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Birds Collide with Buildings

Ranger Steve

Nearly one billion birds are estimated to die annually by colliding with building windows. Gathering definitive data is a monumental task. Scientists have two ways for analyzing events in nature. 

One is qualitative where numerical information is not present. It includes things such as it is bright outside, leaves are becoming colorful, and dead birds are found by buildings. The other is quantitativewith a numerical measurement. Light meters measure light intensity, 50 percent of leaves have changed color, or 127 dead birds were collected by buildings this year. Quantitative data is needed for scientific analysis.

Under my permit, 127 dead birds were collected in 2018 for a study coordinated with Michigan Audubon and Michigan State University to gather quantitative data for birds killed by collisions with buildings. 

I hold US Fish and Wildlife Service and Michigan DNR permits to collect dead birds. Possessing an American Robin or Red-tailed Hawk feather is illegal without a permit. People wonder why. There are people that will kill songbirds to possess a few feathers or to use them in products sold at craft fairs. Conservation officers visit craft fairs to see if illegal nongame feathers are being sold. Possession of game bird feathers is legal.

At the Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC), birds learned to trust us and to land on our hands to eat seeds. Several birds were shot at the birdfeeders. Someone thought it fun to shoot birds that learned to come close to people. Laws were enacted in the early 1900s to help species survive in nature niches because unregulated hunting was threatening several with extinction. Today hunters help bird populations even though they kill birds. Hunting license fees are used to manage habitats for game birds and the DNR monitors numbers quantitatively to manage population size. Nongame species like woodpeckers, goldfinches, and warblers benefit from habitat management. Duck hunters have helped increase waterfowl populations by maintaining wetlands.

It was a tradition on Christmas Day for hunters to compete to see who could kill the most birds in one day. Frank Chapman began the first citizen science Christmas Bird Count in 1900 as an alternative to encourage people to count birds quantitatively instead of killing them. Bird counts are important for documenting winter bird population numbers and distribution. I have coordinated the Grand Rapids quantitative Christmas bird count 32 years but I also qualitatively enjoy birds daily at Ody Brook without keeping number records. 

My salvage bird permit allows me and the people I list on the permit to collect dead birds for educational and scientific analysis. Many birds at HCNC were collected and mounted in life-like position for visitors to see closely and others were mounted in what is called a study skin. Study skin mounts look like the bird is lying dead on its back. Those specimens were used when I taught ornithology at Grand Rapids Community College and for natural history programs. Visit HCNC to see birds you might not get to see easily in the outdoors.

The salvage project with Michigan Audubon and MSU collects birds that hit buildings and provides data that quantifies bird deaths to learn the dates and species impacted. Monitoring weather conditions, wind direction, and fog conditions helps us understand when birds are at greatest risk. That knowledge is used to help us make recommendations that can reduce deaths by adjusting our human behavior to help bird survive.

It is especially important to darken buildings during spring and fall bird migration above the second floor. Most birds migrate at night but fly toward light in the dark. They collide with lighted buildings in the dark. By closing shades to darken windows we can save birds. Schools were recently closed for fog and there are school fog delays to save our kids from being killed going to school in those conditions. Birds do not stop migration for fog delay announcements but we can help them survive by darkening windows and maintaining dark skies. 

I submit a list of the birds collected each year to the US FWS and DNR. Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Cedar Waxwing, Brown Creeper, Brown Thrasher, Indigo Bunting, Rosebreasted Grosbeak, Nashville Warbler, Ovenbird, Sora, and Pine Warbler are some the casualties this year. To enjoy birds in nature it is important that we each take responsibility for helping bird neighbors survive.  

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 Michigan waterways designated as state water trails

Eight waterways totaling 540-plus miles that flow through more than a dozen counties have been selected as the first state-designated water trails in Michigan, the Department of Natural Resources announced last week.

The DNR and the Office of the Great Lakes partnered on the effort to finalize this first round of designations, which includes:

woman paddle boarding on Detroit River
Belle Isle, Detroit River.

