Thursday, May 30, 2013

Pollinator Garden Updates - 30 May 2013

Next week, I am working with students, parents, and staff to install a native pollinator garden at the Morey Public School Academy.  Morey PSA is a public charter school located between Winn and Shepherd, Michigan.  This garden will be the third native pollinator garden that we have installed at local schools over the last three years.  Each garden is composed mainly of prairie plants.  It will be interesting to watch the progression of each garden over the next few years.

The first garden that we installed was at the Saginaw Chippewa Academy  The Saginaw Chippewa Academy is owned and operated by the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe in Mount Pleasant, MI.  My wife currently teaches second grade at SCA.  In 2011, she received a grant from the Wildflower Association of Michigan to install this garden.  We excavated and planted the entire garden over the course of one day with the help of fifth and sixth grade students.  This is what the garden looked like the week of planting.

Saginaw Chippewa Academy Native Pollinator Garden - June 2011
Here it is later that summer.

And here is the SCA Native Pollinator Garden as of today.

SCA Native Pollinator Garden - May 2013

SCA Native Pollinator Garden - May 2013

Canada Anemone (Anemone canadensis)

Hairy Beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus)

The second garden that we installed is at Winn Elementary in Winn, Michigan.  Winn Elementary is part of the Shepherd Public Schools system.  It houses six classrooms K-5.  I have a personal connection to Winn Elementary - I spent part of my 4th grade year as a student at the school.  The garden at Winn was installed in June 2012.  Funding for the project was provided in part by the Isabella Conservation District - the grant for our Environmental Education Program includes funding for schoolyard habitat improvements (like the new Native Pollinator Garden at Morey PSA).  Additional funding came from the schools parent club.  Thae garden was excavated and planted over the course of two day with help from students, staff, and parents.

This is what the garden looked like the day of installation.

Winn Elementary Native Pollinator Garden - June 2012
I don't have any good pictures of the garden from later last summer.  This is what it looks like as of today.

Winn Elementary Native Pollinator Garden - May 2013

Winn Elementary Native Pollinator Garden - May 2013

Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea)

I can hardly wait to get started on the next garden.  It will be interesting to watch these gardens fill in over the next few years as the plants self-seed and spread.

Plants for all three of these projects were purchased from Wildtype Native Plant Nursery in Mason, Michigan.  Wildtype Nursery belongs to the Michigan Native Plant Producers Association and produces plants from genotypes that are adapted for the Mid-Michigan area.  I highly recommend the plants from Wildtype Nursery and have purchased many plants from there for my own gardens.

Asleep in a tree

Driving down a country road last Friday, this was the scene that greeted me.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dogwood misidentification

Due to yesterday's rainstorms, my plans for the day were cancelled.  During a break in the rain I took a trip to a local park that I had not visited yet this spring for wildflowers.  My first stop in this park is a Shrub Swamp located directly off a paved trail.  Less than 10 foot off the trail I located this clump of dogwood.  There are several species of dogwood located in Mid-Michigan and they can be difficult to identify at times.  I took several pictures and moved on - I assumed the shrub was a Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum) and expected to confirm this identification once I got back to the office.

Dogwood Shrub

Dogwood leaves and flower

Closeup of leaves and flower

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Native Species Profile - Large-flowered Bellwort

Here in Mid-Michigan, we are kind of in a lull when it come to wildflowers.  Most Spring ephemerals have completed flowering and the early Summer wildflowers have not started to take off yet.  There are some species that bridge the gap that is Late Spring: Canada Anemone, Wild Blue Phlox, Mayapple, Swamp Buttercup, and Large-Flowered Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora).

Large-flowered Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Native Species Profile - Swamp Buttercup

As the end of May approaches, Mid-Michigan is in a lull when it comes to wildflowers.  Most Spring ephemerals are done blooming and the Summer wildflowers have not started yet. Two weeks ago, when you walked into any swamp or wet woodland you were probably greeted by a carpet of Marsh Marigolds (Caltha palustris).  If you enter the same habitat today, you might still find the occasional late-blooming Marigold, but any bright yellow blooms that you find are more likely to be a Buttercup (Ranunculus sp).

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Muck and the Mire - A trip to Mission Creek Woodland Park

I took walk in Mission Creek Woodland Park yesterday morning.  Not really a walk, "taking a walk" implies a path and a leisurely stroll on dry level or rolling terrain.  Walk is not the right word for Mission Creek.

