Scandi Nature Sampler

My sweetie and I vacationed in Scandinavia the early part of the summer and I thought I’d share some nature moments from that. All three countries – Denmark, Sweden, and Norway – were beautiful and interesting in their own ways.

We arrived in Copenhagen, and, wanting to stretch our legs after a long flight, decided to walk some of the city. We read that Hans Christian Andersen was buried in the nearby Assistens Cemetery.  Anderson is the author of many fairy tales, including The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Pea, and The Emperor’s New Clothes.

The graves are arranged in small sections, with multiple paths and abundant greenery, making for a lovely park-like setting. In fact, we learned that for hundreds of years people have gathered here to use it as a park – have tea, or a bottle of wine, or a few beers and lounge around, socializing. What a great idea!

Copenhagen is FILLED with bicyclists. Wikipedia states “almost as many people commute by bicycle in greater Copenhagen as do those who cycle to work in the entire United States”. Way to go!

Culture and specifically art is very important to the Danes. Here’s an example of one of many statues found in the parks throughout Copenhagen:

Sweden was next on the itinerary. We took a train there, got a rental car, and drove to our lodging, located roughly between Stockholm and Gothenburg.  The area actually looks a lot like Wisconsin! One day our hosts gave us their bicycles to use and provided a map outlining a path, plus a favorite swimming spot to experience. How could we resist?

We walked nearby roads and trails in the evenings. It is a lovely area.

Ach – a big black slug!

And – a Fieldfare bird – a member of the thrush family – much like our American Robin.


Oslo, Norway was our next stop. It is about the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska.  And we were there in June. That means it never truly gets dark. It’s 10:12 pm – time for bed!

An enchanting 7-hour train ride from Oslo to Bergen, on the west coast of Norway, was a highlight. We gained altitude, peaked, and then returned to sea level. Below are a few photographs from the journey.

Our lodging in Bergen was situated on the slope of Mount Floyen.  One morning we hiked to the top and were rewarded with stunning views of the harbor. We took the Funicular (mountain tram) back to the city – and it took only six minutes!

Our next lodging was several hours away overlooking a fjord that is less-traveled by cruise ships. During the drive there we took in many new scenes. Below is the Steinsdalsfossen Waterfall. It’s been there since 1699, and you can walk safely behind it. Fun!

Our final destination was overlooking Hardangerfjord – what do you think of this view?

One morning we hiked up the mountain behind us…

…all the way to the top, a little more than 1,000 meters.

Norway has 18 scenic tourist routes. One day we drove the Hardangervidda route. There was impressive scenery everywhere. Below is a photograph of the Vøringsfossen waterfall. There’s a hotel on the top of the cliff.

Here’s another scene from the route that was higher in elevation:

We visited the Norwegian Museum of Hydropower and Industry. It was a hydro-power station from 1908 to 1989. It is an eerily quiet, fascinating place, full of the original machinery and control room equipment.

On our flight home we passed over Greenland. I got very excited about this!


In closing, I learned of several Norwegian sayings that don’t make much sense. Here’s one:

“Der er ugler i mosen”

Translation: There are owls in the bog.

Meaning: There is something secretive about a situation.


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A Multitude of Monarchs

On July 9th I found five of these small white dots on different Common milkweed plants:

It’s a monarch butterfly egg! They are laid singly, are about 1 mm long, oval-shaped, white to off-white, and have longitudinal ridges. The egg stage is 3-8 days in length.

Once a larva hatches from the egg, it eats the eggshell and then eats only milkweed leaves. That’s its only job. The body grows so fast it must molt the outer skin four times. After each molting, the larva is in a new instar stage, bigger in size than the last. Each instar stage lasts 1-5 days. The fifth instar larva forms a pupa (commonly called a cocoon) and 1-2 weeks later, a monarch butterfly emerges. The below photograph shows all of the life stages on a Common milkweed leaf (except for the pupa):

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Here are two larvae on a Tropical milkweed (aka Blood flower) annual plant on July 17th:

They are likely 4th instar. Notice the fecal droppings too. They are eating machines.

That same day I was weeding around the house and found an empty pupa / chrysalis tucked within iris leaves:

It’s July 20th, shortly after a rain shower, and I check on the Blood flower. Sure enough, both larva are still there. Here’s one:

And the other:

They  joined one another for a final photograph:

I’m thinking they are both 5th instar larvae.

Here’s another type of Tropical milkweed – “Silky Gold” – and it is a perennial. Monarchs should use it as well (and ants like it too, apparently):

Monarchs produce a new generation of butterflies in about a month. The butterflies live 2-6 weeks which means they are more noticeable as the summer goes on. The monarchs that migrate to Mexico in the fall will be the 4th generation, the great-great-grandchildren of those that left Mexico in the spring. This generation also live 6-8 MONTHS.

