Foggy Lake Morning: Photo of the Week

A peaceful and quiet, except for bird song, morning on a small Wisconsin lake in Forest County.  Getting up early often pays dividends in getting good photos and seeing wary wildlife.  On this morning I was certainly not up early, but at a reasonable hour, early enough to catch the fog before the sun burned it off.

Photo of fog on a lake

Misty summer morning on a Northern Wisconsin Lake.

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Lake Poygan Blue-green Algae Bloom

Bottle filled with algae

Calm water, sunny days and excessive nutrients fuel a large blue-green algae bloom on Lake Poygan, part of the Lake Winnebago System.

Although the temperature has not been excessively hot, blue-green algae blooms are in full swing on the Lake Winnebago System.  Everything is in place for such algae blooms:  warm temperatures, calm weather and excessive nutrients in the water.  Many types of algae can be found in the water column.  Regular old green algae, diatoms and others are valuable parts of the food chain, but blue-green algae or cyanobacteria are less desirable because they are of lower food value, and because on occasion they can produce toxic compounds.  The bloom over the last few days contained numerous blue-green algae commonly associated with the blooms:  Microcysts, Anabanea, as well as several others.  I looked at several samples under the microscope and all I could find were blue-greens, no green algae or diatoms in the soup.

The accompanying photos were taken on Lake Poygan, but the other lakes and rivers in the shallow system are suffering the same blooms.  Despite the green water, there were plenty of boats on the lake and swimmers in the water.   Thirty boats were parked along the Cane Beds off of Lone Willow Point between Lake Winneconne and Poygan.  Many stayed on the boats enjoying the beautiful weather, but others splashed around in the sun.  Most people who enjoy these lakes are used to the green water of summer.

Blue-Green Algae phytoplankton

Heavy blue-grean algae provides little contrast with hardstem bulrush.

Why was the Algae Bloom Bad?

For one, calm weather increase the chances of algae blooms. Waves keep pushing phytoplankton down to where there is less light, and in some lakes, cooler water.   This slows their growth.  When the waves are reduced, algae accumulates on the surface where temperatures are greatest, and light is most intense.  There they are free to reproduce rapidly until a thick soup forms.  This bad situation can be made into a nightmare for lake shore property owners when winds return and blows the algae into shore concentrating it into a smelly scum.

Boats on Lake Poygan

Boaters and swimmers enjoy a great day on Lake Poygan and Winneconne of Lone WIllow Point despite the green water.



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Common Tern Colony on Lake Butte des Morts Destroyed

Common Tern Photo

Adult Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

The Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) is an endangered “seabird” in the state of Wisconsin.  Unlike gulls, Common Terns are a bit smaller with a sharp bill, and generally built more like a fighter jet than a cargo plane.  They hunt for small fish and aquatic invertebrates by hovering then plunging into the water, momentarily disappearing in splashing water before emerging with their prize.  In the case of male Common Terns this prize is often presented to its mate early in the mating season as part of courtship. The Common Tern is called common because it is one of the most frequently encountered terns in the world.  Its name betrays its status as endangered in Wisconsin.  Just as in Wisconsin, many other places the common tern is in decline due to competition with humans and other birds for beaches where they nest.

Creating Common Tern Nesting Island

In Wisconsin, as of 2013 there were three locations where the Common Tern nested:  two on Lake Superior, and one in central Wisconsin on Lake Butte des Morts.  The Lake Butte des Morts colony was located on a small island specifically created for these birds by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Lake Butte des Morts Conservation Club, with funding from the Fox River Natural Resource Damage Assessment.  It was a beautifully simple, “build it and they will come” idea.  A small sandy island protected from erosion with rock riprap.  All these birds needed was a place to land free from predators, scoop out a place in the sand, lay eggs and rear fuzzy little chicks to fledge and make the migration south.  Created in the winter of 2007-2008, the island brought in nesting birds and a colony formed the very first year.

Common Tern nesting island.

Common Tern Colony on Lake Butte des Morts before vandals killed chicks and the birds abandoned the site.

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Get Down Low: Photo of the Week

Sometimes you have to get down to Nature’s level, low down, on your hands and knees to see the small beauty that lies at your feet.  Such is the case with this Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum).  The small plants usually lie hidden under water and send up tiny blooms just above the water’s surface.  This one has been exposed from several years of water, surviving in the still saturated sand it is highly visible, but only if you stoop down to look.


Blooms of Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum)

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Wood Turtle Road Crossing: Photo of the Week

Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta)

Helping a wood turtle across a highway in the UP of Michigan. Fatalities from cars are one of the main causes of turtle mortality.

The wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) is a long-lived species that primarily lives in river bottoms, frequenting both the streams and surrounding areas.  The wood turtle is omnivorous its diet consisting mostly plants, but also slow moving animal prey.

