Volunteers Tackle Bark River and Rome Pond on a Cold March Weekend

Project: Paradise Valley Wildlife Area, Bark River Unit and Rome Pond Wildlife Area
County: Waukesha
Project Start Date: 03/26/2022
Project End Date: 03/27/2022

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

There is always a brief time period where AWA work has to get done in March.  Unfortunately, nature provides two cold fronts, and Spring goes into reverse.  Despite the less than ideal weather, we braved the elements and tackled two big projects this weekend.

Out at the Bark River Unit of Paradise Valley Wildlife Area, a small group from Waukesha brush cut and cleared an area near the main parking lot.  At first, the 20 mph winds were daunting, but after an hour they were almost a relief.  There is still more work to finish up, but we got approximately a quarter of an acre cleared.

Ron Churchill, Chris Scheder and Nick Smart volunteered on a blustery March day with brush clearing at the Bark River unit.

On Sunday, the old mud motor purred along happily as it chewed through the newly formed 1/2” of ice on the water.  Clouds of ducks took to the air over Rome Pond.  Divers, tons or mallards, and even coot filled the ranks.  As we pushed up into the Bark River, flocks of wood ducks were kicked up at nearly every bend.  This is a special time of year at Rome, as the amount of life is always awe inspiring.

What was more impressive was the tally of over 25 boxes.  All had hatches in 2021.  There were over-achievers with a pile of shell fragments and evidence of multiple broods.  Seeing the white gold along the bottom of the Bark River punctuates a job well done.

Shell fragments from the freshly cleaned wood duck box sink to the bottom of Rome Pond.

Abrams Property Wood Duck Box Cleaning

Project: Abrams Property
County: Oconto
Project Start Date: 03/05/2022
Project End Date: 03/05/2022

By Bruce Urben, WWA President

This article originally appeared in Wisconsin Waterfowl Association’s April, 2022 Newsletter edition.

Thunderstorms and heavy rain didn’t deter members of the WWA’s Green Bay Chapter from completing their wood duck nest box cleaning this spring on Saturday, March 5th on WWA’s Abrams Property project.

The wood ducks should be showing up in several weeks to start their yearly process of nest site selection. It is important to make sure that their nesting boxes are cleared of old nesting debris, songbird nests, broken egg shells and even the rogue mouse nest. Fresh wood chips were exchanged for the old debris and any needed maintenance on the boxes or replacement was completed.

A huge thank you to Green Bay Chapter members; Logan Sincoular, Jake Koebernik, Jeremy VanSistine, Doug Steiner and Bruce Urben for weathering the storm and completing the cleaning effort.

Twenty-four wood duck boxes are located on WWA’s 150+ acre Abrams Project site. Most are located over water or completed scrapes on the property. The boxes on Abrams property have been maintained for over ten years!

Nesting success is measured by the remnants of broken duck eggs and down lined nests. Eight of twenty-four (33%) boxes yielded successful wood duck or merganser hatches. Down slightly from 2021!

In addition, numerous songbirds, raptors and other wild birds were seen to have nested in the boxes this year. A sign that the wetland is healthy and sustainable.

Check out our  store to see how you can obtain wood duck nesting boxes for the wetland on your property. Maybe you can see the “great jump” of new hatchlings in your own back yard.

Have a happy spring and enjoy watching as our migration returns in the coming weeks.

February 2022 Habitat Program Updates

By Peter Ziegler, Project Director – habitat@wisducks.org

This article originally appeared in Wisconsin Waterfowl Association’s March, 2022 Newsletter edition.

You may have seen on our facebook page the completion of a couple of projects in the last two weeks.  Conditions were ideal for access to these sites, allowing us to knock out a few projects this year. One had been waiting two years for Mother Nature to create enough frost for access.  In contrast to last winter, when we had almost no frost, it was welcomed.  Contractors also staged some stone for project work in St Croix County, which will be completed soon.

As we wrapped up our annual meeting this past month I summarized a few points of our habitat program (check out my full year in review here).  WWA installed seven water control structures, most of these providing the ability to manage water levels, which ultimately allows for the management of vegetation.  Vegetation management is a key to keeping your wetland healthy and attractive for wildlife.

