Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Necedah NWR Boghaunter Trail--A Meadow and the Meadow Hawk

Meadows and wetlands make a wonderful combination. There is something to see and enjoy everywhere you look. We were actually getting good views of Bald eagles, five of them (as if that's not special enough!), when I spotted this Northern Harrier gliding low over the marshy meadow. While she appears to be over water in the sketch, she was actually at the edge of a grassy meadow, focusing on prey. In the next instant, she stopped in mid-flight and hovered, one of the many aerial feats that make these hawks so much fun to watch.
I give Northern Harriers credit for pulling me deeper into bird watching and prompting the purchase of my first pair of binoculars more than ten years ago. Several Northern Harriers wintered over in the fields where I lived, giving me daily views of their incredible aerial hunts. In this instance, at Necedah NWR, there were two Northern Harriers in view while we watched.
Below, along the trail, you see the same yellow aster shown in my previous post, this one in a different stage of maturity.
Lacy asters and other flowers dotted the meadow...
mixed in with a variety of milkweed plants displaying their pods.
I will venture a guess that above is the Common Milkweed, and below, the orange Butterfly Weed. Though this is risky at best, since Necedah is home to other milkweed varieties, including the Wooly Milkweed. Read more about the rare meadow flowers found on this trail in Geoffrey Tarbox's Sept 23rd post in Operation Migration's field journal. (Scroll down and watch for the date and this title, "Watching the Canfield Site/Return of the Plant Man".) Next post: Necedah's Oak savannahs and Red-headed Woodpeckers (possibly interrupted by some surprising and fun yard birds back in Tennessee).

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #57 at to celebrate the conservation of our world's birds

Friday, September 25, 2009

Necedah NWR--Boghaunter Trail and Meadow

Meadows are magical this time of year, even more so for their bounty, a time when blossoms have yielded their fruit and the stage is set for a delightful display of color and texture. Laced with late blooming flowers, pregnant pods spilling their seeds and a parade of foliage gradually easing into the reds and golds of autumn, fall meadows are filled with endless opportunity for discovery. And as I walked through this one in Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin, I was reminded again of how little I know and how much there is to enjoy in a simple meadow walk.
And despite having perused a Wisconsin Wildflower guide and several other field guides, I can tell you no names, only give you a titillating look at what's out there to enjoy.
The area habitat includes oak savannas, wetlands and shrubby meadows full of goldenrod, asters, lupine and milkweed. At a different time of year, the endangered Karner blue butterfly can be found here along with blooming lupine. The trail is named for Boghaunter dragonflies. But the one dragonfly that I glimpsed, and I mean glimpsed, revealed a copper abdomen and little else. You can get a sense of this as you try to sort out the dragonfly shape in the image above. He/she disappeared into the copper foliage after landing and in the next instant was gone. The brilliant late stand of yellow asters above, which may be a variety of goldenrod, attracted an enormous community of nectaring bees, wasps and moths (and other insect varieties), all of which were unknown to me, but intriguing, nonetheless. Below you will find close-ups of two moth varieties and a lovely orange-banded bumble bee.
Next--Part 2 of Boghaunter Trail

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Whooping Crane Migration Training at Necedah NWR

I've just returned from what always feels like a whirlwind trip to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. While there, I had the pleasure of seeing our juvenile Whooping crane Class of 2009 training for migration behind their ultralight parents--Operation Migration's (OM) pilots and planes--and participating in Necedah's Cranefest, as well as, reuniting with Operation Migration crew members, volunteers and fellow Directors.

