web analytics

Archive | Outdoors

Weekly fishing tip 


OUT-ChannelCatfishFishing for channel cats in the summertime 

From the DNR

These warm months can be the perfect time to target channel catfish throughout Michigan. Found nearly statewide, channel cats inhabit both lakes and streams.This species is typically pursued by anglers using live, dead or cut bait, though anglers have long used all manner of bait—cheese, shrimp, liver, spawn—or commercially prepared blood or scent baits. Though occasionally taken on artificial lures by anglers pursuing other species, channel cats are traditionally fished with bait presented on the bottom.
A good tip to remember is channel catfish will fight once they’re hooked. Consider using at least 12-pound test to ensure your line is tough enough to handle their strength.
This tip was adapted from Michigan Outdoor News. 

Posted in OutdoorsComments Off on Weekly fishing tip 

DNR reports 2014 deer hunting harvest down across Michigan


Several factors added to decline; wildlife managers working on improvements


Several factors contributed to a lower deer hunting harvest in 2014.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently issued a Michigan Deer Harvest Survey Report on the 2014 hunting seasons indicating that roughly 615,000 hunters statewide harvested a total of roughly 329,000 deer. The harvest represents a drop of 15 percent from 2013.
Wildlife managers report that regional declines in deer harvest were greatest in the Upper Peninsula, where the overall harvest was down by nearly 36 percent.
The DNR said several factors—including back-to-back years of severe winter weather that depleted the deer population in some parts of the state—contributed to the decline.

Snow, snow and more snow

“In the Upper Peninsula, winter started early with more than three feet of snow on the ground in some areas before the Nov. 15 opening of firearm deer season,” said DNR wildlife biologist Brian Frawley. “Though not as severe as the previous season, this marked the third consecutive rough winter for the deer population in the U.P.” Frawley said that much of the region’s drop in deer harvest could be explained by those conditions. The heavy U.P. snowfall, for example, made it challenging—sometimes impossible—for some firearm deer hunters to get to their camps. Given the conditions, many decided not to hunt; others, after experiencing the effects of the two previous winters, decided not to buy licenses.
“When the number of hunters is reduced in a given year, the deer harvest potential naturally is reduced, too,” Frawley said.

 Michigan deer hunters spent 8.8 million days afield last year.

Michigan deer hunters spent 8.8 million days afield last year.

Across all hunting seasons, 84,099 people hunted deer in the U.P. in 2014, down about 19 percent from 2013.
Natural cyclical movement

DNR Director Keith Creagh said that like Michigan’s deer population, the state’s deer harvest numbers have risen and fallen in an ebb-and-flow pattern since the early 1960s.

“The number of deer harvested hit a low in the early 1970s at below 100,000 statewide,” Creagh said. “With mild winters and changing forest conditions, deer populations then rose and hunter harvest climbed to more than 400,000 by the late 1980s.”

After tough back-to-back winters in the mid-1990s, the harvest followed the population steeply downhill, but rebounded again to nearly 600,000 by the end of the decade. Since then, deer harvest has remained below 500,000 since the early 2000s.

Other population indicators

DNR deer program biologist Ashley Autenrieth said U.P. deer-vehicle collisions tallied 2,961, down 22 percent from 2013. Crop damage permit kills were down to 1,664 in 2014 from 1,745 the previous year. “These two factors indicate a drop in the overall deer population,” Autenrieth said. The winter severity index, crop damage permits and deer-vehicle accidents also were down in the northern Lower Peninsula.

Pockets of success

In northern parts of the U.P., firearm deer hunters who did get to their camps and blinds found the snowy conditions had put many deer on southward seasonal migration paths early. Hunters who altered their strategies to follow those paths fared better. Despite the challenging conditions, firearm deer hunters in the U.P. harvested 14,734 antlered bucks, with 41,415 taken in the northern Lower Peninsula and 49,110 in the southern Lower Peninsula.
Across all 2014 deer hunting seasons, nearly a fourth of hunters in the western U.P., and 14.6 percent in the eastern U.P., harvested at least one antlered buck. Statewide, the percentage jumped to 26.9 percent.

