Ripples 8/1/19

photo of chimney swifts on silo wall

Chimney swifts on silo wall

Written and photo by Nancy Nabak,
Communication Coordinator

It’s not the velvet sound of Nat King Kole that I swoon over, but it is one of my all time favorite sounds. I’m listening to baby Chimney swifts chittering in our chimney at Woodland Dunes and I love it. Soon, very soon, they will fledge and the constant food-begging sound will stop. And I will miss it. I’ll miss it very much.

We’re at the time of year where fledglings are stretching their wings and moving around. This includes the maturing of Chimney swifts. And not long from now they will be congregating in numbers, some times quite impressive numbers in the hundreds or thousands, in preparation of their migration to the Amazon.

The Chimney swift belongs to a group of birds called “aerial insectivores.” This means that they eat insects while in flight. Unfortunately, Canada’s State of the Birds 2019 report just released shows a 59% decline in aerial insectivores since 1970. For complex reasons unknown, this group of birds has experienced the greatest decline of all others. Furthermore, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Chimney swift has experienced a decline of 72% from 1966 to 2015. And the numbers are not getting better.

And this is partly why I’ll miss their sound.

I’ll miss their sound because when they’re here I can hear them and I have hope. I know that this tiny little population is still doing well. I’ll miss them because bird song is one of nature’s greatest gifts. And I’ll miss them like a mother who wants to know where her child is after 10:00 at night. I’ll be hoping that they’re ok on their southern migration and that they’ll do well on their winter grounds.

Because there is so little known about a bird that nests and roosts in chimneys, it’s hard to know for sure how to protect them, but we are working on it. There is an event called Swift Night Out in the early fall to get every day people like you and me to count Chimney swifts as they enter chimneys in the early evening. It’s a simple process; you don’t need to be a bird expert to do this. All you need to do is count.

Woodland Dunes will be sponsoring a family-friendly Swift Night Out on Tuesday, August 13. We will go to a known location where hundreds of swifts have entered a chimney at dusk to roost for the night. Tracking these numbers will help us see trends and show us where to concentrate research and conservation efforts. To register to help, please contact Woodland Dunes at 920-793-4007. Again, no experience is necessary and you can help make a difference for this federally protected bird.

Tips on how and where to look for chimney swifts

Chimney swifts have a cigar-shaped body with long, narrow, curved wings. Their flight pattern is rapid, with nearly constant wing beats, often twisting from side to side and banking erratically. Many times you’ll hear them with a distinctive, high chittering call while in flight before you see them.

Because chimney swifts congregate in communal roosts before migrating in late summer/fall, it’s relatively easy to count them. Here’s how:

  • Look for tall brick chimneys that are uncapped. Downtown Two Rivers and Manitowoc both have wonderful historic buildings and swifts are seen flying in those areas.
  • Watch to see where swifts are feeding and congregating.
  • Pick a night to go out around the 13th if you can’t join us for the sponsored event.
  • Observe the roost starting about 30 minutes before sunset until 10 minutes after the last swift enters the chimney. Count (or estimate) the number of swifts that enter the chimney. It’s useful to count in groups of five or 10 when they are entering in high numbers. Turn in results to Nancy Nabak at

More information about chimney swifts and how to help protect them can be found on the Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group website

For more information on the Swift Night Out, please contact Woodland Dunes at 920-793-4007 or email

