Tuesday, July 26, 2016

NWA July 22, 2016

A Northwoods Almanac for July 22 – August 4, 2016   

Four Thoughts on Moose

1 - The legal status of moose (northwestern subspecies Alces alces andersoni) varies throughout the upper Midwest.
-       In Michigan, moose occur in the Upper Peninsula and on Isle Royale. A 2013 survey estimated about 451 moose in the U.P., but a 2015 estimated a 28% decline to about 323 moose. Moose are classified in Michigan as a species of special concern, but the status does not afford the animals or their habitat any protections. They are designated as a game animal, but the state has yet to authorize a hunt.
-       In Minnesota, the moose population has declined precipitously – down 50% from a decade ago – and hunting was discontinued in 2013. The moose is now considered a species of special concern, with no hunting season.
-       In North Dakota the statewide population is stable to increasing, particularly in the northwestern prairie country, and is large enough to warrant a fall hunting season – the state issued 203 permits in 2015.
-       In Wisconsin, numbers are exceedingly low, perhaps 20 to 40, and there is no hunting season. Moose are not listed in Wisconsin as endangered, threated, or a species of special concern.

In June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initiated a status review for the U.S. population of northwestern (“our”) moose. A 60-day information request period is currently underway, which closes on August 2. Before making a finding on whether to list the U.S. population of northwestern moose as threatened or endangered, they must gather and analyze available information, a process expected to take several years.

2- Shortly after after a moose was shot and killed on its reservation on 7/6, the Lac Du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa's tribal council passed an emergency rule banning the killing of moose within the reservation. The tribe issued this statement: “The tribe does not condone shooting moose, recognizing the rarity of the animal in this region.” The rule makes it illegal within the reservation to take, attempt to take, harass, intentionally kill or wound or attempt to kill or wound or transport or possess any moose, as well as white or albino deer, elk, cougar, gray wolf, badger, lynx, marten, flying squirrel or wolverine. The statement further reads: “As in any community, one person’s actions do not dictate the community’s feelings on this issue.” It’s important to note that the tribe has jurisdiction on hunting on its reservation, and prior to this incident, it was not illegal for a tribal member to harvest a moose.

3- There are still moose in our area. I received this email from Jill Wilm on 7/10: “Forgive the quality of this photo, but we were riding our motorcycles and came around a curve to see what looked like someone's mule on the loose clomping down Cty. J outside of Mercer. Of course, it was soon obvious what it really was [a young bull moose] when we got closer. It was quite a feat keeping my motorcycle in gear, reaching down for my ever-ready pocket camera with one hand and staying upright while I snapped the photos. We followed him at a respectful distance for about a half mile until he turned into a bog and disappeared.”

photo by Jill Wilm

On 7/14, Rosie Richter told us of a young bull moose she observed on Hwy. 47 just north of the intersection with Hwy. 182.
Still another young bull is being seen frequently over by Crab Lake.
Two years ago, a yearling moose was hit and killed by a car less than a mile south of our home in Manitowish on Hwy. 47. The adult cow, presumably the mother, was seen the next day watching as the DNR collected the carcass.
My point is this: While no one should be shooting a moose given their rarity, a few are still roaming in our area, and it’s plausible that a mated pair resides somewhere between Manitowish and Lac du Flambeau.

4 – The invective delivered at the Native American community should stop. It’s a great shame that this moose was shot, but it brings far greater shame on those who condemn an entire community for one individual’s actions. The much larger issue is how to address the precipitous declines in moose populations in Minnesota and Michigan, as well as New England states like Vermont and New Hampshire. Literally thousands of moose have died in northern Minnesota in the last decade due to health problems like parasites and infection. Researchers also suspect that climate change plays a role. Warming temperatures, especially in the winter, are apparently weakening moose and making them more susceptible to disease and ticks.

