What's that bird?
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I read the update on bull snakes in the June issue and will go back in the archives to read the original article (More bluff than bite April 2007).
I live in Texas now, although I still own a farm in Wisconsin, near Sparta in Monroe County. It doesn't surprise me that county has one of the highest frequencies of sightings. I grew up on a farm near Sparta in the '40s and '50s and we saw bull snakes quite often. I was bitten by one when mowing a local cemetery in 1955 when I was 13. The cemetery association had added space on the back and cultivated and seeded the new plot. My job was to keep grass trimmed. I accidentally mowed off about 6-7" of the tail of a large bull snake. He was not happy about this and struck me just above my right ankle above the top of my shoe. I had to grab him behind the head to pull him loose and tossed him over the back fence. I put the mower away and rode my bike home about a mile. When I told my mother what happened she called the doctor. Since there were a few rattlers around, he asked me if I had positively identified it as a non-poisonous snake. When I told him it was definitely a bull snake, he just said, "Try to make it bleed a little and wash it with warm soapy water." I washed it well, put on a Band-Aid and went back to mowing. I never saw the snake again, but stuck the little piece of his tail on the side of the shed with a nail. It stayed there for three or four years. I had a little dimple scar on my leg for many years before it eventually faded.
In the '70s, my brother was operating a farm nearby and caught one of the largest bull snakes I ever saw. It was around six feet long. He kept it for a pet in a big stone jar in the barn for a few weeks. He named it "Bully" and fed it live mice that he would catch in traps in the barn and corn crib. He weighed it on a dairy scale in a bucket. It weighed 23 pounds. When it got lethargic, he decided that it was not happy confined in that jug and he released it in a thick fencerow near the barn. He saw it several times for the next few years. Apparently that snake did not have a very large territory.
This summer I served as an adult leader on our church's youth mission to Raymondville, not far from the Gulf Coast. The town was hit hard last summer by the remnants of Hurricane Dolly. We were repairing homes that suffered water and wind damage. When tearing down damaged ceiling drywall in a bathroom, the kids found a dead snake that I estimated at a bit over three feet long. I am almost positive by the markings and the shape of the head that it was a bull snake. As we carried it out, a few eggs fell out on the concrete floor. These were creamy white and about the size of a large pea. One of the eggs broke open. A little "wriggler" ¼-½ inch long emerged from the broken shell. We found a lot more eggs, possibly 200 or more, as we cleaned out the moldy insulation. I told the kids that these were not poisonous snakes and were very beneficial, that they ate small rodents and insects. We put all of the eggs in the edge of a large sugar cane field that adjoined the lawn. I always look forward to receiving Wisconsin Natural Resources. I enjoy all of the articles and commend you on the information contained in every issue.
A little night music (August 2009) was GREAT! I didn't know anything about coon hounds or coon hunters prior to reading this story; however, Kathryn Kahler's writing gives one a sense of being right there in the midst of the whole thing. While reading the story it seemed that I could hear the dogs barking and see the fat coon staring down from the tree branches. It was only after I finished reading the story that it hit me that I wasn't literally there. Excellent!
In the June 2009 article (What's the buzz about bees?) I was particularly interested in the reported dramatic reduction of the yellow-banded bumble bees in relation to the total number of bees tallied. The article seemed to imply that the rusty-patched bumble bee had taken over the former's habitat range. My wife and I plus our neighbors see only the yellow-banded type in our area. We are all trained researchers and have been observing bees for decades, so I don't think it is a case of mistaken identity. We live near the junctions of Waushara, Green Lake and Marquette counties. Am I missing something in this article? Is there any significance to our observations?
Author Eric Mader of the Xerces Society replies...
To be clear, the rusty-patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) has not increased its numbers nor expanded its range in response to the decline of the yellow-banded bumble bee (B. terricola). Rather both species have declined rapidly and extensively throughout their historic range.
As for the bees you are observing, there is definitely a chance that you are seeing the yellow-banded bumble bee. The few recent records we have of it nationally are limited to specimens collected in 2007–2008 near Two Rivers to the east of you, Manitowish Waters and Mountain to the north, and Ozaukee County to your southeast.
All of these reports make conservation efforts in Wisconsin crucial to the survival of these species. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is attempting to document sightings of these bees so that we can help state and federal agencies coordinate conservation resources. If you think you are seeing either the yellow-banded or rusty patched bumble bee, we encourage you to photograph it and send the photo to the Xerces Society's Endangered Species Coordinator, Sarina Jepsen. Also, several online identification guides to bumble bees are available at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
[NOTE: Subsequent study of photos supplied by Mr. Morris led Eric Mader to conclude the bees in the Waushara area were actually the common eastern bumble bee, B. impatiens.]
