Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A Northwoods Almanac for 12/22/17

A Northwoods Almanac for December 22 – January 4, 2018  by John Bates

Christmas Bird Counts
            The 25th annual Manitowish Waters Christmas Bird Count took place on 12/16. Eleven volunteers fanned out over the 15-mile-wide count circle which is centered at the intersection of Hwy. 51 and County W in Manitowish Waters. The temperature at 8 a.m. was 8°; chilly but relatively calm, which made birding a lot easier.
            We totaled 30 species, well above our average of 24 species. Notable were a first ever snowy owl, wood duck, and boreal chickadee. And in the highly unusual category were two hooded mergansers, a mallard, a red-headed woodpecker, three dark-eyed juncos, a song sparrow, and a grackle.
            Red crossbills have been reported regularly this winter throughout northern Wisconsin, and we did get one flock of 20 eating sand in the middle of County K. As is normal for crossbills, they stayed put as the counters approached in their car and would have easily been run over if the counters hadn’t stopped. So, a plea to drivers this winter: Please watch for flocks of birds in the middle of roads and slow down to give them a chance to scatter. Crossbills are often oblivious to cars, and many are being hit.

red crossbills photo by Mark Westphal
The 21st annual Minocqua Christmas Bird Count took place on 12/14 and was done by 19 volunteers from the North Lakeland Discovery Center Bird Club traveling in 6 vehicles, and by 6 volunteers who counted at their home feeders and yards in the count area. There were a few open water areas and surprises with a common merganser and pied-billed grebe. Other surprises included a lone robin, five tree sparrows, and what I consider a surprisingly high number – 19 – of red-bellied woodpeckers. Red-bellieds living in the Northwoods continue to increase in number, and this is perfect evidence.

Wil Conway sent me a great photo on 12/10 of a male pileated woodpecker landing on his suet feeder.

male pileated woodpecker photo by Wil Conway

Jill Wilm sent a lovely photo of her bird feeder just loaded with common redpolls on 12/14. She captioned the photo: “Who needs a Christmas tree when you have these lovely ornaments? The redpolls abound in Presque Isle!”

common redpolls photo by Jill Wilm

            On 12/13, Sarah Krembs reported seeing a veery or hermit thrush hopping around the entrance to the St. Germain community building. She noted: “He hopped right up to the doors a couple times. I'm hoping he was just getting some sand/gravel for his digestion (they'd thrown some down near the doors) . . .  I tried to get closer but by the time I made it over to the door he'd disappeared. I'm hoping that means he was able to fly and he flew off, meaning he didn't have a broken wing or something.”
            Along those same lines, a caller was concerned about a hen mallard that was swimming on a little creek on 12/15 near Boulder Junction. And Mary and I have been watching for a week a female hooded merganser who is keeping open a tiny circle of water on the otherwise iced-over Manitowish River near our house. The merganser can dive, and must be catching some fish or it would have starved by now. But why it’s still here, and obviously confined to that tiny hole on the river, is unknown. Usually, it’s one of two things: illness or injury. For waterfowl, a bullet wound from a waterfowl hunter is not uncommon, nor is lead poisoning. For predators like hawks, owls, and eagles, flying into an electric line, being hit by a car, or slowly dying from rodent poison are all common, too.

