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Michigan Audubon blitzing for declining Rusty Blackbirds

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Contest to raise awareness for Rusty Blackbird conservation

Michigan Audubon is sponsoring a contest to motivate volunteers to monitor a rapidly declining, yet poorly understood Michigan bird species, Rusty Blackbirds. Rusty Blackbirds, or “Rusties,” have endured a population decline more severe than that of any other once-common landbird. Michigan is an important migratory stopover for Rusties during their northward, Canada-bound journey in the spring, but scientists have yet to find specific stopover hotspots that can be protected to ensure this species has safe and productive refueling stations. Michigan Audubon hopes that Michigan birders will take part in a continent-wide effort to monitor Rusties and to sweeten the deal they’re offering rewards—the top birder will receive a pair of binoculars valued at $400.

The Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz (or “the Blitz”) is a continent-wide effort to engage citizen scientists in finding and counting these elusive blackbirds with the ultimate goal of creating well-informed conservation guidelines. This is a three-year program that began in 2014 and includes partners such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, eBird, and many other state, federal, and local partners. In 2014, 4,750 birders participated in the Blitz and researchers used those observations to learn about potential migratory hotspots, habitat use, and potential migratory pathways.

The 2015 Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz runs from March 1 to June 15 and it challenges birders from Alabama to Alberta to search for Rusties in their typical habitats: flooded forests, agricultural fields, and wetlands. Anyone can participate in the Blitz; just visit www.rustyblackbird.org/outreach/migration-blitz/ to learn how to identify Rusty Blackbirds, where to look, and how to submit your observations.

Volunteer citizen science efforts like the Blitz offer great opportunities for the public to significantly contribute to bird conservation in Michigan. To help kick off Michigan’s Blitz, Michigan Audubon is sponsoring a contest with several Rusty Blackbird-themed prizes and one grand prize: a pair of Atlas Optics Intrepid Binoculars. To sign up for the contest or to learn more about Michigan’s Blitz, email Rachelle Roake at RRoake@michiganaudubon.org. Michigan Audubon hopes to engage hundreds of birders across the state to Blitz for Blackbirds this spring!

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Middleville angler breaks freshwater drum state record 

This fish, caught on Gun Lake, by Mark Leep of Middleville, set a new state record for freshwater drum, weighing in at more than 28 pounds.

This fish, caught on Gun Lake, by Mark Leep of Middleville, set a new state record for freshwater drum, weighing in at more than 28 pounds.

The Department of Natural Resources confirmed a new state record last month for freshwater drum. This record marks the first one caught in 2015.

A fish caught by Mark Leep of Middleville, Michigan, on Gun Lake in Barry County Saturday, Jan. 24, at 4:30 p.m. beat the state record for freshwater drum. Leep was spearing. The fish weighed 28.61 pounds and measured 34.02 inches. Kregg Smith, a DNR fisheries biologist in Plainwell, verified the record.
James Black caught the previous state-record freshwater drum, weighing 26 pounds and measuring 37.5 inches, on Muskegon Lake May 28, 1973.

In Michigan, freshwater drum typically inhabit the Great Lakes or their tributaries. Based on the size of this fish, it found its way to Gun Lake several years ago, perhaps through illegal stocking, as there are limited connections to a large river system. Anglers are reminded that transferring fish from one water body to another is prohibited without an approved permit, because such transfers can disrupt the fish community in the receiving water through predation, competition with native species or introduction of new disease-causing organisms.

State records are recognized by weight only. To qualify for a state record, fish must exceed the current listed state-record weight, and a DNR fisheries biologist must verify identification.

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Time for a new fishing license

 

OUT-Fishing-licenseThe Department of Natural Resources reminds anglers that a new fishing license season began Wednesday, April 1, which coincides with the new regulation cycle.

Anglers have five options to choose from when making their purchases. All fishing licenses are good for all species.

