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Posts Tagged ‘Nature’

  1. Winter Walk At Indian Lake

    February 29, 2016 by admin

    No need to sit inside all year.  There’s always a way to get outside and explore.

    We are blessed to have a good county park system in our area.  This makes it so much easier to get out and explore all year around.

    Our latest adventure took us to Indian Lake County Park, about a twenty minute drive from our house.admin-ajax.php

    A walk through the winter woods is a great adventure.  Making sure we wore proper clothes, we were comfortable during our long walk.  We were able to explore to our hearts content before turning back and heading for the car.

    Along the way we found animal tracks, a warming cabin which inspired a long talk about planning a camping trip,  cool leaves that had melted into the ice, and this funky fungus!  Much better than staying inside.

    We used the “I’ll follow you.” method of exploring the park to give Bluey the maximum amount of control over exploring this park.  He chose the paths, he made changes in our explore- he was in charge.  And when he was ready to back, we returned to the car.

    With no pre-selected path, we explored the many cross-country skiing paths, and meandered through the woods.  It was a great morning of exploring, creating another great memory, and another place where Bluey says: “Let’s go back there soon.”


  2. Horicon National Wildlife Refuge

    September 7, 2015 by admin

    IMG_2111Horicon National Wildlife Refuge is a place of wonder.  Located just about 1 hour from Madison, it is a super easy day trip for a hike or a bike ride upon your arrival.

    We had decided to bike and made our first vehicle stop at the Federal Visitor Center on Headquarters Road for some suggestions on the best path for our family.  We were pleased to discover a nice nature display, an observation deck, a small gift shop, and clean bathrooms within the Center.

    The Center’s guide suggested that we try a bike path that runs along side an auto tour road.  This path included access to a network of floating pathways which led out into the wetlands and a central observation spot. We have the most luck on our hikes and biking when our travels include water, so we knew this was probably a great trail to explore.

    Tip1: Be careful to examine your maps closely. In our haste to begin, we ended up on a path that shared the way with vehicles. The majority of drivers were using extreme caution, but a few zipped down the path with seemingly no care about the blind corners, hikers, and bicyclists.

    We were happy that the bike trail had only a few rises that Bluey easily managed. We had to leave our bikes to explore the floating pathways.

    Tip2: There are no bike racks at the head of walking-only pathways. Be prepared to take valuables with you and to leave your bike propped off the main road.

    The surroundings were breathtaking. We’ve done a lot of biking and hiking in the areas in and around Madison. But we were impressed with the beauty of Horicon National Wildlife Refuge.  And we had more wildlife encounters than we’ve ever experienced in our prior outings.  If you aren’t familiar with many species of water birds, you may want to tuck a pocket guide in your gear.  You will have a chance to see many rare birds in a wildlife setting such as this.

    Tip3: It appears that dogs are allowed on many trails but we’d suggest you leave them at home if you are interested in experiencing wildlife.

    Even though we spotted a school bus, vehicles, and others out and about on the trails- we managed to enjoy the majority of the area we chose on our own, without fighting crowds. Parking wasn’t an issue and access is free.

    We can’t wait to go back in the Fall and perhaps witness some migratory bird viewing!

  3. Animals In Winter

    January 23, 2015 by admin

    IMG_2739 We don’t let winter keep this TR family indoors.  There are many great, fun things to do outside during the winter: sledding, building snow forts, conducting science experiments, and more!

    A fun adventure we enjoy is to go on a winter hike.  Hiking in the winter is a different experience than going during a warmer season.  For one thing, you have to dress right.

    You might think there are fewer animals to see in winter.  A lot are hibernating and many others migrate.  There aren’t a ton of critters left to observe, right?

    Wrong.  A lot of Animals are still out and about during the winter months, even in the most extreme weather.  You just have to know what to look for.

    IMG_2748We are reminded of one of our favorite illustrated books on this topic: Animals In Winter, by Henrietta Bancroft, Richard G. Van Gelder and Gaetano di Palma.  We’ve been reading this book to our kiddos since they were tiny tots.  The poetic writing and space pen-and-ink drawings beautifully capture the wonder of the wilds in winter.  Our family learned from the start that animals are up to all sorts of activity during the winter.

