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It’s almost spring!  According to the calendar, we’ve got less than two weeks until winter officially ends and spring begins.  There are lots of subtle (and not so subtle) clues that spring is just around the corner and I love discovering them one by one.

The temperature is starting to warm up a little, the days are lighter for longer periods of time, the birds seem to be a bit more chatty, and the tulips and daffodils have started to peak out of the ground in my yard!  Note that I’m intentionally ignoring the 4-8″ of snow that’s predicted for today…

Canada Geese in flight

Look no further than just above your head and you’ll likely see or hear birds in migration.  While it’s still a little early for most migrating birds to make their way back to Wisconsin and beyond, I’m beginning to notice more geese, sandhill cranes, and even turkey vultures flying overhead.  On particularly sunny days, robins can be heard barking up a storm while chickadees belt out their classic “deee-deee” call.  It’s a wonderful cacophony of sounds that will only get better as the days get warmer!

American Bladdernut seed pod

If you’re out on a hike and you happen to be near a wooded slope, riverbank, or mesic woodland, you may stumble upon these odd papery seed pods that contain a few seeds that resemble popcorn kernels (they are roughly the same size as well).  The seed pods are usually in a cluster and connected to a short-growing shrub.

The plant is called American bladdernut and it’s a native understory shrub in Wisconsin.  The seed pods manage to hang onto the shrub well into winter and can be found rattling in the wind.

Cooper’s hawk perched in a tree

This time of year is great for watching birds of prey since there is very little foliage for them to hide in.  It seems that lately I’ve seen more hawks being chased by crows than hawks chasing their own prey, and part of that is due to their inability to remain undetected by crows while hunting for sparrows and small rodents.

In fact, one of the easiest ways to spot a bird of prey is to search for a noisy group of crows (a ‘murder’ of crows).  There’s a good chance that the crows aren’t simply making a ruckus for no reason.  Most of the time they’re actively harassing a larger bird until it leaves the area.

I hope you enjoyed my virtual nature tour and happy almost spring!

*Did you miss an article?  Check out my collection of past monthly Nature Now articles on our website HERE.  Just click the dropdown menu ‘Any Type of News’ and change to ‘Nature Now’ to filter the articles.

We’ve raised $16,500 so far to buy our first tractor and mower. Only $11,000 more to go!

Groundswell continues to improve access to Westport Prairie and to restore the prairie landscape for plants and wildlife. To care for our restored prairies and to mow our new trails, we are raising funds for our first tractor (~$25,000) and pull-behind mower (~$2,500), including insurance and maintenance.

We’re planning to buy these items used, so the kind of tractor and mower will depend on what we find available on the market. Here’s an example of a tractor and mower we’re interested in purchasing.

Give today in support of a tractor and mower! You can give online (indicate in the gift notes: for tractor) or mail a check to Groundswell at 303 S. Paterson St, Suite 6, Madison, WI 53703. Indicate in the check memo: for tractor.

Please consider joining the donors below who have already generously given to our tractor campaign:

The tractor and mower will be instrumental in our efforts to restore and care for Westport Prairie.

Of the original 64,000-acre Empire Prairie that historically covered much of Dane and Columbia Counties, there are only 202 acres left that are protected. This huge loss of prairie habitat has led to dwindling populations of native plants, insects, and animals.

Westport Prairie is a 227-acre wildlife area in Waunakee, WI managed by Groundswell. It is open to the public for recreation with 1.5 miles of hiking trails. It is also part of the Empire Prairie State Natural Area that preserves approximately 100 native plant species—some endangered—and many types of grassland birds. Each year, Groundswell converts more and more agricultural land to prairie at this special place for the benefit of people and the biodiversity of Dane County.

We are in year 4 of an ambitious 14-year plan to convert a total of 170 acres of land to native prairie. As we continue to plant more prairies, we need proper equipment to manage the land and ensure that the prairie habitats we’ve planted continue to thrive well into the future. Groundswell would like to purchase a tractor to help us with the long-term land management at Westport Prairie.

If you have questions about the tractor or mower, please contact BJ at

Are you looking for an easy way to support conservation where you live in 2023?

It’s fast and simple to set up automatic monthly gifts to Groundswell. Your gifts will provide reliable, ongoing support to help protect special places for everyone in our community.

“I deeply care about spending quality time and connecting with my kids through time spent in the outdoors. Groundswell helps create, protect, and give access to those places close to home.”
-Alton Multhauf (pictured above with his family), Groundswell Sustainer & Board Member

Monthly giving is:

We hope you join the community of Groundswell Sustainers by signing up online today and selecting the monthly donation type.  You can change your monthly gift amount or cancel at any time by calling 608-258-9797. Thank you for caring about conservation where you live.

More people will be able to safely access the Lower Yahara River thanks to Groundswell’s purchase of 1.64 acres south of the Dunkirk Dam. This special place is adjacent to property owned by the Dunkirk Dam Lake District and to the Town’s Charlie H. Lyon Memorial Park.

