The Cherokee Marsh in… Wisconsin?

(NOTE: Yeah, this is another long post. What can I say, I like to talk like I like to walk: wandering, meandering everywhere, slightly lost and laughing all the time.)

While I was wandering the back streets of Madison, Wisconsin for a month, I decided irrationally that I was going to find a sandhill crane. The Other Half and I had been on several trips with his dad to try to find them; I still hadn’t seen one despite both of them telling me they were out there.

Luckily, I figured out the birds were summering in the area and there was a marsh where you are pretty much guaranteed to find one. When I looked at the name of the marsh, though, I laughed because of the connection it made to my home state, which has a large population of Cherokee Tribal members. I knew when I saw that that it was the perfect place to go. I felt lucky.

I waited until the weekend and woke up early in the morning to bike the 14 miles to the marsh, where there were about 10 miles of trails in two separate sections along the Yahara River. I headed to the North Section first , thinking I could work my way back downhill on the way back if I hadn’t seen anything.

When I actually reached the marsh, I wasn’t sure where things were hiding. There were boardwalks rising above the marshy land, and after every step I took I could hear creatures skittering, flying, and generally getting the heck away from me. But I couldn’t see any of them. The sweeping views were absolutely gorgeous, though.

I started getting frustrated about the time I heard a turkey less than three feet away from me, so I decided to head toward the river itself. It was an excellent decision.

I wandered around until I found a nice old rickety dock hidden in a corner that looked like a great place to eat lunch.

By this point, I was absolutely sure that every blue heron I saw was a sandhill crane in disguise. To top it off, the Other Half called me to tell me a storm was blowing in. I decided to continue exploring and just hope that I could find shelter in time to get out of the rain.

The cool thing about this forest was the poison ivy. It was growing along the edges of all the paths (making me very glad I’d worn jeans), but some of the growth from the same plants didn’t have the characteristic notch in the leaves. The next two pictures are from the exact same plant:

I guess unless it’s got blackberries on it, we’re just going to have to assume it’s poison ivy in Wisconsin.

A restored oak forest near the end of the path I took held a *lot* of birds, but it was getting too cloudy to really get good pictures of any but the ubiquitous goldfinches. There were also so many sedge wrens, chickadees, and red-bellied woodpeckers, as well as a single downy woodpecker to top it off. He must’ve gotten lost and followed the red-bellies around.

I heard something that sounded suspiciously crane-like around the corner of the path, but I was very glad the Park Service labelled the mound of dirt I was about to step over. Instead, I got a (very) brief history lesson.

The conical mound was right between the three different types of environment in the marsh: forest, river, and very wet prairie meadow. I would have loved to know why these people chose this spot as their special place, but I do certainly agree with their choice, especially with all the blooms around the site.

Well, fine, the one on the right isn’t a bloom (it’s the fruit pod of the common milkweed), but it still looks fuzzy and awesome.

On my way out of the north section, I noticed a very…odd… sign hanging out in a tree.

I booked it quickly to my bike once I figured out the trees ate people.

By this point, I had unfortunately waited too long and the storm had built up from light rain to some pretty epic thunder and lightning, so I had to postpone searching for birds by hiding in a store for a few hours. Being optimistic (read: stubborn) I wasn’t about to leave with half the marsh unsearched for cranes.

It was a good thing I waited, because apparently the wildlife was smarter than I and had taken shelter for the coming storm. Now that it was gone, there was wildlife everywhere. And I still couldn’t see it through all the heavy brush.

I was wondering one of the mowed trails for about 5 minutes when I came to a small meadow. I thought, ‘Man what a cool fuzzy grey bush, I’m totally taking a picture of that!’ At the noise of my camera booting, a long neck shot up from the fuzzy bush and poked its friend, who also shot straight up and stared at me.

I had found cranes! By mistake! I had also mistakenly discovered how to get them to scream at you: use a camera. Every time my camera’s zoom moved, they would start croaking at the tops of their lungs. When I left them alone, I realized I had the coolest device ever: a crane detector. Whenever I came on a meadow, I would boot up my camera and wait for it.

True story: I found 2 more pairs that way. And I got hollered at by all of them. And I still have no idea why, but it’s hilarious.

The south part of the marsh was much less forested, but it still had great views and so many flowers.

It even had a dock that mirrored the one I sat on for lunch! Apparently if I’d come here, I wouldn’t have needed to go to the north section (not that I wouldn’t have gone anyway…).

Like the other half of the marsh, this one also had several types of flowers in full bloom:

I did promise more wildlife, right? Well, I saw a lot of rabbits, a few small mice that shrieked really loud and ran when I pulled out my camera, and this:

I wasn’t entirely sure what this was. It was the size of a capybara, the color of a rabbit, and had a big fuzzy black tail. its head was totally grey with a very small white V across the top of its head. I was in denial about the one thing in Wisconsin that fits this description, so I asked several people (who promptly bopped me over the head and pointed me to the large statue outside the entrance to the UW stadium). That’s right, I walked right up to a badger. I still have no idea why she didn’t turn around and come after me. Instead, she watched me before walking slowly into the brush and waiting patiently while I took a few blurry pictures.

And while I slowly and sorely pedaled my bike the rest of the 14 miles home, I was rewarded with one of Wisconsin’s many wonderful sunsets.

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