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Archive | Outdoors

DNR firefighters help fight wildland blazes out west 

A DNR firefighter snapped this shot of a helicopter in action earlier this summer on assignment assisting firefighters in Colorado. DNR firefighters are currently helping fight wildland fires in several western states.

More than a dozen wildland firefighters from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources have been sent to California, Oregon, Washington and elsewhere to battle wildfires and to gain valuable firefighting experience.

A crew of three firefighters has taken a DNR fire engine to help fight the vast and still raging Carr fire in northern California, said Dan Laux, fire section manager for the DNR’s Forest Resources Division. Laux just returned from a two-week fire assignment in Portland, Oregon, mobilizing resources to battle fires in Oregon, Washington, California and Idaho.

“We’re mobilizing as many people as we can to assist wherever necessary,” Laux said. “It’s a great way for our folks to get experience, while providing their own skills and experiences to the situation at hand.”

Assistance agreements go both ways. If a significant fire occurs in Michigan, firefighters from other states and Canadian provinces can be tapped for help. Michigan’s largest recent fire was the Duck Lake blaze in the eastern Upper Peninsula, which burned more than 21,000 acres in 2012.

Since the beginning of the year, Michigan has sent firefighters to California, Colorado, Florida, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.

The Carr fire in northern California has burned more than 100,000 acres to date, causing six deaths. Fire officials there put out a national request last week for wildland fire engines from across the nation, and a three-man crew took a Michigan truck from the DNR’s Gladwin unit to California.

The DNR always keeps enough firefighters in the state to respond to any fires that might occur, though fire activity has slowed after recent rains in the northern portion of the state. The DNR also is fully reimbursed for the cost of sending firefighters to assist elsewhere.

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Fishing for bass at night is fun!

 

With summer in full swing fish can become quite lethargic. No need to fret! For certain species, such as bass, you just might want to tweak the time of day you set out to target them.

Some of the best bass fishing this time of year occurs during the first hour or so after dark. Dusk and dawn can still produce fish but that first hour or two after dark can be exceptional.

After dark, bass tend to move shallow in search of an easy meal. Target them near the same areas you would during other times of the day while also casting and targeting the shallows. You’ll want to change your technique though! Since after dark you can’t see the weed line or other underwater structures, fishing subsurface lures is not recommended. It is time for surface presentations. After the cast, work them aggressively with a jerking motion making sure they pop and gurgle across the surface of the water during your retrieve. Pay close attention during the retrieve, watching and listening for the strike, which can be explosive.

If you’re feeling adventurous, get on the water at 10:00 p.m. and fish the shallows for bass until midnight or 1:00 a.m. The results can be spectacular!

For more information on fishing for bass in Michigan, visit their page online! Go to www.michigan.gov/dnr and click on things to do, then fishing, then bass.

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Cloud jumping

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Jumping from a plane into a puffy cumulus cloud was a sensation I wanted. My fear was how would I return to the ground. Would I be stuck forever drifting over the surface of Earth with no way home?

I was at age of discovery but do not recall my age. The story of Jack and he Bean Stalk most likely aroused my interest in cloud jumping. I wondered what was really in clouds? How could I discover nature niche secretes in those moving works of art without jumping into the cottony fluffs? 

Laying in the lawn, I watched clouds come and go. Each comprised uniquely shaped creatures and objects. One was a passing whale followed by an elephant, and then a dragon breathing fire. They weren’t all animals. An ice cream cone was leaning to its side. Warm sunshine caused the ice cream to vaporize and disappear. At some point, I would learn clouds were water droplets that condensed from a gas to liquid on a speck of dust. Later liquid water would evaporate again as the sun’s rays energized molecules back to an invisible gas. 

A smaller group of passing clouds comprised of three birds with wings outstretched were making their way toward a larger cloud that must have been a tree canopy where they could take shelter and find rest. They were not gaining on the tree as they flew. Their wing feathers were vaporizing and disintegrated before my eyes. Each of the cloud birds disappeared one by one and never reached the shelter they sought. 

If I jumped into a cloud, I feared not being able to get back to the Earth’s surface. Had I managed to actually jump into a cloud, I would have discovered too late that I would pass through quickly and end my journey as a splat on terra ferma. I would vanish as surely as the three vaporizing birds.

Using imagination to ponder the world while lying flat ones back develops a healthy mind. Our girls and I discussed creatures overhead. They would point out bears, penguins, houses, clumps of grapes, smiling faces, and dogs. Summer days on family vacations included skipping stones on still water lake surfaces, paddling a canoe across a lake to “turtle bay” where turtles quietly slid off logs, and watching the passing cloud parade.

Peace away from the hustle of life at home allowed us to become an element of nature. We replenished our spirits and souls. Wonderment surrounded us. Later in life, the nature of clouds would be transformed from imaginary creatures to water droplets and our fascination could dangerously evaporate like the three birds. 

