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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

October 2007

Readers Write

Were The Bats Migrating?
Karners In The Coulees?
Karner ID Check
Plant Choices For Seeding Cover
Curbing Wild Cucumber
Behind The Pattison
A Long-Legged Spider Beside Her

Were the Bats Migrating?

About 15 years ago, I bought the few acres and house that was left of a farm here in Oak Creek. The land was very close to a lake and bordered a wood that was perhaps five acres at the most. One morning about 4:00 – 5:00 I was sitting on the steps to the house when I began to hear muffled chirping-like sounds coming from a large evergreen tree between me and the road. Upon further inspection I saw that the tree was really loaded with thousands of bats. By the time I returned home from work early that evening, I passed up the tree without a glance. It was maybe mid-May and I have assumed they were migrating. Was my seeing the migration a real unusual event? What would you guess was happening?

Kieran J. Sawyer, Sr.
Oak Creek

DNR Bat Ecologist Dave Redell responds: "What you witnessed is an event that I am always on the lookout for, though have yet to observe first-hand, a tree full of bats in Wisconsin. The question is whether it is a rare event, a rare observation, or an occurrence that is rarely reported? It is likely a combination of all three.

Of seven species of bats known to regularly occur at some time during their natural history cycle in Wisconsin, the hoary bat, Eastern red bat and Silver-haired bat stand out as the usual suspects. That is, these three species are considered foliage-roosting, or tree bats, that migrate south in the fall to warmer climates for the winter months, then return during spring migration to summer grounds where they will raise their young. In the summer, these species are often found as solitary individuals or in relatively small groups, but they have been reported to migrate together in larger groups later in the season. For example, in the late 1800s a naturalist reported "great flights of red bats during the whole day," though reports such as that were rarely observed or reported after the early 1900s. Likely, declines in numbers of these bats have occurred due to changes in forest and land use patterns during the past 150 years.

Compared to bird migration, we know very little regarding the behavior, timing and roost site selection at stopover sites during bat migration. It is possible that the same locations are used year after year as these bats make their way north and south during migration. Most of the reports that I have heard of involved far less than even 100 bats in a single tree. While estimating numbers is a difficult task, even for trained biologists, if there truly were thousands or even hundreds of bats in a tree it would be an unusual event worth documenting. Actually, I'd be interested in documenting reports for Wisconsin of any of the three species of tree bats found roosting at any time and in any number. If you or any of the other readers come across any of these bats roosting in trees, be sure to record the observer, location, date, time, along with a photograph of the bat or bats for later verification and identification of species. Given more reports, we can verify the species, date, and detailed location (including species of tree or shrub used). This combined information will increase our understanding of the behavior, timing and habitat requirements needed to conserve these bat species in Wisconsin. Thank you for the letter, it was obviously a memorable event for you even 15 years after it occurred."

Karners in the Coulees?

I was intrigued by the Karner blue article (Small, blue and bountiful, June 2007). I grew up near Stevens Point, and jack pines interspersed with lupines were quite common there. I thought it worth mentioning that in Pierce County where I now live, one may also see the occasional stand of jack pines and lupines. Usually they can be found on sandy bluff sides in the coulees. I did not see Pierce County included on the Karner blue's range map, but it is quite possible they are present here. Now that I know lupine is their host plant, I will keep an eye out for them. Thanks for a great magazine!

Brent Hopkins

Karner ID Check

I have been interested in insects since my 4-H days and was impressed by the June article on the Karner blue butterfly. The map provided us with a starting point on our trip to find the Karner in Northern Wisconsin. We traveled on Highway 12 near Millston and found one area with about a dozen Karners.

I do have one question. I looked at other photos of Karner blues from several sources and it appears that the photo of a male Karner blue in your story is actually a female rather than a male. Is the identification correct? Thanks again for the article as I would never have seen this beautiful little butterfly in person without this story!

Robert John Ault

You are right. The photo shown was a female Karner.

Plant Choices for Seeding Cover

The June articles concerning invasive species (Reasonable expectations, June 2007) are of special interest to me. I am a Master Gardener and enjoy reading anything about plants. My husband and I are planning to landscape our lawn entirely with native species surrounding our new home. We have also recently bulldozed a road through one of our wooded 40s under the Managed Forest Law. The road will be used for logging as well as recreational use. I had considered seeding the road with bird's-foot trefoil to control erosion. But I noticed that bird's-foot trefoil and crown vetch are listed as invasive species. Those plants have been widely used for erosion control along state and county highways. Are they still being planted for that purpose? If not, what ground cover is used and what would be a good ground cover for our woods road?

