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Archive | Outdoors

Otters spotted in Bass Lake

Photo by Gina Stump

It’s not often you get to see a river otter in our neck of the woods. Gail Davis, of Spencer Township, sent us these photos taken by her neighbor, Gina Stump, of otters frolicking in Bass Lake. 

Photo by Gina Stump

“We’ve had otters on the ice for the last week,” she wrote. “The ice was melting off in front of our house and we watched four otters popping in and out of holes until all the ice melted. Yesterday another neighbor counted 5. They still had ice in front of their house. We’ve watched them here before but it’s been years.”

Gail also said she had a video of an eagle that landed on the ice next to a hole where an otter was eating a fish, but the otter dove into the water before the eagle landed.

The greatest population of otters in our state is in upper and northern Lower Michigan, with a lower density to the south.

According to animaldiversity.org, North American river otters are found anywhere there is a permanent food supply and easy access to water. They can live in freshwater and coastal marine habitats, including rivers, lakes, marshes, swamps, and estuaries. River otters can tolerate a variety of environments, including cold and warmer latitudes and high elevations. North American river otters seem to be sensitive to pollution and disappear from areas with polluted waters.

They are excellent swimmers and divers, and able to stay underwater for up to 8 minutes. They are also fast on land, and capable of running at up to 18 mph/hr. Otters normally hunt at night, but can be seen at all times of day. They normally eat aquatic organisms (fish, turtle, crabs, amphibians, etc.) and usually take slow, non-game fish, such as suckers.

Otters mate in late winter or early spring. Other than that, males and females do not associate. They can last 8 or 9 years in the wild.

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Signs of spring

Red-winged blackbird. Photo by Pamela Cooke

While the weather in March cannot seem to make up its mind, there are definitely signs of spring all around us.

Red-winged blackbird

Pamela Cooke, of Nelson Township, sent us this photo of a male red winged blackbird leaving one of her feeders. “My dad always said a red-winged blackbird is truly a sign that spring is on its way,” she said. And she’s right. According to learner.org, the red-winged blackbird, robins, earthworms, emerging leaves, and maple sap running, are all signs that spring is right around the corner. 

During February, red-wings that breed in Canada and the northern US are in the southern US, feeding on grain, putting on fat, and starting to migrate north. March is the peak male migration and when territorial behavior begins. Females arrive behind males. Thanks for the photo, Pamela!

Photo by Tia Powell


Last week we received a robin photo from Jennifer August, of Solon Township. This week we received one from Tia Powell, of Nelson Township. She said she spotted it near 18 Mile and Pine Lake. Thank you, Tia!

We know from Ranger Steve Mueller that certain robins may stay the winter. According to the Michigan State University Extension, The vast majority of robins do move south in the winter. However, some stick around—and move around—in northern locations. And not all robins that winter in Michigan will stay to nest and breed in the summer. Robins tend to move around in response to food rather than temperature. In the winter they eat fruit; when the ground starts to thaw, they eat earthworms and insects. They don’t come back because weather is warm; they come back because food is available (which often coincides with warmer weather).

Post photo by L. Allen.

Maple tree sap

Publisher Lois Allen took this photo of maple trees being tapped on 18 Mile near Tisdel last weekend. Each tap will produce about 10 gallons, enough for about a quart of pure Michigan maple syrup. 

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Modes of Animal Behavior


Ranger Steve will present an interactive program addressing audience questions about animal behavior and will share stories about experiences with animals. Displayed animal mounts will provide attendees the opportunity for close examination of animals. This popular program includes audience participation for asking questions of personal interest. The presentation will last one hour. Time will be provided before and after the presentation to explore displays and ask additional questions. 

Program: Modes of Animal Behavior

Location: Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC), 16160 Red Pine Dr., Kent City, MI 49330

Date: 24 March 2018

Time: 9 a.m.

Cost: $3 per person (HCNC members free) 

Presenter: Ranger Steve (Mueller)

You can become an HCNC member that day and waive the program fee. Many activities are provided at no additional cost throughout the year for members. 

Enter the main entrance for HCNC and park near the Welcome center. Walk the Ranger Trail to the Red Pine Interpretive Center past Tadpole Pond. Handicap parking is available next to the building by entering the service drive north of the main entrance. 

Bring family and friends for a great Saturday morning to enjoy learning about animal behavior. 