Overall deer harvest, hunter satisfaction

Statewide, 41 percent of hunters harvested a deer in 2014, compared to 43 percent in 2013. Roughly 11 percent of deer hunters harvested two or more deer of any type. Less than 4 percent of hunters took two antlered bucks.
About 20 percent of deer hunters harvested an antlerless deer and 27 percent took an antlered buck. “Across Michigan, 39 percent of hunters said they were satisfied with their overall hunting experience, with the highest satisfaction in the Lower Peninsula,” Frawley said. “Those are numbers we want to build on as we work to provide a positive experience for hunters in every part of the state.”

Other population, harvest factors

Michigan deer hunters spent 8.8 million days afield last year. DNR efforts to improve the deer population affected the harvest numbers as well. Those actions include:

To protect more does in the U.P., the Michigan Natural Resources Commission restricted the number of deer management units open to antlerless deer hunting to three areas in the southern part of the region.

Recently, at the urging of hunters, the NRC decided to remove for this fall the ability of hunters in the U.P. to tag antlerless deer during the archery season with a single or combination deer license.

For the long-term, DNR and hunter efforts continue to improve deer habitat:

A U.P. Habitat Workgroup reconvened in January, focused on improving and conserving critical winter deer habitat, offering technical assistance and incentives to private landowners.

A Mississippi State University multiyear study on the role of predators, winter weather and habitat on white-tailed deer fawn survival in the U.P. is continuing, aided by the DNR and Safari Club International.

Reasons for optimism

Although the overall number of license buyers was down from 10 years ago, an increased number of people younger than 14 years old and people older than 50 bought a hunting license last year. Overall, 12 percent of license buyers were younger than 17 years old.
The DNR continues efforts to meet changing hunter demographics by promoting hunting to younger hunters and female hunters, whose numbers are rising.
Across Michigan, about 57 percent of hunters supported antler point restrictions on buck harvest that were implemented for the U.P. and about 63 percent of the hunters who preferred to hunt in the U.P. supported the antler point restrictions.

The DNR offered all deer hunters the option to voluntarily report information about their deer hunt via the Internet. More than 4,200 hunters responded. Next, a questionnaire was sent to 58,857 randomly selected individuals who had bought a hunting license, but had not reported harvest information online. Respondents who promptly responded became eligible to win a firearm or a bow.
Questionnaires were returned by 29,035 hunters (a 51-percent response rate), providing additional valuable harvest and experience data.

Moving forward, the DNR and the NRC will continue to talk with the public regarding their ideas on more measures that potentially could be taken to further improve deer hunting in Michigan.

For more information on the 2014 deer harvest report, visit www.michigan.gov/deer.

Posted in Featured, OutdoorsComments Off on DNR reports 2014 deer hunting harvest down across Michigan

Enjoy a variety of events at state parks 

Orchard Beach State Park’s survival skills program provides an interactive experience for practicing the art of camouflage.

Orchard Beach State Park’s survival skills program provides an interactive experience for practicing the art of camouflage.

Summer means more time to spend in the sun, and state parks in western Michigan have plenty of events for people to do just that.The Department of Natural Resources recently shared highlights of some of the upcoming July events:

Monday, July 20:
Rec. 101 Survival Skills at Orchard Beach State Park (Manistee County). Meet the staff of Crystalaire Adventures from 1-2:30 p.m. for this introductory class focusing on the skill of camouflage. Please preregister by calling 231-352-7589.

Programs offered by Michigan state parks, such as a hands-on camping and backpacking class, allow participants to learn about the outdoors, practice using maps and work together

Programs offered by Michigan state parks, such as a hands-on camping and backpacking class, allow participants to learn about the outdoors, practice using maps and work together

Wednesday, July 29: Adaptive Paddling Clinic at Interlochen State Park (Grand Traverse County). Experience this fun and interactive adaptive paddling clinic, provided by Lighthouse Rehabilitation Center, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Please preregister by calling 231-263-1350.

Friday, July 31: Rec. 101 & 202: Intro to Camping and Backpacking at Leelanau State Park (Leelanau County). Join the staff of Crystalaire Adventures for a two-part class. From about 1-2:30, a free introductory program will cover camping basics, and afterward (until around 5 p.m.), visitors can learn more advanced backpacking skills during an actual backpacking trip ($35 for advanced class). Please preregister by calling 231-352-7589.

Weekly Programs:

Beach Yoga at Charles Mears State Park (Oceana County).

Tuesdays and Thursdays, now through Labor Day,  starting at 9:30 a.m.

Select Michigan state parks provide active and enjoyable fitness programs such as the beach yoga class, shown here.

