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Archive | Outdoors

Minks, otters, skunks, weasels, fishers, and martens

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

It is a favorite to watch mink and otters in what appears to be fun-filled lives. Like all animals, they need to meet the needs of finding food, water, shelter, and living space. The more time we spend outdoors in wild places, the better the opportunity to encounter these sleek active animals. Mink seldom stray far from streams or lake edges. They use other animal burrows or hollow logs for dens. 

Mink are generally secretive and stay out of view among dense wetland vegetation near water’s edge. I observed one investigating a shoreline in search of food. It was looking for aquatic life. They are in the Mustelidae weasel family that includes otters, weasels, skunks, fishers, and pine martins. They are predators that feed almost entirely on animal matter. 

The mink diet is varied. Bird eggs, frogs, and fish are frequent food. They capture live animals such as birds, chipmunks, mice, amphibians, snakes, worms, crayfish, and insects. Larger prey like ducks, squirrels, and rabbits are a jackpot feast. They will take leftovers to their den for later eating.  

The mink searching the shoreline approached a Common Loon sitting on her nest. We wondered if it would kill the loon or if the loon would successfully protect its nest. Mink kill prey by biting it behind the head on the neck. Before the mink got close enough to find the loon nest, it diverted into the forest. We did not see the drama play out as life or death for the loon family. Though it would have been interesting, I was happy for the loon.

American river otters. 
Photo by Dmitry Azovtsev. http://www.daphoto.info

Otters are more elusive and when seen, they are usually swimming in rivers. Their muscular tail is used as a rudder. Large feet with webbing between toes provide strong swimming paddles that propel them well when pursing prey. Like all carnivores, they have canine teeth used for capturing and tearing prey. 

A family of three half grown otters were jostling in field near a wetland. They were having great fun and were oblivious to surrounding activity. When one saw me, it ended their jovial fun and they ran for cover. The open area was harvested for timber and tree top branches were piled. The otters ran for cover in the brush pile. 

I approached and saw them peering at me with wide eyes. My presence made them nervous and they contemplated what they should do. Two stayed in the brush pile but the third felt it needed to escape. It left the pile and ran across the logged clearing for more secure safety. Had I been wolf, coyote, or bobcat that might have spelled death for the young otter. This time the otter escaped with only fear and no injury or death. 

Encounters with mink, otters, and weasels have been infrequent. Skunks make their presence known by the odor that follows them. Even without spraying, the scent lingers in areas they traverse. They are predators with a diet heavily weighted toward insects. Amazingly, they dig up yellow jacket nests at night to feed heavily on pupae. It seems they would be stung to death but apparently not. 

Two members of the weasel family rarely encountered are the American pine marten and fisher. Both inhabit areas with more wilderness character where they depend on extensive forest. I have seen each species once in the wild. 

Though the marten is a predator, it also feeds on nuts, berries, and fruit to meet its metabolic needs. It is known primarily for capturing squirrels and chipmunks but its diet is broader to include mice, voles, insects, and fish. The one I saw ran across a trail I was hiking in the backcountry at Seney National Wildlife Refuge. 

My encounter with a fisher was in northern Minnesota when it ran across the road at dawn. My personal experience about its nature niche is basically nonexistent. I need to spend more time exploring outdoors.

Weasel family members have their own predators like owls, hawks, bobcats, wolves, coyotes, and even snakes.

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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Deer hunting

2019 Hunting Digest

Deer hunting begins in September. Make sure you are up-to-date with the 2019 regulations. The 2019 Hunting Digest has all deer hunting regulations, season dates and bag limits. 

Upcoming deer seasons:

Liberty Hunt (youth and hunters with disabilities) is Sept. 14-15.

Early antlerless firearm season is open Sept. 21-22 in select deer management units.

Archery deer season starts Oct. 1 statewide.

Important changes:

*Deer baiting and feeding is banned in the entire Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula Core Chronic Wasting Disease Surveillance Area.

*New regulations in the Upper Peninsula Core CWD Surveillance Area.

*New antler point restrictions. 

Visit Michigan.gov/Deer for more deer hunting details.

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DNR makes 40th cougar report confirmation


Biologists from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ cougar team confirmed this week the 40th cougar report in Michigan since 2008.

“This latest cougar confirmation came from a trail camera set up on public land in Delta County,” said Cody Norton, large-carnivore specialist with the DNR’s bear and wolf program.

The trail camera photo was taken at 8:55 p.m. Aug. 17. A black-and-white image from the camera shows a cougar heading away from the camera into a stand of cedar trees.

Norton visited the area and, with the help of members of the cougar team, substantiated the report.

The confirmation comes from an area about 170 miles from where a cougar trail camera image was snapped July 7 in Gogebic County and verified by the DNR earlier this month.

That cat was photographed by a private landowner July 7 in daylight hours northwest of Ironwood, in the far western portion of the Upper Peninsula.

Since 2008, the DNR has now confirmed 40 cougar reports, with all but one of those occurring in the Upper Peninsula. In some cases, these reports may include multiple sightings of the same cougar, not necessarily 40 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.

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 research matched a hypothesis held by DNR wildlife biologists that mountain lions documented in this region were males looking to establish territories, dispersing from a population west of Michigan, east of the Rocky Mountains.

Researchers investigated the potential population of origin for the two cougars using a database that included 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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Befriending the harvester

By Ranger Steve

Meeting a harvester on daily walks allows my friendship to strengthen with it. He works daily along my travel route and sometimes meets other harvesters. His encounter with them is not always agreeable. His focus is on meeting the girl of his dreams. If another harvester arrived, he’d determine if it was a rival or a potential mate.

My friend aggressively flies from his perch on a gray dogwood leaf to drive another male from his territory. The two males tumble through the air in sunlight and shade until one leaves. The established territory gives the advantage to the resident male. The traveling male departs to a nearby forest opening.

If the visitor is a female, the two also tumble around each other and disappear to a secluded area to mate. I witnessed a mated pair once this summer but only after they had already joined in copula. 

The two butterflies look similar but the female has an abdomen swollen with eggs. The two join abdomen ends and face opposite directions on a leaf. One can observe the male pumping his abdomen to deliver a spermatophore packet to the female. The packet contains both sperm and protein nutrients for her eggs.

The spermatophore is about 10 percent of the male’s weight and is energetically expensive for him to produce. Female butterfly species can determine the quality of male spermatophores by various means and that determines mating receptivity. How female harvesters determine male sperm packet quality is still unknown.

The spermatophore has a hard-outer covering that encloses sperm and proteins. Once delivered to the female, sperm exit and enter a storage pouch. Harvester eggs are laid individually among a colony of wooly aphids the butterfly finds on various plant species. The egg hatches and begins feeding on the aphids. The wooly aphids cover their bodies with a waxy covering that the caterpillar also uses to cover and conceal its body.

Ants protect the aphids that secrete a sugar solution food supply. They do not notice the caterpillar predator eating their food source. The Harvester quickly matures among the aphids. Unlike most butterflies that have five larval caterpillar stages called instars, the Harvester has four. Its “meaty” diet allows it to mature to the pupa stage quickly. 

After the sperms leave, the remaining proteins in the spermatophore are absorbed by the female and help her produce healthy robust nutrient filled eggs. As each egg passes through the reproductive tract for laying among aphids, a sperm fertilizes the egg by entering through a tiny opening in the eggshell called the micropyle. Adequate sperm is stored in the sperm pocket to fertilize the many eggs the female produces. 

On my daily walks through an area I call “Woodcock Circle,” I look for harvesters. Usually I see one but sometimes three. One day I saw three and proceeded to a trail called Julianne’s Wildflower Trail where I saw two more harvesters. How many harvesters live in the neighborhood is not known. I sometimes see a harvester along the forest edge in corners of the big field. Rich wild habitat is maintained for the harvesters.

This species is generally considered uncommon but is probably more common than we expect. Their nature niche is tied to various plant species that are fed on by wooly aphids that in turn are protected by ants. Hidden among the mass of aphids there is likely a Harvester caterpillar eating its fill. This butterfly species is the only predatory butterfly in the United States. All other butterfly caterpillars feed on plants.

It has an interesting and unique life cycle. For me, I enjoy the daily friendship encounter that is one sided. Though I like to think we are friends, it considers me an unknown passerby as it goes about its business. To support its preferred lifestyle and habitat, I maintain the forest clearing called “Woodcock Circle” where it resides. It might not know it, but we are friends because I maintain habitat for it.

