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Archive | Outdoors

Special everyday sightings

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

 

Celebrate special opportunities. Today I was sitting on the back porch, when I would rather walk trails and explore Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary nature niches.

It was a comfortable 77 F. The sunshine felt too hot. A flycatcher landed on a dead tree branch and it was difficult to identify the species. I thought it was in the Empidonax flycatcher group that has several look-a-like species. To separate species vocal calls or songs are required.

I narrowed the choices to Alder Flycatcher or Least Flycatcher but finally decided I was still wrong. It was most likely not an Empidonax species but an Eastern Wood-Peewee. It did not have an obvious white eye-ring. Wing bars were faint. Its behavior of perching, flitting out to prey on insects, and then return to the perch is typical for peewees. I usually expect the peewees to be in the dense forest but this one found the forest opening good for hunting.

While contemplating the flycatcher identification, a Cooper’s Hawk flew through the backyard about six feet above ground. It was in view for only a few seconds. Its size was too big for the look-a-like Sharp-shinned Hawk and it had a rounded tail instead of being squared off. I enjoy a visit to the yard by the bird eating hawks. They are seldom successful in capturing a meal.

I rejoice with them when they succeed in filling their stomach or get food to feed their young. They are a natural and healthy component in nature niches. Predators prevent other species from over abundance whether they are insect predators, bird predators, or mammal predators. I take sorrow in the death of birds, butterflies, or creatures I work to support with food, water, and shelter. Life is not easy for any creature but each has it place. Predators are welcome.

Despite my sorrow in one creature’s death, I celebrate the continued life of another. Unfortunately, several species native to other parts of the world have established in our area and are disrupting ecosystems, causing the death of species, and causing millions of dollars in damage to crops, landscapes, and species we cherish.

A Pileated Woodpecker flew over, brightened my day and was quickly followed by another that called as it passed. It was my birthday and I pretended it was wishing me a fine day. I am pleased my efforts over 35 years have created conditions for life. I reap benefits and joys of nature in the yard daily.

Closer to the ground level Giant Swallowtail, Red-spotted Purple butterfly, Cabbage White, and Clouded Sulphur butterflies traversed yard openings. A Pearl Crescent landed on the dog. I spend the most time watching birds and butterflies, but in late summer, dragonflies like meadowhawks are abundant. Grasshopper populations are peaking and provide energy for birds getting ready to migrate.

Many people do not approve of Cooper’s Hawks filling their stomach with birds, but the same people have no objection to insect eating birds killing and eating their prey. If managed ideally, our yards will provide healthy conditions for a balanced biodiversity that supports life forms including all predators.

Sit, observe and celebrate occurrences of minute to large wildlife in your neighborhood.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433. 616-696-1753.

 

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Catch of the Week

OUT-Catch-of-week-Zeppi-JobseThis 16-inch large mouth bass was caught by Zeppi Jobse, 12, while fishing on Lincoln Lake, in their boat, with grandpa Bill Jobse, of White Creek Lumber, on Friday, August 22.

“The Bass gave him quite a battle, fighting through the lily pads, but Zeppi hung on for the catch,” remarked Bill. “He was so proud. This is the first big bass keeper of his season.”

He added that they are enjoying fishing together, after restoring their 14ft. Lund fishing boat.

Congratulations, Zeppi, you made the Post Catch of the Week!

 

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Fall flutter for giant panfish 

OUT-Giant-panfish-Jack-Payne

by Jack Payne

I hear fish stories many times about a lake that is killer on giant panfish. Rarely does this pan out for me. However we did find a little gem in Mason County. Round Lake is nearly 600 acres and sits between Fountain and Walhalla.

The very first bluegill that I caught went an even 10 inches. Over the better part of three days we only caught four gills under seven inches and the majority went 8 inches or better. Our crappies were all over 10 inches with the average nearing the 12-inch mark.

Bass were a bonus fish and all went 15-20 inches and were caught while chasing the slab crappies. Now before you hook up your boat and head there, understand that we never caught our limit of fish. We caught big fish and our best 3-hour outing produced 21 fish. We averaged 16 fish each time out.

The most productive locations have cabbage weeds and the best depth was between 6-8 feet on Round Lake. Other lakes that we like include Crooked, Pine, Gun or Miner Lake and the depth might reach 10 feet. Using your graph or your eyes you will easily be able to locate the few spots that have both cabbage weeds and the depth.

When fishing the cabbage weeds in late summer or early fall, only a few lures are needed. We rigged our rods up with an action spin snell, a 2.5 inch rival worm and the Whip R Shad or Whip R Snap jigs, all from Stopper Lures.

