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March 1 - 10


Racine has 11 hours and 40 minutes of daylight at the end of the period and Superior has 11 hours and 36 minutes of daylight - an increase of 29 minutes in the south and 34 minutes in the north from the previous period. March 5 has the full moon for the month.  Names for this full moon in the upper Midwest are Chaste, Snow Crust, Crow, and Fish depending upon the historical context.






























Maple sugaring: Early March is the average time maple sap starts flowing in southern Wisconsin. The exact time each year depends upon the temperature. Day time temperature must be above freezing. Maximum sap can be collected when the daytime temperature is above 32 degrees and it freezes at night. The flowing sap is the natural process to transfer the internal fluids the tree needs for growth from the roots to the branches.


This sap contains sugars. Wisconsin residents have been collecting this sap for millennia. The Ojibwe people found out many generations ago that sugar could be made from this sap. They would cut grooves or punch small holes in the bark to permit the sap to flow on the outside. They would collect the sap in bark baskets for transport. After pouring the sap into a large hollowed out log, hot rocks from a fire were added to boil the sap into a heavy syrup or sugar.  


Wisconsin today has more than 500 producers of maple syrup. The economic value is quite variable depending upon the length of the season. In a good season, several million dollars in product is produced in the state. The trees with the highest sap sugar content in order are Sugar, Black, Red and Sliver maples.    


Box elder: Surprisingly to most, box elder trees do have some positive values. It is much more than a garbage weed tree that hosts annoying box elder bugs. Being a member of the maple family, good syrup can be boiled from the box elder sap. Seeds persist on the branches throughout the winter, which is especially important as a late winter food source for Ruffed Grouse, Greater Prairie-Chicken, Wild Turkey, Evening Grosbeak and Purple Finch. Rabbits and deer browse on the twigs and branches and beaver will readily eat the bark if the tree grows near water.  


Skunk cabbage: Always the first flower of spring, skunk cabbage flowers can be seen poking though snow or even ice. These flowers can accomplish this feat by generating their own heat. The chemical process that converts the stored starches in the roots into the rapidly growing flower can bring its temperature nearly 30 degrees warmer that the outside temperature. Careful touching of the flower head can generate a warm feeling to your fingertips.


The flowers also release an odor to attract pollinators to the plant. This odor has a skunk-like pungency. The shape of the flower permits theses odors to waft into the air for the purposes of attracting the few insects available at flowering time. Carrion loving flies are the primary pollinators, although the flowers have been known to attract beetles, snails and worms. Spiders occasionally build webs in the spathe to capture other insects attracted to the smell. 


Common Goldeneye courtship: Typical of ducks, goldeneyes form pair bonds on the winter grounds. The males perform a spectacular and complex courtship displays. Fourteen distinct behaviors have been observed with three to four males displaying to each female. The most spectacular display is the "head-throw-kick," in which a male repeatedly thrusts his head forward, then moves it back towards his rump and utters a call. He then flicks his head forward again while kicking the water with his feet. Interested females respond with up to three of these behaviors. Once paired, the male stays beside the female and drives away other males. These elaborate territorial displays and defenses are undertaken by the male for the duration of the northward migration.  Open water areas should be searched for the presence of Common Goldeneye, and if they are found simply, relax on the shore and observe the spectacular displays.  


Trumpeter Swan: Trumpeter Swan numbers were outstanding in the winter of 2012. Ebird numbers have about 600 birds give or take 15 that spent at least part of the winter in Wisconsin. Even more encouraging was the distribution with reports from 26 counties spanning the full breadth of the state. Reports of a single bird in Kenosha County to 3 in the Ashland/Bayfield area and even more in between were highlights of the season. 


When pondering why this is important, an obvious thought leads to mildness of the winter. Many waterfowl species were seen in exceptional numbers. Trumpeter Swans need to be considered as more than just another waterfowl species reacting to abundant open water. The previous statement is exemplified by the fact that before 1987, Trumpeter Swans never occurred in the state during the winter season.  


Let’s look a little more deeply into this winter’s phenomenal population. Historically, Trumpeter Swans nested in Wisconsin or migrated through the state. This interior population nested from the Great Plains to the west, north to Hudson Bay, south to Iowa and Illinois and east to the Atlantic. The population spent the winter from northern Missouri south to the US border and east to Chesapeake Bay. Wintering birds would have been extremely rare or virtually nonexistent in Wisconsin, even during their heyday.


Then the situation changed. Endangered species programs in several upper Midwest states began reintroduction programs. The slow process began in Hennepin County, Minnesota, with releases of birds from Red Rocks Lake, Idaho in 1966. Other states including Wisconsin became active participants in the reintroduction efforts in the mid-1980s. These early reintroduction efforts focused on nesting pairs with little consideration for winter habitat, other than monitoring where they went.  Most early release birds flew south to Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri and other southern states.  


