Tag Archives: Prairie Restoration

OUT AND ABOUT IN OAKLAND: Nature and Park Stewardship Working in Harmony All Over the Township

Blog and photos by Cam Mannino
Blog and photos by
Cam Mannino

From early autumn until the first really cold weather,  nature is busy preparing for winter – and so is the Parks Commission. While plants disperse seed and mushrooms release spores for next spring’s growth,  our stewardship manager, Ben VanderWeide, is sowing native seed as well. As the trees drop leaves to prepare for spring growth, Ben and his contractors clear away invasive shrubs to provide spring sunlight  for native  grasses, bushes and wildflowers. So this week, please join me for some short visits to several parks to see how nature and the Parks Commission work together to prepare for winter snow and the spring to come.


Bear Creek Nature Park: Seeding, Feeding and Choosing a Mate

Bear Creek made a glorious exit from autumn. In late October, it burned with autumn gold and red.

Fall at Bear Creek
Late October at Bear Creek Nature Park

As usual, the Black Walnuts (Juglans nigra) “fell asleep” before the other trees; they “wake up” late in the spring, too. I like to think they need more rest than other trees!

Walnuts sunset BC
Bare trees on the Walnut Lane at sunset in Bear Creek

The Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) were busy with two kinds of preparation: finding a mate for the spring  and eating to store up fat for the winter. Happily, both could be accomplished at once. Males, now in courting colors, cruised the Center Pond with females, going “up tails all” while feeding below the surface.

Mallards Up Tails All BC
A small flock of upside down ducks foraging underwater at Bear Creek’s Center Pond.

Mallards choose partners in the fall and then mate in the spring. So eventually they begin to pair off like these two did as the setting sun gilded the pond.

Mallard Silhouette Sunset BC
A mated pair of Mallards float through the golden light of sunset on the Center Pond

Plants, of course, are dropping seeds and fruits. The white fruits of Gray Dogwood (Cornus foemina) have either been eaten by birds or dropped to the ground to produce a dense thicket of more dogwood next year. On the right are the bare red pedicels in November. (Click to enlarge; hover cursor for captions.)

At the edge of the wood, I spotted a Gilled Mushroom (order Agaricales) within a dead stump. It will drop its spores from the gills beneath the cap to produce more mushrooms next year.

Mushrooms piled in stump BC
Gilled mushrooms will drop spores from the gills beneath their caps

Lost Lake Nature Park:  Shedding Leaves and Seeds

Forest on LL 1
The forest behind the sledding hill in late autumn

Fall is a time when trees shed their summer leaves. The apparent path of the sun lowers toward the horizon from September to Winter Solstice (December 21). So,  the days grow shorter. Less daylight means that leaves lose the chlorophyll that makes them green and allows them to photosynthesize. This process of photosynthesis stores energy from sunlight in the chemical bonds of sugars. Trees use these sugars to grow during spring and summer, and many times sugars are stored for the future as starch. In the fall leaves change color as the chlorophyll recedes, their job completed for the season. Eventually lower light signals the trees to create “abscission cells” which grow between the stem and the branch, separating them.  Down come the leaves. (“Abscission,” by the way, has the same root as the word “scissors!”)

Leaf carpets are useful as well as beautiful.  As they decompose, leaves release nutrients back into the soil and provide the spongy humus that helps the soil hold water. And of course, they can act as protective mulch for the roots of forest plants and trees.   Here’s a colorful carpet of White Oak and Red Maple leaves near Lost Lake.

Bur Oak Leaf collage
A carpet of White Oak and Red Maple leaves near Lost Lake

Out in Lost Lake, the big flat leaves of Fragrant Water Lilies are fading for all the same reasons as other leaves. Their graceful simplicity against the dark water was eye-catching.

In the forest, near the top of the sledding hill, some native plants were still preparing to drop their seeds. Showy Goldenrod’s (Solidago speciosa) seeding plumes still stood tall in the forest light under the trees. And a stem of Bottlebrush Grass (Elymus hystrix) had yet to let go of  its awn-tipped seeds. The grass fruit flies through the air and lands on the ground like tiny arrows, carrying their cargo of next year’s seed.

A flock of restless American Tree Sparrows (Spizelloides arborea) swooped and dove near the western edge of the lake and foraged over the grassy area near the former stable. Tree Sparrows, summer residents of the Arctic, are experienced foragers. They spend the winter here finding edible seeds, fruits, insect larvae –  whatever they can find in a snowy Michigan winter.

Tree Sparrow LL
A Tree Sparrow makes a good winter meal from the seeds of sedges, grasses, insect larvae and whatever else it can find.

At the end of the walk, human prep for winter becomes apparent. Jeff Johnson, the Parks Commission’s Maintenance Tech, spent about a day and a half preparing the sledding hills for winter use. He marked off the big hill, the kiddie’s hill and the boundaries of the upward trek. Just in time for the big snowfall!

Sledding hill prep LL
The sledding hill was prepared for winter. And the snow arrived a few days later.

