As long-term Snapshot Wisconsin team member, Vivek Malleshappa, transitions to his new role in California with Esri, we wanted to share a newsletter article that he wrote for the Lakeshore Nature Preserve where he hosted his own Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera. Thank you, Vivek!
The Lakeshore Nature Preserve has been a sanctuary for me since I started my master’s degree in Environmental Science at UW-Madison. Living ‘next door’ in Eagle Heights Apartments, whenever I needed a break from schoolwork, I hopped out to the Preserve with my binoculars. Watching a downy woodpecker chip away at a tree was enough to unwind. I still live here with my wife and we are grateful for the easy access to a natural area as beautiful as the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. I wanted to volunteer for the Preserve and decided to host a trail camera with Snapshot Wisconsin, where I work. Before I talk about all the cool wildlife we are seeing from the trail camera, I want to introduce you to Snapshot Wisconsin.
Snapshot Wisconsin is a volunteer-based trail camera project managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Volunteers across the state of Wisconsin participate in the project by hosting a trail camera on their private land or public lands to collect data, which is used in wildlife management decision support.
I have been operating the camera at the Lakeshore Nature Preserve since December 2018 and it has already captured some amazing pictures. From commonly seen raccoons and opossums, to the somewhat secretive red fox and the less common deer, there is a variety of wildlife passing by the camera.
While deriving wildlife population insights from this one camera is difficult, at a minimum it tells us about what species occupy this landscape. And, all the cameras across the state of Wisconsin together are helping us paint a picture of wildlife presence and populations. To find out more about the statewide project and possibly get involved, at the Snapshot Wisconsin website.
I look forward to seeing many more interesting pictures from the camera at the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. Here are some of my favorites so far and I hope you like them as much as I do.
Snapshot Wisconsin cameras capture tons of deer throughout the year. In fact, deer account for nearly two-thirds of the wildlife captured on Snapshot Wisconsin trail cameras. Since there are so many photos of deer taken, we see some deer that look like they might be hurt or have a disease. Here are a few examples of deer who are looking a little under the weather and what might be ailing them:
Nancy (or known by her Zooniverse handle @NBus) is a wildlife health expert here at the Wisconsin DNR who let us know that a swollen chest like this is not unusual in deer. Nancy shared the following response to this image, “It is likely either an abscess (pus-filled) from a penetrating wound that carried bacteria under the skin or a seroma (serum-filled; serum is the non-cellular portion of the blood, not the red and white cells) from a blunt trauma to the chest. The chest is a common part of the body for deer to injure as they run and impact something. And gravity then allows the accumulated pus or serum to gather in a bulge on the lower chest. In either case, the body will likely be able to resolve it and the deer will be fine.”
Another example that shows up semi-frequently is warts. Like many mammals, deer are susceptible to warts caused by a virus. These growths, called cutaneous fibromas, are caused by the papilloma virus. Usually the deer’s immune system can keep the warts in check or get rid of them. Sometimes if the warts appear in areas that obstruct the deer’s ability to eat, they could become a larger issue (source).
Thin and scraggly
Finally, we will touch on thin or scraggly looking deer. Especially in the spring, deer can start looking very skinny and ragged. This one above is shedding its winter coat and is probably a little thin since this was taken in the middle of May in Wisconsin, when food can be hard to come by. However, this is not outside the norm for deer this time of the year. We are often used to thinking of an image of plump deer, but in reality, the appearance can vary greatly based on time of year and food availability.
If you want to see more examples of common deer health issues please visit our previous deer health blog titled, “Is this deer sick?” from February 2018. Learn more about Wisconsin health by visiting this DNR link.
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 article below, “Wisconsin’s prickly rodent” by Alan D. Martin, was originally published in Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine in February 1996. We hope this article gives you a newfound enthusiasm for the “barbed quill-pig of the woods” as well!
The common porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) is a wonderful, necessary member of Northwoods wildlife, and I’m glad it is here in large numbers. Throw stones if you want, but I’ll stand by porkies.
They kill trees, you say? Well, owls, wood ducks, hooded mergansers and woodpeckers need homes too, and porcupines are part of nature’s snag-making team.
Porcupines hurt my dog, you say? Well, most dogs learn from that first painful mistake and don’t go near porcupines again. Only one of my family’s six hunting dogs hasn’t gotten a snootful of quills in recent years, and only one needed a second dose to learn the lesson. The other grousers now bark, from a distance, at the quill-pig.
Because of such mishaps, some porcupines are shot on sight. That’s a real shame because the porky isn’t only the prickliest resident of the Northwoods, it’s also one of the most interesting.
Porkies are the second-largest rodent in Wisconsin after the North American beaver. They can weigh 30 pounds or more in summer but their weight drops dramatically during the lean months of winter. Porcupines live in the northern two-thirds of the state in a territory that extends in a V-shape from about the Ellsworth area in Pierce County down to Wisconsin Dells and back up toward Green Bay.
