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2018 5th Grade Poster Contest

Whew what a week! Tuesday was the first day of spring (although it was a bit chilly outside), and yesterday was World Water Day! And while both those things are exciting, the best part of this week is that the statewide 5th grade Arbor Day poster contest has officially been posted online!

The Michigan Arbor Day Alliance use to hold an annual poster contest for fifth grade students. Winning entries went on to the national competition run by the Arbor Day Foundation. When the Arbor Day Foundation decided to discontinue their contest, ours went away with it. The poster contest was replaced with our Go Green Youth Challenge initiative (GGYC).

While the GGYC was successful and planted over 1,000 trees in Michigan, we have decided to change directions by bringing the poster contest back. This is our second year back to creating works of art, and wow what an amazing turnout! Last year, there were 7 posters submitted. This year we had…drum roll please… 91 entries!!! We had so many that our board actually did a mini vote and took out all the ones that did not follow the contest directions or did not relate to this years theme: Trees for Life. This left us with a whopping 53 poster contestants! These beautiful master pieces are being displayed at the MSU Federal Credit Union headquarters in East Lansing.

Why am I telling you about this? We need you to head to our facebook page and vote on your favorite posters. We will keep the contest open until April 2, 2018, so get your vote in today! Feel free to share the page with friends and family to encourage them to vote as well. We will announce the winner later in that week. And remember, only 35 days until Michigan’s Arbor Day!


It’s Almost Turkey Day!

Thanksgiving is almost here!

We don’t know about you, but we have no idea where the time flew off to this year. It went so fast!

Since it’s almost turkey day, we thought we would take a breath for a moment to share some interesting turkey facts with you. Who knows, maybe you’ll impress your family on Thursday with your poultry knowledge. 😉


11 surprising turkey facts

November 9, 2017, 12:49 p.m.
Two turkeys with their feathers on display

Turkeys are recognizable for their plumage, among many other traits. (Photo: david scott dodd/Shutterstock)

Every Thanksgiving, many Americans gather around the table for casseroles, cranberries and, of course, turkey. Given that it’s a fixture in such a widely celebrated holiday, you’d think we’d know a lot about this bird. What we do know is clear: A turkey gobbles, it’s definitely delicious, and kids can easily draw one by tracing their hand. But do we know if all turkeys gobble? What about how turkeys came to be called turkeys? And can these birds really fly? Read on for the answers to these questions and more.


1. The turkey is almost certainly named for Turkey. There are at least two potential theories for how the turkey got its name, and both involve the country Turkey and a nasty habit of the British people of that era. The first theory suggests that since the birds were originally sold by merchants by way of Constantinople (now Istanbul), the British referred to it as “Turkey coq” even though the bird is actually native to North America and Mexico. At the time, the British referred to just about anything that originated from the East as coming from Turkey, including Turkish rugs (Persian rugs), Turkey flour (Indian flour) and Turkey bags (carpet bags from Hungary).

The second theory is that Europeans already enjoyed eating guineafowl, a bird from Africa that looks sorta-kinda like a wild turkey. Guineafowl were also sold by Turkish merchants. So when Europeans began colonizing America and ran into this native wild turkey, they may have decided to use the name they thought best matched the bird’s appearance.

Either way, this American bird got its name due to associations with other spots on the globe, and that trend continued with its naming in other countries. In Russia and Poland, the turkey’s name translates to “bird of India,” while Arabian countries call it “Indian rooster.” So what do they call a turkey in Turkey then? “Hindi,” as a shorthand for India.


2. Benjamin Franklin didn’t actually suggest the turkey be crowned the national bird of the U.S. This bit of turkey-trivia is one that gets passed around a lot, but it’s mostly a misunderstanding of a letter Franklin wrote to his daughter in 1784. The issue wasn’t so much that Franklin thought the turkey should be the national bird, but just it would be a better choice than the bald eagle. The eagle, Franklin contended, was a “bird of bad moral character” due to its nature as a scavenger. The turkey, Franklin felt, was a more suitable symbol for the U.S. for two reasons. The first was that Franklin liked that it was a bird found only in the Americas, and Franklin considered the turkey “a bird of courage” that “would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.”

