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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Deltox Marsh

Deltox Marsh in Winnebago County, Wisconsin is a relatively small shallow marsh, wetland restoration/enhancement.  This wetland was formally owned by the Deltox Grass Mat Company of Oshkosh.  The company manufacture grass rugs for export all around the United States.  The mats were particularly popular in the southern states where they were said to be cooler than wool rugs.  The company harvested strong sedges, when it was a sedge meadow, for weaving into rugs.  The business was a good in the early twentieth century, and company owned or leased marshes in Wisconsin and Minnesota and at one time was the biggest employer in Oshkosh.  Eventually cheaper materials shut the marshes and the company down.

Today the marsh is flooded for ducks, and has probably has a more diverse plant and animal community than it did when it was a working marsh.  Visitors can walk the levees, but no trails are managed on the property.




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Paper Wasp Wood Harvest – Photo of the Week

Paper Wasp

A paper wasp stops at a clothespin to chew off a thin strip of wood to make into paper to build a wasp nest.

Paper Wasps pretty much live any where they have a dry place to make their nests.  To many people’s dismay it is often under the eaves of their houses and garages.  The make these nests by harvesting thin strips of weathered wood.  I have often seen them do this on unpainted bird houses and nearly every year, the clothespins on my clothesline.  If you look at the photo above you can see where this wasp, or one of her sisters, has already stripped off the wood.  Although they harvest the wood from my clothespins it will probably take them a century to chew them up, and the weather will have long since destroyed them before that happens.   After that they mash up the wood with saliva in their mandibles and form the little papery chambers where they will lay their eggs and raise their larva.  Paper wasps are beneficial because they eat many other insects, especially caterpillars.

I like to leave them alone, and have yet to be bothered by the ones that choose to make nests on my house, although many would be uncomfortable with wasps living above their doorway.  The other reason to leave wasp nests alone, is if you spray insecticide at a nest, you are a threat, and more likely to get stung than if you just leave them alone. Paper Wasps are not Yellow-Jackets and while they can and do sting they are not as aggressive as their hornet cousins. I did have a Bald-face Hornet take up residence under my window, and I disposed of that nest while only the huge queen was in residence.  If I hadn’t, a nest with hundreds of very large and highly aggressive hornets may have formed.

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Encounter with a Painted Turtle Hatchling

Baby painted turtle portrate

A very unhappy painted turtle hatchling posses for the camera.

The other day I was launching my boat into Lake Puckaway to start work.  As I worked to free the boat from the trailer I noticed something swimming in the water below.  It was a tiny painted turtle hatchling more specifically it was a Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata).   The Midland subspecies has an interesting pattern on the plastron, or bottom shell that separates it from the other subspecies.  This little turtle was swimming through the water underneath the trailer, so I scooped it up in my hand.  I took a quick look and thought the kids would enjoy seeing it, so I brought it home.  Safely in a bucket we spent the day mapping the lake.  Then we headed home.

Pattern on a Midland Painted Turtle

The bottom shell (plastron) of this baby Midland Painted Turtle still has the remains of its yolk sac and a sort of reptilian umbilical cord. The central pattern in the center of the plastron sets the Midland Painted Turtle apart from other painted turtle subspecies.

After careful thought my daughter named “him” Tim, she originally wanted to name him Shelly, “because he has a shell”, but my boys did not like that.  She already had a stuffed turtle named Tom, so Tim seemed a good name.  The kids enjoyed watching this small Painted Turtle for a time.  After a while I took Tim into the backyard for a little photo session.  He was a pretty good model most of the time, but he kept trying to sneak away.  The photo shoot didn’t last long, I didn’t want to cause him stress.  The next day it was back to the lake for more work and to release the turtle where I found him.  I gently placed him in the water and he paddled his legs and swam away, I hope to a long life.   When I put the boat in the water the same day there was a tree frog sitting quietly next to the spare tire on the trailer.  I left him be, he had already ridden two miles I figured he would stick to his spot for a few hundred feet the parking spot, and indeed he did.

Shell of baby turtle

Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginat)

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The Lowly Ditch – Photo of the Week

Many times the roadside ditch is something of waste land of invasive, or at least non-native plant species.  This ditch with a little flowing water through it is not lacking in invasives species.  Reed Canarygrass, Purple Loosestrife and others flank the sides, but in the center is a bed of wild rice.  Wild rice has something of a mysterious ecology, but what many agree on is that it prefers water with some current to it.   This little bit of current makes the rice plants thrive in this disturbed spot.

Wild rice in  a road-side ditch

Wild rice lines a ditch

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