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Archive | Outdoors

365 days of new

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

New sightings, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch are waiting for you to experience. Do not miss the opportunity to explore nature niches everyday. Spend a few minutes outside reaping at least one newness each day. Do not make a resolution that you will not keep. Instead, find something new for this year and savor it as the special.

The White Pine tree is the only pine with five needles held together by a tan follicle at the base. Photo from www.bates.edu.

The White Pine tree is the only pine with five needles held together by a tan follicle at the base. Photo from www.bates.edu.

It might be most rewarding to discover something you have not noticed previously but relish things you have known and find new joy in experiencing them this year. You might know Black-capped Chickadees but enjoy them anew this year. Look closely at a tree branch in your yard to notice buds. Can you count the small bud scales that cover the bud during these cold winter months? Some trees like the Bitternut Hickory do not have protective scales over the embryonic leaf and stem tissues. Two small leaves tightly crumple as protective covers over the inner tissues. Willows have a single scale over next spring’s new growth. Oaks have several sturdy scales covering the nearly microscopic leaves and stems within.

Make it simple and enjoy things you want to explore. Continue to make new discoveries for 365 days. The year has already progressed a few days. There will be days without observations so catch up by making more discoveries on other days. Keep a list of new experiences daily. You can keep track what you have seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or felt. It is good to list date, location, time, and observation. Look over your list once in a while to refresh your memory and relive the experience. This can be the beginning of nature journaling.

Walk with a friend on the White Pine trail. Avoid being so engrossed in conversation that you miss the natural world. Stop along the trail and use your senses. Share a discovery with your friend. It might be as simple as pointing out the sound of an American Crow. You might take notice of how many pine needles are held together in a cluster. White Pines have 5 needles held together by a tan follicle at the base. Each needle is shaped like a cut piece of pie. Two sides are straight and meet at the inner point. The outer edge is curved like that of a pie. Run your fingers from the base to tip and notice they all fit together like a freshly cut pie. I contend this is a pine tree’s version of the compound leaf.

I have never heard of needle clusters being referred to as compound leaves but each cluster is one needle-like leaf divided into five parts. When spread apart they make it possible to capture more sunlight for photosynthesis. Red Pines, Jack Pines, and Scotch Pines have two needles in a cluster that fit together like two half moons. Spruce and firs have one needle attached directly to the branch.

Feel tree trunks to notice different bark textures. Do some feel smooth or rough, furrowed up and down or crosswise? Do trees have different bark colors?

When looking at birds in flight, are wings long and narrow, short and wide, light or dark? Are tails longer or shorter than wings?

Be cautious with tasting but bite into a cherry twig and describe the taste. Try tasting a Sassafras twig. Find a White Oak acorn and taste it. Do the same with a Red Oak acorn. It is good to have a bottle of water with you just in case you do not like a taste and want to rinse your mouth. You might discover why deer have preferences for what they eat. Smell each item to discover new pleasant or unpleasant smells.

Rather than isolate yourself from nature when outside with music coming through ear plugs or by being totally engrossed in conservation, put the ear plugs away for a few minutes or cease talking for a few hundred feet. Stop at a random location for a short time to experience the surroundings. Introduce a friend to a nature’s wonderful world. Turn New Year outdoor experiences into meaningful conversations full of newness.

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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Cold weather a hot time for minnow harvesters

 

Cut netting: A seine pulled tight to shore that contains minnows for sorting and harvesting. The net had been positioned in a cut off Saginaw Bay.

Cut netting: A seine pulled tight to shore that contains minnows for sorting and harvesting. The net had been positioned in a cut off Saginaw Bay.

From the Michigan DNR

Falling water temperatures can mean a lot of things to those who enjoy the outdoors.

Cold water increases interest in steelhead fishing, for instance, and decreases the focus on bass fishing. However, to Jeff Slancik of Bay County, cold water means just one thing: It’s time to catch minnows.

Slancik, 49, of Pinconning is a bait dealer whose business heats up when the weather cools down.

In cold weather, the baitfish head inshore from the Great Lakes and that’s when Slancik can catch them in large volume and keep them alive in ponds for the winter.“You have to wait until the water temperature comes down,” Slancik said. “I’d say in a typical year we start around Nov. 1 and you’re lucky to see past Dec. 1. We lost the first week of November this year because it was too warm. Once that water gets down to 40 degrees, you can catch minnows. The colder it is, the longer we can keep the minnows.”

Slancik has operated Jeff’s Bait Co. in Pinconning for 25 years. He’s one of a number of Michigan commercial bait wholesalers who catch minnows and sell them to distributors, who then get them to the bait shops anglers depend upon.

Picking: A worker inspects the contents of a dip net, picking out nontarget minnow species as the crew works a cut off Lake Huron in Michigan’s thumb area.

Picking: A worker inspects the contents of a dip net, picking out nontarget minnow species as the crew works a cut off Lake Huron in Michigan’s thumb area.

Minnow harvesters are licensed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Tom Goniea, the DNR fisheries biologist who oversees the program from Lansing, said there are about 80 licensed minnow catchers in Michigan, but only a handful of large operators like Slancik.

“Most of the catchers’ licenses belong to guys who own retail shops and may catch minnows every now and then to sell to their customers,” Goniea said. “Ninety percent of the state’s bait harvest is coming out of Saginaw Bay, the St. Clair River, the Detroit River and Lake Erie. It’s mostly emerald and spottail shiners. Your fatheads, golden shiners and suckers are largely imported.”

Minnows: A perch is removed from a dip net full of minnows taken from a cut off Saginaw Bay.

Minnows: A perch is removed from a dip net full of minnows taken from a cut off Saginaw Bay.

Minnow harvesters are restricted to the types and size of gear they can use.

“On the Great Lakes, they can use a 125-foot seine,” Goniea said. “Inland waters have different regulations that vary by water type. In Michigan, most waters are open to minnow harvest unless they are specifically closed.”

For Slancik, a recent day began on a cut (a nonflowing man-made channel connected to a larger body of water which aids in getting boats access to open water) along Saginaw Bay not far from home.

Two of Slancik’s employees manned the ends of a seine stretched across the cut, one on the bank, the other in a float tube along the edge of the deeper side of the cut.

Slowly, they pulled the seine toward the inside end of the cut, where Slancik directed them.

When they reached a point a couple yards off the back end of the cut, Slancik sprang into action, bringing dip nets and a larger floating pen net with him.

The trio began scooping up minnows, weeding through them to toss out the non-minnow captives, mostly perch, and transferring the minnows into the net pen.

The fish were then filtered through a grader— a floating device with a slotted bottom that allowed the smaller fish to slip through to the pen, but contained the larger fish.

From there, they again dipped the minnows up with hand nets and sorted, tossing out perch or other non-target species, transferring the minnows into 5-gallon buckets.

Slancik took a bucket to his truck, which is equipped with numerous, oxygenated tanks. There, he sorted one more time, removing any non-minnow fish before he transferred the minnows to the truck tank.

Slancik said sorting takes a lot of time. Had they found many more perch or other unwanted specimens in the seine, he said he would have dumped the whole load back into the cut and gone elsewhere.

Slancik has been catching minnows his whole life. He started working for his great-uncle Frank, of Frank’s Great Outdoors in Linwood fame, who Slancik called “the Fred Bear of minnow-catching.”

Slancik works a territory from Pinconning north and east along the thumb of the state to Port Austin in Huron County. More than half the minnows he takes are used in the local Saginaw Bay area. In a cold winter, with good ice, 75 percent of his minnows are sold locally.

“From November first to December, it’s go, go, go, sometimes 24 hours a day for five days straight,” Slancik said. “On a good day, we’ll get 300 gallons of minnows, about 700 per gallon.” Minnows are sold by the gallon commercially in Michigan. In some others states, they’re sold by the pound.

Like most fishing pursuits, Slancik’s minnow catching luck runs hot and cold.

“I’ve had catches of 1,000 gallons, no problem. One time we caught 10,000 gallons and I only needed 1,000 gallons. I let the other 9,000 gallons go,” Slancik said. “But I’ve had times when I’ve worked all day and only caught 20 gallons.”

Slancik said he puts between 7 million and 10 million minnows in ponds, which he keeps aerated, for the winter season.

