Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Casts on display at Lake Wissota State Park © Jim Hansen

April 2014

Readers Write

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PHOTOS ARE A GOOD ALTERNATIVE TO CASTS

I have been teaching children how to read tracks and make plaster casting for years and [to use] the digital camera to photograph the tracks. I have found that with the camera the children take a lot more interest. They can take pictures in any condition. I have them lay a ruler alongside for comparison. Pictures are a lot easier to store. I have over 60 different bird and animal casts that I display at various doings. The casts are on display most of the summer at Lake Wissota State Park.

Jim Hansen
Bloomer

SQUIRREL POPULATIONS DEPEND ON AVAILABLE MAST

Thank you for your magazine. I have been a reader for many years. I have a couple questions: first, when bow–hunting, I and other hunters I know have not seen many squirrels this year and wondered if others were aware of this? Second, every year we have thousands of box elder bugs on the south side of our house. Do they really come or hatch from box elder trees? What is their life span? Was wondering if you have any information on them.

Glen Bawek
Arcadia

Box elder bugs (Boisea trivittata) feed on the seeds of species from the Acer (or maple) family, of which the box elder tree is a member. Since you see them sunning in large numbers on your house, it's likely you have a maple tree close by. It's also likely they will overwinter under the siding or inside the walls, and you may find a few inside on a sunny winter day. In spring, they feed and lay their eggs on maple or ash trees.

DNR Upland Wildlife Ecologist Scott Walter replies to your squirrel question:
Your observation that there were relatively few squirrels in the woods this fall isn't surprising, and shouldn't cause concern that your local squirrel population is in trouble. Gray and fox squirrel populations, like those of many other small mammals, rise and decline according to the abundance of acorns, hickory nuts and other "hard mast" each fall. Large crops of acorns, for example, are not produced each year; in fact, "bumper" crops may only occur every three to five years with relatively few falling to the forest floor during intervening autumns. As these nuts provide a very energy– and protein–rich food source throughout the fall and winter, bumper crops allow many squirrels to survive until the following spring, and be in good shape to produce lots of young. As a result, squirrels will appear to be everywhere for some time afterwards, but populations will decline if subsequent nut crops are small. By paying attention to these mast crops while you're out bowhunting, you may be able to tie current squirrel numbers to the abundance of hard mast in recent years. On my farm, it's been three or four years since we've had a good crop of acorns and, as expected, I currently see relatively few squirrels while in the woods. Acorn production varies a lot between trees as well: even during poor acorn years, individual trees may be loaded with acorns. So try to get a good feel for acorn production throughout your woods. In some years, white oaks will produce bumper crops, but red oaks will not; if the area you hunt is dominated by red oaks, you may fail to detect the impacts of bumper white oak acorn crops on the wildlife community.

Very interesting, as well, is the fact that producing bumper acorn crops may be part of a sneaky evolutionary strategy that oaks use to give their acorns a fighting chance to avoid being eaten by squirrels. Since squirrel populations will tend to be low following a few years of poor acorn production, the acorns produced during a bumper year "swamp" the few squirrels present and hence each acorn has a good chance of surviving to germinate. If oaks were to produce lots of acorns annually, stable and high squirrel populations might destroy nearly all acorns each year. The periodic nature of acorn masting also has implications for forest management, as habitat work done to favor oak regeneration will be much more effective if done so as to coincide with a bumper acorn crop.

Though I mentioned that observing few squirrels this fall is not cause for concern, there is currently significant concern over the long–term fate of the oak–hickory forests in the eastern United States. Oak seedlings require sunlight, and don't do well in the shaded conditions that typify the understory of many current closed–canopy forests. As a result, oaks are being replaced in many areas by tree species better adapted to shaded conditions, such as sugar maple. You can pretty easily determine if this transition is taking place in the woods you bow–hunt, as you'd see few oak seedlings, but lots of maple, on the ground underneath the large oak trees present. Preserving our oak forests will require educating landowners about the incredible value that oaks hold for the wildlife community and the specific forest management practices that can give them the upper hand and allow them to persist. A chat with a local forester would be a great step toward determining if special forest management work might be beneficial in the woods you hunt. There sure is a lot to ponder while in a bow stand.

WHY NO MENTION OF WOLF PREDATION?

Let me start by saying as a long time Conservation Patron license buyer I look forward to receiving Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine during the year. I read every issue cover to cover and enjoy the variety of stories that you print. That being said I found it interesting that in the article "Wisconsin's dedication to deer research," more specifically the chapter "Growing the herd," the pie graphs did not show any wolf predation. Is it safe to say that the "unknown predators" in the graphs are wolf kills and if so why is it not listed as such. I find it hard to believe that our talented DNR technicians and biologists can determine whether a bobcat, bear or coyote killed a fawn, but they can't determine if a wolf killed it? In the northern region it appears as though "unknown predators" killed approximately 30 percent of the fawns, considerably more than the other predators. By failing to separate out the wolf killed fawns seems like pandering to the pro wolf people instead of reporting the truth. In the future please be truthful and straight forward with the sports men and women and all the citizens that read your magazine.

