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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Howard Christensen Nature Center

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve

The Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC) has developed a cadre of community programs under the leadership of Dave Kieft. Weekend, spring break, and summer camps are part of the variety. Family events meet the interests for all family members. School programming is increasing.

Individual and family memberships provide opportunity for people to visit everyday of the week at no additional fee. Swamp boardwalks lead to where spring frog chorus is a highlight just before dusk. Learn about additional HCNC membership benefits at the office or web site.

One can slowly approach Vernal Pond near the Red Pine Interpretive Center and frogs will quiet. You might see their heads retreat beneath the surface. Stop, sit, and wait less than three minutes and a brave Spring Peeper will begin a single peep. Soon others will feel safe and a massive chorus will fill the air.

While you are sitting, cup your hands behind your ears to enlarge your sound catching ear pinnae. The sound will become so painfully loud you will unable to continue with hands cupped behind your ears. Rotate hands so the cup is facing behind you. The back of your hands in front of ears reduces a large amount of sound from reaching and hurting your vibrating eardrums.

When you leave Vernal Pond, discuss how valuable movable ear pinnae are for dogs, foxes, squirrels, deer, and other mammals. They allow gathering of specific directional sound. Mammals are able to determine exactly where danger might approach. Notice Vernal Pond has more frogs than nearby Tadpole Pond. Vernal ponds are more important for frog survival than permanent ponds and lakes.

Predators approach prey quietly but a rustle of leaves, a broken twig, or even brushing against a shrub can alert mammals because ear pinnae enhance sound. People cannot move ear pinnae but we can use our hands to demonstrate the effectiveness of movable pinnae.

It was always my expectation when director at HCNC to share space with creatures that make the nature center home. We maintained a single file pathway along the west side of Vernal Pond from beech tree to driveway. The east shoreline was reserved for frogs and other creatures with no human disturbance.

Green Frogs sat frozen like statues. On the west shore, frogs submerge as we approached or they would jump frightened into the pond. Some would stay motionless ready to escape. They blended well with shoreline vegetation. East shore frogs waited still and quiet until we left the pond.

Green Frogs begin singing much later in the season when temperatures approach 70 F. Wood Frogs are mostly done singing by early April. Spring Peepers and Western Chorus Frogs continue song through April. Unfortunately, Western Chorus Frogs have declined in our area. It is a reason to leave some pond borders free of disturbance for native species. We worked to help people recognize we are visitors in wildlife nature niches and encouraged living with nature instead of crowding animals from homes in ponds, streams, forests, fields, and our yards. Small vernal ponds are essential with fewer predators.

Seeing animals is difficult without entering their home but we can provide minimal disturbance that allows habitats to remain healthy. That is a primary reason for restricting activity to one half of Vernal Pond. It allows vegetation to grow to pond edge and provides frogs with healthy living space in appropriate arrangement for food, water, and shelter to meet survival needs.

Please become an HCNC member. Discover frogs by walking nature center trails maintained for school and family groups in wild habitats. Make real world connections that would otherwise be vicariously through books, digital screens, or stories about the natural world. Enjoy being outdoors with wildlife.

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

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