On a brilliant spring morning, a day-long battle for a precious Bluebird box was unfolding at the top of the prairie. John Kutzbach and I watched for about an hour. Last year, in 2014, Bluebirds occupied the box, protected by the gnarly young Bur Oak, for most of the summer. Tree Swallows took over in August 2014. According to the monitoring report of May 19, in 2015, Tree Swallows were again nesting here, having 4 eggs in their nest. But this Saturday morning a pair of Bluebirds had set up house inside the box, with the Swallows circling in the area, launching occasional attacks. It's a hard life, on the prairie. A pair of Baltimore Orioles nesting in the nearby Black Cherry tree were witnesses to the battle. Click on the photo gallery (and the arrows on the right of the photos) to follow this battle for housing. (all photos Gisela Kutzbach)
Prothonotary warblers are a sight to behold with their dazzling yellow body and head, gleaning insects in the foliage or hopping about on mossy logs. They are unique in their habit of nesting in holes in trees, rather than in the open; they will also nest in birdhouses placed close to the water, as in the Preserve. Today the pair was busy completing their nest.
According to the Audubon guide, males arrive on nesting grounds about a week before females and establish territories by singing and vigorous displays. They place small amounts of moss into the nest cavity, building dummy nests, but only the female builds the real nest, filling the cavity nearly to the entrance hole with moss, dry leaves, twigs and bark.
Breeding as far north as in Wisconsin is uncommon. Ever since Bill Barker and Mark Trewartha installed tiny birdhouses for Prothonotary Warblers in various places of the Picnic Point marsh to provide nesting opportunities for them, bird enthusiasts have flocked to this place. The name "Prothonotary" originally referred to a group of official scribes in the Catholic Church who wore bright yellow hoods, as this bird appears to do. (see
As part of the Preserve’s 5-year management plan for Eagle Heights Woods, a team of volunteers has begun surveys of trees, saplings, shrubs layer, and ground cover. Ecologist Suzy Will-Wolf, an experti in survey techniques and protocols, Preserve Steward Glenda Denniston, with extensive knowledge of the plant species in the Preserve, and biologist Ann Burgess, offering her skills in documentation and record keeping, have developed a survey plot location scheme, survey protocol details, and methods of documentation. They intend to survey randomly located plots of 100 square meters (including two 1 square meter quadrats within each focusing on ground layer plants) in many locations the central zone. They will do this in spring and then again in summer or early fall to account for spring ephemerals as well as later vegetation.
On May 8, they were setting out to sample their 4th plot in the Eagle Heights woods. Results and analysis of their work will provide important information for developing adaptive management strategies for the area. Suzy, Glenda, and Ann are part of the Preserve's Planning and Implementation Committee and work closely with Preserve staff and project manager Adam Gundlach. They are also members of the Friends. The Eagle Heights Woods rejuvenation project is the focus of the Friends current fundraising efforts. All photos Gisela Kutzbach
On Tuesday night I went for a sundown walk in the Preserve and enjoyed a few warbler species in the Caretaker's Woods as I experienced the dusking of the woods. Up in the prairie, I followed the wild mutterings of a pair of house wrens and noticed the elm leaves growing fast. I lingered in hopes of hearing the "peent" of a woodcock, and maybe seeing a skydance, but only heard the last calls from a few sparrows. Then on my way to Frautshi Point, I noticed these cup-shaped flowers with droopy tops and blazing green stripes. Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema tryphillum) have some of the most nondescript flowers of our woodland plants. The flower is the dark brown finger sticking up from the middle of the cup. Commonly confused with trillium, jack in the pulpit may have one to three leaves, which are 8 inches long and broader than trillium leaves. While the flowers are drab, the fruits are a cluster of green berries, turning bright red over the summer. These do not spread via their roots (rhizomes) like many other woodland flowers, so you are likely to find only a few here and there. This patch near Lake Mendota is certainly worth a look.
Gisela Kutzbach and contributors