Central River Raisin Water Trail, 11 miles in Monroe County; Chain of Lakes Water Trail, more than 80 miles in Antrim and Kalkaska counties; Huron River Water Trail, 104 miles in Livingston, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties;  Island Loop Route, 10 miles in St. Clair County; Flint River Trail, 72 miles in Genesee and Lapeer counties; Middle Grand River Water Trail, 87 miles in Clinton, Eaton, Ingham and Ionia counties; Shiawassee River Trail, 88 miles in Genesee, Oakland, Saginaw and Shiawassee counties; Upper Grand River Water Trail, 91 miles in Eaton, Ingham and Jackson counties.

A water trail is a designated route on a navigable waterway such as a lake, river, canal or bay that is designed and managed to create a positive outdoor recreation experience for the user. Water trails feature well-developed access points, often are near significant historical, environmental or cultural points of interest and often have nearby amenities like restaurants, hotels and campgrounds.

“Water trails naturally are an increasing trend in Michigan and throughout the country, as interest in paddle sports and other water-based recreation continues to grow,” said DNR Parks and Recreation Chief Ron Olson. “We are pleased to help advance these opportunities by recognizing model public water trails that set the standard for future of Michigan’s water trails program.”

Over the last several months, the DNR has worked on creating a water trails program with the goal of announcing the first designations in 2018. Local water trail organizations with established water trail plans were invited to submit applications for designation. That outreach process was handled collaboratively with the Michigan State Parks Advisory Committee, the Michigan State Waterways Commission, the Michigan Trails Advisory Council and the Nonmotorized Advisory Workgroup.

All applications were scored based on criteria including whether a proposed trail:

*Provides a quality trail experience.

*Offers clear information for users.

*Enjoys broad community support.

*Has an appropriate water trail plan in place that addressed components like safety, stewardship, historic and cultural resources, education opportunities, funding, signage, management and development, local land and water use laws, and marketing and promotion.

Paul Yauk, the DNR’s state trails coordinator, said that Michigan is in a great position to work with partners to create a statewide water trails program that complements Michigan’s broader trails system.

“Outdoor recreation-based tourism is experiencing major growth right now,” Yauk said. “Designating these rivers as official water trails shines an even brighter light on some incredible natural resources. We fully expect that offering and expanding water trail opportunities in Michigan will encourage more outdoor recreation and healthier lifestyles, and also serve as regional destinations that will give a boost to local economies.”

Michigan has more miles of Great Lakes coastline than any other state and thousands of miles of rivers and streams. The use of waterways for transportation in Michigan is not new. Native Americans first used them for sustenance and trade; early European settlers used them to transport goods and timber; and, water resources were the foundation of Michigan’s earliest manufacturing and shipping industries.

“[This] announcement celebrates our state’s connections to the Great Lakes coast and Michigan’s inland waters,” said Office of the Great Lakes Director Jon Allan. “We have made significant investments with community partners to build, market and maintain water trails. This program is the culmination of a commitment to public access and opportunities for recreation on Great Lakes waters are especially important as we see paddle sports gain tremendously in popularity.”

Bob Wilson, executive director of the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, supported the department’s announcement designating these important water corridors as Michigan water trails.

“With Michigan leading the nation in land-based trail mileage and the unmatched water resources we are blessed with, it is another important step we can take to provide our citizens with a world-class trail system,” Wilson said.

Ribbon cuttings for the newly designated water trails will take place during the 2019 paddling season. Watch michigan.gov/dnrtrails for more information, which will be provided early in 2019, on the application process for next year’s designations.

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Pristine sand dunes part of 100-acre addition to Ludington State Park

Purchase to be funded by state sources, commitments from The Nature Conservancy and the Mott Foundation

One hundred acres of pristine sand dunes, wetlands and forests soon will become part of Ludington State Park in Mason County, Michigan. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced that it has purchased the land and mineral resources from Sargent Minerals-Ludington, LLC , commonly known as Sargent Sands, a Michigan-based company, permanently preserving this valuable property for public recreation.

