Dickinson deer fitted with GPS collars

Northwoods Notebook

Bill Scullon, Karen Sexton and Caleb Eckloff of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources handle a deer captured to be fitted with a GPS collar for the DNR’s ongoing tracking study of deer movement in the Upper Peninsula. (Michigan DNR photo)

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently completed work in Dickinson County to trap and collar deer as part of its ongoing study of seasonal deer movement in the western Upper Peninsula.

Crews were able to capture 38 deer in wooden box traps at 13 different sites on private land in Waucedah Township, easily meeting the goal of fitting 30 with GPS collars that twice a day will record the deer’s location, said Bill Scullon, field operations manager out of the DNR’s Norway office.

The operation finished Monday, before the snow got too deep but with enough to slow up the deer, Scullon said.

The collared animals in Dickinson County include 10 adult females, three adult males, seven female fawns, and 10 male fawns, Scullon said. In addition to the collars, the deer have metal ear tags as markers.

The aim is to track deer in the area where the Upper Peninsula’s first case of chronic wasting disease turned up last fall, to see how much they range through the region, especially in crossing the border between Michigan and Wisconsin.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources uses wooden deer traps in its efforts to capture and collar deer in the Upper Peninsula. (Michigan DNR photo)

“This information may provide insights into how we are able to proceed with measures to limit the spread of the disease,” Scullon explained.

Our neighbors to the south have had far more cases of CWD — confirmed in wild deer in 25 Wisconsin counties, with another five counties having captive animals stricken with the disease, including Marinette — so it would be logical, as well as prudent, to determine how far U.P. deer might wander into Wisconsin, and vice versa.

While Dickinson County has the Menominee River between it and Wisconsin, deer are great swimmers and, of course, can use any ice that forms to cross.

“They routinely move across the river,” Scullon said.

One deer previously collared in western Iron County traveled 16 miles south into Wisconsin — and into Forest County, just next to a county known to have both captive and wild CWD cases. Another deer covered more than 50 miles, from southern Houghton County to the northwestern border of Iron County.

A Bohemian waxwing feeds in a crab apple tree at Six Mile Lake in Dickinson County. The Bohemian can be distinguished from the more common cedar waxwing by being more gray than brownish, with a rust patch under its tail rather than the cedar’s yellow. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

Many of the known deer wintering complexes, or “yards,” are close to the Wisconsin border, providing refuge from the deeper snow and harsher conditions of the more northern U.P. along Lake Superior.

While these collared deer can be legally taken in season, Scullon asks that hunters spare them if possible “so they can continue to provide valuable data year round.” It’s tough to establish any pattern if the animal doesn’t make it past next fall.

If a hunter does bag a collared deer or one otherwise is killed or found dead, the DNR requests the collar be turned in at one of their offices. Again, the kill is not illegal, so there is no risk of citations or penalties. But the collars are “rather costly,” Scullon said, so any they can recover will be put back into use.

One thing he has noticed in the deer captured this year is fawn size seems to be down, which might indicate deer numbers have rebounded in the region to the point of more competition for food sources.

That and the CWD discovery might mean more antlerless deer tags, more permits to take deer for disease control and crop damage and perhaps more combination tags to take multiple deer, Scullon said.

But that will depend on the Natural Resources Commission, which oversees terms and quotes of the hunt. Those regulations won’t be set until later in the spring.

*****

My attempt last Saturday to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, recording what I saw at the feeders and elsewhere on the property, didn’t yield many species in roughly 90 minutes of watching and tallying.

Pretty much only the usual crew showed up: mourning doves, blue jays, black-capped chickadees, downy and hairy woodpeckers, nuthatches of both the red- and white-breasted variety, plus a couple of common crows and a single brown creeper. The pileated woodpeckers were absent, but a Cooper’s hawk did do a fly-through during the count period — lucky for me, not so much for one of the blue jays, I suspect, as feathers began gently drifting down onto the snow not long afterwards.

But the big bonus for my count was Bohemian waxwings. As mentioned, this more northern cousin of our more common cedar waxwing has ventured south from Canada this year into much of the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin, enough I advised a few weeks’ back to watch for them at trees that still had fruit or berries.

But I’d never seen them. Then, while shoveling a path to the pole barn through the latest round of snow, I heard a high whistle that signals waxwings zooming in to feed from a neighbor’s crab apple tree.

A total of nine gave me another species to add to the yardbird list, plus it could be included in the GBBC count.

That and the combination of sun and warmer temperatures made for an almost perfect Saturday. While there’s almost no chance for a repeat of that today, let’s at least hope the new round of snow isn’t as much as predicted.

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 40, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews.com.

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