Wednesday, January 29, 2014


This blog is moving to a new website and blog.

New blog

New site

Old nature focused blog posts will be kept here for the long-term, but I have transferred all the "Plant of the Week" Posts to the new site.  There they will be expanded with new information and photos as they become available.

As always, thanks for viewing and commenting.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Swamp White-tail

This white-tailed deer came to see what was making the rustling noise in the leaves.  I could just make it out as it left the safety to dogwood, walked through the tall grasses, and finally poked its head up to take a look at me.  It was probably only a trip of 100 feet, but it made me feel like I was an import curiosity for this buck.  For a change I had a telephoto lens on the camera because I had been chasing a white-breasted nuthatch.  I was unable to get a nice photo of him, but got this nice portrait of the deer.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Under the 41 Bridge

The former hwy 41 bridge over Lake Butte des Morts, just outside Oshkosh, was  one of those serviceable pieces of architecture like the communists built.  There has been a trend of late to make bridges more interesting without breaking the bank, and this was certainly achieved under the Butte des Morts bridge.  The addition of a foot bridge (not yet open) is also forward thinking, but I'm not sure it will get much use.  Also there is fishing access under the bridge another nice touch, but again I'm not sure how much use it will get.  One never knows, it may become an institution.
Walleye and lake sturgeon murals on the hwy 41 bridge, Oshkosh
Catfish mural

Old hwy 41 bridge

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Life Jacket Loaner Station

I ran across this while fishing, and playing with the kids at Lake Winneconne Park, a kiosk with life jackets for kids.  I think it is a pretty cool idea, at least until some tries to start a fire in the life jacket bin.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Lake Winnebago Lake Flies 2013

I snapped this screen shot from my iphone of the radar over Lake Winnebago on May 20, 2013.  The "rain" that appears over Lake Winnebago is most likely a cloud of emerging lake flies.  This has been seen on radar before, so it's likely this is the same phenomenon.  The cloud to the southeast is actually rain.

Lake Winnebago Lake Flies on the radar

Friday, March 1, 2013

Be Kind to Canes

Reprinted from the Oshkosh Scene newspaper with additional photos of cane beds and birds that nest  in them.

The East Channel Canes on Lake Poygan may seem to have a strange name, but once upon a time there was a corresponding West Channel Canes, and even more surprising is this is the place where the Wolf River used to empty into Lake Poygan. Now these few scattered cane beds are all that remain of a huge wetland complex destroyed by flooding, waves and ice. Without restoration these too will be lost.

On the Lake Winnebago Upper Pool lakes there is a rare habitat called cane beds that are popular fish, wildlife, and the human enthusiasts that follow them.  These beds are composed of a native strain of Common Reed (Phragmites australis).  Our native strain is an important part of Wisconsin’s wetland ecosystems, but there is a variety originating from Europe that is highly invasive.  These aquatic plants are the remains of wetlands lost since the damming of the Fox River in the 1850’s.  Where it was firmly rooted it survived the breakup of the surrounding marsh and the near permanent flooding.   Although they are tough plants, and survived the high water, they too have been slowly fading away. 

Forster's Tern chick hiding in reeds
Historically several of the cane beds have been used by colonies of the endangered Forster’s Tern.  If you have never seen a Forster’s tern, picture a gull and cross it with a jet fighter.  These birds are fun to watch.  Terns will cruise around the lakes searching for small fish, and when a bird spots one it begins to hover.  Then locked on its prey, the tern drops from the sky, wings partially folded back, and plunges into the water.  The bird briefly disappears and then flies up and away.  Depending on the time of year the tern may give the fish to its mate, or one of its chicks.  These terns are endangered because their nesting habitat, floating mats of vegetation, are no longer that common.  On the Winnebago Upper Pool Lakes, the cane beds have shrunken and so has the Forster’s Tern population.

click below to see more of the cane beds

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Few Photos from this Winter.

The first real snow of the 2012-2013 winter season in Northeast Wisconsin brought snow that stuck to everything.   It was really unusual in that the snow stayed stuck for weeks because of cold weather that immediate followed the snow fall.

Lake Winnebago
Moody Morning Lake Winnebago Panoramic

Asylum Point Oshkosh

Winnebago Photography: Winnebagoland &emdash; Snowy Marsh
Snowy Marsh

DNR Boathouse Asylum Bay
Snowy Boathouse Wall

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Power of Ice

2010 ice shove on Lake Winnebago, Oshkosh WI

In Wisconsin we should know better, but we forget that ice is power.  Our lakes like to remind us of this, with crystalline beauty and crushing power of ice with wind at its back.  Winnebago was gouged out by the Green Bay Lobe of the Wisconsin Glacier.  That sheet of ice made the bathtub that is our lake, and as the ice sat there it dammed what we know as the Fox River and created glacial Lake Oshkosh which spread across the landscape.  As fine sediment dropped out of the water of that lake, it created a flat lake bed of clay and silt which is what Oshkosh and much of Winnebago County is.  My house is on the bottom of a lake.  When the glacier receded, Glacial Lake Oshkosh drained out the Fox River to Lake Michigan, and the deep basin filled up as Lake Winnebago, and so the landscape we know was formed. 