“I can keep up to 2,000 gallons in a pond, but I want to back off a little this year because we might have a warmer winter,” he said. “Bigger minnows survive better in the ponds. The smaller minnows don’t have the strength to be caught in warmer temperatures and held until spring.”

State law prohibits minnows caught in Michigan to be exported out of state.

“Any minnow that is harvested in Michigan is meant to meet the local demand of Michigan anglers, without disturbing the food chain for our predator fishes such as trout, walleye and smallmouth bass,” Goniea said.

Goniea said minnow harvesters are not doing any damage to the fisheries resource.

“In almost all cases, human harvest has little to no effect on available resources,” he said. “On a place like Saginaw Bay, a million emerald shiners is a minute part of the population. Walleyes, bass and the other predator fish control the bait population. Human harvest is a drop in the bucket, and minnows are capable of explosive growth and reproduction.”

This fall, Slancik has mostly caught emerald shiners, the minnows anglers call “blues.” Spottail shiners, known as “grays,” were down a little.

“Spottails tend to run larger than emeralds. Lake trout fishermen like spottails, just because of their size. But big emeralds will work just as well,” Slancik said. “We noticed that last year because nobody caught spottails. But people get it stuck in their heads that they want spottails. These days, there are more emeralds than spottails. It used to be the other way around.”

Slancik said there are more baitfish in Lake Huron now than ever.

“Lake Huron is like a big fish tank — you can only put so many fish in an aquarium,” Slancik said. “When one is up, the other is down, but spottails are slowly coming back.”

Slancik said he’s seeing more gizzard shad and alewives lately, too.

The DNR monitors the minnow harvest to make sure invasive species and those that can carry diseases — such as viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) — aren’t spread.

In the summer months, when minnows can’t be kept in ponds, a lot of minnows are imported.

But in winter, if you’re seeking a Pure Michigan experience—say walleye fishing through the ice–you’re likely using minnows caught right here in Michigan, by commercial bait harvesters like Slancik.

For more information on Michigan minnows, visit the DNR’s webpage at www.michigan.gov/fishing.

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Not a creature was stirring

 

OUT-Nature-niche-Ranger-Steve-Head-ShotBy Ranger Steve Mueller

 

As we wind down the year, creatures stirring in our home are less obvious. Mice seem more abundant in fall. A mouse was caught in a trap yesterday and a short-tailed shrew was caught in another. I am dismayed to kill a shrew because they are nature’s living mouse trap. A drug carried in their saliva causes mice to become uncoordinated when bitten. It becomes easier for the shrew to kill the mouse. Shrews eat more than their weight daily. A mouse is a good day’s meal. I take comfort in the idea that shrews control our mice population (I hope).

Some would think nature niches stop at our door step but that is not the case. Wildlife inhabit our homes whether we want them or not. Humans are not separated from nature at any time. Air infiltrates our homes. Warmth arrives from furnaces to maintain our tropical environment. House plants filter air, remove chemicals and purify living space. Be thankful for air leaks and house plants.

We have become better at sealing air leaks, but home air quality studies show air in modern homes are not as healthy as in poorly insulated homes. We insulate well and have many house plants to purify air. I encourage each of us to have many house plants. It is most important in winter. Bring nature into the house.

Other creatures live in our homes. During the summer we notice more insects. Flies become a nuisance. Screens work well but an open door allows them to sneak in unnoticed. They lay eggs on hidden dead mice and within a few days reduce the mouse to fly flesh.

A naturalist friend is a spider specialist and tells me we are never more than three feet from a spider in the house. Spiders eliminate many insects. Cherish spiders in the house. Most are actually smaller than a mosquito but we notice the larger ones. Many do not build webs but hunt their prey. The lack of web building helps them stay hidden while they secretly do important work. Save money by letting spiders do pest control for free instead of hiring a company to treat your home with chemicals.

That is not always acceptable. When we bought our house, we had a termite problem and needed to hire a company to save the house from serious damage. Back then dangerous chemicals were used and I wonder if that could be a source of my cancer. Doctors have no common links among people with multiple myeloma. The cancer cause remains a mystery.

Termite life history studies have revealed ways to get them to carry hormone material to the termite nest that interferes with reproduction without putting dangerous chemicals in the home and it only affects termites. The absence of termites opened living space for carpenter ants that threatened the structural integrity of the home. We needed to call a pest management company. Chemicals were used around the perimeter of the house. I do not want that, but find it necessary. I inquired and requested use of the safest chemicals.

