Native Plant News

The bees will be a buzz when they find this new addition to Blandford Nature Center’s landscape.

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We’re excited to be the recipient of a grant from the Wildflower Association of Michigan (WAM) to install native plants around a new detention basin near our parking lot. The detention basin collects storm water from our parking lot and the roof of our new Visitor Center, and the native plants will help filter pollutants from that storm water before it enters the watershed.

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The plantings will also support pollinating insects and serve as a demonstration area to show visitors how native plants can prevent erosion and water pollution, provide wildlife habitat, and add color and diversity to an urban landscape.

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The beautiful colors of late summer, as shown in this stunning patch of Goldenrod and Joe Pye Weed Photo Credit: via Wildflower Association’s Facebook page provided by Kathryn Lund Johnson Nature Photography

The Wildflower Association of Michigan encourages the preservation and restoration of Michigan’s native plants and native plant communities, and holds a two-day conference each year in Lansing. We are happy to have them as a partner!

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Interested in being a part of the installation of this project through giving your time, passion and skills to Blandford?

Blandford Nature Center has several areas of our non-profit that needs your helping hands! Whether it’s pulling invasive plant species along one of Blandford’s beautiful trails, tending to the Wildlife Ambassadors that call the Wildlife Education Center home, or teaching today’s youth about the wonders of nature as a Volunteer Trail Guide, volunteers are highly valued as an integral part of the success of Blandford Nature Center.

Blandford has many opportunities that let you share your time and talent. We would love to help you find something that matches your interests, skills, and availability.

How do I become a Blandford Volunteer? Head over to the website for more details.

 

Land Stewardship Opportunities

“We must not only protect the nature, we must restore what has been destroyed … Once our natural splendor is destroyed and man can no longer walk with beauty or wonder at nature, his spirit will wither…”
 – President Johnson
Blandford Nature Center hosts several community “stewardship days” throughout the year. Work focuses on habitat restoration, trail maintenance, stream clean up and removal of invasive species on several sections of our 143-acre site.
Education is always a major focus of the day. Stewardship Days provide close-up, hands-on work that has tangible results. Community members learn to identify and manage plants that may be growing in their own backyards, their schools or city parks. Volunteers will learn to identify common invasive plants like buckthorn, privet and honeysuckle.
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Walk-ins are welcome. We meet in the main visitor center parking lot. Be prepared to work off the trail with sturdy shoes and a water bottle.
Stay connected to our ongoing efforts through Facebook , Instagram and Twitter.  We hope to see you out on any of the following Saturdays: June 18July 2, July 16, July 30August 13, August 27: 9:30-12:30pm.

A Student Returns to Serve

Blandford is very fortunate to have loyal volunteer support from area organizations. One of our cherished partners includes Farmers Insurance. It has become tradition that when a new Customer Service Associate training is complete, the group has a day of bonding and service at Blandford. Volunteer Coordinator, Jessie Schulte shared, “We are always extremely impressed with the enthusiasm the group brings. These are the best costumer service  employees and we see that in their positive, can do attitude.”

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Maintenance Manager Martin Ferrone often comments that, “They are one of the hardest working groups we have had out to serve at Blandford.” We cannot thank them enough for returning month after month to move fence, mulch trails, prep pioneer buildings for special events and eagerly jump into any assignment.

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On their last service day, March 11th, we discovered that one of the Farmer Insurance heros of the day, Shineene Houston, was a former Blandford Environmental Education Program student. And another, Nickolas James, was a Sugarbush festival musician. It was fun to reminisce and be reminded of the rich connections our volunteers have with Blandford Nature Center.

Earn Rewards by Serving at Blandford

Next week is invasive species awareness week and Blandford will have eco-stewards continue to cut and treat invasive species preparing for spring habitat protection, reducing the amount of invasive chemicals flowing into vernal pools. Stewards are motivated to help because they care about the projects and lands at Blandford. But there is another special bonus volunteers can gain by helping this winter. You could earn points redeemable for all sorts of fun rewards by volunteering at Blandford.
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Writer Heidi Stukkie shared “[What] began almost two years ago as an online program where people could earn rewards for recycling has now entered phase two. The City of Grand Rapids’ MyGRcitypoints.com website has recently added two new two features that let people earn points and get involved in their communities.
The first new feature encourages people to volunteer with the incentive to earn rewards for their actions. The way it works is residents sign up for an account on the site and then volunteer for one of the featured opportunities. Afterward, they earn points that can later be redeemed for discounts on restaurants, services, and retail purchases.

gr pointsPhase one of the MyGRcitypoints program was developed to encourage recycling in the City limits. There are now around 10,000 users and the program has increased recycling by 80 percent. This new second phase is open to anyone in West Michigan, and not just City residents.

City Manager Greg Sundstrom says the key with phase two of MyGRcitypoints is not so much about earning points, but instead about “keeping local dollars local and building communities.” He believes these two actions are important for our city’s future.

“But we are one of the first communities to do this and that sets Grand Rapids apart from other cities,” he says. “It’s kind of a radical idea.”

The City is open to suggestions for the site and ideas for future campaigns that will motivate people to get involved in the community.”All we’ve done is build the platform,” says Sundstrom. “Others can now help figure out what to do with it.”

If you’d like to earn rewards for your volunteer or recycling efforts, or participate in the special Park Makeover campaign, here’s how to get involved:

  Visit MyGRcitypoints online to find out more.
–    Sign up to start earning points.
–    Volunteer to earn points.
–    Like MyGRcitypoints on Facebook.
–    Follow @myGRcitypoints on Twitter.
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Pictured above is volunteer Tom Riddle helping remove invasive plants along a fence row on the edge of Brandywine creek in January 2016. Now, Tom and others can earn rewards for helping protect nature. MyGRcitypoints wants “everyone to take part in transforming the community into a better place to live, work, play, eat, and shop. Throw a few cans in that new recycling cart, plant a tree, or spread some woodchips; then watch your points and local businesses grow as we all work together to create a vibrant, sustainable community.”

Science Community Day

My internship at Blandford has allowed me to meet so manlaureny wonderful people! More recently I have met  Blandford’s person of the month- Professor Lauren Elliott. She knows that invasive plants are the second greatest threat to our natural communities next to ​habitat loss from development. She is taking action to engage her students in service learning at Blandford. She has helped host and participate in three work days at Blandford and has made a significant positive contribution to Blandford’s long term land management goals. How can you get involved? Go visit and suppport the Science Day at Grand Rapids Community College this Saturday 10-2pm or pledge to remove Buckthorn from your yard.
Learn how to guard and defend against alien invaders! Visitors will have the opportunity to learn about invasive species in Michigan, what impact they have on the environment and what you can do to help! There will also be stickers and pencils too!  The kids will have make “Wanted” Posters. They can join the GRCC GUARDIAN GANG and learn how to guard the environment from these alien invaders!
A Blandford Nature Center representative, lead eco-steward Heather Bell and the West Michigan Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area Coordinator, Drew Rayner, will be on site to answer any questions. You can also learn about Blandford Nature Center  and all it has to offer the community!
This Blog post was contributed by Brooke Mellema, Blandford’s Land Stewardship Intern.
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Conservation Conversations (Say that five times fast, right?)

Natural habitats for all types of wildlife are rapidly decreasing due to urbanization and agricultural pressures. Residential areas, such as backyards, can play an important role in conserving wildlife. Homeowners can enhance the natural features in their yards and neighborhoods to create a variety of thriving wildlife habitats.

Conservation conversations (say that five times fast, right?) is an event held by the West Michigan Cluster of the Stewardship Network. The participant will be able to join the conversation of conservation with six experts in a speed dating sort of style. Participants will have 15 minutes with an expert to gather highlights of the topic as well as engage in an exchange of information. If you are not interested in one topic it’s only 15 minutes and then you are on to another expert in another field.  The topics that will be included are: Storm water management, landscaping with native plants, healthy soil, aquatic invasive plants, opportunities for your forest, and buzz on bees.

This event is held on Thursday, November 5th at the DeVos Communication Center from 6:30 pm to 9 pm. Refreshments will also be served. Although this is a FREE event, you are encouraged to bring a $5 donation. This donation goesstewardship network to support  the educational programs, events, and materials sponsored by the West Michigan Cluster.

For more information: https://www.stewardshipnetwork.org/fall-feature-conservation-conversations-speed-dating-style

It is recommended you sign up and you can do it from the link above.

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Why Blandford Needs Hunters

By Land Stewardship Intern Brooke Mellema

It seems weird for a vegetarian to be writing a post on hunting. When I told my boyfriend I was writing this, he looked at me like I had sprouted a second head. I get it. So why would a vegetarian be writing such a thing? Why would I want to help a place recruit people to harm animals? Well, in an indirect way, hunting helps not only animals, but the ecosystem in it’s entirety. Let me explain.

White-tailed deer are native to Michigan, but over the last six decades their boy deerpopulation has grown to levels that are much higher than any prior period. In the Grand Rapids area, there is no natural predation for deer. At Blandford, although it covers 143 -acres, deer are running out of space. In the past, Professor Keys and his students from Cornerstone University have led a study (browse, camera and scat/pellet count) on the deer population at Blandford. They are continuing the study this year. What they found was a population of 25 to 35 deer and a recommendation that there be only 5. Deer with no natural population control are very destructive to their fellow creatures including birds and our biologically rich woody areas at Blandford.

Why are they such a problem? Deer prefer some herbaceous plants over others, and therefore leave only deer-resistance plants for the other wildlife. These changes in vegetation have been shown to affect birds. In heavily browsed areas, the shrub layer is virtually absent or is populated almost entirely by deer resistant species. Animals that nest or forage in the shrub layer are not, in some cases, able to adapt to such dramatic changes in forest structure and must find suitable habitat elsewhere or persist at low numbers (The Nature Conservancy). Deer negatively affect themselves as well. Leaving deer-resistant plants to multiply, and nothing else, leaves them with no food, can cause erosion and starts making them nuisances to our neighbors by nibbling on their gardens and causing accidents by being in the way of cars.

Don’t get me wrong. I love deer. I think they are neat little creatures and I always have a little pang in my heart when opening day comes around, so I understand when people might initially be opposed to hunting at Blandford. However, I know managing white-tailed deer populations through hunting is an important step in reducing deer damage and protecting the biodiversity of Blandford. Deer populations have grown well beyond the ability of our natural communities to withstand their effects. For this reason, we employ skilled bow hunting as a tool to reduce populations to reduce the damage deer cause, allowing natural communities to recover their full vigor and diversity (The Nature Conservancy).

Source: If you would like to read a little more in depth at deer populations in Michigan, I got most of my information from:

“All Conservancy preserves in Michigan are Threatened in Some Way by Deer.” The Nature Conservancy. N.p., 24 July 2015. Web. 17 Sept. 2015. <http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/michigan/explore/deer-hunting-in-michigan.xml&gt;.

“Deer Can Be Too Many, Too Few, or Just Enough for Healthy Forest.” US FOREST SERVICE NORTHERN RESEARCH STATION. US Forest Service, 2012. Web. 17 Sept. 2015. <http://www.fs.fed.us/nrs/news/review/review-vol16.pdf&gt;.

Monitoring Bluebird Boxes

The first surprising thing about monitoring the boxes is that I don’t actually have many bluebirds.  Only one of my nine boxes has a pair of bluebirds in it.  They have successfully fledged five young birds this season, and are on their bluebird boxessecond nest right now.  The other boxes are occupied by tree swallows, house wrens, and chickadees, most of which have recently fledged.

Each species I have encountered has a very distinctive nest style, so even if I don’t see any adult birds in the area, I know what species I’m dealing with.  Blue birds make neat nests entirely of grasses.  Chickadees will lay down a layer of moss, and then line it with fur.  Tree swallows create grass nests, and then line them with a layer of found feathers.  House wrens nests are the most cacophonous.   They pile their boxes full to the brim with twigs, making it hard to get a good count of their eggs and hatchlings.  When a pair of house sparrows claimed a nest box, I found a large messy nest made of bits of anything they could find from grasses to bits of garbage.

tree swallowThis is my first time monitoring bird boxes, and I love being out there and seeing the birds grow.  Building the nest and laying eggs can take a few weeks for a pair of birds, but once the eggs hatch, it all happens very fast.  The hatchlings grow from tiny little dinosaur-like creatures to fledglings ready to leave the nest in the span of a couple of weeks.

I had a slight problem with a pair of house sparrows claiming a nest earlier this season.  House sparrows are an invasive species and pose a huge problem to other cavity nesting birds.  They are violent protectors of their nests, and are willing to kill native birds in order to take over their nesting sites.  I managed to deter the sparrows by removing their nest from the box.  My plan was initially just to slow them down and buy myself some time to catch them.  I fully expected to return the next week to find that they had built another nest, and I was ready with a sparrow trap that Peggy Falk (the previous bluebird monitor) had sent me.  When I got to the nest box, I found that a pair of tree swallows had built a new nest there.  I kept a close eye on that box to make sure the sparrows didn’t return, but I haven’t seen them in the area since.  The tree swallows laid two eggs in the box, one of which survived to leave the nest.

bluebird 3

I am fascinated with the behavior of the different species of birds I have encountered.  Blue birds are very tolerant of me   checking the nests.  The parents usually vacate the box before I even get close to it, so I don’t see them very often.  Chickadees are similar in that regard, but tree swallows and house wrens let me know that my presence is unwelcome.  When I check a house wren box, at least one of the parents will hover on a nearby branch and chirp angrily at me until I leave.  Tree swallow behavior changes as the nesting season progresses.  They don’t seem bothered by me while they are working on the nest, or right after they have laid a clutch of eggs.  A week after they lay the eggs though, the mother will not leave the box.  During that time, I can’t get an accurate count of the eggs.  By the next week, the eggs have usually hatched, and again the parents seem watchful, but unbothered.  Once the young are close to fledging, however, the parents get more protective and will swoop around, nearly hitting my head until they’re satisfied that I’m leaving.”

Written by Kaitlind “Kaiti” Fasbury, Blandford Nature Center Land Stewardship Volunteer

 

Global Youth Service Day

MI—Global Youth Service Day, along with the support of Youth Service America, Michigan Nonprofit Association and the Michigan Community Service Commission, has awarded Blandford Nature Center a grant of $500 for the upcoming “Protecting Forest Floodplains and Neighboring Waterways” restoration work day on Friday, April 24th. This work day will bring many area organizations and three Grand Rapids Schools together as they work towards a common goal: keeping Blandford Nature Center’s ravine habitat healthy and beautiful.

High school students from Grand River Preparatory School , 8th graders from CA Frost Environmental Science Academy and 6th graders from Blandford Environmental Education Program (BEEP) will partner together in four teams so that every student has a chance to become an Eco-Steward.  Guided by Blandford volunteers and staff, student teams will work along the banks and floodplain of Brandywine Creek with each team going through four, 30-minute work and learning sessions.stream clean-up

Session 1—Creature Comforts: Blandford trail guide volunteers and interns will lead students to high-quality ravine habitat where they may see turtles, frogs, snakes, and birds. Here, guides will share how erosion control and rock placement can protect wildlife habitat. Working with their partners, students will transfer small boulders and rocks in place to stabilize the shore and learn how erosion plays a part in smothering out macro-invertebrate

Session 2—Cut the Mustard!: Students will learn how invasive plants can destroy Michigan’s habitats by limiting animals’ access to clean water, food sources and nesting sites. Next, they will learn to identify three common invasive non-native plants found here in Michigan: garlic mustard, dame’s rocket and creeping jenny. Then, each team will pull and collect these invasive plants in biodegradable garbage bags for later disposal.

Session 3—Stream Makeover: A stream is only as healthy as the land around it. With their partner, students will look for evidence of frogs, snakes, salamanders, newts and turtles along the creek banks. They will learn what makes a good habitat and make this habitat even better by carefully removing man-made debris and learn why fallen limbs and dried leaves should be left in place. Debris will be hauled in wheelbarrows to our dumpster and sorted for recycling.February

Session 4—Buffers for Dragonflies and Other Wildlife: Students will learn the importance of natural “buffer zones”—plants that grow near lakes and streams that filter run-off water and catch silt. They will learn how replacing invasive species with native species can result in not only cleaner streams but better habitats for reptiles, amphibians, birds and other animals.

Each team will put this knowledge to use as they plant native fruit bearing shrubs. These shrubs will be marked with the group’s name and date.

Global Youth Service Day is the largest service event in the world and the only one dedicated to the contributions that children and youth make 365 days of the year. “There are a million lessons to be learned in restoration work,” said Jessie Schulte, Land Stewardship and Volunteer Coordinator at Blandford Nature Center. “We are proud to have Grand Rapid Public School students protecting our most precious natural resources”. Having children directly immersed in nature and practicing stewardship to keep their community’s naturescapes healthy is part of Blandford Nature Center’s mission.

As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the nature center is dependent on generous donations and passionate volunteers to meet its mission of educating, engaging and empowering our community to become stewards of the natural world that sustains us. Many community partners and organizations will be assisting with this restoration work day.

  •  Blandford Nature Center student interns, volunteers and staff
  • Grand Rapid Public Schools’ Blandford Environmental Education Program (BEEP)
  • Cornerstone University (intern)
  • Grand Valley State University, student volunteers
  • Grand River Preparatory School
  • Ottawa Conservation District and Kent Conservation District

If you would like to volunteer or be involved at Blandford Nature Center please call (616) 735-6240 or visit http://blandfordnaturecenter.org/get-involved/.