Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Driftless Dark Skies: Walking in the Dark

Hello, Learning Outside Blog Readers! It has been a busy couple of months since we last posted here. Our posts about stargazing are always popular, and we hope you'll enjoy another fantastic post by astronomy educator, John Heasley, on the remarkable opportunity of the fall night skies.

The Night Sky Over the Kickapoo Valley Reserve Visitor Center Photo Credit: John Rummel

On the first day of September, I had a wonderful time hiking the trails of Kickapoo Valley Reserve well beyond midnight. I was on a mission with my Unihedron Sky Quality Meter to measure just how dark it was at nine sites. And I was guiding and assisting an astrophotographer friend who was creating images to be part of the new dark sky exhibit there and for our application to the International Dark-Sky Association to be designated as an International Dark Sky Park.

During twilight, we were wowed to see the planets of our solar system emerging. But as the skies darkened even more, we were awed by the sight of our Milky Way emerging and bending across the heavens. It is something I would love for you to see for yourself by walking in the dark this month.


The Milky Way Over the KVR Photo Credit: John Rummel

You will want to pick a park or country road away from city and town lights. I love wandering and trying new paths but not at night. Pick a familiar trail that you’ve walked by daylight. Paved paths such as Old 131 are an excellent choice. Just park where it crosses CTH P and head south to Little Canada or north to the Ho Chunk Bridge. You can turn off your flashlight and not worry so much about uneven surfaces.  If you need a little light, red or amber is best to give your eyes the best opportunity to adapt to the dark. Feel safe and have more fun by bringing along a companion or two. Maybe one of your geeky friends who can help you identify the birds you’re hearing as well as other sounds of the night world. One of us stayed the night at a campsite and the other drove home. Give a little thought to what is best for you. Campsites A, C, I, J, K, L, and PP are wonderful places to see the stars.  If night hiking is not the best match for you, Landing 14 where CTH P crosses the Kickapoo is easy to find and has dark skies for you to take in the view.

Sunset is around 6:45pm at the start of October and around 6:00pm at the end. It’s a great time to experience twilight. The sky is fully dark about 75 minutes after sunset, so 8:15 on October 1st and 7:30 on Halloween. You can start even earlier in November, especially after November 7 when we let our clocks go back to natural time. New Moon is October 6, and you can see the Milky Way without moonlight interfering Oct 1-10 and Oct 23-31. A moonlight walk is also fun. Full Harvest Moon is September 20 and Full Hunter's Moon is October 19 and 20. You can be soothed by the soft glow of moonlight in the middle of the months.

Don’t forget to celebrate International Observe the Moon Night on October 16 when humans across the globe are encouraged to look up together and honor our connection with the Moon through stories and images and art. That night, brilliant Venus will be near ruddy Antares in the western sky while the waning gibbous moon, Jupiter, and Saturn will form a line across the southern sky. But whenever or wherever, I hope you are as refreshed as I was walking in the dark.


John Heasley is an astronomy educator and stargazer who enjoys connecting people with the cosmos. He volunteers with NASA/JPL as a Solar System Ambassador, with the IAU as a Dark Skies Ambassador, and with International Dark-Sky Association as an Advocate. For more information about stargazing in southwest WI, like Driftless Stargazing LLC on Facebook and find out whenever there's something awesome happening in the skies.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Conserving the Night


"In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."

Baba Dioum (born 1937), Senegalese forestry engineer

Bridge 14, Kickapoo Valley Reserve, Photo by Chad Berger 

The Kickapoo Valley Reserve, Wildcat Mountain State Park, and Mississippi Valley Conservancy are excited to announce they are working together to designate the 13,300 acres of KVR, Wildcat, and Tunnelville Cliffs as Wisconsin’s second International Dark Sky Park. The International Dark-Sky Association awards this distinction to "land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritiage, and/or public enjoyment.

Campsite K at Night, Kickapoo Valley Reserve, Photo Courtesy of the Friends of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve

2014 Supermoon, Photo Courtesy of the Friends of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve

The application process requires a sky quality survey, lighting inventory and management plan, community partners, and education and outreach. They are assisted in this initiative by John Heasley, Marla Lind, and Scott Lind who hope to complete the process by 2022.  Benefits of creating the Kickapoo Dark Sky Park include a healthier community and ecosystem, the financial benefits of tourism, the pride of being a world-leading community, and financial savings owing to reduced energy usage. But most important is preserving our heritage of starry skies for the enjoyment and awe of future generations.

