Mulberry Hill Wildlife aims to reconnect community with nature

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published April 26, 2019

 Braylinn Mackson, 7, of Hazel Park, enjoys learning about nature through a hands-on experience at Mulberry Hill Wildlife in Hazel Park April 23.

Braylinn Mackson, 7, of Hazel Park, enjoys learning about nature through a hands-on experience at Mulberry Hill Wildlife in Hazel Park April 23.

Photo provided by Grace Vatai

HAZEL PARK/MADISON HEIGHTS — A nonprofit in Hazel Park plans to engage the community this spring and summer with several programs meant to deepen one’s appreciation for the wonders of nature.

Among the programs announced by Mulberry Hill Wildlife, or MHW:

• Night Nature Walks, held the last Friday of each month, beginning May 31 at 8:30 p.m. at Rosie’s Park, 1111 E. Farnum Ave. in Madison Heights, where participants can go on guided tours observing nocturnal animals such as bats and owls.

• A fairy garden workshop, to be held Saturday, May 18, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Hazel Park District Library, 123 E. Nine Mile Road, led by MHW botanist Gerard Magnan, where one can build their own fairy garden in a container and learn about Irish folklore.

• The continuation of the Hazel Park Wildlife Inventory, a project where anyone with an internet connection can help update a database documenting local flora and fauna.

The common thread is a desire to rekindle people’s interest in the outdoors.

“Get outside, take a walk, explore a new place, or just enjoy the breeze as you sit on your front porch,” said Grace Vatai, executive director and naturalist at MHW. “A minute spent connecting to nature is a minute invested in health, happiness, well-being and an appreciation for all life.”


Night Nature Walks
The Night Nature Walks are being done in collaboration with Night Nature Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting positive attitudes toward nocturnal animals that often get a bad reputation “simply because they’re active when humans are sleeping,” said Amanda Felk, the group’s president.

Each walk will start with a five-minute intro from a naturalist on the month’s topic, followed by a 45-minute walk around the area, with the naturalist providing commentary on what they see. The group will also use a bat detector to translate bat calls into a frequency that humans can hear.

“It’s going to be an amazing learning experience and a ton of fun,” said Vatai. “Night is a seriously underrated time to go outside, and nocturnal animals are often misunderstood or, sadly, even feared and persecuted. Nowadays, people are less inclined than ever to get out after dark.

“But the truth of the matter is, nighttime is a fantastic time to explore,” she said. “If you know what to look for, you can find some amazing things. Bats, owls, Virginia opossums and more are just a few of our most common nocturnal neighbors. Tired of mosquitoes, ticks, grubs and rats? You can thank your nighttime neighbors for helping greatly to reduce all of these populations.”

Added Felk: “It’s amazing how much diversity can be found even when not in a designated natural area — how animals have adapted to our neighborhoods.”


Fairy garden workshop
For the May 18 workshop on fairy gardens at the Hazel Park District Library, there will be a short presentation from MHW botanist Gerard Magnan on plants and Irish folklore, followed by attendees building their own container fairy garden to bring home.

A tax-deductible $27 ticket covers the cost of the presentation and one fairy garden starter kit that includes a container, specialized soil, decorative pebbles and marbles, moss, two plants, as well as a fairy and a “woodland friend.” The MHW staff will provide professional instruction, and additional decorations and plants will be available for purchase at the event.

“I would encourage people to take (fairy gardens) up as a hobby,” Magnan said. “It’s a great way to relax … creating a miniature garden that is visually appealing and artful, and alive with plants and pollinators, who will be the true fairies in your garden when it is created.”

Vatai said fairy gardens are a fun form of self-expression for people of all ages. They reflect the people who make them, with some opting for dense scenic detail full of figurines and decorations, while others have a simpler, zen-like look and feel that invites a sense of wonder.

“You can get personally involved with nature on your own property, even if you only have an apartment window container or balcony,” Vatai said. “In fact, houseplants can be used to create an indoor fairy garden, so it is truly something anyone, anywhere can do.”
    

Hazel Park Wildlife Inventory
A database currently at 277 observations and growing, the Hazel Park Wildlife Inventory started last summer, and will have the kickoff event for its spring/summer season at 4 p.m. June 8 at Civitas Coffee House, 906 E. Nine Mile Road in Hazel Park. A naturalist will hold a presentation and answer questions about the project and how it works, and those who bring a smartphone or laptop can sign up immediately and start recording their observations.

The information is available at iNaturalist.com, which hosts the database documenting animal and plant life in Hazel Park. Sign-up is free. No official commitment is required — it’s just a platform where one can record what they see in the area, from the common dandelion and American robin, to the rarer American kestrel.  

“After moving to Hazel Park from Detroit, we knew how much biodiversity could be found even in a relatively urban setting. We were amazed at just how much more we were seeing as we rehabilitated the Mulberry Hill Wildlife habitat here in Hazel Park,” Vatai said. “We wanted to see what kind of data was available for wildlife in the area, and were really surprised to see that Hazel Park was a complete hole in the map when it came to biodiversity data. There was a serious deficit of recorded information, and we knew we needed to change that.”
    

Continuing to grow
MHW began in 2008 atop an apartment building in Detroit where Vatai’s family started growing their own sustainable produce and plants, and housed a friendly hen named Henny Penny. They then moved to Hazel Park, where they operate the nonprofit out of their home, with their own produce delivery membership program that delivers wildlife-friendly goods to residents of Hazel Park and surrounding communities. The property has since been converted into a certified wildlife habitat and monarch waystation, providing everything needed for indigenous wildlife to raise their young.

“Our work evolved and became increasingly wildlife and nature-centered,” Vatai said.

Their work continues today with community engagement efforts focused on educating people about habitat restoration and sustainable environments. And they couldn’t do it without the support of the residents.  

“Donations fuel everything we do here (at MHW), and every dollar contributed to the cause makes a difference,” Vatai said. “For the price of a cup of coffee, your contribution could fund the addition of a new native plant species to our local ecosystem, or contribute to researching and helping local wildlife.”

Donations to MHW can be made at squareup.com/store/mulberryhillwildlife.

To learn more, follow MHW on Facebook by searching “Mulberry Hill Wildlife.”