Hooded Merganser Failed Rescue, But Also Earlier Successful Rescues
            I called Wild Instincts (715-362-9453) near Rhinelander regarding the hooded merganser mentioned above, hoping that a rescue might be possible. Mark Naniot, long-time Northwoods wildlife rehabber, answered and said he’d get someone up to us to try and capture it. Kevin and Linda Grenzer from Tomahawk arrived with a flat-bottomed, custom-made rescue boat in their truck and long-handled nets. Their concern was the merganser would jump out of the water and run away on the ice, and then they’d have a chase on their hands. It turned out to be even more difficult than that. As they approached the merganser from the shore, it flew a short distance downriver and landed on the ice. As Kevin and Linda, now aided by my wife Mary, tried to outflank it, it flew again, this time a little farther, but again landed on the ice. It appeared to all of us that while it could fly, it was struggling to stay airborne, and perhaps had an injury or was ill. It then flew a third time, this time over the shoreline shrubs and around a bend in the river.
            Well, this was good news and bad news. It could fly better than we thought, but still appeared to be compromised.
            We came inside to warm up, and 45 minutes later, the merganser had returned to the tiny opening in the ice. Kevin is an inventor and has devised a drone with a net attached that can be released and dropped on a bird from above. So, he got the drone up and headed downriver, but the wind caught the net and the drone crashed.
            Long story short, we had to give up. The merganser was still there as of dusk on 12/18, and time will tell its fate.
            The 45-minute interlude, however, gave me a chance to interview Kevin and Linda, who for the last three years have volunteered to capture an array of birds and mammals and bring them for rehabilitation to either Wild Instincts or to REGI (Raptor Education Group Inc. in Antigo – 715-623-4015), and occasionally to Northwoods Wildlife Center (715-356-7400) in Minocqua. They have stories galore, but the two most recent ones were particularly fascinating.
Sandhill Crane Capture
Over two weeks ago, a caller reported a sandhill crane walking along a road near the County A exit off Hwy. 51 in Tomahawk. Kevin and Linda traveled to the site, but despite its injured left wing, the bird was able to run away from them over marsh ice, and they had to give up the chase. The crane stayed in the area for a week, then was seen 5 miles south on Skanawan Road near the County S exit on Hwy. 51. The crane was coming to a woman’s feeder, and while Kevin and Linda could get somewhat close, the bird still would run away. Apparently the crane was migrating south by walking along or near Hwy. 51, but stopping along the way at feeders.
            Kevin and Linda then set up a blind near the feeder and tried to use a net gun to capture it, but missed by inches. Finally, the next day, they set the blind up with several volunteers hunched within it, and this time when the crane appeared, they were able to run it down along a marshy creek because the deep snow and marsh grass made it stumble.
            They drove the crane to REGI, where Marge Gibson examined the bird and found it to be very healthy. However, its wing had been broken a while back, perhaps from being hit by a car or from being shot, and had healed in a manner that prevented it from flying. Marge is known as a wonder woman in healing wildlife injuries, so perhaps she will find a way. If not, the crane will be released to a zoo or environmental center where it can be used for education.

sandhill crane held by Kevin Grenzer and being examined by Marge Gibson

Wood Duck Capture
            Linda and Kevin received a call to capture a wood duck that appeared unable to fly and was swimming on a little creek that was icing-up on Coffee Creek Road in New Wood. As soon as they pulled up to the creek, the wood duck ran and hid in the grass, but they were able to surround it and capture it. What they found was startling – the wood duck’s beak was completely frozen over! It couldn’t open its mouth, one of its nostrils was frozen, and its tail feathers had chunks of ice hanging from them. The ice was one-quarter inch thick on the bill. The bird was starving and suffocating, and very likely would have died within an hour or two.

wood duck with frozen bill photo by Linda Grenzer

            Linda held the wood duck in her lap and warmed its bill in her hands as they drove it to REGI. Marge examined it and found a wing injury which she is now trying to rehab.
            Linda and Kevin speculate that the wood duck was dying, and its head was dipping into the icy water, whereupon it would startle and raise back up, only to dip back down again until its bill became an icicle.

One Way to Help Wildlife
            Put the phone numbers of the three wildlife centers up on your refrigerator, so you know who to call if you see an animal that needs help. And consider donating and/or volunteering – all three run on private donations and receive no funding from federal or state agencies.
            Linda and Kevin are trying to purchase a used hovercraft with their own money to make ice rescues less dangerous and more successful – a contribution to them through REGI would help make this possible.
Freeze Dates
            The Manitowish River iced-up at our home in Manitowish on 12/12, though a tiny hole was being kept open by the lone female merganser discussed above through 12/18. Our average ice-up date for the Manitowish is late November.
As for regional ice-up on our northern lakes, I always look to Woody Hagge’s data on Foster Lake in Hazelhurst to give me the best picture. At 39 acres with a maximum depth of 38 feet, Foster Lake is broadly representative of many of the modest-sized lakes in our area, though there are many other factors influencing ice-up beyond the size and depth of a lake.
Last year, Foster Lake froze on 12/10, the 4th latest freeze in the last 42 years. This year, Foster iced-up a day earlier on 12/9. The average ice-up date for Foster is now 11/28.
Ice-up was certainly an on-again-off-again process this year with many lakes skimming over in mid-November, but then opening up with warmer weather. December has given us average winter weather, which is cold enough that all lakes should now be ice-covered.

