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Archive | Outdoors

Christmas tree experiences

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

It was an exciting and major event when our family selected a Christmas tree when I was child. We had a favorite seller we visited each year and searched a large selection of pre-cut trees. It had to be the right height, breadth, fullness, and not too large a trunk base so it would fit in our tree stand.

Our family event allowed everyone to have a say in the choice. My mother wanted to make sure it was not too full so the ornaments would have room to hang. Dad didn’t want it so broad that it crowded us out of the room. I wanted lots of room underneath for gifts. My wife recently asked if we fought over the final selection. I do not recall unpleasant conversation. We negotiated and found one accepted by all.

After I grew and started a family with Karen at Ody Brook, we began a different tradition. We planted several Scotch Pine trees in an open sunny area to care and nurse with good husbandry. It was about 7 years before any were ready for harvest. During the intervening years, we bought trees from a neighborhood tree seller.

While the trees were growing, the tree cluster served as part of a nature niche for itself and other creatures. Mice and rabbit tracks showed evidence the trees provided shelter. Feeding damaged by sawflies killed some branches and created gaps among the branches suitable for larger ornaments.

Sawflies are not flies but as adults look fly-like. They are actually in the Hymenoptera Wasp Order instead of the Diptera Fly Order. As a larva, they resemble Lepidoptera Order butterfly and moth caterpillars. The adult lays eggs in mass so when hatched, they feed and devour all the needles on a branch. Rather than use pesticides to prevent damage, I picked the larvae off the tree by hand before significant damage occurred and placed them on a large ant hill as a free lunch for ants.

That growing season work became my youngest daughter’s when she was about 5 years old. During the years when the girls and trees were growing and cultivated, the girls learned good natural resource stewardship. Most of Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary remains wild for native plants and animals but portions serve personal use.

Wild species besides rabbits, mice, and sawflies made use of the growing trees. Chipping Sparrows, American Robins, and Northern Cardinals chose to construct hidden nests among the thick branches. Deciduous tree embryonic leaves do not expand from buds by the time birds weave spring rearing chambers for young.

For 7 to 10 years the trees are important for wildlife shelter and food. To insure we have a sustainable harvest, it was required we plant two seedlings annually so we could harvest one each Thanksgiving weekend. If all survived, we could harvest two for different locations in the house or give one away.

The fresh cut tree would be decorated and last indoors to the new year. The tree still offers years of service after the holiday season. We place it near a bird feeder to provide winter cover and protection for birds. I do not know if birds appreciate our efforts but they use the tree for the remainder of winter.

When springs arrives, we cut the limbs from the tree and place them on one of the brush piles as a slowly decaying roof that helps stop rain infiltration. Rabbits use the ground level maze among brush pile logs and birds use upper openings. The Christmas tree trunk is cut to sections and used for family backyard campfires where some-mores are made.

Each annual tree ritual serves wildlife for about 20 years and provides us pleasure with family bonding. It helped our girls learn about sustainable harvest. In my opinion, Scotch pines become unsightly when allowed to become large. They are a non-native species that competes with native trees. The large Scotch Pine stands are relatively sterile habitat when compared with native tree stands. I recommend harvesting them while they are still small trees. Enjoy nature related holiday traditions.

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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Duck poachers sentenced in Ottawa County

Nearly 60 mallards and wood ducks were shot illegally Oct. 9 in Ottawa County. Four men from that area were sentenced in the case last week. Photo from Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Nearly 60 mallards and wood ducks were shot illegally Oct. 9 in Ottawa County. Four men from that area were sentenced in the case last week. Photo from Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Four Ottawa County men ticketed recently for poaching nearly 60 wild ducks from a private agricultural pond near the Grand River watershed were sentenced last week in district court.

Tyler John Meerman, 24, of Conklin, Colson Thomas Modderman, 22, of Wyoming, Justin Allen Beckman, 20, of Coopersville, and Michael Duane Sorenson III, 20, of Marne pleaded guilty Tuesday, December 13, and were sentenced the same day in Ottawa County District Court.

The convictions resulted from an October 9 incident, near a popular waterfowl hunting area in Chester Township, which is situated in the northern part of the county. A total of 58 ducks were killed.

“These four individuals used over 200 pounds of corn to illegally entice these ducks in for the kill,” said DNR conservation officer Dave Rodgers. “The men were not using decoys or duck calls and therefore were not hunting, but rather, they were poaching.”