Resident Annual – $26

Non-Resident Annual – $68

Senior Annual (for residents age 65 or older) – $11

24-Hour (resident or non-resident) – $10

72-Hour (resident or non-resident) – $30

Residents and non-residents also can purchase the Hunt/Fish combo license for $76 and $266, respectively, that consists of a base license, annual fishing license and two deer tags. A base license is not required when just purchasing a fishing license. There is also a Hunt/Fish combo license available to senior residents for $43.
Michigan’s fishing licenses bring revenue into the state that is invested into the state’s fisheries in several ways, including providing greater access to world-class fishing opportunities, improving fisheries habitat in inland lakes and streams, and increasing the health and quantity of fish stocked in the state. The DNR Fisheries Division depends primarily on angler dollars (through license sales and federal excise tax dollars for fishing tackle) to manage the state’s fisheries. Buying a fishing license, even if you do not plan to fish, can make a big difference to the future health of Michigan’s prized freshwaters.

There are two simple ways to purchase a fishing license in Michigan:

1. Visit a local license retailer or DNR Customer Service Center and make a purchase in person.

2. Use the E-License system to buy a license online 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Just visit www.mdnr-elicense.com on a computer, smartphone or tablet to get started.

For more information on fishing in Michigan, visit michigan.gov/fishing.

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Michigan frog and toad survey hits 20-year mark

Wood frogs are hardy, common, and among the first frogs to begin calling in the spring.

Wood frogs are hardy, common, and among the first frogs to begin calling in the spring.

Michigan’s amateur herpetologists will go afield over the course of the next several months, listening for the songs of frogs and toads across the state. This annual survey – now in its 20th year – is proving to be an important tool, as wildlife officials try to keep track of what’s going on with the state’s amphibians.
“Our volunteer survey was kind of looked down upon by the scientific community when it first started,” said Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Lori Sargent, who helped design the survey and has headed it up since the beginning.

“Nowadays, our citizen-scientists are being lauded,” she said. “Our data have been used in a number of graduate-degree studies, which is what we hoped—that it would attract the attention of additional researchers.”

The survey is simple. Volunteers follow a 10-stop route—each at least a half-mile away from the previous stop, so the same toads and frogs aren’t being counted—and record which species of amphibian they hear calling. Volunteers conduct the same surveys on three different nights, at least two weeks apart. The surveys give the DNR indications of the direction of population trends for the various species in Michigan.

Green frogs, found statewide, are sometimes mistaken for bullfrogs.



Green frogs, found statewide, are sometimes mistaken for bullfrogs.

John and Gwen Nystuen of Ann Arbor have participated in the survey every year since it began. The pair used to like to go out and look for amphibians in the spring, so when the survey began, it was right in their wheelhouse.
“We were very happy to join in,” said Gwen, a retired physical therapist. “It’s fun, a very enjoyable thing to do. You hear one kind of frog one year and then you might not hear it the next year.
Each site is different,” she continued. “It’s kind of like an Easter egg hunt—you get surprises.”
Edward and Kathryn Bolt of Grand Rapids have been involved in the survey for about a decade.
“We’ve been interested in various aspects of nature and we’re certainly interested in the long-term prospects for frogs and toads,” said Edward, a retired architect. “Every time we go out to do our survey, it rousts us from the couch. It’s interesting and educational.”
There are two species of toads and 11 species of frogs (or maybe 12, that’s unclear) in Michigan, some of which are common and widespread and others that are rare and found in limited areas.
Both frogs and toads are cold-blooded creatures, which begin life as aquatic larva—known as tadpoles or pollywogs—before metamorphosing into air-breathing, more-terrestrial creatures, losing their tails and developing legs. Toads are more at home in upland environments; frogs largely must remain wet. So you can find toads at quite some distance from wetlands. Frogs will almost always be in or near water.
The surveys begin as soon as spring arrives—usually April but sometimes in March—and continue until June.

“There are species that call only briefly, the first thing in spring then others that don’t start until later,” Sargent explained. “Bullfrogs don’t start until June; deep-water species are later callers.”

