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Where do they go?

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

January thaw arrives and many birds disappear from feeders. The recent warm spell with a record high temperature of 62 F recently sent a message to the birds. It caused the remaining 4 to 6 inches of snow to melt at Ody Brook. Last to disappear was ice on packed trails.

Some species like the House Finches, Dark-eyed Junco, and the American Tree Sparrow were nowhere to be found. American Goldfinches and Northern Cardinals were seen less frequently. Downy Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and White–breasted Nuthatches maintained regular visits. For some reason, Blue Jays and Mourning Doves have been mostly absent for weeks. I saw my first Blue Jay four weeks into the new year. Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Hairy Woodpeckers made irregular feeding stops at suet.

American Crows do not visit the feeders but are seen or heard daily. Pileated Woodpeckers stay deep in mature wooded habitats. Today, a pileated pecked a dead aspen tree causing it to lose a six-foot piece of trunk that fell to the ground. The branched tree top had previously fallen. The remaining erect trunk was riddled today with long vertical drillings. Hopefully the woodpecker found more food energy than it expended searching.

New weather brought seasonal chilling with light snow. Birds normally not seen in the sanctuary provided evidence of presence. Wild turkeys used the trails planned for easy human travel and left tracks in the fresh snow. They are not stupid. They enjoy the ease of unobstructed travel. They stop to scratch in thawed ground and rummage through the blanket of leaves laid last fall where they searched for acorns and other food morsels.

Like turkeys finding food scattered about, birds missing from feeders are out gathering food in locations unknown to me. With the exposure of plants uncovered by the thaw, animals are searching and finding adequate food in the neighborhood landscape. The neighborhood includes natural habitats in the sanctuary of field, upland forest, and floodplain forest with a small farm field included. Surrounding the area are larger farm fields, a cattle farm, and residential home lots.

The birds have choices for food exploration. Some are richer than others. I saw a Black-capped Chickadee working small branches on a tree. It was most likely seeking overwintering insects tucked into crevasses on twigs. The chickadees have searched many of the thousands of goldenrods for insect galls. Many of the galls have been pecked open and the single white grub of the Goldenrod Gall Fly eaten. 

The grub resides in the thickened round gall on goldenrod stems and emerges as an adult in spring when new goldenrod shoots are about 3 inches tall. The fly mates and lays an egg on the plant where the hatching larva burrows into the soft young plant tissue and causes irritation.  The plant grows a thick ball of tissue around the insect to protect itself. The growth known as gall is what the grub feeds on all summer.

Several species of small blue butterflies overwinter as eggs laid in flower and leaf buds of host food plants specific for their species. You might find Spring Azure eggs in terminal buds of dogwood shrubs, the Silvery Blue’s eggs in vetch and Eastern Tailed Blues in clovers. The bright yellow Clouded Sulphurs spend their winters as small young caterpillars or pupae nestled among legume host plants. Spicebush Swallowtail and Promethea Moth suspend chrysalis or cocoons on or near their Sassafras caterpillar host. Mourning Cloaks and Eastern Commas overwinter as adults in protected seclusion where they might squeeze behind loose bark. If any of these creatures are discovered by searching birds, they likely become a rich protein meal.

It makes sense for the birds to search for these energy rich meals scattered about habitats during milder weather when they are not burning as much energy as they do during near subzero weather. I do not know if they reason this and return to feeders when they need to eat more to maintain adequate energy to survive. What I do know is I help birds survive winter in their nature niches. Their return to feeders brightens and enriches my life.

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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Maintaining wilderness for future generations is essential

OUT-Mueller-Utah

By Ranger Steve Mueller, Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary

Jenny Jo, age 1, with me in 1981 exploring SE Utah. I continue to explore wilderness areas there since my first visit in 1973. This past summer (2016) Jenny Jo accompanied my wife, Karen, and I to explore this magnificent treasure. Wilderness in the region should be protected so others can take their children to explore when they are young and again 35 years later. We have made many visits with our kids during those 35 years. Maintaining pristine country for future generations is essential for reasons Aldo Leopold articulated well for recreation, science, and wildlife. Places with quiet solitude lacking modern day development is increasingly difficult to find. It is up to current generations to maintain wilderness areas for unique species that require them for survival as well as for our human generations that will follow us. I discovered a new species of moth in the area and I am sure many other new species await discovery. Since 1974 I have presented a program titled “Wilderness – Unique Treasure” about Utah. One is scheduled for May. It has been a lifelong effort to ensure future generations have this region to explore in its pristine health.

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Short-eared Owls

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Three friends and I visited eight Short-eared owls at meal time. The owls are smaller than Great Horned Owls and come south to our region in winter. There was a large grassland where they fed near Muskegon, south of M-46 near Swanson Road. A few years ago, building construction eliminated habitat and the owls.

We recently found a place where they are wintering on private land. When observing the owls, posted signs on private property stated “conservation easement.” You might wonder how to establish a conservation easement that will protect your land for your use and for future generations. On February 9, the Kent Conservation District is hosting a dinner and 45-minute program at no cost to you titled “What is the District doing for You and Kent County’s Natural Resources?”

The presentation will bring attention to the resources available to Kent County residents such as the NRCS administered Farm Bill that offers easement programs to eligible landowners to conserve working agricultural lands, wetlands, grasslands and forestlands. The Forestry Assistance Program and the Conservation Technical Assistance Initiative, Michigan’s Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program and invasive species strike team services are a few of the programs that will be covered during the presentation.

Please attend on February 9 for a 5:30 p.m. dinner with a 6 p.m. program at the Grand Rapids Township Hall, 1836 E Beltline Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525. The Kent Conservation District Showcase is free to Kent County residents. RSVP to Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/events/153931478427517/).

Back to the owls. My mother once told me that when habitat is destroyed, like occurred with building construction at the Muskegon site, the animals need to move someplace new. Unfortunately, there are not adequate places remaining for relocation. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Short-eared Owls’ population has declined by 80 percent between 1966 and 2013. Similar declines are occurring for many species as habitat is destroyed to accommodate a growing human population.

Conservation easements can help species survive by curbing habitat loss from agriculture, livestock grazing, recreation, and development that are major causes for species declines. Information from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology states the “owls require large uninterrupted tracts of open grasslands, and they appear to be particularly sensitive to habitat loss and fragmentation.” Habitat restoration programs, such as the Conservation and Wetland Reserve Programs, have shown some success in restoring suitable habitat for Short-eared Owls.

Local farmers and landowners have entered land into the Conservation and Wetland Reserve Programs that are beneficial for our natural heritage and the owner. Such programs not only aid owl survival but help reduce flooding in downstream areas. The conservation programs have significant economic benefits for the community. There is an economic cost that pays for itself in benefits by preventing flood damage losses, soil erosion fertility loss, pollution damage to streams, and it slows loss of wildlife.

The conservation programs can provide hunting easements on private land. The landowner receives financial rewards from the government and community members have access to land. It is considered a win/win for land owners, community members, and declining populations of plants and animals that can now survive. The new Federal administration does not recognize the value of an economic, social, and environmental bottom line. The focus is only on a short-term economic bottom line. Efforts are underway to eliminate many conservation programs that include social and environmental benefits that serve the triple bottom line.

Elimination of conservation programs is not good for the owls that have suffered an 80 percent decline. Elimination is not good for the public at large for flood control, or future generations. Attend the presentation to learn “What the Kent Conservation District is doing for You and Kent County’s Natural Resources?”

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 to answer questions about CWD in Mecosta County 

 

Feb. 22 town hall meeting in Morley

The Michigan departments of Natural Resources (DNR) and Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) recently announced the finding of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in a Mecosta County deer farm facility.

There are two upcoming opportunities for interested landowners, hunters and deer farmers to get the latest information and ask questions about this finding:

For deer farmers – Wednesday, Feb. 1
MDARD will hold a meeting at 7 p.m. at the Big Rapids Holiday Inn, 1005 Perry Ave., Big Rapids.

For hunters and area landowners – Wednesday, Feb. 22
The DNR will host a town hall meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Morley Stanwood High School Cafetorium, 4700 Northland Drive, Morley.