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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Plenty to do outdoors over long holiday weekend

Campers at Big Bear Lake State Forest Campground, in Otsego County, enjoy an evening around the fire in one of Michigan’s nearly 140 rustic campsites. Photo by Michigan DNR.

Though many residents will take to the woods and camp this weekend, there are plenty of day-trip ideas to consider, too:

Head to one of Michigan’s 103 state parks for swimming, picnicking, disc golfing and walking, or simply letting the kids run free on the playground.

Explore hundreds of miles of state trails, perfect for hiking, off-road riding, bicycling and horseback riding. Mountain bikers also can wind and weave through forested areas along designated trails.

Grab a rod and reel and head to the water (maybe to one of the many state parks located near Great Lakes shoreline, inland lakes, or rivers and streams) for an adventure and maybe some great fish tales! Learn about licensing, gear, locations and more at Michigan.gov/Fishing.

Five floating playgrounds located in state parks and open through the holiday weekend are suitable for kids and adults, offering inflatable slides, runways, jumping pillows, bouncers, climbing walls and more. Find ticket information and rules at Michigan.gov/DNRWaterParks.

“When I tell people that in Michigan you’re never more than a half-hour away from a state park, state forest campground, state trail or waterway, I have that moment when it still makes an impression on me and I’m super proud to live and work in this great state,” said Ron Olson, DNR Parks and Recreation Division chief.

Still interested in closing out the long weekend with a camping trip? Occupancy at state park campgrounds stood at 92 percent late last week, meaning there are a handful of camping spots left statewide. Find reservations for a diverse range of modern, semi-modern and rustic camping sites at MIDNRReservations.com. Rustic campsites in state forest campgrounds also are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

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Endangered Species

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The Endangered Species Act is one of our greatest conservation success stories. 

League of Conservation Voters, The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), National Audubon, and other organizations have been providing information about the Trump administration’s effort to dramatically weaken the Endangered Species Act. 

He is working to undermine biodiversity protections for a healthy future that support us, the environment and our livelihoods. This is a devastating blow for wildlife and the natural heritage we inherited. Rebecca Riley, Legal Director of NRDC’s Nature Program, says Trump’s move is unprecedented and no administration has ever attacked wildlife this aggressively. She attests that the Endangered Species Act is our nation’s most important law for protecting biodiversity. For over 46 years, it has been responsible for saving 99 percent of the species it protects from extinction.

Joseph Wood Krutch wrote in 1957, “The world grows more crowded year by year and at an ever-increasing rate. Men push farther and farther in their search for ‘resources’ to be exploited, even for more space to occupy. Increasingly they think of the terrestrial globe as their earth. They never doubt their right to deal with it as they think fit-and what they think fit usually involves the destruction of what nature has thought fit during many millions of years.” 

He continued, “What men and what needs? How natural should a natural area be kept? How much should it be ‘developed’ when every development or improvement makes it just that much less natural and unspoiled.”

His writing preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973. 

Riley from the NRDC stated she has never witnessed such an aggressive effort to weaken this vital law. She comments the Trump rollbacks will devastate vulnerable and iconic creatures that don’t have a voice to fight back. The NRDC and other organizations plan to go to court to block the attack on endangered species. The time to act is now: with 1 million species facing extinction, the Endangered Species Act is more important than ever. Contact Congressional Representatives and Senators with your opinions.

NRDC and other conservation organizations work to stay politically neutral. Environmental protection for human welfare and for a sustainable environment was bipartisan but has become politicized. Parties worked together to create the Endangered Species, Wilderness, Clean Air and Water Acts in the 1960’s. The Trump administration is working to undermine the protections of the Acts and he has the support of many.  

Science is being dismissed by this administration and his supporters. Laws to protect streams, soil, air and wilderness are bypassed by Administrative order. People with anti-environment protection agendas have been appointed to head environmental protection. It is important citizens contact Congressional representatives to voice their views. 

It grieves my soul that a sustainable future for us and future generations is being sacrificed for resource exploitation. We talk about the “balance of nature” but we do not understand the intricacies involved that sustain us. The ecology of nature niches is tremendously complex. Much of the natural heritage we inherited should survive and continue vital functions without destructive activities. 

