Spring 2014 Newsletter

Twitter Feed: The Real Story!

Saturday, May 17, 8:00-10:00 AM

Spring migrants are winging their way north on long distance journeys by feeding on newly emerging insects along the way.  Our 300-acre Environmental Study Area is a critical migratory stopover site, as research from the Rouge River Bird Observatory proves.  Come catch this natural spectacle as the birds catch their breakfast right before our eyes!  Binoculars are strongly recommended.  

Sprouts Gardening Program for Children

Nine sessions held on Wednesdays from 6PM - 7:30 PM

Children ages 6-8 are invited to participate in another exciting season of gardening at the campus Community Organic Garden. The children will directly experience the joys of gardening as they plant, tend, and harvest their own vegetables. We’ll include crafts, sing-alongs, and stories as part of the on-site program experiences. Each session will also find our group exploring some of the life we share space with at the garden, such as insects and birds.

Leaders for the program will be Center interpreters Natalie Ray and Jennifer Shockling. Natalie is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable interpreter with years of experience leading educational programs at the Center. Jennifer brings gardening experiences from a summer internship with Earthworks in Detroit to share. Natalie and Jennifer are already planning for an exciting season of gardening with the group.

Nine program sessions are planned, from 6PM-7:30PM on the following Wednesdays: May 28; June 4, 18, 25; July 9, 23; August 13, 27; September 10 (harvest party).

Each child must be joined and supervised by an adult companion at each session.

The program fee is $35 per child. There is no fee for adult participants. You can register your child by going to this link.

The deadline for registration is May 20.

We hope to see you and your child at the garden!

Summer Young Naturalist Program

Two age groups:
10-11 year olds July 7, 8, 9, 10 and 7-9 year olds July 14, 15, 16, 17

Get your child outdoors and learning about nature! Led by UM-Dearborn student interpreters, this science-oriented program provides direct, hands-on learning in a beautiful outdoor setting.  Session topics will include pond life, birds, insects and spiders, and frogs and turtles. The program is free of charge. You can register your child online by going to Online Registration.

Finding Jefferson Butler: A Henry Ford Bird Conservation Story

Henry Ford loved birds, and did much to protect them. That’s a well-known part of the historic record. Recently, however, we have uncovered substantial and exciting new information about a personal, local acquaintance of Mr. Ford’s, Mr. Jefferson Butler. In 1911, Butler was engaged with Mr. Ford in an ambitious, coordinated effort to describe, encourage, and promote the conservation of birdlife on “Ford Farm.” This was of course before the Fords built their estate in 1914.

Our investigations began when John Berger, and EIC volunteer (and Henry Ford buff), shared with me a copy of a 22 page document from the Henry Ford Estate Archives titled “FORD FARM AS A BIRD RESERVE,” dated March 12, 1912. The author—whom after much searching on John’s and my part turned out to be Butler—only describes himself as “the writer” throughout the piece. In wonderful detail, Butler provides his bird observation notes on the Ford Farm in 1911. He also provides thorough descriptions of Henry Ford’s extensive bird conservation efforts on the farm, such as this passage: “…much is being done to reforest and about ten thousand shrubs taken from wild nature have been planted mostly those with berries, of which many species of birds commonly use for food, and others that are expected to afford nesting places during summer and shelter for the winter.” Butler knew about, and was perhaps involved in, a major bird conservation initiative, involving habitat development, already underway on the Ford Farm in 1911.

Butler also indicates that Henry Ford was thinking expansively about birds and conservation on his farm: “Mr. Ford is a lover of animals, birds, trees and the various living forms of nature, and so, the aim is to make Ford Farm a model nature farm as well as agriculturally…Mr. Ford has not merely a hobby, he also wishes to do a beneficial work. He is anxious to give every feature a fair test, as of course, we are in the experimental stage. Also, in this passage from the book “Clara: Mrs. Henry B. Ford” it’s author, Ford R. Bryan, describes Butler as “a Detroit attorney”… who “wrote to Mr. Liebold in August 1911….I think I could make the Ford Farm famous as a nature farm but that would take time and money. I have a plan to submit later by which we could get large numbers of wild ducks and wild geese…I am waiting to get a key to the gates before taking a delegation of School Teachers for a tramp. The Boy Scouts are also coming. If there is any more I could do please let me know [emphases added].

