An Iowan Learns About Porcupines
Before joining Snapshot Wisconsin in 2016, I knew very little about porcupines. I grew up in Iowa where porcupines were extirpated in the 1800’s. What I knew consisted of what I learned from my grandparents as a youngster on summer fishing trips to northern Minnesota. Essentially, porcupines have sharp quills and you don’t want your dog to tangle with them. I never saw a porcupine on any of these trips but was always on alert to make sure my dog, a Miniature Schnauzer named George, never wandered too far.
My first task upon joining Snapshot Wisconsin was classifying photos from Black River Falls, where trail cameras are in place to monitor the reintroduced elk population. As I was flipping through photos, I kept seeing these critters that I couldn’t identify. They were small, rounded and dark colored, always facing away from the camera, and only appearing at night. I wasn’t sure what these could be, and we had yet to create resources to help with this task, such as the Snapshot Wisconsin Field Guide*. Sometimes I classified them as raccoons and sometimes as beaver (in my defense, our early cameras didn’t take very clear photos!) Eventually, my porcupine identification skills improved and thankfully so did the photo quality of our cameras. Porkies have since become one of my favorite species captured on our cameras. Read below to learn more about these quill-y, charismatic critters!
There is only one species of porcupine in Wisconsin, the North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum). Worldwide there are 23 different species of porcupines. Our porcupine is the second largest rodent in North America, only beavers are larger. Their size ranges from 7-30 pounds and 20-26 inches. They typically give birth to one young per year. Young are called porcupettes.
Porcupines are herbivores, consuming tree bark, branches, buds, evergreen needles, garden produce, and even tool handles.. A common misconception is that porcupines can shoot their quills when threatened. The quills are actually loosely attached and embed themselves in the unfortunate victim when they come in direct contact with the porcupine.
Porcupines occur in the Northern and Central Forest regions of Wisconsin. To date, we have had 4,175 reports of porcupine from trail camera hosts. These have not yet been verified and presumably include a few raccoons and beavers due to my early classification mistakes and similar errors by other staff and volunteers. A handful of porcupine classifications from southern Wisconsin (Grant, Iowa and Waukesha counties) revealed the true species to be woodchuck, raccoon, unknown bird and squirrel. Species distribution maps are quite useful for classifying our photos and Snapshot Wisconsin data will be instrumental in updating these in future.
Find out more about porcupines at the links below!
*Snapshot Wisconsin Classification Field Guide (located on the right hand side of your screen while classifying photos on Zooniverse)
The end of September is a beautiful time to travel around Wisconsin. This fall we have had a lot of opportunity to get out and enjoy the fall colors as we travel around doing in person trainings across the state. Taylor and I traveled up to Crandon and Merrill for a few days for trainings and gave a talk about Snapshot to the Lincoln County Sports Club. We were fortunate to have Friday afternoon off so we took the opportunity to check out Council Grounds State Park just outside Merrill. We had a lovely walk along the lake shore and as usual found ourselves checking out animal sign along the way. We found bear sign but didn’t see any bears. We did see some late season harebell flowers, lots of fly mushrooms, a white throated sparrow and possibly a migrating magnolia warbler.
Whenever we travel we like to take the opportunity to try the locally owned restaurants. We were fortunate to have a really good Mexican restaurant, Los Mezcales right next door to our hotel in Merrill. We have been keeping a journal of our travels since we started the project back in 2016. It is fun to look back and remember our adventures over the past 2 plus years.
On Saturday, we left Merrill to head to Black River Falls where we met up with Joe to lead a Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin Field Trip out to a couple of our elk monitoring cameras. The fall colors around Black River Falls were even prettier than they were farther to the north. About a dozen attendees met us at the Black River Falls WDNR office parking lot for a preview of our trip and a brief introduction to the elk reintroduction and monitoring programs. There are about 200 or so cameras around the Jackson County Forest specifically for monitoring the elk herd that was reintroduced to the area in 2015. These cameras are all maintained by volunteers with the Snapshot Wisconsin Elk Monitoring project.
After our discussion about the elk we drove about 20 minutes outside of town to reach the camera locations. A short hike into the woods brought us to our first camera location. Taylor showed the attendees how to perform a camera check, which includes recording the date and time of the camera check, the number of photos recorded on the SD card in the camera and changing out the SD card and batteries. We took another hike to a camera nearby and one of the field trip attendees took over doing the camera check. One of the other attendees found some wolf sign in the area, and the camera did have a wolf proximity sensor associated with it. We will have to wait and see if any wolf pictures show up at this camera site.
