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Squirrel Colors

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Does your family have specific recognizable gene characteristics? I have two dimples that my brothers and dad also possess. One is on my cheek and the other is on the side of my stomach. My dad and brothers have those dimples but they are on the opposite side of their bodies. Their hair parts on the left side of the head like it does for most men. My hair naturally parts on the right side. These are genetically inherited characteristics. 

Jackie Gage said that this cute little red “dwarf” squirrel has been coming to her home in Cedar Springs for at least a couple months. She said it was hard to get a picture of him because he was so fast and flighty but her granddaughter Brenda Reed finally got a photo. Jackie doesn’t think he’s a baby squirrel because he’s never gotten any bigger than the 6 inches or so he is now. “He chases the big squirrels up trees and across the yard and is quite aggressive,” she said. “I’ve named him Brat because he is one!” Photo by Brenda Reed.

I figure the two characters of dimples and hair part must be encoded on a chromosome that experienced a form of genetic inversion or possible crossover. Understanding of genetics has advanced remarkably since I took genetics in college. Now my focus is on butterfly genetics where genome sequencing is used to study similarities, differences, and development of new species in progress. I listen to scientists explain their research at conferences to demonstrate how genetic drift occurs in wild populations. I can best address squirrel genetics by attempting to overview gene inheritance for butterflies where my understanding is more complete.

Gene Drift character is more evident for some species than others. A plant group known as wild buckwheat is experiencing active speciation among individuals that look virtually identical. They have become genetically and reproductively isolated into different species even though they look the same. There is a group of blue butterflies that require buckwheat plants for larval food plants and the butterfly populations have separated into new genetically isolated species that look nearly identical. They do not interbreed with each other and each requires its own specific new species of buckwheat. This new species development in progress is being tested.

For field biologists like me to determine the species of blue buckwheat butterfly, it is necessary to determine the species of buckwheat plant the caterpillar requires. Another way is for scientists to examine gene sequencing of mitochondrial DNA and RNA. It is necessary to end this crash course in genetics without adding pages of detail. I expect readers have heard of the Human Genome Project and if not Google it for a brief paragraph introduction. To address squirrel color inheritance we will leave genetic species development. 

Kathy Bremmer, of Cedar Springs, said this two-toned squirrel has been visiting their feeders for a week or so. She said she did some research on the Internet but couldn’t find another one just like it. Ranger Steve says in the article here it could be an albinism mutation.

Frequently squirrels express genetic variation within their own species much like people do. Three common squirrel species in our area are the red, gray, and fox squirrels. Red squirrels are small with red fur and white bellies. The fox squirrels have rusty red fox-colored fur and tails with reddish bellies but some have red tinted black fur. The gray squirrels have gray fur and tails, with white bellies. They also have genetically distinct black individuals. The squirrel color phases are not significantly different from hair color variations in people.

The black-haired squirrel color is the result of a recessive gene that it must receive from both parent donors. If the squirrel gets a fox-colored hair gene and black-hair gene, the offspring will have fox-colored fur. Two fox-colored genes result in fox-colored individuals. Two black-hair genes create a squirrel having a black color.

Pictures of the color variant and “dwarf” squirrel sent to the paper are due to genetics that I cannot adequately identify. There are multiple possibilities to explain what has occurred. Dwarfism can occur in other species much like it does in people but they should have short limbs. The two small squirrels that have not become normal sized over a period of months could indicate a dwarf gene mutation. There are two half-sized red squirrels that are not dwarfs in our yard. They will grow. Squirrels commonly bear young in late fall or winter. 

The odd white and reddish-brown squirrel is more difficult to explain. It is not an albino. Albinos are individuals that do not inherit a gene for color pigment. Perhaps an albinism mutation occurred during early embryo development. Albinism is surprisingly frequent in squirrels. I have a picture on our wall of an albino red squirrel photographed at the Howard Christensen Nature Center. My in-laws had one in their Minnesota yard and I have heard of many others. Albinos lack eye pigment and have pink eyes. 

The two-toned squirrel pictured is caused by genetic variation caused in a manner I cannot readily explain but I could elaborate with detailed possibilities. Many nature niche mysteries continue to intrigue us so simply enjoy.

