Natural Explorations
Educational Programs and Happenings!
Migration Season Bird Walk
Saturday, September 22: 8:00 AM-10:00 AM

We’ll try to catch up with southbound bird migrants as they stopover to rest and refuel in the campus Environmental Study Area. With luck we’ll encounter warblers, thrushes, and other songbirds. Ages 9 and older. Please bring binoculars.
Exploring Insects and Spiders Outdoors
Saturday, October 6: 1:00 PM-2:30 PM

We’ll use insect nets and other field collecting/sampling tools to capture and observe live insects and spiders up close. All specimens will be released back into their outdoor habitats. Ages 6 and older. Dress for outdoor conditions.
“Whooo’s" Out There?
Friday, November 9
7:30-9:30 PM
Come listen to who gives a hoot as we call to the resident owls in our Environmental Study Area.  Imitating the calls of owls in their home territory is like knocking on the door to see if they’re home; it’s up to the owls to respond.  Even if they choose not to answer our calls, it’s a lovely way to explore the woods by moonlight….

Monthly Young Naturalist Program
to Start Soon!

For over 20 years, this popular program has provided children 9-12 years of age an opportunity to explore nature through the seasons. We’ll be continuing the tradition this fall through next spring! Once-a-month program sessions will include pond study, insects and spiders, birds and migration, trees and wildflowers, maple syruping, owls by night, animal tracking, and more. The program is tailored for children with a keen interest in outdoor science and nature study. UM-Dearborn student naturalists lead the program sessions. The program fee of $70 for the entire 9 month experience covers the cost of field guides, a journal, and a field pack which each child will receive and be able to keep.

All program sessions are on Saturdays from 9:30 am till noon on the following dates: (except for November as noted below)
October 6; November 2 (Friday evening session, 6-9 PM); December 1; January 5; February 16; March 9; April 20; May 4; June 1

To register a child for this program, follow the link below.
“Falling” for the Color!
Frosty mornings and decreasing daylight means autumn has arrived. In our region of the world, this also means a feast of fall colors for our eyes. Where do the colors come from? 
Actually, the colors have been there all along! Three pigments found in leaves provide the colorful display: chlorophyll, carotene, and anthocyanins. 

Leaves are food factories for plants that use chlorophyll to capture sunlight for food production. Chlorophyll absorbs red and blue light from the Sun’s rays and reflects green light, which gives the leaves their color.  Once the leaves stops producing food, the green pigment fades to reveal the “fall colors” we look forward to each year.

Carotene acts as an accessory sunlight absorber. When carotene and chlorophyll are present together, they absorb red, blue-green, and blue light, reflecting a green color. Without chlorophyll, light reflected from carotene alone appears yellow or golden, like these sugar maples... 
…or these American Beech tree leaves. American Beech trees hang on to their leaves through the fall, often into winter. Look for fluttering “feathers of gold” in the autumn forest.

Pigments called anthocyanins are produced in the fall in response to bright sunlight and excess plant sugars (food) in leaf cells. Anthocyanins absorb blue, blue-green, and green light, making leaves appear red or purple.
The color they produce depends on the pH (acidity) level of the leaf cell’s sap. Acidic sap with high sugar concentrations result in bright red leaves; less acidic sap and lower sugar levels appear purple. How “sweet” are these Red Maple leaves?

What about these Red Oak and Highbush Cranberry leaves? Sweeeet!
The acid and sugar content in this Virginia Creeper vine and the Staghorn Sumac are lookin’ pretty high, too…
But how much sugar remains in the dogwood and ash leaves? Not as much as in the other leaves we’ve seen, based on their purple color.
Whether in your own neighborhood or out roaming the autumn woodlands, try to identify the trees using their fall wardrobes.

Here are just some of their “fashion statements”:

·         Oaks—red, brown, or russet
·         Hickories—golden bronze
·         Dogwoods—purple
·         Red Maple—brilliant scarlet
·         Sugar Maple—orange-red
·         Black Maple—glowing yellow

As the chill of the season sets in, bask in the warm glow of autumn leaves.                  -Dorothy McLeer
Butterflies are having a great summer and early fall around the Center!

