Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Brady's Bluff State Natural Area © Thomas A. Meyer, Wisconsin DNR

Brady's Bluff State Natural Area
© Thomas A. Meyer, Wisconsin DNR

June 2009

Readers Write

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Remembering Brady's Bluff

What a pleasure it was to view the back cover of your February issue and see the exact same spot on Brady's Bluff where I stood in spring 1952! I was nine years old and on a hike with my father (since deceased) and mother, now 93 years old. I remember every detail of that day as though it were yesterday – the spring wind, the goat-prairie steepness, the realization that when I thought I'd reached the top, I still had half the bluff to climb! Every time I head up or down US Highway 61 in the beautiful Hiawatha Valley, or drive up Highway 35 to Trempealeau, I remember that glorious day in Perrot State Park.

Carol Gainer

Avian Abundance

I read with interest your article on backyard birds (Creature Comforts, December 2008). I lived in Wisconsin my whole life until moving to north central Texas in 2004, after retirement. I live in the country and checked my backyard after reading the article. That day I saw a Cooper’s hawk, red-tailed hawk, mourning dove, Eurasian collared dove, blue jay, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, Carolina wren, bluebird, cardinal, meadowlark, grackle, robin, cedar waxwing, goldfinch, the ever-present vulture and even a road runner. Ground nesting birds are fairly rare because of fire ants.

Dennis Harlander
Purdon, Texas

Eating Rusty Crayfish

In February, you printed a letter about trapping rusty crayfish. I have a related question. While I lived in Howard in the 1950s, a favorite snack in the area was "fresh bay crabs" (native crayfish). Many taverns and restaurants served them boiled or refrigerated after cooking. My brother-in-law used to get a license to go "crabbing" in Green Bay, and there was always a good market for his catch. Fishermen tell me almost all the native crayfish are gone from the lower Green Bay area.

Has anyone determined if rusty crayfish are as edible and tasty as the old Green Bay "crabs?" They were just boiled in salt water and dill weed until red and then served that way. If the flavor is the same, maybe making people aware would encourage more people to find instructions for trapping them and making a dent in the population of this unwanted species.

Robert Dunn

DNR conservation warden staff replies...

Rusty crayfish can be caught (fishing or small game license required), and they are good to eat, though their tails are much smaller than the native crayfish and there is not a lot of meat in each one.

Read up before you start to harvest and make sure you have reviewed the regulations. See page 16 of the Guide to Wisconsin Spearing, Netting and Bait Harvest Regulations 2009-10.

Also review rules found in NR 19.27 that prohibit possession of live crayfish on any inland waters unless the person is removing the crayfish from that water and is not releasing them or introducing them elsewhere. Crayfish also may not be used as bait. (There are some specific exemptions for the Mississippi River.) It is also illegal to place, deposit, throw or otherwise introduce live crayfish into any waters of the state unless a permit authorizing introduction has been issued by the department.

Manchurian Pheasants

I live in Winnebago County in the town of Nekimi in a pretty good pheasant location. I really enjoyed your article (Raising ringnecks and outdoor opportunities, February 2009) and it brought back a question. Last spring a young man and his father from the Waupun area came to purchase my truck. After I told the father how many pheasants we had calling from "their areas" he explained something to me. He said he had long been on a team with a program to bring back pheasants in the area. In fact, he said, we probably don't have any "native" birds left in the area. He explained that all the birds they had planted were a "Manchurian" breed, which has the little white stripes on their heads. In fact, we have watched now and indeed most all have these little white stripes on the head. However, we have seen at least one without the stripes. Could we have native birds here still surviving? Is there a way to tell differences on the hens?

Dennis King

Game Farm Director Bob Nack replies...

The DNR participated in releasing Manchurian pheasants from the Jilin Province in China in the early 1990s. Both the Manchurian strain and the Chinese Ringneck strain we currently release can have white stripes on the head above the eye. The Manchurian pheasants will have a small tear-shaped white spot below the eye. A Manchurian-Ringneck cross can also be purchased from some game farms in Wisconsin. Often, but not always, these birds will have the white spot under the eye. The white stripes on the head alone are not useful in determining the difference between a Manchurian-Ringneck cross and our native ringnecks. If you have good pheasant habitat, odds are that you have native pheasants on the property.

Wisconsin River Sturgeon

I was fishing in late March and caught and released a small sturgeon on the Wisconsin River, south of Mosinee. We launched off of Beans Eddy. I had caught four large catfish and numerous small walleye and expected to find another catfish on the end of my line when I pulled up the small sturgeon, about two feet long. I had no idea that there were sturgeon in the Wisconsin River. Another boater near us said some anglers caught a number of sturgeon the previous day. It really made my day!

Cathy Rohloff

DNR has an active program to restore lake sturgeon to their traditional range including a stocking/recovery program midstate on the Wisconsin River. It's one of six major sturgeon rehabilitation projects underway as we reported in our February 2009 story, A strong base for broad recovery. It sounds like you had a great day of fishing!

Update: The Bull that Crawls on Its Belly

Our thanks to readers and other citizen scientists who have sent in detailed reports and photos of their sightings of bullsnakes in Wisconsin. Since we first asked for your help (More bluff than bite, April 2007) 43 reports of bullsnakes were submitted in 2007 (14 confirmed as bullsnakes) and another 40 sightings were reported in 2008 (24 confirmed as bullsnakes). These reports from the public are critical to increasing our knowledge of the range and distribution of this rare snake in Wisconsin. In fact, citizen reports comprised almost half (46 percent) of the 83 sightings we received in the last two years.

During the last two years, the greatest number of bullsnakes was seen in Dane, Monroe and Sauk counties and we had our first report from Trempealeau County. Please continue reporting your sightings at Report a Bullsnake Sighting. Make sure to include the date and county, township, range and section of each sighting. GPS coordinates and the names of nearest roads are especially helpful. Also record the weather, time of day and temperature for each sighting. It's also very important to include close-up photos of bullsnakes as the western foxsnake (Pantherophis vulpinus) and eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhines) are most often mistaken for bullsnakes. Please include your name, phone number and e-mail address with each report so a herpetologist can follow up and contact you for further information since each sighting is so rare.

Bullsnakes (Pituophis catenifer sayi) are big and brawny, often exceeding 74 inches in length. But they are harmless constrictors that prey on rodents. They have thus far been seen in prairie, grasslands, savannas and open bluffs along the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers. The bullsnake is considered a protected Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Wisconsin and is also rarely found in Iowa and Minnesota.

To refresh your memory about bullsnakes' appearance, habits and behavior, visit Bullsnake to see photos of this species, photos of similar species that are often confused with bullsnakes, life history information and a map showing the known range of this rare snake.

The sightings you submit are important additions that will help herpetologists form plans to conserve the species. Unfortunately, many harmless snake species have been persecuted by people and the more information we can gather about the bullsnake’s life history and range, the better job we can do making decisions about conserving the small populations of these often-maligned animals.

Joshua M. Kapfer, wildlife biologist with Natural Resources Consulting, Inc. in Cottage Grove, Wis.
Rori Paloski, DNR Conservation Biologist, Bureau of Endangered Resources, (608) 264-6040.