milwaukee river and swamp sna is a mixed site with lowland forest, conifer swamp, and shrub zones. the east branch of the milwaukee river flows thru the site, and it hugs mauthe lake. the lake, river, and wetlands make the site a popular home and migration corridor for birds. we saw a song sparrow, common mergansers, buffle heads, a bald eagle, and downy woodpeckers, along with several more common species. my wife spotted the eagle standing on the lake ice a few hundred yards off and then it took off and flew right over us, as cranes called from further afield.
the walk thru the lowland hardwood forest was full of life, even at this early part of the year. so much to hear and smell and see and touch. we didn’t make it far enough to get to the swamp, but there’s always next time.
donges bay gorge is a steep ravine that cuts thru an undulating bluff on its way down to lake michigan. this was part of a wealthy landowner’s swath of property but was purchased by the ozaukee washington land trust and, very thankfully, opened up to the public.
lots of spring ephemerals here during the early spring, but mostly going to sleep for the winter now. tho’ we met some delightful fungus, moss, and bark still doing their things. the lake could be heard whispering below and the low-angle sun cut faintly thru the trunks of white pine, maple, red oak, aspen, birch, and linden.
we were trying to get to a different preserve north of here, but it was closed for deer hunting. then we remembered donges bay gorge and how great it was, so we visited again. i think it deserves two slots in the supplementum series. why not?
light snug on the gorge
invite us along
water clutching rock
a small frozen fall
the mushrooms know well
it’s their time
below the white pines
anyhow, if you made it this far, i’m thinking this is what it looks like when moss smiles:
it’s strange to me that i haven’t yet visited this site for the series. atlas pit (it was re-named ‘kiwanis pond’ but i can’t bring myself to call it that from long and early association) is a former gravel quarry a couple blocks from where i grew up in janesville, wi (rock county).
the old story goes that atlas sand & gravel dug until they hit a spring and then it filled in. i haven’t been able to fact-check that to my satisfaction, but the pieces of confirmation i’ve found have lined up with the general story. sounds like it filled up in the ’50s.
my childhood neighborhood was at the top of the quarry, and the pit was down the hill in a green corridor near a large wooded park, another pond, and a golf course. i learned in my research on wisconsin natural history during the pandemic that my hometown sits atop one of the outwash fans of the last glaciation, and my neighborhood above the rock river is at the edge of the fan. so it actually makes very good sense that there’d be a gravel quarry here, and there are other quarries in the area.
we used to come down here to play frequently, and back then it felt like a forest, a real wild place. it’s not quite so expansive now as an adult, but there are still pockets that feel more remote than it really is. when i visited the wind was blowing on a cloudy morning, and it smelled of childhood and good life.
abraham’s woods is a remnant old growth southern mesic forest dominated by maple, linden, and red oak. the understory is fairly sparse due to the peak canopy, which allows for some spectacular attention to the sandstone outcroppings, moss, and fungi of this wood at this time of year. the sandstone is actually a slanting ridge that creates an eastward-facing amphitheater, with heavy fern growth down in the hollow. a great blue heron rookery inhabits the site, but they’ve gone for the year.
it was tremendously foggy the day we visited in the early morning, and the trees dripped rain in the quiet. this was a spectacular visit and i hope to get back next year.
thanks to the uw arboretum for maintaining the site and for permitting me to visit.
in from the fogscape,
pelts the leaf litter
bark in the hollow,
the mist making haze
loose slabs of sandstone
the guttating frill
if you made it this far, here are some miscellaneous things: a photo of one of the tree tags i’m very fond of, some serious fuzzy mold on scat, and the largest snag i’ve ever stood under:
took in an invigorating walk on a hot day with my wife and mom, while my brother hung out on the pond-shore.
flax pond is a kettlehole pond formed by a formerly submerged glacial chunk that melted, the ground above collapsing into the depression and water filling in. another pitch pine-oak wood by the looks of it, with lots of sand and, surprisingly to my midwestern eyes, lots of moss and fungus too. a beaut.
and my fond adieu to these fabulous lichen forests on so many tree limbs out there. couldn’t get enough.
first id of a new, yellow species of hawkweed, but not sure if it was new england or meadow…