On a beautiful, uncharacteristically warm day shortly before Christmas, 26 people joined our leaders, Doris Dubielzig and Paul Noeldner, on a “Sentimental Journey” onto Picnic Point.
Doris led the first part, telling stories of the history of Picnic Point. At the stone wall by the entrance, we looked at the variety of rocks carried by the most recent glacier to Southern Wisconsin, and which Picnic Point landowner Edward Young had made into a wall as a wedding gift for his bride in 1925. We walked past Bill’s Woods to the site of the Youngs’ house, on a hill that had a beautiful view of Lake Mendota. We looked for, and found, pavers that remained after that house was destroyed in a fire in 1935. Following the path toward University Bay, the group fanned out, as the birders identified and pointed out birds they sighted to the attendees who stayed near them. One of the best things about the Friends’ field trips is how willing people are to share their expertise, and the 4th Sunday outings attract expert birders to this Important Birding Area. Pam and R. Dion Carmona, from Chicago, who were visiting a relative at UW Hospital, found our trip listed on the internet. They generously identified numerous bird species, and compiled the bird list below. We caught up with Doris near the two conical effigy mounds built by the Late Woodland people. She related some of the history of the Native Americans who originally lived on the shores of Lake Mendota, and she read an excerpt of Madison Mayor Augustus Bird’s 1847 speech about the removal of the Indians from their lands around Lake Mendota.
In the meantime, Paul Noeldner pulled a wagon directly to Fire Circle #2. He carted spotting scopes and binoculars, hot chocolate, materials for s’mores, his brass tenor horn, and topped the load with a Christmas tree held on with bungee cords. When we joined Paul, he had set up and trained the spotting scopes onto University Bay and was starting a fire. Paul invited children to decorate the Christmas tree with Audubon “singing birds”. He also brought poster boards with the lyrics to “Here We Come A Wassailing” in many languages, and engaged passersby to join our group in singing as he played the horn. Since it was a beautiful day, there were many people walking to Picnic Point who stopped to sing, sip hot chocolate, and look through the spotting scopes and binoculars at the hundreds of birds on the ice and open water. Paul estimates that 10-15 people, in addition to those on the sign-up sheet, either came with him to the campfire directly or joined him shortly thereafter.
On University Bay, we saw tundra swans, mallard ducks, common goldeneye ducks, bufflehead ducks, common merganser, ring-billed gulls, an immature eagle who sat for a long time on the ice eating prey, American coot, Red-breasted merganser, Redhead duck, Gadwall duck, American wigeon, and Lesser scaup. Earlier on our walk through the wooded part of the trail, we saw Red-tailed hawks, Rough-legged hawk, Downy woodpecker, Black-capped chickadee, Canada geese flying in formation, Blue jay, American crow, White-breasted nuthatch, Sandhill cranes, and American goldfinch.
Participants were invited to share on post-it notes their favorite parts or memories of the Preserve: