CCEP green heron logo Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve

november/ december 2015 Newsletter


First Saturdays

Give 30

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

First Saturdays

Time for more free, fun and fascinating First Saturday programs at the preserve:

Discover the Wild Turkeys!
November 7 at 10:30 a.m. - 12 p.m.

wild turkeyWild turkeys abound in our preserve and neighborhoods in Grand Rapids.  Learn more about this nature neighbor just in time for the Thanksgiving season, by playing turkey games and practicing turkey calls.  One lucky volunteer will even be transformed into a Wild Turkey as we work together to learn more about this unique creature!  Our guest educator will be "Miss Nancy" McIntyre.  Please dress appropriately for the weather and playing games outside.  This program is perfect for adults and families with children ages 3 and up.

Woodpeckers: Peckin' Out a Living
December 5 at 10:30 a.m. - 12 p.m.
pileated woodpeckerWhen you think about it, woodpeckers are truly odd birds to incessantly whack their beaks against trees all day.  So why do they do it?  And how do their bodies withstand such a steady stream of torture?  Birder Neil Gilbert will answer these questions and introduce you to the woodpeckers found in Michigan, as we hike through the preserve in search of these birds.  At the end of the program, participants can make a pinecone feeder to take home with them.  This program is appropriate for adults and families with children ages 5 and up.

Click here for more details.

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Give 30

This fall, we eagerly start our fourth decade of offering the greater Grand Rapids community a special place to discover the beauty and wonder of nature.  In honor of our 30th anniversary, we ask you to consider supporting our efforts with a gift of $30, or an amount that best suits your circumstances.  You can help us keep the preserve a place where people, plants, and animals flourish!

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Friendly Faces

Mercy AnnIntroducing: Mercy Ann Ranjan, Program Leader & Summer Camp Leader

What is your role at the preserve?
As a Program Leader, my role is to lead small groups of students around the preserve’s trails, facilitating environmental lessons and coaching them in their learning of the natural world.  I also teach with Critters & Company, which gives me a chance to interact with kids even more.

What are the rewards of your job?
This is actually my first job in the United States, and here, I'm gaining experience teaching in a style that fosters more involvement from the students.  My favorite program to lead is Sensory Adventures, because I love that I get to help the kids discover nature using their senses instead of using a book or by listening to a lecture.  This a more hands-on way of interacting and teaching the kids.  Specific to Critters & Company, I enjoy taking kids on hikes, realizing my strengths in storytelling, and working closely with kids on their artwork.  Critters & Company also offers a fun experience to work with both students and parents.

How is this job preparing you for your future?
Before coming to Michigan, I had already taught for two years in India.  Now, I am a master’s student studying elementary and science education at Calvin.  I’m hoping to return to teaching after graduation, and this job has pumped me with energy to do things differently in the classroom than I had done before.  I want to make sure to change the monotony of teaching and instead, use some of the things I’ve learned as a program leader to help engage my future students.

Also while working at the preserve, I have enrolled in professional development workshops like Project Learning Tree and Aquatic WILD.  The workshops are great experiences, and the workbooks I receive from them are treasures that I hope to use in my future teaching.  The activities and art projects offered in the materials have been valuable resources for me.

What advice can you give prospective students or freshman to encourage their involvement at the preserve?
Especially to incoming education students, I would encourage them to look at the preserve as a way to learn and gain experience before they face the reality of teaching.  The preserve is a great starting point.

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Nature Neighbors

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

Meet Your Neighbor: Red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

red-bellied woodpeckerDescription:  Red-bellied woodpeckers are medium-sized birds, often recognized for their vivid red heads and the black-and-white barred pattern found on their wings and back. Despite their name, the birds only sport a pale pink or red flush of feathers on the center of their bellies; this coloring is more apparent on males than females. Although commonly confused with red-headed woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers have red only the on the crown and nape of their heads (only the nape in females), while red-headed woodpeckers’ entire head and throat are red.

Voice:  Their most common call is known as a shrill, which sounds like a rolling kwirr or churr. This call is used by both males and females.

