Expanding Citizen Science Horizons
The following piece was written by OAS Communications Specialist Rachel Fancsali for the Snapshot Wisconsin newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this link.
If you are interested in branching out as a volunteer scientist, there are plenty of other opportunities to explore. The Snapshot Wisconsin team wanted to highlight some of the other exciting programs that our volunteers and their loved ones may be interested in. After all, volunteer scientists play an important role in more than just wildlife research.
The state of Wisconsin has a long history of volunteer science programs. The DNR has an extensive list of its own volunteer science programs and partner projects, including programs like the Wisconsin Bumble Bee Brigade and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Monitoring Program.
But what about programs outside of Wisconsin? There are plenty of national programs available on a wide variety of topics. If you are looking for something new to dip your toes in, check out these other programs:
Community Collaborative Rain, Hail And Snow Network (CocoRaHS)
- A community-based volunteer network of weather observers working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow) in their local communities.
- CocoRaHS data is used by meteorologists, hydrologists, teachers, engineers and organizations such as the National Weather Service and the USDA.
- Visit the Wisconsin chapter of CocoRaHS.
- Volunteers report the calls of local frogs and toads heard during evenings from February to August, depending on the area and peak breeding season for local species. The data are then loaded into a public database, similar to Snapshot Wisconsin’s Data Dashboard.
- Partnered with the Citizen Science Academy (hosted by the Chicago Botanic Garden) and the National Geographic Society, FrogWatch USA data is used to help develop practical strategies for conserving frog and toad species.
- Visit FrogWatch USA to learn more.
- Map Earth’s oceans in this videogame that trains an artificial intelligence for a NASA supercomputer using FluidCam’s 3D images of the seafloor, the first instrument that can see through waves.
- Players identify coral reefs, other shallow marine environments and marine animals using 2D satellite and drone images and 3D reconstructions of underwater environments. Player classifications are used to teach the convolutional neural network (CNN) called NeMO-Net and help scientists better understand and protect coral reefs globally.
- To dive in, visit NASA NeMo-Net.
The Secchi Dip-In
- Operated by the North American Lake Management Society, this program collects water clarity measurements from rivers, lakes and estuaries to track water quality changes across the continent. Over the past 20 years, the database has accumulated more than 41,000 records on over 7,000 individual waterbodies.
- Volunteers are taught how to take water clarity measurements primarily using a Secchi disk unless the water body is a river or stream that would require a turbidity tube or black disk. Data is primarily collected in July, but the program does accept data year-round!
- Visit the Secchi Dip-In project site, then spend a day on the lake.
We certainly appreciate our volunteers at Snapshot Wisconsin, and we know these programs also appreciate their volunteers. Whether you want to expand your citizen science portfolio into finding collection water samples, listening to frog songs or teaching an AI, there are plenty of options. Have fun exploring!
What Wisconsin Animal Are You?
Some of us like to stay up late and others prefer to snooze, you might be a homebody or always on the move…in case you didn’t realize – animals are the same way too!
Have you ever wondered what Wisconsin animal best embodies your habits? Now is your chance to find out! Take our quiz to find out what Wisconsin animal you are.
This quiz was developed by Sarah Cameron, Christine Anhalt-Depies, and Ally Magnin of the Snapshot Wisconsin Team, and was originally published on March 12th, 2019.
The Native Plants that Impact Wisconsin Wildlife
With summer just around the corner, Wisconsin’s foliage is nearly in full bloom. These green trees, shrubs, weeds, and flowers not only provide a gorgeous background when classifying Snapshot photos, but are also critical for the health of our wildlife species. Plant cover provides food and habitat to these animals, and even reduces stress in humans. They are an irreplaceable part of the food chain as many of these plants feed insects, which in turn become food for bird, bats, fish, and so on up the line. Recognizing local plants can lend a new appreciation for the complexity and beauty of nature.
Here are just a few of the native Wisconsin plant species you may find this summer in state natural areas or even your own backyard!
Bee balm (Monarda sp.)