The following passages reveal how Butler was welcomed, and paid, by Henry Ford to spend extended periods doing bird surveys on the farm, which related to a long term plan of some sort: “The writer has a cottage on the farm just north of the Dearborn Village facing the road that divides the town from the township….Mr. Ford kindly placed this cottage at the disposal of the writer and family, and we occupied it during the summer of 1911 and are planning to repeat the operation.” Butler goes on to write that “Through the financial assistance of Mr. Ford is giving, it will be possible to give the whole farm attention during the coming summer and of course, much fuller records will be made.”

Another quote in the piece reinforced that Butler and Henry Ford spent time together watching birds: “Mr. Ford and the writer estimated one hundred and fifty meadowlarks on the first day of October in one field.”

Butler also writes about participating in a Christmas Bird Count on the Ford Farm in 1911: “The tree sparrows began to grow plentiful during November and by December….Christmas day they were singing a few broken notes and always appeared cheerful during the severest weather of the winter. They were not seen on the farm during the summer…The census taken on Ford Farm Christmas day for Bird-Lore was as follows…”[goes on to describe bird species and numbers observed during the count]. Bird Lore was the immediate predecessor of Audubon Magazine.

Butler and Henry Ford also shared mutual values and goals relating to bird conservation through education, which they extended to a national audience. This entry from this 1914 edition of the Nut Grower advertised an educational pamphlet of the Liberty Bell Bird Club titled “Henry Ford’s Bird Sanctuary” which was being sold at 5 cents per copy. This was an exciting find in that it indicated the availability of a publication solely about the birds on Henry Ford’s property. That coupled very well with the following passage from Butler’s 1911 document: “As the work progresses and we feel we can be of public service by announcing the experiments with their results, we shall review this booklet and issue it in a new form” [emphasis added]. Evidently, the document included draft content for the pamphlet. John and I are still searching for that pamphlet. We do know that Butler authored two journal articles about the Ford Farm, one in the 1913 issue of Our Dumb Animals called Ford Farm and Its Bird Tenants, and the other from a 1910 issue of Blue Bird titled “Henry Ford’s Bird Farm” in which Butler is identified as “President [of] Michigan Audubon Society.” In the former article, Butler describes how “…in the past, he [Ford] has aided the Michigan Audubon Society and has distributed gratis a large number of books on birds.”

Butler brought significant bird study expertise and bird protection advocacy credentials to bear in advancing Henry Ford’s bird conservation visioning and efforts.  An extensive account of Butler in Successful Men of Michigan writes that “In 1904, he [Butler] organized the Michigan Audubon Society for the protection of wildlife [emphasis added].” It also states that “Mr. Butler has had charge of the legislative work in both the State Audubon and the State Humane Association since their organization.” An entry from The Book of Detroiters, Second Edition, lists his substantial personal accomplishments and involvement in organizations dedicated to birds and bird conservation. His prolific writings include an 81 page bird conservation-themed book, published in 1907 by the Michigan Audubon Society, titled “The History, Works, and Aims of the Michigan Audubon Society.” A paper authored by Butler in the 1913 “Report on the Michigan Academy of Science” details a study he did on nesting bird in the local area, including at Belle Isle. He also refers to nest box observations which very likely were made on the Ford Farm.

Clearly, Butler played a key role in describing and promoting Henry Ford’s “Bird Farm” to the wider public. In this piece on the Ford Farm in Volume 46 of Dumb Animals, Butler writes “Mr. Ford’s work in protecting birds has been an incentive to many others, and the writer is constantly receiving queries from all parts of the United States and Canada and even England regarding the farm and the bird work therein. “

Butler also used his legal expertise to advocate for the protection of birds. A 1911 issue of Bird Lore includes a report by Butler as “field agent for the [Audubon] Associations in Michigan” who, in his own words, “…went to Washington, D.C., were I spoke at the Cosmos Club on the Ford Bird Farm. While there, I also conferred with a number of Congressmen in regard to the bill protecting migratory birds.”

