Nature Blog

Ripples 6/6/24

By Sue Crowley, executive director

We have had quite a bit of rain so far this spring, especially the month of May and reaching into summer. Ponds and swales and fields are full or soggy. The tender greens of spring are transitioning to deeper greens of summer. Our temperatures feel like they are creeping up earlier than we are used to in the cool city by the lake.  Yet, for me, what is always the sign of summer is being able to shed my shoes and socks and let my feet experience both the cool and the warmth of the ground. 

I love not only to feel the soil, leaves, and grass, but also sometimes the cement, bricks or even pebbles.  In the first barefooting of summer, I gingerly and awkwardly make my way across a gravel path, my feet wondering why they are subjected to this treacherous texture, and yet by summer’s end they traverse the same ground without barely a notice of the rough surface.  Then, there is that amazing sense I feel when my feet get to walk on pine needles or a soft bed of cedar leaves that are blanketing the path through the woods. I am still so delighted to take in the drastic difference in “give” that this ground has.  As I have gotten older that “give” in the ground is much more appreciated farther up my legs in my knees! 

The other part of barefooting that I enjoy is the sand on our beaches, but then also the occasional hot trot across some paved surface. Or remembering the days of getting out of a chilly pool only to wrap a towel around and feel the warmth of the cement on the bottoms of my feet.

So, what does this all have to do with nature?  Well, this wonderful direct connection with natural earth has been found to help ground us, yes, pun intended. If we pay attention to opportunities to feel the earth on our bare feet, it truly does create a better sense of connection. It offers us a chance to appreciate all this beautiful planet has to offer- whether it be a cushioned walk on a bed of leaves, or some soggy soil, or the warmth of the sand soaking up the sun.  It turns out some folks are calling this “earthing or grounding”. People have done studies saying this connection of feet and bodies is just one of the simple things the earth can do for us to keep us connected and healthy. So, take your shoes and socks off and go earthing as often as you can!

Ripples 5/30/24

Ripples from the Archives, submitted by Nancy Nabak, communication coordinator

This colorful, thought-provoking, “The Language of Color” Ripples excerpt comes from the archives, circa June 1982, and is written by Irene I. Luethge. Enjoy!

“Color surrounds us, it influences our lives. Color is adventure, a collectible, a clue giver, a link backwards in history and time, a fashion setter, a bond with the earth and the life on it, a storehouse of 1,000 stories and more. There are the colors of sunrises and sunsets, the colors of the changing seasons, the colors in stages of growing things on the land, the changing colors of insects and birds and animal life, and the fluid colors of water.

…The use of colors extends back in time perhaps as much as 200,000 years. Its sources came from the earth, the life and growing things that depend on the earth. Ice Age man buried his dead in red ochre or panted those bones a red color; he had observed that the flow of red blood meant the difference between life and death and probably believed the red color was life-giving. Hence, in the origins of language the word red is derived from the word blood.

A dye of special significance, dating back to the ancient Phoenicians, was purple. In the town of Tyre, it was first made and from the Mediterranean shellfish (genera Purpura & Murex). They were whelks with long spiral shells with a large open end. The dye was extracted from the mucous gland adjacent to the respiratory cavity. The Greeks had a legend that Hercules roamed the shore with his dog, who, when hungry, crushed a shell between his teeth. His muzzle became stained with indelible purple, causing the discovery of a successful dye for wool.

Gathering nuts in the fall, as some of us still do, colonial mothers not only used them in cooking and baking, but also as a dye source. They boiled the nut rinds and the inside bark of nut trees with wool from their sheep, then they wove the wool into suits for their husbands and sons. Butternuts were most commonly used. They gave homespun material a definite and peculiar shade of brown.

Rock and sand paintings are interesting forms of artwork. Some artists whether or not they have been rock collectors, will crush minerals to create the palette for painting. Such minerals may be: azurite, shattuckite (blue); chrysocolla (turquoise); cinnabar (red); catlinite (rose); malachite (green); sulfur (pale yellow); purpurite (purple); gypsum (white); feldspar (peach through delicate pink); and limestone (gray)… Some of the famous frescoes which adorn the walls and ceilings of ancient European cathedrals were not done with oil but created by adding fine mineral pigment to plaster.

Did you know that most Midwesterners tend to prefer the colors blue and green? According to some studies this is due to psychological association. Blue is associated with clear summer skies and placid lakes. Green brings images of friendly, fertile grass interrupting the long, harsh, cold season.

I guess it’s safe to say that color unites us with all mankind and with life and growing things on the land here and elsewhere. Color can connect us to points in times past. And the colors of nature through the seasons, their sunrises and sunsets, and their moonlit nights and moody days can feed the eye’s enjoyment and the soul’s refreshment.”

Photo by Nancy Nabak

Ripples 5/24/24

By Max Kornetzke, land manager

Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) is a Wisconsin native wildflower with beautiful palmate foliage and spikes of blue flowers.  It flowers in May and June and attracts various bumbles and butterflies. It’s also the only host plant for the endangered Karner Blue butterfly. Habitat loss is a major factor affecting lupine populations, therefore leading to Karner Blue being an endangered species.

