The French word for Easter is Pâques. This is where the term for an early-blooming prairie plant, the pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens or Anemone patens), comes from. On Saturday they dotted hillsides with their pale purple flowers, both at a local prairie I was doing volunteer work at and atop hills overlooking the Wisconsin River where I spent my afternoon.

The birds were out just like the pasque flowers were. In the brush along the river I heard my first-of-year house wren (Troglodytes aedon). Whenever I hear a bird again for the first time in the spring it takes me a few seconds to recognize it, even for common birds. Once I realized what it was I went looking and found it slinking through the barren branches near a slow-moving tributary. On the crest of a tall prairie bluff, I saw my FOY field sparrow (Spizella pusilla). Down below I saw a large white patch on an island. When I looked through my binoculars I did not expect to see a mass of birds, but there they were. I was not quite sure what they were until one stretched its wing, revealing a large black patch. They were my FOY American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos).

Field sparrow

The lowland forests contained herpetological treasures. In one spot on the river I saw 5 northern map turtles (Graptemys geographica), my first of the year.

Northern map turtles

Farther from the river, by a small pool, I startled a frog and it ducked into the water to avoid my detection. Fortunately for me, it decided to “hide” practically at my feet. I got a few pictures of this wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) before Jon stepped in to take my place and got a few pictures for himself.

Wood frog

Oh, and there were butterflies. The upland ones stayed low due to the wind, but they were flying around enough for me to take notice. This American lady (Vanessa virginiensis), gorgeous both with its wings open and closed, caught my eye.

In the lowlands there were a few spring azures (Celastrina ladon), a butterfly I had never identified before, and red admirals (Vanessa atalanta). Spring azures may look drab blue-gray when they rest, but the uppersides of their wings are a mesmerizing blue noticeable in flight.

You can see a sliver of the blue in this resting spring azure

Red admirals are a common yet stunning species. At our longest trek through the lowland forest, Jon and I saw a handful of these along a gravel road. I took the picture below when we went off trail and found one in a relatively open area.

The day before Easter was a wonderful spring day full of a variety of animals and even a literal Easter flower. I hope everyone had as nice of a weekend as I did.


I started off Saturday with a plan to go on as many nature walks in the metro area as I could between 9 and 4. Aside from briefs breaks for food and the gym, I did just that. It was a beautiful day- mostly sunny with a high near 70. The only disappointing part of the weather was the strong wind that kept all the butterflies out of site. They’re much easier to notice when they fly about. But that didn’t hold me back from birding and herping as I saw 6 first-of-year species and took a lot of pictures.

My FOY species for the day:
Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus)
Purple martin (Progne subis)
Golden-crowned kinglet (Regulus satrapa)
Hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus)
Yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronata)
Common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis)

I had seen my FOY wood ducks (Aix sponsa) the evening before but I hadn’t had my camera then. The dapper fellow below was the subject of the day’s first picture.

Some more birds from the same walk:

Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
Eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)

It’s not just the animals that were beautiful. The landscapes were still very brown and drab, but this small pool in the woods gave me cozy feelings.

As I mentioned earlier, I saw my first hermit thrushes of the year. They are the first members of the genus Catharus, the brown woodland thrushes, to be seen in a Wisconsin spring. They can be secretive, so it took some patience to get a shot of one without any branches in the way. This is the most beautiful picture I have gotten of any members of this genus.

Of special excitement to me was my first snake. This is a whole category of animal I had yet to see this year. One of my walks was along a trail I’ve grown to associate with garter snakes. I took me a while to see one on Saturday and I was worried it would be a day without a sighting right before I finally lucked out.

It was gorgeous. I enjoy the slim, bold appearance of these snakes. I crouched down as the snake moved about on the forest floor just feet from me. I got several shots of it, including a few with its tongue out. I can’t resist going for those.

There weren’t many leaves out yet, but the skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) patches were starting to show some green. Compare this to late February when the flowers were just starting to poke out of the ground.

Aside from golden-crowned kinglets, which are nearly impossible to photograph, the hardest bird to get a decent shot of was the brown creeper (Certhia americana). It made photographing the hermit thrush look easy. I’ve never seen one hop so fast up a tree. Usually they take a little more time to pause as they glean for insects in the bark, methodically scaling the heights with short bursts of energy. It took me several tries before I got a picture where the bird wasn’t a complete blur. Considering these birds will leave southern Wisconsin for northern locales in a few months, capturing one on camera was a perfect ending to my day.

Brown creeper between hops

April is Here

With April here it feels like it’s spring for real. I led a hike at Lodi Marsh today and it was wonderful. There were only small wisps of clouds in the sky and I felt fine in shorts and a t-shirt. My group hiked about 3 miles round trip. The birds I saw made me feel assured that spring is finally here: I saw my first of year ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula) and tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor). There were several of the swallows chatting and swooping as we climbed a prairie hill. They are one of the first birds I’ve seen so far that I consider true signs of spring.

I also saw my first butterflies of the year! I’d been looking forward to this, wondering what the first one would be and if it would be new to me. It was, but I could tell it was a some sort of comma or question mark (no really, those are names of butterflies) as it flitted around the parking lot. I took a picture of it so I could identify it later.

After some sleuthing, I am about 95% sure it’s an eastern comma (Polygonia comma). The 5% uncertainty is because I’m new to butterflies and I don’t want to be too certain at this point. Isn’t it pretty? I saw some others but didn’t get a good look at them. Now that my herping and … butterflying?.. seasons have started my year feels like it’s starting for real. This was the kind of day I’d been waiting for.