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Those of the forest


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Following the life of Snowshoe, a hare, in the book Those of the Forest, is joy in discovering natural history without textbook dryness. The novel about the life and times of this northern Wisconsin animal describes ecology in an enjoyable manner and it applies to where we live.

Wallace Byron Grange published his book in 1956 and it continues to sell for good reason. The story is about the events in Snowshoe’s world and introduces the reader to animals, plants, weather, climate, geology, changing seasons, and how all are intricately intertwined. It is a fascinating excursion into nature niches.

The accuracy and depth of Grange’s content exposes the reader to ecology without bogging one down. It simply takes us with Snowshoe through the forest, fields, and wetlands. The journey describes real inhabitants and their behavior where Snowshoe works to survive and it applies to wild places near our homes. Descriptions of plant and animals associations create a mental image of the natural community for Those of the Forest. It heightens awareness of what we can discover when we explore outdoors and prepares us for spending time observing the real world though personal exploration with our families.

We live farther south than snowshoe hares but most characters in the book will be familiar neighbors. Amazing aspects of the occurrences from the distant universe and the sun are revealed in the lives of those that have come and gone over the ages of Earth’s history, in this one small locality where Snowshoe lives. The coming and going of glaciers shaped the land and set the stage for Those of the Forest during the past million years. Five billion years of formative history for life are portrayed in the lives of those in the story.

Habits of specific birds, mammals, insects, amphibians, snakes and others are woven together in a manner extraordinarily well. Whether it is obligate internal parasites or more casual parasites like mosquitoes, their role and impacts reveal the challenges living things struggle with daily. Hormone fluctuations and breeding behavior influenced by Earth’s movement around the sun are subtle and also drive Snowshoe’s color change from brown hair in summer to winters white.

I first the read the book in 1975 and have read it twice since. I have been careful not to reveal too much about Snowshoe’s experiences that could spoil the novel’s story. Re-reading is like watching a good movie repeatedly to discover new details missed during previous viewings. It will be helpful to have flower, tree, insect, bird, and mammal field guides or computer apps at hand to look up species that you might not know. I led a walk at Ody Brook Sanctuary this week and introduced participants to new unknown wildflowers and it provided a similar thrill of reading about the many species encountered when reading Those of the Forest. The book will undoubtedly introduce some unfamiliar species and details of their lives.

Search the Internet for the title or author and enjoy reading this summer. Best of all, it will help you discover nature niches when you take your own outdoor explorations.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433 or call 616-696-1753.

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Prescribed burns Tuesday

Two burns will be in Fairplain Township. One is 160 acres and the other 41 acres. They will burn timber and grass for the Karner blue butterfly habitat, and grass for upland bird habitat.

The third burn is in Eureka Township (62 acres), also for Karner blue butterfly habitat enhancement.

The Karner blue butterfly is a federally listed endangered species in Michigan.

Other prescribed burns in the state are occurring in Arenac County (red pine management), Monroe County (upland bird habitat and native grasses), Oakland County (to stimulate oak regeneration), and Otsego (grass and shrubs for elk, deer and turkey.

Prescribed burns are planned to achieve specific objectives—often simulating the benefits of natural fires. The burns are conducted by highly trained DNR personnel in designated state-managed areas during appropriate weather conditions and in cooperation with the proper authorities and local units of government. Public safety is a top priority during all prescribed burns. Prescribed burns are used to:

Enhance wildlife habitat.
Help with forest regeneration.
Restore and maintain native plant life.
Control invasive plant species.
Reduce the risk of wildfires.
Although prescribed burns are planned, they can be canceled at the last minute due to careful monitoring of weather and wind conditions.

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DNR fisheries experts offer opening-day tips

Michigan’s state fish—the brook trout—becomes fair game statewide on the last Saturday in April. 

Michigan’s state fish—the brook trout—becomes fair game statewide on the last Saturday in April.

Fishing may be a 12-months-a-year sport in Michigan, but there’s little doubt that the last Saturday of April is one of the biggest days of the year for anglers. It marks the opening day of trout fishing, statewide on more than 80 percent of the state’s trout streams, as well as the season opener for walleye, pike and muskellunge on the inland waters of the Lower Peninsula.

Like many anglers, a fair number of Department of Natural Resources fisheries personnel will take to lakes and streams very soon. Here’s what some of them have to say about opening-weekend opportunities:

Mark Tonello, a fisheries biologist out of Cadillac and a trout aficionado, says anglers must rid themselves of preconceived notions.