In contrast, shallow–water species, especially those that breed in temporary pools, begin as soon as the weather warms so they can reproduce before the nursery areas dry up for the summer. Toads and frogs call for two reasons: to establish territories and attract mates. Only the males call.
Michigan’s two species of toads—the American toad and the Fowler’s toad—are quite similar in appearance. Their calls are the best way to tell them apart, Sargent said, though American toads are more common and widely dispersed while Fowler’s toads are found mostly in sandy habitat. Fowler’s toads appear to be in decline—based on survey results—and could be candidates for listing as a species of special concern.
Among the frogs, spring peepers are the loudest. Found almost everywhere, they’ll call for the longest period—three months. Wood frogs, found statewide, are extremely common and “among the most interesting,” Sargent said. “They’re very hardy; they can tolerate the cold best and are the only frog found in Alaska.”
Bullfrogs are the largest of Michigan’s frogs and are found statewide, but are most common in southern Michigan. They are strong predators. “They’ll eat anything they can catch,” Sargent said, “other frogs, fish, even birds.”
Bullfrogs are the most prized by humans as table fare and may be harvested by those with a fishing license. The season on all amphibians is the last Saturday in May through Nov. 15. The possession limit is 10 amphibians in any combination, though Blanchard’s cricket frogs and boreal tree frogs may not be taken.
Green frogs, which often are mistaken for bullfrogs, are found statewide. They’re among the most able to withstand environmental contaminants, Sargent said.
Mink frogs are found only in the Upper Peninsula and seem to be in decline, according to the surveys. Blanchard’s cricket frogs are the only threatened species in the state. They’re only found in southern Michigan, though they occur in states to the south.

“We hear Blanchard’s cricket frogs a lot,” Bolt said. “We’re unable to provide visual identification because we’re out at night, but they certainly make a unique sound.”
The boreal chorus frog is found only on Isle Royale and has not been recorded in the last couple of years. “We’re not sure what’s going on with them,” Sargent said.

Michigan boasts two species of treefrog—the Eastern gray and the Cope’s treefrog. “Physically they’re identical,” Sargent said, “but their call is different.”
Frogs and toads are considered good indicators of water quality. They breathe through their skin and are sensitive to contaminants, Sargent said. Herpetologists have noticed a decline in the amphibians nationwide since the 1970s.
Michigan has seen declining numbers of frogs, something Sargent says is probably due to a loss of wetland habitat, though there could be other factors, too.
“There are diseases, toxins, even global warming,” she said.
“These animals are ancient,” Sargent said, “They’ve been around for billions of years. They’re very important to the food chain. They not only eat lots of mosquitoes and other bugs, but they’re important food for other animals.”

Some creatures – the hog-nosed snake, for instance—depend entirely on toads for their sustenance, she noted.

Besides their place in the food chain, frogs and toads serve another important purpose, Sargent said.
“They’re the sound of spring,” she said. “I think if they were gone, people would miss them.”
Sargent said additional volunteers are needed this year to conduct the survey in all parts of the state. Those interested in volunteering for the 2015 survey should contact Sargent at sargentl@michigan.gov.

For more information about the frog and toad survey and frogs, toads and other creatures that are supported by the Nongame Wildlife Fund, visit www.michigan.gov/wildlife.

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Wildland Conservation Organizations

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Organizations with focused visions target specific conservation initiatives for wildlife and plant communities. We cannot care for species or natural communities important to human survival without knowing about native species and their function in nature.

Too often we have constructed buildings and filled floodplains that caused increased flooding of residences and business downstream. We have placed drain tiles in areas to increase tillable farmland and caused increased flooding of homes and businesses downstream. In addition to personal loss for owners downstream, it costs taxpayers twice when money is used to subsidize agricultural tiling and wetland draining for community development in areas that should remain natural. Secondly, government funding often provides money to help families flooded out of their homes or businesses.

Knowledgeable zoning commissions and community members could avoid the economic and personal trauma of loss with increased ecological understanding of nature niches. Too often contractors have been allowed to fill and build where it is not safe for downstream residents.

