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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche Different Kinds of Birding

By Ranger Steve

Are you a window watcher? That means most of your bird watching is done through a window. Much of my birding is casual with glances out the window. I used to leave for work before sun up and arrive home after dark. I still fed the birds all winter for their benefit even though I was not present to enjoy them. 

On occasion, a friend and I travel to interesting locations in West Michigan to see birds that are not found in our yards. Lake Michigan shoreline is a great place to see winter waterfowl. Binoculars are needed. A closer view in the open water where rivers like the Grand and Muskegon empty into the big lake provide good views. 

During the winter, my friend and I pick a January or February weekend when we can make a trip to the Upper Peninsula to enjoy the snowy scenic beauty and birds that do not come this far south in winter. The Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, Northern Hawk Owl, and Sharp-tailed Grouse require us to visit their winter range to see them. This is referred to as “target birding” where people go somewhere to see a specific species. 

Birds end up in places where they are not expected. Some have been seen only a few times in our region. Why they are there is a mystery. Perhaps their navigation system has been confused. Their survival can be precarious. We observed a Rufous Hummingbird visiting a sugar water feeder the last week of December one year. The home owner saw a hummingbird and promptly put out a feeder to help it survive. It stayed for a couple weeks before disappearing. It was never known if it made the trip south or died in the stark cold winter weather. The Rufous Hummingbird is a western species that winters in the extreme southeastern states or farther south. 

I find exploring bird nature niches an exciting and rewarding endeavor that can shed new information for understanding bird behavior, ecological adaptations, and normal daily habits. Forging my way into difficult areas people tend to avoid is fun and challenging but reveals things not generally observed. 

The American Woodcock has a wonderful ground dance followed by an aerial spiral flight, plunges toward the earth, levels before crashing and resumes the ground foot stomping and spinning display at dawn and dusk. This can be observed during the late March and April breeding season at Luton Park and many area locations. We manage habitat for the bird at Ody Brook and always enjoy its performance. I occasionally keep records of the vocal calls called peents during the ground dance between aerial flights. They vary from a few to more than fifty. Peents increase in number as dark settles in. I note where they land and what they do on the ground. 

A different kind of birding is to discover woodcock activity before their breeding displays begin. I have tried to determine how early they arrive north. In late February and early March, I have forced my way through thick swamp shrubbery in hopes of flushing one when thick snow still covers the landscape. Trudging in such habitat is not easy and I have never encountered another person on such adventures. To my joy, I have come upon a woodcock feeding along a tiny rivulet of open water where it can probe its long bill in to mud in one of the few places where food can be found at that time of year. My observations indicate the species returns earlier than most people expect but they remain hidden and focus on feeding and shelter until breeding time. 

Another different kind of birding is documenting where nests are constructed, how many eggs are typically laid, the height of nests, plant species used for nest placement, and behavioral interactions with their own species and others. I waded in a marsh from nest to nest during a Red-winged Blackbird nesting season. Attached is an abbreviated table of observations from that venture into the wild wet world of blackbird nesting territory. Some data fields were deleted for space limitations and to prevent losing your interest with too much information. I keep bird nest records annually as shown in the accompanying sample table. That year I had records for 65 nests. This year, I have records for 49 nests. 

A different kind of birding is the life blood for sustaining a naturalist. I also keep records for plants, insects, weather, and more so we can best manage Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary to “Enhance Biodiversity.”

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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Hunters reminded of “Do Not Eat” deer advisory

For five miles around Clark’s Marsh, Oscoda Township

LANSING, Mich. – With firearm hunting season kicking off on Nov. 15, the Michigan departments of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and Natural Resources (DNR) are reminding hunters of the “Do Not Eat” advisory for deer taken within approximately five miles of Clark’s Marsh in Oscoda Township. The advisory is due to high levels of PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid) found in a single deer taken about two miles from Clark’s Marsh, which borders the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base (WAFB). PFOS is one type of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemical.

The State of Michigan took samples from 128 deer across Michigan to test for PFAS. One of those deer, taken near Clark’s Marsh, came back with elevated levels of PFOS, which resulted in the “Do Not Eat” deer advisory. The advisory encircles the five-mile radius around the Wurtsmith base property and covers what the DNR has estimated to be the expected travel range of deer living in or near the Marsh. The area covered by the deer consumption advisory issued can be described as:

From Lake Huron west along Aster Street, west on Davison Road, north on Brooks Road, east on Esmond Road, north on Old US 23, north on Wells Road, west on River Road, north on Federal Forest Road 2240, north on Lenard Road, north on Indian Road, and East on E. Kings Corner Road (along the county line) toward Lake to Lake Road, to Lake Huron (map attached).