Immediately after the acquisition, Groundswell transferred the parcel to the Town of Dunkirk. The Town plans to work with the Lake District to construct amenities on the property.  Current plans include an ADA-accessible path, an accessible canoe & kayak put-in/take-out, and an accessible fishing pier.

There is currently no safe public access for boaters to portage the Dunkirk Dam due to turbulent water immediately below the dam.  This acquisition is further south and will allow the public to use canoes and kayaks on this segment of the Yahara Chain Water Trail.  An existing parking lot at the Charlie H. Lyon Memorial Park would connect with the riverside improvements by the planned footpath.

The property had been in the Hansen family since 1945, when Otto Hansen purchased it.  His son, Rollin, fished from the property and cleared about an acre of the land for a vegetable garden.  The current landowners are third and fourth generations.  Although they were approached by a developer, the family chose to preserve the property.  “We want the public to be able to enjoy this land next to the Yahara River for years to come,” said Otto’s granddaughter Judy Adler. “Public access will enhance the Town’s park lands.”

River usage in this area is expected to increase with the City of Stoughton’s new River Park for kayaks and canoes.  The River Park will be upstream from the Hansen acquisition, and some boaters will no doubt continue downstream to the Dunkirk dam.  “This purchase makes possible safer and accessible access to the Yahara River, while protecting the fragile shoreline,” said Laura Davis, Chair of the Dunkirk Dam Lake District.  “Right now people who want to fish must access the water on brushy, steep, and sometimes muddy trails.  Our plans are to construct a safe, accessible trail that leads to an accessible fishing pier and an accessible boat launch.”

Norm Monsen, Chair of the Town of Dunkirk, termed the acquisition “…a landmark day for our Township.  We look forward to working with Groundswell Conservancy on other land preservation projects through our new Rural Preservation Program.”

This acquisition was possible because of the generosity of the landowners, our partnership with the Town and the Lake District, and funding provided by the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and the Dane County Conservation Fund.

Well, it’s the first week of February and up until this point, it hasn’t really felt like a true Wisconsin winter.  Overall, the days have been relatively warm and the snow has been seriously lacking.  This week there is predicted to be above-freezing temperatures mixed with some rain (fingers crossed it changes to snow).  This is a nice reminder to get outside while winter is still here and enjoy it before it’s gone!

Pileated woodpecker holes

While it may not seem like it at first glance, the forest is alive with activity this time of year!  A week or so ago, I went on a hike in Madison with some friends and family in search of owls.  We headed out just before sunset and in a matter of minutes we both saw and heard Great-horned owls overheard.  We also watched two yearling deer walk right across the trail we were on that were less than 25 yards away.

While that was very exciting, you certainly don’t need to see wildlife to appreciate them.  Sometimes, just knowing that they were there not too long ago is just as rewarding.  One of my favorite activities this time of year is searching for tracks and sign of wildlife.   Just the other day we found these enormous pileated woodpecker holes that were drilled in perfect line (see photo above).

Can you guess who made these tracks?

Finding fresh tracks in the snow is another way of knowing that some sort of creature was here not too long ago.  Although, if you have a child around the age of five, it’s possible the tracks you’re looking at were created by them.  For example, my son loves drawing bird tracks in the snow along the sidewalk on our morning walk to school.  They aren’t entirely convincing, but you still have to watch out.

The tracks above are from a crow that was casually walking down the sidewalk.  When the tracks are this fresh, you can even see the little pads on the bottom of the bird’s feet and the nails cutting through the snow.  It’s not hard to picture what this scene looked like in real time.

Red-tailed hawk talons

Speaking of bird feet, I was out the other day and stumbled upon a dead red-tailed hawk that was likely hit by a car.  I felt bad for the poor bird and decided to move it from the side of the road to the edge of the woods.  The last thing I’d want is for another animal to get hit by a car while trying to get to the hawk.

It was sad to see but also educational.  It’s not every day that you get to see a hawk up close.  It was so neat seeing the little scales on the bottom of the foot that act like sandpaper for extra grip when catching prey.  It was also cool to see just how large and sharp the talons are.  This was the foot of a hunter.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your month and drive safe out there!

See you next month!

*Did you miss an article?  Check out my collection of past monthly Nature Now articles on our website HERE.  Just click the dropdown menu ‘Any Type of News’ and change to ‘Nature Now’ to filter the articles.

Have you noticed that we’ve been using the term HMoob instead of Hmong lately? Throughout written work, the HMoob people and language have been categorized under the generic term “Hmong.” However, the HMoob people and language represent a diverse group of communities and identities. The term “HMoob” was created by community members as a more inclusive word that encompasses two main dialects, Green and White.

To be more inclusive of the different communities within the larger HMoob community, Groundswell will use the term “HMoob” in writing going forward. Even though the spelling is different, the English pronunciation is the same (muhng).

To learn more about how and why this term was created, check out this article from UW-Extension:

Exciting news! Groundswell’s Conservation Director, Tony Abate, is taking on a new role at Groundswell. While his job title will stay the same, his promotion means that he’ll take the lead on our land protection efforts going forward.

