Sunday, August 22, 2010

Birding Mountain Bike Highway

Remembering how it makes me smile...

It’s been an unusually hot and humid summer - especially for Milwaukee Wisconsin. Don’t get me wrong…I like the warmth much better than the cold.  However, human nature is to complain regardless of the weather. I guess the reason I notice it (and mention it) is my current self-imposed living arrangement. You see, I left my wife of nearly 26 years; the love having all but evaporated like one of those cone-shaped room air fresheners that you have to open up to expose the soft inner core, and moved into an upper half of a house with zero AC. Since the place I’m renting didn’t come with it, and I would have to pay for it…I’m suddenly uber-frugal with my meager stipend. I can also unequivocally attest to you dear reader that heat does indeed rise…I have the sweat-stained tee shirts to prove it. I guess that’s one reason I totally enjoy getting out in the deep woods…the coolness of natural shade.

Even at 8:30 AM on this particular Sunday; the Cicadas were buzzing with gusto as I parked the White Pickup Truck under the westbound bridge of Milwaukee’s Capitol Drive. Why not park the vehicle in the shade I thought, as I gathered up my binoculars, tripod and camera. I knew I’d be away from it for a time and didn’t need to come back to an easy bake oven interior. My goal for today was two-fold; investigate the crumbling and forlorn cemetery plots directly adjacent to the Capitol Drive highway 45 North freeway on ramp, and to walk the trails that lead away into the woods near the ruins. The only convenient access was to park where I did and walk a short distance, so walk I did. Note: The focus of THIS particular blog installment will be the Trails, if you want the “cemetery” segment (because it is more birdy in nature)…look HERE within my NEW "Roads Less Traveled" blog.

The path started just west of the bridge over the Menomonee River Parkway and Capitol Drive.  The signs at the trail head hinted that I would have to share parts of the trail with the BRAINDEAD.  That's if they followed the little blue man on the bicycle insignias -nailed to the marker posts.  I was following the little blue man with the hiking stick markers, and I hoped not to "bump" into anything on two wheels wearing gaudily colored spandex.  The mosquitoes were thick and I cursed my decision to leave my camo fanny-pack in the truck.  It had my Off wipes in it darn-it!  Oh well...slap and move, slap and keep moving.

This particular trail wound its way mostly northward along the west edge of the Menomonee River.  The ground was primarily wet and/or damp due to the recent 500-year flooding of July 15th and 22nd.  The fact that most of this (lower) area had been far under water was quite evident due to the flotsam and jetsam higher up in the tree branches.  Colorful dragonflies, Blackwinged damselflies and Monarch butterflies flew about and the prevailing sound was that of moving water.  The sunlight at that time of the morning didn't seem to reach all that far into the heavily leafed-out forest, to add much heat; that was a good thing. Dappled patches of light filtered through to the ground creating shadows on the moist earth.  I was listening closely and moving as soundlessly as possible when I heard the familiar sound of the Red-eyed Vireo high in the tree tops.  Chickadees and Red-bellied Woodpeckers called back and forth to their kin and I heard the welcome song of the Eastern Wood Pewee in the distance.

A clearing in the tall grasses along the still hidden but heard from highway 45, yielded a pair of Song Sparrows flitting about from tree to tree, visibly upset by something unknown to me.  A female American Redstart zipped here and there; its tail fanning and twisting this way and that as it chased insects.  I noticed that I must have gotten into some sort of low nettles, as my ankles and shins began and to burn and itch.  I was wearing shorts and it is a professional hazard of the hobby I guess.  Gray Catbirds and American Robins were the next species I heard as I approached the western most part of my morning walk.  The urban "artists" known as taggers had decorated the newer bridge abutments on Hampton Ave. near the intersection of the Oak Leaf Trail

That looked like a likely place to disengage myself from the tangle of the dense woods and emerge onto some nicely manicured asphalt path.  To be honest, I hadn't realized just how far I had traversed until I came out and recognized the road. 

I walked back to the WPT on the macadam with slightly soaked shoes and socks, but feeling like I had gotten back on that horse and ridden once felt good to "get lost" for a time, chasing avian folly.

I think I'll go again...soon.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Nature is Where You Find it (Where YOU Are)

Beauty is all around you...Naturally.

Sorry dear readers of the B-Stud blog (all 8 of you), that I have not written in over two weeks.  Big changes in my life have kept me preoccupied...but more on that some other day.  This installment is dedicated to getting away for the weekend and what (extras) just may be awaiting you, if you care to notice.  If you have read my blog before, you know that I spend a good amount of paragraphs on the subject of keeping your eyes open for nature in the unexpected pleasures that surround each of us every day.  My latest example comes from a trip I took to the Minneapolis area to assist my college-age son move (again).  

I LOVE Priceline.  You'd love it too if you tried it.  I mean, where else can a thrifty guy like myself "bid" 40 bucks on a 3-1/2 star luxury hotel and score amazing accommodations that I'd never be able to afford?  The answer is; no place.  That's the reason I ended up a bit "out of town" while in the Twin Cities area.  All I had to do was drive a bit and voila; instant opulence.  This place was a two room "suite" with two beds, two TVs, and a (fill and drain) whirlpool tub big enough for a party.  

