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!
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.
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.
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 Snapshot Wisconsin team member, Michael, moved up north for the summer to help the DNR in the Northern Highland State Forest. Below is a short piece he wrote about his experience in northern Wisconsin.
The gravel crunched under the tires of my Subaru as I wove down Wildcat Road one August evening. A Snowshoe Hare dashed for cover into the forest. A toad slowly hopped across the road. The tamaracks waved softly at me as I drove over Wildcat Creek. Upon pulling into the garage, darkness had nearly fallen.
Walking back outside, I climbed the stone steps to the front door feeling the breeze blow off the lake. I started to heat up left over soup on the stove for a late dinner. I sat down to eat the soup and simply listened. The wind whispered through the trees. The rustling among pine needles and maple leaves had become a constant and comforting sound over the last three months. A storm could be heard far in the distance. Thunder rolled across thousands of acres of woods and lakes towards me. Soon after, I heard rain pattering on the surface of the lake. No star gazing tonight.
Instead, I took up my favorite seat in the cabin – a wooden rocking chair on the porch. I picked up Where the Crawdads Sing and read as the storm gained strength. I read about a girl, Kya, who learns the intricacies of a North Carolina coastal marsh. Nature has become her only friend as her family slowly abandons her when they move out into the greater world. Kya knows the tidal cycles by heart and can identify any bird that crosses her path, like the elegant Great Blue Heron – a bird that I have seen out of this very porch in Wisconsin. I have observed it standing stock still and waiting for a hapless fish to swim too close. I sat and thought of how much I still have to learn about the ecosystem surrounding me. The tiniest details that I have yet to notice. What would Kya discern that I have not observed?
The storm eventually passed. I closed the book and listened to loons wailing on the lake. Loon calls have always struck me as hauntingly beautiful. The calls expound on the beauty of the natural world while at the same time lamenting the perils it faces. It is as if the loons can feel the climate shifting drastically. A barred owl soon joined the lonely chorus with the familiar “who-cooks-for-you” call. Both bird calls echoed across the lake. A breeze suddenly picked up, blowing through the screen and onto my face. Gently woken from my reverie, I got ready for bed. Then I crawled under the blankets and drifted off to sleep with the sound of the wind in the trees.
These are the nights I will remember. The nights when nature gave me the chance to slow down. The nights when it was only me and the north woods.
The following piece was co-written by Ally Magnin and Claire Viellieux, with contributions from The Snapshot Wisconsin Team.
The Snapshot Wisconsin team recently conducted an analysis of trail cameras in the Black River Falls elk reintroduction area. In this analysis, we compared elk collar location data to active cameras. We found that the elk herd range has shifted since their reintroduction in the area and that some of our camera locations are not aligned with where the elk are currently located. To begin to address this mismatch and maintain our grids, we identified cameras that should be removed, replaced, or checked. Below, Snapshot Wisconsin team members share a “snapshot” of their experiences checking cameras in the Black River Falls State Forest.
“While I have helped with elk fieldwork before (check out this blog post!), this was my first experience organizing a trip for the team. It was also my first time heading out into the woods alone – something I never would have been confident enough to do two years ago! Overall, conducting this fieldwork improved my ability to navigate with a GPS unit and made me comfortable with being in the woods alone. The quiet of the forest was a little unsettling at first, but by lunchtime of the first day, I settled in and enjoyed the solitude. I tuned in to the sounds of the forest and felt at ease.” – Ally Magnin
“Getting back into the field was a great experience this last round of fieldwork. While I am beyond appreciative of the time that volunteers put into monitoring their cameras, I can’t help but jump on an opportunity to get out and contribute to that part of the project. When it came to the luck of the draw for removing elk cameras, I certainly fared well. Although I encountered my fair share of ‘creepy crawlies’ and briars, I was welcomed with beautiful views of the Black River State Forest, including the Pigeon Creek Flowage, and even got to see my first Wisconsin black bear.” – Sarah Cameron
“What do fly bites and cold toes have in common? They’re both guarantees while doing fieldwork in the extremes of Wisconsin’s weather. While some seasons are more comfortable for meandering through the woods than others, each has its own charm. Summer, for example, is a peak for finding a diversity of flora and fauna. In my two most recent field days, I encountered a doe and a fawn crossing the road ahead of me, was startled by a ruffed grouse that I unintentionally flushed, and enjoyed watching a spring peeper jump through the brush along the path. But the critter that inspired me most was even smaller.