Bee balm (or wild bergamot) is a great food source for bees and other pollinators. You can usually see it covering large expanses in tallgrass prairies. This plant grows to about four feet tall and flowers in late July. The flowers can be pink, purple, and even red depending on the species. Bee balm is part of the mint family and its leaves are used in herbal teas. Native Americans have used wild bergamot for centuries as a medicine.
Stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida)
Goldenrod is another common prairie plant. When their flowers bloom in the fall, they attract butterflies and bees. This plant even has its own species of beetle that has evolved along with it. The Goldenrod Leaf Miner (Microrhopala vittata) depends on the leaves of this plant for protection, food, and habitat to lay their eggs. If you look closely at the leaves of a goldenrod plant, you can often see the brown tracks and holes left by young munching larvae.
Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)
Wild geranium can most often be spotted when walking through the woods in areas where the trees are sparse. These plants can be recognized by their uniquely shaped leaves with long lobes. Individual plants can grow up to 18 inches wide and 28 inches tall, and often grow in clusters. Their flowers bloom in late spring to early summer, so now is the perfect time to spot these woodland beauties!
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Milkweed is perhaps one of the most popular native plants. It has received wide acclaim as an essential place for Monarch butterflies to lay their eggs. With Monarch populations drastically decreasing, many home owners have opted to let milkweed sprout up in their lawns and gardens. But these five-foot-tall plants aren’t just nurseries for Monarchs, they also serve as food and shelter for hundreds of other species of insects, beetles, and caterpillars.
Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum)
These graceful plants bloom white flowers in spring that turn into luscious dark berries. These berries are a great food source for many bird species, but are not palatable to deer. They are part of the asparagus family and they like growing in wet, shady areas of the woods. A large plant can get up to three feet tall.
Click here for more information on native Wisconsin plants, including how to grow them in your own yard.
Many of us are looking for activities to pass the time as we have been keeping ourselves safe at home these past few weeks. Yoga is a great physical activity for all ages! It can help stretch out stiff muscles, calm a worried mind, and give you an appreciation for what your body is capable of. Inspired by the Bird Yoga activity created by Madison Audubon, Snapshot Wisconsin has created a sequence of Wildlife Yoga poses for you and your family to try out!
Some things to keep in mind as you work through the poses are to try to be aware of your breathing and take deep breaths. It is ok if your pose looks different from someone else’s—variation is one of the beautiful things about yoga. Have patience with yourself if you find some movements more difficult than others. Finally, don’t forget to laugh and have fun!
Start on your hands and knees with your wrists aligned under your shoulders. Curl under your toes and lift your hips up and back until you are standing on the balls of your feet with your hands firmly planted on the ground. Continue to push into the ground and reach backwards like a stretching fox.
Bobcat Marching in the Snow
Start on your hands and knees with your wrists aligned under your shoulders. Slowly stretch out your left hand in front of you and your right leg behind you. Keep reaching to stretch out opposite sides of your body. Return your hand and knee to the floor and stretch out your other hand and foot.
Flying Sandhill Crane
Stand up straight with your feet firmly planted on the ground. Slowly lift up one of your legs so that your knee is bent into a right-angle. Hold your arms out to the sides for balance. Slowly lean forward and push your lifted leg straight out behind you. After a few seconds, straighten back up, return your leg to the ground, and repeat on the other side.
Stand up tall and stretch your arms out to the sides. Take a long deep breath into your belly while slowly raising your hands over your head. Touch your palms together overhead and exhale.
Stand up tall and stretch your arms straight overhead. Spread your fingers wide like antlers. Keeping your arms extended, slowly bring your arms out in front of you, and then bend over and touch the floor (you can bend your knees as much as you need to).
Floating Wood Duck
Lay flat on your stomach with your hands near your shoulders. Use your back muscles to lift your chest a few inches off the ground. Hold for 5 seconds, then lower back down.
Lay flat on your back. Hug your knees to your chest and rock side to side. Straighten your legs back out on the ground, raise your arms overhead and rest them on the ground as well. Then, grab your left wrist with your right hand. Staying flat on the ground, slowly arch to your right in a crescent shape to stretch out your left side. Come back to the center and repeat on your other side.