A white domestic turkey on a farm Domestic turkeys have been bred to have white feathers. (Photo: Bearok/Shutterstock)


3. Turkeys can be pretty aggressive, especially during mating season. Of course, the reason why a turkey wouldn’t think twice about attacking a red coat is because male turkeys work very hard to impress females. So attacking a much bigger animal — say, a human being — would probably woo the hen of their dreams. Turkeys have attacked cars, mail carriers and even their own reflections.


4. Wild and domestic turkeys are the same species. Despite having different names, domestic and wild turkeys are still the species, Meleagris gallopavo. This is because, genetically speaking, the birds are basically the same. The similarities pretty much end there, however. According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Native Americans, the Mayans and the Aztec had more or less domesticated the bird by the time Europeans showed up. One of the key differences between the two turkeys today is that domestic turkeys have been bred to have white feathers whereas wild turkeys need darker feathers for better camouflage in the wild.

A turkey steps out from some high grass in a field Turkeys make a variety of noises. (Photo: Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock)

5. Only males gobble. The turkey’s distinct noise is only produced by males and is basically a way for the male to announce itself to potential mates while also, hopefully, scaring off other males. Birds of both sexes make plenty of other noises, including clucks, purrs and yelps. You can listen to samples of these at the National Turkey Federation website.


6. If you still can’t tell the female turkeys from the male turkeys, check their poop. You don’t have to get up close and personal with turkeys to figure out their sex. Instead, just wait for the bird to do its business and then inspect the droppings. If the bird left behind straight, long J-shaped stool, it’s a male. If the stool is a bit more of a spiral, it’s a female.

A wild turkey walks through the forest Wild turkeys are agile runners and fliers. (Photo: Photo Spirit/Shutterstock)

7. Don’t let their size and funny shape fool you: Wild turkeys are fast. On land or in the air, wild turkeys can keep pace with you just fine. These turkeys can reach speeds up to 25 mph on land and 55 mph in the air. They can only fly for about 100 yards, however. And we’re only talking wild turkeys here; domesticated turkeys — the ones we raise to eat — are too heavy to fly, but they can still run … a little bit.


8. Flying comes in handy because wild turkeys roost in trees. You’re way more likely to see wild turkeys on the ground, but at night these birds head for the branches of trees to roost. The dig their talons deep into a branch, making it difficult for them to be shaken loose by the wind. It’s a good survival technique.


9. Never underestimate the snood. Both male and female turkeys have snoods, the red droopy thing on the top of their beaks. For the females, the snood is just a bit of extra flesh, but for males, it’s an important part of the hierarchy. A 1997 study found that longer snoods were more attractive to females and that males with shorter snoods were more likely to defer to males with longer snoods.

A turkey with its feathers on display at sunset It was a long road, but turkeys bounced back from the brink of extinction. (Photo: Jeffrey B. Banke/Shutterstock)

10. This ‘bird of courage’ faced extinction. Wild turkeys were so popular that by the 1930s, it’s estimated that only 30,000 individuals were living in the continental U.S. thanks to hunting and habitat destruction. The restoration of the wild turkey population took considerable time and resources funneled through the Turkey Federation to state wildlife agencies. Birds would be shipped potentially thousands of miles and released into forest habitats, a method called trap-and-transfer. It took a quarter of a century, but the wild turkey population was roughly 7 million as of 2013.


11. The history of presidential pardons for turkeys is a little muddled. Pardoning a turkey has become White House tradition, but the start of that tradition is surprisingly poorly documented. Abraham Lincoln may have been the first president to spare a turkey due to his son pleading that the bird intended for Christmas dinner had as much a right to live as any other creature. John F. Kennedy sent back the bird supplied by the National Turkey Federation in 1963, remarking, “We’ll just let this one grow.” Richard Nixon began sending the turkey to a petting farm at some point during his administration.

But it wasn’t until George H.W. Bush’s administration that the official pardoning ceremony started in 1989. Since then, presidents have pardoned one turkey from the dinner table each year, often with remarks about the spirit of Thanksgiving. (And, if you’re Barack Obama pardoning turkeys, a whole lot of dad jokes.)

An Ancient Tree Becomes an Unlikely Hero

Nothing tests a person’s perseverance like a natural disaster. Living in Michigan, where the worst we deal with is the occasional tornado, I can’t even imagine the devastation the people of Texas are dealing with in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

The country’s thoughts are with them as they try to survive and rebuild.

And sometimes symbols of hope can come from the unlikeliest of places. Like a tree.

Not just any tree mind you, the Big Tree, thought to be the second oldest live oak in America. For more than 1,000 years this oak has stood firm through fire, flood, drought, and yes, hurricane. While younger trees fell around it, the Big Tree held strong through Harvey, surviving the storm unharmed.

In doing so, it has become a symbol of the spirit of Texas. The nearby plaque says it all:

“I am a live oak tree and I am very old … I can remember hundreds of hurricanes, most I’d rather forget, but I withstood.”


An ancient tree that stared down Hurricane Harvey has become an unlikely hero

Christian Cotroneo  August 31, 2017, 12:59 p.m.

Big tree at Goose Island State Park

Known as the Big Tree, this living oak has survived everything nature and humans could throw at it. (Photo: Wikipedia)


While much of Texas reels from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, one very old resident remains unbowed.

In fact, while younger, lesser trees in Goose Island State Park were left shattered in the storm’s wake, a mighty oak, — affectionately dubbed “the Big Tree” by locals — remains unbroken.

Earlier this week, Texas Parks and Wildlife posted a telling photo to its Facebook page. The scene — mulched, broken branches scattered everywhere — suggests a postcard from some arboreal apocalypse.

And on the back of that postcard? Harvey was here.

But one tree stood tall in the face of Harvey’s wrath. One Big Tree.

Big tree at Goose Island State Park surrounded by broken trees

Hurricane Harvey left trees at Goose Island State Park broken — with one notable exception. (Photo: Texas Parks and Wildlife)


In fact, the oak — considered the second oldest of its kind in America — not only stared down a hurricane, but emerged seemingly unscathed.

“You don’t get old by being weak,” the post noted.

Indeed, and it was just the kind of strength Texans needed to see.

‘We bend, but we don’t break’

“That big oak is a symbol of Texans everywhere,” wrote one Facebook commenter. “We bend, but we don’t break. God bless us all and God bless Texas. We will rebuild!”

Another commenter added, “This tree is Texas strong.”

Maybe that’s because the Big Tree has been there before. For more than 1,000 years, this mighty oak has held steadfast to its patch of earth.

It’s seen fire. It’s seen rain. It’s likely seen more than a few aspiring lumberjacks. And, according to local lore, it even stood tall in the middle of a Civil War battle.

There was a moment — barely a flicker in this oak’s long life — when people thought the Big Tree might need a hand.

Back in the summer of 2011, the area was hit by a harsh drought. There were concerns that this living landmark might finally be fading. But the fire department came to the rescue, dousing the tree in 11,000 gallons of water — essentially simulating about a half an inch of rainfall. The parched tree lapped it up and since then, it has been a living symbol of unshakable resolve.

Then Harvey came knocking. And the Big Tree was undaunted — reminding us that not all heroes leap over tall buildings. Some simply stand their ground to inspire.

If the Big Tree’s very sight — its massive, sheltering branches and impenetrable trunk — doesn’t already inspire us with a sense of perseverance, then there’s always the nearby plaque.

It reads: “I am a live oak tree and I am very old … I can remember hundreds of hurricanes, most I’d rather forget, but I withstood.”

And Harvey, too, shall pass.

Michigan Mammals

If we asked you to name a Michigan animal, what comes to your mind first? Some of you might say a bird, some a reptile, maybe there are those of you who would choose an insect like a butterfly. However, we’re betting that for many out there the first animal you thought of was a mammal.

