Cherokee Park

This city park is up near Cherokee Marsh. It’s a neighborhood park, if you can afford the neighborhood–houses that don’t need paint, professional lawns dotted with little islands of perennials, designer mailboxes, and streets awkwardly named after Indian tribes. The park itself is big enough that many residents get a good workout  just walking or jogging around the perimeter.



I like to come here in spring, because it’s kind of a staging ground for migrating sandhill cranes. This pair must have decided to stick around for breeding season.



Along one edge, you can look out over the marsh. It’s just marshy enough on the edges to have cattails, mud and mosquitoes, but really it’s more like a wide place in the river. One time Dan (my late husband) drove me up here and stuck me out in the marsh in my kayak to paddle home. It took me many hours, and I earned a memorable sunburn, but the views were awesome.



After a few minutes of showing the mosquitoes who’s boss, I sat for a long time watching the birds hunt insects. Next to the water, the trees were loaded with cedar waxwings, robins, yellow warblers, song sparrows, cardinals, redwing blackbirds, and I’m sure many others I didn’t happen to glimpse. I’d be surprised if there weren’t eastern kingbirds, but I didn’t happen to see any. It took about ten pictures to actually catch this bird in mid-swoop.



These grape vines must have climbed to thirty feet or more. No grapes on them, though, only the grape-shaped gall that always lives on grape leaves here.


I like this photo because it looks so peaceful. And it was.



Troy Gardens

I’ve been too busy gardening the last couple weeks to go on any jaunts. Now I’m about halfway finished with the projects I want to complete this summer, so I took a day off to go–well, to a garden. I always love looking at community gardens to see what everyone is doing with their plots, and I pass by several of them in the course of going about my daily activities. But Troy Gardens is worth a side trip; this is a huge, multi-faceted community garden, and a whole lot more besides.

ImageThis is the entrance to the gardens on Troy Drive. Behind me was a steady stream of commute traffic, ahead of me a communal sort of paradise.

ImageHere’s the entrance to the Kids’ Garden, which has little plots labeled things like “Salsa Garden” and “Pickle Garden.” As you’ve probably noticed, the place is full of artwork. It’s well supported by the community, as well as by all kinds of financial grants.

ImageAt the other end of the Kids’ Garden is a play area, including a sandbox and this thing–an A-frame hung with pots and pan lids and other noisy fun.

ImageI was all pleased with myself to get a picture of the black hen, but as soon as the camera clicked, the white one came running down the ramp. Since I can’t resist a vain chicken, I took a picture of them both.

ImageThere’s a lot homemade in the parts of the garden used by regular citizens. In the foreground here is a fairly basic plot. Early in the morning, the only people I saw out there working were the folks seen in the distance here. I would have taken a better photo of them, but they were right in the middle of something, speaking some language I don’t know (French, I think) a mile a minute.


One of the common areas is this herb garden.

Image…and from there into a mini-orchard. There’s enough land behind the place for a small restored meadow and some woods.

ImageThere’s also a little vegetable farm–5 acres, I think I read?–glimpsed here between the grapes that grow along its fence.

ImageWhy have a scarecrow, when you can have a cow on a bicycle? The wheels revolve in the wind.

ImageSome people have even built little sheds in some of the larger plots. In this picture, you can see the neighborhood in the distance.

Birds seen: Mostly just sparrows, finches and robins. But one garden plot had a wren house in it, and a little wren hopping about.

In the Interim

Image 6-18-13 at 12.44 PM

I’m taking a couple weeks off from posting to this journal, because I’m in the middle of a massive gardening project and so not doing any bike & hikes. I’ll be back on the road (and possibly the creek, for a bit of kayaking) next time I’m off work, namely next Monday & Tuesday.

This post merely illustrates that 1) I got around to looking up the weirdo mushrooms on the path from my last hike, and , 2) I downloaded Skitch.

Got to log off now–I’m expecting a truckload of cocoa mulch, manure, straw and other garden goodies any minute.


Just for comparison, I thought I’d record the birds I saw on a daily run from my house. This morning’s jog/walk  was 3-4 miles total, down by the Starkweather Creek and through Olbrich Park and some urban neighborhoods. So these are all pretty typical birds in Madison at this time of year.

Bird List: robin, cardinal, English sparrow, redwing blackbird, grackle, wood duck, Canada goose (with goslings!), mallard (with mallardlings!), Baltimore oriole, eastern kingbird, kingfisher, starling, phoebe (heard, not seen), swallows, mourning dove, blue jay. I also found a really nice redtail hawk feather, which I brought home.

Cherokee Marsh North Unit

I found two ticks yesterday, so I have a new rule: Shower, meaning a good scrubby shower, as soon as I get home. The blackflies are coming now too, and the mosquitoes are already here. I’ll have to wear long sleeves and my Florida hat.

