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Archive | Outdoors

Plant a pollinator garden and enjoy the many benefits

A monarch butterfly on a tithonia blossom. Photo by Melinda Myers, LLC.

A monarch butterfly on a tithonia blossom. Photo by Melinda Myers, LLC.

By Melinda Myers

Whether planting a garden, enjoying the beauty of your landscape, or sitting down to a delicious meal, you have bees, butterflies and other pollinators to thank. These essential members of our ecosystem are responsible for much of the food and beauty we enjoy each day.

Unfortunately, pesticides and habitat loss are threatening their existence. There is something you can do to help. Turn your garden, backyard or balcony into a pollinator’s habitat.

Plant a variety of flowering plants that provide nectar and pollen throughout the season. Planting masses of natives, herbs and other pollinator favorites like sedum, zinnias, alyssum, cosmos, and columbine will attract these beauties to your landscape. Include a variety of day and night blooming flowers in a variety of colors and shapes to support the widest range of pollinators. But don’t let a lack of space dissuade you; even a window box of flowers can help.

Keep your plants healthy and blooming with proper care. Match the plants to the growing conditions, provide needed water and fertilize with an organic nitrogen fertilizer like Milorganite (milorganite.com) when needed. You’ll promote slow steady plant growth that is less susceptible to drought and pests. Plus the slow release low nitrogen won’t interfere with flowering, which is essential to the health and well being of our pollinators.

Supplement pollinators’ diets with a bit of rotten fruit. And be sure to provide trees, shrubs, parsley, dill and other plants that caterpillars, grubs and the immature stage of other pollinators prefer to feed upon. Put away the pesticides and tolerate a few holes in the leaves of their favorite plants. With a diversity of plants, you can easily overlook the temporary leaf damage. Plus, this is a small price to pay for all the benefits they bring to the garden.

Provide pollinators with shelter from predators and the weather. Include a variety of trees, shrubs and perennials. Leave patches of open soil for ground nesting bees and some leaf litter to shelter some butterflies, bumblebees and other pollinating insects. Supplement natural shelter with commercial or homemade nesting boxes. You’ll find do-it-yourself plans on the internet from various educational sources.

Puddles, fountains, birdbaths and even a damp sponge can provide needed water. Include water features with sloping sides or add a few stones to create easier access. Or sink a shallow container of sand in the ground. Keep it damp and add a pinch of sea salt for the butterflies and bees.

Maximize your efforts by teaming up with your neighbors. Together you can create a larger more diverse habitat that provides pollinators with the resources they need to thrive. 

Your efforts will be rewarded with greater harvests, beautiful flowers, and colorful birds and butterflies visiting your garden.

Gardening expert, TV/radio host, author & columnist Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening and the Midwest Gardener’s Handbook. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything: Food Gardening For Everyone” DVD set and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and spokesperson for Milorganite. Myers’ web site is http://www.melindamyers.com/www.melindamyers.com.

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Celebrate National Arbor Day by planting trees

_OUT-Arbor-Day-Red-Maple_WebReceive 10 free shade trees by joining the Arbor Day Foundation

National Arbor Day is Friday, April 29, this year, and the Arbor Day Foundation is making it easy for anyone to celebrate the annual tree-planting holiday. Join the Foundation in April and receive 10 free shade trees.

By joining the Foundation in April, new members receive the following trees: red oak, sugar maple, weeping willow, baldcypress, thornless honeylocust, pin oak, river birch, tuliptree, silver maple, and red maple.

The free trees are part of the Foundation’s Trees for America campaign.

These trees provide shade in the summer and vibrant colors throughout the fall,” said Matt Harris, chief executive of the Arbor Day Foundation. “Through the simple act of planting trees, one person can make a difference in helping to create a healthier and more beautiful planet for all of us to enjoy.”

The trees will be shipped postpaid with enclosed planting instructions at the right time for planting in April or May. The 6- to 12-inch trees are guaranteed to grow or they will be replaced free of charge.

