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Archive | Outdoors

Help protect habitat at state parks

Volunteers needed to remove garlic mustard

 

Residents are invited to enjoy spring weather, flower blooms and the outdoors at Michigan state parks, and do some good at the same time.

The Department of Natural Resources recently announced the schedule of May volunteer steward activities at state parks in southwest Michigan. Volunteers are needed to help remove garlic mustard, an invasive, non-native plant that grows in the forest understory. This invasive weed crowds out native wildflower populations, like trillium and bloodroot, and can spread rapidly if not kept under control. Removal is similar to weeding a garden and it’s an enjoyable way to spend time outdoors.

Dates, times and locations (counties) of group workdays are:

Saturday, May 3; P.J. Hoffmaster State Park (Muskegon), noon to 2 p.m.

Sunday, May 4;  Holland State Park (Ottawa County), 1 to 4 p.m.

Saturday, May 10; Saugatuck Dunes State Park (Allegan County), 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Saturday, May 17; Muskegon State Park (Muskegon County), 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Sunday, May 18; Ludington State Park (Mason County), 1 to 4 p.m.

Saturday, May 31; Saugatuck Dunes State Park (Allegan County),10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Volunteers should wear appropriate clothing for outdoor work (including long pants and sturdy, closed-toe shoes) and are asked to bring gloves and drinking water.

Volunteers are also able to work on an individual basis pulling, mapping and locating garlic mustard populations. Large groups are asked to register using the forms available on the DNR website. Please contact Heidi Frei at 517-202-1360 or freih@michigan.gov for registration or questions about the volunteer steward workdays.

 

 

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Superb spring birding on Michigan’s sunrise side

Bald Eagle hunting. Photo by Josh Haas.

Bald Eagle hunting. Photo by Josh Haas.

Spring migration on Michigan’s “sunrise side” is truly a spectacular event to witness. Numerous sites along the Lake Huron shoreline are ideal for observing large numbers of birds as they make their way north. The Saginaw Bay Birding Trail is a terrific way to enjoy all that Michigan’s “sunrise side” has to offer.

The Trail is a joint project between the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy and Michigan Audubon intended to bring people closer nature, birds and wildlife.  The trail covers a total of 142 miles from Port Crescent State Park on the eastern end to Tawas Point State Park on the western end, and largely follows the shoreline of the entire Saginaw Bay. The distinct change in seasons, diverse habitats, miles of shoreline, plus extensive natural areas with public access make the Trail a birder’s paradise.

Piping Plover and Chick. Photo by Roger Eriksson.

Piping Plover and Chick. Photo by Roger Eriksson.

The Saginaw Bay Birding Trail has over 20 designated birding hotspots that together feature over 200 bird species depending on the season. A detailed map of the birding locations and Trail can be found online at www.saginawbaybirding.org/birding-trail.html. A beautiful new hard copy birding map is now available and can be mailed by request through the website. The Trail website showcases recent bird sightings, bird photos and 14 additional sites to go birding along the trail.

The Saginaw Bay Birding Trail was made possible by over $16,000 of grant funds and in-kind resources provided by the Bay Area Community Foundation, the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network, Michigan Audubon, and the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy.

Kirtland’s Warbler. Photo by Velma Knowles.

Kirtland’s Warbler. Photo by Velma Knowles.

A triple-bottom-line project, the Trail provides a social value for the community by providing well-communicated coordination of existing natural areas to citizens and visitors of the Saginaw Bay Watershed.  Additionally, it enhances environmental education in the area and allows a variety of agencies to showcase their conservation efforts to a wider audience.  Finally, the Trail provides an economic benefit to the Watershed by attracting eco-tourism dollars and enhancing the overall reputation of the Watershed as a high quality place to observe nature.

Birding on the Trail is awe-inspiring due largely to the Saginaw Bay which contains the largest contiguous freshwater coastal wetland system in the United States. As one of the state’s most critical stopover points it is not uncommon to see as many as 75 species in one day on the Trail!

The Saginaw Bay Birding Trail is an ideal self-guided tour for birding your way to Tawas Point State Park for the 9th Annual Tawas Point Birding Festival May 15-18 (www.tawasbirdfest.com). The festival headquarters is located in East Tawas, the Trail’s northernmost stop. Tawas Point Birding Festival participants enjoy some of the best birding in the Great Lakes regions, with a chance to observe 200 bird species in one weekend. Recent sightings at the festival include Kirtland’s Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Piping Plover, Black Tern, American Bald Eagle and many more.

