Bass Hollow SNA

Because most State Natural Areas do not have trails I often choose NRF field trips to them rather than nature preserves that have trails. Mostly because I’m chicken, sadly lack map and compass skills and don’t want to get lost. Bass Hollow SNA is state land managed by the DNR, but also has a county park quite close by. They are not the same.

On the edge of the Driftless region of Wisconsin, it’s a crucially important ecosystem. According to the DNR (and Google satellite view if you want to have a look) it’s “one of the largest blocks of undisturbed southern mesic forest in the state.” Most of the terrain is a deep, cliff-lined coulee, which is basically a canyon with sandstone cliffs rising to 100 feet in some places. You can feel the air temperature change as you head deeper down where small streams continue to flow and work against the bedrock, continuing the chasm.

At first it was a little disconcerting to be walking through the forest without a trail. There were about 10 people so we trampled a lot of things. Not that anyone was going out of his or her way to be destructive, we just were. Galumphing along, but marveling at all the the beauty around us. We were led by two botanists who could tell us what we were seeing and what we could look forward to.

Among the more pedestrian wildflowers like Bishop’s cap and Bellwort were some rarities. Like this Glade Fern –

Glade fern  (Homalosorus pycnocarpos)

It is a species of Special Concern in the state because most of its habitat has been turned to farmland. What land isn’t being actively farmed in the area is often subjected to chemical run off and isolation due to the cultivation all around it. I wish I could have spent more time photographing it, but field trips aren’t photography trips, so I did what I could in a hurry. Now I’ve been there I could go back and not get too turned around.

Plantain-leaf sedge
False meadow rue

As we moved through the landscape it was a joy to see a whole bunch of people carefully climb up a steep, wet and muddy slope to look at worms on the cliff walls. Only real naturalists would marvel at such things. There were so many clustered around the only stable surface on the slope that I passed it by. Soon we were looking at other gorgeous flowers, hearing the songs of birds and encountering a couple of dead racoons. No, I didn’t photograph them, but this is the reason their corpses were just a few feet from each other –

I was practically standing on the remains when I took this shot. Probably both animals fell off the cliffs and died either immediately, or for the one that was huddled under some tree roots, crawled off in pain and misery. It was sad, but that’s how nature works. It’s tough out there.

Earlier in the trip, I tried to photograph Bellwort – my first time doing so. The shots are pretty much crap because there was no time. So grabbed this quick shot –

It’s not the best photo ever, but it will do. Many of the other images I tried to make of wildflowers just didn’t work at all. I knew that going in, but it was still hard for me to leave so many subjects behind. Not this one though –

Bent Trillium (Trillium flexipes

It was a really fast grab-shot that I was in the right place and time to get. The sandstone cliffs behind are almost 2 stories high and were shaded for a natural backdrop. The sunlight shafting down onto the flower was perfection!

Like Nodding Trillium it blooms at the same time, and is found in many of the same places, as Great White Trillium and can easily get lost in the sea of those flowers. Bent trillium differs from Nodding in that it blooms above the leaves. The flower itself incorporates bracts inside the white petals. Bracts are specialized leaves that act like petals (think poinsettia). Great White trillium has bracts entirely behind the flower itself. Nodding has bracts interleaved with the petals, but behind them.

So that’s it, my trip to Bass Hollow SNA. The Driftless is such an interesting part of the state and being that the Wisconsin Glaciation went around it, has unique geology and ecology throughout. I really should get in there more.

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