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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

December 2007

Readers Write

Puffballs and Bats
Whiskey the Crow
Crows Have a Dark Side
Where Puffballs Grow
Were Bats Displaced?
Baiting Photo Questioned
Thanks for the Memories
A Half Century Later
Conservation Warden Cookbook
UPDATES: Great Lakes Compact, Climate Change

Puffballs and Bats

A couple of items from the October issue prompt me to write. First, Anita Carpenter (Smoke from a bald giant) seeded a giant puffball in her yard in Oshkosh in the hope it would reproduce. I can say that I did the same thing several years ago with positive results. I purposely spread the spores widely. The last two or three years have yielded many puffballs scattered over the same area.

Second, Dave Redell (Readers Write, Were the bats migrating?) asks for information on bats roosting in trees. Almost one year ago, near the end of September or early October, my wife reached to pick a pear from our tree about six feet off the ground and discovered a red bat hiding in the leaves. It had found an excellent hiding spot among leaves that curled all around it. It was definitely a red bat. I have two bat houses in the back yard and almost every night we have a mix of red, big brown, and little brown bats flying over. Hoary bats are also here often, but I have never knowingly seen one, just identified them from computer analysis of recorded calls.

I have one other comment. In the caving article (The world down under), I'd have been happier if you had more strongly emphasized the need to completely avoid caving in the winter if bats MIGHT be present. If bats are unnecessarily aroused from hibernation they will burn fat while warming up. They must have this fat to survive six months without eating a thing. By arousing them through caving, they may not survive their long winter.

Peder E. Halverson

Whisky the Crow

I enjoyed your Cunning corvids story in the October edition. I thought you might enjoy a short story about one of our "pet" crows.

In the 1960s a nestling crow only five to six days old was brought into our nature center /rehab center, The Little Red Schoolhouse near Willow Springs, Ill. Crows are among the easiest birds to raise. They have a voracious appetite and don't seem to be too upset with people. When Whiskey, as we named it, was about a month to six weeks old, we determined it was too tame to release and we brought it into the nature center as an exhibit animal.

We kept Whiskey until the center closed in late October and then one of the naturalists took it home to "over-winter." The following spring Whiskey was returned to the nature center and again placed on exhibit. It did great, a favorite of the thousands of visitors, until about mid-June when one of the summer aides left the cage door open and Whiskey was out the door.

It seemed to enjoy people so much that it stayed nearby. Visitors could offer it bits of food and it was much photographed to the delight of children. Then a problem arose: Whiskey, it seemed, had a propensity for shiny objects and it would swipe them and carry them away. Things like coins, bits of foil, pop-top can tabs and car keys.

The big problem was the car keys. The usual progression of events went something like this: usually a mom would approach her car with her child, open the door and place the keys on top of the car while she arranged the child in the seat. Whiskey would swoop down, grab the keys and fly away, leaving the poor mom stranded with no keys. For some reason the nature center staff did not hear about this for a week or two. The stranded motorists would typically call home and someone would have to come out with more keys. Finally a mom came to us with the problem and left us with a dilemma. Where was Whiskey putting the keys?

After due consideration we formed a plan of action. With staff stationed all around the center, I took some old keys and had a visitor go to a car and place the keys on the roof. Sure enough Whiskey came down and grabbed them. The theft was communicated to the staff and we watched that old crow fly up to the roof and deposit the keys in the rain gutter.

We brought out a ladder and climbed up to where Whiskey had put the keys and the cache was interesting, to say the least. We recovered nine sets of keys, almost four dollars in change – no pennies because apparently they aren't shiny enough – and a large collection of miscellaneous shiny objects.

We put an announcement up in the nature center about the stolen car keys and finally returned all the keys, though it took about two months. I thought it best to apprehend the thieving crow, so I set a trap, caught the villain and back in the cage it went. That bird lived, happily (I hope) for another 14 years. We posted a tale similar to this narrative on its cage and for years we would occasionally have a visitor stop by and tell us of their own experience with our feathered thief, "Whiskey the Crow."

