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Archive | Outdoors

Call for volunteers to help with bird conservation efforts

A vigilant adult black tern watches closely as Audubon Great Lakes staffers band her newly hatched chicks. Photo taken by David Fuller.

All of our MI Birds partners are dedicated to bird conservation in Michigan, and many need your help. Several organizations are seeking community science volunteers for different projects across the state. Learn more about each program and sign up to volunteer below.

Safe Passage Great Lakes (March 15 – May 31)

Each year nearly 1 billion birds die from bird-building collisions in the U.S. alone. Volunteers are needed to monitor buildings in urban areas in Michigan that may pose a danger to migrating birds twice weekly between March 15and May 31. The data collected is then used to start conversations with building owners and city officials about making the city a more bird-friendly community.

Interested in becoming part of this community science project?

  • In Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, please contact Heidi Trudell and Alice Elliott at Washtenawsafepassage@gmail.com. 
  • At Wayne State University in*Detroit, please contact Ava Landgraf at alandgraf@detroitaudubon.org. 
  • In Lansing, please contact Linnea Rowse at lrowse@michiganaudubon.org. 
  • If you live somewhere else, but still want to participate, you can submit bird collision observations anywhere using the Global Bird Collision Mapper https://birdmapper.org/app/?utm_campaign=mi+birds+volunteers&utm_medium=mkt+email&utm_source=govdelivery app

Adopt-A-Nest Osprey Monitoring Program (March 23 – July 17)

Volunteer community scientists, like you, can adopt an osprey nest and help monitor these beautiful predatory birds for the summer. Participation in this program requires little effort. All ages and experience levels are welcome.

A minimum commitment of three 15-minute nest visits between the end of March and early July is all it takes to determine if there is a nesting attempt, if birds are actively nesting and if there are any chicks in the nest. You can visit more often if you’d like. Binoculars are adequate for most observations, but a spotting scope is useful to determine the number of chicks. Most nests are located on cell towers and are easily viewable from public roads.

Volunteers are needed only in the following counties: Alpena, Benzie, Calhoun, Cass, Clare, Crawford, Emmet, Ingham, Ionia, Jackson, Kalkaska, Lenawee, Manistee, Missaukee, Montmorency, Muskegon, Osceola, Oscoda, Presque Isle, St Clair, St Joseph, Wexford.

Sign up to adopt an osprey nest.  https://act.audubon.org/onlineactions/fArVY3PBDUCNXfYzzYHYsQ2?utm_campaign=mi+birds+volunteers&utm_medium=mkt+email&utm_source=govdelivery 

Black tern nest platform-building workshops (April – May)

Join MI Birds and Detroit Audubon as we construct nesting platforms to install at St. Clair Flats State Wildlife Area on Harsens Island. Black terns are a Michigan species of special concern and have seen population declines since the 1960s. These nesting platforms aim to help increase hatching success of black tern nests within St. Clair Flats. A presentation on black terns will be given prior to platform construction, and light refreshments will be served.

Workshops are scheduled at:

Secretive marsh bird surveys at St. Clair Flats State Wildlife Area (May 1 – June 15)

Audubon Great Lakes recently was awarded a Michigan DNR Wildlife Habitat Grant to improve the wetlands at St. Clair Flats State Wildlife Area on Harsens Island, which doubles as an Audubon Important Bird Area. This habitat work aims to benefit breeding and migratory waterfowl, but also secretive marsh birds.

We are seeking four to six marsh bird survey volunteers to search for these secretive birds during three morning surveys between May 1and June 15. Volunteer training, including bird identification by sight and sound, and supplies will be provided. Volunteers should have their own binoculars.

Volunteer training will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 4 at St. Clair Flats State Wildlife Area. This is the same day as the DNR’s spring birding tour explore the wildlife area in the morning and then join us for the volunteer training session.

Register to volunteer for the secretive marsh bird survey. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/secretive-marsh-bird-surveys-volunteer-training-session-tickets-96986754995?utm_campaign=mi+birds+volunteers&utm_medium=mkt+email&utm_source=govdelivery

Black tern monitoring at Wigwam Bay State Wildlife Area and St. Clair Flats State Wildlife Area (May – July)

Black terns, a common colonial waterbird species in steep decline, are a Michigan species of special concern. The Michigan DNR, Audubon Great Lakes, Detroit Audubon, Common Coast Research, the University of Michigan and several other partners are working together to monitor these birds throughout the state.

Volunteers are needed to assist staff in the field on various dates, as they search for black tern nests and record data. In June, black tern capture and banding begins. No previous experience is necessary, but you must be comfortable working in a boat (kayak or canoe), be able to lift 40 pounds and be able to commit to a full, eight-hour day in the field.

  • Wigwam Bay State Wildlife Area: Volunteers needed Wednesday, May 20or Thursday, May 21and Monday, June 15or Tuesday, June 16(weather permitting). Please contact Erin Rowan at erin.rowan@audubon.org if interested. 
  • St. Clair Flats State Wildlife Area: Monitoring occurs most Fridays between May 20and July 31. Please contact Ava Landgraf at alandgraf@detroitaudubon.org if interested. 

Ives Road Fen Preserve workday and bird walk with The Nature Conservancy (May 16) 

Join us as we explore and improve the Ives Road Fen Preserve in Britton Saturday, May 16. After our bird walk, well remove invasive plant species and enjoy some snacks.

We’ll start the day at 8:45 a.m. with a bird walk through the fen and floodplain along the River Raisin as we search for migratory songbirds and waterfowl. Well then cut shrubs in the fen and pull knapweed from the planted prairie. At noon we’ll stop work to enjoy some snacks and beverages.

Cutting and digging tools and work gloves will be provided but bring your own if you have some that you like. Bring your own binoculars if you have them. A few extra pairs will be available if needed.

Sign up for the Ives Road Fen Preserve workday and bird walk. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/96972885511?utm_campaign=mi+birds+volunteers&utm_medium=mkt+email&utm_source=govdelivery. Space is limited.

MI Birds is a public outreach and engagement program created by Audubon Great Lakes and Michigan Department of Natural Resources that aims to increase all Michiganders’ engagement in the understanding, care and stewardship of public lands that are important for birds and local communities.

Visit MI Birds https://gl.audubon.org/conservation/bird-friendly-communities/mi-birds?utm_campaign=mi+birds+volunteers&utm_medium=mkt+email&utm_source=govdelivery.

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Pandemics in Nature

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The beautiful purple loosestrife is an example of a non-native species that causes a pandemic loss of life in nature to natural species by crowding them out. Photo by Linda Wilson University of Idaho Bugwood.org.

When a species causes massive illnesses or deaths to members of another species, a pandemic is the result. Some that cause obvious and immediate economic harm receive widespread attention. The emerald ash borer that arrived in Detroit in 2002, spread rapidly killing ash trees in a widening radius. It cost communities, businesses, and private property owners billions of dollars. The financial burden gained human attention. 

The loss of an ash tree’s life did not result in the same concern caused by the loss of a human neighbor or family member to coronavirus. The death of people in China has not disturbed people in our region as much as the death of people in Washington state. People contracting the disease in Michigan created even higher concern. This is perhaps because we recognize the virus might personally make us ill or kill us. 

When the concern is not likely to kill us personally, we do not elevate actions immediately. The emerald ash borer spread as a pandemic through forests killing most ash trees. The beetle likely arrived in wood pallets and moved to live trees that had not developed evolutionary defenses. When native species are investigated and tested by other species, they develop defenses through co-evolution. One tries to feed on the new food source and the other tries to prevent being fed upon. If successful both survive by developing ecological adaptations. 

The sudden appearance of a species from another part of the world adapted to feed on a similar species, might find easy pickings when introduced to exploit a region like occurred with the ash borer. People lost trees in their yards, forests lost timber that could have been harvested, and cities found public land full of trees that presented public safety hazards. The general public took notice because of economic and safety concerns.

The loss of life of an individual tree in the yard does not bring a similar emotional response that comes with the death of a person dying next door. When the borer beetle pandemic spread, few people realized the impact on forest economics for other species. It closed the tree “restaurants” used by hundreds of other species similar to how human restaurants closed. Tree bark was home to mosses and lichens that lost their residence like business owners might lose their residences. 

People are not well attuned to the economic, social, environmental impacts that result from the successful establishment of exotic species. The stock market would fluctuate more greatly if we did. The American Chestnut blight caused economic harm and adversely affected businesses in the early 1900’s. Dutch elm disease in the 1950’s created similar devastation and had the added danger from DDT used to control the vector beetle that carried the killer fungus. Economic stress cannot be separated from environmental impacts that result in social harm that undermines community health and sustainability. Many economic woes can be traced to inadequate environmental policies. Sound environmental laws protect our economy and health.

Pandemic loss of native species is caused by more than diseases. Beautiful flowering species like purple loosestrife crowd other species from wetland habitats and remove ecosystem foundations essential for maintaining community health. Basically non-native loosestrife removes grocery stores, banks, apartments, construction warehouses, hardware stores, and pharmacies in wetland habitats needed by native species. Invasive species simplify the community and bring about instability. The long-term impact eventually harms human financial community health when we have not taken adequate care of environmental and social needs. 

Few exotic species have been addressed here. About 180 exotics are causing havoc in the Great Lakes and costs billions of dollars in damage to our economy. Two decades after zebra mussels were discovered in the Great Lakes, some scientists call the foreign mollusks the most harmful exotic species to invade the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem. Zebra and quagga mussels have caused more profound changes in the lakes than sea lamprey that decimated lake trout and other native fish species in the mid-1900s. The mussels are two of 185 exotic species in the Great Lakes. About 120 of those species were imported by ocean ships that discharged ballast water from foreign ports into the lakes. Invasive species result in pandemic losses.

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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Update on hours due to corona virus

We have a temporary change in our office routine to announce in regard to circumstances regarding the COVID-19 virus. Due to the fact that we have employees with auto-immune disorders and employees caring for vulnerable family members with breathing problems, our office will be closed to the general public until further notice. Please consider emailing us or calling us (696-3655) if you need to submit something, discuss something, or need to make a payment. We can take your payment over the phone with a credit/debit card. If you need to drop something off, we will have a mailbox outside our door that we will check often. Please do not put checks or valuables in the box. If you need to give us a check, please send through regular mail. At least one person will be in the office from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday to take calls, and we will be closed on Friday. This is only temporary and we apologize for any inconvenience. Thank you for understanding!

For more contact information visit our About page http://cedarspringspost.com/about/

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Cattail marsh springs to life

Ranger Steve

By Ranger SteveMueller

Anticipation greets our mornings and weekends. We have experienced wonderful weather on weekends of late. Like a magnet, the weather has pulled many of us from winter abodes into sunshine and happiness. 

With rake in hand, we entered gardens to remove dead thatch that was allowed to stand through the winter to supply the needs for wild winter residents. Clearing dead stems before new perennial growth begins is good. Daffodils and hyacinths brighten our yards with early color and cheer. To prevent damage to new growth, it is beneficial to prepare the garden early. 

Some stems in the garden like ironweed are left standing about two feet tall so solitary native bees can find habitation for their offspring. Native insects that create a healthy neighborhood can use all the help possible. Insect populations are experiencing a pandemic of sorts and it has ramifications for our food crops that need pollinators. Reduced insect numbers mean reduced birds, mammals, amphibians, and life in general. 

We should take joy in seeing the marsh come alive each spring. Though we might not cherish mosquito season, invertebrates in marshes equals duckling, geese, and other water bird survival. Sora, Virginia Rail, and American Coot young require an abundant diet. We are aware of crises that impact human lives like the Irish potato famine, black plague, and now the coronavirus. By adding one and one to equal two, we should recognize how our activities impact plant and animal survival and our own community health. 

March might seem early for spring life abundance but shortening night hours causes hormone changes that result in altered behaviors. Bird migration is well under way. Sandhill Cranes are seen in farm fields or heard making their dinosaur-like calls in flight. Male Red-winged Blackbirds began returning to cattail marshes by early March and can be seen standing on last year’s cattail flowering stalks. Rhizomes are preparing new growth for the coming warm season. Female red-wings should arrive by the time this article appears. 

It surprised me that I did not hear frogs calling from marshes by the first week of March. Spring peepers, chorus frogs, and wood frogs begin calling before ice is completely gone. A warm rain kick starts a March mating frenzy. Had I gone to some of my favorite marshes or ponds, I probably would have heard frogs.

American Woodcocks have been displaying their spring sky dance, ground stomping ritual and associated peenting calls. At dawn and dusk they are in fields like that found at Luton County Park. I am drawn to Ody Brook’s Big Field to enjoy the mating display annually. It is a highlight of spring that energizes me. I wonder how lonely life might be for people that do not experience the joy of life that surrounds us. 

We hear that depression and sadness are rampant in society and commercials offer pills as a remedy. If only I could help others experience the joyful rush of spring as marshes spring to life. It seems a better alternative to pill popping. The abundance of life is wonderful and offers more than a lifetime’s opportunity of experiences if one spends time outside exploring nature niches. 

It reached 63ºF on a sunny Sunday afternoon in early March. I was outside looking for butterflies with friends and surprisingly, we did not locate any Mourning Cloaks, Eastern Commas, or Milbert’s Tortoiseshells that hibernate as adults. I received an e-mail from a friend stating he saw a Mourning Cloak that day. I was just in the wrong place. Perhaps somewhere at Ody Brook, butterflies were on the wing in warm sunshine.

Spending time outside exploring marshes, forests, and fields, is a healthy endeavor. Many of us spend less time exploring the healthy benefits and wonders of nature when we become adults. For many the experiences continue through fishing, wildflower photography, bird watching, gardening or other nature pursuits. Head to a marsh this week to witness it springing to life. In swamps, skunk cabbage flowers are blooming and hepaticas in forests might be flowering when this goes to press. If not, go out again in early April. 

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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Ponds and lakes

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

What defines a pond verses a lake? A pond can actually have a larger surface area than a lake. Ponds might be deep enough to extend below the water table so they can have water throughout the year. Vernal ponds do not extend below the water table so they normally lose standing water during the summer. They often lack water during fall and winter but might remain damp. They are important hibernating substrates for amphibians.

A water table is the upper level where water saturates spaces between rock particles. Depending on the crumbled debris, the water filled space could be between clay, silt, sand, gravel, cobbles, or larger rocks. The particles names mentioned are determined by size instead of rock or mineral composition.

We drill wells into groundwater for private homes and cities. Some cities lay pipes that run from a Great Lake to cities to draw large quantities of water. Many communities draw water from rivers. It does not matter whether the water comes from a Great Lake, river, or from drilling below the water table, the water is supplied from below water table with some exceptions. In parts of country water is so deep or solid bedrock underlies the area preventing wells. There water is captured from roofs and stored in cisterns if river water is not unavailable. 

Groundwater filling the Great Lakes first arrives as rain or snow falling directly into the lake or comes by rain or snow percolating through soil particles to a depth where it saturates spaces between the crumbled rocks. It then flows slowly to one of the Great Lakes in our part of the country. Groundwater moves towards the Great Lakes and flows through depressions deep enough to create lakes or ponds. The shoreline is at the water table.

Light penetrates to the bottom of ponds and is a key factor separating them from lakes. Lakes are deep enough that light diminishes to a point where it cannot support photosynthesis. This is not an absolute determining factor but is the primary one separating ponds from lakes. Usually plants can grow across the entire bottom of a pond and this is normally impossible in a lake. 

The amount of suspended dirt particles and even plants in a body of water determine how deep light can penetrate so a pond is normally defined by how deep light extends during the clearest portion of the year.

A thermocline will develop in a lake at a point where light cannot penetrate. It is a layer where the water above it is warmed and circulates separately from colder water below the thermocline. Warm water cannot hold as much oxygen and might become dangerously low causing death for some species. Cold water below the thermocline can hold more oxygen but because it does not mix with the water above, and it can become oxygen depleted causing fish suffocation. For this reason fish sometimes concentrate at the thermocline to breath. 

These are not all the factors involved in fish location so it will be good to visit with experienced anglers. Water flowing into lakes and ponds from surface streams is a source of oxygen rich water that concentrates fish. Plants and algae growing above the thermocline release oxygen during photosynthesis allowing fish to breath. If the plants and algae become too abundant, they can consume oxygen during the night causing fish to die of what is referred to as “summer kill.”

Nature niche survival for fish depends on each species unique needs. Trout need more oxygen than panfish but this article is about defining ponds and lakes. Generally lakes are too deep for light to penetrate to the bottom while ponds have light reaching the bottom. A pond can actually have a larger surface area and look bigger than a lake. Visit Chrishaven Lake at the Howard Christensen Nature Center to see a lake smaller than many ponds. 

A heavy black and white disk can be lowered into the water to see the point where it disappears. If it is a pond the disk should rest on the bottom without disappearing. Remember the amount of suspended material could prevent light from reaching a pond’s bottom during some portions of the year. Hard and fast rules are seldom the only factor for separating ponds and lakes.

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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Hunter assistance helps identify 65 CWD-positive deer


A DNR employee (right) gives a Michigan deer management cooperator patch to a hunter who brought a deer to a check station for chronic wasting disease testing. Photo by MI-DNR.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is sharing some highlights of the 2019 deer hunting seasons, which ended in late January 2020. Those seasons were marked by widespread participation in the states surveillance efforts around chronic wasting disease, especially in areas of the state with a known CWD presence. In addition to those CWD testing results, the department also takes a look at license sales, compliance with the deer and elk baiting and feeding ban and more.

CWD testing goals and outcomes

Surveillance efforts for the 2019 seasons are complete. The DNR tested just over 20,000 deer for chronic wasting disease, continuing Michigan’s role as a national leader in CWD surveillance efforts. The year before, during the 2018 seasons, about 25 percent of all deer heads tested in the U.S. were tested here in Michigan.

“Once again, we’d like thank our hunters for their cooperation in helping us meet our CWD surveillance goals,” said DNR Director Dan Eichinger. “Testing for CWD is of primary importance for the department and we couldnt meet these goals without the assistance of deer hunters.”

Eichinger also praised the assistance of deer processors, taxidermists, local businesses that house deer head drop boxes and other important partners who provide necessary assistance to the department.

For the 2019 seasons the department set testing goals of about 9,200 deer in the Lower Peninsula’s 16-county CWD management zone and approximately 3,300 in the Upper Peninsulas surveillance areas. Those regions, respectively, saw 16,000 and 1,500 deer tested. More than 2,500 deer also were tested in other parts of Michigan not associated with disease surveillance goals.

“This year, we achieved most of our individual county and area goals. In some regions, our goals were quite lofty, and even though we didn’t meet them, we still tested a lot of deer,” said DNR deer specialist Chad Stewart. “The goals we set, and the ensuing test results help us to determine where on the landscape the CWD is found and the scale at which it exists.””

 In the Lower Peninsula, Gratiot, Isabella, Jackson, Muskegon and Ottawa counties fell short of surveillance goals, though nearly 4,000 deer were still tested in those five counties.

In all, 65 CWD-positive deer were identified from the 2019 hunting seasons and all were from counties with a known CWD presence.

Our primary area of infection remains in parts of Montcalm and northeast Kent counties, where we knew the disease existed going into 2019 hunting seasons, Stewart said. We are encouraged that we have not found new CWD positives outside of this known area.”

Despite finding 65 positive animals officials caution about comparing the low number of positives with the high number tested and saying there is not a problem.

“Fifty-three of our total positives came out of Montcalm and northeast Kent counties, where we tested about 3,000 deer,” Stewart added. “This may not sound like much, but we know from the experience of other states that without active management of the disease, CWD prevalence rates can increase rapidly over time.”

Stewart said that CWD is a problem in Michigan’s deer herd that will require a commitment to long-term solutions. “Active management includes targeted removals, baiting and feeding bans and carcass movement restrictions and is our best chance of keeping the disease as limited as possible for as long as possible,” he said.

Disease control permits for landowners

At this time of the year, the department has shifted its CWD management focus by asking private property owners in CWD areas to assist in disease surveillance and provides disease control permits to help them do it.

In townships where CWD has been identified, hunters and landowners with 5 acres or more are eligible to receive disease control permits. These permits allow landowners to take deer on their property and submit deer heads for testing. If the test does not detect CWD, the property owner may keep the deer. The disease control permits are a valuable tool that lets landowners play an active role in CWD management.

Hunter numbers in Michigan and nationally

White-tailed deer. Photo by MI-DNR.

Last fall, much media attention was given to the fact that hunter numbers are declining in Michigan. While true, the trend isn’t new, and it isn’t specific to Michigan. Across the country, states are feeling the financial pressure from reduced hunter numbers, because revenue from hunting license sales makes up a large portion of the funding for critical conservation work.

“Nationwide, hunting has had a gradual decline over the last several decades,” said Eichinger. “The trend is likely due to a combination of factors, including generations of hunters that are aging out of the sport and younger generations that are less likely to participate in hunting due to societal changes.”

Last year, deer license sales were down about 3 percent over 2018. That decline mirrored past years, despite predictions of greater decreases due to Michigan’s deer and elk baiting and feeding ban. In fact, the hunter numbers declined least in the CWD core area, which is beneficial for monitoring and managing the disease.

“While the decline in hunters is certainly discouraging, we know that hunting remains an important part of Michigan’s rich heritage,” Eichinger said. “That’s why we always encourage veteran hunters to introduce the sport to new hunters whenever and wherever they can.”

Deer baiting and feeding ban

The prohibition of deer baiting and feeding in the Lower Peninsula was another important hunting topic. The ban, which was implemented to limit the spread of CWD and bovine tuberculosis, sought to reduce the congregation of deer over bait piles, where disease can be spread through bodily fluids like saliva, urine and feces.

“While feedback we’ve heard indicates this hasn’t been the most popular regulation, the best available science shows that baiting bans are an effective tool to limit disease spread,” said Stewart. “Anything that we can do to limit the chances for deer to return to the same location hour after hour, day after day, helps to reduce the risk of disease spread. It’s a lot like not hosting a dinner party when you’re sick, to prevent your family or co-workers from getting sick.”

DNR conservation officers enforced the baiting ban in its first year and found that overall hunter compliance was satisfactory, though certainly not 100 percent.

“We appreciate all of the hunters who help protect Michigan’s deer herd by supporting the rules and regulations that are put in place to prevent the spread of wildlife disease”, said Chief Gary Hagler, DNR Law Enforcement Division. “It’s encouraging when our officers have these positive contacts in the field.”

To learn more about deer and deer hunting in Michigan, visit Michigan.gov/Deer.

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Plants and animals respond to extremes

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

We look forward to the coming of spring but not the extremes that pose challenges to our security. We are not the only creatures experiencing extremes that bring disruptions and joys to daily life. Warm sunny days brighten our spirits, warm our hearts, and bodies. We look forward to shedding heavy layers of clothing needed to protect us from the biting cold. Days without gloves allow greater finger dexterity and the ability to work outside more freely. Hopefully we have found opportunity to spend many hours outdoors throughout the winter. 

For centuries the Great Lakes water levels have fluctuated above and below an average to highs and lows. The lows bring about wide sandy beaches and highs create no beach with waves that undercut the shoreline causing homes and trees to tumble. 

Many plant species have survival adaptations that do not protect individuals from extremes but help the species survive. During decades when water levels are higher than average, plants are drowned as surely as homes are lost by falling into the lake when the shoreline erodes. Plant populations with adaptations to fluctuating shorelines reproduce and their offspring hopefully find suitable growing conditions where habitat is reduced. 

Prior to our usurping much of the shoreline for homes, more space was available for plant populations to move inland when beach loss shrunk living space. Populations were reduced during tough years when water levels rose but increased when below average levels created habitat that provided suitable growing conditions. 

The Land Conservancy of West Michigan along with other conservancies around the Great Lakes work to enlist support for wild shoreline protection essential for people, plants and animals. Insects, mammals, birds and plants have a vested interest in nature’s extreme processes. People like to think we are in control of natural processes even when evidence proves us wrong. Each year tornadoes devastate human shelters, hurricanes level communities, and winter storms end lives. It is the extremes that bring greatest notice. 

This year’s mild winter has allowed many animals to survive that could not several years ago when the region experienced below average temperatures. Eastern Bluebirds took shelter in one of our bird houses during the minus 30 F weather. When I bundled warmly for a short pleasurable cross-country ski in the extreme cold, I saw a dead bluebird hanging from the nest box entrance. Moisture had caused its wing to freeze to another bluebird’s dead body. It could not pull free from the second and it hung outside the box where it froze.

During a violent spring storm that toppled trees onto homes and caused multiple power outage days, a Baltimore Oriole nest was ripped loose from a branch killing the mother and her clutch of eggs on the ground beneath. At the Howard Christensen Nature Center, one nest was torn almost free and hung precariously in an unsuitable condition for use. Any eggs or young inside needed to be abandoned. The mother likely survived and could rebuild to begin a new family. Such tragedies are common for humans and wildlife, including plants. 

People might wonder why it is important for us to design with nature. Ian McHarg wrote a book titled Design with Nature describing an ecologically sound approach for planning communities. I read it in college when being trained to help communities thrive with best design practices. Read it and pass it on to a city planner.

Along shorelines, Piping Plovers have lost essential nesting habitat and it has become necessary for us to create the Endangered Species Act to assist plants and animal survival because we do not design with nature. Other species are not the only creatures being devasted by our inadequate design with nature. Over 50 years ago we were advised to address human caused climate change but it fell mostly on deaf ears. Greater devastation awaits us if we do not embrace behavioral change away from fossil fuels more rapidly and toward more ecologically sound alternatives to protect present and future generations of people, plants and wildlife. Our long-term economy and social structure are tied closely to sound ecological practices. Effective leadership is needed from community planners, and local, state, and national officials to support a sustainable future. What is your role?

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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Want salmon in your classroom?

Apply by April 15

Students from third grade and up learn a lot in the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Salmon in the Classroom program. Guided by a trained teacher, students monitor fish growth in their classroom tanks, study fish ecology and prepare all year for the springtime release of fish into Michigan waters. Here, students from Gier Park Elementary School in Lansing took part in a previous year’s release on Sycamore Creek. Photo courtesy Michigan DNR.

Reading, writing and … raising salmon? For some 30,000 students across Michigan, definitely! Their schools are participating this year in the DNR’s Salmon in the Classroom program, a unique, hands-on opportunity to watch salmon eggs hatch and move through several life stages, while also monitoring their aquarium habitat, and eventually taking the fish to local watersheds for spring release. 

Tracy Page, who coordinates Salmon in the Classroom for the DNR, said the department is gratified that the program has grown from a handful of classrooms in 1997 to more than 280 this year.

“This program is all about ‘real science’ and gives teachers a powerful tool for helping kids understand the connections between their everyday actions and the effects on our natural world,” Page said. “It’s also great exposure to possible career pathways in natural resources.”

If you know an educator (third-grade classrooms and older) who might be interested in the next cycle, which starts in fall 2020, the application deadline is April 15.

Page said that Salmon in the Classroom has been popular at schools in the metro Detroit and Grand Rapids areas, and she looks forward to welcoming even more schools in coming years. The program thrives with support from sportsmen’s groups, community foundations and other partners, plus thorough teacher training and comprehensive curriculum and classroom activity ideas.

Questions? Contact Tracy Page at 517-284-6033 or visit Michigan.gov/SIC for program details and a brief informational video.

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Lend your ear to DNR’s annual frog and toad survey


The wood frog, pictured here, is just one of 13 frog and toad species you might find in Michigan. The Department of Natural Resources is welcoming volunteers to help with its annual spring frog and toad survey, an important data-collection effort that helps wildlife biologists better understand current populations and abundance in different parts of the state. Photo by Michigan DNR.

If you love the sound of deep croaks and rhythmic ribbits, consider helping the DNR with its annual frog and toad survey. Now in its 25th year, Michigan’s survey is the second-longest-running such survey in the nation, after Wisconsin, and relies on volunteers’ keen ears and observations to provide a clearer picture of species abundance and location.

Caitlin Boon, the DNR’s acting Wildlife Action Plan coordinator, said that declining populations of frogs, toads and other amphibians have been well-documented worldwide since the 1980s. Studies suggest that trend is due to habitat loss, pollution, disease and collection.

“This survey work is key to department efforts to understand and manage amphibian populations, and that work couldn’t be completed without the people who volunteer each year,” Boon said. “It’s really a cool opportunity to get out in nature, along back roads and into the fields and forests, and do something a little different and fun that makes a difference for Michigan’s natural resources.”