The 100 acres, adjacent to Ludington State Park, are comprised of sand dunes—about 60 acres of which have never been altered. The property is located in the northern section of a larger 372 acres that have been mined for sand for decades. Although surrounded by state park land on three sides, the Sargent property is not yet part of Ludington State Park, where mining does not occur.

This purchase will permanently protect a beautiful tract of critical sand dunes, conserving a unique landform and its plants and animals for public enjoyment,” said DNR Director Keith Creagh, who approved the purchase during the Oct. 11 Natural Resources Commission meeting in Lansing. “We are very appreciative of the willingness of the Sargent family to work with the DNR on this purchase. Their generous actions will leave a considerable legacy for future generations.”

While active mining continues in the holding, much of the remaining land already has been mined and reclaimed by the company. The mining operation is operated on-site under a permit issued by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The reclamation of mined lands is a requirement of the permit, which expires Dec. 31, 2021, and can be renewed.

The $17 million acquisition of the 100-acre parcel will be funded by the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, the Michigan State Park Endowment Fund, the Land Exchange Facilitation Fund—sources managed by the DNR or by an independent board associated with the department—and by commitments of $1 million each from The Nature Conservancy and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

“The Nature Conservancy is thrilled to help protect this beautiful property as part of Ludington State Park for all of Michigan’s residents and visitors to enjoy,” said Helen Taylor, the conservancy’s state director for Michigan.

“The Mott Foundation sees this as a unique opportunity to protect land that is truly the front door of Ludington State Park,” said Ridgway White, president and CEO of the foundation.

The Sargent family previously donated land to the DNR, including a portion of property at the entrance to the park. Discussions continue with the Sargent family about opportunities for the DNR to acquire additional property adjacent to the park.

The Sargent land contains sand resources, an on-site processing plant and two lakes created by the mining operations. The DNR has retained $1.3 million in Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grants as part of the cost for a potential future acquisition. Other sources, including private donations, also are being sought.

Part of the 100-acre land acquisition of sand dunes at Ludington State Park

Joe Engel, executive director of the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, said the land acquisition is a tremendous gift to the Ludington community and its economic future, and a fitting tribute to the efforts of the Sargent family and the DNR. “We look forward to working with the folks in Ludington, as well as others across the region and state, to secure and preserve the remainder of this amazing, Lake Michigan treasure,” Engel said.

“Ludington is one of the crown jewels of our state parks system. For millions of people who love the Lake Michigan dune coast, it is the epitome of Pure Michigan,” said Glen Chown, executive director of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. “We’re proud to partner with the DNR, other land trusts and the local community on this important opportunity.”

Chown noted that local support is crucial to leveraging a significant amount of public dollars. “We are confident that people with a deep affinity for this amazing park will generously respond to the challenge,” he said. “We are thankful for the Sargent family’s willingness to work with all of us on this important shoreline protection opportunity.”

Ludington State Park is located north of the city of Ludington between the shores of Lake Michigan and Hamlin Lake. The park comprises nearly 5,300 acres and contains forests, sand dunes and beachfront access to Lake Michigan. More than 1 million people visit the park every year.

According to Ron Olson, DNR Parks and Recreation Division chief, the department will establish a public planning process to determine how present and future recreational use of the newly acquired 100 acres fits into Ludington State Park’s overall management plan. Olson said that public input, at every stage, is an important part of the DNR’s statewide park management planning process.

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Insects in Winter

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Winter active insects have different nature niche adaptations for getting warm compared to birds or mammals. Reptiles and amphibians are inactive in winter as are some mammals and many birds migrate to warmer regions. Most insects and other invertebrates are stuck here all winter. Many aquatic insects maintain activity in winter. Their activity along with that of other invertebrates is minimized. 

Even when the ground is covered with snow, terrestrial insects can be seen actively going about their business of walking, jumping, or flying when conditions are suitable. Snowfleas are usually absent until well into the new year. They are not a flea but because they are small, black, and flip summersaults into the air, they have gained the name “flea.” A better name is springtail. When active on sunny winter days, they gather by the tens of thousands, usually at the base of large trees making the snow surface appear black. 

