Wednesday, 08 July 2020

Tackling Woody Species Woes

WIGL Launch Graphic to help tackle invasive woody species

Green is not always as good as it first appears. Walking you land, you may think of a lush tangle of shrubs and vines as a sign of good health. It does not take long to discover that a green wall does not produce a healthy woodland. Soon enough tackling woody species on your property moves to the top of your todo list.

Clair Ryan is the Coordinator of the Midwest Invasive Plant Network and the new Woody Invasives of the Great Lakes (WIGL) Collaborative. According to Ryan, “Often, especially near urban and developed areas, forests and other natural areas are clogged with invasive woody species that damage wildlife habitat, block trail access, and harbor larger populations of ticks that spread disease to humans,”

The WIGL Collaborative developed a website to help landowners and others learn to identify the woody invasive plants around them and start controlling them on their properties. Their website, woodyinvasives.org, contains a wealth of information about how to identify woody invasive species and tell them apart from similar beneficial plants. The site contains an interactive map showing how Great Lakes governments regulate these species. In addition, it has detailed management approaches, and non-invasive alternatives.

Besides the website, WIGL is also sponsoring a free two-day Woody Invasives of the Great Lakes Collaborative Summit on November 5-6, 2020. 

The Problem

WIGL was formed because invasive trees, shrubs, and woody vines pose a serious threat to natural areas in the Great Lakes region. They out-competing native plants and damaging wildlife habitat. Forests are a primary water source to the Great Lakes. If the forests aren’t healthy, it will be very difficult for the lakes to be healthy.

Image of the woody species Japanese barberry

Japanese barberry may be a great choice for your yard, but it becomes a menace when released into woodlands.

The current problem has actually been a long time in the making. Most of the region’s most common invasive woodies came to North America more than one hundred years ago. Among these early arrivals are buckthorn, autumn olive, and bush honeysuckle. Growers sold them either as ornamental garden plants or for erosion control. We recognized the problems posed by wood invasive species only after our woodlands became choked and almost unusable.

Birds eat the fruit of these invasive woody plants and spread their seeds. Over generations, seeds can reach even relatively pristine natural habitats. Growers sold them because of their toughness and adaptability to less-than-ideal conditions. However, this a resilience lets invasive plants out-compete native species that would grow in similar habitats.

Most of the woody invasive species listed by the WIGL collaborative are no longer sold in nurseries and garden centers. However, some invasive species like Callery pear, Japanese barberry and winged burning bush are all still available. As a result, your can find them in just about every big box store. 
The WIGL Collaborative joins several other regional invasive species collaboratives funded through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). The federal government funds the GLRI with broad bi-partisan support.

Doing Our Part

As private landowners, timber stand and wildlife habitat improvement are important to our stewardship ethic. Protecting the natural heritage or our property often begins with managing those invasive woody species. Tackling woody species takes good advice; GLRI has what it takes.

June 2020

Friday, 12 June 2020

Buckthorn Blaster Rocks Brush Clearing

Image of Buckthorn Blaster with gloves, loppers and pruners

Meet a revolution in cut stump treatment … in a 4 once bottle.

Some ideas are incredibly obvious, once you see them. The four once Buckthorn Blaster is just that kind of product. This simple herbicide applicator will change the way you cut and treat invasive brush on your land. If you are like me, you hate using spray bottles to apply herbicide to the cut stumps of wood brush. Most of us use the best two dollar squirt bottle we can find and curse a few weeks or months later when it quits working. I hate going home at with blue fingers on my gloves. I swear under my breath too many times every day when I pull the trigger and nothing comes out only to have the next pull shoot a stream of chemical out; most of which misses the stump. Expensive pressurized sprayers are bulky and must be frequently pumped up. The Buckthorn Blaster is a simple four ounce plastic bottle with a dense foam stopper that applies chemical to cut stumps much like a liquid shoe polish applicator. If you can polish you shoes, you can treat stumps with the Buckthorn Blaster. I use a 1:3 tryclopyr to bark oil mix, which is hotter than some folks but not as strong as others prefer. Both the herbed and bark oil are expensive. A 24 ounce spray bottle of cut stump mix cost around $10.00. It is common to go through half of that bottle during the course of a day. During the two hours I used the Buckthorn Blaster, I used just two ounces of chemical mix. The Buckthorn Blaster reduced the chemical use by one third. The number of stumps increased at the same time. Again, because the chemical only lands on the target stump I got more stumps treated between refills. More stumps with less chemical means 2-3 better invasive control in the woodlot. My spray bottle will often drip a little, especially when it tips over on uneven ground. The Buckthorn Blaster never drips. It only puts chemical on the stump where it is pressed. That means no off-target damage of nearby native plants. The small four once size makes it easy to carry in one hand while wielding a hand pruner in the other. When using loppers, I can hold the bottle while simultaneously cutting brush. Being more efficient means clearing more brush in less time. The bottle comes with three dense foam tips and a tool for changing tips.  Removing the tip to refill the bottle takes some care and can be a bit messy. That is my chief complaint but paper towels make the job fairly painless. The Buckthorn Blaster can be used with any cut stump liquid herbicide mix. I intend to use it with Milestone to treat black locust later in the season. I keep my bottle in a ziplock bag and toss it in my daypack, along with hand pruners, whenever I walk the property. What could be more convenient for taking care of that nasty shrub that pops up along the trail?

