Winter 2014 Newsletter

Let’s Tap Some Maple Trees!

Saturday, February 15; 1-3PM

Before we can make maple syrup, we need to tap the maple trees. We’ll use hand-powered augers to drill tap holes into the maple trees, and then hang sap collection buckets from the metal tubes we put into the holes. This is a nice hands-on experience for all ages. You’ll also learn how to use the “3 b's” (bark, buds, and branches) on trees as clues to finding the proper trees for tapping. Dress appropriately for possible muddy or icy conditions.

Maple Syrup Tour

Saturday, March 8; Two time choices: 1-2:30PM and 1:30-3PM

Find out how maple syrup is made. We’ll take a leisurely, seasonal nature walk to the tapped maple trees, and finish with a demonstration of the syrup preparation process. Everyone will leave with a taste sample of freshly made maple syrup from right on campus. All ages welcome.


Volunteers Needed To Help With Maple Sap Collecting!

Volunteers are needed to assist in the merry task of walking to the trees to gather sap from lots of sap buckets hanging from the trees. Organized groups and individuals are welcome. Groups can sign up in advance to come out and collect sap on a particular day from 4-5:30PM, between February 25 and March 20. Group size is limited to 25 people, including children and adults. Individual volunteers can request to be put onto an “on call” sap collector list which is based on availability from 4-5:30PM during the sap flow season. There are plenty of opportunities to help! To find out more about volunteering as a sap collector, or to sign up your group for a sap collecting program led by a Center naturalist, contact Rick Simek at (313) 583-6371.

It’s a Great Season!

It’s such a treat when nature’s secrets are revealed when we least expect it. It can turn an “ordinary” walk into an expedition of discovery, uncovering something new or confirming something suspected. Such has been the case this fall as a pair of Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) has been making their presence known by their calls and occasional sightings, both day and night.

One such encounter occurred in October when Rick Simek and a small assemblage of the University’s Biology 130 students were engaged in an outdoor field laboratory session in the floodplain forest when, at the intersection of the Sycamore-Willow Trail and Sugar Maple Trail, two great horned owls began hooting to one another! This was about 6:00 PM, still light enough to see in the forest. What a terrific affirmation that not all learning occurs in an indoor classroom.

About a week later, I was leading a class of high school students on a morning bird walk along the Sugar Maple Trail. Many of the students were “less than engaged” and quite chatty as we scanned the leafless branches for migrating songbirds. I stopped them along the trail and was just about to remind them about their noise level when a young lady’s mouth dropped open and she gasped haltingly, “Big bird!” We had unintentionally flushed one of the owls out of hiding! It flew again to a farther tree, offering another breathtaking view of a rarely seen forest resident. Thanks to that serendipitous sighting, the students’ level of engagement increased noticeably after this encounter.

These owls have seemingly not chosen a particular territory for their nesting yet, because they have popped up at various locations throughout the Environmental Study Area in November and December. During several recent “Owl Prowl” programs, when we go into the woods and “call” to owls in hopes they’ll call back, the great horned owls have been spontaneously hooting to each other without prompting at different sites within the Study Area.

What this is all about is courtship, mating, and fledging a brood of youngsters. Great horned owls begin this process in fall; lay eggs by January; and a month or so later, hatch young owlets in February. These owls tend to be more residential than migratory, so they probably have called these woods their home for years. Hopefully, they will find a big, stick nest to their liking (previously constructed by another bird, like a Red-tailed Hawk or crow), settle down, and raise their family. At this time, we stop calling for owls to respect their space and the safety of the nest. Although not much will take on an adult great horned owl, the eggs and owlets are vulnerable and can become food for other animals in the woods.

Great horned owls are one of the most adaptable creatures on earth and can be found in forests and fields, as well as urban and suburban habitats. They are fierce predators that can catch kill and eat a wide variety of animals, from waterfowl to rodents, rabbits, raccoons, possum, and skunk, all of whom are available on the menu in the Study Area. The presence of such predators indicates that our nearly 300-acres and beyond is a healthy enough ecosystem to support this top predator and all that it eats—and that’s something to give a hoot about! -Dorothy McLeer

Natural Area Restoration Update: A New Way to Read the Landscape!

This is an image of the prototype web-based geographic information portal for the EIC Environmental Study Area (gEIC). The EIC is developing this tool for custom public display of geographic content such as habitat, hydrology and other natural features. There are plans to make this portal interactive so users can add their own information and stories about the Environmental Study Area.

Having a new, online Hectare Grid System for the nearly 300 acre Campus Environmental Study Area may not sound overly exciting, but when you look at the power of what can be revealed by this system, is it ever! Formatted as a Geographic Information System (GIS) image, this new computer format (see image above) will make it possible to expand biological, physical and historical geographic information about the Area. For example, we have already been able to overlay data from our recent surveys of invasive plant density and distribution onto the new grid map. That will allow us to accurately designate and prioritize our various invasive plant removal and management activities. Also, a wealth of field data collected from the Area in past years can now be migrated to and displayed on the new map.

The hectare grid system was originally established by Dr. Orin Gelderloos in the 1980s to be able to precisely record and describe field locations for data gathering in the Area. The new online representation of the grid system was developed by UM-D Research Scientist, Justin Saarinen and his crew of UM-D student assistants. There are also plans to make this GIS portal interactive so that users (including visitors to our website) can learn about our habitat management initiatives and natural features in the Environmental Study Area. Stay tuned!

“STEWARDSHIP SATURDAYS” Now Has Its Very Own Day of The Month!