West Nile Found in Michigan Ruffed Grouse
Five ruffed grouse collected in Michigan from August through October, including two found dead and three shot by hunters, were recently determined to have West Nile Virus. Three of the WNV-positive grouse were from the Upper Peninsula.
Although Michigan has had West Nile Virus since 2002, this is the first year it’s been seen it in grouse. This is important news because grouse numbers were up this spring in Wisconsindrumming counts were up 17% and summer brood observations were up 18%. Nevertheless, relatively few grouse were seen this fall in Wisconsin.
Grouse were supposed to be up this year based on their traditional cycle, not down. Chick survival likely was hampered due to the heavy rains and cool temperatures we had in late spring and early summer, but whether there’s also a connection to WNV is unknown. At least now it’s on researchers’ radars, assuming there’s money allocated for the research.
See Paul Smith’s article in the 12/6 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online for more information.

Snowy Owl Update
From Ryan Brady, research scientist and bird monitoring coordinator for WDNR: “As of December 13, an estimated 173 Snowy Owls have been tallied across 57 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties . . . Harbors along the Great Lakes shorelines remain hotspots but many owls are widespread across interior grasslands, wetlands, agricultural fields, and even urban areas as well. The total of 173 owls compares to only 13 as of the same date in 2016-17, 102 in 2015-16, 161 in 2014-15, and 91 in 2013-14, although many birds arrived later during the big irruption year of 2013-14. This year’s flight continues to be dominated by juvenile birds hatched in the Arctic last summer. Unfortunately, their inexperience has led to small but significant numbers falling victim to vehicle collisions or starvation.” 

Celestial Events
Our days begin to grow longer on 12/23 for the first time since June 20. From 12/27 to 1/7, the sunrise stalls at its latest time in the morning – 7:40 a.m. On 1/8, the sun will rise one minute earlier at 7:39.

Thought for Christmas
      No, it is not because I am filled with obscure guilt that I step gently over, and not upon, an autumn cricket. It is not because of guilt that I refuse to shoot the last osprey from her nest in the tide marsh. I possess empathy . . . I share that sympathy and compassion which extends beyond the barriers of class and race and form until it partakes of the universal whole. – Loren Eiseley

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

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Northwoods Almanac for 12/8/17

A Northwoods Almanac for Dec. 8 21, 2017  

Latest Numbers on Snowy Owls
As of 11/29, approximately 105 individual snowy owls have been reported in 44 Wisconsin counties. This is the largest total of snowy owls as of this date in the last eight years.   To see where the birds have been sighted in Wisconsin, go to Wisconsin eBird at http://ebird.org/content/wi/, click “explore data,” click “species maps,” enter “snowy owl,” and then enter the date range (Oct. to Dec. 2017).
snowy owl photo by Dick Lemanski