In addition, we plugged/filled six ditches, which provide true hydrological restoration through the removal of surface water drains.  These types of projects help raise the water in the system and support desired wetland plants, which provide many of the critical needs of wildlife.  Many of these systems with functioning ditches are dominated with undesirable plants, which have reduced wildlife benefits. So by reversing the drainage, we are keeping shallow ground water levels more stable and mimicking the natural conditions of how the wetlands historically developed.

It was a terrible year for wild rice across the upper Midwest, from the drought conditions in northern Minnesota to poor rice production in Wisconsin.  WWA did manage to secure 150lbs of rice, which was planted at Collins Marsh as part of trial program.  A few sites, in cooperation with WDNR, were selected both in and out of the refuge area with anticipation to establish a wild rice bed for enhanced wildlife benefits.

Over the next month we should see lots of returning waterfowl and full breeding plumage, so get out and take a look.

2021 Habitat Program Year in Review

County: Statewide
Project Start Date: 01/01/2021
Project End Date: 12/31/2021

WWA Project Director Peter Ziegler (habitat@wisducks.org) put together this presentation for WWA’s Annual Meeting on our habitat program’s 2021 year in review. Check it out:

Bark River Project Update

Project: Rome Pond Wildlife Area
County: Waukesha

By Mike Alaimo, Lead AWA Volunteer

We were informed this winter that a prescribed burn could happen at the Bark River unit, which we maintain as a part of our Adopt a Wildlife Area contract with WDNR.  Water levels are down an easy foot.  A new water control structure and carp barrier were added this fall, but the drought has left water levels low.

Based on the burn, we had to relocate many boxes from small unproductive potholes to the larger main body.  With increasing willow growth, we have been finding the more secluded boxes being taken over by other species.  Hopefully, we can begin to reverse this trend.

Finding wet mud was difficult and the auger had only six inches of clear ice at times.  Some places had less than an inch near shore.

Jackson Marsh Work Day

Project: Jackson Marsh
County: Washington
Project Start Date: 02/12/2022
Project End Date: 02/12/2022

WWA’s Cedar Creek Chapter partners with Pheasants Forever to remove Jackson Marsh Buckthorn

WWA Board Director Mike Depies led the Cedar Creek Chapter on a field day clearing buckthorn at Jackson Marsh in Washington County.  WWA’s volunteers were joined by four members from the local Pheasants Forever chapter to spend a chilly February morning (high of 12 degrees) in Jackson Marsh.  In a single morning, the chapter completed roughly a third of their bi-annual commitment to the DNR under the Adopt a Wildlife program, thoroughly removing all buckthorn from an area around the largest pond on the state property.  The chapter plans to take advantage of WWA’s NEW Chapter grant program to build a wheelchair accessible duck blind at this pond this year.  WWA participants included Jim Freck, Dennis Guttmann, Mike Depies, Greg Rausch, Al Klug, new volunteer Mike Delaney, Dave Elwing and Bruce Ross.

January 2022 Habitat Program Updates

Project: Waterfowl Stamp Projects

By Peter Ziegler, Project Director – habitat@wisducks.org

This article originally appeared in Wisconsin Waterfowl Association’s January, 2022 Newsletter edition.

WWA plays an important role in our state Waterfowl Stamp Program.  We were one of the leaders in finally getting a waterfowl hunter supported and much-needed waterfowl stamp increase.  We also hold a seat on the migratory game bird committee which helps, among other things, select funding for projects with stamp dollars.  The Waterfowl Stamp program has successfully supported numerous projects that benefit waterfowl and waterfowl hunters throughout the state.  Many of these projects go unnoticed by many hunters or they are unaware of what some of these dollars are doing.  Many times, especially when conservation groups like WWA put waterfowl stamp dollars toward projects, it is in partnership with other entities, which increases the value of the dollars going into the ground.

Below is a site WWA worked on in conjunction with US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the landowner in Jackson County.  This project was actually applied for by USFWS to the duck stamp program on behalf of the landowner.  This is a 90-acre project site, which was in row crop with surface drains and drain tile.  WWA helped with the technical work of design, surveying and permitting.  We also helped oversee tile line disablement and construction.

Searching for drain tile on the Jackson county project site, winter 2020


Tile line found with lots of water to be put back on the landscape


Filling a ditch on the site.


Shortly after completion in November 2020 the wetlands were reappearing.