Michigan residents should not eat any deer that came from within five miles of Clark’s Marsh. In addition to the Clark’s Marsh deer advisory, MDHHS continues to recommend not eating kidneys or liver from any deer because many chemicals including PFAS can accumulate in their organs. The advisory does not apply to cattle, chickens, or other livestock raised in the area. It is not expected livestock are drinking water from Clark’s Marsh.

While PFAS testing is not possible locally, the State of Michigan did confirm three labs that will analyze PFAS samples from deer tissue at the individual’s expense. The State does not endorse or recommend any lab. Contact the following labs for information on the cost and how to send deer tissue: 

• Vista Analytical Laboratory, 916-673-1520, www.vista-analytical.com 

• Battelle, 781-681-5565, www.battelle.org 

• GEL Laboratories, LLC, 843-556-8171, www.gel.com

On Oct. 19, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued the U.S. Air Force with a violation notice for PFAS contamination in the waters of Clark’s Marsh near Oscoda, the second violation notice issued to the U.S. Air Force this year for this site.

The DEQ has found the Air Force to be in violation of Part 31 under the water resources protection section of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act. Under the violation notice, the DEQ is requiring the Air Force to increase pumping and treatment of contaminated groundwater at the base and to increase the size of the capture zone of the PFAS plume coming from the WAFB. In January, the DEQ issued the Air Force with a violation notice for failing to meet a 2017 deadline to start-up a second granular activated carbon filtration system at the WAFB to address discharges of PFAS-containing groundwater to the Au Sable River and Van Etten Creek.

PFAS are chemicals that are in Class B fire-fighting foam that was used at the Air Force base near Wurtsmith and other sites in Michigan. These chemicals are also found in stain and water repellants, personal care products, and many other consumer goods. Some health studies have linked PFAS to health issues such as thyroid disease, increased cholesterol levels, impaired immune system function, reproductive issues, high blood pressure in pregnant women, and increased chance of kidney and testicular cancers.

A deer that has been exposed to PFAS may not show any signs or symptoms of being sick. If you see a deer that appears to be sick, contact the DNR hotline at 800-292-7800. If you have health related questions contact MDHHS at 1-800-648-6942.

In Michigan, to date, only fish and deer have been sampled for PFAS. The State of Michigan is creating a plan to sample more deer for PFAS, as well as further exploring contamination in other wildlife such as turkey and waterfowl.

For more information about PFAS in wild game and fish, visit Michigan.gov/pfasresponse and go to the Fish and Wildlife button. For more information about wild game consumption, visit Michigan.gov/eatsafegame and go to the Eat Safe Wild Game button.

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Showcasing the DNR: Saving Michigan’s bats

Red bats are one of the nine species of bats found in Michigan. Photo by Michigan DNR.

By Hannah Schauer, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

 

Maybe you’ve noticed fewer bats active during those warm, buggy summer evenings and wondered why?

This situation is not unique to Michigan. In fact, many places throughout North America have seen declines in bat numbers.

The reason for the reduction in numbers for many species of bats is a fungus named Pseudogymnoascus destructans—responsible for a disease called white-nose syndrome that is killing bats in parts of America and Canada.

Many insect-eating bats survive winter by going into hibernation, during which they lower their body temperature and fat deposits accumulated during autumn months are used to sustain them.  

Places where bats hibernate, such as caves or underground mines (known as hibernacula), are ideal environments for this fungus, as it thrives in cold, damp conditions.

The fungus disrupts hibernation, causing bats to prematurely and repeatedly awaken, quickly depleting their fat reserves and diminishing their body condition.

“Bats weakened by the loss of fat reserves are unable to replenish themselves due to lack of insects to eat in winter and die before spring,” said Dan O’Brien, veterinarian at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Disease Laboratory. “Infected bats often exhibit abnormal behavior such as flying during daylight hours or gathering outside of caves in cold weather.” 

The disease is called white-nose syndrome because of a white powdery appearance on exposed skin, like the muzzle and wings, of affected bats.