“Don’t pigeonhole yourself into one river,” Tonello said. “What if you get up there and the river you chose is running 4,000 feet per second and all mud? You might want to look at smaller waters, further upstream, where it may be clearer.

“And use all weapons available,” he continued. “A lot of good anglers I know go ready for anything. If there are hatches going off, they’ve got their fly rods and are ready to match the hatch. But if there’s no hatch, they’re ready to throw spinners. And if that’s not working don’t be afraid to try bait.”

Anglers seeking muskellunge on opening day should concentrate in shallow-water areas, say Michigan DNR fisheries biologists.

Anglers seeking muskellunge on opening day should concentrate in shallow-water areas, say Michigan DNR fisheries biologists.

Tonello said anglers shouldn’t be afraid of competition.

“Opening weekend tends to be one of the busiest weekends of the year, but we have so much water, you can find places to fish,” he said. “A good hint is to start with our trout regulations maps that are all color coded—you can catch trout from any of those streams.

“And don’t be afraid to contact the local biologist,” Tonello said. “As a biologist, those are some of my most enjoyable phone calls, when someone calls and says, ‘I’m heading up to Cadillac, can you give me tips on where to fish?’”

Walleye anglers will likely be spread between rivers and lakes and anglers should wait until right before opening day to decide where to fish.

“Last year there were a lot of fish still in the river for the opener,” said Tim Cwalinski, a fisheries biologist in Gaylord. “This year we’re warming up a little more quickly and we didn’t get as much snow, so the fish may be further along this spring than last spring. On our big lakes—Hubbard, Grand, Long, Burt and Mullet, for instance—there are going to be fish in close, near the river mouth, but your best bet is probably going to be fishing really, really slowly. Trolling won’t cut it.

“If they’re still spawning, they’ll be in rocky, cobble areas in 2 to 10 feet of water,” he continued. “If they’ve finished spawning they’ll be out deeper. Males hit the spawning grounds first and stay on the grounds longer; there are fish there all the time, but there are aggressive fish there only part of the time. So don’t be afraid to fish well into evening. That’s what I’ve found on some of these big lakes.”

Fisheries biologist Jim Baker, of Bay City, whose management unit includes the tributaries that feed Saginaw Bay, says a lot will depend on what happens weather-wise the couple of days immediately preceding the opener.

“If you get a big rain and the rivers get high and muddy, it can be hard to catch fish,” Baker said. “But we think the fish will be spawning late because it was so cold, so there should be a lot of fish left in the river when the opener arrives. Most of the guys will be vertical jigging with jigs, baited either with minnows or twister tails, but after the crowds dissipate, we know some guys troll up and down the rivers with Rapalas and they do pretty well.”

Muskellunge enthusiast Don Barnard, a fisheries technician out of Bay City, says the colder water around opening day means anglers should downsize their baits.

“I use smaller baits in the spring than what they use in summer and fall,” he said. “In fall we use 10- or 12-inch baits. The advice is to scale that down to about 8 inches or less in the spring. I use a smaller bucktail or twitch bait, 6 to 7 inches.

“A lot of anglers like to sight fish for spawning fish,” Barnard continued. “Spot them and cast to them.”

Barnard said he often fishes reservoirs and creek mouths.

“Fish the north end of the lake where it gets more sunlight and it warms up a little faster,” he said. “Fish 6 to 8 feet of water, not any deeper than that. The fish are going to be up trying to sun themselves.”

Pike anglers should follow the same strategy.

“We like to fish them shallow around the opener,” said Jody Johnston, a fisheries technician out of Crystal Falls. “A lot of times they’re up very shallow—I wouldn’t be afraid to throw up in 2 feet of water. That’s where some of those nicer fish hang out, especially if you get a wind that is blowing the warm water into the shallows.”

Gary Whelan, the fisheries biologist who runs the DNR research team out of Lansing, says pike anglers should use bass techniques, only more so.

“Use the biggest flies and lures you’ve got,” he said. “I like to fish rivers, and pike will take large streamers like you use for bass—deceivers, Clouser minnows, zonkers—something that looks big and offers a lot of motion. But make sure you use some sort of shock tippets or heavy leader.

“If you’re casting lures, use spinnerbaits or body baits like Rapalas—the biggest ones you’ve got.”

