Natural Area Preservation News
Protecting and restoring Ann Arbor's natural areas and fostering an environmental ethic among its citizens.
Volume 21, Number 4
Park Focus: Cedar Bend Nature Area
Coordinator's Corner: No Pain - No Gain
Winter Bird Watching Opportunities in Ann Arbor Parks
NAPpenings: Thank You!
NAPpenings: Stewardship Network Conference
NAPpenings: Staff Update
NAP by the NUMBERS – Highlights of 2016
Park Focus: Cedar Bend Nature Area
by Madison Roze, Outreach Assistant
Of the beautiful and diverse natural areas that dot Ann Arbor’s humming cityscape, none is quite so historically significant as Cedar Bend Nature Area. Purchased in the early 1900’s, it was one of Ann Arbor’s first parks. Cedar Bend was designed by O.C. Simonds, a landscape architect who had an understanding of the importance of native landscaping that was ahead of his time. He insisted on keeping the park as close to the natural landscape as possible, helping to preserve the biodiversity and native plant population that make Cedar Bend such a beautiful Nature Area today.
Through the years, the landscape of Cedar Bend has changed. The view of the Huron River has evolved, as shrubs, young trees, and native wildflowers have established and spread. However, the timeless feel of this nature area remains. Wander down the winding trails on a quiet morning and find yourself in a towering stand of hickory and oak. Elegant branches arch ever upward, hosting songbirds and squirrels in their branches. In the cold, still grip of winter, delicate petals of spring wildflowers are gone, and no leaves remain to filter light through the canopy. Nonetheless, evidence of life can be found around every bend: delicate bird footprints in bright snow, the scrabbling of a squirrel’s foot across rough bark, or the glimpse of a cottontail picking its way through the brittle stalks of dry winter grasses. Cooper’s hawks perch in the high limbs, ever vigilant for signs of activity from songbirds in the trees and mice under the snow.
The steep slopes leading down to the Huron River add a dramatic aesthetic to the dry upland hickory, oak and cherry forest that makes up most of this natural area. Tragically however, the natural beauty of Cedar Bend is threatened by many non-native plant species that compete with native species. Wildlife rely on these for food and habitat, and so the non-native plants threaten them as well. Lots of work has been done to clear these areas of invasive species such as buckthorn and autumn olive, but it is a constant battle. With the help of volunteers, NAP has been able to keep many of these invaders in check, clearing habitat for native skunk cabbage, Jack-in-the-pulpit, and even the rare upland boneset, which is threatened in Michigan.
Upland boneset (Eupatorium sessifolium) is a rare wildflower in Michigan, listed by the state as Threatened. It is only found in oak openings and oak savannas. These open oak woodlands were once common across southern Michigan but are now almost completely wiped out. The upland boneset in Cedar Bend grew after invasive shrubs were removed and controlled burns were used to help restore habitat in the park.
Areas of Cedar Bend with populations of native plants support a wider array of important animal species, and give park-goers an idea of what they might have seen in this park in the early 1900’s when Simonds was still in his designing process.
One particularly unique feature of Cedar Bend is the so-called "hairpin turn" that can be found on the southeast side of the park. The sharp turn in this former road reflects a similar pattern made by the Huron River as it cuts back to the south, winding gracefully along the landscape. The continuity of these two features make for a unified aesthetic in this beautiful nature area, and with help from our amazing volunteers, native biodiversity at Cedar Bend will continue to thrive, providing an enchanting place for Ann Arbor’s citizens to explore year-round.
Three views of the hairpin turn, the first taken around 1920, the second in 1997 (showing a thick layer of invasive shrubs), the last in 2015, showing the return of an open oak woodland:
Coordinator's Corner: No pain - No gain
by Dave Borneman, Natural Area Preservation Manager
This fall my daughter started high school and decided to join the Crew team. None of us had any idea what we were getting into: three-hour practices every day after school; carpools to and from practice; regattas nearly every weekend. The pace was hectic. The commitment was significant. And the whole experience was pretty intense. My poor daughter suffered through grueling practices, sore muscles, and painful blisters. But she slept well at night!
