July 11 - 20
Racine has 14 hours and 53 minutes of daylight and Superior has 15 hours and 20 minutes of daylight at the end of the period. Southern Wisconsin loses 15 minutes of daylight and northern Wisconsin has 17 minutes less than the previous period. Mid-July is the warmest part of the year in southeast Wisconsin. Average high temperatures reach their peak in Madison on July 14 at 83 degrees.
Rare bird conservation: Wild-hatched Whooping Crane chicks in Wisconsin can be easily considered a top conservation story. Several nests and successfully raised young, albeit in lower numbers than the efforts would like, is a tremendous step over the number zero from twenty years ago. This species has been the icon of endangered species protection since the population dipped to 15 birds in the late 1940s.
Whooping Cranes fall into a difficult category of rarity from which a conservation strategy can be developed. Four primary categories of rarity have been constructed. 1.) Species with small home ranges and small populations, such as island species like Laysan rails, Hawaiian honeycreepers, and Galapagos finches. This group by far forms the bulk of the ICUN Critically Endangered category. 2.) Species with relatively high populations by limited to a few locations during critical times of the year. This group includes species like terns, alcids (especially the Great Auk) and egrets that make be jeopardized if a few nesting locations are lost. 3.) Species with large ranges and large populations that are vulnerable to habitat change. This group includes the Passenger Pigeon, which through a combination of habitat loss and excessive market hunting became extinct. 4.) Species with large ranges and very small populations. Whooping cranes fit this category with preEuropean settlement populations estimated between a few and several thousand.
The exhaustive history of Whooping crane conservation is several books worth of information, in essence the story revolves around the concept that extinct for this species is an unacceptable outcome. Little guidance on how to prevent the potential loss of this icon was in place in the 1940s. Scientists needed to try things. A blank slate was not the starting point. We knew habitat and individual bird protection was critical.
In one paragraph the conservation strategy is summed. First, we need to find the nesting areas and understand the breeding biology. We discovered that two eggs were laid, but usually only one chick survived led to second egg collection and eventually a captive breeding program. A few excess eggs permitted experimenting with a surrogate parent breeding program using Sandhill Cranes, which failed. Working with young Canada Geese confirmed they can imprint on ultralight aircraft and the birds will followed the aircraft to develop a migration route. These scientific breakthroughs lead to experimenting with the development of second migratory flock in Wisconsin.
The future looks optimistic for successfully creating a second migratory flock. The next few years will determine if the optimism is justified or not. Regardless the result of the second flock, birders should be very aware of the incredible perseverance of the conservationists and extraordinary financial commitment needed to prevent human induced extinction.
Another phenomenon for recent summers has been the statewide explosion of Dickcissels. Records from decades ago indicate Dickcissel’s were irregular in the state being uncommon in some years and virtually absent in many others. In the last decade, the numbers have increased dramatically. The species is still variable in numbers, but they now range from uncommon to abundant. In peak years, every old field seems to have a pair or more. I recorded a singing male from a 20 by 20 meter patch of weeds surrounded by parking lot. Remarkably unattractive habitat, but during super invasion years this was an example of how many birds were in the state.
Dickcissels provide another example of rare bird conservation. I know with a population estimated at 20 or more million birds, how can this remotely be considered a rare bird. Category 2 from above provides a clue. In the United States, Dickcissel’s are a wide spread breeder with Wisconsin lying at the northeastern limit of its range. Recent summer’s invasions most likely were due to the severe drought in the southern and central Great Plains. The species arrived about ten days late around the last few days of May, but they arrived in mass. Indications from other states did not reveal a population explosion.
Vulnerable concentrations do not occur during the nesting season, but on their wintering grounds. During migration and especially wintering birds in the llanos of Venezuela, Dickcissel’s form incredibly huge and dense flocks. In the nesting season they eat primarily insects, but on their wintering grounds they are almost exclusively grain eaters. The size and extent are very reminiscent of blackbird flocks in southern United States. They forage in loosely aggregated flocks in the day, then go the aggregated dense predictable roosts at night.
It is at the roost that Dickcissels are particularly vulnerable. A few Venezuelan rice farmers have aerially sprayed these roosts with pesticides. A single farmer has the potential to wipe out a substantial proportion of the world’s population. A few dozen farmers acting in unison could eliminate most of the world’s population.
Rare bird conservation is needed before the bird becomes rare. Conservation actions must account for the needs of the farmers. If they are not making a profit, they will most assuredly take it out on the birds. A fragile agreement is in place where the farmer’s limit spraying, but that could change in a heartbeat. Diligence is paramount.
Different species require different conservation actions. The conservation of Dickcissels may not be as complicated or expensive as Whooping Crane conservation, but it is equally as important.
Mid-July floral peaks: Peak blooming has shifted to open landscapes, northern pine forests, marshlands and savannas. Mid-July blooming plant observation is best accomplished by visiting these habitats.
Table 1. Native Wildflowers with peak blooming times July 11 – 20
Lepidopteran activity reaches its peak: Mid-July is the later end of the peak diversity for butterflies and skipper. Several species listed in the early July table either persist or actually have higher numbers in mid-July. Several large moth species are just starting to build in numbers.