And why not? Many mammals are eye-catching and even cute. There’s a reason they grace posters everywhere. Michigan even gave them a whole week of recognition this year. And while Michigan Mammals Week is coming to a close, that doesn’t mean we’ll forget them any time soon.

Check out the blog post below from the Michigan Nature Association to get a look at some of our furry friends of the Great Lakes.

The Michigan Nature Association is recognizing 2017’s Michigan Mammals Week July 10-16 and wishes to highlight some of our favorite species living in the Great Lakes State. Take a quick inventory and marvel at Michigan’s various mammals, from bats to bears! Summer is a great time to plan outdoor adventures in the state of Michigan […]

via Mammals in the Great Lakes State — Michigan Nature Association

Small Steps Equal Giant Outdoor Connections

The smallest outdoor experience can have far-reaching impacts. Many of us who have pursued careers in the outdoors can point to one (or several) childhood memories that gave us a passion for nature. It may be the simplest thing, finding a neat rock, a pretty flower, or an unusual bug, something that fascinates us and makes us want to learn more.

That is what the teachers highlighted in the article below inspired in their students. What began as a simple garden or rock identification field trip turned into a lifelong connection with the outdoors.

Incorporating outdoor education into the classroom can seem a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Small experiences in the school yard, a local park, or even bringing a little bit of nature indoors with you can turn into something so much greater later on. You never know what will happen.


How Small Steps Can Create Outdoors Experiences In Schools

Students at Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School in Missouri conduct an abiotic water quality monitoring lab at Forest Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country.  Students conducted chemical tests of dissolved oxygen levels, phosphates, nitrates and pH to determine water health.

Original article found here. Published on KQED News.

It started with a school garden at Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School. The garden did so well that students built another garden. Then they added native plants, where seventh-grade students learned lessons in data collection as they counted pollinators. The students wanted more pollinators, so they added a beehive. The bees made honey, and the kids used their sweet surplus to learn about the economics of commodities, said science educator Scott McClintock, who helped build the MRH middle school science program.

But students didn’t stop there.

Next came an aquaponics lab in the basement, said McClintock, “so we had this giant tub that we were growing talapia in.”

The nitrates from the fish waste got recycled back into the garden.

All this took place at a public middle school near St. Louis that previously struggled academically. MRH Middle School has the same budget constraints that many school districts face, but they took their limited budget and directed funds toward outdoor learning. It’s an investment that pays off in the form of physically, mentally and socially healthier students. McClintock and other teachers saw students become more kind to each other outside.

Outdoor classrooms help children develop properly because they provide small risks that help kids gain confidence and good judgment, according to Sharon Danks, CEO of Green Schoolyards America. Even in urban school districts, teachers can create multidisciplinary outdoor classrooms.

“Mental health and social and emotional well-being are two key areas that we believe children benefit from in a green schoolyard,” said Danks.

Teachers can also look to city and school parks as a daily resource, according to Jean Turney, an education coordinator for St. Louis-based nonprofit Forest Park Forever. Turney, a former elementary school teacher, now trains other teachers in how to use parks as a classroom.

“It’s not a field trip, but it’s more of experience,” she said. The park can become a science lab, art studio or gymnasium.

Science teachers are usually the most interested in outdoor classrooms, but math and language arts lessons can be enhanced by using outdoor spaces, said Turney. Part of it is letting go of structured lessons, to let students set their own course, “trusting that kids really do figure it out.” 

This is Pat Wilborn owner of PortFish, an aquaponics farm in Port Washington, WI. My 6th grade students were there last week for an urban farming/sustainability expedition. The water these plants grown in are a part of a closed loop system that also grows fish. Basically the plants, bacteria in the filters, and fish form a self cleaning system where the waste products of one, become the nutrients for the other. Pat can grow year round using this system using less energy, resources, and space even in the harsh winters in Wisconsin.
McClintock took his current students at Chesterfield Day School to PortFish, an aquaponics farm in Port Washington, Wisconsin. Owner Pat Wilborn shows how plants and fish can be grown in a closed-loop system. According to McClintock, “Basically the plants, bacteria in the filters, and fish form a self-cleaning system where the waste products of one become the nutrients for the other. Pat can grow year-round using this system using less energy, resources and space even in the harsh winters in Wisconsin.” (Courtesy of Scott McClintock )



When Maplewood-Richmond Heights was redesigned to include a garden in its space, McClintock wanted to take gardening a step further by keeping a growing list of pollinator counts so students could track those populations over the years. And the garden went beyond just counting insects and harvesting plants — his students also had an entire unit on soil food webs and microorganisms.

