New Weekly Feature! Check out “This Week at Bear Creek”

Look for this feature early each week! Cam Mannino shares her latest observations, photos, and inspirations from Bear Creek Nature Park. Thanks Cam!


 This Week at Bear Creek

By Volunteer Park Steward, Cam Mannino

Cam at Bear Creek Nature Park.

Cam at Bear Creek Nature Park.

Welcome to the first post for “This Week at Bear Creek.” As a long time BC walker and photographer, I’ve long considered a narrative photo blog with that title. So I’m happy that Dr. Ben has offered the idea a home here in the Notebook. I’ll try to keep you informed about the abundant wildlife and plants in the park as well as stewardship opportunities and other events. The plan is to post once a week in the spring, summer and fall (with a hiatus or two for Real Life and vacations) and a bit less in the winter when the park is quieter and walking’s more challenging. So let’s begin with:

March 29 – April 4, 2015

Last Wednesday I accompanied Ben and Sigrid Grace, an enthusiastic birder, on a bird walk through Bear Creek. We saw 25 bird species that early morning, so I’ll focus on bird arrivals and departures this week.

Ben and Sigrid at Bear Creek Nature Park, April 1, 2015.

Ben and Sigrid at Bear Creek Nature Park, April 1, 2015.

As we entered the park, Ben spotted a red fox running at full lope across the field toward the woods, his tail streaming behind him. Too fast for a photo that day but here’s a photo of a red fox at a trot from 2013.

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) on the run.

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) on the run.

Spring migration is off to a great start. The Song Sparrow’s arrived and is already singing with gusto.

Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) singing.

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) singing.

Ben heard the rattling call of a Sandhill Crane.

Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) at Bear Creek Marsh

Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) at Bear Creek Marsh

A Great Blue Heron flew high overhead, perhaps just back from its winter stay on the Florida or Gulf coast.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) flying. In flight herons have their neck bent in an “s” shape, while sandhill cranes hold their neck straight.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) flying. In flight herons have their neck bent in an “s” shape, while sandhill cranes hold their neck straight.

And the Common Grackles with their white eyes, iridescent blue heads and rusty-gate voices are tilting their beaks skyward in an attempt to establish a pecking order.

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) posturing.

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) posturing.

Red-winged Blackbirds trill, Canada Geese honk and Mallard Ducks cackle in the marsh near Gunn Road, establishing their territories among the reeds.

Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoenicius) trilling.

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoenicius) trilling.

We saw a large flock of Cedar Waxwings fluttering between bushes and trees. No way of knowing whether these elegant birds spent the winter here or just rode in on the south wind the night before.

Cedar waxwing (Bombycillia cedrorum)

Cedar Waxwing (Bombycillia cedrorum).

Soon the Dark-eyed Juncos will be leaving for Canadian forests and the modest Tree Sparrows will be heading to Canada’s far north to build their nests of ptarmigan feathers on the tundra.

Human visitors will notice that the Eastern parts of the Oak-Hickory Forest near Gunn Road received a “prescribed burn” the previous week. This professionally controlled, slow-moving, low burn discourages invasive plants and trees like Autumn Olive and Buckthorn. Be patient and in a few short weeks, all that black ash, full of nutrients, will nourish new growth. The thin spring sunlight filtering through the bare limbs should bring us more Spring Beauties and Blood Root, two of the earliest and most beautifully delicate spring woodland flowers. We’ll let you know when they began to emerge.

Thanks for sharing This Week at Bear Creek.   If questions occur to you, comment below and I’ll try to find answers. And of course, please share your week at Bear Creek in the comments as well.

Friday Photos: Sparkling Snow, Beautiful Blue Skies, and Winter Birds

When  clear, deep blue stretches across the sky in Michigan in January, it is time to get outside. Fortunately, our weekly Wednesday bird walks offered a great excuse to do just that. We started out at Bear Creek Nature Park on January 7 on a chilly morning. The walk began quietly, but as the sun rose birds began to move and call until we were busy hunting down the sources of loud hammering, persistent chip notes, and musical calls. Fresh snow on the ground captured the path of a small mammal forging through the snow.

