Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fish in the Road

On the way to Meridean via Rustic Road 107, I stopped to help a western painted turtle cross the road. 

That's when I noticed ripples on the surface of the puddle on the side of the road - behind the turtle.

A school of tiny fish stranded by the receding flood waters on along the Chippewa River.

I didn't have a bucket or anything in which to transport them back to the river.   So I left them there.
Dinner for a lucky raccoon or kingfisher?

What species?  I didn't have a clue.

On the way home, I stopped at the library for a fish identification book.

They look like fingerling Gizzard Shad - favorite food of the Bald Eagle.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Flood Waters Crest in Durand

The river crest was forecast for 7am today.  I went downtown to check it out.

You can see the water line on the side of these buildings.

Across the bridge, the floodwaters have spread over County Road P.

USGS predicts the river will get get back to "normal" levels by the end of the week.

I walked the Chippewa River State Trail this afternoon.  There was standing water in the woods and farm fields along the trail.  More than I'd ever seen.

But I will remember this day because of the animals I spotted on the trail:  snails, butterflies, a Belted Kingfisher and a day-flying moth, Hyles lineata, also known as a White-lined Spinx (hummingbird) moth.

White-lined Sphinx moth (head on)
White-lined Sphinx moth
This day-flying month is common throughout the western hemisphere.  But this is only the second time I've ever seen one.  They're active from February to November (2 broods).  The caterpillars feed on several plants including four o'clock (Mirabilis), apple (Malus), evening primrose (Oenothera), elm (Ulmus) and grape (Vitis).  They pupate underground.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Flood Waters Continue to Rise in Durand

Here's some perspective:

According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, the record-setting flood in the Chippewa Valley took place on September 11, 1884.  The Chicago Tribune reported that the 27-foot flood carried away houses and all the bridges in Eau Claire.  Flood-related losses in the Eau Claire Valley were estimated at $1,500,000.   More than 3,000 homes from Chippewa Falls to Durand were lost.

Here's what's happening today:

The water level hit the "moderate stage" flooding at 16-feet, and it's still rising.

The best place to see the old flood gage (where the old Hwy 10 bridge crossed the Chippewa) is the deck on the river side of the Corral Bar.

Here's how it looks at 4th and Main Street.  River Street is completely submerged.

Here's the view from the deck at the Corral, looking up-river at the old flood gage (next to Chippewa View Park).  Look for the numbers at the lower left of the gray building.

According to the old gage - at 2pm today, the river was up 14-feet.

The official gage, up-river by the new bridge, is 2-feet higher.  The river level is 16-feet.

I drove across the river to take a look at the flooding at State Rd 25 and County Road P in Waterville Twp.

Then I headed back across the river to check out my favorite rustic road - R107 to Meridean.  It was closed east of the Xcel Energy property at Tyrone.

I wondered if the high water would drive the bullsnakes to higher ground across the road near their winter hibernacula.  As the thought crossed my mind, I spotted one on the road, fattened by a vehicle.

How are the insects handling the water?  If they have wings, they're probably okay.  I spotted several bees, flies and butterflies...

Milbert's Tortoiseshell on the riverside deck at the Corral Bar
Eastern Tailed-blue

Eastern Comma

Clouded Sulphur
And the Woolly Bear caterpillars have started to show up all - crawling across sidewalks, the Chippewa River State Trail and State Road 25. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Near Record High Waters in Durand

Looking up-river around noon today, you might not realize the Lower Chippewa River is near record flood stage in Durand, Wisconsin.  

I've lived here for ten years, and I've never seen the river higher.  You can't see the river front road, park and boat dock.    They're all under water.

Here's a down-river view from the Stream Gaging Station at the State Rd 25 Bridge.

And a close-up of the river near the Corral Bar.

Across the bridge, County Road P is closed.

This USGS chart tells the story.  They predict we'll hit "Major Stage" flooding, a new record 17+ feet, Sunday and Monday.

How'd it happen?

Meteorologists say it's due to an excessive runoff from heavy rainfall Wednesday evening through Thursday.  We've had a wet summer.  The ground was saturated.  The water had nowhere to go.

So over the banks it went.

Fortunately, there's no rain in the forecast for next week.

Monday, September 6, 2010

American Hop

They're everywhere along the Chippewa River State Trail - the cone-like green flowers (known as umbels) of Humulus lupulus, American Hop (also known as common hops).

I first noticed it a few years ago, when I started walking the trail.  You can't miss the big three-lobed leaves.  This native perennial vine seems to grow everywhere the sun shines, blanketing the trees and shrubs along the trail.  The scientific name lupulus is Latin for "small wolf," a reference to this species' tendency to overtake and smother whatever it grows on - living or dead, trees, shrubs and fences.

Just about everyone in Wisconsin has heard of the word "hops."  It's a flavoring used by beer meisters.   I did not know that its American cousin can be found growing in the woods in the Upper Midwest.  However, the hops used in brewing beer are varieties cultivated for their unique flavors - not these wild flowers.

A member of the cannabis (wild hemp) family, American Hop (leaves, flowers and pollen) can be irritating to touch.  I learned this by experience when I grabbed an umbel and broke it open to show Tom the dry seeds inside.  A few minutes after I tossed the umbel, I experienced a very unpleasant burning sensation (similar to poison ivy) that lasted until I could get to a faucet and wash my hands.

Check out the underside of the leaves and stems for caterpillars (and chrysalids).  Hop is the larval food for

and Hop Vine Moth.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Nighthawk Migration

I was watching the news on TV when an old red pickup truck pulled into our driveway and parked by the pole barn this evening around 6:45pm.  I didn't recognize the truck or the driver, so I got up and went outside to see who it was.  It was  Paula - a prairie farmer from down the road in the village of Pepin - the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  She'd just gotten her pickup fixed (leaky gas tank) and she was driving by, so she stopped to say hi.

Had she not pulled in to my driveway, I'd have never seen the sky darkening with birds.  First a dozen or so, then literally hundreds swirled over my house.  Paula had no idea what I was looking at.

I tapped on the kitchen window and yelled at Tom: grab my camera and come on outside - the sky is full of nighthawks!  I'd seen recent reports on the birding list-servs, but I didn't expect to see such a congregation in my yard.   Nighthawks migrate in flocks (sometimes in the hundreds) through the Upper Midwest on their way to their wintering grounds in Cuba and South America.

Common Nighthawk - Breeding Bird Survey - ©USGS         

Together the three of us stood in awe, heads tilted back, eyes to the sky as we watched these birds silently attack a swarm of insects about 400-feet above us.   We watched until the mosquitoes (down here at ground level) became intolerable.

Ironically, nighthawks are known for eating flying insects - flying ants, grasshoppers, dragonflies, moths and mosquitoes (thus their common name:  "mosquito hawk").  They're active at dawn and dusk, and sometimes during the day when the sky is gray.

It doesn't matter where you live - you can see them where ever there's night-flying insect prey.   In cities, watch for them around baseball fields where night lights attract insects. 

These Blue Jay-sized birds nest on the ground, but the flat roofs of urban buildings also make great nesting sites for them.  

Watch for the erratic, bat-like flight (the origin of their other common name "bull bat."  The word "bull" is a reference to the noise their wings make during their amazing aerial breeding displays). 

Listen for their call - a nasal "pee- enttt."

These amazing birds are in the order Caprimulgiformes, commonly known as "goatsuckers" -  a name created by ancient herdsmen who, seeing these birds flying around their goats at dawn, blamed them for low milk production.

The frogmouth of Australia and Asia, and the Oilbird, potoos, and nightjars (Whippoorwill and Pauraque) of the new world are members of this order.