The mini spinner has one small hook and #0 blade. The best-colored blades were chartreuse or gold. Some of the better blades will have chartreuse on one side and gold or brass on the other. Tip this rig with a small red worm.

On the calm days, we found that when we dragged near the bottom the action was best. On the windy days, casting it and working it over and through the cabbage weeds worked well. If possible, go weightless. If a sinker is needed, one number seven split shot is best.

Action tails are hands down my favorite. Due to the shallow water and the numerous cabbage weeds there is a right way to rig and fish them and the wrong way. Trust me on this—I landed 13 fish before my partner landed one.

Go light, very light. I used two one sixty four ounce jig heads. I use the jig heads that come with the Whip R Snap tails. Tie one jig on about 18 inches up from the end of your line. Tie a loop so that your jig has the greatest movement. Tie the second jig on the end of your line.

Now comes the fun part. Place a Whip R Snap on one jig and a Whip R Shad on the other jig. These ultra-light jigs will flutter up and down and can be worked through the cabbage weeds.

A painstakingly slow retrieve is needed. Lift the jigs up and over a cabbage weed and then let it flutter to the bottom. Continue working the retrieve over and over. The majority of your fish will suck in your small jig when worked in this manner. Casting and reeling over the tops of the weeds only works when the fish are extremely aggressive. Dropping the lures into their face and teasing the fish results in many more fish.

The majority of your strikes will come on the fall. About the time that your jig disappears from view is when a hungry slab reaches up from the bottom and sucks it in.

The small rival worm is the junior bait to the original Bass Stopper Worm. This little worm with its mini front spinner lands big gills and specks. Fish it in the same manner as a jig. Work it over the tops of the weeds, drop it down in a helicopter fashion and slide it briefly over the bottom.

These three lures will land plenty of panfish from Labor Day until Halloween.  Fish the tallest cabbage weeds in your lake and fish ever so slow. Watch your line and your rod tip and go as light as possible. Enjoy the fall fishing season.

For more information check out www.jackpaynejr.com or facebook outdoorsinmichigan.

 

 

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Weekly fishing tip

 

Catching big pike in the summer

 

Most anglers consider winter the best time to catch a trophy-sized pike, but following a few key pointers can make summer pike fishing worthwhile.

When it’s very warm out think about where pike will hide—places with cooler water. These spots include along the thermocline, where coldwater streams/rivers flow into lakes, or around springs.

Look for water bodies that aren’t densely populated with pike so those present may have a chance to grow fairly large. Also consider locations that have special regulations (size limits).

Lastly, focus on water bodies that have a good pike forage base, particularly other species that prefer cooler water.

Want to learn even more about fishing for northern pike? Check out their page on the Michigan Fish and How to Catch Them website at Michigan.gov/dnr.

This tip was adapted from Michigan Outdoor News.

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Missing feathers

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Finding pretty feathers in the yard is something most of us have collected when we were children. It has been fun and challenging to identify who lost them. Blue Jay feathers are quite distinctive as are robin breast feathers. Many feathers can be quite challenging.

At this time of year I notice crows flying over with noticeable gaps in their wings. Two Mourning Doves passed without their long tail feathers. Some birds are looking rather beat up because they are missing feathers. It is molting season.

Most birds experience a complete molt where they lose all feathers after breeding season and before migration. It requires a lot of energy to change wardrobes but it occurs twice a year. The spring molt prior to migration or breeding is a partial molt where only some feathers are replaced.

When birds fly over missing noticeable feathers, it is the flight feathers we notice missing. If birds lost all there their flight feathers at once they would be grounded. That would spell death for many. They would starve before they could replace them. They also would not be protected from the weather. Feathers are important for flight and body feathers for insulation to maintain proper temperature.

Molting is orderly starting with primary feathers. Theses are the largest and most noticeable flight feathers. They are lost in succession from wingtip inward. As one is lost and replaced, the next one in succession is lost and replaced. When the primary feathers have been replaced, secondary feathers are replaced in the opposite direction. Secondaries are smaller flight feathers closer to the body. They are lost from close to the body outward toward the primaries.

It is ecologically important that most birds lose feathers in succession so they do not become flightless. They depend on flight for feeding mobility. Some birds lose all their flight feathers at once and cannot fly for weeks. One might think this would surely cause starvation or vulnerability to predators.

