I checked and double checked for the Barred owl in its famed conifer tree along the trail. The owl was not present but, shiny sap was flowing down the trunk of the tree. I stopped to get some close ups of the sap in the afternoon light and then moved on down the trail. As we rounded the bend, I noticed a tree with many small holes and decided to investigate. As I had my camera up and finger on the shutter button, the undeniable “who cooks for you” call made me jump. I waited for a response call and then headed back to the owl’s favorite conifers. This time, the owl had decided to perch in a different tree than normal. I think the owl was just as surprised as I was when we made eye contact like a deer in the headlights.
The best highlight of April 1st happened when Sandi and I were standing at the T intersection where the Big Oak Trail opens into the savanna at the Biocore Prairie. The sound of mobbing crows caught my attention and as I looked up, expecting to see a Red-tailed Hawk, an Osprey flew over us! I snapped a few shots as it passed and was surprised to find a watchful eye angled towards the camera when checking the pictures in the field. According to Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, ospreys will spend an average of 12 mins hunting before successfully catching a fish. Live fish, both saltwater and fresh make up about 99 percent of an osprey’s diet.
The weather over the next week and a half presented several days with cool temperatures (40s and 50s) and overcast skies. After several more visits to the Preserve, I grew impatient while waiting for the bloodroot to fully open up and show off the white and yellow flowers. Finally, on April 11th, the bloodroot along the Big Oak Trail had opened up enough to get some great photos! Sandi and I spent about four hours at Lakeshore that day, walking from the Frautschi Point parking lot out to the tip of Picnic Point and back. Mallard ducks and Canada geese were blending into their nests at the landlocked wetland along the Picnic Point peninsula. There were many American coots, a pair of Pied-billed grebes, a pair of Wood ducks and a single loon out on the lake. It was very windy that day and while at the tip of the peninsula, I noticed a gull sitting on top of a light post. The gull tried several times to take flight and was swept back down by the wind. Eventually, the gull made it out to join others above the lake.
Spring ephemerals are plants that have a characteristically short life cycle. They appear after the snowmelt, during the warm weeks in April and May and disappear nearly as quickly. I first really took note of new colors during the “teen” week of April. Starting with the light purple buds of Virginia Bluebells, on April 16. Two days later, April 18th, the white flowers of Twinleaf were present alongside distinct, large leaves which are nearly divided in half. The upside down yellow flower of Uvularia grandiflora (Large-leaf Bellwort), caught my eye since I have never seen it before. The leaves of Trout lilies could be found in clusters throughout the Preserve but, I did not see the presence of any flowers on the Big Oak Trail during this week.
Glenda Denniston - guardian steward for the Big Oak trail for many years - if only Glenda would take time to step back and enjoy and rest for an hour or so. But that wouldn't be Glenda. Here she is, with two knees replaced by metal joints within the last three months, cutting and hauling large garbs of honeysuckle branches from the overgrown areas she has cleared down to the trail. How can she do it, you ask? Determination? No pain, no gain?
A reward for Glenda and all of us is 'Shooting Star Hill' in plain view, another multi-year planting project started with Kathie Dwelle years ago. And then another surprise. Glenda reported today that when she was looking at her photos she discovered a "deer with distinctive scars on its side .... at the top of Shooting Star Hill. It must have been watching me all the time I was working there, but I didn’t see it. Only noticed it in the background of this photo before I cropped it," Let's all hope that deer doesn't like the taste of shooting stars. And be sure to attend Glenda's field trip of spring flowers on Big Oak Trail on May 8, when the Shooting Stars will be in full bloom.
Roma Lenehan is out there, every day for several hours, reducing the lush growth of Garlic Mustard, an aggressive invasive plant that has plagued the Preserve for the last 20 years. She invited me to come along for the morning, before the rain, to help clear Eagle Heights Woods, where Kathie Brock first discovered Garlic Mustard plants about 20 years ago. Kathy likes to tell the story how she thought she might have found a lovely wildflower in bloom. But volunteers soon discovered that if Garlic Mustard, a non-native species few native animals eat, is not controlled, it will take over much of the Preserve, forming dense monocultures. These in turn will kill many spring woodland plants and inhibit tree regeneration. And, in turn again, by decreasing native plants, Garlic Mustard decreases foods for insects reducing insect diversity. Insects, in turn, feed birds and other animals..... There you have it. And, as always, an abundant invasive makes it difficult to restore native habitats.
Ever since, Roma has devoted every spring to make Garlic Mustard less abundant in the Preserve, and she is succeeding, along with many other volunteers. The goal of having no second-year seeding Garlic Mustard plants has been approached in much of the Preserve. Persistence pays off. Of course this year, with the mild winter and early spring, most Garlic Mustard survived and became unusually large, in beautiful clumps of green on the brown leaf-littered forest floor, and is now bolting up getting ready to bloom and make millions of seeds. Early in the season Garlic Mustard can be composted, but once Garlic Mustard begins to bolt it must be collected and bagged because, even if the bolting plants are pulled, they will go ahead and bloom and produce seeds.
We spent our morning in Eagle Heights Woods, which shows renewed beauty as large swatches of buckthorn and honeysuckle have been removed in the central zone. It becomes a little easier to pick Garlic Mustard when the nasty underbrush of buckthorn and honeysuckle no longer impedes every step and tangles your hair. So I was proud to have collected three big black garbage bags of the green garlicky stuff in just 2 1/2 hours, admiring in my bent-over position the re-emerging Bloodroot, Dutchmans breeches, Mayapples, Solomon seal, and early shoots of Jack-in the pulpit on the cleared hillside. But Roma set me straight. She condensed my three bags into merely two – tightly packed to conserve plastic bags. BUT - none of these plants in the bag will spread seeds this year. Yeah!
The Friends Garlic Mustard Pull event is scheduled for May 14. This year, the date may be a little late for pulling the plants before seeding. Please watch your email for announcements. Read about the Thirteen Myths about Garlic Mustard. Photos Gisela Kutzbach
Sunny skies and balmy air helped bring out buds, blossoms and blooms along the windy wild flower trail in Upper Bill's Woods. This weekend we delighted in the colors and promise of Virginia Bluebells, Bloodroot, Dutchman's Breeches, Hepatica, Rue Anemone, Trout Lily, Prairie Trillium and others. With every sunny day, the flowers should be more abundant in their splendor. Plan a walk to enjoy this precious display. Park at Picnic Point and walk up the service road. At the first fork turn left. The wildflower trail begins approximately opposite from the Heritage Oak at the top of the hill. The trail and flowers were developed and planted over many years, since 2001, by Glenda Denniston. On Mother's Day, Glenda will lead a wildflower field trip in this area. Photos Gisela Kutzbach
Marci Lanois, visiting from LaValle on March 22, sent us these precious photos of the Great Horned Owl family at Willow Creek. Thank you for sharing, Marci, and we hope to see more of your bird photography in the Preserve.
Paul Noeldner adds these comments, "The owls distinctive 'horned' silhouettes with feather 'ears' can occasionally be seen, roosting in big pines and oaks along the Lakeshore Path. The two mottled brown adults have been seen in parental training mode enticing their two young fluffy white owlets to hop out on limbs, practice stretching their wings, and learn to fly. Please observe these beautiful owls and other urban wildlife from a respectful distance and stay on the trail to minimize disturbance to their normal behavior and the behavior of their natural food sources."
Glenda Denniston reported in her comments to Mariah's post: "Just a few more phenological notes: in Bill's Woods, Violets and Hepatica are in full bloom (as of March 29, when I also saw my first butterfly of the season - a Mourning Cloak). False Rue anemone, Twinleaf, Dutchman's breeches, Mertensia and Cutleaf Toothwort are in bud, and today (April 1 there were two flowers fully out on a Bloodroot. Pennsylvania sedges are forming their flowers."
Here are Glenda's beautiful photos. It's hard to believe that since then the flowers endured hail and snow on Saturday, 73°F and blustery April winds on Sunday, and today on Monday a dip to the freezing point again. Aside from being beautiful, these little flowers are hardy and used to fickle Wisconsin weather. Photos G. Denniston.
Mariah Myers is sharing her experiences in the Preserve with us. Read her bio at the end of this post, and enjoy spring coming to the Preserve. Mariah writes: "On Monday (March 28), I met with Gisela Kutzbach and we hiked the Big Oak Trail from Frautschi Point to the Biocore Prairie. Of course, I brought my almost 13-year old partner in crime (golden retriever), Sandi along for the morning. I often tell people that Sandi gets most of the credit for any nature-related observations that I make. Between Sandi's stopping every 10 feet to investigate a new smell and me stopping every 15 feet to take a picture or do my own investigating, our short distance walks can take two to three hours.
There were many new and exciting signs of spring to take note of on our walk. One of the first things that we saw was a sea of green moss covering the forest floor. Mixed in with the fresh green moss were the minute sprouts of various woodland wildflowers. We had to observe carefully at times, to be sure not to miss anything. Some of the more obvious signs of spring which started a few weeks ago, were the serenading songs of cardinals, robins, and song sparrows.
At the intersection of the trail which enters the prairie, I pointed out a soft and spongy part of the trail which in turn was a trail of its own. About a week ago, I noticed what appeared to be a mole tunnel along the side of the trail. It has since expanded further onto the hiking path.
We took note of what is left of a decomposing stump and decided this would be an excellent example of nature to periodically observe the rate of decomposition as well as, signs of animals and other natural occurrences. We paused near the manmade shelter on the trail and I made a mental note of how different it looks when not covered in snow. Near the shelter, I showed Gisela the area where I saw a coyote crossing my path last month heading towards the prairie from the Big Oak Trail.
Eventually, we made it to the Biocore Prairie and walked over to the picnic table by a bluebird box. While there, we were serenaded by a song sparrow singing at the top of his vocal cords and to the best of his ability. We didn't see any bluebirds but, I told Gisela that I witnessed a pair of bluebirds entering/exiting the box and fending off unwanted house guests (house sparrows, chickadees, etc) two weeks ago.
At this point, Gisela and I parted ways. Sandi and I proceeded to walk from the Biocore Prairie out to The Narrows, hiking the trail along the lake. Passing the wetland, there were a few pairs of mallards and Canada geese, and many red-winged blackbirds making their presence known. On the lake, I saw a group of about 10 buffleheads and a grebe trying to stay afloat the rough water. Upon the hike back to Frautschi Point, I stopped once more at the bluebird box and sure enough, there was a male bluebird in the tree calling and ready to fend off unwanted visitors. I did also see my first of the year tree swallow swooping through the air, catching insects.
Mariah Myers: I am a Naturalist at Aldo Leopold Nature Center and a frequent visitor of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. I have a B.S. in Animal Ecology from Iowa State University and nature photography is not just a fun hobby but, it is how I find peace. I moved to Madison from west central Illinois 1.5 years ago with my now almost 13 year old Golden Retriever, Sandi. I discovered the Preserve last spring and immediately fell in love. First with Picnic Point, a very popular destination in Madison. Then, one day I decided to walk further than before and we ended up at Frautschi Point. Sandi and I try to walk the Big Oak Trail at least once a week, sometimes three or four times a week. I give Sandi most of the credit for our discoveries because while she stops frequently to smell everything, it forces me to slow down and take in nature as I see and feel it, becoming more observant with each stop.
Gisela Kutzbach and contributors