Friday, December 14, 2012

NWA 12/14/12

A Northwoods Almanac for December 14 – 27, 2012 by John Bates

Landscaping for Wildlife – Best Native Trees and Shrubs
While winter has barely begun, lots of folks use these long nights as their planning time for spring planting. If in your planning you want to maximize the diversity of your wildlife viewing, here are some thoughts.
Try to plant trees and shrubs from each group below:
Summer Fruit 
Black cherries (Prunus serotina), pin cherry (P. pennsylvanica) or choke cherry (P. virginiana): at least 47 bird species eat the fruit, including red-headed woodpecker, northern flicker, rose-breasted grosbeak, eastern bluebird, and white-throated sparrow.
                        Serviceberries (juneberries) including juneberry (Amelanchier laevis), dwarf serviceberry (A. spicata or stolonifera) and downy serviceberry (A. arborea): the fruit attracts at least 19 bird species.
                        Blackberries/Raspberries (Rubus spp.): at least 63 bird species eat their fruit.                                    American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis): at least 33 species eat its fruit, including red-bellied and red-headed woodpeckers, and northern cardinal.
                        Currants/Gooseberries (Ribes spp.) including native species like wild black currant (R. americanum) and prickly gooseberry (R. cynosbati): the berries are eaten by at least 16 species of birds.
                         Blueberries (Vaccinium sp.) including native low-bush blueberry (V. angustifolium), and Canada blueberry (V. myrtilloides).

Fall Fruit
            American mountain ash (Sorbus americana): the fruit is eaten by at least 14 species, including cedar and bohemian waxwings, brown thrasher, eastern bluebird, gray catbird, and grosbeaks.
            Dogwoods (Cornus spp.) including pagoda dogwood (C. alternifolia), red-osier dogwood (C. stolonifera), and silky dogwood (C. amomum): their fruits are eaten by at least 34 species, including various thrushes, wild turkey, and northern cardinal.
            Viburnums (Viburnum spp.) including nannyberry (V. lentago), downy arrowwood (V. Rafinesquianum), and maple-leaved viburnum (V. acerifolium)
Winter Fruit
            Hawthorn: their fruits attract more than 20 species, while the thorns offer great cover for nesting
            Winterberry (Ilex verticillata ): Fruits are eaten by songbirds, winter waterfowl, and upland game birds.
            Sumacs (Rhus spp.) including smooth sumac (R. glabra) and staghorn sumac (R. typhina): at least 3l species eat the fruit.
Seed Trees
            Maples including sugar maple (Acer saccharum), red maple (A. rubrum), and silver maple (A. saccharinum)
            Tamarack (Larix laricina)
            Birches including paper birch (Betula papyrifera) and yellow birch (B. lutea): the seeds are a favorite of pine siskins, and fox and American tree sparrows.

Shrubs for Nests
                        Alders (Alnus spp.), American elderberry (Sambucas canadensis), roses (Rosa spp.), willows (Salix spp.), ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)

Shelter Trees
            White cedar (Thuja occidentalis), white spruce (Picea glauca), eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

Cavity Trees
            Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) or big-tooth aspen (P. grandidentata)
            Oaks (Quercus spp.) including northern red oak and pin oak
            Ashes including white ash (Fraxinus americana), green ash (F. pennsylvanica), and black ash (F. nigra), even though emerald ash borers are on the horizon. If the trees die, they’ll become great cavity trees.

Nut Trees
            Northern red oak (Quercus rubra) and pin oak (Q. ellipsoidalis): species of birds include wild turkey, numerous waterfowl, ruffed grouse, northern flickers, and blue jays, plus many mammal species from deer and bear to flying squirrels.

