Ripples 7/13/17

I’m sure the key to happiness is in learning to find joy in small things.  One is never guaranteed wealth, and attaching one’s happiness to costly possessions, while fun, can be a great source of disappointment if circumstances change.  People know this deep down, and have always known- its not some new-age concept.  The notion of being “down to earth” certainly has a lot more meaning to me now than when I was younger.

At the moment, I’m contemplating the entertainment value of a small dish of grape jam.  In front of me, as I write, are three bird feeders: one with sunflower seeds, one with nyger seeds, and one with jam.  The first two are being visited by the usual suspects – chickadees and finches, grosbeaks and woodpeckers, and cardinals.  One never knows what will show up to dine at the latter, however. At our previous place I never had much luck putting out jelly- the orioles would stop briefly on their way north, gorge for a couple of days, and then either move on or ignore sweets after that.  Now, I live where there are more mature trees in the area plus the river and this year the orioles (both Baltimore and Orchard) are nesting with multiple families, and continue to visit.  I’ve gotten used to the unusual, indigo-bunting-like song of the orchards as two males sing back and forth, challenging each other since May.  Now, families of both species are visiting, with young birds squawking and vibrating their wings to entice their parents to share mouth-fulls of sweet goo.  The adults don’t seem too enthusiastic at this point and the youngsters quickly learn the source of the treat and get their own.  Of course, lots of ants are attracted to the jelly dish as well, and sometimes they are the target of the birds rather than the jam itself.

It’s not only orioles that crave the sweet: house finches, gray catbirds, cardinals, chickadees- they all visit the jam.  Catbirds enjoy it as much as orioles.  Even the rose-breasted grosbeaks take a sip now and then, but they go back to sunflower eventually.

I feed jam because I think it contains more of the whole grape.  Both jam and jelly have a lot more sugar in them than the original fruit does, leading to some concern about how this might affect the health of the birds.  That’s a reasonable concern, so I limit the amount of jam I put out- one spoon in the morning, and some days another after work.  With all the birds that visit, the jam is gone in an hour or two, so the rest of the day the birds have to find their own food (or at least find someone else’s jam).  Orioles and other birds naturally seek out a variety of foods- fruit, nectar, insects, and seeds. Most, I’m sure, have a varied and healthy diet as long as they have good habitat around them.  Just now, one oriole decided to visit the other feeder and try a sunflower seed, which I’ve not seen before.  Wait-there’s an adult and begging young bird- I’ll try to get a photo with my phone…

photo of Baltimore orioles at jam feeder

Baltimore orioles at jam feeder

I think the fact that when I visit the grocery store this time of year, there is often an empty shelf where the bargain brand jelly used to be, reflects at least in part how many people feed jelly to birds.  I wonder how much money the sale of jelly and oranges generates for farmers, manufacturers, and retailers -all because people like to see colorful birds in their yards.  With little thought, and following our natural tendency to like birds, a relationship has developed which results in benefit not only to nature, but a lot of people as well.  Lets hope we keep looking for those opportunities.


Ripples 7/6/17

Ripples from the Dunes, by Jennifer Klein, Woodland Dunes’ Land Management Coordinator

photo of a Wolf spider with babies on its back

Wolf spider with babies on its back

It is amazing the wildlife we encounter in the smallest and simplest of places.  Recently while out tending to the butterfly garden at Woodland Dunes Nature Center, a couple of our interns and I noticed a “lumpy-backed” spider.  There were other smaller spiders crawling off of it.  Upon further inspection, the spider was carrying its babies on its back.  This experience inspired me to find out more about this nurturing spider.

Wolf spiders belong to the family Lycosidae.  There are over 2,000 species of wolf spiders and they live all over the world.  This particular spider was found under a rock near a pond feature.  While wolf spiders do have spinnerets (the structures that produce silk) they do not form webs.  Instead, they hunt for their food mainly at night.  The spinnerets are used to form a silk egg sac, which the female uses to carry around her young.  When the eggs hatch, the young, known as spiderlings, crawl on their mother’s back.  She will carry them around for several days or even weeks.

