Tag Archive | Wildlife

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)

A milkweed plant

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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.

Wildlife Yoga

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!

Downward Fox

A red fox stretching in the snow

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

A bobcat walking through 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

A sandhill crane with wings open

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.

Startled Turkey

A wild turkey with wings open

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.

Leaping Deer

Three deer running through a field

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

Two wood ducks floating on a pond

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.

Playful Otter

An otter rolling on its back

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.

Sitting Fox

A red fox sitting in the snow

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?

World Wildlife Day

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

Blog_Cam3The 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.

A bull elk

A bull elk captured at night at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. July 1913. Photograph by George Shiras.

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.

A volunteer checking his trail camera

A Snapshot Wisconsin volunteer checks his camera.

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.

A red fox

A red fox captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera.

Past Pieces: “Wisconsin’s prickly rodent”

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.

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Porcupine captured on a Vilas County Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera

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.

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Porcupine captured on a Sawyer County Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera

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.

Snapshot Saturday: May 4th, 2019

Trail cameras offer a non-invasive approach to monitor not only animals, but their surrounding habitats as well. In addition to capturing exciting images of wildlife Snapshot Wisconsin cameras are programmed to take a daily time-lapse image at 10:40 a.m.  As part of the project’s phenology research staff members began measuring the greenness in these time-lapse photos to determine when the different “phenophases”, or significant stages in the yearly cycle of a location’s vegetation, are occurring across the state.

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If you have noticed the vegetation around you becoming a little more colorful, that is because much of the state is entering the “greenup” phenophase. This Snapshot Saturday features a Sawyer County elk enjoying spring greenup from May 2018.

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/.

Chutes and Otters

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A “romp” of river otters seen on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera in 2015.

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.

otter_door017_4.15.18a-e1551379448343.pngUndeniably, 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?  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.

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A Snapshot Wisconsin otter on what may be a latrine site.

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.

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Snapshot Saturday: April 27th, 2019

It’s that time of year again when black bears begin making their appearances on Snapshot Wisconsin cameras. Have you spotted a bear yet on your trail camera this year?

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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 Saturday: April 20th, 2019

Check out this hawk captured on a Columbia County Snapshot Wisconsin camera. Happy Snapshot Saturday!

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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/.

Snapshot Saturday: April 13th, 2019

Each spring greater prairie-chickens congregate on leks, or mating grounds, to show off their ornate displays. Male birds use their orange air sacs to create a distinctive booming sound that can be heard from across the prairie.

Snapshot Wisconsin paired up with DNR Wildlife Management staff to start a pilot project last spring using trail cameras to monitor greater prairie-chickens, and we think it has been a “booming” success! Check out these two male greater prairie-chickens caught on camera.

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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!