Paths in the winter snow at Bear Creek Nature Park.

Paths in the winter snow at Bear Creek Nature Park.

On January 14 at Cranberry Lake Park we were treated to a thick frost covering the surface of every twig. Ice crystals hanging suspended in the frigid air sparkled as the sun filled them with light. In addition to many of the usual birds we were treated to the calls of a Great Horned Owl in the distance.

Sun shines through sparkling ice crystals long the shore of Cranberry Lake at Cranberry Lake Park

Sun shines through sparkling ice crystals long the shore of Cranberry Lake at Cranberry Lake Park

The third Wednesday of January we birded in a snow squall at Lost Lake Nature Park, so I didn’t get any pictures. But this past Wednesday, January 28 at Draper Twin Lake Park was another morning with beautiful blue skies. I snapped this picture as we tried to locate some pesky birds hiding in the underbrush along the eastern wetland.

Animal tracks mark the snow and vapor trails from jets cross the sun. People and animals still need to get places when it is cold!

Animal tracks mark the snow and vapor trails from jets cross the sun. People and animals still need to get places when it is cold!

We’ll be out birding again in February. Remember that I do have a few pairs of extra binoculars that you can borrow for the bird walks. If the weather is nice I usually stick around after the bird walk to remove invasive shrubs for a few hours. You’re welcome to join me. Check out the January Bird Report if you’re interested in the complete list of birds we were able to identify this month. Hope to see you out there next week!

2014 Stewardship Report: Learning from the past, looking to the future

As we look forward to our natural areas stewardship goals for 2015, we look back at what we accomplished in 2014. It was an exciting year! Check out the highlights of the year below, or read the full 2014 Annual Stewardship Report (click the title).

  1. Stewardship Blog: I launched this blog, the Natural Areas Notebook in June 2014 to help inform residents about the cool biota in the township and advertise the many opportunities to help care for our natural areas.
  2. Prescribed Burns: We contracted with Plantwise LLC for prescribed burn work. We completed burns in old fields at Bear Creek Nature Park and Charles Ilsley Park on May 19, 2014. We completed prescribed burns along the Paint Creek Trail at the Art Project, Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie, Kamin Easement, and Nicholson Prairie on November 5, 2014. The remaining burns in the contracts (Lost Lake Nature Park, Bear Creek Nature Park forest, and Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park) were postponed due to early snow and will hopefully be completed in Spring 2015.

    The ignition crew communicate closely with the holding crew to make sure the fire does not burn in areas outside the burn unit.

    Prescribed fire at Bear Creek Nature Park in May 2014

  3. Volunteer Program: Volunteer workdays were held two times per month from July to November. Participation was generally low (ranging from 0 to 7 volunteers per workday), but the workdays provided invaluable experience with scheduling, preparing, and leading volunteer workdays.

    SE Michigan Summer Conservation Corps crew, Bear Creek Nature Park, July 2014.

    SE Michigan Summer Conservation Corps crew, Bear Creek Nature Park, July 2014.

  4. Floristic Surveys: I surveyed Gallagher Creek Park, O’Connor Nature Park, and Paint Creek Heritage Area – Fen during summer 2014 to document the plant species growing in each park.
  5. US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Grant: Prairie restoration at Charles Ilsley Park and Draper Twin Lakes Park was jump started by a $15,200 grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service through their Partners for Fish and Wildlife program. The stewardship crew worked hard to clear invasive woody shrubs in 18 acres of old fields at Charles Ilsley Park and 20 acres of old field at Draper Twin Lake Park to prepare for planting in 2015.
  6. USDA Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) grant: work continued on the 2008 WHIP grant, which funds habitat restoration along the Paint Creek Trail to benefit native pollinators.
  7. Seasonal Technicians: We had three outstanding technicians in 2014. Matt Peklo returned for his third year, Alex Kriehbel returned for his second year, and Jonah Weeks worked her first year.

