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Black bear education program for grades 6-8

OUT-black-bearThe Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Wildlife Division is offering a fun way for educators to integrate Michigan’s unique flora and fauna into their curriculum while still meeting the required educational standards. Teachers and their students now have an opportunity to experience A Year in the Life of a Michigan Black Bear.

Throughout the school year, students will learn about the life cycle of the Michigan black bear, general black bear biology and behavior, and how the DNR manages and maintains a healthy black bear population. An educator guide with activities and video lessons will be provided.
Classes also will have the chance to “follow” a black bear by using actual data points from a radio-collared bear to track it through its seasonal movements and see what a year in a bear’s life is really like.

This program is free of charge and open to all interested educators of grades 6, 7 and 8. Classes will need access to a computer lab and the Internet in order to use the mapping application to follow the bear. Educators also will need access to the Internet (YouTube) in their classrooms as well as a projector to make it easier for all students to see the video lessons.

Classrooms that participate in the program will be eligible to enter the Year in the Life of a Bear contest, where students can use what they learned to tell the story of a year in the life of a Michigan black bear. Students can choose to retell the actual journey of the bear they followed or get creative and use the information to interpret a typical bear’s yearly activities. Contest winners will be awarded prizes, provided by the Michigan Bear Hunters Association and the DNR, for their classrooms. Prizes are limited to one per school.

For more information and to sign up, please visit www.michigan.gov/wildlife and click on the “Education” button. Applications are due by Aug. 1 in order to receive the materials for the upcoming school year.

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Seventeen and Twelve

 

Spring-cleaning time has arrived. Seventeen bird nest boxes contained last year’s nesting material at Ody Brook. The backyard supported an Eastern Bluebird family. House wrens arrived later in the spring and raised a family in the same box. We were concerned the wren might kill young bluebirds to gain nest box access but it did not.

This year I checked 29 nest boxes. Seventeen had nesting material and twelve were empty. Empty ones probably were not used to raise young but likely provided winter shelter. Boxes are in the field, shrub thickets, woods, and at pond’s edge in hopes of attracting a variety of 30 plus cavity nesting species.

Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and even the Great-crested Flycatchers nest in hollow living or dead trees. Lack of tree cavities could be a limiting factor that prevents bird reproductive success when hollow trees are removed from neighborhoods or are in short supply. Unless a tree poses a danger to the house or people, let them stand. Woodpeckers excavate cavities that other birds use in succeeding years. Fortunately dead trees stand for many years. People remove many for firewood and that makes nesting success difficult.

About 20 years ago a cherry tree died at the edge of the yard and it still stands through gale force winds. An Eastern Phoebe selected it as a favorite perch from which to hunt insects. The Northern Yellow-shafted Flicker considers it a great drumming tree. The dead wood resonates sound creating a loud territorial announcement. The barren tree provides great views of perching birds.

Install nest boxes to assist bird survival. Avoid placing them close to trails or where people regularly frequent. Most should be obscure of easy view to provide nesting privacy from predators and people. I have placed nest boxes in the woods to reduce nest cavity shortage. Boxes in the field serve Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds where they vie for the nesting space. Two boxes are placed within 15 feet of each other. Tree Swallows claim one and prevent other swallows from using the second box. Swallows do not object to bluebird neighbors but draw the line at other tree swallows. In effect the swallow helps bluebirds by protecting the second box from swallow use.

Wrens prefer shrubbery nearby. When shrubs grew too close for bluebirds, I cleared more area and bluebirds returned to use the box.

The Eastern Screech Owl nest box was not checked to make sure it is empty. We can see the nest box opening as we enter the carport and sometimes the owl peers out at us. The box is the same style used for Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, and Buffleheads. We have suitable habitat for Wood Ducks that are present each summer.

I clean nest boxes but let the birds do their own spring-cleaning in natural cavities. Hopefully nest cavities are not in short supply at Ody Brook. To help bird populations install nest boxes where you live. Our expanding human population is crowding birds out of neighborhoods so help by providing nest boxes. Hopefully clean water and food are abundant if pesticide and herbicide use is limited. Provide nest boxes and maybe you will have 17 occupied boxes and 12 empty ones. If water and food are plentiful, empty boxes might indicate adequate nesting space is present in nature niches.

