DAVIS COLUMN: Prairie birthdays begin

DAVIS COLUMN: Prairie birthdays begin

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Much of southern Wisconsin once was covered by grasslands; wild, tall grasses nearly concealing even the taller wild things.

Buffalo were portrayed to have their bellies tickled by compass plants, and elk must have pranced through grasses, too, getting to and from forested lowlands, because their centuries-old antlers show once in a while when excavations are made to re-channel waterways near Yellowstone Lake State Park in Lafayette County, and the headwaters of the Pecatonica River in Iowa County.

June is when many of the non-grasses flower too, plants with more noticeable blooms than big and little bluestem. The showy bloomers likely are more noticeable now in reestablished prairies than the past.

The sod-busted prairies are still here, albeit with other grasses providing grains in one form or another. Corn, wheat and oats feed domestic animals, but also many wild birds and mammals before and after the combines now roll through. We hunt pheasants, rabbits, deer and turkeys here and watch many others, including upland sandpipers, now back from Argentina.

Compass plants are still growing tall before their sunflowers form, but other composite plants, including sand coreopsis and pale purple coneflowers are about to show yellow and purple.

A guide to individual plants in the prairie’s vegetation can be found in Prairie Plants of the University of Wisconsin—Madison Arboretum. Each of the 320 species is given special attention with photographs and interesting notes, as well as descriptions to identify the species.

Blooming dates, often called prairie birthdays, are marked by birthdays of fauna using the prairies, edges, savannas and deciduous forests now grown up in less-farmed fields.

With fauna birthdays come mistakes by young. Wild turkeys struggle to stay close to their mother hen in head-high vegetation.

White-tailed fawns get too close to our improvements, including a concrete wall concealing a propane tank, and then bleat back to the mother, who is no help to a 10-pound body squeezed from both sides. A gentle lift by its ears begins a quick escape.

A short time later another fawn was found beginning its existence inches from a basement door, among hostas. A baby robin decides to park in a garage for a few days.

Waterfowl of all sizes feed in lowlands, with Canada geese, mallard and wood ducks swimming and eating at the same time. Higher above, a single eaglet is still unsure of using its wings to soar, or in this case, glide to earth.

Those who hunt waterfowl can see Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board approved the 2020 bag limits and season dates. The North opener is Sept. 26 and the South and Mississippi zones open Oct. 3, with the regular season running 60 days. The hen mallard daily bag limit has been increased from one to two.

Fruit and nut development continue to progress with early assessments possible. Tiny acorns, walnuts, and shagbark hickory nuts are there for the counting, but most are high on the tree meaning binoculars are useful.

Black raspberries are enlarging, but green. Blackberries are ending their blooming season. Domestic strawberries are coming into their own; some picking restrictions (COVID-19) may apply.

Corn crops will have no wait for the knee-high test; at least those plants surviving the early nibbling by whitetails.

It’s bluegills, bluegills, bluegills, according to Wayne Whitemarsh in Sauk City, who says to try your own special bait. “Some are even going back to waxworms, but I prefer leaf worms,” he said. “Devils Lake got a good release of trout, brown and rainbow.”

Heavy rains put a slow on many area trout streams, but they usually clear quickly.

Many spring blooming shrubs and trees can be pruned. If shaping some evergreens is desired, now is the time to cut back the candles on some, but understand these plants react somewhat differently to pruning than do deciduous shrubs and trees.

Bark is still slipping on most trees, so be careful with mowing and pruning equipment.

The Department of Natural Resources 2019 ethical hunter award will be presented to Hank Xiong, of Oshkosh, at Vortex Optics in Barneveld next week.

Ring-necked pheasant releases will be diminished somewhat this autumn for the Oct. 17 opener, an impact of COVID-19.

Some elderberry shrubs appear to be developing a crop of wax bean fruit, but it’s only a bad case of a fungal rust disease.

Food from the wild is about to get a real boost in the next weeks with blackcaps ripening. Wild asparagus is getting tough, with July 4 being a solid stop picking date.

Contact Jerry Davis, a freelance writer, at sivadjam@mhtc.net or 608-924-1112.

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