Birding Lake Farm County Park

May 20, 2012

Yesterday, Brian and Brian and I headed back out for another early Saturday morning birding adventure.  We met down at Lake Farm County Park just south of Madison, on the western shore of Lake Waubesa at 5:30 AM.  It was warmer than last week, clear skies and a light wind out of the east.  Even the oaks were fully leafed-out which was made visual ID a little harder in a few instances and ther were mosquitos at the onset.  I’ve never seen more orioles in my, perhaps my life combined.  And I think there was a different yellow warbler every hundred feet.  Birding with someone who knows the birds by ear is fantastic.

In no particular order….

  • yellow warbler
  • common yellowthroat
  • american redstart
  • tennessee warbler
  • nashville warbler
  • baltimore oriole
  • orchard oriole (1st year male)
  • scarlet tanager
  • red-bellied woodpecker
  • downer woodpecker
  • northern flicker
  • blue gray gnatcatcher
  • red-winged blackbird
  • brown thrasher
  • great blue heron
  • little green heron
  • mallard
  • wood duck
  • canada goose
  • sandhill crane
  • field sparrow
  • song sparrow
  • chipping sparrow
  • robin
  • cardinal
  • goldfinch
  • purple finch
  • olive-sided flycatcher
  • kingbird
  • unknown flycatcher
  • phoebe
  • shiny cowbird
  • grackle
  • rose-breasted grosbeak
  • house wren
  • warbling vireo
  • easterrn bluebird
  • red-tailed hawk
  • ruby-throated hummingbird
  • crow
  • blue jay
  • sedge wren

There was also a restored prairie there that looks like it will be dominated by flowering Baptisia in a few weeks.  That will be worth another visit soon.  Going out yesterday and hearing how incredibly alive the earth felt was a terrrific rush and sharpens my focus on the importance of the restoration of bird habitat. 

I’d love to see the backlot of Olbrich get restored into a high-quality stopover site for migratory birds.  That site, and nearby parcels upstream of Starkweather Creek represents the best option for enhancing stopover habitat on the north side of lake Monona. This is something I’ve been thinking about for several years and is something I will begin working towards now.


International Migratory Bird Day

May 13, 2012

Yesterday, Saturday May 12, was International Migratory Bird Day.  I celebrated by going birding with two friends at Mud Lake Wildlife Area in Columbia County, Wisconsin.  It was an outstanding site because the short access road rapidly transitions from wetland to forest to field.  We were there from approximately 6-8 AM.  The weather was clear, little to no wind, with temps in the low 60s.  It was perfect peak migration birding.

Without any further ado…

  • Brown Thrasher
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Red Wing Blackbird
  • Shiny Cowbird
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Little Green Heron
  • Mallard
  • Wood Duck
  • Canada Goose
  • Field Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • Wood Thrush
  • Robin
  • Cardinal
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
  • Crow
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Red-Tailed Hawk
  • American Redstart
  • Black-Throated Green Warbler
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Tree Swallow
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Red-Bellied Woodpecker
  • House Wren

There might have been a few more, but that’s about the siae and shape of it.  We had such a good time, I think we’re heading back out next Saturday too!


April 23, 2012

I am a complete scrounge when it comes to food and nowhere is this more evident than at work, where I have built a number of relationships that result in me getting food.  And not just any food.  I want the special stuff.  The stuff that people hunt, grow, fish or find.  And fortunately for me, people that hunt, grow, fish and find food are typically excited to share it with others because it means so much to them, and the food is tangible, no, – better, edible proof that they actually do what they purport to love.  And I am more than happy to hear the stories of the provenance of the foods being passed to me.  To hear of the bee stings acquired en route to the honey collection, the forest floor full of morels the spring after a fall burn, the politics of the pecking order of the hens laying pastel eggs.  I love the people, I love that they share their treasure with me, and like so many others these days, I love having a story behind the food on the plate.

So after a week in which I scrounged morels, venison, and backyard eggs from a number of coworkers, I knew it was time to do some food-finding of my own.  In the greenspace across the street, along the creek, I had noticed clumps of stinging nettles, Urtica dioica.  In the past I had cooked nettles, boiling them, “plunging” them into an ice-bath (per Bittman), and then using to make a pesto of sorts, sans the pine nuts.  It has been a while since I had done so and I never had collected the nettles myself so after lunch, Annabel and I went across the street on a “nature hunt” and she watched me carefully snip the tops of the plants, dropping into a paper bag below.  She was fascinated by the whole thing and then had a blast playing (“exploring” we called it) with the soft greens in the ice-bath.