Northern Highlands Citizen Science Network
            In this momentary time bubble of anti-science, a group of citizens who believe wholeheartedly in science has arisen to try to fill the void left by unfilled state position vacancies, position cuts, and reduced funding. Dr. Mike Meyer, retired research scientist for the WDNR, convened a meeting of area citizens last week to share current opportunities for citizens to be engaged in scientific research, and then to facilitate discussion of what a Northern Highlands Citizen Science Network could become.
            Nearly 100 people attended, including many leaders of ongoing citizen monitoring projects. Data from over 20 monitoring programs were shared, along with the myriad of ways to get involved.
            We heard about water-based projects like the Citizen Lake Monitoring Network which began in 1986 and which now has over 1,000 volunteers who measure water clarity, water chemistry, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and duration of ice cover, as well as mapping aquatic invasive species and native plants on lakes all around the state. The data is used to show trends in water quality and biological communities, and thus understand and better manage individual lakes. Nearly 150 lakes in Vilas County have been monitored, and the data for each lake over all these years is available online.
            We heard from the Wisconsin Action Volunteers who take many of the same measures on the 32,000 miles of Wisconsins perennial rivers and streams. Given the legal requirements of the WDNR to report the environmental status of all of our streams and rivers, citizen monitoring help in obtaining the data is essential.
            We heard about Loon Watch Monitoring, Mussel Monitoring, the Wisconsin Turtle Survey, and the Wisconsin Frog and Toad Survey which began in 1981 and is the longest running frog survey in the nation.
And we heard from the Wisconsin Healthy Lakes Project which analyzes all the monitoring data and helps individual lakeshore owners, lake associations, and public agencies apply the science on their properties.
            On the land-based side of things, we heard from the Iron County Citizen Science Project which includes an American marten study that was undertaken by Mercer and Hurley high school students. We heard from the Volunteer Carnivore Tracking Program, the Wisconsin Odonata (dragonfly/damselfly) Survey, the Wisconsin Bat Monitoring Program, the Hunter Wildlife Survey, the Wisconsin Master Naturalist Program, the Wisconsin Rare Plant Monitoring Program, the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas, and more.
Of the 20+ programs that were shared, many are coordinated through the Wisconsin Citizen-based Monitoring Network. The WCBM Network brings together citizens and professional scientists to work together in monitoring and evaluating Wisconsin’s natural resources, and helps to provide technical and financial support.
I was surprised when a friend from Michigan who was also attending the meeting said she was doing online searches for equivalent programs in Michigan and found few to none. Apparently, citizens in Wisconsin are still doing a lot of important work compared to other states.
            The good news behind the data collection is we require long-term data that can inform long-term decision-making. We’re all in this for the long haul. When the political pendulum swings back to respecting science, as it must, then with the help of citizen monitoring we’ll have the data necessary to honestly confront future issues.

New Loon Insights
Dr. Walter Piper in a 12/4/17 online post (see www.loonproject.org) reports that hes discovered two new predictors for why loons may abandon their nests: lake size and the age of the nesting female. Dr. Piper just finished submitting a paper presenting evidence that large black fly hatches and their subsequent harassment of nesting loons can cause nest abandonment. 
loon covered with black flies, photo by Bob Kovar

However, in looking at all his data, he also found two unexpected factors: First, pairs on large lakes are less prone to nest abandonment than pairs on small lakes. Second, pairs containing an old female are far more likely to abandon a nest owing to black flies than are pairs containing young females.
            Why? Piper speculates that its all about energetics. Regarding lake size, he notes, Large lakes provide more food than small lakes, so loon pairs on large lakes should be in better health and condition than those on small lakes. Well-fed, healthy adults with strong immune systems should be better able to cope with the blood loss and exposure to blood-borne pathogens.
As for why older females are more likely to abandon their nests, he conjectures, Old females senesce . . . it stands to reason that old females are in poorer body condition and are more likely to abandon nests when attacked viciously by black flies. Reproductive decline among old females is widespread in animals, and the tendency of old female loons to abandon nests more readily seems consistent with that pattern.
Dr. Piper has studied loons on nearly 200 lakes in Oneida County since 1993. He along with Dr. Mike Meyer, retired wildlife toxicologist for the WDNR, lead the way nationally with their research on loon behavior, reproduction, habitat selection, migration, and the impacts of mercury and various diseases. Their exceptional scientific work has placed northcentral Wisconsin at the epicenter of loon research.

Alan Haney - Science on Tap
Speaking of loons, Alan Haney, Emeritus Professor of Forestry at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and an ecologist with over 40 years of field experience spoke at Novembers Science on Tap in Minocqua. When asked about which local bird species may be extirpated from our area due to climate change, he noted that common loons are very likely to be extirpated from Wisconsin by 2050. This brought an audible gasp from the audience who I suspect hadnt fully considered the impact of warming temperatures on our northern lakes.
Audubons Birds and Climate Change Report in 2014 noted that the common loon breeding range is likely to shrink 56% by 2080, shifting well north of Wisconsin. Loons are also projected to lose 75% of their current winter range with warming waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
Nest cameras have shown that incubating loons start to pant at 75°F, which is their normal response to warmer temperatures. As temperatures rise, adults spend more time off the nest to cool off, leaving the eggs prone to predators. In addition, preliminary research indicates that the porosity of egg shells changes at high temperatures, which can negatively affect the developing egg. Climate models also predict an increase in large rain events, something weve already seen in the Northwoods and around the country, which can lead to more flooded nests.
A loon stressed by heat, high parasite loads, mercury, and changes in food resources will likely be more vulnerable to infection and less resistant to the effects of stress. In addition, diseases may be introduced from further south, exposing loons and other wildlife to new pathogens to which they have no resistance. In 2015, for instance, a common loon in New England was found dead from avian malaria, the first known case of a loon dying of the tropical disease.
Its all about location, location, location or habitat, habitat, habitat. As habitats change, birds have to move to another place with the right conditions for them. As waters continue to warm, loons will have little choice but to move further north.

