Lynden Blog

May 1, 2015 | Joe Acri

More than once over the past week I've found myself in Lynden's kitchen, warming my hands over the pilot lights of the catering stove, or testing the temperature of the new hand dryers Sergio and Patr

April 23, 2015 | Willy

This post is the fifth in a series by Junior Grounds Manager Weston Wagner tracking the behavior of wood ducks at Lynden. Read part one here, part two here, part three here, and part four here.

April 23rd , 2015 – There are wood ducks hanging around the area in between the two nest boxes in the water just about every time I drive past. They still spook when they see you, but now they will only fly to the other side of the lake. With so many wood ducks present over the last couple of weeks, it would be hard to believe that at least one pair isn’t using the boxes as a nesting site. Soon I hope to sneak a peak in the nest boxes over the water to confirm that there is nesting activity happening.

In other news, spring looks like it’s here to stay. There are a lot of different birds besides ducks showing up. I saw gold finches, green herons, and bluebirds today. Not only did we build some brand new wood duck boxes over the winter, we also replaced all six of our bluebird houses. We went with a new style that is more similar to a wood duck box. They aren’t as big but they are much easier to monitor and clean out than the old ones.

6 bluebird houses in the front row

The six boxes in front are the ones we made for bluebirds. Just like wood duck boxes, predator protection is one of the most important factors in establishing a successful nest box. We added predator guards to the posts the bluebird boxes are mounted on. The bluebird boxes have an oval shaped hole that is sized species-specific for bluebirds. It is also important not to have a perch in front of the hole.


I've been monitoring the bluebird boxes since we put them up and hadn't noticed any activity. It was a different story when I went to check them out today:

Bluebird nest box activity

A fully-built bluebird nest

Bluebirds make nests of dried grasses

Three out of the six boxes had definite signs of bluebird activity, including one box that had a fully built nest. There were no eggs in the nest yet but that will happen soon! Notice how the nest is made only of grasses. It’s not a guarantee but there is a very strong chance that this was the work of bluebirds because the nest was made only of dried grasses and there was no lining of feathers inside the nest. Other birds will use a variety of items including sticks and feathers to build a nest.

April 8, 2015 | Willy

This is the sixth in a series of blog posts by Pegi Christiansen, who is a Lynden artist in residence through October 2015. As part of her project, Distance, Pegi will accompany people, in groups of up to three, on their first trip to Lynden. She will pick them up, drive them out, take a walk with them, and bring them back. As part of the excursion, she will ask some questions about distance. If you are interested in participating in this aspect of Pegi's project, please call 414-446-8794 or email and mention you are interested in a “distance visit.”

It was a cloudy, chilly morning in March when Jodi Eastberg drove me, along with five of her Alverno students, to Lynden, where we met up with eight more members of the class.

The class is focused on “place,” so my questions were related to this concept. When Harry and Peg Bradley bought Lynden, it was a farm. They hired a landscape architecture firm, Langford & Moreau, known for designing golf courses to shape the cornfield into something else. Later Peg Bradley added sculptures. Looking out over the sculpture garden, I asked what Lynden felt like to the students. Some of the words they mentioned were open, tranquil, and family friendly.

Photo: Jodi Eastberg
Alverno students discuss ideas about place with Hara watching. Photo: Jodi Eastberg

The students had read “Place,” an essay by Tim Cresswell. It made me think about the tension between globalism and regionalism. In western cultures, have places become homogenized, or are differences between places stronger? For Jessica, who grew up near Chicago, Milwaukee and Chicago seem very similar to her. They are both by Lake Michigan and, she noted, “All cities have the same street names.” Erin contrasted urban and rural spaces. She said cities have become “consumer cultures,” with people consumed with buying the newest hot thing. She would prefer to live in a rural area with more privacy and without another house visible from the windows.

Lynden has been evaluating another tension. There is a beauty to Lynden having no paths, except for the service road around the exterior. Yet for those in wheelchairs or those who have trouble walking on uneven grass, it would be helpful to have paths. Executive Director Polly Morris has investigated installing paths made out of a special grass, rather than chips or concrete, which would not hinder meandering.

Mariah has been to the Schlitz Audubon Center, where there are paths similar to most nature centers. Many of us are so used to paths that some of the students were not sure if it was okay to walk on the grass and waited to follow my lead. “If there was a subtle way to do it,” said Chelsey, she thought the paths Polly is considering would be a good idea.

Lynden rests within River Hills. River Hills, in order to create a community for “country living,” has ordinances that forbid any commercial development and all lots currently need to be at least five acres. I asked whether people living in exclusive River Hills could relate to issues of people living in Milwaukee’s segregated central city, which the class has been studying. Nikki thought they might be able to sympathize, but not empathize. “You can’t understand someone else’s struggles unless you have walked in their shoes.”

