Friday, May 25, 2012

Cruising Home--The Last Leg of the PBB RoadTrip

15 May 2012
Today is the last day of our road trip. We are having a lot of fun visiting new places, meeting new people and making Project BudBurst observations, but it will be nice to be home again too.

After breakfast, we pack up the car and drive north out of Council Bluffs to the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge. DeSoto lies on the floodplain of the Missouri River and is a great place to fish and view waterfowl. We stop first at the Visitor Center where we meet Ashley Berkler Danielson, the Visitor Services Specialist for the Refuge. We talk with Ashley about Project BudBurst and she talks with us about the Refuge and the flooding that happened there last year. She shares pictures documenting the flooded conditions at the Refuge. Nearly everything was underwater during the flood and for a good long time afterwards. Amazingly, the only part of the Visitor Center that was really flooded was the basement. Not much was damaged except the heating and cooling system for the building. Unfortunately, that meant many of the artifacts from the historic Bertrand Steamboat, found and excavated at the Refuge, had to be packed up and stored to preserve them until proper climate control of the building is restored. Looks like we’ll have to make a return visit to see those!

Layers of silt from the flooding can still by seen throughout the Refuge
It’s back in the car for a quick auto tour of DeSoto. The landscape is striking in that layers of silt can still be seen nearly everywhere and the plants are trying to break through and recolonize. It reminds me of a landscape that has recently been burned, except here there is no ash or burned debris, just silt. Lots and lots of silt. In some places along the road, we see long stretches of standing dead trees that couldn’t handle the flooding. Yet, even with all of the destruction, the Refuge is teeming with life. We see turkeys, a killdeer, geese, a Baltimore oriole, and a woodpecker as we drive around. We are told that many Plains cottonwoods perished during the flood, but still there are many others in full leaf, cotton flying around our car like a light snow. This will be our only “official” stop for today, so we drink in the fresh air and views before steering our car back to I-80.

A Goatsbeard at DeSoto NWR
We’ve set the car to cruise and are making our way towards Colorado quickly now. Many miles to cover before the day is out. But we still need a few breaks, so while in Nebraska, we stop at a Rest Area just outside Cozad and take a few minutes to explore the plants growing there. We find yet another Plains cottonwood and make a Project BudBurst observation. Then back in the car and away we go to Fort Collins and home.

It is a few days since our first Project BudBurst RoadTrip Adventure. As I reflect back, I realize this road trip was unique from the many other road trips I’ve taken over the years. Because one of the goals was to make Project BudBurst observations along the way, every stop we made with our car, whether at a rest area, restaurant, gas station, National Park, or National Wildlife Refuge became its own mini-adventure. Instead of simply “looking at” our surroundings, we were actively “engaging with” and “seeking out” our surroundings at each stop. This made the entire trip even more enriching and fun. It also made the trip a little bit longer than we had planned, since we often got so engaged in our searches that we’d lose track of time! On the next trip, we’ll plan in a little buffer time to help with that. On a plant-related note, we learned along the way that Plains cottonwood (Populous deltoides) is a great tree for Project BudBurst observers from the West to the Midwest. We made observations of it at nearly all of our stops! If you are new to plants or just want to focus on one plant during a road trip, Plains cottonwood might be a great plant to watch.
With all the fun we had on this trip, my husband and I are thinking about making all of our future road trips Project BudBurst RoadTrip Adventures! We hope you'll be inspired to do the same!

Are you going on a road trip this summer? Turn it into a Project BudBurst RoadTrip Adventure. Then share your story with us at or on our Facebook page. Your adventure could be featured in our monthly newsletter or on the Project BudBurst Blog!

Want a Project BudBurst Postcard to take with you on your road trip? Send an email to the address above and we'll send you one!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

RoadTrip Day #4: Neil Smith National Wildlife Refuge

14 May 2012
On the road again, after a great visit with family and friends in Wisconsin. Today we are heading south to I-80. Over the next 2 days, our trip will take us through Iowa and Nebraska before we reach our final destination of Fort Collins.

First stop, Dubuque, Iowa, for a quick break and snack. We stop at an A&W/Convenience store not far from the welcome sign for the city. Several photos and a couple of Project BudBurst observations of Plains cottonwood and white clover and we are back on the road. Thanks Dubuque! Next time, perhaps we can stay a little longer and explore the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.
Visitor Center at Neil Smith National Wildlife Refuge

A spiderwort at the Refuge, just about to flower!
We just barely made it to the Neil Smith National Wildlife Refuge  today before the Visitor Center closed. Neil Smith National Wildlife Refuge was one of the first Project BudBurst Refuge partners, so we are extra excited to see their beautiful landscapes. We chat with Refuge Manager Cheryl Groom, tour the Visitor Center, get our Blue Goose Passport stamped, and then head back outside to check out the plants and wildlife. Lots to see at Neil Smith, but we are on a bit of a schedule, so we can’t linger long. We notice Little bluestem and Common milkweed in the butterfly garden in front of the Visitor Center. Still too early to make an observation for Project BudBurst but we’ll find something else I am sure! We hop back in the car and drive along the auto tour. We are rewarded by a herd of bison roaming the grasslands and we take a few pictures. We’re careful not to bother the bison though, since they could squish us and our car with little effort!
This Refuge is known for it's bison herd

We arrive in Council Bluffs, IA just in time for the sunset. It’s time for a good night’s rest. Tomorrow we’ll be visiting another National Wildlife Refuge and we don’t want to be sleepy when we get there!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

RoadTrip Day #3: Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

7 May 2012
The new visitor center
Day three of the Project BudBurst RoadTrip! Today is an exciting day for me. We are visiting Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, one of the places I interned for during college many years ago. We’ll be talking with Biologist Rich King to find out what has changed and check out the new visitor center.

The staff, wildlife, and flora of Necedah National Wildlife have been great to us! We’ve seen lots of  wildlife, including redheaded woodpeckers, endangered whooping cranes and pileated woodpeckers. We’ve also observed several Project BudBurst plants: Chokecherry in full flower, Quaking aspen, Paper birch and Red maple in full leaf. However, little did I know, when the day began, that this visit to Necedah would also teach me a new lesson in the importance of phenological data.

“Necedah” is a Native American word meaning “land of yellow water” and the Refuge is well known for its wetlands, sedge meadows, and oak savannas. It is also home to endangered Whooping cranes and Karner Blue butterflies. As the biologist for the Refuge, Rich King is currently leading up their whooping crane reintroduction program. Turns out, one of the many challenges of the reintroduction program is phenology-related. And at Project BudBurst, we’re always interested in learning about phenology.

Wetlands at the Refuge are a great place to spot Whooping cranes
Captively-produced whooping crane eggs are traditionally used for the reintroduction program at the Refuge. When the eggs hatch, they are reared by costumed humans and taught to migrate to and from their wintering grounds in Florida. When the birds return to Wisconsin in subsequent years to nest, they often attempt their nesting in early April, a time frame that coincides with the captive rearing facility they came from. Unfortunately, most of these nest attempts fail because the birds do not incubate their eggs to full term. Some of the birds re-nest later in the summer, but so far, very few of the nests have been successful. In 2010, for example, only 1 mating pair of cranes successfully fledged a chick on their own. Most of the nesting birds needed extra help from the staff at the Refuge. Phenologically-speaking, whooping cranes that start nesting later in the season, after April 25th, are more likely to incubate their eggs to full term.

So, how do biologists working on the reintroduction program alter the phenological habits of the whooping cranes so that they start nesting later in the season? One idea, being studied presently, is to take eggs laid by a wild population of Whooping cranes (at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada) to the nesting Whooping cranes in Wisconsin to raise into adults. The Canadian Whooping cranes experience environmental conditions at their breeding grounds that are more closely related to Wisconsin breeding ground conditions than those of the captively-reared cranes the eggs usually come from. The thought is that the Canadian cranes will introduce a later-season nesting habit to the Necedah population of Whooping cranes. That, along with several other rearing challenges the researchers are addressing, will hopefully bring more nesting success to the cranes at the Refuge. Turns out, the phenological habit of the birds, in this case the phenology of the birds incubation period, is a critical piece of the puzzle for the reintroduction program. When you and I make observations of plants for Project BudBurst, we are collecting important data about the phenological habits of plants that may be useful for biologists and land managers looking to restore native plant populations as well.

A fuzzy caterpillar chillin' on a Paper birch

Ahhh….we’ve arrived in Kaukauna, WI, where we’ll be spending the next few days visiting with family and friends. We’ll pick up our Project BudBurst RoadTrip adventure again on Monday and Tuesday, May 14th and 15th when we return to Colorado.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Day #2: Project BudBurst RoadTrip

6 May 2012
We arrived at our hotel in Wall, SD around midnight last night, so we’re a little groggy this morning. A quick breakfast and a 5 cent cup of coffee at Wall Drug gets us going and we’re off to Badlands National Park. Words are not enough to describe the Badlands. On one side of the road, grassland as far as the eye can see.On the other side of the road, rock formations and overlooks that take our breath away. My husband and I have driven through the Badlands before, but we are struck anew by their beauty every time. It’s still a little early in the season, so not many grassland wildflowers or grasses are in bloom just yet, but we spot a yucca or two that we’d love to make observations of later in the summer.
A magnificent view at Badlands National Park

Although the geology of Badlands National Park is what most people focus on during their visit, we’re interested in finding plants too, so we keep our eyes open for signs of Project BudBurst species. By the time we exit the park, we’ve found 10 Project BudBurst species. Not all the plants we see are in the phases we need (especially the wildflowers), but we’re still able to make a few Single Reports.

Project BudBurst Species in Badlands National Park (this is a starter list--there are probably more!):
Soapweed yucca in Chamberlain, South Dakota
We made a quick stop at a Rest Area outside of Chamberlain, South Dakota, where we saw Wild lupine and Soapweed yucca. They weren’t blooming or fruiting yet, but are great Project BudBurst wildflowers to observe when they do!

Our destination today is Tomah, WI, near to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, which we’ll visit tomorrow. It’s been a long day on the road and we still have a long way to go. We didn’t start driving through southern Minnesota until it was nearly dark and we weren’t able to find a Project BudBurst species to observe at any of our stops there. Bummer. We’ll have to try to plan our timing better on the next trip!