Thursday, September 17, 2015

NWA 9/18/15

A Northwoods Almanac for 9/18 – 31, 2015  

Goshawks, Kayaks, and Golden Retrievers
            These three utterly unrelated topics all came together in Manitowish Waters at the home of Nancy Burns, my sister-in-law, on 9/1. That afternoon, Nancy walked out her door and noticed a large hawk perched on her kayak paddle, some 25 feet from her kitchen (see the photo). She emailed a photo of it to me, wondering what it was, and just as I had finally determined it was a juvenile northern goshawk, she called, frantic. The conversation went something like this: “I was just chased around the yard by that hawk! If I didn’t have a lawn chair to protect me, I don’t know what might have happened. It chased Tom right into his house – he was running for his life! And now it’s attached to Wilson! What should I do?”
            Well . . . first of all, Tom is Tom Freeman, Nancy’s next door neighbor, who had tried to come to Nancy’s aid while she was being chased around her yard. Wilson is Tom’s very sweet, passive, and somewhat overweight golden retriever.
            My recall of the whole conversation is jumbly, but the gist of it was that Nancy crept outside to photograph the goshawk and apparently got a little too close, whereupon the goshawk ran after her (goshawks are good runners as I’ll explain later!). She yelled for Tom to help her, and Tom then approached the hawk. It changed course and went after him, driving him back to his house. Then Wilson tried to intervene, ambling over friendly-like, and the goshawk leapt onto his chest, and was now dangling upside down from Wilson’s fur, with Wilson just standing there patiently, not in any pain, waiting for whatever golden retrievers wait for in such circumstances.
            You know, I’ve answered lots of phone calls over the years about lots of things, but this one was not in my wheelhouse. I had no idea what to say about a goshawk dangling from a golden retriever. So, I called two people who might know about such things – first, Marge Gibson, the gifted wildlife rehabber at Raptor Education Group in Antigo, but she wasn’t in. I then called Mark Naniot, another highly experienced rehabber at Wild Instincts in Rhinelander. Mark suggested we try spraying the hawk with a hose to see if it would release its grip, or to try to get the dog to lie down so that the goshawk might also be touching the ground and be more likely to let go.
            By then Nancy had called back, and said that Tom had covered the bird with a blanket (a good move – darkness helps keep a bird calm), but he wasn’t able to get the bird to let go of Wilson. Eventually, however, it did let go, and Tom took it across the road, wrapped in the blanket, and tried to release it. But the bird either wouldn’t take off, or it was too entangled in the blanket to get free.
            Meanwhile, Tom had called the Northwoods Wildlife Center in Minocqua, and they were on their way to help. Amanda Knoll, the assistant director of rehabilitation and someone experienced in handling raptors, was able to release the goshawk from the blanket (see photo), but it was too weak to take off. Fearing it was injured, she then transported it to Wildlife Center for examination.  
            The bird turned out to be extremely emaciated, was unable to perch, and had to be tube-fed for multiple days. I contacted Amanda Walsh, the director of rehabilitation, on 9/14, and she noted that the goshawk “has recently begun to eat on her own, and we moved her to an outside aviary, where she has already attempted to fly. She was seen by our sponsoring veterinarian last week. At that time her left eye was having trouble dilating, and she was unable to see from that eye. We will continue to work with her and test her with live prey as she becomes comfortable flying around her aviary. Because of her eye issue, the possibility is still very real that she will be non-releasable due to her depth perception being damaged.”
            Given the young goshawk’s poor vision, I suspect it had recently fledged but was now starving, unable to effectively hunt. Kudos to Nancy, Tom, and the Wildlife Center for likely saving this bird.
            As for northern goshawk’s penchant for running, here’s two stories from E. H. Forbush, a noted ornithologist in 1927, “Dr. William Wood of East Windsor Hill, Connecticut, told of a goshawk that followed a hen into a kitchen and seized her on the kitchen floor in the very presence of an old man and his daughter. The father beat off the hawk with a cane, while the daughter closed the door and finally killed the bold bird. Mr. J. A. Farley relates a similar tale from Lambert Lake, Maine. A goshawk caught a half-grown hen. The hen, escaping, ran under a woman’s skirt. The hawk followed right up to the skirt but was killed.”
            Arthur Bent in his classic book Life Histories of North American Birds of Prey quotes W. E. Cram who followed the tracks of a goshawk through the woods on the snow: “At times it followed in the tracks of rabbits for some distance. I have often known them to do this, and am inclined to think that they occasionally hunt rabbits in this manner where the under-brush is too dense to allow them to fly through it easily”.
            More recent scientific studies have echoed these stories. Cornell’s definitive Birds of North America says goshawks “may stalk prey on foot, using vegetation and topography for concealment . . . A goshawk chased a snowshoe hare along a hedgerow for 45–60 min before the hare finally ran across an opening and was captured.” They’re even known to “wade into shallow water after prey such as ducklings.”
            Goshawks can outfly just about anything, too. Audubon wrote in 1840: “At times he passes like a meteor through the underwood, where he secures squirrels and hares with ease.”
Goshawks have been prized by falconers for centuries. They’ve been carried on the fists of Japanese shoguns and by medieval falconers in Europe. A goshawk even adorned the helmet of Attila the Hun.
I’ll provide an update on the condition of this goshawk in my next column.