Bird your way to the Tawas Point Birding Festival this year along the new Saginaw Bay Birding Trail—a great way to kick-start your spring species list and explore one of Michigan’s newest birding resources! Michigan Audubon is proud of both opportunities as means to connect birds and people for the benefit of both.

 

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Robin Window Fights

 

A friend asked a question that I receive annually. Why is a robin fighting the window and what can be done about it?

Robins return to breeding grounds full of testosterone hormones. They are ready to defend a selected territory. A scientist once pinned an orange robin breast feather in another robin’s territory and the robin defending its territory fought the feather for days.

Birds have birdbrains and are not good at reasoning. I suppose that could be said for young men infatuated with a lady friend. The robin’s orange color triggers bird behavior to defend its territory. Reason and logic fade when chemically induced behavior takes charge. To some degree this happens with people in road rage incidents, when population increase threatens our space, or when states or countries want another’s natural resources like food, water or oil.

Living space for birds is a natural resource that can be an important limiting factor worth defending. When wildlife populations have living space reduced by a growing human population and development, essential wildlife resources are in higher demand and their populations decline. Crowding triggers territorial defense. This also happens when a wildlife population increases and forces them to have smaller territories. A number of things can occur including increased fighting, reduced fertility and even genocide. Humans are not the only species experiencing these problems.

Solving the robin’s problem might be easier that harnessing our own hormone induced problems. The robin recognizes its own reflection as a competing male. When it attacks its reflection, the reflection also attacks and they meet fighting to claim breeding territory. The bird is not intelligent enough to understand it is fighting itself.

I have seen pictures of a robin with a broken beak from combating its reflection. At my home a bird fought the basement window. I placed a piece of cardboard in front of the window for the spring and as far as the bird knew its competitor left the area. When it is a picture window, we do not want to cover it for weeks.

Disrupting the reflection might solve the problem. People have hung strips of crepe paper in front of windows with success. The important thing is to prevent or reduce the chances of the bird seeing its reflection by breaking up the reflection. They will even fight reflections in hubcaps and car mirrors.

Cardinals are frequently challenged by their reflection and will fight a window to exhaustion or even death. Hormones in nature niches are powerful, whether in frogs, fish, mice, deer, birds, insects, or people. Fortunately, we have some intelligence to exert control over our emotions if we desire.

Help a robin that cannot help itself when it starts fighting your windows.

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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Wildfire season is here

This wildfire started a house on fire in Nelson Township 5 years ago last week.

This wildfire started a house on fire in Nelson Township 5 years ago last week.

Wildfire prevention week April 20-26

 

Most of Michigan’s wildfires occur in the spring – April, May and June. According to the Department of Natural Resources, which is responsible for wildland fire protection on 30 million acres of state and private land, April is when wildfires start becoming a problem. During the state’s annual observance of Wildfire Prevention Week, April 20-26, the DNR reminds the public about the dangers of wildfires.

“One out of three wildfires in Michigan is caused by someone burning debris who did not take proper precautions or obtain a burn permit,” said Paul Kollmeyer, resource protection manager within the DNR’s Forest Resources Division. “Many people look outside and think the snow and spring rains have taken the edge off the wildfire danger.”

That’s not the case, Kollmeyer said.

“The dried leaves, needles and brown grass from last year are still there. When the weather is warm, folks want to get out and clean up their yards. They don’t realize that all it takes is one strong wind gust catching an ember to ignite a wildfire.”

Kollmeyer said this is why planning is so vital before a match is even lit.
A person is required to get a burn permit prior to burning brush and debris in Michigan. Residents in the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula can obtain a free burn permit by www.michigan.gov/burnpermit. Residents in southern Michigan should contact their local fire department or township office to see if burning is permitted in their area.

In addition to obtaining a burn permit, the DNR recommends people take the following steps to reduce the risk of wildfire to their home and property:

Clear leaves and other debris from gutters, eaves, porches and decks. This prevents embers from igniting your home.

Keep your lawn hydrated and maintained. Dry grass and shrubs are fuel for wildfire. If it is brown, cut it down to reduce fire intensity.

Remove fuel within 3 to 5 feet of your home’s foundation and out-buildings, including garages and sheds. If it can catch fire, don’t let it touch your house, deck or porch.

Remove dead vegetation surrounding your home, within the 30- to 100-foot area.

Wildfire can spread to tree tops. If you have large trees on your property, prune them so the lowest branches are 6 to 10 feet high.

Don’t let debris and lawn cuttings linger. Chip or mulch these items quickly to reduce fuel for fire.

