Walkin' With the Wild Woman

Come go for walk with the Wild Woman and see what you will find .....

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

April Is Awesome For Foragers

April is an awesome month for foraging! Tender shoots of wild asparagus are starting to nudge their chubby green heads up through the grass along the roadside, morel mushrooms begin popping up left and right, day lily shoots begin to peek out. Whatever your foraging preference is, April is a month to celebrate. 

Here are my top five April Foraging Favorites

Asparagus – If you are fan of tame or hybrid asparagus you will definitely love the richer flavor that you find in the wild varieties. While sometimes difficult to see when the spears first emerge, keep your eyes peeled along roadsides, near abandoned home sites, and in meadows for the first early feathery leaves to appear. Once you sight these look closely all around for the new spears that coming up alongside those that have always shot up. 

Make a note of every patch you find; in years to come you will soon have enough patch’s locations stored away to keep you in plenty of asparagus for the season. Patches that initially may have only netted me a handful of spears when I first found them, have grown and spread so that now they produce armloads.  Watch for the little pointed heads to begin poking out so that you can harvest asparagus at its freshest and most tender stage. A nice spring drive can likely reward you a basketful from old and abandoned roadside patches. Remember though – when harvesting any wild plant from the roadside, to insure that it hasn’t been contaminated with any chemicals or heavy exhaust residue. 

Morels – Who doesn’t know about morels? The trick is finding these well camouflaged delicacies. Rule of thumb, find the tree, find the shroom. Morels are often found near and around wooded areas with high elm, wild cherry and silver maple concentrations. I’ve also had good luck in stands of paw paw trees.  Whether you hunt in a woodland setting, a river bottom, or a rocky bluff, April is the month known for producing morels. In fact April and May are about the only time of the year will have luck finding the mythical mushrooms.  While some early hunters routinely find them in March and sometimes into Early June, April is THE month for morels! 

Day Lily Shoots - Day lilies rate delish factor of about 11 — crisp, green and tender, a little like young snap peas, with a bit of an onion/scallion flavor. A word of caution, day lily shoots closely resemble some very poisonous plants such as iris; it’s imperative that you make a correct id before consuming them. - The quickest way to tell edible day lilies from poisonous look-alikes such as irises, daffodils and lilies — aside from waiting until mid-summer for the showy blossom — is to check the roots. The day lily propagates from an underground network of tubers that resemble tiny potatoes, while poisonous impostors arise from bulbs, or a long single tuber with few to no hair like projections or small tubers attached.  A few folks experience a mild stomachache after eating day lilies; nosh wisely! Day lily shoots tend to be very dirty at the base, so they must be rinsed thoroughly. 

Spring Greens - Dandelions, garlic mustard, lambs quarters, wild onions, chicory and nettles are all at their most tasty and least bitter stage in early spring, making them a stand by on our April tables. A quick walk around your yard or open fields can easily lend a bounty of greens that be served as fresh green salad or sautéed into a wilted style salad. The nutritional benefits of the spring greens are an outstanding and great way to help clear out all the winter gunk form your system. 

Sweet Violets – Who can resist the thousands of tiny purple violets that litter yards and the forest floors every April? Sweet violet flowers are as beautiful as they are edible. Whether you use the blossoms to make a delicate hued jelly, or candy them and use them as an edible decoration on spring time sweets; blue (sweet) violets definitely lend a spring touch to any meal.

Sweet violets (Viola odorata) can be candied or used in violet tea, violet cake, and violet syrup. While commonly added to salads, you can also use violet flowers to make vinegars, butters, spreads, and jellies. Their white, pink, blue, or lavender blooms have a sweeter, more perfumed taste than the more colorful blooms of hybrid annual violas and pansies. Sweet violet leaves are slightly tart, and make a nice addition to any “spring greens” salad. Harvest freshly opened flowers in the morning when the oils are most concentrated and blooms look their best. The more you harvest, the more blooms will form. Harvest the sepals (base of the flowers) with the petals for added flavor.

April is the time to dust off that walking stick, break out the bags and baskets and fill your table with all manner of delicious spring treats.  While out and about, don’t forget your fishing pole – there is no better spring meal than a plateful of freshly caught crappie or bluegill, with morels, spring greens and candied violets on the side!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Still "Chasin' Birds" !

My beloved waterfowl are slowly but surely making their way out of the area and on to their winter homes, but that doesn’t mean that I am no longer chasing birds. It merely means that I have shifted my focus so to speak to the other migrants, the residents who are in full breeding colors and in some cases are beginning to nest, and of course the “boys of spring” the wild turkeys that seem to be everywhere in the spring woods right now. 

So I’ve been wandering about the last few days – still in search of fine feathered friends. Hmmm seems like I am always “chasin’ birds” doesn’t it?
Although I spend an enormous amount of time looking for birds to photograph, I don’t consider myself a birder; bird watcher yes, bird photographer – of course, and bird hunter, again of course. Let’s be clear on the bird hunting part before some crazed anti-hunting birder jumps on the band wagon – I only use the phrase “bird” as a general description and only hunt legal species that are considered game birds. I am not out there picking off cardinals and nuthatches with an air rifle. Got that folks? 

I have been pulling the trigger on the camera a good bit in recent days - I hope you all enjoy the photos as much as I have enjoyed sitting in the spring woods and traverse the recently open waters in search of these beautiful winged wonders! 

An unusual find for southern Illinois –

I honestly stumbled into this group of common loons. While they are occasionally seen in southern Illinois during migration, I wouldn’t call them a common visitor. A quick check of the eBird sighting map confirmed that indeed the loons really are just occasional visitors here in my neck of the woods. I might as well admit, I wasn’t looking for them I was looking for a restroom.  I knew that one of my favorite boat ramps had good bathrooms so I was headed to there when I noticed what I first thought was an odd looking cormorant (they are common here).  Imagine my surprise when I realized I was looking at loons! 

one of the loons that is not in "breeding color"

I absolutely spent way too much time planted right there in the little inlet, sitting at the boat ramp, watching these beautiful birds.  

The quarry that I was after specifically, were the “boys of spring” – the wild turkey gobblers that are beginning their annual spring show…huffing, puffing, fluffing themselves up and showing of their beautiful tail fans all in hopes of snagging a hen turkey or two. 

I was also treated to a show by the migrating white pelicans – evidently the word is out that the shad are running and this neighborhood is a good spot for mid migration snack. 

Not to be outdone by the bigger birds, this lovely ringneck pheasant rooster came trotting through as I was waiting on the gobblers to get a little closer to me. I’m not sure who more surprised to see who; the pheasant or me! 

I love our local migrant, resident, and occasional birds, and I love photographing them. I am really excited to announce that thanks to the generosity and assistance with planning a super trip by  the Fond du Lac CVB I will be attending the world famous Horicon Marsh Birding Festival this year. I can’t even imagine the photo opportunities and sightings that await me in Wisconsin!

Until it’s time for my much anticipated trip to Fond du Lac, Lake Winnebago, and Horicon Marsh; I will keep myself content roaming the backwaters, the fields, and the forests chasing our southern Illinois birds!