We plan to host this field trip for NRFW again next year. Folks local to the Wisconsin area should check out the field trips offered by NRFW every year. Many are led by DNR employees or employees and volunteers of other conservation groups across the state. They are a great way to learn more about conservation and get an inside look at what is going on in Wisconsin. Curious to learn more about elk? Check out this page on the WDNR website: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/elk.html To signup to participate in the Snapshot Wisconsin elk monitoring project send an email to DNRSnapshotWisconsin@wisconsin.gov with the subject line “Elk Monitoring”.
2018 Volunteer Recognition Events!
Stewart Lake County park outside Mount Horeb was the setting for our first volunteer recognition event of 2018. It was fun to see some of our volunteers again who we haven’t seen since training or who we might never have met in person at all. We had about 60 people turn out for a lovely evening. Jen and Taylor gave a presentation that included some of our science updates from the last year of the project. Sarah got the privilege of handing out the recognition certificates to the volunteers. I was able to share some of the changes we have planned for Phase 2 of the project, including much needed improvements to our IT system. We had been planning on cooking the food ourselves but at the last minute decided we had enough on our plate without that and opted for catering. Some of our volunteers brought dishes to pass and the Snapshot crew brought some desserts. Thanks to all for contributing to a successful event!
Unfortunately, we had to cancel our 2nd event planned for September 20th at Lake Wazee due to forecasted severe weather. We are looking for alternate dates (and an inside location!) for later this fall/early winter. We will let folks know when it is rescheduled.
We are looking forward to transitioning to more of these types of events in future as we transition more fully to online training and don’t have to travel so much for in person training. All of our trail camera hosts who have participated for at least a year receive an invitation to our recognition events. Getting close to your one year anniversary? Keep an eye on your mail for a letter from us and a special gift!
Behind the Scenes – 1400 New Volunteers!
The Snapshot Wisconsin team (mainly our awesome summer intern, Ally) spent a lot of time over the summer prepping equipment for our statewide launch. We had over 200 kits made and thought that was a good amount. None of us could have predicted the phenomenal response from new volunteers! Since August 9th we have had more than 1100 people signup to host Snapshot Wisconsin cameras across the state. Additionally, more than 300 people had signed up in non-open counties over the last 2 years. So, things at Snapshot Wisconsin have been super busy, to put it mildly. We started our fall training schedule last week with in person training in Platteville and Darlington. This week we are off to Merrill and Crandon (the remainder of our training schedule can be seen here). We also launched a new online training system, including brand new videos, last week. More than 200 people have completed the new online training system and we are working on getting them setup with MySnapshot accounts and getting equipment out the door. Thanks to all the volunteers for their patience and enthusiasm for getting started with our project. We have been working on some automation to better manage the multitudes of new volunteers, in time that should help us to be more efficient.
We are really excited to spend our fall traveling, meeting new volunteers and seeing new photos come in from all over Wisconsin. Stay tuned for more behind the scenes blog posts to come!
Midwest Fish & Wildlife Conference
The Snapshot Wisconsin team
Last week the Snapshot team traveled to Milwaukee to participate in the Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference. As a sponsor of the conference, Snapshot Wisconsin hosted a booth where we met and chatted with wildlife folks from around the Midwestern U.S. We had a lot to show attendees, including some fun flashcards that the team put together to help people work on their classification skills. We were honored that our booth was chosen Best in Show!
We also organized a Citizen Science symposium called “Collaboration with the Public for Natural Resource Research, Management and Conservation.” The symposium focused on practical advice for citizen science project managers. Topics included protocol design, participant recruitment and training, data management, and evaluating program outcomes. Presenters included WDNR project coordinators, a developer from Zooniverse, and the new director of the UW-Madison Arboretum.
Christine Anhalt-Depies and Professor Tim Van Deelen
One of our Snapshot Wisconsin team members, Christine Anhalt-Depies, was chosen as the graduate student recipient of this year’s Leopold Scholarship from the Wisconsin Chapter of the Wildlife Society. Christine was chosen based on her commitment to the wildlife profession and her exceptional commitment to her professional development in a way that honors the memory of Aldo Leopold. Congratulations Christine!