Dave Kohlbeck
Rhinelander

DNR deer researcher Dan Storm replies:
The "unknown predators" pieces of the pie charts in the "Growing the herd" section represent exactly what they say. They are instances where we were certain a predator consumed the fawn, but uncertain which predator it was. The evidence we find at the mortality site is usually sufficient to determine the cause of mortality of the deer. This evidence includes footprints, scat, and hair left at the scene as well as the characteristic ways that predators kill and consume deer. Unfortunately, the situation sometimes arises where it is simply impossible to determine which predator was responsible for the death of the fawn. We typically classify mortalities as "unknown predator" when there is evidence that the deer has been eaten (bone fragments, blood on the collar, etc.), but the evidence we use to identify which predator (footprints, scat, etc.) isn't there. This usually arises when nearly all of the fawn was consumed. Wolves, of course, could easily consume an entire fawn, but so can coyotes and black bears. The fact that we didn't classify any fawns as being predated by wolves doesn't mean that wolves didn't kill any fawns. It simply means that we never found evidence for it.

The numbers and figures presented in the Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine represent the data we collected; nothing more, nothing less. The data we collected resulted from an enormous investment by DNR and UW–Madison personnel and legions of volunteers. None of the data was manipulated to pander to an interest group and we were entirely truthful in the presentation of our data.

We understand our results are counter to some people's expectations. Some of our results have been counter to our own expectations as well.

TECHY TEEN LEARNS TO "LIKE" NATURE

Last January, I took my 14–year–old daughter to Goose Island, a La Crosse County park located on the shores of the Mississippi River. I wanted her to enjoy the beauty of nature as much as I do and to enjoy the experience of feeding birds out of your hand. At first, she was reluctant because of plans she had made with friends, but after a few texts and chats, the mall plans were postponed and off to Goose Island we went. Snowing, windy and cold, the temperatures had been dropping all day when we parked near a bird feeding area loaded with black–capped chickadees, tufted titmice, dark–eyed juncos, downy, hairy and red–bellied woodpeckers, white–breasted nuthatches, cardinals, blue jays and even some goldfinches and song sparrows. I pointed out each species and instructed Brooke to open her hand. I poured a liberal amount of nut pieces in it and said, Keep your hand flat, stand still, don't make any big movements and be quiet, all tremendously difficult tasks for a teenager who would rather be doing something else!

It wasn't long until the first visitors — the black–capped chickadees — arrived just overhead and began vocalizing dee–dee–dee. Warily these beautiful little black and grey creatures would sit in the trees above or in front of us to check us out before approaching closer. Sometimes we'd get a flyby from them or the more elusive tufted titmouse. The female downy woodpeckers would land on the sign post just below our arms and walk their way up to our hand, periodically pecking at our fingernails before cresting our fingers for some easy nut pieces.

On the way home my mind wondered, "Was it worth it? Did she enjoy that experience? Will it make a difference to her?" When we got home Brooke said, "Mom can you send me some of those photos you took, I want to post them."

I smiled because I knew that even though she probably wouldn't admit this was fun, it must have been or she wouldn't be posting the pictures. Later that evening she mentioned that even a couple of her friends commented how neat that was and how they would like to go next time! So, to all you nature loving parents with children who love their iPods, iPads, iPhones and anything techy, and resist anytime you mention doing something outdoors, keep trying to give them a new outdoor experience. It worked for me and who knows, maybe my tech savvy kid will reverse the roles and teach me how to use the technology to learn more about the birds I love.


Sphinx Moth © Gary Schilling

Lisa A. Hodge Richardson
La Crosse

Editor's Note: to see more of Lisa's photos, visit the Department of Natural Resources' Flickr site at Flickr.com/photos/widnr and enter "Lisa Hodge Richardson" in the search box.

NEW LOVE, THANKS TO A LITTLE OWL

I really enjoyed your article from Dave Wilson about saw–whet owls in the October 2013 issue (“Whooo’s in my woods?”). Beautiful cover picture too. It brought back memories, but not about owls. After my wife Agnes died 12 years ago, I eventually searched for a companion who would enjoy camping, bicycling, canoeing, fishing, target shooting, hiking, snowshoeing and crosscountry skiing up in Wisconsin like Agnes and I did for over 30 years. After a few stray casts, no keepers, I answered an ad from a woman who liked long distance bicycling, and who “would” camp. But what caught my interest was that her on –line pseudonym was “Saw–Whet.” Now I had never seen or heard one, but I knew what it was, and that the person using that name, was not the run–of–the–mill lady who likes to take “long romantic walks” or “dine out.” So I got in touch with her, found out she grew up in Wisconsin...and the rest is history. I have since taught Norine how to fish, paddle and portage a canoe, to make campfires, and she has taught me how to call owls at night, how to identify various birds, how to use a two–man crosscut saw, how to laugh again, and to love. Thanks to a little owl. And thank you Dave for the article.

Paul Bolton
Riverwoods, Ill.