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Summer is finally here!  The warmer days bring all sorts of wonderful changes in nature.  Flowers are blooming like crazy, birds are nesting and singing their songs, and fireflies light up my backyard at night.  It’s a fantastic time of the year to be outside (if you can find a time without rain), so let’s take a quick nature tour to see what else is happening outside right now!

Wood lily in bloom

Wood lilies are one of my favorite flowers (I literally say that about every flower).  The bright pop of red mixed with the yellow with black spots makes them look so exotic in my opinion.  They are wonderful early summer flowers that aren’t extremely common, so if you find one, be sure to leave it there (and don’t tell any deer where you found it).

Black-eyed Susan

I was out walking through a prairie that we recently planted and I came across a Black-eyed Susan that made me laugh more than it should have.  It reminded me of watching Star Trek as a kid.  My favorite character was Geordi (played by Levar Burton) who had a strange visor thing that covered his eyes.  This flower appeared to have a similar situation going on and it truly made my day.

Apparently, this is called fasciation and it’s a pretty rare condition that some plants get.  There are many different causes for this condition including hormonal, fungal, bacterial, genetic, and environmental to name a few.  While I don’t know exactly how this flower came to be, I’m glad that it did!

Red-winged blackbird nest with eggs

While walking through that same prairie, I accidentally flushed a female red-winged blackbird that had been sitting on a perfectly crafted nest (pictured above).  Usually, when this happens, I get yelled at (and occasionally dive bombed) by adult red-winged blackbirds in the area, but not this time.  I was ready for it, but I guess they saw my camera and knew I wasn’t a threat.

Double rainbow!

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this photo of a double rainbow that I spotted while out camping with friends in the Kickapoo Valley.  It rained for almost the entire weekend, but without all of the rain, I wouldn’t have been able to see these beautiful rainbows.  While it’s hard to see in the photo, a friend pointed out on our camping trip that the color pattern for the second rainbow is always in reverse order.  I never noticed that before!

I hope you enjoyed this month’s nature update and I’ll see you next time!

So far, this spring has brought us a solar eclipse, the northern lights, and the anticipation (for some) of millions of screaming cicadas.  What a time to be alive!  As we wait for the slumbering insects to emerge, let’s go on a quick nature tour to see what else is happening outside right now!

American Robin Eggs

Birds of all sizes and colors are nesting right now, and if you’re lucky you might just find a nest or see some juvenile birds hopping around.  While out monitoring conservation easements with Brandon Mann (Groundswell’s Easement Stewardship Manager), we stumbled upon an American Robin nest with two perfectly blue eggs.  Did you know that ‘Robin egg blue’ is its own color?  It’s not surprising given how vibrant they are!

American Toad

It’s not just birds that are out and about.  If you find yourself near a wet area, you’ll likely hear a chorus of all different kinds of frogs and even toads like the one pictured above.  I’ve always favored toads a little bit over frogs because of how easy-going they are.  They’re easy to catch, they’re incredibly diverse in their coloration/bumps, and they always look grumpy (or at least unimpressed at being caught).  I could do without the getting peed on part though.

DeKay’s Brown Snake

While walking around Westport Prairie, I quite literally almost stumbled upon this adorable danger noodle (pictured above).  It was extremely small (5-6″) and right away I knew it was a DeKay’s brownsnake.  These snakes are usually nocturnal so it’s not very common to see them out during the day and it’s the first (alive) one I’ve ever seen.  I occasionally see them in the road after unfortunately getting run over by a vehicle, so it was very special getting to see one thriving in its natural habitat (until I came around and bothered it).

Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchid

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this photo of a Pink Lady’s Slipper that I took this past weekend while camping at Buckhorn State Park.  I’ve been on the hunt for one of these orchids for SO long and have yet to find one until now.  Although, I can’t take credit for finding it, because it was actually my 7-year-old son who found it while we were hiking.  I was too busy crouching on the ground try to get a photo of some reindeer lichen, so my son was the hero of the camping trip.  Plus, we were out there celebrating his birthday which made it even more special.

I hope you enjoyed this month’s nature update and I’ll see you next time!

You might be familiar with easements outside of conservation. For example, a neighbor might grant you the right to use their driveway. This is a driveway access easement. You might grant a utility company the right to run a power line across your property. This is a utility easement. In both cases, rights are being exchanged. Sometimes those rights are exchanged for money.

For land trusts like Groundswell, a conservation easement grants rights to protect certain conservation values. These conservation values can include important wildlife habitat, wetland and stream protection, or protection of prime farm soils. Groundswell purchases these rights through voluntary legal agreements with landowners to permanently limit uses of the land to protect conservation values. Landowners retain many of their rights, including the right to own and use the land, sell it, and pass it on to their heirs. Groundswell’s conservation easement lands generally remain in private ownership.

Since 2020, Groundswell and Linden Cohousing have partnered together to provide a unique farmers market for HMoob growers to sell their produce. The market was created to help disadvantaged growers withstand the abrupt closures of farmers markets during the pandemic. With markets in full swing again, the Linden Cohousing Market will no longer continue. Thank you to all who supported the growers over the past four years!