Dark tree bark absorbs heat and radiates the sun’s warmth. Winter sun rays are not restricted from striking the trunk as they pass through the bare canopy branches. Springtails are soil inhabitants that come above ground where the snow has melted around the south side of the tree trunks. They have a small spine on the underside at their tail end that projects forward. It is locked in place at the spine’s tip. 

Simulate the snapping mechanism that allows the springtail to flip summersaults into the air. Place two fingertips from opposite hands together at their very tip and provided increasing pressure until they snap apart. When the springtail lever snaps against the snow or hard surface it sends the lightweight an inch or two into the air to land somewhere nearby. A close view of massive snowfleas appears like jumping pepper on the snow.

Winter stoneflies, flies, and other insects fly on sunny winter days. When you see a name like stonefly with the two parts combined rather than separated to read stone fly, it indicates the species is not a true fly but belongs to a different classification Order. The same is true with snowflea.

To warm adequately to jump, walk, or fly, the organism must be small and usually dark. The dark body allows it to absorb sun energy and the small size allows heat energy to penetrate the body to warm muscles quickly. They also lose heat quickly. During short bursts of sun warmth, they can become active. 

Large hibernating adult insects like the mourning cloak and eastern comma butterflies require a longer stretch of warming to bring their muscles to a temperature for flight. I have seen a mourning cloak come out of hibernation in early January but usually they are not active until near the spring equinox. Even so, I watch for them to become active in late February or early March before the sun crosses the equator and gets spring into high gear. 

We might lay naked on the snow on a warm winter day but the sun will not warm us to a comfortable activity temperature by penetrating deep to our muscles like it does for a springtail. Instead, we will quickly suffer from hypothermia and die. I suggest we keep our oversized bodies bundled and lay in the snow making snow-angels. Each species has specialized body adaptations that allow it to function. Body size and color are important. 

Habitat is critical. Aquatic insects, crayfish (can you tell by letter spacing if the crayfish is a true fish or not?), and fish can remain active in chilly liquid water. Their body temperature, though cool, allows activity all winter. Anglers know fish eat in winter but feeding and digestion are slowed in cold water compared to warm season rivers and lakes. Peer into an ice fishing hole from a dark ice fishing shanty where it is like watching TV with fish swimming through the viewing screen. Viewing is best when sunlight penetrates the ice.

Enjoy looking for active insects on beautiful sunny winter days when you rent snowshoes or get free use with your family membership at the Howard Christensen Nature Center. Take the family winter exploring in new ways during the coming months between the winter solstice on December 21 and spring equinox on March 20. There are always interesting things to do outdoors any time of year. Remain active and enjoy active insects.

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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New funding for farmers and forestland owners

Rogue River Watershed Partners want local landowners to know about a “Once in a lifetime conservation fund” that could benefit their property and the watershed, as well.

“If landowners do not apply to use these special funds over the next few years, the watershed will miss out on significant financial help that can improve and sustain our water quality,” said Gretchen Zuiderveen, President of the RRWP.

Here are some numbers and details:

More than $2 Million is available over the next three years to qualified landowners in the Rogue River watershed (and in the Indian Mill Creek watershed) to help improve water quality in these watersheds, and beyond.

Where does this money come from? It came to this area through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s conservation service. Grand Valley Metro Council worked to co-ordinate with 22 partners in order to qualify for these competitive funds.

What is the purpose of RCPP? “RCPP encourages partners to join efforts with producers to increase the restoration and sustainable use of: soil, water, wildlife, and related natural resources…on a watershed scale.”

Why is this money focused on these two watersheds? These watersheds play a vital role in supporting fish habitat and cold-water streams. By implementing the best practices listed below, the water quality of the Rogue River, will become more protected, and will supply healthier water to the Grand River and Lake Michigan, as well.

