By Coggin Heeringa, Director, Crossroads at Big Creek
For quite a long time, the Door County community has used Crossroads at Big Creek as a “refuge of sanity.” For now, though our buildings and restrooms are closed, we welcome people to get in touch with nature as they exercise or just de-stress. Our trails are open to all who maintain social distancing and who respect our natural resources.
This is perhaps not the best way to introduce first-time visitors to Crossroads, but we are still thrilled to share our preserve with everyone. We are truly gratified that individuals and families are, in their turn, also grateful. We’ve noticed lately that more people have been asking about the brush piles scattered throughout the preserve.
Crossroads staff and volunteers have been working for years to enhance our habitats by removing invasive species. Buckthorn and honeysuckle have been among our species of concern. Consequently, we have humongous piles of the gnarly remains of these pernicious shrubs and trees. We understand that to many people, these piles are unsightly, but then, we are not migrating birds.
An article called “Respites for Migratory Birds,” by Kim Grveles and Sumner Matteson, said, “Every spring and fall, tens of millions of migrating birds sweep through the Great Lakes region and stop at a variety of sites on their way to breeding grounds as far north as Greenland and the Arctic Ocean and wintering grounds as far south as Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego. Stopover sites provide birds with critical food and shelter en route.”
Crossroads has been officially designated as a “stopover spot,” but we do not offer what one might consider prime habitat. Crossroads is planning a three to four year initiative to enhance our preserve for migrating birds, butterflies and bats, but for now, our wildlife corridors are fragmented. This means that a small migratory songbird, looking for a place to rest and feed during its arduous journey, must fly across open areas.
Little birds are instinctively wary. Their fear is justified, for during migration, hawks and falcons lurk…ready for ambush. So for a weary little bird, a brush pile…the more untidy the better…is a refuge. Seeing or even just fearing a predator, little birds dive into our brush piles, where they are safe from attack and can rest out of the elements.
Our brush piles also shelter our resident birds in winter. They provide a shady refuge for toads and small mammals in summer. They are nests sites for a number of bird species. The brush piles near our wetlands provide dry perches for some very special species.
Until quite recently, refuges such as brush piles and hedgerows were common. But now fields are plowed from ditch to ditch and lawns, even in rural areas, are manicured. Dead branches and uprooted trees are cut up and carted off to the landfill. Migrating birds…all birds… are vulnerable.
Someday, we will have well established wildlife corridors throughout Crossroads. But for now, an ugly untidy brush pile will suffice as a refuge of safety.
And for the people of Door County, our wild and un-manicured land has also become a refuge of sanity…a place to feel calm during our current societal journey.
Crossroads at Big Creek is a learning center and nature preserve located just east of the Highway 42/57 roundabout.