Spring wildflowers are in full glory, with white trillium, wild geraniums, Solomon's seal, shooting star and many others putting on a dazzling show for visitors to the Preserve, in Bills, Woods and along the Big Oak trail. Also, flowering bushes everywhere brighten the scene and hold the promise of nourishing berries for birds and critters. Photographers have been sharing this brilliant show of nature on iNaturalist. Thank you.
Spring ephemerals are bursting into view with a certain urgency. They sense the need to bloom before the first leaves on understory and trees will cast their first shadows. Dutchman's breeches and trillium, usually blooming weeks apart, are raising their white blossoms almost simultaneously, and everything in between on the ephemeral calendar is peaking through last year's wilted brown leaves covering the forest floor.
Signs of spring are sprouting in the Preserve, breaking through last fall's leaves on the ground or bursting from branches on bushes and trees. Have a look at these observations made during this past week in the Preserve, some with Botany 401.
On March 8, Jeff Steele, on his daily exploration of the Madison area looking to photograph birds, insects, plants and more, also stopped briefly at the Lakeshore Nature Preserve, the Class of 1918 Marsh. Undoubtedly, he hoped to observe a Sandhill Crane at this location. Several of them had been reported in the Madison area this past week. We are rewarded with this photo posted on iNaturalist.
Jeff also spotted numerous water fowl that day on the open waters of Lake Monona and the Yahara River, including a Peregrine falcon, Red-winged blackbird, Gadwall, Common goldeneye, Canvasback, Ring-necked duck, Redhead and Lesser scaup. Thank you Jeff.
On his recent visit to the Preserve, Jeff Steele photographed some tiny song birds foraging for food and working on keeping warm. How can they survive this bitter cold Wisconsin weather? The short answer is that they use several survival strategies: they eat foods with high fat and caloric content, they shiver to fluff up their feathers, and they stay out of the wind.
Tree sparrows, for example, change their diet from insects, high protein food available in summer, to seeds, high in oil and fat content. Proteins are needed for growth, none of that in winter, whereas fats provide energy to stay warm. Chickadees also search for dormant insect larvae in the bark of branches. Apparently they eat at least 35% of their body weight to stay alive.
In addition, these tiny birds may grow up to 30% more feathers in winter to insulate them from the cold. They fluff up their insulating downy feathers, which keep warm air trapped beneath the contour feathers against their small bodies, maintaining their body temperature up to 104 F. They are experts in shivering which helps them retain heat. Chickadees also have a nifty way to prevent heat exchange with other surfaces by restricting circulation of blood in their legs. Finally, during those long cold winter nights, tiny birds can still use another method to stay warm. They enter what is called "torpor", when body temperature drops and they slow down metabolic functions, similar to animals in hibernation.
Staying out of the wind is also important. Seeking protection, our tiny song birds will huddle together in groups, hide under vegetation and tree bark, and even seek out vacant bird houses.
On November 18, David Liebl recorded these Tundra Swans on University bay. The brilliantly white swans, with their black beaks in elegant contrast, had been sighted earlier this month, but here are the photos. The swan population on the bay usually increases once there is an ice shelf. And, occasionally the rare Trumpeter Swan will join the Tundras, recognizable by its loud honking call and often by a numbered yellow neck band. So Thanksgiving is the time to walk at Picnic Point and stop at the boat landing at the Bay to view the swans and other waterfowl.
The Tundra Swans in the photos may have come all the way from the Colville River delta along the northern coastline of Alaska, and are now taking advantage of plenty of food in the Bay – until Lake Mendota freezes. From here they would fly on to their wintering grounds in the Chesapeake Bay, completing the longest migration route for Tundra Swans, about 4200 miles. Their migration might take longer than their nesting time in Alaska.
Barn swallows are abundant in the United States and most parts of the world. They prefer to live in semi-open country and typically build their mud nests on human structures, such as barns, eaves, garages, under bridges, and so on. It is rare to find them in natural habitats. So it is special to have some small colonies in the Preserve, where barn swallows nest in the sheltered crevices of the vertical cliff near Raymer’s Cove.
