CCEP green heron logo Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve

january/ february 2015 Newsletter


First Saturdays

Critters & Company Winter Series

Trail Camera Research

Friendly Faces

Nature Neighbors



Walking trails are open to the public every day from dawn to dusk.

Bunker Interpretive Center (BIC) hours

Academic year:
M–F  9 a.m.–5 p.m.

M–F  8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

Closed weekends and holidays.

Admission to the trails and BIC is free.

1750 East Beltline Ave. SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49546
(616) 526-7600

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Contributing Writers:

Julie Wilbourn,
Department Assistant

Lauren Cremean,
Program Assistant

 Jeanette Henderson,
Program Manager

First Saturdays

Hot Chocolate Hike
Enjoy the beauty of the preserve during winter as you hike through the woods. Learn to identify winter birds, animal tracks, and trees by their bark. Then warm yourself up by the fire with a free cup of hot chocolate, and create a simple watercolor painting of your adventure. This program is appropriate for families with children aged 4 and older.

When:    Saturday, February 7 at 10:30 am - 12 pm
Where:   Bunker Interpretive Center
Cost:       Free, no registration required
Dress for the weather and walking the trails.

To see more First Saturday programs planned, click here.

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critters & company winter series

squirrel in snowThis February is the time to trek the trails with Miss Jeanette! We have many wonderful activities planned for your youngster(s) to help take care of those 'winter wiggles'. Our winter themes are: Snug in the Snow, Mice, Owls, and Naked Trees & Bursting Buds. For more details and to register, click here.

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Trail Camera Research

This semester, senior biology student and Preserve Stewardship Intern, Karl Boldenow, has been conducting an independent research project using remote trail cameras to monitor white-tailed deer in the Ecosystem Preserve. The project uses 10 trail cameras, placed throughout the preserve, to capture pictures of deer and other wildlife during the fall semester. The photographs will be used to estimate the number of deer in the preserve, as well as how their population varies by location, and how it changes from week to week during Karl's research. In addition to deer, the cameras have captured photos of wild turkeys, coyotes, striped skunks, Virginia opossums, raccoons, fox squirrels, eastern cottontail rabbits, and grey foxes. The research results will be influential in considering wildlife when developing future land management plans for the preserve. Karl has been busy reviewing the tens of thousands of photos taken, and enjoys when he comes across fun or unexpected results. Below are some of his favorites.

To learn more about this and other research being conducted here and on Flat Iron Lake Preserve, click here.

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Friendly Faces

Jon GorterIntroducing: Jon Gorter, Program Leader & Preserve Steward

What is your role at the preserve?
As a Program Leader, I get to take school kids pre-K through fifth grade on educational hikes through the Preserve. We explore the Preserve for an hour or so, learning about animals, plants, and ecosystems through a variety of lessons and games. As a Preserve Steward, I monitor the trails, pull weeds, pick up trash, and record any bird species I observe. I also assist in an on-going leaf drop study, by collecting and weighing leaves that have been caught in baskets placed in specific areas around the preserve.

What are the rewards of your job?
Honestly, there are so many rewards that it is difficult to choose just one. My favorite moments are any time I see a bird species that I haven't seen before, or recognize a certain bird by its call for the first time; or any time I lead a program with kids and see them get excited about the bark of the trees, or the slugs under logs, or the chipmunk holes in the ground.

What is your biggest challenge at work?
I have really grown to appreciate the work of elementary school teachers — keeping kids focused and engaged can be really difficult. Every program is different depending on the weather, the school group, and the animals in the Preserve. It's challenging to take every situation and turn it into an educational opportunity, but you have to be flexible. And the reward of seeing the kids learn is definitely worth it.

As a Preserve Steward, I am continually challenged to be more observant. I grew up, as many of us have, in a society that is pretty separate from nature. We live and work in buildings, we drive cars everywhere, and we spend a lot of time watching TV; none of that is bad in and of itself, but we have become relatively blind to the small things that are happening in nature all the time. It is difficult for me to spend extended periods of time alone outdoors being observant, especially when I have tests and quizzes to study for, but the more time I spend consciously observing birds or plants or phenological events, the more things I notice, and the more I appreciate the preserve and my job.

How are these jobs preparing you for your future?
I am an Environmental Studies major, so these jobs provide me with valuable field experience both in environmental research and outdoor education. I am not sure which career I want to pursue, but these jobs have helped me get a picture of two areas to consider. Not only that, but I have also learned so much from these jobs that I will take with me wherever I go.

What advice can you give prospective students or freshman to encourage their involvement at the preserve?
First, make a habit of visiting the Preserve. Whether it is sunny, rainy, warm, cold, or any variation of our lovely Michigan weather, get out there and enjoy the natural space we have so close to us; you won't regret it. Second, get involved. The Preserve hosts all kind of volunteer opportunities, educational workshops, native plant sales, and other fun events that are open to everyone, so take advantage of those! Don't get stuck inside — come to the Preserve to explore nature, learn, and have fun.

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Nature Neighbors

You might find this neighbor at the preserve and near your neighborhood!

