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Sensory Overload

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


A winter walk brings one close to a great variety of sensory experiences. Each species of tree and shrub as unique buds. Take a close look and notice bitternut hickories have yellow buds with no protective scales to protect the delicate embryonic leaves waiting to expand during conducive spring weather. The new leaf cells were formed last summer. When sap flows, it will enter the leaves expanding them like a water balloon. For several days the plant will grow necessary cell contents that support plant needs. 

Nannyberry viburnums show evidence of two different shaped buds. One will be long and narrow. The other will have a swollen bulb at bud’s base. The swollen base contains the embryonic flower cluster ready to emerge. 

Red and silver maples have red globose buds that are among the first flower buds to open in early spring. The hazelnut flower buds are noticeable during winter. They are long tan catkins similar to those found on birches. It flowers before the maples and is wind pollinated instead of depending on more efficient insects to carry pollen. They have successfully reproduced at Ody Brook over the past 40 years. I knew of two shrub clusters years ago. Now there are several surrounding the parent plants and others scattered in distant locations. 

We have more squirrels than desired, but they might be what planted hazel nuts in distant locations. 

We enjoy watching the squirrels and I do not mind them eating seed meant for birds. Perhaps I should only have squirrel proof feeders. A main reason I do not want too many squirrels is they feed on bird eggs making it difficult for birds to maintain stable or growing populations. 

Birds will soon be changing into breeding plumage and adding sparkle to yards. The American Goldfinch is a people’s favorite yard bird because males dazzle us when they change from dull olive winter plumage to bright yellow with a black cap. It is ready for a stage show but it is the female it must impress. Take time for a close look to enjoy its gradual color change in coming weeks. 

The warm mid-winter thaw stimulated several birds to sing. I was shocked one year when I heard a high melodious song in February. I thought it was a warbler here unusually early. When I followed the sound and located the bird, it was a secretive bird that stays here all year. A Brown Creeper was singing. They remain obscure and have a thin down curved bill used to eek insects from bark crevasses on large tree trunks. They fly from high on one tree trunk to the base of another and work their way up to repeat the process to the base of another tree. They blend with tree bark and are easily missed. An intent look is essential to notice them. I have yet to find one’s spring nest that is built between loose pealing bark on dead or living tree trunks.

Bird songs may tell us spring is just around the corner, but this week light fluffy snow piled on dead wildflower heads in the field. Sunrays sparkled through the crystals before they melted and were lost forever to observers. Along the creek, water rose a foot during the previous week’s winter rain and snow melt. Now water had subsided to a low flow but raised twelve inches above the stream were suspended ledges of ice that froze on the surface when water was high. Ice ledges extended from the bank. Sawblade teeth ice edges hung in air above the creek. Ice from the middle over the creek broke and fell in to the stream. Suspended ice remained a few days. Had I not taken frequent outside ventures to enjoy the world of nature niches, I would have missed great pageant of wonders that vary daily close to home. 

Recently the temperature reached 48 F and dropped 30 degrees in one day. On the warm day, I found a twelve-inch garter snake on the trail ice. It was lethargic and moved slowly when I picked it up. I moved it about six feet and set it on snow free ground next to fallen log. Weather forecasters had informed us a cold snap was on the way. I hoped to help the snake avoid freezing. I wondered if moving it disoriented it. Would it find its way to the underground shelter it came from or be able to take shelter under the log? I hope my assistance helped. Enjoy having your senses overloaded by taking beautiful winter outings.

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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