Tag Archives: bird walk

Draper Twin Lake Park (Eastern Portion): A Rainbow of Butterflies, Fledglings Foraging and a Golden Prairie

The Northern Prairie on the east side of Draper Twin Lake Park in July

In June, the prairie pictured above at Draper Twin Lake Park was a sea of white Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and Ox-eye Daisies (Leucanthemum vulgaris) dotted with golden Sand Coreopsis (Coreopsis lancelolata). Today, as you can see, it is carpeted in the bright yellow of Gray-headed Coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata). Such a remarkable transformation in only one month! (You’ll want to park near the small garage at 1181 Inwood Road to visit the east side of Draper Twin Lake Park.)

Text and photos by
Cam Mannino

Last week Ben VanderWeide, our township’s Natural Areas Stewardship Manager, had to mow large sections of the golden prairie to prevent seed production in the invasive and aggressive Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea stoebe). We hope the mowing will reduce knapweed abundance and give native plants a competitive edge as they continue to fill in throughout the field. The prairie, though, is still a beautiful sight since it signals the return to our parks of graceful native wildflowers and grasses that sway in a summer breeze.

Native Canada Wild Rye nods and sways within the gold of the Draper prairie.

Native Wildflowers Invite An Abundance of Butterflies

The more our prairies are restored, the more they attract a whole panoply of colorful butterflies. Giant Swallowtails (Papilio cresphontes) seem to be everywhere this summer. It may be that our hot July has encouraged more of them than usual to migrate up from the south to breed. And once they arrive, our prairies provide generously for them. This huge butterfly flutters constantly while feeding, though it floats elegantly between flowers, beating its wings briefly and then gliding along.

The Giant Swallowtail flutters constantly while feeding though it is an elegant flyer.

An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) swooped out of a patch of Plumeless Thistle (Carduus acanthoides) and soared across the prairie.  I believe the blue spots at the bottom of the wings mean it was a female. I never noticed before that they have such a fancy striped body!

An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail female exits from a stand of Field Thistle.

Red-spotted Purples (Limenitis arthemis) love open areas on forest edges, which makes the prairie at Draper Twin Lake Park a perfect habitat. Their blue/black appearance makes them easy to confuse with Black or Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies. The big difference is that all Swallowtails are so called because of the characteristic drooping points at the bottom of the hind wings. Red-spotted Purples have scalloped hind wings but no “swallowtails.” (Click on photos to enlarge; hover cursor for captions.)

A small Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) butterfly landed on a Queen Anne’s Lace flower (Daucus carota) in front of the birding group.  Mike Kent, a fellow birder, slowly and gently extended his finger and this little one climbed right on. A few moments after this photo, it started “tasting” his skin with its long proboscis! Quite a magical moment!

A Viceroy butterfly climbs onto a birder’s finger from a nearby bloom.

A few smaller butterflies and other flying insects are fluttering across the prairie this summer. The Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma) is an early spring arrival and looks a bit battered by now.

An Eastern Comma that looks a bit battered!

The tiny white Carrot Seed Moth (Sitochroa palealis) is a non-native from Europe who, consequently, sips on many non-native European plants like Queen Anne’s Lace or here on non-native Spotted Knapweed. Thanks to Dwayne Badgero on the Butterflying Michigan Facebook page for identifying this one for me.

The Carrot Seed Moth is a non-native who feeds largely, though not exclusively, on non-native plants like the spotted knapweed shown here.

I saw the lovely American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) on the Draper prairie earlier in the season, but never got a shot.  The photo below is one I took at Cranberry Lake Park.

I saw an American Copper on the prairie, but this photo was taken at Cranberry Lake.

This juvenile male Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) has a faint white band on its wing which will get bolder as it matures. Also, its abdomen will slowly develop a white covering. The adult females have no white band and keep the darker abdomen with the golden stripes.

The juvenile male Widow Skimmer has a faint white wing band that will be more noticeable when it matures.

