Posts Tagged ‘grasslands’

Spring is Here!

May 4, 2013
Red Barn in Portage County Wisconsin

Red Barn in Portage County Wisconsin during early spring.

Our snow has finally melted in central Wisconsin. Farmers are plowing their fields, grasses are beginning to become a little green and trees are budding. A few of use have runny eyes and stuffy noses (tree allergies) but all of use have big smiles on our faces because winter seems behind us. I am sure mother nature still has a few cold weather surprises for us but spring is here.

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Buena Vista Grasslands Drainage Canal

March 26, 2013
Drainage Canal on trhe Buena Vista Grasslands

Drainage Canal on trhe Buena Vista Grasslands

The Buena Vista Grasslands, south of Plover, Wisconsin, was originally a tamarack swamp with extensive areas of open marsh and alder shrubs. In the late 1800’s the timber was cut and the marsh was burned.   In 1890 the State of Wisconsin formed the Portage County Drainage District. During 1905 The District began operations in townships of Buena Vista, Grant and Pine Grove to drain the Buena Vista Marsh.  Extensive acreage in the district was purchased by the  Bradley Polytechnic Institute of Illinois. An employee of Bradley, W. (Wallie) B. Coddington platted a community to be known as Pine Island in 1911. The name Pine Island (it was one area of high ground in the marsh with some pine trees taller than the tamarack) never really took. A post office was established at the location in 1912 and was called Coddington.  The area was drained by several ditches that crossed the marsh.

This drainage canal in the  middle of the Buena Vista Grasslands near Coddington remains ice free during the entire winter, a testament to the efficiency of the canals to continually drain the area. The early morning sun is kissing the tops of vegetation along the canal while the canal itself is still in deep shadow.

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Join in the Greater Prairie Chicken Dance

March 22, 2013

(continued from the previous post)

Finding our way to the blind, we locate the entry way, crouch and make our way inside. There is a simple low bench in the middle of blind adding some comfort to what is otherwise a cold and cramped space. If you can’t dress warmly, are prone to leg cramps, have back trouble or fear enclosed spaces; think twice about signing up for this experience.

I am sure the prairie chickens are close by and saw us enter their territory. With an hour before dawn, lights out and sitting quietly, we hope they soon forget about us.

predawnAbout a half hour before dawn, it is very quite. I slowly open the window to see the sky alight with color. The windows open inwards so as not to spook the prairie chickens. We have also been instructed to keep our camera lens well inside the  blind.

Before long faint coos can be heard.  First here and there, then nearly all the time. Still no visible action outside. Then seemingly out of no where, they appear.  Time to do my part for science, I pick up my clip board to record the time and document the number of males and females. We will continue to record at regular intervals until the dance is done for the day. Pencils are used because it is often cold enough to render pens useless.

At first this is a male only dance with each male seeming to stake out it’s territory. When a female arrives, the action becomes intense.  Males often square off puffing up their feathers, stomping their feet, jumping into the air and generally showing off their brightly colored cheek feathers.

Is this female not interested or just playing hard to get?

Is this female not interested or just playing hard to get?

All of a sudden, the activity stops and birds vanish. Before long a harrier hawk is overhead looking for easy prey. Once the hawk moves on to other pastures, the prairie chickens return to continue their spring ritual.

As the sun rises, the action dwindles until the stomping grounds are quite. Time to leave the blind, have breakfast and warm up.

This male must have what it takes as two females seem interested. Poor guys are in the distance, all alone.

This male must have what it takes as two females seem interested. Poor guys are in the distance, all alone.

You can reserving a seat in a viewing blind by  calling 715-343-6215. Viewing starts at 4:30 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Buena Vista Marsh, Saturday at Mead Wildlife Area and Saturday and Sunday at Paul J. Olson Wildlife Area.

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Hi ho – it is off to the blind we go

March 22, 2013
Prairie Chicken Kiosk south of Plover (late August)

Prairie Chicken Kiosk south of Plover (late August)

(continued from the previous post)

It is early spring outside but inside I am gathering my warmest clothing.  Big thick boots, heavy winter parka, long johns, hat, gloves, hand and feet warmers; all laid out. It is the night before and all is ready.

The alarm goes off at about O’dark Hundred and I quickly get ready for the big adventure. The morning is cold, very cold and still very dark. I need to hurry because I have a date.

pcmaA date at the prairie chicken kiosk south of Plover at 4:30 AM.  I am not the first but certainly not the last to arrive.  Talking to the others, we find most of us are from central Wisconsin but a few have traveled some distance to view the greater prairie chickens dance.

Our guides give us a brief introduction to the mornings activity and then split us into smaller groups.  My group of three will climb into our respective cars and follow a guide to the vicinity of our viewing station – a small plywood box in the middle of field.  They call it a blind. In the early morning hours, before sunrise, it really was a blind, I couldn’t see it.

Prairie chickens return to the same grounds each year to perform their dance and find a mate. Blinds are placed in these grounds as part of an on going study monitoring the health and well being of the population.

