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Slow start

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche By Ranger Steve

Ranger Steve

Delays test our patience. Waiting challenges us to get outside in search of hidden treasures. We plant early flowering species like crocuses and daffodils to greet us with cheer before native species bloom. Dwarf daffodils are blooming though they have an inch of new snow covering. Tall daffodils are about to open. 

A few native species have bloomed and will shed accessory flower parts except for the fertilized ovary that contains the developing seed. Red and silver maples will litter the yard with expended red flower parts and soon will follow with seeds attached to a helicopter wing. Seeds will spiral though the air to germination sites and some will be picked up by us to use as whistles with kids or grandkids. Placing the flat seed wing between our tongue and mouth roof for blowing will make a loud whistle and is a traditional sign of spring. What kid would miss announcing spring with this whistle? It is as important as the town’s noon whistle but parents or friends must teach them how the whistle works. Do not miss experiencing spring excitement with children. 

Hazel nut flowers have already shed pollen and speckled alders are still in the process. 

At ground level trout lilies or adder’s tongues and spring beauties are among the first ephemerals to carpet the woods with yellow and pink. Emerging maroon pyramidal growth breaks ground with some already having expanded into leaves with trout-like spots. April’s fresh snow does not disturb them. A few spring beauties show tiny leaves and flower buds but they wait for warmer days to open blooms.

Birds that spent the winter elsewhere are making their comeback to neighborhoods. Eastern Towhees, Chipping Sparrows, American Robins, Eastern Phoebes, and Red-winged Blackbirds are filling spaces that have been devoid of apparent life for too long. Their calls and songs give us hope that spring is really underway. 

Where are the butterflies? A few that overwinter as adults have come out on warm sunny days. Sun warmth penetrates cavities where Mourning Cloaks, Eastern Commas, and a few other anglewings have been holed up for months. My first sighting of the year was a Mourning Cloak on March 28. That is later than I expected but not unusual. Two more were seen on the 70ºF day along with an Eastern Comma during the first week of April. 

The following day a Cabbage White actively searched the backyard for signs of life to suit its interests. That species does not overwinter as an adult. It spent the cold season in a chrysalis and emerged with fresh wings. Viceroy butterfly caterpillars overwintered as tiny 1/8-inch-long larva wrapped in a tiny willow leaf that it tied to the stem with silk. When leaf buds open the young viceroy will begin feeding on delicate soft leaves. 

With additional warm weather, large swallowtails will emerge from chrysalises to grace us with their presence when serviceberry shrubs display white flowers that provide nectar. The slow start of life’s spring activity is about to cease and a mad race to complete nature niche growing activity will overwhelm us with too much to absorb.

It is time for us to mark calendars for mid-summer butterfly counts when butterfly activity is abundant. Visit the West Michigan Butterfly Association web site (http://graud.org/wmba.html) for details about regional counts in our area that include the Allegan (June 29), Rogue River (July 3), Muskegon State Game Areas (July 18) and the Manistee National Forest (July 5). For now, mark your calendar and plan to participate part or all day. If needed, contact Ranger Steve for additional information. 

Butterfly counts are wonderful for discovering a variety of habitats, learning butterfly identification, and enjoying the outdoors. 

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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