Select Michigan state parks provide active and enjoyable fitness programs such as the beach yoga class, shown here.

Great Lakes Beach Yoga at Muskegon State Park, Channel Beach Pavilion (Muskegon County).

Mondays and Wednesdays, 10:30-11:30 a.m., July 20 through Labor Day.

Beach Fit Boot Camp at Grand Haven State Park (Ottawa County). Come learn about this new fitness craze that utilizes the sand and the Beach Fit Outdoor Tool at Grand Haven State Park.

Saturdays 9-10:15 a.m. and 1-2:15 p.m. and Sunday 9-10:15 a.m. Now through Labor Day

To make camping reservations at any of these state parks, please visit www.midnrreservations.com or call 1-800-44PARKS (1-800-447-2757).

For more information about these events, visit the online calendar of events at www.michigan.gov/gogetoutdoors, or call the park directly.

Many of these events are free to attend, but camping prices will apply for overnight guests and a Recreation Passport is required for vehicle entry to each of these state parks.

Posted in Featured, OutdoorsComments Off on Enjoy a variety of events at state parks 

Allegan Butterfly Count


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Conditions were excellent for the Allegan State Game Area Butterfly Count. Clear skies with temperatures between 70 and 81 degrees F provide butterflies with good flying weather. Butterfly emergence for many species is later than expected due to this year’s weather conditions. People joined with the West Michigan Butterfly Association (WMBA) to learn identification and to enjoy wild areas. We carpooled and even encountered other people looking for butterflies. What joy!

The Newaygo Count in the Manistee National Forest, Rogue River State Game Area Count, Grand River Count in Ottawa County, and the Muskegon State Game Area Count held by WMBA will occur during July. The Allegan count was held on July 5, and species sighted are listed in Table 1. The results from the Rogue River SGA Count will be published in a nature niche column, but visit the WMBA Web Site for results from all our counts. A $5 membership sent to our treasurer will keep you connected for club activities (address on web site) www.graud.org/wmba.html.

2105 Allegan SGA Butterlfy Count No.


Eastern Tiger Swallowtail 2

Spicebush Swallowtail 1

Whites & Sulphurs

Cabbage White 7

Clouded Sulphur 6

Blues and Hairstreaks

American Copper 2

Bog Copper 6

Coral Hairstreak 18

Edward’s Hairstreak 693

Banded Hairstreak 25

Striped Hairstreak 2

Summer Azure 2

Brushfooted Butterflies

American Snout 1

Great Spangled Fritillary 17

Aphrodite Fritillary 21

Pearl Crescent 2

Gray Comma 3

Mourning Cloak 1

Red Admiral 53

Red-spotted Purple 2

Hackberry Emperor 6

Tawny Emperor 2

Eyed Brown 1

Appalachian Brown 1


European Skipper 8

Northern Broken Dash 5

Delaware Skipper 3

Mulberry Wing 1

Broad-winged Skipper 1

Dion 1

Black Dash 1

Dun Skipper 2

Total Adult Individuals 896

Early Life Stages

Spicebush Swallowtail larva on Sassafras 1

Edward’s Hairstreak eggs oak 5

Karner Blue larva 4

Monarch larva on milkweed 1

Total Species 30

Allegan SGA Butterfly Count

Time 0900 – 1715 hrs (1 party)

AM 100% sunshine

PM 100% sunshine

70 – 81 F

Wind stilll to light breeze for short period in early afternoon

Total Party hours 8.0 hrs

Total Party Miles on foot 3.3 miles

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.

Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off on Allegan Butterfly Count

Explorer guides educate, entertain at state parks

 Veteran Explorer Guide Mike Latus enthralls campers with his fireside storytelling at Warren Dunes State Park.

Veteran Explorer Guide Mike Latus enthralls campers with his fireside storytelling at Warren Dunes State Park.

From the Michigan DNR

As the sun sets over Lake Michigan, Mike Latus holds court on the sand of Warren Dunes State Park. He’s an animated one-man show, walking in circles around a small fire pit, talking about voyageurs and Indians, legends and myths, planets and ghosts, while a crowd of more than a hundred—mostly youngsters, but adults, too—listen, some amused, others enthralled.

To Latus, it is a typical weekend night, when the fireside story hour regularly draws a big crowd

Several hours earlier, he’d led a group of 30 on a hike through the woods, pointing out medicinal plants or unusual trees, answering numerous questions. As soon as his fireside chat is finished, he’s setting up telescopes for visitors to explore the night sky for his regular “Sky Watch” program.

