In the spirit of exploring new marshes, I drove up near the Dane-Columbia county border to Lodi Marsh. I was not sure what to expect, but I am glad I made the trip. Even the drive through rural Dane County was gorgeous. I parked at the southernmost lot on Lodi-Springfield Road, a horseshoe lot with a large kiosk for Lodi Marsh Wildlife Area. The trail I took was a small segment of the 1000+ mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail. It led through both prairie and woods, with a few unmarked side trails heading down to the namesake marsh.
I took one of these very steep trails down to the marsh to have my lunch. A large, babbling spring gave water to the creek at the bottom of the trail. It was a quite muddy area and I had some difficulty maneuvering my way through the muck, unto a large log, and across the stream toward a decent log for sitting. As I was making my way, another young hiker came walking in along the creek toward me. He stopped and we chatted for a minute and he told me there was some skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) at a nearby spring that I should go check out. I told him I would. We wished each other good days and he went on his way and I ate my salad.
I had a quick bite to eat while listening to the sounds of black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) then went to find the next spring and the skunk cabbage. It was not hard to find, but it was very brushy and I got a little scratched up on my way to the flowers. Skunk cabbage puts out short red flowers in the spring. They are one of the first plants in these parts to bloom, if not the first. I have good luck finding them in wet soil in partially shaded conditions.
After some quality skunk cabbage time I went for a walk in the prairie. Confession: I did not study the trails well before I left. I went for “a ways” to the top of a hill before turning around. Before sitting down to write this post, I looked at a trail map and discovered I had gone almost halfway around a lollipop trail when I decided to turn back. Oops. I know that for next time at least and this gives me more to explore in the future.
On my way back to the car I had my best bird sighting of the year so far. I was walking past the marsh again when I heard a bird calling loudly in the distance. Looking out I could see a small, grayish dot take off from a lonely tree in the marsh then fly back. Could that be what I thought it was? I looked through my binoculars and sure enough saw black wings and a thin, black face mask. It was a northern shrike (Lanius excubitor). This songbird, roughly the length of a robin, is an exquisite predator for its size. They will take any prey from large insects to small rodents and birds, often impaling them on thorns before eating them. They are one of my favorite birds, not just because of their skills but because they are winter visitors from northern Canada and Alaska that I do not see too often. After a few years of excellent shrike-spotting, I had a few shrike-less years starting in 2015. I tried to get a few pictures but with my camera zoomed out all the way the bird was a grainy blotch. It is identifiable in the pictures, but they are not worth posting. Pictures can’t relay the excitement of seeing one in the wild anyway. If you would like to see what I saw, visit a marsh between November and March.
Nah, I like you guys. If I had pics I would upload them. You should go to marshes though.