Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

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.

So Much for Mud Season

March 19, 2010

It’s been in the fifties and sixties all week long.  SundayI bought a new bike that is relentlessly badass and taught my daughter how to plant peas and spinach – two things I’m sure she’ll hate.  She does enjoy eating mud though.  Good for the gut flora, right?

The warm weather melted what little snow was left and warmed the soil enough for the crocuses to bloom and to allow for the chorus frogs in the wetland across the street to emerge.  Although I guess most of the frogs aren’t convinced because it doesn’t sound like much of a chorus just yet.  Snow will come this weekend and then we’ll get another warm-up after that at which point the rest of the chorus frogs should be out, calling in unison every evening.  At its seasonal crescendo, I can actually hear it from inside the house with the doors and windows shut. 

The only downside of the beautiful warm weather has been the goddamn box alder bugs.  As if I needed a reason to caulk the shit out of my house besides keeping it warm in the winter time, I really need to do it to keep these bastards out.  In the fall, they congregate on the south side of our house and move into the house as it gets cold.  Then they hibernate until it gets warm and then some make their way into our living space.   I can’t find the single entry point but Mark, the building performance guy found a lot of places I found so I need to get out the calk gun this weekend.  And next fall kill them before they get in the house.

Song Sparrows

March 3, 2010

I have had an addition to the soundtrack of my morning walks along the railroad tracks for the last 2 days.  A song sparrow has arrived so I guess the spring migration has officially started.  Thank God.

Mushrooms and Catbirds: Everything a Man Could Want for Valentine’s Day

February 15, 2010

I nailed it. Fancy chocolates for wife and mom. Went and saw Fantastic Mr. Fox at the cheapie last night. Classy brunch with wife today. Flowers. Cards. Simple but spot on. Everybody was very happy.

So happy that they hardly noticed when I slipped out with Bandit the Border Beagle and a bow saw to go cut a log from a pile of slash leftover from the recent clearing of the railroad ROW. I needed a 40” long 4” wide log for the oyster mushroom plugs I ordered from a business up in Northern Wisconsin (www.fieldforest.net). I’ll drill some little holes into the log and jam these little wooden dowel plugs into the holes. The plugs have been inoculated with mushroom spores so if all goes well I’ll have huge oyster mushrooms hanging off this piece of box elder by fall. Who knew box elder was good for anything!?

Not surprisingly, I went a little overboard (especially considering my wife hates mushrooms) and ordered two other products – one to grow morels which has an incredibly low chance of working and one to grow wine cap Stropharia, whatever that is. I’ll try and grow morels along the north side of my house. It’s shady, covered in woodchips, and is planted with a nice variety of plants native to the upper Midwest. If I had a dead elm, I think I’d be set. Maybe I can trick the morels and partially bury a bucked up elm branch. I don’t know if I can trick morels. I can definitely trick my Border Beagle. If I can’t trick the morels does it mean that the world’s greatest dog isn’t as smart as a mushroom? (No, leave him out of this). Or does it mean his owner is a complete jackass for even considering the notion of “tricking morels”? (Yes). (Jackass).

As for the Stropharia, I’ve never heard of them, never seen them, and will probably get confused and end up poisoning myself when something other than a Stropharia pops up in the garden. Apparently as I deepen my plunge into my 30’s I’m becoming a very different and dorkier type of thrill-seeker than I was 10 years ago. Goodbye epic mountains and vast tundra, hello odd mushrooms and heirloom vegetables. Sigh. At least the beer is better.

This weekend also happens to be the Great Backyard Bird Count so I was making mental notes of all the little brown birds Bandit the Border Beagle was flushing out of the shrubs just outside of the railroad ROW as we approached the slash pile. A handful of crows, house sparrows, juncos, cardinals, a red-tail hawk and what I thought was a catbird. I didn’t see the catbird which is fairly typical. I thought I heard a catbird. I didn’t even think twice about it. I just thought, ”oh, there’s a catbird in the Kenny’s bushes behind me.”