“More stumps with less chemical means 2-3 better invasive control in the woodlot.”

Finally, while the $8.49 price tag is a bit steep for what it is, the money goes to support the work of a really great organization. The North American Invasive Species Management Association (NAISMA) supports those battling invasive species of all types. They are a key sponsor of the Play, Clean, Go program that educates boaters about aquatic invasive control. For private landowners, Play, Clean, Go provides boot cleaning stations at public trailheads; encouraging hikers to clean their boots. That helps prevent the spread of garlic mustard and Japanese hedge parsley seeds. The NAISMA biennial conference brings together academics, practitioners, landowners and land managers to share the latest information about invasive plants and animals across the US and Canada. Consider joining NAISMA when you buy your buckthorn blaster. Tap into their deep well of conservation management experience.

[Update 6/19/2020] NAISMA now sells five packs of Buckthorn Buster replacement tips. I don’t know about you, but I treat hundreds of stumps from large boxelder to tiny buckthorn sprouts during a single day. the rough surfaces and jagged edges take their toll on the foam. The Buckthorn Buster ships with three tips, however, I find myself replacing tips one a week when I’m working every day. Fortunately replacement tips cost $3.99 for a five pack.

Tuesday, 09 June 2020

Suburban Ready Cordless Mower

Image or Greenworks 80 volt cordless mower

This cordless mower is ready to take on its gasoline powered competition.

Greenworks has marked a cordless mower that is powerful enough to take on suburbia and beyond. Our five acre woodland property has nearly an acre of mowed lawn. There were tight spaces, tall grass, uneven ground, steep slopes, and saturated soils; in short, all the good stuff. The GLM801601 was more than up for the challenge.

Initial assembly was a snap. Just popped on the handles and plugged in the 80V battery. The mower comes with two batteries and charger that takes only 30 minutes. In practical terms, that means the second battery was charged in the time it took me to use up the charge on the initial battery. So, it should be possible to keep mowing; stopping only once every half hour to swap batteries. That compares favorably with filling the tank on a gasoline mower.

Operation could not be easier. Press the start button and pull back on the dead-man handle. The cordless mower starts a second later taking only a couple seconds to reach full speed.

The GLM801601 has a 21″ cutting width, which is standard for most walk behind mowers. It has two power settings, based on the the thickness of the lawn. The mower switches automatically between normal and overdrive when encountering thick grass. [Caution: overdrive drains the battery much faster so be prepared to cover less lawn on a charge.] The cordless mower did not seem to down-shift back into normal operation as quickly as I would have liked. I found myself several times stopping and re-starting the mower after it left the heavy grass, to make the battery last longer.

There are three operating modes for the GLM801601. A rear bagging attachment easily drops into place after lifting the rear discharge door. The grass catcher is sturdy and easy to empty. a side discharge shoot snaps into place under the side discharge door. It did not take too much of a bump to knock the shoot off — easy on; easy off. This could be annoying if you regularly find yourself bumping into obstacles or the right. The final mulching mode chops up grass clippings and leaves them on the lawn. For our lawn, the mulching option works just fine, especially as we mow high and tend to leave clippings as natural fertilizer.