    We took this knowledge with us on a recent walk at the Waubesa Wetlands State Natural Area.  Bluey had been learning about foxes and wanted to try to see some in the wild.  Using this as our motivation, we headed out to a likely habitat.

    IMG_2737Tip: Be prepared when heading out for a inter hike.  Parks and natural areas are sparsely attended in the thick of winter.  Dress warmly, and be careful not to overestimate how far your group can hike.  Remember you have to be able to make it back to the car.  Bring a cell phone.

    Immediately upon stepping out of the car we found a trail of canine footprints that were too large to be a fox.  We guessed they were coyotes which we also knew to frequent that area.  Undeterred in our desire to explore, we followed the coyote pack’s prints through the fresh snow and saw where their path crossed those of squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks and deer.IMG_2735

    And it’s not just mammal prints we found.  We saw hawk footprints near a deer carcass, including a great imprint of the bird’s tail feathers as it crouched in the snow.  We’d never seen that before!

    IMG_2736As beautiful as this natural area is, we would never be able to have this adventure if not for the recent snow and cold temperatures.  We were able to enjoy a beautiful hike, see some amazing signs of animal life, and engage in a meaningful discussion about our local wildlife and what these animals might be up to in the winter.

    To top off our discussion of animals that migrate, hibernate or stick around in winter, a large group of Canada Geese passed over us on their migration route as we headed back to our car.

  4. Halfway Prairie

    January 7, 2015 by admin

    IMG_2589In a recent search for a new place to explore, we found ourselves at the Halfway Prairie near Mazomanie, Wisconsin.  We had originally been aiming for Indian Lake Park.  But driving up the street to our original destination, we saw the impressive ruins at Halfway Prairie and decided that we had to go there first.

    Visible from the road is a large, crumbling building, and a smaller building next to it.  This drew us in and we parked our car to explore.IMG_2590_2

    The larger building is mostly a ruin- the windows, roof and wooden parts have long ago rotted away, leaving tall stone walls behind.  Our best guess is that it was a former school, or maybe a church?  We’re not sure.  But it was very cool to explore the outside.  (The building is fenced off for safety purposes.)

    Tip 1:  Hunting is permitted in this wildlife area, so exercise caution if you explore during hunting season!

    The smaller building is locked and boarded up.  It is much smaller and less ornate looking than the other structure, and in better condition.  Perhaps it was a maintenance shed, or a caretaker’s home?

    Several paths flow off from the buildings, heading deep into the prairie beyond.  We enjoyed walking the paths and following some of the remaining fence lines.  At one point, we startled some sleeping deer who took off across the fields towards the wooden area further back.

    Tip 2: Indian Lake Park contains parts of the Ice Age Trail.  Perhaps one day the trail will cut through this wildlife area.

    IMG_2587_2We were quite taken by the quiet serenity of Halfway Prairie.  We’re sure to be back, and we recommend this out-of-the-way park for a day of explore.

  5. Pewits Nest

    November 9, 2014 by admin

    IMG_8666If you are up for a hike a short drive from the Madison, Wisconsin area, and like quiet secluded places- we must recommend you head for Pewits Nest at some point.

    We recently had a great day exploring this small, natural area near Baraboo.  If you enjoy Wisconsin’s great outdoors, you’ve probably been to the nearby state park at Devil’s Lake.  But Pewits Nest is much less popular, and therefore much less crowded.   In fact, finding Pewits Nest can be a bit of a trick because there are no signs for it on the road.  You could easily drive right past its unmarked dusty parking lot- so make sure you check your maps carefully so you know where to look.

    Tip: Although less popular than many natural areas, it is still a good idea to arrive early in the day if you want to have the place to yourselves for a bit.  And there are NO public restrooms.