The students needed time to complete an assignment, so we went our separate ways and then gathered in the conference room to meet with Polly. River Hills came up again. When the Bradley family established Lynden as a weekend retreat, they drove out on a two-lane dirt road. There was a geographical distance between the Allen-Bradley factory in Walker's Point, where they lived, and Lynden. Now, it is a fifteen-minute drive away. Polly called Lynden an “oasis” in close proximity to urban Milwaukee, but many people have a sense of psychological distance from Lynden based on “the perception of wealth and a family having so much land and a huge sculpture collection.”

Photo: Jodi Eastberg
Students work on an assignment. Photo: Jodi Eastberg

The class wanted to know how the sculptures had been sited on the property. Polly explained that ideas about how to place outdoor sculptures change. Currently it is more common (especially in larger sculpture gardens), to place sculptures independent of one another, in their own environments. Peg Bradley liked to be able to see as many of the sculptures as possible from her porch, and grouped them together to allow for what Polly calls “conversations between them.”

On the ride back to Alverno, Jodi mentioned the three students in the back of the van were sitting in the “best friends seat.” This led to a discussion about personal space. In different cultures more or less distance is appropriate between people who are not related. The seat in the back should have felt too close for comfort, but the three students looked cozy.

April 7, 2015 | Willy

This post is the fourth in a series by Junior Grounds Manager Weston Wagner tracking the behavior of wood ducks at Lynden. Read part one here, part two here, and part three here.

April 6th, 2015 – There were five male wood ducks at the nest boxes this morning. The wood ducks are showing more and more activity with each passing day. I didn’t see any females so there is a good possibility that one was occupying a nest box. I didn’t check the nest boxes over the water but I did check the ones in the field. The first box I checked had something in it, and it wasn’t a wood duck.

Photo: Weston Wagner
Eastern screech owl occupying a nest box

It seems as though an eastern screech owl has no problem occupying a nest box designed for a wood duck. I snapped a quick picture and left the owl alone. There are two color variations of eastern screech owls. This particular owl in the picture is the gray morph. My post from March 27th has a red morph eastern screech owl pictured. It’s not what we were expecting to occupy the nest boxes but we will take it.

April 3, 2015 | Willy

This post is the third in a series by Junior Grounds Manager Weston Wagner tracking the behavior of wood ducks at Lynden. Read part one here and part two here.

April 3, 2015 – I noticed two pairs of wood ducks occupying their usual spot on the lake this morning. I have yet to capture a picture of them as they are very wary of human activity. It is possible and likely that these two pairs are the same wood ducks I have been seeing over the past couple weeks. It’s hard to tell but it is also possible that these wood ducks are the same wood ducks that have successfully nested in the boxes here at Lynden in previous years. I have yet to see a wood duck in a location other than the South East corner of the lake where two nest boxes are positioned. If these wood ducks do decide to use these boxes as nesting sites, it will be soon. My guess is they will start using the boxes, especially the ones over the water, next week, if they haven’t already. I won’t check the boxes until late next week to prevent disturbing any nesting activity. Once a nest is established, the hen will lay one egg per day until her clutch is complete. On average, the size of a clutch is usually between 10 and 14 eggs. Once the hen lays all of her eggs, she will begin the incubation process.

Bufflehead duck

Unlike the wood ducks, the lone male bufflehead duck I observed this morning was oblivious to my presence. Buffleheads are a diving duck that feed underwater by catching aquatic invertebrates. One thing they do have in common with wood ducks is that they are cavity nesters. This leaves the possibility that buffleheads are checking out the nest boxes as potential nesting sites as well.

April 1, 2015 | Joe Acri

It is hard to predict what one will find each morning at Lynden as spring progresses.

March 27, 2015 | Willy

This post is the second in a series by Junior Grounds Manager Weston Wagner tracking the behavior of wood ducks at Lynden. For part one, click here.

Wood duck nest box in the water

March 27, 2015 – The ice is now completely off the lake. That certainly doesn’t mean it’s warm. I read 20°F on the thermometer this morning. There was just enough wind blowing to prevent the lake from skimming over with ice. I checked for nesting activity in the wood duck boxes in the fields today. No signs of wood ducks but in one of the boxes there seemed to be some screech owl activity happening. Some owls, like wood ducks, are cavity nesters and would have no problem occupying a nest box designed for a wood duck. Although no nest boxes showed signs of activity, there is still time for things to develop. Once we get some consistently warmer weather things will start unfolding as they should, and before you know it we’ll be in the full swing of things.

