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.
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 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
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.
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