Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tyke Hike #3 - Hartland Marsh

Twelve happy hikers and our first four-legged friend joined us tonight for the third Tyke Hike. Exploring the beautiful Hartland Marsh area, we avoided all the rain, were ignored by the mosquitoes, and ended up witnessing and participating in a televised interview. Not too shabby!

Our hike was led some inquisitive youngsters and some older tykes who really knew their nature. I am always impressed and excited when I see young people sharing their knowledge of the environment and caring enough to be actively involved in protecting it. These youngsters taught me a great deal today as they, along with other dedicated members of the Lake Country-Hartland Chimney Swift Group, have taken a leadership role in procuring funds to build a chimney structure located right off the Ice Age Trail. This structure serves as a resting spot for chimney swift birds. The chimney swift is a migratory bird that travels from Canada down to the Amazon Basin and back 2-3 times in it's lifetime. This bird needs resting spots along the way and this structure can hold up to 1,000 birds at a time.  For those that might not want any more birds around, keep in mind that these creatures eat 1/3 of their body weight in mosquitoes every day.  I say, bring on the chimney swift! :)

These amazing bird-lovers had the chance to be interviewed at the turnaround spot of our hike. This was a very exciting opportunity to share information about their wonderful project as well as a way to get people out and about in nature.

When we weren't learning about birds, we were catching some toads, smelling some flowers, and admiring the "magic tree."  This towering tree is a vibrant green even though it's base is nearly hollowed out.  Magical. :)

I'm sure our next hike will be just as magical.  Come join us at the UW-Waukesha Field Station on Thursday, September 11th at 6:00pm to learn from an expert on prairie restoration and the biodiversity of Wisconsin's prairies..

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Muggy and Buggy Day to Get Muddy with a Buddy

Pardon my silly title, but today's hike brought back many wonderful memories from my childhood and teenage years. Today I got to spend some time with a dear friend. He is one of the smartest guys I know, especially when it comes to nature and anything scientific. Those of who who follow Wisconsin's natural news may have heard of him. Please read his journey to visit all of Wisconsin's stat natural areas, or SNA's at He mentioned today he has recently passed the 440 mark. It was truly a pleasure to take my family and visit the Hartland Marsh with a walking fountain of information and his beautiful daughter.

Though the bugs were out in full force and the trails was a bit muddier than usual, we departed from the Maple Wayside and made our way through the boardwalks before crossing Cottonwood Avenue and exploring the new chimney swift roost adjacent to the Aldo Leopold Overlook. With this being the site of the next Tyke Hike, I was anxious to get a glimpse of the new nesting site before leading a group of children there. I was also excited to read about it at When it seems like the world keeps developing and taking away methods of teaching and exploring the natural side of things, It's always amazing to hear about how new projects will help educate future generations about a new aspect of nature. To be honest, I had never heard of a chimney swift before reading about this new structure.  I can't wait to see it in it's glory, when up to 1,000 migrating birds will call it home.

On the actual Ice Age Trail portion of today's adventure, we were able to see many different wildflowers, identify a couple of invasive species, and see (and mostly hear) a variety of birds, including gold finches, blue jays, grackles, and a young family of sandhill cranes. On the muddy section of the trail, we had to avoid mud puddles and tiny toads. We all took pleasure observing gorgeous stands of oak trees, especially one particular example which was vibrant throughout its branches, but essentially hollowed completely at its base. Very unique indeed!

This mini-journey got me ready for next Thursday's Tyke Hike. Please join me and see and experience all of the beauty described above, hopefully with less mud and mosquitoes.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tyke Hike #2 - Wildlife and Wild Times at Monches

Did you know Wisconsin's state animal was the eagle? Or that the state insect was the beetle? How about Wisconsin's state fish being the shark?  Well, though these responses were entertaining, I am happy to announce that these misconceptions, though quite entertaining, were cleared up at tonight's Tyke Hike.