Cranberry Lake Park:  Pond Ice and Puffballs

In the center of Cranberry Lake Park is a large pond where I’d seen herons and mallards feeding together one early fall afternoon. When I went back to explore in late fall, the pond was beautifully still and silent.  A light skim of ice had formed on one end.

Pond CL south end w ice skim
A skim of ice formed on the pond at the center of Cranberry Lake Park

Near the pond, a large colony of tiny Puffball Mushrooms (genus Bovista) had finished releasing their spores. These tiny puffballs tend to grow in groups like this.

Puffballs on long b. Bov.ista
Tiny puffball mushrooms cover a log near the pond in the center of Cranberry Lake Park

A few years ago, I saw these little mushrooms covering a stump at Bear Creek.  They were plump in early autumn, filled with spores. When the spores are mature and are tapped by falling raindrops, small creatures or the occasional curious human – poof! – the spores pop out of the open center to be carried on the air so more mushrooms appear the following year.

Puffballs when the spores are developing are plump and sensuous.
Puffballs when the spores are developing are plump and sensuous.

The little mushrooms at Cranberry Lake  were spent; their center holes had opened, releasing the spores.  Quite a come-down in appearance, I’m afraid.

Once the center opens and releases the spores they look quite different!
Once the center opens and releases the spores,  these tiny Puffballs look quite different!

Stewardship: Lending a Helping Hand to Nature’s Winter Prep

The Wet Prarie on the Paint Creek Trail: Birds Gather Seeds and So Do We

The Tree Sparrow at Lost Lake is not the only creature foraging for wild seed this autumn. Ben and a crew of volunteers spent a peaceful morning at the Wet Prairie off the Paint Creek Trail gathering native grass and wildflower seeds for planting in other areas of the township.

Gallagher Creek and Charles Ilsley Parks: Seeds Sown by Plants and People

While the native plants are dropping seeds to prepare for spring abundance, so our Township Stewardship Manager, Ben VanderWeide is busy sowing native seed around the township. During the first week of December, parts of two parks, Gallagher Creek  and Charles Ilsley Parks,  were planted with native seed that Ben had gotten through a US Fish and Wildlife grant. The land had earlier been prepared in Gallagher Creek’s west section by clearing invasive shrubs and plants through selective treatment, mowing, and prescribed burns. Now a no-till native seed drill, designed to handle the varying sizes of native seeds,  went to work. Discs cut a thin furrow in the ground to a pre-determined depth and simultaneously, seeds were dropped into the thin furrows.

Seeding Gallagher Creek
Planting native seed at Gallagher Creek Park

At Charles Ilsey Park, the machine sowed more native seed after last year’s more extensive prairie planting.  Here’s a YouTube video of the native seed drill at work.

Watershed Ridge Park, the Wet Prairie and Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park:  Trees and Humans Prepare for New Growth

Just as trees prepare for spring by discarding their old leaves in the autumn, Ben and his contractors are working on ridding our parks of shrubs and underbrush to encourage new native growth. After cutting invasive woody shrub sprouts on the Wet Prairie, Ben carefully treated stumps to prevent them from re-sprouting next year. Invasives are persistent,  so Ben has to be too!

At Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park, Ben brought in a contractor with a forestry mower to clear invasive shrubs from  the current entrance. What a difference! Though not taken at exactly the same place, the photo just below will give you an idea of the density of the invasive shrubs at Stony Creek Ravine before removal – and below that is the wonderfully open look it has now.  A lovely view from the beautiful stone bench in the distance.

My husband in the dense invasive shrubbery at Stony Creek Ravine
My husband in the dense invasive shrubbery at Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park
The park entrance as it look after removing invasive shrubs
The park entrance as it looks after removing invasive shrubs. The Kezlarian stone bench is in the distance.

But the biggest, most impressive “clearing the decks” project this fall was the beginning of habitat restoration process at Watershed Ridge Park. Just a month ago, the rolling slopes of this park were tangled with invasive shrubs that in many places were impenetrable. However, Ben noticed sun-loving native grasses and wildflowers struggling to survive under the heavy cover of overhanging limbs and vines – plants like the delicate orchid Ladies’ Tresses (Spiranthes species), Large-leaved Aster (Eurybia macrophylla) and three kinds of native Goldenrod.

So the first week in December, restoration began. A contractor’s forestry mower cleared 10.5 acres of invasive shrubs from among the trees. Now the contours of the land can be seen, dotted with oak, ash, elm and cherry trees.

The land slopes down from east to west to a marsh and a pond, both fed by a stream running from the large marsh that’s to the north of the park.

Stream at Watershed Ben's photo
This un-named stream runs from a larger marsh on the north through the woods to a marsh and pond on park property.
Cleared Hillside Watershed Ridge
Looking south toward Buell Road across a newly cleared hill that slopes down to the pond.

Now the stream, the marsh and the pond, which extends as far as Lake George Road, can be approached easily without fighting through dense, invasive shrubbery and vines. Once trails are created, this will be a lovely spot to watch for water wildlife!

Pond at Watershed Ridge
The west end of the park’s pond that extends off  Lake George Road.