Eastern screech owl

I saw two pairs of wood ducks yesterday. Once again, they were hanging out between the two nest boxes in the water. I haven’t seen them actually put the nest boxes to use yet but it seems like they are interested in that area. Every year this is the first place they show up. I haven’t had much of a chance to observe them because wood ducks are very skittish. As soon as they see you, they take off flying. It will be important to leave any wood ducks undisturbed so they can take time to establish the boxes as nesting sites. Predator protection is one of the most important parts of installing a wood duck box. If you have predators, including humans, constantly moving around the area where potential nest sites are available, chances are wood ducks won’t feel safe and might look for other locations to nest. This is probably why the most successful wood duck boxes here at Lynden have been the ones that are over water.

March 19, 2015 | Willy

This post is the first in a series by Junior Grounds Manager Weston Wagner tracking the behavior of wood ducks at Lynden.

Wood duck hen on nest
A wood duck hen on a nest at Lynden in 2014

March 19, 2015 - I witnessed the first pair of wood ducks of the year today. They were scoping out one of the newly installed boxes that we placed over the water. Wood ducks usually show up around the 1st of April or when the ice starts disappearing from the lake. There was just enough shore ice melted for the wood ducks to start to come and check things out for possible nesting sites. We put up the 3 wood duck boxes over the water on March 13, including an additional box at a new location. The new box is located over the water not too far from where other successful nest box sites are established. Wood ducks are not very territorial and do not fight over nesting locations.

I recently attended a nest box building workshop at the UWM field station. There were a handful of very knowledgeable people hosting the event. They mentioned that wood ducks are so non-territorial that you could have two wood duck boxes mounted back to back on the same 4 x 4 post and wood ducks would possibly use both boxes as nesting sites in harmony without conflict.

Weston building a wood duck box

Lynden's wood duck boxes, built by Weston & Bob Retko

Installing a wood duck box

Possible nesting site for wood ducks

March 1, 2015 | Joe Acri

There is definitely more light. It's not just that it's bouncing off the expanses of snow; the days are longer, starting earlier and ending later.

February 27, 2015 | Willy

This post is by Pegi Christiansen, a Lynden artist in residence through October 15. Learn more about her Distance project here.

One of my favorite temporary art pieces at Lynden is Sightseer by local artist Brian Nigus. For Lynden's Winter Carnival I proposed to roam Lynden in the fall, save what I collected, and create a “Winter Forest” display inside his “portable think-space.”

Jeremy Stepien was a student of mine at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design in the nineties. For “Winter Forest” Jeremy, Lynden’s Director of Education, was my teacher and advisor. He asked this important question: “What will happen to the display at the end of the carnival?” It took several months before I came up with the solution.

In October I met with Brian to discuss “Winter Forest.” No one had mounted a display inside Sightseer since it came to Lynden last summer (Brian had made the piece in 2011 while he was a student at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and it had been used in various ways before arriving in Milwaukee). Brian requested that everything I placed in Sightseer come from Lynden.

I made four major collection trips to Lynden during the fall. Except for cutting wild weeds, I would only collect what I found on the ground. The trips were exhilarating. I would always lose track of where I was and find plants I had never come across before and wonder, “What’s this?”

In January I made three planning trips to Lynden. I spent time inside Sightseer and measured it carefully. Jeremy showed me all the types of items, like vases, I could use to help with the display and I experimented with eight basic designs before I selected the one I wanted.

On January 30th, I started making “Winter Forest.” Naomi Cobb, Lynden’s naturalist, asked me whether it was primarily planned or being made on the spot. I told her it was a blend of both. Sightseer only has one door and is less than six feet wide. I had to plan carefully because I needed to work from the far end toward the door. Once I arranged an area, I could no longer reach it to make changes. At the same time, I was totally winging it. I spent 25 hours over five days musing inside Brian’s very special “think-space” and my head popped with ideas about where to place particular items I had collected.

Winter Forest

It was at this point that Naomi told me that she was going to have a bonfire during the Winter Carnival. What a perfect conclusion to "Winter Forest": to burn all the branches and wild weeds during the final hour. Jeremy's question was answered. I spent twelve days making “Winter Forest.” It would be on view for five hours, and then it would become ashes.

Winter Forest, photo: Eddee Daniel

Winter Forest, photo: Jeremy Stepien

At 3 pm on February 7 as the Winter Carnival wound down, friends and carnival visitors, as well as several children very eager to throw things on the bonfire, gathered around me. I was alone for those twelve days of making, so it couldn’t have been sweeter to have a group of children and friends carrying everything over to the flames as we unmade "Winter Forest."

Bonfire, photo: Eddee Daniel

Sweetest of all was a child, Caroline May, who named the dried dead toad “Hubertus.” I saved Hubertus for her and brought it to her home. “Winter Forest” lives on.

Hubertus, photo: Jeremy Stepien

Hubertus, photo: Eddee Daniel

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