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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Don’t miss out on Wildlife Weekend Jan. 31-Feb. 2

A black bear in the woods in Iron River, Michigan. People interested in learning all about bears—their habits, life cycle, ecological outlook and all the legend and lore—are invited to register for Wildlife Weekend, Jan. 31-Feb. 2, at the Ralph A. MacMullan Center on Higgins Lake in Roscommon County, Michigan.

Good conversation, hearty food, roaring fires and entertaining classes about the state’s natural history—it’s s all part of Wildlife Weekend, Jan. 31-Feb. 2, at the Ralph A. MacMullan Center on scenic Higgins Lake in Roscommon County.

The DNR and the Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education have partnered to offer a fun learning experience that DNR education manager Kevin Frailey said is perfect for anyone 18 or older who loves the outdoors and wants to learn more about our natural world. Guests choose one of three learning tracks:

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education launched Wildlife Weekend in February 2019, an opportunity for everyday folks to understand more about Michigan’s great outdoors and the natural world around them. This is a group picture of the participants in the “Michigan, my Michigan” learning track.

Feathered Frenzy. When you look at a bird, can you tell what it eats? If it migrates? Whether it’s a good parent? Can a nest location tell you if the babies are helpless? Do you wonder how birds navigate south? Why some nest here and not in Florida? Join us for activities, media and a walk in the woods to get answers to these and other questions.

The Bear Facts. Bears are intelligent, love to eat and sleep and can outrun a racehorse! North America bruins—black, polar and brown—are mighty mammals surrounded by epic tales of danger, humor and legend. This class uses video, activities, cool props and discussion to cover biology, life cycles, lore, ecological outlook and bear safety basics.

Winter Omnibus. Ever wonder how to handle a winter survival situation? Learn survival basics that could come in handy! Try your hand at ice fishing on Higgins Lake, with all equipment (even some warmth) provided. You’ll also learn about snowshoes and how to choose the right pair. This class includes a snowshoe hike (shoes provided) through majestic Hartwick Pines State Park.

There will be plenty of free time to enjoy the scenery, explore trails or just get back in touch with nature. The weekend begins with dinner at 5:30 p.m. Friday, before the first class, and will run through noon Sunday. Get full Wildlife Weekend information and register online at https://tinyurl.com/wildlifeweekend.

Questions? Contact Kevin Frailey at 517-284-6043.

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K-12 students invited to enter 2020 Michigan Junior Duck Stamp Contest

Calling all young artists: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting entries for the 2020 Michigan Junior Duck Stamp Contest administered by the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge in Saginaw. Entries must be postmarked by March 15.

The USFWS has hosted the contest in Michigan since 1995 to boost education and awareness about North America’s waterfowl and wetland resources. Sixteen-year-old Mandy He of Ann Arbor won in 2019 with her acrylic drawing of two Michigan mallard hens.

This year the program is expanding to accept all styles and types of two-dimensional visual artwork. All entries:

Will be judged in four groups, according to grade level: K-3, 4-6, 7-9 and 10-12.

May feature one of the following species: whistling ducks, swans, geese, brants, dabbling ducks, diving ducks, sea ducks, mergansers, stiff tails or Hawaiian ducks.

In addition to first-, second- and third-place entries, judges will select a “best of show” winner that will be submitted to the Federal Duck Stamp Office and entered into the National Junior Duck Stamp Contest.

The first-place art from the national contest is used to create a National Junior Duck Stamp. The Junior Duck Stamp is available for $5 from the U.S. Postal Service and from many national wildlife refuges. Proceeds from stamp sales support conservation education and provide awards and scholarships for participating students, teachers and schools.

Educators are encouraged to incorporate the contest into their classrooms by utilizing the Junior Duck Stamp Program curriculum to teach students about waterfowl biology and the importance of wetland habitats. Those wanting to include even more lessons and activities can register for the DNR’s Michigan’s Wondrous Wetlands and Waterfowl middle school curriculum.

Complete entry information and rules can be found at FWS.gov/JuniorDuck.