Wolf spiders are solitary and once the spiderlings are old enough they will disperse to find their own food.  Male wolf spiders live approximately one year and females can live for several years.  Wolf spiders display sexual dimorphism, which is a difference in size or appearance between the sexes of an animal.   In the case of the wolf spider, females are larger.

While wolf spiders are considered great hunters, they are also prey. Other spiders, wasps, ants, birds, small reptiles, toads and other amphibians, and even some rodents are predators of wolf spiders.  The wolf spider can try to escape predators using their speed and camouflage.  They will also bite if necessary.  We didn’t wait around to see if this particular spider viewed us as a threat.

After a quick examination of this interesting family, we gently replaced the rock and returned to our tasks.  Every trip in nature provides an opportunity for a new experience.  Even something as simple as weeding a garden and rearranging some landscaping allows a peek at a world different than our own.

photo- wolf spider with babies by Jennifer Klein


Ripples 6/29/17

Written by Jake Gostisha, Woodland Dunes summer intern 

A recent trip to the Manitowoc Lakefront Birding Area, also known as the containment facility, brought forth the beauty of summer. Jim Knickelbine, the Woodland Dunes director, and myself made a trip to the birding area to put up a purple martin house. The “house” however looks more like a purple martin hotel. Purple Martins usually live and nest in colonies, which is why this large birdhouse is an ideal size for them.

We placed the house just outside a group of trees and shrubs that were planted a few weeks earlier. Madison Elementary teachers and students helped plant dogwood, viburnums, chokeberries, and birch trees. The martins like to nest around trees, but not too close. Being away from the trees gives them enough room for flight, and the trees are great for insects, which provide an excellence food source for the birds. Not to mention, the purple martins eat mosquitoes, which helps all of us. Although it is a little late for the birds to be looking for nesting spots, Dr. Charles Sontag told us that he saw about a dozen purple martins checking out the house. They probably will not be nesting here this year, but it is a good sign that they will come back to nest there next year.

While we were making our way to the worksite, birds packed themselves tight on the artificial island.  American white pelicans and various gulls and terns were the most notable visitors. It’s an amazing sight to see the pelicans demonstrate group foraging. They will either be swimming in a straight line and trap fish between them and the shore, or they can be found in two groups. Both groups will form parallel lines, then swim towards one another, driving fish to each other then coming together to enjoy a feast. This display really shows the mental capability of animals. The behavior that some people believe is “just an animal,”  shows the great cognitive ability of pelicans and other animals.

While we glassed the landscape, Jim noticed the SS Badger headed back into the Manitowoc harbor. This was an event that I’ve never experienced before. Coming all the way from Ludington, MI, this 410-foot barge carrying up to 600 passengers and 180 cars was headed to dock just across the harbor. This is the only coal-fired steamship running in the US. Watching it come in was a tremendous sight, as the Captain maneuvered the heavy ship with ease.

After my trip to the containment facility, I was reminded what summer is all about. Getting outside, learning, and trying new activities are the excitements of summer. The Manitowoc Lakefront Birding Area is a great place to achieve this. Whether observing all of the wildlife, taking a walk, or doing both, there is always a new experience awaiting.

photo- Jake Gostisha and Charles Sontag with the new purple martin house

Ripples 6/22/17

 Written by Julia Adams, summer education intern

Summer is a great time to see many beautiful, colorful plants and flowers beginning to grow. It’s always  refreshing to see the bright colors after the dreary winter passes. Seeing the bright purple color of the flowers on the dame’s rocket plants lately, was a great reminder that spring and summer were finally here. Little did I know, dame’s rocket is an invasive species that I would soon help to remove from the Woodland Dunes Nature Preserve.

photo of dames rocket

dame’s rocket

The first day I was removing dame’s rocket with some fellow interns, I saw only a few and thought that there was not much of a problem, or, the other workers and volunteers from the preserve were very good at removing it. After picking for a little while, I noticed through some trees where there were more. As I walked closer, the area was not as small as I had originally thought. There were spots in the preserve that were almost completely covered in dame’s rocket. That’s when I knew this was an important problem to solve.