Ranger Steve was director at HCNC for 20 years before becoming director at Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center in Lowell. Prior work included being a ranger naturalist at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah; college instructor at Bemidji State University, Brainerd Community College, and Jordan College; Chief naturalist for Morningside Nature Center in Gainesville Florida; and a middle and high school teacher in Dry Ridge Kentucky, Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Manistique, Michigan. 

Currently he is the sanctuary ecologist at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary where he guides management to enhance biodiversity. He writes a nature niche column for newspapers and conservation organization newsletters. 

His varied experiences provided opportunity to learn in many ecosystems across the country with opportunities to experience close encounters with animals he studied. He has discovered a new species and range extensions for species in remote areas that lacked adequate study. 

Directions: US 131 north from Grand Rapids to Exit 104. West on M-46 (17 Mile Rd.) about 6 miles to Red Pine Drive, north on Red Pine Dr. about 3 miles to HCNC. Park by the Welcome Center and walk trail to Red Pine Interpretive Center. Consider staying after the program to enjoy some of the 7 miles of trails. 

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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Wolf under my skin

Gray wolf howling. From Wikipedia.

By Ranger Steve Mueller


I wish I garnered reader excitement from insect nature niche articles like my “Hidden Mountain Lion” article did. After the lion article was published in newspapers, I received a phone call from Missoula, Montana with praise for the article. An Ann Arbor resident e-mailed, “You encapsulated so many excellent points so eloquently, Steve. It reminded me of a sign in Alaska that I just learned of: “Welcome to the bottom of the food chain!” In this era when we humans are loathe to take responsibility for our own actions, you nailed it and even wagged a cautionary finger about blaming the animal. Thank you.”  

In that article I stated, “It was wonderful to be a part of nature instead of being apart from nature”. 

The Montana resident used a search engine for key words and found the article. It is nice to be widely read. I also received positive comment from Sarasota, Florida.

Writing about wolves and lions brings positive, negative, and conflicting emotions. I have been fortunate to encounter wolves and bears in wild country but only lion tracks and scat. Those experiences remain fresh and alive. It is impossible to share feelings such encounters create. I have seen people act foolishly around bears and realized that if a mother bear lashed out at those that did not provide the lawful space required, it would be the bear that would be punished and likely euthanized. The people walked closer than lawful to a sow with two cubs in Grand Teton National Park despite me calling a warning for them to stop. 

I witnessed similar erroneous human behavior with elk. More people are killed by elk than bears and lions combined. In the case of wolves, there has never been a case of wolves attacking humans in the United States. 

Yellowstone National Park wolves are accustomed to people at a distance. They are protected in the park from harm and approach. Killing wolves outside the park is now permitted. One radio-collared research wolf was outside the park with her pack. She and a male saw a person but being used to people they only watched him. The man wanted a wolf pelt. He shot the female that watchers and researchers have observed for 6.5 years. 

The pack did not leave but circled around the dead female and howled. The man departed and returned with a handgun, in case the wolves tried to stop him from skinning her body of its pelt. He showed the author of the book American Wolf the pelt and said he did not regret killing the wolf and would do it again. 

Massive numbers of people visited Yellowstone with hopes of seeing that wolf in the wild. She was referred to as the most famous wolf in the world. She and her pack resided where people could frequently see them. Like many others, the man who shot her does not like wolves living in the ecosystem.  

There is a time and place when it is appropriate to kill wolves. When they attack domestic animals, it is best to remove those with such behavior. Defenders of Wildlife reimburses livestock owners when wolves take unsupervised free ranging livestock in national forests or those on private property. Fortunately, wolf killing of domestic animals is not rampant. Wild elk populations continue to thrive where wolves strengthen the herd. My 2014 wolf articles explained how wolves helped restore ecosystem health in the Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Wolves returned to Michigan, Wisconsin, and have maintained a wild population in Minnesota and Canada. I have been fortunate to encounter wolves in both Michigan and Canada and watched wolves in Yellowstone. The greatest emotional response was when I was conducting butterfly research in the Upper Peninsula and a wolf appeared. It watched me momentarily and disappeared. A similar experience occurred in Canada. The UP encounter was with a wolf that did not trust human presence and was a truly wild nature niche experience.

My “Wilderness Unique Treasure” program exemplifies the nature of wolves and wilderness as an essential part of the human spirit to be protected if we hope to pass on a vestige of the wild we inherited to future generations. 