Sit down cross-legged on the ground. Rest your hands comfortably on your knees. Take three long, deep breaths. Notice what is around you. What sounds do you hear? What scents can you smell?
Wisconsin’s Phenological Legacy
With the help of volunteer trail camera hosts, Snapshot Wisconsin is lucky to monitor over 2,000 cameras throughout the state. This people-powered data collection allows researchers to gain valuable insight into wildlife activity throughout the year. Along with the time-lapse photos that all Snapshot Wisconsin cameras are programmed to capture once per day, 365 days per year, the cameras also capture seasonal wildlife trends like increased animal activity, color-changing coats and the return or departure of migratory birds.
While Snapshot does not currently keep track of the firsts and lasts for all our cameras, each individual camera host can! This is a type of phenological record keeping. The USA National Phenology Network tracks the phenological events of “nature’s calendar,” keeping a record of the “firsts” and “lasts” that occur throughout a year and allowing scientists to establish a sense of how species respond to natural cues such as temperature and day length. Phenology is extremely accessible and both professional and citizen scientists can participate in creating phenological data sets.
Wisconsin has a rich phenological record keeping history, one of the most well-known contributors being the Leopold family.
Aldo Leopold was the first chair of the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His work and writings have inspired countless environmentalists, conservationists, and nature-goers. Leopold’s phenology is famous; he took extensive notes and kept meticulous records. Leopold lived in Madison during the work week, but on the weekends he would go out to a shack on land that he and his family owned in Baraboo on the Wisconsin River. There he would rise early in the morning to observe and document the birds and plants that emerged that day. Almost 80 years later, ecologists recreated a soundscape of Leopold’s shack using the data that he took from this one particular spot.
The audio was created using the ecological and species identification expertise of Professor Stan Temple of UW-Madison, as well as the audio knowledge of Chrys Bocast, a graduate student and acoustic ecologist at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. The soundtrack transports the listener to a spring morning along the sandy shores of the Wisconsin River in the 1940s. This was the first time that today’s ecologists could experience what Leopold had decades earlier. It was also a way for the scientists to hear the differences in the acoustic landscape, not just see it on paper or graphs. Phenological records — records kept both then and now — allow scientists like Temple and Bocast to bridge the gaps between environmental past, present, and future.
Data that are contributed through Snapshot cameras can inform our knowledge of who, what, where and when our favorite wildlife species are emerging, and what we can expect in the years to come based off of historical data. If you are interested in helping contribute to phenological record keeping, there are an overwhelming number of ways to get involved other than hosting a trail camera or classifying photos on Zooniverse. These resources can be found in the Nature’s Notebook section of the National Phenology Network website.
World Wildlife Day
A celebration for the world’s wild animals and plants, World Wildlife Day was originated by the United Nations General Assembly and was first observed on March 3rd, 2014.
Why March 3rd? The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, more commonly referred to as CITES, was signed on March 3rd of 1973. CITES is an agreement between governments to ensure that international trade of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. The agreement protects more than 37,000 species of plants and animals, and currently has 183 participating Parties across the globe.
We hope you join us today in appreciating and raising awareness for the diversity of plants and wildlife that call our state, our country, and our world their home!
A Brief History of Trail Cameras
The invention of trail cameras occurred further back in history than some might think. George Shiras III was a politician and lawyer from Pennsylvania who had an interest in using cameras to capture the first photos of wildlife in the 1880s. Most of Shiras’s photos took place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Since cameras at this time were bulky and cumbersome, carrying a camera out to the woods to take photos of elusive wildlife was not an idea that crossed most people’s minds. Shiras, however, had a brilliant idea for baiting a site and using a series of trip wires to trigger an automatic flash bulb and capture photos of animals at night.
Another method Shiras used to capture photos of wildlife was a hunting technique he learned from members of the Ojibwe tribe referred to as jacklighting. Jacklighting is the practice of sitting out on a lake in a canoe at night and using a small fire to catch an animal’s attention without scaring them away. As the animals stood still and peered curiously towards the flames, Shiras would take his shot – with his camera that is.