Join us for Wisconsin’s largest bird conservation fundraiser! It’s like a walk-a-thon style fundraiser, but instead of logging miles, we’ll be logging bird sightings. We’ll be participating in the Great Wisconsin Birdathon as team Grousewell!

Great Wisconsin Birdathon
Saturday, May 4, 2024
9:00 – 11:00 am
Patrick Marsh – Stein Rd, Sun Prairie, WI 53590

What to Expect
The outing will be approximately one to two miles of slow-paced walking on a dirt trail. It’ll be spring migration, so there should be great bird activity. American White Pelicans are typically at Patrick Marsh during this time of year too!

No Birding Experience Required
Everyone is welcome and no birding experience is required! This is a great opportunity to join even if it’ll be your very first-time birding. Birding is a team effort and we can all learn from each other.

Binoculars
The Feminist Bird Club Chapter of Madison has generously let us borrow some of their binoculars! We’ll have binoculars available to borrow (a limited amount). Please indicate in the registration if you would like to borrow a pair during the outing.

Registration
If you plan to join us for the outing, please register at the button below.

Register Today!

 

Support Our Team
The Birdathon is a great opportunity to come together and support bird conservation. We hope you’ll support us, the birds, and our community during this great event.

Half of the donations that we raise will go to Groundswell and half will go towards the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin’s Bird Protection Fund.

Support Team Grousewell!

Now that winter is (hopefully) in the rearview mirror, it’s time to start getting excited about spring and all that it brings!  The most recent snowfall is melting away, the birds are singing, plants have started emerging from the soil, and somehow that stinkbug crawling along my ceiling managed to survive the winter.  Like seriously, I’m not the only one who has been evicting occasional stinkbugs all winter, right?

Anyway, as we prepare for the warmer days ahead, let’s take a minute to see what nature’s been up to.

Pasque flowers have emerged

Despite the several inches of snow we just got earlier this week, pasque flowers continue to bloom, and have been out for almost a month!  These fuzzy little spring flowers are tough and can handle the wild weather that we’ve been having lately.  They can tolerate snow, high winds, and frosty nights due to their ability to insulate themselves so well.

Did you know that while pasque flowers look very similar to the crocuses you find blooming around your neighborhood this time of year, they are actually an anemone which is in the buttercup family?

Willows are bursting with color

If you’ve been near a wetland recently, you may have noticed that all of the fuzzy little buds on willow branches have opened up and are bursting with color.  Willows are some of the earliest woody plants to begin leafing out and flowering.  They are often scattered amongst red-osier dogwood which competes for the showiest plant color this time of year.

Sandhill cranes are back

The bugling of cranes overhead is probably the most significant sign of spring for me.  To think that many of them have been enjoying sunny Florida all winter, yet still make the long journey back home to Wisconsin, makes me smile.  They usually start making their way back around March and in April and May they’ll start nesting.  These prehistoric-looking birds mate for life (sometimes up to 20+ years) which is why you will often see them walking in pairs.

Right now we’re in burn season

Lastly, it’s prescribed fire season!  While it can look harmful to nature, it does quite the opposite.  Many species of plants and animals evolved alongside fire and certain ecosystems need it to survive.  As critters begin emerging from the ground and migrating from the south, we want to ensure they have healthy habitat to live in which is why we use fire safely as a management tool.

Just a reminder that if you see a crew burning at a public area near you, please give them plenty of space and keep all pets leashed.  Their top priority is safety, and you can help with that.

I hope you enjoyed this month’s nature update and I’ll see you next time!

Cheers,

It is with a mix of sadness and gratitude that we say goodbye to Liz Pelton this week. We wish her the best of luck in her new job with Southern Wisconsin Bird Alliance (formerly Madison Audubon). We thank her for her hard work and passion these past several years.

This means we are looking to hire a Development Coordinator. The Development Coordinator works to create, renew, and strengthen relationships with financial supporters of Groundswell Conservancy. This position plays a crucial role in effective stewardship of our supporters. This person will be supervised by Groundswell’s Director of Major and Planned Gifts.

As with all staff at Groundswell, this employee will help build lasting relationships with people and partners that enable us to create a world where everyone can enjoy nature and equitable access to land.

This position is part-time (24 hours/week) salaried with paid benefits including health and dental insurance, annual and sick leave, and retirement.

Check out the full job description to learn more. The application deadline is Friday, April 12, 2024.

To Apply:

Please email a resume and cover letter via email in one PDF format to Heidi Habeger, Director of Major and Planned Gifts at heidi@groundswellconservancy.org. In the subject line include Development Coordinator Application. The cover letter should summarize your interest and qualifications for this position.

Groundswell’s Westport Prairie is a 227-acre wildlife area east of Waunakee that is open to the public.  In the middle of it, Wisconsin DNR owns the 14-acre glacial drumlin as a State Natural Area.  The drumlin is home to over 100 plant species and is a prime example of a healthy shortgrass prairie.  This prairie is only a small part of what used to be the Empire Prairie, that covered up to 150,000 acres in Dane and Columbia Counties.

