web analytics

Archive | Outdoors

Sky Fire

Nature-Niche-Ranger-Steve-Head-ShotBy Ranger Steve Mueller


We each have the privilege of being born during a special time. The events surrounding our personal birth vary and add spice to ones personal life history. I was born during the most spectacular meteor shower of the year.

The Perseids Meteor Shower provides a fiery light show to mark my birthday or so it’s fun to believe. Of course scientific evidence does not demonstrate such a relationship but we can each believe what we desire despite evidence to the contrary. We tend to place our own lives at the center of the universe and we like to think all that happens revolves around us.

When we take time to examine our place in the great scheme of things, we discover we are not the most important in the universe even though we tend to think we are. When we live well, we find we can be important to others and that we can improve the lives for all around us. We can be a shooting star that brightens the lives of others or we can stay focused on our own perceived self-importance and self-interest.

Imagine the light from shooting stars during the Perseids Meteor Shower as shimmering light reflecting a person’s good deed done for another or someone’s soul traversing into the great beyond. We can create stories that enthrall our imaginations, pleasure, and desired beliefs. Such stories move our hearts and spirits in ways that science does not and make for the best and most appealing “Hallmark” stories.

Science, however, provides a more accurate account of how nature and its processes work. Such explanations have their own charm and lead to great discoveries. If it were not for scientific discoveries, we would not have recently received pictures of the surface of Pluto. Scientific discoveries from the space program have also improved our daily lives here on Earth’s surface.

The reason the Perseids Meteor Shower occurs in mid August has to do with our planet traveling around the sun once a year. When it arrives at the same location in mid August each year, the Earth collides with debris left by the comet when it passed. Comets, like planets, have an orbit around the sun. Their orbits are greater than planetary orbits and often require hundreds or thousands of years to make a trip around the sun.

Where the comet’s path crosses Earth’s orbit, debris is left in space. When the Earth passes where the comet traveled, it collides with debris left by the comet. Earth’s gravitation pulls debris toward the Earth causing it to heat, glow and vaporize on its descent through the atmosphere. The average size of a “shooting star” is five ten thousandths of an ounce (.0005). That is about the size of a sand grain. We see the flash of light as it vaporizes 50 to 75 miles above the Earth’s surface.

Meteors or “shooting stars” can be seen any night of the year but more occur when Earth passes where more debris is present. The peak of the Perseids shower occurs between August 11 and 13 in celebration of my birthday. Everything in the universe revolves around my life or maybe it’s around your life.

Well science is not personal but that does not stop us from making things personal, fun, and meaningful in ways that enrich our existence. Take time to enjoy all aspects of nature niches from soil particles in your yard to specks of dust in outer space. Our limited presence in time is as fleeting as a shooting star’s when compared with the five billion year Earth history. Take advantage of the wonder and joy in each fleeting moment of life.

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.

Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments (0)

Weekly fishing tip


OUT-Weekly-fishing-tip-crappie_originalUnderstanding the thermocline 

From Michigan DNR

Most lakes, sometime during the summer, will develop a thermocline. Understanding how the thermocline works and what it means for your fishing tactics, is important to having a successful day on the water.

Here are a few simple things to keep in mind in relation to the thermocline and its parallel layers.

Epilimnion Layer

This layer is at the top and thus receives the most sunlight. You’ll typically find bluegill and bass (and other warmwater and bait species) here as it’s the warmest.

Thermocline Layer

This is the middle layer. You’ll often find crappie and walleye congregate here.

Hypolimnion Layer 

This is the bottom layer and also the coldest and densest. Species you’ll find here include lake trout, whitefish and northern pike.

Keep in mind the thermocline can change day to day and in the fall it will mix with the other layers to create an entirely different dynamic of the lake.

This tip was adapted from Michigan Outdoor News.

Posted in OutdoorsComments (0)

Weekly Fishing Tip: Summer bluegill fishing 


OUT-Fishing-tip-bluegill-edit_originalFrom the Michigan DNR

Once bluegills have finished spawning in the spring and they are no longer concentrated in shallow bedding areas, larger adult bluegill can be hard to locate. Because of this, many anglers give up targeting this tasty fish until the next spring. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Here are three tips on how to locate and catch this scrappy fighter and great table fare after the warm days of summer have arrived.

