Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Future To Believe In Part 2

I remember looking up into the broken sunlight of the leafy ceiling. Birds flew from one branch to another. Just shadows really. In the grasses, he pointed to a hidden deer skull. Everyone in my 2nd grade class was in awe. 

Botteri's Sparrow-lifer for Bernie
He continued to lead us into the woods pointing out a beautiful Cedar Waxwing and American Robin.  Bernie reminded us to walk quietly.  We did our best. For most of the time. I mean...we were still kids after all:)

The darker Grasshopper Sparrow of the West
Later in life, I joined yet another nature walk with Bernie.  I was now in 7th grade.  We were looking for owls.  Their hidden locations were revealed as we watched them silently sleep on their perches. For many of us, it was our first wild owl we had ever seen!

One of the many deer I saw this summer at the Woodland Dunes
By now, I knew these woods well.  We played along a creek that once ran freely into the Dunes. I hid in the forests with my friends and built secret fortresses.  We also snuck out of our homes before the parents noticed that we hadn't done the chores. No one could find us if they tried.  It was our secret hiding place.

Eventually they cut down our secret forest and covered the creek with dirt and ugly factories. Angered adults and kids watched helplessly as the chainsaws shredded the trees to the ground. Today, those same factories that destroyed our natural playland sit empty because the work has since gone elsewhere. They had also tried to cut down the Woodland Dunes many years ago, but a few stood firm and protected this sacred area. Bernie lead the grassroot efforts to keep it free from "progress".  Many locals didn't get it. land=work=$$.  Oh if they could have seen their futures.  Today, nothing is left of the city I once knew.  The city continues to shrink and locals struggle to find work.  It is a shadow of what it used to be.  But the one thing that still attracts people from all over?  Our beautiful coastline and forests. And I gotta say.  The birding in Manitowoc County is pretty awesome.

Horned Lark
Later on in life, I returned back to the Dunes as a birder and an adult. Now I could truly understand the scope of what Bernie had set out to do. He was still there banding owls and educating us, the public. But it wouldn't be for long. Now, he was training others to do what he had done for decades.  It only took me a couple decades to catch up with Bernie and understand why the Woodland Dunes had been so important.  A few people knew early on, like Bernie, that the Woodland Dunes was an important wildlife area that needed to be protected for migrating birds, nesting songbirds, etc.  I have very few regrets in life, but there are times as a kid when I wish I would have spent more time and attention to the people and the important work they were doing. 

He was still the kind person I remembered as a kid. I watched him handle the owls with ease as he taught others the proper way to band them. 

After listening to his stories about banding birds, I realized that there is still so much I don't know. He even banded the trickier ones like Chimney Swifts! 

Bernie's Hermit Warbler
And now it was my turn to help this wonderful man out.  It was an honor and privilege to aide him in the discovery of our birds here in Southern Arizona.  We found Bernie's last warbler for the US and North America. Afterwards, we headed to the grasslands where we were able to watch a herd of pronghorns casually stroll through the verdant hills.

He gave me his "needs" list and I smiled.  While I love birding in the mountains, my favorite habitat to bird is in the grasslands.  And he needed quite a few of the grassland birds!  We had beautiful views of his lifer Botteri's and Cassin's Sparrows.  He discovered Cassin's and Thick-billed Kingbirds. And of course, the Hermit Warbler. 5 lifebirds!

Time is precious.  And although I only had a day to bird with Bernie and his son Jeff, I was so happy to do so.  It's the least I could do for a man who has done so much for us.  Thank you Bernie for your life long work.  Thank you for keeping areas like the Woodland Dunes safe from development. I don't recognize much of my city anymore, but I do remember my childhood playgrounds because they were protected and made safe by people like you.  When I enter the Dunes or Point Beach State Forest, I am neither child nor adult. I exist in a timeless space where it all comes together as one. I am surrounded by happy thoughts of my past.  I am reminded of my present. And I see future generations of kids exploring these places like I did when I was a kid.  Your life long work continues to inspire us and will continue for as long as people treasure these beautiful spaces.  Thank you for all that you do!

Not my photo but from the Woodland Dunes website.  I remember these days in the 70's and early 80's.  A sunny day with wet snow and yet still cold enough to wear gloves.  Bernie educates us about the nature.

Until next time.......


  1. Great post and a really worthwhile legacy for your friend to leave. If we all could attempt to do something similar we would definitely leave a better world.

  2. Hello Again Chris!:) This is a beautifully written piece about your love of birding, your love of the habitats you continue to explore, and the respect and friendship you have for your teacher Bernie, with awesome photos of all the wildlife. Lovely post!:) ps I'm glad Bernie got to see the Hermit Warbler, and I loved the photo of the Owl, what a beautiful bird.

    1. Isn't that a cool owl? The one I released was nice to me:) There was another that had a little sass:)

  3. How neat to get to thank Bernie for all he did for you --and for our world/environment. We NEED more and more things protected and less factories and things that tear down our woods and hurt the environment....

    Great post, Chris.

    1. Thanks Betsy! I know. I feel like some areas or parts of the world understand this while others continue to destroy important sites. It can be a little overwhelming!

  4. I'm so happy to learn about Bernie and how important he's been to conservation in eastern Wisconsin. I live only 50 miles away but had never heard of Woodland Dunes - it's now on my list of "must see" places. Thanks especially for these thoughtful posts. You remind us of how a single person can have great impact, especially as an educator, an impact that may play out over decades.

  5. You were fortunate to have a mentor like Bernie, providing inspiration and knowledge of the natural world. Thank goodness he was around to save the Woodland Dunes. And what a wonderful thing to share AZ with him.

  6. Great post Chris - so glad you found the warbler for your friend and mentor who has done so much for wildlife, habitats and young people.

  7. What a very lovely post Chris.The world is a much richer place because of people like Bernie.. and yourself!


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