The species takes a long time to reach sexual maturity 14-18 years and does not lay many eggs (3-18).  This low level of reproduction and high nest predation often by over populated omnivores such as raccoons means the chance that any one nesting will produce offspring to adulthood is very low.  This probably was not much of a problem before advent of cars which kill adult turtles as they travel daily and especially females during the nesting season.  Adding to the turtles trouble is habitat destruction, from agriculture, and expanding cities, and the building of houses and lawns near streams.

For these reasons the wood turtle is listed as endangered, threatened, or protected in much of its range.  In Wisconsin, for example, it is listed as threatened and the Michigan turtle in the photo is a protected species.

I found the turtle in the photograph on a bridge, and seemingly have a hard time figuring out how to cross.  I would imagine turtles are near-sighted and the concrete wall of the bridge seemed never ending on either side.  I crossed the bridge, put on my hazard lights, parked the car, picked up the turtle, took a quick photo and walked it down to the stream below.  The turtle was much heavy than it looked when compared to painted turtles.

Not long after I found a common snapping turtle laying her eggs about a half inch from the asphalt on the shoulder of the same highway.  I did not try and help her find a more suitable nesting location.  If you are the kind of person that helps turtles across the road be very, very careful to avoid cars, not to mention the claws and snapping mouths of the turtles.

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Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus): Photo of the Week

Killdeer, have a strange name.  The little birds have nothing to do with deer, or killing except for there food which is mainly insects and crustaceans.  The name comes from their call which sounds something like kill-deer, kill-deer; kind of disturbing I suppose if came out of a sinister looking bird, but the killdeer is anything but sinister looking.

The killdeer is a bird of fields, and large lawns, where they lay their well camouflaged eggs in a simple nest.  Killdeer are famous for their display of injury when a predator or a human comes near the nest.  The incubating bird pretends to have a broken wing while making a dash from the nest and stopping.  A wounded animal is sure sign of an easy meal for a ground  predator like foxes and coyotes.  The predator’s attention is immediately drawn to the adult which keeps ahead of the predator, and flies away unscathed, if it gets too close.  My father once initiated such a display.  The dutiful parent distracted my dad from its chicks, but unfortunately for the distracted bird it did not notice the owl swoop down and until it was too late.

Killdeer side  view photo

Killdeer pauses by its nest to size up a “predator”, me.

Although this shorebird spends much of its summer in the fields raising young it returns to beaches and other shorelines after the young fledge and during spring and fall migrations.

Killdeer eggs

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) nest with speckled eggs that blend in very well with surrounding gravel.

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Stuck in a Weather Pattern

Seems like we are stuck in a round about of rain.  Every day seemingly has a fairly good chance of rain, especially on those day where I have to work.  Working on a lake and getting caught in a quickly developing thunderstorm is never pleasant, and I try to avoid it whenever possible.  I suppose if I had a boat that went 50 mph and could get me to safety quickly it would be great, but I don’t have that luxury.  I do have a smart phone where I can observe what is coming and that works for days when a definite front is coming.  It has saved me from not going into the field based on an inaccurate weather forecast, and also kept me from staying on the lake too long.  However, on days were storms appear like popcorn it is less handy.  When I am bent over planting all day I don’t really keep a close eye on the clouds.  Anyway the weather has kept me grounded too often lately, but such is work in the field.

This weather pattern will eventually break, hopefully before summer is over.

Here is a video I shot while waiting out a storm early this year.  A cool cloud rolls by at 0:28

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Late Season Lakeshore – Photo of the Week

Lakeshore wetland

Early morning, late in the season, at a lake shore wetland in Northern Wisconsin.

On this first official day of summer for some reason I have decided to post a photo form the last day of summer, or at the latest early fall.  I suppose it is a reminder to enjoy summer while it is here briefly in this temperate region.  The sedges, flowers and grass in this photo are all beginning to turn shades of yellow, orange and red, before the largely turn brown.  In many ways they are just as beautiful as the leaves on the nearby maples, aspens and other trees that have just begun to change colors.  As much as I like summer, I like fall even more.  However, I can wait for the crisp air.  There is plenty to love about summer and I’ve got a lot of work to do too…




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Boom Bay new fight

Another flight of the Phantom 2 UAV this week.  This time it is over Boom Bay in Lake Poygan, part of a survey I was doing there.  Also in view are the Wolf River, Pages Slough, and Haulover Bay.  See YouTube for a short description of the flight specifics.






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Runoff On Lake Butte des Morts: Photo of the Week

This photo was taken June 2, 2014 as we were preparing to launch a boat at Sammer’s Bay, Lake Butte des Morts.  The water is not supposed to be terracotta brown.  The water is the result of heavy rains the day before, and another downpour several hours before the photo was taken.  Tons of clay based soils are washing into the lake from construction sites and agricultural lands.  Most of the crops had barely sprouted by this time because of the cold wet spring.  If they had been growing there would have slightly less erosion, but the water would still be the same color.  How much phosphorus and other nutrients made it into the lakes and rivers over the next few days is anyones guess, but the legacy of the storm will be felt in summer algal blooms, and a layer of silt deposited in lake.

Lake Pollution

Soil eroded from the surrounded landscape pollutes Lake Butte des Morts.

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