Tonight, this will be served on seared trout, with green beans sauteed with ramps and a rice pilaf.  Paired with New Glarus Moon Man No Coast Pale Ale.  Though I bought the trout this morning at the co-op, it is easy to imagine pulling a trout from Black Earth Creek then collecting nettles from the banks and ramps from an adjacent forest.  As they say, if it grows together, it goes together.  If this turns out as well as I hope, I’ll have to collect another bag of nettles and prepare the sauce to share with those who have shared with me.


April 7, 2012

Spring is getting to the point where so much is happening that it is almost impossible to keep track unless I make notes every day. Which I don’t. But, in the last two weeks, the swallows and herons and flickers have arrived so I guess we can call that the second or maybe third wave depending on how you count. The lilacs, cranberries, redbuds, and cherries are all at, nearing, or just past peak bloom. The Canada anemone is now a complete mat, the lawn grass is 5+ inches in areas, bleeding hearts have peaked, shooting stars are ready to launch, ferns are unfurling and, thankfully, the weather has cooled off with the last week returning to temps in the 50s during the daytime.

Unfortunately for some of the fruitcrop growers in the region, the early freakish spring warm allowed fruit trees and vines to flower and now, not surprisingly, we are facing frosts in low-lying areas in the earliest hours of the morning.

This could, of course, negatively impact harvests if the frost destroys a significant percent of the fruitcrop flowers. In the greater scheme of things, one dismal harvest will probably not affect much but if by 2030 this happens three out of five years, will any of the growers be able to stay in business? Are they already trying to grow varieties in which the actual flower is frost-hardy? Has anyone even developed cultivars in which the actual flower is frost-hardy?

Of course, by 2030, this might pale in comparison with other challenges we will all face but everything is connected. And despite the fact that the Upper Midwest faces less apparent risks from climate change than other parts of the country such as the Southeast, Southwest and Mountain West, it is hard to imagine what the secondary and tertiary impacts of these strange springs might be. And this is where current projections might fall apart. The frozen fruit flowers are an excellent case study. Currently, we all mostly perceive this as a case of cause and effect, or if-then, if we consider the origins of fruit at all. Plants flower and then we get fruit.

But what if this regularly gets decoupled? I guess it will or is, rather, forcing us to remember that the pathway from flower to fruit is not a simple linear system but rather a complex system that is impacted by many factors such as temperature, rainfall, humidity, disease, and pollinator availability. What other ecological processes do we rely on that could face regular failure in an age of climate change? What will we do when a bad year doesn’t mean a yield 8% below average but 80% below average?

Will we change our behavior so that we transfer our reliance to more resilient systems? For example, we could all eat more leafy, hardy, perennial greens rather than fruit. More sorrel, less cherries? Similarly, if our coldwater fisheries fail will we happily train our palates from trout to carp? Both of these examples seem unlikely but at least they are semi-replacable processes.

And if we have semi-replacable processes then logic would suggest that there are non-replaceable processes. And this is where it could get really scary. What if the trees don’t leaf out in springtime in a particular region? I have no idea how this might happen (shitload of tornados during a wet spring with a new, invasive exotic leaf fungus) but I am pretty certain that the more we destabilise the climate, the more we will see non-replaceable ecological processes fall apart and the more profound the impact on society.

Spring III

March 24, 2012

We’ve had another really warm week with records highs being set all over the Upper Midwest and Northeast.  I rode to work and back Wednesday and Thursday and Thursday afternoon got caught in a rainstorm but pedaled out of it somewhere between Cottage Grove and Madison as the cell was track straight North.

The plants are going nuts, loving this weather.  Even the plants along the North side of our house are emerging.  There, the shooting star has leafed but not bolted, the wild ginger’s leaves are pointing upwards but not yet unfurled, the columbines are now tight clusters of whorled leaves, and the twin leaf looks ready to flower.  In the front, the Canada anemone has formed a 60% mat and in the back the ostrich ferns are just starting to emerge.

This morning we all walked over to Olbrich gardens and saw flowering cherry trees and the crab apples look like they will be flowering within 2 weeks.  Annabel had a blast running around exploring and Zoey took a nap in the stroller.  Perfection!

