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Springoid

North American English needs a lot more terms for phases of seasons than it actually has. There’s “Indian summer” for a warm spell in late fall; but there’s no corresponding term for thaws in early spring, the ones where you never know until after the fact whether it’s the thaw, or whether at least one freeze and/or heavy snowfall is in the works.

I say this on account of we are having one of these spells right now, and I don’t know whether to tempt fate by going “yay spring is here!” or to hedge my bets, and having a single word or short phrase to do that in would be nice. So I’m going to dub this weather springoid. Right now we are in springoid, a collection of distinct though related spring-like objects. Maybe they’re all the same, and this is actual spring! Or maybe there will be one or more winter-like object intervening! Who knows?

At any rate, permanent or not, going outside no longer hurts the face, and there are signs and smells of life. This comma butterfly (Polygonia sp.; most likely an Eastern comma Polygonia comma) has most likely over-wintered as an adult, curled up in the bole of a tree or some human-made crevice:

Eastern comma, Starkweather Creek
Eastern comma, Starkweather Creek

Meanwhile there were seedlings starting to emerge from under the leaf-litter:
New growth, Starkweather Creek

and people sitting in the back garden of Café Zoma, looking happy if vaguely gobsmacked.

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Winging southward

Late in August I set out early one Saturday morning to follow the Badger State Trail all the way to its end at the Illinois state line, and then the Jane Addams Trail in IL all the way to its end in the city of Freeport.

There are, I have to admit, no particular natural history destinations on this route; instead I largely practiced some lackadaisical trailside botany. In late August things are already starting to wind down, but in the shadier parts of the path – mostly former railway-cuts running deep between walls of fern-bedecked rock – there was a good amount of pale jewelweed (Impatiens pallida):
Pale jewelweed (Impatiens pallida), Badger State Trail between Monticello and Monroe
and I don’t know what sort of ecotone I crossed, but somewhere south of the big trail crossroads in Monticello, the shaded trail surface started to become host to plentiful liverwort, along with the moss found to the north:
Liverwort, Badger State Trail, between Monroe WI and Illinois state line

In Monroe I stopped for lunch, and while digesting it I contemplated this very appealing display of the remainder of the trip:
Monroe & Freeport IL, Badger Trail and Jane Addams Trail, 8/14

… moderated only by the knowledge that I was going to have to climb back up that altitude in the morning.

There’s no campground that I could find particularly handy to Freeport, so instead I left my camping-gear at home and spent the night at the Baymont Inn and Suites, which is essentially right on the trail. It’s not the ritziest hotel in the world, granted, but it’s pleasant enough, and provided a bathtub and a Coke machine. Plus, they were chill about letting me keep my bike in the room, which always helps me rest a little easier. Once I’d rinsed off I wandered out to see the sights of Freeport; in a previous post I’ve already shared pictures of the leopard frog and great blue heron from the Wetland Preserve. In the city proper there were multiple markers of its most famous historical event, the debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas:
Debate Square, Freeport IL: Lincoln and Douglas
and what looked like a fine, though closed, public library.

Heading back in the morning, ballasted by a continental breakfast, I rode uphill through a very grey morning, but was cheered by some decent bug sightings. Just north of Monroe, a membracid perched on top of a wild mint in full flower:
Wild mint and a membracid, Badger State Trail just north of Monroe
In Monticello, where I stopped for second breakfast, there was a huge and magnificent crane-fly that hovered down to the base of a streetlamp while I was unlocking my bike:
Crane-fly, Monticello WI
and on the paved stretch of trail, just south of Madison, the first woolly-bear of the season:
Woolybear caterpillar (Pyrrharctis isabella), Badger State Trail, Fitchburg
An unmistakable harbinger of autumn.

By the time I reached the paved section, the morning clouds had cleared and it was a spectacular afternoon to roll home in.