Peter Dring, Retired Director
Red Schoolhouse Nature Center, Cook County, Ill.
(now living in Land O'Lakes)

I found the Cunning corvids article very interesting but I was surprised by the statement, "One occasionally sees ravens in northern Wisconsin." "Occasionally" is hardly the right word. Fact is, they are always seen and heard around Three Lakes during the dead of winter. In warmer seasons, they migrate back north, mainly to Canada. Their low guttural croaks, clearly different than the sound of crows, are always a sign that winter has really come.

Elmer A Goetsch
Three Lakes

I just finished the October issue and just had to tell you how much I enjoyed two of the articles. I have really liked several of Dave Crehore's stories and The century run was another great one. Also, the article on crows (Cunning corvids) was sure interesting and well written. I've never especially loved crows but I have a friend who does. She feeds them on her back porch! We've all kidded her about it for years. So I shall have to share the article with her. I worked for DNR for 31 plus years prior to retirement. It's always fun to read articles by someone I worked with. Keep up the good work.

Alice Ellis Lundeen

Your article on Cunning corvids brought to mind an experience when I was a boy of 10 in Superior. I found a young crow alone in a nest one day and nursed and fed it until it began to develop into a full-sized crow. We immediately developed a close relationship. When "Pete," my pet crow, attained flying status he would follow me everywhere, flying from rooftop to rooftop monitoring my whereabouts on a daily basis. If I went to a movie theater, Pete would wait for me outside on a rooftop and follow me home. Pete would fly down to me and sit on my shoulder and eat out of my hand. When I attended Lincoln Elementary School in the 5th grade, Pete would perch on the outside sill of the classroom window and watch me in class all day long until school was out and then he would follow me home. Early one morning in the fall when Pete was about a year old, I went outside to look for Pete on his perch, which was a post near my home in the neighbor's chicken yard. You can imagine my chagrin when I found Pete at the bottom of the post, nothing but a mass of black feathers. A weasel had climbed the post and Pete, unaware, was attacked, killed and eaten by this weasel. I was a sad boy for many days. I have never forgotten my times with Pete, even though I am now 72! Indeed, crows are sensitive, intelligent, playful and most of all true to those who get to know them.

Roger G. Lowney
San Diego, Calif.

Crows Have a Dark Side

I read your article, Cunning corvids. They are truly a very intelligent bird but they are also very highly skilled killers. If they find a nest of songbirds or squirrels, they will not leave it until they have taken every little one out of the nest. I have also seen them do the same with baby rabbits.

Pat McQuillan
Eau Claire

Kathryn Kahler wrote a fine story but left out a most important part: crows are detrimental to farmers. During the depression, I put shoes on my feet and clothes on my back by shooting crows, gophers and rats. Many townships had a bounty on them (25 cents for crows) paid in cash by the town clerk. Twenty-two short shells were 15 cents per box of 50. You needed long rifle shells for crows. They are unbelievably smart!

And now we have a crow "season" where you must recover shot birds or risk a citation! Retrieving dogs of any kind will not pick up crows. You really have to yell at them and they may bring the birds a short way, but crows are a no-no for dogs.

"Birders" should be outraged at this protection of crows. Used to be one could enjoy ground sparrows, killdeers, meadowlarks, bluebirds, even robins, but protection of this #1 predator (crows) is causing all these species, and a lot more, like nighthawks, to disappear while crows multiply. Further, their young hatch at the same times as many other bird species.

Watch in the spring – a crow will sit in a tree listening for adult birds of any species to feed their young. When food is brought to the nest, the young clamor loudly to get their share. Just what the crows want to hear! They zero-in on the nest and rob it until there is no food left to feed their chicks! This predator must be controlled, NOT protected!

B.C. Roemer
Manitowish Waters and Overton, Nev.

I enjoyed the article Cunning corvids. While I admire crows for their intelligence, social nature and playful aerial acrobatics, there is a downside to crows in the city environment. Springtime is when these marauders quietly make their way through suburban trees looking for and robbing songbird nests of their eggs and young. What is the impact of this activity on our urban songbird populations?

Gordon E. Holcomb
Baton Rouge, La.

After reading your crow article, it is apparent that the author has done considerable research but also set out to show what a wonderful bunch of helpful, bright and fun-loving fellas our friends the crows are.