However, as I was entering the data into Cornell’s GBBC website, it called me out, reminding me that a catbird here in February is not likely. I checked the records and in 10 years, no one around here has seen one in February. I cancelled my entry and now I have until March 1st (when data entry closes) to try and confirm if I have the state’s earliest catbird hanging around my neighborhood. I wonder if my neighbor Kenny is going to get freaked out by me hanging around his bushes.

HSR in Our Town

January 29, 2010

There’s some train tracks in our neighborhood. They’re not used very much. Just to haul coal or slag a few times a day. Every year around this time they seem to be doing some routine maintenance but this year they seemed to be doing a little more than usual.  Instead of just replacing a few scattered ties, they have been replacing sections.  And then the other day I saw that they were clearing brushy box elder trees that had grown up in the margin of the right-of-way, just inside the fence that separates the ROW from the neighborhood park.

Future Midwestern High Speed Rail Corridor

Well, this morning as I took my first sip of coffee, they announced on the radio that we were getting a high speed rail line.  Not just in my state, but 200ft from my front door.  Am I happy? Oh yeah.  I’ll probably reconsider walking the dog along the tracks when it is built but that’s a sacrifice I can make.

Ice Dams, Ho!

January 29, 2010

Because my eyes had been fixed on the ice block falling towards my head, I didn’t see my wife pull into the driveway to witness me knocking the block loose with a shovel and then jumping aside.  I did look up to see her sitting in her car with an astonished look on her face.  One that communicated something between “What an idiot!” and “What a jackass!” 

We have a one and a half story house that turns out to have some insulation problems in the roof. Specifically, in the area that spans between the kneewalls in the little upstairs bedrooms and above the soffits, where the roof comes down to meet the gutter.  This poor insulation created a warm roof that slowly melted the +2 feet of snow that fell on the roof in December. However, when it melted, it did not drain down the gutter; rather it pooled up and created a block of ice over a foot thick that sat on the gutter for the length of the house.  An ice dam completely tore off a gutter of one neighbor’s house. And another neighbor faced the worst case scenario where the gradually melting water gradually backed up under the shingles and gradually seeped down the insides of the walls of his house which abruptly cost him and his wife $7000.

Yesterday, I had a home energy efficiency expert, Mike, perform an audit on our house and it was a fascinating experience.  Mike started by asking me about the house, how long we planned to live here and what our goals for the house are.  Then he hooked up the blower door fan which blew air out of the house and pulled air into the house via cracks and holes.  It turns out the house is actually pretty well- sealed but there is definitely room for improvement in some odd places I never would have found like along the beam that bisects the kitchen ceiling.  See, half the kitchen was an addition and the beam covers the juncture where addition meets the old part of the house.  I guess they ran out of caulk.

While the blower door test finds the cracks, the infrared sensor allowed us to see the cold spots in the walls where the insulation was insufficient.  I was excited to learn that we don’t need to spend a couple grand on getting insulation blown in between all the studs in the house.  I was also disappointed to learn that the walls weren’t stuffed with long-forgotten cash from a former owner.

Mike did some other cool stuff and I should be getting a report in a few weeks that will prioritize some improvements based on performance and return-on-investment and provide some references of qualified contractors.  I think anybody with an older house could really benefit from getting one of these performed and it sounds like there’s going to be some federal incentives for folks to get these done. Go for it.  And then you won’t have to knock ice dams off your roof.

X-Mas trees, Voles, Owls, and Spruces

January 16, 2010

This was the first year that we decided to put up a Christmas tree so the four of us (wife, baby, dog and I) walked over to the neighborhood nursery and picked out a small Frasier fir. Small enough for me to carry home and small enough to not overwhelm our family room.  When it came time to dispose of the tree I decided to cut the limbs off and throw onto the pile of branches etc. behind the garage thinking this could provide some cover for some small mammal, some safe access to the sub-nivean space.  To the city’s credit, they have two collection periods and drive around chipping on-site which seems to make a lot of sense to me. Then all the chipped material goes back to the giant mulch piles which the city opens to the public throughout the growing season.