    The trail from the parking lot begins as a wide flat path going through a quiet little forest, but soon the path narrows as rugged cliff sides begin to rise on one side.  Soon enough you are surrounded on three sides by tall cliffs, with a fast but shallow creek running  through the middle.

    It was simply beautiful.

    With no trail map available, we went into exploring mode and followed the trails as far as they seemed to go.  We enjoyed rock hopping in the creek and tried to find a trail to the waterfall, which we could just barely see through an opening in the cliffs.  We found ample signs of wild animals and saw many beautiul trees and native plants.IMG_8690

    We left with a firm desire to go back and explore further- even our dog thought this place was the bees knees as she channeled her inner puppy, keen to check out each nook and cranny.

    Tip 2:  Dogs are permitted but must be leashed at all times.  All plants and animals in Pewits Nest are protected- so leave them alone!

    On the way out, we met a truly interesting group of people in the parking lot- but we’ll share that story another day.

  6. Your Museum Of Natural History

    August 27, 2014 by admin

    IMG_2160We have a growing collection of sticks, rocks, feathers and other items collected on our various wanders.  We could say it’s just the kids, but TRMom and TRDad are just as likely as anyone to spot a cool something and pick it up for inspection.  We’ve started to dub our ever-growing collection “The Museum.”  And like any other museum, it offers learning opportunities to those who pause to check it out.

    Primarily located on a window sill on our back porch, the Museum houses many natural wonders, which our chief curator Bluey will gladly interpret.  There’s a bird skull from the parking lot of his swim class, the honey comb we found on the bike path.  We have many cool rocks from various parts of the country, and feathers from many birds- especially birds of prey and turkeys, both of which live in our neighborhood.

    IMG_2159Recently, we found a part of a mammal’s lower mandible on our way to the library.  This triggered a full-on investigation about what animal it may have come from.  Bluey offered his own hypotheses, and disproved several contenders by examining animals we had on hand: the cats and the dog.  An internet call-out to our friends who are animal experts and outdoorsy types offered a number of leads.

    We finally decided to head to a nearby state park to compare our sample with their small display of various skeletons.  It has been a great investigation.  We have thoroughly enjoyed all the related conversations about what foods the animal might have eaten, and how it came to be in our neighborhood.

    All from our Museum collection.

    So we encourage you to let your kiddoes bring home their finds.  And to keep them, study them and learn from them.  Start your own museum.

  7. Walk Amongst The Flowers

    August 15, 2014 by admin

    Hidden in Verona is the Pope Farm Conservancy (PFC). There are 105 acres of land which is owned and maintained by the Town of Middleton.   You can enjoy IMG_7213numerous trails that are enhanced with informative signage. There are also picnic areas, parking lots, and at least one water fountain on the property. There is no charge for entering PFC.

    We visited during the peak of their annual sunflower bloom. The lower parking lot requires a rather steep hike along a stone fence (no climbing!) to reach the sunflowers.

    Tip: There is an upper lot if you aren’t up for the trek from below.

    Once you crest the hill, you are awarded with acres of bright yellow sunflowers and a 360 degree view of the IMG_7188surrounding land that is just breathtaking. Our Bluey broke into a gleeful run caused by the pure exhilaration of the natural beauty that surrounded him.

    Even though there were moderate crowds on the day we visited PFC, beyond an occasional friendly nod or greeting along the trail, we felt like we had the land to ourselves. We could hear the birds chattering and the corn stalks whispering.

    There is so much to enjoy at this conservancy beyond the sunflowers. If you are looking for a gorgeous spot to hike and enjoy communing with nature, you should definitely add PFC to your short list.


  8. If You Build It, They Will Come

    July 20, 2014 by admin


    We recently embarked on a day trip to the Myrick Hixon Ecopark located in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  Just over two hours from our home in Madison, it was a very easy  drive.

    The Ecopark is nestled within a much larger park with access to hiking, biking tails, and a dream park play structure.  The Ecopark has a large welcoming center IMG_6761with live animals, building blocks, arts & crafts, reading areas, snack tables, a small gift shop, and clean restrooms.