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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First female conservation officer honored during Women’s History Month

Huldah Neal led an interesting life and is shown here in her later years. As the nation’s first female game warden, Neal patrolled Grand Traverse County on foot, horseback and in a rowboat to enforce the state’s fish and game laws. She not only had an immediate impact on the rampant poaching that plagued her area, but also opened the door for future generations of women to serve as conservation officers. (Photo courtesy of the Traverse Area District Library)

Huldah Neal nominated for induction to Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame

By all accounts, Huldah Neal was no one to fool with.

That’s not to say she wasn’t liked or respected throughout Grand Traverse County, Michigan, which she called home for 70 years. In fact, her 1931 obituary mourned her loss, describing Neal as a “loved pioneer” who was “highly esteemed by a large circle of friends.”

But, Neal was the epitome of what contemporary newspapers referred to as “the new woman” of the 1890s. Civic-minded and socially engaged, Neal had little patience when problems were ignored and allowed to fester. So, while it probably raised eyebrows outside of Grand Traverse County, those who knew her likely weren’t surprised when she grew frustrated by the rampant poaching of fish and game in her area and requested an appointment as a game warden, so she could handle the problem herself.

These sketches of Huldah Neal accompanied a profile of her in the Aug. 15, 1897, edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Neal’s appointment as the country’s first female game warden made news across Michigan and the nation. Many contemporary reports expressed confidence in her abilities to perform the dangerous work of a game warden, due to her tenacity and outdoor skills.

With the stroke of a pen by state game warden and future Michigan governor Chase Osborn in 1897, Neal became a deputy game warden for Grand Traverse County, cementing her little-known legacy as the first female conservation officer in the United States, according to press reports of the day.

To recognize her contributions, and mark the observance of March as Women’s History Month, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division is nominating Neal for induction to the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. A panel of judges will decide if she merits induction later this year.

“Huldah Neal was a trailblazer, literally and figuratively,” said Gary Hagler, DNR Law Enforcement Division chief. “She was fearless in the way she performed her dangerous duties, and in how she broke free from typical roles that society forced on women at that time. She paved the way for new generations of women who proudly serve as guardians of our natural resources. Huldah Neal left a positive legacy for our state. On behalf of all conservation officers, it’s a privilege to nominate her for induction to the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.”

Born circa 1855 in Ohio, Huldah Jane Valleau moved with her family to Grand Traverse County in 1861. She married Warren Neal in 1872 and the couple raised two children on their farm near Long Lake. She shared her husband’s love of the outdoors, a passion that didn’t go unrecognized by newspapers reporting on her appointment as deputy game warden.

“Mrs. Neal is a woman of determined character, and has excellent qualifications for such a position,” the Traverse City Record-Eagle wrote on June 6, 1897. “She is an active woods-woman, a good shot, and can give cards and spades to any man in the manipulation of the fishing rod. Besides being an expert in these respects Mrs. Neal is an ardent supporter of the state game and fish laws, and takes much interest in their preservation. The appointment is a good one, and Mrs. Neal will wage an aggressive campaign against violators of the law; and offenders in her locality will find that Mrs. Neal will stand no fooling.”

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Experience free fishing weekend Feb. 17-18 

Show the kids how fun ice fishing can be by heading out during the 2018 Winter Free Fishing Weekend Feb. 17-18.

Grab a fishing rod and enjoy some of the finest fishing Michigan has to offer during the 2018 Winter Free Fishing Weekend Saturday, Feb. 17, and Sunday, Feb. 18. On those two days, everyone—residents and non-residents alike—can fish without a license, though all other fishing regulations still apply.
In addition, during #MiFreeFishingWeekend, the Department of Natural Resources will waive the regular Recreation Passport entry fee that grants vehicle access to Michigan’s 103 state parks and recreation areas. Several locations also may be hosting official 2018 Winter Free Fishing Weekend events that are perfect for the whole family.
Michigan has been celebrating winter’s #MiFreeFishingWeekend every year since 1994 as a way to promote awareness of the state›s vast aquatic resources. With more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams, and 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan and fishing are a perfect match.
“There’s nothing better than bundling up and heading out on the ice for Michigan’s annual Winter Free Fishing Weekend,” said Jim Dexter, DNR Fisheries Division chief. “For those avid anglers, we encourage you to take someone out who has never experienced winter fishing to show them how simple and fun it can be.”