Photo of chimney swifts inside a silo wall by Nancy Nabak


Ripples 7/25/19

photo of mother and baby osprey

Mom and baby Osprey

This year has been difficult for ospreys at Woodland Dunes.  It’s a reminder that the natural world is not always as friendly to animals as was portrayed in cute nature films I watched when young. Neither is nature cruel, though. It’s just that a lot happens in the wild every day, sometimes to the benefit of animals, and other times not.
Each year we look forward to the return of ospreys to our preserve and they arrive pretty reliably the first week in April each spring. I believe we’ve had them here for about 20 years now. They quickly mate, spruce up their nests, and in a couple of weeks lay eggs. In the nest closest to our office, on a platform about 50 feet off the ground, two eggs were produced, and a month later one of them hatched. The second egg did not, so it appeared that we would watch an only child being raised throughout the summer.
We assumed he or she would receive exceptional care from its parents. This didn’t appear to be the case, however. After a week or so the male seemed to visit less frequently. Then someone noticed that the chick was no longer visible in the nest on our webcam.  We decided to search the area around the nest pole, and sure enough found the fallen chick, which was lucky to have avoided my big feet trampling the grass. Our land manager, Jeni, gathered the chick and took it to our friends at Wildlife of Wisconsin who are licensed wildlife rehabilitators. WOW examined the bird, and then cared for it (meaning feedings every two hours) while a foster family was sought. Because there appeared to be some question about the parenting ability of the adult birds here, an attempt was made to place the bird in a nest at Vietnam Veterans Park in Two Rivers. Two Rivers Water and Light generously assisted with a lift truck, but when they went up it was discovered that the nest already had three chicks much larger than ours. That scenario would not bode well for our little chick, as baby raptors are very competitive. So back to WOW the chick went for another week.
Then a nest was located in Berlin which had one chick of similar size, potentially a good match. WOW transported the bird down to Berlin and with help from other volunteers, was able to place the bird in its new home. We have not heard further about the bird and his foster family yet, but we are hopeful.
Unfortunately, last week, we were told that there was an osprey on the ground across the street from our office. Sure enough, a beautiful female bird, a full adult, was alert but motionless on the grass, its right wing drooping.  Again, we called Wildlife of Wisconsin, who came and took the bird, which was examined and x-rayed. Its wing was not broken, and they began the process of rehabilitation. Unfortunately, despite excellent care, the bird passed away for unknown reasons.  We don’t know how long it had been on the ground or what other problems, such as infection, might have been happening, or how it was injured.  Sometimes things just don’t work out despite our best intentions.
I think what is important to remember is that first, life is hard for wild animals, and we need to recognize that.  And try not to make it harder for them than it is already. If we are aware of what they go through, we will likely appreciate them more.  Second, there are wonderfully compassionate people like Wildlife of Wisconsin, who give a lot of themselves to help wildlife.  Such organizations are usually non-profit and self funded, and deserve support. Our nature center has referred hundreds of people who have encountered injured or orphaned animals to them. Without them, many wild animals would suffer needlessly or perish. They are important allies in caring for and educating about wildlife.
photo- mom and osprey chick at Woodland Dunes in June

Ripples 7/18/19

by Kelly Herfendal, Woodland Dunes summer education intern
photo of spittle on grass



Have you ever been walking in your garden and noticed what appears to be bubbles on your plants? It may appear as if the plants are salivating, but these bubbles do not come from the plants. They come from an insect called a spittlebug or froghopper. This bug gets its name based on the nymph stage and adult stage of its life cycle. In the Midwest, the most common spittlebug is the meadow spittlebug Philaenus spumarius, and it is frequently seen here around Woodland Dunes.

The froghopper nymph is more well-known than the adult because the nymph is what creates the bubbles on the plant. The nymph, called a spittlebug, stands head down and pierces the plant’s stem in order to suck a plethora of the plant’s juice which is the spittlebug’s food. The spittlebug then excretes the remaining plant juice as urine through its rear end and creates a frothy substance called spittle which looks like bubbles. Plant juice consists mostly of water and is not very nutritious. Therefore, a spittlebug must drink copious amounts of plant juice in order to obtain nutrients. In fact, a spittlebug excretes approximately 150-280 times its body mass in urine every day.

The spittlebug lives in this bubbly home until its instar period of development is over. The bubbles provide protection from predators such as birds, wasps, and spiders. Not only do the bubbles hide the spittlebug but the bubbles have a bitter taste which further deters predators from wanting to eat the spittlebug. A spittlebug breathes by sticking its abdomen out of the bubbles to acquire oxygen. When startled, the spittlebug hides in the bubbles and pops smaller bubbles to form one large bubble. This large bubble acts as an extra supply of oxygen so that in case of an emergency, a spittlebug can remain hidden while it still has access to oxygen.

When the nymph is ready to become an adult, it creates one big bubble to live in, just like its emergency bubble. The spittlebug continues its instar period of development in the bubble as it molts until it becomes an adult and coins the term of froghopper. The froghopper is no longer able to produce spittle to protect itself; thus, it must hop like a frog away from predators to prevent being eaten. In September or October, the female froghoppers will lay eggs on plants or in plant debris. The eggs will live there until late April or Early May when they hatch as spittlebugs and begin forming their spit cocoons.

Although many people worry that these bugs are a pest to plants, they really do no harm. Neither the spittlebugs nor the froghoppers do damage to the plants. They show up in small numbers and are only on the plants for a short time to grow into adults. So, when you are walking through your garden or a grassy area, you can stop and marvel at the bugs that live in spit.

spittle photo by Kelly Herfendal, spittle bug by Nancy Nabak

Ripples 7/11/19

As I looked out the window on a recent calm morning, I saw that the lilac bush outside was covered in delicate strands of spider silk. They waved and gleamed in the early morning sunshine, and I thought of the untold number of little spiderlings moving from one place to another before reaching adulthood. Young spiders often release a strand of silk from their abdomens which is is caught up by the wind, carrying the little beasties to new places. They call it ballooning, and it is an effective and efficient way of traveling, even at great heights.

photo of ebony jewlewing damselflydragonfly

Ebony jewelwing

As our seasons progress, we pass through times when different animals and plants are most noticeable – the time of sleeping trees in winter, the time of birds in the spring, the time of insects (and spiders) in mid-late summer, and the time of trees in the fall. Wildflowers of different species are present throughout the warm months and give us a carpet accessorized by the others.