To get more tips and information, including Family Friendly Fishing Waters, the June 13-14 Summer Free Fishing Weekend, and season rules and regulations, visit www.michigan.gov/fishing.

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Birds and Wind Turbines

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Recently wind turbines were briefly discussed in my nature niche column. Since then an environment report on Michigan Radio regarding wind turbine placement addressed important migration paths for birds along Lake Huron. I had mentioned how birds have their own superhighway routes in the sky.

Monica Essenmacher started an online discussion regarding inappropriate turbine placement. She stated, “Geronimo wind bullies its way out of bird-safe industrial wind-turbine placement. Plans are to go ahead with 50 turbines in an important bird area, where 168 already stand in the path of hundreds of thousands of bird and bat migrants.”

Kimberly Kaufmann, Director Black Swamp Bird Observatory, replied, “Another blatant example of the complete and utter failure of voluntary guidelines. It absolutely sickens me to watch these things penetrate the most sensitive bird areas while the industry thumbs its nose and is then allowed to hide evidence of the real impact to birds.

“Another reminder that this isn’t merely a battle; it’s a war on habitat.”

Kimberly Kaufmann further commented, “Activism requires absolute dogged diligence. We have to tell the story over and over and over and over and over in every possible way. People generally get burned out and give up just when their message is starting to reach the right people.

“Effective activism demands a tremendous amount of time, hard work, experience, and very thick skin! Getting people to take action on anything is a challenge, but this issue is exceptionally hard for people.

1) Most people understand that climate change is real and that we desperately need a cure for our addiction to fossil fuels

2) No one ever wants to discuss the real problem: the fact that the world is overpopulated and unsustainable

3) With no regulations, the industry controls the mortality data, so we never get an accurate assessment of the real environmental impact.

4) The industry is supported by so much $$ and embroiled in so much politics that they control almost everything.

5) Organizations don’t want to be considered “anti-green” by speaking out against any alternative to fossil fuels.

Kim said, “Don’t give up, Monica. There’s still a lot of important work needed. Fighting for transparency of the post-construction monitoring data should be high on your list. We’re currently fighting that battle in Ohio with the state’s largest wind factory.”

Remember, there are many that support you, and as we continue to fight for transparency, people who care about birds and wildlife will be more inclined to join the battle if we can show them just how many of their favorite birds are being impacted.

In my nature niche articles, I strive to suggest how we can behave responsibly toward other species sharing Earth’s Ecosphere. Like Kim mentioned, it is necessary that human numbers do not exceed the Earth’s sustainable carrying capacity. Previously I mentioned we could reduce the number of people on Earth by 40 percent if we simply wait until we are in our 30s to bear children. This would result in three generations living at once instead of five generations. It is an individual choice to select the age we bear children.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433 or call 616-696-1753.

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Michigan fire season builds during Wildfire Prevention Week


Most of Michigan’s wildfires occur in the spring – April, May and June. According to the Department of Natural Resources, which is responsible for wildland fire protection on 30 million acres of state and private land, April is when wildfires start becoming a problem. The DNR is using the state’s annual observance of Wildfire Prevention Week, April 19-25, to remind the public about the dangers of wildfires.

“One out of three wildfires in Michigan is started by someone who did not take proper precautions or obtain a burn permit before burning yard debris,” said Dan Laux, DNR fire prevention specialist. “Many people look outside and think the snow and spring rains have taken the edge off the wildfire danger, but that’s not the case.

“The dried leaves, needles and brown grass from last year are still there. When the weather is warm, folks want to get out and clean up their yards. They don’t realize that all it takes is one strong wind gust catching an ember to ignite a wildfire.”

He added that with the brown dead grass, it could be damp from showers in the morning but if the sun comes out and the winds pick up there can be fires that afternoon. That’s how quickly conditions change.

Laux said this is why planning is so vital before a match is even lit.

A person is required to get a burn permit prior to burning brush and debris in Michigan. Residents in the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula can obtain a free burn permit by visiting www.michigan.gov/burnpermit or by calling 866-922-2876. Residents in southern Michigan should contact their local fire department or township office to see if burning is permitted in their area.

In addition to obtaining a burn permit, the DNR recommends people take the following steps to help prevent wildfires:

*Pay attention to the fire danger in your area. Don’t burn debris when conditions are dry or windy. Unsafe burning of leaves, brush and other debris is a main cause of wildfires.