Official winter #MiFreeFishingWeekend activities are being scheduled in communities across the state to assist with public participation. These activities are coordinated by a variety of organizations, including constituent groups, schools, local and state parks, businesses and others. A full list of these events can be found online at michigan.gov/freefishing

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Hurricanes harm birds, too: What you can do to help your backyard birds


(BPT) – Americans in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico suffered through devastating hurricanes this year, and they weren’t alone in their desolation – Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria also caused unparalleled upheaval for wildlife, including bird populations. Many nature experts are worried about the long-term impact the horrific storms will have on migratory birds, from reducing the amount of food available to them and throwing off their migration schedules, to altering migratory courses and even exposing them to a range of man-made toxins.

Mother Nature Network points out that the storms affected two of the major “flyways” for migratory birds traveling from their breeding areas in North America to their winter homes in the south. The National Wildlife Federation reports that Texas alone is a migratory funnel for about 300 bird species, including hummingbirds, highly endangered whooping cranes and prairie chickens. Further, Audubon reports the Caribbean is home to 172 bird species found nowhere else in the world, and 56 of them are already threatened.

Given the widespread impact of the 2017 hurricane season on bird populations, which stripped foliage and natural food sources, like trees, fruits and insects, chances are good some birds who visited your backyard this year have been adversely affected.

You can do your part to support birds – both those that migrate and ones that stay put during winter – by providing them with food and water throughout the cold-weather months.

The wild bird experts at Cole’s Wild Bird Products Co. provide some suggestions for meeting birds’ dietary needs during difficult winter months:

  • Wild birds must eat about 1/4 to 1/2 their body weight daily to survive. During winter, when many of their natural food sources disappear, birds can find it arduous and challenging to sustain their nutritional needs without some human help. Filling feeders with quality seed blends for seed-eaters, offering options like dried mealworms for insect-eaters, and providing high-fat suet for all types of birds can assist them in finding the essential energy they need to weather winter.
  • Seeds full of cheap fillers like oats and red milo, or ones with synthetic or lab-engineered ingredients, won’t benefit or meet birds’ nutritional needs. What’s more, many birds simply won’t eat low-quality seed, leaving them seeking other food sources. Choose natural feed composed of top-of-the crop seeds, such as Black oil sunflower, Niger seed, white millet, Safflower and raw peanuts that birds love. Cole’s Sunflower Meats, for example, contains nothing but shelled sunflower seeds, and it’s a favorite feed for a wide range of backyard birds.
  • Suet is a must-serve selection for many varieties of backyard birds. Birds need an optimum calorie intake, and suet is a smart way to supplement their needs. Convenient options like no-melt suet cakes and suet kibbles make it easier than ever to supply birds with an energy-packed powerhouse food source.
  • Many birds also enjoy fruits or raw peanuts. Mockingbirds and orioles will appreciate some raisins or currants soaked in water overnight, served in a bowl feeder.
  • Feeder quality, type, maintenance and location are critical considerations during winter. Most seed-eating birds favor tube feeders, and ground feeders or birds that like mealworms or fruit will appreciate an easy-access bowl feeder. Keep feeders clean to minimize mold, mildew and other unhealthy conditions that can make birds sick. Feeders should be placed in sheltered locations out of severe winds, and near protective cover like hedges to offer birds safety from predators. You can place them about five feet away from a wall or window, to avoid possible collisions and still allow for indoor birdwatching.
  • * Birds require water for drinking and bathing, and finding fresh, unfrozen water can be problematic for them when temperatures dip below freezing. Place a fountain or spritzer in your birdbath to keep water moving and unfrozen. You can also find heated birdbaths that gently warm water, ensuring birds can always find drinkable water in winter.

For more information on feeding wild birds, visit coleswildbird.com.

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Sensory Overload

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


A winter walk brings one close to a great variety of sensory experiences. Each species of tree and shrub as unique buds. Take a close look and notice bitternut hickories have yellow buds with no protective scales to protect the delicate embryonic leaves waiting to expand during conducive spring weather. The new leaf cells were formed last summer. When sap flows, it will enter the leaves expanding them like a water balloon. For several days the plant will grow necessary cell contents that support plant needs. 