To gain an ecological intelligence, it is first important to have enjoyable experiences in the outdoors when growing up to discover the wonders of the surrounding world. Once we begin to discover biodiversity by exposing family, friends and members to outdoor experiences, we will likely become interested in the landscape that secures economic and living safety for our families. That knowledge could guide us to become what used to be called conservationists and has become known as environmentalists.

Exposure in the nature broadens our experience to a holistic understanding for how humans interact and with the natural world. Many organizations provide outings and opportunities to learn nature and the species that live in association with our yards. Too often we spend money to destroy and eliminate important species that keep our yards healthy functioning components of a neighborhood. Healthy stewardship of our yards could preserve multitudes of species that are killed when we try to eliminate a few species we perceive as harmful to us or vegetable gardens.

What are these organizations? Individual articles detailing each organization could be written but here they are simply listed. Hopefully some will peek interest and you will search the Internet to learn more. Many have frequent meetings and field trips for learning, sharing, and becoming knowledgeable about ecological stewardship in our yards to improve family security, joy, and quality of life.

Local Organizations: River City Wild Ones, Land Conservancy of West Michigan, Grand Rapids Audubon, White Pine Chapter of Michigan Botanical Club, Trout Unlimited, Dwight Lydell Chapter of Isaac Walton League, Michigan Audubon, West Michigan Butterfly Association (WMBA), Michigan Entomological Society, West Michigan Environmental Action Council, Master Naturalists and Master Gardeners programs through MSU Kent County Extension, and Groundswell & its community partners, Sierra Club. This is not a complete list but it provides connections associated with mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibian, fish, insects, plants, outdoor experiences as well as broad natural community health initiatives.

Learning Centers: Blandford Nature Center, Howard Christensen Nature Center, Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center, Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve, Outdoor Discovery Center, Fredrick Meijer Gardens, and Public Museum of Grand Rapids.

Regional organizations: City, Twp, County, State, and National Parks. National Audubon, Defender’s of Wildlife, North American Butterfly Association, Lepidopterists Society that supports local youth science training with Outer-net Kits through WMBA, National Wildlife Federation and its associated Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

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

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Spring wildfire season has returned   

OUT-Spring-WildfireThe melting snow may be a welcome change from winter’s chill, but the Department of Natural Resources reminds residents that pleasant weather also brings the threat of wildfires.

“Fire season gets going when dead grass and leaves become exposed after warm temperatures melt snow from easily ignited fields and forests,” explained Dan Laux, DNR fire prevention specialist.

He added that several factors contribute to the increased wildfire risk in the spring.

“Dead grass becomes flammable as it dries out,” Laux explained. “People don’t realize there can be wildfire danger even when nights are cool and snow piles linger in the shade.The hazard begins when homeowners start spring cleanup chores by burning yard waste.”
The unsafe burning of leaves, brush and other debris is a main cause of wildfires in Michigan.
A person is required to get a burn permit prior to burning brush and debris in Michigan. Residents in southern Michigan should contact their local fire department or township office to see if burning is permitted in their area. Residents in the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula can obtain a free burn permit by visiting www.michigan.gov/burnpermit or by calling 866-922-2876.
The DNR reminds people to do the following prior to burning yard debris:

  • Obtain a burn permit.
  • Choose a day that is cool and damp with little wind.
  • Burn in small mounds placed in areas that are clear of vegetation.
  • Keep water close by.
  • Supervise fires at all times.
  • Always extinguish flames, coals and embers properly.

Remember, embers can stay hot for days. “Nine out of 10 wildfires are caused by people,” Laux said. “We all need to do our part to prevent wildfires and protect the natural resources that make Michigan so special.”
So far this year the DNR has responded to 10 wildfires totaling 69 acres.
For more information, visit www.michigan.gov/preventwildfires. To check if burn permits are being issued in your area, visit www.michigan.gov/burnpermit.

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What’s “bugging” you in our streams?