Earlier in the day, my daughter and I scouted our desired path and set up our very own Wildlife Quiz right along the trail. As we embarked on the journey, I told the kids there would be a quiz, though they would all get A's.  However, participation points would be awarded for extra credit. We focused on many important animals of Wisconsin, including the badger, white-tailed deer, dairy cow, robin, muskellunge, and honey bee. The history geek in me told the tale of the naming of the badger state based on the miners that came to Wisconsin as part of the Lead Rush. The kids seemed to enjoy the trick question about there being no boy cows in Wisconsin. . . get it  ;)  Though we briefly discussed the honey bee and the importance it has in our state (and the 16 others who have it as their state insect), our insect talk focused on mosquitoes. The robin was brought up during our birds discussion which led us to talking about it being a sign of spring.  I mentioned that the killdeer technically returns before the robin, but hearing its shriek, it's no surprise we correlate spring with the beautiful song of the robin.

The tykes were very knowledgeable, especially about the four seasons and how animals need to do different things for survival in Wisconsin's cold winter. We discussed hibernation, migration, and activation, even detailing some of the step animals do to prepare for the cold months.  We even had a "prepare-for-winter" moment as the kids started collecting acorns, much like our furry friends will soon do.

In the first Tyke Hike, I talked a bit about Increase Lapham. I touched a little on Carl Schurz tonight. At the next hike, I am sure Aldo Leopold will be mentioned. That leaves John Muir left.  Many would put these four on the Mount Rushmore of Wisconsin conservationism.

Overall, a beautiful night for a Tyke Hike. Plus, we added a new element.  A yet-to-be-named plush mammoth made the rounds among the children throughout the hike tonight. I guess you'll have to join us on August 28th at the Hartland Marsh to see it in person.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tyke Hike Training

As coordinator of the new program Tyke Hikes, I have been able to combine three passions of mine. First, I get to explore the natural world through hiking. Secondly, I am fortunate enough to get the opportunity to teach children (and maybe adults) about all sorts of interesting topics which I get to chose (the lesson planner inside of me is doing joyous somersaults).  Lastly, I get to reflect back on the hike and express my feelings about it in written word.  I am very blessed to be able to combine hiking, teaching, and writing. Now if there was only some way to combine Brewers baseball, I would be ecstatic.  Maybe come out of mascot retirement and lead a hike as a a racing sausage?

I am quite excited for Tyke Hike #2 this Thursday. We are focusing on Wisconsin's wildlife and I have scouted out the trail and planned a session that will teach fun facts about the animals of Wisconsin as well as hitting topics like hibernation and migration and even some Lead Rush stuff.  Did I mention I am a history lover as well?

I guess the only way to find out how it goes is to show up, so join me at Monches, Thursday at 6pm.  Happy Hiking!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Holy Hill

It has been a while since I've gone hiking without my baby girl. Not shockingly, hiking sans toddler allows for a longer hike. I took full advantage and went just under 13 miles covering portions of the Loew Lake segment, the entire Holly Hill segment, and a sizable chunk of the segment that cuts through Pike Lake state forest.

Today's hike was extra adventurous. The animals were out in full force and I saw some things on the trail I had never seen before, or ever expected to see. With Holy Hill being about 1,350 feet up, I knew I would be heading up. I appreciated that many of the inclines were "like a long and winding road" rather than straight up.  That being said, the addition of the "staircases" added to the trails were extremely helpful.
I also had some amazing animal encounters. Besides the usual suspects of bunnies, squirrels, and birds, I saw more chipmunks than ever before.  they were everywhere!  There was also a number of American Toads, garter snakes,and a rainbow of butterflies, especially in the openings. Just as I had crossed the Holy Hill Basilica, I noticed the rumps of two-white tailed deer nearly 30-40 yards ahead and strangely enough, they were trotting down the trail.  I tried to snap a picture but thy ventured deep into the woods by the time I grabbed my camera. I also had an eerie encounter when smack dab in the middle of the trail and just on either side of it was a goat carcass. It seemed to be a recent kill as some meat appeared to be meat on the bones. The goat had a collar so I assume it was a pet from a nearby farm. Crazy stuff!

The journey was long and arduous at times, but portions of the trail with a red pine needle blanket were quite comfortable. I especially liked walking through the corn field, the scenery from the connecting routes, and views from the open meadows. The sights from Pleasant Hill road were beautiful, but the steady incline on this short but somewhat steep connector were anything but pleasant. ;)
I think another trip through this segment of the Ice Age Trail is a must for autumn.  I can't wait!