When Groundswell first purchased the land surrounding the State Natural Area, most of the land was farmed.  Scattered around were a few small remnant prairies just a couple of acres in size. These prairies are steep, rocky, and impossible to farm.  That’s why they remain today.

Volunteers help collect prairie seed in 2023 from a prairie we planted in 2019

Groundswell has a goal of turning all of the farmland (over 200 acres) into native prairie, and we’re doing well!  Every year, we take more than 5 acres of farmland out of use and plant it to native flowers and grasses. We use seed collected on-site and from other remnant prairies in the area.  This type of prairie planting is called “local genotype restoration” because we use seeds from the local area.

From May to November of each year, we collect prairie seeds with the help of volunteers, interns, conservation crews, and a part-time seed collector that we hire in the fall.  We also get seeds donated from the Wisconsin DNR as well as from Southern Wisconsin Bird Alliance.

In winter, when it’s snowy, we sow all the seeds collected during the year and start planning for the next year’s planting.

A map showing Groundswell’s plantings over the years

Our most recent planting from this winter (listed as ‘2023’ on the map) was a historic planting.  It was the largest yet at Westport Prairie, covering 6.5 acres.  Also, it connects two remnant prairies that used to be one but were separated over time due to farming (the pink remnant prairie to the south with the DNR-owned area in blue to the north).

With each prairie that we plant our seed source grows.  This means the size of our plantings will also grow.  Next year, we plan to plant 7.5 acres, and 9.5 acres the year after that. Piece by piece, our goal is to bring back a lost landscape by creating habitat that will live on the landscape forever.

What a rollercoaster of weather we’ve been having lately!  Some days I walk outside and feel like I’ve been teleported to early summer and the very next day I’ve travelled back to February.  Just the other day we had close to a 60F drop in temperature overnight!  I’d hate to be a weather-predicting groundhog right about now because even with years of experience, these predictions seem to be getting more and more difficult.

As we scramble to adjust our outdoor attire just about every other day, let’s take a minute to see what nature has been up to!

Mallards bobbing for apples

With all of the warm weather we’ve been having, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that our lakes are already opening up and the ice is quickly melting away.  In areas where we would normally see crowds of people ice fishing, we now see ducks and geese floating on the water.

Out of curiosity, I checked out UW’s Climatology Office website to see how long Lake Mendota was frozen over this year compared to last year.  Apparently, Lake Mendota only had 44 days of ice cover this year compared to the 98 days of ice cover last winter!

Owl pellet

Recently, I went out on a hike with my family to soak up the sun and explore nature.  The trail led us under a large willow tree overlooking a marsh and near the trunk of the tree we discovered an owl pellet!  We don’t find them often, but when we do it’s very exciting because my 6-year-old loves taking them apart to look for bones (I do too).  If you look closely at the pellet pictured above, you can see the yellowish-orange front teeth that belong to a rodent skull!

Owls usually start nesting in late January to early February which is considerably earlier than most birds.  About a month later, their eggs will begin to hatch which should be about this time!

What could this be?

While out with my monthly outdoor volunteers, we discovered another little brown blob (pictured above).  This was very clearly not an owl pellet.  It felt sort of like hardened foam and it was attached to a stick.  At first, I thought it could be a type of fungus but then discovered that it was actually a praying mantis egg case!

Praying mantises create this protective casing for their eggs in the summer.  It insulates the eggs all winter and, in the spring, the nymphs emerge by the dozens.  *Note that if you find an egg casing that looks similar to this one, it likely belongs to the invasive Chinese mantis.  The native mantis creates more elongated egg cases.

Snoozing muskrats

Lastly, I’ll leave you with these adorable muskrats that were taking a nap in the sun.  With most of the ice melted you’ll probably notice more muskrats swimming around lake edges and basking in the sun.  Fun fact: I learned just a couple of weeks ago that muskrats can hold their breath for up to 15-20 minutes, allowing them to swim great distances under the ice!

I hope you enjoyed this month’s nature update and I’ll see you next time!

Cheers,

We’re thrilled to share the good news that the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program awarded the Town of Westport a grant of $812,100 to support the purchase of a prized property on the northside of Lake Mendota.

Groundswell protected this special place, once slated for development, in December 2022. Since then, we continued to work with the Town of Westport and Gathering Waters to secure additional funding for this large purchase through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. Our request for funding was approved last week.

A mix of grassland, wetlands, and oak woods, the land is an important part of the Lake Mendota watershed. It is home to a wide variety of wildlife. It also provides essential outdoor recreation space for the community.

Protecting special places is always a team effort. We are grateful to Steve and Marianne Schlecht and the citizens of the Town of Westport for their support.  A special thanks to Senator Dianne Hesselbein and Representative Alex Joers for championing this grant. Thank you to Governor Tony Evers for making the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program a priority.

And thank you to our Groundswell supporters for caring about conservation where you live.