Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Northwoods Almanac for 9/1/17

A Northwoods Almanac for 9/1-14, 2017  by John Bates

Wood Turtle Sighting!
            It’s been a busy two weeks! On 8/16, I led a paddle down the Bear River to the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage. We had the river all to ourselves, and along the way we were exceptionally lucky to see a wood turtle basking on a log. Wood turtles are currently listed as a threatened species in Wisconsin, and bestowed an “S3” ranking, which means they are “vulnerable due to a fairly restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, threats, or other factors.” Federally they are listed as a species of concern and designated “G3,” which is defined similarly to Wisconsin’s S3.
            This was only the second wood turtle I’ve ever seen, and I was thrilled. Fortunately, wood turtles are easily identified, or we may have just paddled by thinking it was a common painted turtle. The carapace (top shell) has a central keel or ridge running down its middle, and it looks like it’s been imprinted with sea shells. These bony plates, called “scutes,” are actually concentric growth rings which give the shell a sculpted appearance. In younger turtles, the rings are produced roughly once a year up to age 15 or 20, but after that, the rings are of little use in estimating age.

wood turtle photo by John Bates
Wood turtle hatchlings are now, or will soon be, emerging from their nests and navigating to water. However, winter poses a major problem for all our native turtles, and wood turtles are no exception. They’ll spend November through March in hibernation alone or in a group buried in the mud of a small, flowing river, and won’t emerge until ice-off in April.

Old-growth Hikes
            From 8/18-21, I led hikes for the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin (http://www.wisconservation.org) into four old-growth stands in Oconto, Forest, Vilas, and Iron counties. We were accompanied by archaeologists Mark Bruhy and Katie Eagan-Bruhy on two of the hikes, and at the Cathedral Pines State Natural Area. We were also briefly joined by Jeff Seefeldt, District Forest Ranger for the Nicolet National Forest who was able to answer the question of how old the pines were – 368 years!

48" diameter white pine at Cathedral Pines
Nearby, Mark and Katie showed us the Archibald Lake Mounds and Village site which was first located by archaeologists in the late 1980s. The location includes remnant garden beds, storage pits and mounds (burial structures), and an apparent community plan. The site’s significance was formally recognized in 2011 through placement onto the National Register of Historic Places.

Archibald Lake mound photo by John Bates

At the 1,548-acre Franklin and Butternut Lakes State Natural Area, Mark and Katie told us of evidence they had uncovered of Native people living in the area for at least 9,000 years. The Butternut-Franklin Lakes Archaeological District contains 20 archaeological sites including the Butternut Lake village site which was seasonally occupied between around A.D. 700 and 1600. Another site, the Hemlock Cathedral site, was situated along a rocky terrace on Butternut Lake’s north shore. This site was used seasonally as a fishing station from A.D. 500 to 1300. Archaeological excavation recovered evidence of fish processing with tools such as copper harpoons and knives, and stone net sinkers.

old-growth white pine on Butternut Lake

A third site, the Butternut Lake Inlet site, was first occupied around 1500 B.C.  Excavations revealed the foundation of the oldest dwelling thus far recorded in northern Wisconsin, along with evidence of hunting, fishing, gathering, and domestication of dogs.

The Eclipse – Annie Dillard’s View
            During the solar eclipse, I paddled with a group on Frog Lake within the Frog Lake and Pines State Natural Area. While our area only experienced a 75% eclipse, the light still dimmed significantly, the mosquitoes clearly thought it was dusk and time to begin biting, and it became dramatically quiet. We didn’t hear an increase in bird song given that we’re no longer in the breeding season, but if it had been May or June, the birds would have begun their early evening chorus.
            Several local people traveled south to be in the path of the full eclipse and sent me dramatic photographs. For a marvelous description of witnessing a full solar eclipse, I recommend Annie Dillard’s essay “Total Eclipse”:

Identifying Trees and Shrubs
Last weekend, Mary and I taught a 3-day class for Nicolet College on identifying trees and shrubs. Every student pressed 57 species of trees and shrubs that we collected, and each will hopefully make a permanent plant collection that they can refer to for years to come.
We certainly noticed numerous red and silver maples that had already turned color. Given how much rain we had this spring and early summer, I’ll be curious to see if autumn colors come earlier or later, and are duller or brighter. It’s hard to believe it’s already September, but autumn is here.