Explorer Guide Devin Burke entertains campers at a Meteors & S’Mores program (built around the Perseid meteor showers) at Young State Park. 

Explorer Guide Devin Burke entertains campers at a Meteors & S’Mores program (built around the Perseid meteor showers) at Young State Park.

Latus is an Explorer Guide, one of an army of Department of Natural Resources employees who educate and entertain visitors at 43 state parks in Michigan. Latus, a high school math and science teacher the rest of the year, has enjoyed his summer job for 21 years. The other program members consider him a rock star, for his longevity, enthusiasm and ability to wow a crowd.

“This is my summer vacation, it’s my hobby, and I Iive close enough to the park that I’m out here every weekend, even during the winter,” he said. “It’s teaching and being outdoors and connecting with people who are trying to connect to nature.”

Latus is aware of his status among Explore Guides. “I think I’ve gotten a reputation because I just don’t quit,” he said. He puts on 11 scheduled presentations a week, but will rearrange his schedule for church, Scout and school groups or whoever may be coming to the park but can’t make a scheduled event. He presents some programs regularly, others intermittently.

“Certain programs are just made for Warren Dunes,” Latus said. “You’ve got to do dune hikes; you’ve got to do beach hikes. And people have come to depend on the storytelling. We do Sky Watch every Friday and Saturday night and we always get a crowd for that.”
Explorer program coordinator Karen Gourlay says the Explorer Guides are seasonal naturalists. “They work in state parks all over Michigan,” she said. “Their job is to connect the visitors to the resources available in the park. They create their own programs, market their own programs and present their own programs. They’re a very creative bunch of employees. I’m always excited to see the programs they develop and their ability to get the visitors excited about natural resources and the parks.”
Many of the Explorer Guides are college students—often natural resources or education majors—who are working summer jobs as they explore potential careers, but they needn’t be.
“Mostly I’m looking for people who are enthusiastic and willing to learn and teach what they learn to others,” Gourlay said. “Having enthusiasm for outdoors is important. The youngest person I’ve had working for me was fresh out of high school. The oldest was 70 years old.”

Explorer Guides attend a weeklong training session at the beginning of the summer, where they learn about the job and share experiences with each other. A full day is devoted to fishing, but employees also learn additional program-creating techniques.
“Hook, Line and Sinker is a huge part of the program,” Gourlay said. “They may know a lot about fishing, but they may not know how to teach fishing.”
Other than that, guides are free to develop their own programs. “They’re individualized,” Gourlay said. “They figure out the cool factor—what it is that brings people to those parks—and go with that.”

Michelle Schepke, the Explorer Guide at North Higgins Lake State Park, conducts a regular fishing program at nearby Marl Lake every Friday evening. And Saturday afternoon she leads a tour through the CCC Museum. The rest of the week, Schepke, in her second season, presents programs on archery, canoeing, kayaking or any number of subjects.
“I love teaching and I love working with children and families,” said Schepke, a preschool teacher. “I love to see their faces light up when they learn something new or exciting. I always try to have some nature programs—a turtle program or a frog program with a live animal—something unique that will draw people in.

“I love it.”

So does Shelby Brown, in her third year of running programs at Metamora-Hadley State Recreation Area. A student at Central Michigan University, Brown said she started out by presenting well-established programs, but has since developed her own unique presentation. “Last week I did a Michigander program. I researched a bunch of cool Michigan facts and set it up trivia style,” she said. “People seemed to like that. And I do a program on hoppers—frogs, rabbits, white-tailed deer—animals that hop. It’s a great summer job. I like being outside all day and I’m a people person so I’m with other people all the time. And everyone who comes to my programs is genuinely interested. It’s not like school;  they want to be here. It’s awesome.”

Always popular with state park visitors, the Explorer program is becoming even more of a draw. Originally designed to cater to park visitors, the programs are increasingly being regularly attended by local residents. The DNR has expanded outreach to local community centers and libraries to publicize the programs.

“That’s a huge component now of what we do,” Gourlay said.

To help meet demand, Explorer Guides sometimes make presentations at other nearby parks. And some park supervisors send one of their summer workers to the training so they’ll know how to present occasional programs.
For a list of state parks with Explorer programs and scheduled events, visit www.michigan.gov/stateparks.