Questions? Contact Lionel Grant, Junior Duck Stamp state coordinator, 989-759-1669.

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New interactive map highlights Great Lakes shipwrecks and their lore

A diver explores the wreck of the Cedarville. .
Credit: Jitka Hanakova

The cold, fresh waters of the Great Lakes are literally littered with shipwrecks—pieces of history capturing chapters of a time when transport by water was as important as transport by land.

Some, like the Syracuse, recall the Great Lakes’ sailing heyday, when goods and people routinely plied the lakes along well-used routes. The Syracuse, a two-masted schooner carrying a cargo of coal, sank in Lake Huron on Nov. 10, 1863.

Other shipwrecks speak to more recent times when steel behemoths like the 600-foot Cedarville, shepherding a cargo of limestone, collided with a Norwegian ship in the fog on May 7, 1967. Ten crew members died, and the ship, broken nearly in two, sank in more than a hundred feet of water.

Sonar imaging of the shipwreck Syracuse. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Syracuse and the Cedarville are among 1,500 shipwrecks submerged in Michigan waters, making up one-quarter of the estimated 6,000 wrecks found throughout the Great Lakes.

Now, thanks to the recently launched Michigan Shipwrecks StoryMap, it’s easy to learn about the mystery and tragedy surrounding these ships.

The Michigan Shipwrecks Public Web App goes even further, offering users a closer look at shipwrecks as well as the locations of lighthouses and boating access sites. Users can search for shipwrecks by name or location or customize and print their own PDF maps.

Shipwreck locations are clickable icons on the web map. When clicked, a pop-up box provides detailed information about the shipwreck.

“This new tool gives divers, kayakers, snorkelers and armchair explorers a chance to learn more about these underwater archaeological sites and the circumstances that led to the shipwrecks,” said Sandra Clark, director of the Michigan History Center. “It’s a wonderfully interactive way to help people connect with this part of Michigan’s maritime history.”

The app map offers information about each ship, including:

The difficulty level of diving to the wreck.

Whether the wreck is accessible by kayak or canoe.

The circumstances of the sinking.

A description of the ship, with photos and drawings (if available).

The map also highlights Michigan’s underwater preserves and water trails.

Some wrecks, such as the wooden bulk freighter Daisy Day, lie in as little as 10 feet of water and are suitable for beginning divers and visible to paddlers and snorkelers.

Others, such as the Indiana, a propeller vessel that went down in Lake Superior in 1858, are in more than 100 feet of water and require advanced diving skills.

The map will be updated as more ships are discovered and more information becomes available.

Users may notice that some high-profile wrecks, such as the Carl D Bradley, which sank in Lake Michigan in November 1958, are not listed. Because crew members went down with these ships, they are considered underwater burial sites.

Clark reminds the public that Michigan law prohibits removal of any artifacts from shipwrecks.

“The wrecks on the Great Lakes bottomlands belong to the people of Michigan,” she said. “If everyone follows the rule of ‘take only pictures and leave only bubbles,’ we can ensure that these underwater time capsules will be available for future generations to explore, research and enjoy.”

Visit and explore both the storymap and public web app at Michigan.gov/ExploreShipwrecks.

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Christmas Bird Count Numbers 2019

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

Forty-eight species were seen (Table 1) by 39 field observers and three bird feeder watchers on 28 Dec 2019. 

Total individuals sighted was 6,376 compared with 14,442 in 2015; 9,342 in 2016; 6,161 in 2017; and 6,909 in 2018. The number of individual birds sighted was down compared with 3 of the last 4 years. The fewer number this year might be a result of warm weather conditions causing birds to disperse more. Water birds were not restricted to small areas of open water by ice. Terrestrial birds could search large areas instead of concentrating around bird feeders. 

The day was cloudy with the temperature between 28º and 40ºF. There was no snow coverage. Still water had a thin ice covering and flowing waters were open.

We totaled 59 hours traveling in vehicles for 533 miles. 10.75 hours was spent on foot covering 17.5 miles and 6 hours was watching feeders. A combined total of 550.5 miles was on foot and driving. Groups totaled 69 hours of daytime birding. There were 15 birding parties in the morning, 4 in the afternoon and 3 feeder watchers. 