Insects and spiders should not be the subjects of fear or disgust, overall.  For every annoying mosquito or black fly there is a pollinator helping to feed us.  For every creepy tick there is an amazing butterfly. And of course, we should take precautions to prevent diseases transmitted by certain insects/ticks and not do things that encourage spiders to bite, but these hazards have been with us as long as people and invertebrates have lived together. Even though I am often being bitten in the process, I still think that watching fireflies in mid-summer is magical. And this appears to be an exceptional year for fireflies.

A friend of Woodland Dunes called the nature center the other day to say that she missed watching dragonflies at a site where a pond was long ago filled in. The dragonflies and their relatives are truly remarkable. I am not an expert, but I appreciate the many colorful species of dragonflies, damselflies, pondhawks, meadowhawks, skimmers, clubtails – they are such a challenge to identify especially on the fly. My favorite is the ebony jewelwing, which lives around small rivers and streams. To me, they are a work of art.

As usual, birds have taken center stage so far this season when it comes to singing, but soon insects will begin to join them: cicadas, grasshoppers, crickets – they will more than fill the void when the birds go silent. Silently accompanying them are the thousands of species of butterflies and moths, in forms too numerous to mention. 

It is difficult to think how vast and complicated nature is, and how many parts (species) it takes to make it work. People oversimplify nature, and sometimes try to reduce it to what they perceive as useable.  To do so is a mistake. Like birds and other wildlife, insects are facing a slow decline in population in many places, probably due to our activities. At our preserve, we do what we can to protect native wildlife – lets hope we are more thoughtful on a larger scale as well.

photo- ebony jewelwing damselfly from wikipedia

Ripples 7/4/19


Written by Greta Wilkening, Woodland Dunes summer intern

photo of sea lamprey

Sea lamprey

Excessive sea lamprey populations have been causing problems in the Great Lakes for many decades, first appearing in Lake Erie in 1921, and continuing to invade the Great Lakes into the mid 1900s. Using their heavily-toothed mouths to attach to and feed on fish, these invasive aquatic species contribute greatly to native fish populations’ decline. That’s why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducts surveys and control projects within the Great Lakes to monitor these deadly creatures. We had the good fortune of joining two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees as they went out to Forget Me Not Creek in Two Rivers to collect data for their sea lamprey survey. It had rained heavily the night before we went out electroshocking- the process used to gather sea lamprey specimen for data collection – meaning the test site’s water levels were high, and the water was fairly turbid, or cloudy. Geared up in tan waders with electrofishers, the machines used for electroshocking, secured to their backs, our trusted lamprey guides seemed to have come right out of the movie Ghostbusters.

Up to their knees in murky creek water which resembled chocolate milk, nets outstretched in front of them, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service workers began to electroshock. The process of electroshocking includes going along the edges of the stream, using a pulse to disturb the lampreys from their resting place in stream bed sediments, then utilizing a higher voltage shock to immobilize and capture them. This particular morning, however, with the water high and murky, the low visibility prohibited our lamprey experts from catching any of the invasive creatures for their survey. Usually, after catching sea lamprey samples from their given test site, the US Fish and Wildlife Service workers will bring them back to their truck for identification, where they have to distinguish between native and invasive lamprey species. Using the lip, dorsal fin, and pigmentation, a seasoned worker can quickly identify a native versus an invasive lamprey. For example, when looking at the lip, a window shape indicates a native lamprey, whereas a white “mustache” or “lipstick” appearance on the lip indicates an invasive sea lamprey.

Most people likely think of lampreys as purely invasive, but in fact there are four native lamprey populations within the Great Lakes area: Silver, Chestnut, American Brook, and Northern Brook lamprey. These native species are not the notoriously destructive invasive sea lamprey that first come to mind. In fact, two out of the four native species, the American Brook and Northern Brook, are not even parasitic. Only the silver and chestnut lamprey act as a parasite like the notorious sea lamprey, and even then, are not considered much of a destructive threat to native fish populations. The parasitic sea lamprey, however, is considered much more dangerous and deadly. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an adult sea lamprey will kill around 40 pounds of fish within its lifetime, potentially more. A fish that has been attacked by a sea lamprey only has roughly a 15% chance of survival, while a fish attacked by a native lamprey rarely ends in fatality.

Even though sea lamprey often go unseen, the threat they pose to native fish populations is very much a reality. With current and past efforts from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Great Lakes has seen a 90% reduction in sea lamprey populations in the majority of treated sites, meaning safer and healthier waters for native fish.

photo- sea lamprey on a lake trout from Wikipedia