Discovering the dark skies of the KVR for yourself is simple. Turn off your lights, give your eyes time to adapt to the dark, and look up. Print out a free copy of the monthly Sky Map to find your way around.  A red light will help to preserve your night vision and binoculars will help you to see more colors and details. And don’t miss some of the special events of 2021. 

Full Moons around June 24, July 23, August 22, September 20, October 20, November 19, December 18.  Follow the lead of Wisconsin naturalist Frances Hamerstrom and “Walk When the Moon is Full” and discover the sights and sounds of KVR after dark.

Perseids around August 12.  Lie back on a chair or blanket and watch this wonderful annual meteor shower.

Crescent Moon and Venus.  Look west after sunset on June 12, July 11, August 11, September 9, October 9, November 7, December 6 to see a wonderful pairing of a slender Moon near brilliant Venus. 

Lunar Eclipse.  Watch on November 19 between midnight and 6 am as the Full Moon becomes red as it passes through the shadow of the Earth.

Old 131 is especially good for twilight and night hiking. The path is paved and it’s easy to find your way. There are trailheads at the Dam Tower and at CTH P. The Dam Tower, Visitor Center, and the large grassy field at Landing 14 are excellent spots to lie back and enjoy the stars and Moon and meteors. If you are staying the night, the views are stellar at Campsites AA, A, C, I, J, K, L, and PP.

Star Trails Over Bridge 18, Photo Courtesy Friends of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve

Kickapoo River Bridge Sunset, Photo Courtesy Friends of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve

Kickapoo by Midnight, Photo Courtesy of Friends of Kickapoo Valley Reserve

Unlike other environmental problems such as groundwater contamination or global warming, light pollution can be reduced “at the speed of light”  with solutions that are relatively easy and inexpensive. Good lighting reduces energy consumption, respects the ecosystem and wildlife, safeguards human health, promotes safety, and preserves the heritage of starry skies. The Illuminating Engineering Society and International Dark-Skies Association have come up with Five Principles for Responsible Outdoor Lighting to enhance our quality of life:

Useful–All light should have a clear purpose. Before installing or replacing a light, determine if light is needed. Consider how the use of light will impact the area, including wildlife and the environment.

Targeted--Light should be directed only to where needed. Use shielding and careful aiming to target the direction of the light beam so that it points downward and does not spill beyond where it is needed.

Low Light Levels--Light should be no brighter than necessary.

Controlled--Light should be used only when it is useful. Use controls such as timers or motion detectors to ensure that light is available when it is needed, dimmed when possible, and turned off when not needed.

Color--Use warmer color lights where possible. Choose bulbs that are marked 2700 Kelvin or lower to limit the amount of shorter wavelength (blue-violet) light.

January Moon 2011, Photo Courtesy of Friends of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve

Full Moon Green Hollow, Photo Courtesy of Friends of Kickapoo Valley Reserve

Campsite K at Night, Photo Courtesy of Friends of Kickapoo Valley Reserve

Explore darksky.org for more resources to make it simple to preserve the night. And visit lightpollutionmap.info to view your community from space. Choose enough light to find your way at night, but not so much as to be visible from low Earth orbit!

Campsite K, Photo Courtesy of Friends of Kickapoo Valley Reserve

John Heasley is an astronomy educator and stargazer who enjoys connecting people with the cosmos. He volunteers with NASA/JPL as a Solar System Ambassador , with the International Dark-Sky Association as an Advocate, and the International Astronomical Union as a Dark Sky Ambassador. For more information about stargazing in southwest WI, like Driftless Stargazing LLC on Facebook and find out whenever there's something awesome happening in the skies.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Creating Wild Spaces Close to Home

It's mowing season again, and a question for those of us who care about wild things might be hovering in our minds: How can we encourage more native plants in our landscapes?

Our readers most likely already see the value of biodiversity, wild places, and honoring native species, but there are so many other issues associated with the American love of standard green lawns. Did you know that over $35 billion is spent annually on lawn care and maintenance in the U.S.? Herbicides and pesticides are still all too common in caring for patches of grass that are not native to the landscape. These chemicals have an impact on the soil and the organisms that depend upon it. It is estimated that 40 million acres of the lower 48 states are lawns!

