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Archive | Outdoors

Spring and Summer Azures

Ranger Steve’s Nature NicheBy Ranger Steve Mueller

An azure sky captivates us on clear sunny warm days. Tiny pieces of sky flit nearby as we tend the garden, walk the woods, and field edges. Notice the tiny blue wings carry the Spring Azure butterfly on what might seems like an aimless journey. 

Their multifaceted eyes capture color drawing them to other blue butterflies and to flowers where they feed on nectar. They are able to locate plants essential to feed their offspring. Dogwood and viburnums shrubs are important. Adults lay eggs on developing flowerheads where the eggs hatch to feed. 

Eggs are laid singly and scattered throughout the habitat on host plants. The adult blue is about size of a dime when wings are folded over its back. The underwing appears light gray with black spotting. When it opens it wings, the upper sky azure flashes blue beauty. Males are brighter blue than females. Notice the female has a wider dark band along wing’s edge. 

As June approaches, the spring azure become less abundant and summer azures emerge. Summer azures gray underwing spots are not dark or bold. Spring Azures have a more distinctive zig zag line along the hind wing border. The differences between the two species are minor and make it difficult to distinguish them apart. 

For decades the nearly identical butterflies were thought to be the same species with slightly differing appearing spring and summer forms. Many butterflies have variable spring and summer color forms that differ depending on temperature during development. It was discovered the “spring azure form” did not produce a summer form as a second brood. Instead it stayed in the chrysalis until the following spring. Scientists studying anatomy of wing scales discovered unique wing scale structures differed between the two species. 

Mysteries of inhabitants of our yards abound. We might expect there are just two species of the tiny blue azures but not so. There are additional azures including one in our area called the cherry gall azure. Biodiversity of species with specialized nature niches continue to demonstrate amazing adaptations. 

Beyond the azure complex, the Silvery Blue butterfly has more iridescent deep blue upper wings with tan underwings. Instead of scattered dark spots on the underwing, it has a single row of black spots circled with white that arc across the underside. The Silvery Blues like other blues have a short adult life of about one week. During that time, they seek legumes where they lay eggs. We only get to see these iridescent blues when adults are on the wing during a few weeks of the year. Males emerge first.

The Federally Endangered Karner Blue butterfly resides in our area and has a deep blue upper wing with an orange underwing band along wing’s edge that is absent on Silvery Blues, Spring and Summer Azures. Its larval host plant is restricted to one species—Wild Blue Lupine.

As summer solstice arrives, another blue butterfly appears. The Eastern Tailed Blue has a gray underwing with similar black dotted pattern like azures but bears a small orange patch and a tiny tail projecting from the hind wing. When viewed from above, tiny black dots appear along the hind edge of the wing near the tail. 

It might seem like few butterfly species share habitat with us but about 50 species live at Ody Brook and perhaps dozens share your residence. By encouraging native plants to thrive, you can enhance opportunities for butterfly biodiversity during a time when wildlife are having difficulty surviving. How we behave and promote healthy living conditions around our homes is critical to a healthy environment for life on Earth. 

Manicured lawns are a sight to behold but are sterile for supporting native butterflies struggling to survive where native host plants are excluded. Make the effort to support native plants and animals. Enjoy the beauty and life found in wild habitats by allowing native species to share your yard. Be a force helping wildlife.

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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Seek the common

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche By Ranger Steve Mueller

Venture to a willow thicket and enjoy its rich beauty of sights and sounds. Pussy willows already came and went this year. Willow species enchant the wet hollow in the middle of the old field. A large willow tree stood sentinel in the field when the rest was farmed. The field was not easily accessible and in the late 1980’s was abandoned.

Field corn was grown but now the isolated field has reverted to the wild. A half-mile long tractor trail through the woods is filled with encroaching vegetation. On high ground, a mature oak woods provided nesting habitat for the Ovenbird that calls “teacher, teacher, teacher” well into summer and persists calling throughout the day. It is a small warbler that builds a unique nest that looks like a Dutch oven. The well-hidden domed nest on the ground has a small entrance opening from the side. Only once have I found a nest. 