The Deerskin River
            Last week, I joined a paddle sponsored by the Northwoods Land Trust on the Deerskin River, just northeast of Eagle River. This little river is a gem! Cold enough to support brook and brown trout, and wild enough along most of its banks to make you think you were far from anyone or anything, it’s absolutely worth exploring.
            I was most intrigued by the recovering wetlands that are still taking shape after the removal of the Deerskin dam in 2000. Acres and acres of young cattails are pioneering much of the area, but there’s a good diversity of other wetland plants as well.
The Deerskin River originates at Long Lake and ultimately flows into Scattering Rice Lake on the Eagle River Chain of Lakes. The river supports 34 species of fish, and has an overlap fishery, meaning that there are warm water, cool water, and cold water fish population all using the same stream. On the upper cold end of the stream are native brook trout and brown trout while the lower end is dominated later in the year by warm water and cool water species coming out of the Eagle Chain including muskies, walleyes, northerns, and bass.
There are some beautiful old-growth white cedars along the river, too, and I’d love someone to core a few so we could know how old they are. Records from parcels owned by the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands along the river show no history of cutting.

Mussels on the Manitowish
Mary Jenks sent me the list of mussels her North Lakeland Discovery Center class found on July 14 while canoeing the Manitowish River with Jesse Weinzinger, Conservation Biologist with the WDNR Wisconsin Mussel Monitoring Project. I’m impressed by the diversity! Here’s the list:
plain pocketbook
wabash pigtoe
fluted shell
black sandshell
three ridge
cylindical papershell   
plain pocketbook mussel

I love the creative names given to mussels, but I particularly love their astonishingly creative process of reproduction. Once a female mussel’s eggs are fertilized, she must find a way to transfer the larvae (called “glochidia”) to a fish. Here the microscopic mussels will live parasitically in the fish’s gills, fins or body for a few days to a month before dropping off as juveniles and beginning their independent lives.
Some species of mussels have an extension of their mantle tissue that has evolved to look strikingly similar to a small fish. The mussel displays the fish like a lure to attract a predator fish that will act as a host for the mussel’s larvae. When the fish bites the lure, the fertilized eggs burst out and attach themselves to the startled fish. It may take two to nine years before juveniles mature and can reproduce as an adult, and then they may live 60 to 70 years if conditions are right.      
You owe it to yourself to watch a video of this process, because it’s amazing – see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0YTBj0WHkU

Celestial Events
            For planet viewing in September, look after dusk for Saturn low in the southwest. Before dawn, look for Venus brilliant and low in the east, and Jupiter very low in the western twilight. Jupiter is lost from our sight by mid-month, while Mars comes into view by mid-month in the east.
            Full moon occurs on 9/6. Called the “Harvest Moon,” it also goes by the “Acorn Moon” and the “Leaves Changing Moon.” 9/6 also marks the last day this fall that we will have 13 or more hours of daylight – we’ll have to wait until April 4 to receive this much sunlight again.

Mushroom of the Week – Crown-tipped Coral
            Numerous species of corals inhabit our northern woodlands, but most are found growing on the ground. The crown-tipped corral grows instead on decaying hardwood stumps and logs. It’s relatively easy to identify particularly with a hand lens – look for the tips of the coral branches to form rings with branchlets that look like tiny crowns.

crown-tipped coral
Quote for the Week
“Beauty and grace will occur whether or not we are there to see them. The least we can do is to try and be there.” Annie Dillard

Please share your outdoor sightings and thoughts: call 715-476-2828, e-mail at manitowish@centurytel.net, snail-mail at 4245N State Highway 47, Mercer, WI, or see my blog at www.manitowishriver.blogspot.com

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Northwoods Almanac for 8/18/17

