Category Archive Outdoor Activities

Outdoor Wisconsin

– We’ve come to Lewis Station Winery in Lake Mills, one of many craft wineries here in Wisconsin. And in just a few minutes, we’ll follow the grape harvest from the vine to the bottle at Three Branches Vineyard and Fisher King Winery in Verona. And then we’ll get some turkey calling tips from 12-times state champion Jeff Fredrick, but first, we’ll join a field trip organized by the National Resources Foundation of Wisconsin as volunteers band fledgling kestrels at Badger Mining Company in Jackson County.

I’m Dan Small and it’s time once again for Outdoor Wisconsin.

– The American kestrel is the smallest falcon in North America, and it’s a common bird that’s often seen perched on power lines along highways and hovering over roadside vegetation as it hunts small mammals and insects. Kestrels raise their young in natural cavities in man-made nest boxes. On a field trip offered last summer by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, we joined staffers and volunteers from Beaver Creek Reserve and Badger Mining Company as they monitored several kestrel nest boxes and banded kestrel chicks. (gentle guitar music) – [Nora] This is our 25th anniversary year of our field trip program, and it was born out of an idea that we need to foster a direct connection with nature.

– [Volunteer] Here we have five chicks in here. – Ooh excellent, five babies. We have a successful nest. So five eggs, we’ve got (laughs) So we’ll bring the biggest one down, see if it’s old enough to be added. It’s so inspiring to come out here to see, to watch our members feel this intimate connection with nature and with, not just with nature, but with the people who invest their lives and their work, and their effort, and their time and so many of them are volunteering to monitor nest boxes and to care for Wisconsin’s unique natural resources. – So one of our citizen science projects is the American kestrel nest box monitoring program, and we have been working on this program since 2002, and we monitor kestrel nest boxes throughout Eau Clare County and at Badger Mine Corporation property.

Badger County mine silica sand for use in the foundry and the gas and oil fields. We have many other resources, including forestry land, cropland, streams, we’ve got wetlands and all that we manage as a web of resources centered around the active mine, so we put a lot of time and effort and stewardship work into managing all the resources on the site, ’cause the environment’s important to this company. So, initially when we started the program in 2009, we had active nest boxes and we had an active nest box that we put a game camera on to capture just what was going on, and within one week period there was 37 episodes where, instances where it brought a kill back to the young and that particular was amazing to me, and that ranged from several incidents with mice, voles, shrews, some small snakes, a few songbirds and then some other unidentified prey species. So we started this kestrel nest boxes, with 10 boxes we’ve added two so we’re at 12 nest boxes, starting 10 years ago so that would have been 2009 we started the program, and right from the get go we were at about 60% nest success rate, which the state average is 25%. The birds really took to it and that’s linked to these continuous grassland ecosystems that are connected, and they have excellent forage and they’ve just been very successful. We’ve had up to 90% success rate in our nest boxes and also down to 33%, so it ranges but it has always been above the state average and somewhat successful, so we’ve had up to 45 chicks each year fledged from our boxes, we’ve banded several adults each year and continue to gather data from re-captures, where they’ve been re-captured and some of the information is starting to tell a story.

Wood Duck Box, that’s where the mother to this one came from. – And this particular location has been very successful with their nest boxes, and that’s just allowed us to offer field trips and help spread the message of grassland birds. – The American kestrel population, since about the 1960s, has declined, from Breeding Bird Atlas studies we know that between 1960 and about 2015, American kestrel populations declined about 50%. American kestrels are cavity nesters, we refer to them as secondary cavity nesters and what that means is they do not have the ability to excavate their own cavity for nesting, so they take on old woodpecker cavities, they may take on natural cavities in dead trees or in snags, they will also go into rock crevices, and they are also known to use man-made structures, nest boxes. And this time of the year, they are hatching their eggs, they lay, a normal clutch size is about four to five eggs, the females will incubate those eggs for about 30 days, and after their babies hatch, they will take care of their young for about 30 days in the nest until they fledge.

Once the young fledge, they will hang around the nest box for a couple of weeks, the parents will continue to feed them and essentially teach them how to be kestrels. – So this particular site was actively mined back in the, about 2000, it was reclaimed into a grassland, which you can kinda see some of it, so the more we can attach these grasslands, it’s gonna benefit species like this. – So male and female American kestrels exhibit what we call sexual dimorphism, and so the male and the female, just by simply looking at them, you can tell the male versus the female. The females tend to be all brown, with a lot of black barring, and the males are brown with the beautiful slate blue-gray down their wings.

