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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

April 2006

Readers Write

Snowy Sighting In Milwaukee
Thanksgiving Treat
Waterfowl Vaudevillians
Remembers "The Ledge"
Niagara Escarpment Network
Retiree Proud Of Magazine
Bird Or Bug?
Deer Season Success
Grateful Wisconsin Troops
Mapping Fire Risk A Win-win Opportunity

Snowy Sighting in Milwaukee

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Last November 21, while driving home in Milwaukee, I was surprised to see a snowy owl perched on a light pole at 16th and Walnut. I walked close to the light pole and noticed how the bird turned its head and watched me – very intimidating. What an impressive bird! Your article on snowy owls (A hunter in winter white, December 1997) was informative.

Kristine Rosalez

It isn't unusual for snowy owls to migrate to Wisconsin or farther south in search of food when their Arctic food supply becomes scarce. A recent Stevens Point Journal story quoted UW-Madison wildlife ecologist Stan Temple who said snowies will stay in Wisconsin "as long as the food supply remains steady before traveling back north sometime in February or March." The paper reported a number of owls had made their way to central Wisconsin last winter, but many did not survive the trip because northern food supplies were unusually low and they arrived in weak condition.

Thanksgiving Treat

We really enjoyed Dave Crehore's Thanksgiving story (Sweet and sour pie, December 2005). I e-mailed it to my brother and sister who live out of state in hopes of getting them to subscribe to your magazine. I'm trying to lure my daughter and family back to Wisconsin, so we'll get them a gift subscription.

Roberta Mallmann
New Berlin

We also enjoy featuring Dave's stories. We hope you have read his other reminiscences that we've been publishing since 1998. You can find his stories at Department of Natural Resources. Search on story names "The digging out of Nip" and other favorites like "The secret smallmouth lake in the UP," "The Butternut Buck" and "The Viggle Years."

Waterfowl Vaudevillians

Your December article on coots, Bobbing heads in the crowd, brought back joyful memories of these waterfowl vaudevillians. Duck hunting from a blind on the north shore of Lake Sinissippi in the late 1930s and 40s provided many occasions to be entertained. Throughout most of the fall the center of the lake held a large raft of ducks and coots, local and transient, that stayed until freezing weather drove them south.

On "bluebird" days our hunting ended with the bright sunshine, but on occasion my father and I would "waste away" the day in the blind, hoping for an occasional single duck to check out the decoys. As things became peaceful, the coots left the raft and swam toward shore to feed. There were hundreds of them. Slowly they would move in towards us until the decoys and bays on either side of the point were filled with bobbing, chuckling coots. As soon as they realized we would not harm them, the shenanigans began – chasing, diving, playing leap frog on muskrat houses and hide and seek in the bulrushes.

If an ill-advised duck swooped the decoys, our gunfire sent the coots pell-mell back to raft in the center, only to start back again as soon as it was peaceful. Within an hour or so they would be all around us again, feeding, fighting and playing. When we picked up the decoys to go home, the friendly mud hens barely got out of our way.

Early this November, I stopped on the shore of lower Nine Mile Lake to watch the sunset. There they were, spotlighted by the late afternoon sun, performing the same old corny jokes, 30 to 50 of them. I watched, renewed, until it was too dark to see.

George Ellis, Sr.
Eagle River

Great article on coots. I've always admired their ivory bills, now I admire the entire bird. I didn't know they migrated and thought they always found open water some place on Lake Monona. When I saw them, there were so many together that it somehow seemed to make them less remarkable. Bad thinking – I'm smarter now.

Grace Stith

I think I saw some rafting coots on Lake Winnipesaukee yesterday. They were too small for Canada geese and I noted that what I saw was practically an armada! This is the first time I have noticed them. Perhaps they were taking a break from their migration. Also, I just loved the story by Dave Crehore, Sweet and sour pie. Last year I stumbled across your magazine's website when I was trying to identify some animal tracks and happened to hook up EEK! (Environmental Education for Kids). Keep up the great work and greetings from New Hampshire!

Peter and Susan Bossert
Alton Bay, New Hampshire

I read with great interest your wonderful article. Early on in my wildlife research career at Horicon Marsh, I had an opportunity to work with coots. My supervisor at the time, John Beule, long since retired, wanted to learn more about nesting coots in a few local impoundments. With canoes and waders, I found and marked several dozen nests each summer, including measuring the vertical depth because the nests were perpetually sinking. The parents had to add fresh vegetation each day! I counted coot eggs and estimated their dates of hatching. I was surprised to learn that about 90 to 95 percent of all of their nests were successful – far higher than the upland nesting mallards and blue-winged teal that ranged from only 10 to 25 percent.

With the help of a talented, very hard-working UW grad student named Gerald Bartelt – now my supervisor at DNR's Research Center – we even captured a few birds and banded them. I found them to be one of the most aggressive and difficult-to-handle birds I've ever encountered! As you suggest in your article, they do peck, scratch, kick and bite – furious little buggers! I've often said that I would much rather handle a huge, comparatively sedate hawk or owl any day than a little wild coot!

