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Archive | Outdoors

Making of a naturalist

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve

Pause at Thanksgiving to celebrate family, community and ecosystem neighbors. Thank you for the opportunity to share my life and work. Nature niche wonders provided a lifetime immersion that enriched me. People express they enjoy articles that reveal me personally. I find reading biographies about people interesting. Each of us has a story of interest worth sharing and often only a snippet is revealed in an obituary. 

Like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer observing their funeral, I will gloss over my life as seen from the stars. Maybe I will live long enough to create a more complete memoir. Surviving productively to old age is a desirable dream afforded only a few. It was questionable if I would reach age 50 due to developing uncurable cancer. When diagnosed, average survival was 1 to 3 years. Now at age 70, I am on the long side of survival at 23 years.

Whether I can weather another year remains questionable, but I feel that way annually. My goal is to remain productive through age 75, with a naturalist mission to protect global wilderness habitats representative of all ecosystems and biodiversity enhancement at the 61-acre Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary. We each should be ready to die at any time and I hope you have that peaceful attitude. It will be great to enjoy extended survival.

My thanksgiving is for family, friends, and community members from whom I receive energy, prayers, and help on life’s journey. From Thanksgiving to the New Year, please enjoy a roving trip with me through a naturalist life in space and time that reveals experiences aiding my development. The focus is on naturalist Ranger Steve’s journey, with family details only included briefly. Family is a cohesive force and without Karen the journey would not have been as successful. Community members are part of my extended family. I want nothing more or less for you than I want for my own children. Such a philosophy is probably strived for by a minority. We are all children of the universe and it philosophically aches my soul to know that many want life better for their immediate family than they do for their neighbors. Karen and I seek the best for our immediate family but try to work for the betterment of all citizens, including other species that share the ecosphere. 

This time of year is busy for families and I chose to deviate from only including nature in articles to sharing my development as a naturalist. Holiday season is ripe for providing a 6-week diversion that includes nature and the making of a naturalist. Some might enjoy it most and others will be anxious to get back to nature niche writings.

Before I was five, we found a turtle and placed it in a confined pen in the backyard. Maybe we were going to keep it as a pet. My mother discovered it missing and learned I released it. It wandered off to live free and happy. I do not recall if that was my intent or if I got it out of the pen and it escaped. We had a chameleon and a goldfish that died because they received inadequate care. Those were difficult lessons that were hardest on the animals. Proper care for life was developing. We had an albino rat that fared better with us. 

A squirrel entered and left a tree cavity. I climbed the tree and felt babies in the hollow. I dropped naked blind squirrels to my friend Jimmy who caught them. I planned to raise them but mom said no and to put them back in the nest. We did and hopefully the mother reared them. I was learning how to live with nature. 

Scientific inquiry began before age five. I can recall the timeline because we moved to a new home after ours burned. I pushed a metal paper clip into an electric wall socket in our first house. I got a U-shaped burn on my thumb and it burned a paperclip shape into the wood floor. It was the first time I thought I died.

Part 2 ‘Naturalist Comes of Age’ next week. 

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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Colors of fall brighten

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve

Now that leaves are down and brown, the colors of fall brighten yards for those who feed birds. The first white snow will bring out vivid color when cardinal red appears like a Christmas ornament lighted from inside. Male Northern Cardinals beam with color against a white fluffy coating on evergreen boughs. 

The first snow brings excitement for young to old and is most enjoyed when large flakes drift slowly without the threat of dangerous roads. The threat to bird survival increases with the loss of active insects but avian migration has moved many to winter grounds where invertebrate activity continues. Locally, bird residents have shifted their diet to seeds and hidden dormant bugs. 

Some birds like the Brown Creeper remain almost as hidden as dormant insects. I saw one climbing in spirals up a large oak but only because its activity captured my eye. The brown and white pattern make its feathers almost invisible against oak bark. The movement of climbing from the base of a tree upward and then flying to the base of another to climb is characteristic of its nature niche behavior. As the creeper climbs, it probes its long thin curved bill into bark crevasses for eggs and inactive insects. The activity easily goes unnoticed.

Blue Jay’s back, tail, and head crest are iridescent blue and accented with mottled white on feathers. It brings cheer to the yard. They arrive decorated with a black necklace on a gray breast. Along with the cardinal, jays are colorful birds flitting through the yard. Most birds are subdued with black, gray, and white but often sport patches of rust color like seen on the Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and White-breasted Nuthatch. 