A Northwoods Almanac for August 18, 31, 2017  by John Bates

            In a December, 1942 essay, Aldo Leopold advocated for the conservation of the Porcupine Mountains in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which was slated to be cut. He wrote, “Sometime in 1943 or 1944 an axe will bite into the snowy sapwood of a giant maple. On the other side of the same tree a crosscut saw will talk softly, spewing sweet sawdust into the snow with each repetitious syllable. Then the giant will lean, groan, and crash to earth, the last merchantable tree of the last merchantable forty of the last virgin hardwood forest of any size in the Lake States. With this tree will fall the end of an epoch . . .
“There will be an end of cathedral aisles to echo the hermit thrush, or to awe the intruder. There will be an end of hardwood wilderness large enough for a few day’s skiing or hiking without crossing a road. The forest primeval, in this region, will henceforward be a figure of speech.
“There will be an end of the pious hope that America has learned from her mistakes in private forest exploitation. Each error, it appears, must continue to its bitter end; conservation must wait until there is little or nothing to conserve.”
Leopold’s efforts, along with many others, led to the establishment of the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in 1945. Now 60,000 acres in size, with 35,000 acres of old-growth forest, the “Porkies” represent the largest block of old-growth hardwood-hemlock forest left in North America.
Because of the vision and conservation ethic of people over 70 years ago, Mary and I were able last weekend to lead a group from the North Lakeland Discovery Center on a 9.5-mile hike through continuous old-growth. We followed the Little Carp River for 7 miles to its mouth at Lake Superior, then the Pinkerton Trail 2.5 miles back to South Boundary Road where we had parked.
Leopold wrote, “When we abolish the last sample of the Great Uncut, we are, in a sense, burning books. I am convinced that most Americans of the new generation have no idea what a decent forest looks like. The only way is to show them.”
Show them we did, though our “showing” was little more than simply walking along with people who were willing to see. We did discuss the forest ecology of old-growth, keeping the knowledge derived from the “books” Leopold spoke of alive. But the beauty is what we came for, and we couldn’t have asked for more.
(I'm unable to find an online version of Leopold's "The Last Stand," but I have it photocopied. Please send me an email - manitowish@centurytel.net - and I'll email the pdf.)

photo by Licia Johnson

Bald Mountain – UPLC
            The day after our hike in the Porkies, Mary and I hiked to the top of Bald Mountain in the U.P. with members of the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy (UPLC), and with landowners Mark and Chris Troudt. The rock bald on top of Bald Mountain stands at nearly 1300 feet, about 700 feet above Lake Superior which is only two miles to the north. Thus, it affords panoramic views in all directions of the rest of the Huron Mountains and the lands lower in elevation. We had some heart-pumping rocky terrain to climb, and a nearly impossible road to drive in on, but it was worth the effort – spectacular!

            The Troudt’s are working to place a conservation easement on their property with the UPLC, which now protects nearly 6,000 acres in the Upper Peninsula, with 10 dedicated preserves, 24 experimental working forest reserves, and 19 conservation easements with private land owners and partnering organizations.

            In northern Wisconsin, the Northwoods Land Trust in Eagle River has conserved over 11,000 acres of land, 26 miles of lakefront, and 33 miles of riverfront. A conservation easement is a voluntary land protection agreement made with a land trust to provide long-term stewardship of the protected land so the resource values are preserved in accordance with the landowner’s wishes.
I know of no better vehicle by which landowners can see their vision for their land legally maintained for future generations while still keeping it in private ownership. Property rights are a hot topic in the Northwoods, and I can envision no better right to protect than what you’ve worked so hard to create, maintain, and preserve.

UPLC group on Bald Mountain

Migration Is On!
            If you’re wondering why the woods are so quiet these days, songbird migration has already begun. Many of our insect-eating, neotropical migrants are already winging their way to their wintering grounds in Central and South America. We often speak of these birds as “our” birds. In reality, they are only here from mid-May to mid-August, and thus spend 9 months of the year, the majority of their life, far to our south. I suspect the folks in Central and South America would argue that these birds are really “their” birds. Neotropical migrants represent the majority of Northwoods nesting songbirds, so it’s truly a mass exodus.
            Of the few birds still singing, many are juvenile birds striving mightily to learn their songs before their departure south. Thus, incomplete songs are commonplace now, much like young children learning their language – they get most of it right, but there’s a lot of errors along the way.

