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DAVIS COLUMN: Viewing wildlife where they forage

DAVIS COLUMN: Viewing wildlife where they forage

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Finding wildlife for viewing, surveying, or watching them fit into an ecosystem often involves finding where they nourish. Even during the heat of summer, animals may venture out, albeit for a moment, to gather energy.

It would seem dark-bodied creatures, including bears, vultures, turkeys and bald eagles would avoid direct sunlight on a warm day. Many times they do, but when finding food is a matter of chance, they take the opportunity when and where they can.

When a small mammal dies, regardless of the reason or the location, scavengers are likely to congregate. Viewing and photographing, counting and studying, become peak.

Others, including foxes and coyotes, skunks and raccoons, may chance the wait and venture out after sundown.

A dead woodchuck lay on a prairie edge for four hours, just long enough for a wake of turkey vultures to begin picking up the smell of death. Within minutes, a mature bald eagle, also a scavenger, apparently saw the opportunity and put down its landing legs near the prairie, not bothering to review the situation from a lone nearby cottonwood.

An eagle doesn’t appear as regel on the ground compared to treetop perches or lake dives.

While the vultures used their uncanny olfactory ability, one has to wonder if the bald eagle saw their arrival as an opportunity or saw the carcass.

Circling crows, ravens and vultures are commonly used by hunters to locate downed game. Canada’s conservation wardens do the same to pin down poachers in the vast wilderness.

The eagle, for whatever reason, pulled the carcass about 20 yards before beginning to consume. Taking advantage of some shade-providing vegetation? Regardless, the eagle’s action continued to provide better and better viewing and photographing but still drew the question.

The big bird’s wolfing down meat lasted more than 30 minutes before taking flight when a basement door slid shut. Three vultures seized the opportunity and finished cleaning the environment of flesh, leaving nothing for nighttime scavengers.

Moments earlier, the drone of a hummingbird moved past, not to challenge the eagle, but to investigate some nectar-laden blooms. The opportunity was a quick contrast of Wisconsin’s smallest bird with two of the state’s largest did not escape.

While carnivores and scavengers are providing viewing opportunities for us, the Wisconsin Department of Natural resources is working on opportunities for feeding more hunters and others who rely on hunters for meat.

Instead of several hunting regulation pamphlets commonly provided in the past, most are being folded into one format for September’s season openings. Soon to be available online and in paper, a mere 40-pager will show up for the first time covering deer, turkeys, small game and waterfowl.

Refined and revealed a bit later, better opportunities for non-hunters may be available to get their forks on venison, ideally at a time when beef may be expensive or scarce. Wait and watch for additional details that could put more excitement, camaraderie and understanding between hunters and those who don’t.

COVID-19 eliminated the last spring fawn search for the five-year deer CWD and predator study, but now with slightly more flexibility researchers are using the adult deer’s GPS collars and trail cameras to remotely and indirectly follow some fawns’ early life history.

Two interesting large plants, wild carrot and mullein, blooming white and yellow, remind one of some of many past purposes. Wild carrot is that biennial plant, just allowed to grow the second year. Unknowing the name, smell the plant, which gives the answer.

Muellin, another biennial, may grow as “Wisconsin’s saguero cactus look-a-like. Muellin was used as tobacco, torches, lamp wicks, and the seeds would stupefy fish.

As summer’s last half approaches, notice those autumn-like inklings, including harvesting and gathering from gardens and wilds. Apples, acorns, grapes, elderberries and walnuts are all there to be eyed.

Contact Jerry Davis, a freelance writer, at or 608-924-1112.

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