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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Beyond belief

Ranger Steve

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The wonders of nature are often beyond belief. Constant amazement surrounds us with the antics of life. All sizes, shapes, colors, sounds, and smells take us to emotional highs that enrich our lives or lows that break our hearts.

Science is isolated from emotion and belief when used properly. Science accepts nothing about nature niches without the support of physical evidence from repeated experimentation.

A published study documented planaria could be taught to turn left to eat but to avoid turning right because they would get an electric shock. Planaria are small flat worms about one forth inch long and live under rocks in streams. I look under rocks in the creek at Ody Brook annually to enjoy the emotional uplift of seeing the worms and knowing stream conditions are still suitable for them.

In the study, “educated” planaria were ground up and fed to other planaria. The study reported flat worms that ate the “educated” planaria turned left to eat and avoided turning right. The scientist concluded planaria learned their behavior by eating “educated” planaria. Other scientists repeated the study to verify the findings but the results could never be duplicated. Science discarded the conclusions of the original scientific study. Science is self-correcting through repeatable, verifiable tests using controlled experimentation.

Many things in nature seem unbelievable but repeated tests often support conclusions. One thing people informally test annually in our yards is with robins, cardinals, and some other birds. The male birds fight their reflection in windows until they break their beaks or even die. Bird brains are not smart enough to know the reflection is not another bird and they try drive the other male from their territory.

TV shows try to portray the “ideal” scientific thinking devoid of emotional influence and devoid of making conclusions without adequate physical evidence. Shows like “Bones” and “Rizzoli and Isles” have scientists that do not make conclusions without adequate physical evidence. In the real world, scientific process requires peer reviewed analysis to help prevent erroneous conclusions from getting published. The rigors of science help keep beliefs from influencing scientific conclusions.

Belief is beyond scientific acceptability. Evidence supports climate change is greatly human influenced. Many people however accept or reject it depending on the conclusion they want. Science requires tentative conclusions based on physical evidence. Science conclusions are always tentative pending further study like in the planaria behavior study. People usually believe based on their perception without rigorous scientific experimental support. That is typical with politics and religion. No amount of physical evidence will usually convince people otherwise concerning politics or religion.

The question can be asked, should religion and politics be dismissed because they are not supported with adequate rigorous scientific conclusions? My answer is No. There is a place for multiple realities that impact our lives. Emotions and feelings are a real part of our lives and drive our moral behavior. Science does not include morals. It is about “How” the world works solely based on physical evidence. It is not about “Why” the world exists. Society is guided by melding logical reasoning of “How” with emotional feelings and morals taught during upbringing of “Why.” Religion is a “Why” reality. Faith depends on acceptance without physical evidence. Faith is believing without supportable physical evidence. Science and faith can complement each other for a sustainable future.

When something seems beyond belief, determine if it is scientifically supportable or is accepted on faith. Determine if decisions benefiting future generations should be made based on science, faith, or both. I suggest science and faith together will support a better future and should not be an either/or decision.

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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Fishing Tip: Northern pike tips & tricks to try

A good spring catch.

A good spring catch.

This Saturday, April 30, marks the opening of the inland walleye, pike and muskellunge seasons in the Lower Peninsula. Are you ready to try your hand at northern pike fishing?

Northern pike like to spend their time in the weedy shallows of both the Great Lakes and inland waters. In rivers they can be found around log jams or fallen timber. They are often taken with live bait (such as large minnows) or different kinds of artificial lures.

When fishing for northern pike, many anglers like to use a six to eight-inch wire or steel leader directly in front of hook or lure. Pike have large, deep mouths with extremely sharp teeth. They are known to engulf the entire bait or lure and sever the fishing line with their teeth when it is attached directly to the hook or lure. This leaves the angler watching as the fish swims away with their offering.

Some well-known northern pike waters include Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River and drowned river mouths along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
Want to learn even more about northern pike in Michigan at www.michigan.gov/dnr.

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DNR to give folks a hand in their hunt for morels

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources provides an online interactive map that highlights the state’s 2015 wildfires and prescribed burns—each more than 10 acres in size—to help mushroom hunters in their quest for morels.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources provides an online interactive map that highlights the state’s 2015 wildfires and prescribed burns—each more than 10 acres in size—to help mushroom hunters in their quest for morels.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources provides an online interactive map that highlights the state’s 2015 wildfires and prescribed burns—each more than 10 acres in size—to help mushroom hunters in their quest for morels.

Morel mushrooms are often found in locations where large fires occurred the previous year,” said Jim Fisher, resource protection manager for the DNR Forest Resources Division. “Each spring we get calls from people who are seeking details on those sites to hunt morels. We’ve enhanced the features of this map to give our customers the information they are looking for in a mobile-friendly, easily accessible package.”

The DNR’s interactive Mi-Morels map provides forest cover type information, latitude and longitude coordinates and state-managed land boundary information. You can find it at www.michigan.gov/mi-morels.

Morel mushrooms commonly sprout in locations burned by wildfires or prescribed burns with a tree canopy; grass or sunlit open areas are less likely to produce the tasty fungi.

While the map may provide details on the cover type that was burned, it’s up to the user to investigate whether morel mushrooms are growing at any location on the map,” Fisher said. “Just because a spot is marked on the map, it doesn’t mean morels will be growing at the area identified. We’re providing a resource, but it’s up to the hunters to head out to the forest and see what’s available.”

The information and data in the map on burn locations, state forest cover type, and state-managed land boundaries are available for users to interact with and download via the DNR Open Data portal. This site gives residents and public land users of Michigan access to Michigan DNR spatial data and information.

The Department of Natural Resources is not responsible for the incorrect identification of morel mushrooms. For more information on safe mushroom hunting, visit the DNR’s website.

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Celebrate Earth Day

 

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Earth Day (22 April) focuses attention for protecting the community’s “Economic, Social, and Environmental triple bottom line” for present and future generations. Efforts have helped protect community economic sustainability, community health, and environmental integrity that allow continued productivity.

We should provide present and future generations with healthy living conditions. Perhaps the best way to accomplish this is to focus on getting the family involved in nature study. People often focus on litter pick up or removal of exotic species that are disrupting native ecosystems. That is important but first help family members discover the joy and wonder of the nature world. It will also strengthen family relationships.

Many unhealthy practices past and present have focused on taking an economic product from a region and abandoning a devastated landscape for a community to struggle with for decades. This is a White Pine legacy in Michigan where little concern for community economic, social, and environmental sustainability was applied. The businesses made massive money and departed with high profits leaving people and nature in a devastated landscape where eking out a living remains difficult in regions 100 years later.

The 19th century logging era in Michigan is one example. Tycoons extracted timber more valuable than the gold rushes in California or Alaska. Profits went to a few and abandoned the workers left in the wake when the trees and river systems were depleted. It is comparable to the economic Wall Street Crisis of 2007.

Forestry practices today are planned for more sustainable use. Clear cutting areas is best for regeneration for some trees and selective harvest is better for others. Modern forest timber harvest and stand protection practices focus on protecting wildlife habitat for sustained hunting, public wildlife viewing, wildlife population health, river quality for continuous fishing use, clean water, flood control, groundwater table stabilization, and other uses. Multiple use has gained support over taking one product and abandoning without concern for community sustainable health. There is continuous pressure from individuals and businesses to extract resources for their short term gain and leaving areas impaired. The push to staying with carbon based energy production has considerable foot dragging and political pressure to prevent change to renewable energy sources. The Keystone Pipeline controversy is a good example. Fracking bedrock is another.

People recognized the importance for prioritizing protection of ecosystems for a community’s economic, social, and environmental triple bottom line in the 1950’s through 1970’s. In the 1980’s after a general appearance of superficial health, people began to forget hard won successes and began working to eliminate programs and protections laws.

We need to be aware of the many successes not recognized by members in generations under 40 and many older people that forgot. The present political effort to eliminate the Clean Air, Clean Water, Endangered Species, and Wilderness Acts undermines sustainable community economic, social, and environmental wellbeing. There is a benefit when each of the triple bottom line components is supported. Addressing only one is unhealthy for people, nature, and a sustainable community.

Elect individuals at local, state, and national levels that support our economy, community, and the environment to allow a community to continue productively for present and future generation.

What are successes and concerns?

Our national park system is 100 years old this year.

Townships set land-use criteria for protecting water quality, agriculture, community development, cluster housing codes and minimal housing plot sizes. Electing the correct Drain Commissioner is one of the most important positions on local ballots.

We have the Clean Air, Clean Water, Endangered Species, and Wilderness Acts.

We have agencies charged with implementing enforcement of those acts but because they are politically driven and controlled, science is sometimes overridden by politics. This happened with the Flint water crisis.

We do not learn from experience of our forefathers very well and repeat many mistakes.

What can one person do?

Be the most important “nobody” instead of the most important “somebody.” Change the world where you live. Your greatest influence is on those you interact with personally to build support of a critical mass for a healthy future beyond ourselves.

Think globally and act locally for landscape protection. Help the human population reach balance with Earth’s carrying capacity to maintain nature’s ability to support our population and associated resource consumption (two child family is one example).

I am so humbled by the people of north Kent county that protect nature niches on their property.

Garden with minimal pesticides and herbicides (both residential and farmlands). Farmers seem to be ahead of residential land care practices in regards to pesticide and herbicide application restraint.

We have great successes but they are continuously challenged. I was told environmental education is no longer a priority in America when the Kent ISD closed the Howard Christensen Nature Center in 2005. Fortunately, HCNC continues as a 501 c.3 non-profit and needs your membership support. Of course, I currently have a mission through Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary to strengthen community awareness of the economic, social, and environmental triple bottom line to support community sustainability. Use Earth Day to understand challenges. BUT:

Remember the best way to protect a community’s health is to first spend time outdoors with family and friends exploring and enjoying discoveries in nature. Reinforce the inborn love for the wonders of nature that can become lost with limited exposure as children age.

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 arrests suspects in northern Lower Peninsula veneer log thefts

 

Investigation continues into thefts in Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties

Timber: One of the felled maple trees cut down with the bottom section removed. Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Timber: One of the felled maple trees cut down with the bottom section removed. Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Cut: A close view of one of the maple tree cuttings.

Cut: A close view of one of the maple tree cuttings.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers are continuing to investigate the theft of sugar maple logs from public state-managed lands in three northern Lower Peninsula counties.

Three males in their mid-20s, one each from – Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties – have been arrested and charged with 1-year misdemeanors or 5-year felonies for removal of forest products. Names are being withheld pending arraignments.

Prosecutors in Cheboygan and Charlevoix counties issued the arrest warrants. Officers expect more charges to be authorized as the investigation moves forward.

Late last year, conservation officers began receiving public complaints about large sugar maple trees being cut on state forestland. Only the thickest part of the trees—the lowest 8-12 feet—was taken most often.

In many cases, there were several valuable saw logs left on the site to rot in the woods. More than 100 logs were allegedly stolen.

“This is a clear case of thieves stealing what belongs to all of Michigan’s citizens,” said Sgt. Greg Drogowski of the Gaylord District office. “An analogy to the wasted timber left in the woods is that of a poacher illegally killing a deer and taking only the back straps (tenderloins).”

Investigators developed several suspects with the help of citizens and members of the timber industry. These suspects allegedly continued to steal veneer maple logs from state land. The logs were sold to various sawmills.

“Multiple sites were discovered and the total value of stolen timber is tens of thousands of dollars, with more sites being discovered,” Drogowski said.

Samples of the logs sold to mills were recovered as evidence. DNR foresters were able to help match these logs ato trees at the cutting sites.

With other evidence, witnesses and statements, officers were able to obtain the felony and misdemeanor arrest warrants.

Now that spring has arrived, more people are getting out into the woods. Conservation officers encourage citizens to report any locations where trees have been cut on state-managed land, within close proximity to trails and roads, most often with only the lower portion of the trees removed.

To report information on this case, contact Lt. James Gorno at 989-732-3541 or call the Report All Poaching hotline at 1-800-292-7800. Those providing tips may remain anonymous. The RAP line offers rewards to tipsters. Amounts vary depending on the incident being investigated and the value of the information provided.

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 lifesaving operations in the communities they serve.

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DNR seeks info on Turkey Tract vandalism

 

Last week, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the National Wild Turkey Federation gathered with other partners, volunteers and individuals to celebrate the opening of the first Turkey Tracts hunting area, located at Allegan State Game Area in Allegan County.

Sadly, the new Turkey Tracts kiosk, which is a large information station built by volunteers, thoughtlessly was vandalized and destroyed Friday night. It stood for only a few days.

“Vandalism on state game areas not only destroys the hard work of volunteers and partner organizations, but can hinder the ability to make improvements on the game area,” said Maria Albright, DNR wildlife technician. “Hunter license dollars may end up being spent making repairs from the destruction of public property instead of making improvements for all users to enjoy.”

The kiosk included helpful information for hunters visiting the Turkey Tract, such as maps of the area, project sponsors and information on turkey habitat management.

The destruction of the Turkey Tract kiosk is not the first case of vandalism to the Allegan State Game Area. Gates, protecting important wildlife habitat improvements from being damaged, have been torn out of the ground and sometimes even stolen completely.

“These gates are very costly to repair and replace,” added Albright. “Not to mention the cost of damage to wildlife habitat.”

Anyone with information regarding these incidents is asked to call the 24-hour DNR Report All Poaching (RAP) line at 800-292-7800. Information may be left anonymously.

Turkey Tracts are unique turkey hunting areas across the Lower Peninsula that provide great hunting opportunities for a variety of hunters, including youth, adults new to the sport, and seniors. Learn more about hunting turkey in Michigan at mi.gov/turkey.

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DNR: Keep Michigan’s wildlife wild

Baby rabbits are among the young wildlife often encountered by those getting out in nature. Photo Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Baby rabbits are among the young wildlife often encountered by those getting out in nature. Photo Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

 

Each spring and summer, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is flooded with calls as people across the state run into a common dilemma—they have come across a baby animal and desperately want to help.

Hannah Schauer, a DNR wildlife education technician, spends time talking with the public about why it is better to leave baby animals in the wild.

The vast majority of the time these wild animals do not need our help,” Schauer said. “Wildlife can survive on a day-to-day basis without help from humans.”

Survival adaptations

White-tailed deer fawns often are left alone by their mothers in an attempt to keep predators from finding them. Baby rabbits are among the young wildlife often encountered by those getting out in nature. Photo Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

White-tailed deer fawns often are left alone by their mothers in an attempt to keep predators from finding them.
Baby rabbits are among the young wildlife often encountered by those getting out in nature.
Photo Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Most wild critters have a few survival tricks up their sleeves. Take white-tailed deer, for example.

Female deer typically birth their fawns in May and June. A newborn fawn is unsure of its footing and is unable to keep up with its mother. So, the mother deer hides her small, spotted fawn in a secluded spot for safe keeping.

The mother deer then intentionally leaves her fawn alone to help increase its chances of survival. Beyond the spotted camouflage and the instinct to lie very still, fawns have an additional survival adaptation. Fawns are born with very little scent, making it challenging for predators to find them.

An adult deer, however, has plenty of scent to it, and—being a large animal—is fairly easy to spot,” Schauer said. “So, rather than hang around and draw attention to where she has carefully hid her fawn, the mother deer opts to graze elsewhere.”

The doe returns periodically to nurse her fawn and is usually not too far away. It doesn’t take long before the fawn is strong enough to keep up with its mother and then has a better chance of outrunning a predator. Fawns are rarely abandoned.

Wildlife concerns

DNR wildlife staff suggests that if you happen to find a fawn or other baby animal, please leave it in the wild.

Taking an animal from the wild is not only illegal, it is dangerous. A wild animal, especially a baby, may seem harmless, but they rarely are. If you bring a baby animal into your home and it actually survives, it will eventually grow up.

As animals grow, they will experience hormonal changes as well as physical and behavioral changes,” Schauer said. “Raccoons, for example, are known for exhibiting aggressive behavior as they age.”

An animal may act tame, but it is instinctively a wild animal and will act like one.

Besides aggressive and potentially dangerous behaviors, wild animals can carry diseases and parasites, many of which can be transmitted to your pets or to you or your children. The laws prohibiting possession of wild animals are in place to keep people, as well as the wild animals, safe.

Tougher rules

In some cases, the DNR must put even stricter regulations in place to look after the health of an entire species. Such is the case in central Michigan, where in May 2015 the state’s first case of chronic wasting disease (CWD) was confirmed in a free-ranging, white-tailed deer from Ingham County.

The disease is a central nervous system affliction found in deer, elk and moose (cervids). It attacks the brain of infected animals, creating small lesions that result in death. Chronic wasting disease is transmitted through direct animal-to-animal contact or by contact with saliva,urine, feces, blood and carcass parts of an infected animal or infected soil.

Once it arrives, CWD can spread through the deer population and all deer infected with the disease will die. Because infected deer may not exhibit symptoms right away, you cannot tell just by looking at a deer if it is suffering from CWD.

Taking an unhealthy deer from the environment and attempting to rehabilitate it has the potential to increase the spread of CWD. Bringing infected deer into contact with other deer in rehabilitation centers, can risk contaminating those facilities. For that reason, rehabilitation of deer in Clinton, Shiawassee and Ingham counties in Lower Michigan is prohibited. As new cases of CWD are discovered, the list of counties where rehabilitation of deer is prohibited may grow. 

So far, CWD has not been found in the Upper Peninsula. To continue monitoring the situation, the DNR plans to ask hunters this fall to voluntarily submit deer heads for testing in the counties bordering Wisconsin.

In Lower Michigan, there is mandatory testing for deer harvested within the CWD Management Zone and voluntary testing occurring elsewhere for any hunter who wants to submit a deer head. To learn more about CWD and how you can help, visit mi.gov/cwd.

Wildlife rehabilitators

Ultimately, a wild animal’s best chance of survival is staying in the wild. This is especially true for baby animals.

Only licensed wildlife rehabilitators may legally possess abandoned or injured wildlife. Unless you are licensed, it is illegal to possess a live wild animal in Michigan. The only time a baby animal may be removed from the wild is when you know the parent is dead or the animal is injured. However, a licensed rehabilitator must be contacted before removing an animal from the wild.

Licensed wildlife rehabilitators must adhere to the law and have gone through training on proper handling of injured or abandoned wild animals. These rehabilitators will work to return the animal to the wild where it will again realize its best chance for survival.

A list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators in Michigan can be found by visiting mi.gov/wildlife or by calling your local DNR office.

Look for #KeepMiWild on the DNR’s social media this spring and summer and share the importance of keeping wildlife in the wild.

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Howard Christensen Nature Center

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve

The Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC) has developed a cadre of community programs under the leadership of Dave Kieft. Weekend, spring break, and summer camps are part of the variety. Family events meet the interests for all family members. School programming is increasing.

Individual and family memberships provide opportunity for people to visit everyday of the week at no additional fee. Swamp boardwalks lead to where spring frog chorus is a highlight just before dusk. Learn about additional HCNC membership benefits at the office or web site.

One can slowly approach Vernal Pond near the Red Pine Interpretive Center and frogs will quiet. You might see their heads retreat beneath the surface. Stop, sit, and wait less than three minutes and a brave Spring Peeper will begin a single peep. Soon others will feel safe and a massive chorus will fill the air.

While you are sitting, cup your hands behind your ears to enlarge your sound catching ear pinnae. The sound will become so painfully loud you will unable to continue with hands cupped behind your ears. Rotate hands so the cup is facing behind you. The back of your hands in front of ears reduces a large amount of sound from reaching and hurting your vibrating eardrums.

When you leave Vernal Pond, discuss how valuable movable ear pinnae are for dogs, foxes, squirrels, deer, and other mammals. They allow gathering of specific directional sound. Mammals are able to determine exactly where danger might approach. Notice Vernal Pond has more frogs than nearby Tadpole Pond. Vernal ponds are more important for frog survival than permanent ponds and lakes.

Predators approach prey quietly but a rustle of leaves, a broken twig, or even brushing against a shrub can alert mammals because ear pinnae enhance sound. People cannot move ear pinnae but we can use our hands to demonstrate the effectiveness of movable pinnae.

It was always my expectation when director at HCNC to share space with creatures that make the nature center home. We maintained a single file pathway along the west side of Vernal Pond from beech tree to driveway. The east shoreline was reserved for frogs and other creatures with no human disturbance.

Green Frogs sat frozen like statues. On the west shore, frogs submerge as we approached or they would jump frightened into the pond. Some would stay motionless ready to escape. They blended well with shoreline vegetation. East shore frogs waited still and quiet until we left the pond.

Green Frogs begin singing much later in the season when temperatures approach 70 F. Wood Frogs are mostly done singing by early April. Spring Peepers and Western Chorus Frogs continue song through April. Unfortunately, Western Chorus Frogs have declined in our area. It is a reason to leave some pond borders free of disturbance for native species. We worked to help people recognize we are visitors in wildlife nature niches and encouraged living with nature instead of crowding animals from homes in ponds, streams, forests, fields, and our yards. Small vernal ponds are essential with fewer predators.

Seeing animals is difficult without entering their home but we can provide minimal disturbance that allows habitats to remain healthy. That is a primary reason for restricting activity to one half of Vernal Pond. It allows vegetation to grow to pond edge and provides frogs with healthy living space in appropriate arrangement for food, water, and shelter to meet survival needs.

Please become an HCNC member. Discover frogs by walking nature center trails maintained for school and family groups in wild habitats. Make real world connections that would otherwise be vicariously through books, digital screens, or stories about the natural world. Enjoy being outdoors with wildlife.

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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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Ranger Steve

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Spring Springs

Spring is more than a date on the calendar in nature niches. By the end of March, spring is less than two weeks old and the region appears to be in winter’s wardrobe. A close look reveals change is underway.

The Great Horned Owl pair has selected breeding and feeding territory. In the evenings during March, they are heard hooting together from various vantage points near territory’s edge warning other owls to stay clear. The male owl selected a horizontal branch at field edges. It was more comfortable than standing on one that angles upward. Soon he joined the female to the west and they began a large circle hoot fest as the night sky darkened along Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary’s forest boundary. In darkness, their focus changes to eating mice and rabbits with periodic breaks for nighttime hooting.

I am anxious for the greening of shrubs and trees during April but March has been busy with its own spring activity. Children are better at discovery and seeing changes so make it a family affair to get out as “Spring Springs.” Less commentary below about each species allows more listing of March events but it will be easy to add your own commentary on family outings. Take 15 to 30 minutes with family to explore occurrences at your home site. More will occur if you dedicate some yard space to things natural and wild. Allow yard space for native plants and animals that resided in pre-settlement Michigan.

Male Goldfinches are yellowing and their black cap has returned. Male birds of many species are chasing females wherever they fly. Females birds only find peace when standing.

Groups of male Brown-headed Cowbirds stand in trees near a female ready to pursue when she flies. Female cowbirds select forest/field edges where they stand and watch other species hour by hour to learn where nests are built. When egg laying begins their eggs are deposited in other bird’s nests. They have them raise their young. Nest parasitism is not underway in March in our area.

Male red-winged blackbirds arrived two weeks before females to claim the best habitats for improved mating success. The most fit females compete for best habitat to insure reproductive success with adequate food, nesting location, and water. Most people do not notice the arrival of the dull gray female with its eye stripe and no red on the wing.

Chipmunk daily activity outside their burrows is typical except during late season snows. Painted Turtles sun on logs during moderately warm sunny days. Woodcock’s spectacular display is well underway. Wood Ducks float on streams and ponds where they depend on neighboring live or dead hollow trees for nesting. Let large dead trees stand.

Wood Frogs singing peaks in March and mating winds down by early April. Spring Peepers and Western Chorus Frogs are well into spring chorus. Gray Tree Frogs try out their song on warmer nights.

Moss’s two-toned green of new and old growth is obvious. The sporophyte stalk with spore head stands tall and grows out of the leafy gametophyte plant below. Look closely from inches away.

Elms, silver maples, and aspens flower high above while speckled alder, hazelnut, and skunk cabbage are shedding pollen in closer view.

Eastern Comma and Cabbage White butterflies are on the wing. The first overwintered as adult and the second emerged from a chrysalis that overwintered in protected recesses attached to wood or other structures.

Eastern Bluebirds have not started claiming nest boxes by the end of March but I am anxious for their blue and orange colors to brighten the field. That will be one of the April pleasures not to miss.

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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Michigan records second consecutive hunting season with no fatalities

OUT-No-hunting-fatalities-BuckFor the second year in a row, Michigan recorded no fatalities in 2015 during all hunting seasons, according to reports compiled by the Department of Natural Resources’ Law Enforcement Division. Thirteen incidents resulting in injuries were recorded in the state during the year, up slightly from 10 incidents in 2014. Twelve incidents occurred in the Lower Peninsula and one in the Upper Peninsula.

This is part of an overall trend toward fewer hunting-related fatalities and injuries over the past several decades, a downward trend that started in 1988 when completion of a hunter education class became mandatory for all first-time hunters born after Jan. 1, 1960.

In 1988, the state saw the lowest fatality rate – four deaths – since annual record keeping began in 1970, when there were 18 fatalities. Record keeping began in the 1940s, but fatalities and injuries figures were compiled per decade rather than per year.

Our excellent hunter education program saves lives,” said Sgt. Steve Orange, supervisor of the DNR’s Recreational Safety, Education and Enforcement Section. “When looking at the downward trend over the last five decades, it becomes very clear that our hunter education program is one of the major factors attributed to preventing fatalities and injuries.”

Injuries have fallen substantially since hunter education classes became mandatory. From 212 injuries in 1970 and climbing to 275 injuries by 1974—the most recorded in a single year—injuries have, for the most part, steadily decreased every year since. Incidents involving injury fell below 50 in 1991 for the first time, and after a very slight increase over the next several years, injuries began dropping again. Incidents resulting in injury have not exceeded 15 per year for the past five years.

The steadily decreasing numbers are attributed by Orange to the dedicated team of hunter education volunteer instructors—who currently number over 3,400—and the expanded hunter education programs, which now include a home study program and online hunter safety courses.

Our many hunter education volunteers, who cumulatively donate over 35,000 hours every year, are dedicated to providing new hunters with the skills needed to handle and operate their firearms or archery equipment safely, which results in enjoyable experiences for them and others in Michigan’s out of doors,” said Orange.

He also noted the benefits for experienced hunters in taking or retaking a hunter education class as a refresher.

Individuals completing home study or online hunter safety courses must still complete a hands-on field day, where they receive instruction and practice in operating firearms, bows, traps and more. Field days are taught by volunteer instructors and conservation officers.

