Fire at Rat River Wildlife Area

Burning Green Ash tree.

Burning Green Ash tree.

This morning I went to the Rat River State Wildlife Area to take some photographs to hike through the marsh.  When I set up my camera to take a time lapse series of the sunrise I notice that smoke hung low over the marsh way across the river.   I didn’t give it much thought since I was busy racing against time to get my cameras all set up.  After everything was set I began to think about where it might be coming from.  It occurred to me that it was either a someone living nearby with a fire and the smoke just stayed low in the air, or it was the smoldering remains of a wild fire.

After the sunrise I packed up and headed over to investigate.  It turned out the section of marsh I had visited last week had burned, and part of the hardwood swamp too.     The source of the smoke were trees that were still burning.  The burning trees were all hollow, some were Green Ash and some were Swamp White Oaks.   I took some photos and video of these burning trees, but then thought better of it.  These trees were hollow and the flames were eating away at their bases.  One of the trees was more than 60 feet and could have easily clobbered me if it came down, so I retreated to the treeless marsh.  As I plodded along in the marsh breaking ice, splashing water and getting covered with soot I could hear small trees or branches falling in the swamp.   I had made a good decision.

After awhile I ran across a guy from the DNR.  He said that the fire started the previous day in the early afternoon, and that they had been out until 11:00 last night working on it.  He went on to say that they would be doing a lot of mopping up today.  I wished him well.

It was later reported on the local news that the fire had burned 600-1000 acres and was likely started by a spark from a passing train.

While some may mourn the loss of the loss caused by the blaze the fire is actually a good thing in this wetland.  Most of the trees have thick enough bark to withstand the fire, and the marsh will be healthier after the fire.  See this post on the benefits of wildfire.  I don’t know all the facts of this blaze, perhaps some property was destroyed, but at least there is an upshot for the natural world.

Bur Oak trees after a fire.

Bur Oak trees after a fire.

My second surprise of the day was that although the temperatures were in the 40’s most places, in the marsh there was frost, and the standing water had a thin layer of ice.  I already knew that cold air sinks down into wetlands making them colder at night, but I was expecting ice this morning.  When I was exploring the burned over part there was ice on the water there two, and the mud exposed by the ATV’s that were used to control the fire was also frozen.  In some area under the thin layer of ice and a foot of water, the ground was still frozen solid.  The fire it seems did not have much of an effect on the ice way below, or provide enough residual heat to keep the wetland thawed.

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Spring is Here!

Weekly Wrap Up

The last week saw some warmer temperatures forcing the last of the ice off the lakes in my neck of the woods at least. The ground is still frozen though.  I took a walk through the flooded marsh and swamps along the Rat River.  The water was mostly 6 inches deep or less, but extremely cold because the ground underneath my feet was a solid as brick because it was still frozen.   I was rewarded for my travels by seeing some bird life that I haven’t seen in a while.  I saw a Wood Pewee, Brown Creeper, and Eastern Bluebird.  In the air around the marsh were Canada Geese, Wood Ducks, Mallards, Red-winged Blackbirds and one Killdeer.  I also the usual suspects, black capped chickadees, white breasted nuthatches etc.  It is wonderful to see life return to the marshes.  Some of these birds can be heard in the video below.

I also got to spend Saturday on the shores of Lake Michigan.  Although it was a warm day inland it was cold by the lake, a gusty wind blew cold air in.  Still I explored the beach and watched the wind play with the beach grasses and other plants, which can also be seen in the accompanying video.

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Ice is Out!

Over the course of last week many of the local lakes lost all or most of their ice cover wit the help of mild temperatures and high winds.  Depending on which way the wind blows there can be impressive ice shoves in my hometown of Oshkosh, WI.  This was not one of those years, but there was small ice shoves on some of the points.  I stopped over to take their photos.

For some reason I didn’t get out much last week, I poked around the area around Grand River Marsh, and the ice piles of Lake Winnebago, and that was about it.

Fox River by Grand River

The Upper Fox River at the former Grand River Lock and Dam.

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What are Macrophytes?

Let’s break the term macrophyte down into its parts to find its definition

Macro means it can be seen with the naked eye.

Phyte comes from the Greek phyton meaning plant.

The term is most often used to describe the plants living in wetlands or in truly aquatic environments like lakes.  Why not just say plants you ask.  The reason biologists use this unique term often is that it includes the macroalgae like Chara and Nittella.  These two genera of algae are large and look like plants with “leaves” and branching stems.  Some large colonies of algae are often visible with the unaided eye, but these usually appear as clumps, or long green strings, these are not considered macrophytes.  Algae are technically not plants but group of organisms that are not necessarily closely related.

All the weeds, I mean aquatic plants, that you are familiar with are macrophytes.  Macrophytes can be plants that  have submergent, emergent, or floating-leaf growth forms.


This bay is inhabited by many macrophyte species (White Water Lily, Stiff Arrowhead, Invasive Cattails, and Flowering Rush), including those under the water.