However, the piece neglects an important portion of the crow's diet. The trees and shrubbery around my house are inviting to songbirds and every spring contain nests of cardinals, mourning doves and robins. As the eggs hatch and the parents fly in and out to feed the young, they draw the attention of the local crows who immediately fly in and rob the nests of the baby birds. There's nothing endearing about watching a crow pin a baby bird to the ground with their foot while they tear them apart with their beak. Crows are notorious nest robbers. Perhaps this behavior was omitted intentionally?

Roland Hettinga

Author Kathryn Kahler responds: You're right. It was my intent to point out the more positive traits of "this much maligned bird." My research did shed light on their impact on farm crops and urban songbird populations. Crop damage caused in spring when crows pull sprouts from the ground is similar to damage caused by other birds (pheasants, starlings and blackbirds) and rodents (mice and ground squirrels). About a quarter of their diet comes from animal food, mostly insects like beetles, grubs, grasshoppers, locusts and crickets, as well as spiders, millipedes, crustaceans, snails, salamanders, lizards, small mammals, birds and carrion. Crows are predators of songbird eggs and nestlings, as are cats, dogs, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, snakes, house sparrows, starlings, and even house wrens which can interfere with the nesting success of other birds by puncturing their eggs. Check out these websites for more information about crows and their eating habits:
Crow Damage Assessment
The Humane Society of the United States
Protecting Backyard Birds from Predators

Where Puffballs Grow

We were pleased to see the giant puffball get attention in October's edition (Smoke from a bald giant). Our family has been fascinated by the giants for years. I was surprised that Anita Carpenter has never seen one for herself and want to invite her to visit Outagamie County's Plamann Park north of Appleton next August where she will find them along the hiking and skiing trails. They have miles of trails full of dozens of different fungi in the summer, and many kinds of wildflowers including trilliums in the spring.

Diane Esselman
Town of Center, Outagamie County

I have always enjoyed your magazine. Great Job! I especially enjoyed Anita Carpenter's article on giant puffballs. You can relay to her that next August if she would like to find some in the woods to come to my place. I've got a lot of them in my woods.

Neil Bishop

Were Bats Displaced?

I was reading the October letter about bats. I have about one-third acre of woods that's mostly ash and underbrush in southeastern Walworth County. We are in a small area of houses, so deer do not come near. I have only seen tracks one time in 15 years. I have three to four resident bats (wingspans of about four inches) that live in this patch of trees about 40 feet tall. One morning this past summer, shortly after they sprayed for insects around nearby Fox Lake, Ill., I stepped out of the house at 5 a.m. and almost ran into a bat that was catching mosquitoes at my front door. I looked up and there were so many bats I could not count them. I tried keeping track but lost count around 10. Would the mosquito spraying in Illinois have driven all these bats across the border into Wisconsin? I thought it was truly an amazing sight.

Marie Lemke
Genoa City

Baiting Photo Questioned

I was thumbing the October issue when I noticed a photograph on page 20 (Appetite for trouble). The caption says it describes deer "yarding". Well, that's not what the picture shows. There is a pile of corn for every deer you see in the picture. This was either baiting or feeding. The caption should have stated "The popularity of baiting and feeding has added to deer herd growth." Food plots DO contribute to deer herd by alleviating the amount of browse damage caused by the deer. But not feeding corn.

This brings to mind another question: What would happen IF (and I hope it's soon) the state bans all baiting and feeding? With the state's large deer numbers and milder winters, how much more will habitat suffer before the deer population is brought back into check?

David Allen

On page 20 you refer to deer yarding up near unoccupied shelters but you show a picture of 50 or more deer eating piles of food. Who put the food out if it's unoccupied? This picture makes your magazine look bad.

Mel Sonnentag

This clearly is a shot of feeding, not just yarded deer. We failed to notice the corn piles. Feeding clearly adds to habitat stress and disease potential as deer concentrations put additional pressure on nearby vegetation as deer search for adequate nutrition in their winter food supply.

Thanks for the Memories

I just finished reading Dave Crehore's article The century run (October 2007). I have enjoyed every one of Dave's articles over the last few years. Because I have lived in Manitowoc 74 of my 76 years, they bring back many memories. This particular story brought back more memories than most. Each person and place was a pleasant remembrance. I will make sure Merle Pickett gets my copy of the magazine. She is 104 years old and lives at St. Mary nursing home. Thank you again.

