Master Naturalist

I am a Wisconsin Master Naturalist! I attended 40 hours of a combination of classes and field trips this summer along with a group of others. Our last field trip day took us to several places: Devil’s Lake State Park, Ableman’s Gorge in Rock Springs, the International Crane Foundation, and best of all – to the Aldo Leopold Foundation AND the shack! It was a special treat to go inside the shack. Here’s the class in front of it:

Here is some backyard color after a light rainstorm:

There have been a number of butterflies in our yard this summer. Both images below are of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. The left image has the “tail” portions removed and is a male or female. The right image is the black form of a female.

A few weeks ago I bicycled to the nearby Mendota Mental Health Institute grounds. The below image is of the Wisconsin Memorial Hospital, used from 1922 to approximately 1994. It was built to be a mental illness treatment center for World War I veterans.

Pedaling along, I noticed effigy mounds near Lake Mendota:

I also noticed a fire station on the grounds; here’s the label on the building:

Here’s one more eclipse image from August 21st. I used a paper grocery bag with a pinhole and took a picture of what I saw inside. Then I made some playful image edits:

Cherokee Marsh, a Madison conservation park is a fantastic place! I had 15 minutes between errands one day and stopped by.

This looks to be a Northern Leopard Frog:

I took a couple of photographs with my iPhone 5s the other day. I bicycled to Troy gardens a few blocks away. They’re not the best pictures but to me the scenes are works of art.



As I was getting my haircut one day, the hairdresser told me about a nearby empty bird nest in the building’s eave. It looks to be made by Barn Swallows. And yes, that’s an electrical extension cord.

Just last week Troy Gardens displayed their squash harvest:

The female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are still here, getting nectar from the salvia plants in the front yard:

In a future blog post I’ll tell you about my Naturalist Capstone project.

Have a fabulous day!



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Man Mound and More

Two weeks ago I went on a field trip. First I visited Man Mound County Park near Baraboo, Wisconsin. That day a celebration was held for its recent designation as a National Historic Landmark. Here is one view of the effigy mound shaped like a man:

Effigy mounds are piles of earth that may or may not contain human remains. It is estimated 20,000 or more were built in Wisconsin from about 800 BC to 1200 AD in 1000 locations. Man Mound is the sole remaining human-shaped effigy mound in North America. The legs and feet were cut off when the road was constructed and there are white markings where it was determined they were located. This is fascinating, important Native American, Wisconsin, and national history!

Here are more images, some from photographs and drawings over 100 years old:

From the day of the celebration, this view is near the right arm looking towards the head:

This is not the first time I’ve mentioned effigy mounds in a post. For more information, visit the Ancient Earthworks website and the Wisconsin Mounds website.

Next on the field trip was a stop at the Wisconsin Ice Age Trail near Devils Lake State Park. The trail roughly follows the terminus of several lobes of glacier ice that coated Wisconsin more than 12,000 years ago. It is about 1,000 miles in length. This map shows the trail in red:

I stopped at a parking lot adjacent to the trail just south of Devils Lake (you’ll notice there are two routes of the trail in the area):

I snapped some photographs from the parking lot area:

Official segments are marked with yellow blazes like this (some in plain view, others not):

Here, Rattlesnake master wildflower is competing with the Devils Lake south bluff view:

It was time to head home, and I chose the fun route. Yes, the Merrimac Ferry! It carries about 15 vehicles across the Wisconsin River along Hwy 113 between Okee and Merrimac, and is closed when ice forms. The Colsac III ferry took us across:

It takes about seven minutes to make the crossing. Here I’m looking back towards Merrimac, the (northern) departure point:

There is a railroad bridge crossing the river as well. It is a part of the historic mainline that ran from Madison to Sparta on the old Chicago & Northwestern Railway.

I’ve been on this ferry numerous times through fog, sunshine, rain, sleet, and snow. This time the ferry stopped in the middle of the river. Why? Because a watercraft had stalled in our path. In a few minutes time the sheriff assisted the watercraft to move on:

It was a terrific day of exploring Wisconsin.

To share a bit of summer nature and color from our yard here are a few photographs of daylilies and a monarch on a Common milkweed plant:


Until next time,


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Dog and butterfly

Heart’s “Dog and Butterfly” song had been on my mind one recent morning and later that day an email alerted me to a Butterfly walk on June 24th at Cherokee Marsh. I had to go! The walk was sponsored by the Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Association, Madison Audubon Society, and Friends of Cherokee Marsh.