White-nose syndrome was first documented during the winter of 2006-2007 in New York. It was confirmed in Michigan in early 2014.

Transmission of the fungus associated with white-nose syndrome primarily occurs through bat-to-bat contact but can also be transmitted by humans visiting infected caves and mines without decontaminating their shoes and equipment.

While there is no evidence that white-nose syndrome is infectious to humans, the loss of large numbers of bats may have an indirect impact on people.

Bats are a primary predator of nighttime insects and large-scale losses of bats may lead to an increase in insect populations, some of which cause crop damage or spread diseases. 

Efforts to help Michigan’s bats

“The DNR has been on the leading edge of bat conservation and research for a long time,” Bill Scullon, DNR Wildlife Division field operations supervisor, said. “Working with partners and researchers is as critical as ever in the battle to save our bat species from white-nose syndrome.”

One such effort is the gating of entrances to important bat hibernacula to minimize human disturbance to hibernating bats. Custom steel structures are designed and put up to ensure public safety while allowing the bats to come and go freely from the hibernacula. 

“These gates have been built on both public and private lands,” said DNR wildlife biologist John DePue. “Some of these gated sites house large populations of bats in the winter and are important locations to protect.”

Michigan is also one of the few states that participates in field trials of potential treatments to combat white-nose syndrome.

Researchers and students from Western Michigan and Ball State universities, working with the DNR, have been applying an organic compound—derived  from shellfish, called chitosan—to bats and the inside of hibernacula. This chitosan compound appears to help bats combat the effects of white-nose syndrome.

Additionally, in some of Michigan’s hibernacula, University of California, Santa Cruz researchers have been treating sites with chlorine dioxide. Treatment is applied to the site when bats are not present to reduce the number of spores that cause white-nose syndrome.

“Chlorine dioxide is used to kill all the fungal spores throughout a mine during the summer, before bats return for the winter,” said DePue. “This will disinfect the site and reduce infection rates and mortality rates.”

DNR staffers, along with researchers from Eastern Michigan University, also conduct annual bat monitoring. Hibernation sites are visited during the winter to learn about places where bats are experiencing higher survival rates, and to monitor population trends.  

Status of bats in Michigan

Nine species of bats are found in Michigan. Little brown and big brown bats are the species most often seen by people. Silver-haired, red and hoary bats are also found in Michigan. 

The tri-colored bat (or eastern pipistrelle) is a species of special concern in Michigan and the evening bat is listed as a threatened species. 

Indiana bats have been under the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act since 1967. The northern long-eared bat was added to the List of Threatened and Endangered Species as a threatened species in recent years.

“Due to the severity of the decline in population from white-nose syndrome, the northern long-eared bat was listed as a threatened species by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in April of 2015,” said Dan Kennedy, DNR endangered species coordinator. 

Allen Kurta, a professor of biology at Eastern Michigan University, said recent surveys of hibernacula in Michigan indicate an 83-percent decline in bats at those survey sites, compared to data from surveys conducted before white-nose syndrome’s arrival.

“The data indicate a 77-percent decline in little brown bats, a 93-percent fall in eastern pipistrelles, and a 96-percent decrease in northern long-eared bats,” Kurta said. “It is getting very difficult to find a northern long-eared bat anywhere in the state.”

Although these numbers are dire, not all bats seem to be as heavily impacted by white-nose syndrome.  

In addition to caves and mines, some bats may use man-made structures, like buildings, as hibernacula. These places may not provide appropriate conditions for the growth of the white-nose syndrome fungus, allowing for higher bat survival rates.

“Big brown bats and silver-haired bats do not seem to be experiencing major declines,” Kurta said.

For now, we will continue to see fewer bats dotting the night’s sky in Michigan, but the DNR and its partners are working hard to ensure those numbers increase and that bats will not be eliminated from the landscape.

How to help bats

Installing bat houses can be helpful for bats. Various factors are important when putting up a bat house, including location, color and height. Bat houses should not be in areas frequented by people or domestic animals. To learn tips and tricks for bat houses, check out Bat Conservation International’s website, batcon.org, filled with bat house resources.

Maintaining bat habitat is another way to help bats. Some bats like to roost in trees that have loose bark. Maintaining these types of trees can provide additional roosting locations. Many bats prefer forested areas near a water source, as these places are often abundant with insects.