The DNR is always looking to expand outreach opportunities and will be hiring more guides next year. The job is perfect for educators or naturalists, but those are not requirements, Gourlay said.

“You can’t be afraid of bugs,” she said. “Or you can be, but you just can’t show it.”

Posted in Featured, OutdoorsComments Off on Explorer guides educate, entertain at state parks

Wildlife recognition

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


The average child can recognize 1,000 corporation logos but is unable to identify 10 plants and animals native to the region where they live. I have seen statements similar to this repeatedly during the past few years from research surveys. I have not tried to check the validity but it does raise concern. Kids get exposure to tremendous advertising. The question I pose is whether they get tremendous exposure by parents and grandparents to plants and animals that live in their neighborhood.

Check with your own children, grandchildren, neighborhood kids, and others to see how much exposure they get on their own or from you. It is likely that those reading this column expose youth to nature. Those children probably recognize plants and animals better than most kids do.

Those that do not read the nature niche columns probably associate with youth that are more likely to reflect the statistical normal. I suspect I am “preaching to the choir” with my writings. That is valuable because many readers tell me they learn new desired information. How to reach others is a dilemma that requires parents, grandparents, and friends to solve. Most people learn best by doing.

When my daughters were very young, we lived five miles east of Manistique, in the Upper Peninsula. Our home was one mile from Lake Michigan. We regularly walked a gravel road to a County Park on the shore. Along the way, we explored everything of interest and spent time discussing tree species and associated animals. Before the girls learned to talk, they clearly soaked up great knowledge.

We pulled a wagon so the girls could ride when they became tired of walking. At the beach, we found much to explore. Shorebirds ran on the wet sand and found food morsels by staying close to the coming and ebbing of waves. Gulls and terns were common. Occasionally we would see a Bald Eagle.

We stood on flat rocks surrounded by water. We each selected a special vantage point to search the water for life. When we did not desire to look for wild creatures, the kids played on the slide, swing and teeter-totter. It was joyous time outdoors where we built a meaningful relationship with our kids.

Some memories of experiences the girls had from ages one to four years might be recalled. Most are lost in the hidden recesses of their brains but I am confident they are still there and they played a vital role in their development.

At home, we played a form a concentration. Using picture cards of birds and mammals, I placed them face down on the floor and would ask for an animal. When they selected correctly, they got to put it in their pile. With each picture of a bird or mammal, I would make a sound and motion to associate with the animal making it more fun and interesting.

Before they could talk, they could recognize over 100 birds and mammals. The girls could recognize many tree species we saw on our walk to Lake Michigan. On camping trips, they were great observers and saw things I missed. Maybe this was because their eyes were closer to the ground but I think they simply learned to observe creatures that shared the world with them. They developed good observation skills.

It was fun to play wildlife concentration, walk to Lake Michigan, and explore outdoors. Of course, they would tire and we found other things to do when we were growing weary. Today they appreciate the multitude of life and try to live lives that promote sustaining a healthy environment for humans and other creatures. I still expose them to nature. Help children exceed the norm for wildlife recognition and keep it fun. The best learning comes from one on one experiences between adult and child.

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.

Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off on Wildlife recognition

DNR urges caution when using fireworks 

To help prevent wildfires, the Department of Natural Resources urges people to place used fireworks, including sparklers, in a bucket of water after they’ve gone out. When thrown on the ground while they’re still hot, fireworks can cause grass fires that can spread to become wildfires. 

To help prevent wildfires, the Department of Natural Resources urges people to place used fireworks, including sparklers, in a bucket of water after they’ve gone out. When thrown on the ground while they’re still hot, fireworks can cause grass fires that can spread to become wildfires.

Warm weather and family gatherings can make the Fourth of July a fun time with great memories. But before you celebrate, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is asking residents and visitors to make sure they understand the importance of fireworks and campfire safety.

