About 1,000 acres of the Northwoods near Lake Tomahawk are part of a demonstration area where timber is managed in a patchwork fashion, providing birds and wildlife with different-aged stands of forest.
The result attracts diverse species —and makes for a great place to study and observe.
The demonstration area is part of a small regional project — the North-Central Wisconsin Young Forest Initiative — involving six counties. It is coordinated by Rhinelander Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Jeremy Holtz.
The area and project are part of the Upper Great Lakes Young Forest Initiative. The tract is part of the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest.
Amber Roth, a researcher and habitat biologist at Michigan Tech University in Houghton, Mich., has been involved with collaborative efforts here, often working out of the Kemp Natural Resources Station in Woodruff. This includes conducting research at the demonstration area near Lake Tomahawk.
Roth said the area is, “a collaboration of the Wisconsin DNR, myself at Michigan Tech University, Wildlife Management Institute, American Bird Conservancy, and the Ruffed Grouse Society.”
Roth said she has seen some interesting things in the portion she refers to as “the Dove Road aspen cut,” where timber was cleared this past winter.
A number of birds live in or use this type of habitat with its new green plants and open spaces. White-throated sparrows, golden-winged warblers, American woodcock, whip-poorwills, and others frequent the recent slash.
“This spring, I brought folks out here for a woodcock outing ... people were just so surprised at how many woodcock and whip-poorwills were out here,” Roth said. “There must have been 20 whip-poorwills (calling).”
With such a close proximity to the Wisconsin River, large raptors are commonly seen turning lazy circles in the sky above. The presence of the river also makes this an important migratory corridor.
Roth said the alders in the river flood plain adjacent to the Dove Road cut had grown quite mature, so half the stand was cut to provide new alder growth over a year ago.
Old alders tend to grow more horizontally, obscuring lanes of travel and inhibiting the growth of lush ground vegetation. The alder cut makes for good habitat for woodcock, and also golden-winged warblers, which Roth describes as “a species of special concern.” The warblers can be helped by the creation of a young forest and brush.
“There were two of them out here in the spring, which is really good,” Roth said.
Roth spotted the golden-winged warblers using the alder cut and last winter’s aspen cut. One of the birds was using a residual tamarack left standing in the alder cut; the other was on the transition between the alder cut and last winter’s slash, and may also be using some cedars here.
Roth said this type of area is good habitat for about 10 years for the golden-winged warblers.
“They need to have constantly disturbed forest in order to persist in places,” she said.
Plenty of aspen blocks of different ages across the property help attract a variety of birds and other wildlife. Pines and stands of oak also are present on the property.
“What we’re promoting is a balance,” Roth said.
Some parts of the property were purchased about 40 acres at a time as private holders put tracts up for sale. The parcels were cut and left to regenerate.
“It created this nice little patchwork in here, because of how that was all acquired and cut,” Roth said. “We’ve got so much diversity here.”
Roth said a pair of scarlet tanagers used the area last year. These colorful birds — the male is brilliant red with black wings and the female is green — are common in blocks of forest at least 20 years old.
“We’re at the point where we’re starting to pick up new species, like Canada warblers, which are a real high-priority species (for conservation),” Roth said.
She added that one species is responding to an abundance of a certain dreaded caterpillar that they eat.
“This has been a great year for cuckoos. The tent caterpillars are starting to (proliferate) again, so the cuckoos have really come out this year.”
Roth said the cuckoos cycle with tent caterpillars.
Mist nets, research, banding
Roth said they use lightweight nets called mist nets to catch birds for research. Typically, the mist net is strung across a likely passage-way for birds in flight, and the researcher mimics calls, hoping to lure a bird in the direction of the net. The net captures the bird safely.
During a May outing, Roth said the mist net was used to target woodcock in the Dove Road cut. They played a “peenting” male call, based on an earlier observation, hoping to invoke a territorial response from another male. A pair of trees flanking a trail made for a likely flight lane.
A female woodcock was captured instead. Roth said the mist net also captured a wood thrush — more of a deep-woods species that is unusual in a clear-cut. In addition, they are not common to the area. It was a surprise capture.
The mist net is used in leg-banding efforts.
“I target golden-winged warblers, and we actually put colored bands on them,” Roth said. “Each bird gets a unique color combination, so you don’t have to catch them to know which bird’s there. It kind of gives each one an identity. And, also, we collect samples for genetic work.”
Roth keeps her binoculars at the ready at all times while she roams the tract’s various habitat areas.
Roth said the habitat and the studies also hold an opportunity for outreach. There are programs in which the public can get involved, including landowners who want to learn about how to foster the growth of certain habitat. The project also has volunteers.
“It’s a lot about interacting with people and wildlife,” Roth said. “Something I try to do with my programs is put the birds in people’s hands.”
The tract is located in the state forest and has relatively easy access, so bird-watchers and other wildlife enthusiasts can easily use it. The property can be accessed from Dove Road off of River Road, Wisconsin Highway 47 and Lyannis Road.
“There’s some beautiful birds in this habitat,” Roth said.
To participate in a bird educational program or volunteer with research at this site, contact Roth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn how to create this type of bird habitat on your property, contact Jeremy Holtz at (715) 365-8999 or via email at email@example.com.
For more information about this site, go to timberdoodle.org/demo/lake-tomahawk-demonstration-area-oneida-county-wisconsin.
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org