Tag Archives: chorus of the hylidae

One of the attributes of matter

Despite the still-looming threat of night frosts, spring continues to make daily advances. I haven’t yet seen any turtles, which remain to my way of thinking the irrefutable mark of the year’s turning; but there have been snakes, and, more recently, frogs.

The first frogs I heard this year were at Willow River State Park, north of Hudson, WI, right by the Minnesota state line; my wife and I stopped there for a brief wander on the way back from a weekend in Minneapolis. There was a spot where chorus frogs were distinctly audible, like fingernails on a comb. Not a huge throng, but definitely there.

Last weekend I checked out one of Madison’s frog hot-spots, the Picnic Point Marsh, in the Lakeshore Preserve on campus. It did not disappoint! The calling was loud and sustained, and after I stood still by the water’s edge for a few minutes, I even started to see the frogs: a little wedge-showed brown head would pop up above the waterline, to be shortly followed by another, and then a flurry of arms and legs.

Here’s the phone recording of the walk from the lake’s shore down to the edge of the marsh; the background picture is the closest I could get to one of the frogs before startling it:

The sound was so dense I’m not even sure what kind of frogs these were; individual calls were hard to pick out; really, I should load them into Audacity and have a look at the frequency spectra.

Picnic Point is also a terrific place for trout lilies (Erythronium), which were also present and starting to bloom:

Picnic Point, Lakeshore Preserve, UW Madison

Back in the realm of sounds, my wife and I went to hear They Might Be Giants that weekend. They started off their encore with “Mammal”, the source of one of this blog’s tags. So that was pretty great!


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Some highlights, August-September 2014

So I do have some expeditions and observations to write up, but after the final post on the Mississippi trip, my day job revved into crisis mode and has more or less stayed there since. I’ll get back to a regular schedule soon, I hope, but in the meantime here are a few snippets from the past couple of months:

More milkweed denizens

This year I have seen a great many things on milkweed, though not, alas, any monarchs of any stage; but other people have been seeing them, which is good news. I did see this striking milkweed tiger moth (Euchaetes egle) at Curtis Prairie in the UW Arboretum:

Milkweed tiger moth (Euchaetes egle), late-stage larva, Curtis Prairie, UW Arboretum

and at Starkweather Creek, rather late in the season I thought, these amorous red milkweed bettles (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus):
Red milkweed beetles, Starkweather Creek

Freeport wetlands

More on the ride I did in late August, following the combined Badger State/Jane Addams trail system all the way to its end in Freeport, Illinois, anon; but just past the trail’s end – and right off the highway – Freeport has a nice little Wetland Preserve Park, where I snapped this leopard frog (Rana pipiens) in the grass:
Leopard frog (Rana pipiens), Wetlands Preserve Park, Freeport, IL
and, just outside the gates, this great blue heron (Ardea herodias):
Great blue heron (Ardea herodias), Freeport, IL
When I lived in Redmond, Washington, I used to see blue herons on my commute all the time; they are still common enough there that the stylized one on the city’s logo is not inaccurate. Vying with the heron for pride-of-place in Redmond iconography is the penny-farthing bicycle, and though I saw plenty of bikes during my 2 years in Redmond, I don’t think I ever saw a penny-farthing, so there you go. To be fair, penny-farthings are terrifying and hazardous to ride; there’s good reason that the currently-dominant frame design was originally dubbed the “safety bicycle”.

Fall fungi

Okay, I realize having favourite things about fall has become a cliche. But, there it is: more than pumpkin ale, more than jumping into piles of dead leaves, I really like walking in woodlands full of fungi, and the one outing I’ve managed in September – just to the UW Arboretum, through Gallistel Woods and Wingra Woods – has not disappointed.

Here some millipedes are equally pleased:
Mushrooms & millipedes, Gallistel Woods, UW Arboretum

Splash cups (Cyathus striatus):
Gallistel & Wingra Woods, UW Arboretum

El is a Sound of Joy

On the Labour Day weekend I took a bus down to Chicago to observe members of my species about one of our most admirable characteristic activities, making music – specifically the Sun Ra Arkestra, still led with style by saxophonist Marshall Allen at the age of 90, closing out the Chicago Jazz Festival with a bang.

In a crowd of thousands at Millennium Park, I didn’t get very close, but there was a screen at the back of the stage for a closer look at the musicians:
Sun Ra Arkestra, Chicago Jazz Festival

Chicago itself, where Sun Ra spent a fair chunk of his early career, made a terrific backdrop as the sun sank down:
Chicago Jazz Festival

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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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Last weekend, Quest for Spring Ephemerals continued, and yielded some great results. In Wingra Woods at the Arboretum, there was bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis):
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), UW Arboretum, 5/3/14
and cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata), just starting to bloom:
Cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata), UW Arboretum, 5/3/14
and one trout-lily (Erythronium):
Trout-lily (Erythronium sp.), UW Arboretum, 5/3/14
Being ephemeral, they are taking advantage of the sunlight available before the trees above them take leaf. Branches were still mostly bare, and even these flowers appeared scattered and infrequent. There were enough, though, for foraging bees to accumulate a good load of pollen:
UW Arboretum, 5/3/14
Apologies for the quality of the picture above; it was as far as I could lean out over a boardwalk railing without either startling the bee or pitching myself headfirst into the cattails. It also illustrates a frequent problem; when I was looking at the scene, my eye had no problem finding the moving insect at once, but on inspecting the picture at home, it was a game of “Where’s The Damn Bee?”.