The use of bait for duck hunting is not allowed. The ducks poached included 35 wood ducks and 23 mallards, including 13 mallard hens.

Of the six ducks allowed in a daily bag limit, hunters can shoot four mallards, only two of which may be hens. Only three wood ducks may be harvested per hunter.

The four men were each ordered to pay $5,000 reimbursement, plus a $10 judgment fee. This total of $20,040 will go into the State of Michigan’s Fish and Game Fund, which is used to support healthy populations of fish and game through various activities, ranging from fish stocking to improving wildlife habitat.

In addition, the men were each ordered to pay $880 in fines and costs to the court. They were sentenced to serve 18-month probation terms, in lieu of 90 days in jail. If the men violate any condition of their probation, they will serve jail time at the discretion of the judge.

The convicted poachers have lost their hunting privileges for the rest of this year and the next 3 years. The firearms they used in the incident were condemned by the court and will go to state auction this spring, with proceeds going to the Fish and Game Fund.

“The citizens of Michigan play a vital role in protecting Michigan’s natural resources,” said Lt. Gerald Thayer, DNR District 7 law enforcement supervisor. “We very much appreciate the call that came in on October 9 to report these poachers.”

Operators of the DNR’s Report All Poaching (RAP) line received the call at 7:38 a.m. that day, reporting an immense amount of shooting during the opening of the South Zone waterfowl hunting season.

Minutes later Rodgers and conservation officer Chris Simpson responded, headed for Chester Township. Rodgers said he found the four men on private property along an agricultural pond. He saw them shooting at crippled ducks on the water and gathering them.

One of the men left the area, but was located by Simpson during a traffic stop. Officers said he had a loaded firearm in the vehicle.

The ducks confiscated will be used at the DNR Law Enforcement Division’s Waterfowl Training School for training new officers on duck identification and necropsy studies.

Any ducks not used for this purpose will be donated to the Braveheart Raptor Rehabilitation Center in Twin lakes to help feed injured birds of prey, including bald eagles.

The DNR’s toll-free Report All Poaching (RAP) line number is 800-292-7800. Tips may be left anonymously.

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Forest Legacy Program looks to the future

About 3.5 miles of the Pilgrim River, a cold-water trout stream, flow through the Pilgrim River Forest property. A conservation easement is in the process of being acquired here. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

About 3.5 miles of the Pilgrim River, a cold-water trout stream, flow through the Pilgrim River Forest property. A conservation easement is in the process of being acquired here. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

We all want to leave some sort of lasting legacy—some kind of mark on the world—something that’s there for the next generation to take, use and carry on with.

That idea lies at the core of the Forest Legacy Program, which ensures that private forest land remains forested and open to the public forever.

Under the program, private forest landholders can transfer ownership or development rights through conservation easements to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to protect healthy forests.

Doing this leaves a rich legacy of working forest managed sustainably, wildlife habitat protected, landowners still able to harvest timber, and the public permitted to access the land for recreation into perpetuity.

Hovels Main Block walking path fall: Walking paths through the forests of the Pilgrim River property will allow for abundant opportunities for public recreation. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Hovels Main Block walking path fall: Walking paths through the forests of the Pilgrim River property will allow for abundant opportunities for public recreation. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

As part of the 1990 federal Farm Bill, the U.S. Forest Service was authorized to begin the Forest Legacy Program to help private forest landowners across the country develop and maintain sustainable forests.

As a result, Michiganders and visitors to the Great Lakes State today have access to more than 150,000 acres of unique, well-managed, private forest lands.

Kerry Wieber, forest land administrator with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Forest Resources Division, has managed the Forest Legacy Program in Michigan since 2006.

Wieber says it is one of the most rewarding parts of her job.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to protect some of our most environmentally important forests and ensure that they are managed sustainably,” she said. “It allows private forest landowners to manage their forests for timber and also ensure public access.”

The program provides federal funding to state agencies on a three-to-one matching basis.

States may request funding for up to three projects annually, totaling $10 million, but no more than $7 million for any one project.

Competition for the program’s grants is nationwide, so projects from Michigan are vying for funding with other states and U.S. properties.

“There’s no guarantee that any state will receive funding if projects from other states are deemed more worthy,” Wieber said.

