Winter’s first blizzard is raging outside and I can’t wait for spring and the return of the Sky Dancing American Woodcock to The Springs. The past few seasons The Keepers of the Springs, John and Sue Hrobar excitedly asked The Buckthorn Man: “Have you see the woodcocks?” The joy and wonder brightly illuminating their faces was not enough to spark a glow in The Buckthorn Man’s dimly lit bulb. It took a serendipitous encounter with Dennis Lutynski, owner of the SkyDance Pet Lodge, at the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA to turn on my learning switch.
Lindsay Knudsvig and I were relaxing yesterday in front of one of our blazing brush piles on the north side of the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA when Dennis emerged from the woods. Although we had never met, I knew it was him; I had introduced myself at SkyDance a couple weeks earlier to let them know about the NAWCA grant application and review where the property line was. The Buckthorn Man is a notorious interrupter and I could barely restrain myself as we began sharing information about how the restoration effort might impact SkyDance and how Dennis and his family took ownership of the property 12 years ago.
The SkyDance Pet Lodge is immediately north of the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA and completely surrounded by DNR land. We talked about the need to preserve the privacy of the dog kennels, sans the buckthorn, black locust and box elder, and about the potential impact the removal of all that cover would have on the local American Woodcock population. Dennis is the only woodcock bander in southeast Wisconsin and his face lit up as he described the sky dancing performances they put on right in their front yard.
“There is magic in experiencing the sky dance of the male woodcock during his courtship.
A series of spiraling flights and ground strutting mixed with musical loud buzzy bzeeps! Sky dancing as he plummets back to earth, twittering as he descends, inviting you to wonder about this unique spring ritual and the rotund little shore bird that rarely sees the shore! We invite you to experience the magical dance in the open fields surrounding our property in the Kettle Moraine Forest.
Banding the woodcock chicks is required to aid in research of the rapidly declining population. English Setter’s are frequently preferred for locating the nesting chicks. The English Setter’s careful footsie ghost-like motions set the woodcock, enabling the banders to net, record and band the chicks.”
Dennis named their kennels after the unfathomably mysterious flight of this beautiful bird.
I get it now! and plan to be front and center near the parking lot of the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail, where the American Woodcock will be performing again next spring.
It was a real pleasure to meet Dennis and he could not have been more supportive and cooperative. We are looking forward to working closely with him during the restoration to insure that a suitable visual and sound border is established between the trail on the north side of the fen and the SkyDance Pet Lodge kennels.
Dennis returned a few minutes later with a large aerial photograph circa 1967 of the property, which has been utilized as a dog kennel for over 50 years. “You got a lotta work to do!”
Yes indeed there is a lot of work to do at the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA and throughout the Kettle Moraine Forest; everywhere you look invasive plants are spreading and dominating the native flora. I want to thank everyone who has contributed to support The Buckthorn Man’s efforts — it means a lot to me and I do appreciate it. Most of all, I thank people like Andy Buchta, Lindsay Knudsvig and Ben Johnson, who have consistently volunteered their time and energy to help me on these restoration projects.
Andy and Lindsay joined me at the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA yesterday, December 27, 2015 and we lit our first brush piles of the season. There was no snow cover so we avoided the brush piles that were nestled in the edge of the marsh and instead we lit piles that were well upland. This worked out great as there were plenty of massive buckthorns on the hillside to cut and throw into the fire. We had a safe and very effective first outing with fire on land this winter season.
In case you have not noticed the events on the front page of this website, I’m posting all of my volunteer workdays on a iCalendar which you can subscribe to by visiting the Volunteer page. I’m really looking forward to the next State Natural Areas workday at the Bluff Creek SNA on January 9th. Visit the State Natural Areas Volunteers DNR site to see their workday schedule and get on their mailing list. You can also follow the action on Facebook at Southern Kettle Moraine SNA Volunteers.
See you at The Creek!