Splinter’s Pickles and more

I’ll begin this post with a picture of a very cute juvenile American Robin, sitting on one of the support bars of the patio table in mid-June. Of course, it was squawking and chirping, likely wondering about the wide-open world and, more importantly, why an adult wasn’t feeding it.

And around the same date, a Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly showed up:

Daddy longlegs, aka the Common Harvestman, are not true spiders. Their four longer legs assist with taste, touch, and smell. They don’t bite.

At one point this summer I was looking for my 1974 diary to look something up, so I unearthed the “Mementos” box from the guest bedroom closet. I found the diary but also happened upon a metal screw cap from a Splinter’s Pickles glass jar.


The memories flooded back. I grew up in a suburb of Milwaukee, WI in the 1960s and 1970s. My family also owned about 10 acres of land nearby. We had a huge garden there behind a tiny white cottage that we rented out to a man who at one time lived in a Japanese internment camp in California during WWII.  Next to the cottage was a row of fruit trees – apples, plums, pears.

The remainder of the land was originally abundant in very tall grasses, which my siblings and I loved to play in. It was warm, earthy, and beautiful. There were many spiders and grasshoppers. I wasn’t afraid of the insects or of getting dirty.

Around 1966, my dad cut and tilled the grasses and planted cucumber seeds in long rows. That was the start of a multi-year family project to “pick pickles” in the heat of every summer evening. After picking the rows, we’d load up dad’s pickup truck and transport the bushel baskets filled with pickles to a farm a few miles away. There, the pickles were loaded on a conveyer belt in the barn. I enjoyed playing with the never-ending supply of kittens while the roar of the conveyer belt gently bounced the pickles, separating them by size. The farmer would then transport them to Splinter’s Pickle Company in Milwaukee.

Dad paid us kids $3 an hour – a fortune! This land introduced me to nature and the curiosity and awe I still have for it. The smells, the sounds, the sights all have a special place in my heart.

Back to the present, in the neighborhood. Starting at top left and going clockwise: bee on Wild Bergamot; Cup Plant functioning as a holder of water – I’ve seen birds drink from the “cup”; young Queen Anne’s lace, the edges tipped in lavender; Culver’s Root plant.



July 19th view of the larger of two rain gardens in the backyard:

I almost brushed up against this Goldenrod crab spider, hanging out on the hosta blooms. They do not build webs for catching prey. They wait for an insect, such as a fly to come near and pounce on it, then inject it with paralyzing venom.

Haha, this watercolor painting is supposed to be a Vermilion Flycatcher:

I very much enjoy the Daylily bloom show in the backyard every summer. In this picture, there appear to be seven stamens emerging from the throat of the bloom, topped off with pollen sacs called anthers:

Every summer the pollinators are drawn to Butterfly Flower (Asclepias Curassavica):

Another view of Cup Plant. Some Native American tribes used the root to treat liver and spleen problems as well as morning sickness.

Joe Pye Weed blooms are covered in yellow-orange Soldier beetles, beneficial as pollinators:

What happened here?


During the very early morning hours of September 1st, I woke to what sounded like a small dog barking close to the house. Hmm, I thought, and promptly fell back asleep. The next day I walked out the back door to find the gutter elbow detached from and about 10 feet away from the gutter, and the stone path completely demolished where the gutter elbow was left. And the ends were crimped with what looked like teeth marks!

I ignored that cleanup project for a few hours and upon returning noticed a bit of animal fur inside the gutter elbow. Using a flashlight, I saw a rabbit was inside – and it was stuck! I called Animal Control and the gal that showed up pried open one end, reached in, and pulled out a very long rabbit, legs pedaling the air frantically.

We determined there was only a small abrasion on the inside of one leg. She said the animal should be fine and released it. It scampered away. Animal Control said it was likely a fox kit that tried to get the rabbit. I asked if they make noises like a small dog barking and she said Yes! Mystery solved. That poor rabbit must have had the terror of its life!

Early September wonders:


Whoa. I was watering some newly divided perennials on September 10th and the ground moved. Whoops – some water had splashed on this big guy. I determined it was an Imperial Moth larvae. 

The male moths are heavily marked with patches and spots while the female moths appear more yellow. Here’s what looks like a female:

Bing License: Free to Share and Use. https://www.flickr.com/photos/wildreturn/16225688442

Until next time,


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Moth Walk!

