CCEP green heron logo Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve

November/ December 2014 Newsletter


First Saturdays

Volunteers in Action

Friendly Faces

College Collage

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,
Deppartment Assistant

Lauren Cremean,
Program Assistant

Jeanette Henderson,
Program Manager

First Saturdays

Time for more fun and fascinating First Saturday programs at the preserve!  These programs are free, and appropriate for families with children ages 4-12.

Seeds on the Move
November 1 at 10:30 am - 12 pm
acornJoin Miss Emily on a search for seeds around the preserve.  Marvel at the diversity of seeds created by plants, and play a game to discover the many ways seeds travel.  Additionally, create your own art project using a variety of seeds.

Mink vs. Rabbit!
December 6 at 10:30 am - 12 pm
minkCome learn about the predator/prey relationship between Michigan's elusive American mink and the frequently spotted eastern cottontail rabbits. Play a predator and prey game, and learn about the unique characteristics and adaptions of these animals as you take a hike in the woods.

Click here for more details.

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Volunteers in Action

This month, members of Boy Scout Troop 271 and their dads helped remove invasive buckthorn shrubs and make wildlife shelters under the direction of Preserve Director, Randy VanDragt, and Stewardship Intern, Karl Boldenow. We'd like to thank the troop for helping us maintain the natural habitat here, and for providing a place for our animals to rest, nest, and hunt. In the photo below, the group is standing in front of a wildlife structure they constructed.
boy scouts
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Friendly Faces

Introducing:  Grace & Ransom Sipols, Junior Volunteers

What do you do at the preserve?
We work to help keep the beauty of the nature at the Bunker Interpretive Center intact. We mostly just do whatever needs to get done that day. Sometimes if it is raining, we help at the greenhouse, but on normal days we help with lots of things like transplanting, non-native species removal, and feeding the animals.

What is rewarding about volunteering here?
Grace:  It is rewarding to work here because it is fun to be out in nature and see different animals and plants. It is also a nice change of scenery, because if you don't have woods to go in at home, you can be in the woods here.
Ransom:  The most rewarding thing about working here is that we are able to learn new things about nature every visit from the Preserve Stewards. I learn flower names, plant names, and things about animals.

What advice would you give to other students about volunteering here?
Grace:  My advice would be to wear work clothes and do not be afraid to get dirty sometimes. Working is more fun if you are not nervous about getting dirty, because you are going to be pretty muddy sometimes.
Ransom:  There are 3 things that I would say to all of the people that are thinking of working here:
1.  Make sure to bring gloves. I never thought of working with gloves until I was introduced to the painful sting of the thistle.
2.  Always come prepared for bad weather. One day it will be nice and sunny, and then as soon as you blink an eye, you are in the middle of a mucky monsoon.
3.  Lastly, bring water. You may think of water as “extra luggage,” but let’s just say I learned a lesson or two from the first 3-4 weeks.

Mom, what do you think of Grace and Ransom's experience here?
I am so grateful that they are learning not only so many exciting things about God’s world, but also about responsibility and hard work. I appreciate Miss Jeanette allowing them to help, and be a part of the Ecosystem Preserve.
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College Collage

Many Calvin College students are studying at the preserve this fall.  Professors from various departments are taking advantage of this natural resource available to them, providing students with valuable place-based experiences.  The preserve has had visits from the Biology, Chemistry, Geology and Art departments.  Below are some photos of the students' hands-on learning.
art class
ART 153: Visual Culture - Professor Hoag partners with Jeanette Henderson for documentation of plants (here, via photography)
ART 153: Visual Culture - documentation of plants via sketches
art class
ART 153: Visual Culture - documentation of plants via pressed herbarium sheets
ART 153: Visual Culture - documentation of plants via photograms
biology class
BIO 225: Ecological & Evolutionary Systems - Professor Proppe brings his students to the preserve every week during this course to investigate concepts on-site
biology class
BIO 225: Ecological & Evolutionary Systems - Measuring and collecting data about hybrid asters
BIO 225: Ecological & Evolutionary Systems - Professor Proppe showing chara aquatic algae to the class
biology class
BIO 111: Biological Science - Inventorying plants and animals to create a food web
biology class
BIO 111: Biological Science - Professor Van Dragt explaining prairie ecology
planting in bioswale
BIO 111: Biological Science - Planting native grasses in the bioswale

