On Holy Thursday, the rain, ice and sleet hit much of WI very hard. Power outages and traffic accidents can make these events very frustrating. The other result of this, though, is icy natural beauty that only lasts a day or so. Couple these spectacular views with the sounds of red-winged blackbirds, eastern bluebirds, and song sparrows for a unique spring experience. This may be the last look at nature like this until late next fall. Enjoy
Seeing bluebirds arrive in Spring gives great hope to the warmer weather soon to be here. Male bluebirds have to be one of the most beautiful and most loved birds in the United States. They are cavity nesters, depending on big trees to supply them with ample nest choices. Pre-European settlement, the prairie and oak-savannah of southern WI gave them a plethora of cavity sites. With increased pressure from aggressive invasive species, like European Starlings and House Sparrows, loss of tree nesting cavity sites, coupled with some ice storms in their southern United States wintering grounds- populations decreased by nearly 90% from the 1930’s to the 1980’s!
Thanks to the efforts of the Bluebird Restoration Association of WI, bluebird populations have increased dramatically in their historically range. Education and especially construction of bluebird nestboxes, gave this awesome bird the advantage it needed. Patrick Donohue and Jonathon Wallace have built bluebird nest boxes for the Laudato Si’ Project and are pictured above helping to install them on a beautiful southern WI property. Placing of bluebird nest boxes is an easy way for us to ensure this species has a place on our WI landscape forever. To learn more about bluebirds and hear their call Click Here.
Meeting us at the Pike Lake Unit of the Mid-Kettle Moraine was Park Ranger Rob Wessberg along with three members of the WI Geocaching Association. Over a dozen students from Marquette University High School came to help map the trails of the State Park using GPS units. These new GPS maps would be extremely accurate and used for visitors and park management.
Park Ranger Rob Wessberg talking about mapping the trails at Pike Lake
MUHS Students at Pike Lake Headquarters
Students were instructed on how to use GPS units and were divided into groups to map the over 12 miles of trail systems in the park. They also took coordinates at waypoints like benches, intersections, and restrooms. Adding to the fun was the WI Geocaching Association. If you are unfamiliar, geocaching is a recreational sport were you search for “caches” (usually small boxes with a toy or prize inside) using GPS coordinates. There are millions of these “caches” around the World. Students were taught some of the history, fun, and how to of Geocaching.
Pike Lake is a diverse park and students were able to see not only the varied geologic features like kames, kettles, and moraines- but also habitats like Maple forests, prairies, and wetlands. After about 3 hours of hiking, geocaching, and point marking, we had finished. The Rangers at the park will be inputing the data on their mapping software and out comes a new and very accurate map of the trails at Pike Lake. We really enjoyed our time and thanks to the staff at Pike Lake and the WI Geocaching Association for making it so wonderful. We look forward to working with both groups on future projects.
On these spring evenings, just before dark you will begin to hear the “peenting” call of the male Amercian Woodcock. Without knowing this, you might write it off as a silly insect buzz but what follows is truly a spectacle of nature. The male continues his “peenting” call for several minutes before taking flight. Then begins a circular flight into the sky, during which you will hear a high pitch noise as they fly made by the sound of their wings. They continue these concentric circles until they are several hundred feet in the air and then continue with their “falling leaf” display. This consists of erratically falling through the air while making high pitch vocal tweets. Their sky dance ends with them swooping silently to the ground where they originally took off and continue their “peenting.” This mating display continues well into the night and sometimes in the morning as well.
I remember first learning of this natural feat after reading Aldo Leopold’s account of it in a chapter of The Sand County Almanac. Sure enough, a buddy showed me a local park where this was taking place near my house where I grew up. My whole family would venture to experience this little known ritual happening nightly. Fast forward several decades, and I am blessed to be able to hear and see nearly a dozen of these birds displaying on my property with my wife, son, and daughter with me to experience it. When you are plugged into phenology you will begin to appreciate these small but amazing gifts of nature- as a result, your view and attitude towards it changes.
Heiliger Huegel Ski Club had their spring picnic today. The temperature was in the mid thirties and 2 inches of snow fell the night before (“spring picnic”??) Despite it not feeling like spring, it is great maple syruping weather. About 20 adults and kids came to learn about the process of tapping and making maple syrup. The highlight of many was tasting maple sap, which is about 2% sugar, and then getting a taste of the finished syrup at 66% sugar.
I wanted to stress that anyone can make their own syrup, even if they only have one maple tree and live in the city. Love Live the Sugar Maple.
If you want more information about tapping maple trees, equipment, and making syrup Click Here
This morning, Thursday March 3rd, Relevant Radio’s “Morning Air” show host, John Harper, interviewed the Laudato Si’ Project about how it is working to further the message in the Pope’s encyclical. Although the Laudato Si’ Project works mostly in Southeast Wisconsin, its mission of reconnecting people to the natural world is universal. The call is especially pertinent to our Catholic Schools and Parishes to work toward this goal and “setting out on the long path of renewal.-Pope Francis”
You can listen to the 15 minute audio interview on our website Click Here