Governor Nelson State Park lies just off of County Highway M, across Lake Mendota from downtown Madison. I took an abrupt left off of the highway, already getting busy before 9 on a Saturday morning, and locked up my bike outside the park office. Two trailheads led away from there; from the park map flyer, I randomly picked “Oak Savanna Trail” as the most promising, and set off.
Almost immediately I was walking through head-high restored prairie, alive with butterflies and dragonflies, and with the amiable droning of bumblebees. The traffic of the nearby road remained audible, but faded in importance. The light, sunrise transitioning to mid-morning, illuminated everything as though from within. A trio of sandhill cranes wheeled overhead, making that creaky-door-on-Mars sound they do. In the cool half-shade of the high grass and taller flowers, gaura and flowering spurge bloomed:
Skimmer dragonflies, their wings a black and white blur, rocketed just above the flowers; tiny beetles laid their eggs on the head of a coneflower:
The path climbed up a leisurely grade to what the map accurately called a “Scenic Overlook”, from which you could see the whole stretch of prairie sloping down to Six Mile Creek. Just farther on, it took me under the eaves of the woods; and, alas, the realm of the mosquitoes, but still pleasant with cool breezes, ferns, and bellflowers, plus a great big Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) which zoomed right over top of my head and made for the goldenrods before I could get my camera up. Here’s the best I could manage:
By this time two different kinds of cicada were going strong, sometimes both at the same time, sometimes alternating, making for an exquisite, almost unearthly soundscape. The road could not be heard at all. After a short ways the trail emerged out into the prairie again, sloping back downhill. A frog darted through the long grass from one side to another, a green blur. A tiny butterfly, which seemed just a nondescript white in flight, settled on a blade of grass, and when its folded wings partially opened, they revealed a rich blue colour edged in black, with orange spots – a blue, most likely an Eastern tailed-blue. It let me get close, but, alas, I was unable to get a picture in good focus.
And then… I sort of got lost. Which is a bit embarrassing, given that I had a map and could basically see the whole park from any given point; nonetheless, intending to make a short loop by the marsh and back to the office to get back on my bike, I somehow wound up farther away from it than I had been when I started the loop! Still, on that stretch of walk I saw this splendid viceroy (Limenitis archippus), looking all viceregal with that black stripe across the middle of the hind-wing:
That was a good enough sight to take with me, back down into the bustle of the farmers’ market and an errand at the credit union.