CCEP green heron logo Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve

may/june 2015 Newsletter


Native Plant Sale

Volunteers in Action

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

Taylor Stawecki,
Program Assistant

Jeanette Henderson,
Program Manager

Native Plant Sale

plant sale shoppersGrow beautiful landscapes with plants that support local wildlife!  Native plants are the flowers, grasses, trees, and shrubs that have inhabited Michigan since before European settlement.  Since these plants originate from Michigan, they are often better able to withstand our unique climate and soils than their cultivated counterparts.  This makes them easier to establish and maintain, and require less watering and fertilizing.  Another advantage of native perennials?  They are a great way to add color to your gardens, and attract butterflies, song birds and other wildlife!  Come to our Native Plant Sale, where our expert staff will be available to help you choose plants to create a garden you will take pleasure in.

When:   Saturday, May 2 at 10 a.m.–12 p.m.
Where:  Bunker Interpretive Center, West Entrance

Proceeds from the sale support our educational programming, allowing us to keep our programs free or reasonably priced.

Help us spread the word! Tell your family, friends and neighbors about the Native Plant Sale, and encourage them to try gardening with native plants.

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Volunteers in Action

residents & birdhousesResidents from Clark Retirement Community on Keller Lake kindly donated nine bird boxes to the preserve this month. The group of men pictured above (in the front row) built these fine houses from scratch. The houses will provide our native birds with additional nesting habitats, and in turn the birds will share their colors, antics, and songs with our visitors. We very much appreciate their thinking of us in their giving, and will be installing the boxes this spring.

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Friendly Faces

Taylor Stawecki

Introducing: Taylor Stawecki, Program Assistant

What is your role at the preserve?
As a program assistant, I perform a variety of tasks, many of which focus around writing. I assist in writing portions of our e-newsletters, including Nature Neighbors and Unplugged. Aside from this, my main duties also include posting to the preserve’s Facebook page, and writing text for different displays featured at the Bunker Interpretive Center.

What are the rewards of your job?
I love that working as a Program Assistant allows me to combine two loves of mine: biology and writing. Being an employee here gives me the opportunity to learn and work at the same time. For example, I’m currently working on a display about bird beaks, so part of my responsibility is researching how different birds use their beaks in unique ways. I’m finding out things I never knew before, and then I get to share that new and exciting information with people who read our e-newsletter, visit our Facebook page, or come to explore the Bunker Interpretive Center! Also, I get to do really cool things like handle Baltimore Oriole nests, listen to wood frogs, or see spotted salamanders up close. There are so many different things going on at the preserve; it’s impossible to be bored. Sometimes I leave work and just think, “Yeah, I handled a red-tailed hawk skull today.”

How is this job preparing you for your future?
While at Calvin, I’m double-majoring in biology and writing, so this job is giving me an opportunity to see how I might combine the two studies in the future. I’ve been learning about interpretive writing and how to best design interpretive displays. Both of these are skills I could use to work at state parks, nature centers, and museums across the state. For a long time, I felt like I didn’t know what I wanted my future career to look like. However, I love my work at the preserve and hope to find something similar in the future.

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Nature Neighbors

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

Meet Your Neighbor: Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)

belted kingfisherDescription: Belted kingfishers are large-headed birds with a straight, thick beak, stocky frame, and short legs. Their defining feature is the spiked feather-crest on the top and back of their heads. Powdery blue-gray in color, kingfishers flaunt white spots on their wings and tail, and their white undersides contrast against their wide, blue breast band. To decipher between male and female kingfishers, look for females also sporting a copper colored band on their bellies.
Voice: These birds are known for their loud rattling calls as they fly up and down shorelines.
Habitat: Belted kingfishers can be found living near open water, such as streams, rivers, and lakes, that provide both their food source and nesting sites. The birds nest in burrows they dig within the banks lining these water sites.
Diet: Belted kingfishers have an aquatic diet consisting mainly of fish, but they may also eat crayfish, insects, mollusks, and amphibians. They spend a great deal of time perched on sites or hovering, bill downward, above the water. Once they’ve spotted their prey, they will dive to capture it.
Interesting Facts:
- A burrow usually extends 3-6 feet into the bank. The nest ends in a chamber 8-12 inches wide and 6-7 inches tall. The burrow slopes upward to prevent rainfall from collecting inside.
- Females are more brightly colored than the males, which is uncommon among most birds.
- Found in Alachua County, Florida, the oldest known fossil of the kingfisher genus is 2 million years old.

Be a Good Neighbor:

Living in the beautiful state of Michigan surrounded by a multitude of fresh water sites, belted kingfishers can be common neighbors. The best way to be a good neighbor to these unique-looking birds is to protect their food sources and nesting sites: watersheds. Caring for our aquatic ecosystems protects kingfishers’ food sources from contamination, and keeps shorelines and banks unaltered so kingfishers can find suitable habitat to live and raise their young.

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Unplugged: Connecting with Nature

gray tree frogAfter months of winter, warming temperatures and more frequent visits from the sun are making the outdoors an exciting place to spend time. This spring, join the rising commotion in the outdoors by planning a few evening hikes outside. You’re sure to encounter many creatures, including some that can make your walks a little noisier and a lot more interesting if you know what you’re listening for — like frogs!

Before heading out, become familiar with what frogs you’re most likely to hear near your area. Frogs inhabit a multitude of places from woodland swamps to open marshes. Usually if there is water nearby, a frog won’t be far! In the Grand Rapids area, common frogs include the gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor), the spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer), the western chorus frog (Pseudacris triseriata triseriata ), the wood frog (Rana sylvatica), the green frog (Lithobates clamitans), and the American toad (Anaxyrus americanus). For additional species or a different location, check out Michigan DNR's Calling Calendars to learn not only what frogs may live near you, but also when specifically those frogs will be calling between the months of April and June.

Next, become acquainted with the calls made by different frogs. USGS Frog Calls offers some pictures and recordings of the sounds you may hear when listening for these little creatures. Get the kids involved by having them practice their frog calls by mimicking the sounds (you can join in the fun, too). Practicing your frog calls can help you better remember the different sounds while on your hike, and you may even attempt to strike up a conversation with your frog neighbors. After practicing, try quizzing each other on the frog calls using the USGS Frog Calls recordings.

Once you’ve researched some different frogs and familiarized yourself with their calls, you’re ready to set out. Plan to take your hike at dusk when frogs will be most active. Feel free to take a notebook along and record what frogs you hear! Later, you can use your observation list to further research the frog species living near you. We encourage you to share your observations with Michigan Herp Atlas — their database links have easy-to-follow instructions about registering and adding your sighting. Or, join the local FrogWatch USA chapter at the John Ball Zoo and help monitor frog calls near you. For further information on frogs and their calls, visit our Pinterest page.

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