The bird, though common in mature forests, avoids being seen. Its voice is loud but not many people get to enjoy its subtle beauty that blends with forest floor where it walks to feed. An olive back casts a hint of green but its head boasts the brightest markings. It has a white ring surrounding a piercing black eye. Two black lines streak from the bill over the top of the head bordering orange feathers between them. It is necessary to look carefully to see details on the tiny bird about the size of an egg with a tail. Binoculars help capture details.

Feathers that blend well with forest floor contrast with its white underside. Scattered black stripes on the chest break up the white-feathered underbelly when viewed from beneath. I have taken people bird watching that have never seen the ovenbird despite decades of searching. Books report that the bird sings from the forest floor and I am sure they do but that is not where I usually encounter them. 

During a previous Memorial Day weekend exploration, I advised viewers to look on branches about ten feet above ground for the songster. Leaves had already expanded making it a bit more challenging to locate the bird but we succeeded. Its teacher, teacher, teacher song echoed through the forest. The loud call appeared to come from the ground and trees. Difficulty locating the mysterious location helps protect the bird from predators.

I have lead guide tours for decades to help others locate the singing bird. Guidebooks advise looking on the ground and I have found them there but less frequently than above. A woman on my walk was elated to finally see one after years of seeking it but never locating one. She discovered the common bird was in a different location from the search image she had been taught to seek. She thanked me profusely. 

One should never get locked into narrow focus even when the experts tell us where to look. The joy for me has always been exploring to discover animal behavior on my own. Head out using advice from books to help you but do not become overly dependent on them. Realize books do not always relate the most accurate information. Many skilled hunting friends are sharper than me but not always. We keep learning from new experiences in the wild and find what we thought we knew is not always how things work in nature niches. 

After exiting the old tractor trail through the woods and entering what was a cultivated field, a willow and alder thicket now traverses its low wet center. The Common Yellowthroat claims the habitat for its singing, mating, and nesting. Now that willows have mostly completed flowering, seeds are forming, and leaves hide branches, the yellowthroat announces its presence. Like the ovenbird, it is one of the louder warblers.

It is willing to show itself and will investigate you. Its song is a loud “Witchity, Witchity, Witchity”. A bright yellow breast helps us locate it among shrubs. It has a bold black mask that wraps around the face over the bill. The yellow chin and throat below offer great visual contrast. Above the dark mask is a white band. Though the rest of the bird’s pattern is a subdued olive like the ovenbird’s, its bright front is obvious and easy to locate. It is not shy and can be located in most willow thickets. Seek the common in woods and thickets. Do not let spring pass you by. For many of us, the outdoors is more enticing than phones, television, or electronics games.

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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Enjoy fawns from a distance

Expect to start seeing fawns in May and June

A thicket, a patch of tall grass and a quiet spot in your back yard – all places that fawns have been found. For the first few weeks of a white-tailed deer fawn’s life, its mother will hide it in secluded locations. This behavior helps reduce the potential of predators finding the fawn.

While fawns may seem abandoned, they rarely are. All wild white-tailed deer begin life this way.

A fawn’s spots are excellent camouflage and will help it stay hidden from predators. In addition to being hidden by its mother and having spotted camouflage, fawns have another adaptation to help them survive – they are virtually odorless when they are young.

If you find a fawn alone, do not touch it! There is a good chance it is supposed to be there. It is not uncommon for deer to leave their fawns unattended so as not to draw attention to where the fawn is hidden. The mother will return periodically to nurse her fawn when she feels it is safe.

The best thing to do is to leave the fawn alone and enjoy the experience from a distance. Leaving baby animals in the wild ensures they have the best chance for survival. Help keep Michigan’s wildlife wild.

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

Learn more at Michigan.gov/Wildlife or contact DNR Wildlife Division at 517-284-9453.