Many insects live with us and we get along fine. Very few cause health, safety, or damage to people or the homes. Some can be a nuisance. The European “ladybugs” have become abundant and enter home siding to hibernate by the thousands. Many get into houses. Too many around is disturbing and unlike native ladybugs, they will bite. Some Leaf-footed bugs enter the house. I just pick them up and release them outside. Earwigs scurry in damp areas. They do not enter ears. Crickets are often only noticed when they serenade during dark hours when we choose to sleep.

Many species of flies enter the house. I recently removed the kitchen ceiling light cover to empty dead fly bodies that accumulated during warmer weather. Species of small micro moths are present. In the bathroom, I saw small moths in the bathtub. A closer look demonstrated only two wings and proved them to be a fly named moth fly. It feeds on sludge in the drain for free—less drain cleaner needed. The list of creatures that share our homes is long. We mostly get along well with household creatures except for a few that will eat our home from under and around us. Find a balance with minimal creature control.

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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Pieces and parts

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Learn to see and help wildlife at the same time. First, place a bird feeder 5 to 15 feet from a window where you can observe birds. Second, discover distinguishing characteristics for identifying different species and even sexes of birds. Use systematic practice with different pieces and parts of birds on different days.

Start with heads and stick with just that part. Common birds that frequent feeders are Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, Tufted Titmice, Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, House Finches, and American Goldfinches.

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

On the head, look for a crest. Jays, cardinals, and titmice will have a crest. Notice they can stand it up or lay it flat. Look for head patterns. The White-breasted Nuthatch has a black-cap with white cheek and throat. The chickadee also has a black cap and white cheek but its throat is black.

The Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers have nearly identical head appearances. Both have black and white stripes running from the front of the head toward the back. The Hairy has a larger head and the entire body is larger but I frequently encounter people misidentifying them based on size. A helpful head feature to note is that the Hairy has a beak that is as long as the head or longer. The Downy’s is shorter than the length of the head. Male and female Hairy and Downy’s can be separated because the males have a red spot on the back of the head and females do not have red on the head.

Hairy woodpecker

Hairy woodpecker

On another day, look at bird wings. Are they a solid color? Chickadees have gray wings with white along the edge of each feather. Titmice have solid gray wings. The Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers have black wings that are heavily spotted with white. Goldfinches have two light wing bars running crosswise across the wings. House finches also have wing bars but they are more faint.

Third day check out tails. Are the tops and bottoms different? How about the edges? The gray tail on the chickadee has a white frame around the edge. Are tails of different lengths? The chickadee has a long narrow tail. The nuthatch as a shorter wide tail. Woodpecker tail feathers have obvious pointed projections at the end that are used in their nature niche to brace themselves on a tree when using their sharp bill for pecking trees. Hairy’s have white undertails. Downy’s have black dashes across the white underside.

Many unique features help separate bird species. It becomes easier when we notice pieces and parts. At the feeder, we get frequent, repeated, and even long looks at what is called bird topography. Purchase a field guide and study the bird topography page.

When you try to identify a species, the guide may suggest looking at the crown, cheek, lores, supraloral stripe, nape, or some other feature that may be foreign to you. By practicing on birds at the feeder and comparing features listed on the topography page with birds in view, it will be easier to recognize pieces and parts when you begin looking at birds in the bush.

We notice the over all general appearance of different birds and most recognize that large blue birds with a crest are Blue Jays, bright red birds with a crest are Northern Cardinals, and smaller gray birds with a crest and white belly are Tufted Titmice. Sometimes it is not easy to separate birds with similar appearances. That is evident when we look at the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.

Take time to enjoy the details. We barely began the discussion of appearance. Continue by comparing bill sizes and shapes or bird bellies. Discovering bird pieces and parts is fascinating.

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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Winter fishing in Michigan

*OUT-Winter fishing youth ice fishing 2014_original

From the DNR

Just because cold weather has arrived in Michigan doesn’t mean you have to put your fishing activities on hold. Many anglers look forward to the opportunities ice fishing pro vides them during this time of year, with some claiming it is the best time to go fishing!