Nixon Creek White Water Lilies
            Earlier this week, Callie and I paddled Nixon Creek, which meanders for several miles before emptying into the Manitowish River. The highlight of the trip was the initial paddle on Nixon Creek through an absolute profusion of white water lilies. The lily pads carpeted the creek from bank to bank, making paddling like a walk through molasses. The beauty of thousands of white water lily flowers was, of course, the antidote to the struggle, as was the complete silence we experienced on the creek. Water lily stems rise from extensive large rhizomes in the sediments, and we saw dozens of these floating on the surface, all about the size of softball bat. Since muskrats and beavers find the rhizomes to be a delicacy, they were the likely culprits.
            Nixon Lake and Nixon Creek were designated as a State Natural Area in 2007 in an effort to protect the natural features of the undeveloped lake and creek. The lake covers 110 acres, but only has a maximum depth of five feet. Its shallow sheet of water supports spacious beds of aquatic plants, including wild rice, and yes, many more white water lilies, along with a riot of pondweeds, grasses, bulrushes, sedges, and wildflowers.
            The creek flows through a beautiful sedge meadow, which supports numerous species of waterfowl. Our wildlife highlight was watching a female northern harrier circle above us and call and call. Harriers nest on the ground in wetlands and grasslands, so I’m unsure if we were close to its nest, and thus causing its agitation.

Feeding Chicks
            Last week, Mary and I led a hike at Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island for the Madeline Island Wilderness Preserve, a non-profit land trust that owns over 2,600 acres on the island. The highlight of the walk was one particular tree that was loaded with birds, including yellow-rumped warblers, cedar waxwings, and pine warblers. The adult birds were all feeding chicks from a hatch of tiny green caterpillars. They’d forage for the caterpillars, grab one, then fly over to a chick and feed it. They were seemingly unconcerned with our presence, so we got close-up, sustained views of the action.
            Mary, Callie, and I have been watching our feeders in the last few weeks and have also noticed the number of adults that grab a sunflower seed, extract the seed from the hull, and then feed a chick. We have watched numerous purples finches feeding their young, as well as a male hairy woodpecker feeding a chick.
            Most songbirds fledge within two weeks of hatching, which is no mean feat given that most chicks are born blind and featherless. Their growth rate is astounding really, but once they fledge, they still have a lot of growing up to do. Most new fledglings have almost no skills: they can’t feed themselves, can’t fly well, and can’t do anything to defend themselves. Nearly half won’t make it past their first week or two of young adulthood.
So why fledge so early? Because after staying two weeks in the nest, predators often have figured out where the nest is from watching the parents come and go. A fledged chick, capable of running and perching, can change hiding places and can hide separately from its siblings.
The parents are thus tasked with feeding the chicks for another two weeks or more until they really can fend for themselves. But as with most coming of age stories, the adults have to know when to help and when to let their young figure it out on their own. It’s interesting to watch, so keep an eye on your feeders to watch the progress.

Spreading Dogbane
            July is a verdant time, and the flowers that do best in full sun are now at their peak. One species I truly enjoy is spreading dogbane - its perfume is as fragrant as any flower in the Northwoods. The stem contains a milky sap, very similar to a milkweed. In fact, the sap contains a toxic cardiac glycoside that is fatal to humans, dogs, and livestock – hence the name dogbane. It can, and will, be the bane of your existence if you choose to eat it.
            Monarch butterflies are known for only utilizing milkweed, but will in fact feed and pupate on spreading dogbane. So, while searching for the gold-dotted pupal cases on milkweed, don’t forget to check out the dogbane.

            The 11+ inches of rain that fell recently on areas around the Bad River Indian Reservation illustrates perfectly the destruction caused by a 100-year rain event. Mother Earth bats last in these events, and no matter how sophisticated our engineering wizardry, we’re not much of a match for this level of power. Thus, the danger of CAFOs and massive open pit mines situated along numerous streams leading into Lake Superior. Yes, we need metals, and we need livestock, but they must not be placed in areas of steep topography where numerous streams tumble down into world-class wetlands and the largest, most pristine lake in the world. It’s just common sense.