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Showcasing the DNR

A photography moment, outside the door, at the side of the road

By John Pepin, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

“Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing,” – Pete Seeger 

Rolling through the bucolic countryside on some forgotten copper-claim byway, I glanced over my shoulder as I crested a small hill.

A beautiful crocus garden, with a knobby rubber truck tire, underneath an apple tree, outside an abandoned home. Photo by John Pepin.

When I saw what I saw I pulled the car into the crunching gravel at the side of the road. I turned around and headed back, parking on the shoulder.

Just beyond a shallow ditch was a house set back off the road. There was an old, leafless apple tree to the side of the front yard. The gnarled, gray fingers and upturned arms of this old matriarch reached wide to protect a sublime treasure lying beneath.

Around the sides of a big, knobby tractor tire were dozens and dozens of blooming crocuses, white, purple and even a handful colored yellow, bright and bold like buttercups. I had never seen so many crocuses in one place – it was like a sea of purple and white, moving slowly with bursts of wind that blew across the brown grass of the yard.

I wanted to take some close-up photographs of this wonderful spray of heaven. I turned to approach the house to knock on the door to ask permission. When I did, I stood shocked to see that not only was no one at home, but the house was dark, broken and abandoned.

A couple of rows of crocuses ringed the outside of a knobby rubber tire in a beautiful garden found not far off the side of the road. Photo by John Pepin.

The house was a green, metal, put-together kind of structure with white pines standing tall in a row behind. An old car was left in the back. Some animal had chewed through the screens that covered the doors. The concrete foundation had big holes in it. The roofline was busted uneven, and the steps were gone from under a sliding glass door that sat about midway down the length of the house.

No sidewalk, pathway or trail through the grass was discernable.

All kinds of questions were swirling around in my head, basically amounting to, “What happened here?”

By the look of things, this house had once indeed been a home. There had been someone here to drive the old car, to likely walk out to the mailbox on a warm summer’s day and sit underneath the pines on a cool autumn evening.

And there was someone here who obviously admired the simple and profound magic produced by mixing sunlight, rich earth, a little bit of rain and a few flowering plants. I wondered whether this unknown gardener was here long enough to witness for themselves the exquisite crocus garden beneath the twisted branches of the apple tree.

Did someone die, lose a job, divorce, go to jail or endure some other hardship? I saw no toys or swings or other signs of children around the place. I was reminded of something Bob Dylan wrote: “I see the screws breaking loose, I see the devil pounding on tin, I see a house in the country being torn apart from within.”

Did these people maybe just leave to be gone for good? Gone from the hardscrabble living a lot more than a few people find within these remnant locations – scatterings of bleak houses, situated between rusted railroad tracks, broken-down, left-behind schools, country stores and the cracked pavement off blacktopped county roads that inevitably lead to nowhere special?

There was no way to know, at least not from where I was standing.

John Fogerty wrote, “Looking out across this town, kinda makes me wonder how all the things that made us great got left so far behind. This used to be a peaceful place, decent folks, hard-working ways.”

That spring day, I was like most people, I suspect.

I was on my way to another thing, in another place, with my watch running slow amid the relentless crush of demands of this world, and its nagging “Where-are-you?” technology, tugging at the corner of my jacket.

It felt like someone had ahold of my arm, leading me away from this lonesome and quiet place where I could have sat all afternoon, just wondering.

Before I left, I did take several photos of the dazzling spring crocuses.

I wanted to bring with me a little bit of that garden out from under the shadows of that apple tree and whatever happened to those folks in the green-metal house.

I wanted to shine for these people a little bit of the light they’d left behind in their presumed misfortune – that magnificent blanket of flowers. And so, I share this story and photos to try to spread around the beauty left outside the door, at the side of the road.

Of course, I could have this whole thing wrong.

Maybe the people who once lived here found a big payday somehow—a la “Kinfolk said, ‘Jed, move away from there.’” I want to hope that’s what happened—“swimming pools, movie stars”—however unlikely.

At the very least, I hope they made out all right someplace else, in another state, country or atmosphere.

Maybe right now, there’s a lady on her knees in the green, spring grass, with a garden spade, digging a hole in the ground.

