A change in scenery brings new experiences
This new year marks the seventh anniversary of the "Outdoor Happenings" column. There have been lots of changes over the past several years.
Last July, Sal and I decided to move from the house where we had spent the last 33 years and settle a bit farther north to spend some quality time enjoying nature and perhaps getting in a bit more fishing and outdoor recreation. We now live close to a good fishing lake and have some mature woods on our back side. Not far from our house is a great walking, biking, cross country skiing trail where we can also walk the dogs during the off-skiing season. Deer, turkeys and an occasional bear also call this location home. Change in this case has been a very good thing.
When we first moved into our old house those many years ago, which was situated off Paperjack Creek in New Richmond, the neighborhood was relatively new. We had numerous trees on our property but most had been planted within the last few years. The habitat was mostly that of a prairie setting. We had the occasional deer cross our back yard and the birds that visited our feeders were open space varieties.
In the years that followed, the wildlife habitat morphed into a setting with larger trees but still kept the open area feeling. Cardinals became much more numerous and the house finches pushed out the English sparrows.
Crows, once a rural living bird, found out that city life wasn't all that bad and set up shop. Their variety of vocalizations could be heard routinely and one could pick up their demeanor by listening to their tone which is quite distinct.
Area turkey populations exploded with the occasional one making the back yard feeders a frequent stop. With the cattails taking over the wetlands on the greenway, pheasants also were regulars at the feeders.
The urban deer population expanded dramatically and seeing them passing by in the back yard became the rule rather than the exception. Some even raised families nearby with the fawns becoming local celebrities.
Several years ago the city park folks made the decision to quit mowing the area along Paperjack Creek, which has allowed suitable vegetation growth that now protects the waterway and allows water to flow all year around.
Paperjack Creek is one of the major corridors that allows all types of animals to cross through New Richmond naturally. Nothing in nature is static and in most instances change is good!
Moving to our present digs has opened up a whole new world to us. Living in town, there was little need to know about wells, septic systems and water softeners. Trips to New Richmond, Osceola, Amery or St Croix Falls mean that we now set up a list of things to do and places to visit in one trip. Much more time is spent on the road but it is well worth it.
Our new location also offers views of wildlife we didn't have before. While we lost some opportunities, we have gained others. Deer are frequent visitors and there is a large flock of turkeys that periodically walks through our yard and down our driveway. I had an unfilled fall turkey harvest tag which I wanted to fill and could have very easily but after suggesting that activity to Sally, she put the nix on that. The turkeys are now on her list of close personal friends.
Earlier, our neighbors told us that a large black bear had walked out on our dock and had collapsed a portion of it into the water. Because of that we waited until after the freeze to put up our bird feeders. After the deer season, we hung three deer carcasses in trees behind our feeders in the woods. Over a short time, the birds will pick them clean utilizing the tallow and protein to fortify themselves for the winter. I also save trimming and fat from our deer and provide this to the various woodpeckers and crows on an elevated feeder.
The crows have found the stash and visit it daily. At the old house I also placed the suet and scraps on a stump in the backyard and the city crows made good use of it. The city crows would completely clean up all the food at one time and what they didn't immediately eat, they would stash in various hiding spots for later use. Our country crows only eat what they can at one sitting and will leave the remainder in place for a later date.
Because of the woodsy location, the species of birds that now visit our feeders have evolved. We have a pair of pileated woodpeckers that work over the deer carcasses in the early morning and numerous downy woodpeckers use the facilities for most of the rest of the day.
Nuthatches, creepers, a dozen chickadees and a flock of goldfinches dine on sunflower seeds from the feeders. We did have a small group of cardinals pass through, lingering for a couple of days but have now moved on. We have seen the tracks of several rabbits that clean up the ground spillage and our six gray squirrels and two red squirrels compete with the birds for seeds most any time of the day. Yesterday, as I was filling one of the feeders, holding the feeder in one hand and pouring sunflower seeds with the other, a chickadee landed on my hand and plucked a seed before it entered the feeder. Change can be very rewarding.
By Tom Kerr
With our recent warm weather, you have probably seen many Canada geese in corn fields, on Hatfield Lake or flying between these two areas. Canada geese are very adaptable animals; basically they need open water and food to survive the winter. The definition of adaptable is "able to adjust easily to a new environment or different conditions."
Canada geese have been very successful at adapting to the changes that we as humans have made on the landscape over the last 100 years. They nest in urban areas, find food on our lawns and golf courses, eat corn and are able to protect their young from predators. As a result their population is thriving, last spring there were over 175,000 Canada geese in Wisconsin.
Unfortunately, not all species of animals are as adaptable as Canada geese. In our local area, which historically was a mix of prairie, oak savanna and wetlands, many grassland dependent bird species such as meadowlarks, bobolinks and Henslow's sparrows used to be very common. I talk to many people who remember seeing meadowlarks when they were young but have not seen any recently. With the loss of grasslands and the spread of invasive species like buckthorn, Siberian elm and box elder, their populations have declined. These bird species are not as adaptable as Canada geese. They need to have large open tracts of grasslands to successfully nest and raise their young. They are not able to thrive on a golf course or in our backyard.
Much of the management we do on local Waterfowl Production Areas is targeted at restoring prairie, oak savanna and wetlands. Tree removal, controlled burning, grazing and brush control are all used to maintain or restore the open grasslands historically found in this area. This management, which simulates the natural effects of wildfires or grazing bison, benefits many of these grassland dependent bird species. If you spend time on local Waterfowl Production Areas, chances are you'll see some of the adaptable animals like Canada geese, mourning doves, robins or pheasants and hopefully you'll be able to see a meadowlark or hear its song.
For more information on the St. Croix Wetland Management District, check out our website at www.fws.gov/midwest/stcroix/ or check us out on Facebook by searching for St. Croix Wetland Management District.