Monday, May 30, 2016

Review of springtime in Milwaukee (Yes!)

Great blue heron, Greenfield Park
Okay, Memorial Day is over and it actually feels like summer here in Milwaukee, after what felt like an interminable and frustratingly frigid spring. Well, for the most part. We did have a few nice days now and then, however fleetingly. I managed to take advantage of those nice days by visiting as many Milwaukee County Parks and natural areas as possible.

Greenfield Park
I made it to more than I usually do, some of them familiar and others for the first time.

Greenfield Park
I've selected a few shots from each, which I offer in no particular order.

Greenfield Park
Wild strawberry blossoms, Lincoln Creek detention basin
Julia Robson, Mke Co Parks Dept.
I even tagged along with a team of scientists, including Julia, who works for the Parks Department as assistant natural areas coordinator. Here she is using a loudspeaker to call a lesser bittern (if I remember correctly) in the hopes that a real one will call back. None did. But we did successfully call other species that evening.

We visited the Lincoln Creek site, above, and this unnamed (and as yet unprotected) wetland where, although there were no bitterns, we discovered other creatures, including rails and a killdeer that had hatched a brood in the middle of a gravel parking lot.

Woodland trillium patches, McGovern Park
McGovern Park
Kletsch Park
Kletsch Park
(Sadly, that luxuriant ground cover is all garlic mustard. Pretty in spring. Soon to be very ugly.)

Doyne Park
Flowering crab, Doyne Park
Jacobus Park
May apple, Jacobus Park
Falk Park
It was earlier in the spring and I'd never been to Falk before. What looks a bit like lingering snow are a carpet of tiny flowers called spring beauties.

Falk Park
Here's a close up of them. They are beautiful enough up close, but it was the sheer numbers that filled the forest floor in many parts of the park that I found astonishing. Such tiny flowers!

Ephemeral pond, Falk Park
Falk Park
Marsh marigolds, Falk Park
Violets, Falk Park
Falk Park
Most of these were brief excursions. Three of my adventures, however, merited blog posts of their own. Click on the links to go to them:
Cudahy Nature Preserve
Riveredge Nature Center (World Fish Migration Day!)
Mangan Woods

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Mangan Woods blossoms with spring: A photo essay

Mangan Woods is located between Whitnall Park and the Root River Parkway in Greendale. This lovely park is worth visiting any time of the year due to the healthy stands of mature hardwoods, like this giant maple.

But spring is a particularly lovely time because of the remarkable wealth of wildflowers. Stay on the (well-trodden) paths because a stray step is likely to crush a beautiful flower.

Along with the common white trillium, Mangan boasts the rarer and more delicate red trillium, here nestled among sedge.

There were some patches of enormous may apples...

the blossoms of which are usually hard to see without groveling on the ground--although I found my iPhone a handy way to capture a ground-level view.

There is a lot of scurrying through the underbrush. The creatures mostly stayed out of sight, but this toad held still just long enough.

I hadn't been to Mangan for at least a few years. Since then, sadly, garlic mustard has taken over large swaths of the more open areas. I also found it popping up here and there in the deeper sections of the forest.

Here a Virginia waterlily is entwined in garlic mustard.

This is a lovely-looking specimen of Dame's rocket...

until you look around and see that it, too, is aggressively invasive.

I also happened upon a more unusual alien species the day I was there. Nonbox, a Milwaukee ad agency, was filming a commercial for Shield, a huge outdoor sporting goods company.

I came knowing that I was likely to find Jack in the pulpit blossoming this time of year, having seen them before...

but I was completely caught by surprise at the sheer number of them, in open, sun-drenched places...

and also in the shadowy parts of the deep forest.

Not only did I see more Jacks in the pulpit than in any other place I can recall, but also the largest ones, which reached nearly to knee-level.

Mangan Woods, a dramatic and subtle place. I hope to return more often in the future.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

World fish migration day at Riveredge Nature Center


Did you know there was a World Fish Migration Day? I didn’t. But Riveredge Nature Center in Ozaukee County was honoring it and I found out when I got a Facebook invitation to attend. So I went. It was on Saturday and the weather—finally—was splendid and warm enough to feel like summer had arrived. Reason enough to go for a walk in the woods along the Milwaukee River!

According to the official World Fish Migration Day website, the one-day “global-local” event is intended “to create awareness of the importance of open rivers and migratory fish.” Although I don’t really need a reminder that open rivers are healthy rivers and fish need to migrate freely, I was curious about the event.

I arrived at the river just as a team of fish specialists from the Ozaukee Fish Passage Program, which co-sponsored the day, was wrapping up a fishing expedition. Clad in hip waders, they used electroshocking to stun the fish and scooped them up with nets. Then they brought the catch back to a floating dock where visitors including several families were waiting to see what they had.

The fish were dumped into a tank on the shore where children could press their faces up against the glass and get a good look. Some of the kids eagerly reached in and held up a wriggling specimen. Most of the fish were no more than a few inches long. The prize of the day, however, was the approximately 18-inch smallmouth bass (top). I asked if that was an unusual size and was told that the record at Riveredge was 20 inches, so yes indeed, it was a good find.

In the tank along with the fish there were a couple of healthy, native crayfish. This was a good sign as the invasive rusty crayfish has been aggressively competing with the natives in Milwaukee’s rivers.

Later I went for a walk in the woods where I found a wealth of spring wildflowers and, of course, collected some photographs. 


Tangles of roots, dead trees and branches in the river provide good habitat for migrating fish, as the crowd was told by the fish specialists.

A particularly lovely fungus specimen on a stump

 The may apples, which were budding but mostly not quite ready to flower, were the most spectacular ground cover species I noticed. Here they carpet a hilltop.

May apple, worm's eye view

I only saw this one tent caterpillar colony, however it doesn't take but one to give me the willies. The devastation the caterpillars can cause to a woodlot is one of my earliest childhood memories relating to the balance of nature.

The forest was full of trees bearing bright red-orange markings. I enquired about them. Some years ago a team from U.W. Stevens Point had done a tree study in order to improve forest management techniques. The types of marks indicate a variety of tree species and conditions.

The original owner of the land that is now Riveredge Nature Center had developed a modest version of a Dells-like resort, I was told. Crumbling and overgrown foundations are all that remain of the endeavor.

false rue anemone, vole's-eye view