Image of 80 volt battery and charger

The heart of the Greenworks high end tools are its 80V battery and quick charger.

One big advantage is that Greenworks makes tools that share batteries. Those tools can be purchased as “bare tools.” So, the batteries you use for the mower can also power your snow blower, leaf blower, string trimmer and even a chainsaw. While the Greenworks battery chainsaw will not replace my Stihl 361 for felling trees, it will work great for clearing brush and small trees like buckthorn.

Monday, 08 June 2020

All About the Show

Image if showy orchid

While not the biggest, the showy orchid makes in color and beauty for its relatively modest size.

If last week was all about the squirrel farm damage and chaos caused by invasive plants, this week was the flip side of the coin. 

Gone to Seed

Image of garlic mustard in seed

Garlic mustard in full seed is especially impressive by the light of dawn. Soon those pods will burst; each plant casting hundreds of invasive seeds.

This is crunch week for clearing garlic mustard. Plants are done blooming and ripening seed heads. In a week or two, pods will dry and split open. As they do, seeds will be thrown several feed away. Many will take root and begin growing within weeks after hitting the ground. Others will lay dormant for up to five years., waiting for favorable conditions.

Image of large construction bag filled with garlic mustard.

Much of the seed will wash downhill with the next rain, spreading the infestation downstream and across property lines. That is why it is so important to pull, bag and remove as many plants as possible before those seed pods burst.

 

Blooming Trees

Lots of flowering trees made their appearance this week. Among them were three rather similar looking mid-story shrub like trees. The pagoda dogwood, maple leaf viburnum and nannyberry all have clusters of small simple white flowers. All three provide important food for pollinators in the spring while birds eat their berries throughout the summer.

 

Private Landowner Assistance Available

Image of private landowners with consultant

We all benefit from another set of eyes. All the better when those eyes when the help is highly skilled. Better yet when it’s free.

Eighty-two percent of Wisconsin is privately owned. Therefore, private landowners are the most important group of land stewards. Because of that, the Prairie Enthusiasts just hired a full time private landowner consultant. Dan Carter is the Landowner Services Coordinator, working on a three year grant. He is available to answer questions and give advice to private landowners trying to create or update management plans for their property.

The Prairie Enthusiasts have the experience and skills to help private land owners. They directly manage several thousand of acres of prairie and savannah across Wisconsin. In addition, TPE holds dozens of conservation easements with private landowners across Wisconsin. Finally, TPE’s chapters provide an excellent local, peer-based network of landowners. They are willing to share their knowledge and experience.

Dan is available for phone calls, email or on-site visits. He recommends land management contractors for those big jobs. Additionally, Dan can source native seeds and plants for your land. He knows the native nurseries and seed growers, what they sell and which growers carry stock suited for your management plan.

Resources

For additional sources of help, check out the Conservation Digest Resources page. We provide links to private landowner help with a wide range of land stewardship issues. Find information about  landowner assistance programs and product reviews.

Contact

You can reach Dan at landowners@theprairieenthusiasts.org or 319-321-6513 to ask questions, discuss your property’s potential  or set up a site visit. As a landowner, you can make a difference!

May 2020

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Woodland Looking Like a Wreck

Image of oriole and indigo bunting at backyard feeder

The newly open squirrel farm feeding station attracts the most brilliantly colored woodland birds around.

For the Birds

This week saw an explosion of spring flowers and activity across the squirrel farm. We hung the bird feeders as soon as we moved in a month ago but resisted the urge to fill them right away. We did not want the local wildlife to become dependent on handouts. Nearly every day, however, we saw bird arriving for the spring and checking out the empty feeders with obvious disappointment. This week we relented after neighbors told of the beautiful birds that frequently their backyards.

The response to our offerings was immediate and overwhelming. Unlike the house sparrows and chickadees that dominated our yard in Madison, visitors to the squirrel farm feeders include bluebirds, nuthatches, orioles, gold finches, rose breasted grosbeaks, downy woodpeckers, wood thrush, and hummingbirds. The brilliant colors of these beautiful birds remind me of a tropical zoo display more than any backyard I have ever known.The surrounding woods pay host to cardinals, bluejays, wrens, warblers, red winged blackbirds, red tail hawks and pileated woodpeckers.

