Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sacred places for Sunday...

Prickly Pear Cactus

It’s been raining almost nonstop since late yesterday, but at least the flash flood warnings have expired. It had been a week since last I embarked on a nature adventure, so early Sunday morning I set out to revisit Spring Green Prairie and also made a short trip south to Governor Dodge State Park. I had to get my nature fix in ahead of the storms.

Sometimes I feel like I suffer from a form of seasonal affected disorder, but my ailment would be post-spring migration blues. Birding, in its most convenient sense, comes to such an abrupt halt by mid June. Through her wonderful photography and prose, my friend Cindy makes a great argument for turning one’s attention in nature beyond birds, such as butterflies, moths, wildflowers among other things. You can still find plenty of birds, but they're much more difficult to photograph being busy with nests and young...I do not want to disturb them.

This is the first year I’ve made an effort to notice wildflowers beyond the casual glance or inspection. It's fun to be able to walk into a place as special as Spring Green Prairie and identify several wildflower species without a field guide. I think it's important to understand how the flora and fauna compliment one another and can be indicative as to the health of a habitat. Spring Green Prairie is alive - spiderwort complimented the lush green prairie grasses, prickly pear cactus (now blooming) provided a wonderful accent and lead plant were particularly colorful in the morning light.

Lead Plant

As kids, my brother and I used to collect butterflies and insects so it’s not terribly difficult for me to quickly categorize something into a fritillary, swallowtail, tiger beetle, dobsonfly, dragonfly or damselfly. Spring Green Prairie is also a great location for insect watching, I even heard my first Cicada of summer there yesterday. But the most numerous insects seemed to be Widow Skimmer dragonflies.

Widow Skimmer

It wasn’t my intention to photograph birds this day, but I couldn’t help snapping a picture of this Grasshopper Sparrow directing its song toward me. It’s amazing how much louder it seemed, even though the tiny bird was several dozen yards away.

Grasshopper Sparrow

Other birds of the prairie included Dickcissels (dozens), Eastern Kingbirds, Eastern Meadowlarks, Lark Sparrows and Field Sparrows. Along the oak barrens I found Indigo Bunting, Eastern Towhee, Brown Thrasher and a couple of Orchard Orioles. Flying along the edge of the bluff a Red-tailed Hawk chased away a Bald Eagle that was more or less passing through. See? Plenty of birds to enjoy!

Henslow's Sparrow Hill

It didn’t take long for me to appreciate that a trip to Governor Nelson might have been a mistake – there were campers of every sort converging in that direction. I sort of envisioned the place crawling with tourists and campers and not one of tranquillity where I could relax with nature’s gifts. However, what I knew of my quarry would take me to one of the park’s most isolated areas – a short-grass prairie on the northeastern boundary where Henslow’s Sparrows are present in good numbers. Nobody else was there...just me, the sparrows and other critters.

Henslow's Sparrow

After a paced hike to the prairie, it didn't take long to hear the first “see-lick” of a Henslow's Sparrow. If you look closely at the above image you can see the sparrow has new tail feathers coming in. I found three singing birds, but the sparrows seemed like they had more important things to be doing and then some orange butterflies caught my photographic I moved on.


I knew these were some kind of fritillary, but since I didn’t have my field guide along they wouldn’t be identified as Aphrodite until I got home. As I was photographing the butterflies, I had this recurring sense that someone or something was watching me. My intuition proved to be correct as four White-tailed Deer scampered along the edge of the forest adjacent to the prairie. One young buck remained and kept his gaze fixed at me for several minutes before following his kin into the woods.

White-tailed Deer

I'm not entirely surprised that my wellness is so bound to nature and I'm generally happiest when spending my free time almost exclusively in this way. There are moments I feel lost without it and I sense this even in the context of a week's hiatus as I've just done. Though being in nature has never let me down, it can sometimes be a source of intense saddness when I discover or hear about how we're abusing the critters of our natural realm.
* * *
I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect,
And a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren,
And the tree-toad is a chef-d’oeuvre for the highest,
And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven,
And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery,
And the cow crunching with depress’d head surpasses any statue,
And a mouse is a miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.

-- Walt Whitman, Song of Myself 1855

All images © 2006 Mike McDowell

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