Lodi Marsh, 2-22-17

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.

You know you’re spending the day right when this is your lunchtime view.

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.

skunk cabbage

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.

Cherokee Marsh, 2-18-17

Today I led a hike with the Madison LGBT Outdoors Group at Cherokee Marsh- North Unit on Madison’s far north side. My dad says he used to take me and my brother there when were were kids and I was interested to see if I could remember any of it. I could not, but I had a fun time exploring it as a new place. Cherokee Marsh is a wetland along the Yahara River and the park we went to is just a small portion of it. It was not a long hike, but I liked what I saw and I’m curious to see what it’s like in the spring and summer as well.

small woods
little pond…
… with a prothonotary warbler nesting box (I’ll have to come back later in the year to see if it gets used)
marsh boardwalk
view of the river
muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) house

Aside from the muskrat house, other evidence we had of mammals were frequent white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) tracks. Most of the birds we saw were on the river. I identified Canada geese (Branta canadensis), mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), tundra swans (Cygnus columbianus), and common mergansers (Mergus merganser). I also heard my first-of-year sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) calling in the distance.

Another bird that I usually start seeing the same time as sandhill cranes is the red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). Later while on a run in Middleton I heard one give out the distinctive “check” note and dive into a mass of cattails. I’ve also heard northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) singing for the past several days. They are the first bird around here to start singing in the “spring” and I am delighted to hear them. I will keep my eyes out for other bird happenings of late winter.

Pheasant Branch Conservancy, 2-5-17

I headed back to the Pheasant Branch Conservancy to do some winter birding, and this time I stuck mostly in the woods. There was no shortage of birds this time. I saw 15 species total.

One of the species I saw the most of was the American robin (Turdus migratorius). Most non-birders and those new to the hobby are surprised to find out that we get them in the winter, but their year-round range extends into southern Wisconsin. This time of year they seem to prefer areas with open water, berries, or both. We don’t have the multitude we get in the warm months but if you get out and about you can see them at least a few times each winter. In fact, what surprised me the most about seeing them today is that it took me over a month to see my first robins of 2017. I saw 17 of them today.

American robin

The species I saw the most of was the cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum). These small, delightful birds were also a first of year species for me. Over 20 of them were congregated in a small area of the forest where most of the robins were. Not only did they have the highest numbers of any bird around, but their collective high-pitched calls changed the entire atmosphere of the woods. It was like swimming in their sea. I loved it. I wouldn’t have left but the day marched on.

Cedar waxwing
A waxwing showing off its red wing patch

Not a bad birding day. The woods was alive with flight and sound. My full ebird checklist can be found here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S34158193