At the Feb. 22 meeting, local DNR wildlife biologist Pete Kailing, DNR deer management specialist Chad Stewart and DNR wildlife veterinarian Kelly Straka will present information on CWD, its effects on deer and deer populations, and the DNR’s CWD response to date. Following presentations, the panel will welcome questions.

“I have been getting many calls from hunters from the area, who want to understand our next steps,” said Stewart. “We scheduled our meeting a few weeks out in order to be able to share the most complete information available. When battling a disease like CWD, it is critical that local hunters and landowners are on board to help with the fight. We are thankful for the great cooperation we have received so far.”

CWD affects members of the deer family, including elk and moose. It is caused by the transmission of infectious, self-multiplying proteins (prions) contained in saliva and other body fluids of infected animals.

To date, there is no evidence the disease presents any risk to non-cervids including humans, either through contact with an infected animal or from handling venison. As a precaution, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend infected animals not be consumed as food by either humans or domestic animals.

To learn more about CWD, visit www.michigan.gov/cwd.

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State is home to thousands of miles of trails, great riding opportunities

A rider heads out on a trail, having just made a highway crossing. Michigan has more than 6,000 miles of snowmobile trails to enjoy.

A rider heads out on a trail, having just made a highway crossing. Michigan has more than 6,000 miles of snowmobile trails to enjoy.

Ask snowmobilers around the country about the best places to ride a sled, and the Great Lakes State is sure to come up in conversation.

Michigan is known by snowmobilers nationally for its unique combination of abundant and dependable snow, exciting terrain and an extensive network of nearly 6,500 miles of designated snowmobile trails.

American Snowmobiler magazine recently featured Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula on the top of its list of “25 Epic Snowmobiling Destinations.”

“The area’s location by Lake Superior guarantees plenty of lake-effect snow each winter. This natural phenomenon coupled with state-of-the-art grooming equipment makes the western U.P. a premier destination in the Midwest,” the magazine said. “As you travel over 2,000 miles of trails you can see Lake Superior ice caverns, scenic overlooks, frozen waterfalls and abandoned railroad beds that lead you over majestically high trestle bridges.”

Michigan’s snowmobile trails are among the finest anywhere.

Michigan’s snowmobile trails are among the finest anywhere.

Over the past several years, SnowGoer magazine has named the Upper Peninsula the best overall snowmobiling area, as well as the area with the most scenic snowmobiling and the best trail riding.

“If you close your eyes and imagine perfect riding, what do you see? Do you visualize trails weaving through the forest? Do you see hotels with more snowmobiles than cars in the parking lot?” said an excerpt from SnowGoer. “Well, welcome to the best all-around snowmobile spots in North America. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan, with an average snowfall of 60 to over 200 inches, offers plenty of snowmobiling amid spectacular natural beauty.”

As these national publications have recognized, Michigan’s draw for snowmobilers, besides the plentiful snow and vast trail network, is the unique opportunity for sightseeing along the way – and a great deal of those sights to see are located in Michigan’s state parks.

“A lot of snowmobilers visit places like the Lake of the Clouds in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Indian Lake State Park and Tahquamenon Falls State Park,” said Ron Yesney, U.P. trails coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “Bond Falls and Brockway Mountain are other popular sightseeing destinations as well.”

The U.P. has about 3,300 miles of state snowmobile trails, which connect communities, provide access to beautiful scenery and draw riders from near and far.

“We really have an outstanding snowmobile system in the U.P., that’s very accessible and links you to snowmobile-friendly towns,” said Rob Katona, DNR central U.P. trail specialist.

The northern Lower Peninsula also is a popular snowmobiling destination.

The new, highly anticipated Snowmobile Trail No. 37 in Wexford and Manistee counties recently opened for the 2016-17 snowmobile season. The 16.5-mile trail, which runs from Yuma to Copemish, connects the trail systems near Cadillac to trails north in Benzie, Manistee and Leelanau counties.

“This new connector trail will greatly enhance snowmobiling opportunities in the northwest Lower Peninsula, as well as increase tourism in towns such as Mesick and Copemish,” said Todd Neiss, a DNR recreation specialist who works out of the Cadillac office.