A number of Michigan projects have been awarded Forest Legacy grant funding, and Michigan has used conservation easements and land acquisitions to protect unique forests.

An aerial view of the Elk Forest at Black River project shows Walled Lake and a smaller pond located on the forested property. An application for grant funding was submitted in November for this project. The land is currently in private ownership. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

An aerial view of the Elk Forest at Black River project shows Walled Lake and a smaller pond located on the forested property. An application for grant funding was submitted in November for this project. The land is currently in private ownership. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Michigan has protected over 150,000 acres of forest lands through conservation easements and has acquired 4,170 acres that were added to the existing state forest system.

One example is the Gitcha-ninj Nebish (aka Thumb Lake) Forest, located just east of Boyne Falls in Charlevoix County.

Here, the DNR partnered with the Little Traverse Conservancy to seek funding for a conservation easement on 750 acres on the west side of Thumb Lake, which is owned by a church camp.

Ty Ratliff, director of donor relations with Little Traverse Conservancy, said his crew helped write the grant application and took on getting the land appraised as well as working with the landowner to make sure the process was understood.

“It’s a very complex and difficult process to go through,” Ratliff said. “This is a large working forest, already in the commercial forest program, 95 percent wooded, including nearly a mile of lake shoreline – so we protected this forest, as well as the shoreline.”

Gitcha-ninj Nebish is the Ottawa word for “Big Finger Water,” and considering the cultural and environmental importance of the area, the conservation easement was a “win-win,” Ratliff said.

“The landowner didn’t want to sell it,” he said. “They still own it and maintain control, they still get to timber it, and the conservancy got to see it protected. It allows for public access, so you and I and our grandkids are allowed to go on it to hunt and hike and it’s protected for perpetuity.”

The 750-acre site is adjacent to state-managed lands on three sides and the shoreline of Thumb Lake making up the fourth.

“In this case, the landowner sold the development rights below the appraised value, so the landowner essentially donated the match,” Ratliff said. “Once people understand what a working forest is – from a land perspective and a wildlife perspective, and how important it is to the local economy – this program is compelling. This is what Michigan is about: woods and water and recreation.”

Crisp Point, located in the northeastern part of the Upper Peninsula, is an example of where the DNR acquired land as part of the Forest Legacy Program.

Here, the DNR acquired 3,810 acres in Luce and Chippewa counties, including an inland lake and more than 2.5 miles of Lake Superior shoreline.

The grant provided nearly $6 million, 75 percent of the purchase price. A private individual donated the remaining 25 percent.

“It’s a highly visible site because the Crisp Point Lighthouse, which is county-owned, is adjacent to the property and draws a lot of visitors,” Wieber said, “So it draws a lot of visitors to the state land. It’s open to any use any other state forest land is open to. There’s snowmobile trails and numerous two-tracks used by ORVs.”

The way the program works is the DNR requests project nominations from the public, which are usually submitted by landowners or conservancies.

The Forest Legacy Subcommittee of the Michigan Forest Stewardship Advisory Committee reviews the nominations and makes a recommendation to the committee, which decides which projects to seek funding for and the amount requested.

Following state forester approval, proposals are submitted to the U.S. Forest Service. Grant applications are reviewed by a national panel, where they are prioritized and included in the president’s budget.

“No project is a slam-dunk,” Wieber said. “With these nationwide proposals, you’re competing with between 70 and 80 projects per year. The typical funding line for the last few years has been in the $50 million to $60 million range – so depending on the amount requested for each project, it funds 15 to 20 projects. It’s a highly competitive program.”

Deb Huff, executive director of the Michigan Forest Association, sits on the Forest Legacy Subcommittee. The association is a nonprofit organization of about 500 members, which represents private forest owners.

Huff said it’s really important that private landowners have the opportunity to choose to participate in this program.
“There are a lot of variations on how this could be handled,” Huff said. “I think Legacy is critical to conserving those areas that are most unique and at the same time in danger of being lost. Most people who love forests are supportive of this program.”

Wieber said Michigan’s Forest Legacy Program currently has funding for the acquisition of a conservation easement on about 1,200 acres in Houghton County on the Pilgrim River, just south of Houghton, and has submitted a grant request for an additional acquisition—Elk Forest at Black River. It’s currently privately owned, is directly adjacent to the Pigeon River Country State Forest, and includes a mile of river frontage.

