June 2020 Adopt A Wildlife Area Updates

Project: Jackson Marsh Wildlife Area & Rome Pond Wildlife Area
County: Washington and Jefferson

We have chicks!

Mike Alaimo, WWA’s lead AWA volunteer recently shared this exciting update. This is the first documented proof of a Black Tern hatch on multiple artificial platforms after three years of attempts at WWA’s adopted Rome Pond Wildlife Area. It is our hope we can now expand this success with this concept. Learn more about WWA’s Endangered Black Tern Nesting Project here.

The log jam on Cedar Creek

WWA volunteer Mike Depies reported on the projects his crew has been working on over at WWA’s adopted Jackson Marsh Wildlife Area. Mike, along with fellow volunteers Dennis Guttman, and Jim Freck, cleared a log jam at a bridge on Cedar Creek which had been building for a few years. Once water levels dropped to levels were the project could be completed, and with the help of Dennis’s UTV and winch, they were able to clear all the branches and limbs that had been accumulating.

Jim Freck, in the water, gets some help from Dennis Guttman, above, and his UTV to clear the log jam on Cedar Creek

The group has also replaced all of the old yellow “Public Hunting Grounds” signs with the state’s new white “State Wildlife Area” signs at Jackson Marsh.

With the COVID-19 restrictions keeping DNR employees from being allowed out on the state land, the group also replaced the out of season 2:00 pm closing for pheasant hunting signage with the current 12:00 pm closing (for the first two weeks of the season) that starts this fall over at Jackson, Allenton, and Theresa Marsh.

Mike was also excited to report that WWA’s Adopt A Wildlife Area contract has now been renewed at the Jackson Marsh for another three years.

Jim shows off the now clear bridge on Cedar Creek

Summer 2020 Project Program Updates

By Peter Zielger, Project Director wwawetlands@gmail.com

Summer is moving along and with it, the natural cycles of wildlife.  I have seen many broods of waterfowl and waterbirds in general all over the state.  I recently (now two weeks ago) kicked up a hen blue-winged teal nesting on a site during a survey.  I did not search around for a nest, trying to keep my impact low and not create an easy meal for predators. I simply moved on, knowing when a hen bird flies out of the grass a few feet from you, she was most likely on a nest.

Those of you who have attended our annual meeting may recall seeing this map:

WWA projects by county, updated 2019

It depicts the number of habitat projects WWA has worked on in each county throughout the state.  The map is not totally inclusive, however, as WWA has had a hand in many other projects not represented here from our habitat project partnerships with other conservation partners across the state.

This week WWA will see permit applications for projects in Outagamie, Washington and Marquette counties.  If you interested in what may be happening near you, let me know.

Rome Pond Black Tern Nesting Project Spring

Project: Black Tern Nesting Platforms 2020
County: Jefferson

By Mike Alaimo, Lead Adopt A Wildlife Area Volunteer

Below is the substance of a Black Tern nesting report from Mike to the DNR at Rome Pond.  Mike is WWA’s Adopt A Wildlife Area (AWA) program coordinator, and simultaneously has been undertaking a project to restore nesting habitat at Rome Pond for several years.  He continues to experiment with various combinations of floating platforms with sod in various locations as a means to provide vegetated platforms for nest success.  The Black Tern is listed as an endangered species in Wisconsin. All photos courtesy Mike Alaimo

Turkey season got the best of me for time, along with the weather, to go out to make a check on the platforms.  I did so today, which is about three weeks from original deployment, when there were no birds in sight.  Today, at least twenty terns were present.  The water level is high.  The open water colony had over a dozen birds, but none were staking claim.  Mud bars (where black tern will normally nest) are non-existent.

In the area where I deployed floating nests we have three platforms being used.  Two were claimed by pairs.  Another had a single bird repeatedly guard the platform. One platform had two eggs: one at the water line and another about midway.  The lone bird that guarded the platform did not seem to get near the eggs.

With some of the northerly blows we have had, I am not sure if the sod strips missing were caused by wave action, a boat wake, turtles trying to climb on, ducks or even geese.  What it does tell me is that a solid piece of sod might be the way to go, but the upright sod did seem to catch at least one egg.

There is one platform that is not being used, and does not show signs of bird droppings like it is being claimed.  We will have to watch this further to see if another pair moves in.

I did notice that, although they tended to nest closer last year, a pair was fighting with the single bird that had the eggs.  Whenever one would take off from the other platform, the single would get up and chase them around. It might be that they are too close, which could be another reason for the other platform being unclaimed.  It is a wait and see.

Another behavioral change I observed was less anxiety with our presence. They seemed to ignore us more this year and calmed right down.  I am sure this will change once they have clutches or even young in the area.  They were very happy to go right back to their platforms and stand watch.

