Ripples 7/4/24

Ripples from the Dunes by Jim Knickelbine

In the mid-1960’s Bernie Brouchoud had a dream.  Based on his observations and bird banding experience, the wooded area between Two Rivers and Manitowoc was a special place for birds.  He spent a lot of time in the area, and wanted to start a nature preserve as a bird and wildflower sanctuary. He also knew he would have to convince many others to help in that effort.  He needed to prove what he knew about the bird population there.  So back then, ten years before there was a Woodland Dunes, he obtained permission (maybe), and began doing bird counts during the summer nesting season to show people how many birds might nest in the preserve.  He and John Woodcock walked predetermined routes in the proposed preserve and counted the bird species and how many of each were present.  They even mapped where each bird was located and included other wildlife observations.

This was an impressive effort, involving 14 different routes, bushwhacking through swamp and meadow, along roads, and even down the railroad track that spanned the width of the area, and along the West Twin River by canoe. The entire survey took weeks each year, after which, Bernie would cheerfully compile results.  He would also include observations of other birds seen during the nesting season incidentally.  Each year the list was about 110 bird species, a remarkable number for a single, though extensive, property during a non-migratory season.  They would find a dozen or so species of warblers here- birds that people usually think of as migratory visitors, not residents.

In those early days, the focus of Woodland Dunes was much more on research, and as time wore on, the activities at the center became more numerous and diverse.  It became difficult to spend so much time on the summer bird surveys, and we needed to find other ways to do them (which gave us a good sampling of the bird population), but didn’t require walking the entire 1500 acres.  We adopted a point-count system as is used in many professional bird surveys- more than 30 observation points were identified in the preserve.  Trained staff or volunteers visit each point once or more during the nesting season to look and listen for birds for 10 minutes.  Points are numbered and an effort is made to visit exactly the same places each year.  Many are located at easy-to-find spots at trail intersections and such.  The survey still involves walking and observing much of the preserve, and those sample points are consistent.

We’re finishing the summer counts now.  The last few years, we still find around 100 species of birds.  We’ve lost a few species, but they are ones that have declined everywhere.  Personally, I look forward to these surveys, a summer snapshot of our birdlife.  We do them early in the morning, and walk the trails accompanied often by a few hundred enthusiastic mosquito friends.  The quiet early morning in a forest is often a magical time when one is reminded why Bernie, and those who helped found the nature center, were motivated to do so – thus protecting this place.  Experiencing the trails like that takes one to unexpected places. The deep swamp with a white-throated sparrow or winter wren singing in the distance reminds me of camping in northern places like the Sylvania Wilderness, not just a few minutes from Manitowoc and Two Rivers.  

Yes, there are bugs, but a head net and light jacket keep them off.  Their buzzing is a small annoyance and price to pay in order to experience the unexpected wonders of early summer and early daytimes.  Every time I have participated in these surveys, I have experienced nature that I didn’t expect, and I am happy that I’m there.  I’m sure the staff at the nature center would agree.

Nesting season seems chaotic, the birds singing from all around at the same time.  Enjoy this. Allow it to lure you outdoors and to discover.  Soon, their parenting done, birds will again become quiet and sneaky.  Although, that presents a different invitation to discover.

photo- the Ice Age Trail at Woodland Dunes on an early morning bird survey by Jim Knickelbine



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