Chorus frogs were distinctly audible, though, as ever, impossible to see. I was trying, in my head, to find a way to describe the sound that doesn’t fall back on “running your fingernail along a comb” when I remembered I had a new phone that could capture audio; and in fact the quality of the recording turned out to be decent:

Frogs singing, bloodroot blooming; I think we have moved from spring-like weather into the foothills of actual spring.

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Strange animals out of the Ice Age

Here’s a confession: I neglect (though I don’t belittle) the Glacial Drumlin State Trail. This has nothing to do with a lack of beautiful scenery or interesting destinations, and everything to do with the necessity riding 10 miles on busy roads to the trailhead in Cottage Grove, and more particularly the three steep hill-climbs which must be traversed when coming back from the trailhead.

On this account I had never, before last month, quite managed to make it to Aztalan State Park. Now, Aztalan doesn’t quite fall under the natural history rubric, but it is a fascinating piece of human geography; the remains of a town in the northern extent of the Mississippian culture. Some of the mounds have been restored to a best-guess at their original condition:
Aztalan State Park, WI
When the area was settled by Europeans in the mid-nineteenth century, a judge from Milwaukee came down to look at the site. The stepped mounds put him in mind of Mesoamerican pyramids, and he had read in Humboldt that the lore of the Aztecs placed their original habitation to the north, in a location called Aztlan; and undeniably Wisconsin is somewhat north of Tenochtitlan/Mexico City, so, case closed! And the site and the nearby town became Aztalan. Though (as best can be determined) there’s no direct link between the Mississippians and the Aztecs, there was some continuum of trade and cultural exchange, reflected most solidly in food crops such as corn.

Honouring this connection, the day I visited there was a troupe giving a performance of traditional Aztec dance; this is an annual thing. I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to dance, I’ll be the first to admit, but it was vivid stuff, and was accompanied by some compelling drumming. The dancers wore headdresses with incredibly long pheasant feathers in them, which would from time to time be shaken out and fly from the headdress to land point-down in the grass and stay embedded there, still waving. Members of the Milwaukee-based troupe, when providing background, were careful to make the point that though an independent Aztec state is a thing of the past, the culture and language are not: a million and a half people still identify as native speakers of Nahuatl.

Though I went to Aztalan largely to see the mounds, Crawfish River runs through the park as well, and it’s pleasant to go sit on the unobtrusive stone boat-landings and watch the life on the river: water-striders, dragonflies, butterflies, and a leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens) half-in and half-out of the mud:
Aztalan State Park, WI

I watched the frog for awhile, wondering if it would have a go at one of the plentiful insects, but no.

En route to Aztalan I left the trail for awhile to have a look at Goose Lake State Wildlife Area. Goose Lake – like many smaller nature preserves – loses points for not really having any sort of legit bicycle parking in the parking lot. In these cases I usually lock my bike to the sign, but that feels vaguely wrong. I doubt bike thieves are frequenting these places, but not locking up feels like tempting fate. Anyway, Goose Lake is an attractive little wetland, or to be more exact a wetland-drumlin complex left behind by the last glaciation, as the DNR page tells me. It was still fairly early when I rolled up; this harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) was still covered in dew:
Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis), Goose Lake State Wildlife Area, WI
but recognizable from the M-shaped (or W-shaped if you prefer) markings on the pronotum. And down below, a viceroy clung to a blade of grass:
Viceroy (Limenitis archippus), Goose Lake State Wildlife Area, WI

Even on the road back to the trail butterflies were plentiful; in one verge between County Highway O and a farmer’s field there was a riot of clouded sulphur (Colias philodice):
County Road O, Jefferson Co., WI

In principle this could have been a day-trip, but there’s a nice little campground (Sandhill Station) just south of the Lake Mills trailhead, so I camped there. The mosquitoes were out in vast numbers by then, but my tent has mesh sides, so I was able to put it up without bothering with the fly and watch the Sun descend while listening to the sandhill cranes calling overhead; this in an environment largely mosquito-free, except for the enterprising ones who followed me in before I could zip up the flap. Those ones filled up in the first few minutes, and then just bumped listlessly against the tent-walls, all round and awkward with tiny little limbs and wings and proboscis sticking out, like Violet Beauregard in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

The showers and the DNR office are at the trailhead rather than on-site; when I stopped in there were Glacial Drumlin Trail T-shirts for sale, with a design featuring a cyclist among trees, streams, wildlife, and a woolly mammoth standing atop a glacier. I haven’t seen one solitary mammoth in my hours on the Glacial Drumlin! If de-extinction becomes a Thing, I suppose that might change. (Not necessarily for the better, though – here’s an informative and somewhat critical post on the idea from Brian Switek.)

They say the dead will rise again, and here they come now;
Strange animals out of the Ice Age.
And they stare at you, dumbfounded, like big mistakes, and we say:
Keep cool! Maybe if we pretend this never happened…
-Laurie Anderson, “Kokoku”

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