These kinds of projects and activities require funding, so McClintock found partners from the community to cover the bills. Missouri’s Department of Conservation provided free teacher training that included conservation curriculum. Participating teachers also received funds for trips and gear.

“They offered some amazing opportunities for teachers in terms of curriculum they designed for teaching outdoors,” said McClintock.

But that wasn’t the only place he found help. Even though he had no funding for trips, he found organizations that would help cover transportation. And when he couldn’t secure funding for a bus, he tried to bring nature to his students. At a previous school in downtown St. Louis, McClintock used a supply grant to purchase a backyard pond kit. He built the pond in the classroom and filled it with fish and crayfish he bought from the bait store.

“That was on the fourth floor of a building downtown,” he said. “While I couldn’t take my kids out, I ended up bringing nature in and that was awesome and that lasted for years.”

Those fourth-graders he taught in downtown St. Louis are now high school seniors, three of whom e-mailed him recently and told him that they were inspired to go into science because of their time in his classroom.

“The work we did with them as fourth-graders had that impact,” McClintock said.

This was my sustainability class preparing the grounds for a 1200 sq ft rain garden installation. The students designed the garden, calculated the amount of soil, researched native prairie plants, prepared the seeds using a treatment called “cold stratification” to mimic Missouri winters, delivered their proposal for the superintendent/board, and then installed the garden. 100ft long and 20ft wide. In addition to the positive effects on the watershed, the rain garden also served as a pollinator garden and used in longitudinal data collection on pollinators in our campus gardens.
Middle school students prepare the grounds for a 1200-square-foot rain garden installation. According to McClintock, “The students designed the garden, calculated the amount of soil, researched native prairie plants, prepared the seeds using a treatment called “cold stratification” to mimic Missouri winters, delivered their proposal for the superintendent/board, and then installed the garden, 100 feet long and 20 feet wide. In addition to the positive effects on the watershed, the rain garden also served as a pollinator garden and was used in longitudinal data collection on pollinators in our campus gardens.” (Courtesy of Scott McClintock)



Children have powerful tools in the form of their imagination. Even if students are just sitting in a soccer field, they can use their imagination to transform it into another space, said Janet Staal, an environmental education consultant at Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“We’ll just pretend we’re kestrels and we have to survive by getting our food differently than humans,” said Staal, who works with teachers in Grand Rapids Public Schools. One of those schools is based out of Blandford Nature Center and has most lessons in outdoor spaces. But for other city schools, Staal serves as a liaison to give hesitant teachers a starting point to outdoor learning. It doesn’t have to be an additional burden for teachers, according to Staal. Just start with a simple question: “What are you currently doing this week in your plan and what could you potentially do outdoors?”

Some other starter tips:

*If reading aloud in class, take the book outside.
*Adopt a tree on your school grounds.
*Do a study of one square yard of grass. Have your students count different plants and insects in that space.
*Ask groundskeepers to leave a patch of grass uncut. Track what grows there.

Danielle Hughes, a science teacher at Dearborn STEM Academy in Boston, managed to get science lessons out of taking her students around the neighborhood to identify rocks, or even to the grocery store, where they offered a free nutrition class. And Hughes’ school partnered with the nearby Harbor Islands to take students out for a three-day expedition where they learned about the geologic processes that formed the island. With only a short amount of repeated exposure, students quickly grew comfortable with the outdoors. On the Harbor Islands trip, some students first complained, “then by the third day they don’t want to leave,” said Hughes.


Outdoor learning does take commitment and should become part of the daily routine.

“If an activity can be done outside, why not?” said Hughes.