When planting, choose slow-growing, carefully placed shrubs and trees so the area can be more easily maintained.

Landscape with native and less flammable plants. For more information about making fire wise landscaping choices, visit www.firewise.msu.edu.

“Be safe and smart when it comes to fire,” Kollmeyer said. “Fire prevention is everyone’s responsibility.”

For more tips in safeguarding your home and property from wildfire risk, www.michigan.gov/preventwildfires.

 

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Game and Nongame Management

 

Wildlife management has been shifting to an ecosystem approach for 50 years. In the early 1900’s and before, wildlife management was done species by species. If more deer were desired, that was the focus of management. If more ruffed grouse were desired, effort focused on that species.

Aldo Leopold revolutionized management thinking with his 1933 Game Management textbook. He encouraged a shift from autecology to synecology. Autecology is narrowly focused on single species without concern for other species or impacts of its management on the ecosystems. Synecology is focused on the ecosystem with attention toward improving conditions for wildlife communities.

Today the Michigan DNR uses a synecology approach more extensively. It considers a multitude of species when making habitat management decisions but continues emphasis on selected hunted species. Changing the cultural mindset of the public and staff is a slow difficult process.

Howard Meyerson reported that a National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Related Recreation found 39 percent of Michigan residents watch wildlife and 21 percent hunt and/or fish. The Michigan DNR spends 95 percent of its wildlife management budget for hunting and fishing management and 5 percent to support nongame wildlife management.

A 2011 survey by the US Fish and Wildlife Service found 71.8 million people engage in wildlife watching, while 33 million fish and 13.7 million hunt wildlife. Correspondingly watchers spend $54.9 billion annually, fishers spend $41.8 and hunters spend $33.7 billion.

Interest in wildlife is shifting toward watching from hunting. There is a management need for both to maintain healthy ecosystems. Deer and rabbit abundance damages ecosystems because we have reduced predator populations to unhealthy ecosystem levels. That was a result of autecology practices. The synecology practice of allowing wolves to survive in ecosystem is controversial to our traditional autecology mindset.

Unfortunately most people are not aware of autecology or synecology. Our culture remains focused on autecology game management instead of the synecology ecosystem management. Public focus is often focused on “What I want from the environment” instead of supporting healthy ecosystem management. Wildlife biologists strive for synecology practices but public pressure and support lags behind.

Leopold’s book is revolutionary but dry reading. What Aldo Leopold described almost 100 years ago is still a new idea compared with hundreds of years of wildlife management. We tend to follow practices and focus money on how things were previously done instead of changing our culture toward ecosystem nature niche management.

The question “why staff energy is devoted most heavily to hunted species,” when more of the public watches instead of hunts is not easy and creates uneasiness. Some hunters do not want money they spend on hunting licenses used on non-hunting programs. Some watchers do not want nongame money spent on programs that also supports hunting. Both are essential for healthy ecosystem management. We had an opportunity to approve a tax on sporting equipment like binoculars that would support watching wildlife management programs. The public voted no but hunters generally support hunting taxes.

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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Black bear education program for grades 6-8

OUT-black-bearThe Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Wildlife Division is offering a fun way for educators to integrate Michigan’s unique flora and fauna into their curriculum while still meeting the required educational standards. Teachers and their students now have an opportunity to experience A Year in the Life of a Michigan Black Bear.

Throughout the school year, students will learn about the life cycle of the Michigan black bear, general black bear biology and behavior, and how the DNR manages and maintains a healthy black bear population. An educator guide with activities and video lessons will be provided.
Classes also will have the chance to “follow” a black bear by using actual data points from a radio-collared bear to track it through its seasonal movements and see what a year in a bear’s life is really like.

This program is free of charge and open to all interested educators of grades 6, 7 and 8. Classes will need access to a computer lab and the Internet in order to use the mapping application to follow the bear. Educators also will need access to the Internet (YouTube) in their classrooms as well as a projector to make it easier for all students to see the video lessons.

Classrooms that participate in the program will be eligible to enter the Year in the Life of a Bear contest, where students can use what they learned to tell the story of a year in the life of a Michigan black bear. Students can choose to retell the actual journey of the bear they followed or get creative and use the information to interpret a typical bear’s yearly activities. Contest winners will be awarded prizes, provided by the Michigan Bear Hunters Association and the DNR, for their classrooms. Prizes are limited to one per school.

For more information and to sign up, please visit www.michigan.gov/wildlife and click on the “Education” button. Applications are due by Aug. 1 in order to receive the materials for the upcoming school year.