Nannyberry viburnums show evidence of two different shaped buds. One will be long and narrow. The other will have a swollen bulb at bud’s base. The swollen base contains the embryonic flower cluster ready to emerge. 

Red and silver maples have red globose buds that are among the first flower buds to open in early spring. The hazelnut flower buds are noticeable during winter. They are long tan catkins similar to those found on birches. It flowers before the maples and is wind pollinated instead of depending on more efficient insects to carry pollen. They have successfully reproduced at Ody Brook over the past 40 years. I knew of two shrub clusters years ago. Now there are several surrounding the parent plants and others scattered in distant locations. 

We have more squirrels than desired, but they might be what planted hazel nuts in distant locations. 

We enjoy watching the squirrels and I do not mind them eating seed meant for birds. Perhaps I should only have squirrel proof feeders. A main reason I do not want too many squirrels is they feed on bird eggs making it difficult for birds to maintain stable or growing populations. 

Birds will soon be changing into breeding plumage and adding sparkle to yards. The American Goldfinch is a people’s favorite yard bird because males dazzle us when they change from dull olive winter plumage to bright yellow with a black cap. It is ready for a stage show but it is the female it must impress. Take time for a close look to enjoy its gradual color change in coming weeks. 

The warm mid-winter thaw stimulated several birds to sing. I was shocked one year when I heard a high melodious song in February. I thought it was a warbler here unusually early. When I followed the sound and located the bird, it was a secretive bird that stays here all year. A Brown Creeper was singing. They remain obscure and have a thin down curved bill used to eek insects from bark crevasses on large tree trunks. They fly from high on one tree trunk to the base of another and work their way up to repeat the process to the base of another tree. They blend with tree bark and are easily missed. An intent look is essential to notice them. I have yet to find one’s spring nest that is built between loose pealing bark on dead or living tree trunks.

Bird songs may tell us spring is just around the corner, but this week light fluffy snow piled on dead wildflower heads in the field. Sunrays sparkled through the crystals before they melted and were lost forever to observers. Along the creek, water rose a foot during the previous week’s winter rain and snow melt. Now water had subsided to a low flow but raised twelve inches above the stream were suspended ledges of ice that froze on the surface when water was high. Ice ledges extended from the bank. Sawblade teeth ice edges hung in air above the creek. Ice from the middle over the creek broke and fell in to the stream. Suspended ice remained a few days. Had I not taken frequent outside ventures to enjoy the world of nature niches, I would have missed great pageant of wonders that vary daily close to home. 

Recently the temperature reached 48 F and dropped 30 degrees in one day. On the warm day, I found a twelve-inch garter snake on the trail ice. It was lethargic and moved slowly when I picked it up. I moved it about six feet and set it on snow free ground next to fallen log. Weather forecasters had informed us a cold snap was on the way. I hoped to help the snake avoid freezing. I wondered if moving it disoriented it. Would it find its way to the underground shelter it came from or be able to take shelter under the log? I hope my assistance helped. Enjoy having your senses overloaded by taking beautiful winter outings.

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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FeederWatch asks: whose feathers get ruffled?


Downy woodpecker by Erroll Tasking

Annual winter survey collects data about feeder birds

For more than 30 years, people who feed wild birds have been reporting their observations to Project FeederWatch to track trends in bird populations. This helps scientists better understand what happens to birds facing challenges such as climate change, disease, and habitat loss. FeederWatchers can also contribute to new research on feeder-bird behavior. Now is the time to sign up for or renew participation in this long-running citizen-science project.
Participants make two-day counts from November through early April. They can spend as much or as little time as they like collecting data, so it is one of the easiest projects to try. Even counting birds once or twice all winter is a valuable contribution. But many people love the project so much, they count birds every weekend.

“In addition to reporting which species visit their feeders, people can now report bird behavior, too,” says project leader Emma Greig. “We want to learn more about the ‘dominance hierarchy,’ or who’s got the ‘upper wing’ when it comes to competition at the feeder. Who gets displaced by whom? Is bigger always better? Do birds fight more with their own kind or other species? There are so many questions to answer and this is the first time anyone has been able to ask those questions on a continental scale.”