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

 

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Portions of White Pine Trail Closed

 

Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) officials today announced that portions of the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail State Park are closed due to unsafe conditions. Wind storms and spring run-off have left the trail with downed trees, flooding and debris. Portions of trail in Mecosta and Montcalm counties have the worst damage; however, caution should be used while on any part of the 92-mile trail.
DNR crews and the Friends of the White Pine Trail are actively working to reopen the closed areas. However, the extent of the damage is still being reviewed, and at this time, there is no estimated date for the reopening. For more information, contact Josh Pellow at 231-775-7911.

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Bird Watching Hotspots

Ranger Steve Mueller

 

 

Almost 100 bird watching “Hotspots” is listed for Kent County on ebird. Ebird is a web site where people enter bird-sighting observations. The benefit of entering data to ebird for you is the site organizes personal data, keeps record of all the bird species you have seen with dates and locations. Hotspots are locations where many people list sightings for a particular location.

Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC) between Cedar Springs and Kent City currently has the seventh most bird species sightings for Kent County hotspots. The six locations with more bird species sightings are in Grand Rapids population centers that have many observers and thus larger species lists. HCNC has more varied and wilder habitats with greater solitude for enjoyable birding. It remains an undiscovered nature niche resource that waits your visit.

Currently 141 species of birds have been documented for HCNC. The number will grow as more people discover and enjoy the variety of habitats that support bird life at the nature center.

One February afternoon I encountered a Long-eared owl standing on the railing of Thunderwood Boardwalk. It was my first experience with the species. We looked at each other for a moment; it flew into a white pine and looked down at me. The experience invigorated my heart, mind, and spirit. Long-eared owls are quite secretive and usually do not show themselves in daylight.

Another species that does not show itself during the day is the American Woodcock. During spring it dances nightly in the evening sky for about six weeks. In the field north of the Red Pine Interpretive Center at dusk, it will start pneeting on the ground. A pneet is a buzz-like call. It stomps its feet and turns from side to side in the dim light. After many pneets, it takes flight and circles higher and higher before diving toward the ground and quickly leveling to land, where it repeats its ground dance with more pneets. Over the years, I have led many field trips to watch the mating dance display.

Scarlet Tanagers do not arrive until May and are surprisingly difficult to see. They have brilliant red bodies with black wings. It seems they would be easy to see but somehow they blend into the new spring green foliage high in trees. People refer to their song as sounding like a robin with a soar throat. The coarser sound helps locate the bird’s singing location and with careful search the bird can be seen.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful spring songs is made by Wood Thrushes in the deciduous forest. Its Ee-o-lay song is clear, loud, and beautifully musical. Another thrush called the Veery makes one of my most favorite bird songs. It stays well hidden. As a young birder it took me about 10 years to discover what bird was make the song. Its spiral-descending warble is most intriguing.

The Common Yellowthroat, unlike the Veery, will readily show itself. It wears a black mask over it eyes. Maybe it thinks the mask keeps it hidden. A bright yellow breast helps locate this bird in shrubby wetlands. I could describe 141 different species that have been seen at HCNC. Each has a unique nature niche. People would quickly tire of descriptions. Instead, become entranced with sights and sounds by walking nature center trails during spring.

Google “ebird” and explore listings for various locations in the County. Enrich your life and contribute to citizen science efforts by documenting bird species that visit your yard. I have observed 102 species at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary where I live.

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

 

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Beavers and Dams

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Beavers became a commodity and fashion product. They were heavily trapped and numbers were greatly reduced. They brought business trade to what became Michigan. In prior centuries native people used the resource as part of a sustainable livelihood. The European beaver trapping industry became a boom and bust business. One might wonder how beavers change nature niches.

Beavers weigh 30-50 pounds and are the largest rodent in the area. Their natural history provides benefits but sometimes they are troublesome neighbors.

