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Wildlife habitat opens for seniors in time for Earth Day

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Valley View Rehab and Nursing residents watch the activity at the Wildlife viewing area during the dedication ceremony of Valley View Rehab and Nursing Ceter’s Wildlife Habitat on Thursday.

The ability to appreciate nature and to play a part in caring for the creatures who inhabit it knows no age limit, as was evidenced by a group of residents at Valley View Rehab and Nursing Center who braved the sting of an unusually chilly Earth Day to celebrate the designation of the facility’s courtyard and wildlife observation windows as a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat.

The National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife program encourages responsible gardening that helps pollinators and other wildlife to thrive. As a certified Wildlife Habitat, Valley View commits to providing food, water, cover and places for wildlife to raise their young.

Although it’s still too early to plant the native wildflowers which will serve as hosts for the bees and butterflies, as well as annuals that provide nectar as a food source, the plants are ordered and the staff and residents are anxiously waiting for warmer weather to begin.

“Over the last few years as we’ve become interested, as a community, in the native butterflies and bees, we’ve wanted to encourage them,” said Ruth Martinez, therapeutic recreational aide and self-described “curious kid and nature enthusiast” who was the driving force behind the project.

It all started when Martinez would come to work and share with the residents what was going on at her property.

“They responded with this wonderful curiosity and natural enthusiasm as well,” she said.

From that initial interest, Martinez started bringing in examples to discuss with the residents. Then over a year ago they decided to have a “Nature Day,” and because of the support of the residents, their families and the staff, a Red Bird Nature Club was started at Valley View.

“That came about because there was a cardinal that was hurt in the courtyard,” she shared. “All the residents that noticed it were concerned about it.”

“Because of that overwhelming concern and support and unity, we said we’ve go to keep this going,” Martinez said.

The club meets twice a month. Topics for the meetings are chosen by the group, taking their cues from the natural world around them.

“We have had snakes, we’ve had turtles, insects, spiders. And people love, as much as is possible, hands-on. They love to participate in all of that. We learn, we study what’s going on in our natural world all around us,” she stated.

“We also decided that it would be great to have a viewing area where people who couldn’t get outside as often could roll right up in their wheelchair and their walker and sit and observe a habitat that would draw in critters that they could see,” she said.

Once they set up the habitat viewing area, complete with sites for food for the animals, places where they could roost to eat, hollow log playgrounds for squirrels, to name just a few of the stations incorporated in the area, the wildlife responded by visiting the area, providing entertainment for the residents.

“We’ve seen raccoons, squirrels, possums, short-tailed shrews, all kinds of birds, frogs, even a snapping turtle. We’ve also raised Monarch butterflies from eggs. We had a Monarch enclosure at the wildlife station. We would bring them in and hatch them and release them right here at Valley View,” Martinez said, adding that they are planning to become a registered Monarch way station.

She explained that once they are improved as a way station, the group will receive tags with their own number which are put on the wings of the butterflies before they are released.

“Hopefully some of them might show up in Mexico. The residents would be thrilled,” she said. “They’re always asking how is the Monarch population, how is the migration going?”

“They didn’t lose their curiosity and love of nature just because they had to come here. That’s why we love sharing that with them,” she stated.

During the dedication ceremony, Valley View resident Nancy Koppel, who remembers planting her garden at her home, read a poem written by another resident, Dorothea Dyer, called “I Wonder,” about the metamorphosis of a butterfly.

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