In 1867, John Muir crossed northern Florida on his way to the Gulf of Mexico
“Chk, chk.” The voice comes from a nearly leafless tree in the soggy floodplain of the Baraboo River. I look up at two rusty blackbirds – and now a third flies in. They confer briefly – perhaps about me – and drop to the ground, out of sight. The blackbirds, migrating from their breeding grounds in Canada, are heading south, maybe just to Illinois, but possibly as far as the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s October 24, 2016. One hundred fifty-nine years ago today, John Muir, having just walked “joyful and free” from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico, fell ill with malaria. His sickness and long recuperation interrupted his plans to travel onward to South America. More importantly, they almost certainly changed the course of conservation history in the United States by sending the young naturalist on a different path. Continue reading
Not a birdwatcher? You could monitor turtles!
When a pair of cyclists rode past me on the bike trail recently, I was staring intently into a shrub. Maybe I looked a little bit deranged, standing there with my notebook. I was watching a baby warbler and, frankly, was having too much fun to care what anybody thought. That’s what a citizen science project can do to you. Continue reading
You’ve seen those bumper stickers: “I brake for wildlife.” I’m one of those people who stop for wildlife. But I have a confession: I am as likely to stop for a dead animal as for a live one.
I know: Eeew. But it’s not as unsavory as it might sound. Sometimes we happen upon animals from whom life has only just departed. Aesthetic reservations aside, these encounters provide an unparalleled opportunity to closely examine animals that we usually see only from a distance, if ever. Continue reading
The breeze was chilly, and the gray clouds sagged in the sky. It was not the most inviting day for a walk but I was in search of something: an eagle’s nest.
A bald eagle had showed up from time to time on my walks south of Elroy last summer. Once, it was circling high overhead Continue reading
Paddling the Baraboo River
To really experience a river, there’s no substitute for floating it in a canoe. Slipping through the water, a paddler really participates with the stream, negotiating bends, feeling the current, and listening to the trickle of all the rivulets as they enter and feed the river.
A few days ago my husband Mark and I paddled a stretch of the Baraboo River from Union Center, where the river’s west branch joins its main stem, to a landing near the Sauk County line. In this segment, the Baraboo’s channel arcs and doubles back on itself like a watery labyrinth. In general, the river flows east-southeast, but for a few relaxing hours, we could only guess at our direction by the position of the sun. Continue reading
I 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
Otter tracks on the ice.
In Sauk County, where Highway 33 follows the Baraboo River down a gentle incline toward the Wisconsin River, there’s a large wetland that I’ve often admired, especially on fine days when the water glistens in the sun. But whenever I’m driving down Highway 33, I’m on my way to…someplace. So I never stop.
Today, when the temperature rose toward thirty degrees and the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, I said to my husband, Mark, “Let’s take a walk.” Continue reading
You can’t have too many maps.
Even after repeated visits, I generally don’t feel that I have the sense of a place until I’ve studied it on a map. The right map can make you feel like you have an insider’s knowledge of a place. On a river, for example, you can find canoe launches, historic sites, dams and bridges, and the sources of feeder streams. You can see the shapes of the river’s course, and how it’s connected to the world around it.
County maps, canoe-route maps, regional maps, bike trails, birding trail maps, maps of state and county recreation lands…where can you find such a bounty of resources? “Bounty of Resources,” of course, is another name for the internet, and we’ll look at online maps in a future post. But for me, there’s no substitute for spreading out a map, Columbus-like, on a table to consider all the places I might explore. Continue reading
When the thermometer read ten degrees a few days ago, I looked out the window and wondered what I had gotten myself into. I’d promised myself that, every day or two, I would take an exploratory walk…but that was when the temperature was thirty degrees warmer.
Ice forms on the Baraboo River.
Stuffing myself into my wool layers, I considered the likelihood that I would see little wildlife. Birds and small mammals would be huddled out of sight, trying to stay warm. There wasn’t even any snow on the ground to show animal tracks. So be it, I thought. I’ll go out and watch the river freeze.
Three miles from home, where Nutmeg Road crosses the Baraboo River, I pulled my hat down Continue reading