“With folks filling state parks, campgrounds and backyards to celebrate the Fourth of July, it’s vital that precautions are taken prior to lighting campfires and setting off fireworks,” said Dan Laux, DNR fire prevention specialist. “You can have fun while celebrating with friends and family, even if you’re being safe and making sure your property and our natural resources are protected. The best way to avoid the risk of starting a wildfire this holiday weekend is to attend public fireworks displays and leave the lighting to the professionals.”
The National Fire Protection Association estimates that local fire departments respond to an average of 19,700 fires caused by fireworks each year. For those planning to use fireworks, the DNR suggests keeping these safety tips in mind:

  • Sparklers can reach 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit—hot enough to melt gold. Always place sparklers in a bucket of water when they have gone out; when thrown on the ground, they can cause grass fires.
  • Point fireworks away from homes and keep them away from brush, grass and leaves.
  • Chinese lanterns can stay airborne for 20 minutes and reach heights up to 1 mile high before coming down in unplanned locations. The open flame has the potential to start fires.
  • Soak all fireworks in water before throwing them in the trash.
  • Laux said that in addition to fireworks safety, people should keep the following things in mind when enjoying their campfires:
  • Use fire rings in nonflammable areas when possible.
  • Never leave a campfire unattended.
  • Keep a water source and shovel nearby.
  • Place roasting sticks in a bucket of water when not in use.
  • Completely extinguish fires before turning in for the night. Douse with water, stir and douse again to make sure no embers are left.

“Fireworks and campfires are a great way to celebrate the Fourth of July, but you’ll enjoy the holidays much more knowing that your family and your property are safe,” Laux said. “Fire prevention is everyone’s responsibility.”
For more fire prevention information and safety tips, visit www.michigan.gov/preventwildfires.

Posted in Featured, OutdoorsComments Off on DNR urges caution when using fireworks 

New state-record quillback 

Garrett Reid shows off the state-record quillback he bowfished on Hardy Dam Pond, besting the previous record by more than a quarter of a pound.

Garrett Reid shows off the state-record quillback he bowfished on Hardy Dam Pond, besting the previous record by more than a quarter of a pound.

Caught from same water body as 2014 record

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently confirmed another new state-record fish, this time a quillback carpsucker. This marks the fourth state-record fish caught in 2015.
The state record for quillback carpsucker was broken by a fish caught by Garrett Reid, of Nashville, Michigan, on Hardy Dam Pond, in Newaygo County Saturday, June 20, at 10 p.m. Reid was bowfishing. The fish weighed 8.52 pounds and measured 24 inches. The record was verified by Todd Grischke, a DNR fisheries biologist in Lansing.
The previous state-record quillback carpsucker was caught by Benjamin Frey, also on Hardy Dam Pond, Aug. 29, 2014. That fish weighed 8.25 pounds and measured 22.62 inches.
State records are recognized by weight only. To qualify for a state record, fish must exceed the current listed state-record weight and identification must be verified by a DNR fisheries biologist. To see a current list of Michigan’s state-record fish, visit michigan.gov/fishing.

Posted in OutdoorsComments Off on New state-record quillback 

Glowing Sparks on Sleeping Bag

OUT-Nature-niche-Ranger-Steve-Head-ShotBoy scouts hiked two miles to Mr. Cook’s farm woodlot to set up camp. First, selecting a proper tent site was important. Then collecting adequate firewood to cook dinner was essential and additional wood was gathered for an evening campfire.

Once the essentials of camp construction like making a latrine were completed, games, exploration, and mischief followed. We practiced tying knots and completed other camp skill activities for rank advancement or merit badges.

In those days, we packed in heavy food. It predated most freeze-dried food. The food was good. After removing apple cores, we packed cinnamon sugar in the center and cooked them in aluminum foil on the fire. We made meat, potato, and vegetable stews.

We explored Mr. Cook’s farm woodlot for animal signs hoping to find deer, bears, and cougars. Well the bears and cougars were not present. The deer were good at avoiding us. Squirrels would chatter and scold us from high in tree branches.

Desirable insects were fun to observe. We found it necessary to wear insect repellant and lightweight long sleeve shirts and pants for protection from biting insects. When we were in sunny areas, the mosquito problems were minor but deer flies could be bad in season. We learned Native American practices to fool the flies. We cut a bracken fern and wore it so the stem held the frond over our head causing the flies to circle the leaf-like frond instead of circling our head.

Scout and Native American skills helped us live in harmony with nature niches. We discussed some or these around the campfire after dark and, of course, told scary stories to put others on edge before turning in for the night.

Some scouts sneaked away during the campfire and collected sparks. After collecting one or two hundred, they went to my dad’s tent, opened the flap and released the sparks inside. They quickly closed the flap and returned to the fire.

After bed check, my dad as scout leader went to his tent expecting a good night’s sleep outdoors. When he opened his tent, he saw glowing embers covering his sleeping bag. Immediate shock and thoughts of getting a water bucket surfaced until he realized the embers were lightning bugs or fireflies.