After a quick scan of my August issue I was disappointed there were no readers' letters! What a bummer. Then I read Dave Crehore's article (No fair!). It mirrored my experiences at the Rock County Fair in Janesville 60 years ago in the first part of August. I went every day. I didn't have any entries but blew my hard-earned paper route money trying to win a stuffed animal or a watch. Twenty-five cents here, 50 cents there and I was broke. Loved the cotton candy! Mr. Crehore's writing style and memories were a superb treat. Bring us more, and bring back "Readers Write" also.
WNR magazine replies...
Our letters column is sometimes a matter of feast or famine, as evidenced by the number of letters we were able to print in our October issue. Like you, we enjoy hearing from readers and encourage everyone to keep the letters coming.
Julia Solomon's story (Containing the threat August 2009) was an eye-opener! Fifty years ago, I owned a small power boat, and occasionally spent a weekend water skiing along that stretch of the Illinois River. The photograph of Heidi Keuler on page 17 (which is an outstanding bit of photography) would certainly discourage me from doing that now!
Can you tell me anything about the toad or frog that has taken up housekeeping under the cover of my gas grill in the back yard? Is it some kind of tree frog? Does it change colors? Do they all have the same marking like a standing man with his arms outstretched on its back, starting at the head? I found it twice under the black cover of my gas grill. The shelf on the left of the grill is grey so the first time I removed the cover I didn't see it until I came back to place items on the grill. The next time it was in the right side, an area more of a black color with grey controls. As I went to get the camera it jumped to the concrete patio surface where I took the shot.
WNR magazine replies...
Jim, your little grill buddy is either the eastern gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor) or the Cope's gray treefrog (H. chrysoscelis). If it has a white spot under the eye, it is the eastern gray treefrog. We're really taken by these little guys because their camouflage is so elegant ranging from bark brown to green to rocky colored, depending on their surroundings. DNR publishes small field guides to the amphibians, reptiles and snakes of Wisconsin complete with identification keys and nice pictures. The books sell for $4 each with discounts for larger quantities. Order forms are available at Endangered Resources Publications. You can also find more information online at dnr.wi.gov/org/land/er/ biodiversity where you'll find descriptions of hundreds of other plants, animals and natural communities, or at DNR's kid's page EEK! (click on "Critter Corner").
My wife and I really enjoy Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine. The pictures and maps are well done and the written articles are very informative. Several months ago near Fish Camp Road and near Lake Kegonsa State Park campground, we saw a bird fly over the car and land in a pasture. It was at least the size of a crow, but its wings had black and white feathers. The body and head were black. I have never seen such markings on a bird. Perhaps you can identify the bird for us and send us a picture and better description. Thank you in advance for your help.
WNR magazine responds...
It's often tough to identify birds and other animals based on verbal descriptions. Features that distinguish one bird from another don't always present themselves as the bird flashes past our field of vision. After consulting some of DNR's experts, we think we can narrow your bird down to a few possibilities. You say "at least" as big as a crow, so it could have been an immature bald eagle or a turkey vulture, though both are considerably larger and turkey vultures don't have feathers on their heads. To complicate matters, birds and other wild animals sometimes exhibit color abnormalities, such as melanism (where they have more black pigmentation than normal) or albinism (where they lack black pigmentation and are white). Somewhere in between are piebald or partially leucistic feather patterns such as those shown by this piebald American crow. The fact that the bird you saw landed in a pasture (typical crow behavior) makes this a possibility as well.
[Ed. Note: A subsequent phone conversation with Mr. Hellemann ruled out the turkey vulture and immature bald eagle as possibilities. The bird he saw wasn't nearly that large, making the piebald crow the leading candidate.]
In an early 2009 issue, there were plans for a wooden house where birds could spend the winter night. Can you refresh me as to which issue that was, or direct me where to get the plans?
WNR magazine responds...
Our February 2009 Creature Comforts column had a diagram and plan for building winter roosting boxes that can also be converted for spring use. We provided links to sets of plans, one from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at How to Attract Birds to Your Yard (Click on "Other Ways.") and a second set of plans from How to Make a Winter Roosting Box.
We just wanted to commend the Department of Natural Resources for initiating the early hunt/fish programs for youth in Wisconsin. Our 12 year-old son, Coltton was out early this morning for his first youth duck hunt and we could not have wiped the smile off his face! It is a very proud moment to bag a first duck and we were able to capture some proud moments with Dad, photos which will mark this moment in time forever.
At a time when many youth remain sedentary, unmotivated and often are making poor choices out of boredom, we are so grateful for the early youth hunt/fish programs. These create great bonds with family and friends as kids learn about the amazing outdoor activities open to them, and also learn rules, regulations and respect for nature in the "great outdoors." This is a great slogan – "Giving youth a 'shot' at our amazing natural resources!"
Growing up on a farm as one of nine kids, I feel so lucky that my dad and brothers initiated me into this important "club." I've since enjoyed being a part of many outdoor activities. Others do not get the chance soon enough and unfortunately other activities and priorities begin to take precedence.
I just want to thank the DNR for their hard work and the insight to ensure the future rights and opportunities for our next generations of outdoor enthusiasts!