*Consider composting or mulching yard debris rather than burning it.

*Clear away flammable material surrounding the fire so it won’t creep into dry vegetation.

*Keep campfires small, and do not leave before they are fully extinguished.

*Be sure and douse fires with plenty of water, stir, and add more water until everything is wet.

*Do not cover a campfire with soil; it may simply smolder before coming back to life.

*Embers can reignite. Make sure they are out completely.

“Be safe and smart when it comes to fire,” Laux said. “Fire prevention is everyone’s responsibility.”

For more tips on how to safeguard homes and property from wildfire risk, please visit www.michigan.gov/preventwildfires.

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Reminder to remove tree stands from public land

From the Michigan DNR

The deadline to remove scaffolds, raised platforms, ladders, steps and any other device to assist in climbing a tree from public land was March 1. The Department of Natural Resources reminds those who have not removed any of the previous listed equipment to please do so.

Public lands are available for the use and enjoyment of everyone. It is imperative that equipment is removed by March 1 to ensure the safety of all visitors. Owners of equipment that is left on public land past the deadline are subject to a 90-day misdemeanor and a fine from $50-$500.

For those who hunt on public land, tree stands must be portable and the hunter’s name and address must be affixed in legible English that can be easily read from the ground. Scaffolds, raised platforms, ladders, steps and any other device to assist in climbing a tree cannot be placed on public lands any earlier than Sept. 1, and must be removed by March 1. A permanent raised platform or tree stand may be used for hunting on private land, with the permission of the landowner. See pages 22-24 of the Hunting and Trapping Digest for more details on these equipment regulations.

For general questions, please contact your local DNR Customer Service Center. In our Region (4), it is the Plainwell Customer Service Center at 269-685-6851.

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Bird migration safe passage


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Birds are migrating from wintering grounds to breeding grounds. High mortality occurs. It is a challenging endeavor for few ounce birds to fly from South America, Central America, or southern North America to Michigan or places farther north. Those surviving hopefully have success raising enough young to replace those lost during the year.

If enough young survive to replace those lost, the population remains stable. More surviving means the population increases. In the second half of the 20th century and early 21st century, many species have been unable to successfully keep up with mortality rates.

Many species are in decline and some are in great decline. Some causes are clear while others are not fully explained. Outdoor cats kill about one billion birds annually in the United States. It affects bird species survival but humans are reluctant to keep cats indoors. For a century, radio towers have been known as death traps for migrating birds. Cell tower abundance has increased the death hazard. Human convenience takes priority over sustaining Earth’s biodiversity.

In an effort to reduce cell tower deaths, varied plans are being tested with some success. One test used white lights on towers at night instead of red, and it was showing promise. In a wealthy West Michigan community, there were complaints that white lights at night were too bright, so the red lights were used again. The stewardship value of saving migrating birds was not as important as our human desire to have seasonally red tower lights in spring and fall.

Light from tall buildings draws birds to their death. To reduce mortality, lights above the second floor can be turned off or windows darkened with shades during spring and fall migration. The safe travel initiative can save birds and perhaps species. Encourage businesses and high rise apartment buildings to turn off lights or shade window at night above the end floor to save energy and species. Building collisions are most frequent on foggy nights. Several cities have adopted “Safe Travel” initiatives.

Windmill energy production holds promise for reducing dependence on fossil fuels that cause habitat loss through climate change. Migrating birds collide with wind towers but placement location can reduce problems. Choosing the safest long-term energy production challenges society. Carbon release causes habitat alterations that are economically, socially, and environmentally destructive for future human and wildlife populations. Many problems are evident at present.

It appears wind energy might be preferable provided windmills are properly placed away from primary migration routes. Birds have their own super highways in the sky similar to human expressways. Towers along heavily used lakeshore areas and choice travel routes can be avoided. Local Township and city planners largely determine site selection. Appropriate human behavior for sharing living space with other life forms can ensure healthy nature niches remain for our children’s children.

Increasing human abundance is rapidly eliminating living space for other life forms. If people wait until they are in their 30’s to bear children, we would have three generations per century instead of five caused by having children at age twenty. It would reduce the world population by 40 percent by having two generations instead of five living at the same time. Spacing of human generations would benefit migrating birds and result in less human crowding, social strife, wars, and natural resource conflicts.