Anticipate that winter will bring Red-breasted Nuthatches, Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins, and Evening Grosbeaks. All have been reported this fall coming from the north but none have paid me a visit this year. A favorite with a glowing sun bright yellow on the Evening Grosbeak and for our region it has had a limited occurrence in recent decades. This year they are a scattered treat arriving this far south. Their large size and bright color makes one think they would be typical in a southern rainforest. Instead they mostly remain north in the boreal conifer forest. When we lived in northern Minnesota they were daily regulars at our winter feeders. 

The Red-breasted Nuthatch is a northern species that more commonly spends the winter in our area than the grosbeak. It is most frequently seen among pine and spruce trees that establish in yards. The red breast contrasts them with the white underside of the White-breasted Nuthatch. Even the White-breasted Nuthatch has a touch of cinnamon on the belly near the tail. Brighter than cinnamon are red feathers covering much of the body on Pine Grosbeaks, but they only arrive in eruptive years where they flock to berry trees. Keep watch.

Common Redpolls are seldom common winter visitors from the north to our region but have arrived this year. Perhaps this year’s seed production was small in the north forcing birds south. They look a bit like a small House Finch but red is restricted to a small tight red cap, black chin, and red on the upper breast. Unlike House Finches, redpolls lack red on the back. Their bills are pointed and smaller than a House Finch’s bulky beak. 

Pine Siskins forego red and have yellow wing bars that might be difficult to discern. They look somewhat like a female House Finch but have a smaller pointed beak and are slimmer.

This year I have not seen five of the species described above at our bird restaurant. A Fox Sparrow has been foraging on the ground among fallen leaves. Leaf cover is left under the front yard sugar maple creating winter habitat. This sparrow has dark rust streaking on the breast, a reddish-brown back and brighter foxy red tail. 

Even though fall leaf color is gone, enjoy the end of fall and throughout the winter with brightened bird colors in neighborhoods now that leaves do not block viewing. 

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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DNR rescues missing hunter near Sleeping Bear Dunes

Rain, cool temperatures and 40 mph winds created challenges for emergency responders searching for a lost North Carolina man on opening day of the 2020 firearm deer season.

“Sunday night, Conservation Officer Amanda McCurdy coordinated a successful multiagency search and rescue for a missing hunter,” said Chief Gary Hagler, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division. “First responders faced inclement weather conditions in already challenging terrain. McCurdy’s response, with the assistance of seven other conservation officers and assisting agencies successfully resolved this search and rescue within six hours.”

McCurdy, who has been a conservation officer since 2017, received a call from Benzie County Central Dispatch at 6:58 p.m. Sunday about a missing 75-year-old man from Candler, North Carolina, with a history of health complications. The man had been at deer camp with friends and family, hunting the same spot in Benzie County for the last 20 years.

Due to the weather, the group decided not to hunt Sunday, and everyone reunited at the cabin. By Sunday afternoon, others at camp realized nobody had seen or heard from their missing friend since watching him leave the cabin that morning. Familiar with their friend’s preferred hunting spots, the group searched and located the man’s vehicle, but no sign of him.

While en route to the scene, located off of Boekeloo Road in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, McCurdy began requesting assistance from conservation officers patrolling the surrounding area.

McCurdy met two deputies from the Benzie County Sheriff’s Office and the missing man’s friends and family, who said the man likely would be at one of two hunting spots. McCurdy asked the group to lead her to the hunting spots so she could begin looking for clues to help officers locate the man.

“The terrain was very difficult, thick and damp—not even navigable,” McCurdy said.

Knowing a ground search would be near impossible, McCurdy requested helicopter assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard.

During this time, McCurdy was joined by seven conservation officers, two Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park Service rangers, Benzie County Office of Emergency Management, Frankfort Fire Department, Michigan State Police K-9 Unit, Benzie County EMS and members of the Benzie County Sheriff’s Office.

Everyone exited the woods so the helicopter search team would have a better chance isolating and identifying the missing man’s heat signal. With officers stationed around the national park, Sgt. Dan Bigger, conservation officer supervisor in Benzie County, led the search from the air in the helicopter, communicating with the team on ground.

At 8:48 p.m., the helicopter crew saw what appeared to be a light in the woods. Directed by the helicopter crew, the MSP K-9 unit located the missing man, who was stuck in the mud, shining a flashlight at the helicopter.

Officers helped the man exit the woods, until a DNR off-road vehicle was able to navigate into the woods and transport the man the rest of the way. Benzie County EMS provided on-site care.