When I first arrived at Horicon Marsh in the spring of 1975, coots could be found everywhere. I naturally assumed they would always occupy the great marsh. However, each spring thereafter their numbers seemed to decline. I soon realized that the high population of coots I first witnessed was the direct result of a huge carp removal a few years earlier. Once the destructive carp were removed, the basic fertility of the marsh supported many birds, including coots. I now realize that where a person spots coots, they are witnessing a very healthy wetland community.

As I worked more and more with coots, I came to really respect their parenting and survival skills. Your article brought back many wonderful memories.

Lawrence E. Vine
Research Technician

What I thought to be a floating weedbed is about 100-130 coots in a 30-foot circular pattern assembling 100 yards in front of my cabin every evening from 4 to 5 p.m. They do not leave the circle and are diving within a pecking order. They move as a group. There is a leader and one that musters at the back of the flock ensuring no stragglers. They have been here every evening for three weeks now in the northeast bay of Palmer Lake.

We had prolific celery weed rejuvenation and growth here this year, so I presume they are feasting on submergent weeds. More and more coots come every day. I counted 97 through my spotting scope yesterday. Today there are near 150. The unseasonably warm water (53°F ) after turnover could be a factor too...

Phil G. Smith
Palmer Lake, Vilas County

Remembers "The Ledge"

I was surprised in your December 2005 article, Vertically inclined, to learn that the Oakfield Ledge State Natural Area was included as part of the Niagara Escarpment. I have fond memories of "The Ledge" going way back to the 20s and 30s. My uncle and aunt, William and Pauline Panzer, owned the farm adjacent to it. While my uncle helped build gravel roads in Dodge County, my aunt raised lambs and sheep there. I can still picture her in early spring bringing in a newborn lamb, cradled in her apron. She would warm it and bring it to life in front of her big wood cookstove.

We traveled up to visit my aunt and uncle in a 1924 Chevrolet and as a little child I was always petrified to ride down the Ledge Road, also known as Breakneck Road! The farm buildings are gone now, but their house is still standing next to "The Ledge." I will take a better look at the forestation next time I visit, but meanwhile I would like to know who owns and is watching over this piece of history?

Penny M. Gray

Oakfield Ledge is one of the most significant exposures of the Niagara Escarpment in Wisconsin. The Department of Natural Resources owns the 208-acre property that was designated a State Natural Area in 1983.

Niagara Escarpment Network

I was very pleased to see the extensive article regarding the Niagara Escarpment and its ancient cedar trees in the December 2005 issue (Vertically inclined). These unique aspects of the escarpment definitely need to be emphasized and shared with your readers, as well as residents of the area.

Our organization, the Niagara Escarpment Resource Network, has existed since 1998 and acts as a loosely knit coalition of experts and interested parties with some knowledge of, or ties to, the Niagara Escarpment. As the name states, we are a "network" and our primary mission is to provide and share information which encourages well informed and balanced land use decisions along this geologic feature. There is no cost to join our e-mail list and no commitment is sought from members. Our website contains a wealth of information about the escarpment and I encourage your readers to visit it and join us in our efforts.

A month-long celebration of the escarpment is planned for April and May, 2006 and will consist of a Common Ground Exhibit at Main Street Artworks in Hilbert along with an extensive series of guest lectures, workshops and tours. More information can be found at Main Street Artworks.

Eric W. Fowle
Co-chair, Niagara Escarpment Resource Network

Retiree Proud of Magazine

Congratulations on your December issue. I never saw so much meaty information piled into one little magazine. I was especially interested in A path of our own making, as I was a part of the group that worked on the inventory 50 years ago as a part of the overall "State Plan." I was the DNR liaison with the other departments involved and with the University of Wisconsin. I worked a lot with UW landscape expert Phil Lewis.

I also liked the article on coots. My mother could really cook them. Also, I like the article on long-lived cedars. I have a huge cedar (the largest I have ever seen) on property in Forest County that our family is donating to the Forest County school system for a school forest. I'm proud of your magazine. Keep it up! I gave our retirement center manager a copy of the October article on recycling because he sees a lot of trash.

Ralph B. Hovind
Dunedin, Florida
(formerly DNR's Woodruff Area Game Supervisor)

Bird or Bug?

© Don Blegen

This creature began appearing in my phlox garden this year toward the end of August. This little guy moved as fast as a hummingbird and was tough to catch in place. He would appear daily at approximately 5:15 p.m. and buzz around the phlox until 5:30. This occurred over a two-week period. And then he was gone. The body was a fuzzy yellow and black, like a large bumblebee. There were red feather-like projections appearing like a tail. The wings were a beautiful deep red. He had a black proboscis, shaped like a hummingbird's, and used for the same purpose, but it was flexible. He didn't mind my husband and me coming over to watch him, and let us get very close. Have you seen anything like this before?