Carolina Locust (Dissosteira carolina) used its stiff wings to fly up onto a Gray-headed Coneflower as the birders walked by.

A Carolina Locust grasps a Gray-headed Coneflower.

Hard-working Bird Parents are Busy Feeding the Young

On entering the eastern side of Draper Twin Lake Park last Sunday, my husband and I heard a clamor in a snag (standing dead tree) on the eastern edge of the field. A large band of Barn Swallow youngsters (Hirundo rustica) were hanging out together, a few still being quickly fed by their parents.  Stokes’ Guide to Bird Behavior (Vol. 2) explains. “Often groups of juveniles from first broods gather into flocks and feed and perch together.” We counted over 20 in or near the snag at the same time. Later that same week, Ben reported having 50 or more Barn Swallows flying right next to him and his mower as he worked on the prairie. Very social birds! Young Barn Swallows have shorter, rounder tails, rather than the longer, deeply forked ones of their parents. (Use pause button if time is needed for captions.)

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Two larger fledglings appeared on the trail between the marsh and parking area. They hopped along the edge, pecking at the earth in a desultory fashion, but repeatedly stared up longingly into the trees. We didn’t recognize them at first. Then my husband noticed a sharp clicking in the trees and we suddenly spotted an adult Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) moving stealthily through leafy branches overhead. Aha! These were two juvenile Thrashers out practicing their foraging skills! The telltale field marks are the light colored heads, scalloped backs and gray (rather than yellow) eyes.

Brown Thrasher adults are notoriously hard to see. On Sunday, the adult stayed hidden in tangled bushes, vines and leafy branches, as Thrashers most often do. But after a frustrating few minutes, the annoyed adult emerged and demonstrated his displeasure at our proximity to its young with a yellow-eyed glare and a wild tail display!

The adult Brown Thrasher show his irritation at our presence with a fantastic tail display.

In spring, high in the treetops, Brown Thrasher males sing their wildly variable song, made by mimicking Flickers, the Tufted Titmouse, the Cardinal and others. And that click we heard overhead on Sunday was an alarm/warning call that both Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Stokes’ Guide describe as sounding like a smacking kiss! And it does! Listen to both the creative chaos of the song and smack! call at this Cornell link.

Restoring Our Natural Heritage in So Many Ways

Donna Perkins, a birder and one of our volunteer nest box monitors, waist deep in goldenrod on a summer morning.

The hard work of Ben VanderWeide and his crew in clearing, seeding and tending the natural areas of our township is paying off magnificently. Just as expected, the wildflowers and grasses flourish when given the opportunity. And as they return to their former glory, back come the butterflies, the grasshoppers, the dragonflies, and the bees. And after them, we hope, may come more of the prairie birds that used to live with us, like the Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna), Henslow’s Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii), and perhaps even the long absent Northern Bob-White (Colinus virginianus). Already less common prairie birds, like the Savannah Sparrow  (Passerculus sandwichensis) which I saw earlier this summer at Draper Twin Lake Park, are looking for mates as they ride the stems of prairie plants.

Ben’s stewardship program is also helping to restore bird populations and providing citizen science data by setting up nesting boxes in two parks and along the Paint Creek trail. The volunteers who monitor these boxes watched multiple broods of Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, House Wrens and Black-capped Chickadees go from egg to fledgling just this year.

Birders on a Wednesday morning in July at Draper Twin Lake Park.

And let’s not forget us humans. We’re also out in the our parks more these days! As Ben, his crew and volunteers restore our colorful prairies, people come out to enjoy the natural areas that township residents have been committed to preserving and protecting for many years. Our birding group has grown consistently year by year, exploring and recording bird sightings for Cornell’s eBird citizen science program even on the coldest winter, the rainiest spring and the warmest summer mornings. The schedule is under “Events” at the top of the page. Please come join us! Ben will even lend you binoculars. We’re restoring ourselves as well while we preserve, protect, and delight in our small green corner of the world.