Margie Novak

Northern Region Ecologist Ryan Magana responds: "Bird's-foot trefoil and crown vetch are extremely invasive plant species and should not be planted in any erosion control project. Although they are both proficient at holding soil and preventing erosion, both have a tendency to grow far beyond the areas where they are planted and cause ecological disruptions in the habitats where they spread. As an alternative, I'd suggest the following seed mix that will be effective in preventing erosion and should not cause the same problems as bird's-foot trefoil or crown vetch: Mix white Dutch clover at 8 lbs./acre with perennial rye grass at 5 lbs./acre and annual rye grass at 8 lbs./acre. Mix seed, spread, rake in and keep lightly watered until established."

Curbing Wild Cucumber

I was stunned that your June 2007 article Sentinels to sound the alarm included porcelain berry and kudzu, but not wild cucumber vine. This destructive and aggressive plant is rampant in urban, suburban and wooded land in most green areas of the upper US. (I have actually seen it in France, as well!) In our Milwaukee area community, in just the past two years, at least four huge pines, several nurture trees, countless low shrubs and scrub have been overtaken and are now dead. The fence along the Milwaukee County Zoo (on Bluemound Road) is a small example of the ropey, tangled devastation ongoing as a result of non-management of this runaway plant.

My concerns, shared with local municipalities and the DNR, have met with counter comments about purple loosestrife and garlic mustard. Last time I looked, these weeds were not killing full grown trees and entire half miles of wooded areas along the roadside all over our state.

At the least, I would suggest advising property owners to be aware of this harmful element in their own surroundings. They might be encouraged to take steps to curtail some of the ambitious destruction caused by this obtrusive and decimating vegetation.

Mary H. Lopez
Elm Grove

Native Plant Ecologist S. Kelly Kearns responds: "Thanks for your note on cucumber vine. The article you are referring to was specifically limited to plants that are not yet widespread in Wisconsin, but are invasive elsewhere and have the potential to be become quite invasive here. Certainly there are many other species that are already widespread that were purposefully not included in the article.

Two species of vines are referred to as "wild cucumber." I suspect the one you are concerned about is Echinocystis lobata. It is a native wetland annual vine that can be quite aggressive in disturbed wet soils. I have had a few questions about it over the years, and have seen somewhat large populations blanketing other vegetation. Apparently it is becoming a very invasive pest in parts of Eurasia where it has been introduced. It can be controlled by pulling up the vines, removing fruits from the vines to prevent seed set, or spraying with an herbicide that kills broadleaf plants. As far as I know there has not been any research on control methods and I don't know of any herbicide specifically labeled for it. We are working on developing fact sheets on various species, and this may be one of the aggressive natives we should address with a fact sheet."

Behind the Pattison

Thank you for printing the poignant, beautifully written article by Roger Drayna (Behind the Pattison, June 2007). His story, evoking memories long forgotten, became my story, the setting – vastly different – was played out in the backyards of friends from PS 51 in Queens, NY. There were no great blue herons or bald eagles. But, there was time to explore. Time to crawl around Beebee Finnegan's backyard and the underbrush next to her long driveway, to plan houses made of acorn tops and little boxes with leaves for make-believe critters. And on trips to the Brooklyn shore, there was time to explore the dunes and the sand crabs that made such swift escapes in the receding waves.

I am afraid that we have lost more than the woods behind the Pattison, we have lost the childhood that was possible in those wild and not-so-wild places. Play was organized by children, not adults. Children made the rules and were able to take risks. We did not live in fear, yet there were fearful places.

There are still wild places, both big and small, but my question is do we give children the time and freedom to find and make them their own?

Linda Pils

I grew up in the '50s and '60s and had similar experiences in La Crosse. As I get older, I don't take for granted all the things we had and still have right here. It might be a Midwest experience with old-fashioned values to learn to entertain ourselves with the simple things in life. We spent Saturdays hiking and exploring, having cookouts on the bluffs overlooking town and the La Crosse River marsh. We took along our BB guns, recurve bows and sometimes a dog. Our group was also in Scouts together, and these outings gave us a chance to learn some advanced wood lore and do camping and canoeing on the Black River.

