Cooper’s Hawk on Birdfeeder

Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) on the Birdfeeder

The Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) has become a much more common site in urban areas in my lifetime.  The Cooper’s Hawk feeds almost exclusively on other birds so the House Sparrows and other common city birds are great food source.  We often feed these birds, which no doubt increases the population size.  The population of small birds then attracts and feeds the Cooper’s Hawks, so we indirectly feed those too.

The Coopers Hawk is well adapted to hunting fast moving birds in trees.  They have relatively short wings to fit through the tree branches and a long tail that allows it to change direction quickly and sharply.

Not long ago these hawks were shot, and poisoned by DDT, which greatly reduced their numbers.  Today their populations are on the rise because of the end of those practices and somewhat our feeding of the little birds.

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Frog on Ice

A couple of days ago I took a walk down by a small spring-fed creek.  The air temperature was about 4°F (-16°C), but since the creek is fed by numerous springs the stream was nearly free of ice.  Winter time in one of these spring-fed trout streams is really interesting.  While all the world around is in a deep freeze life goes on in the water.

Green Frog in Winter

A Green Frog was crawling around both in and out of water in below freezing temperatures. The spring-fed stream stays warm enough to keep many different animals active all winter. Notice the freshly killed flying insects on this cold day in February.

While I was taking photographs next to the stream I saw a Green Frog crawling through the shallow water of a muck filled back water of the stream where spring water seeps up through the ground.  The amphibian was half in the water and half in the cold air where condensation had froze into hoarfrost on old grass stems only millimeters above the water’s surface.  No hibernation for this frog. The frog was very cold, and when I approached it just got down low in the mud and stayed still.  I took some photographs while trying to keep my winter pack boots from overfilling with water and mud.  I got a few different angles and so I left the frog in peace.

I made my way back to shore and resumed my photography.  A few minutes later I happened to look down at my bootlaces and found them to be encased in ice.  Later when I got back the car I tried to get them off, but couldn’t untie the laces.

Even though a Wisconsin winter is bitter cold at times the aquatic insects are still busy eating algae, detritus and each other.  Some of these stream invertebrates are so bold as to grow wings and fly in February.  When I looked at the photo of the frog later I could see to tiny flying insects lying dead on the surface of the water.  It may seem odd that insects would try to fly in the winter to mate, but in makes sense.  In winter there are very few birds around, no bats and no aerial insect predators like dragonflies.  The winter hatching insects must brave the cold, and I wonder if the ones I found suddenly froze to death just above the water’s surface.

After my visit to Emmons Creek I went to another larger, but mostly frozen over trout steam, where  I took this underwater video of the Waupaca River.

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What Good is a Grass Fire?

Cattail Marsh Fire

Flames reach for the sky as a cattail marsh burns out of control.

The above benefits of fire may be somewhat obvious, but there are others we forget today.  People throughout the world have used fire to alter their environment to their benefit.  On a small scale traditional fires may have cleared a portion of forest for a garden, but hunter gathers may have changed a few acres to tens of thousands to their benefit.

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Lake Poygan Time Lapse

While my son and I were working hard at harvesting phragmites for transplanting I set up my GoPro Hero 3+ on a tripod to record some time lapse footage of the marsh and sky.  When it came time to plant the phragmites I did the same at the West Bay Cane Beds.  The weather was nice for both the harvest, planting, and shooting time lapse video.  The temperatures were relatively cool for July, and there was a little breeze.  All around tree swallows swooped catching insects on the wing, while red-winged blackbirds hurried off with a destination in mind.  As the evening wore on we kept an eye on the sky not only because it was interesting, but also because it threatened to rain.

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What is Detritus?

Leaf Litter

Leaf litter from previous growing seasons is the main source of detritus for this sedge meadow.

Detritus is debris or waste of any kind.  When we think specifically of detritus in lakes and wetlands we think of the undecayed organic matter of plants and animals.  It is this that is typically the main source of nutrients in a body of water.  The source of detritus can be organisms the grew within the lake, or those that came outside it.

Outside sources of Detritus

Erosion can bring in all kinds of organic matter, usually from plants.  Depending on the location of a body of water or wetland the main source can be quite variable.  In a river with a large floodplain the main source may come from when the river overflows its banks and picks up organic matter from flooded wetlands, farm fields and woodlands.

A small lake, or rivers big and small in a forested setting may get most of their nutrient inputs as leaf fall.   The leaves of overhanging trees land in the water, sink and aquatic organisms begin to break them down.  First come the “shredder” invertebrates.  These are able to shred tough leaves into smaller pieces that they eat, or the scraps are eaten by others.   Then an assortment of other invertebrates continues to eat the smaller sized pieces, or the microorganisms that further break them down.  Without this source of nutrients many streams would be sterile.

Stream Detritus

Detritus at the edge of Emmon’s Creek in February consists of fallen leaves, and emergent plants growing along the bank.

