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Archive | Outdoors

Where’s the moth?

Sue Ruth sent us this photo of some flowers with a hummingbird moth hovering in the midst of them. Can you find it? She took the photo in Pierson Township, south of Howard City.

Thanks, Sue, for sending it to us!

Do you have a wildlife or wildflower photo you’d like to share? Please email it to news@cedarspringspost.com, along with some info about the photo. Also please note in the subject line of the email something like “wildlife photo.” We will print them as space allows.

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Waxy Bloom

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Hopefully all have enjoyed the beauty of Colorado Blue Spruce trees that are planted in Michigan to enhance yards and businesses. Blue spruces have a white wax secretion on new green needle growth that creates the blue we enjoy. It is not unique to blue spruces but the wax abundance is.

Waxy bloom secretion is common on plants and prevents evaporation desiccation on new growth. It is particularly important for blue spruces in their native western North America’s dry nature niche with low humidity. Needles exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide through the needle surfaces to survive. Pores called stomata, where gas exchange occurs, are concentrated on needle undersurfaces in tiny pits. These pitted micro-humidity chambers help prevent excessive drying in the tree’s arid habitat. 

Native plants and animals support healthy Great Lakes Ecosystem functioning. I am not a purist. Nonnative plants are used in gardens and along the road but are kept to a minimum. We enjoy non-natives as do a small number of insects, birds, and other taxa. By limiting non-natives, native species can support large populations of native animal populations. Non-native plants support few native animals and mowed lawns almost none.

Enjoy some non-natives and touch them. Rub your fingers on blue spruce needles to notice the blue changes to green. The wax rubs off allowing green to show without being modified by light passing through the white waxy bloom. Become friendly with trees, shrubs, and other plants you invited to live with you on your property. You hug your kids so don’t neglect the plants you adopted. 

We help, shape and guide the development of our children and grandchildren. Do the same for plants. Prune, shape, and water so they thrive. Non-native plants usually need extra attention, time, support, and work so keep them to a minimum. Plant native species because they do not need fertilizers or much work to survive.

Plants are not the only species with a waxy bloom. Common Whitetail Dragonflies will search your yard for lunch if you allow native plant growth in portions of your home habitat. Keep as much native landscape as possible and mow minimally. Field areas provide a large variety of spring and summer wildflowers that support biodiversity and beauty. They require less maintenance and expense. Mow wild areas once or a few times a year to prevent unwanted woody growth. Dragonflies will stop in for lunch. The “teenager” whitetail dragonflies will find good meals. Colorful species will rapidly zip about and occasionally land where you can view them well. 

As whitetails mature, they will secrete a white waxy bloom that turns the abdomen brilliant white. They are seen in yards but when mature, concentrate in wetlands protecting the best breeding habitat from other males. It is valuable to allow native wild vegetation to grow along stream and lake edges, and by wetlands where they support dragonflies, fish, birds, mammals and other wildlife we enjoy seeing. Weasels turn white in fall and the color helps them blend with winter’s snow. They do not produce a white waxy bloom but enjoy them anyway by providing wild places to thrive in your yard where they will eat mice, voles, and moles.

Explore the feel of leaves. Notice some have a thick waxy surface that is heaviest on the sun exposed surface and thin on the shaded lower surface where microscopic stomata concentrate. The thick wax coating is referred to as a cuticle instead of a bloom. It does not rub off and helps protect plants from being eaten. Many insect feeders chew or suck plant juices from young leaves or needles before they develop a thick cuticle.

The waxy bloom is thin and temporary on new growth. Take time to compare with older needles from previous years that are green with a thick cuticle. Summer’s new blue spruce growth has the bloom that entices us to plant this tree. As fun as it is, do not get carried away with rubbing off the bloom. Make sure you spend time with kids and grandkids that will enjoy the activity. They will remember it better than you. Simple activities in nature develop appreciation and love for the natural world that needs support to prevent habitat loss as our human population continues to grow. Our yards are critical for maintaining biodiversity for future generations.

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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Dry conditions across the state increase the risk of accidental fires

As dry conditions persist over some parts of the state, Michigan Department of Natural Resources fire management officials are urging extra safety precautions be taken to prevent accidentally starting fires.

Even if the grass near you looks green, Michigan’s recent hot, dry weather has sucked most of the moisture from this year’s grass and completely dried last year’s growth, greatly increasing the risk of fire.

That means we should all take extra precautions to prevent accidentally starting fires, such as waiting to burn debris and not using all-terrain vehicles, lawn mowers or other outdoor machinery, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“The layer of decomposing leaves and grasses in the ground has dried out,” said Paul Rogers, fire prevention specialist with the DNR. “That means fires that do ignite will burn down into the soils layer, making it harder, and more time-consuming, to put the fire out.”

