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!
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:
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
in the pinewoods
in the moments between
and first light
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
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:
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:
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:
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.