Lake Poygan Blue-green Algae Bloom

Algae in a bottle

The water in this bottle contains millions of algae cells, from an algae bloom. Most of them are blue-green algae.

Although the temperature has not been excessively hot, blue-green algae blooms are in full swing on the Lake Winnebago System.  Everything is in place for such algae blooms:  warm temperatures, calm weather and excessive nutrients in the water.  Many types of algae can be found in the water column.  Regular old green algae, diatoms and others are valuable parts of the food chain, but blue-green algae or cyanobacteria are less desirable because they are of lower food value, and because on occasion they can produce toxic compounds.  The bloom over the last few days contained numerous blue-green algae commonly associated with the blooms:  Microcysts, Anabanea, as well as several others.  I looked at several samples under the microscope and all I could find were blue-greens, no green algae or diatoms in the soup.

The accompanying photos were taken on Lake Poygan, but the other lakes and rivers in the shallow system are suffering the same blooms.  Despite the green water, there were plenty of boats on the lake and swimmers in the water.   Thirty boats were parked along the Cane Beds off of Lone Willow Point between Lake Winneconne and Poygan.  Many stayed on the boats enjoying the beautiful weather, but others splashed around in the sun.  Most people who enjoy these lakes are used to the green water of summer.

Lake Poygan Boaters

Boaters and swimmers enjoy a great day on Lake Poygan and Winneconne despite the green water.

Why was the Algae Bloom Bad?

Algae

Heavy blue-green algae provides little contrast with hardstem bulrush.

For one, calm weather increase the chances of algae blooms. Waves keep pushing phytoplankton down to where there is less light, and in some lakes, cooler water.   This slows their growth.  When the waves are reduced, algae accumulates on the surface where temperatures are greatest, and light is most intense.  There they are free to reproduce rapidly until a thick soup forms.  This bad situation can be made into a nightmare for lake shore property owners when winds return and blows the algae into shore concentrating it into a smelly scum.

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Wood Turtle Road Crossing: Photo of the Week

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.

Wood Turtle on Road

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 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)

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.

Killdeer

Killdeer pauses by its nest to size up a would-be predator, me.

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 Eggs and Nest

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) nest with speckled eggs that blend in very well with surrounding gravel.

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.

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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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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 Runoff

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 Paper Making

Every year the Paper Wasps visit my close line, they come to mine the raw material for their nests. 

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.

Purchase a print or stock image of this paper wasp photo

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Encounter with a Painted Turtle Hatchling

Painted Turtle Hatchling Portrait
A portrait of an angry looking baby Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata) face.

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.

Painted Turtle Hatchling Underside
The bottom shell, or plastron of a baby Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata) with it umbilical cord still attached the turtle, but no sign of the yolk sac.

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. 

Painted Turtle Hatchling Top
The top shell, or carapace of a baby Midland Painted Turtle.

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.

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Burn Baby Burn, Prescribed Marsh Burn

I was driving home today when I noticed black clouds of smoke coming from the Rush Lake area.  I thought marsh might be on fire, and turned in that direction to investigate.  Sure enough the cattail marsh at Uihein Waterfowl Production Area had been set on fire to improve wildlife habitat and promote a diverse plant community.  Most of the plants at this marsh are invasive cattail species, which provide poorer habitat than the native species that would normally live here.

Aerial footage shortly after the fire.

http://youtu.be/k7qDMeGf0pA

I stopped at an overlook and began taking photos and video.  The wind was strong and out of the East. It kicked up flames and black smoke, and ashes high in the air.  Unfortunately it gave me trouble shaking my camera and tripod, but eventually I set up on the leeward side of the car for some protection.  Then I went to another parking spot, got out of the car and started walking down the road that is normally closed to traffic.  After walking awhile I looked up and saw a wall of flame, heading my way, I knew it wasn’t going to give trouble, but I could feel the heat on my face and it was erupting like gasoline.  I was impressed.  Took a few photos and a shaky video clip and returned for my tripod.  By the time I returned that portion of the fire had run out of fuel and was completely dead.

Wall of Flame

Wall of flame appears close, but is not.

Fire moving through the landscape is an impressive scene, and one that kept the prairies, oak openings, sedge meadows and other ecosystems healthy.  It is a scene far too uncommon these days.  The TV news anchors will report a wildfire to have destroyed 100 acres of marsh.  Nothing could be further than the truth.  A fire is a part of the marsh’s life, its history, and its future.  Without fire, the marsh will fade and die, and be truly destroyed, not by the match, but by the fire hose.

Uihein Waterfowl Production Area is part of the Leopold Wetland Management District and managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Information Kiosk

Read all about it. Zoom into the kiosk at Uihlein Waterfowl Production Area.

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