At the local Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC), a family of beavers moved into the outlet of Spring Lake in 1970s. They are better dam builders than most of us could hope to become. One wonders how a particular dam site is selected. Narrow sections of Spring Creek were ignored and a dam over two hundred feet long was constructed near the outlet of Spring Lake. It required lots of work but was successful. Two smaller dams were constructed down stream to create additional flood ponds.

Elevated pond water allowed beavers to swim to the upland shore for aspen trees without going far from shore. It is safer to stay in water. Water access to trees reduces danger from predators and makes it easier to move wood. That is the reason people used rivers to float logs to sawmills during the boom and bust era of Michigan logging. Current forestry practices encourage sustainable logging instead of boom and bust cycles. That practice helps maintain a sustainable community economy.

Beavers topple trees and gnaw branches for underwater storage. They eat meals as needed all summer but branches are hauled to flood ponds and stuck in mud that accumulates behind the dam. Branches provide food during the long winter when timber harvest is not possible.

A domed beaver lodge with an underwater entrance is constructed in the beaver pond. Beavers enter and come above water level to dry living quarters with no easy predator access. A family of beavers can live cozy and exit as needed during winter months to raid their refrigerator. They retrieve branches stored in the mud and feed on nutritious bark. Remaining inner wood is used for construction or discarded like we discard chicken bones or corncobs.

Beavers move to new areas after a few years when they have eaten themselves out of house and home. Their temporary residence activities provide valuable services. The area behind the dam traps sediments and reduces debris and soil in downstream areas. This helps some animals that need clear flowing water and also those that need ponds. Water flowing over dams picks up additional oxygen essential for fish and insects. Fishing generally improves but pond water can warm streams. Various plants are able to colonize the wetlands behind the dam. Willows and alders are colonizing shrubs. In such areas, animals like the Alder Flycatcher and the Acadian Hairstreak find living good.

A great many creatures benefit from the temporary residence of a beaver family. Beavers move in and move out but leave a life giving legacy for others that last for decades. We most notice water that floods roads or drowns trees we might desire survive. Beavers do not recognize our legal title to property so we remove them when their activities do not meet our approval.

Beaver benefits include raising water tables that keep wells flowing. They provide habitat for many wildlife like fish, ducks, and deer and many less noticed animals. During spring high water dams help reduce spring flooding along rivers and it is then when beavers search real estate for new homes and food. Maybe one will come your way and bring activities that improve nature niches in your area.

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

 

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Spring weather has bears and other wildlife on the move

 

Although some areas of the state may still have several feet of snow on the ground, Michigan’s wildlife knows the spring season, with an increase in daylight hours, is here. Animals are beginning to wake up from winter hibernation; bears are among those starting to emerge from their dens.

Food and mating are the two drivers behind the increase in wildlife that Michigan residents may be seeing lately. Since bears typically mate in June or July, food is the primary cause for the increase in bear activity during the spring.

“At this time of year, bears are looking for food,” said Department of Natural Resources bear and furbearer specialist Adam Bump. “They are hungry after spending months in their dens. While we might not think of bird feeders and trash cans as food sources, a hungry bear certainly may.”

Each spring, as bears leave their winter dens and resume daily activity, wildlife officials begin receiving calls about bear sightings and even the occasional bear damaging bird feeders, trash cans and grills.

Birdseed, because of its high fat content and easy accessibility, is especially attractive to bears. Once bird feeders are discovered, bears will keep coming back until the seed is gone or the feeders have been removed.

“The majority of complaints we receive about nuisance bears in the spring involve a food source. The easiest thing people can do to avoid creating a problem is to take in their bird feeders and store other attractants, like grills, trash cans and pet food, in a garage or storage shed,” Bump said. “Once the woods green up, bears tend to move on to find more natural sources of food, as long as they haven’t become habituated to the birdseed or garbage cans.”

Bears that are rewarded with food each time they visit a yard can become habituated to these food sources unintentionally provided by people. This can create an unsafe situation for the bear and become a nuisance for landowners if a bear continuously visits their yard during the day and repeatedly destroys private property in search of food.

