What happens to natural areas stewardship in the winter?

As the seasons change from fall to winter, most people finish up any last minute yard work and put away the gardening tools. Time for a break, right? Not quite! We tune up our brushcutters, sharpen the chainsaw, stock up on supplies, and head back out.

Cutting buckthorn, autumn olive, privet, and other invasive shrubs is much easier in the winter without insects, heat, and leaves.
Cutting buckthorn, autumn olive, privet, and other invasive shrubs is much easier in the winter without insects, heat, and leaves. I knocked out a large swath of buckthorn at Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie in November and December.

Many stewardship tasks can only be done – or are easier to do – in the winter. After this cold snap, the buckthorn and other invasive shrubs growing in wetlands will be easier to access by walking on the ice. With the leaves off the trees we can easily spot the invasive shrubs, and the cool weather and absence of insects make it very pleasant to work outside. Here are two ways you can get outside to enjoy the outdoors and help with stewardship work this winter.

Prairie Restoration Workdays at Charles Ilsley Park

We scheduled Prairie Restoration Workdays at Charles Ilsley Park every Tuesday from 10 am to 1 pm during January and February. Even during the cold this week I headed out to clear invasive woody plants from the fields where we plan to plant native prairie vegetation over the next few years. We get very hot and sweaty work working in the open fields during the summer, but it is very comfortable to cut brush in the winter. Find the full schedule of prairie restoration workdays in the Volunteer Workdays part of our Stewardship Events page. We hope to see grassland bird species, prairie flowers, and thriving communities of organisms in the next few years!

Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) perches next to the trails to snag unsuspecting hikers.
Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) perches next to the trails to snag unsuspecting hikers.
Patches of woody vegetation in the fields at Charles Ilsley Park need to be removed before native prairie vegetation can be planted. We keep oaks and other tree species that would have been found historically in oak savannas.
Patches of woody vegetation in the fields at Charles Ilsley Park need to be removed before native prairie vegetation can be planted. We keep oaks and other tree species that would have been found historically in oak savannas.

Bird Walks and Work Days

Birds bring movement and life to our winter fields, forests, and wetlands. Learn more about birds and help us improve their habitat during our weekly bird walks which rotate through different parks. We want to find out which bird species are using our parks so that we can manage our natural areas for their benefit. We spend the first hour or so walking the park to record the bird species we see or hear. After the bird walk, we spend time helping birds by removing invasive plants, building/installing nest boxes, maintaining feeders, or planning for future stewardship work.

Visit the Birding Walks page to see the full schedule of weekly bird walks from now until the end of May. We started at Bear Creek Nature Park this week and got good looks of Black-capped Chickadees, Hairy Woodpeckers, and other typical winter birds. Many birds travel widely to find food in the winter, so you never know what you’ll see! We have some extra binoculars available for your use  on a first-come, first-serve basis. Hope to see you out there!

If you look closely, you'll see the belted kingfisher that I spotted perched on a branch above Paint Creek on January 8, 2015.
If you look closely, you’ll see the belted kingfisher that I spotted perched on a branch above Paint Creek on January 8, 2015. You never know what you’ll see in the winter!
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About Ben VanderWeide

I am the Natural Areas Stewardship Manager for Oakland Township Parks and Recreation in southeast Michigan. I have a doctorate in biology (focused on plant ecology) and I am passionate about protecting and managing natural areas.

5 thoughts on “What happens to natural areas stewardship in the winter?

  1. Dr Ben, (I heard others call you that, so I hope it is OK)

    Thanks for your continued efforts in not only doing a lot of the hard work you described, but also educating Township residents on the beautiful features of our Township and soliciting residents to help. You are a very valuable addition to our Township Staff.

    Wear warm clothes and be safe!

    Thanks again!

    1. I really believe that to develop a connection with a place (a particular park, Oakland Township, etc.) it is important for people to participate in caring for that land. This will help us develop a sense of ownership and appreciation for the very special natural features in our parks. I love this work and want to share it with others.

      (P.S. – Feel free to call me Ben)

  2. I love the work you’re doing and hope to participate more when my ankle heals up. Maybe in the meantime, those of us who love the land should do some brainstorming about outreach to more people. Maybe you have some good new ideas after the workshop on volunteers that you just attended. We need to find ways to connect with people who love to be outdoors winter and summer/are knowledgeable about plants/trees etc and/or want to learn more about them. We need them as stewardship
    volunteers and we also need them when the time comes to replace Parks Commissioners as they retire or go on to other interests.

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