“This search was successful due to the overwhelming number of conservation officers and other agencies who were willing to help,” McCurdy said. “It was a team effort; everyone had an important role to play to ensure this hunter didn’tt spend a cold, wet and lonely night in the woods.”

The scene was cleared before midnight. The hunter was not admitted to the hospital and as of Monday afternoon is expected to make a full recovery.

Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned state peace officers who provide natural resources protection, ensure recreational safety and protect citizens by providing general law enforcement duties and conducting lifesaving operations in the communities they serve. These officers undergo extensive search and rescue training to locate missing persons and have specialized equipment to navigate rural and difficult terrain.

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CWD test sample collection sites

Michigan Department of Natural Resources partners from Michigan State University Extension and the Quality Deer Management Association will host chronic wasting disease test sample collection sites in Kent, Ionia and Montcalm counties in November.

Hunters in these counties may submit their deer for free CWD testing at DNR check stations from Nov. 15-18 only; outside of this timeframe, hunters still can submit their deer for CWD testing for a fee by pulling appropriate tissue samples and submitting them to a USDA-approved laboratory.

MSU and QDMA staff and volunteers at test sample collection sites will be available to assist deer hunters with lymph node removal and will transport CWD samples to the Michigan State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, a USDA-approved laboratory, for testing.

The sites will be open from 3 to 8 p.m. Sample collection dates and locations are as follows:

  • Nov. 8 Rustic Sports Shop, 519 Ensley St., Howard City.
  • Nov. 20 Magnum Sports, 6227 S. Greenville Road, Greenville.
  • Nov. 22 Belding Hometown Hardware, 930 W. State St., Belding.
  • Nov. 28 Sadler’s Great Outdoors, 3160 W. M-46, Six Lakes.

All hunters, regardless of where their deer was taken, are welcome and encouraged to bring their deer to these testing collection sites to get help collecting the appropriate tissue samples and submit those samples for CWD testing.

You can find instructions, order and pay for testing, and find resources for lymph node collection at AnimalHealth.MSU.edu.

Before visiting a collection site to submit a sample, order and pay for your CWD test at https://tinyurl.com/MSUcwdtest. When filling out the information, select “I will bring the specimen to MSU VDL Building.” Be sure to print off a copy of your receipt to include with your sample.

Then, bring any legally tagged whole deer, deer head or extracted lymph nodes to the collection site. If you took the deer prior to the collection day, freeze the lymph nodes or head to preserve the tissue so that it will be suitable for testing. Submitted samples will be properly packaged with the individual CWD test order receipt, kept frozen and transported to the Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

For questions about CWD test sample collection sites, please email Katie Ockert, MSU Extension CWD educator. Learn more about CWD in Michigan at Michigan.gov/CWD.

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Essential oils and plant defenses

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

People use essential oils in aroma therapy, for relaxation, muscle soreness, and possibly other things.

“Essence” is the key word and it is not essential in the sense that it has value like found in some chemicals for body functions like iron, iodine, and potassium.

Website articles touch on essential oils as a pest repellent for things like mosquitos and do not discuss the nature niche role of the oils for protecting plants from pests that cause them harm. Evolution of essential oils has an ecological defense function that harms pestiferous organisms and helps prevent them from using the plant. In general they repel insects. Mammals are not as seriously impacted by harmful effects. Greater exception applies to cats. 

Aromas from products should be used in well ventilated areas but this lessens the desired impact of filling the room with a chosen odor such as Lavender.

Essential oils can have negative impacts for people of all ages but are especially harmful for infants and children under age ten because they have thin skin that absorbs chemicals rapidly and their livers are not fully developed to help filter chemicals.

People with respiratory issues are more highly vulnerable to harm from essential oils. Remember essential in these plants refers to “essence or smell.”

Some chemicals like citrus oils increase sensitivity to ultraviolet light and enhance danger to sunburn.

If used as an insect repellent, they evaporate readily requiring frequent application. It is recommended that topical use should not be used continuously but should be added at intervals of at least two hours. I expect aroma therapy applicators are at high risk for complications related to exposure. Anyone exposed for extended periods of time should consult a physician with experience or specific knowledge regarding essential oils. 

Keep in mind that plants have primarily evolved essential oils as a response that protects them from certain insects. Mint, lavender, and orange oils are defensive chemicals. 

When studying plant chemicals in entomology courses, the approach is greatly different than the information that appears in articles about aroma therapy. 