If it’s funded, it will be the eighth Forest Legacy Program project in Michigan.

For more information, visit www.michigan.gov/privateforestland. Applications for the Forest Legacy Program are typically solicited in March and submitted by a June deadline.

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DNR seeking volunteer campground hosts 

Lori and Leo Constine spent time as volunteer campground hosts in Hartwick Pines State Park this past fall helping campers, answering questions and taking part in the annual fall Harvest Festival.

Lori and Leo Constine spent time as volunteer campground hosts in Hartwick Pines State Park this past fall helping campers, answering questions and taking part in the annual fall Harvest Festival.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is seeking volunteer campground hosts for the 2017 camping season in Michigan state parks, recreation areas and rustic state forest campgrounds.

Spend time in Michigan’s great outdoors, while engaging with park visitors. Volunteer campground hosts are responsible for 30 hours of service per week, including duties such as helping campers find their campsites, answering questions about the park, planning campground activities and performing light park maintenance duties. Camping fees will be waived for campground hosts.

Both individuals and couples may apply for volunteer positions that begin as early as April and last through
October. Volunteer hosts must provide their own camping equipment, food and other personal items.

Interested volunteers can click on “campground host” at www.michigan.gov/dnrvolunteers to learn more about the volunteer host campground program, download an application and waiver and view a vacancy host campground report, which is updated regularly and indicates when and where hosts are needed in specific parks.

Hosts are screened and interviewed by park managers and selected based on familiarity with the state park system, camping experience, special skills, availability and knowledge of the area. Hosts must participate in a two-day host training session within the first two years of being selected as a host. The 2017 training will take place June 7-8 at the Ralph A. MacMullan Conference Center in Roscommon.

For information about the campground host program and how to apply, go to www.michigan.gov/dnrvolunteers or contact Miguel Rodriguez at 517-284-6127.

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Diversity for nature and learning

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

It is a wonderful time of year to experience diversity at a of variety nature locations. Your yard is a great place to start. Diversity of life is limited in yards unless they maintain space for native plants and associated animals.

Community opportunities provide connections with things wild and natural with diverse emphasis. They exist because community members value and support them. Local wonderful diverse places meet multifaceted interests for people. Some places are mostly wild with limited accommodations for people while others are hardly wild where the plants and animals require constant care to survive such as the Fredrick Meijer Gardens for plants or the John Ball Zoo for animals. Wild and cultivated places offer their own greatness.

The Rogue River, Cannonsburg, and Allegan State Game Areas have large wild areas that support plants and animals in a native landscape with minimal human accommodations. The North Country hiking trail traverses and one can listen in quiet solitude to hear one’s own heart or the melodies sung by plants and animals. The squeak of a flexing tree, the rubbing growl of branches against one another on a breezy day, or the hidden chewing on inner tree bark by beetle larvae expresses the presence of life in the forest.

During the year, people hunt morels, blueberries, rabbits, fish, ducks, or deer for meals. Others seek photographs, birds, butterflies, and wildflowers. Hiking the wild is a favorite. Hunting license purchases allows for the existence of the game areas. Tree harvest is managed to help desired wildlife thrive and it supports local economies.

Places like the Howard Christensen Nature Center maintain trails, boardwalks, toilets, water, camping, museum displays of birds, mammals, insects, mounted herbarium plants and twig collections for education and recreation. The library includes resources about organisms, geology, weather and climate. Membership and donation support is essential. Visit the wonderful facility to learn and join the effort. HCNC has one of the most extensive collections of birds and mammals for visitors and school group study. As this year succumbs, consider making the coming year’s programs possible by purchasing a membership or donate to support school programming. Be a champion for your school district that connects teachers, students, and nature at HCNC. The nature center is unique by being isolated in a wilder area than other nature education facilities in Michigan.

The wonderful Blandford Nature Center is a vestige of wild surrounded by urban development. It is more easily accessible for massive human influx and provides connections for people with native plants and animals. Rescued wildlife that cannot survive if released allow us to see creatures that most do not otherwise experience. Membership and donations are required for the facility to thrive.

Luten, Long Lake, and Millennium County Parks provide different degrees of diversity and preservation. Many enjoy Luten Park for the thrill of its mountain biking trails while others discover nature niches in the native prairie.