About a week ago I went on a Moth Walk aka Moth Hunting (no moths were hurt). Naturalist Jeff Steele led the walk through an area of Cherokee Marsh-North Unit in Madison, WI. He set up a few viewing locations, some with a sticky substance painted on trees and others using ultraviolet light. We began at 9pm with a short presentation and Q&A about moths. Here are a few things I learned:

  • There are approximately 10x the number of species of moths as butterflies
  • Moths are important pollinators
  • The main predator of moths is bats
  • Only one species of moth eat wool – and only the larvae of that species [Tineola bisselliella aka clothes moths]
  • Male moths can detect chemical cues with their antennae; one male moth was known to travel 23 miles in search of a female pheromone
  • It is not exactly known why moths are attracted to light; however, it’s thought to mimic the light from the moon and stars from which they navigate

Two viewing locations had a setup called “Larry’s Lantern” – an ultraviolet light within a net cylinder:

The other viewing locations were painted trees! A fermented mix of beer (Jeff used PBR), brown sugar, bananas, and molasses was painted on different tree barks earlier in the evening. As we walked by, he shined a flashlight on each tree. The moths apparently cannot resist the fermented sweetness. On this night we only saw a few moths on the trees, but Jeff assured us as the night progresses, more moths would appear.

A few insects were identified as well:

1 – A “dog-day”/annual cicada shedding its nymph exoskeleton: Cicadas emerge from the ground as nymphs. Nymphs climb the nearest vertical surface and shed their nymph exoskeleton. Once that is completed, their wings will inflate with fluid and their adult skin will harden.


2 – Likely a Green Lacewing: These are used to control moderate aphid populations in gardens and greenhouses.

Below are a few moths found while on the walk.

1- Painted Lichen Moth (center):

2 – A species of Litter Moth?

3 – Possible Herpetogramma species?

4 – I think this is a Greater Grapevine Looper:

5 – Ummm…(did I mention there are a LOT of moth species?):

6 – Another mystery (but handsome, right?):

If you want to learn more, this book was recommended by Jeff:

“This is how moths speak to each other. They tell their love across the fields by scent. There is no mouth, the wrong words are impossible, either a mate is there or he is not, and if so the pair will find each other in the dark.”

― Barbara Kingsolver, Prodigal Summer

(Public domain Header image Cecropia Moth courtesy of flicker account k_khteWisconsin)


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Biking the Glacial Drumlin State Trail

Last week I biked on a trail new to me – the Glacial Drumlin State Trail in Wisconsin.

It is a former rail trail with the western terminus in Cottage Grove and the eastern terminus in Waukesha. It is 52 miles in length and parallels I94. It was built in the late 19th century, likely for political convenience, carrying legislators between the big city of Milwaukee and the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison.

It is wonderful. Lovely. I think I was on a high all afternoon. I kept on marveling at the scenery, the birdsong, the little critters scampering about, the butterflies, and on and on. I’m already planning my return (and I did so yesterday).

Here’s a map, courtesy of https://www.glacialdrumlin.com/:

I started in Cottage Grove and turned around when I was halfway between London and Lake Mills. So…about 22 miles RT.

Here’s a short video I took during the ride:

(Below) In the distance is the feature the trail is named for – a glacial drumlin. It’s an elongated, teardrop-shaped hill of glacial till (rock, sand, and gravel) that formed under moving glacier ice. When viewed from the air one can see numerous drumlins.

Wisconsin has a vast history of glaciation. To see an illustration of the historical moving of ice, refer to the video below (courtesy of https://wgnhs.wisc.edu/wisconsin-geology/ice-age/):

Native Elderberry shrubs are abundant. When mature, the birds (and people) will be attracted to the black fruits that are high in nutrients and antioxidants.

Wildflowers, clockwise from top left: Spiderwort, Groundsel (I think), White Wild Indigo, Prairie Dock

The first town I came upon was Deerfield (named for the abundance of deer!). This building and the ones adjacent to it appeared to make up an old depot.

A few miles beyond Deerfield stood a large old structure, built mostly with rock. Another depot?

Wild parsnip (yellow) was also present along the trail in some areas – and I was surprised to see a lone Wild columbine (pink) still in bloom there as well, so late in the season. Wild white yarrow was sparse, but a welcome sight. Not a great picture, but wow – Tiger lilies (orange)!