To become a member of the Foundation and receive the free trees, send a $10 contribution to TEN FREE SHADE TREES, Arbor Day Foundation, 100 Arbor Avenue, Nebraska City, NE 68410, by April 30, 2016, or visit arborday.org/april.

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“Boaty McBoatface” leads names for new research vessel

_N-Boat-storyWebThe Natural Environment Research Council will be launching a new polar research vessel, and they are asking for the public’s help to name it.

According to NERC’s website, the vessel will be the UK’s largest and most advanced research ship yet. She will allow scientists to carry out research safely and efficiently, even through the harshest of winters, in both Antarctica and the Arctic. She will be the first British-built polar research vessel with a helideck, opening up access to new locations for scientists. She will be one of the most sophisticated floating research laboratories operating in the polar regions. She will carry nine double-decker buses worth of scientific equipment, and be able to blast through ice up to a meter thick.

The ship is due to launch in 2019, and they are letting the public name it. Leading in votes right now is RRS Boaty McBoatface, with 106,815. Coming in a distant second is RRS Poppy-Mai, with 16,991 votes. Other interesting entries include Boatimus Prime, Boatasaurus Rex, Clifford the Big Red Boat, Flying Spaghetti Monster, and Ship Happens.

To submit an entry or vote for your favorite, go to: https://nameourship.nerc.ac.uk/

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Ice, ice baby

Ice on the windmill.

Ice on the windmill.

After having warm temperatures last week, it was a change to get freezing rain last Thursday. Many people got home from work to find their trees and yards covered with ice. Kim Tompkins, who lives on 17 Mile Road, sent us these photos of her yard. “I was surprised to find my whole yard in a frozen state,” she said.

Thanks, Kim, for sending us your photos!

If you have nature or wildlife photos you’d like to send us, email them to news@cedarspringspost.com.

Ice on the bushes.

Ice on the bushes.

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Everyday Wonders

Ranger Steve

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Every day brings newness from what were yesterday’s normal everyday events. We might ask if anything has changed in the past 24 hours, week or month. Things are different from a month ago and the wonders of change capture our attention as nature’s progression transitions into April.

The “plump robin-sized” American Woodcocks perform a ground dance by stomping feet and twisting from side to side in evening’s last glow. Eyes bulge from the side of the head looking in opposite directions. How is it they avoid confusion from seeing two different views of the world at the same time? They see nearly everything on each side but combine the scenes into one understandable picture.

They benefit from seeing in every direction at once. It becomes difficult for predators to approach unnoticed. For mating, the bird stomps feet and turns from side to side. It makes a nasal buzz called pneeting every few seconds in evening’s dusk. I count pneets of the bird that is usually not in view. My ears triangulate the direction and distance to the sound in the brushy field.

I dare not approach for fear of stopping the spring dance. The number of pneets has reached 17 and stopped. The long-billed bird flies toward me at a low climbing angle. I get to see its long bill piercing the darkening sky ahead of its plump body. It does not see me as it concentrates on a series of climbing spirals over the field. Short stubby wings are in rapid flutter as the bird reaches higher altitude with each spiral. It becomes difficult to keep track of the dark spot shrinking in size with each successive upward loop toward heaven. It seems the woodcock is on an invisible spiral staircase that it climbs with ease. I run to where it left the ground while it is in the air. On its zigzag return to Earth, I will be close to where it will continue its ground dance.

While it is in the air, I invariably lose sight of it as it fades from view into high clouds or haze of the darkening sky. Suddenly I hear a twittering sound that indicates it reached its flight apex and is now plummeting earth bound. I scan for the bird in sky dive. When it is well on its way downward, I catch a view. Before the long bill pierces the ground, leaving a dead bird’s body sticking up like a sucker ball on the end of a candy stick, it levels its downward flight before crashing and safely lands.

Safely on the ground, it pneets with more foot stomping and turns from side to side. As the evening sky darkens the bird spends longer on the ground and the number of pneets between aerial flights increases. Their antics impress me more than TV mysteries. It has been nearly 50 years that I have watched the spring ritual and still do not know mating details. Somewhere a male and female mate.

