Nature Blog

Ripples 9/23/21

By Jeni Klein, Habitat Manager

Autumn is in the air. Monarchs have been migrating in large numbers along the lakeshore, headed to photo of dark morph eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly
the overwintering grounds in Mexico. Maple trees are starting to show off brilliant orange leaves. The nights are getting cooler. Wildflowers are producing seeds. Thoughts turn to apples, pumpkins, and perhaps hay rides.

 Indeed, the change from summer to autumn is quite noticeable. Summertime is normally when our thoughts are on pollinators and prairies. At that time of year, wildflowers are blooming in brilliant yellows, purples, and oranges. Caterpillars and butterflies are visible as they eat leaves and nectar. However, autumn is also an important time to be thinking about pollinators. Autumn is the best time of year for collecting prairie plant seeds. This makes sense because that is when the seeds are mature and naturally drop.

Have you ever thought about creating a little wildflower garden of your own? Autumn is the perfect
time of year to do some planning. Maybe you were discouraged because you weren’t sure what to
plant, it seemed like too much work, or it seemed cost prohibitive. Emily Dickenson once wrote, “to
make a prairie it takes a clover, and one bee.” Indeed, even the smallest prairie planting is beneficial to

Fortunately, planning a small prairie garden is relatively easy. If you are able to collect some desirable
prairie plant seeds in the fall, with landowner permission, you will find that starting your prairie is quite
affordable. Once you have the location picked out in your yard, the next step is to find a seed collection
site. Be sure to visit the site throughout the summer, making note of the plants you are interested in
and their location. Then, when you return in the fall and the plants are all brown, you will be able to
recognize them.

When you are ready to collect, you can find guidance from the Bureau of Land Management’s Seeds of
Success program. They recommend collecting only 20% of the available seed from the species you
desire. It is recommended to collect from individuals with a variety of characteristics (as opposed to all
the plants with larger blooms, for example). Seeds should be dry and mature when they are collected
and they should be placed in brown paper bags.

Once all of your seeds are collected, they should dry for three days in a cool, dark and dry place. Some
seeds require cold stratification or double stratification before they germinate. It is important to
research the species you want to plant in order to ensure success. Because seeds naturally drop in the
fall, they will do well with being spread that same fall or even frost seeded into the snow. If you plan on
waiting until spring to seed, you must find out the requirements of storage for that species.

Prairie plants may appear as tiny green plants the first year. Often it takes a few years before you see
mature plants producing flowers in your prairie garden, if you are starting from seeds. It is important to
mow down any weeds in the first couple of years, in order to reduce competition.

Although it may only take one clover to make Emily Dickenson’s prairie, having a variety of wildflower
species will make for a more interesting one.

photo- dark form of Eastern Swallowtail on Joe-Pye weed by Jennifer Klein

Ripples 9/16/21

 by Kennedy Zittel, Assistant Naturalist

This past Saturday I had the privilege of representing Woodland Dunes during the grand opening of the Henry’s Wetland Restoration Project, and I was completely blown away by not only how well the project is doing but also how wonderful everyone was that attended. We always talk about how everyone involved with Woodland Dunes truly feels like a family with how helpful and generous they all are, which has never been more apparent to me than it was during this event. Before we began tours of the site we all stood in a circle and talked about who we were and why Woodland Dunes is special to each person. It was beyond amazing to get to hear everyone say how long they have been either volunteering, supporting, or even simply just visiting Woodland Dunes for in some cases even longer than I have been alive. Each person there shared the same love that I have for the land that I get to work on each day, and it was so wonderful seeing others share that passion. 

Stories were shared about how what had started off as Bernie’s dream with only a few acres to start with has now turned into the large preserve we all know and love. That dream was accomplished due to not only Bernie’s passion and perseverance but also thanks to the help of all of the amazing people that care about Woodland Dunes’ mission. With each project and parcel that gets added on we are able to work towards our overall mission statement that Woodland Dunes stands for. Woodland Dunes strives to not only restore and maintain the unique habitat that we have here but also to educate the public about nature and why it holds value. 

The Henry’s Wetland Project truly encompasses both of those goals, with the help of Dr. Jon and Annette Henry for their donation, Stantec and the DNR (and many more people) for their hard work, we were able to restore that area to what it would have been pre-settlement. During the grand opening and afterward, we are able to educate people about what that site is and why it holds so much value. Due to its close proximity to Lake Michigan as well as the large forests nearby, this area is going to be an amazing stopover site for migratory birds. The sea of flowers that are blooming there is also going to be home to countless pollinators too. The wildlife has already started pouring into the area, and I cannot wait to see how many more species will come as the wetland continues to progress. As we walked around the site I was able to learn even more than I was probably teaching. People were pointing out plants to me and telling me how to identify them, showing me interesting insects they found, and simply just sharing knowledge about the area that I previously was not aware of before. 

