Natural Explorations
Educational Programs and Happenings!
Young Naturalist Program to Start Again Soon!  

Featuring exciting monthly outdoor explorations from October through June, this popular program for 9-12 year-olds is now in its 25th year!
Public Education Programs
Insect Sounds of the Night
Friday, September 20
8:00 PM - 9:30 PM
Late summer nights in forest and meadow have a special kind of music. On a nighttime walk, we’ll listen in on the mating calls of crickets, katydids, and other insect songsters, identifying some of the species we hear. All ages welcome.
Migration Season Bird Walk
Saturday, September 21
8:00 AM-10:00 AM

We’ll look to encounter some southbound songbird migrants as they stopover to rest and feed in the natural oasis of the Environmental Study Area. Please bring binoculars. Ages 12 and older. 
“In Living Color!”
Saturday, October 26
10:00 AM to Noon
We Michiganders are fortunate to live in a region where we can actually see the seasonal changes, particularly the arrival of fall. What is it the causes these glorious colors in autumn leaf tissues and what can these colors tell us about the other three seasons of the year? Come enjoy a leisurely fall color walk and learn what’s behind the greens, reds, golds, and purples that decorate the branches. Participants are invited to create artwork made with leaves collected on the walk to decorate their walls or refrigerators! 
Mushroom Identification Walk
Saturday, November 2
9:30 AM - 11:30 AM

UM-D alumna Laura Walker will be our guide as we search for and learn about the different kinds of mushrooms found along the trails in the Environmental Study Area during the fall. Laura brings an uncommon knowledge to share in this quite specialized aspect of natural history investigation. Ages 12 to adult.
“Knock, Knock—Whooooooo’s There?”
Friday, November 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
If we “knock,” will you answer? Broadcasting sounds that local owls make on an evening November walk in the woods is a way to ask if anybody’s home. Join us as we “ask” the screech owls, great horned owls, and maybe a saw-whet owl or two if they’re in their territories, setting up a home. We will try to rely on our own night vision to guide us on the walk, with limited use of flashlights or other light sources. Ages 8 and up.
“Walk Into the Winter Solstice” 
Saturday, December 21 
10:00 AM - 11:30 AM

We often lead a Summer Solstice walk on June 21, but why not recognize the Winter Solstice as well? Activities associated with this ancient holiday include spending time with loved ones, feasting, singing, and sitting by the fire, not unlike present day December festivities. Astronomically, December 21 marks the beginning of longer hours of daylight and the possibility of spring—what’s not to celebrate? Come for a winter walk and celebrate what’s to come! 
Boy Scout Eagle Projects Continue to Have a Major Impact! 
Boy Scout Eagle Service Projects continue to provide excellent support in the stewardship of the campus Environmental Study Area. We are grateful to the following local Scouts in their efforts:

Daniel Angel: Habitat Rehabilitation Planting

In early June, Daniel and his crew restored a degraded habitat area within the UM-Dearborn Environmental Study Area by planting native trees and wildflowers. This was done in a cleared habitat area where dense masses of invasive shrubs had been removed last fall. Daniel’s plantings of Bur Oak, Joe Pye Weed, and other native species—all of local genotype—will do a great deal to guide the planted area onto a healthier habitat trajectory. Native bees and butterflies have already responded favorably to Daniel’s plantings! 
Daniel shows his Scout Troop assistants how to properly transplant a Bur Oak.
Michael Divis: Trail Restoration 

In late June, Michael and his crew gave better definition to a long stretch of the most heavily used footpath in the Environmental Study Area. This they accomplished by transporting and securing long (and hefty!) sections of cut logs which border each side of the trail (see photo). It’s now ensured that the thousands of school children in our educational programs who walk this path, and many other visitors, have a safer, more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing entry into the Area. By better defining the footpath, Michael’s project will also protect the adjacent habitat by preventing trampling of the off-trail vegetation.  

Michael prepares logs sections for lining the Orchard Trail.   
Jackson Wilkie: Habitat Rehabilitation Planting

In mid-July, Jackson and his fellow troop members planted a host of native plant species—all local genotype—in a degraded habitat area which had been cleared of invasive Amur honeysuckle bushes. Jackson’s plantings included Pin Oaks, Blackhaw Viburnum, Arrowwood Viburnum, and Ninebark. The native shrubs were planted in a configuration that will eventually form dense masses which will attract and support various native bird species—such as the Indigo Bunting—which nest on or near the ground in thick cover. 