Disaster Zone

On the other hand, the squirrel farm woodland is now officially a wreck. Shortly after moving in, I began cutting down buckthorn and treating the stumps with Garlon 4 to keep them from re-sprouting. At first, I looked for fairly open spots and began stacking the brush into compact piles for burning later. Trees begin to push sap up into trunk and out to branches as the days lengthen and weather warms. That upwelling of sap prevents herbicide from moving down into the roots where it does its damage.

So, once sap began to flow my tactics had to change, as well. Instead of killing the trees, my aim switched to preventing them from making seed. Instead of cutting trunks off neatly at the ground and treating the stumps, I started lopping trunks off around waist height and leaving them untreated. Though the tree remained alive, without branches, it could not flower and produce seed. Of course, that choice means I must return in late summer and cut those trunks and treat the stumps to kill the trees. But removing the tops prevents millions of seeds from entering the seed bank to plague the woodland for decades to come.

One retired guy working part time to clear five acres of buckthorn thicket in less than a month meant that all those tops were left where the dropped. The result is a woodland that resembles a battlefield. For the next couple months, it will be just me and the ticks turning that chaos into a scattering of well organized brush piles.

Image of forget me not flowers

These stunning blue flowers are quickly becoming the scourge of the north woods.

But wait, there’s more

Adding to my manmade disaster is that of invasive garlic mustard. The squirrel farm sports more than a half acre of dense stands along with scattered patches and pioneering individual plants. I filled a large construction bag of the plants each of the past three weeks. Most of the outlying individuals and small patches are removed and will not make seed in 2020. The large patches along the small ravine remain. With luck I will remove all or nearly all of them before the seed pods burst a month from now.

Joining the garlic mustard is another invasive plant more common in north country woodlands, the forget-me-not. With lovely little blue flowers, these common garden plants overrun woodlands, especially along river banks and other sunlit edges. The Baraboo hills are at the southern edge of the tension zone between northern woodland and sand country and the prairie and savanna plant communities that dominate the southern third of Wisconsin. Life in the tension zone means having the diversity of both native and invasive species. The infestation is currently confined to a 1,000 square foot area of woodland east of the road and south of the driveway. My challenge is to clear this patch in the next three days. Rain and warm weather will soon make the woodlands mosquito hell, so time is not on my side.

On the Up-Side

The squirrel farm is much more than a neglected woodland thicket. More amazing spring ephemeral wildflowers made their appearance this week. Yellow forest violets brightened the forest floor. Alternate-leaved dogwood, also called pagoda dogwood trees unfurled their leaves. Seedlings around their bases ensure that lovely mid-story trees will supply us with gorgeous flowers, while their dark purple berries will help woodland birds feed their young throughout the summer.

The oak seedlings and round saplings scattered across the property offer promise, hoping to compete with their more aggressive neighbors like cherry, walnut, locust and boxelder. It will up to me to place my thumb on the scale of the oaks, until there is enough surface fuel to begin prescribed burning in a few years. Once fire turns to the squirrel farm, the fire tolerant oaks and hickories will regain their dominance and those shade tolerant species like maples will retreat.

Mushrooms!

This week also brought our first morel mushroom harvest. First to arrive this week are the half-free morels. Neighbors claim the squirrel farm is a bountiful store of morels, the rains and warm weather we are getting this week make us truly hopeful.

 

 

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

A spring morning amble

Image of woodland in the early morning light

View from the front porch of the squirrel farm.

It is about time that I acknowledge maybe the biggest difficulty I have writing, especially about land stewardship; particularly living on the squirrel farm. My office has a large window behind which sits my desk. The heating vent sits on the floor in front of the window. I am sitting here at my desk hot air blowing at my feet staring out the window with geranium plants flanking my face, competing with me for the precious light outside. How can I sit here on such a beautiful spring morning when all I want to do is go outside?

The last frost date for this part of the state is right around May 15th, so it should be no great surprise that the air outside this morning is a frigid twenty five degrees. That same air is really dry, so dry that while we are getting a hard freeze, there is no frost. The sun has risen high enough over the south ridge that at 7:15 am, we are fully bathed in that rich golden sunlight that photographers call the golden hour.

When I am walking the land and losing myself in the small and infinite world around me, I have no notebook to record the experience. Even if a notebook is tucked under my arm, I have no desire to pull it out and lose the moment trying in vane to capture it. This is the paradox of the naturalist, of every erstwhile wander and those watching the robin and peewees plying their trade just outside the window.