Footnote: My sources for information, besides Oakland Township's Stewardship Manager Ben VanderWeide, are as follows: inaturalist.org; Allaboutbirds.org, the website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University; Wikipedia; Herbarium of the University of Michigan at michiganflora.net; various Michigan Field Guides by Stan Tekiela; Butterflies of Michigan Field Guide by Jaret C. Daniels, A Guide to Bird Behavior Vols.1-3 by Donald W and Lillian Q.Stokes, and others as cited in the text.

Natural Areas Stewardship 2017 Annual Report

After three years of consistent stewardship work in key project areas, we are beginning to see good results. New wildflower species were found at the Wet Prairie along the Paint Creek Trail. Invasive shrubs were cleared from over 20 acres at Watershed Ridge Park and Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park. Prairie species planted a few years ago at Draper Twin Lake Park and Charles Ilsley Park began to flower. And more people like you got involved in the adventure through bird walks, volunteer workdays, nest boxes, potlucks, and stewardship talks. What fun! Check out the highlights of the year below, or read the full 2017 Annual Stewardship Report (click link to view).

Volunteer Program

Volunteers contributed 637 hours in 2017! Weekly bird walks were well attended. For the first time we hosted a summer stewardship potluck to help build our conservation community. Volunteer workdays focused on garlic mustard (May), invasive shrub control (July to November), and seed collecting (October). Volunteers also helped with maintenance of native plant gardens, prescribed fire, vernal pool monitoring, and building nest boxes.

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Students from Eagle Creek Academy helped us install native trees and shrubs at Gallagher Creek Park.

Volunteer Tom Korb led the effort to revitalize nest boxes in our parks. Tom built nearly 30 nest boxes for installation at Charles Ilsley Park and Draper Twin Lake Park. We hope to see more breeding bluebirds, kestrels, and other cavity-nesting birds in our parks in the future!

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Volunteer Tom Korb led the design, construction of nest boxes for Charles Ilsley Park and Draper Twin Lake Park. Nest boxes will be installed and monitored in 2018.

Prairie Restoration with USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Grants

Using our second Partners grant we prepared sites for planting 15 acres of native prairie plants at Charles Ilsley Park and 3 acres at Gallagher Creek Park. Planting was delayed until spring 2018 due to seed shortages, but that will give us a little more time to get the site in good shape. We continued maintenance of areas planted in 2015 and 2016, working to give native plants the upper hand during the critical establishment phase.

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Native plants in newly planted fields at Charles Ilsley Park provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators.

Prescribed Burns

We contracted with Plantwise LLC for spring burns at Cranberry Lake Park, Lost Lake Nature Park, and Marsh View Park. We also worked with private landowners to burn habitat adjacent to the Paint Creek Trail right-of-way, including high quality oak savanna, prairie remnants, and fen wetland. We held volunteer prescribed burn crew training again in February. The volunteer crew completed burns at Marsh View Park, Paint Creek Heritage Area—Wet Prairie, and the Art Project prairie north of Gallagher Road along the Paint Creek Trail.

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The volunteer prescribed fire crew is all smiles after a successful burn at the Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie, Spring 2017. Photo by Sue Greenlee.

Stewardship Blog

The stewardship blog continued to thrive with regular posts from Cam Mannino. The blog also continued to serve as an up-to-date source of information about stewardship volunteer opportunities and events. We published 52 posts and had 5324 visitors, with 8797 page views. Natural Areas Notebook, oaklandnaturalareas.com

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Education Events

Stewardship hosted education events in early 2017. Topics included the importance of protecting public land in Michigan, reptiles and amphibians of Michigan, and prescribed fire in Oakland Township parks.

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David Mifsud leads a presentation about Michigan reptiles and amphibians, including the eastern massasauga rattlesnake.

Phragmites Outreach Program

We continued the Phragmites Outreach Program to help township residents get Phragmites treated on their property. We received about 33 requests for no-obligation cost estimates, and treated about 21 properties with a contractor, PLM Lake and Land Management.