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In many cases we think bugs are a nuisance, but bugs in a stream can be very useful.  Stream insects are a good measure of water quality.  Unlike fish, stream insects cannot move around much so they are less able to escape the effects of sediment and other pollutants that diminish water quality. Stream insects can also be easily identified.

Trout Unlimited National, Cannon Township and Michigan Trout Unlimited will be holding a Stream Insect Monitoring Event on Saturday, May 2, 2015 from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at the Rockford Community Cabin – 220 North Monroe Street in Rockford.  Volunteers will be assigned to a monitoring group with a team leader.  Each group will collect and identify insects from different stream sites in the Rogue River and Bear Creek watersheds. You don’t need any experience with stream insects to participate and all ages are welcome.

What will you need? Please RSVP to Nichol De Mol at 231-557-6362 or ndemol@tu.org if you would like to attend. Lunch will be provided for all volunteers.  Please bring waders if you have them and dress for the weather conditions.

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Important bird areas

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Important Bird Areas are surveyed and designated specifically for their importance for bird species survival. Birders visit some of these areas regularly to see many of the 233 bird species that breed in Michigan, and the areas are inventoried to identify habitats essential for bird preservation. About 115 species that do not breed in Michigan use the areas during spring and fall migration or as winter residence.

As winter was drawing to close, a couple friends and I visited the Muskegon River Channel outlet into Lake Michigan. About 85 percent of Lake Michigan was ice covered in early March, forcing waterfowl to limited open water. Winter a year ago was tough and our visit was both enjoyable and sad. We saw many ducks that normally stay away from shore, in close view. Ice cover forced large numbers into small areas, where many starved, before ice breakup provided additional feeding areas.

Early March this year was more joyous. Infrequently seen birds were active and we did not see floating corpses of starved birds among them. Many birds were likely hungry and possibly experiencing malnutrition but ice breakup hopefully arrived in time for them to replenish reserves for migration. Lakes Erie, Huron, and Superior still had nearly complete ice cover and were still closed to feeding. Lakes Ontario and Lake Michigan opened in early March.

We observed a Common Eider in the Muskegon river channel. It might be the only eider I see this year. Most eiders winter along ocean coasts but some winter in the Great Lakes before returning to breed in the arctic. The eider seems oblivious to us. Shelled mussels at the bottom of rivers and open water drive feeding behavior. The bird does not comprehend how our presence is important for improving or eliminating survival of their food survival. Many people do not understand how environmental stewardship behavior determines long-term survival for us, eiders and other species.

Many organizations work to maintain healthy habitats essential for people and other species. Michigan and National Audubon Society support inventory of critical habitats of importance for bird breeding, migration, and winter residence survival. Local Audubon chapters provide bird watching field trips, programs, and members preserve bird nature niches. Google Michigan Audubon to find local chapters for monthly programs and field trips. Spring migration has begun. Take the family outside to enjoy wondrous-feathered visitors passing northward on stops in important bird areas to refuel.

Species of excitement in the Muskegon River Channel were Black Scoters, White-winged Scoters, and Long-tailed Ducks. Other ducks rounded out our visit. We observed head banging behavior of male Common Goldeneyes. Males throw their heads on their back and bring them forward to impress the ladies somewhat like head-banging antics of some music groups and dancers. Field guides help identify these dark headed ducks with a white check patch. The females have reddish-feathered head beauty.

We found Tundra Swans in a nearby area. Horned Larks were performing breeding displays in open fields and where females will be incubating eggs. I have found lark nests in March, when snow is still on the ground. Hopefully larks will fledge young before farmers till fields.

We found Glaucous Gulls and Common Redpoles. Meteorologists predicted we are free from extreme cold until November. Lengthening days, ice breakup, and warmer air signals birds to migrate north to important bird habitats for this year’s breeding. Critically “Important Bird Areas” have been identified for bird biodiversity preservation in local and distant areas. Many areas will not be visited by people but birds produced in them will visit human population centers. If preserved in abundance, birds will provide opportunities for millions of people that support preservation to see them and for duck hunters that spend millions to preserve habitats to have sustainable fare on the winter dinner table. Preservation of Important Bird Area habitats will sustain our natural heritage for the present and future.