Whether one approaches sustainability from religious, scientific, or philosophical views, we can share a common goal for a healthy future that sustains the economy, society and environment for generations of all species. 

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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The UP’s first mainland state park

An undated photograph shows the early days of Baraga State Park, which was established in 1922. Development began two years later.

By John Pepin, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

In the land of the Ojibwa, along the shining shores of Keweenaw Bay, land was purchased for the creation of Baraga State Park early in the 1920s. Today, the park is a summertime gateway destination to a wide range of recreation and sightseeing opportunities in and around Baraga County.

Jesuit missionary Father Menard wintered near L’Anse in the early 1660s. Father Baraga, the “Snowshoe Priest,” set up a mission nearby in 1843.

The text of a Michigan historical marker said furs and fish figured prominently in the bay’s early history as a source of economic wealth, with the timber industry flourishing in the area in the late 19th century.

Development of the park began in 1924 and took a good while to complete. Early plans included potentially siting a fish hatchery next door. The park was the first mainland state park in the Upper Peninsula, established in 1922.

“We moved there, that was 1937, and there was nothing there but the house and they had two box toilets on the north side and two on the south side,” said Albert “Chink” Wallin, manager at the park from 1937 to 1974. “That’s all they had there, nothing else.  And the tools they had was a wheelbarrow, a shovel and a rake. In fact, it was all swamp.”

The Works Progress Administration completed a lot of the work at the south end of the park, planting trees, developing features of the day-use area and beach on Lake Superior. The crews also helped enlarge the park.

The cascading Falls River in L’Anse rushed toward Lake Superior, not far south from Baraga State Park.

Today, modern park improvements are in progress at Baraga State Park, which is situated about a mile south of the village of Baraga along U.S. 41. Once completed, the park will have 95 50-amp, full-hook-up campsites. There is also a mini-cabin and a tepee available for overnight lodging.

Activities at the park include hiking, kayaking, boating, fishing, off-road vehicle riding and bicycling. The park has a roughly 1-mile nature trail. There are historical attractions situated nearby, including a shrine to Bishop Baraga, with a towering statue that overlooks the expansive bay from the surrounding cliffs, an American Indian cemetery and other places associated with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

Additional activities the area offers include birdwatching, nature and landscape photography, stargazing and wildlife viewing. Off-road vehicle riders can access the local trail system from the park.

Several activities are scheduled throughout the summer and fall at the park or nearby, including the Baraga County Lake Trout Festival in June, Christmas in July and the park’s Harvest Festival in the fall.

“Being centrally located in the western Upper Peninsula, a lot of visitors use Baraga State Park as a base camp to visit many locations in Baraga County,” said Kelly Somero, western U.P. recreation programmer with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “Visitors also stay here and travel to the Keweenaw Peninsula, the Quincy and Adventure mines or the Porcupine Mountains, returning to the park each evening.”

From secluded green forests and tumbling waterfalls to quiet lakes and rocky outcroppings with beautiful vistas, there are fantastic places nearby to visit, including several state forest rustic campgrounds, each associated with a water body.

These campgrounds are for those interested in an even quieter setting, with few amenities. Picnic tables, water pumps, a fire ring and a pit toilet are provided.

Among these, Big Eric’s Bridge has great spring and fall trout and salmon fishing on the Huron River; King Lake is a beautiful kayaking place with rock islands, loons, eagles and moose; Big Lake is a sandy-bottomed lake with access to the Baraga Plains and the Baraga Plains Off-Road Vehicle Trail and hiking at the Sturgeon River Gorge; and Deer Lake provides a secluded atmosphere with fishing and boating.

Michigan’s highest natural point, Mount Arvon, is not far from the park. The shores here are rugged and the waters protected and often peaceful. The communities of L’Anse and Baraga provide shops, places to eat and gasoline. 

Baraga State Park is a beautiful place to visit. Throughout its history, park managers who have been assigned to the park have often spent a good deal of time there.

The first superintendent was Peter Foss, who was born in Norway, came to America as a boy and worked in the timber industry before being appointed to his post at the park.

Wallin was born in Nebagamon, Wisconsin. He was interviewed for an oral history project about the park in 2005. He died in Baraga in April 2012 at age 105.