Porcupines, like most rodents, are vegetarians. Their winter diet consists of conifer needles, buds and the bark of pines, hemlock, maples and birch. How these critters survive on foods with a protein content of only two to three percent is truly amazing.
Porcupines are sloppy eaters who drop a lot of greenery that provides a welcome snack for white-tailed deer during deep snows. If you spot a small pile of freshly-snipped branches on a winter walk, it’s likely porcupines are nearby. Their winter dens are easy to find – just follow your eyes and nose. Porcupines winter in caves and hollow logs. They travel the same paths every day. Near their dens you’ll see distinctive fecal piles and smell the strong scent of concentrated urine.
In spring, abundant food allows the porcupines to roam more freely, and they grow fat and healthy while dozing in the dog days of summer. Porkies consume tender shoots, succulent twigs, roots, seeds and (often to the dismay of gardeners) apples, melons, carrots, potatoes and other juicy produce. Nor are the gardener’s tools immune to the porcupine’s gouging incisors. The animals need sodium to rid their bodies of high levels of potassium from leaves and bark. Axe handles, hoes, canoe paddles, gloves and anything else touched by salty human hands are porcupine magnets.
When defending itself, a porcupine sits very still, faces away from its enemy, raises up, bristles and rattles its quill-studded tail, protecting vital areas from potential predators with up to 30,000 barbed quills.
Although porkies are slow, ambling creatures, it’s not always easy to keep your distance. A deer-hunting friend of mine still talks about his close encounter. Gary was sitting in his tree stand one day when a young-of-the-year porcupine climbed up the same tree and took a seat directly adjacent to Gary’s face. He was kind of cute (the baby porky, that is), as he sat there making little noises with his teeth and watching this newcomer to the tree. Somehow Gary didn’t find much to admire. He just kept a real close eye on the porky’s tail and slowly, calmly eased out of his stand and made his way down the tree. His heart was pounding pretty hard as he reached the ground and looked up at the porky still perched on a branch.
Only one predator poses a significant threat to porcupines – the fisher. These large weasels will wait for the right moment and inflict quick bites to the porcupine’s face and nose, areas that can take little abuse before the injury is fatal.
The porcupine is relatively silent throughout its life, so many people don’t recognize the whining squeal that sounds like a cross between a piglet and a crying baby. The sound varies in pitch and is most often heard in areas with rocky knobs and a good mix of conifers and hardwoods – prime porcupine habitat.
Native Americans had both respect and use for the porcupine. Its quills were incorporated in elaborate embroidered pieces, baskets and artwork. Porcupine quills were bartered and traded with plains tribes who had less frequent contact with the woodland creature.
So keep an eye out for the barbed quill-pig of the woods on your next winter walk. And if one finds you, show some respect.
To view the full posting of the article in the Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine, click this link.
The destiny of a Snapshot Wisconsin photograph is to contribute to a one-of-a-kind data set, ultimately supporting management decisions related to Wisconsin’s wildlife. However, the development of this data set is not the only goal of the project. The photos, through their collection and distribution, also serve to pursue the goal of public engagement. As the project has grown, as has our collection of incredible wildlife photos, and the photos have begun to speak for themselves. For me, personally, the fact that we can’t entirely control what the photos will look like (i.e. which animals will present themselves for a photo, and what they will be doing) adds to the appeal. Trail camera photos show life uninhibited – especially with the increasing quality of the photos as technology improves. Many of our crowd-sourcing volunteers and trail camera hosts can attest that not every trigger captures a moment in time with crisp detail, however. That is the nature of trail cameras. Recently achieving the milestone of over 2,000 cameras on the landscape, Snapshot Wisconsin has learned some simple camera deployment tricks to increase the chances of catching a spectacular photo.
A trail camera operator who wants to maximize the visual appeal of their photos can benefit from considering some properties of traditional photography. First, let’s talk about light. The camera will read the amount of available light and automatically adjust its settings, but the camera operator does have some control over the direction of light in the photographs. Some Wisconsin animals have crepuscular activity patterns, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk, when the sun is low on the horizon. We often recommend positioning cameras to face north so that animals will never be back-lit and overpowered by the bright sun, as they may be if the camera is facing east or west. We recommend north over south because Wisconsin’s relatively high-latitude position in the Northern Hemisphere means that the sun will always be hanging in the southern sky, especially in the wintertime. The best compass bearing for the camera will undoubtedly vary from site-to-site, however. Take the above turkey photo, for example. This photo was taken at 10:42 AM, and the shadows cast by the trees indicate that the sun is behind the subject. This camera is likely facing east. In this case, the forest is dense enough to block out the light directly, and the trail appears to be coming up a slope. The key here is to consider where in the camera’s field of view the light will be coming from.