Inhalation and application to skin can have harmful effects. Articles for medical use caution us by suggesting dilution and limited exposure. That particularly applies for children, people with compromised health issues, and people with respiratory impairment. 

Essential oil can cause skin rashes. It might be good to pretend you are an insect and avoid essential oils but keep in mind they do not appear to have as serious negative impacts for mammals. 

Essential oils are not regulated by the FDA and most testing is inconclusive regarding health benefits. Like happens with most things, people choose what they want to believe and dismiss science evidence when it is not what they desire or choose to believe. 

Science is not about belief but is about what physical evidence supports. Controlled testing of essential oils is not well studied with controlled scientific methodology experiments.

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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Top 10 hunting violations during firearm deer season

Conservation Officer Richard Cardenas listens to a successful hunter explain how he legally took his deer on opening day of the 2019 firearm season in Barry County, Michigan. Photo courtesy of the Michigan DNR.

As Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers gear up for the 2020 firearm deer season, they are expecting that this year’s higher hunting license sales will mean more new and experienced hunters in the woods. Here’s a list of the 10 most common hunting violations that conservation officers encounter every firearm season—most of which easily can be avoided with a little research and planning.

#1 Using the wrong tag or improperly filling out a tag

Conservation officers often see the wrong kill tag on game  such as fish or turkey licenses on a deer. Often, this is a simple mistake made in the dark and can easily be corrected by re-tagging the deer as soon as you notice the error.

Solution: Before field-dressing or moving the deer, kill tags should be filled out (including the month and date the deer was taken and the deer’s gender and number of antler points) and properly placed on the deer.

#2 Not wearing orange

Some hunters remove their orange clothing once they get into deer stands or blinds. In the excitement of getting a deer, hunters may forget to put their orange clothing back on.

Solution: Commit to wearing hunter orange to keep yourself and others safe. Hunters are required by law to wear hunter orange as the outermost layer of clothing at all times. The DNR recommends wearing as much hunter orange as possible to increase visibility to other hunters. Orange and other bright colors do not affect a deer’s behavior. Hunter orange garments, including camouflage, must be at least 50 percent hunter orange and be visible from all directions. Clothing options include a cap, hat, vest, jacket or raincoat.

#3 Being unfamiliar with a firearm and how it functions 

Semi-automatic, lever, bolt and pump-action firearms are common choices among hunters, but each firearm functions very differently.

Solution: Take the time to familiarize yourself with your firearm and make sure it is properly sighted and functioning before you go hunting. Being able to safely handle your firearm is an important part of being a responsible hunter.

#4 Committing safety zone violations

Each year conservation officers investigate property damage caused by firearms.

Solution: Rifle rounds travel long distances and hunters are responsible for where their bullets end up. Know the area you’ll be hunting, including nearby buildings and properties. No one may hunt with a firearm within 450 feet of an occupied structure (including buildings, dwellings, homes, residences, cabins, barns or structures used for farm operations) unless they have permission from the landowner.

#5 Trespassing

If a deer runs onto private property, the hunter cannot retrieve it without the landowner’s permission. Conservation officers are usually contacted when trespass disagreements escalate and a resolution cannot be reached.

Solution: Respect landowner rights and posted trespassing signs. If you’ll be hunting near someone else’s property, contact the landowner ahead of time; don’t wait until you’re tracking game. Most of the time, a friendly call or visit to your neighbor will remedy the situation.

#6 Staking claims to public land hunting blinds

Confrontations over hunting spots, or the illegal posting (trespassing or hunting signs) of state-managed public land, happen every year. Conservation officers are asked to help resolve such disputes and say the main reason for these situations is usually last-minute hunters who randomly pick a spot.

Solution: Hunters should research and scout the land they plan to hunt before hunting day. Brush, constructed blinds and tree stands on public land are just that—public. Regardless of who constructed, purchased or tends to these blinds, when they’re on state-managed public land, they are available on a first come, first-served basis. Public land cannot be posted or reserved.

Tree stands used on public land must be portable and have the hunters name, address and Michigan driver’s license number or DNR sportcard number affixed in legible English that can easily be read from the ground. Hunting platforms cannot be affixed or attached to any tree by nails, screws or bolts.

#7 Littering

Leaving propane bottles, hand warmer wrappers, food wrappers, bottles and other trash causes problems for animals and people.

