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Duck surveys help monitor waterfowl health

An antler shed was a welcome find during a recent waterfowl count.

Over the last five years, the annual waterfowl pair and brood counts have occurred. Working with the St. Croix Wetland Management District (SCWMD), area folks have monitored the health of the waterfowl population by spending an early May morning surveying the number of waterfowl on selected wetlands in the area.

Their goal is to look for potential breeding pairs of ducks and other waterfowl to provide a baseline for nesting activity. This information would give an indication on how well management practices are working on area wetlands.

A month or so later, these same wetlands are surveyed for waterfowl brood observations to arrive at breeding success. This information, examined over a long period of time, will give the waterfowl biologists an indication of how things are working out. Management practices can then be implemented to make the habitat all that it can be.

Many variables are factored in to arrive at valid scientific conclusions. Weather conditions during the nesting season, water levels and predator populations are but a few variables that make or break waterfowl rearing success.

In 2008, 48 wetlands were surveyed for a total of 533 acres. Since that time, the number of wetlands surveyed has increased to 184, giving a much better snapshot of what is occurring over the landscape. Volunteer hours spent doing the surveys are also tabulated and used as "match" for some of the grant applications submitted by the SCWMD. This is a win-win situation for all involved including the wildlife.

Each year, my wife Sal and I have been involved in these surveys. This year we had the responsibility of monitoring a couple of Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA) located north of Deer Park. The area had been burned earlier, so any waterfowl would be clearly visible.

We were on the road at daybreak as we followed the protocol set up to standardize the waterfowl observations. Early morning sights and sounds are markedly different than those experienced later in the day. All of nature is alive with bird and frog calls filling the air. Day break in the swamp is a very special time.

As we neared our first stop, we had the fortunate experience of having a large black bear cross in front of our vehicle. This was the first bear Sal had ever seen in the wild. After parking, we saw many tracks of deer, coyote, raccoon and other animals as we walked the area. A lone coyote was observed meandering across the oak savannah and several deer were feeding in a nearby field. None were aware of our presence. We counted numerous waterfowl species including mallards, blue wing teal, wood ducks, northern shovelers, Canada geese, trumperter swans and several sandhill cranes. A lone hen turkey scurried off as we appeared over a small hill. Wildlife was everywhere.

We made our way to the north to check out the last three wetlands. As I walked on ahead, Sal commented, "Look what you almost stepped on!" I turned to see her bend over, pick up and proudly display a shed deer antler. This was also another first for her.

We finished up the final wetland and returned home in plenty of time to do our usual daily tasks. It was the perfect start to a beautiful day.

If you are interested in helping out next year on the area waterfowl pair and brood surveys, give Biologist Chris Trosen a call at 715-246-7784. You won't be disappointed.

Wild Parsnip

A few weeks ago, Sal discovered a couple of older flower gardens that needed a bit of work to allow them be all that they could be. One was located in a rocky terrace that slopes down to the lake. Another surrounded a large cottonwood tree not far from the first garden. Weeds and other plants had invaded the garden proper and the gardens were in need of a good refurbishing.

Sal set to work and after several hours of pulling and digging, she was able to rid them of most of the unwanted growth. Later that day annuals and perennials were planted to add a bit of color to the area.

That evening and into the next day, Sal experienced some intense itching and a series of small blisters appeared that started on her hands and arms but soon spread to other parts of her body. It was unlike poison ivy exposure which produces large blisters.

As the exposure progressed, these sites produced a burn-like appearance and intense irritation and itching. Following a doctor visit and oral and topical medication, the condition began to lessen in severity. This lasted over a three-weeks duration. Slight scaring is still visible but gradually disappearing.

Because Sal had enlisted me to help remove the garden debris, I also experienced the rash and itching but not to the degree she did. I have been a frequent victim of poison ivy exposure and this was quite different but equally distressful.

The vegetative stage of much of the garden was not mature which further complicated plant identification. After some Internet research and questions, we came to the conclusion that the culprit was probably wild parsnip, an invasive plant that when mature produced hundreds of small yellow flowers. If the plant juices come in contact with skin in the presence of sunlight, a rash and/or blistering can occur as well as skin discoloration that can last for several months.

Take care when out and about in the outdoors. It is a jungle out there.

Warden Paul's Corner

Free Fishing Weekend June 2- 3

Every year, the first consecutive Saturday and Sunday in June are designated as "Free Fishing Weekend" when you can fish without a license throughout the state of Wisconsin. All the waters of the state are open, including state waters of the Great Lakes and rivers bordering Wisconsin.

Residents and nonresidents of all ages can fish without a fishing license (or trout or salmon stamps) over these two days. However, all other fishing regulations (length limits, bag limits, etc.) apply. In 2012, Free Fishing Weekend will fall on June 2 and 3.

Fishing clubs, local parks departments, community centers and civic organizations step up to offer fishing clinics in their communities. It's a great way to get to know your neighbor. Start planning ahead for next year.

Why wait until June to give fishing a try? A fishing license is one of the best bargains around and the waters of the state are open for business 365 days a year. We even have a new one-day license! Head down to your local tackle shop or buy your license on-line [exit DNR] and get out there.

Free admission

Enjoying Wisconsin State Parks, Forests, Trails and Recreation Areas is a bargain any time of year but on the first Sunday of June they are an exceptional value, as entrance to Open House Day is an opportunity for all residents and visitors to explore some of Wisconsin's most beautiful natural locations and enjoy a wide variety of outdoor recreation.

On State Park Open House Day, no admission stickers are required on vehicles entering state parks, forests and recreation areas, and trail passes are not required for bicyclists, in-line skaters, or horseback riders using state trails that normally require a trail pass. In addition, Saturday, June 4, is National Trails Day and fees are waived to use all DNR-managed state trails on that day as well.

Reservable campsites in Wisconsin state park and forest campgrounds are generally in high demand for the Memorial Day weekend, but there are often campsites available for the weekend of State Park Open House at many parks and forests. Camping fees do still apply on state park open house day.

People can check campsite availability or reserve a site (minimum two nights) through the State Parks website at

The event also coincides with Free Fishing Weekend in Wisconsin, so no fishing license is required to fish at the many lakes and rivers located in state parks and forests. Several parks are sponsoring free fishing activities, along with other special events (click on tab for June and then see June 5).

If you have any other questions call Warden Paul Sickman at 715-684-2914, ext. 120.