In the forest at the edges of the cleared area are Red, Black and White Oaks. Here’s an old White Oak (Quercus alba) within the cleared area. Probably because of the crowding from shrubs and small trees, it never had the chance to spread its limbs wide in the sunlight, like the White Oak we all enjoy near Bear Creek’s Center Pond.  But it’s still pretty impressive!

White Oak at Watershed Ridge
A large White Oak within the newly cleared area.

I couldn’t  resist taking a photo of the orange Turkey-tail Mushrooms (Trametes versicolor) Ben spotted sprouting from a fallen long nearby. Turkey-tails come in a wide variety of colors!

Turkey-tail mushrooms on a fallen log

In case you’re interested, this is the contractor’s forestry mower that cleared the shrubs at Stony Creek Ravine and also at  Watershed Ridge.

Shrug-chewing machine WR
Forestry mower used at Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park and Watershed Ridge Park. Thanks to the Ruffed Grouse Society for your great work!

What an exciting beginning to restoring this piece of land and creating a park that the community can enjoy! It will take time to develop trails and any other amenities that are appropriate to this beautiful land with its woods, slopes and wetlands. We’ll try to keep you posted on developments.

Nature and Parks Stewardship: Partners in Fostering Our Natural Heritage

Stony Creek Ravine late autumn SCR
Stony Creek Ravine Park in late autumn

I’ve come to see that stewardship supports nature by mimicking it in so many ways. Seeds that create new growth each year drop to the ground or sail away on the wind to take root and grow into more life. And we gather native seed and carefully sow it in narrow furrows to do the same. Trees drop their leaves to make way for new ones next spring. We too clear away invasive plants and shrubs to make way for new life. Native seed, lying dormant in the underground seed bank for years, will now sense exposure to sunlight and moisture on the earth above, crack open and begin to sprout. And with those plants, eventually will come butterflies, other insects, and birds that eat or nest in those native plants, restoring the diverse habitat that is part of our area’s natural history.  So much life from simply giving nature a helping hand!


Footnote:  My sources for information,besides Oakland Township's Stewardship Manager Ben VanderWeide, are as follows: Ritland, D. B., & Brower, L. P. (1991); Stokes Nature Guides: A Guide to Bird Behavior Volumes 1-3, Allaboutbirds.org, the website of the Cornell Ornithology Lab at Cornell University; Wikipedia; http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org; 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; University of Wisconsin's Bug Lady at www4.uwm.edu/fieldstation/naturalhistory/bugoftheweek/ for insect info; http://www.migrationresearch.org/mbo/id/rbgr.html for migration info; invaluable wildflower identification from local expert, Maryann Whitman and the website www.illinoiswildflowers.info; experienced birder Ruth Glass, bird walk leader at Stoney Creek Metro Park for bird identification; Birds of North America Online; Audubon.org; Nature in Winter by Donald Stokes, Trees in My Forest by Bernd Heinrich, Winter World by Bernd Heinrich, Savannah River Ecology Lab (Univ of Georgia); Tortoise Trust website www.tortoisetrust.org;  An Orchard Invisible: A Natural History of Seeds by Jonathan Silvertown; The Ecology of Plants by Gurevitch, Scheiner and Fox; other sites as cited in the text.

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.

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.


Friday Photos: Playing Multiflora Rose Jenga

At the Charles Ilsley Park prairie restoration workday on Tuesday I tried out some time-lapse photography to show the progression of shrub removal. Cutting a large multiflora rose patch by hand is like playing Jenga: you have to choose the next shrub or branch to remove carefully or it’s game over.

Join me next week Tuesday from 10 am to 1 pm as we keep working on the multiflora rose, autumn olive, and other invasive shrubs and trees in these fields at Charles Ilsley Park. I can’t promise the beautiful blue sky I enjoyed this week, but we’re sure to have a great time anyway!

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Learn more about prescribed fire on January 22 at the Paint Creek Cider Mill

Sign up today to learn more about the use of prescribed fire in our township parks! The Stewardship Seminar will be at 7 pm on  Thursday, January 22 at the Paint Creek Cider Mill. The Educational Opportunities link on the Stewardship Events page says,

Learn more about reasons for using prescribed fire, preparations for conducting a fire, necessary tools, roles of each burn crew member, and ignition patterns. Join us at 7 pm on Thursday, January 22, 2015 at the Paint Creek Cider Mill. Please RSVP to bvanderweide@oaklandtownship.org by Tuesday, January 20.

I’ll be bringing gear that we use to conduct prescribed burns, including backpack pumps, protective clothing, and hand tools. Don’t miss this opportunity! We are committed to the safe use of prescribed fire in our township parks and we want you to know about the process involved in conducting a prescribed burn.

The ignition crew communicate closely with the holding crew to make sure the fire does not burn in areas outside the burn unit.
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 the Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie on November 5, 2014.

If you can’t make it next Thursday, head over to the Prescribed Fire page to learn more about how we use prescribed fire to maintain our natural areas. The Michigan Prescribed Fire Council also has lots of information on their website (firecouncil.org)