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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.

It’s CSA Week! Supporting local and sustainable businesses in our community goes hand in hand with the work we do at Groundswell. Check out how our partners at Fairshare CSA Coalition can connect you to the local farmer that fits your needs. Support local farmers today!

CSA Week is a nationwide celebration and promotion of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). The 40+ organic, small-scale CSA farmers in FairShare’s Coalition work hard to grow delicious food for their communities across the Midwest. We want to lift up their work and help eaters like you get connected to a CSA share in your community.

FairShare provides information on how folks can pick the share that works best for their needs on their About CSA page. And their online Farm Search Tool is a great resource for people to find a FairShare farm near them.

CSA Week is the busiest time of year for CSA share signups. Don’t wait to sign up as shares sell out quickly! CSA is more than food – it’s about directly impacting your local community, knowing and supporting your local farmer, and building a resilient and sustainable future.

Happy February!  I don’t know about you, but if someone were to ask me what my favorite month is or even my top 5 favorite months, February usually isn’t in the running.  When I think of February, the color gray immediately comes to mind.

I need to kick this habit though because February is a wonderful time of year!  The days are finally getting longer, buds on trees are starting to form, and cardinals are starting to sing in the early morning!  While we watch the snow melt from this unseasonably warm week, let’s get outside and see what else February has to offer.

Rodent tracks in the snow

Lately, I’ve been noticing a lot of rodent tracks in the snow which always brings a smile to my face because of how sneaky they generally are.  While I have seen mice and voles run right by me while out on hikes, it’s not very common.  As sneaky as they are, covering their tracks is impossible so it’s nice to see where they choose to hike when no one else is around.

While looking at the tracks found at Westport Prairie, I heard what sounded like a Red-tailed Hawk screeching overhead and when I looked up, it was actually a Blue Jay!  Did you know that Blue Jay’s often mimic the screech of a Red-tailed Hawk?

Coyote tracks in the snow

Being a mouse means you really need to plan your hikes, because right about where the mouse tracks ended, the coyote tracks (pictured above) started… One easy way to tell if tracks belong to a domestic dog versus a fox or coyote is to look at the path of the tracks.  Dogs rarely walk in a straight line while foxes and coyotes are much more efficient with their consumption of energy.

These tracks were fairly large and spaced pretty far from one another which helps with my coyote identification.  Fox tracks are generally a little smaller and spaced closer together.

Just looks like grass, right?

As I continued my hike, I ventured a little off the trail to identify some prairie plant seed heads (as one does).  As I got closer, I saw a cottontail rabbit burst from the grass and it raced away from me.  It was startling but also confusing because the grass here was very short and this was a fairly large rabbit.  It didn’t seem possible for something that large to be completely obscured less than 5 feet from me.

I carefully walked around the area to see where it came from.  I thought maybe there was a hole in the ground that it was hiding in.  It crossed my mind that maybe it was just in plain sight but not moving so it camouflaged in with its surroundings and I just didn’t see it.

Eastern cottontail nest

As I crouched down to get a better view, I found this perfect little nest (pictured above) tucked away under the grass.  It looked well-insulated and very cozy!  There’s no way in a million years that I would have ever found this nest if I hadn’t accidentally flushed the rabbit.  In that moment, I looked around and wondered about all of nature’s other secrets that are almost literally under our feet, and we just don’t notice.

Well, I hope you enjoyed my virtual tour of nature as it’s happening.  Spring is not all that far away so try to get out and enjoy all that February has to offer!

See you next month!

Groundswell is growing and we have an exciting career opportunity to share! Thanks to the support of our generous foundation partners, we’re hiring a full-time Farm & Land Management Specialist.

The Farm & Land Management Specialist is a new position that works with our Community Director (50% of time) and Land Management Director (50% of time). This position is responsible for helping manage our two community farms, two nature preserves, create infrastructure and partnerships at our community conservation projects, and develop and strengthen relationships with financial supporters and partners of Groundswell Conservancy.

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 salaried with paid benefits including health and dental insurance, annual and sick leave, and retirement.

Check out the full job description to learn more and for directions on how to apply. Applications are due by Friday, February 23, 2024.

We are happy to share the good news that last week Groundswell purchased 20 acres of wetlands in southern Columbia County. We are grateful to the Bredeson family for their interest in conservation.

The property lies within the Anderson Waterfowl Production Area (WPA). Anderson is one of thirteen WPAs in Columbia County. These areas spread across 13,000 acres of land and water in Columbia County. They are managed as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System for ducks, geese, and other waterfowl.  They also provide important habitat for other wildlife.

This property is open for hunting, fishing, and trapping (subject to applicable Federal and State laws). It is also open to hiking, cross country skiing, and observation. Groundswell will donate the property to the Fish and Wildlife Service for long-term ownership and management.

Funding to purchase the property came from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and Groundswell supporters.  Thanks to Ducks Unlimited for its role in securing the federal acquisition funds.