In the predawn, 20 miles was traveled in one hour where owling found two Eastern Screech Owls and one Great Horned Owl. 

Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center (WWC) co-hosted the count with Grand Rapids Audubon Club. WWC facility use is appreciated for our base station. Visit and enjoy the WWC trails that are open 24/7.

Mark your calendars for Jan. 2, 2021 to participate in the 2020 Christmas Bird Count. 

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 snowmobile safety campaign encourages people to “Ride Right”

From the Michigan DNR

As snowmobilers head north to enjoy one of the state’s most popular winter outdoor activities, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources reminds everyone to ride at a safe speed, ride on the right side of the trail and ride sober. It’s all part of the DNR’s “Ride Right” snowmobile safety campaign, introduced last year. The department also is working with local law enforcement agencies to conduct snowmobile safety and sound patrols.

“We see a lot of accidents early in the season when people aren’t used to the snow,” said Lt. Jim Gorno, law enforcement supervisor at the DNR Customer Service Center in Gaylord. “When the first snow falls, people get excited. Take time to make sure you’re comfortable with the conditions and your machine.”

Lt. Jerry Fitzgibbon, the DNR’s acting law enforcement supervisor for the eastern Upper Peninsula, said the department wants the public to be aware of the increased patrols. “We would rather tell people ahead of time that we will be conducting snowmobile patrols, hoping that they will slow down, instead of responding to an accident,” Fitzgibbon said.

Snowstorms during the 2018-19 season kept conservation officers busy, responding to many situations involving stranded snowmobilers. There have been four snowmobile fatalities so far during the 2019-20 season.

“Conditions change year to year and day to day,” said Fitzgibbon. “You can go out on a smooth trail and come home on the same trail, full of obstacles hidden under the snow. Slow down so you have enough space to stop with a clear distance. If you’re going too fast to maintain control of your snowmobile, you’re going too fast—whether it’s 10 or 100 mph.”

During the 2017-18 snowmobile season, 80 percent of snowmobile accidents and deaths reported in the Upper Peninsula were caused by high speed, according to the Michigan Region 8 Trauma Network.

“Excessive speed, drugs and alcohol are among the top contributing factors for snowmobile accidents and fatalities,” said Lt. Tom Wanless, who manages the DNR’s recreational safety, education and enforcement programs. He encouraged all snowmobilers to follow basic safety reminders:

*Ride within your limits.

*Keep your machine maintained.

*Ride sober and ride on the right side of the trail.

*Stay on the trail and be careful not to trespass on private property.

Additionally, several snowmobile trails already have been hit this season with ice storms and high waters, making the need for caution even more critical. DNR trail officials said that there are many potential hazards riders must be aware of, including downed trees, deer, elevation changes and private driveways.

The DNR encourages all snowmobilers, regardless of age or experience, to take a snowmobile safety class. In Michigan all snowmobile operators between the ages of 12 and 16 are required to take a Michigan-approved snowmobile safety course and obtain a snowmobile safety certificate to ride unsupervised or to operate a snowmobile across a road.

Learn more about snowmobiling opportunities and trail safety resources at Michigan.gov/Snowmobiling.

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Mouse in the House

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

My preference is for mice to construct their “house” or shelter in natural habitats. Like snow that I wish would fall everywhere except the roads, sidewalks and drives, I hope mice stay in natural areas. Our wishes are not heeded. In fields, the meadow voles build grass shelters of woven grass. Depending on the habitat quality in fields, the number of shelters vary. There can be five territories for voles in an acre. Under ideal conditions, a vole can produce a litter every 21 days. This is good news for hawks, owls, and foxes that hunt fields. Voles tend to be abundant along treeless freeway shoulders where Red-tailed Hawks set up hunting areas.

Mousing hawks stand on nearby trees, shrubs, and highway signs to watch for movement. They soar overhead and stand near farm fields. So to speak, they are our friends by helping reduce the rodent population. Weasels move through fields and shrublands to meet their high metabolism need for frequent meals. 

Less than 10 species of mice share Michigan yards, natural habitats and our houses. Over 100 species of what people generally refer to as mice inhabit the United States and Canada. 

The Meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus) also called a meadow mouse is dark brown, has a tail half body length and its small ear pinnae are almost hidden in its fur. Though it is possibly the most abundant mouse in the region, it is not the most abundant to move into our houses. The Woodland vole might also be present.

The prairie deermouse, woodland deermouse, and white-footed mouse are likely to take residence in our houses. It is difficult to separate them but nature niche preferences and anatomical features help. The two deermice in our area are considered subspecies in the process of developing new species. When to separate or lump them as species is difficult. More than fifty subspecies are distinguished across the continent and are a choice group for scientists studying evolution in progress. Many species of plants and animals are midway in species development but mice are easy to rear. Difficulty arises because speciation studies typically require centuries. 

The prairie deermouse has smaller ears and shorter tail than the woodland subspecies. The tails on both are bicolored with sharply separated brown on top and white beneath. The white-footed mouse’s tail is not sharply bicolored and ear length is midway between that of the two deermice. White-footed mice brown fur lightens on their sides. The prairie deermouse survives best in open grasslands. I think woodland deermice enter our house. To be sure, it is necessary to clean meat from mice bones and examine skull details. I prioritize other projects. 

The white-footed mice frequently use bird nest boxes and hollow trees in winter but so do deermice. In March, I clean birdhouses to ready them for the return of bird migrants. 

Mice that might be encountered during family northern vacations or on hunting trips could be the red-backed vole and woodland jumping mouse. The similar meadow jumping mouse can is found in southern Michigan but unlike other mice during winter it hibernates. Another infrequently encountered species is the southern bog lemming that thrives in swamps. We have seen them along the boardwalk in the swampy bog habitat to Chrishaven Lake at the Howard Christensen Nature Center. Though called “southern” they live mostly north of the region and are southern compared to the northern bog lemming that is not found south of Canada in the east.

Exotic species include the house mouse and Norway rat. Only once have I encountered a Norway rat at Ody Brook but they can be common in farm buildings and grain mills. Fortunately, the house mouse that also came from Europe has not been found in our home. 

Deermice have little economic significance. They and white-footed mice are valuable as prey for foxes, hawks, owls, and snakes. Mice can be a nuisance. We trap mice in the house because we do want mouse turd leavings or hanta virus. Typically the only mice you will encounter in your house are deermice, white-footed mice, and occasional meadow voles. Depending on neighborhood habitats, others can be expected.

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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2020 Outdoor Skills Academy

Learn about food plots, ice fishing, wild mushrooms and more

Morel Mushroom gathering, Windsor Twp. Eaton Co. Mi.

Interested in attracting bluebirds to your yard? Learning the ins and outs of bear hunting in the Michigan woods? How about tying an expert tie and fly fishing like a pro? The DNR Outdoor Skills Academy 2020 class schedule currently is filled with more than a dozen opportunities to do all of this and much more, starting with the Hard Water School (ice fishing) Jan. 25-26 at Mitchell State Park in Cadillac. Additional classes will be added as details are finalized.

DNR park interpreter and academy coordinator Ed Shaw said the concept launched a few years back at the Carl T. Johnson Hunt and Fish Center (in Mitchell State Park) as a way to help people of all experience and skill levels learn more about hunting and fishing in Michigan. Since then, the class offerings have expanded to include everything from wildlife photography and mushroom identification to snowshoe weaving and developing deer food plots, and the class locations have spread to other locations, too.

“Whether you’re looking to get started with a new outdoor activity or want to brush up on your skills and learn some tips and tricks, the academy pro-staff can help,” Shaw said. “These affordable classes and clinics are unique because they explore topics in-depth—for a full day or more—with knowledgeable, skilled instructors leading the way.”

Learn more about the academy and full class schedule at Michigan.gov/Outdoor Skills, or contact Ed Shaw at 231-779-1321.

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Where is the Red Belly?


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve MuellerW

The suet feeder attracts many bird species including the Red-bellied Woodpecker. One would expect a name to indicate a prominent feature but for this woodpecker it does not. Instead people tell me they have the uncommon Red-headed woodpeckers.

