Featuring poets of all experience levels, our "It's in Our Nature" events bring writers together to share their small curiosities, sweeping odes, or any piece of environmental writing in between. By writing we can capture the imagery of our mind’s eye, looking inward to draw emotion, beauty, and truth from the outside world.
The theme of our event this year was “Insight.” Every day our minds sift through a sea of thoughts and sensory impressions, casting the world around us in vivid shades of feeling only we can experience. What marvels exist only within our own heads! We asked poets to share the beautiful singularity of their mind’s eye with us on February 25th.
The Madison Journal of Literary Criticism joined us this year to co-host the event, and will be publishing a two page spread on the Friends, the Preserve, and featuring poems from the event. I look forward to working with them further as we continue to expand the "It's in Our Nature" poetry audio trail initiative.
Our 2021 trail can be found here and our unfinished 2022 trail can be found here.
Stay tuned for more soon on our updated 2023 audio trail!
Report by Will Vuyk, with photos from Paul Noeldner.
On a Sunday afternoon freshly dusted with snow, Paul Noeldner led 14 of us on an exploration of winter's magic. As if seeing the icy, snow-covered ground as the perfect opportunity for some putting practice, Paul started the field trip by pulling out a bag of golf clubs. These were no ordinary golf clubs, however, as each shaft ended in an assortment of trays, utensils, and wooden cut-outs rather than a head. An eager attendee arrayed the spoons on one club just so, and then struck the ground. A birdie! Indeed, there on the ground was the imprint of a turkey track. Paul had a "deer" club, a "duck" club, a "fox" club, and a club that mimicked a mysterious 5-toed creature that could just as well have been 5 separate toads hopping in formation.
Once we got out on the trail we found many real tracks in the snow. Upon the discovery of some fresh fox tracks, Paul replaced his blue googly-eye bird hat with his orange face-hugging fox hat, and talked to us about canids in the area. On the north side of the peninsula, right by the bathrooms, we found much more obvious evidence of canid activity. It appears that a coyote was after something and dug up whole swaths of the sandy bank in pursuit.
We were all chilled by the wind, so we took that as a queue to head back to fire circle #2. There we saw two white-breasted nuthatches, which including two blue jays we saw before the trip started, were the only birds we noticed the whole time. Folks enjoyed warming up and conversing around the fire. As the fire burned low, Paul took the opportunity to warm up the valves on his euphonium and play a farewell tune. Report and photos by Will Vuyk.
Cool fall weather provided the perfect backdrop to Geological History of the Preserve and Madison Lakes on November 13th. 31 guests wandered through the Preserve under an overcast sky with Philip Fauble, geologist with the Department of Natural Resources and a passionate teacher of local geology. Philip began our hike with a crash-course on geoscience; before we could understand how the rocks in the Preserve reached their current form, we needed to learn a bit about how rocks move, their timescales, and the idiosyncratic geological history of the Madison lakes. We learned that the majority of the Preserve is comprised of Ordovician- and Cambrian-age bedrock, with much of it belonging to the Tunnel City Group rock layer, defined by its very fine-grained quartzite sand. Different glacial movements across the area cut into this bedrock throughout the last couple hundred thousand years, both creating the basins in which the Madison lakes could form and exposing the outcroppings which we observed with Philip.
Our hike took us to the Preserve’s highest point (the bluff in Eagle Heights Woods) where we studied glacial erratics—large boulders cut and picked up by glaciers and deposited by way of glacial recession, often hundreds of kilometers away from its source rock. Philip estimated the erratics on Eagle Heights Woods bluff were 2.4-billion-year-old gneiss from southern Ontario! Other highlights included Philip showing us evidence of the ancient seas which once covered the land we know call Wisconsin, including the presence of stromatolites in our rocks – fossilized microbial mats which thrived in the shallow waters of Cambrian and Ordovician Wisconsin. We express our deep gratitude to Philip for filling in on such short notice – we hope he’ll join us again on a geologic excursion in the Preserve!