Volunteer observers cover a statewide system of permanent survey routes, each consisting of 10 wetland sites. Sites are visited three times during spring, when frogs and toads are actively breeding. Observers listen for calling frogs and toads, identify which of Michigan’s 13 species they hear, and then estimate how many frogs and toads are present.

The survey’s continued success depends on strong volunteer support, and help is needed all over the state. Interested volunteers should contact the Wildlife Division at 517-284-9453 or DNR-FrogSurvey@Michigan.gov.

For more information on the frog and toad survey and other projects supported by the Nongame Fish and Wildlife Fund, visit Michigan.gov/Wildlife.

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Wildlife Encounters

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller


Knowing when and where to explore outdoors increases the opportunity for seeing wildlife. There are many opportunities where you can see birds, butterflies, wildflowers or different types of wild creatures in natural habitats. Exploration encounters might be two-hour ventures, several hours, or even weekend events. 

Mark dates on your calendar and plan ahead to participate with guides that will help you find, see, and hear wildlife. Bird, flower, and butterfly field outings are suggested.

Butterfly Counts

3 July 2020 (Fri) 9:00 a.m. Allegan Butterfly Count – Allegan Co. Leader: Ronda Spink. Meet at the Allegan State Game Area, Fennville Farm Unit, 6013 118th Ave, Fennville (butterflynetwork@naturecenter.org)

11 July 2020 (Sat) 9:00 a.m. Rogue River Butterfly Count – Kent Co. Leader: Ranger Steve (Mueller) Meet at Long Lake County Park south of 17 Mile on the east side at the beach parking area. odybrook@chartermi.net 

15 July 2020 (Wed) 9:00 a.m. Greater Muskegon Butterfly Ct – Muskegon Co. Leader: Dennis Dunlap. Meet on Mill Iron Road from M-46 (Apple Ave.) east of Muskegon at second set of power lines that cross the road north of MacArthur Road. dunlapmd@charter.net. 

17 July 2020 (Fri) 9:00 a.m. Newaygo County – Manistee National Forest Butterfly Count. Leaders: Ronda Spink and Ranger Steve (Mueller). Meet at Leppink’s Grocery parking lot at the corner of M 82 & M 37 in Newaygo. butterflynetwork@naturecenter.org or odybrook@chartermi.net)

Contact leaders to sign up or for additional details. Rain day alternates will likely be the next day. Sign up with Ranger Steve at Odybrook@chartermi.net so unexpected changes can be shared. There is a $3 charge to participate.

Wildflower Discovery

22 – 25 May 2020 Michigan Botanical Club Spring Foray in Onaway, Michigan. For Memorial Day Weekend, join for three days with a wide variety of field trips led by Michigan’s premier botanists that focus of various groups of plants. Lodging, meals, and field trips are scheduled. Camping is usually an option to keep expense low. Details and registration will soon be posted online at Michigan Botanical Club Website. 

Aman Park is owned by the City of Grand Rapids. 0-1859 Lake Michigan Dr NW, Grand Rapids 49534. It is located west of Grand Rapids before Grand Valley State University. A wonderfully rich array of flowers will be found along trails at the end of April and in May. Google the park to see trail maps. 

Bird Watching

One of the best birding opportunities for close views of about 100 species is at Tawas Point State Park on Lake Huron during the Tawas Birding Festival from May 15-17, 2020. Guided field trips help with viewing and identification of about 20 species of wood warblers on a walk along the park’s peninsula while encountering many other species. Field trips include car-pool/bus destinations in Iosco County. Participants can expect to see Eastern Whippoorwills, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Trumpeter Swans, migrating warblers, Bobolinks, and Scarlet Tanagers.  Some field trips focus on the unique Kirtland’s Warbler’s nature niche and habitat. Mid May is peak migration.

A variety of birding field trips are available in the Grand Rapids area. One is held weekly at Millennium Park. Others are led at Reed’s Lake, area marshes, and in State Game Areas. Visit the Grand Rapids Audubon website (www.graud.org) for details listed in the Caller Newsletter.

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 Off on Wildlife Encounters

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