Friends have found ground nests and photographed females sitting on eggs in a forest or shrub thicket. I have found recently hatched young running about soon after gaining freedom from the cramped quarters of eggshells. My presence has caused these little fuzz balls to lay still and flat on the ground in hopes that I will not see or eat them. Several young lay still nearby as I photographed. Most will not survive to perform next spring’s mating dance. During the lifetime of a mated pair, most offspring will not survive.

American Woodcocks populations seem stable. Having four to five young annually during a four to six-year life span is enough to maintain the population but habitat is decreasing in our area. At Ody Brook, we have maintained suitable nature niche habitat to meet woodcock needs. Once a year in late October, I mow an upland dancing ground to ready it for spring. Little Cedar Creek’s muddy floodplain is kept natural. Woodcocks probe their long bills deep into mud in search of worms and insects. Muddy lowland shrub thickets along creeks are essential as are upland fields for mating. Clearing along creeks for a manicured lawn and view reduces woodcock populations as well as eliminates a multitude of plants and animal communities. Share space with life on Earth. Grandchildren will appreciate your efforts.

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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Feeding more than the birds

OUT-Feeding-more2-chipmunkOUT-Feeding-more1-bunnyRon Parker, of Courtland Township, sent us some beautiful wildlife photos last week. “We have been feeding wild birds all winter, but now that Spring seems to  be here we have been receiving other visitors who are just as much fun  to watch,”  he said. Thanks, Ron, for sharing your photos with us!

We would love to see your wildlife photos! Snap a photo and send it to us with some information and your contact info. Send it to news@cedarspringspost.com.

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Help prevent spread of invasive New Zealand mudsnail

 

Anglers should do what they can, including cleaning their boats and equipment after any and all fishing trips, to protect against the spread of the invasive New Zealand mudsnail.

Anglers should do what they can, including cleaning their boats and equipment after any and all fishing trips, to protect against the spread of the invasive New Zealand mudsnail.

In 2015, the Michigan departments of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources confirmed the presence of the invasive New Zealand mudsnail in the Pere Marquette River near Baldwin, which is a popular destination for trout and salmon anglers.

New Zealand mudsnails are each only about 1/8 inch long and can be difficult to see. However, these snails can significantly change the aquatic habitats they live in by reaching extremely high densities. When that happens, they can out-compete native species that are important food sources for trout. They also have no nutritional value for trout species that may feed upon them, which can negatively affect the overall condition of the trout.

The threat of New Zealand mudsnail spreading to new waters is high because they are easily transported via recreational users, such as anglers, due to their ability to attach to fishing equipment, wading gear and other hard surfaces. Once attached, they can hitch a ride to a new river or lake and begin the invasive process again. Additionally, a single snail can reproduce once transported.

New Zealand mudsnails are very resilient and have been known to survive in damp environments for up to 26 days.

As the spring fishing season gears up, anglers are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to target steelhead on the Pere Marquette and other popular Michigan rivers. It is important for anglers to clean, drain and dry their equipment to help prevent the spread of these invasive snails, as well as all types of aquatic invasive species.

Anglers are encouraged to clean boats and equipment (including waders) with hot water or a diluted bleach solution, and, when possible, allow the equipment to dry for at least five days before reusing.

Additional information about the New Zealand mudsnail and other aquatic invasive species can be found at michigan.gov/invasives.

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Seeing with Kids Eyes

Ranger Steve

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Walking through the big woods this week, I felt like a kid in a candy shop. It was exciting to experience wonder after wonder. It is a time when winter seems to linger and spring has not arrived but there is more occurring than the senses can grasp.

Song Sparrows are active at brush piles along the forest edge and in wetland shrubs. Just a couple weeks ago, I was seeing a dozen species of birds daily and now it is two dozen. Sandhill Cranes announce evening, Canada Geese fly over, and Wood Ducks are swimming in Little Cedar Creek.

