Ripples 6/7/18

I took a walk on the wild side the other day. If you can call it that. It was more of a walk on the gentle side – in the wild.

I made an early morning hike up Willow Trail at the Dunes to assess the conditions for our visitors. Sometimes Willow Trail can be really fun for those who want to muck around in rubber boots. While I was evaluating the trail, I noticed how many birds were singing their little syrinx out. (Bird Nerd Alert: The voice-box of a bird is called the syrinx, compared to the larynx in mammals.)

photo of Veery on limb


The variety of songs was so terrific that I recorded a minute and a half of bird music on my phone. In this short amount of time and space and out of all the hundreds of possibilities, I captured one of the pure, understated, yet dynamic thrills of the bird world, the Veery.

The Veery has a very unique and easily distinguishable song, a descending metallic, “veer,” that’s sometimes repeated and spirals downward as it sings. Actually, a group of nineteenth-century observers called its song, “an inexpressibly delicate metallic utterance…accompanied by a fine trill which renders it truly seductive.”

“Seductive.” What a powerful and important word for birds. Especially for males who are looking for a partner in the spring. For them, it’s showtime.

In reality, I actually captured two Veeries calling. However, this was not their seductive song, but rather a single, descending note. One called and then there was about a six second pause before another was heard from the north. The metallic calls continued, but at a four second space between the two, and eventually only 1 second between the first and second call. Finally, they were calling right on top of each other.

My assumption is that these were both males in some form of communication. (Another bird nerd fact: we are continually learning more and more about female call backs than we’ve ever known before.) Researchers believe this behavior may be a territorial claim. Or some statement of excitability – the calls quickening and bumping into each other. Until we can clearly speak bird language, no one is exactly sure what it means, but territorial issues are likely part of the purpose.

Although the Veeries had captivated me with their interesting behavior, they weren’t the only game in town. I realized that I had stumbled upon a Block Party already in progress. Other than the Veery, those in attendance were: Common yellow throat, Yellow warbler, Blue-winged warbler (a rare treat), Northern cardinal, House wren, Red-eyed vireo, Indigo bunting, Black-capped chickadee, American red-start, Gray catbird and the Alder flycatcher. I wasn’t invited to join, but I silently crashed their party anyway, and made sure not to disturb their morning jam session.

Come share in what I experienced! Treat your ears to a morning walk on our Trails. If you hear it, pause and surrender to the Veery seduction song. And let the songbird serenade lift you to an idyllic start of your day.

Photo: Veery taken by Nancy Nabak


Ripples 5/31/18

Not knowing what one will encounter is one of the joys of taking a walk in a natural area.  This time of year, there are new birds and wildflowers showing themselves every day, including insects, mammals, and everything else.  If we don’t see them it’s because we are preoccupied with other issues in our lives.  This is understandable, but we miss so much if we view nature as so much green.

photo of a red-bellied snake

red-bellied snake

Cold-blooded animals are no less interesting than their warm-blooded counterparts. It’s interesting to think about how both groups have been able to find success in the business of survival.  The herpetiles, reptiles and amphibians play a huge role in nature – although they often go unnoticed once the frogs and toads stop singing.  Around here our reptiles consist of turtles and snakes.  Turtles are a common sight right now, as females leave ponds to try to find a safe place to bury their eggs. (Mammals, like raccoons, make that a very unlikely proposition.)  And humans driving cars make it very dangerous for the adults.

Snakes can be very numerous in spring as some species congregate in large numbers. These congregations of snakes can emerge at once in large numbers from their hibernacula, the below-ground places they spend the winter.  Garter snakes do this, and to some people, it can be startling to see a mass of snakes in one location. 

Mating also takes place at this time, and the larger females become entwined and covered with many males.  If you see this, you are lucky, as you have to be at the right place at exactly the right time.  Other large snakes such as fox (pine) snakes do this also. They tend to hang around throughout the summer near an underground refuge, causing some distress if they are near people.  Northern water snakes are another large species that brumate with others- and it is possible to find several species together in winter colonies.

Surprising to many of us, there are a number of smaller snake species found in our area that often go unnoticed.  A recent walk on one of our trails revealed a sunning red-bellied snake, a gentle little species not that much bigger than a nightcrawler.  They have a brown color on its back with an orange belly and can be picked up gently without fear of being bitten.  At least I’ve never seen one attempt to bite.  The ring-necked snake is the same size and almost identical in appearance but with a noticeable ring of lighter-colored scales just behind the head.  Another small brown snake with a light gray belly is the Brown or DeKay’s snake, again a non-aggressive little creature.