Solution: Practice the leave no trace ethic. Whatever is brought into the woods should be taken back out. It is the responsibility of all hunters to be environmental stewards and clean up after themselves.

#8 Baiting/attracting deer

Conservation officers stay busy responding to calls about illegal baiting in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and portions of the Upper Peninsula.

Solution: Know the law. Baiting and feeding are banned in the entire Lower Peninsula and portions of the Upper Peninsula except for hunters with disabilities, who meet specific requirements.

In approved Upper Peninsula baiting areas, 2 gallons of bait can be spread in an area that measures 10 feet by 10 feet. On commercial forest land, bait must be brought in each night, unless the landowner has given permission. Use bait sparingly to help curb the spread of deer diseases like bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease. 

#9 Hunting out of hours or off-season

One of the most common complaints to the DNRs Report All Poaching Hotline is about shots fired after dark. Often, these complaints are reported days later.

Solution: A hunter may legally shoot game 30 minutes before sunrise or until 30 minutes after sunset. Anyone who witnesses or suspects hunting outside of legal hours should immediately call or text the DNRs Report All Poaching hotline at 800-292-7800. Fast reporting makes it more likely that a conservation officer will identify the suspect.

#10 Harassing hunters

Conservation officers investigate acts of hunter harassment, which is when a person or organization intentionally sabotages another hunter’s quality opportunity to take game. Examples include spraying repellent around a hunter’s blind, creating loud noises and/or barriers that prevent or deter a hunter or game from accessing an area, or destroying other hunters’ equipment such as trail cameras and blinds.

Solution: Respect the law. Michigan law prohibits anyone obstructing or interfering with the lawful taking of animals. Hunter harassment is a misdemeanor offense.

Anyone who feels targeted by hunter harassment or who witnesses a natural resource violation should immediately call or text the Report All Poaching Hotline line at 800-292-7800. Information can be left anonymously; monetary rewards may be offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of violators.

Hunter education teaches hunters about safe, ethical hunting practices. A valid hunter safety certificate is required to purchase a hunting license in Michigan. Complete hunter education online at Michigan.gov/HunterEducation.

Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned state peace officers who provide natural resources protection, ensure recreational safety and protect citizens through general law enforcement and conducting lifesaving operations in the communities they serve. Learn more at Michigan.gov/ConservationOfficers. 

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Deer hunters can enter prize drawings while helping feed hungry families

Hunters can help hungry families in their community – and have the chance to earn a prize – by donating a deer to Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger. 

As Michigan’s firearm deer season draws near, and with bow season already underway, hunters can help hungry families in their community by donating a deer to Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger.

For a third year, the DNR is cooperating with the organization and Jay’s Sporting Goods in Clare to accept deer for donation to local food banks. Hunters in northeast Michigan will have a new opportunity to participate by donating at Northwoods Wholesale Outlet in Pinconning.

Hunters donating a legally taken deer at the Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger truck at the Jayy’s Clare location or Northwoods Wholesale Outlet in Pinconning will have their name entered for a chance to win a $500 gift certificate from the store where they donated. 

A donation truck will be at Jay’s, located at 8800 S. Clare Ave. in Clare, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 16; Friday, Nov. 20; and Saturday, Nov. 21. Deer donated at Jay’ss will be processed at Carson Village Market in Carson City.

Northwoods Wholesale Outlet, located at 229 W. 5th St. in Pinconning, will host a truck from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 15, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 16.

Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that helps connect donors, wild game processors and charities like food banks, pantries and shelters that offer critical food assistance.

The organization processed over 82,000 pounds of ground venison last year, providing more than 400,000 meals for families in need.

“Last year was great, but with the pandemic, the need for food donations is even greater. I would love to hit 100,000 pounds this year,” said Dean Hall, executive officer of Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger.

To learn more about the prize drawing, find a participating processor or make a monetary donation to support venison processing, visit

Hunters also can make a monetary donation when they buy a hunting license.

Questions? Contact Ray Rustem at 517-420-0005

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Break out your binoculars for bald eagles

The bald eagle is an iconic bird that holds special meaning for many Michiganders. They can be found in the state year-round, and, if you didn’t spot any this summer, you still might see one of these handsome birds in the coming winter months. Keep your binoculars handy; bald eagles can be seen congregating around open bodies of water hunting for fish. You can use the eBird website to see where eagles have been spotted.