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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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The Wisconsin desert

(Part 2 of the narration of a three-day bike trip I took in July 2014. Part 1: Black Earth energy receptor fields)

The Spring Green Preserve lies off of a quiet country road, about halfway between the village of Spring Green on the flat banks of the Wisconsin and a long, steeply-rising bluff. Between laneways with farmhouses at the end is a little gravel parking lot with a Nature Conservancy sign. Just past the parking lot the path into the preserve begins; it is no more than a few steps before you realizing you are walking in sand, and prickly-pears – mostly gone to seed by that time, but one or two still blooming – line the path to either side.
Late prickly-pear flower (Opuntia sp.), Spring Green Preserve
It is properly a sand-prairie rather than an actual desert, but the effect of sand and cacti is strange enough in the Upper Midwest that you feel thousands of miles have been travelled between one step and the next. Once there was a great deal of sand-prairie; the Spring Green Preserve is one of the few remnants. On a hot July afternoon it hums with life. Though I saw none of the several species of lizard and snake – to my disappointment – there were, for example, plenty of butterflies. There were painted ladies, and a profusion of American coppers (Lycaena phlaeas):
American copper (Lycaena phlaeas), Spring Green Preserve
Grasshoppers were a multitude, flying up in all directions every time I moved. On the sand, velvet-ants (actually a kind of wasp) zoomed about so fast I could not even get decent video, let alone still pictures; distinctive looking genuine ants moved at a less frenetic pace:
Ant, Spring Green Preserve
and scarabs, looking as though they had escaped a wall of hieroglyphics, skittered along the path:
Beetle, Spring Green Preserve
The open sand-prairie gave way to a cover of oak-trees, and then it was time to turn around and head back to my bike.

From Spring Green it was only about another ten miles to my campground. I followed the highway to the village of Lone Rock, and picked up a bike trail that paralleled the highway to go the remaining few miles. The trail is not quite so well-maintained as some of the state-managed gravel trails, but the prairie scenery to either side was fine, and before very long I was able to make a quick dash out across the highway to the campground.

To my surprise the campground – a private one, not DNR-run – had pretty decent WiFi, and I was able to check for crises at work and let people know how my trip was going. After that I pitched my tent, deployed the contraption that turns my Thermarest into a makeshift chair, pulled out a can of beer and my e-reader, and presto: all the necessities. I read and rested my legs. The site smelled of pine-trees, which slowly rained down tiny droplets of resin. Reading was increasingly interspersed with dozing, and at nightfall I crawled into my tent – no need to put up the fly, even – and fell deeply asleep. It had been a fine first day of traveling.

Resting at Fireside Campground after day 1; the Typhoon among the pines

Continued in:
Part 3: Mother of Waters
Part 4: True journey is return

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Black Earth energy receptor fields

July 18th, 2014, early morning: the air still cool and the Sun not yet above the trees. Saddlebags packed, water-bottles filled, coffee drunk, and it’s time for me to roll out on my first multi-day bike adventure (not counting overnight camping trips) in 4 years.

The first stop is not a spectacular one: it’s the local laundromat, so I can lay in a stock of quarters. With those clinking in a pocket of my messenger bag, it’s off through still-dozing Madison. Lake Mendota reflects the rising Sun in red and orange, for the enjoyment of the stalwart runners and anglers who are already out, and for mine. It’s all well-trodden ground for the first hour, until I reach Airport Road in Middleton and start heading towards Cross Plains.

This is the first of a series of little towns on the way to the Wisconsin River, like a ghost outline of the old railway: Cross Plains, Black Earth, Mazomanie, Arena. Apart from a steep hill I go down towards Cross Plains, and a climb up to the junction with highway 14 in Mazomanie, the road is mostly level and, until I hit 14, almost entirely free of traffic; with the air temperature just about perfect, riding seems like no effort at all. It’s like being on a carousel.

It’s a little more work following 14 past Arena to Tower Hill State Park, particularly the last mile or so, which is, unsurprisingly, hilly. The main feature of Tower Hill is the old Helena Shot Tower, which was used, before technology overtook it, to create round lead shot by dropping molten lead from a considerable height into water. After it fell out of use, it was acquired by Unitarian preacher Jenkin Lloyd Jones – the architect’s uncle – and then on his death donated to the state. It’s still in good shape, and extremely popular with bats, whose chittering echoed from the dimly-lit rafters.
Looking down the shot tower, Tower Hill State Park
While it was still operating, the shot tower was visited by Captain Frederick Marryatt, author of Mr. Midshipman Easy, who writes:

Finding a shot-tower in such a lone wilderness as this, gives you some idea of the enterprise of the Americans; but the Galena, or lead district, commences here, on the south bank of the Wisconsin. The smelting is carried on about twelve miles inland, and the lead is brought here, made into shot, and then sent down the river to the Mississippi, by which, and its tributary streams, it is supplied to all America, west of the Alleghanies.