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Nature Neighbors

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

Meet Your Neighbor: Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

great horned owl

Description:  Great Horned Owls are named for their size and the distinctive tufts of feathers on both sides of their head.  They are are one of the largest owls, having a wingspan of 4-5 feet and weighing approximately three pounds.  They range in color from dark brown to pale grey, varying with the area in which they are found.  Their large, golden eyes are framed by a brown mask outlined with darker feathers, and they sometimes have a pale patch under the chin.
Voice:  Though known best for their "hoo-h'HOO-hoo-hoo" territorial call, Great Horned Owls have a diverse repertoire of sounds.  They may shriek, coo, clack, and growl, and can even make some calls ventriloquial.  Male voices are lower-pitched than females.  You can hear a variety of these sounds at All About Birds.
Habitat:  One of the most common owl species in North America, the Great Horned Owl has adapted to many different climates.  Found throughout North America and several parts of South America, they live in fields, wetlands, pastures, forests, deserts, and even city parks.
Diet:  Great Horned Owls are powerful birds, taking prey up to three times heavier than themselves, including other raptors such as falcons, ospreys, and even other owls.  In addition to predators, they will eat much smaller foods such as rodents, fish, frogs, and insects.  They are the North American raptor with the most varied diet, eating from virtually all the classes in the animal kingdom.
Interesting Facts:
Great Horned Owls mate for life, and start nesting in winter using the abandoned nests of other birds.
- If these owls were the same size as humans, their eyes would be as big as oranges.
- Great Horned Owls are one of the few animals that prey on skunks.
- You won't hear these birds swoop through the air.  The feathers on their wings are serrated and soft, muffling sound and allowing them to fly silently.

Be a Good Neighbor:

Great Horned Owls will typically stay out of the way of humans, but avoid approaching nests - hearing hissing and snapping is a good sign that they're protecting their young.  On larger properties, consider putting up a nest box in winter to attract a breeding pair - they are good rodent control.

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Unplugged: Connecting with Nature

Nocturnal Walk: Listen to Night Life.  Sometimes it’s worth it to stay up past your bedtime. Perhaps perfect for the night before a long road trip to Grandma’s, a nighttime listening walk can be both thrilling and educational. Take these steps to teach ideas of nocturnality, urban creatures, and careful listening.

owl moon bookResearch.  Read Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, in which a young girl and her dad go out into the forest and meet a great horned owl—our nature neighbor this month! Discuss what other creatures you see in the book. Introduce the idea that many animals, such as owls, raccoons, and bats, are nocturnal. Nocturnal species are active at night and sleep during the day. Form hypotheses about which animals you will see or hear at any given time of year. Go to Listen to Owls, and try to imitate the owl calls.

Prepare.  Try to choose a night with low wind speeds; owls don’t like to be blown about. A clear, at least partially moonlit night is ideal; visit Stardate to see what phase the moon is in. You'll want a flashlight made for night vision; the soft, red light will help you find your way if needed, but allows your eyes to adjust to the dark better than white light. And, it won't scare away the nocturnal animals, since most can't see red light. Some night vision flashlights come with a red lens you can insert, but you can easily make your own by securing red plastic wrap around the lens with a rubber band. Bring along a thermos of something hot, and maybe a device that can play an owl recording. Finally, bundle up warmly for your adventure after dark.

Listen carefully.  You can hear incredible signs of life at night: try to pick out several different sounds, one at a time. Call attention to the crunching of leaves or snow under your feet and the creaking of branches from the trees. Owls have many different calls, from the quintessential hoo of the Great Horned Owl, to the whinny of the tiny Eastern Screech Owl. Try calling for owls yourself, or play a recorded call, then wait and see if you hear an answer back! For the safety of the owls, call small species first, once or twice a minute for five minutes. If you don't hear a response, try calling larger species. If you hear a large species first, don't call for a smaller one - sometimes big owls eat littler ones. This winter you may also hear fox calls, coyote yips, or the beeping of snowplows.

Find out more.  Questions you don’t know the answers to will almost certainly come up on your walk, so why not try and answer them? Exploring Our Senses at Night, a PBS Parents webpage, is a good resource. Or, your child might enjoy reading books like Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, Stellaluna by Janell Cannon, The Complete Book of the Night by Sally Tagholm, Night Science for Kids by Terry Krautwurst, or any non-fiction focused on nocturnal animals.

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