The trail crosses Koshkonong Creek multiple times:

Here’s where I stopped for a break before turning around:

Here’s the view from that spot (can I live here?):

Great blue heron:

. . . I was rich, if not in money, in sunny hours and summer days. . . .
Henry David Thoreau


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Why a V?

During a morning walk about a week ago I heard the muffled honking of a flock of Canada Geese. I stopped, turned south, looked up, and waited. The honking then grew quite loud. Soon they came into view, a magnificent V formation of about 70 birds! It was a delight to watch them move steadily north, and hear the raucous calls.

Bing free to share and use – Jitze Couperus, Flickr

Why fly in a V?   Likely for two reasons: 1) flying slightly above the bird in front lessens the wind resistance, saving energy, and 2) for better coordination and communication.

Other nature happenings in the area:

Even though they’re here year-round, I rarely see Wood Ducks. In early May, this male was spotted in the woods nearby. The female was there also but was slightly hidden. It is strange to see a duck in a tree! Here is more information about them, from this link“The Wood Duck nests in trees near water, sometimes directly over water, but other times over a mile away. After hatching, the ducklings jump down from the nest tree and make their way to water. The mother calls them to her, but does not help them in any way. The ducklings may jump from heights of over 50 feet without injury.”

Prairie Smoke is a prairie wildflower that blooms in early spring. The pink/red flower hangs down early on but once pollinated rights itself and opens. After flowering, the fruit/seed is on a 2-inch long plume; i.e. smoke fluttering in the wind. I think it’s quite stunning.



Garden plants retain the remains of a morning rainfall:


This eastern gray squirrel was munching on marrow from a discarded bone. Whose bone? How did it get there?

The flowering crabapple was impressive this year with bright shades of pink:


A nature surprise while walking to an appointment:

Artist: MIKE LROY, Madison, WI

Dame’s rocket is in bloom now in Madison, Wisconsin. They look alike, but it is NOT garden phlox. Dame’s rocket is actually invasive, so don’t plant wildflower mixes that contain it. It has four flower petals, while garden phlox has five. This thriving patch of Dame’s rocket is across the street from Warner Beach:

I’m reading this book – How to Catch a Mole: And Find Yourself in Nature. The author writes about the How part, and interspersed with it are his tales of roaming the UK countryside as a homeless teenager, observations about nature, gardening, rock walls, and people, and conclusions he has reached as an old man. It’s good. Today I read these words that follow. I’m still thinking about them, and if I could ever say the same. It’s not easy to turn off my questioning mind and just allow questions to hang.

“I prefer unanswered questions. At the end of the answers there is usually a person who enjoys the power of appearing to know. I have come to like things that are left unfinished. It’s the question that shines the light, that seeks. The answer’s often just a dim reflection of the vastness of the question. There are no answers that satisfy.”




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Springtime in Missouri

We needed to go somewhere. Get out of the house. See something different. Soak in some sunshine. Take the dog. Drive less than eight hours. Missouri checked all the boxes!

I found a nice rental on 70 acres with trails and a pond. It was quite warm several days. We got sunburned. Kayaked. Walked. Listened to the Spring Peepers and Tufted Titmice.    I was excited to see dandelions:


Missouri is rich in mineral resources. There are approximately 1200 underground mines; 36% are coal and 64% non-coal. The Missouri DNR website shows an iron mine near our rental. The water had an iron smell to it (we drank bottled water) and I found a number of rocks on the property with orange/red in them:


It’s like being in a cathedral:

The dog was content:

Left: Rue anemone wildflower that blooms March-June

Right: Lichen on a tree. Lichens are not plants; they are a combination of a fungus and an alga.  They are found on every continent in the world.


Left: Reindeer moss. It is actually a lichen. Most lichen are about 94% carbohydrates. So yes, alcohol has been made out of it.

Right: Pine tree branch against a stunning blue sky


I had never seen anything like this and later figured out it is a crayfish chimney.

Crayfish, aka mudbugs, have gills. They excavate tunnels near surface water, digging down to the water table. They are a food source to over 200 species.  The burrows, or tunnels also provide habitat for many species such as snakes, frogs, and dragonflies. More info about mudbugs is here.









Our little getaway was FUN.

I hope your Spring is appearing in your world! What have you noticed lately?


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