The ice on the lake this winter is barely a foot thick child of the mile high monster that carved out the lake, but it is still a force to be respected.  Water has the most peculiar of traits.  As it forms a solid by cooling it gets larger, unlike everything else we experience.  It only expands a little, but over the span of miles it adds up.  It also expands with tremendous force.  Think of the expansion of water into ice bursting through iron pipes.  Ice is a nearly unstoppable force to be reckoned with.       
Ice can be brutal, but to many it is a source of delight as it is danger.  Snowmobiling, ice fishing, walking, ice skating, hockey, or just running and sliding are a few of the activities to enjoy on the ice.  Ice provides everyone access to the lake.  Fishermen without boats are no longer confined to the shore, docks or bridges.  They can wander out onto the lakes with a bucket and the most simple of fishing gear.   Ice does not discriminate based on one’s economic standing.  Thin ice or cracks can swallow up an SUV or a person on foot just as easily, and every year someone goes down and all too often does not come back up. 
Little icebergs, Lake Winnebago Oshkosh, Wi

Like everything to do with lakes, ice is controversial.  For over a hundred years the water level of the Winnebago system is drawn down throughout the winter to make way for the snow smelt and spring rains.  This also has the perceived benefit of reducing ice damage.  While there may be some benefits to shore protection from ice expansion it does little to prevent damage from ice shoves.  Ice shoves on Lake Winnebago can climb uphill, reaching spectacular heights in no time with the right wind, and like miniature glaciers bulldoze everything in their path.  The dams that control water levels cannot physically draw the lake down far enough to prevent this damage, and if they could there would be severe damage to habitat that fish and wildlife depend on.   

On calm nights with the temperature dropping you can hear the ice boom as it contracts and cracks.  Walk along the shore of Menominee park if you are unsure of the ice on one of these nights and you can hear the power building.  The ice is restless.  The constant shifts of temperature changes, the sun, and the wind are always weakening the ice even as it gets thicker.  It can take months for ice to be thick enough to support the weight of a car, but in a few short weeks it degrades and piles up on shore.  Lake ice is something of a troubled teenager struggling to be noticed as it makes its way in the world in the shadow of a famous parent.  It throws tantrums, creates trouble, and then burns out, ends up in rehab, builds up to something delightful, and throws another tantrum.

Previously published in the Oshkosh Scene.  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Under a Frozen World

Snowy Wetland
Slough off North Asylum Bay
The lakes and marshes become quiet in the winter when the ice covers the lakes and snow blankets the surrounding marshes, but life continues below ice and snow. 

Tunneling through the snow are a number of little mammals.  Mice, voles, and shrews enjoy the relative safety provided by their tunnels.  There they are free from the piercing eyes of hawks, but are still vulnerable to the ears and talons of great-horned owls and pouncing foxes.
On the lake bottoms are the flying insects of summer.  The billions of lake flies of spring are all there as the larva called bloodworms.  Keeping company with sediment, decaying plants and rocks are the larva of caddisflies, damselflies, dragon flies, and mayflies that will emerge from the lake and take flight in spring and summer.  All of these are food throughout the winter for bluegills, perch and other fish. 

Up the food chain there are reptiles we envision hibernating in the mud.  Some turtles and frogs are indeed buried in the mud, but others are piled up sitting on the lake bottom motionless or crawling along at a snail’s pace.  Common map turtles sit on the bottom or wedge themselves amongst rocks and logs.  When disturbed they retreat, and may reveal a northern leopard frog underneath, which will also swim away.  Hardly asleep, these map turtles require more oxygen than painted turtles buried in the sometimes anoxic mud.  The cold and relative inactivity allows them to take in all the oxygen they need from water.  Frogs and softshell turtles breathe through their skin, but softshells also take in oxygen through special adaptions in their throats.   
Oshkosh Ice Night
Frozen Lake Winnebago at Oshkosh

Mammals have no options but to breathe air.  The local aquatic members of the weasel family--river otter and mink--must maintain holes in the ice with their teeth to be able to gain access to the fish, frogs, turtles and other animals they eat.  Muskrats often use the same holes, but they try to stay concealed, and will never walk on ice and snow if they can avoid it.  Muskrats build huts, or lodges like beavers do, but muskrat homes are made of aquatic plant leaves, stems, and roots.  Here they sleep and eat, but they often swim far beyond the range of one breath to obtain the food they need.  For those foraging trips they build cave-like “push ups” for breathing.  They will also build small feeding huts, which are self-explanatory.  A sudden drop in water levels after the ice forms seals off all these structures from the muskrats’ food, forcing them onto ice and snow and into the jaws of coyotes.    

Winter is a harsh time for wildlife, but it can be easier under the ice and snow for those adapted to it.

Previously published in the Oshkosh Scene article.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Little Trappers

Spider Web
Orb Weaver Spider
The early morning light catches a dew speckled web in the marsh.  You can see such webs driving down the road, riding a bike, but it is best on foot.  You can observe the intricacies of the web, contemplate the mastery of the spinner with just a tiny speck for a brain, and never a teacher, or even a YouTube mentor to show it how it’s done.  Look close at the round globes of dew hanging from the web and notice the upside down, reversed and distorted world inside.  In a web you can read the story from the night before.  A hole in the web might indicate that some large insect, like a katydid crashed into the web tearing the silken threads.  You can find last night’s meal still stuck, or perhaps a snack all bundled up to be eaten later. 

If you are watching close to your feet as you walk, you’ll probably miss the web maker altogether, they will have dropped from view before you reach them.  Look ahead a little way as you walk and you’ll see them.  As you approach some will drop out of sight, but every now and then a slow approach and a cool morning the web spinner will stay dead center.   Some are small, and some are huge, at least by my standards.  These are some of the orb weaver spiders.  I could tell you some facts about orb weavers, but I must admit I’d have to go research them, and for me the orb weavers are like stars, they are for looking at in wonder.  I care not for the names of stars, what they are made of.  I may know some of those things, but when I look up at the sky it is a time to feel; to feel awe, to feel small and not to think.  When I look deep into the many eyes of the orb weavers I feel afraid, and feel it is time to move on.  Go search out the orb weavers if you dare.  You can find them in the marshes, prairies, and fields all around.  

Dew Web
Fly Eater

Previously published in the Oshkosh Scene.