In very dry conditions, heat from even a lawn mower or the exhaust pipe of an all-terrain vehicle can ignite dry grass, Rogers said. Things like a trailer chain dragging on pavement also can create sparks.

The driest areas in the state currently extend from I-96 north to the Mackinac Bridge in the Lower Peninsula, and from M-35 east to Drummond Island in the Upper Peninsula. The dry area is expected to extend south to the I-94 corridor as the weekend approaches.

Several areas in the eastern Upper Peninsula have experienced fires this week, including a 32-acre fire in the Hessel area that is requiring extended mop-up efforts. There have been several other, smaller fires across the state.

There is currently no burn ban in effect. However, burn permits will not be issued in the northern Lower Peninsula or Upper Peninsula until significant rainfall is received, Rogers said. People in the southern Lower Peninsula must check with local units of government to see if it is safe before burning.

Campfires are still allowed. However, normal safety rules apply: keep water or sand on hand to put out the fire if needed, never leave a fire unattended and make sure to thoroughly extinguish all fires.

For more information on burn permits and whether they are being issued, visit michigan.gov/burnpermit or call 866-922-2876. Areas in the southern Lower Peninsula should call their local fire department.

To learn more about fire management in Michigan, visit michigan.gov/firemanagement.

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DNR Upper Peninsula wolf survey shows healthy wolf population

Two wolves on a winter trail from a previous wolf survey. Photo courtesy of the Michigan DNR.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division officials said earlier this month that the state’s wolf population has remained relatively stable over the past four wolf surveys, the most recent of which occurred this past winter.

DNR wildlife biologists estimate there was a minimum of 662 wolves found among 139 packs across the Upper Peninsula this past winter. The 2016 minimum population estimate was 618 wolves.

“Based on our latest minimum population estimate, it is clear wolf numbers in Michigan remain viable and robust,” said Russ Mason, chief of the DNR’s wildlife division. “A similar trend is apparent in Wisconsin and Minnesota. The western Great Lakes states’ wolf population is thriving and has recovered.”

Fifteen more wolf packs were found during this past winter’s survey than in 2016, but pack size has decreased slightly and now averages less than five wolves.

The survey was conducted from December through April, before wolves had produced pups, and when the population is at its lowest point in the annual cycle.

“As the wolf population in the Upper Peninsula has grown and spread out across the region, packs are situated closer together,” said Dean Beyer, a DNR wildlife research biologist who organizes the sampling and generates the wolf population estimate for the biannual survey. “This makes it harder to determine which pack made the tracks that were observed in adjacent areas.

“Movement information we collect from GPS-collared wolves helps us interpret the track count results, because these data allow us to identify territorial boundaries. The minimum population estimate we generate is a conservative estimate, which takes these factors into account.”

The wolf survey is completed by DNR Wildlife Division and U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services staff who search specific survey areas for wolf tracks and other signs of wolf activity, such as territorial marking or indications of breeding.

In 2017-2018, approximately 63 percent of the Upper Peninsula was surveyed.

After wolves returned naturally to the U.P. through migration from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ontario in the 1980s, the population rebounded remarkably over time. The pronounced long-term increase in wolf abundance is evident, despite human cause-specific mortality, such as poaching.

However, over the past few years, Michigan’s minimum estimate has hovered between 600 and 700 wolves, which could be indicative of a stabilizing population.

“Research suggests prey avail ability and the geographical area of the U.P. are the key limiting factors of wolf population expansion,” said Kevin Swanson, a wildlife management specialist with the DNR’s Bear and Wolf Program in Marquette. “This is proving to be true.”

Since the winter of 1993-94, combined wolf numbers in Michigan and Wisconsin have surpassed 100, meeting federally established goals for population recovery. The Michigan recovery goal of a minimum sustainable population of 200 wolves for five consecutive years was achieved in 2004.

Wolves in Michigan remain a federally-protected species which may only be killed legally in defense of human life.

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A Mother’s love

Linda Hovey recently sent us this photo of a doe and her fawn.

“She has been coming in my yard for a few weeks,” she wrote. “Just brought [the] baby tonight. Last year she had twins.”

It looks as if this mama doe wanted to show off her new offspring to the Hovey family. Such a cute photo! Thanks for sending it to us, Linda!

If you have a wildlife photo you’d like to send us, please email it to news@cedarspringspost.com, along with some info about the photo. Please include the city/township where it was taken.

 

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Celebrate Michigan Mammals Week at state parks July 9-15

Exporer Guide Mike Latus with park users and campers at Warren Dunes State Park.
Michigan Fossils.

We will be celebrating the wonders of Michigan mammals with a week of fun, educational family programs in more than 40 state parks. Michigan Mammals Week, July 9-15, will feature mammal hikes, animal-tracking programs, games and much more. This year, some programs will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the reintroduction of elk into Michigan.

