Natural Wonders

with Maggie Jones

In the summer of 1972, I wandered out of a newly rented farm house, looked up, and saw 2 red-tailed hawks soaring over woods and pasture.  They were so beautiful, so other-worldly, I was overcome with a desire to know everything about them.

Years later I became a wildlife rehabilitator and a falconer and was able to have close hands-on experience with them. Today that desire to learn about the natural world has only broadened and intensified. I’ll read some of my favorite biologists’ writings and occasionally include my own thoughts.

4 + 10 =

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Again we will enjoy a Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold published in 1949. 

This part of the November chapter called Axe in Hand,  delves into our biases when we walk into the woods with our axe, or more often now, our chainsaw. We choose what to cut and what to leave, what we favor and what we do not. Why do we make the decisions we do, working on the land?

 What I love about this chapter, and Leopold generally, is that he reveals his own thought processes. We are privy to his inner self,  weighing many different ideas and perspectives.

My thanks to the Aldo Leopold Foundation for permission to read this wonderful book. Please visit their website, Aldoleopold.org for some treats. They have a blog with many contributors that you will enjoy reading and the Phenology Calendar for 2023 is ready for mailing and packed with wisdom and observations for the whole year.

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But It’s Already Done

I’m reading again from My Double Life; Memoirs of a Naturalist. Fran Hamerstrom tells a story that reveals the love and respect Aldo Leopold’s students had for him. They used the dark of night to pull off a youthful student stunt that would make all their lives much better on the UW Madison campus. 

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We hear more from Fran Hamerstrom, born in 1907, from her book, My Double Life, Memoirs of a Naturalist. 

This chapter is called A Letter from My Mother-in-Law, and finds her in the beginning of her time as a field biologist,  with her life long partner Fredrick, moving into a farmhouse that their professor, Aldo Leopold, had arranged for them to live in. This is  in Waushara County in the middle of winter,  with no running water, no heat except the wood stove, no electricity and no phone.

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A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold continues to delight.

We will hear the August and September chapters, each with a view into a world we may have never been aware of, if it wasn’t for our perceptive sensitive author who guides us on such sweet trips afield.

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We learn from Aldo Leopold about the bur oak and its history on the southern Wisconsin landscape from the April chapter of a Sand County Almanac. 

“Thus, he who owns a veteran bur oak  owns more than a tree. He owns a reserved seat in the theater of evolution.”

I add some things I’ve learned about our forest ecology today and how forest succession has changed in the 80 years since Leopold wrote his deep historical picture of the oaks.

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Sand County Almanac, Soundscapes and Wildlife

This week, soundscapes, specifically  the sounds that Aldo Leopold  heard, sitting outside the Shack, watching and listening in the early dark hours. The sounds that he heard have changed dramatically since he was listening and scientists have reconstructed them. And because sounds of wildlife are often directly related tolight intensity, both topics are intertwined. I will also talk about sounds that sturgeon make here in Wisconsin, and the Sound Forest Lab at the University of Wi at Madison, studying sounds of tropical forests. 

two links:

https://news.wisc.edu/aldo-

https:// www.soundforestlab.org

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We take another walk into the sand country with Aldo Leopold, celebrating the glory of October.  We read from A Sand County Almanac the last part of the October chapterToo Early and Red Lanterns. “Getting up too early is a vice habitual in horned owls, stars, geese and freight trains”, then wander from one red lantern to another, “the lanterns are blackberry leaves, red in the October sun”

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Smokey Gold

Today the memorable introduction Aldo Leopold wrote in 1948 for “A Sand County Almanac” after we slip into a chapter called Smokey Gold.

We travel afoot with Aldo Leopold in Adams county on a grouse hunt, but more to the point, we observe in detail the trails and tracks, smells and colors of many dwellers of the scrub wetlands in Fall.

“The Tamaracks change from green to yellow when frosts have brought woodcock, fox sparrows out of the north.”

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Drifting Down the Yellow

Another gem of a short story from Fran Hamerstrom’s book, Is She Coming Too? Memoirs of a Lady Hunter ; the chapter called “Drifting Down the Yellow”. The book is illustrated by Jonothan Wilde who was a close friend of the Hamerstroms and he is my very favorite artist. His pen and ink drawings are  charming, so beautifully rendered, a perfect compliment to the stories.

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It’s Fall and many of us yearn to get out and hunt. We venture out with Fran Hamerstrom, who always tells delightful stories; these are about two outings, each a dog story with a twist. This chapter, Dog Days, is from her book Is She Coming Too? Memoirs of a Lady Hunter. My sincere thanks  to Elva Hamerstrom Paulson for permission to read from Fran’s books.

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We hear the third and final reading from the Sigurd Olson chapter in Sumner Matteson’s book Afield. Olson describes the difficult work preserving the wilderness areas north of Lake Superior. We owe so much to so many for what we may take for granted when we plan a canoe trip into the Quetico or the Boundary Waters. We anticipate the peaceful serenity, seeing moose, hearing wolves, swimming in the clear water and having great fish meals. Without the work done over so many decades by people like Sigurd Olson we would not have those wild places to cherish. I hope this story is an inspiration to you. The book Afield is full of first person stories of naturalists and biologists who have helped preserve the beauty and biodiversity of Wisconsin. It’s published by Little Creek Press, available on Amazon

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We get a special window into the friendship between wilderness writer, guide and advocate, Sigurd Olson, and Sumner Matteson and his family, in part 2 of this chapter in Matteson’s book Afield.