Look for Nighthawks!
Common nighthawks should be winging southward by now, too, though their migration often lasts into early September. Their numbers can be huge – the largest flight ever recorded in the Upper Midwest was 43,690 nighthawks tallied on August 26, 1990, in Duluth, Minnesota! However, an occasional flock of 10 to 20 is far more common in our area.
Nighthawks aren’t hawks, nor are they most active at night, so the name leaves a lot to be desired. They do require a constant supply of flying insects, so to stay at least one step ahead of the first killing frost, they leave before what most of us consider the end of summer.
Look for nighthawks before dusk, flying over open fields, near airports, and along highways. They fly erratically as they try to capture insects on the wing, twisting and turning in a bat-like flight pattern. Their pointed, angular wings, each with a broad white line, help to quickly identify them.

photo by Bee Engstrom

Mushroom of the Week
            Mushroom maniacs are a gleeful bunch this time of year with mushrooms springing up everywhere in remarkable abundance. We’re still learning our mushroom species, which I suspect will be a life-long endeavor, but one of our favorites is the diminutive eyelash cup. Bright red or orange, these tiny mushrooms are ringed by stiff black hairs. Cora Mollen and Larry Weber write in their excellent book Fascinating Fungi of the North Woods, “Any fashion model would be lucky to have eyelashes as fine as this fungus.” Look for them alongside mosses on decaying wood. And don’t forget to take along a hand lens to see the eyelashes.

eyelash cup photo by Mary Burns

            Sarah Krembs in Manitowish Waters sent me two fine photos of white-lined sphinx moth caterpillars. The caterpillars come in a wild array of colors from yellow and black to lime green. The adults are what many people call “hummingbird moths” because they hover over flowers probing for nectar with a retractable proboscis that they roll out like a party favor. Look for them now in your garden flowers along with other species of sphinx moths. 

white-lined sphinx moth caterpillar photo by Sarah Krembs

            Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) is also in flower now. This pure white flower is in the blueberry family and contains no chlorophyll, so it can’t photosynthesize. Instead, it parasitizes trees via their mycorrhizal fungi. It does this by extracting nutrients from the fungi which have colonized the tree’s fine roots. The fungi trade water and mineral nutrients with the tree for the tree’s photosynthetic carbohydrates and sugars. The Indian pipes then tap into the mycorrhizal fungi and steal some of those carbs and sugars, making for a nice living if you can get it.

Indian pipe photo by John Bates

Invasive Watch: Glossy Buckthorn
            Mary and I recently explored a trail along McNaughton Lake and found large patches of glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus/Rhamnus frangula), an invasive species that is a relative to common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica). We were unfamiliar with it, having only seen common buckthorn in our area. The glossy smooth leaves stand out, as does the proliferation of dark purple fruits the size of blueberries. And whereas common buckthorn often has sharp thorns at the end of its twigs, glossy buckthorn is thornless.
In looking at a 2013 DNR range map, glossy buckthorn had not been reported in Vilas or Forest counties, but it is in Oneida County. If you don’t know this plant, take a moment to familiarize yourself, and then if you see it, tear it out as soon as possible.

Late Nesting Loons
            In his latest blog posting (https://loonproject.org/2017/08/13/are-late-chicks-doomed/), Walter Piper notes that on July 28 a pair of loons hatched two chicks on North Nokomis, a very late date for loon chicks! The presumption has always been that later hatching chicks would have less time to mature physically and behaviorally, and thus be less likely to return the following year.
            Dr. Piper has been capturing and banding loon chicks since 1991, and so he looked at his data set to determine if this presumption was true. And surprisingly, he found that chicks hatched in early to mid-June, the “normal” time, were no more likely to make it back than young hatched a month later (between July 6 to 19). He concludes, “In short, hatching date does not appear to strongly influence survival to adulthood.”
            It’s unclear how well the very late hatchers like the North Nookomis pair will do, because Dr. Piper has too few cases from which to draw a conclusion. But they will clearly have their work cut out for them.

Celestial Events
            While the solar eclipse is rightfully getting all the press, you might also look at dusk on 8/24 and 8/25 for Jupiter near the waxing crescent moon. And look at dusk on 8/29 and 8/30 for Saturn near the first quarter moon.

Quote for the Week
            “The great affair, the love affair with life, is to live as variously as possible, to groom one’s curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sun-struck hills every day.” Diane Ackerman