Here is how the day greeted the walking group:

…and the first nature siting, an Eastern bluebird:

Two Baltimore Checkerspots:

Red Admiral:

The next two photographs show the Least Skipper, the smallest butterfly in Wisconsin:

According to the Wisconsin Butterflies website, “This skipper is often seen flying very low through tall grasses adjacent to ponds, small lakes, rivers, or streams.”

Help! I’m having difficulty identifying this butterfly:

One of the children in the group found this Virginia ctenucha moth:

Here is an Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar on Wild parsnip (Caution: Parsnip foliage may cause skin irritation):

This is the resulting butterfly!

Of course there was an abundance of flowers, too:


Common Ladybug on Wild Parsnip:

If you want to learn some fascinating things about butterflies, take a minute to peruse this San Diego Zoo website.

In closing, I’m switching to a topic other than butterflies. I came upon this quote in a book I am currently reading. It has helped me cope with a challenge I’m experiencing:

If you expect life to be easy, challenges will seem difficult. If you accept that challenges may occur, life will be easier. -Rob Liano, author and life coach


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Damsel in distress

From - filter "Free to share and use" license - originally from

About a week ago I was pulling the front blinds down at twilight and noticed a damselfly caught in a spiderweb on the other side of the window. It was alive and struggling. I decided to try to rescue it. First I removed it from the sticky web and then brought it to the paved path in the front yard. After a few attempts I succeeded in carefully separating the two thin wings on each side of its body that had been stuck together with the web material.  And then I was rewarded with a flutter-buzz of wings, lift-off, and away it flew. That felt pretty good! Later I identified it as a Blue-banded damselfly, one that another photographer artfully captured here. (Dragonflies and damselflies are closely related; refer to this link for more information.)

An early spring walk with the dog to Pheasant Branch Conservancy in Middleton offered up multiple fine views. In the photograph below, groundwater springs cause the fresh water stream that in turn provides water for Lake Mendota. According to the Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy, “The springs have a flow of approximately 1,100 gallons per minute, which adds up to 1.6 million gallons a day.” Impressive!

Highbush cranberry flowers are large “blooms” made up of smaller blooms.  In the fall these become bright red berries that many birds eat, especially Cedar waxwings.

Vinca vines produce periwinkle blooms in the spring and also sporadically in the summer. It is a common ground cover.

This is one type of fern we have planted in a shady area of the backyard. I recently learned over 12,000 fern species have been identified world-wide.

Orange objects in nature? Yes – poppies in a neighbor’s yard and an adult Baltimore oriole taking a break between bites of orange at the feeder.

Oscar Mayer (parent Kraft Foods) is closing at the end of June after operating in Madison since 1919. The plant is not too far from where we live and I drive by it a few times a week. This sight below made me chuckle – and also feel a little sad because to me it symbolizes the end of an era that provided employment for thousands of people. (And what will become of the weinermobiles and nutmobiles?)

Being in nature makes you healthier according to Florence Williams, who wrote the book The Nature Fix. Florence was a guest on The People’s Pharmacy; listen to the recording here to learn more.


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Magnolia tree walk

There are four large Magnolia trees in the neighborhood. They are commanding my attention now with a bounty of mostly-pink blooms. I must walk in their presence multiple times a day.

Siberian squill carpeted the area about a week ago. Here are two views of the blue beauty:


I was surprised by this unusual daffodil that made an appearance in the front yard, planted by an unknown person:

Peony shoots bring a deep-red stroke of color to the yard:

The crocus have come and gone already:


One of my favorite native flowering plants is bloodroot.  Two interesting facts about it:       1) the juice of the plant is red, and 2) the seeds are spread by ants. Here, the flower has not yet bloomed:

A few days later a patch of bloodroot seems to glow:

We said goodbye to an old friend. The tree trunk started to split in 2014 when a large limb from another tree fell on it during a storm. To buy some time we cabled and rope-tied both trunk pieces together. But it was time to make firewood for next winter.