Fascinating stuff!

The Joe-Pye-Weed in the rain garden is about five feet tall now and will attract various butterflies soon (if not already):

I was reading that the flowers were named after a man who used the plant medicinally for those suffering with typhus fever. Also, the flowers and seeds were used in producing pink dye for textiles.

Purple coneflower seems to be at its blooming peak now. It’s such a reliable and stunning addition to any garden, and attracts both butterflies and birds.

Recently I noticed this dragonfly in the front yard. After doing some investigating, I think it is an Autumn Meadowhawk skimmer. It typically appears in mid to late July in Wisconsin. Here is more information about the species.

We recently re-watched the movie Jaws 43 years after it was released. It is still scary. Great white sharks, the top predators in every ocean, are intelligent and can swim up to 35 mph. I hope I never get to meet one!

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Until next time,


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Ice-out on Blue Lake

This post is overdue; however, I hope it provides a wisp of cool air if you live in an area experiencing the heat and humidity of summer!

In early May I helped a friend open her resort near Minocqua, Wisconsin for the season.

I brought our cat Riley and the two of us stayed in my favorite cabin #2. The resort is steeped in nostalgia. It has been in operation since 1922 and is on an island (accessible by a bridge).

We arrived on the first day of fishing season which normally is a day the boats flock to the water shortly after midnight. But on this day it was quiet because the lake still had ice.

Ice-out was in progress. The ice darkens and you’ll see wet patches here and there. Spring is imminent!

If there is a wind, the large ice patches shift throughout the lake. Small ice particles collide with one another and make a slushy sound, like your hands sifting through small crystals. I was fascinated by the sound – and the patterns on the water surface:

The sunset brought surprise golden reflections in the melted water:




Nightly visitors to the resort blend in with the background:

The view from the bridge is breath-taking:

The following day brought abundant morning sunshine that Riley took advantage of:


Blue skies!

Typical northern Wisconsin fieldstone fireplace:

By the evening of the second day the lake was almost free of ice:

I was gifted a view of two Common loons that apparently arrived that day. I was able to photograph one:

A few minutes later they both called out in a tremolo, a wavering call made when alarmed or to announce their presence. Here are sounds Common loons make.

The next day I took a walk in the “neighborhood”:

Fungus on a fallen tree provides a visual interest:

White birch trees are native to northern North America. The bark peels like paper in horizontal strips. The bark is highly weather-resistant due to its high oil content.

From the Daily Buddha:

Today is a brand new day; a day to heal, a day to love,

a day to forgive, a day to encourage, a day to start afresh.

Although no one can go back and make a brand new start,

anyone can start from today and make a brand new minute.

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Waiting for shoots

I took a day-long class at the Arboretum last August to learn how to monitor Monarchs in our yard this year. It’s going to be great. The kickoff is when I notice Common milkweed shoots emerging from the ground.

Once the shoots are up I’ll inspect all of the milkweed plants once a week for any sign of a Monarch — from egg to larva (caterpillar) to pupa (not a cocoon since a cocoon has a silk covering) to adult (butterfly).

I am hoping to see this!

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I’ll be submitting the data collected weekly to the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (MLMP) website. The MLMP mission is “to better understand the distribution and abundance of breeding monarchs and to use that knowledge to inform and inspire monarch conservation.”

If you want to see how the adults are migrating in the United States and Mexico, take a few seconds to watch this fascinating animation.

Nature is doing it’s usual thing of surprising us. Every season is different from the last, and I like that.  Here, the Crocus welcomed some warm weather and then it snowed, again. This photograph was taken on April 9th:

Two days later I caught a glimpse of these Snowdrops by a neighbor’s garage. Many people say Snowdrops are the first dependable sign of spring.

This is one of my favorite trees in the area:

Bird migration has started. I saw this little one on the driveway on April 14th – an Eastern Phoebe. The species is among the first migrants. When perched, Eastern Phoebes wag their tails up and down.

Another snowfall brought the Fox Sparrows to the area on April 14th. We saw them on the ground using their feet to kick away debris to uncover insects and seeds. It was fun to watch.

They are similar in appearance to Song Sparrows however Fox Sparrows have some yellow on their bill and lack a blotchy dark dot on their breast.

Here’s a Dark-eyed Junco. Usually by mid-April they have begun their migration north to Canada, but this year they stayed for another week.

Oh no!

This is an American Goldfinch – I’m thinking an immature male. It’s that time of year when their feathers change from a dark olive to summer plumage – light yellow for females and bright yellow for males.

