Brown dragon rising

2014 so far has been a year of odd contrasts, on account of the harsh winter and late spring. In mid-March we were still getting days that dropped to nearly -20C plus windchill, despite the brighter sun and longer days; and now, although the trees are mostly still bare, there are days where the weather climbs into the +20s Centigrade. And, which is not unusual in the Great Lakes region, we went from long-johns weather to sunblock weather with hardly anything in between.

Last weekend I carved out a few hours and made my first visit this season to Cherokee Marsh. It was sunny and warm, and I have been told that on such days you can find fox-snakes warming themselves on the boardwalks. No luck in that quarter, though. There’s a fenced-off area towards one end of a drumlin which is apparently the location of a sizable snake hibernaculum; despite the warm days, they may still be playing it safe in there.

Entering Cherokee Marsh is a surprisingly abrupt transition. You crest a hill on Sherman Avenue, and then glide down past a couple of housing developments, a church, and the entrance to a golf-course; and then as if a curtain has dropped, the traffic noise fades almost to nothing and the drone of frogs and insects swells:

(Here’s a direct link; this widget doesn’t seem to survive syndication to LiveJournal unscathed.)

Riding along the road, you can, for a few hundred metres, still see parts of the golf-course; but as your wheels start to crunch gravel, your feeling is that you have come away to the water and the wild. You wind around a few bends, and then arrive at the parking lot – which, happily, is endowed with a decent bike-rack, not to mention bathrooms and a drinking-fountain. And from there, a few paces take you into oak savannah.

That day the trees were still bare, and the ground was alive with ephemerals. A profusion of anemones; wood-anemone (Anemone quinquefolia), I think – the other possibilities are rue-anemone, but the flowers were single, or false rue-anemone, but the leaves and stems were hairy:

Wood-anemone? (Anemone quinquefolia), Cherokee Marsh

mayapple in clusters like so many outsized cocktail umbrellas stuck into the soil, and, again, cut-leaf toothwort, now coming into full flower, and visited by a spotted lady-beetle (Coleomegilla maculata):
Spotted lady-beetle (Coleomegilla maculata) on toothwort (Cardamine concatenata), Cherokee Marsh

.. so, presumably, also visited by aphids, the beetle’s food of choice.

The Yahara River here is broad and slow, just north of where it flows into Lake Mendota. The calls of birds echoed across it, along with the splashing and conversation of a pair of kayakers. The trail leads along the verge of the river for a little while, and then a turning leads steeply up a drumlin (the one with the snake hibernaculum); beside the path is what I’ve always known as jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum):

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), Cherokee Marsh

but which, apparently, is blessed with a great number of English vernacular names:

… jack-in-the-pulpit, bog onion, brown dragon, Indian turnip, American wake-robin, or wild turnip …

To my eye it doesn’t look that much like a dragon, brown or otherwise; but then, it doesn’t look a whole lot like someone in a pulpit, either.

At the crest of the drumlin is a bench, where you can sit and look out towards Token Creek before descending. Rainclouds were starting to gather, so I looped back down towards the entrance, and made my way home.

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