Shiras’s photos were one-of-a-kind at the time, and National Geographic soon began publishing them in 1906. His collection of over 2,000 photos remains in their archives today. Click here to see some of George Shiras’s amazing camera trap photos.
A hundred years later, camera trap technology had evolved considerably. By the 1980s, camera traps were mostly being used by deer hunters, but wildlife researchers were starting to use these tools as well. These cameras worked using an infrared beam that, when broken, would open the shutter on a 35mm camera and snap a picture. The 35mm film resulted in crisp and sharply contrasted images, but the film was also costly and had to be replaced often.
The advantages of today’s digital cameras show just how far we’ve come in film technology. Cameras are light, portable, self-triggering, hold thousands of images, and can snap photos in 0.2 seconds. The use of trail cameras by hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts make them a great tool for citizen science programs such as Snapshot Wisconsin because many people already have a familiarity with using them.
The Snapshot Wisconsin program currently has over 2,100 active trail cameras in all 72 counties of Wisconsin. We’ve certainly come a long way from George Shiras’s trip wires and flash bulbs. What remains unchanged is people’s enthusiasm for capturing wildlife in a single passing moment.
Rare Species of Wisconsin
Let’s take a dive into the rare mammals of Wisconsin! Although we do not expect to see many of these species captured on Snapshot Wisconsin trail cameras, having the option available to volunteers provides an excellent opportunity to identify their occurrences in the state. Each month, Snapshot Wisconsin staff members review any images classified as one of the following species to determine the validity of the identification. Volunteers have already accurately identified multiple moose, a marten and even a whooping crane on camera! Read below to find out more and prepare yourself for spotting even more rare species hiding in the massive Snapshot Wisconsin dataset.
Whooping crane (Grus americana) – Whooping cranes are extremely rare, but there is a small introduced population in Wisconsin. These towering birds are snowy white with red crowns and black-tipped wings that can be seen in flight. The species declined to around 20 birds in the 1940’s but number about 600 today.
More likely: sandhill crane. Sandhill cranes have slate gray to rusty brown bodies, white cheeks and red crowns. Depending on the iron content of the soil in the area, sandhill cranes can appear lighter or whiter in color.
Marten (Martes americana) – The American pine marten was extirpated from Wisconsin in the early 1900’s but has since been reintroduced to certain parts of the state. The fur of a marten varies from dark brown to tan and may contain yellow tones. Marten usually have a paler head and dark legs (though color is difficult to tell in nighttime photos when marten are most active). Marten also have a whitish cream to orange throat and relatively large rounded ears.
More likely: mink, weasel or fisher. Mink are a small, long-bodied animal that is typically found near water. The fur of a mink is dark brown and they sometimes have white patches on the chin and chest. Compared to marten, mink are more uniformly colored and have smaller ears. All weasels are small and have long, thin bodies with short legs. In the summer, weasels are light to dark brown with white markings on the chin, throat, chest and/or stomach, during the winter the coat of weasels turns to white. Weasel are smaller than marten, and have less bushy tails. Fisher are a long-bodied species with very long tails and have dark brown fur all year long. The feet and tail are generally darker than the body and head, and some fisher have a cream-colored patch on the chest.
Moose (Alces alces) – Moose were extirpated from Wisconsin in the late 1800’s, but visitors from farther north are occasionally spotted in upper parts of the state. They are one of the largest land mammals in North America and have a blackish brown body with a long nose. Males have large palmate antlers and the young are reddish brown. Because they are such a tall animal, it is often that only the legs and feet are visible in Snapshot Wisconsin photos.
More likely: elk or deer. Elk have a large, thick body with long slender legs. They have a dark brown head and neck, lighter body and a cream-colored rump. Males have antlers which fork off a main branch and a dark shaggy mane that hangs from the neck to the chest. The young have white spots. Deer are lightly built, and grayish brown to reddish brown in color. The underside of their short tail is white. Males have antlers which fork off a main branch and the young are reddish brown in color with white spots.
Feral pig – Feral pigs are non-native, domestic pigs that have become feral after living in the wild. Sightings are more common in the southern U.S. but are occasionally reported in Wisconsin. They are stocky animals and can vary greatly in size and color. Compared to domestic swine, they have longer snouts, longer course hair, a straight tail, and may have tusks.
More likely: deer, black bear or other large mammal. Due to their large stature, a feral pig can be misidentified as other more common large animals, such as deer or bear. Deer are lightly built, and grayish brown to reddish brown in color. Black bear are large, round animals with dark brown or black coats.
Lynx (Lynx canadensis) – There are no known breeding populations of lynx in Wisconsin, though an occasional visitor from Canada will pass through. The coat of this cat varies from gray to grayish brown with spots on the legs and belly. The lynx has long black tuffs on the ears, short black-tipped tails, long legs, and very large furry feet.
More likely: bobcat. Bobcat coats vary from gray to reddish brown, typically with spots, especially on the belly. Bobcats have stripes on the insides of the legs, and telltale white markings on the backs of the ears. They have short tails that, on the tip, are black above with white below.
Cougar (Puma concolor) – There are no known breeding populations of cougars in Wisconsin, though there have been several recent sightings of wandering young males from out west. The coat of this large slender cat varies from yellowish brown to grayish brown with a lighter color belly and throat. Their head is relatively small and the area behind the ears is black. Cougars have a long black-tipped tail.
More likely: bobcat. Bobcat coats vary from gray to reddish brown, typically with spots, especially on the belly. Bobcats have stripes on the insides of the legs, and telltale white markings on the backs of the ears. They have short tails that, on the tip, are black above with white below.
Jackrabbit (Lepus townsendii) – Though formerly abundant in Wisconsin, this species is now extremely scarce. Jackrabbits’ upper side is grayish brown in color with gray or white on the underside, and in the winter, the fur is white. The tail is white year-round. Jackrabbits have ears which are longer than the head.
More likely: cottontail rabbit or snowshoe hare. The fur of the cottontail rabbit is brown in color with longer gray and black guard hairs, giving it a grizzled appearance. Their fur does not typically vary with seasons, and their ears are often shorter than the hind feet and are small in proportion to the body. A snowshoe hare is slightly larger than a cottontail, and their coat varies with the seasons turning from dark brown/reddish to white during winter months. Hare have long feet and black tipped ears are large in proportion to the body.
Spotted skunk (Spilogale putoris) – The spotted skunk hasn’t been seen in Wisconsin in 30+ years, and only in the southwestern part of the state. They have the same black fur as striped skunks, but instead have white blotches all over. The spotted skunk’s bushy tail is white underneath and at the tip.
More likely: striped skunk. Striped skunks bear a white stripe that runs down the center of their face, usually have two white stripes going down the back, and a long/fluffy black tail.
Wolverine (Gulo gulo) – Wolverines are considered extirpated from Wisconsin. They have thick, coarse, dark brown fur with light brown stripes starting at the shoulders and traveling along the body to the base of the tail. Wolverines have a fluffy tail and often have a light-brown face.
More likely: porcupine, skunk or badger. The body of a porcupine is stout with an arched back and covered in quills. Porcupines appear dark brown in color and have small round ears and tiny dark eyes. Striped skunks bear a white stripe that runs down the center of their face, usually have two white stripes going down the back, and a long/fluffy black tail (though the pattern of striped skunks is often distorted during nighttime images). Badgers have low, wide bodies with short legs. The fur of a badger ranges from grayish to reddish along the back with a buff colored underside. Badgers have distinctive black patches on their face and a white stripe extending from nose, down the back.
Exploring the Plant Side of Citizen Science
In the state of Wisconsin, we are lucky to have so many people who take interest in our natural resources. From the Snapshot Wisconsin project here at the Department of Natural Resources, to university professors conducting environmental research, to individual Wisconsinites, there’s no shortage of people who care.
Before I started working with the Snapshot Wisconsin team, I was fortunate enough to participate in another research project. The goal of the project was to look more closely at the impact that white-tailed deer have on Wisconsin forests when they browse on (or “eat”) sapling trees. My job was to use the Twig-Age method to help collect data across several forest patches in Southern Wisconsin, as well as to build a website to share this new method of data collection with other volunteers who wanted to participate in the research.