How can the money be used to improve water quality in these watersheds? It can be used as cost-share for conservation practices: nutrient management plans, cover crops, filter strips, forest stream buffers, erosion control structures, grassed waterways pollinator habitats, and forest stand improvements.

New funding for farmers and forestland owners

If you want to find out if your property is eligible, call your local NRCS (National Resources Conservation Services) office today at: (616) 222-5802.

To determine if your property is in the watershed, go to this website: https://www.lgrow.org/watershedmap

The Rogue River Watershed Partners, along with staff from the NRCS, will be hosting information breakfasts in various communities throughout the Rogue River Watershed, early in 2019. Look for announcements in your local papers, on the Kent Conservation District or Rogue River Watershed Partners web sites (rogueriverwp.org ) or Facebook pages, for when and where to meet, eat, and learn the facts.

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Do you fly?

By Ranger Steve Mueller

When is the last time you flew under your own power and ability? This does not refer to flying in a plane. Many insects are small, lightweight, and have wings that allow them to become airborne. Some newly hatched spiders float miles through the air on a single silk thread and disperse a long distance from their site of origin. Birds take flight on feathers that lift their hollow-boned lightweight bodies. Bats are the only mammals that have mastered the air with flight but “flying squirrels” glide with the aid of skin flaps.

The Southern Flying Squirrel in our area and the Northern Flying Squirrels a bit to the north have skin that stretches between their front and hind legs. They leap into the air without fear of falling with a thud to the ground. They glide like a parasailer. These small squirrels, the size of chipmunks, are among the most nocturnal mammals so they are seldom seen. If you have allowed hollow trees to persist in your yard, it is likely you have these cute bug-eyed squirrels. 

Bats have thin sheets of skin between bones that are analogous to our phalange finger bones and are adept fliers who make a living removing flying insects in our neighborhood. The idea that they will get tangled in our hair has more to do with poor observation than reality. Bats flying near people’s heads are seeking an abundance of insects and an easy nature niche meal. They do not swoop so close to get tangled in hair. 

We are mammals that only fly in our dreams. Perhaps we have limited flight experiences. Remember those youthful days when you jumped from a swing and were airborne for a short flight. I recall once when I was in a leather strap swing seat instead of being on a solid board seat. When it was time to jump, the strap seat held me until the swing reached its peak assent. My body flew upward into the air from a tall swing in a county park. It was a long fall and when I hit the ground it hurt my legs. Flying did not work well that time.

Another flight experience was in dune country where I ran and jumped off a steep sand dune cliff. I sailed free through the air and landed on shifting sand where I slide downhill. My stomach seemed to rise into my chest as I dropped through space and produced a tummy tickler. It was great fun. Many of us have had a similar exciting experience when a roller coaster drops making us feel like we are suspended in air. 

When I sleep, I get to fly through the air in dreams. Karen says it is ridiculous how I fly. She flies “like a normal person” head first with arms outstretched in the manner we have seen superman or other super heroes fly. I fly flat on my back feet first and lift my head to look where I’m going. She says I am a lazy flier. I do not flap my arms or legs but simply move peacefully through the sky. In Karen’s dreams she is often being pursued and flies between utility wires to escape danger pursuing her. Her flights are “James Bond” events. 

My dreams do not indicate where I am going or what I am doing but it is a joy to travel through air viewing the countryside. Not every flight has been a joy. Twice I have fallen to my death in dreams. For whatever reason, I fell from a high building or mountainside and plunged earthward, where I splatted and died instantly. My spirit rose from the lifeless body where I viewed my crushed limp being.

Fortunately, my flights of fancy are usually wonderful excursions of mind and body. It would be nice to flutter like a butterfly through fields, hover like a hummingbird nectaring at a red columbine flower, or flit from tree to tree like a chickadee. 

Birds have lightweight hollow bones, which weigh less than their feathers, making flight possible. Insects are small and able to lift their bodies into the air. For us heavy bodied creatures, we must content ourselves with joyous flight in dreams or maybe with the aid of a hot air balloon that lifts our weight. 