Did She – or Didn’t She…?

Katy! Katy—Katy Did—Katy Did It! Poor little Katy can’t get away with anything during those hot, humid summer evenings when these tattle-telling, long-legged, tree-dwelling arthropods are around, can she? Of course, I’m talking about the insects of the taxonomic order Orthoptera , the Katydids. In Greek, o rtho mean s straight and ptera means wing. Other Orthoptera members include crickets and grasshoppers, both sharing observable similarities to katydids. 

Katydids are also referred to as “long-horned grasshoppers” because their antennae are longer than their laterally compressed bodies. Two additional Orthoptera features are their extremely long hind legs, specially modified to leap tall buildings in a single bound (relatively speaking) and the males’ musical ability to stridulate for attracting females. Stridulate, you ask? Stridulating means to rub one body part against another; crickets and katydids rub their front wings together, while grasshoppers rub a hind leg against a front leg. Apparently it rubs the ladies the right way because this act of courtship has been going on since the Orthoptera have existed. It is this right of courtship that tells us that the lazy days of summer are in the back stretch and, as poet Robert Herrick urged us, we should “gather ye’ rosebuds while ye’ may.” Katydids tattle the tale of summer’s end. 

In North America there are currently several hundred species of katydids and their kin, in the taxonomic family Tettigoniidae. Over 150 species of Orthoptera live in Michigan, and it is notable that the state is especially rich in tettigoniids due to the diverse suitable habitats within our borders. Katydids can be broadly divided into “true” katydids and other katydid species. Different species are definitively identifiable only by examining the male cerci (short paired appendages at the insects’ posterior end) or the female ovipositor, the egg-laying organ, or by their songs. Males in this insect family present females with a “gift” of protein contained in a bubble-like sperm packet for her to eat to help nourish her eggs during development. Males may invest up to 40% of their body mass in these packets. 
The True Katydid ( Pterophylla camellifolia ) is famous for the “Katy did—Katy didn’t” song we hear on those lazy summer evenings. They are “true” katydids because their song was the first to have been transcribed. Males send out that raspy call from the tops of trees to females of this species, who are able to vocally respond, unlike other katydid species. Once mating occurs, females will lay one generation of eggs either under tree bark crevices or on soft plant tissue. Based on their distinct calls, we know this species is alive and well in our Natural Area.

Other katydids that call Michigan “home” include cone-headed katydids, shield-bearing katydids, four species of meadow katydids, and a variety of bush katydids. Bush katydids, also referred to as “false” katydids, are responsible for the repetitious “tick-tick-tick” calls coming from the trees at the same time we hear the calls of true katydids. It’s almost as if the “true” katydid is tattling on Katy as the “false” katydid is voicing disapproval at Katy’s naughty behavior. We have seen bush katydids in the trees at night, as well as climbing along the beige tone cinder blocks of our Center. As all Great Lakes katydid species are foliage-colored and leaf-shaped, right down to the color and venation of their wings, they are well camouflaged in the trees, but not so on the building! They become attractive curiosities for inquisitive visitors when spotted out of their element. 

You may have this vocal drama going on nightly from the treetops in your own neighborhood. Keep your eyes and ears open around home for “leaves” that have something to say during those closing evenings of summer. As the katydids rub their wings together, they’re reminding us that waiting in the wings is a change of season and that soon we’ll be raking the autumn leaves of fall. Enjoy—and “Gather ye’ rosebuds while ye’ may…”. -Dorothy McLeer

Note: The Center will be hosting a public walk on September 20 to listen in on the night songs of Katydids and insect music-makers.
Dearborn SHINES - Helping to Bring Outdoor Learning and Healthy Lifestyles to Dearborn Public Schools