In the distance, there’s an old man approaching. He’s taking a good long time to get there because he’s trying to roll a big, knobby truck tire in a straight line. He’s going to roll that wheel until it falls over on its side next to the lady, under the shade of an aging apple tree.

In the skies above, swallows tip and turn, the breezes are warm and light.

Back up on their new porch, with the green-metal roof, the couple will later sit and sip something sweet while the sun falls behind the pines. Cool air descends, bringing down the purple night.

Those tough times they might have had trying to make a life living in the Michigan north woods exist now only in their dreams and memories, a long time gone. Maybe there’s a picture of their Michigan crocus garden hanging on their wall.

Meanwhile, that old house, with the torn screens and sagging frame, sits alongside the road with the howling elements of nature pounding a little harder on the roof and walls each year—sensing weakness in the structure, the inevitable decay and demise.

But under that tree remains, a delight for the eyes and the soul – a promise of renewal, regeneration and revival—he purple and white crocuses, with a few dashes of yellow sprinkled in.

No more than a few inches tall, they have the unlikely power to stop a passing car whirring along the roadside, to make a man get out with a camera to wonder and to think.

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State park memories: Babe Ruth and the atomic bomb

From the Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Babe Ruth once violated fishing laws during a stay in Michigan. Photo from the DNR.

May 12 is a significant date in Michigan’s history. On this date in 1919, the Michigan Legislature established the Michigan State Park Commission, paving the way for Michigan’s state parks system.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is marking this 100-year milestone with the Michigan state parks centennial celebration throughout the entire year. Below are a couple of historical stories of significance tied to Michigan’s state parks.

Babe Ruth arrested for fishing violations 

Babe Ruth, the famous New York Yankees slugger, was not as good a fisherman as he was a ballplayer. During the summer of 1926, he violated Michigan’s game and fish laws by fishing at Island Lake Recreation Area before the fishing season officially had begun. Babe went fishing with teammate Pat Sexton from the porch of the Island Lake Hotel and was caught with 25 bass and bluegill before the official June 16 start of the fishing season. The game warden arrested both of them and seized their tackle, but not their catch. They were released and even made it back to the game in Detroit that afternoon. 

In August 1926, Babe was summoned to appear in court in Brighton by A.B. Wilkinson, the conservation officer for Oakland and Livingston counties. Babe was charged with three violations: fishing without a license, fishing out of season and taking undersized fish from Island Lake. Wilkinson held a warrant for Babe when the latter came back to Detroit to play a game. Wilkinson even threatened to arrest Babe if he did not “make a satisfactory answer.” On Aug. 5, when the Yankees came to Detroit from Cleveland, Babe went right to bed. He was awakened to be told that he might be arrested. Babe’s response? Go back to bed, of course!

First crisis of the Manhattan Project solved 

Arthur Compton, a native Michigan resident, was a world-famous physicist working on the atomic bomb. During the summer, Compton often would visit Otsego Lake State Park, in Gaylord, with his family. While the Manhattan project—the research and development that led to the world’s first nuclear weapons—was being developed in Berkeley, California, Compton would invite friends to the family retreat in Otsego Lake, while he continued to work on the project.

In July 1943, Compton was at the general store in Otsego Lake with his family when a panicked Robert Oppenheimer called him. They had a problem. Oppenheimer, who was a collaborator, wanted to discuss an urgent matter with Compton, but in person. Since they were working on a top-secret project, the scientists were not allowed air travel. So, Oppenheimer took a train to Michigan. Compton picked him up from the train station and the two men drove to Otsego Lake State Park where they walked on the beach and talked about the problem at hand: could testing the atomic bomb set off a chain reaction that would destroy the world?

