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

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