April 17th brought two American Woodcocks by the house! This was a first. They were content to rest in the sun for awhile. Before flying away, they searched for food by digging their bills deep into the soil in search of earthworms. And they found some! They will breed throughout Wisconsin.

The last snowstorm of the winter hit on April 18th. Before it started I spotted a Yellow-rumped Warbler in the front yard. Yes, they have a yellow rump but also spots of yellow on the head, face, and along their sides by the wing. This is another species only seen in Wisconsin during migration periods of spring and fall.

After the snow melted (again), I got my bike out of storage and toured the neighborhood. Troy Gardens is nearby, and it consists of community garden space, an outdoor oven for weekly pizza gigs, a CSA garden, and about 10 acres of prairie with trails. It’s quite beautiful. Here are two of several signs placed throughout the land:

On Wisconsin!


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Almost finished

Winter is almost finished and the winter scene jigsaw puzzle I’ve been working on all winter is almost finished as well. (It’s in an unheated shack.)

Although I look forward to warm weather and new flowers from the nursery and bike-riding, it also means the end of reading a book in front of a fire and soup-every-Sunday and sleeping in. Sigh.

In late January I participated in a bird-watching event for Madison Audubon Society. The national organization predicts that hundreds of bird species will lose 50% or more of their habitat in the next 65 years due to climate change. However, some species like the Eastern Bluebird are predicted to gain habitat.

I volunteered for a “block” near Windsor and plotted out 12 areas where a bluebird might be spotted (on the edge of a group of trees, near a field, and near water). For each of the 5 minutes I stood in the 12 areas, I counted the number of each species of bird I saw or heard. There were no bluebirds, but I did count over 500 Canada Geese along with the expected birds, such as the Black-capped chickadee and the White-breasted nuthatch.

While walking around Windsor Golf Course I noticed these prints made by either Canada Geese or Mallard Ducks:

A few days later at home I spotted a picture-perfect scene of a Northern Cardinal:

One day I noticed this American Goldfinch at the feeder.  I’m thinking it’s an immature (non-breeding) male, because of the areas of yellow around its neck and the black wings with white wingbars.

Here is evidence of the only time I went cross-country skiing this winter – note Lake Mendota in the background to the right:

I’ve been known to take pictures of and then stomp on these ice and air compositions:

In mid-February I led a nature walk in nearby Warner Park. It was cold and gray and windy, yet 15 people showed up! One of the things we talked about was life beneath the ice – that is, how fish and amphibians survive the winter.


In early February I spent some time on the west coast in the warm sunshine – what a treat! The next week my sweetie and I went to NYC.  This photograph was taken as we neared NYC:

One day we walked the High Line in Manhattan. From Wikipedia – “The High Line is a 1.45-mile-long elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail. It was created on a former New York Central Railroad spur…”. Nature is very much part of this experience, with trees and shrubs and flowers growing between and around the tracks in a very creative way.

The Audubon Mural Project takes place mainly in Harlem. From the website: “The project is inspired by the legacy of the great American bird artist and pioneering ornithologist and is energized by Audubon’s groundbreaking Birds and Climate Change Report, which reveals at least half of all North American birds are threatened by a warming climate. The project commissions artists to paint murals of each of the report’s 314 species, and has been widely covered in the media, including most recently by The New York Times.”

The New York Historical Society Museum has all 435 of John James Audubon’s watercolor paintings of bird species. The paintings are noteworthy because they were the first to show the birds in their natural habitat and the male and female interacting with each other.

Here’s one example – of House Wrens:

Blue and white sky over Manhattan:

The NYC subway system offers an extensive array of art, mostly with tiles.  I had no idea. See this for more. It’s fantastic.

Last day in Brooklyn:

Last week I walked to Lake Mendota with the dog and heard strange burp-like sounds. The air bubbles trapped under the ice were travelling to the shore. It was cool and creepy at the same time. The dog was perplexed, looking down at the lake while turning his head from side to side.

There was a prairie burn near Madison a few days ago that I happened to drive right by. After a few minutes I saw the other burn-line from the right as well. Oh!


“Count each day as a separate life”. – Seneca



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Jazzed about new winter coat

I finally got a new winter coat for walking in below zero temps! North Face! Here it is below. I am jazzed about the neck coverage and the overall length:

My previous extreme cold weather coat was from Spiegel. I’m a little embarrassed (proud?) to say I bought this coat when I was a junior in COLLEGE – about 1982!! Over the years I replaced the zipper on this beauty and patched numerous holes – because it was WARM. Especially the hood, which was enormous and in turn made my head look enormous. People used to laugh at me but no more.