In the late 1980s a few tantalizing wintering reports of Hennepin County birds echoed through the Wisconsin birding community. No reports, however, appeared in the Passenger Pigeon. The first winter any sightings were documented was the winter of 1990-91. These color collared birds were from northwest Minnesota, southern South Dakota, and two (one adult and one young of the year) from Crex Meadows.


A slow, but perceptible increase in wintering birds ensued over the next decade. The winter of 1991-92 had a single report from Green Lake County. The winter of 1992-93 had 6 to 8 birds in two counties.  1993-94 had 4 birds winter in Jefferson County. 1994-95 had three birds in two counties. 1995-96 had 6 birds of which 5 were in Burnett County. 1996-97 had overwintering birds in four counties.  1997-98 had 18 birds in six counties. 1998-99 recorded birds from seven counties, including 14 in Vilas and 25 in Polk.


The first decade of the 21st century saw a more dramatic increase in overwintering numbers and a broadening scope of locations. The numbers and counties covered look like this: winter ending in 2000, 48 birds, 2 counties; 2001, 58 birds, 3 counties; 2002, 122 birds, 5 counties; 2003, 151 birds, 7 counties, 2004, 170 birds, 4 counties, 2005, 286 birds, 5 counties; 2006, 158 birds, 4 counties; 2007, 239 birds, 6 counties; 2008, 330 birds, 14 counties; 2009, 486 birds, 13 counties; 2010, 364 birds, 14 counties; 2011, 289birds, 18 counties. The winter of 2011-12 had 600 birds plus or minus 15 located in 26 counties. Considering the volatility of winter weather patterns and open water availability, the precipitous rise in overwintering birds is remarkable.  


A predominate proportion of the population increase is attributed to Hudson, Wisconsin. Conditions and benefactors have combined to benefit winter birds at this location. The Willow River and its series of active springs near the St. Croix River helps keep a substantial area ice-free even in hard winters. In addition, to the open water, a local enthusiast spreads grain for them to eat on a daily basis. A safe area with open water an abundant food provides the basis for a winter population increase. Long-lived swans will come back year after year and bring their offspring, thus the population keeps increasing. 


A similar pattern of birds returning to the same spot year after year seems to be happening at other locations, albeit in lower numbers and without the effects of supplemental feeding. Shawano, Portage, Polk, Pierce and Dane counties have had overwintering birds nearly every year for the past decade. More recently, Grant, Sauk, and Barron counties seem to be the early stages of establishing relatively consistent overwintering birds.


These patterns of winter site fidelity can have benefits and unintended consequences. If wintering birds forage on their favorite foods, such as potamogeton seeds, and the water remains open, they may find long-term suitable winter habitat. Family units may return year after year, which could form long-lasting patterns. These patterns could be enhanced in a warmer climate and Wisconsin could be a major winter area in the future. 


A few persons or communities may be tempted to emulate Hudson, but science suggests not. Winter feeding was a critical component in the survival for a small number of individuals in the early stages of reintroduction. Early on, every individual was considered crucial to the species survival, because the population was so low. As the supplemental feeding populations grew, the higher numbers created additional concerns. Close proximity can lead to disease outbreaks. Normal migration patterns are altered. A surprising unintended consequence was the nearly feral wintering birds became much more aggressive during the breeding season.


The lesson is to let these new found wintering birds decide for themselves where they want to spend the winter. This practice will reduce disease possibilities caused by dense crowning, encourage natural migration and winter habitat patterns, and ease aggressive behavior on the nesting grounds. Newly established sites should not provide supplemental feeding. As for the existing feeding sites, an abrupt discontinuation of feeding is not recommended. The present population is acclimated to the situation. A suggestion is to gradually reduce the supplemental feeding to encourage use of more normal winter foods. The winter food preference may have already changed for the Hudson birds. Trained wildlife biologists in the area have noticed in recent years Trumpeter Swans are foraging in uplands fields much the same way Canada Geese forage in the winter. They are spending time on dry ground gleaning waste grain.


Looking forward, Wisconsin probably will hold Trumpeter Swans much the way it holds Canada Geese. Deep snow will move the birds farther south and milder winters will harbor numerous birds foraging in upland fields and resting on open water.


Other tidbits:

  • Several species of stonefly emerge as adults along clear cold streams.   

  • Gray Jays begin to nest in the northern swamps.  

  • Scarlet elf cup and British soldier lichens become very red.    

  • Check the tips of shrubs and small trees for signs of winter deer browse.

  • Early March is the average date for some of our most recognized migrants to arrive. Species such as Canada Goose, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, and American Robin arrive in numbers. These early migrants are much more dependent on weather. Sometimes they arrive in February and other during very cold years they do not arrive until late March, however over the long-term, this time frame constitutes the average arrival time.  


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