Though it seems that I will never catch up with how much everyone helping and working here seems to already know, each day that I spend here I get to walk away learning so much and I am forever grateful for all of the people that I get to meet through working here at Woodland Dunes. As it was said during the event, I am a part of the “younger” group of Woodland Dunes supporters, and I am happy to see that I am not the only one my age caring for the environment the way that I do. As time goes on more volunteers that are my age are coming to help, and of course our wonderful interns too. By educating kids and showing them early on how wonderful nature can be, they can grow into the people that will care for it the way that we all do, and I am so happy to be a part of that teaching as well here. I look forward to one day standing around at an event far into the future and getting to share how much Woodland Dunes has changed from when I started (for the better of course) and how much Woodland Dunes has meant to me from the first time I stepped onto the preserve. Thank you to everyone that attended the event for making it a wonderful experience, and thank you to everyone that continues to help Woodland Dunes be the amazing place that it is.

photo: prairie at Henry property

Ripples 9/9/21

September is a month of great transition on the Lakeshore.  All around us, great waves of biological activity have been set into motion.  We are at the peak of migration for many animals, from birds and dragonflies to monarch butterflies.  These movements have taken place since there were glaciers over the land nearby and represent the truly remarkable way these animals adapt to changes in their surroundings.  
Although they are full of birds now, adults and their recently fledged nestlings, our forests, grasslands and shrublands can be photo of snowy tree cricket very quiet now, with only soft call notes heard.  The raucous mating songs of early summer are absent as the birds stealthily work their way south.  But if one listens carefully, the songs of birds have been replaced by others- the songs of many singing insects.
Many insect species begin the year as eggs or nymphs or larvae of some sort.  They grow in size and number during the summer, reach maturity, and gain their singing “voices” in early fall.  To me, they are just as interesting to listen to as birds are earlier in the year.  And their songs serve the same purpose.
During warm days, grasshoppers scrape their hind legs together to make raspy or rattling sounds.  The large Carolina grasshoppers appear almost like butterflies as they launch themselves into the air upon approach, rattling as they fly.  In the background, other insects call as well, but I notice them more after dark.
Katydids look like large green grasshoppers, and produce very loud raspy calls of different sorts.  Some almost sound like ducks quacking at night.  Smaller, but just as green-colored are the snowy tree crickets, which emit a pleasant mellow chirp- and being cold-blooded the rate at which they sing increases as the temperature warms.  If you count the number of chirps for 13 seconds and add 40, you get the approximate temperature.  Louder, and harsher chirps are made by the fall field crickets, the black crickets which wander into our houses this time of year and supposedly bring good luck with them.
Mole crickets are unusual creatures which burrow into the soil, and produce an almost constant, monotonous trill.  Their songs are punctuated by those of ground crickets, whose trills are shorter in duration and higher pitched.  These are complimented in the night by the call notes of migrating songbirds flying high overhead.
The songs of singing insects are available on the internet for those who wish to learn them.  Even though a few are pests, insects are critically important components of our ecosystems, as much as any other form of wildlife.  We should be careful not to kill them without good reason, and we should consider ourselves lucky if we are able to enjoy their orchestrations on warm fall evenings.
photo- a snowy tree cricket

Ripples 9/2/21

 By Kennedy Zittel, Assistant Naturalist
photo of great blue lobelia

great blue lobelia

Recently I have been out walking through our prairies at Woodland Dunes to identify and plot what plants are blooming where. Which to be totally honest, feels a bit too fun to actually be work. If you have been out near the prairies recently (hopefully with some bug spray) you will know what I mean. Even though it is late in the summer and some of the wildflowers are done blooming, there are still hundreds (literally, I have a list) of flowers of all sorts of sizes and colors on full display.

Walking through these prairies and seeing not only the beautiful flowers, but also the pollinators and birds that rely on these late blooming flowers is such a wonderful experience. Some creatures time their life stages based off of the late blooming flowers. For example, American Goldfinches nest late summer because they use mature thistle down (which blooms at the end of summer) to line their nests.

Bumblebees buzzed around almost every plant that I passed, beetles crawled along the leaves, butterflies floated overhead, songbirds were chirping in the trees that are now full of berries, and of course the occasional catbird interrupted the peaceful setting with a loud scream from above.

Willow trail and Coneflower trail are perfect for visitors to see the beautiful prairie plants, pollinators, and birds. It really is a wonderful time to come out and experience all sorts of colorful wildflowers before it gets to be too late in the season. Just remember to bring your bug spray! To try and paint you all a picture of a few of the plants that we have out here and how colorful the prairies are, I have made a list of some of my favorites from all of the colors of the rainbow (with a few extra colors too). 

Red: Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida) has beautiful drooping purple leaves with a bright red cone in the center. They are a Wisconsin threatened species, and we are lucky enough to have them in almost all of our prairies here at the Dunes.