Another small snake is the milk snake, which has an interesting pattern of black and silver on it’s back.  Again, they offer no harm. The green snake is true to its name and is a beautiful emerald green color – very well camouflaged this time of year.  Both are gentle and worth taking a close look at if the opportunity arises.

Although these snakes are small and gentle, that doesn’t mean they’re defenseless- some are able to exude a foul-smelling liquid if they are handled.  If that happens, all it requires is some hand-washing.  One wouldn’t want to get that liquid in one’s eyes I’m sure, but that doesn’t seem too likely.  As with most things, a little common sense is all that’s needed.

There are no poisonous snakes recorded in Manitowoc County so we can feel free to explore the outdoors without that concern.  And when we do so, we can watch for the many creatures that fly “below our radar” and are often unseen.

photo is a red-bellied snake from

Ripples 5/24/18

Chestnut-sided warbler

Written by Nancy Nabak, Communication Coordinator

There are songs and poems written about spring. Authors wax the beauty, the smells, the sounds…all trying to capture a perfect moment in time when their hearts and minds were lifted beyond an endless season.

I’m no different and I’ve got it bad. Colors are bursting into dark greens, mauve-tinted purples and deep blues. But it’s just not the colors; the smells that go with them are intoxicating. I hesitate to use that word in fear of sounding trite, but in reality it’s true. Last night when I pulled into my driveway, my crab tree blossoms were so fragrant that I skipped my usual routine of going into the house, taking off my shoes, and figuring out what’s for dinner.


Instead, I walked around to my back yard and slowed everything down. I noticed that my Jack-in-the-Pulpits were almost knee-high, that my trilliums were still smiling their snowy white, 3-arrowed face at me, and my sensitive ferns were tenderly leafing out. Nothing dull here. Not in the least.

But eventually, I did notice something dull. It was a thud. The sound was so unusual that it caused me to look up from my bed of blossoms and take notice. Two bright red male cardinals were challenging each other – fighting to the ground in a dull thud upon impact. Cardinal A landed on top of Cardinal B and spread his wings and self over Cardinal B.  After a while, the two untangled, flew up, chased each other around a blue spruce, through tiny branches, and then out into the open again, but always landing near each other.  They continued to challenge each other with calls and encroachments. I watched this go on for hours. My son watched it, too. For hours these two boys had nothing more important to do than show might, defend territory, and let spring instincts drive them.

Male cardinal


Back to my intoxicating crab tree, this morning as I was backing out of my driveway, those blossoms forced me to put on my brakes, get out of the car, and trim a couple of small branches before driving in to work. They’re now in a vase on my desk. The office smells like Heaven. I’m pretty sure that if Heaven has a smell, this is it.

And as I work at my desk, writing grants and spreading the word about Woodland Dunes, we’ve got Chimney swifts chittering inside our Nature Center chimney. I’m assuming they’re building a nest to bring another generation of insect eaters into the world. (More mosquito eaters – yay!) Their high-pitched chorus from our inner walls is a treat; we’re so happy they’re back.

Let this be the spring where your senses take you on an intoxicating journey.  Listen to the bird songs in your yard. Find the bright colors of warblers in your binoculars, and breathe in the treasure of scents during this beautiful time of blossoms.

Photos by Nancy Nabak

Ripples 5/17/18

Written by Jessica Johnsrud, Education Coordinator

During the late spring, I start to spend more time outdoors around sunset I enjoy this time of day because many animals are heading to bed, yet many are just waking. Part of my job at Woodland Dunes is to monitor an amazing, but very under-appreciated group of animals that begin their day around dusk: bats!