How often do you fly aided by a parachute, hang glider, airplane, or some other device? What is your manner for being airborne? Self-propelled free flight is only a momentary reality in dreams. Enjoy the experience. 

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

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Enjoy a historic summer as a Tawas Point Lighthouse keeper

Volunteer keepers who participate in the light-keeper’s program at Tawas Point Lighthouse provide tours and do some routine cleaning and light maintenance work during their stay. Enjoy a historic summer as a Tawas Point Lighthouse keeper.

Volunteers in the Tawas Point Lighthouse keeper’s program are trained to provide tours in the lighthouse and area’s unique history.

Winter may have just begun, but it’s the perfect time to start making summer travel plans. Looking for uncommon travel experiences? How about a two-week stay at the historic Tawas Point Lighthouse, located in Tawas Point State Park off Tawas Bay in Lake Huron?

The Tawas Point Lighthouse Keeper Program is now accepting applications for volunteer keepers for May 1 through Oct. 29. The program gets more than 100 applications a year. Those selected will get to live in the restored keeper’s quarters. Each participant pays a $75 per-person fee and provides roughly 35 hours of service each week in and around the historic lighthouse that attracts visitors from all over the world.

“The Tawas area is known as Michigan’s Cape Cod,” said Hillary Pine, Tawas Point Lighthouse historian. “It’s a lovely area favored by bird-watchers, sailors, history enthusiasts and others. We make sure our volunteer lighthouse keepers have plenty of time to enjoy Lake Huron, Tawas Bay and other recreational opportunities.”

Keeper duties at this nationally accredited museum include greeting visitors, giving tours, sharing information about the lighthouse, and routine cleaning and maintenance. Lodging is in the second story of the keeper’s quarters attached to the lighthouse. Accommodations include two bedrooms that sleep up to four adults, a modern kitchen, bath and laundry. Keepers must commit to a two-week stay.

Pine said the program looks for teams of two, three or four adults — especially those with knowledge of lighthouse lore or Great Lakes maritime history, but that background is not required. Prospective keepers should be able to climb up and down the 85 lighthouse stairs and have excellent customer service and public speaking skills.

“We give our volunteer lighthouse keepers historical information and on-site orientation to help prepare them for their experience,” Pine said. “They take great pride in helping to promote and preserve the lighthouse and who wouldn’t love waking up to a beautiful view of the bay every day?”

Applications will be accepted through Feb. 1. The application and additional information are available at michigan.gov/tawaslighthouse. For more information, email dnr-tawaskeepers@michigan.gov or contact Hillary Pine at 989-348-2537.

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River Wind

By Ranger Steve Mueller

We arrived at the river shortly before dusk. Our friends would join us early the next day. The river flowed straight toward us for about a quarter mile from the west before turning abruptly south. We selected a tent site where we could view the river and feel the breeze. It was fall so few bothersome insects were present and a breeze was comforting during the warm evening. 

We built a small fire in the forest service campsite grated fire ring to cook supper and make s’mores. Birds were mostly quiet during the late season but migrating warblers could be seen foraging in their transient nature niche from summer breeding grounds to winter havens far to the south. 

Grass was green and trees were beginning to flash colors we hadn’t seen in twelve months. Some were shedding a few leaves early. It was a peaceful evening and we were the only campers present. Families were home with children in school routines and it was premature for most hunters. 

We erected a dome tent with fiberglass rods that arched over the top. A rainfly covered the dome a few inches above the screen tent ceiling. The sides were waterproofed nylon. We laid our sleeping bags on small pads to make a comfortable bed and went to sleep after dousing the fire with water in the dark cloudy night. 

It was a quiet evening with only the infrequent hooting from a Great Horned Owl and the sound of rustling leaves as wind forced its way through the tree canopy. The breeze was soothing and lulled us to sleep like a mother humming at our bedside. 

