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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Wild ones in Cedar Springs

The “Wild Ones” gathered for an exploratory walk at Ody Brook on June 21 to view and discuss native plant landscaping. Forty-five people met for a two-hour walk to enjoy the plants and animals in a yard maintained to maximize increased varieties of life. We were greeted by the sounds of Blue-winged Warblers, Field Sparrows, and Eastern Towhees among other birds.

Along the drive we viewed the large leaves of skunk cabbage surrounded by sensitive ferns in the understory of native hardwood wetland trees. Many species of trees, shrubs, and ground plants provide food and shelter for an abundance of surprising wildlife species. Those plants muffle the sounds emanating from the highway traffic and keep it quieter around the home.

The walk up the drive brought us to higher ground where butterflies flitted around a landscape mound. Mowed lawn, field area, shrub land, and forest blended into an appealing landscape. Each was claimed by different wildlife where each species works daily to make its living. Some move among the different habitats. Like members of our human community, work duties are divided among specialists. Each species fills a different nature niche and some generalists have a variety of jobs.

The Common Yellowthroat seeks insects on floodplain shrubs to feed young birds. Kathy Bowler found Question Mark caterpillars eating American elm leaves. Ken Knight found a Viceroy Butterfly on willow. A House Wren announced its territory near birdhouses as the Wild Ones walked nearby. Quietly an Indigo Bunting stood watch in a treetop while an Eastern Phoebe vacated the open yard until the hoard of people passed.

Two sugar maple trees keep the home cool in summer by standing year round on the south and west sides of the home. In the winter they allow sunlight warmth through their naked branches. The dense stand of wetland trees and shrubs between the road and open yard prevent strong winds form taking heat away from around the house and reduce heating bills. In winter, strong winds are not noticed in the yard until we venture away from Ody Brook, where chilling winds are raising heating bills for neighbors who keep open sterile yards to south and north or us.

East of the house two ash trees were planted to provide light shade. Ash trees branches permit filtered light through so we get some morning sun warmth. This is where the phoebe often spends much of its day flying out from tree branches in search of tasty insect morsels. A nest is annually built or remolded in the carport.

Close to the house, it is mowed so we can sit enjoying the sunlight light on the back porch without mosquitoes disturbing us during sunny weather. At mid June, most of the backyard still has not received its first mowing or the year. The Wild Ones were able to experience a carpet of nearly solid pink and yellow flowers where mowing will occur after plants set seed. Many inquiries about plant names erupted from the group. Butterflies, birds, and an American toad, among others, find the yard a most pleasing home full of abundant life to meet individual needs. An Eastern Comma butterfly flitted back and forth above our heads as we compared the two planted 30-year-old ash trees. One tree is six feet tall and the other about 30 feet tall. The tall one has been allowed to grow freely. The shorter one is pruned Bonsai-style to six feet each year. It has a full dense green ball of foliage and is next to a butterfly garden. It appears like a large beautifully dense leaved shade tree in miniature.

Prairie Smoke is a Michigan threatened plant thriving on the sandy soils in the back yard along with Cut-leaved Grape Fern and Ebony Spleenwort. Seven ferns enrich the landscape. Thirty-one species of trees, about 25 species of shrubs, many forbs and grasses host hundreds of animal species needs. Thanks to native plants, we have birds, mammals, and amphibians, reptiles, and a wonderful array of beautiful insects to enjoy. Non-native ornamental plants are beautiful and I grow a few but they do not support many wildlife so we keep them to a minimum. Prior to our purchase of the property, the yard was mowed to the neighbors home and to the creek where fewer species could survive. Sun warmed the brook trout stream. By reducing the yard to the vicinity of the home, septic field and some selected clearings for wildlife, the yard is now haven for life and a wonderful place for wildlife.

I am always hopeful neighbors to the north and south will spend less time on mowers, save money by consuming less fuel mowing, and allow yards to replenish America’s native plant and wildlife diversity.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net  Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433. 616-696-1753.

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