Out the door

I am not, by nature, a particularly literate person. I am a landowner who wants to give back some of what the Wisconsin outdoors has given to me. Today, that means pouring another cup of coffee, showering and spraying down my cloths with permethrin before heading out the door. Two days ago, while digging a trench, I acquired my first tick of the season. While that critter was a dog tick, the unwanted harbinger put me on notice that tick season is here. As the mercury climbs, the ticks will become active … and hungry.

By 9:15 am on this spring morning the temperature has climbed to 38 degrees with bright sunshine and little wind. The first bloodroot make an appearance just north of the driveway. Their leaves, nearly three inches across, spread out to grab sunlight and power the impending flower production sure to arrive in a matter of days. Boxelder and buckthorn leaves are opening. The spring sap flow halts dormant season cutting and stump treatment. While dormant trees readily take herbicide like Garlon 4 down into their roots, the emergence of leaves means flow will be moving away from the roots. Any chemical applied now will be pushed right back out.

For the next two six weeks, the only hope of preventing this year’s seed crop will mean cutting the stumps at waist height. I will need to return later in the summer to remove the trunks and treat the stumps once the normal leaf out period is over and the roots are once again ready to take nutrient downward once again.

Image of rock wall viewed from atop the wall

Rock wall marking the section line is nearly wide enough for a cart.

Surprise me

The aim this spring morning is to take a slow stroll through the woods to see what spring on the squirrel farm wants to reveal about itself. I make my way north from the driveway along an old stone wall. It is only 3-4 feet high, but for most of its length, the wall is wider than it is tall. The road we live on begins to veer away to the west less than 200 feet past the driveway. The area was platted and parcels sold off thirty years ago, but this wall is much older. There are red oak trees growing out of it flanks that first sprouted nearly a century ago.

Making my way deep into the woodland, the wall stays on my left hip. I turn to look over my right shoulder I look directly at our living room window and am reminded that homes and roads here no longer obey cardinal compass directions, as farmers who settled this land did. I pull out my smart phone and open the compass app. Sure enough, that rock way runs directly north and south, and it suddenly clicks in my mind that this is no random wall, it marks the section line that once would have declared the boundary between two settler farmsteads.

Not all surprises are welcome

There is so much more to learn; nearly every step reveals something new. Depending the slope along the wall, my way is blocked by dense black locust saplings. I will need to cut, stack and burn them this fall. Black locust are native to Wisconsin. Oak and hickory savannah covered this land prior to settlement, and black locust were not typically food there. Farmers planted them to harvest as supply of young trees for fence posts. Fast growing, rot resistant and straight, locust posts filled an important need.

Today, their nasty thorns and prolific seed production make them most unwelcome. Because black locust is a legume, nearly every tool I have to control locusts comes with its own drawbacks. Fire stimulates seed germination. Pulling saplings out by the roots opens the soil (encouraging erosion) and causes locust seeds to germinate. Mowing kills top growth, but the black locust simply re-sprout. Most effective herbicides persist in the soil and kill nearby native plants. Getting this problem under control will be a long and unpleasant slog.

Back on what was once a trail leading to the house, nuthatches flit from trunk to trunk, feeding on the newly emerging insects. A pair of wood thrush hop across the lawn near the house. Every walk in the woods so far is a new adventure. I cannot wait to see how the land responds to its new steward. Perhaps the care I provide can begin to match the wisdom the it will impart in exchange.

April 2020

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Get Active in the Woodland this Spring

Image of boxelder bud opening

Boxelder, while not a welcome guest, is among the first trees to leaf out each spring.

Spring in the woodland brings promise and challenge. Yesterday saw the first violets of the spring on the squirrel farm, a five acre woodland property my wife Anette and I  recently purchased. These blossoms, however, are in our lawn where the abundance of sunlight and relatively dry soil no doubt hasten their display. Anette spotted our first pileated woodpecker in the top of a dead elm along the driveway.

Last week, a male bluebird set up residence in the backyard. He enjoys using a five foot tall stump in the middle of the yard as his primary perch. From there, he has a 360 degree view of his domain; his proud stance and fluttering wings announcing him dominance to any would be rivals.