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

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Lunch anyone?

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OUT-Eagle2-webOUT-Eagle3-webCherri and Pete Rose, of Solon Township, sent us photos of a bald eagle they spotted near their home. “This bald eagle picked up a rabbit that had been hit by a car and carried it on to Upper Lake to have lunch on Saturday, March 14,” wrote Cherri. “We had seen the dead rabbit in the road earlier in the morning, then saw the eagle fly by our house carrying it. He spent about a half hour eating, then took a long drink from puddles of melted ice. It was awesome to be able to watch him for so long, right in front of our house!” she said.

Thanks so much for sending us your photos!

If you have wildlife photos, please send them to us at news@cedarspringspost.com, along with some info about them.

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Slip off Slope

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Rivers slip off slopes and create cut banks. Rivers, streams and brooks move from side to side to create cut banks and slip-off-slopes that become important habitats for wildlife and plants. The movement of stream channels creates unique nature niche environments.

Belted Kingfishers use cut banks for excavating deep tunnels where they nests. Marsh marigolds flower on slip-off-slopes. Slip-off-slopes floodplains retain water that reduces flooding of homes downstream.

A stream or river channel is the trough filled with flowing water. It cuts deeper every season, decade, century, and millennium. The work is slow but not steady. In spring after heavy rains or snowmelt, channel cutting increases. Once the river valley did not exist and the land was nearly level with the surrounding landscape. Following glacial retreat, water flowed to lower areas and began moving particles. Continued flow cut deeper into the landscape creating river valleys.

When water meets an obstacle like a tree or rock, it is diverted sideways and cuts into the opposite bank of the channel creating a cut bank. What was a straight flowing stream forms a meander. Bank undercutting creates hidden hollows where fish hide. Meanders become larger loops but the stream channel width normally remains about the same size. If it was 3-foot wide or 30-foot wide, the size does not change significantly.

Where the stream cuts into a bank along the outer edge of a meander, water flows faster with greater force. On the inside of the channel’s meander, water moves more slowly and drops sediment. It creates shallower water in the process of filling the channel on that side. As the cut bank is eroded on one side, a new wetland known as a slip-off-slope floodplain is formed on the other. The slip-off-slope is named because the river channel is actually slipping off the streambed as it creates new land. The opposite shore can have a nearly vertical bank. It might only be a foot or two high or almost 100 feet. Over time the river moves back and forth across the river valley.

This can be observed along the Grand River, Rogue River, and even Little Cedar Creek. At Ody Brook, the stream valley is about as wide as a football field is long. In Grand Rapids, roads climb slopes of the Grand River’s cut bank toward the Medical Mile to the east and to the west on I-196 west from US 131. Where the Grand River channel flows through town, we have worked to stop the sideway meandering by constructing concrete walls.

To protect businesses and homes on the slip-off-slope floodplain, it was necessary to prevent stream movement back and forth. One can observe more natural slip-off-slope wetland communities at places like Millennium Park. Ody Brook is a headwater for Little Cedar Creek that feeds Cedar Creek, Rogue River, and Grand River. Upstream from Ody Brook, the channel is dry in August but water flows year around at Ody Brook because springs seep from the cut bank maintaining continuous flow.

Even this small watercourse channel that is 4 to 5 feet wide and usually a few inches deep has cut a valley about 12 feet deep and about 300 feet wide. During flooding as water flows through the wetland forest, the current is slowed and drops rich fertile sediment nourishing floodplain communities.

Mouse “houses” and low bird nests get washed away during high water and minks visit more frequently. Failed nests require adults to rebuild, bare new young or lay replacement eggs. Mice trapped on floodplain islands swim to higher ground. It is not just people that construct homes in locations prone to flooding.

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

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