Without warning the roar of a train startled and woke us from sound sleep as it raced closer. The dome tent that we could stand in was flattened and pressed against us. The rainfly was ripped off and carried into the forest. A strong straight wind or perhaps even a tornado was upon us. It was scary but exciting for Karen. For me it was terrifying. I had not inspected the area for dangerous trees that might break and crush us. 

I immediately envisioned John and Pat finding us in the morning dead under a fallen tree. The wind lessened quickly and the fiberglass rods supported the tent dome again. A pouring rain was coming through the screen tent apex. With flashlight in hand, I unzipped the tent and ran into the dark toward the downwind forest to recover the rainfly. Quickly, I returned with the slightly damaged bungy straps and rainfly that were ripped loose.

Together while being doused like in a shower, we covered the tent. Once back inside, we toweled our bags and tent floor as dry as possible and then dried ourselves. The sound of the roaring train came and went in an instant. I had learned that sound accompanies a tornado. When we got up in the morning little evidence indicated a tornado. No trees were uprooted and the area looked much like it did when were arrived. 

It must have been what is referred to as straight wind that came forcefully speeding down the quarter mile stretch of river and it did not turn at the river bend. Instead it continued eastward pressing the tent against our faces and trapping us prone on our backs. It was one of the scariest moments of my life but fear quickly passed when the dome erected itself and no tree was laying across our chests. 

We had a story to tell our friends when they arrived and that was much better than them finding us dead under a fallen tree. I learned that night it is important to survey a temporary camping residence for unexpected dangers. Rarely am I frightened when in the wild. Well maybe I should say infrequently. Dangers are present but rarely are they as dangerous as traveling in a car. One needs to be vigilant and cautious whether camping in wild country or going to the grocery in a car. It is usually more peaceful and safe camping than traveling on what seem like safe roads. Enjoy camping, learn how to stay safe, and have fun outdoors.

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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How birds stay warm

This winter might be a good time to feed the birds if you haven’t done so before.

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Many birds stay warm by migrating to warmer climes. Even more important for migrators is locating to places where they can find adequate food. Many birds that depend on insects, worms, and other invertebrates find moving to a winter home with adequate food is essential. Some that eat invertebrates stay in cold country but change their diet to vegetation and feed heavily on berries or even buds in winter.

American Robins that stay in our area move from our yards to swamps. I have been seeing robins during the last week of November and I am sure we will find many during the Christmas Bird Count on December 29. Come join us and discover what species are around in winter.

One of the most important ways birds stay warm in cold weather is by eating enough calories daily to maintain body heat. It appears this winter has a scarcity of food farther north. Evening Grosbeaks that we have not seen locally in years are making an appearance. Common Redpolls arrived in open country. Pine Siskins arrived at feeders after Thanksgiving. I did not expect them to arrive this early. Saw-whet Owls are reaching southward. This might be a great year to begin feeding birds if you haven’t maintained winter feeders.

As for staying warm, watch birds at your feeder on warm and cold days to notice differences in appearance and activity. I have not timed the frequency of birds returning to get seeds on cold verses warm days to learn if their foraging behavior changes. It seems they come and go more rapidly on cold days. It is difficult to keep track of a particular bird to monitor its behavior when several of the same species are visiting. Perhaps one will have feathers that make it distinguishable from others of its kind. Watch that bird and note the frequency of visits. Hopefully you will be able to observe it on both cold and warm days.

One of the most obvious things to notice is how birds look heavier in cold weather. They fluff their body feathers called contour feathers to trap air. The trapped air insolates and reduces heat loss. Small contour feathers are numerous and more abundant in winter. If feathers get wet they pack and do not insolate. You may have noticed this with a down sleeping bag. Birds have a preening gland at the base of their tail. They use their bill to gather waxy oil from the gland and spread it on feathers much like we use waterproofing oil on our boots.

