Nature Blog

Ripples 9/28/23

One of the best parts of my job is sharing nature with young children. Practically everything is a new discovery and their reactions and questions fuel my love for what I do. A fuzzy bumble bee, a spider web sparkling with dew and a squishy mud puddle are greeted with enthusiasm. Children are also honest in their statements and feelings on these matters and I keep note of the things they say during field trips and programs. I thought others may also find their comments amusing.

After learning different frog calls, a group of 3rd graders and I walked toward a vernal pond on Black Cherry Trail. We heard the “dunk, dunk!” call of the green frog. The kids stopped in their tracks and one child exclaimed, “that was magical!”

While investigating different bird nets and then learning that birds use their beaks to construct these nests, a 4-year-old leaned over to their friend and said, “I want to be a daddy bird when I grow up.”

Sitting near the fire during a Wild Child preschool program about maple syrup, one child was eating applesauce from a squeeze packet. The others were eating popcorn with maple syrup on top. I tried to engage the young friend eating applesauce by noting that what they were eating also came from trees. The child stopped eating and looking a little perplexed said, “but I don’t know where the applesauce trees are around here!”

During the maple syrup field trip, a third grader exclaimed that when he tried the popcorn with maple syrup on it, his “taste buds exploded! They were in heaven!”

Another fun comment I overheard during the maple syrup field trip: “This is the best trip ever! Actually, it’s the second best. Hawaii is first, then this field trip.” (I guess honesty is always the best policy!)

I think everyone should take a walk outdoors with a young child. They will remind you how fascinating everyday occurrences like frogs singing and birds building nests can truly be. 

Photo by Jessica Johnsrud

Ripples 9/21/23

With luck, you might find some time on a warm, calm evening to watch the world welcome the autumn season. I was recently able to sit for a while along the river, looking and listening as the light began to fade. It was warm enough that crickets were singing- field and mole, giving a sort of dreamy background score to the evening.  Wildflowers are still abundant- goldenrod, white snakeroot, coneflowers, and mints, even some spring bloomers fooled into flowering by the changing day length. Cardinals were chipping as they do constantly from the bushes, eventually joined by White-crowned sparrows uttering a similar call – not the romance-fueled songs of spring and summer, just a constant series of chips from both of them. The sparrows are migrants, and as time went on their calls became more numerous, then diminishing as it became dark.  I’m sure some of them took flight for the night to continue their fall journey to warmer places, while others stayed to fuel up on the many berries and insects available to them this time of year. They seem to become excited- I’m wondering if they are working up the nerve to fly far to the next safe resting place.
Herons squawk down by the river- a couple of great blues moving to their roosting places, and then a green heron flying by singing its “keoww” notes.  After passing, another responds and flies to meet the first- then they together fly off to their roost as well.  A kingfisher rattles one last time before finding the right limb for the night. In the shallows of the river there are a few large fish- salmon? steelhead?- I’m not sure, but they splash energetically.
A bald eagle calls from a roost upstream as it does every night.  I’m sure he or she was watching the same fish with thoughts of dinner.
And then, a couple of funny, harsh calls.  Two different birds, constantly moving.  Short, “eepish” kind of calls- young great horned owls.  They are probably still begging for food from their parents, who I can only imagine must be really tired of that after listening to their begging since spring. Their begging won’t be rewarded much longer- their parents will soon be courting before nesting again in a few months.  A screech owl also sings nearby on the riverbank, then another calls in the distance.  Briefly, a barred owl calls from the woods across the river. All of them are likely year-round residents, although the young ‘horneds will likely have to find another territory away from their parents.
Lastly, a small bat flutters by- something that we don’t see nearly as much as years ago. He or she is also either migrating, or looking for a subterranean space for the winter, where it’s cool but not too cold. Each animal has its own strategy for coping with changing seasons, a multitude of amazing strategies.
I’m glad I was able to spend some time at the end of a busy day. As my day, and that of the other daytime creatures winds down, it begins for just as many others. It’s always good to appreciate that.  
Photo- white-crowned sparrow by Frank Cone

Ripples 9/14/23

There’s a special feeling when the coolness of early September arrives. It’s not quite fall yet, but the air tells you differently. And so does the night sky.

The early sunset and cool evenings slow things down. It’s the perfect time for sporting your mackinaw and walking on downed acorns and the first falling leaves. It’s also ripe for shutting down the AC and sleeping with the windows open. The night’s cricket chirps slow their cadence, the cooler it gets the slower their song, and once it gets below 55 degrees generally, they stop singing all together. (And I will miss that.)

I always get a romantic buzz this time of year. Leaves are just starting to change and like other folks, I anticipate the horizon’s brilliant color palette in the approaching weeks. And the fungus! I enjoy the variety of colors on a fall fungus walk. Do yourself a favor and go out just to see what’s on a trail. Don’t pick anything, but see what’s there. You’ll be amazed at the sizes, shapes, colors, and textures you’ll find.