Invasive shrubs threaten the squirrel farm

While the cool April holds back many from breaking their winter dormancy, garlic mustard thrives with some plants already setting flower buds. The property has patches up to twenty feet in diameter, with a larger stretch along the banks of an intermittent stream. Scattered plants elsewhere on the property promise an uncontrollable problem if the infestation is not dealt with in the year or two.

Image of buckthorn on brush pile

Cut buckthorn and wild grape vines fill a brush pile waiting to burn once the snow flies.

Common buckthorn is another serious problem at the squirrel farm. Because we were not able to get into the woods until a few weeks ago, my first priority was to cut and stump treat as many large, seed producing, trees as possible. Leaves are now beginning to emerge. That means sap is flowing. Because the roots are pushing flow upward, the stumps will not absorb the Garlon 4 and carry it down to the roots. This translocation will only resume once the trees have bloomed and leaves have fully opened. That will not happen until sometime in mid June. My hope is to have buckthorn cut and stacked for burning when the snows arrive in December.

Image of bush honeysuckle

Honeysuckle leaves open as this woodland invader prepares to menace another growing season.

Another invasive shrub is the bush honeysuckle. Yes, the squirrel farm also has it share of this bad boy of the woods. Because it emerges even earlier than buckthorn, I got to deal with only a small portion of the bushes scattered across the squirrel farm. And like buckthorn, it will need to wait for late summer and fall for removal.

Image of mayapples

Mayapples unfold their umbrella of leaves to greet another spring.

Spring brings the promise of better times

Mayapples began emerging last week and are now beginning to spread their umbrella shaped leaves. Heavy shrub growth has changed the character of Wisconsin woodlands over the past forty years. Many spring wildflowers that were once common are all but gone from or woodlands. One of the most robust woodland spring wildflowers, mayapples can persist in deep shade that prevent many of their native neighbors from thriving.

My challenge is to remove those invasive shrubs and open up the canopy enough to allow native woodland wildflowers to return. Once light reaches the ground other woodland flowers and grasses will once again take up residence.

Those ground layer plants, along with leaf litter will provide enough fuel to permit returning fire to the land. Southern Wisconsin was, until European settlement, a landscape dominated by fire. Lightning and fires set by Native Americans regularly burned the prairies, savannah and open woodlands the covered much of the lower two-thirds of the state.

Image of gooseberry

Gooseberry bushes are an important woodland inhabitant. They provide valuable wildlife food.

A fire dominated land

The squirrel farm was dominated by red oak, white oak and bur oak. Because of the slopes and rocky soil, those trees were probably scattered so widely that their branches seldom touched. Oak trees have relatively thick and corky bark. The wildfires that regularly visited the squirrel farm prevented shrubs from getting established. Likewise, fire killed maple, cherry, black walnut and other tree species whose bark could not tolerate fires of even low intensity and short duration. Grasses and wildflowers bounce back quickly from fires, their roots taking up the nutrients left in the ash.

As a result, the squirrel farm probably resembled a park like setting; the hillside dotted here and there with large spreading oak trees. The stream would have hosted shagbark and possibly bitternut hickory, owing to the moist soil and higher humidity. The abundance and variety of grasses, sedges and wildflowers would have provided food for a wide range of bugs, spiders, and all manner of insects; both crawling and flying. These would have supported abundanant wildlife, small and large.

Our farming neighbors will continue to make sure that the deer population is kept well fed with corn and grass. The landowners who neglect their woodlands will keep squirrels supplied with hickory nuts and black walnuts. My mission will be to provide homes for badgers and bobcats; grouse and woodcock. A healthy plant community makes abundant wildlife possible.

February 2020

Friday, 07 February 2020

Build Better Birdhouses

I don’t know about you, but I get restless during the cold and lazy days of winter. I felled and hauled firewood for next year  much of it is even split. Woody brush got its basal bark treatment before hunting season. I ordered seeds garden for next season. Snow is deep and the land is resting up for spring.

Now is the time I get busy in the workshop. Nobody will ever confuse me with a competent woodworker, but when faced with the alternative of preparing my taxes, just about anything will due as a distraction. This is just the right time to build some birdhouses. I like to rely on the native plants on my land to serve as the bird feeders. However, our feathered neighbors will need shelter  for their young just as much as food if they are to successfully raise a brood this year.