The Land Conservancy of West Michigan establishes preserves to ensure natural areas maintain the biological and physical environment that allowed settlers to colonize, live and prosper in West Michigan.

Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary manages for the greatest native plant and animal diversity. Human visitors are welcome to study the diversity of life and unique rare species such as the federally threatened American Chestnut. College interns study plants with a high co-efficient for conservancy for preservation and conservation groups like the Michigan Botanical Club visit. The site is a “Birding Hotspot” for ebirders.

Bunker Interpretive Center, Wittenbach/Wege Center, GR Audubon’s Maher Preserve, and others are sites worthy of financial support. Support is requested for maintaining a diversity of natural areas locally. Contact the sites to provide essential support in your local community financially or by volunteering.

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 Canada goose

Giant Canada geese were once thought to be extinct, but today are very plentiful around Michigan.

Giant Canada geese were once thought to be extinct, but today are very plentiful around Michigan.

Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial featured bird

Perhaps one of the most recognizable birds in Michigan is the large, regal-looking Canada goose. Once a rare sight in Michigan, Canada geese are now very plentiful in the state.

With black heads, beaks and necks, grey-brown bodies and a white chin strap, these birds can weigh between 5 and 14 pounds. The female Canada goose is slightly smaller than the male and weighs as much as 12 pounds.

The subspecies of goose that is most plentiful in Michigan is the giant Canada Goose or Branta canadensis maxima. Other subspecies of Canada goose pass through the state during spring and fall migration, but the giant subspecies is the only one that breeds in Michigan.

Geese are herbivores and prefer grass shoots, aquatic vegetation, seed heads and various grains. They will also feed in shallow water by tipping up and reaching into the water for aquatic roots and tubers.

Canada geese usually nest in March and April. The female lays three to eight eggs and incubates them for 25-28 days. Downy goslings can walk and follow their parents shortly after hatching. The youngsters grow quickly and acquire their adult plumage at about four months of age. The young birds stay with the adults for almost a year after hatching.

Adult Canada geese have very few predators, though raccoons, skunks, fox and crows sometimes prey on their eggs.

Because Canada geese are so plentiful, many would never suspect that the giant Canada goose subspecies was believed to be extinct in the 1950s. This subspecies was nearly extinct due to the effects of unregulated overhunting and wetland habitat loss.

By 1920, however, waterfowl enthusiasts had located a small population of giant Canada geese in Rochester, Minnesota. The Michigan Department of Conservation—now the Department of Natural Resources—raised geese at the Mason State Game Farm. Between 1928 and 1964, the DNR released 2,500 geese on 30 sites. That resulted in 14 breeding areas by 1969, with an estimated population of 9,400 birds.

In recent years, the giant Canada goose has experienced population explosions in areas throughout North America. This trend is due in part to the success of wildlife management programs and the adaptability of these magnificent birds.

In Michigan, the number of giant Canada geese counted each spring numbers over 300,000 today. They nest in every Michigan county but are most common (78 percent of population) in the southern third of the state.

In general, geese have benefited from the way humans have altered the landscape. Canada geese are attracted to areas that provide food, water and protection. Urban areas with lakes and ponds offer all the resources that geese need to survive. During the summer months, Canada geese can be a problem for some property owners.

Goose hunting in Michigan helps to keep goose populations in check. Michigan regularly ranks in the top three states in the nation for Canada goose hunters and harvest. The plentiful geese provide excellent opportunities for goose hunters.

Many of Michigan’s Canada geese migrate south in the winter in large V-shaped flocks. In the southern third of the state, some Canada geese remain all winter, feeding on waste grain in agricultural fields and aquatic vegetation on open waterways.

The Canada goose is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The year 2016 marks the centennial of the Convention between the United States and Great Britain (for Canada) for the Protection of Migratory Birds (also called the Migratory Bird Treaty), signed on Aug. 16, 1916. Three other treaties were signed shortly thereafter with Japan, Russia and Mexico. The Migratory Bird Treaty, the three other treaties signed later, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act form the cornerstones of efforts to conserve birds that migrate across international borders.

The 2016 Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial celebration has included monthly featured bird stories to our DNR Wildlife Viewing email subscribers, celebration events including a weekend of bird-based programming at state parks and visitor centers in June of 2016, and an education program for schools and conservation groups, and more.

