Monday, May 28, 2012

Back to Baxter's

"Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread."

~ Edward Abbey

Otter Creek

The Madison Audubon field trip to Baxter's Hollow comes at the end of May and is one of my favorite birding traditions. I joined over a dozen other birders and nature enthusiasts for a breathtaking nature walk along Otter Creek early Sunday morning. As I've recently written on this blog, Baxter's Hollow in the Baraboo Hills is home to pristine streams, fascinating plant and insect communities, and rare neotropical migratory birds found more commonly in northern Wisconsin; it's an amazingly beautiful and tranquil place to visit. At around 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, the Baraboo range is the largest remaining intact block of southern upland forests in Wisconsin and is important habitat for all kinds of fascinating wildlife. It is among many places in our state that deserves our continued protection and stewardship so it can be preserved for future generations to enjoy and cherish.

False Solomon's Seal

This spring I can tell that my eyesight is beginning to change. I can't quite focus my vision as quickly as I once could. Fortunately, though, my hearing remains superb. Chief among all things that make an effective field trip leader is the ability to identify all vocalizations uttered by birds. Teaching others what to listen for during a field trip is a very positive and rewarding experience, especially when witnessing the expression on someone's face turn to undiluted joy when they excitedly announce “I can hear it!” or “I've often wondered what bird makes that sound!

Veery in full song.

Apart from the babbling creek, the most ubiquitous sound of the morning was the ethereal song of the Veery. Their mesmerizing voice is a woodland aria among the avian choir at Baxter's Hollow and was present throughout our hike. There would be many other singers, though, and a highlight near the end of our outing was a Cerulean Warbler. Our group was also delighted by song and sight of a cooperative Olive-sided Flycatcher. For the day we observed eight kinds of flycatchers.

Red-spotted Purple (White Admiral).

We did not encounter any Winter Wrens, Canada Warblers, or Hooded Warblers which historically nest along the creek. It makes me wonder. Has something changed about the habitat? Is the understory too lush and dense this spring for them? We can speculate, but there are no definitive answers on this particular day, only a notable absence and unease gnawing ever so slightly at a growing concern.

Yellow Lady's Slippers

We can't return to our childhood innocence, but I still I recall a time when a walk through the woods was devoid of such concern. In a way, owning it can feel like a fallen state because there is something to lament. But as adults we can use this knowledge to enact change for the betterment of our environment and ourselves. Spending a few hours exploring a place like Baxter's Hollow is as close as I can come to experiencing that childlike awe toward Nature. To share it with kindred spirits erases our adult sensibilities with regard to age, status, education, and eases the corroding cynicism that often comes with modern life. For a few hours in the woods we are all equal as teachers and students; our mutual connection with Nature is rendered heartfelt and true.

All images © 2012 Mike McDowell