CCEP green heron logo Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve

March/April 2015 Newsletter


Wetlands & Woodlands Summer Camps

First Saturdays

More Upcoming Programs & Events

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

Wetlands & Woodlands Summer Camps

Our ever-popular Wetlands & Woodlands summer camps are fun, hands-on learning adventures for children ages 4-11. Campers have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the outdoors, and develop a greater understanding of God’s creation.
wading in pond
We are pleased to announce a NEW summer camp theme for 4-8 year olds: Wildlife Detectives! These campers will use clues to identify animal activity in the preserve, such as searching for homes, scat and tracks, and listening for calls. Our other theme for this age group this summer is Enchanted Forest (Explore Michigan's Beech Maple Forest), an exciting way to discover the plants and animals living in the forest, from the floor to the canopy.

Jr. Naturalist topics of study for 9-11 year olds are: mammology (study of mammals) and ornithology (study of birds). These campers will be involved in fun service projects like building wildlife shelters and bluebird boxes. They also take an off-site field trip one day during camp.

Registration opens Sunday, March 1 at 9 a.m.!
For more information and to register, click here.

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First Saturdays

Presenting the final First Saturday programs of our series!  These programs are free, and appropriate for families with children ages 4-12.

Scat, Tracks, and Other Animal Signs Hike
March 7 at 10:30 am - 12 pm
Come learn about scat (animal droppings) and tracks left behind by woodland creatures. Discover what scat can tell us about animals, and learn to identify it as we walk through the preserve to search for the clues animals leave behind.

Spots, Scales, Stripes and Skin
April 4 at 10:30 am - 12 pm
Discover the different types of body coverings that vertebrates have, and why they are so colorful. Then learn how spots, stripes and spines protect these animals. Meet our live critters, feel feathers and fur, and play some fun games to test your new knowledge!

Click here for more details.

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More Upcoming Programs & Events

Mark your calendar to save these important dates:

Spring Break
Enjoy our free, family programs at the preserve April 6 - 10.  We will have lots of activities planned all week long; the program schedule will be posted in March.

Critters & Company Spring Series
Get ready for more pre-school fun and learning starting April 21!  This spring we will study: Bird Songs│Sun Power│Millipedes, Centipedes & Pill Bugs│Michigan Turtles.  Registration is now open.

Native Plant Sale
Go native with us on Saturday, May 2 at 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.  When Spring arrives, plan to incorporate beautiful, easy to care for native plants into your garden.

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Nature Neighbors

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

Meet Your Neighbor: Virginia Opossum (Didelphia virginiana)

opossumDescription:  The Virginia opossum is the only marsupial–pouched mammal–native to North America. About the size of a big house cat, the common opossum has white fur on its face and a varying blend of white, gray, and black fur over most of its body. A great climber, the opossum has sharp claws and a naked, prehensile tail that helps it with balance and can grip branches. This animal is nocturnal.
Voice:  During mating season, opossums will communicate with a series of metallic sounding clicks. Mothers keep in contact with their young using clicks, lip smacking, and bird-like sounds. When threatened, these animals may hiss, growl or screech.
Habitat:  The opossum is nomadic and widespread, living mainly in forests, woodlands, and agricultural areas across North America. It prefers to nest in areas with rivers or streams nearby, but is very adaptable and can now also be found in urban neighborhoods.
Diet:  The opossum is an omnivore and an opportunistic feeder. Food includes earthworms, insects, small mammals and amphibians, nuts, fruits, seeds, and mushrooms. Carrion, garbage and uneaten pet food are also consumed.
Interesting Facts:
- Famous for “playing dead” when threatened, an opossum will fall over on its side, curl its body, open its mouth in a grimace, let its tongue hang out, and stare with unmoving eyes. This trick is actually an involuntary response to extreme fear that puts it in a comatose-like state for anywhere from a few minutes to 6 hours.
- Most opossums are lucky to survive for 2 years, but fossil discoveries indicate these marsupials roamed the earth during the age of the dinosaurs.
- Baby opossums crawl into mother's pouch right after birth, and are only the size of honeybees.
- A common misconception is the animal sleeps hanging upside down by its tail from a branch; instead, it sleeps in an underground den.

Be a Good Neighbor:

Man is the Virginia opossum’s top predator, partly because the animal is misunderstood. They have received a bad rap, due to their undiscriminating appetite, and hissing defense mechanism. Opossums are actually harmless, beneficial visitors to backyard wildlife habitats. They're quiet, they don't dig or claw, and they don't eat flowers or chew up the vegetable garden. Instead, they eat unwanted rodents, snails, and insects, munch on fallen fruit, and clean up our garbage, if we've left it accessible. Opossums are not aggressive, and their low core body temperature makes them highly resistant to disease (including rabies). However, if you wish to persuade an opossum to leave an area, first try minimizing attractions like pet food left outdoors, fallen fruit, and hiding places. Otherwise, leave them alone and they will likely move on in a few days.

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Unplugged: Connecting with Nature

redbudThe landscape has been monochromatic for so long, you’re probably excited for color. Try getting a sneak preview of Spring by cutting budding branches, and “forcing” them to leaf out or bloom early. You can also record the experience with your young scientists!

When temperatures rise above freezing in February and March, take a walk around your yard and look at the twigs on various trees and shrubs. Observe the buds on the branches. When spring arrives, these buds will burst forth as either leaves or flowers. Typically, flower buds are round and fat, whereas leaf buds are smaller and pointed. Together, figure out what type of bud you are looking at by preforming a little bud surgery. When cut open, a flower bud will reveal miniature flower parts on the inside. A hand lens can be helpful for viewing the parts of twigs and buds.

Next, use a sharp hand clippers to cut one to three foot branches, taking care not to disfigure the plant. Place the ends of the branches into a container of clean warm water, making sure to first remove any buds or leaves that lie under the water line. It the branch is really woody, you may want to remove an inch or two of bark from the base to enhance absorption of the water. You can add a floral preservative to the water to help control bacteria. Place the twig bouquet in cool place away from sun light, and change the water regularly so it doesn't become cloudy. Depending on the species and when you cut the branches, forcing the buds to open may take one to eight weeks. While waiting, young scientists can make weekly observations and journal about the process. You can measure and record the buds' size, develop theories about the factors that make the buds open early, identify the types of branches, and make sketches. For a winter twig identification chart and other educational resources, visit our Pinterest page.

Finally, once the buds burst enjoy your arrangement by setting it in a bright-but-cool spot, out of direct sunlight.

Here’s a quick list of West Michigan trees and shrubs you might find in your backyard that work well for forcing: forsythia, redbud, crabapple, spirea, dogwood, honeysuckle, red maple, willow, and flowering cherries.

Providentially, late winter is the best time to prune deciduous trees and large shrubs. Forcing cut branches provides a much-needed splash of nature in your home for both pleasure and scientific discovery!

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