Sunday, May 29, 2011

Plant of the Week: American Basswood (Tilia americana)

American Basswood (Tilia americana) Leaves

Basswood (sometimes called Linden) is a tree found in our swamps, but it's also happy on our uplands.  The seeds are dispersed on a unique structure that catches the wind. 
The tree is also a valued street tree, as is its European cousins and hybrids.  The honey made from the flowers of basswood is considered excellent.  Native Americans and pioneers used the inner bark to make rope.  Basswood is prized for its soft clear wood by wood carvers and almost no one else, therefore it ends up in pallets, excelsior, interior furniture parts, etc.

More on American Basswood 

Young American Basswood Bark

Old Basswood Bark

Saturday, May 28, 2011

What is a Marsh and what is a Swamp?

Marshes and swamps are two different things. A marsh is a place with standing water or soils saturated with water throughout most of the year, and grass-like vegetation:  cattails, sedges and grasses.  Swamps have the same moisture requirements, but are dominated by trees and shrubs.  They are more often flooded or saturated for shorter time periods.  In coming posts I will discuss the unique characteristics that define specific plant communities.  To help identify these plant communities I recommend a book published by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE):  Wetland Plants and Plant Communities of Minnesota and Wisconsin by Eggers and Reed.  You can view the entire book here, or purchase it here.  You can also learn more on my new website by clicking Wetland Plant Communities

An older addition

Shallow, Open Water Communities
Deep Marsh
Shallow Marsh

Local Swamps

Shallow Water Marsh : Poygan State Wildlife Area

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Myth and Magic

The Beginning: Purchase Photo
Every now and then nature takes my breath away, burns an image in my mind and leaves me standing with very few words in my vocabulary worthy of the moment.  I had many such moments growing up in the countryside of Waupaca County.  We were up on a hill and could see the woods up close to the north and five miles of farmland and forests to the south.  After I moved out I still visited often.  One weekend I watched a large cloud building in the afternoon.  Now most clouds move on, but this one stayed.  I can’t remember how long, perhaps five hours.  It started before dinner, and billowed like a giant smokestack until after dark.  When darkness came, the cloud that was already a mysterious life form over the landscape revealed itself as a tortured entity.  It began to glow inside with steady flashes of lightning, boiling light that occasionally lashed out at the ground beneath, while the stars minded their own business above.  I’ve never seen anything like this since and I hope I never do, because some things should only be experienced once, so they can turn to myth and magic. 

Thunderstorm Boils - Purchase Photo

Zoomed In -Purchase Photo

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Nest Count 2011

Sumner Mattson (WDNR) counts doiuble-crested cormorant nests,
while adults fly overhead.
I remember wildlife specials on TV from of Florida and other tropical places, where slender white birds with long plumes perched in flimsy nests.  There were strange looking black birds, and others had white long bills and yellow pouches they dipped in the water to scoop up fish.  Now those far places are here, they are on the islands of our lakes, and even within our cities.  It isn’t some new strange phenomenon, but the return of fish-eating birds after the banning of DDT and unregulated hunting.  Pelicans are experiencing a natural expansion of their range, and may have been present here pre-settlement.  These water birds are back and in some areas more numerous than they were 200 years ago, so it is a good idea to keep tabs on them.  With current staff there are too many sites to survey, but the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources surveys some.  I helped with a survey on May 12, 2011 on Lake Butte des Morts.

American white pelican on Lake Butte des Morts,
Winnebago County nest made of gravel. 
The nesting colonies are truly fascinating places.  I saw all those “Florida birds” from TV:  white pelicans, double-crested cormorants, great egrets, black-crowned night herons, great-blue herons, and cattle egrets.  I walked among hundreds of nests, thousands of eggs, and was surrounded by birds taller than my seven year-old anxiously waiting for me to leave.  There is a certain awe being surrounded by so much life, so many eggs about to hatch, in such a foreign landscape.  However, most sane people would stay far from here.  Our nesting colonies are like those anywhere else that seabirds have nested for tens of millions of years, and there is much that makes all nesting colonies unpleasant.  American White Pelicans are very large and weigh about 16 lbs. and their big feet trample everything.  They even flatten cattails to make an area suitable for nesting.  Then there is the obvious:  a few thousand birds defecating in the same place day after day along with rotting fish and birds, producing an awful stench and polluting the surrounding water.  Many of these birds nest in trees, but eventually they produce so much nutrient-rich guano that they kill all the vegetation on these islands including the trees they nest in.   After spending several hours the fetid air began to make me weak and I could start to feel a burning sensation in my lungs. 