“Now I can’t drive anymore so I take the lawnmower down to the restaurant, or then I go to the store, but I can’t walk anymore,” Wallin told his interviewer. “I’ll have to show you that lawnmower. You only live once they tell me. When you leave you don’t need nothing. I think we did pretty good on the park though.”

This is part of a series of stories to mark the centennial of Michigan state parks. On May 12, 1919, the Michigan Legislature established the Michigan State Park Commission, paving the way for our state parks system. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is celebrating this milestone throughout the year with special events, podcasts, historical stories, videos, geocaching and more. Find more details at Michigan.gov/StateParks100.

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Grand Sweep View

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Silhouettes, sunsets, waves, lakes, and forests are part of the big picture. Details slip past us but we should take pleasure in the grand sweep view. 

Canoeing area rivers allows ample opportunity to soak in the surroundings. We float with casual steering from the stern. Karen paddles when she prefers but relaxes while keeping a keen watch from shore to shore. Most paddling is reserved for effort to bypass rocks, submerged trees, or shallow water. One learns to read the waterscape and anticipate best routes. 

Great Blue Herons and Belted Kingfishers are frequent sightings that add details to the riverscape. Kingfishers stand on branches along the shore where they hunt the right sized fish for a healthy meal. They keep moving downstream ahead of us. I feel like I am displacing them from favorite haunts. They move several times to stay ahead of us instead of flying overhead to perch upstream where we will not roust them again.

When a canoe or kayak livery transports us to a departure location, we are quick to put in for the journey. Others departing are often in groups that take considerable time getting on the water and travel as a noisy bunch. Their attention concentrates on friends having a swell time relaxing on the water as they drift this way and that. Laughter is frequent as travel takes them into obstacles or shore where they bounce off and slowly continue. Some bind canoes together in pairs or triplets to raft. It is a day of great fun and comradery. 

Karen and I seek more solitude to enjoy sandy beach edges with shorebirds, masses of turtles on logs, swooping swallows, and sometimes a swimming muskrat or beaver. That is a reason we make a quick start downstream before other groups. Details within the grand view are often missed but it provides enjoyment for the outdoor experience and keeps drawing us to water.

It is nice when our daughters’ families participate in the experience. Karen and I enjoy floating and she lets me steer. She is the scout alerting me to obstacles. Depending on the river of choice, it becomes necessary for her to paddle frequently when we are in swift water. Our adult kids choose kayaks. We notice some families use inflatable tubes. We prefer to delay canoeing to late summer when water has warmed and high water has subsided.

Take time with family to explore rivers with kids or grandkids. Childhood memories created with them will persist a life time and improve with frequency. As we drift, we see anglers wading in hip boots to enjoy the riverscape in a different manner. When I fish, I prefer lakes with a river inlet and outlet where I explore by casting near logs and vegetation. Deep-water fishing in lakes offers different fish and all provide an opportunity for a good meal.

Waterskiing is exciting but not my choice activity. For that reason, we select small lakes where we become part of the quiet shoreline solitude. Loons, ducks, and geese distance from the shore sprinkle life on the water in a backdrop of forest and sky. There is always extra pleasure when we see a loon chick riding on a parent’s back. 

Dabbling ducks dip their head and shoulders underwater to seek shallow water vegetation or chase surface insects. Diving ducks spend time in deep water where they submerge completely to feed. Dabbling ducks fill different nature niches than diving ducks. At a distance, it might be difficult to identify duck species but time on the water allows us to soak in the grand sweep view. 

Details edify desires but a primary goal can be cloud watching, feeling the breeze, hearing the sounds of water, birds, fish splashes, or even the canoe scraping the shallow bottom. Take time to enjoy the grand sweep view with first hand experiences while exercising muscles, eyes, and mind.

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: More hints on targeting walleye

We bring you this oldie, but goodie fishing tip from 2014. Courtesy of Cory Kovacs, a fisheries biologist out of Newberry.

From the Michigan DNR

Most anglers targeting walleye know that catching them in the spring is much easier than catching them during the warmer summertime months. In most Michigan lakes walleye in the summer typically seek cooler, deeper and darker waters while feeding in the shallow waters only at night. Because of some physiological properties of walleye, their sensitivity to bright light typically results in avoidance of shallow waters during daylight periods.