Scientists working on the bomb had discovered nuclear fusion—the principle of the hydrogen bomb. In creating the bomb, scientists were afraid that it would cause the explosion of hydrogen and nitrogen in the air, with unknown, potentially disastrous consequences. While this was a very real fear, Compton asked Oppenheimer and the other scientists to go ahead and complete the calculations. In fact, over the next three months, Compton asserted that should the chances of an atomic explosion destroying the world exceed 3 in a million, the whole project would be called off. Calculations revealed a smaller risk and so the project continued. In July 1945, the first bomb tests were conducted successfully in New Mexico and, as we know, the world did not end. 

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Cowbirds stand, watch, and lay

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche | By Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve

By chance I discovered a Horned Lark nest in a prairie. The location was not distinctive but I memorized vegetative stems nearby so I could watch from a distance. I obscured myself as best I could and waited.

I first found the nest when I almost stepped on it and the lark flew off. I was able to return to the nest area for several days to determine if the young would survive to fledge. The second day a couple inches of snow covered the area but the young were protected and kept warm by the mother. 

Many hazards such as cold, wind, precipitation, insect parasites, predators, and vertebrate parasites make nest survival difficult. Brown-headed Cowbirds are non-native vertebrate parasites in our region that moved in after forest clearing. Perhaps they thrived in southwestern Michigan where some open prairies existed. 

Male Brown-headed Cowbirds have beautiful shiny feathers covering the body that provides iridescence. In contrast the head is a rich chestnut brown and the bill is fairly thick that serves well for crushing prairie seeds and insects. The females are dull gray with a behavior unique from most birds.

They stand, watch, and lay. The cowbirds followed bison in the prairie and fed heavily on insects stirred by the large mammals. Nomadic bison moved great distances. This behavior presented a problem for birds staying in one place while the animals stirring up food kept moving. 

Cowbirds developed an adaptation to stay with moving mammals but it prevented them from incubating eggs in a stationary nest. Moving a nest is not an option. The nomadic adaptation cowbirds developed allowed them to watch other birds to determine their nests locations. 

If you tried to find a bird nest during breeding season, you have discovered your success rate is low compared to the number of nests produced. If nests were easily found there would be few birds in existence. 

When I watched for the lark to feed her young, I usually did not see her return. I observed her leaving. She would land 25 feet or more away and sneak through the dead mat of winter vegetative stems to the nest, feed her young and fly away. She was adept at not revealing the nest location on approach. 

Cowbirds staying with roaming mammals found success by laying an egg in other birds’ nests and abandoning them. The new foster parent most often will incubate and rear the new sibling. Interestingly, baby cowbirds sometimes push nest young from their nest or because cowbirds are larger other young do not get adequate food and starve. This can be disastrous for the species parasitized. 

When following a mammal herd, the cowbird stands watching birds approach their nests. After a bird leaves its nest, the cowbird quickly flies in, lays an egg and departs. Like other birds, it takes about 24 hours for the bird to produce an egg. To survive the new egg must be fertilized before the shell develops. 

During the breeding the season, a cowbird can produce more than 30 eggs that might survive to fledge. The species being parasitized will usually have a clutch of 5 or fewer eggs. Several species will have two clutches a year so they might produce 8 to 10 young. It is unusual for more than one or two young to survive to the next breeding season. If more successful, bird populations increase but when less successful they decline. 

Cowbirds moved into altered Michigan nature niche habitats after forest clearing and nesting success for native birds declined for many species. This trend continues and is a reason many people do not appreciate cowbirds. Many prairie species have adaptations that help them survive nest parasitism that forest birds have not developed. Forest bird survival often depends on large contiguous forest stands because cowbirds do not enter to the deep interior. They thrive near forest edges and in open areas.

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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What kind of squirrel is this?

Kelly Roush, of Cedar Springs, sent us this photo of an odd-looking squirrel. At first glance, it almost looks like a chipmunk. But it’s not. It’s called a thirteen-lined ground squirrel. “He was in my backyard eating the birdseed that was on the ground,” she said. “I’ve never seen one or heard of one.”

A thirteen-line ground squirrel enjoys some birdseed.