Those exploring caves or mines should be sure to abide by closures and follow decontamination guidelines (see whitenosesyndrome.org) to reduce the spread of white-nose syndrome. Avoid visiting these locations during the winter months when bats may be hibernating.

Other ways to help bats:

Minimize the use of insecticides as these can impact a variety of animal species, including bats.

Do not attempt to help injured bats. Because of concerns for disease transmission, rehabilitation of bats is illegal in Michigan. 

Donate to the DNR’s Nongame Fish and Wildlife Fund and talk to others about how to help bats.

Learn more about Michigan’s bats by visiting michigan.gov/bats.

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Zygodactyl

 

Downy woodpecker using its specially adapted feet to hang onto the tree, even upside-down. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant William Osterloh.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy, Pileated, and Northern Flickers are common woodpeckers present at Ody Brook and in many wooded neighborhoods throughout the area. Some are seen more frequently than others.

Downies are seen daily when visiting suet and black oil sunflower seed feeders. The males have a red spot on the back of the head, females do not, and young males have red on top of the head. Watching for color and feather patterns from the comfort of your home is easy. I combine watching with breakfast and lunch. 

Feeder watching is a casual activity. On the windowsill is a pair of binoculars within reach so I can quick get a better view. Some details are difficult to observe without aid. The white spots on black wings of the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers helps narrow identification quickly to those two species. Body size and bill length further help distinguish the two that have nearly identical patterns. 

Somewhat hidden is black flecking on the underside of white tail feathers of Downies. The under tail feathers are pure white on the Hairy. From a top view, the tail is black on both species except for white outer tail feathers that might show black spotting on Downies but it is sometimes obscure. Binoculars help get a look at the under tail. The black flecks are a definitive identification feature. The birds are not always cooperative in how they stand on the feeders for me get the view I desire. 

Other features helpful for separating the two species is their bill and body lengths. Downies are smaller and shorter than the Hairy. Bills on Downies are less than half the length of the head. The Hairy Woodpecker bill is large and greater than half the length of the head. This feature can be difficult to assess so using the black or lack of black spotting on the under tail is more reliable. 

The Red-bellied Woodpeckers have white markings on a dark back but theirs appear more like white irregular lines running crosswise. These birds are much larger than the Downy or Hairy. Some people confuse them with Red-headed Woodpeckers that have completely redheads while the Red-bellies only have red on the back of the head in females and on the top and back of the head on males. When they fly, a muted white can be seen on the rump. 

A more obvious white rump is distinctive on the Northern Flicker. Flickers in our region are the yellow-shafted subspecies that display flashes of yellow on wing feather shafts in flight. If large trees compliment the neighborhood, you might get to enjoy the crow sized Pileated Woodpecker. It is mostly black but flashes white in flight and it stands on the sides of trees. Crows need branches for standing.

A zygodactyl toe helps all woodpeckers stand on the side of trees. It is an important nature niche adaptation. Nearly all bird species have three toes facing forward and one backwards. Woodpeckers also have three toes pointing forward but one of those is flexible enough to rotate so it can be pointed backwards. 

When toes are positioned with two forward and two backwards, it provides a better anchor for gripping the tree trunk when the birds bang their beaks against the bark. The flexible zygodactyl toe is a significant adaptation aiding woodpecker survival. 

The exceptional toe is not unique to woodpeckers. Owls have one that helps them with the capture and holding of prey. Parrots share this unique feature but we will not see those birds in this cold climate. 

Seeing the toe adaptation in action is difficult but a pair of close focusing binoculars will make it easier to observe when birds perch on the side of trees or at feeders near the window. Something special is always waiting to be discovered in the yard by those observing the wondrous creatures that abound. 

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 game camera records cougar in Gogebic County

This mountain lion was caught on a Michigan Department of Natural Resources game camera Oct. 1 in Gogebic County. Photo by Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

A game camera set up as part of an ongoing state deer movement study has captured images of a cougar in the Upper Peninsula’s Gogebic County, about 9 miles north of Ironwood.

The images were reviewed and verified by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources cougar team.

Since 2008, the DNR has confirmed 38 cougar reports, with all but one of those occurring in the Upper Peninsula. These reports include multiple sightings of the same cougar, not 38 individual animals.

So far, there remains no conclusive evidence of a Michigan breeding population of mountain lions. Cougars are an endangered species in Michigan protected by law.

