CCEP green heron logo Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve

March/April 2016 Newsletter


Wetlands & Woodlands Summer Camps

First Saturdays

More Upcoming Programs & Events

Friendly Faces

Nature Neighbors


donate button

“Beautiful and peaceful, thank you for the trails.”
— Michelle, Justin & Megan (MI)

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

Like us on Facebook

Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve on Pinterest

Contributing Writers:

Julie Wilbourn,
Department Assistant

Chloe Selles,
Program Assistant

Jeanette Henderson,
Program Manager

Wetlands & Woodlands Summer Camps

Our ever-popular Wetlands & Woodlands summer camps are exciting, hands-on learning adventures for children ages 4-14. Campers have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the outdoors, and develop a greater understanding of God’s creation.
campers on log
We are pleased to announce Picturing Place returns for 12-14 year olds this summer!  Campers will learn to use a variety of visual works such as photographs, sketches, herbarium sheets and photograms to document species in the preserve.  This camp favorite is led by Jennifer Hoag, a Calvin photography professor, and Miss Jeanette.

Jr. Naturalist topics of study for 9-11 year olds will be: herpetology (study of amphibians and reptiles), invertebrate zoology (study of invertebrates), and geology (focus on rocks and minerals).  These campers also take an off-site field trip one day during camp to Hoffmaster State Park to study dune ecology.

This summer's camp themes for 4-8 year olds are Creepy Crawlies (Slugs, Spiders, Sowbugs & More) and Winged Wonders (Dragonflies, Bats, Birds & More).  Our younger campers will observe these creatures up close, and take part in many fun activities that illustrate the unique features of crawling or flying animals.

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

back to top

First Saturdays

Presenting the final First Saturday programs of our series!  These programs are free, and appropriate for families with children ages 5-12.

Foxes & Coyotes in the City
March 5 at 10:30 am - 12 pm
Do you know that coyotes, red foxes and grey foxes all live in the preserve?  Join Miss Sheila as she takes a walk in search of signs of their presence, and play a predator and prey game to learn more about the unique characteristics and adaptations of these major predators.
red fox

Musical Messages: Bird Songs & Calls

April 2 at 10:30 am - 12 pm
Known for their glorious songs, birds use their musical messages to communicate.  Discover why and how birds sing by listening to a story and participating in a variety of "ears-on" activities.  Then join Miss Jeanette on a walk through the preserve to listen and look for birds.

Click here for more details.

back to top

More Upcoming Programs & Events

Mark your calendar to save these important dates:

Spring Break
Enjoy our free, family programs at the preserve April 4 - 8.  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 19!  This spring we will study: Frogs & Toads│Nests & Eggs│Spring Wildflowers│Michigan Salamanders.  Registration is now open.

Native Plant Sale
Go native with us on Saturday, May 7 at 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.  When Spring arrives, plan to incorporate beautiful, easy to care for native plants into your garden.

back to top

Friendly Faces

Introducing: Ewura Esi Brookman-Amissah (on L) and Chloe Selles (on R), Program Assistants

Ewura Esi & ChloeWhat is your role at the preserve?
As Program Assistants here at the preserve, we help prepare both exhibits and events. Ewura Esi focuses more on prepping for educational programs like Critters & Company and making educational displays, and Chloe focuses more on writing articles for the newsletter and posting Facebook updates.

How is this job preparing you for your future?
Ewura Esi: This job will equip me with immense knowledge about the environment which I seek for my future job involving environmental planning. Also, working with the dedicated staff of the Ecosystem Preserve in executing educational programs will sharpen my organizational skills which will be an essential factor in acquiring a good job.

Chloe: Working as a Program Assistant here at the Bunker Interpretative Center directly relates to my interests in writing and studying the environment. Even after only a short time working here, I have already learned so much about creation care and the native species we have right here in Michigan. From writing for our newsletter, I also anticipate learning more about how to write for educational and specifically environmental purposes. Ultimately, I think that the preserve’s dual focus and dedication to both the environment and people will prepare me for any future work, whatever that might be.

If you could be any animal, what would it be?
Ewura Esi: I’d be a butterfly because it is a really fascinating insect. It is able to morph from being a caterpillar to an insect with beautiful wings. If I were a butterfly, I would fly to all the places on earth that I want to visit without needing a visa or a passport.

Chloe: That is a really hard question, but if I had to choose I would be an owl. I mean, who doesn’t like owls (besides Ewura Esi)? Owls have great hearing, eyesight, and they can spin their head most of the way around! They are also nocturnal, and I like to stay up late.

back to top

Nature Neighbors

You might find these two neighbors at the preserve and near your neighborhood!  But how do you tell them apart?  One way that we like to use is "downy is diminutive and hairy is huge."

Meet Your Neighbors:
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) vs.
Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)

Downy vs hairy woodpeckers

Illustrated: downy woodpecker (on L), hairy woodpecker (on R). From the book A Field Guide to the Birds by Roger Tory Peterson.