Spruce Grouse and Boreal Chickadees!
            One Northwoods bird that has eluded me over the years is the spruce grouse, a protected species in Wisconsin since 1929, and a rather rare denizen typically of black spruce bogs. Well, thanks to the North Lakeland Discovery Center’s Bird Club, and hike leaders Jim and Cynthia Krakowski, I finally got to see one. We walked into a relatively dry black spruce swamp just northeast of Conover, an area that none of us would have found without Jim and Cynthia’s guidance. A male grouse kicked up in front of Jim and landed 20 feet up in a tree that was just off the trail. It sat tight for perhaps ten minutes, giving all of us excellent views. Amy Sheldon was able to get some fine photos, which she was kind enough to share with me for this column.
            We also were treated to hearing and seeing several boreal chickadees, another very uncommon bird found mostly in spruce/tamarack bogs. Boreal chickadees have a brown cap and brownish flanks, and sound like a very wheezy black-capped chickadee, perhaps one with a serious head cold. I’ve only seen them on two other occasions, one of those times in Minnesota, so seeing both a spruce grouse and a boreal chickadee certainly made my day! I should also add that the excellent camaraderie of the bird club members added to the fine morning. If you’re looking to learn about birds with a very genial, nice group of folks, you might want to give the NLDC Bird Club a try. They head out every Thursday morning looking in a new area for birds.

Hawk Ridge
The raptor flight over Duluth’s Hawk Ridge is heating up. On 9/11, 5,859 raptors soared by, while on 9/12, another 3,845 raptors flew over the ridge, of which 3,548 were broad-winged hawks. The counters also observed 5,887 blue jays passing over the ridge on 9/12, down from their count on 9/11 of 6,009, and their record count on 9/10 of 10,812. Most people think blue jays don’t migrate, but in fact they do!

More On Honeydew
            Callie and I hiked last week on one of the WinMan trails, and at times, we were overwhelmed/almost sickened by the sweet smell that permeated the woods. I broke off the branches of several smaller trees and found the culprits – Lecanium scale insects.
            I wouldn’t have known what they were if it wasn’t for an email from Linda Williams, the Forest Health Specialist for WDNR’s Northeast Region. She had written in one of her monthly forest health updates that “very heavy populations of Lecanium scale were being observed in many areas of Vilas and Oneida Counties . . . At this time of year, the dome-shaped scale is the dry husk of the female insect with lots of eggs underneath the shell. If you pop off one of the shells a white ]powder] falls out, which is the eggs. There can be over 1000 eggs under there! The eggs hatch and the crawlers (baby scales) move to the new twigs of the tree and begin sucking sap. Heaviest populations in the north are on oaks . . . Multiple years of heavy scale populations can cause
branch dieback, so what should
you do?
“Landowners should let
nature handle it. Ladybug larvae
and other predators are at work, as
are tiny parasitic wasps (1mm in
size) and fungal diseases. In some
areas, particularly in Door and
Kewaunee County, nearly half of the scales appear to be infected with fungi, and additional scales are parasitized. Northern counties still have fairly healthy scale populations but we may see parasitoid and fungal action yet this summer.”                        
Contact Linda a if you want more information, or go to to view her monthly newsletter.
Celestial Events – Autumn Equinox!
            I love autumn – cool temperatures, gorgeous colors, and no mosquitoes make for great hiking. But I must admit I don’t look forward to autumn equinox, because it means more dark than light for the next six months. Nevertheless, here it comes on 9/23.
While we lose more light, we can gain better understanding of directions. The equinox is a good day for finding due east and due west from your yard. Just go outside around sunset or sunrise and notice the location of the sun on the horizon with respect to familiar landmarks. If you do this, you’ll be able to use those landmarks to find those cardinal directions in the weeks and months ahead, long after the Earth has moved on in its orbit around the sun.