Why would someone put themselves through this difficult experience? I guess it is because of the promise that all the hard work and dedication will pay off in the long run, that there will be some reward at the end of the arduous challenge. No pain, no gain. In the case of my daughter’s Crew team, there seems to be some real promise of that potential for reward: both the team and individual rowers have previously won national championships.
But what about those intrepid souls who volunteer in the work of ecological restoration? Certainly hardy NAP volunteers have endured plenty of grueling workdays in lousy weather being challenged by mosquitoes, wasps, poison ivy, and thorns, as well as their own blisters and sore muscles. Why would they put themselves through this difficult experience? It’s a good question, and one that we ask ourselves frequently. Although NAP’s efforts have greatly contributed to the Huron Arbor Cluster’s repeated wins in the Stewardship Network’s annual "Garlic Mustard Challenge," my guess is that our volunteers are not driven by the allure of taking home a trophy. Nor is there any hope that volunteering with NAP will lead to a college scholarship (though the experience does look good on ones resume).
No, the motivation typically comes from somewhere much deeper, I believe. It comes from a deep connection with Nature – that "environmental ethic" some of you feel, and that NAP tries to foster in others. It comes from a sense of responsibility, a sense of stewardship, that we feel about taking care of our special place here on the planet. The enemy we face is not an opposing team of athletes, with the same human limitations that we possess. The battle is between our native southeastern Michigan ecosystems and the invasive species that threaten them. We fight this war not to defend ourselves, but to defend our home. The analogy is intentional: this is a "war" against the invasive species that threaten to destroy forever the prairies, oak woodlands, and wetlands that have been our natural heritage here for the past 5000 years. And we work on two battle fronts: nurturing our native ecosystems, and removing the invasive species threatening those ecosystems.
It’s a tough fight. The work can be grueling. You might go home with blisters and sore muscles. And the war will likely drag on for years, although the victory in individual battles will help keep you motivated. But you’ll sleep well at night! And you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you are fighting the good fight - helping us preserve our native ecosystems for generations to come. I hope you’ll join us!
Winter Bird Watching Opportunities in the Ann Arbor Parks
by Juliet Berger, City Ornithologist
Ann Arbor parks can be positively teeming with birds in spring, summer and fall. If you are like many Ann Arborites, you may have thought winter birding was pretty slow in our parks and nature areas. In that case, you’d be mistaken! Ann Arbor parks offer a wealth of winter birding delights.
The parks along the Huron River corridor (Barton, Argo, Bandemer, Riverside, Island, Forest, Furstenberg, and Gallup) can be major water bird overwintering areas. Ducks, swans, geese, and grebes take advantage of open water areas on the Huron, to feed and congregate where the flowing river has prevented ice from forming.
This mixed flock of redhead and canvasback ducks was seen in the Huron River near Barton Nature Area. Photo by NAP Volunteer John Lloyd
On the river you can see and hear many species that do not breed here, but which spend the winter in these favorable conditions. Imagine a flock of over 30 native Trumpeter Swans gathered in Geddes Pond at Gallup Park, loudly trumpeting their greetings to each other. This can be a common occurrence at Gallup. The paved trails maintained for walkers and runners make winter birding easier at Gallup Park, and access to the open water areas is available to birdwatchers.
Last winter, diving ducks such as Greater and Lesser Scaups, Ring-necked Ducks, and Common and Hooded Mergansers, along with Redheads, Canvasbacks and Common Goldeneyes were all in abundance.
Northern Shovelers could be seen on South Pond, just north of East Huron River Drive, from winter through late Spring. Sometimes rare species such as the Cackling Goose, a smaller relative of the Canada Goose, can be found here as well, if you are lucky!
Last winter some friends and I decided to go on a snowshoe birding adventure in Furstenberg Park. This park along the Huron, just west of Gallup, has marsh, prairie and oak savanna habitat, with boardwalks through some of the wetlands. In the summer there are nesting Eastern Bluebirds, several woodpecker species, Baltimore Orioles, Warbling Vireos, and other colorful songbirds. In the winter the resident birds take over, along with a few species that come down from the far north to winter in Michigan.
We saw familiar species like the Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Downy Woodpecker and White-breasted Nuthatch, but also noted winter species such as the Dark-eyed Junco and American Tree Sparrow.
American Tree Sparrow in winter, photo by Robert Feldman.