Passionate teachers like Hughes are important, but part of the work of Green Schoolyards is to change the institutional requirements so outdoor learning is the norm.

“What we have in the form of our school grounds is public land that is our most used public parks and we haven’t treated them that way,” said Danks.

Greening asphalt schoolyards can help with stormwater infiltration and climate change, so those initiatives should qualify for funds used in climate mitigation.

“A green schoolyard is an ecosystem of opportunities,” said Danks. 

These places can be resources to the community after school hours as well, she added. But city planners often leave these spaces out off their maps.

Green Schoolyards provides a free guides with more than 150 examples of what teachers can do on their own playgrounds, no matter the size.

“It is something you can change incrementally over time and make better and it’s something that kids can experience every day, right outside the door, if you do it,” said Danks.

Rather than being disempowered about large-scale environmental problems, said Danks, this is something where students can look out at their asphalt schoolyard and ask: How can you make this better?

“That small-scale positive interaction can give them confidence to do bigger things when their capabilities grow,” she added. “We’re looking to empower children to be stewards of their place, of their community.”

Hidden Signs, the Fun of Tracking

Winter can be miserable for many. You may not like the cold, the snow, the endless cloudy days, or the shortness of day length. Yet there are lots of fun things to do outside in winter and tracking is a great one.

Tracking is an easy activity that anyone can do, requires only a little skill and a bit of patience. And a sense of curiosity, let’s not forget that one. And winter is a great season to start exploring. Snow makes a great surface for animal tracks. You can even make a game out of it. Where do you think this animal was going? Where did it come from? How many do you think there were? You can make guesses about its life and daily travels.

Not to mention that you can learn more about your animal neighbors from their tracks. You may see evidence of an animal you had no idea was even around, especially when it comes to our furry friends who come out at night.

This blog post from the National Wildlife Federation gives you a few tips on how to tackle this activity. If you want to get even better at your identification, a field guide is a great place to start and the Waterford Press’ Pocket Naturalist line creates some great ones at a reasonable price. These are folding field guides that highlight the more common animals or plants in a region. Plus, it’s laminated so no worry about it getting wet! Here’s the one on Animal Tracks.

So next time you’re out on a walk, take a look around. You never know what (or who) you might find.


Searching for Signs of Winter

To many New Englanders, winter is defined in inches – inches of snow that is. By that account, you wouldn’t be surprised that winter has so far come as a disappointment to many, but especially to winter sport enthusiasts. Yes, New Englanders looked on with envy as mid-Atlantic states were recently hit heavy with multiple feet of snow; that illustrious powder.


Signs of bobcat near a site in Pittsford, VT. Photo by Northern Stewards

Although skiers and riders would most certainly disagree, I might argue that the current snow conditions here in Vermont have been absolutely perfect… for tracking wildlife that is! Wildlife enthusiasts are delighted by the light dusting we continue to receive atop a thick crust of snow, the perfect combination to observe wildlife impressions left behind.With these ideal snow conditions, the National Wildlife Federation’s Northeast Regional Office has headed out with Northern Stewards to conduct tracking surveys at 24 sites throughout Vermont where the Climate Adaptation and Resilience Team is using wildlife cameras to document the movement of wildlife in proximity roadways. We are observing a fisher continually use a culvert in Glover, a bobcat that is ever-present in the Pomainville Wildlife Management Area in Pittsford, VT, coyotes, snowshoe hare, and much more.

Tracking surveys are often incorporated with wildlife camera monitoring to help reinforce the interpretation of wildlife movement and to mitigate against a camera’s potential to produce false negatives. For example, a camera may fail to detect a bobcat moving through the area, but while surveying the area we might find evidence of a bobcat via a track or sign.


Several fisher tracks leading in and out of a culvert in Glover, VT. Photo by VTFWD

Canine or Feline Tracks

A distinguishing feature of any canine, from coyote to fox to Yorkshire terrier, is that you can always draw an “X” through the features. The front two toes are evenly aligned and the entire print is nearly symmetrical. Unlike canines, feline tracks are asymmetrical. The front two toes are not aligned and one will be further forward than the other – similar to how we have one finger that is longer than the others.