Beaver Dam Lake Wildlife Area

Project: Beaver Dam Lake Wildlife Area
County: Waukesa
Project Start Date: 04/28/2020
Project End Date: 04/28/2020

By Mike Alaimo, Lead AWA Volunteer

Turkey season is in full swing and some of our first ducklings and goslings are emerging from early nesters.  This is in stark contrast to seeing divers still around, some common mergansers and even widgeon/gadwalls flocked up.

Here and there, Adopt A Wildlife Area (AWA) work is knitted in.  Recently, a little mud motor dozing was done to open up a landing on Beaver Dam Lake Wildlife Area, located in southern Waukesha County.  Large mats of semi submerged cattails were broken apart, hauled up to the surface and relocated.  The tip of the “J” closing off the landing was effectively dismantled after hours of heavy negotiating by hydraulic and propeller persuasion. Good thing gas is cheap

Beaver Dam Lake WA prior to Mike’s clearing project

After clearing the cattails

Weather forecasts do not look promising for additional work this week, but an attempt will be made after some R&R in my turkey blind.  Black Terns are the next focus, as the sod for the platforms are not yet in stock locally.  We have been effectively “Corona’d” again with supplies trickling in as retailers balance stock, along with supply and demand.  Stay at home DIY projects are clearing out the gardening centers, as are people are looking for things to do.  Hopefully, sod will be available soon before the Black Terns start scouting out nesting sites.

Good luck out there and stay safe!

AWA Program During COVID-19: Social Distancing, Safer at Home, and Flying Solo.

Project: Statewide Wildlife Areas

By Mike Alaimo, Lead Adopt A Wildlife Area (AWA) Program Volunteer

For those that have not heard yet, our AWA teams have been grounded under the current Wisconsin COVID-19 restrictions, but there is the ability to work solo or with immediate household family members.  This is part of the Safer at Home directive that now applies to all work on Wisconsin’s state lands.  Some projects, like Purple Loosestrife Beetle raising this year have be cancelled statewide due to its non-essential status for social interaction.  DNR staff are working out of homes and are not in the field as much as they would like to be.

Well, the birds and wetlands do not seem to be heeding these directives, and nature is still in its spring upswing.  What can a person do when furloughed, not able to use the family computer as his wife is working on it for her job, the kids are in virtual school, shopping is fraught with people not following the simplest guidelines like wearing masks, etc… ?  Cut down willows is the response.

Before: stands of willow on the Wildlife Area

On a very October-ish day in April, I was distracted heavily by the constant fly-by’s of teal, woodies, mallards, wigeon, gadwalls, pelicans and, of course, geese.  A northwest wind howled and blew the willow on my piles around like tumbleweed.  But, I got out, worked a job aiding the DNR where they are champing at the bit for field time, and I helped put a dent in a nagging willow tree line on the marsh edge.

There is still some more work to do that should be completed by the time this article is published, but it was satisfying to say the least to see bright white stumps of willow.  The only ones upset with the endeavor were the redwings who lost their high perches in the marsh!

After the clearing

If you get the chance, help out where you can, introduce the family to volunteerism, stay safe, and hang in there!

Valley Chapter Wood Duck Box Installation

Project: Lake Poygan Boom Bay Area
County: Winnebago
Project Start Date: 03/08/2020
Project End Date: 03/08/2020

Volunteers from WWA’s Valley/Appleton chapter spent Saturday, March 8th out on Lake Poygan’s Boom Bay Area installing twelve wood duck houses in coordination with the Lake Poygan Sportsmen’s Club.

Another nine wood duck box houses will be installed, hopefully in May, once it is allowed under Wisconsin’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Thanks to our volunteers: Brad Miller, Pete Strenn, John Strenn, Steve Beach, Kevin O’Brien and Matt Vandyke for their work on this project.


April 2020 Habitat Program Updates: Spring is in the Air

By Bruce Ross, Executive Director

April 9, 2020

Just a quick update on what your WWA is up to in this unusual spring.  Peter is still out doing his thing: finding grants and projects, designing restorations, arranging permits, and coordinating contractors… making a difference on the Wisconsin landscape.

  • We have received a grant award submitted in partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife service for over $250,000 that will be a part of their Partners for Habitat program. WWA’s role in bringing this federal money to restore Wisconsin wetlands and associated uplands (for breeding habitat) includes our effort and dollars – we’re leveraging about $27,000 of Duck Stamp dollars to help make this grant a reality.  WWA will also administer the contract and fund accounting (Thanks Kelcy!).
  • Jim Freck, WWA Habitat Committee Chair, Peter and I have had a couple of intense, lengthy, and ultimately productive, meetings to better align Peter’s work with the work of our new Habitat Committee. Great sessions (although they could be better in person, especially if Jim Freck’s home brew is involved).
  • Jim Freck showing off the interior of a nesting box at Jackson Marsh in March 2020

    Wood duck boxes should be ready on all of our Adopt A Wildlife Area (AWA) projects (DNR says we can still do AWA-type work, but with some specific precautions—Mike Alaimo has the guidelines).