Back to that buzz, hives are now full and honey harvests are beginning. Roadside signs are popping up – proclaiming the victory of a successful honey season and that it’s now for sale. Three cheers to our pollinators for working so hard to bring us this pure and healthy sweetener. Not only is honey sweet to taste, it’s also used as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial agent.

Ok, so now it’s time to cue the fireplaces and cozy sweaters. There’s nothing like a good bonfire in the fall to get you ready for the cool down and joys of the new season. The smoke carries a scent of the elders, something wise, and it’s almost as if you can hear whispered stories carried into the air.

Fallen acorns underfoot don’t bother me at all. They actually remind me of my childhood and the imagination games we played as kids. My sisters and I would draw faces on the ones that still had caps on them. We would make whole families and create stories about their life. We would put the really little ones in a tiny box with soft cotton so the babies would have a cradle for sleeping. Sometimes we just played with them like they were marbles.

In all of this, I think my favorite fall moments are the ones where the things of man get quiet and the Great Horned owls start their courtship while katydids serenade in the background. That always gets me.

I hope you get out for a walk soon. This season has intriguing stories to share, and I know you’ll enjoy what you hear.

Photo: Nancy Nabak, pholiota sp.

Ripples 9/7/23

By Ariana Zimney, summer intern

“Leave No Trace” principles really can be a simple change while out exploring. Some people are not aware of its positive reinforcements to treating nature with kindness and gratitude, nor do they realize the large impact they have on the natural world. The “Leave No Trace” movement may not be as talked about as it should be, so let’s change the narrative!

This summer, Woodland Dunes offered a Free Play Camp where campers were able to learn about and utilize the new knowledge of this principle. They got to choose their own adventure for much of the camp, but during the personal exploration they were reminded to uphold LNT principles for the group. Campers were also encouraged to share their knowledge with others around them while exploring. So, I present to you simple “Leave No Trace” principles you and your fellow explorers can use just like our explorers did! 

First and foremost, Know Before You Go. It is always a good idea to be prepared for your journey. Our trail-goers used a map in the building to check the distance they would be walking, terrains they would encounter, and gauge if they had all of the appropriate materials with them. Secondly, we focused on Choosing The Right Path. Campers understood that it was important to stay on main, established trails as it is critical for safety of both camper and animal. Staying on trail also protects the native flowers, trees, and potential nests that could be on the ground. They didn’t want to disturb local animals and plants as “this is their home too!” And this leads us to Respect Wildlife. Campers were able to see a variety of wildlife, like our friendly Dunes mink, and observed it from a safe distance.

While out on a hike down Conifer, we came across some trash that was along the trail, and campers were determined to see it cleaned up, which is phenomenal since another LNT principle is Trash Your Trash. Pack it in, pack it out is the slogan, reminding people that if you bring it in, you can just as easily carry it back out with you. Along with this, campers were also encouraged to Leave What You Find. One camper found a Cooper’s Hawk feather and wanted to take it home. They were reminded by another explorer to leave it for the next lucky person to find and investigate it. Campers working together to uphold these critical principles, woohoo! 

Lastly, but perhaps the Golden Rule of them all, everyone was to Be Kind To Others. Making sure the fun they were having did not interfere with other’s adventures, animal homes or trails, and making sure everyone was included in the experience. Double checking that no campers were falling behind, or ensuring that all campers were joining in on the fun, everyone would be guaranteed to have a great time! 

The Leave No Trace website ( says that their goal is to empower people to be the solution to conservation. And what better way to start than here at camp, surrounded by friends and nature alike, striving for a better tomorrow with action today! 


Ripples 8/31/23

by Davin Dahl, summer intern

While on an early morning run, I looked to my left toward the West Twin River. Gliding over the surface of the river was a pair of Great Blue Herons. The smoothness of their movements caught my eye, and I could not keep myself from watching them as they landed on the river’s edge.

These giant birds often reach a height of over four feet, with a wingspan of nearly seven feet, though they are still extremely light for their size. They usually weigh about 5 pounds, getting up to 8 pounds at most. This is due to its hollow bones. Their blue-gray color and size distinguish them from other birds. They can be found along the water, often in marshy areas. Their nests can be seen high up in trees near or above water.

Great Blue Herons can be seen year-round at Woodland Dunes. They can be seen along the water’s edge stalking for their food. They enjoy eating almost anything that they can get their feet or beak on, including fish, amphibians, insects, small mammals, reptiles, and birds.

They are often seen alone, stalking the water’s edge, or gliding over the water’s surface in search of food. When they breed, they nest in colonies of several hundred pairs. They mate with one partner each season, but the partner changes from year to year. They lay 2-6 light blue eggs, with two hatchlings often surviving.

I now find myself looking for running routes that take me near water, so that I have a better chance of seeing a Great Blue Heron silently stalking the water’s edge or gliding overhead.

Photo: National Audubon Society