Waterfowl, like ducks, geese, and swans, have a massive quantity of down feathers that keep them warm in winter while they float or swim in frigid water or lay on ice. If their down gets wet, the bird’s life will be short. Another vital adaptation to their aquatic nature niche is how blood circulates to and from their feet. Warm blood traveling in arteries to the feet flows adjacent to veins carrying blood from their feet. Heat from hot blood on the way to feet is transferred to cold blood returning from the feet. Cold blood is warmed by the veins touching warm arteries before blood reenters the body. The hot blood in route to feet is cooled. Instead of losing the heat to the environment, some heat is conserved by being transferred to the cold blood before it returns to the body.

It might not seem like a big deal but having moderately warmed blood entering the body instead of cold blood means the bird does not need to consume as many calories to maintain its body temperature. Watch birds like gulls standing on the ice to notice they often stand on one foot and tuck the other to the body. When watching behavior, determine if birds are facing the wind or away from the wind. When facing the wind, the air flows over the feathers and they are not ruffled to let cold air enter like when the wind approaches from behind.

Little things spell life and death. Like us, they can generate heat by increasing physical activity but this is only effective when they have enough food to replace lost body fat. During the night, a bird can consume its fat and starve in extreme cold. Black-capped Chickadees can go into a hibernation-like torpor where their heart rate and metabolism are reduced on long winter nights preventing too much body fat loss causing starvation.

These are some major methods employed to survive cold weather. Birds do not directly say thank you for us providing black oil sunflower seeds and suet but increased use of feeders in cold weather tells us they are appreciative.

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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Wild turkeys make history

By Katie Keen 

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

The comeback of the wild turkey is one of the country’s greatest wildlife conservation success stories. While more than 7 million wild turkeys can be found in the United States today, there was a time when the sighting of one of these birds in this country was rare.

Wild turkeys now can be found in parts of every county in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, plus areas of the Upper Peninsula. The expansion of the species in Michigan did not happen overnight, but rather, has unfolded over the last half-century.

Wild turkeys had been common in Michigan prior to the arrival of settlers. In fact, before settlement, it is estimated that more than 94,000 wild turkeys roamed the state. As habitat changed and turkey hunting went unregulated, turkeys disappeared, and conservationists set out to re-establish the species.

Many attempts to release turkeys into the wild were made in various locations.

By 1937, a national coalition of conservationists – virtually all of them hunters, backed by the sporting arms and ammunition industries – persuaded Congress to direct the receipts from an excise tax on those items into a special fund.

The proceeds from this fund would then be distributed to the states for wildlife restoration. Because of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (also known as the Pittman- Robertson Act of 1937), conserving wild turkeys and other wildlife gained nationwide support and habitat management began.

 Since the 1980s, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, working with many partners, has completed numerous releases of trapped wild birds and has improved wild turkey habitat.

With the help of these efforts, the wild turkey population has expanded to historic levels, and with that expansion, there are more areas open to spring hunting now than at any time in Michigan history.

Over 4.5 million acres of DNR-managed public land are open to hunting. Millions of additional private-land acres are leased or enrolled in programs to allow hunting by all. Visit michigan.gov/hunting to find out where.

Managing the species

Managing wild turkeys in Michigan involves the complex interactions of turkey populations, their habitat and their relationship to people. Hunting plays an important role in this by regulating turkey numbers.

“The goal of the spring wild turkey hunting season is to maximize hunter opportunity while maintaining a satisfactory hunting experience,” said Al Stewart, DNR upland gamebird specialist.

“Limited to bearded turkeys only, this conservative harvest approach has allowed the continued growth and expansion of the wild turkey population in Michigan.

“Wild turkey hunting in the fall enables the DNR to stabilize or reduce wild turkey numbers in certain areas of the state to meet local goals based on biological, social and economic considerations.”

License quotas are developed for this hunt to take a desired number of turkeys to meet management goals. To help reach these goals, hunters are encouraged to take female turkeys during the fall season.

Mirroring the success measured on a national scale, the return of wild turkeys to Michigan has been aided greatly by deliberate species and habitat management.

The efforts of many have contributed to this achievement, a true recovery story that continues to unfold across the woodlands and open spaces of the Great Lakes State.

Learn more about wild turkeys and turkey hunting at michigan.gov/turkey. ###


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