photo of girl using bat monitor device

Evening bat monitoring

For the last five years, Woodland Dunes has been surveying bats during the late spring, summer and early fall. For the first four years, we used a special piece of equipment called an Anabat monitoring system. This hand-held system detects and records the echolocation calls the bats produce, which are emitted at frequencies most humans cannot hear. Bats use echolocation calls to navigate and locate food. As we survey, we walk continuously for at least one hour on a pre-determined route. The equipment notes the location each bat is encountered and this information and the echolocation sound files are sent to the DNR. The bat ecologists at DNR identify the bat by the sound files and also create a map of the route walked and where bats were detected.
Last year, we were fortunate to receive a Wisconsin Citizen-based Monitoring Partnership Program grant to purchase a different monitoring system to increase our monitoring efforts and further educate the public about bats. The newer system is easier to operate and uses an iPad Mini and an EchoMeter Touch 2, which is a small device that plugs into the port of the iPad. The EchoMeter is able to identify what bat species it detects almost immediately after encountering the bat. This amazing feature has been a valuable education tool.
Many people ask why it is important to monitor bats. They are truly magnificent animals that play an important role in our ecosystem. A single bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in an hour and a pregnant female can consume her weight in insects each night! It has been estimated that bats save North American farmers over $22 billion every year in pest control services. Additionally, many bat species are in trouble. Overall the populations of cave bats are declining at an alarming rate due to White-nose Syndrome. This fungus grows on the face and wings of hibernating bats, causing them to act strangely during cold months and use up precious fat reserves too quickly. It’s estimated the fungus has killed over 6 million bats in eastern North America and some hibernacula (cave or mine where bats hibernate) have seen a 90-100% mortality rate. Monitoring efforts help scientists track White-nose Syndrome as it spreads and gain further understanding of its impacts on bat populations.

Hopefully by increasing our monitoring efforts, we can learn more about how to help these amazing creatures!

Photo- Woodland Dunes intern Julia Adams recording bats using an EchoMeter bat monitor, taken by Betsy Kocourek 

Ripples 5/10/18

Remembering Bernie Brouchoud

photo of Bernie Brouchoud banding saw-whet owls

Bernie banding saw-whet owls

This is the time of year that birdwatchers long for.  Right now millions of migrant birds of all kinds are returning to and passing through the area.  As I write, orioles are gulping orange pulp and grape jelly while warblers are singing in the trees. The trees, themselves, are getting ready to blossom.  Despite the hardship of winter, and just three weeks after a blizzard, new life presses on and washes over the land.

It was in this season more than 80 years ago, that Bernie Brouchoud was born.  Bernie was the founder of Woodland Dunes and was the most curious person I’ve ever known. He spent countless hours of his boyhood in Mishicot and Two Rivers exploring the woods.  He taught himself about birds and wildflowers and grew to know them in extraordinary ways.  He befriended local naturalist and bird bander, Winnie Smith of Two Creeks, who wrote this column years ago, and he later attended the University of Wisconsin to study more formally.

Bernie lived an unconventional life, and although his early passion was for natural history, jobs in the field were not easily found.  Bernie always kept nature in his life, however. He was a Fuller Brush salesman, which allowed him to be out on the road where he could keep track of birds.  He ran a gas station that had a bird banding station in the backyard.  He managed a produce department of an A & P grocery store, yet found time to band birds before or after work. 
More than 50 years ago he recognized the importance of the big woods between Manitowoc and Two Rivers. This area was full of birds and he banded tens of thousands of them there. He also worked with groups of students in the process.  Bernie talked with others and assembled a group focused on preserving what is now Woodland Dunes. He orchestrated the first land purchase by the non-profit in 1975.  Bernie was the first President of Woodland Dunes Board of Directors, and for more than 30 years, its Executive Director. He received many awards for his work in conservation, including those from the Isaac Walton League, the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, and the Manitowoc County Conservation Hall of Fame.  But his greatest accomplishment – his wonderful and loving family.

photo of Bernie Brouchoud in later years

Bernie’s twinkling grin

Wanting to learn about bird banding, I first visited the newly created Woodland Dunes in 1975 as a high school student. In the 1980’s, I found a pelican in the West Twin River and decided to stop in the little nature center to find out if they were common. This was the first time I really talked with Bernie one-on-one.  He convinced me that I should put my conservation degree to work and become a volunteer. A few years later I would join him on the staff, part-time. I’m glad he gave me the nudge.

Bernie retired from his Executive Director position in 2004, but remained active in the organization for the rest of his life.

From the first 40-acre parcel of woods purchased in 1975, the nature preserve has continued to grow to the 1,500 acres it is today.  Each year, thousands of school children come to learn and thousands of people visit to enjoy the preserve and its trails.  While Bernie worked single-handedly for a long time, the demands of our education programs and land management have grown to needing six staff people.

Bernie Brouchoud passed away last week.  A man with a great legacy has left a large gap in our community, and there would be no Woodland Dunes without him. Although he is no longer with us in the physical sense, his presence will always be felt and he’ll be remembered.  It’s almost a gift of nature that he passed during this special time of year. It’s as if his spirit was lifted by the beautiful birds he loved so much and carried tenderly on their journey in the sky.      


photos- Bernie demonstrating banding saw-whet owls to a group, and Bernie recently at Woodland Dunes by Nancy Nabak