Ducks, geese, swans, grebes, and loons lose their flight feather at one time. They feed by diving or tipping bottom up to feed on the bottom in shallow water. Tipping end up to feed is known as dabbling. There are dabbing ducks like the mallard and diving ducks like the bufflehead and scaup that dive deep to feed. They become flightless for several weeks when molting but are able to continue feeding. When threatened they run across the water but do not become airborne.

It requires tremendous energy to molt. When birds migrate there energy needs increase 7 to 15 times over resting energy levels. They cannot afford to molt, migrate, or raise young at the same time. Each must be done separately and they have adaptations to survive in their unique nature niche. Loons molt after migration and ducks before migration. Some birds have a partial molt before migration, stop molting for migration and complete molting afterwards. It is typical for most land birds to complete molting before the fall migration.

Details of life are uniquely special and worth observing near our homes.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.

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Osprey chicks outfitted with satellite backpacks  

The Michigan DNR’s Julie Oakes and USDA Wildlife Services’ Brian Washburn outfit an osprey chick with a GPS “backpack” at Kensington Metropark.

The Michigan DNR’s Julie Oakes and USDA Wildlife Services’ Brian Washburn outfit an osprey chick with a GPS “backpack” at Kensington Metropark.

Nearly absent from much of the state due to the effects of DDT and other pesticides and habitat loss, ospreys continue to rebound in Michigan. In southern Michigan, monitoring efforts are tracking the revitalization of this species.

This year, six osprey chicks from area nests were outfitted with “backpack” satellite and GSM telemetry units. These units—funded by grants from DTE Energy, Huron Valley Audubon, photographer Lou Waldock, U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services and American Tower Corporation—will help scientists track the young birds’ daily movements and seasonal migration patterns.

In 2013, three osprey chicks were given GPS backpacks in southeast Michigan. One chick banded near Estral Beach migrated to Cuba. A chick from Kensington Metropark ventured to Colombia, and one from Pinckney found good fishing sites on a golf course in Miami.

Unfortunately, all three chicks with backpacks perished in 2013. Approximately 60 percent of the osprey chicks hatched each year do not make it to their second birthday. Factors that commonly cause mortality in young chicks include predation by great horned owls, collisions with buildings and other structures, weather, and illegal shooting of birds in Central and South America.

“We are very excited to have this opportunity to place GPS units on several ospreys this year,” said Julie Oakes, Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist. “This will provide the DNR with not only information on what migration routes the birds take, but also insight into what perils they must endure on their migration.”

The exciting part is that anyone can follow along and find out where the birds have been, just by looking at the Michigan osprey website www.michiganosprey.org. Move the cursor along the route to see GPS coordinates and time and date information for each leg of the osprey’s journey. The youngsters will begin their migration in early to mid-September, so wildlife enthusiasts can log on to watch their journey.

In 1998, the DNR began to relocate ospreys to southern Michigan. The program, supported by donations to Michigan’s Nongame Wildlife Fund, removed chicks from active nests in northern Michigan and reared them in man-made towers in southern Michigan, a process called “hacking.” Relocation efforts occurred over a span of 10 years. In 2013, the DNR identified at least 56 active nests in southern Michigan—an incredible increase from the single active nest reported in 2002.

“This is a true wildlife success story,” said Oakes. “Each year we have new nests, and we have already exceeded our original goal of 30 active nests by 2020. We have been able to remove ospreys from the threatened species list to a species of special concern, which means their population is much more secure now. In addition, they now nest across much more of the state, which provides for insurance that the population will not be endangered by a localized natural disaster like a large hail and wind storm.”

Historically, osprey chicks have been banded each year as part of a national effort to monitor the species. Banding continues this year as a cooperative venture of the DNR, Huron Clinton Metroparks, the Detroit Zoological Society and Osprey Watch of Southeast Michigan.

Because ospreys often nest on cell phone towers, staff from cell phone tower companies are invaluable partners in osprey monitoring. Their staff members alert the DNR and Osprey Watch of Southeast Michigan to osprey nests, assist with the retrieval of chicks during the banding process and delay tower repair projects until after the nesting season.

Other partners in this monitoring project include the Huron Valley Audubon Society, Michigan Audubon, volunteers from Osprey Watch and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services.

Anyone who observes a nesting pair of ospreys in southeast Michigan is asked to contact Osprey Watch of Southeast Michigan online at www.michiganosprey.org.

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Include hunter education as part of your back to school plan

Michigan parents who have children interested in learning to hunt should consider making enrollment in a hunter education class part of their “back to school” plans. Now is the best time to enroll in a class so that new hunters are ready to hit the woods this fall.