The short, forested path up the shallow side of the bluff to the tower is home to a great many unobtrusive but subtly attractive moths:
Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers Trip, 7/2014
and on the way back down, I was lucky enough to see this splendid ebony jewelwing:
Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata), Tower Hill State Park

Rolling out of Tower Hill I pick up the road again, which winds past Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin to the bridge across the Wisconsin and into the town of Spring Green.
Wisconsin River at Spring Green

Once into Spring Green I pull into a Culver’s for lunch. I have to confess, that when I’m on a bike trip my tendency is to go for predictable, fast, plentiful food in lieu of culinary adventures. Over lunch I enjoy the contemplation that I’ve already done the bulk of my planned distance for the day – it’s only about ten more miles to the campground I’m booked into. And so, I head farther up the road to the Spring Green Preserve, confident that I have plenty of time for a relaxed wander there.

Continued in:
Part 2: The Wisconsin desert
Part 3: Mother of Waters
Part 4: True journey is return

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A topographic anomaly

Despite falling in the middle of a spell of humid and stormy weather, the Fourth of July this year dawned with almost perfect weather, and I took advantage of it by heading to Blue Mound State Park for the day.

Last fall I posted a view of West Blue Mound, seen through mists from the trail winding past its foot:
Blue Mound in mist, 9/8/2013

And this summer, the view from the top, in sunshine:
View from West Observation Tower, Blue Mound State Park, 7/4/14

That’s from the top of one of the observation towers helpfully provided, since in summertime the view would otherwise be confined to what you could see through the trees. The tower is not incredibly high, all things considered – just enough to be over the treetops – but it was an epic enough climb for me, given my lack of head for heights, that getting to the top without a panic attack felt like a considerable achievement. The view (as you can see) really was worth it.

When I reached the ground again, I was met by a bedraggled but still striking Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus):
Blue Mound State Park, 7/4/14
I often see butterflies gamely continuing on with very torn-up wings, and I’m sure it’s anthropomorphizing but I always find it moving. Particularly those last few tatters of iridescent blue that you can see in the tail there.

The Flintrock Trail runs down from the Tower and around through the northwest section of the park; as the name suggests there are many boulders and outcroppings of chert along the route. Apart from being visually striking, the masses of chert on West Blue Mound are a strong going explanation for why it has stayed a high point:

Blue Mound State Park, located in the state of Wisconsin (USA), is host to a topographic anomaly known as Blue Mound. This mound is the western of the two mounds that make up the park, and it marks the highest elevation in southern Wisconsin. Unlike its eastern sibling, Blue Mound possesses an unusual chert cap that may have protected it from erosion, thus preserving its stratigraphic integrity. Although Blue Mound’s unique chert armor was noted in 1927 by the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, no published work has satisfactorily explained its origin.

The plentiful chert outcroppings and boulders also support a variety of plant-life, from mosses and liverworts, to rock polypody:
Blue Mound State Park, 7/4/14
and even flowering plants, such as these tenacious harebells:
Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), Blue Mound State Park, 7/4/14

Perching on a rotten log was an ichneumon wasp with an ovipositor as long again as the rest of its body:
Blue Mound State Park, 7/4/14

Mourning-cloaks flitted around like little scraps of shadow:
Blue Mound State Park, 7/4/14

The cooperation of the weather with the holiday really was striking; the day before and day after were both dismal. The bison statues next to the bike path in the Midvale Heights neighbourhood of southwest Madison were decorated for the occasion:
Bison of Liberty, Midvale Heights, Madison

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Like a moth that tries to enter the bright eye

It’s National Moth Week! I haven’t made any nocturnal outings in search of moths, because twilight is when the mosquitoes are starting to get really dire. At home I’ve stayed home in the AC, and over my 3 day bike camping trip (on which more anon), I zipped myself into my tent at nightfall and more or less passed out.

Daylight excursions have, however, brought me face-to-face with some day-walking moths, which do exist. At Wyalusing State Park, by the banks of the Mississippi, I saw this vivid black and yellow lichen moth (Lycomorpha pholus):
Black and yellow lichen moth (Lycomorpha pholus), Wyalusing State Park
and no more than a hundred feet from Lake Michigan, at the South Shore Cultural Centre Nature Preserve in the heart of Chicago, was this ailanthus webworm moth (Atteva aurea):
Ailanthus webworm moth (Atteva aurea),  South Shore Nature Preserve,  Chicago
… which until I found it in a field-guide, I didn’t realize was a moth at all!

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