Throughout the summer, state parks host a variety of nature programs featuring each location’s rich and varied natural resources. You can find current information about these programs at michigan.gov/natureprograms.

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Bird eggs and shells

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Reminder Note: The Rouge River Butterfly Count is July 7 at 9 a.m. If you missed the nature niche article, e-mail me for details. Participants will receive Mo Nielsen’s Michigan Butterflies and Skippers Field Guide. 

Bird eggs taste good to us and other creatures like birds, snakes, and mammals. Successful egg hatching is a difficult challenge. 

This year, an American Robin built a nest in a precarious location at Ody Brook and by the time its second egg was laid, I saw the nest on the ground. The first egg lay unbroken. A second egg was laid on the remaining nest platform base but was abandoned. 

Size of eggs correlates with bird size but variation occurs. Precocial birds whose young develop adequately to leave the nest promptly like ducks, have larger eggs with more nutritional content. That allows the chick to grow more inside the egg before hatching. It readies the young for rapid nest departure.

Altricial birds like chickadees that hatch small, naked and featherless develop in smaller eggs. The parent feeds the helpless babies and needs to continue incubating to keep young from dying of hypothermia. 

Egg shape is important for survival in nature niches. Round eggs can role like a marble. Oblong eggs that are narrow at one end and wide at the other will roll in circles. Cliff dwelling birds use little nest material and the oblong egg shape prevents them from rolling off the cliff. They roll in circles. Screech owls have nearly round eggs placed in a cavity nest where they cannot roll away. 

More tapered eggs that are somewhat pointed are characteristic for birds with cup nests like those of thrushes and sparrows. It allows eggs to fit better for incubation. The adult bird forms a brood patch on her breast that is featherless and filled with blood vessels during breeding season. She cools her breast by sitting on cool eggs. The heat is transferred to the developing embryos in the eggs. When the egg warms against her breast, she rolls the egg to a cooler portion of the shell. The activity evenly heats the eggs. 

Eggs exposed in view would be targets for predators if they were white against the modeled gray brown ground location like where killdeer and many other shorebirds have nests. Eggs shells become colored as the shell is developed in the oviduct. They frequently have spots that develop when the egg is temporarily stationary and are streaked with movement. A ring may be present at the wide end as the egg is pushed along the oviduct. 

Birds tend to lay one egg a day until they complete their clutch. During the 24-hour egg development process, the egg is fertilized by a male and the embryo moves through the oviduct where the shell encases the lifegiving material for chick development. 

The embryo is small with a large yolk attached to nourish development. As the chick grows, the yolk becomes smaller as nutrition is transferred to the young bird. Egg white acts as a shock absorber, provides protein, water, and insulation. Under the shell surface are two membranes that protect from bacterial infection. 

Between the two membranes an air sac is located at the large end of the egg. The air pocket facilitates movement of oxygen and carbon dioxide in and out of the egg. The shell might appear solid and impervious but the embryo would suffocate without constant diffusion of vital gases through the shell.

Eggs are laid wide end first. As the egg shell is developing, muscles in the oviduct contract to push the egg along. The pressure narrows the end where contractions force movement. Calcium is added along the way making the egg ridged by the time it is laid. When preparing your next egg meal, examine the shell, membranes, egg white and yolk. Then enjoy good nutrition and taste. 

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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Operation Dry Water emphasizes boating safety leading into holiday

Michigan DNR conservation officers again are participating in the national Operation Dry Water campaign, aimed at reducing the number of people boating under the influence of alcohol and drugs, keeping the water safe for everyone.

As the July 4th holiday nears, DNR conservation officers will focus on keeping boaters safe through heightened awareness and enforcement of “boating under the influence” laws.

It’s part of the Operation Dry Water campaign, June 29-July 1, in coordination with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, the U.S. Coast Guard and other partners. The annual campaign starts before the holiday weekend, when more boaters take to the water and alcohol use increases.


Boating safety takes center stage during Operation Dry Water June 29-July 1, 2018, when Michigan DNR conservation officers focus on keeping boaters safe through heightened awareness and enforcement of “boating under the influence” laws.

“The best way to safely enjoy a day on the water is to avoid alcohol,” said Lt. Tom Wanless, Michigan’s boating law administrator. “Using alcohol impairs reaction time, balance and judgment. Please don’t put yourself and others at risk. Be smart and stay sober when boating.”

In Michigan, a person operating a motorboat while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, or having a blood alcohol content of .08 grams or more, can be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by fines up to $500, community service and up to 93 days in jail. It also can result in loss of boating privileges for at least one year.

If a person is killed or injured due to a driver operating a boat while under the influence, the driver could be charged with a felony, punishable by fines up to $10,000 and up to 15 years in prison.