In our last blog post, we featured important women in Wisconsin conservation. One person that bridges our last post with this one is Lori Otto. In addition to helping combat the use of DDT, a pesticide that is a carcinogen with detrimental impacts to fish, birds, and other wildlife, Otto discovered that allowing her yard to grow more naturally created an excellent habitat for birds and other pollinators. She was active in bringing the "rewilding" movement to American yard owners. Otto's group of natural lawn enthusiasts eventually became the national nonprofit organization, Wild Ones. In January of 2021, Wild Ones released free garden plans for a variety of regions in the United States. 

If you are ready to plan to return your lawn or part of your yard to more native plants, another great resource is the National Wildlife Foundation's Native Plant Finder. You can enter your zip code and find plants ranked by points in terms of how many other species they support. For example, oak trees are listed as potentially supporting 389 species. The tool narrows it down to 15 of the most common caterpillars in our area that rely on oak trees in their life cycle. The Plant Finder Tool would be a great resource to use with children to consider which butterflies you might attract to your yard. Take your list to a nursery that stocks native plants and talk with a plant expert about what might work best in your yard. 

Doug Tallamy, an entomologist with the University of Delaware and author of Nature's Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Backyard, has created the Homegrown National Park Project with a goal of encouraging 20 million acres of native plantings across the U.S. This website has a ton of resources for just getting started in diversifying your backyard, including an article on five easy steps for beginners.  

Here's a talk Doug gave with the National Wildlife Foundation on the principles behind diversifying our landscapes.

It takes learning, commitment, and labor to rewild a patch of yard, but the impact could be great. Less mowing and supporting biodiversity in your own space at the same time are two potential benefits. And if you notice a yard that looks a little more wild than the stereotypical American lawn consider all ways it might be supporting important species.

Urban planners and city dwellers are beginning to reconsider how common greenspaces can be redesigned to include more native species and less manicured lawns. These efforts are helping to sequester carbon, reduce the amounts of pesticides and chemicals in high traffic areas, and connect people with wild things. What's happening in your neighborhood? 

Monday, April 19, 2021

Women in Conservation

Women's History Month wrapped up almost a month ago, but we wanted to use this space to share a bit more about Wisconsin women who made important contributions to conservation. This post was sparked by a reminder about the work of Wisconsin's Frances Hamerstrom by our guest blog post writer, Barbara Duerksen. Frances was the first woman to earn a master's degree in wildlife management under Aldo Leopold at the University of Wisconsin. Hamerstrom was instrumental in efforts to save the prairie chicken after farming practices in the Midwest impacted natural habitats.

Photo Credit: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever heard a prairie chicken? The unforgettable sound and display must have captivated Frances and inspired her desire to work to bring them back. Here are some great videos to learn more about the remarkable prairie chicken and their habitat in our state.

What in the world is this?? 

A spore tetrad (green) and trilete spores (blue, ~30-35μm diameter) from a late Silurian sporangium (Burgsvik beds, Sweden). Spore genus is Scylaspora. Earliest evidence of life on land!
Photo Credit: Smith609 via Wikimedia Commons 

Estella Leopold, daughter of the well known Aldo Leopold, became an expert in palynolgy, the study of fossilized pollen. Through her work with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) out west, she helped conserve the fossil beds near Denver, Colorado, which led to this special site being designated as a national monument. Dr. Leopold went on to lead the effort to also designate Mount Saint Helens as a National Monument. She authored over 100 research papers during her long career, and together with her siblings, helped establish the Aldo Leopold Foundation. 

Emma Toft is known as "Wisconsin's First Woman of Conservation" for her work to establish Toft's Point in Door County as a large tract of land that has been relatively untouched for thousands of years. Toft's Point is now managed by the University of Wisconsin System. In a region that draws thousands of tourists each year, the protection of this unique place is an important feat. Here's a great PBS feature on Emma's important work.

Did you know that plastics recycling was advanced greatly by Milly Zantow of Sauk County? She is responsible for those little triangles on plastic items that help identify recyclables the world over. Milly noticed the problem of local landfills being overrun with plastics and she worked tirelessly to advocate for a system to sort and recycle. She also helped write the first mandatory state recycling law that was passed in 1990. Here's a great booklet for young people to learn of Milly's innovation.