Wild Lupine loves sandy, dry soils, so last fall, we decided to try seeding some into our dry, sandy V-shaped meadow off of the Ice Age Trail. Thankfully, we had regular rain this spring, and to our delight, the seeds successfully germinated. The seedlings are tiny but are already showing their iconic fuzzy leaf shape. 

It might take a few years until these plants are established enough to flower, but I know with some help this meadow will be a great home for colonies of this charming plant. We hope that with a healthy established population of Wild Lupine, that our preserve could become an oasis for the rare Karner Blue butterfly.

If you have a sandy, droughty spot in your yard and are looking for a beautiful wildflower that also provides great ecosystem services, consider planting some Wild Lupine. You can find seeds and plugs at most native plant nurseries in Wisconsin and across the Midwest.

Photo credit: iNaturalist



Ripples 5/16/24

by Jessica Johnsrud, education coordinator

Spring is a season that truly awakens my senses. I do enjoy winter, but after the cold temperatures and the lack of snow this year, I love watching the world turn from gray and brown to all the lush shades of green. Plants and trees start to bud and bloom and even the smell of spring is noticeable. These are all welcome sensory experiences, but what I love most about spring are the sounds.

It starts just after sunset in mid-late March with the “peent” of the American woodcock. These oddball shorebirds are also known as “bog suckers, timberdoodles and Labrador twisters.” The nasal “peent” noise is part of the male’s sky dance or display to attract female.

Many amphibians also start singing in early spring. Once the water they breed in warms to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, you will hear the shrill “peep” of the smallest frog at Woodland Dunes, the spring peeper. Peepers are part of the tree frog family and in the right conditions, their call can be detected over a mile away!

Two other frog species also sing at this time and they both make interesting calls. The Northern leopard frogs sing a croaky song that can be described as a slow, creaking door. However, if you are an eight-year-old, you may describe it as, “your dad snoring” or “like it’s burping,” amusing comments I have heard several times during the wetland field trip we offer third graders. The other strange frog song comes from the wood frog and reminds me of chickens clucking or as if the frogs are very quickly and repeatedly saying, “look it up, look it up!” Both of these frog species breed in vernal pools that lack fish, but may dry out in late spring.

As spring continues, each morning brings a new chorus to take in. Migrant songbirds return from their wintering grounds and are announcing their arrival. I love hearing the, “Oh sweet Canada, Canada, Canada!” song of the white-throated sparrows and the “trees, trees, murmuring trees!” call of the black-throated green warbler.

Spring also brings the buzzing of the first queen bumble bees, the rumbling of thunder, and the patter of rain. It is a time of growth and renewal. I hope you can take a few moments to enjoy the sounds of spring. 

photo of wood frog singing – Nancy Nabak

Ripples 5/9/24

By Kennedy Zittel, naturalist

Red-winged blackbirds are a common sight and sound of the marsh here at Woodland Dunes during the warmer months. Males can be seen sitting atop cattail stalks with their dark feathers and bright red and yellow wing-patches. Females are a streaky brown color and often stay lower to the ground. Their “Vote for me!” call can be heard echoing across the marsh.

There can be up to 15 females per 1 male’s territory, and both males and females will defend their nest and space from threats. The females build their nest close to the ground by winding plant material around several upright stems (like cattails). They then add wet leaves and mud to the sides and line it with dried grass. With the marsh being full of nesting red-winged blackbirds, it is no wonder that you are sure to see them when you head out on Cattail Trail! 

Besides being a summer birding staple of the preserve, red-winged blackbirds unknowingly help teach at our programs, too! One example of this happens during our 4K spring program. Part of the program has the kids going with us on a walk down Cattail Trail to look and listen for signs of spring. The kids love the nature walk, giggling and smiling ear to ear over frogs croaking, geese swimming in the pond, and those funny-looking “hotdog plants!” (cattails). 

While looking and listening for signs of spring we point out the striking-looking red-winged blackbirds in the marsh and tell the kids that they are singing “Vote for me!”. We then tell the kids that if we sing to the birds they just might sing back to us! Eyes wide with shock they are ready to try to see if a real wild bird will sing to us! Now as you can imagine it is a bit tricky to get a group of 4- year olds to wait to the count of three… but we go… 1…2…3… “Vote for me!”

A few seconds go by, then we hear “Vote for me!” echoing back to us in the distance. Jumps for joy and shouts of “can we do it again!?” showcase a clear example of a nature- spark moment! Just this one simple interaction made them excited about nature, even the kids who were too shy to want to do it the first time eagerly sang to the red-wings when we called again. 

This excitement about nature at an early age is exactly what we hope for. Excitement about nature leads to wanting to learn more, which leads to wanting to protect and care for the environment in the future. You never know what that nature-spark moment can be for a child, whether it is a bird call, a frog hopping across the trail, a shiny bug under a hand lens, or a flower that is “my absolute favoritest color ever!” out along the trail.

Getting to be a part of those magical encounters is one of my favorite parts of teaching. The look of pure excitement over things that we adults may take for granted is a good reminder to stop and take a second to really look at the world around us. To look for all of the wonderful things there is to experience out in nature. 

photo of Red-winged blackbird by Cornell’s All About Birds