To learn more about the Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial, visit www.fws.gov/birds/MBTreaty100.  To sign up for DNR Wildlife Viewing emails, visit www.michigan.gov/dnr and click on the red envelope.

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Teen gets first buck

out-first-buck-lewis

Gavin Lewis, 13, the son of Jake and Amy Lewis, got his first buck recently in Solon Township. This big guy is an 8-point with a 17-1/2-inch spread. Gavin is a 7th grader at Cedar Springs Middle School.

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GISSS

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

When seeing a family member or friend in a crowd from behind, we can often recognize them based on the general impression perceived. Their size, overall shape, and where they are or what they are doing helps us zero in on who we see. We do not need extensive detail to identify them.

Wildlife can be identified in a similar manner. Under our bird feeder a sleek smooth gray furred mammal popped out of a hole, grabbed a seed and ducked into its tunnel. It was in view for seconds but it was adequate to identify it as a short-tailed shrew. It was about as large as a mouse with solid gray color, short tail, and pointed nose. The masked shrew is smaller with a long tail. Deer mice have tan coats with a white belly and long tail. The meadow vole looks similar to the shrew but has a heavier body without a pointed nose.

Characteristics to take notice of quickly when trying to identify something when we only get a quick look is referred as GISSS (General Impression, Size, Shape, Seasonality).

When we see a deer, we usually do this naturally. I know a person that saw several deer in winter along a road and thought it was a large group of coyotes. He needed to develop his senses to key into important features. First capture a general impression and associate with what you know. When seeing a deer like animal, determine if it horse size like a moose or smaller. Does the shape appear deer-like with long thin legs and no obvious long tail or is it more dog-like with shorter legs and longer tail like a coyote?

Winter is a great time to practice GISSS with birds. Red-breasted Nuthatches recently arrived at our bird feeders. White-breasted Nuthatches are present all year. The general impression helped identify it as a nuthatch by its overall size, long thin bill, and straight alignment of head, body, and tail. Tufted Titmice or Black-capped chickadees have more contour between the three body parts. Generally associate size as sparrow, robin, and crow size. That helps narrow the choices.

Blue Jays, crows, and doves can be quickly dismissed because their size is much too large for consideration when looking at a nuthatch. The Red-breasted Nuthatch is smaller than chickadees, titmice, and the White-breasted Nuthatch. Look at the shape for how the head, body, and tail align and the tail length. Tail length will eliminate many choices. Nuthatches have a short tail. Seasonality is important. Generally, Red-breasted Nuthatches are only seen in our area from fall to spring. They move north in spring similar to how robins generally move south in winter.

It does not matter whether you are trying to identify mammals, birds, butterflies or even plants, the GISSS will help. Plants have a characteristic size, shape, and seasonality. The Fall Frost Aster blooms late into October with small white ray flowers that look like petals on plants about knee high. The New England Aster is about three to five feet tall with long purple ray flowers. Some plants like trilliums seasonally bloom in May.

Butterflies might be large like a monarch or swallowtail, medium sized like a cabbage white butterfly, or small like the little blue flyers that are only about the size of a dime. Use those for size comparisons. Once you have the general impression with size and shape ideas, you can consider unique details. The tiny Spring Azure butterflies fly from April into June. The nearly look-a-like Summer Azure begins flight in June and continues throughout the summer. The more iridescent Eastern Tailed Blue flies summer to fall with increased numbers in fall. As the name indicates it has tiny tails on its hind wings but the tails often break off.

Associate species with their nature niche habitat. Both azures are found near dogwood shrubs while the tailed blue is common in open fields. The small number of bird species at the feeders in winter will help you practice GISSS before spring when over one hundred bird species move through the neighborhood. About 150 species of butterflies make Michigan home. Simply enjoy the vast number of plants and animals and have fun trying to identify them. Visit various plant habitats and notice associated animals found in each. GISSS! Isn’t that fun?

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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Michigan’s muzzleloader deer hunting season opens 

 

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reminds hunters that the 2016 muzzleloader deer season opened across the state last Friday, Dec. 2.

Zones 1 and 2 will remain open to muzzleloading until Dec. 11. Zone 3 is open to muzzleloader deer hunting until Dec. 18.

Hunters are reminded that archery deer season also is open statewide during this time. Archery season started again on Dec. 1 and runs through Jan. 1, 2017.