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Seventeen and Twelve

 

Spring-cleaning time has arrived. Seventeen bird nest boxes contained last year’s nesting material at Ody Brook. The backyard supported an Eastern Bluebird family. House wrens arrived later in the spring and raised a family in the same box. We were concerned the wren might kill young bluebirds to gain nest box access but it did not.

This year I checked 29 nest boxes. Seventeen had nesting material and twelve were empty. Empty ones probably were not used to raise young but likely provided winter shelter. Boxes are in the field, shrub thickets, woods, and at pond’s edge in hopes of attracting a variety of 30 plus cavity nesting species.

Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and even the Great-crested Flycatchers nest in hollow living or dead trees. Lack of tree cavities could be a limiting factor that prevents bird reproductive success when hollow trees are removed from neighborhoods or are in short supply. Unless a tree poses a danger to the house or people, let them stand. Woodpeckers excavate cavities that other birds use in succeeding years. Fortunately dead trees stand for many years. People remove many for firewood and that makes nesting success difficult.

About 20 years ago a cherry tree died at the edge of the yard and it still stands through gale force winds. An Eastern Phoebe selected it as a favorite perch from which to hunt insects. The Northern Yellow-shafted Flicker considers it a great drumming tree. The dead wood resonates sound creating a loud territorial announcement. The barren tree provides great views of perching birds.

Install nest boxes to assist bird survival. Avoid placing them close to trails or where people regularly frequent. Most should be obscure of easy view to provide nesting privacy from predators and people. I have placed nest boxes in the woods to reduce nest cavity shortage. Boxes in the field serve Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds where they vie for the nesting space. Two boxes are placed within 15 feet of each other. Tree Swallows claim one and prevent other swallows from using the second box. Swallows do not object to bluebird neighbors but draw the line at other tree swallows. In effect the swallow helps bluebirds by protecting the second box from swallow use.

Wrens prefer shrubbery nearby. When shrubs grew too close for bluebirds, I cleared more area and bluebirds returned to use the box.

The Eastern Screech Owl nest box was not checked to make sure it is empty. We can see the nest box opening as we enter the carport and sometimes the owl peers out at us. The box is the same style used for Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, and Buffleheads. We have suitable habitat for Wood Ducks that are present each summer.

I clean nest boxes but let the birds do their own spring-cleaning in natural cavities. Hopefully nest cavities are not in short supply at Ody Brook. To help bird populations install nest boxes where you live. Our expanding human population is crowding birds out of neighborhoods so help by providing nest boxes. Hopefully clean water and food are abundant if pesticide and herbicide use is limited. Provide nest boxes and maybe you will have 17 occupied boxes and 12 empty ones. If water and food are plentiful, empty boxes might indicate adequate nesting space is present in nature niches.

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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Portions of White Pine Trail Closed

 

Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) officials today announced that portions of the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail State Park are closed due to unsafe conditions. Wind storms and spring run-off have left the trail with downed trees, flooding and debris. Portions of trail in Mecosta and Montcalm counties have the worst damage; however, caution should be used while on any part of the 92-mile trail.
DNR crews and the Friends of the White Pine Trail are actively working to reopen the closed areas. However, the extent of the damage is still being reviewed, and at this time, there is no estimated date for the reopening. For more information, contact Josh Pellow at 231-775-7911.

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Bird Watching Hotspots

Ranger Steve Mueller

 

 

Almost 100 bird watching “Hotspots” is listed for Kent County on ebird. Ebird is a web site where people enter bird-sighting observations. The benefit of entering data to ebird for you is the site organizes personal data, keeps record of all the bird species you have seen with dates and locations. Hotspots are locations where many people list sightings for a particular location.

Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC) between Cedar Springs and Kent City currently has the seventh most bird species sightings for Kent County hotspots. The six locations with more bird species sightings are in Grand Rapids population centers that have many observers and thus larger species lists. HCNC has more varied and wilder habitats with greater solitude for enjoyable birding. It remains an undiscovered nature niche resource that waits your visit.

Currently 141 species of birds have been documented for HCNC. The number will grow as more people discover and enjoy the variety of habitats that support bird life at the nature center.

One February afternoon I encountered a Long-eared owl standing on the railing of Thunderwood Boardwalk. It was my first experience with the species. We looked at each other for a moment; it flew into a white pine and looked down at me. The experience invigorated my heart, mind, and spirit. Long-eared owls are quite secretive and usually do not show themselves in daylight.