The guide points us in the general direction of the blind and then sends us on our way. Using our flashlights we make our way down a faint path and eventually find our way to the blind.

Prairie Chicken blind in the field.

Prairie Chicken blind in the field.

You can reserving a seat in a viewing blind by  calling 715-343-6215. Viewing starts at 4:30 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Buena Vista Marsh, Saturday at Mead Wildlife Area and Saturday and Sunday at Paul J. Olson Wildlife Area.

(continued on the next post)

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Prairie Chicken Booming – Time to Reserve a Blind

March 20, 2013

This has been a good winter for snow, snow is still very deep in the Buena Vista Grasslands. Though it is a little hard to imagine, spring is coming.  The days are getting progressively longer and the snows will begin to melt. Before long the Buena Vista Marsh will be  alive with the wild voices and stomping feet of the greater prairie chicken (Tympanuchus cupido).

The prairie chicken is known for its annual mating ritual during which the males dance in a circle with their wings over their heads, jump in the air, make a loud booming call and square off against one another in order to attract a hen.  The Wisconsin DNR provides a series of blinds throughout southern Portage County that can been used to study and observe these wonderful creatures.

Fran and Fred Hamerstrom started their internationaly known studies of the greater prairie chicken in 1949. They were credited with playing a major role in keeping the bird from disappearing from Wisconsin. Their advocacy resulted in purchase of grassland in a patchwork distribution providing appropriate habitat sprinkled across a wide geographic area.  The Hamerstroms worked closely with the College of Natural Resources at UW-Stevens Point as adjunct professors. Since the Hamerstrom’s have been influential in the development of UWSP, one could also say Stevens Point is what is today because of prairie chicken preservation.

You can reserving a seat in a viewing blind by  calling 715-343-6215. Viewing starts at 4:30 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Buena Vista Marsh, Saturday at Mead Wildlife Area and Saturday and Sunday at Paul J. Olson Wildlife Area.

In a future post I will describe what it is like to view the greater prairie chicken from a blind.

(continued on the next post)

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Sunrise on the Buena Vista Grasslands

December 18, 2012
Sunrise on the Buena Vista Grasslands

Sunrise on the Buena Vista Grasslands

These grasslands are a product of Wisconsin’s last glaciation.  Some 15,000 years ago a  glacier extended to just a mile or so from the irrigation derrick in the foreground.  The sun is rising over the great terminal moraine deposited by the glacier.  Meltwater from the glacier deposited a fine silt  beyond the glacier leveling the landscape. Overtime the silt was picked up by winds and was redeposited as a series of sand dunes, the undulations you see at intervals in the foreground.

Today the sandy soil provides wonderful grounds for potato production. A high water table allows pivot irrigation that makes the whole process possible.  Without frequent irrigation, the sandy soil becomes too dry to support crops.

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Remembering Summer Past

December 14, 2012
Black-Eyed Susan in the Buena Vista at Sunrise

Black-Eyed Susan in the Buena Vista at Sunrise

Summer is now past us, our smaller ponds are  ice covered and a coat of snow blankets the ground.  Frequent change of season is one of the joys of living in Wisconsin. Consider this image as a tribute to the season that is now behind us.

The image was obtained just before sunrise. Judging from the size of the “Belt of Venus”, sunrise will occur in about 10 minutes behind me. The barely visible dark band at the horizon is the Earth’s shadow cast as the sun is getting ready to make it’s first appearance for the day.

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Cover Image on Neighbor’s Magazine December-January 2012

December 13, 2012
Neighbors Magazine, Cover Dec/Jan 2012

Hoar frost on the Buena Vista, Neighbors Magazine, Cover Dec/Jan 2012

This image was the subject of a post last month.  It was recently selected to grace the cover of  the  Dec/Jan 2012 issue of Neighbor’s Magazine

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Orange you glad it’s morning?

December 3, 2012
Orange you glad it's morning?

Orange you glad it’s morning?

I remember a knock, knock joke from years ago.

Knock, Knock

Who’s there?

Orange.

Orange you glad I don’t know any more knock, knock jokes?

Yes, the joke is really lame but; whenever I take the time to get out of bed at “0’Dark hundred” and then have a chance to witness the spectacle of a beautiful sunrise, I feel really glad. Orange you glad it’s morning.  Yes I am.

The above image was obtained early in the morning as the sun was breaking through the fog in the Buena Vista Grasslands. I was particularly drawn to the strong silhouette of the bull thistle and did not notice the bird until processing the image.

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Milkweed Seed Pods

November 19, 2012

Milkweed seed pod. The seed’s lightweight silk allows wide spread dispersal in the wind.

Milkweed is a common sight in Wisconsin. Around here it is best known as the host plant for the monarch butterfly. Monarch larva consume the leaves ingesting certain chemicals.  These chemicals have been used for centuries by man as a heart medication.  The chemicals become very concentrated in the monarch serving to make it toxic to predators.

In addition to being a host plant to the monarch butterfly, milkweed provides a source of nectar for bees and hummingbirds

During the fall, milkweed seed pods split open allowing the seed’s lightweight silk to be dispersed in the wind.

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