The Twig-Age method involves looking at a tree sapling, measuring its height, and counting the terminal bud scale scars along two of its branches. Terminal bud scale scars are what’s left behind on the twig when a bud falls off naturally during the growing process. Picture marking a child’s height on the wall each year. The more bud scale scars a twig has, the longer a twig has been able to grow without being browsed by a deer. We took hundreds of data points in order to paint a picture of what sort of browsing impacts deer were having on these forests.
While I was doing this field work, I found myself surprised by how many different species of trees we have in our forests. Usually when I walk through the woods, I don’t take the time to notice all the different plants around me. I notice the birds and the squirrels, but the plants have always been more of a beautiful backdrop. This research project gave me a stronger appreciation for the diverse vegetation that we have in our forests. I had time to get down at eye-level with these saplings and really look at them. It was like playing the part of a historian by recording the age of their twigs and whether or not a deer had eaten from them before. Each data point collected was a personal interview with a tiny tree.
By the end of the summer we created Our Wisconsin Understory, a citizen science project for monitoring deer impacts. The goal is to collect as much data as possible and to hopefully expand data points across the state. Anyone interested in learning more about the Twig-Age method and collecting data for the project can do so at the Our Wisconsin Understory website.
Top 10 Reasons to Host a Snapshot Wisconsin Trail Camera
Rumor has it that summer is around the corner, which is the perfect time to sign up for a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera! Do you have access to public land or a private property at least 10 acres in size? A computer with internet? The ability to participate for a least a year? If you answered yes to these questions, congrats – you are already qualified! If you are thinking “But why should I apply?”, here are 10 commonly quoted reasons by our volunteers and project staff:
1. It’s free!
We provide all necessary equipment (including a Bushnell camera), training, technical support and replacements at NO cost! No previous experience is required, we are happy to teach you!
2. Use your trail camera see up close pictures of wildlife.
Feed your curiosity and learn what is on your property and public lands.
3. Hosting a trail camera is a great excuse to get out into the woods.
And we’ll remind you to check your camera every three months. That way you’ll head outdoors in all seasons and be on track with the program.
4. Contribute to wildlife monitoring.
Photos collected through Snapshot Wisconsin are turned into important data used for supporting wildlife management decisions at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
5. Interact with the researchers.
Volunteers interact with the Snapshot Wisconsin research team at various outreach events, both in person and online. We also visit various groups across the state talking about the project and are available for questions on call or email.
6. Be in the know – get regular updates on data collected.
The research team provides regular updates aimed at volunteers – our monthly e-newsletter and blog are chock full of interesting information.
7. Socialize with other volunteers.
Our volunteers meet other citizen science enthusiasts at trainings, outreach and volunteer appreciation events. Discussions at these events can range from how the last hunting season went to secret birding locations, Packer football and so on.
Apart from the events, our Zooniverse forum allows you to interact with more 6500 volunteers from across the globe with the one thing that binds them all – interest in Wisconsin’s charismatic wildlife through the lens of a trail camera.
8. Improve your wildlife identification skills.
We provide a web-interface MySnapshot for volunteers to classify and view their pictures. Our Zooniverse forum is also a way to classify the pictures from across the state.
9. Educational outlet for students or nature center visitors.
Hundreds of educators participate in Snapshot Wisconsin. Snapshot Wisconsin is a great avenue to take your class outdoors and to bring the outdoors back into the classroom. Many nature centers also participate in Snapshot Wisconsin and are a great outlet for information on Wisconsin’s wildlife.
10. Provides an opportunity to bridge nature and technology.
Snapshot Wisconsin provides a great opportunity to bridge nature and technology. Trail cameras are non-invasive and providing a wealth of data about the secretive critters of Wisconsin. It’s a great technology for the good, connecting people and nature.
Convinced yet? Signup here: www.SnapshotWISignup.org!
Do you have a few more questions? Contact us at DNRSnapshotWisconsin@Wisconsin.org