Cormorant chicks and eggs
It paints a nasty scene, both beautiful and revolting, but that’s nature.   Our lakes are as pretty as a postcard and the mosquitoes are as ruthless as the Russian mafia.  I don’t know how many cormorants or pelicans are too many, but it seems we have enough.  I don’t want too many of our islands, points and secluded areas to be polluted by species that congregate in numbers too many and produce so much pollution that they destroy their own habitat.  Species just like the one with the clipboard counting the nests. 

Nesting Colony
Subscribe to my YouTube Channel

Friday, May 6, 2011

No going back.

Fall Colors By Moonlight

I started this project in the winter, which can be a difficult time to come up with stunning landscape photos in flat marshes made more featureless with snow.  To get the project going on this blog and Flickr I searched through my archive of slides and digital photos.  One thing I realized was that there were many photos that I have taken over the years that I could not possibly retake in different light, or season.  Why?  Development has altered the landscape.  A house pops up here and there.  Some of the night photos I once took could no longer be done because of the spread of light pollution.  Although it seems I notice a new wrinkle every time I smile in the mirror, these photos are not old.  Most go back only ten to fifteen years.  I haven’t returned to these areas to photograph because sometimes it’s too aggravating or sad.

Slough Creek Sunrise

“Sunrise at Slough Creek” could not be taken again.  The barn is gone.  The big red barns are out dated for the modern farm, expensive to maintain and many are located at farms that are no longer operational.  So they fall much like the hay they used to store did to the sickle bar.  Behind where the barn used to be, two-lane Hwy 110 has been replaced by four lanes of Hwy 45 and 2 lanes of County Hwy S.  Highway 41 will soon loom even larger as construction of the 41/45 interchange continues.  The six lanes barely visible in the far horizon in 1998 will have turned into 12 in 2013.

Alfalfa No More

In the fields I used to frequent as a child there seems to have been some terrible mistake in crop rotation of corn, alfalfa, and soybeans.  Some crazy farmers have planted plastic beige and grey houses.  The first question every architect must ask a future home owner is what shade of beige or gray would you like your house to be.  No offense to those in beige houses--someone dropped my house and two dozen others on my street (most of them white and I’m sure made of old-growth white pine) in a farmer’s field a hundred years ago.  Same stuff different century.

Although not in one of our wetlands, this photo of a church is one of my favorites.  I’m about as religious as a moss covered rock, but I love the simple architecture of old rural churches.  This one sits all alone at the top of a hill.  I like the photo partially because it was taken in a -30 degree wind chill.  I guess I feel I earned it.  The spot where I took this photo is now home to an electrical substation.  I don’t think even a digital camera can photograph through a transformer. 
Development continues at a rapid pace.  When I surveyed plants and shorelines for the DNR in 2008 one marsh and two shorelines were destroyed within three months of my first visit.  So one of the things I’m trying to do with this project is to document changes in the landscape, natural and manmade.  When time and conditions allow I am using the GPS to geotag my photographs and get a compass heading.  Perhaps someone will come along years from now and wonder what’s changed, and be able to duplicate my photos.  Conservationists often use air photos to track changes in the landscape, but you can’t feel textures of hummocks dotting a sedge meadow from a satellite photo.  You can’t lament the loss of that meadow seen as a green spec from space that in a few years might break off as a floating mat and disintegrated in Lake Winnebago.  The same goes for the alfalfa field on a quiet foggy morning, or the wind playing with cattails in October.  
Country Church

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Saturday May 7, Oshkosh Gallery Walk

The city of Oshkosh has a great event called the Gallery walk, which happens the first Saturday of every month.  The business, galleries, and studios of downtown host artists and their works.  I was lucky enough to be invited by Apple Blossom Books to display my work Saturday May 7th 6-9 pm. Mariette Nowak, author of Birdscaping in the Midwest” will also be there to sign her book. It is still rather early in this project, so I don’t have prints made up yet, but I will be looping a slide show of my photos from around the Winnebago System and perhaps some of my other work from around Wisconsin.  I’ll be there for the duration so you’ll have a chance to talk with me if you wish, and check out my funky camera. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Plant of the Week: Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)

Jack-in-the-pulpit Wuakau Creek, WI

This common spring wildflower is easy to overlook in the moist woods and swamps where it is found.  However, once located it is an interesting if not beautiful wildflower.  The flower is formed in a special way called a spathe, reminiscent of carnivorous pitcher plants.  This is the flower of the plant and not a modified insect-eating leaf like that of the pitcher plant, although it often traps insects.  The plants produce flowers of different sexes depending on how much reserves are stored in an underground stem called a corm.  The fertilized female flowers produce a cluster of bright red berries in fall (Eastman 1992).

More about Jack-in-the-Pulpit