Report written by Cole Roecker, photos by Signe Holtz.
On a dreary, drizzly weekend afternoon, about 15 people joined this trip co-hosted by the Friends of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve and the UW-Madison chapter of the Audubon Society. Led by Friends board members Anne Pearce and Cole Roecker, the birders set their sights on University Bay from the Walnut St. boat launch, in search of winter waterfowl.
Early birds to the field trip were greeted by a northern harrier flying along the lakeshore right in front of us, followed not too long after by a great blue heron. The warm weather, lack of ice on the lake, and calm water meant that waterfowl were not as concentrated in University Bay as they often are in December. But when we set our eyes, binoculars, and a few spotting scopes on the water, we had two rafts of waterfowl to look at on either side of the boat launch.
Among the easier birds to identify were the tundra swans and coots, as they were present in large numbers. Several people stuck with the challenge of trying to get a good look at a few nearby buffleheads through binoculars as these small waterfowl kept diving under the surface of the water. Others were able to pick out a handful each of northern shovelers and redheads further away from shore. Given the relative quiet near the boat launch, we decided to walk toward Willow Creek, after admiring a muskrat swimming along the shore.
A few passerines grabbed our attention as we went toward the creek, including downy and hairy woodpeckers and dark-eyed juncos. Once at the creek, we scanned the large group of ring-billed gulls with some larger herring gulls to see if there were any unusual visitors. No such luck! Two favorite sightings from the mouth of the creek were the great blue heron standing along the shoreline and a belted kingfisher perched in a tree with a fish in its mouth for several minutes.
Thanks to the several members of the UW-Madison chapter of the Audubon Society for joining us! We can’t wait to see what people find on the next birding field trip!
Thanks to Cole for the eBird report:
25 Canada Goose
25 Tundra Swan
3 Northern Shoveler
100 American Coot
100 Ring-billed Gull
10 Herring Gull
1 Great Blue Heron
1 Northern Harrier
1 Belted Kingfisher
3 Downy Woodpecker
2 Hairy Woodpecker
1 American Crow
7 House Finch
6 American Goldfinch
10 Dark-eyed Junco
2 Song Sparrow
19 Taxa Observed
Report by Anne Pearce and photos by Signe Holtz.
About 30 enthused bird lovers of all ages including several UW students and a couple kids joined the Sunday November 27 "Fun Fall Birding" Bird and Nature Adventure at UW Lakeshore Nature Preserve to follow beloved birding Pied Piper Chuck Henrikson along the Picnic Point path and excitedly help spot and observe lots of waterfowl and other birds.
The forecast weather of dreary clouds and drizzle gave way to blue sky and bright sun that flashed on white spots on the water as dozens of beautiful Buffleheads dove briefly and popped up again among rafts of hundreds of cute squeeky toy Coots and common but still stunningly colored Mallards bobbing and dabbling for duckweed. Some more difficult to spot Merganzers and Loons took turns doing longer dives. Overflight sightings of two Bald Eagles, a Coopers Hawk and a Red-tailed Hawk rounded out the Raptors and a friendly Red-bellied Woodpecker and some Blue Jays brought flashes of color to the winter trees.
The outing wrapped up at fire pit 2 with hot chocolate and smores around a campfire with lots of talk about the day's birding adventure, future plans for the Preserve and opportunities to engage and help out.
Mark your calendar for Sunday December 25 1:30pm for a Christmas Day "My Favorite Places" Bird and Nature Adventure to share stories and visit favorite places at the Preserve!
