of the 15 were identified correctly by volunteers and 4 additional triggers classified as weasels on Zooniverse were not weasels. This puts recall and precision for weasel classification at a measly 67% and 71%, respectively.

For mink, Zooniverse and MySnapshot share low recall, with approximately 65% of mink photos missed completely on Zooniverse, and 39% missed on MySnapshot. However, the triggers that were classified were largely classified correctly, with perfect precision on Zooniverse and 87% precision on MySnapshot.

So how can we successfully identify a weasel versus some other mustelid, and vice versa? There are three types of weasels in Wisconsin. The long-tailed weasel is the largest of the three. They are typically 13-18 inches in length with a 4-6 inch black-tipped tail. Their coats are brown and their bellies and throats are cream-colored, though they transition completely to white in the winter. The short-tailed weasel is Wisconsin’s most common weasel. Smaller than the long-tailed weasel, the two share their coloring, which makes them more difficult to differentiate. The only discernible difference is the tail length. The third type of weasel is the least weasel, aptly named as it is the smallest of the three at roughly 6 inches. Though this weasel has coloring similar to the others, the least weasel has a short tail without the black tip.

Weasels look rather similar to mink, though mink are dark-colored and larger than weasels with long tails and glossy coats. They weigh between 1.5-2 lbs. Another mustelid closely resembling the weasel is the American pine marten, an endangered furbearer with a penchant for climbing. They have large rounded ears and a bushy tail, and their fur varies in shades of brown from almost yellow to almost black. Snapshot Wisconsin has only one confirmed photo of a marten, as the species is incredibly rare in Wisconsin.

Badgers seem like a no-brainer, with their characteristic striped heads and wide bodies. They are significantly larger than weasels and have long claws well-suited to digging. Despite their distinctive appearance, badgers are subject to misidentification as well. 22% of the triggers classified as badgers on MySnapshot were not badgers. The same goes for the fisher, another sizeable mustelid weighing in at an average of 15 pounds, with dark brown fur and a bushy tail.

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Classification is a tricky business, especially when it comes down to mustelids. Snapshot Wisconsin relies on thousands of volunteers to classify the nearly 34 million photos in our dataset, which they generally do with tremendous success. Though the weasel is a trickster, their phylogenic camouflage can be discerned with a trained eye – the same can be said for their Mustelidae cousins. Each accurately classified photo, mustelid or no, brings Snapshot Wisconsin closer to a complete representation of Wisconsin wildlife, and better informs our management of these species.

Swapping Coats for the Season

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

Are you preparing to swap out coats for the season? You aren’t the only one!

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One of Wisconsin’s masters of color change, the snowshoe hare, will start preparing for a change of coats from reddish brown to snowy white. This transition will span over the course of several months, keep an eye out to watch this change happen before your very eyes!

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

The Black Bear’s “Winter Nap”

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

Do you wish you could indulge in a nice, long nap until spring weather is back again?

November is the month where Snapshot Wisconsin trail cameras see a sharp decline in the number of black bear images as the bears prepare to enter a state of deep sleep, known as torpor, for the winter.

Did you know you can view and classify photos collected from Snapshot Wisconsin cameras across the state at www.SnapshotWisconsin.org? It’s a fun activity for the whole family!

Snapshot Wisconsin Visits SESYNC

SESYNC_Logo3-standardWH-1200pxLocated in Annapolis, Maryland, the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) brings together the science of the natural world with the science of human behavior and decision making to find solutions to complex environmental problems.

SESYNC hosts a variety of workshops and short courses to equip researchers and students with the skills needed to tackle socio-environmental problems. One unique aspect of the SESYNC workshops is that they provide full funding, which makes them more accessible to a wider variety of attendees. This year, myself and two members of the Snapshot Wisconsin team applied to attend “The Summer Institute” which focused on building data and software skills while allowing time to work on a mini project with direct support from data scientists. To say we were excited would be an understatement when our application was accepted!

