Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)

Sandhill Crane

A Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)  walks through the grass near along side of the road after leading its chick to safety from me.

Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) are a great big interesting bird that I have been in contact with since I was a boy.  When my family moved into the country when I was eight I used to love slogging through the neighbor’s marsh.  One time I did this I got too close to a Sandhill Crane nest.  I watched one of the cranes leave the nest and slink low through the vegetation to come over to its mate, which was making a racket.  After the two birds joined forces they turned to me getting close and in my path.

I had no desire to bother their nest, but I did not want to change course.  I do like splashing around in wetlands, but it is hard going and I didn’t want to lengthen my journey home.  I decided to head straight towards the cranes who were directly in my way.  These were Greater Sandhill Cranes and they were not much shorter than I was, and they have very sharp beaks.  I was intimidated, but I had a walking stick and I was determined to continue.  For about two hundred yards the birds kept a safe distance in front of me, while slowly retreating.  They probably felt good about corralling this dangerous human, and saving their eggs.  When I was far enough away from their nest they departed.

Sandhill Crane Injury Display

A Sandhill Crane fakes and injury so I will eat it and not its fuzzy brown chick, it was quite a display.

Last week, about thirty years later, a similar thing happened, except this time I’m was in a car, and the pair of cranes have a small, brown colt (chick), and I’m driving an SUV.   The family of cranes was by the side of the road and my approach sent the parents into a panic.  The birds were in a farm field with no cover, but there was cover on the other side of the road.  One, then both of the parents went into the road to stop my approach and lead their chick to cover, but the chick was too scared to go.

Still the parents held their ground, one crane returned to the colt and the colt ran across the road.  The other parent decided the car was hungry and offered itself as a sacrifice by pretending to be injured.  At the range it was pretended, any predator, even me jumping out of the car, would have been able to pounce and dispatch the crane quickly.  I was surprised at the silliness of the display under the circumstances, but impressed with the bird’s protective nature over their offspring.  I felt a bit bad about bothering the birds, but they were in the road, and I came to a complete stop and even reversed a short distance, so the colt would feel more comfortable crossing.

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Turkey Vultures on the Rocks

Yesterday I took a drive up to the north end of Lake Winnebago at High Cliff State Park and came across a  flock of Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) loaf about the breakwater along the lake. It is a cool foggy morning and the birds are probably hoping for warm air to create thermals that will help raise them high into the air. To find their carrion food Turkey Vultures use their sense of smell, which is unusual for birds, and also the sight of other vultures (buzzards) descending on food. Because the fog is limiting the height at which they can fly, and perhaps the movement of aromas associated with decaying animals, these birds are hanging around on the rocks waiting for better conditions.

The vultures hopped around the rocks while some flew off into the trees, and others returned from the trees.  At least that is the way it seemed to me since it was foggy and their source and destinations were obscured.

Video taken at High Cliff Harbor Marina, High Cliff State Park, Sherwood, Wisconsin.

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Nature Calling Spring

Nature Week

It is like nature wakes and calls to all the other creatures and plants.  They rise to greet the sun and shun the cruel dead of winter…

It was another beautiful week last week and I can’t wait to get out this week, right now I am waiting for the rain to let up.  In any event even more birds are back, calling, singing making nests and laying eggs.  More wildflowers are in bloom and the leaves continue to unfurl from the trees.

The above video shows the sight of wildflowers, woodlands and lakes and the sounds of birdsong and the calls of American Toads.  The photos below were taken at Hartman Creek State Park, Wisconsin.

Swamp Understory

The skunk cabbage understory of a lake-side swamp at Hartman Creek State Park, Wisconsin.

Wood Anemone  (Anemone quinquefolia)

The spring woodland wild flower Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia) in bloom.

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Woodland Spring

This last week I had the chance to visit several forested areas and witness the blooming of some of the early spring woodland flowers.  The wildflowers I encountered most frequently were White Trout Lily, Bloodroot, and Sharp-lobed Anemone.  While these were the most often in bloom, there were many more just getting started.

The leaves on most species of trees are starting to break bud at Kettle Moraine State Forest and elsewhere.  It won’t be too long before the light of the forest floor fades away and the spring flowers turn to seed and the plants go dormant until next year.

Forest Floor in Spring

Forest floor in spring.

Greenbush Kettle

Greenbush Kettle Hole

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Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

Gallery of the Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) probably the second most common waterfowl around here after the Mallard Duck.

Calling Canada Geese Video


Note: Some birders will be irritated if you call these birds Canadian Geese, because not all of them are from Canada, and its not the official name.  :)

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Northern Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens)

The common, spotted Northern Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens) is found through much of the northern half of the United State.   This wide range means that this is the frog many of us grew up trying to catch by hand, or less sporting, with a net.

Leopard Frog Reproduction

Mating Leopard Frogs

Northern Leopard Frogs (Rana pipiens)  mating in a flooded swamp.