Arlene Koziol photographed how both parents feed their babies, stuffing insects into gaping beaks. The nestlings leave the nest after about 3 weeks. The barn swallows dart gracefully low over the ground or water surface and catch insects in flight. Their long tail is deeply forked, and they dazzle the observer with their flashy cobalt blue upper parts. See Arlene’s Flickr site.
Glenda Denniston reported that she found a new plant in the NE Corner of Bills Woods this July: "I was worried it might be a new invasive but couldn’t figure out what it was. Roma Lenehan came over with a piece of the same plant from the same place. I got more serious about it and have identified it as Small-flowered leaf-cup (Polymnia canadensis). It’s a native. I know we didn’t plant it and it’s a pretty conservative species. .... Interesting to me is the fact that the particular spot where we’ve found it is a place where Hydrophyllum appendiculatum, Great waterleaf, is doing especially well. I have read that the two plants often are found in the same habitats."
After Glenda submitted the plant to the UW Herbarium for identification, she received this positive reply from Ken Cameron, Prof of Botany and director of the UW Herbarium: "Dear Glenda, That’s a great find! You are correct that it’s been collected east and west of Dane Co, plus a few scattered locations to the north. … Thanks for the information."
Adam Gundlach, Preserve Field Project Coordinator, added information about a origin of the plant in this location. The plant had been deliberately introduced into the Preserve almost a decade ago: "I found a record from 2012 of Polymnia purchased from Prairie Moon Nursery. ... Beauty aside, ecologically speaking, we were likely trying to add diversity to the seed mix sown over shady areas we are often left with after clearing brush under dense canopy. Polymnia is attractive to pollinators, shade tolerant, and helps round out the late bloom period."
In 2020, Glenda Denniston of the Friends began volunteering for the Wisconsin Bumble Bee Brigade. This project allows volunteers from the public and professionals to report observations of bumble bees seen in Wisconsin. This information is used by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and its partners to study, manage, and conserve Wisconsin's bumble bee.
In 2012, Glenda observed her first rare Rusty-patched bumble bee in the Preserve. Over the next few years, she and Susan Carpenter recorded several sightings of individual Rusty-patched bumble bees. and Susan started her Bee field trips for the Friends in the Preserve. Then, in 2020, Glenda snapped photos of the rare Rusty-patched bumble bee in the strip of savanna she created between the Biocore Prairie and Frautschi Woods over a period of two decades. Click here.
This year she reports:
"I’m finding quite a number of Rusty patched bumble bees in the Preserve now. Got another near Second Oak, Frautschi and this one was on a Rattlesnake master in the little prairie at Raymer’s Cove. A neighbor in Shorewood even found one in her Shorewood yard.
"I did manage to locate my first photos of this species, despite my dying computer. I photographed it in East Savanna (old orchard) on a Monarda in a little patch of prairie/savanna ...... around a Bur oak sapling that I had roped off to keep it from being mowed down every year. At the time I sent the photos and documentation to the Xerces Society.
This is a female Rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) on Woodland Joe-Pye Weed in the savanna restoration area around Second Oak, Frautschi. I took the photo on July 13.
I went there at the request of the DNR person who oversees Bumble Bee Brigade, as a follow up to a photo I submitted to them last year. They’re asking this of all people who had recorded Rusty patched bumble bees last year, to see if they were still present at these documented sites.
A Willow Flycatcher is bringing food to its nest with four young, photographed by David Liebl near the entrance to Picnic Point. During season of rearing their young, birds in the Preserve waste little time for singing and concentrate on bringing food to their always hungry nestlings. Feeding mainly insects, both parent flycatchers bring food to their young. The nestlings grow quickly and are ready for their first flight in 12-14 days after hatching.
Gisela Kutzbach and contributors