Another northern Michigan snowmobiling hotspot is the Gaylord area, which,  according to American Snowmobiler, “offers great winter fun with rolling hills, thousands of acres of unspoiled forests and reliable snowfall.

“Sledders are welcomed by local businesses and you can ride your machine right up to your door and back out onto the trail. Plus there are many trail connectors for uninterrupted travel.”

The magazine calls the trail from Gaylord to Indian River “the crown jewel of snowmobile trails in northern Michigan. The trail runs along an abandoned railroad corridor, crosses the Sturgeon River and winds through some of the most spectacular scenery in northern Michigan.”

While the focus tends to be on the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula when it comes to snowmobiling, there are plenty of opportunities to ride in southwestern Michigan as well, with about 700 miles of sled trails.

“There are a lot of trails in southwest Michigan that are close to population centers that many folks don’t even think about. Many of these trails go through DNR lands, and can be very scenic,” Neiss said. “While snow conditions are much more temperamental in southwest Michigan than in the north, if you catch it right, there is no need to drive hundreds of miles to ride.”

There are snowmobiling trails on National Forest lands too, which riders often use along with state trail routes.

“There are 1,157 miles of designated snowmobile trails on National Forest system lands. The U.S. Forest Service and Michigan DNR work together with club sponsors to ensure these trails are maintained,” said Kristen Thrall, recreation and hydropower program manager and forest accessibility coordinator for the Huron-Manistee National Forests. “We have worked together since the 1970s to develop a high-quality long-distance system that connects communities to the great outdoors.”

According to a 2012 National Visitor Use Monitoring Study, 27 percent of people recreating in the national forests identify snowmobiling as their primary activity.

There is plenty of information available on the DNR website to help plan a snowmobiling adventure, including trail maps in a variety of formats and links to trail reports from organizations like the Michigan Snowmobile Association.

Snowmobilers need to purchase a snowmobile trail permit, which is required to operate snowmobiles in Michigan and is valid for one year, from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. Riders also need to register their snowmobile, as a valid registration from the Secretary of State (or another state or province) is required to ride as well.

Those new to snowmobiling who would like to try out this fun winter experience should consider rental snowmobiles that are available.

This week (Jan. 21-29) is International Snowmobile Safety Week, a great time to brush up on how to stay safe while out on the trail.

“Safety is the most important aspect of this sport,” said Lt. Pete Wright, a DNR district law supervisor. “Safe snowmobiling means riding within your own capabilities, operating at safe and appropriate speeds for the terrain, and never drinking alcohol before or while driving. Always wear a helmet and adequate clothing, stay on the designated trails, and always snowmobile with another person, never alone.”

Other safety tips from the DNR include:

  • Always keep your machine in top mechanical condition.
  • Pick safe places to stop off the trail.
  • Be aware of changing trail conditions.
  • Use extra caution when riding on an unfamiliar trail.
  • Stay far enough behind other riders to avoid the snow kicked up by their machines. This flying snow may blind snowmobilers to hazards, including other riders.
  • Check the weather conditions before you depart.
  • When possible, avoid crossing frozen bodies of water. Never operate in a single file when crossing frozen bodies of water.
  • Always be alert to avoid fences and low-strung wires.
  • Never operate on a street or highway.
  • Always look for depressions in the snow.
  • Keep headlights and tail lights on at all times.
  • When approaching an intersection, come to a complete stop, raise off the seat and look both ways for traffic.
  • Steer clear of trail groomers if you can. Never follow a groomer, give groomers the right of way, and if you meet one head-on, give it room to maneuver.

Snowmobilers also should make sure they are familiar with all of the rules and regulations for snowmobiling in Michigan, as well as the universal snowmobile trail signage the DNR developed to help keep everyone safe on the trails.

Snowmobile safety education training and online safety courses are recommended for all snowmobile operators and are required for youth 12 to 16 years old.

In 2016, Michigan had more than 200,000 registered snowmobiles – only Minnesota and Wisconsin had more, according to a report from the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association.

The same report indicates that, in the United States, snowmobiling has an economic impact of $26 billion annually and that the average rider spends $4,000 each year on snowmobile-related recreation.

