April 19, 2014
Unmarked Helicopters

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Helicopter over the Sauk Prairie Recreational Area

For years alien watchers and conspiracy seekers in the area have mentioned the black, unmarked helicopters that have roamed low in the skies over the Army’s Badger Ordinance plant, now the Sauk Prairie Recreational Area. Some wondered what was “really” going on in there. I mean, why would anyone combine a military ordinance plant with a dairy research center?  It just doesn’t pass the “smell” test.. And why the unmarked choppers plying the twilight skies?

Now, I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but many years ago I met a big, secretive man who made his home in Merrimac, Wisconsin not far from the base, who swore something was going on. The fact that he ran an alien conspiracy website at the time notwithstanding. He told me stories of people being chased from the property by choppers and escaped cattle roaming the roads late into the night only to be gone the next morning.  ”And we know what was going on with cattle out west don’t we?”

Well, when I took my 13-year-old through the gates of the new Sauk Prairie Recreational Area right after it opened this month, he was more than ready to explore the “abandon base”.  For him it was not about nature, it was about mystery, adventure and… seeing stuff. Oh, and to be sure you will see stuff!  There are abandon buildings, rusty gates, blocked roads and closed areas everywhere you look.  You can’t help but wonder what is hidden down those restricted roads. What could they be hiding?  Well, my son thinks he found one of the secrets! It all starts with a ladder down into a now flooded, underground secret somewhere..  We’ll have to talk about that more one day.

Black Helicopter - Sauk Prairie Recreational Area

Unmarked Helicopter – Sauk Prairie Recreational Area

I was reminded of all this crazy conspiracy stuff just the other day when I was driving through the Sauk Prairie Recreational Area. I was driving past a broken old building I’ve come to call the “Vulture Building” due to the vultures lined on its roof the first time I was there. I had just turned a corner when I saw a chopper coming in low from the south-west. It flew in slowly right over my Jeep then slowly circled in front of me and came back around. I pulled my truck up under some northern white cedar trees and sat.  The chopper continued around behind me and came in so low to the road that dust and grass began to whirl around on the ground.  I drove forward, the helicopter lingered for a few moments before turning east and disappearing in the distance.  I continued on out of the park and headed home.

What’s going on in there?  Maybe you should have a visit and find out!

—–

**Of course we’re just having fun, but as they say, “It’s all about presentation” and exploring an abandon base full of secrets may offer you kids an interesting approach to exploring the new Sauk Prairie Recreational Area. (While you just look for birds of course!!) Just remember, stay out of the restricted areas. Frankly, they’re not safe!  (Oh, and the bit about being circled by the chopper.. that really happened!)



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April 18, 2014
Frozen!

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Frozen Heron - Devil's Lake State Park

Video Clip – Nothing like an April snowfall to make you even more anxious for spring!  This poor heron at the rookery on the south shore certainly looked like he was more than tired of Wisconsin weather!



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April 17, 2014
Spring Cleaning at Badger (SPRA)

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Prescribed Burn at the Sauk Prairie Recreational Area

Have you visited the Sauk Prairie Recreational Area located on the southern border of Devil’s Lake State Park yet?  Remember, this time around the new public land is only open until May 27th as there is still a lot of work to do out there. If you had visited the SPRA today, you would have seen smoke rising from somewhere on the southern end where workers from DNR and Devil’s Lake State Park were performing a controlled burn.

Controlled burns are used to help restore historically fire-adapted environments such as Wisconsin’s grasslands, prairies and oak savannah. Fires bring health back to the land by removing brush, shrubs, dead wood and non-native plants. Native fire-adapted plants will quickly regrow and the land will be awash in green, often in just a couple of weeks! It’s an amazing transformation!!

It’s worth noting too, that restoration burns are not simply about plants. Many insects and animals are specially adapted to live in these specific fire-adapted environments. Controlled burns maintain they open environments they need to survive.

If you would like to see more pictures from today’s burn and more pictures from the Sauk Prairie Recreational Area in general, check out our SPRA Pinterest Board.  If you plan to visit Devil’s Lake State Park in the next few weeks, why not take a drive over to the SPRA and have a look around as well.  It’s a little rough around the edges at the moment, but it’s easy to see what an amazing place it will be,  not too far into the future!



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April 15, 2014

This video is about Spring Thaw - Water Fall

April 14, 2014
Snow!! Grrr! http://ift.tt/1qAx5it

Snow!! Grrr! http://ift.tt/1qAx5it

April 14, 2014

This video is about Heron In Snow

April 13, 2014
Ice Out 2014!

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Ice Out on Devil's Lake. April 12th, 2014

April 12, 2014 is the official “Ice Out” day this year at Devil’s Lake State Park.  It came as a bit of a surprise. Just the day before, the whole of the lake (Well, 95% of the lake!) was covered with ice! It only took one night for the ice to completely disappear from the surface of Devil’s Lake. No floating ice, no ice on the shoreline or drifted up on the beach. Nothing!  This can happen sometimes when we have a few days of heavy rains, or when the air temperatures are unusually warm.  This time however, we had neither. The ice was just there one day and gone the next.  Amazing.  Spring is here!