Our dads didn't have the time they would have liked to do things with us because they were often working on the weekend to support and raise their families.

As we got older, we ranged farther with our prized 22s and talked of great adventures with guys like Fred Bear, whom we read about in magazines. When we got even older and could drive cars, our escapades took us far into the Coulee Region, blufflands and the great Upper Mississippi and bottom lands. A lot of the guys moved far and wide for job opportunities except for two of us who knew we had to stay. Over the years in the outdoors we accomplished many of the hunting, fishing and trapping things we read about in those magazines. We've traveled to the Rockies, the Great Plains and to Alaska above the Arctic Circle but always came back to admire the upper Mississippi area.

I hope that future generations both have and appreciate places like this. There are those who would like to develop these areas, and a lot of people could become wealthier in the process, but at a great permanent loss.

John Papenfuss

What a wonderful surprise to leisurely page through the August issue when I came across the photo of "my school" in the delightful essay Behind the Pattison.

I taught first and second graders at Pattison School for 25 years, beginning in 1962. During that time, I was very much aware that more than one neighborhood kid had a fort or a hide-out behind the school. I recall hearing of many childhood adventures from "Behind the Pattison."

In spring, I, myself would venture behind the school to catch tadpoles for science class.

We readers, who were fortunate enough to have our own special places as children, most certainly can relate to Mr. Drayna's recollections. Hopefully, there will always be those "wild places" for childhood adventures and exploration.

Bev Engstrom

"Behind the Pattison" brought back memories of my youth in Superior. I lived at 1118 Harrison St. for my first 18 years. I attended McCaskill Elementary School in the early years but had many friends during those years who attended Pattison, and who are going to enjoy your story. I was one of those "explorers" in the area described as well as the larger area south of 28th Street and east of Tower Avenue. The City of Superior had planned for considerable expansion and we found new fire hydrants installed among the alder brush as well as many forms of wildlife. Now, those memories are seventy-odd years old.

Jim Calhoun
Clearwater, Florida

A Long-Legged Spider Beside Her

Here is a long legged home spider (a harvestman) which showed up in our bedroom sink a couple of nights ago, hanging upside down from a newly woven web. I took this close-up shot and thought it might be interesting to share.

spider_let.jpg - 3412 Bytes

When we first came to this house in San Jose, my family was scared of these little creatures. But after a while we got used to them, we started to rescue them from harm's way, such as falling in the bottom of the bath tubs. Theirs is such a small world confined to a corner of a ceiling with no notion of an outside world. It makes you wonder how much bigger our own world may be beyond what we can see and imagine.

The spider's face has a couple of bubbles on the head. The face is so vividly human-like that one can not help but staring at it as if it could comprehend us. Who knows, these little fellows may just be monitoring us in our most intimate times.

San Jose, California

Anita Carpenter responds: "Greetings from Oshkosh, Wis.! As the author of the article on daddy long legs, I can tell you for certain that your friend in the sink is a spider, not a daddy long legs or harvestman. Spiders have two body segments–the cephalothorax and the abdomen–not three segments like insects. The two segments are connected by a narrow stem or pedicel.

Segment 1, the cephalothorax combines the head and the thorax. This segment bears the eyes, mouthparts and the attachment sites for four pairs of legs. The cephalothorax is covered by the carapace. While unsegmented, it often shows a groove marking the boundary between the head and the thoracic region, giving the appearance of two body segments.

Segment 2 is the abdomen.

Daddy long legs lack the pedicel between the two body segments and resemble a split green pea with long legs.

Let's take a closer look at the great photo you sent. The photo clearly shows three distinct body segments. The spider belongs to the family Pholcidae whose very long, flexible legs are a characteristic of this family. The members of this family are frequently confused with daddy long legs because both have very long, flexible legs.

These spiders also hang upside down beneath the web, as you described. We have these spiders in our garage and I find them fascinating to watch. If you gently touch their web, the spider will vibrate the web very rapidly. The purpose of this is to ensnare a potential meal in the web. Every year I touch a web, just to watch this display. We let the spiders live. Eventually you may even see the female holding her marble-size sac of eggs. These spiders are beneficial and will not bite.

Thanks for your interest in taking a closer look. Now I must go into the garage to see if I can find my spider friends!