First and foremost, go deep! The larger bluegill (and often other species as well) move out from shore and down into deeper water where temperatures remain much cooler. In most typical Michigan lakes this means fishing about 10-15 feet down either with slip bobbers or drifting without a bobber using a lightly-weighted line (1-2 small split shot), a small hook on the end, and enough line out to keep your bait at those depths. In lakes with clear water, you may have to go as deep as 20 feet or more.

Second, try different baits. While half a crawler or a large worm with a small hook in just one end is always good, the larger fish also love leeches or crickets if your local bait shop has them available. The tough skin on a leech usually allows you to catch several fish on each bait, and the wiggling legs on a cricket seem to be irresistible. Scented leech imitations or even the wax worms used while ice fishing can also work.

And third, don’t be afraid to move away from the shore. During warm weather the larger bluegill often suspend out in the middle of the lake. A slow, leisurely drift without a bobber across deeper areas can often lead to finding such a suspended school. You can then stop and target them with slip bobbers or keep drifting through the same area resulting in catching several of the larger fish suspended there.
But beware! You never know when a much larger fish such as a walleye, bass or good-size yellow perch might also be hanging out in that deeper water and hungry enough to grab that tasty morsel drifting by. Have fun! Relax! And good fishin’!
This tip was written by: Jeff Braunscheidel, Southeast Michigan Fisheries Biologist.

Posted in OutdoorsComments (0)

Where are the Orioles?

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


Unexpectedly, male Baltimore Orioles disappeared from a reader’s feeder by late July. Females increased. He (Egan) wondered what caused the change. He thought maybe this year’s young resemble females and that would account for the apparent increase in females. He was correct about the immature birds.

During breeding season, more colorful males help with rearing the nestlings. They bring insects and continue to drink nectar at feeders and eat oranges. With seasonal progression, behavior changes.

Orioles begin migrating south in late July and August, but some will be present throughout August. Changes in male behavior make them less conspicuous after young fledge the nest. Adult males become more solitary and feeding locations change. They feed on protein rich insects hidden in the upper canopy of trees. We need to search high tree foliage where it is difficult to view birds.

Orioles feed heavily on caterpillars and take fuzzy hairy ones that many birds avoid. They also eat beetles that become abundant mid to late in summer. They eat a native plant fruit that becomes ripe during late July and August. It is good reason to use little or no herbicides and pesticides.

Baltimore Orioles, like most songbirds, have altricial young, meaning they hatch blind and naked. They require complete parental care that includes frequent feeding and heat from the parent. The young cannot regulate body temperature for days after hatching. They easily become hypothermic or hyperthermic and die from cold or heat exposure if the adult does not sit on them or shelter from heat. Altricial birds are one of the few vertebrate animals that do not have cute babies.

Scientists study orioles to understand evolutionary origins of species. Physical structure (morphology) including feathers, bones, and organs are used along with behavior natural history (ethology) of feeding, nest building, migration, and mate selection. In the 1970’s, the western Bullock’s Oriole was combined with Baltimore Oriole and the two were considered one species called the Northern Oriole. If you have an older bird field guide, it might list the local species as Northern Oriole.

Bullock’s and Baltimore Orioles where found to interbreed when they came together where humans connected tree habitat by planting trees across mid-America. That caused us to determine they were one species because their offspring could survive and reproduce fertile viable young, unlike clearly separate species like the horse and donkey that produce infertile offspring called mules. Later studies demonstrated that the two birds do not normally interbreed and ethological behaviors keep their genes isolated. Near the turn of the 21st century, the advent of genetic DNA sequencing demonstrated distinct differences and additional ethological studies resulted in the two bird populations being separated again. Science is self-correcting as continued research provides additional evidence. Many species demonstrate close relatedness (missing links).

Greater depth studies of morphology (physical structure), behavior, natural history, and genetic sequencing help scientists develop phylogenetic trees (cladigrams), better known to most of us as genealogy history charts. For general human use, we go to geneology.com. but to discover species relationships, scientists use a larger body of evidence. The result has been the discovery of species connectedness often referred to as “missing links” supporting evidence for evolution. Studies have become valuable for understanding evolutionary history of genetic immunology and advanced medical applications. Recently my column described how cardio glycosides from milkweed are sequestered in Monarchs and the chemical has been used to save human lives when used to correct irregular heat beat. Nature niches have relationships refined through evolutionary adaptation. There are never ending opportunities for discovery. Have fun observing unique relationships among organisms in your yard.

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.

Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments (0)

Check trees for Asian longhorned beetle

Adult Beetle—Large black beetles with white spots on wing covers; antennae have a white band at the base of each segment. Photo courtesy US Forest Service.

Adult Beetle—Large black beetles with white spots on wing covers; antennae have a white band at the base of each segment. Photo courtesy US Forest Service.

August is national tree check month, which makes it a great time for Michiganders and travelers alike to be on the lookout for invasive, destructive pests threatening the state’s forest landscape. The Michigan departments of Agriculture and Rural Development, Environmental Quality and Natural Resources, along with the U.S Department of Agriculture, are asking people to take time out this month to examine trees for signs of Asian longhorned beetle, a highly destructive invasive pest.

Take just 10 minutes this month to check trees around homes for Asian longhorned beetle or any signs of the damage it causes. Out for a stroll? Look for signs around the neighborhood, at local parks and favorite recreation spots. Early detection and response are vital to protecting Michigan’s trees.

Dead Tree—Box elder killed by Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB). Bark has fallen off, revealing larval galleries and exit holes. Photo courtesy US Forest Service.

Dead Tree—Box elder killed by Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB). Bark has fallen off, revealing larval galleries and exit holes. Photo courtesy US Forest Service.

Adult Asian longhorned beetles are distinctively large, ranging from three-quarters of an inch to 1 and one-half inches in length, not including their long antennae. The beetles are shiny black, with random white blotches or spots, and their antennae have alternating black and white segments. They have six legs that can be black or partly blue, with blue coloration sometimes extending to their feet. The Asian longhorned beetle was first identified in the United States in 1996, likely transported from Asia in wood packing materials. Like the emerald ash borer, the Asian longhorned beetle spends most of its life cycle eating its way through the insides of trees. What makes ALB much more dangerous is that it feeds on a wide variety of tree species. Its first choice is maple, but it also will infest birch, elm, willow, buckeye, horse chestnut and other hardwoods. The damage caused by Asian longhorned beetles ultimately will destroy an infested tree. Adult beetles are active in late summer to early fall. During that brief window, beetles may be seen and some of the telltale signs of infestation may be more noticeable. Female beetles chew oval depressions in which they lay eggs. When larvae hatch, they burrow deep into the heartwood of the tree where insecticides can’t reach, creating large chambers in the wood. The next summer, fully formed adult beetles emerge from trees by boring perfectly round, three-eighths-inch-diameter exit holes. Sometimes a material resembling wood shavings can be seen at or below these holes or coming from cracks in an infested tree’s bark. Once a tree is infested, it must be removed. To date, there are no known infestations of Asian longhorned beetle in Michigan. However, the beetle has been found in areas of Ohio, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Ontario (Toronto). “Though the beetle does not move long distances on its own, it can be transported in firewood,” said John Bedford, Pest Response Program specialist at the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. “When traveling, leave your firewood at home. Buy it at your destination point and burn it there.”

Anyone observing an actual beetle or a tree that appears to be damaged is asked to report it. If possible, capture the beetle in a jar, take photos, record the location, and report it as soon as possible through the USDA’s Asian longhorned beetle website, www.asianlonghornedbeetle.com or contact MDARD at 800-292-3939 or MDA-info@michigan.gov.

MDARD’s Asian longhorned beetle Web page provides more information and photos to help identify the beetles and signs of the damage they cause to trees.

Posted in Featured, OutdoorsComments (0)

DNR arrests four for buying and selling of black bear parts


Three residents from Kent County and another from Chippewa County have been arrested on charges related to buying and selling wildlife, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources today announced this week. The arrests are the result of a multiyear investigation by the DNR’s Special Investigations Unit.
The complaint originated from information gathered from confidential informants who were concerned about the illegal trade in black bear parts.
“Individuals soliciting for the purchase of black bear parts creates a market for the illegal parts and provides a financial incentive for poachers to take the animals during closed seasons, in excess of established limits and by unlawful methods,” said DNR Detective Lt. Jason Haines, who heads the investigative unit. “There is a black market for black bear parts in Asia, where the parts are used for medicinal purposes.”
In all, 11 misdemeanors were charged among the defendants—three male and one female. Each of the charges carries a fine of up to $1,000 and 90 days in jail, plus $1,500 reimbursement for each animal illegally purchased. The Kent County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office authorized charges against the following individuals, who are Grand Rapids-area residents:

Tuan Hoa Pham, 52, of Kentwood, Michigan, was charged with one count of buying bear parts and one count of buying sport-caught fish.

Hoang Linh-Duy Tran, 45, of Wyoming, Michigan, was charged with two counts of buying a black bear.

Hoa Trung Huynh, 51, of Kentwood, Michigan, was charged with one count of illegally possessing black bear parts and one count of aiding and abetting the purchase of black bear parts.

The three defendants were arrested and lodged in the Kent County Jail in Grand Rapids. They have waived arraignment and are scheduled for a pretrial hearing Aug. 27, in Kent County District Court.
In the Upper Peninsula, the Chippewa County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office issued a five-count warrant against a Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, man:

Hieu Van Hoang, 45, was charged with purchasing bear and deer parts.

Hoang was served the warrants in the Chippewa County Jail in Sault Ste. Marie, where he is being detained on a felony of allegedly attempting to murder his wife.
Hoang was arraigned on the wildlife misdemeanors in Chippewa County District Court. A pretrial hearing on those charges is set for Aug. 18.
“The Special Investigations Unit plays a vital role investigating and arresting major violators and its cases often include interstate and international violations,” said DNR Law Enforcement Division Chief Gary Hagler. “The unit’s role in the law enforcement division is to use undercover investigations and the latest in technology and forensics to apprehend poachers and others who are illegally commercializing fish and game in our state.”
Hagler said the investigative unit works with DNR conservation officers to build strong cases and to protect Michigan’s natural resources.
Anyone with information on the illegal commercialization of any Michigan fish or wildlife or any other natural resources violations is encouraged to call the DNR’s Report All Poaching hotline at 800-292-7800.

Posted in News, OutdoorsComments (0)

Citizen Science Butterfly Count


By Ranger Steve Mueller


On July 12, area citizens gathered to count butterflies on the Rogue River Butterfly Count. The previous nature niche article explained how butterfly surveys might save human lives by monitoring population trends for species useful in medical discoveries.

Community members are encouraged to join on the counts to learn butterflies and their association with local nature niche habitats. The counts are fun ways to get outside, enjoy nature, and learn from those knowledgeable about butterflies. The information gathered on counts has broader human health benefits explained previously.

On this year’s Rogue River count, we saw 35 species (Table 1). If you did not join on the count, consider participating next year. Join the West Michigan Butterfly Association for $5 to stay connected (www.graud.org/wmba.html). If exploring wild areas is not your style, allow your yard to support native plants that attract butterflies. Native species of violets support a variety of fritillaries, legumes support sulphur butterflies, sedges and grasses support skippers, and mustards support whites. Some species have very specific host needs while others can use a variety of plant species. Ornamental plants have limited value for supporting healthy local nature niches. Ask local nurseries if they sell native genotype plants when you select plants for your yard. Patronize nurseries that have native genotype species for sale. We use both native and ornamental species in landscaping. Find a healthy balance.

At Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, we have seen 62 species of butterflies. That is more than one third of all the butterfly species known to Michigan. Your yard can be a haven for mammals, birds, amphibians, and insects if you allow native plants to thrive.

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. 616-696-1753.

Download the results here: RogueRiverCt Sheet1.pdf

Posted in Outdoors, Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments (0)

State record for quillback broken again


Less than a month after another angler accomplished same feat

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently confirmed yet another new state-record fish, again for quillback carpsucker. This marks the fifth state-record fish caught in 2015—although two of those records have been for quillback carpsucker on the same body of water. The state record for this species was broken by a fish caught by Blake Wilson of Lake Ann, Michigan, on Hardy Dam Pond, in Newaygo County, Thursday, July 16, at 11:42 p.m. Wilson was bowfishing. The fish weighed 9.42 pounds and measured 25 inches.

The record was verified by Heather Hettinger, a DNR fisheries biologist out of Traverse City. The previous state-record quillback carpsucker was caught by Garrett Reid of Nashville, Michigan, also on Hardy Dam Pond, Saturday, June 20. That fish weighed 8.52 pounds and measured 24 inches.

“This is another example of the unique fishing opportunities we have in Michigan—particularly in the northern Lower Peninsula,” said Scott Heintzelman, the DNR’s Central Lake Michigan Management Unit manager. “More and more people are enjoying the sport of bowfishing and this water body’s quillback population, but Hardy Dam Pond also produces really nice panfish, walleye, bass, pike and other species.”
The DNR reminds anglers who bowfish to properly dispose of all specimens they harvest.  State records are recognized by weight only. To qualify for a state record, fish must exceed the current listed state-record weight and identification must be verified by a DNR fisheries biologist.
To view a current list of Michigan state fish records, visit michigan.gov/fishing.

Posted in OutdoorsComments (0)

Prevent bear problems by removing all food sources

From the Michigan DNR

As hard to believe as it might be, black bears see a bird feeder as a food source. Bird feeders, garbage cans and barbeque grills all are bear attractants that humans can control.

Bears are more noticeable to people right now, as young bears are establishing their own territories. Bears typically mate in late June to early August, and the mother will kick out her yearlings in order to do so. Those yearling bears now are looking for new, unoccupied territory and will be roaming to find a new home.
“Bears are looking for food and new territory,” said Kevin Swanson, Department of Natural Resources wildlife management specialist with the bear and wolf program. “While we might not think of bird feeders and trash cans as food sources, a hungry bear certainly may.”
Bird seed is especially attractive to bears because of its high fat content and easy access. Once bird feeders are discovered, bears will keep coming back until the seed is gone or the feeders have been removed. Bears are capable of remembering reliable food sources from year to year.
“The majority of complaints we receive about nuisance bears involve a food source, and these issues tend to rise in years when natural food availability is low,” Swanson said. “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.”
Bears that are rewarded with food each time they visit a yard can become habituated to man-made food sources. 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.
Those who have taken appropriate actions to remove food sources for a period of two to three weeks, but are not seeing results, should contact the nearest DNR office and speak with a wildlife biologist or technician for further assistance.
For more information about Michigan black bears please watch “The Bear Essentials” video at www.michigan.gov/bear.

Posted in OutdoorsComments (0)

Human Health and Insect Surveys


OUT-Nature-niche-Swamp-milkweed-monarchSome people might wonder why the Monarch butterfly is currently proposed for Federal Endangered Species status. Monarch numbers have declined significantly during this new millennium and there are several contributing factors. One concern is the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO). GMO crops have been genetically altered to be herbicide resistant so more chemicals can be used on crops, allowing higher yield to support our growing human population.

It is difficult for farmers to purchase seeds that are not genetically modified. The increased use of chemicals in farm fields has eliminated many of the milkweeds that Monarch butterflies require to successfully migrate from Mexico to Michigan.

Lincoln Brower conducted studies in the 1960’s to gain understanding about how Monarchs acquire chemicals from milkweeds that protect them from bird predators. Milkweeds developed chemical protections through natural selection that protected them from most insects trying to feed on them. Most insects cannot feed on milkweeds because of the plant’s poisons. Monarchs, milkweeds bugs, milkweed longhorned beetles and some others have developed the ability to feed on the plant and have developed ways to isolate the poisons without being killed.

Brower fed Monarchs to blue jays and the birds became ill, vomited, and had an irregular heartbeat. The birds learned to not eat Monarchs or other orange insects.

Later other scientists studied cardiac glucocides ingested by monarch’s from the milkweeds to learn how they affect the heart. It was discovered that if a person has an irregular heartbeat, the chemical could be used to help correct the heartbeat. After learning its medical value, the chemical has been manufactured in the laboratory and used to save human lives.

If monarchs were allowed to become extinct before the study, we might never have made the life saving discovery. Many, if not most, medicines first come from studying plants, fungi, and other organisms to understand their role in nature niches. Scientists do not just throw chemicals together and test them to see how they might be useful. They look to the natural world.

Butterfly and other insect surveys conducted by citizen scientists aid in monitoring the abundance and distribution of insects. Similar surveys for birds, mammals, and plants help us understand trends for various species populations. Most species have not been studied for their value to humans. The value of many has been lost to extinction and will never reveal their life saving secrets. What if the chemical in milkweeds and Monarchs was lost before the life saving use was discovered?

The recent local butterfly survey conducted by citizens like you has value for fun and learning about local nature niche relationships. It also is important in tracking population changes. The information can be used to preserve species that save human lives. Some people require a known human use before they are willing to support saving a species from extinction. It is impossible to know the value of each species. It is estimated that between five and fifteen million species live on Earth and possibly 30 million. We have named about 1.5 million so far and, for most of those, we know little about their value for us.

Insects that live in your yard might be human life saving organisms provided we do not eliminate them with pesticide and herbicide use. You have life saving control that is important for future generations. If we eliminate species, their value disappears with them. Encourage people to live in harmony with nature rather than trying to dominate it.

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

Posted in Featured, Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments (0)