Description:  Both woodpeckers have a straight beak, black and white coloring with a distinctive white patch on their backs, and two white stripes on the sides of their heads.  In both species, males have a small red patch on the back of the head.  Downy woodpeckers are the smallest woodpeckers in North America.  They have a short beak and outer tail feathers that are black barred so that from a distance they look spotted.  If you get close enough to a downy, you will notice a little tuft of white nasal bristles right above its beak.  Hairy woodpeckers are slightly larger than the downy, and their outer tail feathers are completely white.  The best way to tell the hairy woodpecker apart from the downy is by its beak size - the hairy's beak is much larger, almost as long as its head.

  The downy woodpecker's call is often described as a series of short, gentle pik sounds that are repeated frequently, descending in pitch near the end.  The hairy woodpecker's call, while similar to the downy's, is a sharper and more emphatic peek sound that does not descend in pitch.  Go to Tricky Bird IDs to hear the calls for yourself.

  Downy woodpeckers are more common than hairy woodpeckers, living in any wooded area, specifically areas with brush or small trees. Hairy woodpeckers, on the other hand, are pickier about where they live. They prefer mature trees and more woodsy areas, though, like the downy, they can sometimes be found in city parks. Both species are found in the preserve.

Diet:  Both the downy woodpecker and the hairy woodpecker are foragers, eating mainly insects like the beetle larvae and ants that live in tree bark. Both species also eat fruits and seeds, especially suet and sunflower seeds.

Interesting Facts:
• Downy and hairy woodpeckers often occur together in the same areas, and even drill the same tree, with the downy drilling the smaller branches and the hairy drilling the trunk.
• Because the downy woodpecker is so small, it can eat insects living in the stems of plants. They can sometimes be seen hammering at goldenrod galls for the fly larvae inside.
• Hairy woodpeckers sometimes drink the sap leaking from wells that other woodpeckers, known as sapsuckers, make.

Be a Good Neighbor:

Since they snack on insects that eat holes in apples and destroy bark, downy and hairy woodpeckers are good neighbors to us. But how can we be good neighbors to them? You can invite downy and hairy woodpeckers into your yard by using feeders filled with suet and black oil sunflower seeds or by leaving out orange or apple slices. To encourage these birds to stay in your area, you can try planting trees or bushes that supply nuts or fruit. Keeping old trees, even dead trees (also called snags), around also provides a place where the woodpeckers can make their home.

back to top

Unplugged: Connecting with Nature

Take a Woodpecker Walk.  Late winter and early spring are a great time to search for woodpeckers, since the lack of leaves on the trees makes birds easier to spy.

looking through binocularsWhat to bring.  Be sure to dress appropriately for the weather. Bringing binoculars and a field guide can be helpful for identifying woodpeckers. If you have a smart device with you, Merlin Bird ID also works well. This free app helps you identify birds—just tell it where and when you saw the bird, then choose generally what it looked like and what it was doing from a list of options. Merlin will provide a short list of photos for the bird you most likely saw, based on the day and location. Once you find a match, you can instantly learn more about the species.

What to look and listen for.  Altogether, Michigan has eight different kinds of woodpeckers. The most common species here in West Michigan are downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, pileated woodpeckers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, and Northern flickers. To find out more about how to identify these woodpeckers by both sight and sound, go to All About Birds. Additionally, for tips on spotting the difference between downy and hairy woodpeckers, check out our "Nature Neighbors" article above. Start your walk by first listening for woodpeckers, best known for making drumming and pecking sounds; if you hear a sharp pecking, it probably means a woodpecker is nearby. Woodpeckers do not sing, but make calls to communicate which each other. These calls vary by species. If you discover a woodpecker, use Merlin or a field guide to try to identify it. Woodpeckers also leave behind many distinctive signs. Here are a few you can look for on your walk:

In the Trees.  Start looking for dead standing trees (snags) with holes/cavities in their trunks. Holes in general are a good sign that woodpeckers are nearby. Deep cavities in the trunks of large trees are likely the entrance to nests. Shallow holes are likely marks left by woodpeckers when drilling for insects or cracking acorns against the trunk. The shapes, sizes and patterns of the holes can give you clues about which species of woodpeckers created them. For example, pileated woodpeckers make large oblong holes, whereas the hairy and downy woodpeckers make small circular holes. Hairy woodpeckers drill into harder types of wood with their larger bills; downy woodpeckers prefer the softer stems of shrubs and herbaceous plants. Hairy and downy woodpeckers also strip the dead layer of bark off trees looking for insects, which results in large patches of missing bark. If you find several horizontal rows of small holes all around the trunk of the tree, you have a clue that a yellow-bellied sapsucker has been there. Sapsuckers create rows of sap wells, or small holes in live bark, from which they eat both the sap and insects that may be trapped in the sticky flow. 

On the Ground.  A pile of woodchips at the base of a tree is a good sign that woodpeckers are drilling above.

In the Field.  In the winter months, look for large holes in goldenrod galls, evidence that a woodpecker drilled into it to eat the larva inside.

back to top