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Mallard nesting structure on a WPA.

Many fawns are born during early May

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In my last column I addressed the ice out dates for Cedar Lake as recorded by Don Demulling and his dad over the past 30-plus years.

Harold Evans, who resides in Hudson, has taken the data that Don provided one step further. Applying mathematical analysis, he has determined that the average date of ice out was the 95th day of the year, or April 6.

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Using a line of best fit after graphing the data, he has shown a slight trend upward over this period of observation. Because of the marked variation of the ice outs each year, there was no statistical difference observed during this period.

Several other factors can influence the observed trend to a slightly later ice out date. While I'm not a fan of global warming, I do believe in natural climate change.

As Harold was very quick to point out, trends in wind direction and precipitation, along with a myriad of other factors, both large and small, can affect any observation scenario over time. When any type of data is examined, it is imperative to address all factors that could affect the observed outcome. This procedure forms the basis of a sound scientific approach in any situation.

Spring behavior

Early May is the time that most fawns are born.

Breeding usually occurs in mid-November. This period is called the rut and, if the doe is not bred then, another breeding period can occur approximately a month later.

Just prior to giving birth, the doe will physically force any yearling born the previous year away from her. The mom will nudge, push and kick her offspring until it gets the message. It is time for the year old deer to make it on its own. This can be quite traumatic for an animal that has up until now spent its whole life with its mother.

During this time of expulsion, there is an increase in deer-related motor vehicle accidents due to increased deer movement. Nature at times can seem cruel.

Does that are bred later will produce fawns later in the year. These late born youngsters will be small in stature putting them in danger of not being able to survive a hard winter. A friend of mine in Rusk County sent me a photo taken from a trail cam of a fawn still with its spots on Feb. 17. This animal was obviously the exception and not the rule.

Bucks will shed their antlers every year, usually from January through March. The male deer will then begin to grow their new set of antlers in April. In September the antler growth will stop, the antler will no longer be a viable living appendage and the deer will rub off the dead skin covering the antler. He will retain his majestic set of polished antlers until they are shed in early spring and the process will repeat itself.

During the last deer gun season in November, one of the antlerless deer harvested by our group turned out to be a mature buck that had already shed its antlers. In late April, friends have reported seeing bucks still sporting their antlers. On every front in nature there are exceptions to the rule.

Birding statistics

St. Croix County is one of eight counties that make up the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's St. Croix Wetland Management District.

Presently a group is forming called "Friends of the St. Croix Management District." This friends group promises to be an extremely versatile group of conservation minded individuals who will be active advocates to the Waterfowl Production Area lands along with private lands surround these WPAs.

On April 16 through April 18, I attended the 2010 Midwest Friends Conference held in La Crosse along with St. Croix Wetlands Management District Manager Tom Kerr. This conference was made up of people from friends groups in Wisconsin and the other states that comprise the Midwest District. One of the breakout sessions I found extremely interesting was "Birding Friendly Refuges."

There are a large number of bird species that nest in and around the various WPAs in our district. There is also an extremely large number of bird species that travel through this area on their way to breeding grounds farther north. Our area is a birder paradise which has yet to be discovered.

According to the presenters at this session, birders mean business. One in five people in the United States are active birders. The average age is 50 and birders have an above average education.

Females comprise 54 percent of birders and 88 percent are Caucasian. Most live in a rural setting and 87 percent of the money spent in the area is spent by travelers from outside the area. Photography and wildlife observation make up 75 percent of the birders time spent in the area.

As an observation, New Richmond and its trail system offers an excellent opportunity for birders. Mary Park, Hatfield Park and the Nature Center located on the west side of town are birder havens due to the quality and quantity of bird habitat and diversity.

The surrounding WPAs are a short drive in any direction from the city limits and with wetlands, uplands and forested avian habitat, there is something to offer the likes, wants and needs of any bird person. We are very lucky to reside is such a unique area!

St. Croix Prairie WPA and nest structures

By Tom Kerr -USF&WS

If you have driven by the St. Croix Prairie WPA about two miles west of New Richmond, you probably saw a new hay-filled cylinder in the wetland by the road. This cylinder is a mallard nesting structure.

Mallards are very adaptable birds and are commonly seen on the many WPAs in the St. Croix Wetland Management District.

One of the most important factors limiting waterfowl production is nest predation. As humans developed this part of western Wisconsin, replacing open prairie, oak savanna and wetlands with houses, cities, farm fields, trees, pastures, roads, etc. the predator community changed to include adaptable animals such as skunks, opossums, raccoons, red fox, red tailed hawks and great horned owls. When grassland nesting cover is limited, these predators can be very efficient at finding waterfowl nests.

We really can't change what has happened with the animal community in our area, but we can try to improve nest success by managing for large tracts of grassland adjacent to wetlands or in some areas, placing nest structures to benefit waterfowl.

A study in this area in the 1990s found that mallards using nest baskets hatched approximately 80 percent of the time, while nest success in grassland fields can vary from 15-20 percent. Nest structures can be placed in small wetlands from a half acre to three or four acres in size. They should be about three feet over the normal water level.

Although they may not be used the first year, keep checking them and cleaning them out or replacing the hay as needed. Once they are used by a mallard hen, your chances of use in future years' increases. Although nest structures will not replace the value of large tracts of grassland for nesting birds, they can be a good tool to increase the odds of seeing a mallard brood on your wetland.

If you would like to build your own mallard nest structure and place it in your wetland, see the "Delta Waterfowl" Web site for instructions and information. at www.deltawaterfowl.org/henhouses/build.php

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