More currently, August Ball has been influential in connecting people of color with work in environmental sciences and conservation. She created Cream City Consulting, a firm in Milwaukee to that helps connect people in underrepresented groups with opportunities for leadership in conservation and also works to support youth in a green jobs corps. August also serves on Governor Evers' Task Force on Climate Change. 

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WiDNR) recently appointed Heather Berklund as the first woman to lead the Forestry Division in its 116 years. Heather grew up with a love of Wisconsin forests and worked her way up through being a forester to leading departments and finally earning the appointment to her historic position. She is committed to sound practices in forest management across the state through connecting with diverse groups of people who rely upon them. 

Locally, we salute the outgoing Executive Director of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve this month. Marcy West has been responsible for directing the management of over 8,600 acres that were returned by the federal government to the local Kickapoo Reserve Management Board and Ho-Chunk Nation in 1998. The Reserve is home to countless important plant, bird, and other wildlife species, in addition to special habitat areas and ecosystems. Visited by thousands of people each year, this special place has been a beloved gem of those who call the Driftless region home and a special destination for recreational users and people who love wild places. Thank you, Marcy! 

For more information about Women in Conservation and Environmental Sciences, visit these posts:



Monday, April 5, 2021

Celebrating Mud

 Guest Post by Julie Hoel, KVR Instructor and Enthusiastic Mud Loving Grandparent

I was just out of college and visiting a friend who had three children. We were chatting when her five-year-old son came bursting in the door full of boyish exuberance and covered with splotches of mud from head to foot. She took one look at him, put on her sternest mom face, whipped out her you’re-in-big-trouble-now voice and said, “JAY MEYER, HAVE YOU BEEN PLAYING IN THAT CREEK?” The smile fell from his face, he rolled his big brown eyes upward and said, “No.” The two older sisters and I tried our best contain our laughter as his mom began peeling off the muddy clothes and throwing them directly into the washer. To her credit, she did not shame him for being a muddy mess but continued with her harangue, “You know you’re not supposed to be playing in that creek!” Clearly, her concern was the danger of water play rather than dirty clothes. 

In these parts, we cannot escape the mud of the March thaw and April showers that follow. We can save ourselves irritation and frustration by just embracing and celebrating the wonders of mud. In that spirit, I would like to share my favorite holiday photo of all time. It was refreshingly different from the typical family photo of the kids clean and pressed. These parents were secure enough to celebrate their kids in all their mischievous muddiness in the deep green of a summer day.  When I recently asked their dad if I could share this image, he said, you’re “welcome to use that pic if it’s to promote kids being kids!” He added, “I think based on where we lived our kids naturally got real dirty experiencing being a kid in nature. We had 50 acres and a half mile of river frontage…what a place to be a kid!” He pointed out the nice clean laundry hanging on the line behind them. I also noticed that they are both wearing glasses that somehow remained relatively clear. Definitely experienced mudballs with some self-control!

In these two vignettes, the children sought and located the mud on their own. A quick google search will bring up many benefits of mud play including development of fine and gross motor skills, increasing cognitive skills and enhancing creativity. It also is good for the immune system and decreases stress levels. We would therefore be wise and wonderful caretakers to seek out opportunities for our children’s mud exploration. My favorite resource, Pinterest, has limitless schemes to bring mud play to every location. There are recipes for mud paint, fizzing mud and mud soup. The design suggestions for mud kitchens are endless.

But the fun of mud play is not just for children. Back in ’93, I experienced mud as art with adults during a volunteer week at Dr. Patch Adams’ Gesundheit! Institute in West Virginia. His model of good health includes humor and art as healing. Once a week, volunteers were encouraged to experience community in the mud pit. After the mud bath, there were photo sessions of numerous statuesque poses. It was a truly memorable experience!

So when you encounter the inevitable mud of the season, I encourage you remember your own fondest muddy memory and smile.  And if a mud-covered child comes bursting in your doorway, greet them with that smile and make throwing those dirty clothes into the washer a celebration.

P.S. All the above references to mud exclude flood mud.  That nasty stuff is a nightmare.

For some more muddy inspiration, check out these books and links:

 Mud by Mary Lyn Ray, Illustrated by Lauren Stringer

This beautiful book celebrates the beginning of the mud season in simple text and gorgeous illustrations. 