The head on the adult Red-headed Woodpecker is a distinctive feature on both sexes and they have a striking wing characteristic that cinches identification. This species’ head is completely red on front, back, sides, and top in the adult birds. The young have brown heads during their first year that gradually change to red. 

Red-headed woodpecker. Photo by Marilyn Keigley.

The wings have large white patches on what are called the secondary feathers. This makes the lower back look white even on young birds perched on a tree. The adult’s white is pure but the young have some brown barring through the white. In flight the white on the wings flashes brightly making identification easy. 

The bright red head is not always as obvious as the white on the wings. Dim light in cloudy weather subdues the red color but the large white patches on wings remain obvious. The belly on this species is white.

Red-bellied woodpecker. Photo by Marilyn Keigley.

Where’s the red on the Red-bellied Woodpecker? Their breast is gray or brownish with a slight tinge of red on the lower belly near the tail. The red is barely visible and not the good feature for identification. The head pattern is more helpful. Both sexes have significant red on the back of their heads but the sides and front are gray. The male has a red cap that continues over the top of the head that is lacking in the female. 

Lack of solid color on the head helps distinguish the Red-bellied from the Red-headed. When the red color is subdued in dim light, the solid pattern verses dark and light contrast can be seen. In flight the Red-bellied has a white patch on the upper rump but it does not extend across the lower wings like it does on the Red-headed. 

Red-bellied Woodpecker wings are flecked with white spots overlaying black throughout the wing. There is a sharp division of black and white on the Red-headed’s wings with the upper back black and lower white. 

Less obvious features help with identification. The bill on the Red-bellied is dark but is silvery gray on the Red-headed. The nine species of woodpeckers in Michigan have dark upper tail feathers but some have white outer feathers. Both the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers outer tail feathers are white with a helpful difference for separating the two. There are black flecks on the underside across the white feathers on the Downy and the Hairy’s is pure white. When the Downy spreads its tail feathers while standing on a suet feeder or tree, some black flecking can be seen on the outer most upper tail feathers. The Hairy is larger than a Downy.

Five of the nine Michigan woodpeckers are common in our region. The approximate order from most common is Downy, Red-bellied, Hairy, Northern Flicker (yellow-shafted), and Pileated. Depending on the neighborhood habitat, that order might differ. Flickers are not frequently seen in winter and the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is usually only noticed during spring and fall migrations. The crow sized Pileated is present all year where there are larger trees and they often frequent large upland forest or extensively forested lowland floodplains. 

Behavior in nature niches is important for recognizing species. With considerable practice varied calls help separate species even when not seen. Most helpful is the rhythm of head-banging on a tree, house, or sound resonating surface. Speed and loudness of woodpecker pounding helps. It also varies with the work being done. Territorial tree pounding sounds different from that of birds searching for insects hidden under tree bark. 

Downy Woodpeckers are more likely on smaller branches than Hairy Woodpeckers that choose larger branches when working. Northern Flickers and Red-bellied woodpeckers, that are about the same size, choose different habitats. Flickers are often found in open areas feeding on ants while the Red-bellied almost always feeds in forests. Michigan woodpeckers nest in hollow trees. Take notice of details to hone your observation skills.

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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Ten cool things the DNR did this past year

By Casey Warner and John Pepin, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

A completed stretch of County Road 107 shows armoring in the form of large boulders placed to protect the shoreline and road from the waves of Lake Superior.
Photo courtesy of the DNR.

Before 2019 fades completely from sight in the rearview mirror, we wanted to take one more glance back as we move forward at accomplishments over the past year.

With numerous notable achievements to consider, we’ve narrowed the list down to 10 cool things the Michigan Department of Natural Resources was involved with over the past year.

Isle Royale wolf translocation: In September, the Michigan DNR aided efforts by the National Park Service to translocate four wolves from the western Upper Peninsula mainland to Isle Royale. The effort increased the island’s wolf population to 17. Wolves at Isle Royale play a key function as predators to moose, which number roughly 2,000 on the archipelago. This large moose population has had negative impacts on island vegetation and other resources. Multiple agencies are involved in the work, with some participants lent to the Isle Royale project from other states. The key aim of the translocation efforts, which began in northeastern Minnesota in 2018 and continued in Ontario last winter, is to restore predation to the 132,000-acre island’s ecosystem. DNR biologists worked to trap the wolves, which were then transported by float plane to the island. The park service hopes to translocate 20-30 wolves to the island over a three- to five-year period.