Winter Solstice
Winter solstice occurs on 12/21 this year, and it means different things to different people. It marks the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night, but it also marks the beginning of lengthening days and shortening nights. Its considered the official start of winter, though in the Northwoods, we all know winter started quite a while ago.
It also signals a rebirth, a reawakening, a cause for celebration. Many Neolithic archaeological sites such as Stonehenge in England and Newgrange in Ireland were aligned to capture the sun perfectly on the winter and summer solstice, indicating how profoundly significant those astronomical events were to them. The reversal of the sun’s ebbing offered promise ahead. The year was considered completed, and a rebirth was now at hand even though they knew January and February would still bring tremendous hardships.
Latitude determines just how dark your winter solstice will be. The length of the day in Minocqua will be 8 hours and 39 minutes. But further north in Fairbanks, Alaska, they’ll only see 3 hours and 41 minutes. However, in Honolulu, where they’ll experience 10 hours and 50 minutes of daylight, they could be sun-bathing!
Below the equator, the opposite is true, of course – it’s summer solstice. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, they’ll feel the sun’s warmth for 14 hours and 28 minutes. In Melbourne, Australia, they’ll see even more sunshine – 14 hours and 47 minutes worth.
The short days may influence some to seek airfare to the southern hemisphere, but remember, this is the rebirth. The sun will slowly rise earlier and set later, and theres definitely promise in that.

Christmas Bird Counts
            The 25th annual Manitowish Waters Christmas Bird Count takes place on 12/16, while the 21st annual Minocqua Christmas Bird Count takes place on 12/14. If on those days you see suspicious looking people eyeballing your bird feeders with binoculars, this will be the reason.

Celestial Events
            From 12/5 to 12/14, the years earliest sunsets will occur at 4:14 On 12/15, the sun will finally begin setting one minute later every day.
            Look before dawn for Mars and Jupiter bright in the east.
            In the late evening of 12/13 and early morning of 12/14, look for the peak Geminid meteor shower. This shower can reach 120 meteors per hour, so this is worth bundling up for.

Quote for the Week
The solstice once was an occasion for awe, when the ancient pleaded with the sun to refrain from vanishing into outer darkness. Year after year the prayers were answered. The sun did turn back form the abyss . . . [Today] we are confident that the sun will turn back from the abyss, but we arent at all sure what man will do next. Hal Borland

Friday, November 24, 2017

A Northwoods Almanac for 11/24/17

A Northwoods Almanac for 11/24 – 12/7/17  by John Bates

Sightings: Red Crossbills and Tundra Swans
            On 11/4, Mary and I kicked up three flocks of red crossbills while driving south on Hwy. 47 within a few miles of our house. The first flock held 30 birds, two of which were dead on the road, victims of the crossbill’s typical lack of wariness relative to cars. We were able to drive right up to this flock and watch them for several minutes without their expressing the least interest in us.