            Clay Schroeder sent a photo of the second nesting of bluebirds in his field in Hazelhurst. He noted, “The first five have fledged, and the adults nested again laying four eggs. This one hatched today, July 10th.”
photo by Clay Schroeder

Kent Dahlgren sent a photo of a merganser taking-off from the water. Kent wrote, “Took the photo on Murphy Lake from a kayak in Presque Isle over 4th of July weekend. I didn't realize that they use their feet to help get airborne.”

photo by Kent Dahlgren

Celestial Events
            The peak Delta Aquarid meteor shower occurs in the predawn on 7/28. This is a modest meteor shower – look for an average of 15 to 25 per hour.
            On 8/4, look after dusk for Venus 3 degrees north of the waxing crescent moon. On 8/5, look for Jupiter directly above the moon, nearly resting on it.


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

NWA 7/8/16

A Northwoods Almanac for July 8 – 21, 2016   

Sightings: Evening Grosbeak, Bear Walking on Two Legs, Bear Drinking Problem, Moose, Gray Fox
            Mary, Callie, and I were very surprised to see four evening grosbeaks appear at our feeder on 7/1 – two males and two females. The male proceeded rather quickly to spike up the feathers on his crest, bend his tail upward, bow down, raise his head back with his beak near vertical, and then vibrate his wings rapidly in what was clearly a mating display. Callie laughed and said he looked like he was having a seizure. Apparently the female thought so too – she took off without looking back.
            I dug into the research that I could find on evening grosbeaks, and they occasionally do have a second clutch of eggs. So, this fellow was hoping to get lucky, and perhaps he succeeded, but not on our watch.
            Howard P. in Minocqua sent me a photo of a sow bear that has been walking all around his yard for weeks on her hind legs. She brings two cubs along with her as well.

Irma Hunger in Minocqua sent me this note: “Last week when my son was visiting me from California, we settled down about 8:00 PM to watch TV when all of a sudden, he leaped out of the chair yelling. I turned to see what was the matter and was shocked at the sight of a bear, and I mean a really BIG bear, drinking the hummingbird feeder dry. When Steve collected himself he took this picture, which turned out pretty good in spite of all the reflection in the glass. Unfortunately, he did not get the cute little cub that was with her . . . When the feeder was empty, she and her baby strolled off into the woods behind the house.  I swear she had a smile of satisfaction on her face.” 

Tom Olson sent me a photo on 7/4 of a moose he saw about 2 p.m. on Little Crab Lake just off S. Crab Lake Road.

Joe Mastalski emailed several close-up photos of gray fox kits in the Minocqua area that had emerged from under a shed. Fox, both gray and red, are not uncommon in urban areas and will frequently den under porches, decks or sheds. The family typically stays around for several months until the young are old enough to accompany their parents on foraging outings, at which point they usually move on for good.

Dunn Lake Pines SNA
            I had the opportunity last week to explore the Dunn Lake Pines State Natural Area with several natural areas conservation biologists from the WDNR. The site extends over 954 acres and supports a stand of super-canopy white pine looming above large hemlock, yellow birch, sugar maple, and basswood. One undisturbed stand lies on the northeast side of Dunn Lake and extends eastward to include both banks of the Presque Isle River. The steep slopes support most of the pines, perhaps 75 to 100 trees, many of which are three feet and larger in diameter. Another old-growth stand lies on an upland peninsula west of Sanborn Lake. A large, old bald eagle nest is located in one of the big pines on the northeast side of Dunn Lake.
The Margaret Dunn family sold a conservation easement to The Wisconsin Chapter of the Nature Conservancy for 502 acres of additional land on the northeast end of the SNA. The easement connects the Dunn Lake SNA to the 971-acre Guido Rahr, Sr. Tenderfoot Forest Preserve, effectively creating a 2,427-acre ecological reserve. The Tenderfoot Reserve was purchased by The Nature Conservancy from the Rahr family in 2005.
Prior to selling the land to the Conservancy, the Rahr family had owned and cared for it for more than 120 years. The preserve is named in honor of Guido Rahr, Sr., who served on the Wisconsin Conservation Commission in the 1950s and 60s.  During those years, his leadership was credited with making Wisconsin’s Conservation Department, now the WDNR, one of the most outstanding wildlife agencies in the nation.
The largest white pine we found was 48 inches in diameter, which is as big as they come these days.