Like Henry Ford, Butler was extensively and effectively involved in advancing the cause of American bird conservation in the early 1900s. The legacy each left involved the other, and they in turn influenced others who have come after, including those of us who enjoy observing and appreciating the birdlife of Henry Ford’s former “backyard” in the UM-Dearborn Environmental Study Area.

Sadly, Jefferson Butler did not live to continue working toward supporting and expressing Mr. Ford’s bird conservation goals on the Ford Farm. As announced in this Volume of Nature Study Review, Butler died on October 23, 1913. Ironically, he was struck by an automobile while riding a bicycle near his home in Detroit.

These exciting new historical findings, which add depth and dimension to the previously unknown personal relationship between Jefferson Butler and Henry Ford, open up fascinating new lines of historical inquiry. For example, how might Butler have influenced Henry Ford to hire Jens Jensen in 1914 to design and plant a restored landscape which in large part had to do with attracting and protecting birds? Also, how might Henry Ford’s decision to align with Butler in shared bird conservation goals have to do with Butler’s major involvement in the Michigan Audubon Society? That’s just for starters… --Rick Simek

Interpreting Nature's Yearly Spring Signals

Noticing natural “firsts” of spring each year, such as blossoming or migration arrival, can be a simple and enjoyable pastime. It can also involve a branch of science called phenology (from Greek phaino "to show, to bring to light, make to appear") which studies natural phenomena that recur periodically, and their relation to climate and changes in season. Each year since about 2001, our staff and others have been recording “indications of spring” among the plant and animal life in the campus Environmental Study Area. We are beginning to compile and interpret these observations in respect to various species; that includes assembling graphs which illustrate the range of certain indications of spring for each. One particularly fascinating graph is of the first blooms for the Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum), a native spring wildflower, over nine different years between 2001 and 2013:

We can interpret several things from this graph. First, it’s clear that the first bloom date for trout lily is not the same each year. That likely corresponds with the number of Growing Degree Days (GDD) each year during the sprouting and bloom periods for Trout Lily. Growing Degree Days are a measurement the growth and development of plants during the growing season, and include factors such as heat accumulation influenced by ambient temperatures. For example, the earliest bloom time for trout lily, in 2012, was preceded by about a week-long streak of unseasonably high daytime air temperatures in the 70’s, with a high of 86 degrees on March 23, the day the bloom was noted. Contrast that with the latest bloom time for trout lily on May 1, 2005, when similar high daytime high temperatures were more spread out over the weeks before. Averaging out the entire graph data, we can also come up with an average date of April 21 for the first bloom of trout lily on campus, at least since 2001. It’s also evident from the graph that first bloom dates for trout lily have trended earlier over the time period during which we have been recording our observations.

Over decades, regularly recording phenological observations may also provide a tangible way to interpret the impacts of climate change in our local area. For instance, we might hypothesize that the average bloom date for trout lily on campus will be earlier in twenty years than it is now. To test that, we would need to attentively and consistently record yearly first blooms of trout lily between now and 2034…any volunteers?

Phenology is fun to do anytime of the year. If you wish to start by noting indications of spring around your neighborhood, here are some that you might be on the lookout for soon:

  • First blooms of mid-to-late season spring flowers.
  • Buds opening and leafing out.
  • Nest building behavior by birds.
  • Arrival of neotropical migrant birds such as orioles and hummingbirds.

The methodology of these Trout Lily bloom time observations could also be improved from what they’ve been to this point. For example, instead of noting the first bloom for Trout Lily at any location within the Environmental Study Area, a specific, marked-off test plot could be established where readings could be taken each year.