Celebrating milestones: Throughout 2019, the DNR celebrated 100 years of Michigan’s state parks system. Focused on the centennial of the Michigan State Park Commission’s formation in 1919, the celebration included special events, podcasts, historical stories, videos, geocaching and more. It also sparked a partnership with Bob Ross, Inc., on the Happy Little Trees program, a tree-planting effort to help state parks recover from invasive forest pests and diseases that damage or kill trees. During the centennial year, hundreds of trees were planted at state parks around Michigan. In 2019 the DNR also celebrated fire-prevention icon Smokey Bear’s 75th birthday – including creation of the short video “Wildfires are a Scary Thing” – and the 100th anniversary Pigeon River Country State Forest, a 106,000-acre forest northeast of Gaylord that’s the largest block of contiguous undeveloped land in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

Battling the fury of the Great Lakes: High water levels on the Great Lakes took center stage this summer as the DNR partnered with the Ontonagon County Road Commission to battle significant erosion that threatened to destroy County Road 107, the eastern entry road into Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. The showdown at Michigan’s largest state park was one of many battles against high water around the state. If the road was undermined and forced to close, an 80-mile detour would be necessary to get visitors beyond the washout sections of the road. Prime attractions like the Lake of the Clouds overlook, Union Bay campground and numerous hiking trails potentially would have been blocked. The $651,400 project to stabilize the shoreline, over about a half-mile of the hardest-hit areas, has succeeded in so far preventing further damage in the face of strong snowstorms off Lake Superior. Meanwhile, a search for a long-term solution to the problem is underway. Several expense proposals are being vetted, including a nearly $12 million option of relocating the roadway away from the shoreline.

Kirtland’s warbler successful recovery: In October, the DNR celebrated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s announcement that the Kirtland’s warbler – a small songbird once on the brink of extinction – no longer warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act thanks to decades of work by a diverse group of partners. The species, among the first in the U.S. identified as being at risk of extinction, nests only in young jack pine stands in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario. Bird enthusiasts from around the world travel to northern Michigan in hopes of catching sight of the rare warbler, whose populations had dipped perilously low by the 1970s. Long-term efforts by partners such as the Michigan DNR, U.S. Forest Service and conservation groups to ensure the availability of needed jack pine habitat and control threats from competing brown-headed cowbirds led to the species’ steady ascent and eventual recovery. Conservation plans are in place to make sure Kirtland’s warblers continue to thrive.

Dow Chemical Co. settlement to restore natural resources: Under an agreement announced in November with federal, state and tribal governments, the Dow Chemical Company will settle an environmental complaint for an estimated $77 million in projects and funding that will restore fish, wildlife and habitats injured when hazardous substances were released in past decades from Dow’s manufacturing facility in Midland. The DNR is one of several entities acting together on behalf of the public as natural resources trustees. Under the settlement, Dow will carry out or fund restoration projects identified in Midland, Bay, Saginaw and nearby counties. These projects include fish spawning and fish passage improvements; restoration of thousands of acres of wetlands and other habitats; creation of multiple public nature areas with nature trails, fishing platforms and one bike trail segment; protection of a green corridor along the Tittabawassee River; and expansion of boating access at the mouth of the Saginaw River. The agreement is subject to public comment and approval in federal court.

Lifesaving efforts: Throughout the year, numerous DNR employees, many of them conservation officers, were recognized for their efforts to save lives – from helping get a fisherman who had fallen through the ice out of the water to rescuing a capsized kayaker suffering from hypothermia. Notably, in October Conservation Officer Jeff Ginn was honored with his fourth DNR Lifesaving Award for his actions to resuscitate a man found unresponsive in a Newaygo motel. A few weeks later, Ginn was featured on CNN’s “Beyond the Call of Duty,” a show that highlights inspiring stories about police and first responders who go above and beyond in the performance of their duties. Since conservation officers live in the communities they serve, they often are the first emergency responders to arrive at a scene. Several employees from the DNR Wildlife and Parks and Recreation divisions also received awards for their lifesaving efforts in 2019.