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Winter Returns for a Day

As is usual for the month of March, winter decided to return for a few days with a nice, pretty little snowfall that stuck to the trees.  Despite the snow the birds continued to call and sing, proclaiming their territories and perhaps striking up some new relationships.  Once again I drove over to Emmon’s Creek in Portage County to take some photographs and video, and to just be outside.

The above video features the creek flowing through the snowy woodland, green water cress in spring, and many birds singing.

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Ground Water Fed Springs

Springs have always been special places in many parts of the world, including my home state of Wisconsin. When hiking with my family as a kid, my dad would point out the mud bubbling up just below the surface of lakes we used to frequent. He explained that it was water coming up from below the ground and it was always cold. I remember watching it as if in a trance. Springs have been a place where my mind became quiet, without thought. I don’t know why but I sense some power there that deserves reverence.

Spring fed creek in the snow

Tiny spring fed creek in Winnebago County, WI.


It was no surprise when I learned that the local Native Americans believed there were spirits inhabiting springs and they gave them offerings. There were several springs around the Winnebago system that were “discovered” in the 1800’s and looted for the treasure of offerings and human remains. These sacred places were flooded after the construction of dams in Neenah and Menasha, and are now lost. According to Historic Lake Poygan by Charles H. Velte, many relics were taken from the Freer Spring on the North Shore of Lake Poygan, the spring was taken from us by the dams. Many specimens were lost but one collection contains: “Large bone fish spear with three barbs, bone celt, 24 bone daggers, 40 three-bone awls, one flaker, 50 bear tusks, several bear skulls, many deer horns, 1 copper fish spear and 2 broken gorgets: 125 perfect pieces” One spring that yielded human remains and many artifacts was only big enough to dip a pail in.

While snowshoeing I came upon this little creek running through a swamp clear and warm enough to burn through snow and ice as the temperature stayed below zero for days, another special trait of springs.  I followed the creek to its source, a little spring welling up at the base of a hill.  There the tracks of red squirrel, cotton tail rabbit and white-tailed deer converge to drink.   I’m guessing by its shape and the rock wall holding back the earth on one side that its basin was widened to provide fresh water for cattle that have been absent from this hillside for decades.  Water gushes out from a space between the rocks.  It might be a creation of a farmer for all I know, but I am quiet as I set up the tripod, compose a photo and take a picture.  I make no offering, but leave quietly.

Rewritten from my old blog.

Spring fed creek

Spring Fed Trout Stream – Portage County, WI.  The springs here are often filled with green Watercress year-round. 

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Spring Came

According to the calendar spring has arrived.  The temperatures this week were “normal” and cooler than last week, but the snow continues to melt, and is nearly gone.  The ice is still firmly in place most of the lakes, but everyday it is thinning and weakening.  A few more spring migrants are showing up, but I haven’t seen anything really interesting yet.

Part of the reason for not seeing anything really interesting yet is because I only got out once this week, because I had a mild cold and didn’t feel like heading out if I didn’t have to.  I did finally venture out for a nice walk to Waukau Creek towards the end of the week to enjoy the sights and sounds of early spring.

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Swamp Aerial Video

I just finished editing and uploading my last video from last summer.  This aerial video is a low altitude flight over a wetland in NE Wisconsin.  It is late September and the leaves of the trees are just beginning to change color.  Many of the trees in view Green Ash. Silver Maple and a number of other species whose leaves turn a shade of yellow.  Not as stunning as a northern hardwood forest with maples and other trees, but still a sight to behold.

So that’s the last of the summer videos.  I’m looking forward to doing many more this summer. I hope you enjoyed this one.  Thanks for watching.

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Spring is Coming!

Daggetts Creek Meltwater

Daggett’s Creek filled with melt water from farm fields.

This week the temperature was warm and the kids were in school, so I took the opportunity to get outside and enjoy the sun after a very cold February. I hope to be getting out a lot this year to experience more of nature and work on my photography, so I am adding a new feature.  It is sort of review of the previous week, largely in photographs that will show what is happening in the natural world.  It may be only a photo or two by the time December rolls around, we shall see, but it should be rather rich in the warmer months.

High Cliff State Park Panorama

Panoramic view of frozen Lake Winnebago taken from the observation tower at High Cliff State Park.

This week I visited High Cliff State Park near Sherwood Wisconsin.  High Cliff features the ruins of a lime kiln used to bake the local limestone to produce lime to make cement.  The old ruins are home to a number of European Starlings, and this day they were calling and singing from small trees growing on the top of one of the old stone building.  The video below show the silhouette of the birds, and sounds of their calls with a few other species in the background.

Continue reading

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Drainage Ditch Flight

Latest edit of a low altitude flight over sedge meadows I made last June.  These ditches run through Poygan State Wildlife Area in Wisconsin.  Some were dug to help drain nearby farmland and some were dug decades ago for ducks and other wildlife.

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