Wingra Oak Savanna, Ho Nee Um Pond, & Marion Dunn Pond Tour – Naturalists’ Notes


The Wingra Oak Savanna tour group left the starting point, at the parking lot on the corner of Monroe St. and Arbor Dr. and headed toward Wingra park, and headed toward Wingra park, stopping to admire the 70+ year-old sycamore tree. This tree was planted a few years after the land was purchased in 1936 and became part of the UW Arboretum. We ducked down the narrow trail at Pickford and emerged at the waterfront of lake Wingra to a spectacular panorama of Madison summer, which we appreciated with all of our senses. Among other things, we heard a sort of cluck/tsk sound very close to us along the shoreline and tried to imagine what we were hearing. The general consensus, I think, was that the sound was animal – and we thought that it was a sort of rodent-ey type of sound and that it could possibly be a muskrat. After brief online research, I think we were wrong. (Try searching “muskrat sounds” and you, too, can hear them chirp/squeal, not cluck/tsk.)

We continued along the lake, emerging at R7 and walked up Knickerbocker. This street is named after the Knickerbocker Ice Company that cut giant blocks of ice from Lake Wingra in the late 1800s until the about 1920. The ice was shipped to Chicago via the Illinois Central Railroad tracks.

Back near where we started, we paused at the Wheeler council ring, one of three Madison council rings designed by Jens Jensen. This one is dedicated to Jensen’s grandson, Kenneth Jensen Wheeler, who died from a brain aneurysm, just before graduating from UW, where he studied landscape architecture. The council ring’s circular shape is intended to allow groups of people to sit on equal ground and look one another in the eye as they gather and meet; there is no “head of the table.” The center rock is a platform intended for small fires. We noted the ashes present in the Wheeler council ring center rock and there was a question about Arboretum policy. Despite the original intent of that center space, fires are now not allowed.

Walking down from the council ring, we paused to enjoy the two springs along the path: one pours out from a little rock outcrop and the other bubbles up from a sandy bottom. I think I might never tire of watching and listening to these springs. I noticed some invasive forget-me-nots near the spring—a plant that was not there in the recent past. These plants are invasive in other parts of WI but have arrived at the Arb only in the past couple of years.

Continuing along between R3 and R2, we snuck silently as we watched a green heron stalk its prey. We didn’t see it catch anything but we also managed not to scare the bird off!

From Q5 we headed around “the back” of Marion Dunn pond. The path was choked with small black locust saplings. We braved our way through the thorns. I confirmed that these are black locust but, if you remember, I wondered if they might be a more vicious relative. Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) is sometimes used as a roadside tree in parts of the United States and, in Madison (including at the Arbotetum), occurs as solitary tree(s) in lawns and parks. I was surprised by the thickets formed by the saplings we scraped our way through. You don’t always see that type of thorny thicket surrounding a mature black locust. I wonder what accounts for this difference? Perhaps some horticultural variety(/ies) are less aggressive in sending up these saplings? And perhaps the thicket we went through is a more unruly relative?

One final topic that I promised I would return to in the Naturalist Notes: beavers. Several of us noted that we had seen beavers in the Ho Nee Um pond area in years past and someone wondered if there had been any recent activity sighted. Marian Farrior, the Earth Partnership Field Manager who coordinates restoration efforts in the Wingra Oak Savannna, reports that she has not seen any direct activity in the last year.

Until next time,
Sara Christopehrson, Naturalist

Located between Lake Wingra and the West Beltline Highway at 1207 Seminole Highway, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum features the restored prairies, forests and wetlands of pre-settlement Wisconsin. This 1,260-acre arboretum also houses flowering trees, shrubs and a world-famous lilac collection. Educational tours for groups and the general public, science and nature-based classes for all ages and abilities, and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for groups, families and individuals are available.