North Country National Scenic Trail rebuild: In October, the culmination of a collaborative project to rebuild a section of the North Country National Scenic Trail in Ontonagon County was celebrated. The work was completed with the combined strength of federal, state and local partners. The DNR provided more than a quarter of a million dollars in major grants to the project from the Iron Belle Trail grant program and the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. The rebuild took place over roughly 2 miles of the route from a trailhead to picturesque O Kun de Kun Falls on the Baltimore River. Previously, this section of the trail was often muddy and difficult to tread. Improvements include several new sections of boardwalk and wetland bridges, along with a raised gravel walking surface. As it does in several other areas, this portion of the North Country Trail doubles as part of the hiking route of Michigan’s signature Iron Belle Trail, which stretches more than 2,000 miles from Belle Isle Park in Detroit to Ironwood in Gogebic County. 

Moving closer to Arctic grayling’s return: In July, the DNR and its partners got one step closer to bringing Arctic grayling, a native fish that had disappeared from the state by the early 20th century, back to Michigan waters. The ultraviolet water disinfection system at Oden State Fish Hatchery in Emmet County was installed, meaning the facility is ready to welcome juvenile Arctic grayling. The UV system will protect fish from any pathogens that may inadvertently arrive with the grayling. This protection is critical for the long-term process of cultivating Michigan’s Arctic grayling broodstock (mature fish used for breeding), a goal of the Michigan Arctic Grayling Initiative. This project was generously supported through grants and donations by private donors. The first in a series of three year-classes of fish that will make up the founding broodstock for the Arctic grayling effort arrived at the hatchery in August. The juvenile fish will be reared in isolation at Oden and, once cleared by fish health testing, transferred to Marquette State Fish Hatchery to continue maturing.

A Canada lynx looks around as it moves out of a carrier into a March afternoon in Schoolcraft County. The lynx had been relocated north from Sanilac County.
Photo courtesy of the DNR.

Releasing a Canada lynx back to the wild: A Canada lynx grabbed headlines when it was discovered in mid-March preying on a farmer’s geese in Sanilac County. Because the lynx had been behaving oddly – including being easily approachable – the DNR, in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, worked with a local trapper to capture the lynx to evaluate its health. The female cat, which was thought to be less than a year old, weighed 18 pounds and measured over 4 feet long. The cat was moved 400 miles north to central Schoolcraft County, where it was released by DNR wildlife biologists. Canada lynx are threatened species in Michigan. They are rarely seen, and when they are it’s more likely to be in the Upper Peninsula. About three weeks after the successful release, which was conducted in partnership between the DNR and the Detroit Zoological Society, a relatively approachable Canada lynx was photographed about 100 miles away, along the shoreline of Lake Superior at Whitefish Point in Chippewa County. The animal could not be verified as the lynx released weeks earlier in Schoolcraft County. 

Moving and renovating former Ulysses S. Grant home: In collaboration with the Eastern Market Partnership, the DNR’s Michigan History Center in June embarked on a project to relocate the Detroit home of Julia and Lt. Ulysses S. Grant from the former state fairgrounds to the city’s Eastern Market. There, after renovation, it will become a new resource for residents, schoolchildren and visitors to explore Grant’s life and the impact he made on Detroit while living there, and later as a Civil War general and U.S. president. The Grants moved into the home in 1849 and lived there for a little over a year. The house was moved to the state fairgrounds in 1936, where it was opened to the public for tours for many decades. The fairgrounds hosted its last state fair in 2008, and plans to move the home have been in development for years. Moving, securing and renovating the house for public use are expected to take one to two years.

With the shining prospect of a new year ahead, the DNR is hopeful, anticipating many more achievements to celebrate in the coming months.

But for today, we’re happy to celebrate these successes we’ve had working over the past 12 months to preserve Michigan’s natural resources and recreation opportunities for today and tomorrow.

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