We passed the photo on to Ranger Steve Mueller and he agreed—it is a thirteen-lined ground squirrel. He said they are a grassland species, and he used to see them in the grassland at the Howard Christensen Nature Center, as well as at his home at Ody Brook. “Too much shrubby vegetation grew…I have been clearing habitat at Ody Brook and might get them again as I open it more,” he said.

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Animal photo bomb

People aren’t the only one who will stick their head into a photo where it doesn’t belong.

Jackie Gage, of the City of Cedar Springs, sent us this photo of a black squirrel with a brown tail. “As I opened my blinds to the slider this morning, there was a black squirrel with a light brown tail out there at my buffet tray so I went to get my cell phone,” she wrote. So she came back and took the picture. But later she saw something funny. “I didn’t see this visitor at all until I enlarged the picture,” she wrote. “I never saw him come or leave either! What a surprise!”

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Wild mushroom season brings culinary delights, but also food safety risks

Consumers and restaurateurs urged to only buy wild mushrooms from certified mushroom experts

Clitocybe rivulosa is an example of a deadly mushroom species sometimes misidentified as an edible species.

It’s wild mushroom season in Michigan, and foragers are out in droves gathering the tasty morsels by the bushel. Wild mushrooms, like morels and chanterelles, help define the forests of Michigan and provide potential income streams for foragers, farmers, restaurateurs and food entrepreneurs.

However, if improperly identified, mushrooms can pose serious health risks. If you are purchasing wild mushrooms, you should only purchase them from a certified mushroom identification expert, as required by Michigan’s Food Code, to assure they are safe and edible.

Michigan’s Food Code requires those who sell mushroom species picked in the wild to either be certified as an approved mushroom identification expert, or to have each mushroom individually inspected and found safe by a certified mushroom expert.

“There are many varieties of edible mushrooms that grow in Michigan, but there are also toxic, poisonous varieties, so there is some risk involved,” said Tim Slawinski, director, Food and Dairy Division at the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. “There are also many look-alike varieties for some of our favorite wild mushrooms, including morels. These look-alikes can cause serious illness or death when eaten, so it’s important to know how to properly identify mushrooms and to only buy mushrooms from someone who is a trained, certified mushroom identification expert.”

MDARD recognizes a certification and training course offered by Midwest American Mycological Information. The course was developed by MAMI; the Institute for Sustainable Living, Art and Natural Design (ISLAND) now operating under the name, CROSSHATCH; and the Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA), with support from MDARD. MDARD does not receive any money from MAMI, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public charity, for conducting the training and certification. All funds support the training program and materials. Those who successfully complete the course offered by MAMI are certified by MDARD and the certification is valid for five years. Certified mushroom identification experts should be prepared to show their certification cards as proof of certification, upon request.

“The bottom line is: please enjoy hunting for and eating your favorite wild mushrooms, but make sure you know how to properly identify them,” said Slawinski. “If you plan to sell your wild mushroom harvest, you must be a certified mushroom identification expert; and if you operate a store or restaurant and plan to purchase mushrooms for resale to your customers, they must be purchased from an approved source and individually inspected by a certified mushroom identification expert. Finally, if you’re purchasing wild mushrooms, especially online through social media platforms, always ask for proof of certification before purchasing any mushrooms.”

Foraging mushrooms on public lands (including Michigan’s state parks and game areas) for personal consumption and enjoyment is allowed and encouraged. However, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources advises that selling wild mushrooms harvested from public lands is illegal. Foraging of wild mushrooms is allowed in national forests, but a Commercial Use Permit (available at each forest’s field office) is required for any individual intending to sell the mushrooms. No mushroom picking (either commercial or for personal use) is allowed in national parks.

Check out the DNR’s Mi-Morels map at michigan.gov/mimorels to explore locations where large prescribed burns were conducted last year, and where morels may be more likely to grow. The morel Morchella exhuberen often shows up the next spring where pine trees have burned. To learn more about other mushroom search tools and tips, including recipes, read this recent bulletin, “Showcasing the DNR: Mi-HUNTing for Michigan morel mushrooms.”