They were not flies at all. Fireflies are actually beetles that have highly efficient light production, with little heat production. Our incandescent light bulbs are inefficient and produce excessive heat. New style light bulbs will save energy and money without the excessive heat production like the firefly light. They are more expensive but you will probably save enough money within a year to offset replacing the old incandescent bulbs and it will also lower your harmful carbon imprint.

Once dad determined the blinking embers were insects, he realized the scouts pulled a good joke on him. Interestingly, where I grew up the Saginaw area, we had lightning bugs (fireflies) that glowed amber red. Most places, like where we live now, have green glowing fireflies. It is a mystery that I still do not understand. Maybe scouts today will become scientists of the future that explain this mystery. There is so much to discover and learn.

I became an official “Girl Scout” leader when my girls were of age and enjoyed learning with them. Find ways to enjoy the outdoors often with your kids and grandkids.

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 49319-8433 or call 616-696-1753.

Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off on Glowing Sparks on Sleeping Bag

Sunscreen in plants

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

A red pigment called anthocyanin has been considered a sunscreen that protects plants from becoming sunburned, much like the sunscreens we use to protect us, from ultraviolet radiation (UV).

Look at newly emerging leaves from buds and notice the red color of the delicate tissues that have not yet “hardened.” When leaves expand from the bud, they are somewhat like a water balloon. They fill with water but the plant cannot build the necessary support tissues that rapidly. Feel newly expanded leaves to notice how delicate they are. The cellular tissues remain thin for days.

The leaves of trees and shrubs expand rapidly but it takes much longer to reinforce cells with cellulose and other strengthening tissues. The first line of defense to protect delicate tissues from UV radiation would reasonably be found in the protective outer cell layer called the epidermis. This layer lacks the green chlorophylls that make leaves green and it also has a low concentration of anthocyanin. Anthocyanin is more abundant deeper in leaf tissues called palisade cells, where vertical rows of cells stand next to each other and circulate green chloroplasts to capture sun energy. It also is more abundant in photosynthetic cells beneath the palisade cells know as spongy mesophyll cells. Studies are trying to understand the mystery UV protection.

Think of the palisade cells like a series of farm silos packed closely together to fill a checkerboard. They are tall and slim. Imagine each silo filled with water and beach balls. The balls represent the chloroplasts that form a moving loop inside silo like an internal Ferris wheel. The chloroplasts are like seats on the Ferris wheel following others as they rise to the top and circulate back down to bottom. The spongy mesophyll cells below the palisade cells are more globular in water filled spaces between cells.

UV can cause damage to DNA in the cells of the two layers, just like damage can cause cancer in our skin tissues. Anthocyanin filters radiation to varying degrees and helps protect plants. Melanin in our skin serves that function and is built when our skin is exposed to UV and makes us tan.

Shade tolerant plants in the understory of forests are protected from intense sun radiation by the forest canopy. When trees are clear cut, the ground plants are suddenly exposed to UV and respond. They produce large quantities of anthocyanin and become intensely red. Unfortunately, it is not adequate to save them and most succumb to sunburn. Plants adapted to tolerate open sunny nature niches colonize the new sunny habitat. When you see a clear-cut forest, stop to notice how red the ground plants become when exposed.

Explore with family members to notice new growth on dogwood shrubs, maples, sassafras, oaks, and cherries. Choose any tree or shrub and feel how soft and delicate new tissues are and that they are pigmented red until they harden and feel sturdy. It is universal that the new tissues concentrate anthocyanin. The water-soluble pigment has other functions also but it plays a role as protective sunscreen. Phenolic acids in corn and other crops are UV-absorbing compounds so anthocyanin is not the only sunscreen. More mysteries are waiting discovery.

Declining levels of ozone in the upper atmosphere have generated concern because more UV radiation is entering the lower atmosphere where we live. In our latitudes, UV has risen by 3 to 5 percent in recent decades. Closer to the poles it has risen 6 to 8 percent. Increased skin cancer in people is occurring. People are not the only species impacted by UV radiation but we tend to think we are isolated from nature niches. That is not now nature works. What happens to plants happens to people. We do not live alone and sustainable care for other life is essential for our own health. Food and forest productivity depend on how we care for ozone layers.

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 49319-8433. 616-696-1753.

Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off on Sunscreen in plants