Category Archives: Resources and Advice

Bad Butterfly Pictures

Northern Pearly-eye, in the sub-family of satyrs.

Northern Pearly-Eye, in the sub-family of satyrs.

What is it about butterflies? Even people who shudder at the sight of most other insects pause to admire the beauty of a butterfly. They may even extend a hand, in hopes that the fluttering creature will light there.

Butterflies, with their delicate, ephemeral beauty, can seem magical. They can also be rather infuriating to those of us who want to look more closely and learn something about them. Continue reading

More Bird Books

Western or eastern meadowlark? A field guide will tell you.

Western or eastern meadowlark? A field guide will tell you.

Remember the feeling you got as a kid when a Christmas catalog showed up in the mail? That’s how I feel about a good bird book. Time slips away as I flip through page after colorful page, making a mental wish-list of the birds I’d like to see.

In the July 16 post, I recommended two guides to the behavior and natural history of birds. Identifying birds in the field, though, calls for a field guide. Continue reading

Making the Most of Stolen Moments

Hillsboro TrailI like to take my car to get the oil changed. It’s not just that the owners of the auto shop provide competent and friendly service within minutes of my home. As an added bonus, their shop is located right on the Elroy-Sparta Trail. So when the car goes in for service, I go out for a walk.

This morning I strolled a half-mile down the trail, listening to chickadees, an indigo bunting, and dozens of red-winged blackbirds. An ovenbird’s bouncy song rang out from the wooded bluff across the road. And in one of the trees growing on the bluff, on a branch that drooped over the highway, a vulture sat patiently, waiting for something to get clobbered. Continue reading

Choosing a Wildflower Guide

NewcombFor beginning naturalists, the vast number of wildflower guides can be nearly as daunting as the innumerable species of plants waiting to be identified.

It’s easy to find guides to wildflower identification in stores or online, but finding the right ones can sometimes be a matter of finding the right seller. I like to visit the gift shops at nature centers, wildlife refuges, and parks. They carry books specific to the state, region, or habitat type where they’re located (plus, buying from them helps a good cause). Continue reading

A Sort-of Easy Approach to Identifying Flowers

Marsh marigold

Marsh marigold

Marsh marigolds are blooming in the soggy bottomlands along the Baraboo River. I was on the 400 Trail in southern Juneau County this morning, looking for birds, but I kept finding wildflowers, too. The sky threatened rain, but nobody seemed to care. American redstarts sang in the trees, a pair of wrens chattered in the brush, and in the distance a pair of sandhill cranes gave a unison call.

I paused to photograph a chokecherry in bloom. At least, I thought it was a chokecherry. Because my purpose was birdwatching, I had a bird book, but no wildflower guide in my pack. Continue reading

Mysterious Trills, Plunks, and Peeps

Herp ID

Many states’ natural resource agencies have frog identification tips on their websites

Birds are singing along the upper Baraboo River this week, proclaiming their territories and trying to woo mates. But as I ran along the Elroy-Sparta Trail yesterday, I heard other voices as well. Wood frogs were calling, “quadda-quack, quadda-quack”. Chorus frogs were singing in short, ascending trills, and spring peepers were “peep, peep, peeping” in the wetlands along the trail.

The frogs have recently emerged from hibernation and, like songbirds, are calling for mates. This is a sound of spring that I heard – but didn’t recognize – for most of my life, until one day when my husband brought home a cassette (yes, we’re that old) entitled, “Wisconsin Frogs.” I listened, astonished, to the long trills of the American toad and the various grunts, chirps, and trills of eleven frog species. “I thought all those sounds were insects!” I exclaimed. Continue reading

Brush up on Birdsong

You can’t always count on birds to demonstrate their songs, as this Western Meadowlark is doing.

 

Since moving to Wisconsin, one of my rites of spring has been the drive to Nebraska for the sandhill crane migration…and the long drive home afterward, often through a snow storm. One thing that brightens the trip is my little stack of birdsong CDs. In fact, I listen to them almost any time that I’m in the car in March and April.

I’m not talking about mood-music CDs – the ones with wood thrushes singing while Clair de lune plays in the background. Mine are ear-training CDs for birders. Continue reading

Public Lands

Before I had the good luck – and the good sense – to marry a wildlife biologist, I never knew there were so many places where a person might take a walk.

Sure, I knew of a few state parks and faraway national parks. But in Lake Mills, if I wanted to be alone with the red-winged blackbirds, I settled for walking the gravel shoulder of Faville Road, where cars only occasionally zoomed by at 55 mph, and only one farm dog regularly chased me.

If I had looked at a county map, I might have seen several irregularly shaped green blobs within an easy drive of my home: Continue reading