Bird Watching Saturdays
May 4, 11, 18, 25
8:00 AM-10:00 AM

May is the peak month for spring bird migration in our region. We’ll look to enjoy the sights and sounds of different migrant species stopping over in the Environmental Study Area from early to late May. These moderately-paced walks will be led by Center naturalist, Rick Simek. Attend as many walks as you wish. Please bring binoculars. Ages 12 to adult. 
Spring Ephemeral Wildflowers: Catch'em While You Can!

Saturday, May 4

Southeast Michigan puts on a spectacular showing of long awaited wildflowers in our spring woodlands, but the performance is a "limited run." Join us as we welcome the wildflowers that welcome spring.  
Come for the birds, stay for the flowers!

Pond Study for Kids
Saturday, May 18
10:00 AM-Noon

Pond scooping and snooping will be the theme as the children use dip nets to capture insects and other small aquatic creatures. We’ll follow that up by discussing adaptations, life cycles, metamorphosis, and other keys to survival in a watery environment. Ages 7-10.

Identifying Local Trees
Saturday, June 1
1:00 PM-2:30 PM

Join UM-D student naturalist Griffin Bray in a moderately paced walk to get better acquainted with how to identify different species of local trees. Griffin has recently been assisting in doing a survey of the trees in the campus of the Environmental Study Area, and has some helpful identification tips to share. Ages 10 to adult.
A Nature Walk Through Time
Saturday, June 22
10:00 AM-11:30 AM

On our walk route, we’ll use IPads with aerial images of the Environmental Study Area landscape going back to 1937—when it was still part of Henry and Clara Ford’s estate—and compare that to real time GPS points from the exact same locations in the present. This is a fascinating way to determine how past human activities on the land have come to influence the present. Ages 12 to adult.
No registration is required for the programs above. All will meet at the Environmental Interpretive Center.
Children's Gardening Program

6:00-7:30 PM
8 sessions on the following Tuesdays:
June 4, 11, 18; July 2, 23;
August 6, 20, 27

Get the kids outside and gardening! This program involves children ages 6-8 in a whole growing season of active enjoyment. Over 8 program sessions, we’ll go from sowing and planting, to tending, to harvesting the vegetables that we grow. We’ll also explore the fascinating pollinators and other creatures that share the garden site and help it thrive. Gardening crafts and songs will also add to the fun. Our site for this exciting program will be the beautiful UM-Dearborn Community Organic Garden . The cost per child is $35 for the entire season. Registration is available here! Participants are expected to attend most if not all of the sessions. Each child must be accompanied by an adult guardian.
Summer Young Naturalist Programs

9:30 AM-12:00 PM

Ages 7-9 :
July 8, 9, 10, 11

Ages 10-11 :
July 15, 16, 17, 18

In this popular program, children explore nature with their peers over 4 consecutive days. The beautiful UM-D campus Environmental Study Area will be theirs to explore through hands-on learning. Each session will have a different theme, such as pond exploration, insects and spiders, creatures of the soil, and reptiles and amphibians. We’ll also investigate the fascinating plant life of the area including wildflowers and trees. The program will be led by trained UM-D student naturalists. The cost of the program is $30 per child. Registration is required for this program HERE!  
Cloaked in Secrecy No More!

When you receive this spring issue of Natural Explorations, a different type of “spring issue” will have revealed itself. About the time we start tapping the sugar maple trees in February, we start to look for one of the first winged signs of spring—no, not the American Robin (Turdus migratorious). It’s a butterfly called the Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa). 

           A wingspan of 2 7/8 to 3 3/8 inches makes this member of the “brush-footed” group of butterflies easy to see when in flight. Flashing its shroud of velvety deep maroon to brown dorsal side, the origin of its name, and bordered by violet-blue dots and yellow margins, this butterfly cuts quite a swath. However, once perched with wings folded this butterfly cloaks itself in secrecy, magically camouflaging itself against the deep gray tree bark in its forest habitat. If the wing edges of this harbinger of spring sometimes appear ragged and worn, it’s because adult Mourning Cloaks are one of the few butterflies that live through the winter, unlike most butterflies that die in fall or fly south toward warmer climes. Emerging as adults in mid-summer means that Mourning Cloaks have a lifespan of 10-11 months, the longest of any North American butterfly! But—how do they do it?
As temperatures drop in fall, Mourning Cloaks gradually produce their own internal antifreeze to prevent their delicate body tissues from freezing as they seek shelter in an unused woodpecker hole, under loose bark, or within a pile of leaves to sleep the cold months away. Their alarm clock is set for the increased daylight hours and the warmer temperatures of spring.   
Upon awakening, Mourning Cloaks seek a mate. Another unique characteristic of this butterfly is the territorial behavior in males. When disturbed, males will fly off only to return to the same perch moments later. Perches tend to be sunny, well elevated, and solitary to maximize his “stage presence” to the ladies. After mating, females will lay eggs on host plants such as willow, poplar, and hawthorn species, as well as American Elm, in clusters of between 30-50 eggs. Adults will die soon after completing their reproductive activities. When the spiny little larvae emerge after about ten days, the caterpillars hang out together and chow down on the leaves that were once their home.

As a result of their voracious appetites, these brother and sister caterpillars outgrow their skins four times in a few short weeks—sound familiar parents? These growth spurts are called instars and once they eat themselves out of house & home, the siblings move on to the next dining area. Full-grown caterpillars finally break their family ties by about mid-June and relocate separately to form their own chrysalis under leaves on branches or building overhangs. Another 10-15 days later, the once bumpy, spiny caterpillar emerges as the understated elegant woodland resident we look forward to seeing in spring. 
As we humans bask in the warmth of sunny spring days, so do Mourning Cloaks. Being cold-blooded, basking allows them to heat their flight muscles using external heat sources such as the Sun. Warm sunny days also triggers spring sap flow in trees. As the sap rises from the roots of trees, it occasionally seeps out of cracks or wounds in the bark, making a sort of water fountain of food for a variety of forest animals, including early spring butterflies. Indeed, the Latin nymphalis means “of, or pertaining to a fountain.” Nectaring on flowers is an occasional treat, but most of the Mourning Cloak’s nutrients are sipped from rotting fruits, mineral-rich animal scat (droppings), and sap. This is how they can find food in even the earliest of warm spring days in the absence of fresh spring flowers.

Now that some of the Mourning Cloak’s secrets have been revealed to you, see if the butterfly reveals itself to you in a sunny, moist part of the woods. But hurry! It’s no secret to you or the Mourning Cloak that spring in Michigan is short and sweet, and the spring days as well as the spring butterflies fly by all too quickly… -Dorothy McLeer
Habitat Management Update

If you walk the trails of the Environmental Study Area sometime soon, you will notice acres of cut shrubs and small trees lying on the ground. These are mostly Amur honeysuckle, European Buckthorn, and Glossy Buckthorn, invasive species which crowd out native plants. We plan to monitor how the habitat responds to this management effort, and will be guiding things along toward a healthier native habitat trajectory. To help with this, Center volunteers such as Rishabh Gupta, spread the seeds of native plants onto patches of ground where the invasives have been cleared.