Eagles, while still protected by state and federal laws, have recovered in number and it’s not uncommon to see them throughout Michigan. Bald eagles—white head and tail feathers are striking features, but did you know that the birds don’t get these white feathers until they’re 5 years old? This is also when they start looking for a mate. Immature eagles are all brown with white mottling.

During the early spring and summer months you might be fortunate enough to see an eagle nest site and get to watch the adults raise their chicks. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there were almost 850 bald eagle nests in Michigan in 2019! Nests were found in 81 of the state’s 83 counties.

Michigan is also lucky to get occasional visits from one of North America’s other eagles—the golden eagle. While golden eagles don’t nest in Michigan, they can be seen moving through the state during fall and spring migrations. These large, majestic birds are an exciting sight, so break out your binoculars and keep your eyes trained on the sky.

The All About Birds site by The Cornell Lab has helpful information and bird identification tips, including for the bald eagle and golden eagle.

Additional tips and information about wildlife viewing in Michigan can be found at Michigan.gov/Wildlife.

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Fall purple fungus

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller


A memorable experience with 4th graders during a fall was discovering a purple coral fungus at the Howard Christensen Nature Center. It lingers in my mind to be shared again. I have wonderful memories of leading students on the 7 miles of trails through a great variety of habitats. Our interpretive teachers found work at HCNC among the most enjoyable they experienced. I hope the 15-18000 students that annually explored with school groups share similar memories with their families now they are grown. Hopefully they have family outings on the trails.

Priscilla Johnson, an interpretive teacher naturalist at HCNC, recently died at age 96. She requested memorial donations be given to HCNC. HCNC continues to offer both school and family events. They have a rent a retreat center. Please consider sending a memorial donation to HCNC, PO Box 42, Kent City, MI 49330. I encourage membership for added benefits. HCNC’s web site – www.howardchristensen.org

A boy named Lester found a purple coral fungus and wanted to know its name. I told him that I did not know that particular coral fungus species and perhaps it could be a new species to science for all I know. We explored several coral fungi that day as well as a great variety of other fungi. The fall had been wet and warm. It was perhaps the best fungi October I had experienced and I greatly enjoyed discoveries with fieldtrip participants. 

Our group decided to name Lester’s purple fungus, Fungi lesteri, in his honor. One year later, the students returned as 5th graders to HCNC. As they approached where I greeted students at the entrance to the Red Pine Interpretive Building, the students started yelling, “Remember him. This is Lester.” Fortunately his relatively uncommon name triggered my memory and I immediately said “Yes, Fungi lesteri.” There was great thrill in reliving our experience with that pretty fungi and those students hoped they would again be in my group on this visit. One significant event can be life changing. 

Getting to know and name this wonderful purple fungus built a comradeship among the group but also with this wonderful creature in whose home we were guests. The name is only special to our group. Scientists know it by a different name but that does not matter. To those of us exploring that day, the fungus is special. Create special memorable discoveries with your family and friends at HCNC. 

Now decades later, I expect those students remember Fungi lesteri and their outdoor experience. I hope they spend time observing fellow nature niche creatures that share habitats with us. The name is not what will be found in books or scientific literature but having our own “local name” is special and important to us. Build your own relationship with something you discover and share with others. It is always fun to reminisce at holiday gatherings. 

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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It’s Bat Week!

This red bat is one of nine species of bats in Michigan. Learn more about Michigan bats during at Michigan.gov/bats. Photo courtesty Michigan DNR.

Bats do some pretty amazing things for Michigan, and there’s no better time to spotlight them than during Bat Week (Oct. 24-31), an annual international celebration. It’s a good opportunity to learn about these important species and consider the benefits of bats.

Michigan is home to nine different bat species, including the handsome red bat, all of which are insectivores. During the evening hours, these flying mammals consume many insects including mosquitoes, beetles, moths and flies.

But the bat benefits don’t stop there. Other species in different parts of the country provide much-needed crop pollination and seed dispersal, helping agriculture and the local environment.

Bats are important members of Michigan’s ecosystems, but, unfortunately, many species are in decline. White-nose syndrome (www.whitenosesyndrome.org) is a deadly disease that affects North American bats primarily during their winter hibernation. Infected bats wake up early from hibernation, rapidly deplete their fat reserves and are unable to survive the winter. Bats with this disease often exhibit unusual behavior, like flying during daylight hours or gathering outside of caves in cold weather.

There are plenty of ways to support Michigan’s bats. You can:

Visit BatWeek.org during Bat Week and all year long.

Get more information on our states bat species and ways to help at Michigan.gov/Bats.

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