“This latest confirmed report illustrates just how rare cougars are in the Upper Peninsula,” said Brian Roell, a DNR wildlife biologist in Marquette. “This is the first time we’ve ever caught a cougar on more than three million game camera images we’ve collected in our studies since 2009.”

DNR researchers use game cameras in their Quantifying Upper Peninsula Deer Movements and Abundance, predator-prey and bear studies. The deer movement study alone uses 50 game cameras in the western U.P., including the one in Ironwood Township that caught the images of the cougar at 7:15 p.m. on Oct. 1.

A graph shows the number of confirmed Michigan cougar reports in recent years.

The three daylight photos on the game camera show the mountain lion walking past, from right to left. Biologists noted there was no tracking collar on the cougar. No identification of whether the animal was a male or female was possible.

Michigan cougar confirmations have been derived from trail camera video, photographs, tracks, scat, or in the case of two male cats poached, carcasses.

Previous genetic testing on tissue samples from those two cougars poached in the U.P. showed the two animals likely came from a population found generally in South Dakota, Wyoming and northwest Nebraska.

“This genetic research lines up with what we’ve presumed previously, that cougars found in the Upper Peninsula are males dispersing from this population east of the Rocky Mountains,” said Kevin Swanson, a DNR wildlife management specialist with the department’s Bear and Wolf Program. “These males dispersed from the main population are looking to establish new territories.”

Researchers investigated the potential population of origin for the two cougars using a database that includes samples from cougar populations in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Oregon and Florida.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, cougars were once the most widely distributed land animal in the Western Hemisphere but have been eliminated from about two-thirds of their historic range.

At one time, cougars lived in every eastern state in a variety of habitats, including coastal marshes, mountains and forests. They were native to Michigan, but were trapped and hunted from the state around the turn of the 20th century.

To learn more about cougars in Michigan, visit michigan.gov/cougars.

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Hidden towhee beauty

 

Eastern towhee. Photo by Marilyn Keigley.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Two male Eastern Towhees stopped by for a visit at Ody Brook. We offer special treats but that is not why they come. They do not make secretive stops to play tricks on us either—well, maybe one that I will discuss in the conclusion. Perhaps they simply discovered other bird species and too many squirrels find the yard inviting. Now with trick or treat over, I can contemplate a nature niche reason they visit on their journey south. 

Some will rarely be found in the region during the winter months. It can be hazardous for males that stay here where winters are more moderate than farther north. There are benefits and hazards. As much as we would like to think they could predict the severity of winter, they are not fortune tellers and cannot. If severe winter conditions occur, their survival is challenged. An advantage of staying farther north than those wintering to the south is it provides a head start in spring for securing the best breeding sites before rivals arrive. 

Those leaving our area to claim choice breeding habitat farther north arrive earlier than males that departed from farther south. Once a male claims a territory, it is likely it will be able protect it from intruding males that arrive later. From secluded and even exposed tree branches during breeding season, it will sing a phrase referred to as “drink your teeeeeee.” The phrase is frequently repeated so we can follow the sound to discover the bird’s stunning beauty. Rarely do they make themselves obvious in the yard like robins.

Wintering farther south where snow does not persist on the ground enhances winter survival. A primary feeding strategy is to scratch through fallen leaves and they particularly like to hunt under shrubs and branches that conceal them. They prefer the seclusion of evergreen trees and shrub thickets. 

We get to observe their amazing beauty when they show themselves. We planted a balsam fir when the girls were young. The tree is about their age and now stands 30 feet tall. The girls did not keep pace with tree growth and we are pleased. It is difficult enough to raise children without having to deal with giants. The purpose for planting the evergreen tree was to provide a location where birds can hide when coming for a feeder meal. 

The towhees are appreciative and spend time when traveling to stop in or under that tree. They scratch through the deciduous leaves blown under the fir to look for choice food. Sometimes one will be seen under the bird feeder throwing seeds in every direction while looking for tasty morsels other birds ignore.

I watched one preen on a fir tree branch and ready itself for the continued journey south. It used its beak to clean and straighten feathers. It wears a sleek black hood that trails black on the back all the way to the tip of its tail. Under its chin, the black hood extends midway on the chest and stops abruptly at a clear line where white contrasting feathers grow. The belly is white with robin orange feathers that cover its sides and somewhat obscure the white underside. One could mistake a towhee for an American Robin at a glance. Robins are gray on top instead brilliant black and their orange covers the entire belly. 