red crossbill photo by Sarah Krembs

Currently, red crossbills are classified as coming in ten varieties, or types, each one associated with one or more different conifer species. Each type also produces a slightly different call note, distinguishable by experts on a spectrogram. The ten types also show slight differences in size and beak shape, as well as differences in their ranges.
Watch for small flocks of red crossbills on roadsides and often in the middle of the road, and be sure to slow down. These birds experience little contact with humans, and thus many have not learned the danger of cars.
On 11/12, Sarah Krembs was walking with friends in Manitowish Waters when she started hearing “unusual sounds in the sky.” Here’s how she went on to describe the sounds and how she eventually identified them. “My brain's first thought was there was a bunch of grade school kids playing on a playground laughing and yelling. Then a “vee” of swans came into view, and they were the sound! I knew they weren't trumpeter swans, and thought they might be tundras migrating, but I don't have any experience with those swans. There were 35 of them. I went home, got on the computer and played sounds from tundras on allaboutbirds.org and what do you know...that's what we heard!”
Tundras have two separate wintering populations that migrate south from their breeding grounds in arctic wetlands. One group winters mostly along the west coast of the U.S., while the other group that we see in Wisconsin stops over for many weeks along the upper Mississippi River, and then flies east non-stop for 1600 miles to winter on Chesapeake Bay and along the coast of North Carolina. Their calls are usually compared to barking dogs or a flock of geese but at a higher pitch.

Ibis in Boulder Junction!
John and Pam Winkelman in Boulder Junction sent an email describing their remarkable encounter with an ibis: John and I went out on our property with our two dogs about 3:30 pm on October 30th . . . [the dogs] took off like rockets as soon as we opened door, so we quickly ran to their side knowing they must have spotted an animal. The two dogs were standing about 15 feet away from an area behind one of our garages, barking their heads off. A large bird appeared to be hunkered down in a small clearing in our woods. John got the dogs inside while I walked closer to the bird to see if it was injured. I thought it might be an injured duck, but much to my surprise it had a long, thin neck, a very small head, and a long curved bill. It was an iridescent green color. It looked kind of prehistoric! It was obvious from the position of its right wing that the wing was probably broken.

Pam with the injured ibis (photo by Pam Winkelman)

            I ran back to the house and called the Northwoods Wildlife Center and was asked to try and catch it and bring it in. John and I grabbed two big bath towels with the idea that we could wrap it up in at least one of them. As I approached the bird, it rose up on its very long, spindly legs and trotted off across the open area through the woods, down a wooded hill, and into Upper Gresham Lake. John joined me and we followed it to the waters edge. There was a partially submerged log sticking out in the water from the shore. The bird tried to pull itself up onto the log using its bill. The injured wing prevented it from being successful, and it fell head first into the water. John jumped in with a towel and threw it over its body, and he was able to grab it. He passed the bird to me, and I simply wrapped the other towel around the wet bird and the wet towel it was already wrapped in. There was some snow on the ground and the temperature at our property was below freezing.
            We immediately got to our car and drove to the Wildlife Center. They immediately took the bird in to be examined, and we were told it had a broken femur and had lost blood.
“[The next day] we were very saddened to hear that the ibis did not survive, but this is not surprising considering its injury.
The Winkelmans story is remarkable because neither of the two species of ibis, white-faced or glossy, are known to nest in Wisconsin. In fact, the glossy ibis nests along the Atlantic coast from New Brunswick through Florida, but rarely inland, while the white-faced ibis nests mostly in western states.
I emailed Ryan Brady, expert birder and research scientist with the WDNR in Ashland, to ask his opinion. He wrote, “[In Wisconsin] White-faced ibis occurs most frequently (a handful each year now) and has been increasing in frequency in the past decade or so, especially in spring. They may have nested one year at a SE WI wetland, but it wasnt entirely confirmed. Glossy ibis is very rare, being more of a coastal species than an interior one like white-faced and has never nested here. There were several white-faced seen in WI around the time of this discovery, though obviously that doesnt clinch the ID as such. Regardless, a white-faced record this far north is exceptional as most are found south of the north woods and tension zone. The late date is also pretty incredible. One has to wonder what happened here?!
Ryan added in a later email, Some ibises occur throughout summer months [in WI], but this is common among the large wading birds as they have a large contingent of non-breeders in the population and juveniles that disperse . . . White-faced, for example, are seen throughout the New England coast in June-July but dont breed there either. We are hoping to find the states first confirmed nesting of white-faced during this [Breeding Bird] Atlas. 