Mudplay for Kids: Why It's Worth the Mess - Healthline This article provides details about why messy play is so beneficial for children.

Mud, Marvelous Mud - Community Playthings With the benefits clearly outlined, this article provides ideas and considerations for embracing mud play with your child.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Spring Migration is Upon Us

 Guest Post by Barbara Duerksen

What a delight to welcome back the birds we have not seen for months! There’s music in the air – honking geese and calling swans flying to the northwest, robins, blackbirds, and cardinals singing in the morning, and the loud, rattling bugle calls of Sandhill Cranes.

Sandhill Crane photo by Dave Franks

When the ice goes out, the ducks come in. They might stay for a day, sometimes longer, as they make their journey from the southern states to their nesting territories.  A few of the duck species like Wood Ducks, Blue-winged Teal, and Mallards, stay in our area to raise their broods, while most of the other ducks head for farther north wetlands.  I find Hooded Mergansers particularly elegant and fun to watch. The males are black on top with white stripes in front and back, brown sides, and a black and white head that looks very large when the crest feathers are raised.  Females are brown and also have crest feathers that can be raised or lowered.  They look a little less elegant and more like a bad hair day.  I have found Hooded Mergansers in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve in early spring swimming in the wooded wetland at the junction of Hwy 131 and County P.

Hooded Merganser photo by Jack Bartholmai

Migration is all about food.  Waterfowl need open water to find fish, snails, worms, roots and other plant food.  Insect eaters need warm enough temperatures to find a good steady supply of insects, and that takes them far south of Wisconsin.  Seed eaters and some of the predatory birds can find enough food to get through the winter season, so we’ll see jays, chickadees, cardinals, crows, Cooper’s and Red-tailed Hawks all winter.  Juncos, American Tree Sparrows, Purple Finches, Rough-legged Hawks, and Northern Shrikes are among the species that come from way north to stay here for the winter.  They will be leaving soon, and instead we’ll see Fox, White-throated, and White-crowned Sparrows on their way north, in addition to other early migrants like kinglets and phoebes.

April brings some notable insect eaters, despite the possibility of cold weather and snowstorms. Hermit Thrushes, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Winter Wrens are all insect eaters that seem to be able to withstand colder temperatures than others of their kind.  Their diets ae a bit more flexible –they prefer insects, but all three are able to digest fruits like juniper berries.  Cold spells with deep snow that last too long can be life-threatening to these birds, as we witnessed with in April, 2018.

Winter Wren photo by Dan Jackson

Winter Wrens are small brown birds with very short tails that they often hold upright.  They are smaller than the more familiar House Wrens that spend their summers here, and most of them fly farther north to the forests of northern Wisconsin and Canada. Winter Wrens have nested in cool microclimates in the Kickapoo Reserve and the Baraboo Hills, preferring areas with coarse woody debris or tangled roots. Some older field guides recommend looking for migrating Winter Wrens in stacks of firewood in the yard. On nesting territory, the male sings a loud, rich, lengthy, bubbly song.  You can listen to the song here by pressing the audio button.

The colorful familiar songsters like grosbeaks, orioles, and Indigo Buntings, will show up a bit later, some in late April and the rest in May, along with many migrating warblers. These are the long-distance migrants that spend the winter in warmer climates, some—Yellow Warblers and Barn Swallows, for example—as far south as countries in South America.

Migration is a perilous journey with hazards that range from bad weather and natural predators, to human-caused habitat destruction, window strikes, poisoning by pesticides, and predation by cats. How to help?  Study up on what birds need, support bird conservation groups and reserves (like the KVR), consider planting bird-friendly plants and trees in your yard.  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a list of suggestions here: athttps://www.birds.cornell.edu/home/seven-simple-actions-to-help-birds/

                                            American Woodcock photo by Jack Bartholmai

Ready for an evening adventure?  Go out at dusk to listen for the American Woodcock call and sky dance.  American Woodcocks are in the shorebird family, but nest on the ground in shrubby woodland edges. An odd-looking short-tailed brown bird, they are about robin-size, plump, with long beaks and eyes positioned high up and near the back of the skull. In early spring, the males, looking to attract a mate, find an open area to sit and call a series of single buzzy, nasal “peent” sounds, and after a while, fly up with a twittering sound in a large circle, descend to the same area with a slower chirpy sound, and start again to do the call. This occurs about 20 minutes after sunset. The open area around the Kickapoo Reserve Visitor Center has been a reliable spot to observe this spring ritual of the woodcock. 