In Dearborn, like many urban areas, sedentary lifestyles and poor nutrition choices have contributed to rising rates of childhood obesity and other health problems. In an effort to promote healthy eating and active lifestyles for children at home and in school, the Environmental Interpretive Center partnered with Beaumont Health, Wayne State University, ACCESS, Dearborn Public Schools, the City of Dearborn, and other community partners over the past 18 months on the Dearborn SHINES Project, an initiative funded by a grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund. The acronym SHINES stands for S chool H ealth through I ntegrated N utrition and E xercise S trategies for Healthy Kids!
The Center’s role in the project was to develop school gardens/orchards as outdoor environments for hands-on nutrition-related learning opportunities. Beginning last spring, EIC Director, David Susko, along with Sustainability Interns, Lucas McLellan and Dale Browne, visited each of eight different Dearborn Public Schools where they met with principals, teachers, parents, and staff to discuss design plans and identify a location for the outdoor garden. After surveying a potential space, unique garden designs were developed for each school. Subsequently, arrangements were made for prepping each location (such as removal of debris, placing weed control fabric, installing fencing, etc.), and securing construction materials, landscape supplies, and basic garden tools. A Garden Action Day was scheduled for each school, during which students, teachers, administrators, and other volunteers were tasked with assembling and installing the main components of the schoolyard garden. Items built included raised vegetable and pollinator beds, compost bins, work tables and seating benches. Dwarf apple and pear trees were also planted. 
The transformation of these spaces has been truly remarkable! Somewhat sterile lawns have been converted into active learning spaces where children are being physically active as they research, grow, and manage their own food. In doing so, students learn about such things as plant life cycles, how water and soil type effect plant performance, the role of insects and invertebrates as pollinators and pest controllers, and the health benefits of eating whole, unprocessed foods. As this project continues, the hope is that it will continue to bear fruit (literally, too!) for encouraging physically active and health-literate children. 
Mad About Mushrooming!
When you’re out on the trails of the UM-Dearborn Environmental Study Area (ESA) in the morning and early afternoon you might run into me carrying a small wicker basket and a field bag. When asked by passersby I often forget to mention what I’m working on out there, opting instead to discuss the volunteer work I do at the Environmental Interpretive Center. The truth is I’m always searching for fungi to document and attempt to identify. I’ve been getting into serious amateur mycology (the scientific study of fungi) for nearly a year and a half now, but I’ve been a bit obsessed with fungi for far longer.
My interest in fungi began when I was a child, with mushrooms specifically. Their structures and often small stature captivated me, and I looked at them as if they were in their own quiet, secretive world. Many years later I would find out that in a sense they are in their own world; they are structurally and genetically different enough from other categories of living that eventually they were placed in their own kingdom. It took the invention and improvement of microscopes before their original plant classification was questioned. Modern DNA analysis revealed not only are fungi genetically different from plants, they are more closely related to animals (both diverged from a common ancestor just over 1.5 billion years ago).
One of the things I’ve learned as an amateur mycologist is that positively identifying a given fungus down to its species is an endeavor that often won’t yield an answer, especially without the right equipment. Between certain very closely related species it takes DNA analysis to tell them apart. However, as someone without such sophisticated techniques available to me I have made progress in identifying species growing in the ESA. The first steps in separating a given species from another are to take a general approach and look at the structure of a mushroom, as well as where it’s growing. Does it have a cap, and if so, what is the shape? What does its spore-bearing surface look like? Is it growing like a shelf out of a wall? What is it growing out of, and what is the environment like around it? Documenting all observations is crucial! The next important step is to make a spore print and examine the color. From that point on specific chemicals and a microscope become your best friends as you narrow your search.
I’ve been successful at identifying a small number of the species I’ve encountered, but as I hone my skills, I will have many more to add to the Center’s C atalog of Species . The project was started in 1974 as a means of recording and tracking the biodiversity of the ESA. Until my arrival only five or so species of fungi had catalog entries. Fungal biodiversity is essential for the health of forests, as it’s estimated up to 95% plant species rely on underground portions of fungi, a network of thread like structures known as mycelium, to survive! Mycelia provide water and nutrients to plants in exchange for sugars, a symbiotic relationship called mycorrhizae. Fungi that are parasitic help plant life as well by creating gaps in the tree canopy, encouraging biodiversity among plant species. Not to mention many fungi species are important decomposers, so they ensure forests aren’t canopy deep in dead organisms. Fungi are also critical nutrient recyclers within ecosystems.
The lack of fungi species previously identified for the Catalog does not reflect a lack of their biodiversity in the ESA but an unfortunate truth in the sciences – mycology is a field of study that is underrepresented, and the kingdom of fungi is relatively unexplored. It’s estimated that between 1.5 and 5 million species of fungi exist, yet only approximately 144,000 have been identified. With my field work I will add to the understanding of the Environmental Study Area in a way never quite done before. After all these years my childhood fascination hasn’t simply remained but has evolved into a scientific and artistic endeavor (from field sketches to printmaking, I love drawing mushrooms). I am honored to be able to give back to people and to a place I believe in by sharing a passion close to my heart.
Laura Walker
Certified Interpretive Guide