What’s great about winter is that anglers can get just about anywhere on a lake during the ice fishing season and virtually every fish that’s available in the summer can also be caught through the ice. In fact, some are even caught more frequently in the winter.

New to ice fishing? Don’t be intimated by the idea of heading out! Learn about the kind of equipment you need and the safety precautions you should take in our Ice Fishing, the Coolest Sport Around article, found at Michigan.gov/dnr.

Do you already go ice fishing? Consider taking on a new challenge by targeting a different species. Popular winter species include bluegill, crappie, smelt, walleye and yellow perch (among others). Anglers use a variety of ice fishing techniques to target these species, including hook-and-line, tip-ups and spearing.

Learn about these fishes and the techniques needed to catch them in the winter by checking out the “Michigan Fish and How to Catch Them” section of the DNR’s website.

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Day with the birds

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

This is year 29 for my coordinating a day with the birds, where we regularly see about 60 species. This year’s event is on January 2, 2016. It actually marks 50 years since I began participating in what is known as the Christmas Bird Count. Please join us.

Frank Chapman started the event in 1900 when he encouraged people to change the focus of a Christmas day birding event where people went out to shoot as many birds at possible to see who could the kill the most in one day. It was an exciting day for hunters to show their skills at finding birds and gathering the largest number.

Frank thought it was excessive kill and caused harm to bird populations. His effort to change human attitudes toward our use of wildlife in a less consumptive manner caught on and has become the longest running citizen science monitoring program.

People throughout North America, others in South America and across the oceans have Christmas Bird Counts on a day selected during a two-week period. Grand Rapids Audubon Club has been holding its count yearly since WW II.

Gather to enjoy seeing a large variety of birds during winter. Some species from the Arctic or Subarctic come this far south in search of food. It is often the only time we get to see them unless we take a long summer trip toward the North Pole into the area of Santa’s secret workshop.

Some unexpected oddball species are found. A few years ago we found a western Rufous Hummingbird in Lowell. Whether it survived the winter is unknown. A hummingbird bander banded the bird in hopes it might be recaptured.

Many species seen are expected but not usually encountered because we do not visit their nature niches. In our yards, we can expect to see about a dozen species daily if we feed birds. For 40 years I have kept feeders full for the birds even though I could not usually see them. I left for work before sun up and arrived home after dark. My purpose has been to help birds more than me. On weekends, I had the great pleasure of seeing them.

Please join us (details at end of column). We divide into small groups and carpool to different areas of a 7.5 radius count circle. The area is consistent so we can compare differences in bird populations over the course of decades. Some species that do well with a growing human population and development has increased, others have decreased and some have remained stable.

Some people and families participate for the whole day while others choose to end at noon. There is no participation fee but donations are accepted. This is a wonderful introduction to bird watching and to Grand Rapids Audubon. The club offers many field trips throughout the year. From September through May we also have excellent indoor programs on the last Monday of the month at 7:30 p.m.

Event: Christmas Bird Count

When: Jan. 2, 2016

Time: Gather at 7:30 a.m. Birding from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Wittenbach/Wege Center, 11715 Vergennes Rd, Lowell MI, 49331.

Bring: Binoculars and bird book if you have them. A lunch is provided for $5 or brown bag.

Dress in layers so you can shed or add as needed. We drive the area but get out to walk also.

Call or e-mail with additional questions.

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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Selective hearing and response

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

A naturalist walking in an urban area mentioned a bird song. The friend said he could not hear it over city noise. The naturalist dropped a dime on the sidewalk behind his friend who immediately stopped in response. The naturalist said, “You heard that!” We have selective hearing.

Since the 1960’s, I have been engaging peoples’ awareness to the abundance of life and encouraging responsible creation care in our yards. Professionally, my focus has been as a scientist and educator.

For various reasons, society limits attention to a narrow selection of things like money verses Earth care. Some of the most important things impacting our survival are ignored including nature niche survival. Some losses are in plain view but remain obscure. I read about a snowshoe hare that scanned the countryside before venturing onto a snow-covered open hillside. When all looked clear, it ventured onward. A Snowy Owl rose from a snow-covered knoll, swooped in, and made it the last memory the hare would experience.