Saturday morning (Sept 19th) was chilly and cloudy, but overall the weather was wonderful for both training and the Necedah Whooping crane festival that followed. Above you see Richard Van Heuvelen testing the wind and visibility prior to the morning training. And below, (left to right) Heather Ray of Operation Migration and several of OM's volunteers, Dale Richter, Director; Bob Rudd, Director; and Nan Rudd, a volunteer in many capacities, including the layout and design of OM's InFormation magazine. And the moment we were all waiting for?--ultralight migration training and a wonderful look at the fledged juveniles who will soon be making their way south, learning the migration route they will use in future migrations.Low light and thick overcast in the early morning didn't make for award winning images but the excitement of seeing juvenile Whooping cranes , who will soon add their numbers--21 in the class of 09--to the eastern population of migrating Whooping cranes, always brings both spine tingles and smiles of awe.
Against all odds, Whooping cranes have been returned to the eastern flyway and this year will mark the ninth ultralight-led migration, with an estimated departure date of October 10th. Having numbered only 15 in 1941, Whooping cranes have taught us many lessons about the fragile nature of species ecology and survival. That we continue to enjoy Whooping cranes in our world today offers a powerful symbol of hope and tenacity.

Let's hope that we, their human guardians, continue to examine these lessons--both the historical ones and those currently unfolding--and in doing so, become wiser in our efforts to protect and preserve the richness of our natural world.

Next: Necedah NWR's meadow! (then back to my visit to Ijam's meadow in TN!)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Of Monarchs and Milkweed

In this second post about my visit to the meadow at Ijams Nature Center, I'm celebrating the Monarch I encountered at the end of my journey. Her timing was delightful. I watched for a while, as she sipped nectar, landed on milkweed leaves, sipped more nectar, then settled again on a milkweed leaf, before I finally experienced the "wow" of realizing she was busy laying eggs. What a privileged moment!
Later that night, I opened the book I've been reading, No Way Home: The Decline of the World's Great Animal Migrations, by David S. Wilcove, and as if by magic, I found myself reading about the discovery of Monarch multi-generational migration. What an amazing story of natural wonder, both the perseverance of devoted naturalists and the story of the Monarchs themselves.
As you may know, Monarch caterpillars only eat the poisonous milkweed plant in eastern North America but neither the butterfly nor its other life stages can survive winters in this region. So they migrate, some wintering along the coast of California, but most, millions of them in fact, funnel into an area of old-growth forests in the mountains of Mexico. Amazingly, it isn't warm there either. But because they store fat in their bodies and winter in a semi-stuporous state protected by the forest canopy, they survive, stirring now and then when the temperature is warm enough to drink water and rehydrate. Milkweed with seed pods

When the time is right, they begin their journey north again, timed with the emergence of milkweed, mating and laying eggs as they go. Caterpillars are hatched, metamorphosis begins and new generations of butterflies emerge. And somewhere in this cycle as the summer comes to an end, a generation reverses directions once again, turning south toward their wintering grounds, continuing their reproductive cycle as they journey. And this is only a tiny glimpse into the fascinating mysteries of these butterflies' lives.
Like all things on this earth and in nature, habitat is changing due to both natural and man-made influences. Species of North American milkweed are declining due to agricultural practices and Mexico's mountain forests, though protected, are being fragmented by logging which in turn is making Monarch's more vulnerable to the harshness of winter.
As I read this story in David Wilcove's style, I felt even more gratitude for the moment I shared with this Monarch and for places in Tennessee like Ijams Nature Center and Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge, where native plants grow full cycle and wildlife are supported in unfragmented habitat.
The more we learn about and understand the nature around us, the better stewards we become. Take a walk and investigate. And while you're out there enjoying the meadow, whisper "thank you" to the milkweed!

Next: The Bounty and the Goldfinch

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Meadow Fairyland!

I had almost forgotten how much I love meadows.

Ironweed, asters, sunflowers and daisies. Chirping Goldfinch and cone flower heads partially picked away. Brilliantly colored insects, even the spider web that caught me by surprise--all together they equal meadow delight.

This was the nature of my recent visit to Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville, TN. Don't miss this late summer bounty. Visit a meadow near you. I'll tell you more about my visit soon.

Thank you, Seabrooke Leckie at the Marvelous in Nature, for ID'ing this colorful moth as an Ailanthus Webworm Moth, one of the many perks to belonging to the Nature Blog Network!
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For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham