Tom's Blog

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Prairie and savanna plant species present at Pleasant Valley Conservancy before restoration

We were fortunate that in 1995-1997, before any restoration work had begun at Pleasant Valley Conservancy, several plant species lists were prepared by competent botanists. Later, after Kathie became more familiar with the property, she added more species.

I put these lists together and added quite a few other species that had been missed because they were in remote parts of the property or would not have been visible at the time of year when the original observations were made.

There were 311 species that were present before any restoration or seeding, which is impressive. Also, quite a few of these species are very desirable, with high Coefficients of Conservation (C values). The complete list is given at this link. (This lengthy table was not available earlier.)

As part of my work on the history of PVC, I was interested to see where these species had been originally found, thinking that may give some idea of how they were able to hang on without human help. The table shows the principal locations, and lists the most interesting species.

In the very high quality 1990 air photo shown here the locations of the two largest prairies can be seen. Also there are quite a few smaller areas that had not (yet) brushed in.

County F road bank
Mostly savanna; a few also found in prairies, lots of golden Alexanders; important collecting site, especially for savanna species
North Woods
Large populations of Trillium grandiflora and large lady slipper orchid
Toby’s Annex
Flowering spurge, Missouri goldenrod, Showy goldenrod, little bluestem, Indian grass
Unplowed north side of what is now Toby’s Prairie
Large population of Baptisia alba
Kathie’s Prairie (Unit 1)
Lead plant, sky-blue aster, purple prairie clover, small yellow flax, fringed puccoon, short green milkweed, Agalinis gattingeri, violet wood sorel, small skullcap, blue-eyed grass, gray goldenrod, prairie dropseed, bird’s foot violet
Tom’s Prairie (Unit 4)
Lead plant, sky-blue aster, fringed and hoary puccoon, violet wood sorrel, prairie turnip, blue-eyed grass, prairie dropseed, bird’s foot violet, prairie violet
Remnant area of Unit 11A
Lead plant, New Jersey tea
White Oak Savanna
Large population of shooting star
Unit 18
Virginia wild rye, spiderwort, white baneberry,  red baneberry,
No seeding has been done; sweet Indian plantain, glade mallow, swamp milkweed
Oak savanna areas
poke milkweed, purple milkweed, spikenard, wild sarsaparilla,

In addition to these larger sites, a number of smaller prairie remnants existed at Pleasant Valley Conservancy at the time restoration work began. Most of these were areas that had not been plowed, or had been too far from the barn for much grazing. Some of these remnants were important because they were the sources of seeds of particular prairie or savanna species.

Seeing this summary makes one realize that there is good hope for many other so-called degraded sites!

A detailed study of the 1990 air photo is interesting. Many south-facing hillsides like this one had at this date been completely covered with red cedar, which is very invasive and spreads rapidly. Why is this slope still fairly open?
The photo was taken before leaf-on, so the only green seen are conifers. However, almost all of these conifers were red pines that had been planted by a former owner. There were a few red cedars, but only scattered. I think the presence of the pines had kept the cedars from taking hold. And the rest of the vegetation on the south-facing slope was deciduous, either shrubs or trees.

We began clearing this hillside in the winter of 1997-1998 and finished it in 1999-2000. Now with many burns and extensive seeding, it is a highly diverse tallgrass prairie!

Air photo taken April 13, 1990 (from Dane County Regional Planning Commission)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Baltimore checkerspots at Pleasant Valley Conservancy

The Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Association has had its June fieldtrip at PVC for the past seven years. One of the attractions has been the chance to see the Baltimore checkerspot, a small colorful butterfly which is not very common. (In Maryland, where it is the State butterfly, it is considered very rare.)

This year at PVC was no exception, and 23 checkerspots were counted. There were probably a lot more than this count. In fact, they seemed to be all over, even “puddling” in the barn’s dirty gravel apron. (I saw 5 there three days later!)

The whole butterfly trip was great this year, with an exceptional show of butterflies. Checkout the SWBA website for the complete report.

We seem to have the right habitat for checkerspots. Their primary host plant is turtlehead (Chelone glabra), an attractive wetland plant. Our wetland apparently is good habitat for this plant. I should emphasize that we burn the wetland frequently, which may help. In fact, after Fish & Wildlife Service first burned it in 2005 we saw over 100 turtlehead plants in flower!

Another interesting tidbit is that we had turtleheads and checkerspots here even before any restoration work was done. In 1995 we had hired Brian Pruka as an early consultant on our restoration work. He wrote the following analysis of our wetland:

“This Driftless Area wetland is…fed by groundwater from the adjacent bluff. Thus it has fen character to some degree….I tried to locate as many fen-loving species as possible and was delighted to find Turtlehead…which blossoms in late August and early September….Equally exciting was when I sighted a Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly. The Baltimore is one of Wisconsin’s most exotically patterned butterflies….The caterpillar…feeds exclusively on Turtlehead; thus it too is a fen-dependent species.” Wisconsin Wetlands Association Newsletter 1995.

I have compiled a list of over 300 plant species that were present at PVC before any restoration work had begun. The bulk of the species on this list came from Brian Pruka.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

10th anniversary of Pleasant Valley Conservancy State Natural Area

Although Pleasant Valley Conservancy State Natural Area was actually created when Governor Jim Doyle signed the official document in 2007, the dedication ceremony was not held until 2008. Today is the 10th anniversary of that ceremony.


June 7, 2008
1:00 PM-1:30 PM
Pleasant Valley Conservancy State Natural Area
Town of Vermont, Dane County, Wisconsin

Evanne Hunt, President, The Prairie Enthusiasts

Signe L. Holtz, Director, Bureau of Endangered Resources, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Mark Martin, Natural Areas Specialist, WDNR

Richard Henderson, Vice President, The Prairie Enthusiasts and President, Empire-Sauk Chapter, Prairie Enthusiasts

Darcy Kind, Landowner Incentive Program Conservation Biologist, WDNR

Kathie and Tom Brock, Landowners, The Savanna Oak Foundation, Inc.

Field Trips
1:30-3:30 PM

Prairies and Savannas at Pleasant Valley Conservancy: Rich Henderson

Wetlands and Reed Canary Grass Research at Pleasant Valley Conservancy: Craig Annen, Integrated Restorations, Inc.

Birds: Dave Sample, Research Scientist, WDNR

How the Restoration Work Was Carried Out, Willis Brown, Michler and Brown, LLC

How We Got Started: Kathie and Tom Brock

Refreshments After the Tours

Exhibits and Refreshments in the Barn

See Over for Public Trail Map

 We had sent out invitations to various mailing lists, and the event was announced in the local papers. We set up a registration table under a shade tree, and provided name tags. The count (I still have the sign-up sheets) was 118, and there were probably some who did not register.

Anticipating a good turnout, we set up several field trips, some short, some long. The trips are shown on the program.

Kathie and I chose Saturday June 7 as the dedication date because the Conservancy would be looking fresh and lush, and the weather was likely to be good. We had had a very successful spring burn season. Unfortunately, the weather made a wild change in mid-afternoon, ushering in a weekend of heavy rainfall. We missed the line of tornadoes that streamed across northern Illinois but not the “historic” flooding that inundated southern Wisconsin. This was the weekend that Lake Delton disappeared and Lake Mendota overflowed its banks.

Fortunately, most of the “events” occurred before the rains came, although most of the field trip participants got soaked, and moved eagerly into the barn where the refreshments were laid out. Those significant numbers who came on bicycles had a little trouble getting home.

Photos by Jim Hess

Registration table

Tom and Kathie

The "ceremony" took place near the cabin


Rich Henderson's field trip was well attended

After the deluge

National Weather Service
Historic Flooding of June 7- 8, 2008
2008 blog post on the flooding.

The next day
As it happened, on Sunday morning June 8 Kathie and I and Roma Lenehan were scheduled to lead a birds and wildflower trip for the Natural Resources Foundation. Despite the threatening weather, 20 people showed up for the trip to start at 9:00 AM. The heavens opened up at 8:55 AM and blinding rain occurred until 11 AM. The three leaders lectured in the barn, using the exhibits that were still standing from the day before, until the rain stopped. When we finally could hike we even saw some birds!