Birdhouse Design Tips

Over the years, I have made my share of birdhouses. Often no birds used them at all. Invasive birds, such as starlings or house sparrows may raid or take over your birdhouses. I learned a few lessons on my own, but found this list of tips from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that pulls together best practices for birdhouses, regardless of the species. A good box should have:

  • Ventilation – small holes, usually placed under the roof overhang, are important for airflow.
  • Drainage holes – you don’t want the box to fill with rainwater.
  • Roof – the roof should be sloped to help keep out rain and should extend over the walls of the box for extra protection.
  • No perch – predators can potentially use a perch for support. Birds do not require a perch to get in and out of the box.
  • Predator guard – adding a baffle to the pole supporting your nest box will help deter predators like snakes and raccoons.
  • Hinged door – you will need to clean out your nest box at the end of the nesting season, and a hinged door makes this much simpler. It will also enable you to easily monitor nests!

Better Birdhouses Start With A Plan

Here is a site that provides free birdhouse plans that are proven to work. You enter your region (here in Wisconsin, that is the Great Lakes-Big Rivers) and your habitat type. The good folks at Cornell Lab of Ornithology will show you a list of bird house plans for species that will nest there. The plans include drawings, tips and tricks to make sure your nest box to ensure you build, site and properly install them. That way you get the best chance of attracting the birds you want.

color drawing of two people building a nest cam equipped birdhouse

Yes, you can build your very own nest cam.

Ever thought of building your very own nest cam? Now it is easier than you think to create your own nest cam and engage in real citizen science. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology NestWatch project contains a series of slides that show you how to install and operate a successful and ethical nest cam.

Rent Your Woodworking Shop

Lots of folks who live in town have limited access to woodworking tools. A well equipped woodworking shop can easily run more than ten thousand dollars. Fortunately, my rudimentary workshop is sufficient for a building birdhouse or two.

But if your complete shop fits in a small toolbox, you may still be in luck. Maker spaces, like The Bodgery in Madison are makers cooperatives that give you access to a fully equipped woodworking shop for a modest monthly membership fee. For $50.00 a month ($25.00 for senior citizens) you get to use all the tools in their incredible woodworking shop, but also get access to their welding, laser cutting, electronics, and fiber arts shops as well.

The Bodgery also conducts classes to teach you how to use their tools. This is an awesome place to learn and grow. I signed up for a couple months just to get access to their large drill press that I used to drill the three inch long holes needed to make pollinator house. Members range in age, background and ability levels. Most are incredibly generous with their knowledge and can help when you get stuck.

2019

November 2019

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Remember to Thank the Turkey

image of wild turkey

The wild turkey reintroduction is a true Wisconsin conservation success story.

Thanksgiving is the time of year when we give thanks for bountiful gifts that come to us throughout the year. While many Wisconsinites equate Thanksgiving with the fall deer hunt, everybody can agree that the true symbol of the holiday is the turkey. Why not thank the turkey?

Whether your table features a wild or domestic bird, whether it is fresh or frozen, the centerpiece of the holiday table is a turkey. Wild turkeys were hunted to extinction in Wisconsin by 1881. They only made a return in 1976, when the Wisconsin DNR traded 29 pairs of ruffed grouse with Missouri for wild turkey. The DNR released those first birds in Vernon County. They thrived in their new home so much that the DNR trapped 3,000 birds and transplanted them to 49 counties across the state. Today, you can find wild turkey everywhere, even beyond their traditional home range.

Private landowners across Wisconsin are a great place to start. They provide habitat for wild turkeys. Because of them, we all enjoy the return of wild turkeys to our woodlands, meadows and wetlands. The Land Conservation Assistance Network helps private landowners improve conservation practices that benefit wild turkeys, as well as other Wisconsin wildlife.

image of turkey feather on the ground

Wise land stewardship improves habitat for wildlife like the wild turkey.

Those wild turkeys did not just appear on the Wisconsin landscape, however. Groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation, give private landowners advice though their Landowner’s Tool Box. Local chapter members also assist with work days that help improve turkey habitat across the state. 

Most of us will sit down to a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner  featuring domestic turnkey with all the trimmings. Let us take a minute to thank the turkey farmers that raised the bird that graces our table.