We can hang on at least that long, right?
We can hang on at least that long, right?
I think there is an increasing appreciation for our local stretch of the shore of Lake Michigan. Perhaps it’s out of necessity as we rightly shift our economic focus from past ways of making a living to those which also incorporate quality of life issues. Old photographs show the area in and around Woodland Dunes as having almost lunar qualities where many trees were cut and used for manufacturing. And then there is the almost Dickensian quality of the cities, which seem gray and smoke filled. Of course I think that’s influenced by the fact the the photos are black and white. Even farms seem to have that stark appearance.
That industrial period was perhaps necessary economically. It was hard on the land, though. The area that is now Woodland Dunes, even the forest, was used to pasture cattle, which according to old-timers were driven out to the area after milking in the morning to feed and water themselves. They deposited a lot of waste into the wetlands and tore up the sod. Aerial photos from the 1930’s show some of those impacts. It was not done out of any intent to disturb the forest – I think forests were considered to be vast and endless, and that’s how things were done.
People’s attitudes seem to be different now. The shores of rivers and Lake Michigan are valued for their inherent nature more than they used to be. We are fortunate that people decades ago set aside places like Point Beach State Forest and the strip of land along Memorial Drive. There were businesses located along the drive to be sure, but in addition to the road there was a commuter train, hundreds of elm trees planted, and beaches. The composition and proportion of these changed over the years with the addition of an amazing biking/walking trail and public art- all of which draw attention to the lakeshore.
Mornings and evenings, on my way to and from Woodland Dunes, I am drawn to follow the shoreline. Every day the Lake has a different appearance. In summer, the water is often blue and dotted with gulls, cormorants, and pelicans. In spring and fall there are many gray days and rough seas, and in winter there is the added interest created by shoreline ice – small bergs, ice volcanoes and shoves – all of which are shrouded by mist during the coldest weather. Last week during the cold snap the shoreline appeared absolutely arctic, dominated by ice and frosty fog, with a few hardy mergansers in the water. It was a very forbidding scene, but fascinating.
Each day the ice looks different, and soon different birds will be meandering along the shoreline diving ducks, loons, and others. I don’t know how many automotive mishaps occur as a result of people watching the shoreline as they drive, but that beautiful shoreline is both the favorite part of my commute and one of the primary reasons I choose to live here.
photo- the shoreline ice along the Lake at 20 degrees below zero, 1/30/19
photo- bald eagle from wikipedia
There are several things associated with birds which make winter special. Among them are the appearance of snowy owls and finches from the far north during certain years, and concentrations of bald eagles along our waterways. Recently I saw three flying together along the shore at Memorial Drive on my way to work. Two of them even did some of the aerial acrobatics that they do in spring, rolling over in flight and touching talons. I thought that was pretty special, until I found out that 15 were seen together at the harbor on the same day.
To many Native Americans, both bald and golden eagles are powerful spirit animals. They symbolize power and bravery, and also balance. Having an eagle appear is considered a good sign, although it is sometimes thought that the message may be to re-examine one’s situation from a different perspective so as to find a better balance. Many other cultures have adopted the eagle, especially golden eagles, as symbols of power and bravery in battle. Golden eagles are also found in Europe and their image has decorated many country flags.
When I was in high school we had a nature club which met frequently to go bird watching after school. We visited different areas around the county- the harbor in Manitowoc, Collins Marsh, Silver Creek Park, even Woodland Dunes. Back in those days in the early 70’s, it was very uncommon to see bald eagles, their numbers were so low compared to now. The DDT that ruined so many of their eggs took decades to work itself out of our ecosystems, but when it did we found that the eagles, given a chance, were able to do pretty well.
We also unknowingly helped them by encouraging new food sources, such as fish we raise and plant in Lake Michigan, and carcasses of road-killed deer as their numbers increased. There were still places to nest without too much disturbance, and so eagle numbers increased too. Now there are several nests in Manitowoc County, a couple of which are near our preserve, so it is not uncommon to see bald eagles year round. Lately we see them perched on muskrat lodges in the marsh. I’m not sure if they are resident eagles who nest across the river, or migrant birds from the north. This time of year our osprey webcam becomes a winter wildlife cam (ospreys have migrated away a couple of months ago), and we can pan around to look for eagles and other wildlife. The video from this camera is accessible from our website.
It is interesting that people assign particular attributes to animals. As far as being warlike, I think the little chickadees that visit our feeders are as fierce, ounce for ounce, as an eagle. Like all wildlife, eagles focus their attention toward finding food and nesting. Like us, they seem to do just fine with carcasses of dead animals although they are capable of more active hunting, or fishing, when need be. They certainly raise a reaction from gulls down by the lakeshore, who spot and become agitated at the sight of eagles long before I spot the raptors. And even though probably 3,000 eagles nest again in Wisconsin, they still face challenges, especially from lead in the environment. Even a small amount in the form of lead shot in a carcass or lead sinkers on fishing line, can kill an eagle if ingested.
Not only are eagles interesting to watch, they can be very vocal. The same day I saw the eagles in the morning, I finished the day listening to a different pair at their nest calling in the fog and deep twilight. I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to encounter these birds both at sunrise and sunset on the same day- and hope that I will continue to have that opportunity always.
photo- bald eagle from wikipedia
Written by Jennifer Klein, Land Management Coordinator
Even though I’ve spent most of my life in Wisconsin, I am not a fan of cold weather. I take a long time to acclimate when putting on extra layers and venturing out in ice, snow, and cold winds. I welcomed the late arrival of winter this year, at the same time knowing it would come eventually and that our wildlife and plants needed it to come. Seeds we laid down in the fall need to be cold-stratified (they need to spend some time being cold in order to germinate in the spring). They also need periods of freezing and thawing in order to work their way down into the soil. Wildlife need to hibernate or go into torpor at this time of year when food is scarce. Snow cover helps insulate the ground from frost. Wildlife and plants in our area have been surviving our winters for many generations and are pretty good at it.
There is another benefit to the extreme cold we recently experienced. While we scrambled to stock our food shelves, arranged care for children staying home from school, kept domesticated animals warm, and made sure our cars would start, wildlife also needed to figure out how to survive. Native mammals, insects, and other creatures didn’t have to change too much to accomplish this. Fortunately, non-native species are not suited for this harsh climate.
U.S. Forest Service research biologist Rob Venette and other researchers have found that temperatures of -20oF and colder can have a devastating effect on the local emerald ash borer population. According to their research, these temperatures can reduce the population by half or more. This is good news for anyone trying to save an ash tree. For Woodland Dunes, it may mean we have a little more time for trees and shrubs we are planting now to establish themselves in the forests before we lose our ash trees to this devastating insect. According to the Wisconsin DNR, however, the surviving ash borer larvae may be those that are more cold tolerant, and their offspring may be that way also. It will be interesting to watch this interaction over time.
So, while I took some time to adjust and come to the realization that I need the cold of winter to truly appreciate the warmth of summer, I will embrace whatever winter throws at us. I will go out and enjoy the beauty of the snowflakes, the artwork in the frost, and the marvel of animals able to live outside in it. Knowing that it may also be helping us battle invasive species makes all the more special.
photo of frost on window pane by Nancy Nabak