It’s clear that snowmobiling contributes significantly to Michigan’s tourism industry and the state’s economy.

“I snowmobile quite a bit and meet all kinds of wonderful people out being safe on the trails, spending money, and enjoying the U.P.,” Yesney said.

Snowmobiling is a social sport, with clubs throughout the state. The Michigan Snowmobiling Association maintains a list of clubs at www.msasnow.org/snowmobile-clubs.

Learn more about snowmobiling in Michigan at michigan.gov/snowmobiling.

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Cancer’s Nature Niche

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

We choose how we live but not how long. Choices help us survive difficult circumstances. Having purpose and serving others makes a world of difference. I struggle to survive to help human people live in balance with what I consider creation’s animal and plant people. We are charged with caring for all species of creation’s people.

I have commented on cancer aspects but not from a nature niche perspective. My desire is to die a “natural death” instead of an “accidental death” like an automobile accident. I consider my cancer a natural death.

By the time I was in high school, chasing and studying butterflies helped me understand essentials for maintaining a sustainable environment to support future human generations and a healthy society. My survival’s not essential but I hope society’s current behavior helps humans born 100 generations (2000 years) hence inherit a healthy sustainable environment.

There are many natural controls that prevent plant and animal “people” populations from becoming excessively large. Controls create balance that helps maintain a healthy environment for future generations. In the absence of natural predators, deer have become too numerous and have eliminated wildflowers, reduced insect crop pollinators, birds, and other species of value for society.

Cancer is one limiting factor that works on human, plant, and animal “people” to help balance natality (population growth rate) with mortality (death rate). We have been successful in helping humans increase beyond Earth’s long-term carrying capacity. We could be thankful for natural controls that kill us and in effect help insure future generations will inherit a healthy sustainable planet for long-term survival. Of course, we want to live so appreciation for natural causes of death is not likely.

Many cancers are human caused by careless use of natural resources that cause pollution of air, water and land. Cancer is a form of our body going haywire and attacking itself. Causes might be environmentally induced or bodies might malfunction naturally for undetermined reasons. My multiple myeloma cause is unknown.

Some people grow old “old” and others grow old “young.” A friend grew old in old age, gradually lost sight, weakened and died at 101. My body was found to be eating itself with cancer when I was 47. I grew old young. Average survival for this cancer is 7 to 8 years with new treatments. I am in year 19. I like to attribute my extended survival to new treatments and to having a purpose for living.

Meanwhile, many people do not take simple steps to reduce natality to maintain a smaller sustainable human population. My children and I have waited until we were in our thirties to have children. That effectively reduces our families to three per century instead of five and reduces the living population by 40 percent. Reducing family size to two children is effective without depending on cancer and other unfavorable controls.

My purposeful living efforts enhance biodiversity at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, assist in small ways with local, state, national Lepidoptera organizations, Audubon Society, Wild Ones, land conservancies, nature center naturalists, and Creation Care efforts. Those activities provide cancer control. I continue to advocate the importance of biosphere ecology for balancing natality and mortality through self-control instead of disease.

Cancer is a body’s self-destructive activity that consumes one’s life. For some it is quick and for others prolonged. My treatment kills by causing lung, heart, liver, or other organ damage. The gamble has two choices: 1) let cancer growth kill or 2) use treatments that will potentially kill while it slows cancer growth. The chemo seems almost as bad as the cancer but family tells me otherwise. It’s a “Catch 22.”

Balancing natality with mortality will help grandchildren 100 generations hence maintain a sustainable environmental quality. Cancer has a positive value even if we do not like it.

Personally, I struggle with the choice to let cancer grow or use treatments to survive so I can help change current behavior to support future generations. My choice has been to have three generations per century instead of five for our family. Hopefully others will choose to strive for Creation Care. If my message is ineffective, it might be time for me to depart.

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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Elk hunting season recap – 2016

David Bowman of North Branch harvested a dream bull elk during Michigan’s December elk hunt. Photo courtesy Toby Parker.

David Bowman of North Branch harvested a dream bull elk during Michigan’s December elk hunt. Photo courtesy Toby Parker.