Kay McLaughlin Markvart

A Half Century Later

Thank you for a wonderful article (The century run, October 2007). My aunt Ethel, an avid bird watcher, also participated in the century run. Fifty-plus years later, I now learn what she was up to on those early morning jaunts. The real prize of this story was the reference to master birder, Lillian Marsh, "Miss Marsh" to me. She taught music to legions of elementary school students. Apparently, an intrepid soul both inside and outside the classroom. The article was fun to read and brought back warm memories of life in Manitowoc.

Lou Ann (Hessel) Norsetter
Green Bay

Conservation Warden Cookbook

On behalf of the Wisconsin Conservation Warden Association, I would like to let readers know about a cookbook we are publishing to raise funds for scholarships and educational programs. "Favorites from the Field" is a compilation of 200 recipes emphasizing wild foods, including such delicacies as pickled fish; main dishes made with duck, grouse and fish; desserts made with wild berries; and special seasonings, marinades and brines. Anyone interested in purchasing the book can order copies for $12 apiece. Forward a check payable to WCWA along with your name and address to WCWA, 6051 Redpine Drive, Rhinelander, WI 54501. Here's a sampling of the recipes to whet your appetites.

Jessica Jung

Pheasant Soup

1 large pheasant (3 lbs.)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ lb. chopped bacon
3 cups sliced leeks
½ cup sliced celery
1¼ cup diced carrots
1 cup diced tomato
1 cup red wine
5 cups chicken stock
3 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. fresh savory
2/3 cup barley
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Chopped fresh basil or parsley for garnish

Sauté bacon, remove from pan. Chop pheasant and brown in stockpot. Remove from pan. Sauté leeks, carrots and celery. Add tomatoes, stock, wine, bay leaves, savory, pheasant and bacon. Cover and simmer 30 minutes. Add barley and simmer another 30 minutes. Bone meat before serving.

Roy Kanis' Shore Lunch Potatoes

1/3 lb. bacon, cut in ¾-inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
4 cups sliced, boiled potatoes (may substitute canned)
1 6-ounce can mushroom pieces, drained

Put bacon, onion, pepper and mushrooms in a large skillet. Cook until the bacon is nearly done. Remove excess grease. Add sliced potatoes, salt and pepper to taste. Cook until potatoes are hot and browned. Best served with walleye fillets beside a Canadian lake. Also good with ring bologna for lunch on opening day of deer season.

Fish on the Floor

¼ cup chopped onion
4 Tbsp. butter
1 3-ounce can mushrooms, drained (save the liquid)
½ cup crushed soda crackers
2 Tbsp. parsley
1 cup crab or shrimp
¼ cup chopped celery
dash of pepper
3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. flour
1½ cup milk/mushroom liquid
1/3 cup dry white wine
Fish fillets (firm and white, not soft and oily)
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

Sauté the onion, drained mushrooms, cracker crumbs, parsley, crab/shrimp, celery and pepper in 1 Tbsp. butter. Place half the fish fillets in a casserole and spread with sautéed mixture. Place second layer of fillets on top. Melt the 3 Tbsp. butter and whisk in 3 Tbsp. flour, then whisk in milk/mushroom liquid and wine, cooking until thick and bubbling. Pour over fish and bake at 400 ° for 25 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake 10 minutes longer.

Updates: Great Lakes Compact, Climate Change

Great Lakes Compact

Approval of the Great Lakes Compact in Wisconsin (A firm hand on the spigot, June 2007) met another barrier when the legislative committee working on its ratification disbanded in mid-September because they could not reach consensus. The Department of Natural Resources continues negotiations on critical issues with key stakeholders, the Governor's office, other Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces. It's anticipated that new state legislation will be introduced later this year.

Climate Change

The Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Science Council met for the first time in late September. The group represents collaboration between the University of Wisconsin and the Department of Natural Resources. They will assess potential impacts of climate change on natural resources and recommend adaptive strategies. DNR Deputy Lands Administrator Sarah Shapiro Hurley, Office of Forest Services Director Darrell Zastrow and Research Scientist Richard C. Lathrop represent the Department of Natural Resources on the Council.