Swapping Coats for the Season

Snapshot Saturdays are a weekly feature on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s Facebook page. Give them a Like to keep up with recent DNR news and to view the weekly Snapshot Saturdays. 

Are you preparing to swap out coats for the season? You aren’t the only one!

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One of Wisconsin’s masters of color change, the snowshoe hare, will start preparing for a change of coats from reddish brown to snowy white. This transition will span over the course of several months, keep an eye out to watch this change happen before your very eyes!

Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/.

November #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap features a tom turkey dressed up in his best bow-tie wattle and ready for Thanksgiving dinner! Turkeys use their wattles for a variety of reasons. This loose skin around their neck allows them to expel extra heat during the hot summer months. Male turkeys (toms) also use their wattle to attract female turkeys (hens) when blood rushes to the area, causing the wattle to turn a bright red color. If a turkey is frightened, blood may also rush out of their wattle, causing it to turn blue.

A tom turkey

Thank you to all our Zooniverse volunteers for nominating their #SuperSnaps. 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.

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. 

A maple sapling that has been browsed by a deer.

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.

One year of growth pointed out on the twig of a Red Maple sapling.

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.

The Black Bear’s “Winter Nap”

Snapshot Saturdays are a weekly feature on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s Facebook page. Give them a Like to keep up with recent DNR news and to view the weekly Snapshot Saturdays. 

Do you wish you could indulge in a nice, long nap until spring weather is back again?

November is the month where Snapshot Wisconsin trail cameras see a sharp decline in the number of black bear images as the bears prepare to enter a state of deep sleep, known as torpor, for the winter.

Did you know you can view and classify photos collected from Snapshot Wisconsin cameras across the state at www.SnapshotWisconsin.org? It’s a fun activity for the whole family!

Snapshot Wisconsin Visits SESYNC

SESYNC_Logo3-standardWH-1200pxLocated 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! 

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Snapshot Wisconsin team members Sarah Cameron, Emily Buege and Vivek Malleshappa

Classic November Face Off

Snapshot Saturdays are a weekly feature on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s Facebook page. Give them a Like to keep up with recent DNR news and to view the weekly Snapshot Saturdays. 

A classic November face off, which gets you more excited for this month – opening day for gun season or Thanksgiving dinner?

Check out this scene captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera!

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Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/.

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.

Snowy Spotting: Wisconsin’s White Deer

The following piece was written by OAS Communications Assistant Claire VanValkenburg for the Snapshot Wisconsin newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this link

Photo by Snapshot Wisconsin volunteer John Gorman

Although white-tailed deer are common in Wisconsin woods, we never seem to grow tired of pointing them out along the highway, watching them traverse our backyards and observing them on hikes. But as temperatures drop and snow falls, certain members of our herd will become harder to spot.

Al, a Vilas County trail camera host, recounts seeing one of these alabaster animals in 1994: “As we were sitting on the deck, a white deer appeared in the bright sunshine on the far side of the lake. It appeared to not only be white but glowing with a light from within, surrounded by the light green spring vegetation,” Al says.

Although seeing one can be striking, white deer are just like normal deer except for their fair coats. DNR researchers sampled the entire Snapshot Wisconsin dataset to piece together this map of where white deer were flagged using comments on MySnapshot and tagged photos on Zooniverse. They found that sightings occurred in 12 counties across the state, but were most frequent in central and northern Wisconsin.

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A white deer’s coloring is caused by a lack of melanin in the deer’s skin, but they aren’t necessarily always albino. True albinism is extremely rare, and an albino deer would have pink eyes, ears, hooves, all-white fur and poor eyesight. It’s more likely that Wisconsin’s white deer population is mostly leucistic, which is caused by a recessive genetic trait found in about 1% of all white-tails.

Leucistic deer (commonly referred to as “piebald deer”) can have a variety of white, brown or black markings. Some leucistic deer are akin to pinto horses, while others may have a completely bleached coat with black hooves and noses. The trick to identifying a leucistic deer from an albino is in the eyes. Deer with pink eyes are most likely true albinos, whereas piebalds have gray, blue or black eyes because albinism affects eyes whereas leucism does not.

While differentiating the two may be tricky, the law is clear. According to page 21 of the 2019 Wisconsin DNR Deer Hunting Regulations, it is illegal to “possess albino or all-white deer which are entirely white except for the hooves, tarsal glands, head and parts of the head unless special written authorization is obtained from the department.” Currently, this is true in all areas of Wisconsin.

