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OUTDOOR HAPPENINGS: Habitat diversity has impact on wildlife

Hungry bears will do just about anything to find food after waking up in the spring.

On April 15, we attended a presentation on "Henslow Sparrows, a Species of Concern," presented by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Biologist Tom Cooper. It was a very informative talk on a small, brown, non-descript bird.

It likes grassland that has a thicker vegetation type and is negatively impacted by woody type growth. This bird had been increasing in numbers since the mid-1980s due to the implementation of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in 1985 but recently has experienced a decline. Over the last five years, with higher commodity prices, land is being removed from CRP and put back into production. St. Croix County is leading the way in Wisconsin with lost CRP land.

Each species of wildlife has its own set of needs and thrives when these needs are met. The type of habitat that is on a landscape will determine what animal species will flourish. Large tracts of diverse habitat cover will provide the basic needs for many different species. When the tracts are large enough with more diversity, then all prosper.

The USF&WS and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources are doing a good job in trying to provide this diversity. Birds, both game bird and non-game bird species, are being provided habitat that runs the gamut needed to make them happy.

From shore birds that need mud flats and short stubble to the pheasants and Henslow sparrows that search out the thicker cover, all can prosper. Comprehensive land management is providing this. Combine this with proper habitat management practices on private lands and it is a win-win situation. You build it and they will come!


As I was writing this column, I heard a thump as a small bird hit the dining room window. Retrieving the casualty, I first made sure that the bird's encounter was terminal. A few of these incidents in the past have had happy endings with the patient reviving after a short time and continuing on its way.

From the sound of the impact and force of the event, I knew this would not be the case. The small bird's eyes had glazed over and his body remained motionless on the deck. It was a "goner."

When I was younger I would have dismissed this as an unfortunate accident that small birds have and deposited the lifeless, feathered body in the proper receptacle with not much more thought about it.

Over the years, however, one becomes more aware of things around them. Life gets more important and time goes by too fast. This Little Brown Job, or as we used to call the small drab colored birds, LBJ's, now was more than that.

Looking over the coloration and the intricacies of the feather arrangement, it was apparent that this bird was special. The color tones were contrasted and the delicate features of the mottled breast, wing and tail feathers were layered perfectly.

Getting out my bird book, I soon found out that the specimen I was holding was a Fox Sparrow. It was on its spring migration from the southeastern U.S. to a destination in Alaska or western Canada. That is quite a trip for such a small bird. Suddenly that bird became much more than just a LBJ.

Meaningful data

With the later-than-normal arrival of spring, the meteorologists are placing the blame on the stagnant jet stream's position. The jet stream, ocean currents, solar activity and a great variety of other factors go into determining the physical form our day to day weather will take.

No one factor can be pinpointed in a causal relationship but the sum is the product of all of its parts. Everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it and for good reason. What we see is what we get.

Reporting the weather on the radio, television or in the daily newspaper has gone the way of other types of news reporting. Instead of simply reporting the facts, the genre is for sensationalism and entertainment (except, of course, for what you read this column).

The fact that we have been below the normal temperature for "X" number of days is an aberration from the norm. But is it really? What is a normal temperature for that date? What does "normal" or "average" really mean? Is the average a mean, median or mode?

A much better way to report an apparent divergence from normal would be to have confidence limits determined on the average temperature. Supposedly we have high and low daily temperatures going back for more than a hundred years.

While a hundred years is much less than a "heart beat" of the total history of the earth, the sample size is sufficient to make some meaningful observations. Assuming that the data points were taken under the same conditions, with the same type of instrumentation, determining standard errors or standard deviations would be quite simple and meaningful.

Probability, or the chance that the temperature is more than a random event, could be determined. A probability determination of <.05 would mean that there was a one in 20 percent chance and a <.01 would give it a one in one hundred chance. A <.001 value would be one chance in a thousand. Now that would truly be meaningful.

Our bear

For the last few weeks, even though nightly temperatures have dipped below the freezing point, I have been taking in our bird feeders each night. Last year I had failed to do this and had felt the wrath of our neighborhood bear.

When a hibernating bear emerges from its over-wintering slumber, it is very hungry and looks for anything that is food or resembles food. A year ago I had to purchase new feeders because the bear had chewed through three of our four hanging feeders to get at the thistle, sunflower seeds and suet, leaving mangled feeders in its wake. This year I felt would be different.

On April 20, after letting the dogs out to do their nightly chores, Sal reminded me to bring in the feeders before hitting the hay. It was snowing with a touch of sleet in the air and, instead of having to brave the elements, I replied that no respectable bear would be out in weather like this. I was wrong!

This time my bear simply knocked down the squirrel proof shepherd hook, which proved to be neither squirrel proof nor bear proof, to retrieve its booty. As one of my friends commented after I told him of our bear encounter, "It just goes to show what can happen when one doesn't listen to his wife." It was another lesson learned.