Habitat:  Red-bellied woodpeckers are common in many eastern forests. Although they are usually found in deciduous woodlands which may include oak, hickory, or beech trees, they can also be found inhabiting pines. These birds prefer to nest in the cavities of dead trees, dead limbs of living trees, or on fence posts.

Diet:  Red-bellied Woodpeckers eat insects, spiders, and other arthropods, as well as plant materials like nuts, acorns, pine cones, and seeds. They climb along tree trunks and large branches, then balance on their stiff tail feathers to lean away from the bark and search for food. Unlike many other woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers will pick at a tree’s bark more than drill into it.

Interesting Facts:
• A red-bellied woodpecker can stick out its tongue nearly 2 inches past the end of its beak. The end of its tongue is barbed, and its spit is sticky. All of these features allow it to reach prey in deep crevices.
• Sometimes they can be seen wedging large nuts into bark crevices and then whacking them into manageable pieces by using their beaks.
• Occasionally, these birds can be spotted flying quickly and erratically throughout the forest. Scientists believe this type of behavior is a type of play that helps young birds practice their ability to evade predators.

Be a Good Neighbor:

Invite red-bellied woodpeckers into your yard by using feeders filled with suet and peanuts, and sometimes sunflower seeds will attract the birds. Get crafty with your feeders this winter, and check out our "Unplugged" article below to find out how you can decorate a tree for the birds in your neighborhood, including red-bellied woodpeckers. To encourage these birds to stay in the area, consider leaving dead trees standing on your property as a place for them to forage naturally, and perhaps even nest. To learn even more about red-bellied woodpeckers, attend our First Saturdays program this December which will be all about woodpeckers.

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Unplugged: Connecting with Nature

natural bird
                    feederDecorate a Christmas Tree for Wildlife.  The time is coming when we’ll haul the Christmas decorations out of storage and prepare the lights and bulbs to be placed on the tree.  This winter, consider making some new Christmas decorations to be used, not indoors, but out on the snow-covered branches of a tree in your yard.  Give your neighborhood birds and squirrels a special Christmas treat by making bird suet ornaments and different types of yummy garland.  Check out some of the easy and fun projects below, and explore our Pinterest page for more ideas!

(Click the links to see full recipes)

Bird Suet Ornaments:  Using gelatin, water, and bird seed, blend together a dough-like mixture.  Spread cookie cutters on sheets of wax paper, and fill each cutter with dollops of the bird seed mixture.  Stand a section of plastic straw into the top of the cutter so that a hole is left by which to hang the ornament.  Allow time for drying and then pop out the special-shaped bird seed cakes.  Complete the ornaments by stringing yarn through the holes.  They’re ready to hang on the tree!

Edible Garland:  Begin by gathering together a mixture of food including apple slices, dried or frozen cranberries, and popcorn.  Prepare a strand of yarn or string with a threaded needle at one end and multiple tied knots on the other.  Piece by piece, string together food items to create your strands of garland.  Once you’ve completed your garland, tie off the end and drape it around your Wildlife Christmas Tree.  For other types of garland, try a strand of grapes, a strand of apple and orange slices, or a strand of peanuts.  Make these in the same way described above.  Get creative with the foods you choose for your garland!

Pine Cone Feeders:  Set out on a hike around your yard or neighborhood and collect a variety of different sized pinecones.  Back at the house, slather peanut butter or shortening onto the cones, and then roll them in a shallow pan filled with bird seed.  When finished, tie a piece of raffia around the tips of the cones.  The tasty treat is complete and ready to be hung on the tree.

Other Goodies:
• To add some color to your tree, consider hanging small bunches of dried sunflower, purple cone flower heads, or staghorn sumac berries.
• Pretty and simple to make, try using dried apple and orange slices for decorations.  First, thinly slice the fruit and press them between paper towels to remove excess juice.  Then place in the oven on an aluminum foil-covered cookie sheet at a temperature less than 200 degrees for several hours.  All done!
• Explore even more winter decorations for wildlife.

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