Hunter education classes have been available since 1946, although they were not mandatory at that time. In 1971, the program became mandatory for first-time hunters ages 12-16. That was expanded in 1988 to all first-time hunters born after Jan. 1, 1960. Since 1988, more than 600,000 hunters have completed hunter education classes. In recent years, over 20,000 hunters complete the program annually.

During the 2015 season, 651,588 base licenses were sold. Michigan’s hunting incident rate per license is .002 percent. The base license is required to purchase any hunting license.

Of the 13 incidents resulting in injury reported in 2015, one involved a turkey hunter, one involved a waterfowl hunter, one involved a trapper and six involved deer hunters. One injury does not specify animal hunted because the report is pending. Victims ranged in age from 21 to 74. The majority of injuries, over 60 percent, were a result of self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

Five of the deer hunting incidents were reported during the firearm deer hunting season Nov. 15-30 and occurred in the counties of Calhoun, Gladwin, Roscommon, St. Clair and Van Buren. The sixth deer hunting incident that resulted in injury occurred during late antlerless firearm season Dec. 19-Jan. 1. The incident took place in Lapeer County.

The DNR reminds hunters to follow all safety rules and recommendations to ensure a safe hunting season, including:

  • Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all times.
  • Treat every firearm with the respect due a loaded gun. It might be loaded, even if you think it isn’t.
  • Be sure of the target and what is in front of it and beyond it. Know the identifying features of the game you hunt. Make certain you have an adequate backstop; don’t shoot at a flat, hard surface or water.
  • Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot. This is the best way to prevent an accidental discharge.
  • Make certain the barrel and action are clear of obstructions, and carry only the proper ammunition for your firearm.
  • Unload firearms when not in use. Leave actions open, and carry firearms in cases and unloaded to and from the shooting area. Point a firearm only at something you intend to shoot. Avoid all horseplay with a gun.
  • Don’t run, jump or climb with a loaded firearm. Unload a firearm before you climb a fence or tree or jump a ditch. Pull a firearm toward you by the butt, not the muzzle.
  • Store firearms and ammunition separately and safely. Store each in secured locations beyond the reach of children and careless adults.
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages before and during shooting. Also avoid mind- or behavior-altering medications or drugs.

Although these are all common sense rules and recommendations, the majority of accidents and fatalities happen because one or more of these safety points were not followed,” Orange said.

Cpl. Dave Painter of the DNR’s Recreational Safety, Education and Enforcement Section reminds hunters to wear hunter orange during designated seasons.

It’s the law, and it’s paramount in keeping hunters seen and safe,” Painter said.

In 1977, wearing hunter orange became mandatory on certain lands for the first time. In 1984, the law was amended to require hunters to wear hunter orange on all lands open to public hunting.

Regulations require hunters, during designated hunting seasons, to wear a cap, hat, vest, jacket or rain gear of hunter orange. The garments that are hunter orange must be the outermost garment and visible from all sides.

Hunter orange is a high-visibility color that, when worn according to regulations, increases hunters’ safety,” Painter said.

Hunter orange is readily identified as the color worn by hunters, according to Painter.

For nearly 40 years, hunters have worn this color so that they can be seen by other hunters while in the field. This is an important added safety measure and can also be attributed, along with hunter education programs, to saving lives and reducing the number of incidents leading to injury.”

Painter encourages individuals who aren’t hunters but enjoy public and private lands with hunters – such as hikers, birders and general outdoor enthusiasts – to also wear hunter orange during designated seasons so they are seen and recognized.

Outdoor enthusiasts who share lands with hunters are taking the initiative to wear hunter orange because they recognize its significance,” Painter said. “They correctly attribute the color to safe hunting and safe outdoor recreation.”

Information on the hunting incidents recorded in 2015 can be found online at www.michigan.gov/conservationofficers under Law Enforcement Reports.

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