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Photo monitoring is used to track the success of Phragmites treatment. This photo point at Gallagher Creek Park shows Phragmites growing thick on the edge of Silver Bell Road before the treatment program began. Photo point GCP03. August 28, 2014.

Seasonal Technicians

We had one technician return for 2017, Zach Peklo. Zach came to us from Grand Valley State University studying natural resources management with an emphasis on Geographic Information Systems. New to our crew as seasonal land stewardship technicians in 2017 were Josh Auyer and Billy Gibala. Josh graduated from Calvin College in May 2017 with a degree in Biology. Billy graduated from University of Michigan – Flint in spring 2017 with a degree in wildlife biology and a minor in regional and urban planning. Alex Kriebel also returned to our crew as a Stewardship Specialist, bringing additional experience in natural areas management from his work with Oakland County Parks and Recreation.

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(L-R) Ben, Zach, Alex, Josh, and Billy, our 2017 natural areas stewardship team.

All of our annual reports can be found on the About page.

Natural Areas Stewardship 2016 Annual Report

It was our privilege to again steward the natural areas of Oakland Township’s beautiful parks in 2016. 2017 is shaping up to be another exciting year! Check out the highlights of the year below, or read the full 2016 Annual Stewardship Report (click link to view).

Seasonal Technicians

We had two technicians return for 2016, Andrea Nadjarian and Zach Peklo. Andrea Nadjarian came to us from Grand Valley State University where she is pursuing a degree in natural resources management and minor in biology. Zach Peklo also comes to us from Grand Valley State University studying natural resources management with an emphasis on Geographic Information Systems. New to our crew this year was Heather Herndon, from New Mexico State where she completed her bachelor’s degree in wildlife science and a minor in range science in May 2016.

2016 Stewardship Crew (L-R): Ben, Heather, Zach, and Andrea
2016 Stewardship Crew (L-R): Ben, Heather, Zach, and Andrea

Prairie Restoration with USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Grants

Using our second Partners grant we planted 15 acres of native prairie plants at Charles Ilsley Park and 2 acres at Gallagher Creek Park in 2016. Planting an additional 15 acres at Charles Ilsley Park and 3 acres at Gallagher Creek Park is scheduled for 2017, with preparation beginning in 2016. After planting 20 acres of native prairie species at Draper Twin Lake Park and 18 acres at Charles Ilsley Park in 2015, we completed two maintenance mows to control annual weeds.cip_beforeaugmow

USDA Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) grant

Work continued on the 2008 WHIP grant, controlling woody invasives on 33 acres of oak forest, prairie, and wetland between Gunn Rd and Adams Rd on the Paint Creek Trail.

Prairie buttercup found in restoration area along the Paint Creek Trail.
Prairie buttercup found in restoration area along the Paint Creek Trail.

Oakland County Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (OC CISMA)

Oakland Township Parks and Recreation officially joined the OC CISMA. We participated in the Michigan Invasive Species Grant awarded to the OC CISMA and were able to complete treatment of approximately 42,000 linear feet of Phragmites, Japanese knotweed, and swallow-wort infestations in the right-of-way of major roads in Oakland Township.

The OC CISMA is a partnership-based management structure that coordinates the invasive species control activities of its members within the geographic boundaries of Oakland County.
The OC CISMA is a partnership-based management structure that coordinates the invasive species control activities of its members within the geographic boundaries of Oakland County.

Prescribed Burns

We contracted with Plantwise LLC for spring burns at Gallagher Creek Park, Nicholson Prairie, Kamin Easement, Paint Creek Heritage Area Wet Prairie, Paint Creek Heritage Area Fen, and some Paint Creek Trail right-of-way. We contracted with Mike Appel Environmental Designs for a burn at Lost Lake Nature Park. After years of planning, we held volunteer prescribed burn crew training in February and completed burns at Bear Creek Nature Park, Blue Heron Environmental Area, Marsh View Park, and the Art Project prairie at the Gallagher Road parking lot along the Paint Creek Trail.