Michigan’s latest elk hunting season, considered the late or December hunt, is complete, and preliminary hunting results are in. A total of 100 state licenses were available—30 any-elk and 70 antlerless-only licenses.

“Fortunately, because of the nature of our elk season, we are really able to work closely with hunters,” said Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Shelby Hiestand. “The December hunt had a 92-percent success rate for our state hunters, which is great.”

During the nine-day hunt period, running Dec. 10-18, 54 cows, 29 bulls and nine calves were harvested. Weather was favorable, with some snowfall just before the season making it easier to track and see animals within the elk hunt unit. The December season allows hunters to take an elk within any elk management hunting unit, maximizing the 10-county hunting unit at the “tip of the mitt” of northern Michigan.

The earlier elk hunt period, which ran from late August to early October for 12 days, also had great hunter success, with 85 percent of state hunters able to harvest an elk.

“Regulated hunting is the most effective tool in managing wildlife numbers,” said Hiestand. “We are able to efficiently and quickly get results in a very hands-on and specific approach.”

Hunters are able to work with DNR staff members to find animals and landowners in areas where there is a desire to have fewer elk.

“Elk are large animals that travel in herds, which means they can change an area quickly, with the amount of vegetation they can eat,” Hiestand said. “Our wildlife management goals are always to balance the numbers of animals with the habitat that’s available.”

Elk population estimates are derived from aerial elk surveys, which in recent survey years showed population estimates exceeding the stated elk management plan goals of 500 to 900 elk. As a result, the 2016 elk license quotas were increased from the prior hunting season and the elk survey frequency will be increased. Aerial elk flights will begin this week if weather allows for good flight and visibility.

“Michigan’s current elk population is a historical feat in wildlife management,” said Hiestand. “The elk hunt is just one more way many people’s lives are touched by elk, which is pretty special.”

To learn more about elk, and for locations with the best chances for viewing elk in northern Michigan in the summer or fall, visit mi.gov/elk.

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Chasing Birds

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Grand Rapids Audubon Club 2016 Christmas Bird Count, Kent County Center at 2 Mile & Honey Creek Roads 

Fifty-nine species of birds were seen (Table 1) by forty-three traveling observers and 1 bird feeder watcher on 31 Dec 2016. A Rough-legged Hawk, Great Horned Owls, and Barred Owl were additional species recorded during count week. Count week is the three days before and after count day. Count week species are reported separately from count day species totals and numbers are not reported.

Total individuals sighted was 9342 and was almost 2000 less than last year’s but was similar with two years ago. Travel conditions and weather were good for field exploration. Mostly frozen still water helped concentrate waterfowl but flowing water was mostly open.

Weather conditions were 100% cloudy. Temperatures were between 33 and 39 F. Winds 0-15 mph with gusts to 30 from the west. Snow cover was 1-4 inches.

We totaled 76.75 hours in vehicles traveling 673 miles. 19.5 hours was spent on foot covering 17.25 miles and 5.5 hours at feeders. A combined total of 690.25 miles were on foot and driving. Groups totaled 199.75 hours of daytime birding. There were 15 birding parties in the morning and 10 in the afternoon with one feeder watcher recording. To count birds at feeders one counts the most seen for each species at any one time during observation time.

Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center (WWC) co-hosted and we appreciate use of the facility. We encourage everyone to visit and enjoy the WWC grounds and to support their community programs.

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 lure of ice fishing strikes many anglers 

A couple of anglers enjoy their day ice fishing. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

A couple of anglers enjoy their day ice fishing. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Michigan is a place where anglers can take up their rod and fish year-round with the expectation of having fantastic experiences. Winter is no exception, with thousands of lakes open to ice fishing.

Although not everyone’s first pick for recreational activity, ice fishing attracts thousands of Michigan men and women—according to some estimates, roughly a fourth of all Michigan anglers say they fish through the ice—who brave winter weather to keep on fishing.

Many say they actually prefer fishing through the ice to the open-water sport.

“Ice fishing is a terrific way for the entire family to enjoy Michigan’s world-class fisheries during the winter season,” said Darren Kramer, northern Lake Michigan unit manager for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

An angler pulls a fish out of a hole. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

An angler pulls a fish out of a hole. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Ice fishing can be as simple—or as complex—as an angler chooses to make it.