I saw a Northern Flicker on the walk this morning and saw two turtles on a log in a pond at Olbrich.  Can you bask if it’s cloudy?

A Few Book Reviews for Tax Season 2012

March 18, 2012

One clear benefit of tax seaon for me is that is forces me to take a wholistic view of my family’s finances.  What are we making, what are spending and where is it going?  This then leads to questions like “what now?” which leads me to the library for some answers or at least some ideas or insight.  So here are three quick reviews, or really, reminders for me down the road.

The Investment Answer: Learn to Manage Your Money & Protect Your Financial Future, Daniel Goldie and Gordon Murray, Hachette Book Group, 2011.  This is a slim book with a load of wisdom.  The authors believe that every investor must address five major questions in order to become successful investors.

  1. Do-it-yourself or hire a pro? Hint: Independent Fee-Only Advisor.
  2. How’s your asset allocation? Or in other words, how’s your appetite for risk?  With a great side discussion of volatility demonstrating that two portfolios with an average return of 10% over 10 years can result in very different returns if one portfolio has modest volatility and the other portfolio has high volatility.  Read it to find out more.
  3. How are you diversified?  Because different asset classes can have exposure to the same sectors or market risks.
  4. Active or Passive investing?  Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can time or predict anything and fees can crush your returns over the long haul.
  5. Rebalance much? Gut check.  Buy low – sell high really means periodically selling some of your best performing investments and purchasing under-performing investments.    

The Triumph of Value Investing: Smart Money Tactics for the Postrecession Era, Janet Lowe, Pengion Books, 2010.  A terrific introduction to the concept of Value Investing and much more accessible than Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor.  A snap description of Value Investing is that good investors buy shares in good companies at good prices.  This is not about guessing, projecting, or modeling outcomes.  This is about protecting your principle and doing your homework.  Or as Warren Buffet is quoted:

“I have no use whatsoever for projections or forecasts.  They create an illusion of apparent precision.  The more meticulous they are, the more concerned you should be.  We never look at projections but we care very much about and look very deeply at track records.  If a company has a lousy track record but a very bright future, we will miss the opportunity.” 

The book ends with a checklist of how to build a portfolio.  Target thirty-ish equities with good P/E ratios, a price at or below book value, a price below previous highs, and suitable dividend yields. 

Zombie Economics: How to Slay your Bills, Decapitate Debt, & Fight the apocolypse of Financial Doom, Lisa Desjardins and Rick Emerson, Penguin Books, 2011.  This book has good advice and is not afraid to pull any punches (i.e. don’t be overweight so you won’t get diabetes which can devastate a family’s finances or tell your folks to beat it if they are dragging you under financially).  In a nutshell, create a worksheet of all income and expenses, pay bills immediately (autopay if possible), pay down debt ruthlessly (in descending order of credit card balance if you have multiple cards), under no cirumstances do you quit a job unless you have accepted a better job, put 10% of every paycheck into a savings account before ANYTHING else,  never carry a credit card, spend at least 40 hours/week looking for a job if you don’t have one, eat-sleep-exercise right, and ultimately bend the curve so there is more money in you accounts at the end of a month than at the beginning of the month.  And make sure the feds aren’t taking too much out of your paycheck as they aren’t paying you that back with interest. 

So what did I get out of all this and what will I do differently?  First, I am in the process of scrutinizing every regular input and output of our family balance sheet.  Update the W-4, refinance the house, switch internet providers, begin monthly direct deposit for the girls college funds.   Second, purchasing individual stocks is not for me when I could just slam away as much as possible every month into my 401k and other savings.  Any time I could have spent researching stocks can be used to get better at my job which might result in more $ entering the system and then going into professionally-managed investments.

Spring II

March 14, 2012

It has been ridiculously warm this past week, with temps in the 70s.  I responded by biking to work on thursday and wearing shorts at the office.  Nature responded more dramatically.  The frogs across the street were calling wednesday evening and every evening since.  Mendota and Monona are free of ice.  Crocuses appeared sunday morning and lost most of their petals by this morning.  The chives were growing so fast I could see it through the kitchen window while washing dishes.  Song sparrows have appeared across the street and killdeer are all over the landscaping at work.  This morning the neighbors forsythia bloomed.  We seeded one of the beds with spinach and lettuce seeds last weekend and if this weather keeps up they could be sprouting right now….ok, two so far.  But that’s really fast.

