CCEP green heron logo Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve

january/ february 2016 Newsletter


A Word from Jeanette

Critters & Company Winter Series

First Saturdays

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

Taylor Stawecki,
Program Assistant 

Jeanette Henderson,
Program Manager

A word from jeanette

Did you know that an average honeybee hive contains 35,000 bees,  and in order for the hive to function properly each bee has a job to do?  From Queen Bee to nurse bees, to builder bees and forager bees, each bee plays a special role.  Some jobs are big while others are small, but each contribution is essential to a functioning and productive hive.  Just like the bees, each contribution to the Ecosystem Preserve endowment fund is essential for us to continue achieving our mission.  Why an endowment fund?  As stewards of this special piece of God’s creation, we are looking to the future and are working to secure sustainable, long term funding for the management of the preserve and its environmental educational programs.  In the past year, we have raised $515,000 through foundations and individuals generously giving to our endowment fund.  We are grateful to everyone who has donated so far to provide us with a sustainable future.  However, we still have more money to raise and we need your help.  Just like every bee in the hive matters, every gift matters whether small or big.  Give a gift today that will last for generations to come.  Not sure how much to give?  How about giving $30 in honor of our 30 years of caring for Creation?  Of course, we welcome whatever amount you feel led to give.  Together, we can help to ensure that we leave this amazing community resource for generations to come.

Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,
Jeanette M. Henderson, Program Manager

P.S. Looking for other ways to support our work?  You can: share this email with others, volunteer, say a prayer (or lot of prayers!), or share why the preserve is important to you on our Facebook page.

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critters & company winter series

puppet showThis 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: Tracks & Trails, Woodpeckers, Bugs & Bugsicles, and White-tailed deer.  For more details and to register, click here.

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First saturdays

walking on snowy trail

Winter Discovery Hike

Enjoy the beauty of the preserve during winter as you hike through the woods with Miss Jeanette. Learn to identify winter birds, animal tracks, and trees by their bark. Then create a simple watercolor painting of your adventure. This program is appropriate for families with children aged 4 and older. 

When:    Saturday, February 6 at 10:30 am - 12 pm
Where:   Bunker Interpretive Center
Cost:       Free, no registration required
We will be outside most of the time, so please dress for the weather and walking the trails.

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Nature Neighbors

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

Meet Your Neighbor: White-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus)white-footed mouse

Description:  The white-footed mouse, medium in size, is approximately 6-8 inches long and weighs 0.03-0.06 pounds. True to its name, the mouse is mostly covered in brownish-colored fur, while its underbelly and feet are white. Even their tails tend to be darker on the top and lighter on the bottom. Compared to other common species, white-footed mice have slightly larger eyes and ears than house mice, and have less distinguished contrast between their white and brown fur than do deer mice.

Voice:  These creatures have lots to say, but unfortunately we will never know what, as it all takes place in ultrasound.

Habitat:  White-footed mice are the most abundant rodent found across the Eastern United States. They prefer to inhabit warm, dry forests but can survive in a multitude of habitats, including even semi-deserts. Due to their adaptable nature, they have also been found to survive well in suburbs and agricultural areas, but are rarely seen in houses.

Diet:  White-footed mice are omnivores, eaters of both plant and animal materials. Their top dining choices include insects, leaves, bark, nuts, seeds, fruit, and sometimes fungus. White-footed mice will often store pieces of food in different places to come back to at a later time.

Interesting Facts:

• Contrary to what many may believe, most mice species do not hibernate in the winter. Rather, they stay warm surviving in the subnivean layer underneath the snow (learn more in the "Unplugged" section that follows).
• White-footed mice have a good sense of direction, and are able to return to a particular location from as far as 2 miles away.
• A distinctive behavior of white-footed mice is drumming on a hollow reed or a dry leaf with its fore paws. This produces a prolonged musical buzzing, the meaning of which is unclear.

Be a Good Neighbor:

Although many often think of mice as pests and rodents to dispose of, white-footed mice are actually pest-control themselves. They can eat harmful insects such as gypsy moths. You may find that by coexisting with these mice and allowing them to play out their natural roles, you’ll end up with less pest problems. Regarding the movement of their habitat into suburbs and agricultural areas, white-footed mice are not significant crop pests, so gardens and farm fields are not often threatened. To better live alongside these creatures, be aware of your surroundings when walking through snow. At the preserve, we do not allow skiing or snowshoeing because such activities can destroy the subnivean layer which these animals use. When visiting the preserve, be a good neighbor by walking on the designated trails. To learn more about research being done with all the small mammals living in the preserve, check out our small mammal survey.

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Unplugged: Connecting with Nature

During this chilly time of year, when we think about the outdoors and our many nature neighbors, winter can feel like a rather uneventful time of year. However, there’s a whole teeming world of wildlife bustling about unseen under the snowy layers of winter. Like our nature neighbor, the white-footed mouse, many other small mammals do not hibernate in the winter, but survive the cold months by living in the subnivean zone.

The subnivean layer is an area between the surface of the ground and the bottom of the snow coverage. When snow falls, often small spaces are left cleared under overhangs, bushes, or snowdrifts formed by heavy winds. Using these under-snow openings, small mammals create a matrix of snow tunnels connecting to food sources, bedded areas, and openings to the air and light above. To create this unseen world, only six inches of snow are needed. With a couple more inches, this blanket of snow heats the subnivean layer to a comfortable 32°F, despite what the weather and temperature might be like above the snow.

food by mouse holeTo find traces of this hidden underworld in your own backyard or local park, set out on a winter hike, and look for air holes in the snow that small mammals, like mice, shrews, and voles, will use to come to the surface every once in while in search of food. When you suspect you’ve located some air holes as part of the tunnel matrix of a subnivean layer, lay out some bird seed around the entrance. Visit the hole again a few days later and see if you find any mice tracks coming from the air hole.

Once you’ve done some outside exploration, take the time to learn even more about these small mammals and the subnivean layer they live in.  One fun way to do so will be to curl up with a blanket and watch videos you can find on our Pinterest page under "cool educational nature videos."  They show how the subnivean layer helps protect small mammals from predators above, and how predators such as foxes and owls can still capture their prey living in the subnivean layer, by using their keen sense of hearing.

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