They mow these North Unit trails through the vegetation; they become groomed XC ski trails in winter. Like many of the places I go, this is at the edge of the city; it’s not uncommon to see deer and fox, or at least evidence of where they’ve been.



Grassland, woods, sky. Despite the name, it’s not close to the water, really.


Pretty Indian Paintbrush.



What the heck are these? They were growing right in the middle of the trail!


Spiderwort & …oh, forget what it’s called.

Birds seen and/or heard: Robin, blue jay, Cooper’s hawk, common cormorant (passing overhead), ruby-throated hummingbird, common grackle, yellow warbler, white nuthatch, mourning dove, house wren, some kind of swallow (also passing overhead), crow, cowbird, redwing blackbird, cardinal, song sparrow, and some others I’ll try and identify with the bird book a little later on. I just got a book on permaculture in the mail, so I’m in a hurry to dig in!



Lost City Forest

Once again, it lived up to its name. But this time I didn’t get lost in the wandering-through-the-woods-for-hours sense, it turned out to be in the How-did-I-get-back-to-the-wrong-side-of-the-Visitor-Center-already sense. So it was a shorter walk than I would have guessed. Even so, I was worried about my post-walk trip to Trader Joe’s being before opening time, since I set off at 5:00 in the morning. (Barely inching up to forty degrees at that time, by the way, the whole June thing be damned.) But it turned out it was 9:45 by the time I got back to civilization, so I guess all that bird observation added up. This walk was much more bird-oriented than any of my previous ones.


The Lost City Forest contains miles and miles of woods, but getting there is also fun. Before I even parked my bike, I was birdwatching; trees are sending out seeds now, and  the robins and chipping sparrows were all over the road, taking advantage. Once into the woods, I spent some time admiring fungus before turning off to the Lost part of my walk.


Most of the woods is pretty unimpressive looking–dense, tangled and weedy. Woods don’t care about aesthetics.


Weirdo aliens. Or maybe just pinecones.


Not sure, but I believe these are elderberry flowers.


This is super cool, and I didn’t even know it was here! I haven’t hiked this way in a couple years. I came to a retention pond I’d never seen before, enjoyed the swallows and pond-fringe birds, and headed back by what I thought would be a fairly boring route. But after a while I came to a series of paths through a new project in the Arboretum–a new prairie/oak savannah restoration! It’s big, too–many miles around. I know this picture doesn’t look like much, but I was so excited to see this messy scenery! They’re just to the stage of clearing brush now, and yeah, the results look pretty dismal. Next step is to apply herbicide. (Anyone thinking restoration of natural habitat is going to be an instant Sierra Club greeting card had better think again. Restoration involves a whole lot of human technology and effort.) I didn’t even know this land was here. It felt surprisingly far from the Beltline Highway.


One day this will all be restored to prairie.

Birds: I’m such a lame birdwatcher, but I’m working on it. A couple times today, when I put up my binoculars, I could actually associate what I was looking at with the un-binoculared landscape. My binocs are nothing fancy–things you’d get at Best Buy to take up into the football stands. I just like them because they’re compact–easy to carry and use. Nevertheless many birds showed up, though I doubt they were impressed by my technical skills.

Heard but did not see eastern wood peewee. Saw & heard robin, chipping sparrow, red-wing blackbird, dove, catbird, goldfinch, phoebe (first sighting of the year, though I’ve been hearing them for over a month), house wren, bank swallow, barn swallow, turkey, sandhill crane, cedar waxwing, song sparrow, ruby-throated hummingbird, cardinal, red-bellied woodpecker, Canada goose, mallard, grackle, some kind of lame mockingbirds, great crested flycatcher (I think), broad-winged hawk, and invisiblebird. (Amazing bird, the invisible. Even up close, you can only see it in flight; it completely disappears when sitting still. This species doesn’t appear in any of the field guides because the writers of such books don’t want to look silly, and because it’s undetectable in photographs. But all true birdwatchers know the invisiblebird is real.)

Drizzly day on the prairie

Birds love a bit of rain, and humans don’t, so I had a lovely human-free walk around the two big prairies at the Arboretum today. I was looking for Spring wildflowers, but the birds made their presence known.



See all those little yellow things? They’re all goldfinches! Those little buggers were all over the place, twittering up a storm. Here they were posing all pretty on some old plant stalks, making happy sounds. But pretty soon a couple would start chasing each other around, zigzagging in impossible-looking tandem, then everyone would decide to go somewhere else. I think goldfinches must have very short attention spans.



Prairie shooting star.



In the Greene Prairie area, the path is very sandy and critters tunnel underneath. These paths look awful big to be made by moles, but I’m not sure whether there are gophers in the area or not. Anyway, you’ve got to be careful where you step on this path, or your foot goes right down into it.



I love this oak. It’s not all that big, but it has a well-aged look about it.