Meet Your Neighbor: Grey Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)

grey foxDescription:  The grey fox has the typical long, bushy tail, pointed ears, and pointed muzzle of most foxes. It is sometimes mistaken for its cousin, the red fox, because of its reddish-brown sides, head, and legs. However, the grey fox has a distinctive grey, peppery back and a long, black stripe down its tail.
Voice:  The grey fox is usually a quiet animal, but when it is vocal, it will bark, growl, snarl, or squeal. The harsh-sounding screech grey foxes emit is probably the most identifiable sound this species makes.
Habitat:  Excluding some mountainous regions, the Great Plains, and urban areas, the grey fox can be found all the way from southern Canada to northern Columbia and Venezuela. They prefer wooded areas with lots of brush for cover, and therefore are more common in Pacific states.
Diet:  An omnivore, the grey fox is a solitary hunter of small creatures like mice, eastern cottontail rabbits, birds, grasshoppers, and crickets. It also eats a variety of plants, including corn, apples, nuts, berries, and grass. In some western states, grey foxes are primarily herbivorous and insectivorous.
Interesting Facts:  The grey fox is the only member of the dog family in North America that can climb trees to escape predators or ambush prey. Its strong, hooked claws allow it to scramble up tree trunks. Powerful, short legs give it a low center of gravity, and help it jump from branch to branch. The grey fox may live in tree dens several feet above the ground. It is mostly nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk), and has few predators, the most common being coyotes, bobcats, dogs, owls, hawks and humans.

Be a Good Neighbor (a Special Story):

When our next door neighbors at Calvin College let the natural grasses and shrubs grow out on a slope behind their building, a grey fox mother felt safe enough to move in under the back deck. Usually grey foxes dislike urban areas, but the grasses provided protection for her young kits. And her kits can now provide pest and rodent control for the Youngsma Center and the Ecosystem Preserve. We are very excited to follow the activities of a new grey fox population through our trail camera research. Grey foxes were once the most common foxes in the east, but human development has allowed the red fox to become dominant. Help provide homes for grey foxes by allowing brush and grasses to grow naturally on your land, far from traffic routes.

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Unplugged: Connecting with Nature

Natural Wrappings

natural wrapAs a family, have fun creating your own wrapping paper from natural and recycled materials this holiday season. Reuse newspapers, maps, old music sheets, fabrics, ribbon, vintage linens or paper scraps with these ideas to make one-of-a-kind wrapping designs. Enjoy wrapping gifts this season in ways that make you, your loved ones, and your wallet happy while doing your part to reduce the waste placed in landfills. All of the following ideas and more can be found on our Pinterest page.

Plant Prints. For this project, you can use leaves, apples, carved potatoes, pinecones, and pine needles to make lovely prints with paint, on the inside of paper bags or on muslin. For the apples and potatoes, cut them in halves or quarters and then stick a Popsicle stick into them to make printing easier. Make sure you dab the cut surface with paper towels to remove the moisture. Then apply the paint with a brush. Non-toxic tempera, acrylic paints, or fabric paints will work. We encourage you to use a white or cream muslin fabric that can be kept and reused each Christmas to rewrap gifts. (Muslin can be purchased at any fabric store at a reasonable price.)

Handprint art. There are so many options for handprint and fingerprint art, from Christmas trees and holly leaves to reindeer and Santa Claus. This link has fifty-nine options, but feel free to make your own using non-toxic paint and markers. Create these one of a kind wrapping paper designs on fabric or the inside of old paper bags hiding in your closet.

Sun prints. Sun print images can be made from almost any object, but special sun print paper/fabric is required. Look here for instructions, then come check out the beautiful prints currently on display in the Bunker Interpretive Center.

Crayon resist painting. The simplest idea in this article, crayon resist painting looks nice with almost any pattern or color. Draw a simple design like snowflakes and winter trees with white crayon on paper (the back side of old white shopping paper bags work well), then paint the paper with watercolors or watered-down acrylic paint. The white crayon design will stand out against the background.

Book page art. Reusing book pages, old maps, music sheets, or newspaper as decoration is economical and eco-friendly! Use these papers to make tree art by cutting out leaves, trunks, or lumpy shapes. Then on a separate sheet of paper, use glue to layer the cut-outs and create a tree. You can upcycle the interesting papers into festive wrappings by cutting out snowflakes, snowmen, or your own holiday inspired designs!

Reusable Gift Wrap (another Special Story)

enfold wrapOne Christmas day, our own Calvin Biology Professor, Amy Wilstermann, sat amid a pile of discarded wrapping paper, and thought to herself, there must be a way to reduce all this waste. After she and David (her husband) did a lot of research and much tinkering, they created Enfold. Enfold is an online store, selling beautiful, reusable, fabric gift wraps. David and Amy's business is built on eco-conscious practices, with products that are sustainably, organically, and ethically made in America. In their informed estimation, 2 million tons of wrapping paper are used over the holidays in the U.S. alone, which equates to 30 million trees being cut down to wrap innumerable gifts. Consider being part of the movement toward reducing waste, and check out their lovely holiday gift wraps!

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