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From the book Afield, we get a close personal view into the life of Sigurd Olson, writer, environmentalist, and tireless advocate for the protection of wilderness. Whether you have enjoyed a canoe voyage into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area or the Quetico-Superior wilderness in Canada, or not, we all benefit from wilderness preservation.  Olson devoted 60 years of effort to “keep massive road building projects, hydro electric schemes, intensive logging and aircraft out of the Quetico-Superior.” Counted together, the BWCA and the Quetico, comprise more than 2,700,000 acres of wilderness preserved. We join Sumner Matteson, author of the book Afield, and learn about Olson’s life, and we hear his memories of his family’s close friendship with the Olsons. This is part one of 2 parts.

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Join me, take a break, go out into the back yard, and look up to the sky to search for migrating hawks during this time of great fall southward movement.  For Broadwing hawks especially, September is the time they move through our state on their way to Central and South America.  I describe visiting Duluth MN, and have some tips on visiting the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, a very special unique place there, where you can see large concentrations of many species of hawks, eagles, falcons and vultures on passage. No matter where you are, I hope you will take time to look up and enjoy the migration.

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Dr Stanly Temple writes about his early life learning about birds and wildlife from mentor Rachel Carson. He writes, 

“I didn’t know it at the time but the kindly woman (on birding field trips), who took me under her wing on those outings would eventually become one of my personal inspirations and professional heros.” We will hear Stan’s essay about Rachel Carson.

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One can never Walk When the Moon is Full too often.

We join Fran Hamerstrom and her children on 2 hot summer nights; we hear the July and August chapters of her wonderful book.

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 Wisconsin’s Greenfire; Voices for Conservation, is an organization of retired natural resource professionals who have banded together to lend their considerable skills toward 

promoting science-based management of natural resources; this, rather than politically expedient and short-term policies.We then hear Greenfire Science Council member Curt Meine’s essay,The Prehn Decision; Backdrop to a Breakdown about the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and its governing board of directors, and its history. The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently handed down a decision allowing Fred Prehn to remain on the seven-member Wisconsin Natural Resources Board that oversees the state Department of Natural Resources.  His 6 year term expired in May of 2021. The case came before the court because of Prehn’s unwillingness to step down, and the state senate’s refusal to hold hearings on Governor Evers’ nomination of a successor

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I love our cuckoos, the yellow-billed and the black-billed, and I hope you will too, after hearing about their surprising lives. Today the amazing sounds and habits of our 2 beautiful and distinctive cuckoos.

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What a gift to future generations this book is; Aldo Leopold’s  A Sand County Almanac, contains images and feelings that live in our hearts. Today the July chapter,  with 2 parts, Great Possessions and Prairie Birthday;  

“…it is a fact, patent both to my dog and myself, that at daybreak I am the sole owner of all the acres I can walk over. It is not only boundaries that disappear but also the thought of being bounded.” Thank you again to the Aldo Leopold Foundation for permission to read this book

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We get a rare look at the pre-settlement Blue Mounds landscape and 

the thoughts of a Tory in the Wisconsin Wilderness as he must re-enter society approaching Dubuque after long travels along the river courses. “I should soon be in the vortex of a white frontier population, must abandon my canoe, exchange the peaceful tent, pitched on the clean bank of an interesting river, for dirty accomodation at some filthy tavern, and make up my account to pay in money for every act of civility I might receive.”  

We finish Mike Mossman’s essay about an Englishman geologist’s travels, published in the quarterly journal of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, The Passenger Pigeon, Vol. 50 no. 4, Winter 1988. 

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Another historical perspective takes us along the old Wisconsin river routes in the 1830s. Along the Fox, the Wisconsin and the Mississippi Rivers, we travel with the first geologist hired by the federal government, a British Tory, to explore parts of our new country. We are in what was then, part of the Michigan Territory  which will become Wisconsin, with George Featherstonhaugh (pronounced fen-shaw!). This essay is part one of A Tory in the Wisconsin Wilderness by Mike Mossman, published in the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology quarterly journal the Passenger Pigeon Vol. 50, no. 4, Winter 1988.

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Part 2 of Mike Mossman’s essay on John Muir’s years growing up in Wisconsin is continued today.  We hear selections of Muir’s book “The Story of my Boyhood and Youth” written just a few years before his death. It’s an eloquent portrait of Wisconsin in the 1850s. This is from the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology’s quarterly journal, the Passenger Pigeon, Volume 50, No.2, Summer 1988.

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In 1988 The Wisconsin Society for Ornithology introduced a  series of essays called “In the Words of Ornithologists Past” in their quarterly journal, The Passenger Pigeon. We will hear the introduction to the series, and first part of Mike Mossman’s essay-  John Muir: Reveling in the Wisconsin Frontier.

