Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche
By Ranger Steve Mueller
Frank Rackett collected and mounted birds starting in 1876 and continued through about 1936. He donated his collection to Godwin Height Public Schools. The school district could not properly care for the collection and was no longer displaying them. They contacted the Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC) to see if they would be a useful addition to our extensive display collection.
More than 150 bird cases containing about 450 birds were picked up in March 2012. During the summer and fall, volunteer Dave Cartwright refurbished cases and cleaned specimens. Preparing the collection for display has taken hours and great dedication from Dave. Without his efforts, the current display would not be suitable for viewing, enjoyment and education.
Come to HCNC between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays or noon and 4 p.m. on weekends to enjoy the displays. Taxidermist Harold Moody donated live mount specimens (those prepared to look like living animals) to HCNC starting in the 1970’s and continued for 30 years. When a bird or mammal was killed, we contacted Harold and he volunteered to mount specimens in memory of his daughter, Pamela, who was killed at age 24 by a drunk driver.
We also worked with MI DNR conservation officers to acquire animals that were confiscated from poachers or were found dead like the Common Loon that swallowed a fishing lure. The Mute Swan flew into a power line. The bobcat was hit on Red Pine Drive north of the nature center.
The Rackett collection contains many birds from western North America, including a few from south of the United States. There are several warblers and rarities like the Green Jay, MotMot, Painted Redstart, Lewis’s Woodpecker, and Mountain Plover that one will not see in Michigan or may not be found in other Michigan collections.
We developed what might be the most extensive bird and mammal collection for any nature center in Michigan. Universities and some large public museums have more but it is rare to find such an extensive collection at any nature center in the nation or world. Our collection is especially rich in birds of prey and I doubt it is matched by other nature centers.
HCNC is now a 501c3 non-profit operated by Lily’s Frog Pad and is working to continue serving school districts and area communities. HCNC is an important community resource and deserves community support. To help HCNC continues its mission, you can sponsor a display case or live mount display by providing funding for operations. Explore the displays free during open hours and please sponsor a display for a year. Come pick a display of your choice and provide $25 or more in support for 2013 programming to serve education and community interests. When visiting ask about individual or family memberships.
Though I am retired, I continue to volunteer at HCNC where more volunteers are encouraged and welcomed. Contact Cindy Perski at 616-675-3158 to offer your skills from technology, grant writing, woodworking, outdoor projects, nature study surveys and more. http://lilysfrogpad.com/volunteer-opportunities/.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the firstname.lastname@example.org Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433, 616-696-1753.