But for beginners, there’s not a lot to getting started. Anglers need just three things: something to make a hole in the ice with, something to clear that hole and keep it open, and something to fish with.

There are two basic tools for opening holes in the ice, spuds or augers. Spuds are long-handled tools with chisel-like heads used to gouge holes through the ice. A spud is all that’s needed when the ice is relatively thin.

As the ice thickens, however, an auger—a corkscrew-like device with cutting blades on the end—allows anglers to drill a hole. As the ice gets extremely thick, power augers driven by batteries or small gasoline engines are extremely helpful.

Once a hole is opened, it must be cleared. A skimmer or slush scoop—which resembles a ladle with holes in the cup—can remove slush and ice from the water surface in the open hole. Plastic skimmer or scoop models are inexpensive and available wherever fishing tackle is sold.

The vast majority of anglers fish the same way they do during open-water season—with a rod or pole. It can be as simple as a thin dowel with a line attached to the end or it can be a high-dollar rod made of modern materials with an equally expensive reel. There are countless options in between.

Many anglers begin with simple fiberglass rods with small spring-tension spools to hold line, and they never see the need to upgrade.

“I think that one of the real attractions to ice fishing is that an angler doesn’t need to buy a lot of expensive gear to get started and try it,” Kramer said.

Anglers can fish through the ice for every species that swims in Michigan, though they may not be able to keep everything they catch. (Largemouth and smallmouth bass, for instance, must be immediately released from Jan. 1 to the Friday before Memorial Day.)

And although you can catch all species on the simplest gear, all sorts of tackle exists for anglers who specialize in particular species.

The most popular fish targeted by ice fishermen are the same as those sought by most open-water anglers: panfish. Bluegills, sunfish, yellow perch and crappie are all highly sought as they are relatively easy to catch and make fine table fare.

“Panfish are terrific for introducing kids, family and friends to ice fishing for the first time,” Kramer said.

Small weighted hooks, such as tear drops or jigs, tipped with insect larva are the most popular baits, though some prefer minnows, especially for perch or crappie. But some eschew bait completely, although they use weighted flies or artificial lures, such as tiny spoons or plastic-tipped jigs.

Walleye are among the more glamorous quarry of anglers. Plenty of others prefer to fish for the various species of trout. Still others prefer pike or muskellunge, which brings us to other forms of fishing beyond rods and reels.

Tip-ups are devices that are set on the ice above the hole and are used to suspend bait in the water column below. Tip-ups feature spring-loaded flags that “tip up” when the bait is taken, alerting the angler to the strike.

Tip-ups are most commonly associated with pike fishing, though they can be used for any number of species – walleye, trout, even perch.

“Fishing with tip-ups is a great way to move around while ice fishing, especially on cold blustery days,” said Cory Kovacs, DNR acting Lake Superior unit manager. “The excitement of running for the flag is what really ‘warms’ the anglers.”

Because anglers are allowed to fish three lines, many set tip-ups while actively fishing with rods. Others—particularly  those who target pike, muskie or sturgeon—prefer spearing.

Simply put, they cut a large hole in the ice, usually with an ice saw or chainsaw, and sit beside it, waiting for a fish to swim into range.

Most spearing takes place inside shelters, as it’s easier to see into the water when the light is blocked. This has given rise to the term “dark-house” spearing, and many spear fishermen build comfortable shacks (commonly called shanties) to fish from.

Most anglers use portable shacks they can drag out with them and remove from the ice when they leave for shore.

Anglers who spear typically use decoys—either live or artificial—to lure fish into range. There are many restrictions to spear fishing, so be sure to consult the Michigan Fishing Guide for information.

Although many rod-and-reel anglers are content to sit on a bucket (which doubles as a gear carrier) on the ice while they fish, it can be miserable—even unbearable – during the depths of winter.

Portable shanties not only block the wind and elements, they allow anglers to use small heaters, making the experience less physically taxing.

Either way, it’s important to dress for the weather, even if you’re fishing from a well-appointed, insulated shanty. It can be awfully cold getting there.