I led a nature hike at a Madison park on a gray day in December and about 15 people attended. We had a small fire and made hot cocoa. We walked around and talked about how lakes freeze, decibel levels in nature, heart rot in a fallen tree, beaver lodges, Eastern Grey Squirrels, White Pine trees, and more. The finest moment of the walk was when a Great Horned Owl lifted off from a White Pine branch to our left, flew across the path in front of us, and landed in the woods on the other side of the path. Too bad it landed quite a distance away, although one could see the outline of the body and the tufts on the head with binoculars. A photograph was not taken however I found one online:

Remember the fall, when it was warm, and not too long ago?

One day in mid-October I happened to see two Eastern Bluebirds in the front yard. The photograph is a little blurry, but I hope you can see the dusty blue feathers and a hint of light orange breast feathers. Occasionally I see a few in the neighborhood during the winter, but none so far. Their usual migration route is to southeastern United States and Mexico.

At the end of October plenty of American Robins visited the bird bath. Here is what appears to be two females and a male:

I took the dog for a walk in Pheasant Branch Conservancy the end of November. It was sunny and warm. This is such a stunning space. There are multiple habitats, and discoveries to make in each one.  Can you see the moon rising in this photograph?

We hiked up the hill in the distance and then to the other side of it. I turned around and captured the early sunset:

I mentioned the springs at the Conservancy in a different post. Here are a few photographs of this long-established natural wonder:


As they do the early part of every winter, Tundra Swans gather on Lake Mendota near Governors Island by the hundreds.  For about two weeks one could hear their distinct flock calls day and night. On a few occasions some swans broke from the large flock and traveled east (probably in search of food), which is when I noticed them and took this photograph:

The new year has brought the usual feathered friends to the feeders:

Before the snow melted earlier this week, the backyard had a strange winding trail through the thin layer. I was told a field mouse was taking a tour of the area:

When it was bitterly cold during the holidays we realized our porch is not very well insulated – but – it also contained a fine display of window frost. I added some special effects to a few of the photographs.

It’s a new year out on Lake Mendota – waves of snow coat the ice surface:

Cracks in the ice re-froze, creating a patchwork:

Thanks for following this blog!

Until next time,



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Je voudrais un verre d’eau, s’il vous plaît

In September, I met up with my daughter in Paris, France for a vacation. I spoke my limited French but she decided she needed to learn a phrase. She chose “I would like a glass of water, please.” That is the title of this blog post. I heard that phrase probably a hundred times over the course of 10 days and she was finally able to use it near the end of the vacation. And she also ordered our dinner in French that evening. I enjoyed that.

At L’Orangerie Museum in Paris there are dozens of paintings by famous artists. It is a bit overwhelming. Here is one of my favorite “nature-type” scenes by Claude Monet – “Red Boats at Argenteuil”:

The Palais-Royal, built in the 1600s, was a royal palace. The center courtyard, once a roaring round-the-clock party space in the time of Louis XIV, is now a quiet formal garden in the midst of the bustling center of Paris. I happened to catch this restful scene:

After a few days in Paris, we drove south to a rental cottage within Morvan Regional Natural Park. The cottage was perfect for our needs and incorporated some very nice touches of nature. For example, here’s a lovely collection of items on a side table:

The windowsill from my bedroom held a small succulent plant garden:

The property had a large chestnut tree that was dropping its goodies from time to time:

There were several reserved cats that roamed the property.

There are hiking and biking trails in the area. One day I ventured out alone.

I was rewarded with stunning views, like this one of the nearby town of Chalaux:

I noticed a small chalk-blue butterfly in the path at one point. I looked it up later – it is a Baton blue butterfly.

I discovered I liked doors in France. Here is a small selection of the numerous photographs I took, each with a bit of nature (must keep to the blog theme, right?):

Late one afternoon at the cottage I became mesmerized by the bees on the Aster flowers:

To close, here is a poem by one of my favorite authors:

The Place I Want to Get Back To

is where
in the pinewoods
in the moments between
the darkness

and first light
two deer
came walking down the hill
and when they saw me

they said to each other, okay,
this one is okay,
lets see who she is
and why she is sitting

on the ground, like that,
so quiet, as if
asleep, or in a dream,
but, anyway, harmless;

and so they came
on their slender legs
and gazed upon me
not unlike the way

I go out to the dunes and look
and look and look
into the faces of the flowers;
and then one of them leaned forward

and nuzzled my hand, and what can my life
bring to me that could exceed
that brief moment?
For twenty years

I have gone every day to the same woods,
not waiting, exactly, just lingering.
Such gifts, bestowed,
can’t be repeated.

If you want to talk about this
come to visit. I live in the house
near the corner, which I have named

– Mary Oliver

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