For the present enjoy bird migration and participate in the Bird Migration Count on the 2nd Saturday of May annually. Count birds in your yard or larger area. Add your observations of bird locations for the continent on one specific day. To participate in Kent County contact Steve Minard by e-mailing him at sdminard@gmail.com or call 616-942-7165. Count day is May 9 this year.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433 or call 616-696-1753.

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Enjoy springtime baby animal sightings  


Springtime brings sightings of baby animals, like this young fawn hidden in the tall grass. While fawns may seem abandoned, they almost certainly are not. Deer often leave fawns unattended for long periods to help prevent them from being detected by predators.

Springtime brings sightings of baby animals, like this young fawn hidden in the tall grass. While fawns may seem abandoned, they almost certainly are not. Deer often leave fawns unattended for long periods to help prevent them from being detected by predators.

But remember to leave wildlife in the wild


With the arrival of spring, wild animals are giving birth and hatching the next generation of Michigan’s wildlife. Baby red foxes appeared in dens during the last days of March and the first days of April. Young great-horned owls have already hatched and are growing up in stick nests high above the ground. Mourning doves have made nests, and some have already laid eggs. The first litters of cottontails will appear soon.

Springtime brings with it an increase in sightings of nestlings and baby animals. The Department of Natural Resources encourages Michigan residents to get outside and enjoy the experience of seeing wildlife raising its young, but reminds them that it is important to remain at a distance.

“These are magical moments to witness but, unfortunately, sometimes the story has a different ending when people take baby wild animals out of the wild,” said DNR wildlife technician Katie Keen. “Please resist the urge to try to help seemingly abandoned fawns or other baby animals this spring. Some people truly are trying to be helpful, while others think wild animals would make good pets, but in most cases neither of those situations ends well for the wildlife.”

“We appreciate the good intentions of those who want to help, but the animals are better off left alone than removed from the wild,” Keen added.

The animals most commonly rescued by well-intentioned citizens include white-tailed deer fawns and raccoons.

“Spring is the time for fawns,” said DNR wildlife technician Holly Vaughn.  “Remember a fawn’s best chance for survival is with its mother. Do not remove a fawn that is not injured from the wild.”

“Fawns rely on their camouflage coat to protect them from predators, while their mother stays off in the distance,” Vaughn added. “The mother will not return if people or dogs are present. If you find a fawn alone, do not touch it; just quickly leave it alone. After dark the mother deer will return for her fawn.”

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 and allows the fawn to go undetected from nearby predators. While fawns may seem abandoned, they almost certainly are not. All wild white-tailed deer begin life this way.

Most mammals have a keen sense of smell, and parents may abandon their young if humans have touched them. Other wildlife, such as birds, should not be handled either. Adult birds will continue to care for hatchlings that have fallen from their nest. If people move the hatchlings, the adults may not be able to locate and care for them.
The DNR advises:

It is illegal to possess a live wild animal, including deer, in Michigan. Every day an animal spends with humans makes it less likely to be able to survive in the wild.

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.

Some “rescued” animals that do survive become habituated to people and are unable to revert back to life in the wild.

Eventually, habituated animals pose additional problems as they mature and develop adult animal behaviors. Habituated deer, especially bucks, can become aggressive as they mature, and raccoons are well-known for this too.

“If you find any baby animal, it should be left in the wild,” said Vaughn. “The only time a baby animal should be removed from the wild is when you know the parent is dead or the animal is injured. Please contact a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator before removing the animal.”
For a list of licensed rehabilitators visit www.michigandnr.com/dlr or call your local DNR office.

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Reader’s genocide concern

By Ranger Steve Mueller


Recently a reader expressed dismay with efforts to remove Mute Swans from the lake where he lives. The exotic swans cause problems and death for native ducks and geese by preventing their nesting. I know of at least one instance where a Mute Swan killed an elderly man in his boat. Mute swans compete with native Trumpeter Swans being restored in the Great Lakes ecosystem where this native species was near extinction.

The reader told me that management to safeguard native ecosystem species is genocide of Mute swans. I stated that exotic Mute Swans of European origin are causing genocide of native wildlife populations. Wildlife biologists are working to prevent genocide of native species. He said he is also of European origin and killing exotic swans equates with killing people of European origin that settled North America.

I commented that social and political aspects for sustaining native ecosystems are often driven by emotions and/or short-term personal and economic interest instead of ecological health. We were present for a conservation fundraising banquet and the program was about to begin. We did not get to continue the conversation. I would like to know how he felt regarding efforts to kill and eliminate other exotics species that cause ecological and economic havoc in native community nature niches.