DNR Wildlife Division staff members are unable to respond directly to each nuisance bear complaint and instead ask that landowners do their part to help reduce potential food sources in their yards before calling for further assistance. The trapping of nuisance bears is only authorized by DNR wildlife officials in cases of significant property damage or threats to human safety when other techniques have failed.

Anyone who is experiencing problems with nuisance bears and has taken the appropriate action to remove food sources for a period of two to three weeks, but has not seen results, should contact the nearest DNR office and speak with a wildlife biologist or technician for further assistance.

For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/bear.

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Fishing in Michigan

 

The Michigan DNR reminds anglers that a new fishing license season began  April 1, and that Michigan’s fishing licenses were restructured. There are now five options to choose from when making your purchase. All fishing licenses are good for all species.

•   Resident Annual – $26

•   Non-Resident Annual – $76

•   Senior Annual (for residents age 65 or older) – $11

•    24-Hour (resident or non-resident) – $10

•    72-Hour (resident or non-resident) – $30

Residents and non-residents can also purchase the Hunt/Fish combo license for $76 and $266 respectively that consists of a base license, annual fishing license, and two deer tags. Please note, a base license is not required when just purchasing a fishing license.

Michigan’s new fishing licenses will bring additional revenue into the state that will be invested into the state’s fisheries; including providing greater access to world-class fishing opportunities, improving fisheries habitat in inland lakes and streams, and increasing the health and quantity of fish stocked in the state.
Fisheries Division does not receive any general funds and depends on angler dollars (through license sales and federal excise tax dollars for fishing tackle) to manage the state’s fisheries. Buying a fishing license, even if you do not plan to fish, can make a big difference to the future health of Michigan’s prized freshwaters.

There are two simple ways to purchase a fishing license in Michigan:

1. Visit your local license retailer or DNR Operations Service Center and make a purchase in person.

2. Use the E-License system to buy a license online 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Just visit www.mdnr-elicense.com on your computer, smartphone or tablet to get started.
Don’t miss your chance to experience some of the finest freshwater fishing in the world!

For more information on fishing in Michigan, visit www.michigan.gov/fishing

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From Pond to River

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Water flows from high to low areas and over time it shortens its path. Tadpole Pond, at Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC), is higher than Chrishaven Lake, Spring Lake, Spring Creek, and Rogue River. The route water takes from Tadpole Pond to the Rogue River has a “youthful” geology.

Surrounding Tadpole Pond, rain and snowmelt drains a small area of higher ground to feed the pond. The pond was dredged deeper before becoming HCNC. The dredging cut deeper below the water table and allowed water to enter the pond from surrounding groundwater. This created a permanent shallow pond. An earth dam was constructed at the east end of the pond, with an overflow drain installed under Nature’s Habitats Trail leading toward Chrishaven Lake.

From the pond, water flows east into a boggy swamp that fills a glacial kettle lake basin formed 8000 years ago. A large block of ice left by a retreating glacier was buried and slowly melted. The melt water filled the resulting lake depression. Chrishaven Lake has been shrinking in size as vegetation gradually fills from shorelines.

Chrishaven Lake Boardwalk begins at the edge of an ancient 8000 year old shoreline and makes its way to the current open water of the lake. We cannot see open water from the ancient shoreline where the boardwalk begins. Water from Tadpole Pond makes its way through the swamp, enters the lake, and exits eastward through what was once part of the open water lake. Water continues flowing eastward saturating swampland forest where open water was once present. A small stream channel flows from the lake and crosses Nature’s Habitats Trail where a boardwalk leads through the lowland near the Swamp Shelter building.

View of the creek is lost as it merges into a large wetland forest on it way to Spring Lake. At one time Chrishaven Lake and Spring Lake may have been connected with open water. When water reaches Spring Lake, it no longer continues eastward. Spring Creek coming from north of 20 Mile Road enters Spring Lake and flows out its southwest corner. Upstream from the lake, Spring Creek is small. Where it exits the lake, the stream is about 30 feet wide because additional water feeds the creek from springs in the lake.