Table 2. Large and more recognizable Lepidopterans whose flight period either starts in mid-July or is limited to this time period.
Aquatic productivity: The period from Mid-July to Labor Day corresponds to the time of peak biotic production for most aquatic plants and animals. The benefits of reaching peak daylight and water temperature for many species results in overdrive growth and regeneration. This production goes beyond the water itself and affects the moist soils at the edge of the water of nearby.
A dip net, and a lens or small microscope is all the equipment needed to start. The fascinating world of the water realm is waiting. Kids especially love looking for aquatic critters, but the experience can also be rewarding to adults. Shallow water bodies without too much muck are great places to start.
Aquatic plants are found in abundance. Wisconsin has more than 2 million acres of water and 5 million acres of wetlands in the state. Examples of submerged and emergent plant and animals to look for:
Spikerushes are found poking out of shallow water. They have single spikes topped with minute fruiting bodies. There are many species in the state and difficult to identify to species.
Rushes are members of the Juncus genus and they also poke out of the water or grow on moist soils near the water. Hard-stem, soft-stem, three-square, river bulrushes and wool grass are the common species at naturalist should find.
Many grass and sedge species are found on the edges or in very shallow water. Predominate among the grasses are rice cutgrass, wild rice, and cordgrass.
Cattails, bur-reeds, arrowheads, iris, and pickerel weed are of high importance in the emergent zone.
Floating leaved plants such as water lilies, pond lilies, water shield, wild celery, floating leaved pond weeds, and American lotus have long stem attached to hold fasts on the bottom.
Another group of floating leaved plants does not have grounded roots. This group is exemplified by species such as giant duckweeds, small duckweed, water fern, and watermeal.
Submerged plants only have flowers emerge above the surface and many times require low water levels for them to bloom. This group includes coontails, elodea, watermilfoils, stonewort, naiad, muskgrass, mermaidweed, quillwort, bladderworts, water lobelia, and shoreweed.
Many groups of small animals feed on the plants or smaller animals. Species commonly found in shallow ponds are larvae of mosquitoes, midges, an dragonflies; springtails; fishing spiders; water treaders; whirligig beetles; water fleas; backswimmers; water boatmen; water scorpions; giant water bugs; and predaceous diving beetles.
Larger animals include: small fish, frogs, salamanders, turtles, and water snakes.
The summer triangle: The three brightest stars in the summer sky form the “summer triangle. The stars – Vega, Deneb and Altair are high in the sky near the Milky Way. On moonless nights in mid-summer look to the east and one of the first stars to appear after dusk is Vega, which lies above the Milky Way. Look for another very bright star just below the Milky Way (Altair), and another in the midst of the great star cluster (Deneb). Once you have found these stars, they can easily be found thereafter. Many school children do not see a triangle by a huge "V" that stands for Vacation.
The rose curculio is most numerous at this time of year. They feed on roses of all kinds including native species and can sometimes be pests.
Giant water bugs are one of our largest insects reaching 11/2 to 2 inches. They are long-lived (more than one year) for an insects. They inhabit still water and ambush prey as large as small birds. Starting in mid-July through august adults sometimes leave their ponds looking for new places to colonize. They are also attracted to lights. Many a landowner has picked up these giant insects in the morning to receive a painful bite.
After heavy summer rains, many mushroom species pop up in field and forest. Species to look for after significant summer rains are: reddish lepiota, blusing lepiota, little scale lepiota, honey mushroom, yellow russula, velvet russula, green russula, little wheel, ink caps, little gray cap, mower’s mushroom, shiny nail, veined bolete, golden chanterelle, birch bolete, king bolete, Frost’s bolete, bitter bolete, witches butter, several coral fungi, and Indian club. Hundreds of other species are possible. For those with a deeper interest in the fungi of the state, a contact the Wisconsin Mycological Society may be in order.
While prairie botanizing, also search for the colorful dogbane leaf beetle. This one centimeter long leaf beetle is highly iridescent with colors changing from green to golds to blue depending on the viewing angle. If you try to catch one, be aware they give off a foul smell.
White water lily
Low blueberry fruiting in the south
Fly honeysuckle fruits
Dwarf raspberry fruits
Marsh St. John's-wort
Red raspberry fruit
Shallow lakes and ponds
Shallow lakes and streams
Dry conifer woods and bogs
Dry open woods
Wet boggy forests
Pine and oak forests
Bogs and sedge meadows
Springs and seeps
Open areas, old fields
Openings in woods
Dry to mesic prairies and savannas
Dry-mesic to mesic prairies
Wet prairies, meadows and streamsides
Dry-mesic to wet prairies
Sandy prairies and barrens
Sandy savannas and barrens
Dry to moist woods
Dry conifer and oak woods
Broken Dash (numbers higher)
Dun skipper (numbers higher)
Bog copper (numbers peak)
Spring azure (second brood)
Swamp metalmark (very rare)
Mustard white (2nd brood)
Virgin tiger moth
Nais tiger moth
Nessus sphinx (at flowers)
Open areas near swamps & rivers
Wet meadows and prairies
Marshes and bogs
Wet meadows, marshes
Sedge meadows and bogs
Openings in woods
Deciduous forest edges
Wild rice and phragmites
Many trees species
Birch, clover, corn