  • We are always looking for habitat projects – and several of you have raised your hands to play a role in helping to find good new project sites. We’d like to be able triage early project identification to allow Peter to focus his artistic talents in the latter parts of our restoration process, where his artistry brings the greatest rewards, but it’s more difficult than we anticipated. While we are still we are working through that, and will get there, of course that’s been impacted by our COVID reactions.  Hang in there.

March 2020 Adopt A Wildlife Area Program Updates

Project: Statewide Wildlife Areas
County: Multiple

By Mike Alaimo, Lead AWA Volunteer

March 15, 2020

With the spring rain and strong southern winds, the southeast portion of the state has seen the arrival of robins, red wings, cranes, a surge in geese and now turkey vultures.  It cannot be too long and we will start seeing our divers and puddlers.

If not done already, wood duck boxes need tending.  This is a great time to take youth, friends and family out to check and clean boxes.

In February, the Paradise Valley AWA team checked the Kincaid area and discovered very poor results.  For some reason, the hens are not returning and/or other species are taking a foothold.  Rome Pond WA will soon be available, but two easily accessible boxes had 100% success so far.

On a sadder note, our Mud Lake (Lake Mills Wildife Area) tanked, literally.  Out of four boxes, one remained.  The rest are submerged.  The one left was a classic egg dump of Woodies and Hoodies.  It is very suspicious that we had so many hardware issues in one season, especially after bolstering them last year.  But, one never knows what can happen in a year.

Jim Freck showing off the interior of a nesting box at Jackson Marsh in March 2020

I cannot end on a sour note.  Mike Depies and team saw better use last season of their Jackson Marsh Wildlife Area boxes.  They had eleven out of nineteen boxes with success, and one somewhat egg dump.  This is up from previous years.  Nesting tube success still remains at zero, but hopefully the ducks find them one of these seasons.

Visit our Adopt A Wildlife Area page for more information on this program.


February 2020 Project Program Updates

By Peter Ziegler, WWA Project Director

WWA continues to put habitat on the ground through the winter.  We recently started a project in central Wisconsin that will plug four ditches and flood a couple scrapes, while creating wet prairie/sedge meadow habitat surrounding the area. With some established nesting habitat adjacent to the scrapes, this certainly should produce waterfowl.

One of the winter construction projects WWA completed last month.

WWA also finished up a project in Dodge County last month which created a variety of moist soil units.  These will be managed for annual seed production, providing good migratory stopover habitat.  The importance of these types of wetlands is that they provide high-density and high-value energy for waterfowl when they most need it.

I will be changing gears as the snow starts to melt and I can get into the wetlands and accurately survey and assess them for restoration potential.  I have a couple projects that need a survey, and others that need planning permitting work.  We will continue to move forward with projects so we can get them on the ground come summer and drier conditions.

As a representative for WWA on the review committee for the Wisconsin Habitat Partnership Fund last week, I participated in the review of grant requests.  This funding opportunity was provided by WDNR and is meant to allocate the funds they received from the Pittman Robertson Fund at the state level.  Of note relating to waterfowl, is work to control phragmites and cattail at Rush Lake.  This should help open up areas that will hopefully provide better, and more, opportunities for waterfowl hunters.

Also approved was work on Lake Butte des Morts, which will restore emergent wetland habitat.  This area (Winnebago Lakes System) historically was excellent waterfowling, but the loss of emergent vegetation for food and cover has greatly reduced its importance.  At one time, a significant portion of the eastern continental canvasbacks used these lakes during migration, but have now shifted to the Upper Mississippi River.  This goes to show how the loss of habitat can greatly impact how wildlife and waterfowl, specifically in this case, do or do not use particular bodies of water.


February 2020 Project Program Updates

By Peter Ziegler, WWA Project Director

Although the ground still has very little frost we were able to get one of our “winter” projects completed.

A bit different from some of our normal projects, the landowner of this site has the capabilities, and intent, to highly manage moist soil management.  Moist soil management is routine maintenance/management, targeting high quality wetland vegetation for high seed output geared toward migratory birds. In its most basic form it is the de-watering of wetlands to allow vegetation to germinate, and then flooding it in the same growing season when seeds have matured to provide access to water birds.  These can be highly productive areas because the food source draws in the birds.

When native vegetation does not exist, other commercial products can be seeded on sites like this. One example of suck a seed is millet.  Millet is a common plant many waterfowlers have heard of, but did you know that it has one the highest carbohydrate components? Hence millet’s designation as one of the best migratory stopover foods due to energy demands required during that period.

We have talked about the importance of draw-downs before, and moist soil management is along those lines, I just consider it more intense management of a site.  The restoration work WWA does is vitally important to our landscape and environment, but so is the management of our existing projects and natural wetlands.  If we can manage our wetlands for quality, they will ultimately provide even better results. I’m not just saying more ducks, it is everything a wetland provides.