Environmental groups and governmental units are working to prevent Asian Carp from entering the Great Lakes where they will cause major economic, ecological and genocide problems for native species and will result in billions of dollars in environmental damage. Exotic species replace native plant and animal species and reduce biodiversity. Native species eliminated by exotic species is also genocide. Human efforts strive to protect native species evolved in ecosystems from genocide caused by exotic species. Native species help maintain the “Triple Bottom Line” of social, economic, and ecological integrity of the natural world that sustains our human culture.

We often choose beauty over ecological value. Purple Loosestrife is a beautiful exotic plant in wetlands that eliminates food and habitat for native species. Like the Mute Swan, its beauty makes it difficult for us to want it removed. The tall feathery seed headed grass called Phragmites (Common Reed) is replacing cattails and associated native wetland birds, mammals, insects, and plants. Removal of native species by Phragmites disrupts nutrient cycles and energy flow in ecosystems essential for sustaining breeding habitat or fish, birds, mammals, insects, and other life forms. Many eliminated native species have direct economic and social importance for human communities and businesses.

Many exotics lack the emotional appeal of Mute Swans and might fail to raise the genocide concern of the reader that spoke with me. Zebra Mussels cost Grand Rapids millions to prevent clogging of water intake pipes in Lake Michigan. I wonder if the reader is concerned about mussel genocide.

Exotics like Gypsy Moth, Quaga Mussels, Garlic Mustard, Emerald Ash Borer, Autumn Olive, Oriental Bittersweet, and swallow-wort are more than direct economic problems. They cause ecological disruptions and genocide in native plant and animal communities. Most exotic species arrive accidentally. We have quarantine inspectors working 24/7 to safe guard our livelihoods by preventing additional exotic species from disrupting native communities, agricultural timber, and food crops.

Exotic Garlic Mustard pulls are sponsored to prevent it from causing genocide to native wildflowers, associated insects, birds, and mammal that evolved locally over expansive time. How should we address difficult issues? “Triple Bottom Line” management addressing social-economic-ecological problems becomes a means for maintaining and sustaining a healthy society.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433 or 616-696-1753.

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Michigan Audubon blitzing for declining Rusty Blackbirds


Contest to raise awareness for Rusty Blackbird conservation

Michigan Audubon is sponsoring a contest to motivate volunteers to monitor a rapidly declining, yet poorly understood Michigan bird species, Rusty Blackbirds. Rusty Blackbirds, or “Rusties,” have endured a population decline more severe than that of any other once-common landbird. Michigan is an important migratory stopover for Rusties during their northward, Canada-bound journey in the spring, but scientists have yet to find specific stopover hotspots that can be protected to ensure this species has safe and productive refueling stations. Michigan Audubon hopes that Michigan birders will take part in a continent-wide effort to monitor Rusties and to sweeten the deal they’re offering rewards—the top birder will receive a pair of binoculars valued at $400.

The Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz (or “the Blitz”) is a continent-wide effort to engage citizen scientists in finding and counting these elusive blackbirds with the ultimate goal of creating well-informed conservation guidelines. This is a three-year program that began in 2014 and includes partners such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, eBird, and many other state, federal, and local partners. In 2014, 4,750 birders participated in the Blitz and researchers used those observations to learn about potential migratory hotspots, habitat use, and potential migratory pathways.

The 2015 Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz runs from March 1 to June 15 and it challenges birders from Alabama to Alberta to search for Rusties in their typical habitats: flooded forests, agricultural fields, and wetlands. Anyone can participate in the Blitz; just visit www.rustyblackbird.org/outreach/migration-blitz/ to learn how to identify Rusty Blackbirds, where to look, and how to submit your observations.

Volunteer citizen science efforts like the Blitz offer great opportunities for the public to significantly contribute to bird conservation in Michigan. To help kick off Michigan’s Blitz, Michigan Audubon is sponsoring a contest with several Rusty Blackbird-themed prizes and one grand prize: a pair of Atlas Optics Intrepid Binoculars. To sign up for the contest or to learn more about Michigan’s Blitz, email Rachelle Roake at RRoake@michiganaudubon.org. Michigan Audubon hopes to engage hundreds of birders across the state to Blitz for Blackbirds this spring!

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