Hunters should be aware of any applicable antler point restrictions in the areas where they are hunting. Check the antler point restriction map and chart on pages 32 and 33 of the 2016 Hunting and Trapping Digest for details.

In the Upper Peninsula, only deer hunters with a certified disability may use a crossbow or a modified bow during the late archery and muzzleloader seasons. This restriction applies to the Upper Peninsula only.

All deer hunters are required to wear hunter orange when participating in the muzzleloader season. The hunter orange requirement does not apply to those participating in the archery season.

For more information about deer hunting in Michigan, visit mi.gov/deer.

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Porcupine and Cougar

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

Two North American porcupines in a tree in Quebec, Canada. Photo by Wikipedia user Mattnad.

Two North American porcupines in a tree in Quebec, Canada. Photo by Wikipedia user Mattnad.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

When working as a ranger at Bryce Canyon National Parks, I conducted field research on the mountain lions (cougars) in the park. During the summer months, the highest plateaus in North America were home to the lions, porcupines, and me. At 9000 feet elevation, I found tracks in one of the few areas with a surface water pond on limestone bedrock. It was a rare drinking hole for deer, lions, and other wildlife.

During the seven years I worked there, I never heard of unattended cows being taken by a lion in the national forest where ranchers grazed cows in summer. Come fall the ranchers drove cows to 6000 feet elevation. Deep snow, lack of food, and excessive cold would leave cows high, dry, and dead in winter on plateau tops.

South from the park’s Yovimpa Point one can see 80 air miles across a near wilderness to the north rim of Grand Canyon National Park. One paved road crosses the south expanse and unpaved trails zigzag the terrain. It is precarious and unknown whether a vehicle other than those with four-wheel drive and high clearance will safely succeed.

Lions follow deer south into the wilderness, or they move east off the Paunsegunt Plateau or neighboring Aquarius Plateau (10,000 feet) into Tropic Valley. Lions have legal protection but poaching occurs by ranchers who think laws do not apply to them. Lions heading east have a better chance of being poached but those heading south have better poaching avoidance. Energy companies desired to strip mine coal to the south of the park for more than 50 years instead of developing alternative energy sources. Coal proposals have been blocked but renewed pressure to strip mine is expected. Coal strip mines could eliminate lions from Bryce Canyon.

Life is difficult for predators in nature niches where they need adequate food, accessible water in an arid landscape, and places to hide. People have fears that have some justification but dangers from predators are unlikely compared to other health threats. Driving, falling from a ladder, and other threats are more likely.

Lions have few threats from animals except people but starvation and dehydration are dangerous. Ranch water impoundments can be valuable but bring lions close to people. They tend to seek water in night stillness.

While tracking a lion, I found scat and broke it apart to discover what it had been eating. Porcupine quills were present. Literature reports lions prey on porcupines and I had found physical evidence. They avoid quills by eating from the belly where no quills are present. First the lion must kill the porcupine while trying to avoid being struck by a tail swing or quills raised high on the back. Quills cannot be thrown but they dislodge easily.

Porcupines move slowly but their armor helps protects them. When quills enter skin, mouth, or tongue, the quills puff up like a balloon because air sealed inside cannot escape. Pressure from the quill’s squeezed end in the skin causes quill swelling. The sharp end that entered the skin is covered with scales like shingles on a roof that face away from the quill point. Those scales prevent easy removal because the shingles hold it fast.

To remove quills, clip them to release air pressure and pull with pliers. Do not try this with a lion because you might not survive. Pets do not seem to learn to avoid porcupines. Every dog in our family has gotten quills at least once. Ody Brook, who the sanctuary is named after, bit one in our yard one night in Bemidji, Minnesota. I did not notice until he came into the house. It is important to remove them soon. The delay allowed quills to work deep and were difficult to remove. One in his gum worked too deep to remove. One year later, I noticed something sticking out of his eyelid. A close look revealed it was the gum quill emerging. I pulled it despite Ody’s objection. That story ended well without it entering his eyeball.

I read some quills migrated into a lion’s heart and were deemed a likely cause for its death. Porcupines are moving south as forests reclaim this region. One has been seen at Ody Brook and some are resident at the Howard Christensen Nature Center. More than one has been killed on Red Pine Drive. Walk the forests at HCNC with attention to the conifers or aspens where you might see the dark lump of a porcupine.

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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