Phenology is a great tool for paying closer attention to nature near you, and to learn about how life is responding to changes in our environment. There is always some new “signal of the season” to look forward to spotting and noting. To find out more about phenology, and how you might contribute to the phenological information for our area, check out the U.S. National Phenology Network. Enjoy!

The Eastern Redbud: A Tree for All Seasons!

After one of the longest, coldest winters in recent memory, we here in southeast Michigan have been searching desperately for any little sign of spring that could be found. Well, unfurl the banner, take wing, and stay on an even keel—spring has sprung! The Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), a tree for all seasons has sprouted its crimson/magenta buds. As an understory tree native to southern Michigan we see it in our forests and woodlands, but it is frequently included in residential neighborhood landscape plans. In fact, Jens Jensen specifically included redbud trees in his 1915 landscape plans for the "home of Mr. Henry Ford." The flower buds for which the tree is named herald the rush of spring phenological events quickly to come.

Redbuds “awaken” in late April and early May and exhibit the nubs of pink buds. In short order, the buds become blossoms, opening into what is referred to as an “irregular” flower, meaning the flowers are not radially symmetrical as a daisy, but bilaterally symmetrical with an upper and lower portion referred to as “lips,” such as a violet, orchid, or pea flower. Indeed, the redbud is in the family Fabaceae; the legume or pea family. The clustered flowers are found primarily on the outermost twigs, but also scattered on the inner branches and trunks as well; after flowering, lovely heart-shaped leaves decorate the branches.

There are three parts to a redbud flower: the banner, wing, and keel. The banner is the largest, showiest part of the blossom meant to attract the attention of pollinators; the two wings flank the reproductive interior of the flower, concealing 10 pollen-loaded anthers, and; the keel structurally supports the blossom, holding it all together. After pollination, the ovaries of the blossoms grow into flat, green pea pods encasing about a dozen orderly seeds. Mature, brown pods are a prized food source for a diverse assortment of wildlife. Rick Simek and I have enjoyed watching an enterprising Black-capped Chickadee hammer these dried pods throughout the winter right out our office window. The remaining pods rattle musically in the wind.

Whether ushering in spring with its signature red buds, showing heart with its leaves, or making music with its pea pods, the Eastern Redbud truly is a tree for all seasons. On your next walk through your neighborhood (or ours), be on the lookout for this botanical harbinger of spring! -- Dorothy McLeer

Come Celebrate Urban Birds

May 17, 10AM

The Environmental Interpretive Center is partnering with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to “Celebrate Urban Birds.” On the morning of May 17 at 10 am we will be meeting at Gallup Park Canoe Livery in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The day will be filled with birding along the shore of the Huron River and for an extra opportunity to hear waterfowl we will be canoeing in the river. Lunch will be provided in the park and we will be celebrating urban birds through art and song until 2 p m. This event is sponsored by the Center’s “Birding by Ear and Beyond” program which offers an auditory experience for blind and visually impaired individuals. All are welcome to join us as we engage in “Sensing Nature’s Beauty.” For further information contact Donna Posont at 313-220-8140 or dposont@umich.edu.

The Big Read is happening in Dearborn!

The Dearborn Public Library is celebrating Jack London’s The Call of the Wild with fun events happening in and around Dearborn from March 8 to May 17, 2014, including two events (May 3 and May 8) with the Environmental Interpretive Center at the Library!  The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts, designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment. The NEA presents The Big Read in partnership with Arts Midwest.

To learn more, click on http://bigreaddearborn.org/

Upcoming Stewardship Saturdays

April 19, May 17, June 21; 1-4PM

Join other volunteers in helping to remove invasive plants from the Environmental Study Area. Bring work gloves and water to drink while in the field. Ages 9 and older. The more the merrier! For more information on Stewardship Saturdays, go to: http://www.umd.umich.edu/eic/involved/stewardshipdays.html


Quick Links

Rouge River
Bird Observatory

The Rouge River Bird Observatory is the longest- running, full-time urban bird research station in North America.
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Contact Us:

Interpretive Center
University of Michigan – Dearborn
4901 Evergreen Road
Dearborn, MI 48128
(313) 593–5338