The following June, things are looking good

This was a unique site in that it was near a railroad line, but low volume and with 90 acres of mixed wetland and nesting native grassland, it was large enough to be a productive project for wildlife. This area also ranks pretty high for waterfowl use for breeding within the state, making it even more impactful for waterfowl utilizing Wisconsin. Your duck stamp dollars, at work.

WWA’s Waterfowl Stamp Project Updates

Project: Wild Rice Seeding
County: Multiple

By Peter Ziegler, Project Director – 262/470-4301

This article originally appeared in Wisconsin Waterfowl Association’s November 2021 Newsletter edition.

With the recent increase in the waterfowl stamp it’s important to know what is being done with some of those dollars.  If you read Jason Fleener’s article in last month’s newsletter you got an idea of one type of project that was completed by Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) with Duck Stamp dollars.  This month I’m going to share a bit about Wild Rice and what WWA has been and is currently doing with Duck Stamp dollars.  Many of us in the southern portion of the state don’t utilize wild rice the way many of the hunters in the northern portion of the state do for targeting waterfowl.  Wild Rice beds are a great place to hunt ducks as they key in on the valuable food source.  When it’s ripe, it is the primary food source targeted by ducks.

Wisconsin has lost many of its historical rice beds for a variety of reasons.  Wild Rice depends on fluctuating conditions mimicking natural cycles of high and low water levels to thrive.  Stagnating water levels brought about by dams and road culverts have negatively impacted rice beds.  Invasive species and degradation of shorelines and herbivory grazing have also had impacts.  The easiest way to regenerate the Wild Rice is to re-seed sites to try to re-establishing rice beds where conditions will allow successful maturation of the plant.

WWA, utilizing duck stamp dollars received over the last ten years, has been seeding sites primarily in the Chequamegon–Nicolet National Forest area.  Most of these sites have been following a standard protocol that involves seeding a body of water for three years to get a good seed bank built up so it can persist on its own.  The water bodies vary in size from 10-100+ acres, though seeding is only taking place on 10-30 acres normally.  The goal, and from what we have seen, is where successful, the rice will spread on its own to fill in other areas within a waterbody where it’s suitable for rice to grow.  This maximizes the value of the dollars spent and is why we try to select water bodies that should support rice, and it can then spread from 10 acres to 50 or 100 acres without further investment.

A wild rice site that WWA seeded last year shows promise with widespread plants emerging.

Along with the typical northern Wisconsin wild rice re-establishment efforts where rice is much more common, WWA, along with WDNR, have initiated an effort to try and establish some rice beds at Collins Marsh, located north of Manitowoc.  This large wetland recently had its dam redone, which will allow better water level management.  A few locations were selected for Wild Rice seeding, both in the refuge area and in the open hunting area.  The first seed in this project was planted this past month, so check it out next July and see how it’s doing.

September 2021 Habitat Program Updates & Wetland Restoration Assistance for Private Landowners

Project: Statewide

By Peter Ziegler, Project Director – 262/470-4301

If you missed last month’s Waterfowl Hunter’s Expo you missed an informative forty-five minute presentation and discussion on the available programs, organizations and some of the ins and outs of obtaining funding for resorting wetlands on private land.  The good thing is I gave that presentation and I’m going to fill you in, in a broad sense, on what was talked about.

A couple organizations and agencies play a prominent role in Wisconsin on this front.  There is overlap and distinguishing aspects that set each organizations and program apart.  There is no “clearing house” for this in our state.  The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fields lots of calls and does help to relay those on to appropriate partners.  This is a big help in getting a landowner to the correct point of contact.   The bare bones basic is that if you are a producer and in agriculture a good place to start is  with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) field staff or the association’s Farm Bill biologist for that county.  If you’re not a producer, then Wisconsin Waterfowl Association and US Fish & Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Partners for Fish and Wildlife program are good places to start.  The big thing is to remember that mostly all of the organizations work together and will pass potential projects between each other for the best outcome for restoring a wetland.

The vast majority of projects we encounter are 1-100 acres in size with the majority falling into that 5-30 acre range.  Size should not sway you to do a project or not, whether it is one acre or 500 acres, we will work with you to get something accomplished.  WWA provides technical assistance for most wetland projects with our program. We know sometimes the hardest part is getting the survey, design, permitting and regulatory process completed so that you can start digging.