Friday, September 4, 2015

NWA 9/4/14

A Northwoods Almanac for 9/4 – 17, 2015  

Fragrance Mystery Solved!
            Throughout most of this summer, Mary and I have been perplexed by a sweet smell that has permeated a number of wooded areas where we have been hiking. The fragrance reminds us of spreading dogbane, basswood, or a milder version of common milkweed. The problem has been that the perfume has been pervasive, in areas that dogbane and milkweed weren’t flowering, and the smell has lasted over several months, basically eliminating all woodland flowers, since woodland flowers rarely last that long.
            Well, last Sunday we were participating in a mushroom hike with the Friends of Van Vliet Lake when numerous people noticed the sweet smell, and we began talking our way through what the cause could be. Eventually we began wondering if the fragrance came from “honeydew,” the sticky glistening that has been coating so many leaves (plus cars and decks and everything else) this summer. Mary grabbed some leaves, gave them a sniff, I followed suit, and bingo, there was the answer. We were standing under maple trees at the time, so basically the leaves were swathed in maple sap from the droppings of aphids and/or other scale insects. I wrote about honeydew in my last column, so I’ll spare you any repetition. But the bottom line is that this smell appears to be emanating from tree sap via the aphids that has misted onto leaves and is slowly evaporating and concentrating. Think of it as walking in a rain of maple syrup. Bring out the waffles!
            Well, maybe not.
            But the real question now is why is this happening? What conditions converged to make this a perfect storm for these insects? I wish I knew, but perhaps that mystery will be resolved in due time as well.

Sightings: Sandhill cranes, bald eagle, northern water snake, mud puppy
Bonnie Dana in Arbor Vitae sent me a picture of a juvenile eagle screaming for food while sitting on the head of a carved eagle on her pier. She noted in her email, “There is another picture of him sitting on my bench overlooking the lake. This morning he was trashing my flower garden below my deck. He is loud and energetic.”
Bonnie also watched an adult loon dive under water after seeing an eagle circling over its head. She wondered if an eagle would attack an adult loon. The answer is yes. In fact, loons have a specific three-note wail call they use only when eagles fly overhead, clear evidence that loons take the potential attack of eagles very seriously.  
Bonnie also saw an eagle fly over her pier toting somebody's cat. Since eagles are opportunistic feeders, Bonnie encouraged me to encourage you to keep your cats indoors if you don't want your felines to be someone's supper.
Jim Swartout sent a photo of a northern water snake eating a large mudpuppy (a mudpuppy is a type of aquatic salamander that never metamorphoses out of the typical larval form). He commented, “On a recent sunny day I was on the lakefront at my property and encountered a large common water snake with a large mud puppy (8”) in its grasp. Over the course of about an hour, it proceeded to swallow its prey almost entirely before swimming off with the victim’s tail still protruding from its mouth.” Northern water snakes swallow their prey alive and are known to eat a number of fish species such as brook trout, sunfish, smallmouth bass, minnows, bullhead catfish, and others, as well as leeches, crayfish, toads, leopard frogs, tadpoles of bullfrogs, and spring peepers – in other words, pretty much anything they can swallow, including mudpuppies. They have recently developed a taste for round gobies, an invasive species, which, when present, now comprise up to 90% of their diet.
Sandhill cranes are starting to congregate prior to their fall migration. Locally, Sandi Hodek in Arbor Vitae has been observing a family of sandhill cranes, two adults and two juveniles, in the Airport Rd/Old Hwy 51 area of Arbor Vitae, while Wil Conway sent a photo of a “herd” of sandhills feeding in a field on private property.

Nighthawk Migration
            Nigthhawks have been moving through our area over the last two weeks. Hawk Ridge counters in Duluth saw 13,725 nighthawks dart over the ridge on 8/29 (along with 6,025 cedar waxwings!). It’s a short window of migration, and soon to end. Remember, too, that a nighthawk is a songbird, not a hawk, and belongs to the nightjar family just like a whip-poor-will.