On that note, I must tell you I love irony when I encounter it.  Imagine that on your bed there's this trendy little PC sign card that has the header of "SAVE OUR PLANET" and goes on to explain that washing towels in hotels all across the world amounts to millions of gallons of wasted water and if you could possibly see your way clear to NOT having the staff launder your soiled sheets until later, that the world would thank you, blah, blah, blah.  Great...feel smugly do-gooder-esque and just fill up and drain that giant whirlpool tub once so you can soak your aching joints...that will save a few gallons of water eh?   Ahem...anyway, (he continued) I also had a little coffee maker and a mini-fridge to boot.  I felt like a king and enjoyed every minute of the time away from the heat of my sweltering upper apartment...ahhh sweet AC!  Anyway, give Priceline a try the next time you need a room and you are not too picky about the may even get as lucky as I did.

So I parked the WPT (White Pick-up Truck) in the outer lot and zoomed the eight stories up to my personal haven with my overnight gear.  The view of the far off Cities was spectacular and even better was the view of the wetlands on the other side of the freeway (94) off-ramp. 

 That little area piqued my interest right away, but would have to wait until morning; Nelson and I had had a big day and he still needed a ride in to work his shift at Annie's Parlour.  That's another place you ought to put in your bucket for someday...their Feature called the "Riverside" is an eating man's meal of hamburger meat-patty and roasted vegetables (onions, mushrooms and green peppers) on wheat bread (open face) with a little pitcher of heavenly mushroom gravy and Annie's signature fries on the side.  Don't forget the jaunty, luscious half peach that festoons the loaded platter either - it's all To DIE for!  But I digress...ahem...back to the wilderness area on the side of the freeway.

I awoke at 7:30 AM the next day and dressed for the warmth of the outdoors.  I gathered my usual accoutrement of paraphernalia (binos, camera, hat, etc.) and journeyed past the (do not walk) signs screwed to the side of the stop lights on the corner of Boone and Executive to the great unknown at the base of the La Quinta sign. 

I walked gingerly in the tall and extremely dewy grasses, moving slowly and purposefully towards the edge of the do not cross this chain-link fence, barrier near the water's edge.  I noticed immediately all the varied and colorful wild flowers, and wild weeds that dotted the landscape as I crept.  The amazing array of insect life too caught my attention; dragonflies of many sizes, colors and configurations alongside beautiful butterflies and moths, crickets and grasshoppers.  It was then that I spotted my first warbler of the later summer; a Palm Warbler in the low shrubbery at the water's edge, pumping its tail in that unmistakable way.  Attempting to get a "better look" at it, I ventured into a waist high patch of grass.  That's when the dual "soakers" happened.  Oh well, I sighed and decided that since I was already good and wet, what the heck...and kept going.  I was rewarded for my efforts and soggy feet with a special view of a Canada Goose nest and several pairs of Wood Ducks in the waters near the freeway.  These stalwart waders seemed quite oblivious to the noise of the traffic, or the close proximity to any potential danger; and unless you went where I just slogged, you'd never ever see them.

Being careful not to disturb their solace, I navigated out and around the edge of the roadway where I stirred up a foraging woodchuck who must have been munching on the plants near the shoulder.  I mutter, "that was cool" and looked in vain into the tall grass for more signs of it.  

The sun was getting higher and the birds in the trees were becoming more active.  I stood with binoculars raised and counted 14 species from where I stood.  There were Cedar Waxwings and Goldfinches, House Finches and Starlings, Mourning Doves and House Sparrows, just to name a few...each one bringing a smile to my (on vacation) face.  I felt alive and rested, ready for whatever the day would bring.  

Which when you keep your eyes open; can be quite a lot. (fin)


Sunday, August 1, 2010

What Happened to my Marigolds?!

Just a simple question...why are bunnies so damn cute?

Let's plant some flowers to brighten up the front of the know, some instant "curb-appeal" and something nice to make a person smile.
  • Two flats of Home Depot marigolds planted firmly in the soil in front of the house...check. 
  • Sufficient watering for new plants...check. 
  • Sunny conditions to spur on new growth...check. 
  • A crap-load of newly hatched 2010 (cute as a button) bunny rabbits who apparently think that marigold leaves, and flowers (and not the stems) are delicious...check?
Yes flora-fans, the rabbits got to my flowers.  What can I say except to ask a simple (yet somehow complex) question: Why is it that "cute" little bunnies are decimating the plants?  You know...why not some "other" creature; detestably horrid and vile? 

When poignant issues like this arise, I think of my son Max and his incessant verbalizations in large public spaces regarding the highly implausible scenario of an imminent Zombie attack.  He'll scan the surroundings of (let's say) a shopping mall, or large open warehouse area in a Lowes or Home Depot, and remark matter of factly, "If the attack should begin here and now, that hardware area there - would be the first place I'd head in order to hold them off."  Hmmm...well, I of course (as the responsible parent) will always remind him that, "Zombies aren't real and that he should stop thinking about contingency plans related to a possible Zombie VS. the rest of the human race stand-off". 

But now, pondering the bunny infestation, my loss of marigolds, and the obvious conundrum surrounding their impossible God-given cute-ness - linked to the inevitable question of, "how could I possible take retribution against such a lovably-soft, large-eyed mammal?" I summarize that I'd rather fight Zombies instead...assuming of course that Zombies would (or could) eat marigolds.  THEN, at least I could pull the trigger and eliminate a few horrid, hellspawn marigold-mauraders with a clear conscience.

But bunnies?...c'mon...that's not fair.