Before finding one during fieldwork, I had never seen a bright red dragonfly. I snapped a quick picture and continued along my way – stopping too long is just inviting the flies to bite uncovered fingers. As I hiked, I thought about all the other brightly colored dragonflies I had seen growing up – blue and green, mostly. I wondered if there were dragonflies for every color of the rainbow. Probably not here in Wisconsin, but perhaps I could find something else to represent every color in the rainbow. This created a fun little scavenger hunt for me and made my time go by almost too quickly!”
—Emily Buege Donovan
“As I was driving to my first trail camera location in Black River Falls, I remember noticing how beautiful and lush all the trees were. It was a clear, sunny day and I was looking forward to exploring an area that I had never been to before. Trying to locate my first camera ended up being a bit of a trial by fire. It had rained the night before, creating swampy conditions. I stepped on a patch of mossy forest floor that I expected to be solid, but before I knew it, I had fallen up to my waist in swamp water! Luckily the field clothes I was wearing dried off quickly. Besides this misfortune, the rest of the day went smoothly. I even saw a mother raccoon and her adorable babies waddling across the road. Unfortunately, they were too quick for me to pull over and snap a photo, but I’ve included a picture of my cheery view as I stopped to eat lunch from the back of my car.”— Claire Viellieux
“This July was my first experience doing fieldwork with Snapshot Wisconsin and the timing could not have been better! After transitioning to working from home in March, a trip up to Black River Falls State Forest was a sorely needed dose of the outdoors.
I had a few cameras on my list to find and the first one was a super easy walk through a peaceful campground and low-density foliage. I found the camera quickly with just a few mosquitoes flying around me. Finding this camera so quickly and easily gave me a false sense of confidence as I headed towards my second camera.
I hopped in the truck and drove to my next camera. From my maps, it looked like it was right off the road. I spent some time trying to find an easy path. After a few false starts trying to make my way through the ferns, water, moss, and bushes, I plunged in and started walking in as direct a line as possible to the camera. That line turned out not to be so direct. I got turned around and so did the GPS. In the end, I am pretty sure I spent a half-hour walking through the same 20 square meters. I did not end up finding this camera.
After this long search, lunch in the truck bed was a must. The continual feeling of being lost at that last camera site was foreign to me, but it was also a great reminder to get outside my comfort zone and try new things. It definitely gave me a better appreciation for all of the hard work our volunteers put into this project.
I found my final camera with my teammate Emily. Even though most of our fieldwork was done solo in individual vehicles to make sure we were following all the required health precautions, Emily and I hiked the longest distance of the day together while keeping at least 6 feet apart from each other. I’m so glad we were able to go to this final site together because it gave me more confidence. We tromped through logging tracts, chest high ferns, and pockets of moss that made me very grateful for my waterproof hiking boots before finally locating the last camera.
Thank you elk camera volunteers! These cameras are hard to find but it is so rewarding to see those photos of elk becoming established as Wisconsin wildlife once again.” – Jamie Bugel
If you’re interested in monitoring a camera in Black River Falls, Clam Lake, or Flambeau River, check out our Elk Camera Monitoring Application!
Located 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!
The goal of the Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study is to comprehensively examine factors that could impact deer survival and deer population growth in southern Wisconsin. Those include Chronic Wasting Disease, predation, habitat suitability and hunter harvest. In late May and early June, members of the Snapshot Wisconsin team had the opportunity to help out with the project’s spring fawn search. Snapshot staff joined the CWD team and volunteers from across the state to search for fawns in the study areas near Dodgeville.