Thursday’s riding thought….”Greatness occurs in garages at night.”  A reference to the Palo Alto garage that served as a workshop for Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard.  Also known as the birthplace of silicon valley. 

The HP Garage in Palo Alto

We’re not all going to found industry-altering companies, but we can all turn off the tv, go work on our own projects, on our own quiet benches.  Building something, creating something, solving something, writing something, painting something.  Reversing one trend, of Americans as consumers to Americans as creators.  And another trend of work as pointlessly collaborative dissonance to work as resolute, intense, silent engagement.


Spring 2012

March 10, 2012

“Winter” is over and spring has arrived. This was the 4th warmest US winter on record. I didn’t go skiing a single time this year which was a disappointment after the recent heavy snowfalls of the past few years.

In the last week Cranes, robins, red-winged blackbirds and eastern meadowlarks have returned. Lake Monona and Lake Mendota are still frozen but the little pond outside my window at work thawed this week and mallards began taking advantage of the open water immediately.

I rode the lemond to work on thursday and it felt great. Cool and clear, first of the year. I definitely need to get the brakes tuned, though. Way too much travel.

Letter to Governor Walker

January 27, 2011

With the new year, our state also received a new governor.  Although he campaigned on the goal of creating 250,000 jobs, he began his term by cancelling a passenger rail project between our two largest cities that was projected to create thousands of jobs.  And despite his vows to create a business-friendly environment, he has proposed new siting guidelines for wind farms that will put an end to the future development of any wind farms in this state. 

The governor and I clearly will not find common ground regarding the importance of building wind farms and passenger rail and I doubt I will be able to impact hisviews on these matters.  Therefore I figured I’d write him a letter urging him to support an industry that he has not yet tried to hinder – solar.

Dear Governor Walker,

I am urging you to support Wisconsin’s burgeoning solar industry.  According to the National Solar Jobs Census of 2010, Wisconsin ranked fifth out of all states in terms of jobs relating to solar power.  The solar industry is expected to grow nationally by 26% in 2011. 

You can ensure that much of this job growth occurs in Wisconsin by promoting or expanding policies such as Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing and renewable energy tariffs or by providing tax-incentives to companies like SunCity and Sungevity to expand their operations into our state.  These companies, based in California, provide solar lease services where they pay the upfront cost of the solar panels and installation and then the home-owner makes a monthly payment to the company.  These companies are both actively expanding into the Mid-Atlantic and New England states but can be lured to Wisconsin by providing the right package of incentives which I am certain your team can offer.  Additionally, Wisconsin has the highest per capita certified solar installers out of all states which indicates that we have a work force ready to serve this industry.

I thank you for your time and look forward to your response.


January 17, 2011

On Friday we received a letter from the City informing us that we had been approved for a low-interest loan for to complete energy-efficiency/building performance projects.  Last year we had a home energy audit which detailed issues and prioritized solutions in terms of feasibility and payback.  Of course, it can cost quite a bit to address these issues so we sat on the report. Then in November we were invited by the City to participate in a pilot program where the City provides low interest loans to homeowners so they can complete these projects.  Ideally, you pay back the loan each month with money you save on your utility bill.  I can guarantee we won’t have our gas bill reduced $89/month (our monthly loan payment) but I still think its a great idea as we are not just saving money every month but will hopefully be making our home significantly more comfortable.

We received two bids for work.  The first contractor came at it with the approach of a remodeling project than a retrofitting  or weatherization project.  I don’t doubt that gutting the house and reconstructing it would be the ideal strategy if money were no object but Tanya and I decided it wasn’t in our best interest to spend $40,000 to $80,000 on our basement.  Especially since some houses on our block aren’t worth 80K. The second contractor gave us a bid of $7000 to seal an area in the basement, replace/upgrade 3 basement windows, replace/upgrade a hot water heater, replace/upgrade a bath fan, and insulate portions of the attic.  If all goes well, we should be eligible for about $1000 from the state energy efficiency foundation.

The ultimate goal, is to get the upstairs bedrooms and the basement warmer.  And to replace the hot water heater before it totally gives out.  Then we can move on to installing draintiles in the basement and reclaiming one floor of livable space!  But first I need to sign some forms and get some guys over here fixing this stuff!