 

“Right now is the best time to enroll because class opportunities are plentiful,” said Department of Natural Resources hunter education program supervisor Sgt. Tom Wanless. “With summer winding down, the focus is on getting kids ready for school. Parents should plan on enrolling their youth hunters in hunter education now. Waiting until the last minute to enroll sometimes makes it difficult to find an available class.”
Wanless said classes are held year-round, but April, May, August and September are traditionally the times when classes are most available.

“Generally, we like the classroom or online instruction completed by Oct. 1 so instructors are available for a field day for the online or home-study students,” Wanless said.
Michigan has three types of hunter education courses: traditional classroom, home study and online. Anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1960, is required to complete the course before buying a Michigan hunting license or taking an out-of-state hunting trip. Exceptions are made for youths under the age of 10 who are hunting under a Mentored Youth Hunting license or hunters older than 10 who are hunting with an apprentice hunting license. Hunters can hunt under the apprentice program for two years before they are required to take hunter education.
The traditional classroom course is a minimum of 10 hours and includes both classroom and field work with an instructor. The fee for the class is $10 or less to cover expenses.

The home-study course features a workbook to complete classwork. A field day is required with the home-study course and must be scheduled with an instructor prior to starting the course.

Michigan also offers three approved online hunter education courses, www.hunter-ed.com/Michigan, www.huntercourse.com, and www.hunteredcourse.com/state/michigan. Students who opt for the online course complete their classwork online and then have a field/skills day with an instructor and take a written exam. The field day must be scheduled with an instructor prior to starting the online course. The online courses have varying fees, but are all priced under $25.
For more information about hunter education or to find a class in your area, go to www.michigan.gov/huntereducation.

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Quiet—not Absent

By Ranger Steve Mueller

I am not one to sit. I like moving. Outdoor activity is either walking, working on trail maintenance, pruning trees and shrubs, pursing butterflies, birds, or other animals. Three days ago, I broke my leg while walking in uneven ground, in search of wetland butterflies. I fell in a hidden hole. Yesterday the surgeon installed a metal plate in my leg and said I cannot put any weight on my leg for six weeks.

I have been sitting on the back porch and noticing things that are missed daily because I move about too much. For two days I have been seeing Baltimore Orioles moving among the tree branches. A Great Flycatcher quietly landed in a tree in good view. A flock of Cedar Waxwings has been flitting about the conifer branches and I haven’t been noticing them. I have not seen any of these species lately.

Now that breeding season is mostly over, males are not singing to claim territory. It is easy not to notice the birds as they search for food. This evening a Ruby-throated hummingbird visited flowers in the butterfly garden in preference to the sugar water feeder that hangs in the garden. The hummer was actively feeding on minute insects that were flying just above treetops. I could not see the insects but the bird was clearly picking things out of sky as it hovered and darted back and forth.

Family flocks of American Robins have been feeding on creatures in the mowed lawn. Mourning Doves are one of the few birds still vocalizing with their owl-like coo-coo call. They are a bird that may still breed and produce young this late in the year.

Chickadees are not singing their two note song but like me they are contently on the move and do vocalize their chickadee-dee-dee call. I answer with my own version of their call and they come to see who is talking to them. House wrens sing continuously in spring and early summer but now only make a twittering chat.

Eastern Towhees are secretive and spend time under trees and shrubs scratching among the ground vegetation in search of tasty insects morsels. They have not completely given up their song of “drink your teaeeeee.” I still here the “your teaeeee” coming from hidden locations.

Most birds are busy in their specialized nature niches fattening for the long journey south, teaching young by demonstration, or working hard in preparation to survive locally for the winter.

The House Finches have males with red feathers on the head and body but females are brown. At the feeder this week there is a male House Finch with yellow instead of red feathers. I see a few of these annually. Studies indicate that those birds are lacking adequate carotene in their diet to provide the red in feathers. The birds are apparently healthy but display the abnormal coloring. The carotene generally comes from insects that are fed upon.

Now that I am required to sit and watch, I see things I normally miss by being too antsy to quietly sit and observe. I miss being on the move constantly but enjoy getting to see backyard wildlife activity that is quietly going about business in abundance. Don’t break a leg but sit to observe activity in the yard.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.

616-696-1753

 

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Fishing the piers and connecting waters

Eric Payne with a walleye caught near the pier in Holland

Eric Payne with a walleye caught near the pier in Holland

by Jack Payne

 

Fishing the piers and connecting waters is a lot of fun. Over the next few months, anglers will enjoy a wide range of species. Currently smallmouth bass, walleye, catfish, carp and Sheephead are being caught. In a few weeks king salmon and trout will move in and the whitefish will follow up last. Perch can be caught but often this is a hit and miss deal. Whenever you hear that the perch are in close to shore this will be your best chance to land them off of the pier.