In early spring, sometimes when there is still ice on parts of the lakes, Northern Leopard Frog males begin calling females.  Once attracted  the female lays, and the male fertilizes on large cluster of hundreds of eggs.   Depending on how warm the water is the eggs can develop very quickly, and in less than a week tiny tadpoles (polliwogs) will squirm out of their clear eggs.


Once released from their egg they will continue to feed off their yolksack and the remains of the egg.  After that the food of choice algae and plant matter, but they will also feed on soft dead animals, like their fellow tadpoles.  This can happen in situations were over population occurs.

Throughout the life of a frog they must be wary of predators, but this is doubly true as tadpoles.  Every predator will be happy to sink its jaws into a juicy tadpole.  Fish and birds come immediately to mind but also hundreds of species of insects and other invertebrates will take place in the spring feast.  Some of the main insect predators will be beetle and true bugs, in both their larval and adult stages, and the larval stages of dragonflies and damselflies.   Those vegetarian tadpoles that survive to adulthood will get the last laugh though, because as adults they will feed on the same insects that ate their brothers and sisters.

Unlike some frogs that will stay at the water’s edge most of the year, the Northern Leopard Frog will  sometimes move out into the wetlands and beyond to low-lying grassy areas with enough cover from predators.  If your out looking for frogs with the family, you can still bet on finding these frog by the lake-shore provided, once again, that there is enough places to hide from predators.

The Northern Leopard frog also goes by scientific name Lithobates pipiens.  

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Spring Rolls Along

Nature Week

Last week was another advancement of spring with The above video begins with a time lapse of the River, and some other footage of the rivers as well.    I put together a time lapse of leopard frog eggs developing into tadpoles which is in the above clip along with several other sights and sounds from the week.  Click the above links to view the full videos on YouTube.

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Walleye Fishing Run in Oshkosh

The Upper Fox River is a popular fishing destination at any time of the year, but in during the spring walleye run it is a busy water way filled with boats of all sizes, ages, makes and horse power, and some only powered by humans.  Those without boats, or without the time to get them in the water line the shores and public docks.

Today I spent some time by the Fox River in Oshkosh at Rainbow Park, just off the Oshkosh Ave. Bridge.   To set up my cameras to take time lapse videos of the spectacle of fishing boats.  I don’t have my fishing license yet so I took advantage of the time to enjoy the spring sun and air.  Since it is a week dsy the boat traffic is less than it would be on a weekend, but at any one time usually 20 boats were in view.  I wasn’t keeping close track of the walleye pike fishermen’s success or lack thereof, I prefer not to stare at people, although some stare at the site of two tripods and are attracted to the constant sound of the shutter being triggered.

Fishing Boats on the Fox River

Fishing boats running up and down the Upper Fox River in pursuit of Walleye Pike.

Other than the fisherman there were a few birds to look at Forster’s Terns, Ring-billed Gulls, Tree swallows and other flew up and down the river calling to one another.

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Warm Dry Spring

Nature Week

Last week saw above average temperatures, and dry windy conditions these led to the fire at Rat River State Wildlife Area and other numerous grass fires throughout Wisconsin.  That blaze was the big news for me, but while that occurred spring continued to advance.

Trip to Mosquito Hill

On a beautiful spring day I took a trip to Mosquito Hill Nature Center.  I first headed down in to the floodplain forest dominated by Silver Maples.  Much of the forest was flooded and the surface of the calm water covered in fallen Silver Maple flowers.  In the pools of water were hundreds of calling Wood, and Northern Leopard Frogs.  Joining the chorus of frog calls were the calls and songs of many birds.

Floodplain forest

Floodplain forest at Mosquito Hill.

On an oxbow pond swamp Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers, who did not allow me to approach them close enough for a photo.   The forest in these lowlands is peppered with wood duck nest boxes.  The Hooded Mergansers and obviously the Wood Ducks will soon take to the nest boxes to lay eggs.  After the eggs hatch the duckling will have to jump from the boxes and plop the the ground and make the march to the oxbow pond.

Other Trips

I won’t mention this little trips location due to what I found there by accident.  I was walking through another swamp when I noticed a Red-Tailed Hawk screaming at me.  It wasn’t pleased at all, but then I noticed that the hawk was near its nest, and so I decided to move on.  While I walked through the soft muck I found the flowers of Skunk Cabbbage beginning to fade, but the plants were sending up their leaves ans so were Marsh Marigolds and many grasses and sedges.

A few days after the fire I took the family to see the effects of the fire, but to also listen for Wood Cock and Common Snipe.   We where not disappointed.  Before the sun went down we saw a number of snipe flying while making their haunting calls.  After sunset we were treated to the calls and dance-like flight of a dozen Wood Cock.  Unfortunately the noise from the road was loud and obnoxious, but it was a great sight and sound anyway.

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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.Post

Post Fire Regrowth

Oak Trees after fire

Two oaks and the rest of the marsh look just fine after the fire.

Burned Cattails

Burned invasive cattails are regrowing just fine after the fire.

Willow tree after fire

Willow Tree after fire is leafing out despite its black, charred bark.

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