The site is nearly impossible to get to given the private ownership of lands all around the SNA – we were fortunate to receive access via the good will of one of the private land owners.

Long Lake Creek/Flambeau Trail
Last week I paddled a portion of Long Lake Creek, which flows out of Long Lake north of Mercer. Then a few days later, I paddled a stretch of the Turtle River from Oxbow Lake to the boat landing in Mercer on Echo Lake. These paddles weren’t highly significant due to sightings of wildlife along the water, although we did see and hear many birds. Nor were the trips remarkable for their beauty, though both the creek and river are quite lovely. Instead, they were noteworthy historically. The 42-mile-long Flambeau Trail ran from Lake Superior to the northern tip of Long Lake, a portage referred to as a “120-pause portage,” meaning the men had to stop and rest 120 times along the way.
Once, they reached Long Lake, they uncovered their cached canoes, and paddled south into Long Lake Creek, which flows into the Turtle River. The Turtle River then widens into Little Oxbow Lake and Oxbow Lake, before flowing into Echo Lake in Mercer. From there the voyageurs would portage a short distance across what is now County J on the outskirts of Mercer into Grand Portage (Tank) Lake. A seasonal village/campsite was located near what is today Carow Park. The voyageurs may have rested here briefly, then paddled on a creek that flows now under Hwy. 51 near Mercer’s Chamber of Commerce and then on into Mercer Lake. A “6 pause” portage was then made south to the Manitowish River where the voyageurs had a choice: Go upstream and paddle through the Manitowish River Chain of Lakes to the Trout River and eventually east to trading post at Lac Vieux Desert, or go downstream to the confluence with the Bear River, and paddle it upstream to the trading posts at Lac du Flambeau.
The trip from Long Lake to Lac du Flambeau is hard to measure in river miles given the many meanders in these rivers, but it’s 38 miles by road. What amazes me is that on August 2, 1804, Victor Malhiot, the French fur trader who commanded the ABC fur trade post in Lac du Flambeau from 1804-1806, wrote in his journal that he and his men paddled the route in less than day, starting at 4 a.m. and making the trading post at 3 p.m. They would have been paddling “North” canoes, 26-foot-long birchbark canoes four to five feet wide that could hold a crew of eight men. When filled with men and cargo, the canoe weighed between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds.
When we paddled the Turtle River on Monday in our lightweight plastic kayaks, there were many sections that were only a foot deep, and we were getting caught on rocks. I can’t fathom how in low water years these large canoes, laden with trade goods, could get through these waters.
 Knowing that the French had paddled this river for over a century until the mid-1800s, and that Native tribes had likely paddled it for many centuries before that, venerates the route, the very water. I like to think of all of these travelers having left “paddle prints” for us to follow, that though invisible, make the river a fluid archaeological trail. Every trip down one of these historical rivers gives us a chance to join a long line of travelers, explorers, traders, and villagers. That’s an association worth becoming a member.

Celestial Events
            July 7 to 26 marks our warmest days of the year, according to records kept by Woody Hagge in Hazelhurst. We average a high of 79° and a low of 55°.
            On 7/8, look for Jupiter just above the waxing crescent moon. Jupiter is almost impossible to miss. It’s the fourth-brightest celestial object, after the sun, moon and Venus. If you have binoculars (on a tripod) or a telescope, it’s fairly easy to see Jupiter’s four major moons, which look like pinpricks of light on or near the same plane.
The moon can guide your eye to Mars (plus Saturn and the bright star Antares) for several evenings, centered on or near 7/14. Then watch for the moon to sail by Saturn on 7/15.
As of 7/16, our days are growing shorter by two minutes every day. Look for the full moon on 7/19.
            For planet watching in July, all the action is after dusk. Look for Mercury and Venus very low in the west-northwest, Mars in the south, Jupiter in the west, and Saturn in the south.
            On 7/20/1969, Neil Armstrong left the first human footprint on the moon.