Here is the Nov 25 eBird report -
45 Canada Goose
2 Hooded Merganser
1 Common Merganser
1 Mourning Dove
400 American Coot
2 Sandhill Crane
25 Ring-billed Gull
2 Common Loon
1 Cooper's Hawk
2 Bald Eagle
1 Red-tailed Hawk
1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
1 Downy Woodpecker
3 Blue Jay
2 American Crow
4 Black-capped Chickadee
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
3 American Robin
2 American Goldfinch
2 Northern Cardinal
Number of Taxa: 22
Photos and report by Paul Noeldner
Friends President Will Vuyk led a group of 12 students and adults on a "Poetry in the Preserve" walk October 23 for the 4th Sunday Bird and Nature Adventure at Picnic Point. The sun-warmed fall day, wind-cleared blue skies, pulsing waves on the lake and spectacular fall colors provided a beautiful and inspirational backdrop as participants took turns along the trail reading favorite nature poems from Friends Poetry Nights and composed several new haikus.
Afterward Will and others shared thoughts around a campfire circle about how poetry encourages us to look at nature in new and interesting ways and triggers empathy and curiosity that inspire us to look deeper which interestingly puts poetry hand in hand with doing good emperical science. Like falling leaves we each fluttered away leaving behind fresh new buds of ideas ready to bloom.
Report and photos by Paul Noeldner. Haikus from our insightful attendees!
Forest Bathing - 9 October 2022
Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, is the practice of being mindfully immersed in a forest
space. On October 9th, our forest of choice was the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. Led by Seth
McGee, lab manager at the Biocore Program, and Dr. Paul Williams, professor emeritus,
over 43 participants explored the concept of Forest Bathing and its health and wellbeing benefits. The large group began beside the Frautschi Point parking lot as Seth asked us what we already knew about Forest Bathing. A few of the responses included that it was a form of meditation on our natural surroundings, and that it involved the use of all of our senses.
Immersing ourselves with nature we used our senses (sight, touch, smell, hearing, and
taste). Our journey began walking into the forest and using our first sense, touch. Seth and Paul
encouraged participants to feel the soil. Paul handed out portable microscopes for participants
to observe the detailed work of nature, allowing us to use our sight to engage in a more
powerful way. These were originally based on plastic film containers (anyone remember
those?) and are designed so that a bit of moss, twig, or insect can be kept at exactly the right
distance from the lens for examination.
We moved further into the forest and took a few moments of silence to listen to the
birds, the rustling of leaves, and ever so faintly Lake Mendota. Paul also encouraged us to smell
the soil, leaves, and a few remaining flowers. Seth had brought several plants along so that we
could smell their scent, including the minty, “Earl Grey Tea-like” scent of the native prairie plant
Monarda fistulosa, also known as bee balm or wild bergamot. He introduced fragrant samples
from extracts that Biocore students provided. Using our sense of smell, we smelled Balsam fir,
Abies balsamea, which provided a rich and fruity scent, as well as other evergreens. Later on,
Paul encouraged a student participant to taste some fruits of a small tree alongside the path,
afterwards revealing that it was a crabapple.
At the conclusion of our journey, Seth showed the group several books written on Forest
Bathing, and then led us through a guided meditation. Almost magically, a light rain fell for a few
minutes near the end of the walk, giving us yet another sensory experience as we were silent to
hear and feel the raindrops; a fitting conclusion to the experience.
Report and photos by Diana Tapia Ramon and Eve Emshwiller.
The damp weather on the afternoon of September 25th was perfect for searching along the trails of the preserve for fall fungi in all of their fascinating textures and colors. Marie Trest, teacher of the UW Madison Fungi lab course, guided almost eighty fungi fanatics through how to identify some of our local fruiting bodies. With their gills, tubes, teeth, puffballs, forking corals, shelves, and cups, fungi have as many functions in the forest as there were logs to overturn and leaves to comb. Each fungi found had a unique role hinted at by what substrate they were emerging from and the forms they took on. We also learned how to take spore prints to help identify some mushrooms that look similar to one another. Fungi recycle the dying plants and animals of the forest floor into the nutrients needed by new, emerging life. Fungi are pathogens, they provide medicine and food, and they form close symbioses. At the heart of nearly every ecological process, there is a fungus. A special thanks to Marie for sharing her expertise with us and impressing on us just how important and beautiful these too often overlooked organisms are.