The towhees have white markings accenting its black back and white on tail feathers that can be seen when the bird spreads its feathers or most easily when it flies. You might rarely have the opportunity to see one during winter. If evergreens are part of the landscape, viewing chances are improved when leaves are allowed to remain under them so don’t over rake. Even better are thickets of shrubs where they hide among clustered branches during the winter. Wet lowlands are often wild, not mowed or cleared so towhees find them good dinning accommodations. Allow unmanicured areas to establish in the yard and more wildlife will treat your eyes during the trick or treat season and throughout the growing season. Landscape to support bird biodiversity. 

In old bird guides, the bird was listed as Rufous-sided Towhee. It was discovered that instead of being one species, the bird played a trick on us and hid two species with nearly identical appearances. The towhees have now been separated into two species. The different western birds are named Spotted Towhees. Plan a trip west next summer to enjoy the similar species that has more white spotting on its back than the Eastern Towhee. 

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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Palmate, Pinnate, Toothed, Entire

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Look at your palm to notice your hand bones radiate from one basal area at your wrist outward to finger tips. Spread your fingers to make it more obvious. This pattern is called palmate. Think of the ribs branching from your spine and how they wrap around your chest in vertical rows. This pattern is like leaflets branching outward from a central shaft called the rachis on plants with compound leaves like roses, walnut trees, or sumac shrubs. 

Palmate, pinnate, toothed, entire, simple, and compound are few easy leaf characteristics to use to identify trees, shrubs, and other plants. Now is great time pick up leaves from the ground to enjoy the beauty of colors and to notice a variety of characteristics. Maybe you will want to pile leaves while raking, bury the kids, or even flop into the pile yourself. Take time to have fun with family and do things the kids or grandkids might not expect.

Imagine their surprise if grandpa gets into a pile of leaves with the kids. It will probably be even more surprising to grandpa’s kids than to the grandkids. When in the pile, have each family member pick a leaf and see how many colors can be found. Don’t miss the shades of tan, brown, yellow in addition to red, orange, green, and even black. 

If you are raking maples, the leaf veins will be palmate like the bones in your hand. Apple leaf veins will be pinnate and branch from a straight midrib that runs up the center of the leaf. On the abundant dogwood shrubs or dogwood trees, pinnate veins will branch from the central midrib, but veins curve toward the leaf tip. It is best to look at the underside of leaves where veins are more evident.

Beginning with a few leaf characteristics will make it easier to distinguish different plants. It is not even necessary to learn the names of the various plants. Simply enjoy different patterns and recognize how to separate them. 

Leaves might have teeth along the edge of the leaf blade. Teeth are sharp pointed projections along the edge. Some teeth are straight but cherries have curved teeth. There are plants with doubly serrate teeth. They are alternating teeth with one being large followed by a smaller one in a repeating pattern. The leaf blade might have a smooth untoothed edge from its base to the tip and is referred to as having an entire edge. 

Fallen leaves can be a bit tricky. Those with compound leaves tend to fall in pieces. Look at plants that have not dropped their leaves. The sumac shrubs still retain bright red compound leaves making them easy to find even when they are on the ground. To recognize if a leaf is compound, one needs to locate the leaf bud at the base of the leaf. Leaflets do not have a bud at the base of the leaflet.

On the sumac or walnut, there is a main leaf shaft called the rachis with pinnate leaflets branching from it. Look closely to notice there are no buds at the base of the leaflets. One needs to follow farther back to discover the bud at the base of the compound leaf where it attaches to the shrub branch. 

Bitternut hickory trees have compound leaves with fewer pinnate leaflets branching from their rachis than the sumac shrubs or walnut trees. The hickory drops leaflets individually while the walnut drops the leaf as a whole unit. Bitternut leaves become yellow while walnuts leaves fall green. 

The difference between simple and compound leaves is based on whether there is a bud at the base of the single leaf blade or whether the bud is at the base of a leaf having many leaflets. Spend time enjoying leaf characteristics in nature niches this fall and help family members experience the variety growing around the yard. 

Make raking leaves more than work. Make it an adventure into the mysteries of the living space you share with plants. There is more to enjoy in fall than the color change. 