Moisture-wicking underwear helps keep anglers dry. You can work up a real sweat trudging across the ice, especially if you’re dragging a shanty or carrying heavy equipment, and wool clothing continues to provide warmth even when wet. Modern, insulated outerwear made for ice anglers is sure to keep you warm.

Waterproof boots are de rigueur, and moisture-wicking socks, under wool socks, are helpful too. A thermos of a hot beverage—alcohol is not recommended—will help keep anglers warm on the ice.

Those interested in ice fishing, but who are wary of the learning curve, might find it helpful to attend one of the Hard Water Schools offered this winter by the DNR at the Carl T. Johnson Hunt and Fish Center at Mitchell State Park in Cadillac.

Programs are scheduled for Jan. 28 and Feb. 25. These sessions, led by seasoned anglers and DNR staffers will teach you everything you need to know to get started ice fishing, and include an afternoon on the ice with hands-on instruction.

To register for the Hard Water Schools, visit www.michigan.gov/outdoorskills.

Another opportunity to try ice fishing is during the DNR’s Free Fishing Weekend Feb. 18-19. During this weekend, anglers may fish without having to purchase a fishing license. However, all fishing regulations on daily bag limits and other provisions still apply.

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Growing Cardboard

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

As a child, I observed toilet paper rolls were not wrapped around a cardboard tube. By the time we removed the paper, a cardboard tube had grown on the inside of the roll. I remember my mother telling me a rock on a street corner near her house grew larger as she was growing up.

Our observations were faulty. Both my mom and I thought we made good observations. I looked inside the paper roll and did not see the cardboard. I was not perceptive enough. Mom did not make measurements on the rock to verify growth.

I recall taking local middle school students to Costa Rica to learn about Tropical Rain Forest. We visited schools to plant trees with students. We shared that forests are a renewable resource that were being cut faster than they could regenerate. Some rainforest soils get baked to laterite rock when cleared of trees.

Sustainable practices that support future generations of people living in the rainforest and here need to manage rainforest differently if we desire to have toilet paper or other forest products in the future. Some apply temperate forest management practices there and are unwilling to change because they desire to think it will work anywhere. As adults, we are not making accurate observations based on sound scientific investigations.

Naturally, tree harvest industries are most interested in cutting trees and shipping them. They keep moving and clearing rainforest without adequate concern regarding the impact on the local community or future generations. For some, the goal is only short-term profit for the company. Many people feel that is in their best personal interest and it is particularly true if they invest money in mutual funds that include that forestry company.

Others seek socially screened industry investments that work to provide healthy economic, social, and environmental practices for both present and future generations. It is known as the triple bottom line.

A recent national survey prioritized 12 US citizen concerns. Environment was number 11 of 12. The only one of less concern was immigration. Political policies are based on constituent desires. It is good when people develop good observation skills and behave to support the triple bottom line for the present and future.

When I was director at the Howard Christensen Nature Center, it was operated by the Kent Intermediate School District serving Kent County public and private schools. One purpose was to provide hands on learning to help students develop careful observation skills and to learn how scientists constantly review the work of other scientists to find flaws and correct them. When studies involve things like how nature niches work in forests, we can improve best practice management. Science has self-correcting peer review.

Field trip learning helps children develop accurate observations in fun natural locations. They learn to draw better conclusions than I did regarding toilet paper growing cardboard while on the paper holder.

The Kent ISD superintendent, in 2005, told me they were closing the Howard Christensen Nature Center because environmental education was no longer a priority in America. He stated he was not saying it lacked importance but only it was no longer a priority in America. In the presidential election prior to 2005, Al Gore, with a sustainable environment policy, won the popular vote but lost the electoral. The recent election went the same way with the sustainable environment policy candidate winning the popular vote but losing the election. Environment was only one of twelve American priorities but indicated a sustainable environment for future generations is low on our priority list. The role of environment for sustaining a stable economy is important.

Encourage your children’s teachers to go to HCNC. It is now operated as an independent nature center. Purchase a 2017 family membership. Rent snowshoes there and have fun outdoors. Emotionally connect with the environment that supports us and our future. It will help raise a sustainable environment priority.

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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