Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pope Farm Conservancy

Pope Farm Conservancy, Town of Middleton

What is this life, if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?
No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

~ William Henry Davies

Large-flowered Beardtongue

These photographs were taken Monday at Pope Farm Conservancy on Old Sauk Road in the Town of Middleton. Isn’t it marvelous such stunning natural beauty exists so close to a large metropolitan area? I count myself lucky for living near it. Pope Farm is a terrific stop for a quiet getaway to read a book, go for a walk, do some photography, or just lose yourself in your thoughts while staring over fields, at trees, wildflowers, and the big blue sky. Fortunately for those of us in southern Wisconsin, Dane County has many quality natural areas, but there aren’t very many places that feel like time travel. Pope Farm takes you back to how southern Wisconsin looked over a hundred years ago. There’s a special kind of silence you can experience there you won’t find anywhere else; a silence punctuated only by gentle sound of wind blowing oak leaves and songs of uncommon grassland birds.

Clay-colored Sparrow

The plight of grassland and savanna birds is well known and documented in ornithological circles and the Town of Middleton is doing a wonderful job giving them a helping hand at Pope Farm. But there’s at least one resident who wants to “parkify” this beautiful parcel of land with exercise equipment, bike trails, and even remove the word “tranquil” from the recently adopted definition of what constitutes a passive historical and natural area. This individual would even open it up for commercial use, just like one for-profit athletic club recently tried to do. As a citizen naturalist, it’s my contention that despoiling the prairie restoration at Pope Farm Conservancy with “city stuff” is morally and ethically bankrupt.

Field Sparrow

But don’t misunderstand me. I’m not anti-park. I love having parks where I can ride my bike, watch sports, maybe even hold a party with friends, and we have many places in the Madison area for these kind of activities. Pope Farm is not that place and I feel strongly it’s important for us to make a distinction between places better suited for human recreation versus passive natural areas where we can admire nature unencumbered by excessive human activity. I think we owe the birds at least this much after what we’ve done to diminish their historical populations. Take the Field Sparrow, which is slowly increasing in numbers at Pope Farm since the prairie was created about a decade ago, but since 1967 their world population has declined 67%. The same unhappy story can be told for Savannah Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Meadowlark, and other native songbird species that fly our way during spring migration and land at Pope Farm Conservancy.We're lucky to have them so close to us, and they're doing well there.

Eastern Kingbird

To be sure, just one small parcel of land converted to prairie and savanna won’t reverse these disturbing declining bird population trends, but it’s a start in the right direction. It’s something special that residents of our community can visit and know that Pope Farm is a model for how it’s done. It’s an accomplishment we can all be proud of. So, why clutter it with man-made contraptions and noise? It makes no sense to me why anyone would want to do this to such an amazingly cool place. Grassland and savanna songbirds will need other communities to make this same promise and commitment that the Town of Middleton has made with the birds of Pope Farm. If we can do that, birds will reciprocate that promise and continue to grace our natural areas with their stunning beauty and cheerful songs.

American Goldfinch

Pope Farm Park, Dane, US-WI
May 28, 2012 7:15 AM - 9:45 AM
35 species

Great Blue Heron 
Mourning Dove 
Red-bellied Woodpecker 
Northern Flicker 
Eastern Kingbird 
Warbling Vireo 
Blue Jay 
American Crow 
Horned Lark 
Tree Swallow 
Barn Swallow 
House Wren 
Eastern Bluebird 
American Robin 
Brown Thrasher 
European Starling 
Cedar Waxwing 
Chipping Sparrow 
Clay-colored Sparrow 
Field Sparrow 
Vesper Sparrow 
Savannah Sparrow 
Song Sparrow 
Northern Cardinal 
Indigo Bunting 
Red-winged Blackbird 
Eastern Meadowlark 
Common Grackle 
Brown-headed Cowbird 
Orchard Oriole 
Baltimore Oriole 
House Finch 
American Goldfinch


All images © 2012 Mike McDowell


  1. Wonderful post! I love the opening verse and photo! - the lush green foliage, shadows and waving grass; the clouds.

  2. Nature-deficient folks often exhibit a strange fear of being "alone" outdoors -- with no trappings of mans' makings or techno-gadgets. Let's hope their agenda of "parkifying" can be thwarted before more natural areas are lost forever.