Though the owl was in plain view, the hare did not see it and it cost his life. It had mated and its legacy continued. Rabbits do not have the ability to foresee the negative impact of excessive population that would kill grandchildren through starvation. If they could, a pair would not voluntarily limit reproduction to only replace themselves with two offspring.

By voluntarily maintaining a stable population, they would not over browse vegetation that creates an absence of adequate food, shelter, and appropriate living space for succeeding generations.

I have shared such scenarios since the 1960’s to encourage people to voluntarily limit our human population to maintain a healthy environment supporting our economic, social, and environment triple bottom line. Waiting to have children until we are in our 30s would reduce or human population by 40  percent by having three generations per century instead of five that result from bearing children at age 20. Waiting does not limit the number of children per family but I have also encouraged a two-child family to balance death rate with birthrate. We have greatly reduced the death rate with vaccines and health care. Responsible care for future generations requires a balance between birth rate and death rate.

When I was in college, there were 3 billion people on Earth and now there are more than 7 billion. Thomas Malthus, in about 1900, predicted massive human deaths from starvation due to rapid population birth rate exceeding death rate. It did not happen in the time frame he predicted, because of innovative farming practices that increased food production, fertilizer use, genetic engineering, improved food transport and by removing natural habitats worldwide for human crop production. Instead of the human population crashing, mass extinction of other species supporting a healthy creation is occurring instead. Paul Ehlrich in the 1960’s, E.O. Wilson in the 1990’s, and many others for more than a century have been sharing the immediate call action to prevent massive die off of people but society chooses not to hear the abundance of scientific evidence. Reducing our population is essential to avoid a boom and bust for our present and future human generations. It is like hearing the bird song and dime. We select what we want to hear instead of hearing all and responding appropriately.

Would you retrieve a hundred-dollar bill on the ground but destroy native plants worth more? Plants have real economic value for water purification, atmospheric carbon removal and more that protect future generations and society.

The President of the US gathered with leaders of 180 countries in the perhaps the largest gathering of world leaders this past week to work on climate change agreements. He stated that natural communities have real economic value that are ignored because we focus only on economics instead of including social and environmental aspects of the equation. I and other scientists have been promoting this idea with scientific evidence for decades to deaf ears. One aspect of energy conservation is related to how many people are living on Earth at one time. Many people work to prevent change to carbon free energy production. Many have lawns instead of maintaining natural habitats in portions of yards. In many ways I feel my career has been a failure by falling on deaf ears.

At the Howard Christensen Nature Center, we had energy-monitoring kits we sent to schools to measure consumption to show how they could save millions of dollars with simple energy conservation actions. It fell on deaf hears until energy prices soared and they began implementing practices solely for money. It has not a priority in America to conservative energy to save money, future generations or environment.

More personally, anyone that exceeds the posted speed limit consumes excessive fossil fuel that degrades the environment and it costs more money. Arriving at a destination a few minutes sooner hurts or kills our grandchildren by causing atmospheric damage. Society’s ears are deaf and our actions are poor. In 1973, Jimmy Carter implemented a 55 mph speed limit that reduced billions of gallons of gas consumption and saved billions of dollars. If we continued driving with an economic, social, and environmental behavior at 55 mph, we would have been reducing our personal carbon imprint for 40 years. Our desire for speed takes precedence over health of coming generations. My Christmas gift is to suggest local behavior solutions to reduce human-caused carbon imprint by encouraging voluntary family size limits and to change from carbon energy production sources. Implement creation care for economic, social, and environmental essentials that protect present and future generations. Deaf ears, with no behavior change, are dangerous.

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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Muzzleloader deer season opens 

 

The Department of Natural Resources reminds hunters that the 2015 muzzleloader deer season opened across the state on Friday, Dec. 4.

Zones 1 and 2 will remain open to muzzleloading until Dec. 13. Zone 3 is open to muzzleloader deer hunting until Dec. 20.

Hunters are reminded that archery deer season also is open statewide during this time. Archery season started Dec. 1 and runs through Jan. 1, 2016.

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 2015 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 season. 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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Exciting Discoveries

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The next time a thundershower approaches, listen for the American Robin’s rain song. Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service, Donna Dewhurst.

