Archive by Author | turnermackenzie

A Snapshot From Above

Getting the chance to venture out of the office on a sunny Wisconsin spring day?! Count me in!

In late March 2022, I was lucky enough to tag along with fellow DNR colleagues into the field as they collected aerial images of trout streams for a scientific study. With an interest in general aviation, I am usually the first to jump into the right-seat of a small plane. However, this time, I wouldn’t even make it off the ground!

So, how do you capture streams from above? By unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)!

More commonly known as drones, these aerial vehicles are frequently used by researchers throughout the world to capture aerial imagery and data. You can find drones being used in a variety of scientific disciplines ranging from the energy industry to wildlife research to climate physics.

As we traveled almost 1.5 hours west of Madison, we found ourselves in the driftless region of Wisconsin. The target streams had been pre-selected by the DNR’s Office of Applied Science (OAS) researchers. This particular scientific study will provide quantitative data on the effects beaver have on cold-water stream habitats and trout populations. You can learn more about the study here.

Arriving at the first stream, we took a few minutes to get out of the truck and stretch. Ryan Bemowski (OAS Unmanned Aerial Systems Coordinator) set up the drone and programmed the device to follow a preferred trajectory. Nick Hoffman (DNR fisheries technician) verified the set trajectory, and once the drone was programmed, Ryan started it up. He had programmed the drone to fly at about 300 feet off the ground and up it went!

A man in a beige coat attaches propellers to a drone device.

Bemowski setting up the drone for the first flight of the day.

When the programmed altitude was reached, the drone began moving in the direction of the stream we aimed to capture. My role was to follow the drone on foot and help make sure that we could keep an eye on the device at all times- being weary of trees, power lines, manned aircraft, etc. To get the full image, the drone followed the targeted section of the stream twice.

A bird's eye view of trees that look grey in the background with a stream across the landscape from east to west.

Aerial image of a trout steam taken from the drone.

While following the drone, I got a first-hand glimpse of the cold, clean waters of the driftless area- so clear, you could see large trout swimming. The goal of the study is to monitor recolonization of beaver and measure their impacts on water temperature, stream structure, and trout movement and population dynamics. The occasional beaver dam would pop up during our survey, showing us where beaver are returning to the stream.

A beaver dam consisting of a pile of large sticks that are blocking water from moving past it.

A beaver dam located on one of the target streams.

These collected images, among other habitat data, will be used to better understand the effects of beaver activity and beaver control on salmonids in streams. The image data not only identifies the location of beaver activity, but allows us to directly measure the size of beaver structures and area of beaver impoundments. Infrared temperature sensors mounted on the UAV even let us directly measure surface water temperatures along the length of the stream, identifying cold water springs and possible temperature changes above and below beaver dams.

It was interesting to see the perspective from above, which as you all know, looks a little different than the typical snapshot our project cameras capture! Imagery data, whether captured by UAV or Snapshot Wisconsin trail cameras, plays a critical role in scientific research.

With my interest in general aviation and planes, it was really exciting and a great experience to add this to my belt. I am grateful for this opportunity and especially grateful to my colleagues, Ryan Bemowski and Nick Hoffman for letting me tag along.

A woman with long, red hair stands near the tailgate of a pickup truck. She is holding the controller for the drone machine.

The author with the drone and drone controls.

Taking a Bite Out of Deer Aging

The age composition of a population can tell us a lot of useful information. In whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus), age data provides information about deer herd characteristics, harvest or mortality pressure on a specific age group, and general progress of a wildlife management program overall. A common way to age deer is through tooth wear and replacement. Let’s chew into this technique.