Anglers in the summer time typically target walleye during the evening and morning “low-light” periods. Targeted water depths will vary between lakes, but most anglers seek drop-offs where walleye will move up to feed in the shallow waters during the evening through morning hours. My experience fishing walleye in this fashion is usually successful by using a leech or minnow on a floating jighead weighted with a small splitshot sinker (or two). Anchoring at the drop-off or using a slow drift has been the most productive for me.

Other anglers may want to troll artificial lures or crawler harnesses along the deeper side of the contour lines in order to cover more area in a shorter time period. My grandfather always used to say, “Once you find them, you need to stay on, em.” I think there is a lot of truth to that.

Walleye fishing is sometimes a frustrating activity due to some long waiting periods between catches and finding the perfect conditions. However, once you get a bite it typically signifies something special and hopefully a memorable experience with family and friends.

Good luck in making memories, you will be glad you did!

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Mid and late summer flowers

RBy Ranger Steve Mueller

The progression of flower blooms advances faster than I can keep record or even identify. Grasses and sedges bloom with cryptic flowers. Many are fairly easy to identify but it takes practice. I should have taken a course to become more proficient. Biodiversity is massive and more than any one person can master. 

I recently presented study results on the moths and butterflies of the Bryce Canyon Ecosystem – Utah at the U of California Davis campus for scientists from around the world. I identified myself as “competently incompetent.” Scientists focus their life’s work on a narrow group of species to become competent with details of anatomy, physiology, DNA/RNA, and ecology of a particular group. 

College professors encouraged me to focus work on a small group if I hoped to make significant scientific contributions and become employable. I remained focused on broad spectrum biodiversity. It was beneficial for the career I selected as a nature center naturalist. I was able to assist visitors with discovery of species and ecological niches for most taxonomic groups. I did not become proficient with any one group, including plants. 

As spring burst upon us, many showy flowers captured our attention and enthusiasm. We became anxious to spend time outdoors in refreshingly warm weather. Some collect spring morels, others seeks edible leaves, flowers, and fruits, while many focus enjoyment on the pageant of beauty. Early summer flowers replace spring’s large flowers with smaller yet still showy flowers. 

We become engrossed in yard maintenance, summer family activities, and focus drifts away from the plants living in our yards. We could become enthralled with the insects that visit flowers for nectar. Any one plant has a cadre of insects that visit for preferred nectar. Predatory insects and spiders take residence among flowers where they wait for a meal to come to them. Some insects and predators focus lives among the vegetation. 

Ecological niche adaptations require a narrow focus of activities for survival and reproduction. Set a portable stool by early summer flowers to see what insects utilize particular plants. Some have strict use behaviors for a species or plant family while others will visit a variety of blooms. By observing areas with several species blooming, one can note different insects associated with plants. Adult insects are often generalists when seeking nectar but are specific when selecting host plants for egg laying and young development.

Some flowers have a shape that limits access to particular insects and it enhances pollination success. When insects visit many species of plants, they spread the incorrect pollen to the pistil and ovary. Plants with structures that require a specific insect increases reproductive success. Massive flowering increases success.

Flower timing is seasonal and so are attending insect species. Relax near early summer flowers to see what insects visit. Do the same with late summer flowers and insects. You will notice some insects are present during both flowering periods and some are restricted to one or the other. 

Some flowers attract a broad variety of pollinators. Many ornamental garden flowers have been bred for beautiful appearance but have lost the ability to serve insect pollinators. Use of native plants helps preserve local biodiversity. Another advantage for using native plants in gardens is it will save money. They have adaptations to local climate and require less watering, fertilizer, and pesticides. Chemicals reduce biodiversity.

Late summer blooms replace mid-summer blooms and different beautiful insects grace our yards. You might not recognize insects by name but that is not important. Enjoy their variety along with the variety of flowers. If you are like me, many flowers evade identification but that does not stop us enjoying them.

I have been seeing about 15 species of butterflies daily as mid and late summer flowers bloom at Ody Brook. Enhancing biodiversity for native plants enhances insect, bird, mammal and other organism survival.

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 49319of  or call 616-696-1753.

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