Hawk Migration
The raptor count at Hawk Ridge in Duluth, MN, began on 8/15, and good numbers of sharp-shinned hawks are coming through now. Broad-winged hawks are soon to arrive in large numbers, with exceptional counts typically occurring in mid-September. Hawk Ridge weekend takes place on 9/18 to 9/20, and I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t witnessed a hawk migration to attend. Hawk Ridge is considered one of the top three sites in the United States for viewing the autumn raptor migration, and if the conditions are right, you’ll have a neck ache from watching so many raptors going by.

Mushroom Mania
            Mary and I took two hikes last week with Cora Mollen and her daughter Anne Small, both true experts on mushrooms in the Northwoods. Cora’s book, Fascinating Fungi of the Northwoods, should be on everyone’s bookshelf.
We’re still rank amateurs compared to Cora and Anne, but we’re delighting in learning every new thing we can about fungi. One mushroom we’re seeing in most of our woodlands now is the lobster mushroom (Hypomyces lactifluorum). Its brilliant orange-red color, contorted shape, and significant size make it pretty much impossible to miss. What’s remarkable about it is that it’s actually a white mushroom (usually a “milky” or a “russula”) that is transformed by a parasitic orange fungus that alters the cap, gills, and stem of the original mushroom, changing the entire body of the host. Oddly, the transformation transforms the otherwise inedible host mushroom into a desirable edible – go figure.

Old Loons
Loon researcher Walter Piper, in his 8/20/15 blog (, noted that long-term banding records provide clear data on how old common loons can become. Walter discussed a male, evicted in 2007 from Little Bearskin Lake and now living the bachelor life on Bearskin Lake, which produced 14 fledglings during his breeding career, 7 of which later bred and produced chicks in Walter’s study area. That level of chick production places him among an elite few in Walter’s study population. But so does his age. Walter writes, “He is at least 28 years old, because he was banded as an adult breeder, which means he was at least 4 in 1991. He may be in his 30s! But a number of other loons that we have marked during the study approach this male in age – and three exceed him in productivity. The female on Upper Kaubashine, for example, is 27 years old at a minimum. (Females first breed at no younger than 5 years of age, so her estimated minimum age is one year older than if she were a male.) She can boast having bred with four different partners on four different lakes, spanning two counties. The 25+ year-old Townline male is unrivaled in terms of stick-to-itiveness, as he has held the Townline territory since at least 1994 – and still owns it. He has reared 16 chicks to fledging during his tenure, if we throw in the two from this year. Only two loons have raised more young: the current Oneida-West female (19 fledglings and counting on Oneida-East and Oneida-West) and the former Hancock male (17 fledglings from 1993 to 2009).”
Walter further noted that females are the ones that generally live the longest, as “males seem doomed to die young because of their participation in dangerous battles, and perhaps also their unfortunate proclivity for attacking fishing lures and baits.”

Shoreland Zoning
When I was a boy raised in Pennsylvania, my family would vacation on a lake in northern Indiana. Those vacations were the highlight of our year, and surely one of the sweetest memories of my youth. I’m sure my recall of those experiences are similar in a myriad of ways to people who have vacationed, or who now live, in northern Wisconsin.             I met someone on a hike who knows well the lake where we used to vacation, and she said it is now wall-to-wall homes, with boat traffic in the summer so extreme that she sold her home there, the lake now more of a race track than a place of natural beauty.
Well, with the recent change in shoreland zoning rammed into Wisconsin’s budget, we’re now faced with the reduction of shoreline frontage requirements to the state minimum of 100 feet, adversely affecting many lakes currently with 150, 200, and greater frontage requirements. If you’ve ever been on a lake that has house after house every 100 feet, all with docks and shore stations lined up along the way, you know what this looks like and what it means. Developers may clap their hands, but the rest of us will be clapping our hands over our eyes, trying to remember what it once looked like and why we loved it so much.
I bring this up because there is a movement to overturn this budget directive with new legislation before owners sell out and developers run wild. Once lake lots are sliced up into 100 feet parcels, they will be gone forever. And when we finally wake up to how foolish this was and change it back, they’ll be grandfathered in.
Immediate action on this issue is required. Contact your lake association and your legislators to make your voice heard. This isn’t a property rights issue – this is an ecological and social issue. The science is clear on the effects of overdevelopment on fish and wildlife. But whether you believe the science or not, believe your eyes. Go to those lakes in southern Wisconsin that look like this, and ask yourself if this is what you want to see everywhere in northern Wisconsin. Contact for more information.