On each day of the 3-week survey, DNR employees and volunteers assembled into a line spread fingertip to fingertip to sweep across the survey area. It takes a keen eye and diligent searching to spot a fawn, as newborn fawns can be as small as a football. When less than 5 days old, fawns stay bedded down and in hiding amongst tall grass and brush. Does often leave their fawns for hours at a time to give the fawn a better chance of survival.
When a staff member or volunteer came upon a fawn, they rested their hands on the fawn’s back to gently keep the fawn from getting up. A children’s sock was then placed over the fawn’s eyes to keep it calm as DNR employees promptly fitted the fawn with ear tags and a radio collar. These collars are made of elastic material with pleats sewn into them that pop, expand, and eventually fall off as the fawn grows – usually within 18 months. Important information such as the fawn’s sex, weight, and rear leg length was recorded before carefully placing the fawn back where it was bedded down.
The Snapshot Wisconsin team learned a lot about fawns, CWD, and how the Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study gathers valuable data about white-tailed deer. This unique fieldwork opportunity also gave our team an up-close look at the wildlife we usually see in trail camera images!
For more information, please visit the Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study’s webpage.
Check out these other Snapshot Wisconsin blogs related to the project:
1) Southwest Deer and Predator Study
2) In the Field with the Southwest CWD, Deer and Predator Study
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”.
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!
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation hosted their annual Bugle Days Rendezvous this past weekend to celebrate the RMEF volunteers and elk in Wisconsin! This year the event was hosted in the Flambeau River State Forest, one of the sites where elk have been reintroduced in the state. Bugle Days Rendezvous offers RMEF volunteers a unique opportunity to partake in a weekend of “elk camp” including exciting field trips, herd updates, comradery, and importantly the sights and sounds of bugling Wisconsin elk.
Snapshot Wisconsin team members Sarah Cameron and Taylor Peltier were granted the opportunity to partake in the festivities this year, and give a presentation about elk monitoring with Snapshot Wisconsin. Although the two missed out on spotting any early morning elk with the rest of the RMEF, they still were able to witness the sounds of howling wolves, discovered several elk tracks along back roads, and even found a sneaky tree frog hiding behind one of the Snapshot Wisconsin trail cameras they visited. It was a weekend well spent!
Find out more about the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in Wisconsin, including upcoming events and how you can get involved!
On our way up north for a recent outreach event, Taylor_Peltier and I swung through Black River Falls to check two Snapshot Wisconsin cameras deployed for the elk reintroduction project. Black River Falls, located in central Wisconsin, is one of the three locations where Snapshot Wisconsin has a dense network of trail cameras to monitor the reintroduced elk populations. Trail cameras support data needed to make management decisions at the WDNR, all while capturing captivating photos of local wildlife.
Being relatively new to the project, this was my first time doing fieldwork – and I couldn’t have been more excited! While our amazing Snapshot volunteers do the majority of fieldwork, we never shy away from an opportunity to get out in the woods as well. We suited up and grabbed our gear: a handheld GPS with coordinates entered for each camera site, swamp boots, bug nets, and camera equipment. We replaced one camera at the previously utilized camera site and moved the other to a better location, free of tall ferns and at the intersection of three wildlife trails. This was great opportunity for me to gain experience in the field and I look forward to future fieldwork opportunities!
As a graduate student, conferences are an opportunity for me to share my research and connect with others doing similar work. Recently I had the opportunity to travel to beautiful Utah for the International Symposium on Society and Resource Management. This conference brings together scientists and practitioners to share research on the interaction between society and natural resources.
I learned about many innovative research efforts – a study aiming at making camping more sustainable by decreasing the impact on the natural environment (Marion et al.) and another that used survey data to understand what sources of scientific information were most trusted by the public (Schuster et al.).
Some of my favorite sessions were workshops I attended on how to be a better collaborator and communicate with journalists. I also had the opportunity to present some of my research on volunteer’s experiences participating in Snapshot Wisconsin (stay tuned to find out more!)
Of course the views weren’t shabby either. Now back to data analysis and writing!