The week-long workshop was divided into a series of morning lessons on manipulating and managing data while allowing afternoon time for hands-on help from data scientists. We all walked away that week with wonderful memories, new connections, greater confidence in our programming skills and a huge toolkit that we were able to share with the rest of the Snapshot Wisconsin staff. Additionally, we were able to make further progress on our mini project that we are very excited to share with our volunteers in the upcoming months. Here’s a hint: how awesome would it be to visualize Snapshot Wisconsin’s massive dataset?

Thank you SESYNC, and stay tuned volunteers! 

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Snapshot Wisconsin team members Sarah Cameron, Emily Buege and Vivek Malleshappa

Classic November Face Off

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

A classic November face off, which gets you more excited for this month – opening day for gun season or Thanksgiving dinner?

Check out this scene captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera!

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

Snowy Spotting: Wisconsin’s White Deer

The following piece was written by OAS Communications Assistant Claire VanValkenburg for the Snapshot Wisconsin newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this link

Photo by Snapshot Wisconsin volunteer John Gorman

Although white-tailed deer are common in Wisconsin woods, we never seem to grow tired of pointing them out along the highway, watching them traverse our backyards and observing them on hikes. But as temperatures drop and snow falls, certain members of our herd will become harder to spot.

Al, a Vilas County trail camera host, recounts seeing one of these alabaster animals in 1994: “As we were sitting on the deck, a white deer appeared in the bright sunshine on the far side of the lake. It appeared to not only be white but glowing with a light from within, surrounded by the light green spring vegetation,” Al says.

Although seeing one can be striking, white deer are just like normal deer except for their fair coats. DNR researchers sampled the entire Snapshot Wisconsin dataset to piece together this map of where white deer were flagged using comments on MySnapshot and tagged photos on Zooniverse. They found that sightings occurred in 12 counties across the state, but were most frequent in central and northern Wisconsin.

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A white deer’s coloring is caused by a lack of melanin in the deer’s skin, but they aren’t necessarily always albino. True albinism is extremely rare, and an albino deer would have pink eyes, ears, hooves, all-white fur and poor eyesight. It’s more likely that Wisconsin’s white deer population is mostly leucistic, which is caused by a recessive genetic trait found in about 1% of all white-tails.

Leucistic deer (commonly referred to as “piebald deer”) can have a variety of white, brown or black markings. Some leucistic deer are akin to pinto horses, while others may have a completely bleached coat with black hooves and noses. The trick to identifying a leucistic deer from an albino is in the eyes. Deer with pink eyes are most likely true albinos, whereas piebalds have gray, blue or black eyes because albinism affects eyes whereas leucism does not.

While differentiating the two may be tricky, the law is clear. According to page 21 of the 2019 Wisconsin DNR Deer Hunting Regulations, it is illegal to “possess albino or all-white deer which are entirely white except for the hooves, tarsal glands, head and parts of the head unless special written authorization is obtained from the department.” Currently, this is true in all areas of Wisconsin.

Photo by Snapshot Wisconsin volunteer John Gorman

Nature photographer Jeff Richter came eye-to-eye with a white deer nearly two decades ago, and he’s been dedicated to capturing their beauty on camera ever since. Richter is the photographer of the book “White Deer: Ghosts of the Forests” by John Bates and told In Wisconsin Reporter Jo Garrett that despite the photographs, some people still believe they’re made up.

“We’ve actually had a couple of stores where clerks overheard people that’ve picked up the book and were looking at it and said, ‘Boy this is really neat, if only they were real,’” Richter said.

They’re real, alright. The one Al spotted all those years ago left a palpable impression on Al and his wife who, at the time, were looking to buy a house. They spotted the white deer across the lake when they were considering the purchase of what is now their current home.

“It actually may have had a small influence on the purchase of our home!” Al says.

Whether they’re common in your neck of the woods or not, white deer are striking animals. The stark contrast of their coats against Wisconsin woodlands makes them a pearly find among the herd. Keep your eyes peeled and your camera ready now, before they blend into a blanket of snow, perfectly hidden throughout the winter months.