 Muir arrived here from Scotland at age 11 in 1849 and reveled in our wonderful state for his formative years.

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From Afield, we hear A Gathering of the Voices, written by Curt Meine. It’s the forward to the book

Afield.  

Curt is a conservation biologist, environmental historian, and writer. It is an honor for me to read his part of Sumner Matteson’s book.

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In a reading from Sumner Matteson’s Afield, Jim Zimmerman talks further about his great teachers, and the wide ranging positive impact they had, and his own methods of reaching people’s minds and hearts. And we learn of Jim’s creative work to save the unique canyons of the Kickapoo River from being damed and becoming a lake. “Regarding the land ethic, there’s one fight to preserve land I’d like to mention. In the early 70s there was a proposed dam impoundment in the Kickapoo River Canyon of west-central Wi Driftless Area.”

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From Sumner Matteson’s book Afield we hear more from his interview with botanist Jim Zimmerman, about his life as a student and his teachers, among them Aldo Leopold. He discusses four teachers who had a profound influence on his life and his approach as a teacher.

“Jim Zimmerman was a master at inspiring people, in leading his students to be better stewards of their land. Wisconsin today is a much better state because of all the things Jim did during his lifetime”

Roy Lukes

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Scott Weidensaul is an eloquent writer who many birders love to read. We hear the preface to his classic book published in 1999, Living on the Wind , Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds, and the introduction to his new book A World on the Wing, The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds.

published by WW Norton in 2021.

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Helen Macdonald takes us to the top of the Empire State Building to meet a leading ornithologist and give us new insight  into the fascinating vertical environment; “a tumultuous world teeming with unexpected biological abundance.” The chapter is called High Rise from her book of essays, Vesper Flights.

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The Passenger Pigeon Monument at Wyalusing State Park was dedicated in 1947. We hear Aldo Leoplod’s  speech from that day at the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers.  “Today the laden oaks still flaunt their burden at the sky, but the feathered lightning is no more.” And we hear Dr. Stanley Temple’s introduction to the reprinted booklet, Silent Wings, A Memorial to the Passenger Pigeon published by the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology.

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Aldo Leopold writes about the ultimate bird of the grasslands ; the upland sandpiper, another reading from The Sand County Almanac, Back from the Argentine.

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Venture out with Fran Hamerstrom and her children in a very different habitat. Let’s take A Walk in the City; from Walk When the Moon is Full . What do they find?

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From Afield, Botanist Jim Zimmerman is featured today. Maggie remembers co-workers at Willy Street Coop who walked with him afield every chance they got. His influence was strong even on people he never met; and some personal thoughts (after discussions with many botanists) about leaving ramps in the woods. 

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Today an essay, Exquisite Hours by Ken Lange, retired naturalist from Devil’s Lake State Park.  He touches on the moments in our lives, and reveals his love of poets and other writers about the natural world. Thanks to Ken and The Wisconsin Society for Ornithology for permission to read this essay.

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We spend more time with Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, reading from the March chapter, The Geese Return and April, Come High Water.

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We read from Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac; the February chapter, Good Oak, a journey with Leopold as our guide, into Wisconsin’s natural history. 

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Woodcocks do their skydance in April and today we read 2 biologists’ stories about this enchanting natural wonder.  First, Aldo Leopold from ‘April’ in A Sand County Almanac, then Fran Hamerstrom from her book Walk When the Moon is Full.

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Maggie reads from the last chapter of Fran Hamerstrom’s book Is She Coming Too? Memoirs of a Lady Hunter; the chapter called Biography of a Dancing Ground about the sharp-tailed grouse.

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Again we hear from Frances Hamerstrom and another of her books, Birding With a Purpose;  learning how her very early life experiences formed the foundation of a life of pioneering conservation work.

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Maggie reads from Walk When the Moon is Full  by biologist Frances Hamerstrom. Fran writes, “Everything in this book actually happened,,, ” We will go out at night with the family and join the adventures.

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Maggie reads from Helen MacDonald’s Vesper Flights, the moving essay, The Human Flock.

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Reading again from Afield;  Eric sees a stirring vision on a cold early morning survey,  and finally has a restaurant meal when tiny critters attack, and Maggie talks about our State Natural Areas Program with a tip on visiting the Rush Creek SNA in Crawford County.

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“Afield EE Wallace and Darwin”

Maggie continues reading from Afield; Eric discusses Wallace and Darwin, recommends some good books and we end with a reading from Those of the Forest by Wallace Grange.

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Maggie reads more from Afield, this time we’re on Outer Island in the Apostle Islands as a ferocious storm hits.

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from Feb 8th, Maggie reads from Afield, stories of naturalists and talks about the author, Sumner Matteson and his work writing this book, and with his work with the  reintroduction of the trumpeter swan to Wisconsin.

Natural Wonders-Premiere January 25, 2022

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Maggie reads from the introduction to Vesper Flights by Helen MacDonald, and discusses the winter breeding habits of great horned owls and bald eagles.