Tag Archives: natural history

Making Themselves at Home

Sandhills at NNWR (2)In his essay, “Marshland Elegy,” Aldo Leopold mourned the steady decline of sandhill cranes – and the wildness they represent – in the upper Midwest. All lost to a thing called progress.

Seven decades later, the trumpeting voices of thousands upon thousands of cranes ring out across the marshes and river valleys Continue reading

Echoes of an Ancient People

Aztalan: The View from Outside the Wall

Aztalan: The View from Outside the Wall

A fortified city stood on the west bank of the Crawfish River nine centuries ago. Adobe-like walls – upright wood posts, plastered with clay – surrounded tiered platform mounds, a community plaza, and the dwellings of some four hundred people. The homes, like the fortifications, were built with what the river provided: woven willow branches sealed and bound together by the Crawfish River’s clay. Hardened clay also covered at least one of the great mound structures.

When the sun shone brightly, as it did when I visited the Crawfish River yesterday, how the city must have gleamed! Continue reading

Watching What the Birds Are Up To

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Out for a run along the river last week, I noticed something flicker at the edge of my vision and looked up just in time to see a cedar waxwing launching itself upward from a branch to snatch a dragonfly in mid-air.

I stopped running and watched the bird land again on the dead branch, where it appeared to reposition the big insect 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