Invasive species are non-native that can harm the environment. Dame’s rocket grows very rapidly and grows tall enough to block the sun from getting to native species. Because of this, the native species can’t get enough sunlight and eventually end up being overtaken by the dame’s rocket. Since these species are native, it is important to keep them in the preserve to help native wildlife that may use these plants. Dame’s rocket makes this more difficult to achieve.

Dame’s rocket is very easy to identify. It is part of the mustard family and came to the U.S. in the 1600s. It was planted and used as an ornamental species. However, because of it’s high seed production, it quickly escaped cultivation and grew in the wild. Dame’s rocket thrives in areas such as prairies, roadsides, ditches, open woodlands, and other disturbed areas. The plant can grow up to four feet tall and has leaves that alternate – going up and down the fuzzy, rough stem. At the top of the plant there are flowers that have four petals that make a cross. The flowers can be purple, pink, and white and usually bloom in the late spring. The first year of growth tends to be just foliage, and in the second year, the flowers start to bloom.

When you encounter dame’s rocket, it can commonly be confused with phlox, which also has purple flowers but has five petals instead of four. Once properly identified, dame’s rocket can easily be removed by pulling out the root by hand, if the soil is soft, or by digging the root out with a small spade. Because it is an invasive species, dame’s rocket is not to be purchased or planted in Wisconsin. Although the flowers are beautiful and the colors are pretty, this invasive species can harm the environment and ecosystems around us and should be removed when possible.

Ripples 6/15/17

-written by Jessica Johnsrud, Education Coordinator at Woodland Dunes

At least once every June, an event occurs that tells me summer is right around the corner. This event would happen even when I was a young girl. It happens when I am outside close to dusk enjoying a campfire or walking my dog. Suddenly, bam! A june bug will crash into my head and get caught in my wavy hair. I can hear the insect’s buzzing as it dislodges its hairy legs from my hair and flies away. These bugs, which are actually beetles, also bombard the windows at night because they are attracted to the light within house. For me, the arrival of these clumsy insects marks the beginning of summer.

photo of male ovenbird singing

Male Ovenbird Singing

There are other sounds associated with the onset of summer. A few hearty songbirds will sing through the day, until dusk. American Robins sing their bright “cheerily, cheer-up!” song and the Gray Catbird combines a series of odd sounds, imitations and even sings a raspy “mew!” that sounds like a cat’s meow. Common nighthawks make an appearance at dusk. They gracefully swoop through the sky, eating insects and periodically make a sharp, “peent!” call.

Though they are silent, fireflies are another sign that summer is almost here. These enchanting insects create light through a chemical reaction inside the lamp organ, which is located on the last few segments of their abdomen. The male fireflies flash as they patrol the air to advertise to the females, who wait on the ground or perched on a plant or shrub. If a female is interested, she will respond by flashing back. About ten years ago on a late May evening, I walked among so many fireflies that the trees and understory plants in the forest around me looked as though there were decorated with holiday lights! It was truly a magical sight that I will never forget.

American toads and gray tree frogs can also be heard singing away during the day and in the evening. Their voices carry quite a distance because of the use of vocal sacs. When singing, they close their mouth and nostrils and push air from the lungs through the larynx and into the vocal sacs. The vibrations of the larynx make a sound that is amplified by the sac and hopefully attracts the attention of females in the area.

Many sounds of early summer can also be heard during the day. There is a chorus of bird songs in the preserve that is best enjoyed in the early mornings or later in the afternoon. Ovenbirds frantically chant, “Teacher! Teacher! Teacher! Teacher!” The red-eyed vireos lazily sing, “Here I am. Up here. In the tree. At the top. Vireo.” Bumble bees buzz as they collect pollen from the various plants that are in bloom. The crickets have also started to call. They stridulate, or produce a chirping sound through friction. They rub a “scrape” at the base of one of the forewings against a “file” located on the base of the other, like a thumbnail on a comb.

Spending time outdoors in the late spring is truly a multi-sensory experience!

photo of Ovenbird by Nancy Nabak