And that is pretty typical in the bird world of the male being very flashy and the female being a little more subdued, and the reason for that is because she is usually the one sitting on the nest, and she doesn’t wanna draw a lot of attention to herself while she’s sitting on the nest, hopefully being camouflaged and protecting her young. And they are about from tip of beak, essentially, to tail, maybe about nine inches, they’re not a very large raptor. – Kestrels, I guess, are amazing because such a small animal is such a good hunter, I really enjoy the outdoors and enjoy hunting and to see a bird so small, the size of a robin, to be able to be such a good hunter, particular on mice, is, I guess, pretty neat to me. Obviously, she’s a good mother, she’s gonna, hopefully, have a successful nest ’cause she’s on the right step. – The kestrel monitoring program, along with monitoring the nest boxes, we also band the birds, and whenever possible, we band the adults, and usually we are banding them by capturing them in their nest box. Because they are sitting on a real treasure, the nest that they’ve made and the eggs that they’ve laid, they want to protect them, so they’re not quick to leave their nest, so it’s actually quite simple that we can go up to their nest box, reach our hand in and pull out the adults.

And if they are unbanded, then we will band them, and that’s kind of our only opportunity to band the adults, is when they are on the nest. So typically, we get the females, because it’s mostly the females doing the incubating, and then once the eggs have hatched and the babies get to about 14 days old, then we are able to go back to the nest box, take the babies out and band them. The importance of banding birds is that we are able to gain all kinds of information about the birds. We see them for this one instance, when we are capturing and banding them, but by putting that metal band around their ankle, that holds an individual ID number for each bird, we’re able to monitor them throughout their life, so if they are re-captured at another time. And ideally, that is our goal, we want the birds that we band to be re-captured, either in another year by us or by another bird bander, or maybe even recovered because someone found one deceased somewhere. Those are all really important bits of information for us to know about, and what happens is we have a band recovery, we learn about the age of the bird, we learn about the lifespan, we learn about where it has traveled to, whether it’s on a migration route or where its wintering grounds might be, or stopover spots on migration.

We also learn about our pairs coming back together that have been there before. Nest site fidelity: are they coming back to the same nest box, are they coming back to the same area? There’s a wealth of knowledge we can gain from band recoveries and that’s why when we work with the public, we really stress the importance of, if you ever find a band, please report it. – The dedication that Badger Mining has put into the work that they’re doing here, it’s really, it’s an act of love, like this is a lot of effort and work and investment into doing something that might not have monetary value attached to it, but that has such incredible value to us as Wisconsinites. – The long-term goal for the kestrel project is continue our partnerships with the conservation organizations and obviously continue to help with gathering data for the American kestrel, which is right now in decline, to help establish some information on how we can stabilize the population and keep it healthy.

Long-term, I think it’s just to successfully fledge a bird that needs a little help right now. – We’ll tell you how to learn more about Natural Resources Foundation field trips like that later in the show. Right now, I’m here at Lewis Station Winery, home of several award-winning wines, and last summer, we learned how wine is made when we talked with winemaker Alan Fitzgerald and followed grapes from Three Branches Vineyard in Arena to Fisher King Winery in Verona.

The majority of our production is made from grapes grown locally, and we work with about a dozen growers around the state because we try to do as much as we can with the local grapes. The grapes that we can grow here in Wisconsin, the wine grapes, are cold hardy hybrids, they basically have been having a genetic crossing between wild grapes, which make awful wine by themselves, they’re just not designed for it, but they’ve been combined with really nice, a wide variety of different wine grapes, and the wild grapes provide the cold hardy genes, because the big limiting factor here is how many days below zero. All those grapes of Europe that people tend to be a little bit more familiar with, they all require a much more temperate growing zone, they can’t grow here in Wisconsin. The caviar of wine making is when you can get fresh grapes that have reached their peak of ripeness, you know, the metrics are there, and you harvest them one day and that same day, you’re processing them, they’re fresh right off the field. There’s no substitute for that.

That is what makes the best wine. So why schlep, juice or giant bins of grapes all the way over the Rockies from the West Coast or wherever when you can make absolutely drinkable, delicious wine with the grapes that are grown right here? We only work with growers that are good stewards of the land, and one very big way that you can be a good steward of the land, and still be a commercial agricultural producer is to implement and practice integrated pest management.

What it basically means is, you only apply a specific treatment and you’re only applying it in the minimal concentration to have effect, and you’re only applying it at a short time when whatever the life history is of the bug you’re trying to control in your vineyard will have the greatest impact. And what that does is, it means that the vineyards are nice and relatively clean and there’s not a lot of chemical residue, and what that also translates into is, if you’re not spraying with a whole bunch of crazy chemicals and things all the time, you wind up with a clean watershed nearby. The Hartungs here at this vineyard, they built their house here, and they built their vineyard here because they want to be in the outdoors, it’s very important for them. – We started growing grapes in 2010, this was our first test plot and then every year, every other year, we’ve added two acres. So we are now up to five fields.