Another species that does not show itself during the day is the American Woodcock. During spring it dances nightly in the evening sky for about six weeks. In the field north of the Red Pine Interpretive Center at dusk, it will start pneeting on the ground. A pneet is a buzz-like call. It stomps its feet and turns from side to side in the dim light. After many pneets, it takes flight and circles higher and higher before diving toward the ground and quickly leveling to land, where it repeats its ground dance with more pneets. Over the years, I have led many field trips to watch the mating dance display.

Scarlet Tanagers do not arrive until May and are surprisingly difficult to see. They have brilliant red bodies with black wings. It seems they would be easy to see but somehow they blend into the new spring green foliage high in trees. People refer to their song as sounding like a robin with a soar throat. The coarser sound helps locate the bird’s singing location and with careful search the bird can be seen.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful spring songs is made by Wood Thrushes in the deciduous forest. Its Ee-o-lay song is clear, loud, and beautifully musical. Another thrush called the Veery makes one of my most favorite bird songs. It stays well hidden. As a young birder it took me about 10 years to discover what bird was make the song. Its spiral-descending warble is most intriguing.

The Common Yellowthroat, unlike the Veery, will readily show itself. It wears a black mask over it eyes. Maybe it thinks the mask keeps it hidden. A bright yellow breast helps locate this bird in shrubby wetlands. I could describe 141 different species that have been seen at HCNC. Each has a unique nature niche. People would quickly tire of descriptions. Instead, become entranced with sights and sounds by walking nature center trails during spring.

Google “ebird” and explore listings for various locations in the County. Enrich your life and contribute to citizen science efforts by documenting bird species that visit your yard. I have observed 102 species at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary where I live.

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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Beavers and Dams

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Beavers became a commodity and fashion product. They were heavily trapped and numbers were greatly reduced. They brought business trade to what became Michigan. In prior centuries native people used the resource as part of a sustainable livelihood. The European beaver trapping industry became a boom and bust business. One might wonder how beavers change nature niches.

Beavers weigh 30-50 pounds and are the largest rodent in the area. Their natural history provides benefits but sometimes they are troublesome neighbors.

At the local Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC), a family of beavers moved into the outlet of Spring Lake in 1970s. They are better dam builders than most of us could hope to become. One wonders how a particular dam site is selected. Narrow sections of Spring Creek were ignored and a dam over two hundred feet long was constructed near the outlet of Spring Lake. It required lots of work but was successful. Two smaller dams were constructed down stream to create additional flood ponds.

Elevated pond water allowed beavers to swim to the upland shore for aspen trees without going far from shore. It is safer to stay in water. Water access to trees reduces danger from predators and makes it easier to move wood. That is the reason people used rivers to float logs to sawmills during the boom and bust era of Michigan logging. Current forestry practices encourage sustainable logging instead of boom and bust cycles. That practice helps maintain a sustainable community economy.

Beavers topple trees and gnaw branches for underwater storage. They eat meals as needed all summer but branches are hauled to flood ponds and stuck in mud that accumulates behind the dam. Branches provide food during the long winter when timber harvest is not possible.

A domed beaver lodge with an underwater entrance is constructed in the beaver pond. Beavers enter and come above water level to dry living quarters with no easy predator access. A family of beavers can live cozy and exit as needed during winter months to raid their refrigerator. They retrieve branches stored in the mud and feed on nutritious bark. Remaining inner wood is used for construction or discarded like we discard chicken bones or corncobs.

Beavers move to new areas after a few years when they have eaten themselves out of house and home. Their temporary residence activities provide valuable services. The area behind the dam traps sediments and reduces debris and soil in downstream areas. This helps some animals that need clear flowing water and also those that need ponds. Water flowing over dams picks up additional oxygen essential for fish and insects. Fishing generally improves but pond water can warm streams. Various plants are able to colonize the wetlands behind the dam. Willows and alders are colonizing shrubs. In such areas, animals like the Alder Flycatcher and the Acadian Hairstreak find living good.

A great many creatures benefit from the temporary residence of a beaver family. Beavers move in and move out but leave a life giving legacy for others that last for decades. We most notice water that floods roads or drowns trees we might desire survive. Beavers do not recognize our legal title to property so we remove them when their activities do not meet our approval.

Beaver benefits include raising water tables that keep wells flowing. They provide habitat for many wildlife like fish, ducks, and deer and many less noticed animals. During spring high water dams help reduce spring flooding along rivers and it is then when beavers search real estate for new homes and food. Maybe one will come your way and bring activities that improve nature niches in your area.

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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