Volunteer fire crew preparing to burn, March 2016.
Volunteer fire crew preparing to burn, March 2016.

Stewardship Blog

The stewardship blog continued to thrive with regular posts from Cam Mannino. She continued her “This Week at Bear Creek” posts and added posts about other parks in the system, all with excellent writing and photographs. The blog also continued to serve as an up-to-date source of information about stewardship volunteer opportunities and events. We published 43 posts and had 4542 visitors, with 9400 page views. Natural Areas Notebook, oaklandnaturalareas.com

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Volunteer Program

Volunteers contributed 747 hours in 2016! Weekly bird walks continued, gathering useful data about avian life in the park and engaging residents. Volunteer workdays focused on garlic mustard (May), invasive shrub control (July to November), and seed collecting (October).

Removing garlic mustard at Bear Creek Nature Park, May 2016.
Removing garlic mustard at Bear Creek Nature Park, May 2016.

Education Events

Stewardship hosted education events in early 2016. Topics included presentations on coyotes, the Oak Openings region in northwest Ohio, and prescribed fire in Oakland Township parks.

A coyote at Yosemite National Park, California. By Christopher Bruno [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
A coyote at Yosemite National Park, California. By Christopher Bruno [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Phragmites Outreach Program

We continued the Phragmites Outreach Program to help township residents get Phragmites treated on their property. We received about 21 requests for no-obligation cost estimates, and treated about 15 properties with a contractor, PLM Lake and Land Management.

Using controlled burning to remove dead Phragmites that was treated in fall 2014. Burning will not kill Phragmites! We removed the dead thatch to allow native plants to grow again.
Using controlled burning to remove dead Phragmites that was treated in fall 2014. Burning will not kill Phragmites! We removed the dead thatch to allow native plants to grow again.

All of our annual reports can be found on the About page.

We got a lot done together last year: Natural Areas Stewardship 2015 Annual Report

As we look forward to our natural areas stewardship goals for 2016, we look back at what we accomplished in 2015. It was an exciting year! Check out the highlights of the year below, or read the full 2015 Annual Stewardship Report (click the link).

  1. Seasonal Technicians: We had another outstanding crew in 2015. David Vecellio was just finishing his degree at Oakland University and used the position as his required internship. Andrea Nadjarian came to us from Grand Valley State University where she is pursuing a degree in natural resources. Weston Hillier graduated from Western Michigan University in 2014. He has interests in pollinators. We also shared Zach Peklo with Six Rivers Land Conservancy to implement outreach activities for neighbors of parks with conservation easements.

    Andrea, Weston, Zach, David, and Ben.
    Andrea, Weston, Zach, David, and Ben.
  2. US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Grants: We completed site preparation and planting for the 20 acres at Draper Twin Lake Park and 18 acres at Charles Ilsley Park. Jerry Stewart with Native Connections did the planting. We also obtained a second Partners grant to continue restoration on 30 additional acres at Charles Ilsley Park and begin restoration on 5 acres of Gallagher Creek Park uplands.

    The furrows begin to form as the seed is planted.
    The furrows begin to form as the seed is planted.
  3. USDA Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) grant: Work continued on the 2008 WHIP grant, controlling woody invasives on a 5 acre area adjacent to the Gallagher Road parking lot along the Paint Creek Trail. A nice prairie remnant is located at this parking lot, so restoration on adjacent private lands should provide a nice buffer.
  4. Prescribed Burns: We completed spring burns at Bear Creek Nature Park, Charles Ilsley Park, Lost Lake Nature Park, Gallagher Creek Park, O’Connor Nature Park, Paint Creek Heritage Area—Fen and Watershed Ridge Park. A primary objective of burns was removal of Phragmites thatch from areas treated in 2014. After years of planning, we also began implementation of the volunteer prescribed burn crew. We met with folks at Ann Arbor Natural Areas Preservation to learn about their program. We also held our first volunteer training on December 12.IMG_0406
  5. Stewardship Blog: The stewardship blog took a big leap forward when Cam Mannino came on board in February. She regularly contributed her “This Week at Bear Creek” posts, with excellent writing and photographs – check out the slideshow of her pictures below. The blog also continued to serve as an up-to-date source of information about stewardship volunteer opportunities and events. We published 76 posts and had 3747 visitors, with 7673 page views. Natural Areas Notebook, oaklandnaturalareas.com