This morning while out with the dog I saw the neighbor’s had their tree out for collection and it reminded me of my pile of branches. I went back there hoping I might be able to make out some tracks but due to the recent warm-up, the tracks had faded. The good news is that there were a lot of tracks and a lot of different types of tracks. I’m looking forward to getting back there after a fresh snowfall so I can try to key them out as I’ve never been very good with small mammals.

The last few winters a barred owl has taken up residence in our neighborhood and has regularly used the nearest to my property of five evergreens that run along the back of my neighbor Lenny’s property.  Owl pellets, random feathers, and copious amounts of owl shit underneath and streaking down the tree made for pretty good evidence the barred owl was using the tree as a feeding station.  The base of this tree is about ten feet from the branch pile so who knows, maybe if the owl decides to return this winter I might have a hand in presenting it a meal.

As I was looking at the evergreens this morning, I realized that I wasn’t exactly sure which species they were.  It’s been many years since I did a lot of field work and many more since I did field work in conifer forests.  I got out the tree book and started looking. Spruces rang true but which one I wasn’t sure. I went back out, clipped a twig and a cone and found a simple key online. White spruce it is. Until I hear otherwise.

I had noticed that the spruces didn’t look terrific with yellowing of the needles. In fact, there used to be a sixth spruce on the next neighbor’s property but that one died and fell on her garage roof where parts still lay today.  White spruce has been a species impacted by “forest decline” across the U.S. and Europe. Where I live is at the southern end of their native range but accounts of spruce decline have been recorded in the National Forests a few hundred miles north.  I doubt there is much I can do to impact the health of these spruces but I should probably try and get a head start on planting some trees that are native well to the south of us as well. Perhaps some white pines. For my daughter’s owls.

Mid-January 2010

January 16, 2010

It’s mid-January and the cold snap has finally broken. This past Tuesday and Wedenesday (the 13th and 14th) were the first days we’ve gotten above 32۫ F since Christmas.  Ten years ago when I worked at Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge my boss told me that there was always a mid-January thaw. I don’t know how often that is the case but it has felt pretty nice the last couple of days.

Last weekend I went X-country skiing at a couple of local parks hoping to see some birds but there was very little out there on both days. Crows, chickadees, red-tailed hawks, blackbirds and a few juncoes. I checked the Christmas Bird Count data that was submitted for my area and there was quite a bit identified but that ran from December 14th to January 5th.  I also wasn’t near any open water. 

The seed catalogs have started rolling in.  I’ve been spending a bit of time going reviewing the Prairie Moon Nursery catalog, trying to figure out what to plant on the north side of my garage. When we first moved htat spot was home to a 10′ tall stand of japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum).  I had a co-worker create a custom herbicide mix and I spot sprayed small rings of herbicide the size of quarters on the leaves of the plant. I waited patiently for 2 weeks and then the whole stand dropped to the ground.  I cut the material and put it in its own pile to decompose. Every year the knotweed attempts to come back, and I am continually pulling it and occasionally spraying it. I thought it was gone until I found it had taken refuge behind the neighbors shed.  Lenny, my neighbor, also dumped 200ft of torn up sod into an old dog run on his property just to the north of where I am hoping to plant something.  That sod was quickly covered by creeping charlie which will be eager to colonize my property which is now just covered in bark chips.

The sensible thing for me to do would be to ask around to see if anyone will let me split off some of their hostas and ostrich ferns. Both of these would do well in this shady area and would further shade out any other weeds like the horsetail that tried to invade last year.  Ideally though, I’d like to get a nice mix of native woodland plants like I have on the north side of the house. Unfortunately, that took three years to really get established and it costs quite a bit more than digging up someone’s back yard. Probably the best route will be to order some basics like wild ginger and wild geranium, get those in the ground early and then keep my eye out for any freebies that I can transplant. I’ll keep you posted.