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West Bay Cane Bed Flight

The West Bay Cane Beds in Lake Poygan have been in decline for decades, but the last decade has been particularly unkind.  The beds are rapidly eroding from wave and ice action.  The beds are now so small that a hand full of muskrat families are eating much of what remains.

I flew a small drone over the vegetation to document its current sad condition and to compare with some past air photos.

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What is a Forb?

A Forb is a herbaceous or non-woody plant that is not a grass, sedge or rush (graminoids), so practically all wildflowers fall into that category.  “Wildflower” is a loose term in itself, and could be said to include roses, which are a woody plant.  Some times we throw terms around without even thinking, and eventually they come to mean multiple things, or the definition becomes fuzzy, hopefully this little post clears up the definition.

Forbs in a sedge meadow

Forbs such as goldenrods, thistles ares surrounded by Tussock Sedge (Carex stricta) a non-forb.


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Mouse Tunnels in the Snow

Winter finally showed up and dropped a little snow, but the temperatures fell much harder.  For the last several days the temperature has dipped below freezing, so what little snow we got is going to stay with us for awhile.  I had complained about the brown world last week, but now I must humbly deal with the cold.  It’s not too bad without the wind, but lately its has dropped the temperature to twenty or more degrees below zero, with the wind chill.  I ventured out yesterday, just outside of town, to feel the wind bite my face and look at the winter world.  I always feel a little more alive in bitter cold, but as like having central heat to return home to.

Snow Tunnel

The raised and broken snow mark the tunnel of a small furry creature, perhaps a mouse or shrew.

In many places I found the tracks of small mammals, I couldn’t quite tell if they were shrews or mice.  In addition to the tracks, the small furry guys make tunnels in the snow to find food and protect themselves from the cold and predators.   Something that I have always found odd is that snow is an insulator.  It keeps animals relatively warm compared to the outside world.  It also blocks that heat robbing wind, so small animals which cool off faster due to their surface area to mass ratio, can take full advantage of the snow.

Tracks in the snow left by a mouse or shrew

Tracks made in the snow by some small mammal, and the wind blowing a blade of grass.

Snow must make it hard for mice and shrews to find food, but it also makes them less likely to become food, because the snow masks their movements.  When the snow is shallow you can the surface of the snow move up, but when it is deep there is no telling by sight that a mouse is moving below the snow.  The snow acts not only insulation from the cold, it dampens the sound of their movements and activities too.  Still many predators have very good hearing and owls sit quietly waiting for the sound of scurrying and feeding beneath the snow.  The snow makes pinpointing a target difficult for predators, but foxes, coyotes, and of course snowy owls seem to manage just fine.

The tunnels themselves are not safe havens either.  Small weasels in their ermine white winter coats follow the tunnels looking for their makers.  At the same time the weasels too enjoy keeping out of sight from the hawks and owls over head.

In spring, just after the snow melts you can see the remains of well used tunnels as the grass in leaves have been moved aside in seemingly random, winding patterns.  The furry mammals are again exposed to the wind, rain and claws and teeth from above.  I wonder if they enjoy their time under the snow, and miss it when the world thaws.

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One Photo Per Day

In order to improve my photography skills I decided to do one of those self-imposed one photo per day challenges.  Images are posted on my photography blog gallery.  To kick off on this first day of the new year, and also to get outside.  I headed over to Lake Winnebago, and observe winter’s arrival.  The only real snow we have gotten this winter technically occurred in fall, in early November, and that has long since melted.  Just last week I saw some people fishing from a boat on the Fox River in Oshkosh.   The river was completely open.   A recent cold snap has frozen 90% of the river and left some thick ice on much of Miller’s Bay on Lake Winnebago, even though parts of the lake are still open.

A basswood leaf frozen into the ice of Lake Winnebago.  See more photos from my photo a day challenge.

A basswood leaf frozen into the ice of Lake Winnebago. See more photos from my photo a day challenge.

At the lake on the thicker, safer ice I found some leaves frozen in the ice, as well as interesting patterns made by bubbles and cracks, and took my first photo for the challenge.   I brought my daughter along to enjoy the ice as well.  We spent some time sliding around.  The winds and lack of snow made the sliding fun, but there was also a thin film of dirt on the ice, which made us pretty dirty.  Perhaps I’ll head out again tomorrow.


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Waiting for Winter

On this day after the Winter Solstice I sit waiting for winter weather to begin, specifically snow and ice.   I am mostly looking forward to snow to cover the brown world.  I would also like to get out the skies and snowshoes and head out into the marshes, swamps, and all the uplands.  We had a couple of inches last month, but it has melted and nothing has taken its place.

There is ice on many of the lakes, but it is too thick for me to venture out.  I like to wait until it is thick enough for trucks go out.  Ice levels the playing field for the economic classes. You don’t need the investment of a boat to go out on the lake, only some boots.  Just be careful out there.

I’m also looking forward to some clear skies so I can go out at night and look up at the stars, which are not easy to observe from my house in the city.

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