Boaters can do their part by:

Boating sober. Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in recreational boater deaths. The effects of alcohol and certain medications are increased on the water due to added stress factors such as the sun, heat, wind, wave motion and engine noise.

Wearing life jackets. Nearly 85 percent of drowning victims in the U.S. were not wearing life jackets.

Taking boating safety courses. The DNR recommends a safety course for anyone who plans to use a boat or personal watercraft. Convenient, affordable classes are offered at locations throughout the state and online.

Learn more about boating regulations, safety and where to find marinas at michigan.gov/boating. For more on Operation Dry Water, contact Lt. Pete Wright, 906-228-6561.

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Parasites and parasitoids

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

We are familiar with parasites like mosquitoes that suck blood essential for egg development. Females are parasitic and males are not. Males seek nectar and so do females for general energy requirements. The female needs blood proteins for egg development. After sucking blood, she takes a few days to digest blood protein that serves egg yolk development. 

If a female survives the effort of sucking blood, she might lay 100 to 200 eggs on water surfaces after she has processed blood proteins to adequately nourished eggs. Only two of her eggs survive to reproduce if the mosquito population remains stable from one generation to the next. That is the norm. Some species lay eggs in unique ways to meet specialized nature niche adaptations. Population abundance has seasonal peaks.

Most mosquito parasitism occurs at dawn and dusk. We avoid harassment by selecting outdoor activity times and locations. Instead of using yard pesticides, we mechanically manage vegetation. Near the house we mow a 20-foot wide area that is avoided by most mosquitoes. Beyond the mowed area is a lush display of maiden pink and Cat’s-ear flowers (see photo) that please our eyes in June and house insect predators that help control parasites and parasitoids. Learning to live with nature has rewards. Sterilizing the yards diminishes the wonders of life that enrich our lives. It prevents bird habitation and beneficial insect predators important to landscape ecology.

Parasites do not normally kill their host. Mosquitoes carry parasites like the malaria amoeba that kills a half million people annually. There is a middle ground between the impacts of parasites and parasitoids. Most things exist on a gradation. To be most effective a parasite captures needed substances from a host without killing it.

Parasitoids kill their host. If parasitoids were completely effective, the host species would become extinct. Host species have structural and behavioral adaptations that help them complete their life cycle and reproduce. Parasitoids are more effective at controlling pests than predators and they are more susceptible to pesticides.

The adaptations of a parasitoid are for an adult to find a suitable host and lay eggs on or in the animal. Sphinx moths and large silk moths are sought by tiny specialized Braconid and Ichneumonid wasps. They sting the caterpillar to lay eggs. Tachinid flies lay eggs on the caterpillar. When hatched, larvae burrow in. 

The host larva often jerks and waves its body to prevent parasitoid egg laying. Some caterpillars like the Federally Endangered Karner Blue Butterfly are ant tended. The butterfly secretes honey dew, a sugar solution, that ants eat. Ants protect the caterpillars from both parasites and parasitoids. Perhaps you have had ants jump off plants and bite you if you got too close to a caterpillar they protect. The Edwards Hairstreak butterflies are ant protected. Ants herd the caterpillars from oak leaves where they feed at night to the ground in the morning and back to leaves at dusk. Ant behavior is similar to farmers herding cows to and from barns. 

Once the parasitoid larvae of wasps or flies hatch from the egg, they feed on the least essential body tissues like caterpillar fat. The caterpillar goes about daily feeding to meet its energy needs for pupal development to transform to an adult. As it nears the pupal forming stage, it often has inadequate stored nutrition to complete pupal formation. Finally, vital organs are consumed by the parasitoid. Parasitoid and parasite activity exist in other organism groups. The few examples presented are simply representative to introduce their roles. 

When you explore wild areas of your yard or neighborhood, you might find a shriveled desiccated caterpillar skin or one with obvious white pupae on the surface of a living individual. It is common for 100 or more parasitoids to emerge from the caterpillar’s body. If the parasitoid killed the caterpillar quickly, it would not survive to adulthood and its own species would parish. 

Ask plant nurseries to sell native plant genotypes, buy cultivars minimally, and use minimal pesticides to enjoy life’s abundance. Such practices will maintain Earth’s biodiversity and enhance your life’s enjoyment.

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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Butterfly

Ron Parker, of Courtland Township, recently sent us photos of his pretty peonies, and this beautiful butterfly.

“The Swallowtail butterfly is the most perfect butterfly I have seen; usually their wings have already started to be beaten up by living their short lives,” he wrote.

Thank you so much, Ron, for sharing your wild life and wild flower photography with us!

If you have wild life or wild flower photos you’d like to send us, please email them to news@cedarspringspost.com. We will run them as space allows.

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