I counted about 60 rings:

Three days ago I returned from the last work trip of my federal career. I was in the window seat of an exit row for the Chicago to Albany,NY flight. It was bumpy early on, so I closed my eyes and daydreamed. When it smoothed out I looked north out the window and tried to locate something familiar. (I do this.) After consulting the map in the airline magazine, I figured the plane was over Lake Erie. It took a few minutes but then I noticed two white masses over a large river. Yes – it was Niagara Falls! To provide an idea what this looked like, the below photo shows both falls (from the opposite direction, though): image - License=free to share and use 4/23/2017

I remember when airline pilots used to announce what state we were flying over, or a landmark. It was exciting! I once flew over the Grand Canyon on a clear blue-sky day and it was a fascinating sight.

Until next time,


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Rain on my face

I took a walk with the dog yesterday afternoon and didn’t wear a raincoat. And you can guess what happened – a plip plop here and there early on changed to a steady shower of coolness. The dog didn’t mind and I decided to have fun with it. We muddied our feet then ran through the puddles. Our faces were washed clean. It was a gratifying experience.

Snowdrops – always a welcome spring surprise:

Afternoon sunshine beaming on the state capitol and UW campus:

I can’t pass up a stunning sunset:


In late February a pair of Sandhill cranes displayed to one another in a nearby park:


Ice-out on the lake occurred with a wild wind on March 8th. In a few hours all of the ice was blown to the eastern shore:

Two days after ice-out I heard a high-pitched chatter and then saw two bald eagles at the edge of the lake:

An abundance of male robins invaded the area just before the latest snowstorm. At one point we counted 25 in the yard, snatching up the mature hackberries:

 The promise of growth is truly a miracle!


A friend gifted me with a container of worm castings (poop). I sprinkled it over several spring plantings as a nutritious treat:


A late-February storm produced a pebble-like snow. It caused a satisfying crrrruunch when I stepped on it.

By – Jeff Ford
These hills feel ancient today,
dense fog rising out of the snow,
cradled by bare arms of oak and elm.
Ravines usually dry, now filled,
water falling, dancing, tumbling
over rocks, following paths
carved out by the laughter of
a million spring snowmelts.
Sandhills appearing out of the mist
overhead, trilling their return from a
thousand lifetimes away.
Bare ground revealed, soggy,
breathing, the smell of sweet mud.
Nuthatches making small talk
as if this were an ordinary miracle.
I become still, roots sinking deeper,
pulling up gratitude,
the fog around me clearing my head.
This is home.


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Definition: the warmth of the sun in winter

When we have it, we love it!

January 1st

I take a long walk each first day of the year, and think about what was, what is, and what might be. And I try to notice.

This year I was pleasantly surprised to find a jumbled mass of ice panes near the shore of Lake Mendota.


From a different vantage point it looked like the entire lake was frozen for the first time of the season. (It was.)


Mendota Mental Health Institute is nearby and has multiple effigy (Indian) mounds. The picture below is of an Eagle effigy there, shaped like a large “T”. When I took this picture I was standing above and to the right of the “T”.


This plaque from 1910 is on the center part of the “T”:


We observed a RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH at our feeder this day. It was a bit of a shock as we hadn’t seen one of these for several years.


On January 5th, four EASTERN BLUEBIRDs appeared at the feeder. To see a glint of royal blue as they flew was a treat. These two seem content to be sitting in the sun:



The squirrels have been performing acrobatics while trying to obtain a few fruits from the Hackberry trees.


It was a fine day for apricity. I took our dog Jimmy on a long walk on the Lake Mendota ice. Here are cross-country skate-skiing and ATV tracks.


Jimmy sniffed at each of these holes.




I enjoyed the play of gray colors seen on Lake Mendota as the ice melted last week during a warm spell.


The PINE WARBLER has remained nearby for several months now. It is glorious to see the familiar flash of bright yellow out the front window.


by Joseph Mills

On the Interstate, my daughter tells me
she only has two questions. I’m relieved
because she usually has two hundred.
I say, Okay, let’s have them, and she asks,
What was there before there was anything?
Stupidly, I think I can answer this:
There was grass, forests, fields, meadows, rivers.
She stops me. No, Daddy. I mean before
there was anything at all, what was there?
I say that I don’t know, so then she asks,
Where do we go when we die? I tell her
I don’t know the answer to this either.
She looks out the side, and I look forward,
then she asks if we can have some music.

– Jean

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