The red ones that we grow are grapes that we grow for red wine, we have two fields of Marquette, one field of Petite Pearl, and one field of our La Crosse and St Pepin, which is a white. So this is our Marquette, these’ll be red wine, getting pretty ripe and ready to go, hopefully we’ll be harvesting these soon. – And these will go to Fisher King?

– These will go to Fisher King. – Ah-ha. – These’ll be the red wine, red grapes that will make his Marquette wine. – So I can taste a little? – You sure can.

– Wine in the raw? Mm, that’s good. – Yeah. I could take those home and eat them, – You could. – Except for the seeds. – Yeah, they are seeded.

– So this makes a medium-bodied, that’s certainly how we’re crafting it, as a medium-bodied dry red wine that has pinot noir character in it. And this one has been a huge medal winner for us, it just makes a delicious wine, it’s my favorite, and this grows right here in Wisconsin. – [Rosemarie] When our grapes are ready to harvest, they will come in, our crew, and harvest the bunches into five gallon pails, and from there we take it to a larger bucket, tote and then we scale them. And then we put them onto a trailer and then we will take them to the winery.

– We’ll be bringing in fruit from the garage door from our growers and they’ll be put into the top of the crusher, the crusher pushes it down into a series of channels that help de-berry the fruit from the stems, and turn the must, it’s called, gets channeled into the tube here that we pump up to the top of the tank. The must will then get pitched with yeast and fermentation will begin, and in 24 to 48 hours, hopefully 24 hours, the reds will ferment completely out so probably 10 days to two weeks for the primary fermentation, which is extremely exothermic, so it throws off a lot of heat, so we’ve got our piping there and our glycol system and we can set a specific temperature that brings out the desirable flavors, flavonoids in that, that the yeast produces. There’s a secondary fermentation that happens after that, that goes on for a month or so, that is done so we can actually rack the wine off and just let it go through its secondary fermentation process. At that point then, we’ll take it over to the presses, do our pressing to come up with our unfinished wine, if you will. – [Alwyn] So when it’s all done, the bottles get filled from the nice, beautiful wine.

We then take those bottles and we put them into our corking machine. The bottles then get moved over to the next stage, where another person comes along and puts the cap seals on top, those are the little plastic things on the top that you have to unpeel to get to the cork, and another person will come along right after that and they will just go from one bottle to the next, to the next, to the next, and with just one second of heat, it’ll shrink wrap that plastic PVC capsule right on top of it, and from there, then it goes into case boxes, then we send it to market. We’re distributed around the area in Wisconsin and out to the tasting room, where people can come right in and enjoy the fruits of our labor. – Well Fitz, this is your finished product and your Marquette wine. – Yes it is, right here. In the bottle and now in your glass.

Wisconsin Basecamp

Wisconsin Basecamp is a multi-day wilderness trip for incoming students that includes camping and backpacking. It’s canoeing, it’s rockclimbing, and more! My favorite thing about camping is spending time with other people and really getting the time to get to know them.

Getting to meet new people and getting a core group of friends that you keep throughout your years. Putting you in a new and strange environment and teaching you how to make friends and have fun and be comfortable in a situation you’re not used to. On Basecamp trips, whether you’re on a backpacking or canoeing trip, we go over a couple themes. Your new home: your new dorm and new friends that you’re going to meet.

And we also go over some fears of college and some solutions on how to figure those out. Basecamp is a great way to experience some new things like canoeing and backpacking, while also meeting new friends and experiencing some of the things that you’ll find in college. To sort of step of your lifestyle and explore your interests a little bit.

You’re going to be put with a group of people who are also going through the same sort of change in their life. My favorite part so far is sitting around the campfire and connecting with everyone and sharing stories and realizing other kids are also in the same position. It’s really being independent with a group of peers, which is what college is all about.

It’s a real bonding experience. I have friends that I’m going to hang out with in college now. I don’t have to worry about making friends right off the bat. I just found that I’m not as nervous anymore. I feel more confident and especially with meeting more people I definitely feel like I have a better handle on it than I thought I did.

I didn’t expect to meet friends instantly but it worked out really well. It gives you a really good chance to try to find out who you are as an individual. It was very easy just to talk to everybody and kind of just be myself.

You get to have fun. Get outdoors. Be unconnected from your electronics and connect to other people. Getting away from city life in Madison and kind of decompressing, getting some time to yourself, and some good time with your friends.

Getting dirty and experiencing all of nature without having to worry about anything else. Out here in the great outdoors.