“I’m eager to expand our tradition of thoughtful, strategic land protection,” says Tony. “I look forward to creating equitable access to land, protecting farmland, preserving wildlife habitat, and more.”

Over the past seven years, Tony has established strong working relationships with private landowners and Groundswell’s agency and community partners. He’s done an incredible job of leading our Stewardship Committee and developing and implementing our green schoolyard initiatives and community projects at Patrick Marsh and Westport Prairie.

We’re excited about Tony stepping into the role and building on Groundswell’s 40 years of land protection success. His expertise and knowledge of conservation easements and land management will benefit us greatly as our organization grows. We couldn’t think of a better person for the job!

Groundswell Conservancy is kicking off the new year with some exciting news! After 40 years of conservation success, we’re growing, and we need your help.

We’re looking for four people with diverse backgrounds and experiences who are passionate about protecting special places forever to join our board of directors. We’re also seeking community members to serve on our various committees.

Since 1983, Groundswell Conservancy has protected hundreds of special places in South Central Wisconsin. We work to keep rich farm soils available for farming, help elementary schools in Madison create green schoolyards, manage natural areas to care for wildlife, and connect communities to the land.

We also improve access and land tenure for farmers of color and New American farmers. We work to remove barriers to equitable access to land and nature and strive, every day, to represent the communities we serve.

We’re seeking board and committee members who are:

If you’re interested in learning more, check out the full position description.

Apply today by emailing your cover letter and resume to

Applications are due by February 17, 2023.

Happy holidays!  With the days officially getting longer and the New Year waiting for us just around the corner, there is a lot to celebrate and look forward to.  Regardless of what you choose to celebrate this time of year, I think it’s safe to say that nature ranks pretty high up there.  For the last week, I spent the holidays in Buffalo, NY with family and was able to witness just how beautiful (and terrifying) nature can be.

A chickadee gets a free lunch

There’s this special place in Buffalo that my wife Carolyn has gone to since she was a kid to feed local birds by hand.  At any moment, you could be up close and personal with a black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, or a white-breasted nuthatch.  It’s truly magical and every time we take a trip out east, we make it a priority to visit.  This year was the first time my son was able to experience it and we’re already looking forward to our next visit.

It’s these special connections with nature that make me feel especially thankful.  Public green spaces like this exist all over the place, and you don’t need to feed a bird by hand to experience the wonder.

Shoveling a path to get out of the house mid-blizzard

The day after we visited the chickadee park, Buffalo was hit with one of its worst blizzards recorded (I felt a little extra happy that we fattened up a few of those birds before the storm!)  The blizzard was incredible to watch from the safety of a house, but it was terrifying to see just how powerful nature can be.  There were 30-40mph sustained winds with gusts 70mph+ and near zero visibility.  By the end of the storm, Buffalo had about 43″ of snow with drifts topping over 10′.

Tucker deciding if going out back is worth it or not

As I watched my black lab Tucker leap out of the house and over the snow mound that had piled up against the back door, I immediately thought of the wildlife that were enduring the blizzard outside.  From the voles and mice buried several feet under the snow to the great-horned owls hunkered down in a cavity of a tree, it’s amazing to think about how well-adapted our local critters are to the environment.

Seeing what sort of conditions they have to deal with reminded me of how lucky I am to work for an organization that protects local habitat for wildlife.  They have a difficult enough time surviving out there.  Protecting land for them is the least we can do!

What 10 minutes in a blizzard looks like

We were lucky enough to have power throughout the entire blizzard and only suffered sore backs from endless shoveling.  All in all, it was a pretty great trip that helped me realize there’s a lot to be thankful for.

While you’re celebrating the holidays and ringing in the New Year, don’t forget to keep nature in mind.  Get outside, breathe in the fresh air, and think about all of the possibilities that the New Year will bring.  Cheers!

*Did you miss an article?  Check out my collection of past monthly Nature Now articles on our website HERE.  Just click the dropdown menu ‘Any Type of News’ and change to ‘Nature Now’ to filter the articles.

See you next month!

As 2022 comes to a close, we’re reflecting on another year of connecting people to nature. This year, we had the pleasure of connecting people to nature through the written word.

We collaborated with two local poets as part of the Writing the Land project to honor local land through poetry. They wrote poems inspired by two of the special places we protect – Westport Prairie and Patrick Marsh.

Poet Lisa Marie Brimmer wrote poems inspired by Westport Prairie.

Angie Trudell Vasquez, City of Madison Poet Laureate, wrote poems inspired by Patrick Marsh.

Read the poems by clicking the links above. And check out the videos below of Lisa Marie and Angie reading their poems.

Through the Writing the Land project, Lisa Marie and Angie emphasized the importance of individual connection to land and place. We hope these poems inspire you to visit these special places and think about their protection in a new way.

A huge thank you to Lisa Marie and Angie for sharing their time, talent, and commitment to conservation with us. They’ve both been a pleasure to work with and we’re honored to have them bring a fresh perspective to our protected lands.

If you have any questions, comments, or reactions to this project, please feel free to reach out to Liz at