I took a "slog" in Mission Creek Woodland Park yesterday morning.  Most of slogging did not involve a path, leisure, or dry level terrain.  Much of this park is dry and level and covered with an American Beech/Sugar Maple Forest, but the part of the park that interests me is a Northern Hardwood/Conifer Swamp.  A "good" day in this swamp involves climbing over downed White Cedar and Black Ash trees, sinking over your boot tops in the much, and stepping out of your boots as the muck sucks them off your feet.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Native Species Profile - Two-leaf Mitrewort

Late-Summer and Spring are by far the best seasons in Mid-Michigan to search for wildflowers.  Late-Summer provides us fields of showy blooms such as Asters and Goldenrods that often best viewed from afar.  The flowers of Spring , with a few exceptions such as Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) and Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), the wildflowers of Spring are generally more delicate and merit a closer inspection.

One flower that demands a closer inspection is the Two-leaf Mitrewort (Mitella diphylla).  The Mitrewort is named after the triangular shape of the headgear of a bishop of the Catholic Church - the mitre.  The Mitrewort is alternately known as the Bishop's Cap for this reason. The Mitella in the scientific name translates to "little cap".
Close-up of the mitre-shaped fruit - photograph by Cathy Murray

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Monarch Waystation #6591

Our garden at home now officially registered as Monarch Waystation #6591.  The Monarch Waystation Program is operated by Monarch Watch, based out of the University of Kansas.  The goal of the program is to provide habitat for Monarch Butterflies (and other pollinators) throughout their liifecycle and to suitable stopping points for them during their annual migrations across North America.
Our Monarch Waystation certificate

Monday, May 20, 2013

Native Species Profile - Mayapple

If you go into the woods in eastern North America during the month of May, you are more than likely to find a large colony of 12 to 18inch tall plants with large umbrella-like leaves.

Glossy 6 to 8 inch leaves are the most prominent feature of this plant

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Environmental Education Day & Tree Swallows

Tomorrow, 17 May 2013, the Isabella Conservation District is hosting its annual Environmental Education Day for 3rd grade students.  We invite every 3rd grade classroom in Isabella County to attend.  We have just over 600 students scheduled to participate. To make this program work, we invite different organizations from the local area and around Michigan to participate.  With just a few exceptions, these organizations donate their time and resources to help support environmental education.  I plan on writing a longer post next week to acknowledge all those who participate, but right now my schedule is a little busy. 

I thought I would show you a few new pictures of a pair of Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor)from earlier this week.  This was one of five nesting pairs using nest boxes at the Saginaw Chippewa Academy.  This pair had six eggs in their nest.  For more information on Tree Swallows check here.  Nest box plans and information can be found on this page.

This pair let me approach to about 8 foot from the box - these pictures were taken with my short telephoto lens at 135mm - before they took off to circle around me while I checked the nest.  The male then landed in a nearby tree and let me take several more pictures.

Male (top) and female (bottom) Tree Swallows on nest box

Male Tree Swallow

Forest Ecology with students from Winn Elementary

Last week I met students from Winn Elementary at the Florence Maxwell Audubon Woods Preserve.  This 40 acre property owned and maintained by the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy.  The Florence Maxwell preserve is covered with a mature American Beech/Sugar Maple Forest on its upper regions and changes to a Floodplain Forest along the Chippewa River.

Over the course of the school year the 3rd - 5th grade students at Winn Elementary have participated in our Environmental Education Program and have learned about various Michigan habitat types and the species of plants and animals that can be found in those habitats.  This field trip is an opportunity to tie together many of those lessons in a field environment.

Each of the three classrooms was on site for approximately one hour and had a list of tasks that they were supposed to accomplish.  The classes were broken down into small groups.  Each group was given materials that included clipboards, calculators, tape measures, and colored pencils.  Each student received a notebook of activities to complete.  This was not only an exercise in woodland ecology, but also in cooperation.  Those groups that worked well together were able to accomplish much more than those groups that struggled to cooperate.

The first activity that students were expected to complete was to determine the Diameter Breast Height (DBH) of five trees around a given point.  DBH has traditionally been measured in the United States at 4.5 feet above ground level.  Students were given a standard tape measure to find both the distance from the central point (which could be used to determine density of trees per area) and the circumference of the tree. 
Once they found the circumference, they could then divide by pi (3.14) to find the diameter.

This was the first activity assigned to the students and the only one that required them to stay in one spot for an extended time.  The other activities were designed to get the students to explore the woods.  Before the students arrived I used marker flags to identify a number of different species of wildflowers and other native plants.  They were expected to draw and record the height of at least one of these plants.  They could also identify and draw a leaf, either on the ground or growing on a tree.  Another page in their notebook was for recording living and non-living things that they found in the forest.  There were also pages in their notebook for recording any animals that they saw or signs that pointed toward their presence.  Finally the students had several blank pages for drawing or recording notes about what they found.

False morel mushroom

Section of Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

Students removing tire found in the woods - students cleaned up two tires and filled a large garbage bag with trash

Student drawings

Leaf-footed Bug

Large-Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

Green Stink Bug

Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis)

So what did the students find in the woods? Animals included snakes, frogs, salamanders, birds, insects, and spiders.  Two groups of students reported seeing a striped skunk in a hollow stump.  Wildflowers included Large-flowered Trillium, Downy Yellow Violet, Wood Anemone, Broad-leafed Toothwort, Periwinkle, Skunk Cabbage, Jack-in-the-pulpit, and more.  They also found and removed two old automotive tires from the woods and filled a large garbage bag with trash.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What's in the swamp? - 13 May 2013

Mission Creek Park in Mt. Pleasant is currently one of the best places around to see wildflowers.  Many of the flowers can be seen along the trail that borders Mission Creek itself.  To access this trail, head north from the parking lot and follow the trail to a long staircase.  These stairs take you down to Mission Creek, where a bridge spans the creek.  The lower trail follows along the course of the creek until another bridge will lead you back to a second set of stairs.  These stairs will lead to a trail that heads back to the parking lot.  To see even more flowers, wear a pair of rubber boots and explore the swampy areas.  Some of the species that can be seen blooming right now include Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum), Broad-leafed Toothwort (Cardamine diphylla), Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica), and Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia).  Other wildflowers to look for include Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) and Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata).  Several species of ferns, including Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis), can also be seen.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Does a wild bear leave scat in the woods? Maybe...

I went to retrieve a trail camera from Mission Creek Park yesterday.

I had put the trail cam up to investigate whether a black bear had been in the area - based on two piles of scat found several weeks ago.  The two piles of scat were found on an island in the middle of a mixed wetland of Red Maples, Black Ash, and willow shrubs.  A well-used wildlife trail led to and from the island - I did not look at the trail until after I had walked over it, obliterating any possible tracks.  In consultation with several people, based on the size and composition of the scat and the width of the trail to the island my best guess was that a young Black Bear was using the area. 

Possible Black Bear scat - nearly 2 inches in diameter

An older pile of scat - contains plant fibers and possibly dear hair

After consulting with staff from the Mt. Pleasant Parks & Recreation Department the decision was made to put a trail cam in place for a couple of weeks to see if anything was using the trail. After two weeks, the trail cam came up with nothing other than a few poor photographs of White-tailed Deer.  My favorite is below.

A doe and two of last year's fawns walked through only 9 minutes before I removed the camera.

So was there a Black Bear at Mission Creek Park?  My feeling is that yes, earlier this Spring there was a yearling (or two-year old) Black Bear there.  It was probably feeding on new grass and road-killed deer based on the scat. 

Is it still there? I don't think so.  No one has reported any bear sighting.  The trail has closed back in to deer-like dimensions.  I haven't seen any additional scat piles.  The scat piles that still remain are breaking down due to weather and insect activity.  With nice weather, the increased use of the park probably discouraged the bear from sticking around.

While it would be nice to say definitively that yes there is/was a bear on the outskirts of Mt. Pleasant, the reaction of the public would probably not be of an entirely positive nature.  It was nice to think, if even for a couple of weeks, that Mt. Pleasant was a little bit wilder.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Native Species Profile - Starflower

Starflower (Trientalis borealis)

Starflower (Trientalis borealis) is a low growing late Spring wildflower.  It typically grows in cooler habitats such as moist coniferous and deciduous woods, bogs, and shaded northern slopes.  It seems to prefer slightly acidic soils.  As its name indicates it is found throughout the boreal forest across the North American continent - a subspecies (T. borealis latifolia) is found west of the Rocky mountains.  In the East, remnant habitats in the Appalachians allow the Starflower to grow as far south as northern Georgia.

Starflower - note the seven petals

Starflower reaches a height of only 4 to 8 inches.  It spreads slowly by extending rhizomes.  Each plant has a whorled arrangement of seven leaves. One or two flowers with seven white petals and yellow stamen rise above this whorl.  This arrangement of  seven petals is quite uncommon among flowers.  The plant may flower anytime between May in the South and July in the North.  If conditions remain cool, the plant may retain its blossoms for up to two weeks.

