One of the things I absolutely loved about Madison was the availability of bike paths. I’m pretty sure I saw more bikes than I did cars the entire time I was in Wisconsin, and it was totally awesome! Well, except that time that I got hit in the face by a hummingbird, but we won’t count that for now. After all, who doesn’t want their morning commute to work to look like this:
Bike paths traverse the entire city in a large interconnected web; after work I would meander them finding all of the cool stuff they were hiding. Of course, not everything was hiding.
I’ve decided that in a state full of badgers, Madison is a city full of muskrats. I had only seen one before I went up to visit; I’m pretty sure my count is up to 51 after spending a scant 3 weeks in the city.
One of my favorite spots to visit was a small creek that wound around the south side of town.
It had a lot of wildlife, including two green herons that I could not get a good picture of for the life of me, several rabbits, the ubiquitous muskrats, and an angry kingfisher. As an aside, I have found kingfishers to be total jerks. They splash you when they dive, they won’t sit still for a picture, and right when you get them in focus, they fly across the lake and hunch down in the trees.
Anyway, the creek also had a little quiet spot just off the paved path that was like a secret garden.
The first time I visited the area, I noticed two things: something ducking under the water and running for the tunnel on the side, and the sound of a waterfall. I tried to find the waterfall and failed miserably, so I got back on the trail to go the long way around the wall that covered the back part of the water garden, thinking I’d find it at the back. So through a tunnel, over the river, and through the woods I went.
The waterfall was actually a miniature rapids formed by some rocks and debris that had stacked up under this bridge.
And where debris (read: food) is traveling downstream and getting backed up, there’s bound to be something to eat it.
In this case, a school of largemouth bass and bluegills had moved in. This guy was about 11-12 inches long and was guarding his little area pretty fiercely. Unfortunately when I came back the next day, someone had moved the rocks away so he could fish under the bridge more easily. I was slightly annoyed, but I can’t say if I had had a license that I wouldn’t have been knee-deep in the creek comically trying to noodle for the fish myself.
I decided to continue on to the end of the path to see where it lead (nowhere), though I found that there were a lot of seemingly abandoned railroad crossings and footbridges that had some pretty interesting views of the creek.
When I turned around to go home, I decided to try to see if whatever had run off had returned to the hidden area.
Sure enough, when I got back, he was floating around peacefully.
It was a little pied-billed grebe! I love watching these little guys swim and dive; they’re like the fluffy puppies of the waterbird world. I visited this little spot several times after I’d found it, and the little guy didn’t run off again.
One of the other trails I liked taking was along the lakeshores near the Capitol. The skyline was amazing, and the sight of the fishermen all in a line along the wall was both entertaining and fun because, unlike the fishermen of Boston, these ones were quite willing to chat with the random person asking how their day was.
Besides, how much fun is it to watch all the grumpy seagulls herd each other around the docks? (Answer: pretty stinking hilarious).
On my way home one day, I took another route home and wound up finding two very interesting things: an Accipiter of some sort that wasn’t very nice about letting me take pictures, and a little tiny lost shrew:
This is a northern short-tailed shrew; a very small mammal that looks something like a mole with a tail and a pointy face. He was wandering in circles on the pavement, presumably on the trail of some tasty morsel, before he decided that risking life and limb against the bikes probably wasn’t the best idea.
By now, you know I’m a sucker for sunsets. And Madison definitely didn’t disappoint for a single day. I would try to hang out near dark if I didn’t have things to do (like Skype the Other Half) before going back so I could stereotypically ride into the sunset.
And I did, after all, get to see more of those cranes I wanted to see.