An American Woodcock flew in for its evening dance, saw me, and kept going. The next night a Great Horned Owl was hooting from forest edge and probably kept the woodcock from showing itself. A pair of Red-tailed Hawks soared over the Big Woods and power line clearing by day.

A Turkey Vulture on clean-up duty has been soaring over the highway by Ody Brook’s entrance looking for the dead opossum and muskrat that I reported killed on the road last week. The carcasses are not obvious among the roadside vegetation but the vulture can smell them at great distance.

Two Pileated Woodpeckers feasted at an old ash tree stump. My friend, Greg, was coming to visit and I told him about the woodpeckers at the driveway’s edge. He arrived, stopped, and watched as one woodpecker worked. When the woodpecker left, we looked to see what was being eaten. Termites.

On a smaller scale, Skunk Cabbages are blooming on the floodplain. They have a hood covering minute flowers. The hood protects this first flowering plant of the year from freeze damage. The hood wraps around an inner spike that holds many flowers. The spike with flowers is called a spadix and the hood is called a spathe. Small flies and crawling insects move into this temporary shelter where they find protection from being frozen. The plant generates heat that keeps the temperature above freezing in the spathe. Heat protects plant tissues and the variety of creatures in the hood. The benefit to the plant for providing lodging is that insects pick up pollen and carry it to other Skunk Cabbage flowers.

Other flowering plants already blooming at Ody Brook by mid March are Silver Maple trees, Speckled Alder, and Whitlow-grass. Whitlow-grass, a mustard, has a small rosette of leaves found on exposed bare ground. It is only about one inch across the radiating ring of leaves. Small white mustard flowers about the size of a pinhead ensure reproduction. The plant and its flowers are so small that few people notice them but hundreds are currently in bloom.

It is good to carry a small magnifying hand lens to examine the near microscopic world of life in wetland, field, shrubland, and forest.

Bluebirds still have not arrived to inspect nest boxes cleaned and readied. They arrive before wrens to claim bird houses. When wrens arrive, they enter and kill bluebirds or destroy eggs to use the box themselves. If houses are kept in open areas away from shrubbery and forest edge, it is less likely wrens will invade.

I place two bird houses within 15 feet of another. Tree Swallows often claim one and keep other swallows from nesting that close. The swallows do not mind having bluebirds as neighbors. The bluebirds, so to speak, have a swallow guard that protects them from other swallows that try to take the second nest box.

Nature niches have a greater variety and abundance of wondrous special treats than candy in a candy shop.

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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Leave wildlife in the wild 

 

A white-tailed deer fawn waiting for its mother to return. Although fawns may appear to have been abandoned, that’s rarely the case, and leaving them alone will help them survive.

A white-tailed deer fawn waiting for its mother to return. Although fawns may appear to have been abandoned, that’s rarely the case, and leaving them alone will help them survive.

Do not take baby animals from the wild this spring

Spring is nearly here, bringing warmer temperatures and the next generation of wildlife.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reminds those who are outside enjoying the experience of seeing wildlife raise its young to view animals from a distance, so they are not disturbed.

It is important to remember that many species of wildlife “cache” (hide) their young for safety. These babies are not abandoned; they simply have been hidden by their mother until she returns for them.

“Please resist the urge to help seemingly abandoned baby animals,” said Hannah Schauer, wildlife technician for the DNR. “Many baby animals will die if removed from their natural environment, and some have diseases or parasites that can be passed on to humans or pets.”

Schauer added that some rescued animals that do survive may become habituated to people and are unable to revert back to life in the wild.

“Habituated animals pose additional problems as they mature and develop adult animal behavior. For example, habituated deer, especially bucks, can become aggressive as they get older and reach breeding age.”

White-tailed deer fawns are one of the animals most commonly rescued by well-intentioned citizens. It is not uncommon for deer to leave their fawns unattended for up to eight hours at a time. This behavior minimizes the scent of the mother left around the fawn, which allows the fawn to go undetected by nearby predators. While fawns seem abandoned, they rarely are. All wild white-tailed deer begin life this way. The best chance for their survival is to leave them in the wild. If you find a fawn alone, do not touch it, as this might leave your scent and could attract predators. Give it plenty of space and leave the area quickly. The mother deer will return for her fawns when she feels it is safe, but may not return if people or dogs are present.