The next consideration, image sharpness, is a little more difficult to control. There are a lot of factors that can play into how crisp or soft an image will be, including how quickly the animal is moving, where it decides to enter the frame, and when it visits the camera site (sharp nighttime photos are notoriously rare). For locations along a clearly defined game or maintained trail, a few helpful considerations can be made. Our cameras tend to take the sharpest images when the subject is around 10-15 feet away. Placing the camera at approximately this distance from where animals are expected to cross in front of the camera can increase the chances that the animal will be in focus.
The final element that I’d like to touch upon is composition. What makes the composition of a photo “good” is difficult to discuss, not only because it’s a matter of opinion, but also because the composition within the frame can change based on the time of year. Not to mention, we can’t always predict where in the frame the animal is going to be captured and in what position! This is tied to one of my sentiments at the beginning of the post – the composition is often special because we can’t control the details. This concept known as “natural design”. It’s familiar to most of us who have a fondness for nature; a glen of naturally-scattered ferns has a special quality that just wouldn’t be the same if they were hand-placed. Our trail camera hosts often have a relationship with the natural design of their unique camera site, which has resulted in Snapshot staff curating individual collections of our own favorite snaps. Of course, being aesthetically pleasing does not give a photo any more weight in our data set, but the potential for such photographs is another reason that Snapshot Wisconsin is such a special project.
Feeling artsy? Check out the past blog, “Getting artsy with Snapshot Wisconsin” to hear more about the creative side of the project.
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.
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
Are you interested in seeing more wildlife on your Snapshot Wisconsin camera? The Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association (WWOA) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to foster and encourage sustainable management of Wisconsin’s private woodlands.
Improving the habitat on your lands is not only beneficial for you, but for the wildlife in your woods as well! Members of WWOA receive their quarterly publication of Wisconsin Woodlands filled with ways to improve your woodlands and be stay informed about workshops, conferences and educational field-days conducted by forestry professionals.
In late February this year, a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera deployed in Vilas County captured an American marten (Martes americana). This is the first time an American marten has been captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera! The below American marten was identified by the trail camera host, Ashley, and the identification was then confirmed by several species experts in the Wisconsin DNR. While American marten can vary in color, they are best identified by their pale buff to orange throats, dark legs and tails, vertical black lines running above the inner corners of their eyes, and bushy tails that account for one-third of their total length.
Extirpated from Wisconsin in the 1940’s, these small members of the weasel family were later reintroduced to the state and placed on the Wisconsin Endangered Species List in 1972 due to loss of suitable habitat. Marten are restricted to the northern portion of the state where they reside in dense, mature forests with preference for areas that are a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees.
Did you know that marten are excellent climbers? They use this skill not only to hunt down prey, but also to avoid potential danger. These solitary animals are very territorial, with territories spanning an average of two square miles for males and one square mile for females. Although the breeding season lasts from July to August, fertilized eggs do not fasten to the uterine wall until January or February. Females birth two to four kits in March or April, and raise their young in tree dens without any male assistance.
There is still much to be learned about American marten, as their nocturnal lifestyle and often shy demeanor make them a difficult species to study. Follow this link for more information about American marten in Wisconsin, and stay tuned to discover what rare species will be captured next on Snapshot Wisconsin trail cameras!
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)
Within the scientific field of animal behavior, research topics such as parental care, natural selection, and feeding tendencies seem to arise far more frequently than animal play. After all, a life in the wild tends to revolve less around play and more around survival. For some animals, however, play is an integral part of their lifestyles and ultimately their perseverance. River otters, for example, are social animals with a playful and charismatic reputation. As their name suggests, river otters do not typically stray far from waterways, and some Snapshot Wisconsin cameras are perfectly positioned to capture interesting otter behavior. We have observed otters grooming together, wrestling with one another, and – perhaps most amusingly for our staff and volunteers – sliding across the snow. At the bottom of this post there is a compilation of otter slide photos.
Undeniably, sliding across snow or mud is an effective method for locomotion when you compare it an otter’s normal gate – a cylindrical body bounding on short legs. It’s the kind of body shape that glides effortlessly through the water but doesn’t demonstrate the same sort of grace on land. Those proportions make it especially tough to traverse snow, just take it from the otter pictured on the right.
Is sliding truly just an efficient way to travel, or does the otter’s seemingly spirited nature play a role in this behavior as well? A 2005 paper published in the Northeastern Naturalist suggests that it could be both. The study analyzed 5 minutes and 49 seconds of video of wild otters in Pennsylvania. The otters were observed sliding 16 times, an excessive number for the sake of conserving energy.
The term “otter slide” doesn’t just refer to a mode of transportation, however. It can also refer to the marks near riverbanks that are left when otters slide in and out of the water. Often repeated otter sliding will occur near latrine sites, where the animals will go to deposit and read scent-coded messages from other otters in the area. The slides are such a great indicator of otter presence, that the Wisconsin DNR conducts aerial surveys in the winter to help determine population trends. Whatever the motivation is behind the sliding behavior, we certainly enjoy watching it on our trail cameras.