Wildflowers: Prairie shooting star, wild geranium, St. John’s wort, lupine, prairie parsley, leafy spurge, cream wild indigo, dame’s rocket, marsh marigold, and a bunch I haven’t been able to identify, including something that looked like an asparagus stalk about to spring into bloom.

Birds: Buckets of goldfinches, almost as many turkeys (At one point I saw something in a side path that looked like a vampire sitting in the dirt messing around with his cape, but it turned out to be a tom turkey fanning his tail.), scarlet tanager, cardinals, robins, mallards. There were some LBBs in the trees singing sue-sue-sooty-sue that I haven’t been able to ID yet.

Badger State Bike Trail

I saw the turnoff for this a couple weeks ago, when I was riding the Capital City Trail loop. I’ve never been able to resist that “Hmm, I wonder where that goes” feeling. So this morning I went as far as I could get on it, before the pavement ended. It’s an old railroad corridor, very straight, that progresses out of Madison into scrub woods, then office/light industrial parks, then farmland. I’ve been out of Madison very little since I went to California last year, so it was good to get out there and smell the cows.



Coming out of Madison’s most infamous Section 8 housing, you cross a wooden bridge and come through a couple miles of scrubby forest land. Turnoffs lead to the far west side of town, but there’s more empty land here than I would have thought.



I didn’t take any pictures of the office parks, but here’s where it comes out to farmland. It never did rain, though it certainly looked like it was going to.



So here I am outside of Madison, and I’ve got cows to prove it.



And more cows.

The whole out-and-back was somewhere between 25 and 30 miles.

Birds: nothing special.

Nine Springs E-way

I’m not sure what “E-way” means, but the nine springs are evident enough. I think one of them must be in the middle of the path, because there was standing water all over it, even as I went uphill. You’d think it would drain, right?


They had chips over the wettest parts, but still. Fortunately, I brought extra shoes and socks.


Wildlife Observation Area. The wildlife in question being this goose, who’s observing stuff.


This is what the goose was looking at. It’s actually a sewage reclamation area, but also home to all kinds of wildlife. Smells kind of iffy, but the waterfowl love it.


Generally, when I think about all the things that might harm me when I leave the house, I don’t even consider parsnips. It’s a dangerous world out there, all right.


A lot of the E-way is wide open grassland–not especially natural, but the views are great.


Coming into Lake Farm County Park, a more developed area which has everything from camping to disc golf. As far as I know, the whole area is reclaimed farmland. Here’s an old silo they’ve converted into into an observation tower. The kids used to like to go up it when they were little, but today it was locked.


Eventually I got to Lake Kegonsa, and walked along the shore a bit before heading back. Those dry shoes sure felt good!

Birds seen & identified, as far as I can remember: catbird, brown thrasher, common yellowthroat, swamp sparrow, song sparrow, yellow warbler, turkey, sandhill crane, Canada goose, mallard, cardinal, robin, common grackle, red-winged blackbird, blue jay, eastern kingbird, and some kind of epidonax flycatcher (probably yellow-bellied).

Skunk Cabbage Trail & Frog Swamp

This morning I biked to the Arboretum and walked around, trying not to trip over birdwatchers. This is a favorite spot for people looking for spring migrants, though in my opinion not the best spot–too leafy already, and not so much on a main waterway. But it’s a wonderful place to hang out, and there are always plenty of good birds, especially if you’ve got a good ear for bird song.


There’s an overlook where the path passes over a natural spring. This is what it looks like when you look down…




…and this is what it’s like when you look up. A beautiful and peaceful place it is, and pretty good for birds. Saw some warblers, nuthatches, and hawks, and I think a scarlet tanager, but I’m afraid I didn’t get a good enough look to be sure.




This is what our back yard would look like if we didn’t pull up the approximately 10,000,000 maple seedlings that pop up each year.




You may have to biggify this picture to see it, but there’s a sandhill crane near the middle, right at the tree line. When I came to the frog swamp, it was much quieter than expected, but when I noticed the pair of sandhills wading through it I knew why! After a little, they went back into the trees and started doing a courting dance; the male was jumping around and flapping his wings and just generally acting obnoxious, while the female acted like she didn’t even know he was there. With them otherwise occupied, the frogs got a lot more vocal.




Meadow Rue.



There’s a turkey smack in the middle of this one. Again, sorry, kind of hard to see, but visible. It seems to me there are fewer of these guys in the Arboretum than there used to be a few years ago. The whole Arb used to be totally infested with them. Maybe they relocated some, or had a nice Thanksgiving dinner.

Birds seen that I remember: hawk (not sure what kind), Sandhill crane, those warblers with the black uspide-down U on their front I haven’t got a positive ID on yet, yellow warbler, chickadee, nuthatch, white throated sparrow, a bazillion redwing blackbirds. Heard many more than this, including lots of phoebes.