Thanks to input from our volunteers, Stewardship Saturdays will now be on the 3rd Saturday of each month. The time in the field will be the same as before: 1-4PM. Remember, too, that even if you cannot volunteer to help with a given Stewardship Saturday for all 3 hours, you are welcome to help for an hour or two! For more information and 2014 dates for Stewardship Saturday, go HERE!

Has She Found Her Prince?

Spotting these nose-to-nose male and female Green Frogs was part of an elementary school group’s experience at one of the Center’s many Pond Explorations program this past October. Considering that the breeding season for Green Frogs is early-to-mid summer, we wondered what this unusual interaction was all about. We were able to tell apart the male and female by the different size of the circular eardrum or “tympanum” just behind their eyes. The male’s (left) tympanum is larger than its eye, and the female’s (right) is about the same size as its eye.

Photo By: Myra Khan

Monarch Butterflies in Trouble?

Those of us who enjoy seeing Monarch butterflies around the Center were struck by how scarce the adults and larvae were this past summer and fall. It turns out that lack of Monarch sightings was countrywide. Alarmingly, Monarch populations have declined precipitously in the past several years, with this year being especially bad for the butterflies. For more information on this mystery and its possible causes, go HERE! We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the Monarchs start bouncing back this year.

Good Memories of the Past Year

Our UofM-Dearborn Student Naturalists spend a good amount of time with kids of all ages exploring the natural world in our outdoor classsroom. This is often a new experience for many visiting kids and their reactions can be surprising but, always leave us with a sense of satisfaction and hope for their future. Read a few reflections from our student Naturalists...

“I remember a time that a kid got really into catching tadpoles from the pond, and although he was a little too focused on catching tad poles and not just anything in the pond, his teacher commented that she had never seen him so involved and excited in a learning experience before! He actually ended up catching a large snail leech!” -Lizzy Clyne; Junior, Physics and Environmental Studies

“One of the funniest memories I have was during the Young Naturalist program session when we took the kids wild strawberry picking; immediately after I said we were going to move on to another activity they asked if we could do it again.”-Kyle Kandilian; Junior, Environmental Science, Biology

“It was when I was out with the weekly high school field explorations group. As we were walking the trails, many of the students were using their binoculars to look at birds on their own, without any prompting from me. This told me that they are becoming curious about the birds they were seeing, and maybe even applying what they have learned to ID some of those birds on their own. After all, my main goal with that group is not to teach them everything I know, but to encourage them to be their own teachers.” -Natalie Ray; Graduate Student, Education

“My fondest memory from this year’s programs was with a group of kindergarteners. We had spotted a red-tailed hawk in Jensen's meadow soaring above the trees, and I asked the kids what he was doing and one kid said "Exploring, like us." So for the rest of our walk we soared down the trails with our arms spread out like the hawk, "exploring" as we went.” -Wade Rose; Senior, Environmental Studies

“One of the most rewarding things to me about teaching kids outdoors this year was watching them grow as individuals as they learn and, perhaps more importantly, experience. This fall, a group came from Detroit Public Schools, and I had the privilege of meeting a pre-teen girl with a fear of burrs, or "sticky-bugs" as they are often called by many in this age range. Her peers listened with curiosity as I explained that burrs are not animate objects - not insects, not stingers, but a special means for seeds to travel from place to place - and then they gingerly passed around a burdock burr, some with more eagerness than others. When it came time for her to observe the burr, she still did not want to touch it, but with the encouragement of myself and her peers, she took a close-up look at it. What a change from the girl five minutes before who wouldn't go within yards of the plant! I was very excited that she was willing to step outside her comfort zone to experience something new!” -Sarah Hodges; Graduate, Environmental Science, Leadership and Communications

“I remember one super excited and enchanted second grader who told me that our walk made her love nature. I think she said something like: "I didn't know nature would be so sooo cool." (said with the biggest eyes and smile).” -Mary Fastiggi; Graduate, Environmental Studies, History

“The reactions of my maple sap collection groups to their first taste of UM-D maple syrup. “It's magical!”” -Ryan Keeling; Senior, Environemtnal Science, Geography and GIS

“Adopt-A-Habitat” Gains Momentum

Two UM-D student organizations took part in the Adopt-A-Habitat program this past year, and a 3rd is already looking at adopting a habitat space in 2013. The groups’ habitat rehabilitation activities included removing invasive plants and sowing the seeds of native wildflowers. For more information on how you, your families, and friends can get involved in Adopt-A-Habitat, go Here!.

A Pioneer Naturalist for the Blind

UM-Dearborn student Donna Posont has started a completely new educational program for the Center, “Birding By Ear and Beyond” for the blind. Donna developed the program to share her love of nature with others who, like herself, are visually impaired. The program even caught the attention of CBS Evening News, which aired a piece on it. In addition to her achievements in developing and leading the program, Donna has also become only the second blind person to achieve the status of Certified Interpretive Guide by the National Association of Interpretation. If you know a child or adult with a visual impairment who might be interested in participating in Birding By Ear and Beyond, you can find out more by going to this web page.

Donna continues to be an inspiration to us all.

You can also watch the following YouTube video, in which Donna shares a bit of her personal story about the path that led her to become a naturalist.

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Equipment Donation Wish List

The Center appreciates donations of used items that will assist in our everyday operations. Please consider donating any of the following items, in good condition:

  • Branch and twig pruners and pruning saws
  • Stand-alone shelving
  • Garden shovels, hand trowels, and watering cans
  • Wheelbarrows
  • Furniture dollies
  • Garden carts

The items can be dropped off at the Center between 10AM-4PM Monday-Friday. Please call Rick Simek in advance at (313) 583-6371, to arrange for drop off.




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