The east flowing water from Tadpole Pond turns westward and flows south of Chrishaven Lake and Tadpole Pond on its way west to the Rogue River. Given time, the water will flow directly west to the Rogue River from Tadpole Pond. Water takes the least resistant route. The current landscape is geologically known as youthful because water flow does not all converge directly toward Rogue River but follows an erratic path.

Given time, water will carry land away particle by particle to create a channel directly from Tadpole Pond to Rogue River. We will not live thousands of years to witness landscape changes that develop a mature river system and then an old geologic river system. Details of change from geologic youth to mature, and old age river systems will need to wait for another time.

During our lives, enjoy varied nature niches at HCNC that have developed along a youthful water course that flows east from Tadpole Pond to Spring Lake and turns 180 degrees to flow west to Rogue River. Dramatically different nature niches enhance biodiversity along the meandering watercourse. Visit HCNC and purchase an individual or family membership at the Red Pine Interpretive Center. HCNC has perhaps wildest and most diverse habitat variety of any designated nature study areas in Kent County.

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

 

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What’s “bugging” you in our streams?

OUT-stream_insect_monitoring

In many cases we think bugs are a nuisance, but bugs in a stream can be very useful.  Stream insects are a good measure of water quality.  Unlike fish, stream insects cannot move around much so they are less able to escape the effects of sediment and other pollutants that diminish water quality. Stream insects can also be easily identified.

Trout Unlimited National, Cannon Township and Michigan Trout Unlimited will be holding a Stream Insect Monitoring Event on Saturday, April 12, 2014 from 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. at the Rockford Community Cabin, 220 North Monroe Street in Rockford. Volunteers will be assigned to a monitoring group with a team leader. Each group will collect and identify insects from different stream sites in the Rogue River and Bear Creek watersheds. You don’t need any experience with stream insects to participate and all ages are welcome.

What will you need? Please RSVP to Nichol De Mol at 231-557-6362 or ndemol@tu.org if you would like to attend.  Lunch will be provided for all volunteers.  Please bring waders if you have them and dress for the weather conditions.

 

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Living With The Land

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Some people live off the land. Stories in this column are from one who strives to live with land. We cannot walk and breathe tomorrow, if we do not eat and drink today. It is essential we take from nature but is also essential that we give back to nature, if we hope to thrive in another year, decade, century, or millennium.

We personally will not see another millennium and few will see the next century. Family members in succeeding generations will be able to live healthy lives a thousand years from now, if we responsibly sustain the environment that supports us.

Living off the land might mean taking what we need or want for our interests. Living with the land does not exclude taking from nature to sustain our families but it does include allowing the land to live and breath in a manner that will provide for the needs of future generations. That defines sustainable in a very practical sense.

This column focuses on aspects of nature niche relationships with wild creatures in our yards, neighborhoods, and region to promote sustainable biodiversity. Each species holds secrets and mysteries. Some species are more essential to our lives than others but all hold a fascination that stimulates our hearts to beat stronger, happier, and with greater purpose when we know them better.

Spring is here. Life is springing forth from the ground, returning from distant winter retreats or maybe from hidden places in neighborhoods. Nature niche stories will help families experience and enjoy wild wonders in the yard. They might assist in bringing nature closer to home, heart, and mind. Simply knowing about nature is not enough. It is essential that our hearts burn with love for the natural world that gives us life.

Nature should not be something that we need to go to. It should be something we draw closer to us by how we manage yards and neighborhoods. Creation is a gift that sustains us so we have responsibility to sustain creation. Many practices in our lives are focused on living off the land instead of living with the land. We cannot hope for a better tomorrow if we fail to maintain Earth’s life giving virtues and products.

We are members of a natural community with other creatures in nature niches that provide food, water, shelter, and appropriate living space. When members of the community are lost they no longer provide services that help your family. We have a vested interest in maintaining all creatures great and small for our own interests and for the interest of our children’s children.

It is equally important to develop emotional relationships through nature walks, photography, venison on the table, trout on the line, butterflies in the garden or birds at the feeder. We each interact with the natural world differently but we all share the common purpose of maintaining biodiversity for a healthy future.

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

 

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