Our new Snapshot Wisconsin mascot, Snappy the Snapshot Beaver, was a hit with students at the conference. We were offering up a gift for anyone who posed with Snappy for a selfie and many students were happy to participate.
Southwest Deer and Predator Study
The following post is by a guest blogger, Caitlin Henning, Communications Specialist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Office of Applied Science. Currently, her primary project is the WDNR’s landmark Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer & Predator Study. Thanks for the information on this project, Caitlin! Read More…
#SuperSnap of the Year
Thanks to everyone who participated in our first annual #SuperSnap contest! First prize goes to the 3 bear cubs featured above. This photo was taken in May of 2017 in Sawyer County. Thanks to @Lefthooklooie for nominating these cute bear cubs!
Second prize goes to this happy buck! This buck was captured on camera in Iowa County in November 2016, thanks to @Snowdigger for this nomination.
Third prize goes to this wintery wolf! This wolf sequence is from an Iron County camera and was taken in March 2017. Original #SuperSnap nomination by @SteveMeurett.
See the full results in this talk board post!
This month’s #SuperSnap comes to us from CraftyWench. This turkey was captured flapping its wings while perched in front of an educator camera in Sheboygan County.
Check out all the nominations by searching “#SuperSnap” in Talk. Hashtag your favorite photos for a chance to be featured in the next #SuperSnap blog post.
Elk Rut Happening Now!
The elk rut peaks mid-September to mid-October. A Wisconsin resident recently caught an amazing video of bull elk getting rowdy in preparation, which you can see if you visit this link.
Our trail camera hosts in the elk reintroduction areas – Black River Falls, Clam Lake and Flambeau River State Forest – have been checking their cameras and uploading photos. We rely on these camera checks to gather data on how the elk are doing in Wisconsin and to get great photos to share!
Bugle Days is an annual tradition held in Clam Lake Wisconsin by the Wisconsin Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Snapshot Wisconsin was invited to participate this year in order to share some info about our elk monitoring project, recognize current volunteers, and recruit some new volunteers.
Bugle Days presented a great opportunity to see some of our volunteers who we haven’t seen since training, and also to get out in the field during the day and check some cameras. We ended each evening with a slide show of Snapshot Wisconsin images accompanied by a campfire.
We are currently looking for more trail camera hosts in each elk range area. These cameras are set up on public land so all volunteers need to participate is transportation to the camera areas, a handheld GPS device, and a healthy sense of adventure! To find out more information about the elk monitoring opportunity send an email to DNRSnapshotWisconsin@Wisconsin.gov with the subject line “Elk Monitoring”.
Snapshot Wisconsin in the Prairie
Last week we traveled to western Iowa County to help lead a Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin field trip showcasing one of our very first camera sites. Most Snapshot Wisconsin cameras are located in wooded areas, but this one is in a restored prairie/wetland. Over the last year this site has captured some incredible photos of birds, including spotted sand piper, sand hill cranes and great blue heron. We were thrilled that the landowner was willing to host and help lead the field trip, and it was a wonderful treat to spend the afternoon outside in such beautiful surroundings.
According to the landowner, the property was used for conventional agricultural up until 8 years ago when he began converting it to prairie. There is also a trout stream running through the property which has benefited from funding and restoration work by Trout Unlimited.
We were fortunate to have Darcy Kind along to help lead the trip. Darcy works for WDNR as a Conservation Biologist for the Landowner Incentive Program, which helps private landowners create and manage habitat for rare or declining species. Darcy has extensive knowledge of native plants and worked with this landowner on restoration projects throughout the 240 acre property.
Prescribed fire has played a key role in clearing brush and encouraging the growth of native plants on the property. Most of the native plant species we saw were not planted, but emerged from the existing seed bank that remained in the soil through decades of agriculture! During the trip we saw rare Hill’s thistle, four species of milkweed, Goat’s rue, lead plant, and many more native forbs and grasses. We also saw red and white oaks thriving in a restored oak savanna, and red headed woodpeckers which nest in at least two places on the property.
Thanks to Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin for providing the opportunity for us to share this beautiful property and promote Snapshot Wisconsin! Anyone who lives in or near Wisconsin should check out their upcoming field trips.
We hope to lead this trip or a similar trip next year. Subscribe to our e-newsletter to receive this announcement and other updates from Snapshot Wisconsin.