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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Largemouth bass virus re-emerges 

Largemouth bass virus affects the fish’s swim bladder, making it difficult for them to swim correctly. Photo from Michigan DNR.

After a 15-year hiatus, largemouth bass virus has re-emerged in a new northern Lower Peninsula water. This virus has been confirmed as a factor in a fish kill in Cedar Lake in Alcona and Iosco counties, Michigan, with additional lakes in the area being examined. This virus previously affected adult largemouth bass in the early 2000s in southern Michigan lakes.

Largemouth bass virus is one of more than 100 naturally occurring viruses that affect fish and is closely related to viruses found in frogs and other amphibians. Its origin and how it is spread are unknown, but anglers are considered a likely path for transmitting the virus through the movement of live, infected fish from one water to another, or by using contaminated and uncleaned gear or boats in uninfected waters. LMVB is not known to infect humans, and infected fish are safe to eat as long as the fish is thoroughly cooked.

LMBV usually causes fish kills during periods when fish are most stressed. Potential stressors include very hot weather, intensive recreational fishing, and possibly aquatic weed or other treatments made during hot weather. Anything that can be done to minimize stress on fish will reduce the effects of this virus and subsequent fish deaths.

There are few outward signs that a fish has LMBV. The virus has been found in lakes with no reports of disease or mortalities of fish. Affected fish usually appear normal, although they may be lethargic, swim slowly and be less responsive to activity around them. Dying fish often are seen near the surface and have difficulty remaining upright. Upon internal examination, infected fish usually have bloated and yellowish swim bladders.

“Largemouth bass virus appears to infect other related fish species, including smallmouth bass, bluegill and black crappies, but to date is only known to kill largemouth bass,” said Gary Whelan, the DNR’s fisheries research manager. 

“The disease typically kills large adult fish and die-offs affect approximately 10 to 20 percent of these fish in a given lake.”

LMBV cannot be eradicated from lakes, nor can infected fish be treated. The best way to halt the virus is by anglers and boaters properly cleaning their equipment and doing their part to prevent the spread:

  • Clean all fishing equipment between trips.
  • Do not move fish or fish parts from one body of water to another.
  • Handle bass gently if you intend to release them.
  • Don’t keep bass in live wells for long periods of time if you plan to release them.
  • Minimize the targeting of largemouth bass during very hot weather
  • Report dead or dying adult largemouth bass, particularly when they are in numbers of 25 or more. Reports can be made online at michigan.gov/eyesinthefield.

For more information on fish diseases, visit the DNR’s website www.michigan.gov/dnr. 

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Red Rock Wilderness presentation

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Plan an evening of enjoyment with a presentation by Clayton Daughenbaugh titled “A Wilderness Icon: Utah’s Red Rock Canyonlands.” It will include a multimedia program narrated by Robert Redford. Sorry, Bob will not be here to present his portion of the program but it will add to Clayton’s information and spectacular images. 

The journey through red rock splendor will invigorate and motivate viewers to participate in the movement to protect these unique lands. 

Clayton lives in Chicago but will speak to his own experiences as conservation organizer for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and his concerns about current attacks on protected wilderness areas. Aspects of specific concern include President Trump and his administration’s efforts to repeal and replace the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments, as well as reversing progress made to protect the largest unprotected wilderness area in the lower 48 states. 

I have been a member of the SUWA since its founding and have written about this special place in nature niche articles. The new species I discovered (Grammia brillians) in 2005 resides in this wilderness. I am confident other new species live in the fragile and unique environment. Come discover the wonders of a wild place that deserves protection from short term despoliation that will impair one of the most special places on Earth. The few wild places like this will become more important for future generations. They are currently vital for recreation, science, and wildlife. In the future, these values will become more significant if they survive.

With his varied professional background and on-the-ground experiences, Clayton brings a unique perspective to the topic. He has chaired the Sierra Club’s volunteer positions with conservation groups. 

“These public lands are among the most beautiful and most intact portions of Creation remaining,” stated Clayton of wilderness areas. “We have a great responsibility to act to protect these special places.”

This is a wonderful opportunity to see spectacular images of a place I refer to as Eden on Earth. 