Now that the ice is gone, folks will be tempted to get right out on and into the water.  Keep in mind that the water temperatures will be just above freezing.  If you fall in, cold water shock and hypothermia are immediate risks. No one should really be on the water this time of year without a drysuit and life jacket.



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April 12, 2014
Merrimac Ferry is Open!

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Merrimac Free Ferry near Devil's Lake State Park . Wisconsin.

Yesterday at 2pm the popular free Merrimac Ferry began shuttling passengers across lake Wisconsin.  The Merrimac Ferry is free and is a popular attraction for both locals and visitors to the area who take their cars or simply park and ride. We shot this shot video clip yesterday (April  11, 2014) as the ferry came into Merrimac on one of it’s early runs.

Oh, and by the way, those orange ropes in the water, well those are the cables that are used to pull the ferry back and forth across the river.  BOATERS avoid these cables.. hitting one would be bad.



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April 11, 2014

Ferry Arrives in Merrimac on April 11th, day one of the 2014 season.

April 11, 2014
Backyard Explorer – French Creek Wildlife Area

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French Creek Wildlife Area, Portage Wisconsin.

We kick off our new Backyard Explorer series with a visit to the French Creek Wildlife Area which is located about 35 minutes north-east of Devil’s Lake State Park, just 6 miles north of Portage, Wisconsin.  The French Creek Wildlife Area is a 3,506 acre slice of wetlands, grasslands, savannas, fens, tamarack bogs and sedge meadows. French creek is a recommended stop for birding and was worth a visit during the spring migration.

Leaving from our home here in Baraboo just after 5pm, we still had plenty of time to enjoy the sights. There are no trails per se, but it’s possible to watch the wildlife from highway F which cuts through the lower section of French Creek or to head into the French Creek Fen State Natural Area where you can walk a maintenance road through the wetlands.

Marsh Hawk on French Creek Wildlife Area - Wisconsin.

Marsh Hawk scans the water for an easy meal..

From our first stop in a parking area along county highway F, we were surprised to see that there seemed to be no ducks nearby.  Well, that was until we saw a Marsh Hawk (Nothern Harrier) gliding in from the east.  After the hawk slid by, the ducks began to move out into the open water once again.

What is a Fen?

What is a Fen? (click to enlarge)

After watching the area from the road for awhile, we drove down to the south end of the wildlife area and found the small, rough dirt road that took us into the interior of the preserve and to a small parking area that marked the beginning of the French Creek Fen State Natural Area.  From the parking area strewn with garbage and beer cans (and a deer carcass hanging in a tree), we walked passed a gate riddled with shotgun holes out onto a maintenance road that traveled right through the center of the wetlands.

From 100 yards into the hike you feel as though you have traveled deep into the wilderness. The air was filled with the calls of Sandhill Cranes, Canada Geese, Red-Wing Blackbirds and occasional chattering of  ducks.  The road was flat and made walking no effort at all. Every few minutes we would stop to take in all the action.  We saw coots making their way through the grass as Blue Winged Teels flew past and splash landed in the distance.  A pair of Canada Geese begrudgingly moved as we walked by their nesting area which they were building right next to the road.  Overhead, cranes, geese & ducks were continually flying may and calling as they went.  In the light of the setting sun, the birds in flight glowed in awesome hues of yellows and orange.

mallard ducks - French Creek, Wisconsin

Now here was the trick, we knew we were running out of daylight, but we were being called forward by the road which seemed to continue on and curve off in the distance.  Using my fingers to measure the amount of time we had before the sun would slip below the horizon we decided to continue on for a few moments before turning back.  We finally came to another curve in the road, when we simply had to get back if we wanted to return to the car before darkness fell. We’ll certainly be going back to explore some more.. next time we may have to take the kayaks!

Check back for more “Backyard Explorer” posts over the coming weeks and months as we explore the many natural areas and interesting sights right here in our part of Wisconsin.  Even if you only have a few hours, you can still find awesome new places to explore right here in your back yard!

The take aways:

  • Again, the drive is about a half hour from Baraboo and only 6 miles from Portage, so you are always close to a small town for gas and supplies.
  • Bring bug spray from late spring to late fall!
  • French Creek is a great place to go hunting for birds, especially during migration seasons. (In the post above I didn’t name every species we saw, but there were quite a few more.)
  • For kids the road through the state natural area will be an easy walk and you can expect encounters not only with ducks, but frogs and other wetland creatures as well.
  • From a canoe or kayak you’re going to feel like you’ve been transported to Canada.

If you’d like to learn more about the French Creek Wildlife Area or The French Creek Fen State Natural area we would recommend these links.

Map



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