For great reading on the woodcock dance check out these favorites:

Aldo Leopold, in A Sand County Almanac, describes the Sky Dance of the woodcocks on his farm in the April section of Part 1.  Frances Hamerstrom, in Walk When the Moon is Full, devotes her April chapter to the story of gong out with her two children to witness the sky dance of the woodcock.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Looking for Spring

  C. Chybowski

A guest post by KVR Educator Cathy Chybowski

Spring is in the air!  Even if the calendar says “March,” the cold winds blow, and the snow lingers, those of us tuned in to the changing seasons know that spring is fast approaching. By observing and recording natural events year after year, we can accurately predict and anticipate the sequence in which these events occur. 

The study of recurring natural events like the migration of birds or the flowering of plants and their connection with each other as the seasons change is called phenology.

Everyone practices phenology whether they realize it or not—naturalists, gardeners, farmers, and homeowners, among others. “April showers bring May flowers” is pure phenology.

Islay Pictures Photoblog

What tells you that spring has arrived? Is it the first robin of the year? Like Aldo Leopold, many people sense that spring has sprung when they see and hear a flock of geese flying in the typical V-formation proclaiming the change of season. 

 “One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring.”          

Leopold continues .  .  .  .  “A cardinal whistling spring to a thaw but later finding himself mistaken, can retrieve his error by resuming his winter silence. A chipmunk, emerging for a sunbath but finding a blizzard, has only to go back to bed.  But a migrating goose, staking two hundred miles of black night on the chance of finding a hole in the lake, has no easy chance for retreat. His arrival carries the conviction of a prophet who has burned his bridges.”

     Greg Gillson

 Sid Hamm

It is time to check last year’s phenology records for the order of events. We can predict that in southern Wisconsin, the red-winged blackbirds return to the marshes before the end of February and the bluebirds return to nest by March 15. The wood frogs begin their choral courtship the third week in March and ground squirrels and woodchucks emerge sleepy from hibernation by the end of March.  Hepatica begins to bloom around mid-April  and bloodroot blooms about one week later.

                 C. Chybowski

Nature’s grand production runs from the time that skunk cabbage pokes up through the snow, through the time when the woodpeckers begin to drum, male red-wings “onk-la-ree” from the cattails and pussy willows fluff out. Killdeer and meadowlarks return, chipmunks awaken from their winter dormancy, song sparrows sing “hip hip hooray guys, spring is here,” balls of garter snakes appear, painted turtles pop up on sunning logs, mourning cloak butterflies and little brown bats flit about, and spring ephemerals emerge from the woodland floor.

   V. Charney

All of these observations were made before April 15th.  Soon thereafter the great wave of warbler migration begins (about a month after the woodcocks begin their aerial courtship display). Then the tree leaves burst forth, flowers in gardens and fields bloom and the air holds the sweet scent of lilacs just in time for Mother’s Day. The show continues on and on . . .

“During every week from April to September there are on average, ten wild plants coming into first bloom. . . No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them.”                                                                                                                                                       -   Aldo Leopold

No two years are exactly the same and some signs of spring are more reliable than others. Frogs are good predictors of spring. Wood frogs and spring peepers begin to sing soon after ice-out when the water has warmed to 46 degrees F. Earthworm castings become visible when the frost has come out of the ground. The return of robins and bluebirds is not a reliable indicator of spring because some of them stay in our area throughout the winter.

Spring usually invades our state in the southwest corner and marches north and northeast at a rate of about fifteen miles a day. This was determined when residents across the state were asked to record the date at which the lilac, a species familiar to everyone, was in peak flower.

According to Hopkin’s law, phenological events vary at the rate of one day for each fifteen minutes of latitude, 1.25 days for each degree of longitude, and one day for each one hundred feet of altitude, being later northward, eastward, and upward. When applied in Wisconsin, this law seems to hold almost exactly along a north-south axis; except that Lake Michigan retards the spring warmup.

Above is merely a sampling of the discoveries that await the curious nature observer. It is a fun time of year for each of us to get outside and take a closer look at what Aldo Leopold calls the “hundred little dramas” happening right outside the door when spring is in the air.