The next time a thundershower approaches, listen for the American Robin’s rain song. Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service, Donna Dewhurst.

Anyone spending time outdoors has most likely made exciting observations worth sharing. Some might be new discoveries or are experiences new to others. One time a man told me he had an experience I would not believe. He said he was walking in a stream and killed a trout by stepping on it. I replied, I believed him because the same thing happened to me.

I was wading in Calf Creek in Utah, when a trout tried to swim past me as I was stepping down. It was caught between foot and rock. I tried to shift my weight quickly to the other foot but it was too late. The fish began to roll downstream. I held it for several minutes in the water hoping it would recover. Sadly, it did not survive.

A new discovery occurred in the 1970’s while I was observing birds. As a thundershower approached, I noticed an American Robin began singing an altered song. Four minutes later, the sky opened with rain. I listened to other robins shortly before thundershowers and repeatedly they gave me a four-minute rain warning.

When camping with a group of fellow college students in the Manti LaSal Mountains of Utah, the sky was overcast but appeared unchanging. Suddenly, I heard the robin rain song and told others we had four minutes to get into tents. They did not believe me. I entered my tent and they were caught in the rain four minutes later. The storm came and went. Later another rain song was heard under an unchanging sky and I gave warning. Others did not enter tents and got wet. A third time when I heard the rain song, fellow campers went to their tents and it began raining four minutes later.

When a gentle rain arrives, robins have not provided warning but when it was a thundershower they did. I presume a greater barometric pressure change occurs when a thundershower approaches and stimulates their rain song. An ornithology professor told me he never noticed the four-minute warning.

Another time I was sketching a rock formation at Capitol Reef National Park, when I heard a Black-headed Grosbeak provide a song I thought might be a rain song. I looked at my watch and immediately headed for my campsite a half mile away. Seven minutes later it began to rain. Since then, I have referred to the grosbeak as the seven-minute bird.

Each of us can make original discoveries when we pay close attention to occurrences in nature niches. I have not prepared research experiments to prove robins or grosbeaks sing a unique song before the rains begin. Someone else will need to do that but I have warned others based on my discovery.

I made an unexpected discovery at Bryce Canyon National Park when I watched a parasitoid Sphecid wasp with prey. The wasp was dragging a grasshopper to a burial hole it dug. It had stung and paralyzed the grasshopper. This behavior is known. The wasp lays an egg on the grasshopper and the larva hatches to eat the prey. The wasp larval grows, pupates, emerges as an adult, and is a natural control for grasshopper populations. I did not identify the species of grasshopper or wasp.

Then something more significant occurred. While the wasp was pulling the grasshopper into the hole, a fly appeared at the entrance and began shooting eggs into the hole. The fly eggs would hatch and either feed on the grasshopper or developing wasp. I did not have collecting equipment so the discovery details and fly species will need to be investigated by someone else.

By spending time in the yard observing, you will likely make new discoveries to share with family, friends, or scientists. An exciting, unknown, natural world awaits your discovery.

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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DNR offers reward in Houghton County wolf poaching case

 

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is offering a Report All Poaching (RAP) reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual who shot a gray wolf in Houghton County Saturday, November 19.

The shooting took place along M-26, one half-mile south of Twin Lakes.

DNR conservation officers said the shooter’s vehicle would have been parked along the west shoulder of M-26, heading southwest. The shooting took place sometime between the hours of 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. EST.

“The subject shot from the vehicle and struck the wolf as it was standing on the snowmobile trail (Trail No. 3) to the west of the highway,” said Sgt. Grant Emery of the DNR’s Baraga Field Office.

OUT-Wolf-poaching

Gray wolves are a federally endangered species and are protected in Michigan. Wolves cannot legally be killed except in the defense of human life.

The maximum penalty for poaching a wolf is 90 days in jail or a fine of up to $1,000, or both, plus reimbursement of $1,500 to the state for the animal. Poaching convictions also usually include a suspension of hunting privileges for a period of four years.

Anyone with information about this case is asked to call the Marquette DNR District Office at 906-228-6561 or the Report All Poaching line at 1-800-292-7800. All information provided is confidential.

For more information about gray wolves in Michigan, visit the DNR’s webpage at: www.michigan.gov/wolves.

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