September 2020 Habitat Program Updates

By Peter Ziegler, Project Director

Thanks to all of the support we received from our membership over the summer, WWA was able to continue its good work on the ground, restoring habitat where ducks need it most and will thrive best.  WWA currently has active projects in Fond du Lac, Walworth, Winnebago, Marquette, Sauk, Ozaukee, Outagamie and Sheboygan counties.  We have not slowed down our efforts for restoration and are active on other projects throughout the state, which should see more habitat on the ground in the coming year.

The dry spell was a nice chance to get some work done in the field while staying fairly clean for a change since I typically work in rubber boots and boot-sucking mud.  This weather pattern has also started to concentrate birds to available water, which is good news for those of us looking forward to hunting season.

These are some pictures of a recent project we completed in Fond du Lac County.  I really like these type projects since they are pretty straight forward and our cost per acre is good, making WWA’s membership support dollars go farther.

Here we removed a rusted out culvert through a farm road on a ditch line, installed a new pipe and water control structure, which will provide the ability to flood approximately 15 acres.  With an adjacent larger waterbody nearby, and over a hundred acres of warm season grass cover for nesting in the one mile surrounding this area, this is sure to be a project that proves to be very beneficial to waterfowl.

 

Adopted Wildlife Areas Get a Summer Haircut

Project: Statewide Wildlife Areas
County: Multiple
Project Start Date: 08/01/2020
Project End Date: 08/17/2020

Rome Pond Wildlife Area in Jefferson County got a nice summer cleanup courtesy of the Churchills.

WWA’s adopted Wildlife Areas needed a haircut and our dedicated volunteer AWA teams have provided the service.

Over at Rome Pond, Ron and Anne Churchill spent nine hours on mowing and cleanup at the wildlife area.

At Jackson Marsh, Mike Depies and crew took advantage of some cooler August weather to clean up the wildlife area with some weed wacking.

Thanks to all of our volunteers who have taken the time this summer to work within the DNR’s restrictions and still get some much needed work hours accomplished.

Jackson Marsh Wildlife Area after its summer “haircut “

 

AWA Work Continues

Project: Statewide Wildlife Areas
County: Multiple

By Bruce Ross, Executive Director

Despite the government shutdowns due to the pandemic, life, and nature, go on at WWA’s Adopt-a-Wildlife Area program.  And that program to assist at public hunting areas continues strongly during the pandemic: Ron and Anne Churchill, Chris Scheder and many others cleaned up access and parking lots at Paradise Valley, Beaver Dam, and Reagon Lake and other locations.  Purple loosestrife beetle have, well, been loosed.  And buckthorn and other invasives  have been removed. This kind of work is more needed than ever as DNR crews just aren’t permitted to assemble and do the work themselves. Here’s a few of the pictures our AWA lead volunteer, Mike Alaimo, has shared of the hours of volunteer work that has been put in over the last month in keeping AWA areas clean and accessible:

Black Tern Nesting Project Highlighted in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

County: Jefferson

By Bruce Ross, Executive Director

All photos copyrighted and courtesy Paul Smith, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

I hope some of you caught the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article on Mike Alaimo’s black tern nesting project . Unfortunately, it’s only available to MJS subscribers right now, but it’s a great article, and has great photos (some of which we can share with you) of the young terns that hatched on Mike’s floating nest platforms and are now fletched and flying.  This article has spurred a lot of interest around the state to replicate Mike’s success for these endangered birds, and we are thinking a “how-to” guide may be needed.

Alaimo, pointing out one of the nesting platforms at Rome Pond Wildlife Area

In recent habitat project posts you’ll have seen Mike Alimo’s efforts, and lately, successes in the black tern nesting program at Rome Pond.  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Outdoors writer Paul Smith also heard of it, and wanted to learn more.  He joined Mike a couple of weeks ago to watch endangered adult and immature Black Terns frolic overhead, while learning more about Mike’s creative initiative with floating nest platforms that were pivotal to their breeding success at Rome Pond Wildlife Area. “It was mesmerizing to watch the graceful birds feeding and inspiring to see the innovative work of Alaimo”, said Paul.   You may not be able to see the article if you are not an MJS subscriber, but here are a few pictures, and our previous coverage of the project fill in the details.

A nesting platform at Rome Pond

Mike’s success has not only caught the eye of writers like Paul—the DNR, the USF&WS are also “going to school” on Mike.  And a friends group that hasn’t had success with their own efforts may soon benefit from this program’s experiences, too.  WWA’s Project Director, Peter, is also working with such groups that we may find common ground to our mutual benefit. We’re trying to spread the word even wider since this program shows the overlap between hunter conservation efforts and the interests of nature-minded non-hunter groups as well.  Know a birder?  Share this article with them.  Have an idea for similar projects in your “backyard? Drop us a line

This nesting program sprung from our Adopt-a-Wildlife Area program – another of Mike’s initiatives.

 

Outside the AWA

Project: Purple Loosestrife Invasive Species Control
County: Waukesha

By Mike Alaimo, Lead Adopt A Wildlife Area Program Volunteer

With COVID restrictions in place this season, the DNR purple loosestrife program was put on hold.  There were, however, some plants raised and infected with beetles, as a side project outside the WWA ranks.

On Monday, June 6th, three pots were deployed on Dousman municipal land with village permission.  The WWA helped with this quick deployment.  A map shows the region of the wetland that was being overtaken by purple loosestrife.  The ease of access to this site will make it easier to collect beetles and to extract host plants for future volunteers.

The DNR is always looking for sites.  When driving around or enjoying the outdoors, please consider recording and forwarding location information of this invasive species to aid in its eradication.

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!