The best program, from my point of view and from a financial standpoint, is the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Program (WRE) through NRCS.  This is also the most competitive program and large acreage is needed to be competitive within it.  Smaller acreage projects are picked up by WWA, USFWS and County Conservation Departments, typically.

Any project with hydrologic alterations would meet most conservation program’s goals and many partners would probably work together to complete a good project with hydrologic alterations. Hydrologic alterations would include ditches, drain tile and berms, anything that changed the natural flow or storage of water within a landscape. Wildlife scrapes are another common project inquiry.  These are tough to cost share on in a large dollar amount due to the high cost per acre associated with them.  It’s important to have a professional take a look anyway because I have found scrape inquiries which contain hydrological alteration that can be reversed, which makes the project more attractive for cost share options.

Three examples of projects we have worked on that demonstrate how partners work together to accomplish what is best for a project are briefly discussed below.

  1. A 50 acres site with a berm and ditches. Landowner was referred to WRE but did not rank high enough for funding two years in a row.  The landowner came back to WWA and we completed the project in conjunction with the County Conservation Department and USFWS Partners program.  The area was low and wet and only produced hay cuttings.  Once the ditches were filled and the berm breached with a water control structure, the area immediately inundated and is an ideal mix of 50-50% emergent to open water habitat.
  2. A landowner approached WWA with a parcel that contained farmland and degraded drained wetland. This project was restored through three programs. The north half, which was farmland with drainage ditches, was completed through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) from NRCS and the county.  The south portion, where a large ditch was disabled along with drain tiles to rehydrate a low area dominated by Reed Canary Grass, was restored through WWA and USFWS Partners program, restoring it to an emergent wetland.
  3. A farmed wetland that was drained both by drain tiles and ditches worked cooperatively for funding and technical assistance. This is one where USFWS asked WWA for technical assistance.  WWA helped develop a plan for the project, assisted USFWS in writing a grant to secure enough funding for the project and the landowner provided labor and equipment to get the project completed, shown below during construction and afterwards.

These examples show how diverse and unique every project is.  Not all will have multiple partners, but it goes to show how these organizations partner together to accomplish wetland restorations across Wisconsin.

Black Tern Banding Project Updates

Project: Rome Pond Wildlife Area
County: Waukesha
Project Start Date: 07/10/2021
Project End Date: 07/10/2021

In an update to last month’s black tern banding project, we’re excited to share the story and images of this historic banding project being done on WWA’s Adopt A Wildlife Area (AWA) project on Rome Pond Wildlife Area.

Another Amazing Day!

By Mike Alaimo, Lead AWA volunteer.
All photos courtesy Mike Alaimo unless otherwise noted.

Dr, David Shealer bands a black tern chick

As the season was wrapping up for the black terns on Rome, one last effort was made to deploy more geolocating tags.  This task seemed impossible as the platforms were found to be bare and adults were heavily defending the areas where fledglings were present.

Our first leg band of the day resulted from a fledgling that had the necessary primaries, but still chose to cling to the lilies. Dr. David Shealer was able to capture the young tern.  It was allowed to dry off on the seat of my boat, while adults dove down upon us looking and listening for it. After performing measurements and banding the fledgling, it was released back to the capture location.

An exhaustive search was then conducted for natural nesting sites. Young terns were everywhere, in the air and hidden in the beds of lilies. Finally, by watching pair behavior, two natural nest sites were found.

Newly born black tern chicks on their nest. Photo courtesy Dr. David Shealer

A trap was set on one nest, when a molting male was found to have settled down on a small patch of floating peat near us. In awe, I watched a small chick squeeze out from under the breast of the male and stand next to the adult.

Adult male black tern

We pounced on the opportunity, and set a trap over the nest.  Both chicks were captured, and a decoy egg was swapped with the near-to-hatching egg.  The male was quickly trapped, measured, banded and tagged.  Both chicks were also measured and banded, with weights that aged them at one day and less than a day old, respectively.  The difference in weight already three grams between the two.

Dr. David Shealer bands the black tern chick.

With mom unhappily hovering above us, attempts to trap her were abandoned.  We tried finding more nests, but soon we headed to the launch.

What started out as a potential bust turned out to be extraordinary day.  These birds are amazing and I am proud to be part of their lives, while continuing to bolster our education of their species.


Thanks to Mike and Dr. Shealer for this amazing project to help study endangered black terns. An update to Mike’s report published last month can also be viewed here.