We strapped on our snow shoes in search of the elusive Winter Wren, a small brown bird with an almost nonexistent tail, that likes to hide in brush piles and shrubby areas. The Winter Wren had been found at Furstenberg by previous birders, before the snowfall. We found cross country ski tracks made by other park visitors, taking advantage of the flat terrain and stunning winter scenery for a ski trip of their own. Though we clomped through the snow on our snow shoes along the boardwalk and through the woods for several hours, the Winter Wren eluded us. Still we saw a good list of other birds, and got a great deal of exercise!
Whether you are interested in songbirds, woodpeckers, or waterfowl, Ann Arbor’s parks have something for you to enjoy in the winter. Don’t forget that our parks are great places to bird any season of the year!
Cardinals (like this female) are common winter residents.
NAPpenings: Thank You!
Many thanks to the groups who volunteered with NAP recently. We could not make such a difference without you!
Ann Arbor Spartans MSU Alumni Chapter
Ann Arbor STEAM School
Ann Arbor Ward 2 Cub Scouts
Ann Arbor YMCA Youth Volunteer Corps
Concordia University Ann Arbor
EMU Community Plunge
First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor Grad Group
Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan Ypsilanti Day Camp
Huron High School Interact Club
U of M Alpha Phi Omega
U of M Indian American Student Association
U of M Michigan Community Scholars Program.
Thank you to the local organizations that donated prizes for our Volunteer Appreciation Potluck!
NAPpenings: Stewardship Network ConferenceJanuary 13-14, Kellogg Conference Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing
This will be the 10th anniversary of the Science, Practice and Art of Restoring Native Ecosystems conference. Presenters will cover topics such as environmental justice, traditional ecological knowledge, watershed conservation, and more! For more information, see www.stewardshipnetwork.org.
NAPpenings: Staff Updates
Farewell...Dan Engel – Crew Leader
My time at NAP was more than I could have asked for, with my favorite memories being the controlled burns and working alongside volunteers to remove invasive plants. Unfortunately, it is time for me to say "Good-bye" as I am now working as a Phragmites Biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey—Great Lakes Science Center right here in Ann Arbor. Since I am still in the area, you may see me volunteering for the Breeding Bird Survey at Huron Parkway Nature Area or doing mop-up at a burn site. On second thought, "Good-bye" is the wrong word. Perhaps "See you around" is more appropriate.Logan Nevins - Workday Coordinator
I would like to start by thanking all of the NAP staff and volunteers for making my time at NAP a great experience. While working at NAP over the past year I have had the pleasure of working alongside and getting to know some amazing people. NAP volunteers are unlike any others I have worked with because of their passion and dedication for protecting the natural areas within the city. Recently I accepted a position with Ducks Unlimited as the Youth & Education Coordinator. I look forward to taking everything I have learned about working with volunteers and applying that in my new endeavor working with youth volunteers throughout the country. Thank you all again for everything you have taught me. I am excited to come back and visit the wonderful natural areas that this city has.
On October 15 Field Crew member Sam Davis married Nicholas Howard, in an outdoor ceremony at Ramsdell Nature Park in Clayton, Michigan. Congratulations Sam and Nic! We wish you long years of happiness together.
NAP by the NUMBERS – Highlights of 2016
• This spring, volunteers and NAP staff removed 20,640 pounds of garlic mustard and other herbaceous invasives, and burned 104 acres of natural areas.
• Over the year, NAP crew worked in 37 parks!
• The 25 volunteers for the Bird Survey observed 150 species of birds and volunteered 299 hours. Since 1990, 236 bird species have been seen in city parks! We added one new species this year, the Willet, a tall shorebird seen on South Pond.
• This year Frog and Salamander Survey volunteers gave 972 hours. They logged 1536 observations of 23 species of amphibians and reptiles in our parks. They also added a new species this year, the Eastern Milk Snake.
• Butterfly survey volunteers have contributed 36 hours of effort in 8 parks
• Volunteers have contributed over 8000 hours at workdays in 50 parks!!
HELP US GROW!
Volunteers help us keep track of the plants and animals in our nature areas. Check our calendar for survey training and kickoff events coming in early spring. We would also be delighted to have you come to our public workdays, or contact us about organizing a private workday for your group!