Only licensed wildlife rehabilitators may possess abandoned or injured wildlife. Unless you are licensed, it is illegal to possess a live wild animal, including deer, in Michigan.

The only time a baby animal may be removed from the wild is when you know the parent is dead or the animal is injured. Please remember, a licensed rehabilitator must be contacted before removing an animal from the wild. Licensed wildlife rehabilitators must adhere to the law and have gone through training on proper handling of injured or abandoned wild animals. Licensed rehabilitators will work to return the animal to the wild, where it will have the best chance for survival.

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

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Boat and equipment check list 

Eric Payne with a large early season bass caught and released

Eric Payne with a large early season bass caught and released

by Jack Payne

Spring fishing has started for a few anglers and this is the perfect time for a good check- up of your boat, electronics and your fishing gear. Some of these tips are second nature and a number of them anglers overlook causing significant pain. I spoke with Vohn at Matteson Marine and he pointed out some really good tips.

The first thing is checking the tire pressure. After sitting all winter it is a good bet that the air pressure has lowered. Keep the pressure near the maximum manufactured suggested levels.

Bearings need grease. As a minimum you should pull the hub and actually check the bearings every two years, more often if you drive a lot. Even with a grease zert or a Bearing buddy system, it pays to check the bearings for wear and to investigate the quality of the grease.

If the bearings are still smooth and roll easily then you can add grease and be done with it. There is no reason to pack the cavity completely full between the two sets of bearings.

The lower unit lube should be replaced each year. There are two plugs on most motors. Remove the top plug then the lower plug. Have an empty coffee can or milk jug handy to catch the lube.

One item that is overlooked by most boaters is the seals for the impeller. Most manuals suggest replacing the seals every 3-5 years. Many boaters wait until their engine horn or alarm sounds or until they have a problem.

Sucking up mud, sand or silt is one major cause of failed seals. Another is fish line. If the seals get cut, damage can occur quickly. A nice steady stream of water should be shooting out the side of the motor.

Fresh gas is a must and most two cycle motors run their best with a mid-grade octane. Low octane gas can cause problems especially on the older motors. Your manual will state the suggested octane.

Mercury Motors suggests running a stabilizer with your gas if there is any chance of the gas sitting longer than 30 days in the tank. Gas purchased at the local stations often has ethanol added. Ethanol will break down in time therefore a stabilizer will help.

Check your batteries, most are good for 3-5 years. If they are wet cell batteries then top them off with fluid. Charge up your batteries and make sure that each battery shows more than 12 volts on a meter. A good battery should read 12.5 or higher on a volt meter.

Check all of your fluid levels on your engine. Power steering and oil levels are often forgotten.

Last, with the boat in the water check out you carpeted bunks or rollers. If you have carpeted bunks make sure that the carpet is still in good condition. If worn or tore up replace it. If you have rollers make sure that each roller turns smooth. If not it is an easy job to replace.

Check the rod tips and guides with a Q-tip. If it snags up then most likely the guide or eye will need replacing. A burr or cut on the guides can translate into a frayed fishing line. It might be time for a new St. Croix rod.

Reels need a good cleaning. Get rid of the sand and debris. Loosen and tighten down the drag, lubricate the gears. Add fresh line to each reel. Mono line should be replaced at least once a season, braid might be good for a few seasons depending on how often you fish and retie.

Check the hooks on each lure. Make sure that they are razor sharp. If a pond is available then cast each lure and tune it so they run straight. Organize your tackle box so that each item is easily found. Take an inventory and stock up on the lures that you are in low supply of.

I find more hidden tackle each spring, thus saving me money when I clean out and inventory my equipment. Take a little time now and check out these items or have the pros do it while saving time and money during the fishing season.

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