Report and photos by Matt Chotlos.
As a sleepy tree frog awoke in the coming dusk of a muggy September evening, its bulbous eyes would have noticed something odd about its usual view from the fieldstone wall at the entrance to Picnic Point. An alien invasion of more than 30 bobbing lights bore down swiftly upon its stone cubby, giving it no choice but to retract back into its daytime guise of being a particularly rotund clump of lichen. To the frog’s relief, the lights mostly sailed right by in the hands of arachnid enthusiasts making a bee-line for the webs strung upon the stone wall’s gates. Puffs of corn starch mist illuminated by eager beams lit up a tapestry of silk between the dark cast-iron bars.
Harvestmen (daddy longlegs) researcher Guilherme Gainett led us on a captivating night-time hike with help from spider researcher Siddharth Kulkarni. The two Sharma Lab experts wove their own web of arachnid facts and stories around the countless eight-legged critters we were finding. Harvestmen and spiders, while they look similar, are two distinct varieties of arachnid. Contrary to popular myth, harvestmen are not venomous like their spider relatives. They also have only one discernible body segment (see picture below). Spiders, in contrast, have a distinct thorax separated from their abdomen by a narrow, flexible waist called a pedicel. Additionally, harvestmen lack the ability to make silk and cannot make webs like their spider cousins.
Orb webs, sheet webs, funnel webs, and other ingenious works of architecture took form before our eyes between leaves and branches. These different web forms tell stories not just of different ways of life, but also different spider evolutionary histories. Some spiders wait for prey to trap themselves, while others actively cast their nets upon prey, or "fish" by swinging long sticky lines. Did you know the organ spiders use to create their silk is called a spinneret? The spinneret is composed of many microscopic "spigots" that each produce a single thread that is woven together into the strands we can see with our naked eyes.
The sparkling jewels of spider eyes glittered from the ground too, as wandering spiders hunted through the leaf litter in the hundreds. We learned that just as cats and dogs have a reflective “tapetum lucidum” layer in their eyes that helps with night vision, so do many spiders! Appreciating this glimpse of the multitudes of arachnids one can find in the Preserve deepened my sense for what little we still know about the eight-legged creatures that live with and around us in Madison. Siddharth told us that for every species of arachnid known to science, there may be another yet to be described.
Stay tuned about further arachnid-themed events in the future as we work with Guilherme and Siddharth to continue to learn about all the eight-legged creatures that call the Preserve home.
Report by Will Vuyk. Photos provided by Eve Emswhiller, Guilherme Gainett, and Will Vuyk.
On a sunny Saturday morning at Frautschi Point, twenty students, community members, and long-time Friends stared intently at a basswood tree about fifteen feet off the trail. The basswood, though a remarkable species in its own right, was not the subject of this intense scrutiny for its own merit alone. This was no tree walk; our leafy friend was abuzz with fluttering warblers. As accomplished birders Jill Feldkamp and Roma Lenehan led us around the forested trails of Frautschi Point, we saw a number of woodpeckers, thrushes, and of course, the sought-after migrating warblers. Just before emerging out into the Biocore Prairie, some of us in the far back even saw a bald eagle!
While many of those in attendance did not have binoculars, we were granted an incredible opportunity to see otherwise distant warblers up close at the Biocore Prairie Bird Banding Station. There we observed the work of the banding team, who graciously allowed us all to crowd around in wonder.
The birds kept on accumulating as we walked down the prairie’s northern forest edge, bathed in warm September sunlight. Jill had warned us before the start of the trip that the bird forecast was poor for today, but as two rose-breasted grosbeaks flew over us as we returned to the parking lot, it confirmed our trip was anything but.
Roma documented that we encountered 32 different species! A sizeable flock, that.
Photos and report by Will Vuyk. Bird list provided by Roma Lenehan.
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