    Tip:  At the moment, the Ecopark is free of charge.  But there are rumors there will be an admittance fee once construction is completed.

    We quickly made our way outside to explore the Ecopark’s playscapes.  Many of these areas are still under construction.  But each playscape is partially erected and completely open to the public.  There is more than enough to make the trip worthwhile as it stands now.

    We were drawn to the forest scramble and Bluey and Plum immediately began the climb up the ropes to the first level of the tree house structure.  We had a great time crossing the bridge and enjoying the views from the tipy top.

    IMG_6775Then, we made our way to the prairie mystery.  Even though we had fun following the paths and finding our way through the growing grasses, it was definitely a playscape that will improve as it evolves.  There isn’t much to a maze that offers direct sight of all the paths,  the entry, and exit.

    Finally, we visited the wild water.  Bluey and Plum really loved this area.  You can manipulate metal dams and use rocks and mud to try and change the flow of the water.  A gentle mist emits from a large standing spray feature, which keeps you IMG_6790cool as you explore.

    Tip2: If you’re like us and get there early, you may have to activate the water in the wild water playscape area. Just press the blue post at the top of the river.

    We ended our adventure playing at the dream park.  Then we had a quick return to the Ecopark welcome center to use their restroom to wash up, and we were on our way home.

    Next visit, we’ll bring a picnic lunch (there are picnic tables everywhere) and our bikes to make it a full day exploration!


  9. Naming The Animals

    June 25, 2014 by admin



    “Oh look! There’s Twinkletoes!”

    “Hi there, Dr. Bunnington!”

    “I saw Stumpy today”

    You’ll hear conversations like this on a daily basis at our house. Many of the wild animals that roam our yard and neighborhood have names we’ve given them based on behaviors or physical characteristics.

    This tradition evolved entirely by accident, as we noticed that the same critters were visiting our yard repeatedly. As our kids named the animals, we were all able to more easily create an emotional connection to their well- being.

    We became friends with a red squirrel that we named Jasper- a loud, playful critter who came several times daily to see what treats we might have tossed his way. Shimmer, his larger grey squirrel friend, came as well. Every day.  We now know Stumpy, our neighborhood squirrel friend that has somehow lost his tail.  And we enjoy our visits with a lovely bunny that we’ve named, Dr. Bunnington.



    Our conversations with the kiddoes about ecology and habitat destruction caused by nearby developments aren’t affecting abstract random wildlife. These discussions concern and affect Our Squirrels! Our Bunnies!  Cars speeding down the road aren’t just driving too fast- they might hurt our animal friends.  We have learned that Stumpy, the Tailless Squirrel, has to cross the street to get to our yard as we’ve seen where he nests.  So road safety became a bigger deal to our kids.

    From a very young age, Plum and Bluey have spoken out for the animals.  And we think their passion is due, in part, to the relationships that have developed by giving their backyard animal friends names.  This deeper connection to nature helps Plum and Bluey understand how human actions can change the whole environment.

    And we think that this is a very important lesson.

  10. Tree Lover

    May 23, 2014 by admin

    Our Bluey fell in love recently.

    With a tree.IMG_5770

    It was love at first sight. He climbed all over the tree for quite some time, tested out branches and found a great place to sit up on a limb.  Then he cried for ten minutes straight when he had to say goodbye to his new favorite tree, even with the knowledge that he would get to see it again the very next day.

    We love that our children have such affection for trees.  It’s a feeling we cultivate. Trees are such beautiful beings, and so important to ecosystems everywhere.

    When we are out and about, we point out beautiful and interesting trees- same as we do with cool cars, funky buildings and birds.  They are all a wonderful part of our world.

    Many trees are ancient. Everyday we pass trees that stood during World War II. Or World War I. Or the Blizzard of ’88 (1888, that is.)  And we discuss regularly, the usefulness of trees- that they provide homes and food for so many critters. Trees regulate temperatures and hold on to topsoil, and so much more.

    IMG_1673Our hope is that our children will always feel a deep connection to trees and nature.  The world needs trees, and trees need their defenders and lovers.