Note: Laura will be leading a mushroom identification walk for the public on November 2. Come out and tap into Laura’s special knowledge of these fascinating life forms.
A Volunteer Reflects on doing a two-year Natural Features Inventory of the Rouge River Floodplain Forest. 

Editor’s note: Sometimes a Center volunteer does something so unique that, had that individual not stepped forward to volunteer for that particular project, it may have never been done by anyone else. That’s the case with volunteer Joe Wilzcak, who spent three mornings a week, over 2017-2018, conducting an inventory of flora and fauna in a floodplain forest habitat within the campus Environmental Study Area. 
Joe has kindly agreed to share some reflections from the project with Center naturalist Rick Simek, who oversaw the project.

Rick: What are the highlights of your experience?

Joe: The memory that sticks out the most to me was the day, I believe in the summer of 2017, when I saw a coyote chasing a fawn. I was in one of the sunnier parts of the floodplain, in an area with a lot of tall grass. I'm not sure when I first noticed them, but they moved quickly, and must have passed only about a yard in front of me! It was incredible. I don't know how that encounter ended, as they quickly ran off out of sight and I wasn't inclined to give chase through the underbrush, but it was an incredible experience that's stuck with me to this day. Another highlight was when I managed to startle several, I think three, wild turkeys from the brush during the fall. I'd never seen them out in the floodplain before then, and only saw one once since, so it shocked me quite a bit.

Rick: Why did you choose to volunteer for that project?

Joe: It seemed like it would be interesting and enjoyable. I used to go out into the woods in my area all the time when I was younger, so getting the chance to go out and explore a habitat that was mostly new to me - while having a concrete purpose in doing so - really appealed to me.

Rick: What were your general methods?

Joe: I typically entered the floodplain forest at around 10am, and from there would follow one of two general routes (clockwise and counterclockwise) through the habitat. I usually chose the counterclockwise route just out of habit, but both routes took me through the same general areas. For the actual observations, it was just a matter of noting down any familiar plants and birds that I encountered during my walk as well as any relevant information about them, i.e. growth stage for flowers and behavior for birds. And when I came across something I didn't know, I did my best to identify it using my field guides. If I couldn't, or was simply uncertain, I wrote down as much information about what the unfamiliar species looked and/or sounded like so that I could do more in-depth research later.

Rick: What were the benefits of doing your surveys at all seasons of the year?

Joe: The main benefit of doing the surveys year-round was that I got a more complete picture of what species use the habitat, and when. Some species are only in the area briefly during spring, whether they're quick-blooming flowers or migratory birds on a stopover heading north. Other species, such as the Red-belied Woodpecker, are present during every season. The other benefit was seeing how the floodplain changed over time, with trees falling, floods, seasonal ponds, and of course snow.

Rick: What were the challenges and surprises?

Joe: The biggest challenge was probably the weather - heavy rain and the cold of winter often kept me indoors, and during the summer the humidity (and mosquitoes!) could be unbearable. There was also the standing water to contend with - for most of the year, the ponds restricted the routes I could take and thus the areas I had access to. As for surprises, I'd say that what surprised me most was the sheer variety of habitats within the floodplain there were. Dry pond beds with little vegetation, sunlit areas where irises bloomed, thick patches of goldenrod or wingstem, even the slope leading out of the floodplain. All of them with different features, and all of them with different things to see each day.

Rick: How would you like future generations to benefit from learning about your project experience and data gathered?

Joe: I would like them to benefit through understanding what I saw: a snapshot of the floodplain forest, and some of the species that inhabit it. It's not a full picture, but it should be enough to serve as a baseline for future generations to compare against. If there's a message for the future in my experience, it's "This is what I saw. Do you see the same things?" And their answer, whatever it is, will be the key to future management of the area.

Rick: Anything else you would like to share?

Joe: Doing the habitat survey was easily one of the best experiences I've ever had, and I regret not having the time to do it anymore.