Perch anglers should use some type of perch spreader rig. Good examples are the No Tangle Rig and the Perch Fly rigs from Stopper lures. Tip your hook/fly with a spike or a minnow.

Walleye and catfish offer good sport and good table fare. One great rig is the Ultra Violet Crawler Rig from Stopper lures. The ultra violet spinner blades throw much more light than a standard blade.

The big Colorado blade throws off plenty of vibration and makes it easier for a hungry walleye to home in. Blade sizes range from a size three up to a size 6. Suspended fish that are running in packs really like the larger blades. Bottom hugging fish prefer the smaller blades.

Whenever you casting from a boat or the pier it is a good idea to add a Cast a Weight. This unique weight is added a foot or two above your spinner. You can change weights easily and is adaptable for suspended fish or bottom hugging fish. Add a fat juicy crawler and you are in business.

On the suspended fish try counting it down to five Mississippi. After a few casts let it sink a few seconds longer before starting your retrieve. Under most conditions the suspended fish will be down five to ten feet, or a count between 5-10 Mississippi.

I like using two rods when on the pier or when drifting in front of or in the channel. My second rod often is used for bottom hugging fish. Catfish are always a favorite target and we use a lot of Catfish Tubes or Catfish Bait Balls from Stopper lures. Dip these rigs into a catfish dip or paste and replenish every fifteen minutes.

Another nice option for the second rod would be a slip float. We use a lot of the Big Top Current Floats from Carlisle. They stand tall, are very visible and work great in the current. Under the float you can run spawn egg, a leech, a wax worm or a piece of a crawler. Smallmouth bass, cats and walleye will hit this rig. Don’t be surprised if a huge sheephead or carp gobbles up the offering.

Cast this rig up current and let it drift on the outside of the rocks. The Holland pier, like many others, has sections where huge limestone rocks are piled up. These locations funnel feeding bass, walleye and other species close to the pier. The slip float keeps your offering just above the rocks and snags.

When the fish are out further set your float so that it just glides over the bottom or maybe a few inches above the bottom. Trout and salmon will hit single eggs and spawn sacs. Walleye and bass love a leech that drifts across the bottom.

I like throwing Husky Jerks, Mepps Spinners, Thundersticks and Little Cleo’s on the other rod. Add some glow paint or witchcraft tape to enhance the appeal to a hungry salmon. It’s a lot of fun casting one rod anticipating a jarring strike while keeping an eye peeled on the other rods.

Following Murphy ’s Law, action can come quick and both rods could go off. Nice problem to have. This is common on trout and salmon. Small schools or pods of fish move in and instant action. Then it quiets down for a bit and starts all over.

Our best action is under low light conditions. Getting out an hour before daylight or staying an hour after many times produces the best walleye and salmon action. The piers and connecting waters offer great fishing with minimal expense.

 

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Weekly Fishing Tip

OUT-Weekly-fishing-tip-lgmouth-bass_originalUnderstanding water temps and their impact on fishing

As Michigan’s inland lakes warm up in mid to late summer, knowledge of a water body’s temperature stratification becomes helpful for fishing. Seasonal temperature influences in lakes form different zones, and as a result, different temperature ranges and oxygen levels are associated with these layers. Knowledge of these layers or zones can lead to increased angling success.

The warm surface zone is called the epilimnion and has an abundance of oxygen. The bottom zone is called the hypolimnion and is typically cold and depleted of oxygen. The middle zone is the thermocline and the point at which warm, oxygen-rich top water is separated from the cold, oxygen-depleted water below.

The thermocline may prove to be a great depth at which to fish due to the abundance of oxygen and temperature found “in between” very warm and very cold. This ideal zone in most Michigan inland lakes typically will be between 10 to 30 feet, depending on lake size and depth. Just like us humans, fish need oxygen to breath and many don’t particularly like to be too warm or too cold.

If fishing in shallow water bodies, look for shaded areas provided by large floating vegetation, overhanging vegetation, submerged logs, or other woody debris, which provides water that is a little cooler and cover, where many fish species prefer to spend their time.

Also don’t forget to try fishing at night during the summer “doldrums” when water temperatures reach seasonal highs. Many fish species become active at night with relief from the daytime sun and heat.

And lastly, take a kid fishing with you for luck, and to teach them about this wonderful sport!

This tip was written by Suzanne Ebright, Outreach and Education Specialist in Lansing.

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