Mushroom poisoning refers to harmful effects from ingestion of toxic substances present in some mushrooms, with symptoms ranging from slight gastrointestinal discomfort to death. Common symptoms associated with mushroom poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, weakness, lethargy and yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice). Mushroom poisoning is usually the result of ingestion of wild mushrooms after misidentification of a toxic mushroom as an edible species. The most common reason for this misidentification is close resemblance in terms of color and general morphology of some toxic mushroom species with edible species.

If you suspect mushroom poisoning, seek immediate medical assistance, and call the Michigan Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

For information about mushroom identification training and certification, including upcoming courses, or to view a list of certified mushroom identification experts in Michigan, please visit MAMI’s website at www.midwestmycology.org. To report potentially illegal sales of wild-foraged mushrooms, contact MDARD at 800-292-3939 or send an e-mail to mda-info@michigan.gov. You may also file a food safety complaint online through the MDARD online complaint form.

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Left Unsaid

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

We did yard work in the spring as the grass greened and our planted flowers began blooming. We anticipated the flowering crab apple blooming around Mother’s Day. Dad lamented kids cutting through the backyard in spring because it killed the grass. They cut through our yard to pick me up on the way to school. 

The grass on wet ground during spring could not withstand the trampling like it could in summer or fall. We had a dog that was on a rope during the day while we were gone. He defecated in the corner by the back of the garage and it required considerable pick up in the spring. We buried it by the fence at the back of the yard.

The neighbor living behind us was a police officer and his daughter was my age. He made a greenhouse covered with plastic sheeting to start plants early so he could plant them in his yard. His greenhouse was about three feet tall and large enough to supply the plants wanted for vegetables and beauty. 

A couple houses down the street, an elder neighbor had the most beautiful yard of flowering plants and neighborhood kids were not allowed to cut through his yard. Most yards were fairly small and provided enough space for general play but were not large enough for baseball. 

The wonderful large five-acre wetland across the street from our home was where we waded to find frogs, crayfish and many wonders. It was tiled and drained between our church and the parsonage. I was saddened with the loss. I recall John Scott cutting through the wetland and losing his shoe in the mud.

Not only was his shoe lost forever but so was the multitude of life that serenaded us with frog songs, noisy dragonfly wings, calling swallows and I am sure buzzing mosquitoes. The drained field became a haven for activity where our church installed a ball field. We flew kites and played frisbee there. Mr. Schlutz, who attended our church, did the tiling construction work, dug up a large glacial erratic rock that was placed by the church drive entrance. It was directly across the street from our house. We enjoyed the rock for climbing and viewing for the entire time we lived there. The rock still persists. He also made a hill in the field that became a sledding hill for many years before being leveled. 

Memories from childhood are good and bad. Perhaps most people enjoyed the flat grassy field with a ball field more than the wetland but I missed the piece of wild that disappeared. There were small fields between homes where we explored nature but they disappeared as new homes were added to our neighborhood. Now the neighborhood has no wild lots for children to discover life’s nature niches. 

By the time I was in upper elementary, it was necessary to walk two blocks to the city limit where fallow farm fields were wild. They quickly became residential developments. I could not understand how that could happen because they were outside the city limit in the country where I thought it had to remain farmland or wild fields. So began my education about urban sprawl that engulfs life for our ever-growing human population. 

By the time I was in high in school, I decided a two-child family was my limit in order to share creation with the abundance of life we inherited rather than crowd life off the planet. On Friday nights, I watched Walt Disney nature shows and the Flintstones on our new color TV with dad and brothers. I marveled at the wildlife depicted and decided on a career connected to helping wildlife survive with us. 

Those were pleasant evenings with dad while mom went bowling with her team after we ate a fish dinner. Dad is gone and I wish I could tell him how much I enjoyed those evenings. I recall telling him that I am sure I would have things to share with him after he was gone and it would be sad not to able to tell him. He told me not to leave things left unsaid because we never know if he might hear them. Dad, I miss the nature niche across the street and the time with you. Thank you for taking to me to national parks, boy scout camp, and wild places. 

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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