Photo by Snapshot Wisconsin volunteer John Gorman

Nature photographer Jeff Richter came eye-to-eye with a white deer nearly two decades ago, and he’s been dedicated to capturing their beauty on camera ever since. Richter is the photographer of the book “White Deer: Ghosts of the Forests” by John Bates and told In Wisconsin Reporter Jo Garrett that despite the photographs, some people still believe they’re made up.

“We’ve actually had a couple of stores where clerks overheard people that’ve picked up the book and were looking at it and said, ‘Boy this is really neat, if only they were real,’” Richter said.

They’re real, alright. The one Al spotted all those years ago left a palpable impression on Al and his wife who, at the time, were looking to buy a house. They spotted the white deer across the lake when they were considering the purchase of what is now their current home.

“It actually may have had a small influence on the purchase of our home!” Al says.

Whether they’re common in your neck of the woods or not, white deer are striking animals. The stark contrast of their coats against Wisconsin woodlands makes them a pearly find among the herd. Keep your eyes peeled and your camera ready now, before they blend into a blanket of snow, perfectly hidden throughout the winter months.

Deer Rutting Season – Iowa County Bucks

Snapshot Saturdays are a weekly feature on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s Facebook page. Give them a Like to keep up with recent DNR news and to view the weekly Snapshot Saturdays. 

Are you ready for deer rutting season? The deer rut coincides with a sharp spike in deer images for the Snapshot Wisconsin project, and offers trail camera hosts the opportunity to capture some exciting series like the below example from Iowa County!

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Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/.

Moving Through the Seasons: Annual Activity Patterns in Deer

The following piece was written by OAS Communications Coordinator AnnaKathryn Kruger for the Snapshot Wisconsin newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this link

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Wisconsin is renowned for being home to a well-established population of white-tailed deer. They are an undeniably important part of Wisconsin’s forests and farmland and are the animal that appears most frequently on Snapshot Wisconsin trail cameras. Since its inception in 2016 the project has accrued a massive supply of deer photos. This vital cache of information offers researchers the opportunity to make population-level observations about things like movement and activity patterns, and how these change with the seasons.

Deer_Age_Sex_Class_BreakdownOut of a sample of 1.4 million Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera photos of deer, antlerless deer take the lead at 63%. The remaining 37% comprises antlered (13%), adult unknown (15%) and fawns (8%).

In their ongoing analyses of these photos, scientists at the Wisconsin DNR have noted that deer show strong crepuscular patterns near both the summer and winter solstices. The word crepuscular refers to the interim between night and day, or both dawn and dusk. Deer are more active closer to sunrise and sunset than they are at any other time of day across any season. In winter, there is an observable preference toward sunset – most likely because afternoon is the warmest time of the day, and therefore the best for foraging. The opposite goes for the longer days in summer, when deer seem to prefer sunrise, as it is cooler and foraging at that time is less energetically expensive.

Crepuscular_seasonsDuring the summer, antlered deer are the most likely to stick to this crepuscular pattern. On the other hand, antlerless deer and fawns are a little more unpredictable. Fawns are generally more active throughout the day, as are antlerless deer, though to a lesser extent. Antlerless deer are also more active through the night. Assuming that most antlerless deer are does, their deviation from the crepuscular pattern can be attributed to their need to move to and from spots where they drop their fawns in the time following birth. Despite their penchant for daytime activity, after the first 12 weeks fawns begin to mirror the activity of their mothers, gradually falling into the recognizable crepuscular pattern.

 

Crepuscular_summerAs for winter, both antlered and antlerless deer are seen to be most active at sunset. At this point, fawns are indistinguishable from does and are therefore not differentiated from the rest of the population in the analysis. During the winter, antlered deer are more active during the night and less active during the day than antlerless. Predictably, the annual rut drives a significant uptick in activity for male deer in late October, a pattern familiar to Wisconsin drivers who may be liable to encounter deer more frequently around the same time.

Crepuscular_Winter1Snapshot Wisconsin’s growing cache of deer photos sheds light on deer activity as it varies through the seasons and even day-to-day. Recognizing these patterns bolsters our knowledge of how deer interact with and move through the landscape. These photos are also used to investigate population dynamics and determine fawn-to-doe ratios to better track the growth of the herd. Such a plentiful supply of information on an important species like deer is of great value to our researchers, whose analyses are a critical component of wildlife management decision-making at the Wisconsin DNR.