Christmas Gifts for Someone Who Loves the Northwoods
            I can’t think of a better gift to give someone than a good pair of waterproof binoculars. Mary and I own four pairs (we get carried away sometimes), and we often bring them on trips when we expect folks won’t bring their own binocs for fear they’ll get wet and fogged-up.
            If you can’t find a good pair of binocs locally, go to, a great optics store in Middleton, WI, that sells several brands guaranteed for life no matter what you do to them (like leaving them on top of your car and having them shatter when they drop off at 45 mph). I can attest to how valuable that guarantee is!
            Yes, a good pair will cost you at least $200, but the enjoyment you’ll get from them will far outlast your concern over the cost.
            Eagle Optics has an excellent online guide to understanding how to buy the best pair of binoculars for your interests, and they’re superb at offering advice over the phone.
            If giving books is more within your price range, try anything by Bernd Heinrich, but his latest book is “Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death.” I also recommend his books “Summer World” and “Winter World.” Try anything by Mary Oliver for poetry lovers.
            Outdoor equipment like snowshoes (try Iverson snowshoes made in the U.P.) are great presents. Or how about heated birdbaths for folks who love to watch birds? Winter birds need water, and lots more will come to feeders with water than without.

Celestial Events
            Winter solstice takes place officially on 12/21, signifying the shortest day of our year – 8 hours and 39 minutes – and thus the longest night – 15 hours and 21 minutes. However, the latest sunrises of the year (7:40 a.m.) won’t begin until 12/27. Oddly, the sun seems to just hang there until January 8th, when it finally begins rising one minute earlier.
            Look on Christmas evening for Jupiter just a half a degree above the waxing gibbous moon. The last full moon of the year occurs after Christmas on 12/28. Called variously “The Long Night Moon” or “The Popping Trees Moon,” the intense moonlight should flood upon a typically snowy landscape, making for one of the brightest nights of the year. It’s also worth noting that in the winter, the moon crosses the night sky at its highest elevation above the horizon, making winter moonlit nights particularly bright.           

Audrey and David Theuerkauf in Minocqua have a pair of cardinals coming to their backyard feeder, “the first time ever in our 25 years in this area!” They also report that flocks of bohemian waxwings have been in, but are now thinning out as their backyard berries decline in number.
             Ken Larsen in Lac du Flambeau reported the following: “When we had the gradual warm-up to about 50 degrees, I noticed something moving in the sump pit, which was completely dry. I grabbed a flashlight and noticed there were 5 adult blue-spotted salamanders underneath the suction inlet to the sump pump. Knowing that I needed to get them out of there sometime, I decided to carefully remove them and place them outside. Fortunately, the weather was cooperative, as it warmed to 50 degrees. I went out to an area I have been dumping leaves for the last 10 years and opened up a burrow to place them in, feeling fairly confident they would survive the transfer to the cooler environment.”
            I wrote back to Ken that blue-spotted salamanders don’t hibernate over the winter – they’re not freeze-tolerant, like wood frogs or spring peepers. So, they must "hibernate" somewhere that doesn't freeze. One literature source had this to say: “Some authorities suggest they go down abandoned small mammal burrows or other soil openings to below the frost line and remain there over winter. There are a number of anecdotal reports of people finding Blue-spotted Salamanders in their basements in January and February, suggesting that the critters are still active down below the frost line. I've kept some in the fridge over winter and whenever I opened the container to check on them they were active! Rather than truly hibernating I think they just seek out habitats below the frost line, avoid freezing and keep on being salamanders: possibly moving around and hunting invertebrates all winter.”
Kerrie Filip had an albino chipmunk this summer and fall in her yard in Woodruff. Her father, Howard, wrote, “With the glass door and seed on steps, the two cats were well entertained watching Snowball, as it was named, come and go as it hid the seed in its hole! Pure white with pink eyes, Snowball was real magical for us to see and enjoy. In my 75 years I have never seen a albino chipmunk! I’ve seen an albino squirrel and deer, but no one we have talked to has seen a white chipmunk.”

Happy Holidays! Please share your outdoor sightings and thoughts: call me at 715-476-2828, drop me an e-mail at, or snail-mail me at 4245N Hwy. 47, Mercer, WI 54547.