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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

Another Great Year

Another year has come and gone. So long 2016, it was nice knowing you.

We have been up to quite a lot over the last year and there are more things to come! We’re introducing a new program this year, hope to form more partnerships, plan on planting more trees, and having another fabulous Arbor Day Celebration. Let’s show the rest of the country how Michigan does trees!

To catch up on all of our awesome accomplishments over the last year, you can read our annual Year in Review report. It’s pretty short and sweet, so don’t worry.

You can see the report on our website, just scroll to the middle of the page and look for the “Annual Report” heading. You can also see pictures from all our events here.

We’re looking forward to a great 2017 and hope you are too. Happy New Year!


Kick Off the New Year with Some Outdoor Fun

Stepping outside your door may not always be an appealing idea in the winter, the cold making you want to huddle inside with a hot drink. However, there are a lot of fun things to do in the winter that only the presence of snow makes possible.

Would sledding be any fun without it? How about skiing? And I don’t think you’d be able to go ice skating without these cold temps. You’d certainly be wetter than you planned anyway.

Getting outside in winter just takes a little more preparation and planning, but can be just as much fun as any summertime activity (and with the added benefit of no pesky bugs).

Our State Parks and Recreation Areas are a great place to find some winter amusement. For example, several will be holding ‘Shoe Year’s Day’ snowshoe hikes to celebrate the New Year. Getting in shape is a new year’s resolution for many, why not start with a nice hike through the snowy woods?

Michigan state parks help kick off 2017 resolutions with ‘Shoe Year’s Day’ hikes

Contact: Stephanie Yancer, 989-274-6182
Agency: Natural Resources

Dec. 27, 2016

visitor on her snowshoesFor many people, a new year is the time for making resolutions. Frequently, those resolutions involve making a pledge to become healthier. With that sentiment in mind, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources encourages residents to kick off 2017 by bringing Michigan’s great outdoors into the mix.

The DNR, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the Michigan Recreation and Park Association are joining together to encourage residents to shift their New Year’s resolutions into high gear at “Shoe Year’s Day” hikes taking place Dec. 31-Jan. 8 at several Michigan state parks and recreation areas.

“There are countless benefits to using Michigan’s great outdoors as your gym,” said Ron Olson, DNR Parks and Recreation Division chief. “People tend to work out longer, enjoy their workout more, and burn more calories by exercising outside, while enjoying the beauty of our state.”

All “Shoe Year’s Day” hikes are free; however, a Recreation Passport is required for any vehicle entering a Michigan state park or recreation areas. Snowshoes will be available to rent at most locations.

According to Olson, the Recreation Passport is a great value and may be the most affordable gym membership available. The annual pass costs residents $11 for vehicle access to 103 state parks and 138 state forest campgrounds, as well as parking for hundreds of trails and staffed boat launches.

The following Shoe Year’s guided hikes are scheduled:

  • Maybury State Park (Wayne County) Dec. 31 at 10 a.m.
  • Island Lake Recreation Area (Livingston County) Jan. 1 at 1 p.m.
  • Waterloo Recreation Area (Jackson County) Jan. 1 at 11 a.m.Shoe Year's Hike infographic
  • Yankee Springs Recreation Area (Barry County) Jan. 1 at 1 p.m.
  • Ludington State Park (Mason County) Jan. 7 at 6 p.m.
  • Rockport Recreation Area (Alpena County) Jan. 7 at noon
  • Sleeper State Park (Huron County) Jan. 7 at 6 p.m.
  • Straits State Park (Cheboygan County) Jan. 7  at 5 p.m.
  • Mitchell State Park (Wexford County) Jan. 8 at 1 p.m.

If you can’t make it to one of the fun events going on across the state, you can still take advantage of Michigan’s parks, trails and waterways on your own time by visiting a Michigan state park or recreation area, the Iron Belle Trail or the more than 12,500 miles of state-designated trails.

Michigan is part of the nationwide First Day Hikes program coordinated by the National Association of State Park Directors. They were inspired by the First Day Hikes that originated more than 25 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation, a state park in Milton, Massachusetts. Last year, more than 55,000 people participated on guided hikes that covered over 133,000 miles on 1,100 hikes across the country.

Visit to view the calendar of events.

Share your resolution on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by using #MiShoeYear.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to

Owl Pellet Investigation

Last minute Christmas shopping anyone?

While the thought of dissecting something an animal threw up seems disgusting to some, it’s actually a great learning opportunity for kids.

Owls are predators, but many swallow their food whole. Since they can’t digest things like bone and hair they regurgitate what’s known as an owl pellet, kind of like when a cat throws up a hairball, but less slimy.

By looking at what parts are left inside the owl pellet, you can get a glimpse of what the owl has eaten. It’s a neat activity. After all, what kid doesn’t like a gross out factor?

This kit from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology gives you everything you’ll need to get into owl pellets (pardon the pun). Plus, they’re discounted until the end of December!

Dissecting a Food Web: An Owl Pellet Investigation

Save 15% on the full kit with code Pellet15 through December 31, 2016!


Dissecting an owl pellet is a great way to learn about the different ecological roles organisms play in their environment. Our new kit, Dissecting the Food Web: An Owl Pellet Investigation, challenges students to think critically about these ecological roles and to make evidence-based predictions of their own. Through hands-on activities, project-based inquiry, and informative science articles, students build scientific and environmental literacy while having fun! Go through each lesson and extension activities with the webinar at the bottom of this page.

With this kit students will…

  • Discover what birds of prey eat
  • Reconstruct a skeleton
  • Analyze data and solve real-life mathematical problems
  • Model the interconnectedness of species
  • Learn how energy flows through an ecosystem
  • Be challenged with reflection and extension activities in each lesson

The first lesson of Dissecting the Food Web: An Owl Pellet Investigation, The Food Web,” walks students through the basics of ecology concepts such as trophic levels, energy flows, and what happens if there is a disruption in a food web. Next, in “Digging into Owl Pellets” students dissect a real owl pellet and practice observing, sorting, and recording data using diagrams and a dichotomous key. In the last lesson, “Predicting Prey,” students apply ecological knowledge about different owl species to predict pellet contents and characteristics. This kit was designed for students in 3rd-7th grade, although it is adaptable for high school classrooms with these web extensions.


Your kit includes:

  • Pellets and tools for 15 individuals or teams
  • Extra pellet for demonstration
  • Teacher’s Guide with three lessons and accompanying student handouts
  • Keys, charts, and diagrams for all activities
  • Background articles, cards, and posters
  • Access to web resources (videos, audio, additional links, and extensions)

The curriculum also fulfills several Next Generation Science Standards (Grade 3-8) and Common Core State Standards (Grade 3-7).

Additional purchasing options:

Curriculum only: Already have owl pellets and the tools needed for dissecting them? You can now purchase our Dissecting the Food Web: An Owl Pellet Investigation curriculum separately.

Replenishment kits: Dissecting owl pellets with more than one class? Need to stock up for a new school year? Our replenishment kit includes pellets and tools for 15 teams or individuals.

Purchase these resources in our online store or mail/fax/email your purchase order to …

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

BirdSleuth K-12

159 Sapsucker Woods Rd

Ithaca, NY  14850

fax: 607-254-2111