As a determined undergraduate, I voluntarily participated in a few of the DNR’s attempts to collect age and sex data of whitetail deer through in-person registration. Those data were collected from hunters pulling into the local gas station to show off (and ultimately register) their deer. Polite small talk was usually cut off by the sight of my clipboard, knife, flashlight, and jaw spreader. With a cheery smile I’d ask, “May we collect some information about the age and sex of your deer for management purposes?”. Most hunters gladly gave us the chance to examine their deer, but every now and then a trophy buck would pull in– and we knew better than to ask. Why? Because aging deer by tooth wear and replacement requires spreading (and sometimes cutting) the jaw and cheek to get a better look at the back teeth. In-person registration is no longer done, nowadays the DNR gets aging data from deer processors and CWD sampling.

A sketch of the side-view of a deer's jaw, labeled with molars, premolars, diastema, and incisors.

Illustration of the sideview of a whitetail deer’s jaw and teeth. Credit: WIDNR

Although aging deer from tooth wear and replacement has its limitations, it is the quickest and cheapest way to determine the age of a deer. It requires determining which teeth are present in the jawbone and how worn those teeth are. The data determine which of the following age classes a deer falls into: fawn (younger than 1 year), yearling (1-1.5 years), or adult (categorized as 2, 3, 4-5, 6-8, 9-11, or 12+ years).


Fawns usually have only three or four fully erupted teeth along each side of their jaw. The first three are temporary premolars and are often called “milk teeth”. Deer are born with these teeth fully erupted in place (unlike humans). It is important to note that the third premolar has three cusps. A deer with only three or four fully erupted teeth along the jaw is a fawn (Image A).

An illustration of the sideview of a fawn's jaw.

Image A. Example of a fawn’s teeth. Credit: Indiana DNR.


Yearlings are described as approximately 1.5 years old in the fall and generally have six fully erupted teeth on each side of the jaw. The third premolar is worn down by now but should still only have three cusps as it has not yet been replaced by a permanent tooth (Image B).

An illustration of the sideview of a yearling's jaw.

Image B. Example of a yearling’s teeth around 18 months. Credit: Indiana DNR.

At 18-19 months old the temporary premolars (first and second premolars) have been replaced by permanent premolars and the third premolar has now become permanent with only two cusps. A deer with six fully erupted teeth along the jaw is a yearling (Image C).

An illustration of the sideview on a yearling's jaw.

Image C. Example of a yearling’s teeth after 18-19 months. Credit: Indiana DNR.


Adult deer are 2.5 years and older. They will have six fully erupted teeth along each side of the jaw: three permanent premolars and three permanent molars. At this point, it is no longer as simple as counting the teeth and cusps. It is going to take a sharp eye to observe the amount of tooth wear on the teeth. Over time, teeth wear down increasing the width of the dentin exposed along each cusp. Deer older than yearlings are aged through wear of the cusps closest to the tongue on the cheek teeth. For 2.5 years and older, the third premolar is stained. The fourth tooth shows little wear, having a distinct point, and the dentine is thinner than the white enamel. As the deer ages, the cusp points will be worn down and the teeth will become relatively flat (Image D).

An illustration of the sideview of an adult deer's jaw.

Image D. Example of an adult deer’s teeth. Credit: Indiana DNR.

By no means am I an expert in aging deer. As you may now understand, learning how to age deer using tooth wear and replacement is not a one-day deal. Like everything, it takes practice. While we only took a bite out of deer aging, years of training and practice can allow researchers (and undergraduate volunteers) to age a deer down to the exact year. As mentioned, using tooth wear and replacement isn’t the most accurate technique for aging deer, but it is the most hands-on (and fun) approach.



January #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap features a mother black bear (Ursus americanus) and her cub from Marathon County. Black bear cubs are born in mid-January with an average litter size of three to four cubs. However, litters of as many as six cubs have been reported, certainly enough to keep mom on her toes!

A huge thanks to Zooniverse and Snapshot WI volunteer 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.

October #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap features a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) as it scurries around a snowy Racine County forest in search of a meal – which seems quite fitting with our first snow of the season!

As one of our resident species that doesn’t hibernate during Wisconsin’s frigid winters, a red fox will grow a long, thick fur coat to keep warm. A huge thanks to Zooniverse volunteers @bzeise and @cjpope for nominating this crimson critter!

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.