On the other hand, a bobcat, leopard, or domestic cat – any species of the felidae family – will also always leave a track surrounded by a “hair halo.” On a perfect impression, you can also draw an “M” on the leading edge of the heel pad. Just remember, “M” for “Meow”!


POP QUIZ: Can you identify what family of species belongs to these? Photos by Northern Stewards (right) and Steve Gifford (left)

Join the Action!

If you are interested in the chance to observe wildlife, I’m happy to inform you that you don’t need fancy equipment. You don’t even have to travel far! Wildlife tracking is a fun, interactive activity for all ages and can offer a whole new perspective on how you see and value the land around you. Best of all, you don’t need to be an expert – all you need is a little bit of curiosity and the right approach.

A Few Tips to Get Started:

  • Get outside! The best time to observe wildlife is during the morning and evening hours.
  • Shhhhhh, be quiet. It’s often easier to hear wildlife before you see it so try to remain as quite as possible.
  • Stay downwind. Take notice of the way the wind is blowing and always try to face into the wind. Many animals have a keen sense of smell and standing upwind can quickly alter them of your presence. Try to also avoid wearing perfumes or other strong scents.
  • Patience is virtue. Slow down and take the time to stop, listen, look, and wait. Make your self comfortable and settle in.
  • Pick a good spot. Are you looking for a species in particular? Know what you are looking for and the best habitats to find it. Always remember to get permission if venturing onto private property.
  • Don’t forget to look up! From moose bark scrapes to tracks in the snow, there are a number of clues that can be found all around you – from the forest floor to the canopy.
  • Be prepared. Pack an appropriate field guide to help identify what you see and always dress appropriate for the weather. It’s important to wear a lot of layers during the winter. Bring a notebook, camera, and binoculars if you have them. If you are venturing alone, always be sure to let someone know where you are going and long you anticipate to be.
  • Respect Wildlife. If you encounter wildlife, always keep your distance. Do not approach, follow, or feed wild animals. If you want a closer look, bring a pair of binoculars with you.

Keep in Mind

From backyard bird feeders to the underside of a log, wildlife is all around you. So while your snowshoes, skis, and board collect more dust than snow this year, I encourage you to venture outdoors and look for signs of wildlife. Whether you’re hitting the trails or investigating your own backyard, happy hunting!

The Unseen Arms Race: Plants & Insects

There’s a war going on. One in our own backyards, right under our noses, but goes unnoticed.

It16299658_1239306876159478_7282972681855941421_o is the ongoing battle of insect versus plant.

Plants have a serious disadvantage when it comes to protecting themselves. They can’t move. They root wherever nature, or we, put them. If things change in the environment and conditions become less than favorable, they’re stuck. The same goes for predators, all the insects and animals looking to make a meal out of them. So how do you defend yourself when you’re immobile?


You develop spines, spikes or thorns, unpalatable hairs on leaves, bitter-tasting toxins and other chemical defenses, among others, anything to make you a less desirable target. The goal? To survive and reproduce.

Yet this isn’t the end. Just by developing ways of deterring predators it doesn’t mean you’re safe because the insects and animals attacking you are doing their own adapting, finding ways around them.

It’s this battle that leads to changes in both plant and animal species until they balance each other out, when one can’t outcompete the other.

It also leads to specialization, which is sometimes very beneficial to the plants. This is especially true with our pollinating insects. Flowering plants and insects have co-evolved, or adapted through time together, to best suit each other. The plants have created the best ways to lure in particular insects. These insects in return, have found the best ways to collect the plant’s pollen and nectar. The result is an ecological win-win, the plants get pollinated, the insects get food for themselves and their larvae. Both species benefit and thrive. There are good examples of this beneficial co-existence in this blog post by the Washington Native Plant Society.

So the next time you take a stroll through a park or a garden, take a closer look. There’s a lot going on all around you, all the time.

Article by Jennifer Hunnell, Michigan Arbor Day Alliance