Jennifer Vetter

Your garden visitor was probably a hummingbird moth (Hemaris thysbe), a member of the sphinx moth family. They are common throughout the eastern half of the United States and Canada, feeding on nectar from butterfly bushes, dogwood, purple cone flower, blackberry, trumpet vine, lilacs, monarda and phlox. As their name suggests, they are easily mistaken for hummingbirds. Look for the antennae and six legs to distinguish them as insects.

Deer Season Sucess

Opening day, deep in the heart of the Chequamegon National Forest scattered gunshots greet the daylight, heightening the excitement. As the shots become more infrequent and the morning wears on, doubt enters my mind. Maybe I should have been sitting somewhere else. Suddenly about 11 a.m., a deer comes into view just in front of me. The doe moves quickly, but why? There are no other hunters nearby. Maybe an overanxious buck has her in a hurry. As I wait for the answer, in mind's eye a big racked buck steps out of the spruce swamp. That vision keeps me company for the next hour. The afternoon is uneventful, save for two 30-minute periods of absolute silence. No gunshots, car horns, bluejays, ravens, squirrels or a single wolf howl. Even the wind falls silent. What is left is deafening. As the curtain falls on opening day, I climb out of my stand with nothing to show for ten and a half hours of sitting but an empty lunch bag, two great silences and the imagine of a big buck. It was a great day. As I walk out of the darkening forest I think, "All of this for $24 and I still have eight days left plus muzzleloading if I choose to. That is not a deal, that is a steal."

As always, the deer season ended all too quickly. Other than the last day, the weather was great. Did I get my deer? Does it really matter? I'll paraphrase the great Wisconsin conservationist Aldo Leopold: What was big was not the rack, but the chance. What was full was not my tag, but my memory.

Sure I would have liked to get a deer this year, but I guess that is what next years are for. That is the challenge of big woods hunting. Some years you see a few more, some years a few less.

I would like to thank the Wisconsin DNR for making this all possible. All of you, from office secretaries to Secretary Hassett, do a tremendous job protecting and enhancing our natural resources. It is not easy to satisfy the demands of myriad users while trying to maintain the integrity of the landscape and natural processes. Though DNR has critics, there are many, many, many more people who support their efforts. Keep up the good work.

Rob Weber

Grateful Wisconsin Troops

On behalf of the 2-127 IN "Gator" battalion, thank you and the Department of Natural Resources for donating back issues of your magazine. Currently we have soldiers from two Wisconsin battalions stationed at Camp Navistar. On any given day over 1,000 other soldiers pass through our doors. Many are from Wisconsin. I placed the magazines in our morale tent. I checked this morning and many were already gone. Thank you again.

Maj. Tom O'Brien
"Strike Forward"
Camp Navistar, Kuwait

We are happy to send surplus back issues of our magazine to troop companies overseas, as long as supplies last. Readers with such requests should send contact names and addresses to the Readers Write address listed at the beginning of this column.

Mapping Fire Risk a Win-Win Opportunity

The April 2005 insert on wildfires (Spreading like wildfire) was excellent. Years ago, I participated in the first controlled burns on the Crex Meadows Wildlife Area. Observing crown fires in pine and oak stands on sandy soils, I was startled at their intensity and dangerous power. No force could stop such a conflagration. After the 1977 fires (in Black River Falls and Washburn and Douglas counties), the Natural Resources Board invited me to share my observations with them. I was appalled and saddened by the tragic loss of forests and homes in those areas. My comments to the Board have been reinforced by the Big Flats fire last spring on similar sandy soils. Let me summarize:

The sandy soils regions of the state were originally oak and prairie savanna created by repeated fires through many centuries set by Native Americans or lightning. Development and tree planting in such areas are totally incompatible with these natural ecological systems. Fires are inevitable.

In the decades ahead, through intelligent foresight (land use planning), we need to identify and map high-, moderate- and low-risk fire areas. Historians, ecologists and forest fire scientists should be involved. Then, through careful zoning and other land use management tools, development and forestry should be precluded, especially in high-risk areas. Existing incompatible uses can be identified and allowed as temporary nonconforming uses. Eventually they will disappear from the landscape. The public now accepts comparable restraints on building in dangerous floodways and floodplains.

Hazard maps should be widely distributed to the public government agencies, mortgage lenders and insurance companies. Recalcitrant owners and local governments who lack the will to act should be required to carry catastrophic insurance to cover suppression costs. Today, in some parts of the U.S., insurance companies simply refuse to cover high-risk properties. Importantly, tax dollars used for suppression can be used for valuable forest practices on other sites. To be sure, the prairies will need management to ensure diversity of the flora and fauna and protect endangered prairie species. The costs will still be substantially less than fighting fires.

The Department of Natural Resources, working with many partners, can provide the necessary leadership as part of its management activities. A substantial benefit would occur from restoring the magnificent savannas now largely gone from the state and throughout North America. It's a win-win opportunity for all interests: the taxpayers, and property owners who all too unknowingly risk their homes, cabins and lives, and these unique and rare ecosystems that can become a model of working with nature.

Harold C. "Bud" Jordahl