Orange: Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) has a bright orange color that matches the monarchs that love them. Every time I pass by one of these plants I see butterflies nearby.

cup plant

Yellow: The Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) is my favorite plant so I had to include it in this list. Besides the very strong bias for this plant, it is a really neat prairie plant to have around. Towering above the other prairie plants, this giant plant with yellow flowers that pollinators of all kinds love also has huge leaves that collect water that birds and insects drink out of. How cool is that?

Green: Spotted Horsemint (Monarda punctata) has way more colors than just the green of its leaves. This is one of the cutest plants that I saw out in the prairies. With tubular shaped yellow flowers with purple spots above rossettes of either white or pink tipped bracts (which are modified leaves) this mint plant is sure to leave you wondering if it was real or just a fig-mint of your imagination.

Blue: Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) stands up to three feet tall with bright blue flowers. (Also called blue cardinal flower) this late blooming plant is not only gorgeous but also attracts hummingbirds too!

photo of blazing star

blazing star

Purple: Blazing Stars (Genus: Liatris) are tall perennials that have electric purple flowers. This plant attracts bees, butterflies, and birds! Our prairies are full of a few different species of blazing star including prairie blazing star and rough blazing star.

Pink: Flodman’s Thistle (Cirsium flodmanii) is currently growing in a prairie plot that I have planted with some of Wisconsin’s endangered, threatened, and special concern species. This spiky plant has rosy colored flower heads and similarly to other native thistles the Flodman’s Thistle has less dense and prickly spines unlike the nonnative ones. And remember, some species (like the American Goldfinch) rely on native thistles, so not all thistles are bad.

Black/Brown: Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) is also blanketing our prairies with bright yellow flowers with a black or brown center. The bright yellow flowers attract all sorts of pollinators to our prairies. 

White: Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium) is a plant I literally stumbled into, and boy what a surprise that was! This plant towers over a lot of the other prairie plants, with spiky leaves, and golf-ball sized white flowerheads. Even though it looks similar to thistles, it is actually a member of the carrot family. 

Now that you know how colorful our prairies are, I hope that you can come on out here to see the flowers for yourself. Because not only will you get to see gorgeous flowers all around you, if you look closely you can see the many different pollinators and other wildlife that rely on these native wildflowers to survive.

Photos of Cup Plant, Great Blue Lobelia, and Blazing Star by Kennedy Zittel


Ripples 8/26/21

By Nancy Nabak, Communications Coordinator

I felt brave yesterday. I took a hike in the forest, where the mosquitos are mean, and the numbers are plenty, but I’m so glad I did. For my courage, I was rewarded with an exquisite multi-colored bouquet of fungus forms.

photo of violet coral funi

violet coral fungi

Different nature goals were in mind when I first set out, but with these beauties popping up everywhere, I surrendered to their look-at-me demands. Had I been thinking about this prior to my hike, I would have expected the elaborate fungus show considering how much rain, sun, and heat we’ve had lately.

In the spring, my eyes scan for the migrating songbirds carrying their fresh, bright courtship colors. Yesterday, in the depths of the woods, I found them again in the form of fungus. Bright reds reminded me of the Scarlet tanager. Lemon yellows paired with the bright Yellow warbler. Oranges matched that of the Baltimore oriole, and incredible purples reminded me of the iridescent purple sheen on a Common grackle.

The show stopper was the clavaria zollingeri or the violet coral. This purple coral-looking stunner is found in both broad-leaved and coniferous forests with a wide territorial range; however, it’s considered a rare find. (Exciting!) There was also another bright purple mushroom nesting in sedge grasses that was just too beautiful to disturb. I believe it was a cortinarius violaceus (don’t you just love how Latin names roll off your tongue?), or violet webcap. I left it untouched, but had I checked below the cap for gills, it would have confirmed or denied my identification.

With all of these colors, mixed with a few tans and browns, I wanted to shut off the sun and just let them be the landscape palette.

To that end, there are a variety of mushrooms that actually do become the star when the lights are out. Certain forms of fungi become bioluminescent when the sun goes down. Researchers believe that they have this magical glow for a couple of different reasons. One may be to attract insects such as beetles, wasps, flies and ants to the cap, helping to spread the fungal spores. The Armillaria mellea, one of the most prevalent bioluminescent mushrooms, glows in the mycelium portion, the bottom part of the mushroom that isn’t usually visible. The reason? It may be to discourage animals from eating it.

You can witness this glowing phenomenon by going into your backyard with a black flashlight after dark. If you have certain forms of mushrooms in your yard, shine the black light on them. Not all will glow, but you may get bright pinks, greens and yellows that you would not notice in the daytime. I did this with a co-worker last year and we were awestruck. How magnificent to witness this nocturnal communication.

We’d like to remind you that if you hike trails at Woodland Dunes or any other nature preserve, please leave all fungus and other forageable treats of nature right where they are. Let the fungi- feast be for your eyes only, maybe snap some photos, but please get out there and enjoy the fungal cornucopia that’s going on right now.

photos by Nancy Nabak