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  6. Volunteer Program: The volunteer program continued to mature. Weekly bird walks allowed the Stewardship Manager to regularly meet interested residents and recruit volunteers. We began to implement the Park Stewards program to work with highly motivated volunteers who will help look after natural areas in parks. Volunteer workdays focused on garlic mustard (May), invasive shrub control (July to November), and seed collecting (October).IMG_1335
  7. Education Events: Stewardship hosted education events in early 2015. Topics included a presentation on the role of fire in natural communities, and a second presentation about prairies, oak barrens, and other grasslands in Oakland Township.
  8. Phragmites Outreach Program: We launched the Phragmites Outreach Program to help township residents get Phragmites treated on their property. We received about 20 requests for no-obligation cost estimates, and treated about 12 properties with a contractor.

You can find this report and the 2014 report on the “About” page.

Natural Areas Stewardship Top 5 from 2015

The Oakland Township Parks stewardship program had an extraordinary year in 2015. It was a year of growth, both here on the Natural Areas Notebook and for our capacity to do habitat restoration. Whether you’ve been following the Natural Areas Notebook from the first blog post or just found us, you might have missed some of these milestones from 2015.  If you had a favorite memory from this blog in 2015, please share it in the comments below!

1. Bird Walks

Remember the deep snow and frigid temperatures last winter? We launched our weekly bird walks in the depths of winter, breaking cabin fever (and getting some pictures of spectacular winter scenes too). We had a great fun observing the mosaic of bird life change with the seasons. Join us when we start again in January!

Swamp sparrow

2. Learning Together

Why are we planting prairie in Michigan? What is prescribed fire? What are invasive species? How do we control Phragmites? What does it look like to landscape with native plants? Through Stewardship Talks, Phragmites Control Workshops, and Volunteer Workdays we learned together how to appreciate, protect, and restore our natural heritage. Look for more events to learn about coyotes, oak openings, and prescribed fire in 2016! (events will be posted soon).

Mike Hahn of Natural Areas Preservation in Ann Arbor fills us in on the finer points of regular maintenance and field repair for chainsaws.
Mike Hahn of Natural Areas Preservation in Ann Arbor fills us in on the finer points of regular maintenance and field repair for chainsaws.

3. This Week at Bear Creek

Cam Mannino joined us as a volunteer Park Steward early in 2015 and soon after began her weekly posts, “This Week at Bear Creek.” Each week Cam took us on a virtual tour of Bear Creek Nature Park, spirited along by her agile pen (well, keyboard) and insightful camera lens. I learned a lot about the insects, birds, and other critters that call Bear Creek home, and I hope you did too! Check out some favorite posts below.

Cam in red winter coat BC

4. Planting Prairies

Punctuating nearly two years of preparation, we planted 38 acres of native wildflowers and grasses in prairie/oak barrens restoration areas at Charles Ilsley Park and Draper Twin Lake Park. Financial and technical assistance from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, through their Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, allowed us to complete this phase of our ambitious grassland restoration project. Be sure to visit these parks over the next few years to watch the grasslands mature. Look for more big habitat restoration projects at Charles Ilsley Park, Gallagher Creek Park, and Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park in 2016!

The furrows begin to form as the seed is planted.
The furrows begin to form as the seed is planted.

5. Observing, Reflecting, Summarizing

It is amazing how easy it is to forget the little details (and even the important ones!). By taking time to carefully observe, thoughtfully reflect, and accurately summarize our stewardship work, we can refine and improve our work going forward.

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Happy New Year from the Stewardship Team!

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