    The stewardship crew pulled lots of garlic mustard in 2014. Help us make 2015 even more successful!

    The stewardship crew pulled lots of garlic mustard in 2014. Help us make 2015 even more successful!

  8. Natural Areas Stewardship Manager: I started with Oakland Township Parks and Recreation as the Natural Areas Stewardship Manager in April 2014.

 

Have you seen witch-hazel flowers this fall?

Fall continues to spread here in Oakland Township. The colorful blossoms of wildflowers wink out one at at time, like the lights in downtown storefronts after closing time. We see more fluffy seeds taking to the wind, spreading hope for new seedlings next year. But just as we think the flowers are gone, a new one pops onto the scene! Witch-hazel is blooming!

Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a common medium sized shrub in the understory of our oak woodlands. Plants usually have many smooth-barked stems, some of which grow up to 20 feet tall. Unlike most shrubs, including the closely related Ozark witch-hazel (Hamamelis vernalis), it blooms in the fall.

Witch-hazel has weird flowers, with petals resembling twisted ribbons.

Witch-hazel has weird flowers, with petals often resembling crinkly twisted ribbons.

Several clusters of witch-hazel flowers on a branch.

Several clusters of witch-hazel flowers on a branch.

The leaves and bark of this shrub were used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes, and we still find witch-hazel products offered as an astringent in the health and beauty section at the store.

On many shrubs, the leaves have dropped completely, leaving only the delicate yellow flowers on the stems.

On many shrubs, the leaves have dropped completely, leaving only the delicate yellow flowers on the stems.

As I looked up information about this cool native shrub, I found that it has explosive fruits, just like jewelweed that I wrote about in an earlier blog post. Apparently the fruits can throw the seeds 10 to 20 feet when they explode in the fall, making a noise. What fun it would be to experience seed dispersal in a stand of healthy patch of witch hazel! If I find some witch-hazel fruits soon, I’ll post pictures here.

If you’d like to find some witch-hazel this fall, hike the trails in the northern part of Bear Creek Nature Park or the trail through Lost Lake Nature Park.

Volunteer Workday at Bear Creek Nature Park this Saturday, noon – 3 pm: the buckthorn battle continues!

Come to Bear Creek Nature Park this Saturday, September 27 to help with natural areas stewardship! We will continue removing buckthorn around the “skating pond” in the middle of the park. If you’ve visited the pond recently, you may have seen the green herons and wood ducks that have been hanging out there. Maybe you spotted the turtles sunning themselves on a log. Maybe you watched curls of fog rising from the water on a cool morning. By removing buckthorn and other non-native invasive shrubs, we improve wildlife habitat and your ability to watch wildlife. Hope to see you there!

  • Where: Bear Creek Nature Park. Meet in the parking lot at the south end of the park off Snell Road. We’ll then walk down to the skating pond together.
  • When: Saturday, September 27 from noon – 3 pm. In the event of thunderstorms, the event will be cancelled.
  • Who: Anyone! This event is free, with no experience necessary. We’ll train you to do the work. Cutting and stacking brush requires  some physical effort.
  • Why: Why not? We will be remove non-native invasive shrubs and preparing an area for planting native plants. Come out on Saturday to enjoy beautiful areas and hang out with great people! And food after we finish working!
  • What: Bring water and gloves, and wear closed-toed shoes and long pants. We’ll have extra gloves if you can’t bring your own.

We’ll provide water and light snacks. You will need to sign a release form before we begin working. Families are encouraged to attend! All minors will need permission from a parent or guardian to participate, and minors under 14 will need to have a parent or guardian present. We will have lots of fun, so plan to come and share this opportunity with others! The schedule of upcoming workdays can be found at the Volunteer Calendar.