Snowy Owl Invasion Again?
Wisconsin is again experiencing a possible snowy owl invasion year. As of 11/15, 37 distinct snowies, nearly all juveniles, had been documented in the state. The question is whether the numbers will continue to increase or fizzle. Ryan Brady published the following numbers for comparison over the last five years:
Year                First in WI       # by11/15        #by 1/15
2017-18:          10/20               37                   ??
2016-17:          11/15               2                      49
2015-16:          10/15               79                   131
2014-15:          11/1                 28                   239
2013-14:          11/15               1                     229     
            The Lake Michigan shoreline appears to be a favored wintering area. Four snowies alone were reported at the Sheboygan harbor marina on 11/18.

snowy owl on Lake Minocqua in 2015

Wolf Bill
Reps. Adam Jarchow, Mary Felzkowski and Romaine Quinn, along with Sen. Tom Tiffany, have proposed a bill that would profoundly alter the states effort to manage wolves.
Directly quoting from the proposed bill:
“No law enforcement officer may knowingly enforce or attempt to enforce a federal or state law that relates to the management of the wolf population in this state or that prohibits the killing of wolves in this state.
“Neither the department [WDNR] nor its staff may do any of the following:
1. Expend funds for the purpose of managing the wolf population in this state other than     for any of the following purposes:
a. Paying claims under the endangered resources program for damage caused by                  wolves.
b. Taking action to protect private property, including domestic cattle, from wolf      depredation.
2. “Take any action to inform or support federal law enforcement officers regarding the       enforcement of any federal or state law relating to wolves.”
            The lawmakers released the proposal on 11/8 in a memo to their colleagues seeking co-sponsors, saying that “Wolves have taken over northern Wisconsin. They are depredating our deer population, killing livestock and attacking family pets . . . wolves [are] running rampant throughout our state.”
Such a claim requires objective proof that wolves are running rampant. I looked up the 2017 online DNR wolf depredation records that show as of 11/17 that there have been 39 confirmed wolf attacks on 17 hunting dogs, 20 cattle, 1 sheep and 1 pet dog, along with 11 probable other wolf depredations. Importantly, 13 of those attacks come from what the DNR labels as “Chronic Farms.” For comparison, the DNR recorded 76 confirmed wolf attacks in 2016.
Under “Confirmed Non-Wolf Depredations” are 2 pet dogs by coyotes, 13 cattle by coyotes, 1 goat by coyotes, 1 cattle by a black bear, 1 hunting dog by a black bear, and 1 cattle by a domestic dog.
These statistics and the proposed bill beg two questions: Do the statistics equate to wolves running rampant and taking over the state? And who, if not the DNR, would be in charge of managing wolves in Wisconsin, since management entails far more than paying claims and protecting private property?
Wisconsin has a long and proud tradition of wildlife management based on scientific research, carefully gathered field records, and engagement with citizens and public agencies. This proposal would clearly reverse that, as well as abrogating the ethical and legal responsibilities required of our DNR wildlife managers.
Wisconsins wolf population was estimated at between 925 and 952 wolves last winter. For perspective, Wisconsin covers 36 million acres; however, wolves mostly occupy the northern one-third of the state. So, that’s about 1,000 wolves spaced over 12 million acres, or 1 per 12,000 acres.

Celestial Events
            Woody Hagge’s temperature records for the Hazelhurst area show that on 11/27 our average high temperature drops to 32° for the first time since March 5. Woody notes that our area averages 100 days a year where high temperatures never get above freezing.
Ice-up has been a variable affair so far with many smaller lakes, ponds, and bays lightly icing-over weeks ago and then losing their ice when a big wind has come up. Where ice has stayed, it currently remains unsafe for anyone other than otters, who are the only animals I know that are quite happy if they fall through.
            Shades of gray describes this November. And for many, it’s meant an emotional grayness as well. Sullen, dismal, dreary, dingy, gloomy, bleak – need I go on? Here’s hoping for more sun and blue sky.
            December’s full moon occurs on 12/3. Called variously the “popping trees” moon, the “long night” moon, or simply the “cold” moon, it will be the year’s closest and largest full moon.

Thought for the Week
      Winter is a predictable kind of Armageddon, a calamity calmly weathered, an end of a world that they [wildlife] understand and are preparing for; caught between the forces of darkness and light. – Diana Kappel-Smith