So far, analyses of interactions for 136 species from FeederWatch sites for the last season have produced interesting results. In some cases, size matters, so that puts the mild-mannered Wild Turkey at the top since a chickadee is not likely to evict a turkey that’s found a feast. Starlings, Red-headed Woodpeckers, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers appear to follow a rare triangular form of dominance (starlings dominate red-headed woodpeckers, who dominate red-bellied woodpeckers, who dominate starlings), but more data are needed to confirm the pattern. 

Project FeederWatch is a joint research and education project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. To join tens of thousands of other FeederWatch participants, sign up online at FeederWatch.org or call the Cornell Lab toll-free at (866) 989-2473. In Canada, contact Bird Studies Canada at (888) 448-2473, toll free.

In return for a participation fee of $18 in the U.S. ($15 for Cornell Lab members) and $35 in Canada, participants receive the FeederWatch Handbook and Instructions with tips on how to successfully attract birds to feeders, an identification poster of the most common feeder birds, and a calendar. Participants also receive Winter Bird Highlights, an annual summary of FeederWatch findings. Canadians receive membership in Bird Studies Canada.

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Kittiwake in flight

By Ranger Steve Mueller


This photo shows black-legged kittiwakes at nest on Staple Island, Farne Islands, Northumberland, UK. Photo from Wikipedia.

The search was on for a bird along Lake Michigan’s shoreline at Holland State Park and Lake Macatawa. A birder spotted it and posted the rare sighting on the ebird website. It drew bird watchers from great distances to see a bird in Michigan that normally is found in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

This rare sighting of a black-legged kittiwake in Michigan was seen and photographed by Carl and Judi Manning, on February 2, 2018, on Lake Macatawa, in Ottawa County. Photo from ebird.

The Black-legged Kittiwake is a small gull that breeds in the far north where it nests on cliffs. It migrates south over the oceans where it commonly stays far out to sea and out of sight of shores. It flies over the oceans in search of small fish and squid near the surface and sleeps floating on the water. 

Sometimes a young bird will venture over land and ends up at the Great Lakes. This winter, one has been present at Lake Michigan where it was found among hundreds if not thousands of gulls. This juvenile bird, when found among the gulls, can be distinguished by having black feathers along the leading edge of the wing. 

When in flight, the dark feathers appear as a dark inverted V along the front wing edge. The bird’s wing bends in the middle causing the black band to make the V shape. If the wing were held straight the black band would be straight. When standing on ice, the gull’s dark line is straight on the folded wing from shoulder to wing tip. The young kittiwake has dark feathers on the back of the neck and a dark ear patch behind the eye. 

It is a distinctive pattern but finding the bird among massive numbers of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls is not an easy task. Three of us armed with spotting scopes were scanning through untold numbers of gulls at Lake Macatawa where this rare visitor to the Great Lakes was last seen. Other birders were present with scopes and binoculars hoping to see this individual without taking a boat trip into the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. 

While searching through the gulls, we were fortunate to find both the Greater and Lesser Black-backed Gulls that are uncommon birds here. A Bald Eagle flew through the area. Long-tailed Ducks and others were present.

Apparently, the kittiwake is finding adequate food to survive but the winter is not over. Will there be enough small fish near the water’s surface to meet its needs? At least near shore it can dive to find some mollusks or aquatic worms. The Great Lakes are probably not ideal habitat for its nature niche. No small squids or other oceanic species from its normal menu will be found. 

Perhaps the species rarely comes to the Great Lakes because of the long over land flight or maybe those coming do not survive to return to breeding grounds and their genes are removed from the gene pool.

We saw the Kittiwake flying back and forth with gulls on a cold, windy day, when the temperature was in the single digits. We were warmly bundled but our feet were chilled. We discussed why the birds were flying back and forth in what appeared to be a waste of energy. They were not feeding or even flying near the open water surface where they could find food. Burning energy for no useful purpose could be deadly.

When I got home I posed the question to Karen and she offered a reasonable answer that had not crossed my mind. She suggested the birds might have been chilled in the very low temperatures while standing still on the ice. Flying takes energy like any physical activity and warms the body. 

Flight will consume stored energy that might be needed later but for now the bird will not get hypothermia and die. Staying alive until tomorrow is a priority. Hopefully finding food will replenish consumed fat tissue. Gulls will visit garbage dumps or restaurants parking lots where people drop food. Kittiwakes do not. If they do not find enough food in the lake, they perish. 

It is fun to see an unusual bird visiting Michigan, but it is dangerous for it to be away from habitat for its adaptations.

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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