(Photo by Diana Cooper)

This year’s warm season is shaping up to be one of the best in memory for seeing a host of local butterflies. Good numbers of several large, active, and highly noticeable species are regularly frequenting the native gardens around the Environmental Interpretive Center, where many of their favorite nectar plants bloom. 

Until about mid-October, a five minute walk around the Center on a sunny morning or afternoon will likely find you encountering native species such as the Monarch, Black Swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail, Giant Swallowtail, and Spicebush Swallowtail.

Monarchs, in particular, seem to be having the best summer they've had around here in several years. Keep an eye out for them flying south overhead, and perhaps pausing nearby for a nectar imbibing pit stop. 

The native wildflowers that are attracting the most butterflies around the Center include the Missouri Ironweed , which has deep purple flower clusters. If there were a blue ribbon contest for favorite native nectar plants for butterflies, ironweed would be a competitor to beat.

The campus Environmental Study Area offers additional support to native butterflies by having many of the essential caterpillar food plants for various butterfly species to lay their eggs on.

If you decide to walk around the Center to check out the butterflies, keep an eye out for adult female Monarchs that are laying eggs. If you see one flying low to the ground in a slow, floppy manner, watch for her to alight on a milkweed plant and lay an egg on a leaf by tucking her abdomen under it. Here's a neat video of a Monarch laying eggs.   
Here are a few links to helpful information sources on just a few of the various butterfly species you may encounter around the Center.
Enjoy! -Rick Simek

Butterfly Ranch at the Environmental Interpretive Center
By Lucas McLellan

The Environmental Interpretive Center is home to many beautiful projects that have become home to many different birds and insects, such as the rain gardens in front of the center or the pollinator garden adjacent to the Rouge River Gateway Trail. One of the more colorful groups of insects that can be found on campus are butterflies. Between the Environmental Study Area and the main campus, almost 50 different species of butterfly have been found on campus. Unfortunately, many species of butterfly have had dramatic decreases in their population. For example, the Monarch Butterfly has had an 80% population decrease within the last 20 years.

However, there is still hope for these beautiful creatures; many people have become more aware of the importance of butterflies and other pollinators and have taken actions to help protect them. As one of the Sustainability Interns at the Environmental Interpretive Center this summer, I am trying to make a difference. Together with my fellow intern Dale Browne, I have been finding both caterpillars and eggs and have been raising them in the Center’s insect room. We currently have almost 30 specimens total from 4 different butterfly species, including Monarch, Eastern Black Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, and Giant Swallowtail. The caterpillars and eggs of certain species can be relatively easy to find because the butterflies will only lay on certain plants, called host plants. For example, Monarch Butterflies will only lay their eggs on plants in the milkweed family. Spicebush Swallowtails will mainly lay their eggs on the leaves of the Spicebush shrub, which is found in the pollinator garden and in the Environmental Study Area, and Giant Swallowtails will only lay their eggs on plants in the citrus family. In this area, Giant Swallowtails will lay their eggs on rue and prickly ash, both of which are members of the citrus family.

The caterpillars, eggs, and even some chrysalises are currently on display in the insect room of the Center, where visitors can watch them grow from tiny eggs into beautiful butterflies. Once the butterflies hatch from their chrysalises, they will later be released around the EIC, where they will live in the surrounding areas. We hope that caterpillars in the insect room will help educate visitors on the different species of butterflies found in the area, and how they change as they go through their life cycle. In addition, monarch caterpillars can be tagged noninvasively to track their movements as they migrate. This citizen science work is done in collaboration with, and provides valuable information about wild populations throughout North America. We also hope that the butterflies released will help increase the population around UM-Dearborn, as well as the Environmental Study Area, so that everyone on campus can enjoy these beautiful creatures as well.

Snakes on the menu for a
Red-tailed Hawk

The UM-D campus Community Organic Garden served as a hunting ground for a highly approachable Red-tailed Hawk this past spring. The hawk did not mind being watched at close range by dozens of gardeners and visitors at the site as it captured and consumed prey. Here it dines on a good-sized Eastern Garter Snake. (photo by Judy Monroe)