Date: Monday 29 Oct 2018

Time: 7:00 p.m. social – 7:30 p.m. program

Location: Aquinas College, John Donnelly Conference Center

Speaker: Clayton Daughenbaugh

Topic: Wilderness Icon: Utah’s Red Rock 

Canyonlands

Cost: No charge 

Directions: from north Kent County: Travel south on Northland Drive that becomes the East Beltline. After crossing I-96, turn right (west) on Fulton and travel to Woodward Lane on the Aquinas College campus. Turn left on Woodward (south) and proceed to the parking lot on the right. The parking is immediately south of the conference center. 

Map: https://www.aquinas.edu/sites/default/files/2017%20AQMap_OUTLINE_FINAL.pdf or use Mapquest.  

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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Coral fungi and others

These large mushrooms were found growing in a fairy ring in Cam Teusink’s yard at Beech and Second Street last month. Ranger Steve thought they might be Lepista irina, but there are others that grow in fairy rings as well. Photo submitted by Ed Bremmer.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Many interesting mushrooms popped up in the yard, woods and fields during the wet hot weather this fall. Colorful Amanitas with yellow spots on the red cap are beauties to behold but dangerous to eat. Many fungi are edible like puffballs but one needs to pay attention to details and be careful. 

My friend Donna Hickey had four sisters and a brother. Donna died in her 90’s in the 1990’s. When they were young girls, their mother sent them out to pick mushrooms with instructions not to eat any until she looked at each one. Her 5-year old sister ate one before her mother looked at them. She got sick and they sent for the doctor. It took him awhile to get there with horse and buggy because of a bridge washout. He could do nothing and she died from liver damage. Mushroom chemicals destroy liver function and death comes rapidly. 

It amazes me how many mushrooms are eaten by wildlife with no harmful effects. It would not surprise me to learn animals make deadly mistakes that we never discover.

When I taught at Brainerd Community College before moving here to become director of the Howard Christensen Nature Center, I worked with Rudy Hillig, who was director of the Northland Arboretum (then called Paul Bunyan Arboretum) in Brainerd, Minnesota. Rudy told me about a friend who was President of Minnesota Mycology (Mushroom) Society. His friend from the Twin Cities stopped in to visit Rudy in the morning and they made plans to meet for supper. His friend went mushroom collecting for the day. 

While collecting, an elderly gentleman asked him if he was concerned about picking a deadly mushroom. Irritated with that frequently asked question, Rudy’s friend said they are rare and he grabbed a mushroom and bit it to make his point. He immediately realized his error and asked the man to get him to the hospital. The man said he did not drive. Rudy’s friend did not show up for dinner. Rudy learned he died from his mistake.

Collecting edible mushrooms is a favorite outdoor activity many people enjoy. It adds delicious flavor to meals. Even the choice morels that people seek in aspen forests and near dead elms in spring have a look alike that  should not be eaten. Learn what to collect by studying mushroom details in their nature niches.

I am not a fan of mushroom taste but I enjoy looking at the tremendous variety that abounds when conditions are ideal. Warm falls with heavy rain are wonderful for producing great varieties to feed our eyes. I led a group at Ody Brook where we saw about three dozen mushrooms growing from the top of an old dead stump. The scene captured joyful attention of the hikers. That one event made the entire walk worthwhile. 

Seeing a large variety of mushrooms growing from tree bark to fairy rings sprouting from damp ground is enjoyable. The mycelium growing out of sight underground or under bark on dead trees remains hidden from view throughout the year. It secretes digestive enzymes that leave its body where it digests food that needs to be absorbed into the fungus. It is not the most efficient method of food capture but it works. When conditions are right, reproductive structures seem to rise into view overnight from the hidden mycelium. 

There are many varied types of beautiful fungi. The coral fungi look like they should be growing on a coral reef submerged in a shallow warm ocean. Instead they display reproductive coral-like growths with branching upright arms from soil here. Their colors include white, orange, and purple. Most are white and lure me outside to explore the varieties after a warm fall rain. The coral-like appearance is unmistakable. 

Major groups of fungi include the bracket fungi that protrude like shelves from trees. They have little pores on the bottom that expel spores. Gill mushrooms release spores from slits under the umbrella like roof and are sought by mushroom hunters to eat. A type of sac fungi displays beautiful little cups with bright red interiors. Enjoy the colors, shapes, and taste found in wild places. Fungi are essential for returning nutrients to the soil allowing plants healthy growth. Without fungi facilitating nutrient cycling, plants would cease and so would we. 

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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