Weekly Walk: Nurse tree, milkweed, and a new use for puffballs

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Ellen Davis | October 13, 2015

The Weekly Walks for Oct. 6 and 7, 2015

The  4 p.m. Tuesday hike,  reported by Marvin Herman:     

Six hikers and two Pomeranians met at the Highway 12 parking lot for a swift walk around Lake La Grange, a total of three miles. Before setting off we noticed numerous flying insects at the kiosk, including box elder bugs and Asian beetles making their last stand before the cold weather sets in.

As we started our hike at the south end of the lake we were treated to the sight of the graceful flight of several white egrets and one blue heron. The egrets could still be observed on the opposite shore as we made our way toward Russ' bench. A lone monarch butterfly was seen amongst the goldenrod, and a brown snake about ten inches long was seen by one of the hikers.

Puffball mushrooms are still in evidence, although they might be getting a bit too yellow to harvest. The lake was beautifully still as we passed Ruth's Point, shimmering under the warm autumn sun. It was another beautiful day for a hike!

The 10:30 a.m. Wednesday long hike,  also reported by Marvin Herman:

Temperatures were in the low sixties under sunny skies as the hikers assembled at the U.S. Highway 12 meeting place. It was a glorious day for a hike, and we decided that it would be a good day to walk the Eagle Segment of the Ice Age Trail. Our group of sixteen left half their cars at the hunters' parking lot north of Wisconsin Highway 59 and car-pooled to the trailhead on Wisconsin Highway 67 north of Eagle to begin the 5.7-mile trek across the prairie.

Along the way we encountered a beautiful display of New England asters raging purple against the browning foliage of Wisconsin autumn, and noted occasional puffballs in shaded areas.  Heading up the rocky slopes at Brady's Rocks, we were glad to be in a cool place should the sun burn hot over the flatlands to come. Various hikers reported seeing stands of “butter and eggs” in bloom, some late bindweed, a stray monarch butterfly over the ruined milkweed, and half a dozen snakes. We saw a wild turkey at Wilton Road, and hundreds of starlings in a shady spot near the last mile of the trail. Jo and I provided some refreshment at the halfway point of the hike, but that didn't mean that we wouldn't all be fiercely hungry at the end.

The solution to that problem was lunch at the Main Street Family Restaurant in Palmyra where we discussed today's hike and various future activities over good food, including – of course – pie.

The 10:30 a.m. Wednesday short hike,  reported by Ellen Davis

Our group this morning consisted of 12 hikers (including a visitor from Florida) and three canines. Given a choice of woods or prairie, the prairie won by a landslide. Two hikers – plus beagle – decided to forego the additional drive and set off around Lake LaGrange, while the rest of us headed for the hunters' parking lot off Wisconsin 59. We arrived at our destination to find a traffic jam as the long-hikers re-arranged cars and passengers and departed for the Ice Age Trail trailhead on Wisconsin 67 to begin their hike, and we finally began ours.  

Many of the prairie plants were new to our Florida visitor. Milkweed, just beginning to open its pods to release its seed, was of special interest; throughout the hike one or another of the group would release a cloud of milkweed seeds to float on the breeze. We admired the old stone field boundaries and fencerows, and treated our eyes to long peaceful vistas.

We crossed County Highway N and paused to examine the nurse tree – a large oak with a small cedar growing out of the juncture of two branches, framed by a colorful Virginia creeper.  Jake and four others turned back after the second prairie section for a three-mile hike while the other five of us continued to Wilton Road before heading back. The poison ivy in the woods was well into its fall color change. Two of our group saw a green snake and George humorously demonstrated what not to do on a boardwalk access ramp. We did take a small puffball (yes, it's legal) back with us, unsure of its ultimate destiny as it looked a little too old to be tasty. That destiny became apparent when we reached the parking lot: the truck belonging to our IAT Chapter Coordinator was disturbingly un-adorned. We wondered how the puffball would look perched on the radio antenna.... It was a great temporary improvement, and now that our work here was done, we could join the others for lunch at the LaGrange General Store.

Happy trekking!

Respectfully submitted,

Ellen Davis

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