Look for this plant in company with plants such as Bluebead Lily (Clintonia borealis), Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense), and Pink Ladyslipper (Cypripedium acaule)

Basic Information

Trientalis borealis

Height:  4-8” tall

Habitat:  moist coniferous woodlands, deciduous woodlands, bogs, shaded slopes

Flower Color:  white

Bloom Time:  May – July

Friday, May 10, 2013

Native Species Profile - Wild Geranium

Geraniums are one of the most cultivated flower species in the world.  Many people buy annual geraniums in bright shades of red, pink, and lavender for their gardens.  Most of these plants are cultivated varieties of wildflowers native to Eurasia.

There is a lovely native alternative for your garden.  While not as showy as many cultivated varieties, the Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) has the advantage of being a perennial plant that has evolved in Eastern North America.  This shade-loving plant can be found naturally in woodlands, along woodland edges, in savannahs, and in partially shaded meadows throughout parts 34 states and three Canadian Provinces.

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Event Reminders for Saturday 11 MAY 2013

The Isabella Conservation District is sponsoring two events this Saturday May 11th, 2013.

The first is a Clean Sweep & Household Hazardous Waste Collection from 9:00AM to 12:00 Noon at the Isabella County Fairgrounds on Mission Road north of Mt. Pleasant.

The second event is an International Migratory Bird Day Celebration.  This event is co-sponsored by the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways.  This event will be held at the Ziibiwing Center at    6650 E. Broadway, Mt. Pleasant from 1:00PM to 4:00PM.  This is the second year for this event.  It is one of seven registered International Migratory Bird Day events in Michigan.  It is also registered as a World Migratory Bird Day Event through the United Nations Environmental Program.  It is one of two registered World Migratory Bird Day events in Michigan, and one of only seven in the United States.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A tale of two flowers - one native, one alien

Our local newspaper offers a feature where they publish comments from the community on a regular basis.  Most of the comments are political, or complaints about something or someone.  I wait for one comment every year, someone will call in to exclaim how beautiful the Wild Phlox is in Mill Pond Park and how it is just covering the woods!

Woods covered with "Wild Phlox"

Only one problem.  It's not Wild Phlox.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Aquatic macroinvertebrate sampling with students from Shepherd Elementary

On Friday May 3rd and Monday May 6th I met with Fourth Grade students from Shepherd Elementary at the Little Salt River Park in Shepherd, MI to perform sampling for aquatic macro-invertebrates. A little over two week prior, the Little Salt River overflowed its banks (as did many Mid-Michigan Rivers) flooding much of the park.

Little Salt River Park on 18 April 2013

The scene was much different of May 3rd.  The river was back within its banks and water levels continue to drop over the weekend. 

I was concerned about what we would find in this stretch of river.  I had never monitored this site and did not know what to expect.  My concerns were alleviated in the first five minutes of dipping when I saw the biological diversity that the students were pulling out of the river.

I met with four different classrooms from Shepherd Elementary over the course of the two days.  Students were divided into groups of two or three and given a dipnet, plastic washbasin, laminated macro-invertebrate key, and the Hoosier Riverwatch Biological Monitoring Data Sheet.  There were also eyedroppers, aquarium dipnets, petri dishes, and magnifying glasses available for use. Students had approximately 45 minutes to sample along the river.

Little Salt River Park last Friday 03 May 2013

4th grade students doing benthic macro-invertebrate sampling

Looking through river water for lifeforms

A crayfish in the dipnet

A crayfish (left) and damselfly nymph (center)
Two caddisfly larva

A baby Snapping Turtle

A 6-inch long horsehair worm

Compare this photo from yesterday (06 May 2013) to photo #3 above - the water level went down six inches over the weekend.

4th grade students examining their finds.

So what did the students find in the Little Salt River during their monitoring?  On Friday, I filled out a sheet showing those species that I observed students catch.  Overall, the species that the students observed indicated excellent water quality.  Not only did we find three TAXA in the Group 1 (Intolerant) species, bu there multiple species of Mayfly nymphs present in the water.  We did not find any clams or mussels on May 3rd, but when the water levels receded on May 6th the students were able to access the main river channel and did find several small clams and/or mussels.  No single species of animal was predominant in our samples - the most commonly found invertebrates were the caddisfly larva, damselfly nymphs, and scuds.

Several people in the park stopped to ask students about what they were doing and expressed how they thought that doing science in their own "backyard" was a wonderful idea for the students.