The enchantment of drifting clouds from my childhood has not vanished like vaporizing clouds before my eyes. Time with my kids allowed me to relive the passing parade many times over on vacations or on day outings. The girls have grown, moved away and begun families. They can relax and enjoy cloud discovery with their spouses and kids. New clouds and creatures arrive to greet every new generation. Don’t miss them.

Cloud creatures still enrapture my solitude adventures to wilderness locations where time stands still and my mind peacefully wanders. Despite an aging body, my consciousness retains the excitement revealed early in life. We all get lost among responsibilities of everyday demands. Time away from the routine of human-centered activities and technological inventions allows us opportunity to develop a real-world relationship.

I learned stratus clouds quietly drop rain for hours, high cirrus clouds are icy, and noisy cumulus thunderheads startle us with loud claps after jagged bolts of lightning cut the sky wide open. Understanding the science of clouds is important for a number reasons. One of those reasons is so we do not jump into them thinking we will get to explore a hidden world only to discover it will be our last living experience. 

Savor the parading creatures. Take time to recline in wilderness areas alone, with family members or friends. Let your mind drift with the clouds. Rejuvenate your soul and spirit. It happens naturally in wild places away from the distractions imposed by daily demands. The values of wilderness are immense. 

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

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Learn about photographing birds, become an archery expert 

 

Cedar waxwing photo by Tom Haxby

With DNR’s Outdoor Skills Academy

Want to try something new in the outdoors or maybe brush up on your skills and get some tips from the pros? The Outdoor Skills Academy can help! They offer expert instruction, gear and hands-on learning for a range of outdoor activities.

Classes coming up include a workshop on photographing birds taught by Tom Haxby, award-winning nature and wildlife photographer, in Muskegon Aug. 18 and 19.

Or take the first step toward Becoming an Expert Archer with a class, led by professional archer and USA Olympic instructor Nick Di Cresce, in Ludington Sept. 15.

Also on the Outdoor Skills Academy schedule for the coming months are classes on bear, deer and waterfowl hunting, ice fishing, hiking, downhill skiing and snowboarding.

For more information, visit michigan.gov/outdoorskills.

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Monarch champion and icon dies

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Lincoln Brower, who was considered one of the foremost experts on the iconic monarch butterfly and a scientist who advocated for protection for the declining species, died on July 17 at his home in Roseland, Virginia at age 86, with complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was a key researcher demonstrating that blue jays become ill eating monarchs and learned birds avoid eating them. His research helped build scientific evidence supporting that birds learn to avoid toxic insects in their diet. The orange color is a warning “don’t eat me.” 

Through scholarly papers, articles, and interviews, Dr. Brower illuminated the story of the monarch. Working with groups in Mexico and with the Mexican government in the 1980s, he helped establish sanctuaries to protect crucial fir forests from logging where the butterflies gather in the millions. In later years he said illegal cutting continued. I recall discussing the plight of monarch migration phenomena with him. 

He stated the monarch species has non-migratory populations that live in sedentary populations in the Caribbean islands, Trinidad, Bermuda and South America. Those are not likely to go extinct. Most of the Northern American population gathers in Mexico by the millions for a two-way multiple generation migration unique in the world. He said that would likely disappear in the early 21st century. Fortunately, that has not occurred. In part, the migratory population might still exist because of his tireless efforts to protect it. 

Biodiversity that supports humans and other life on Earth is disappearing piece by piece. Dr. Dave Warners recently stated we are losing 50,000 species worldwide annually. I have seen habitat sampling evidence that supports higher and lower estimates. We do not know the long-term impacts this will have on humans or ecosystems that support us. Lincoln focused research on monarchs but he held a broader view for protecting biodiversity essential for our species’ economic, social, and environmental health.

I write about such things in my nature niche column. They are not my original ideas. Most were generated in previous centuries with additional scientific evidence support being added in recent decades. Dr. Brower was a scientist whose work and evidence helped protect human interests. I hope voters consider the importance of scientific evidence and do not dismiss it because it does not agree with their desires. Most scientists are unwilling to voice political advocacy when their work is referred to as fake news. Lincoln used scientific evidence to advocate protection for the monarch. He said, “We’re too pragmatic in this country, and I think we need to realize that biological treasures such as the monarch are just as valuable as the Mona Lisa.” 

Brower charted the butterflies’ stark decline. Its overall population has fallen by about 80 percent over the last two decades, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. In 2014, Brower placed his name alongside conservation groups to petition the federal government to protect the monarch under the Endangered Species Act. “He was the only scientist who joined the petition–it’s a gigantic deal,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “A lot of scientists shy away from advocacy.” The Endangered Species, Clean Water, Clean Air, and Wilderness Acts are under grave threat by the Trump administration. I encourage readers to voice their opinions to Congressional representatives now. 

Dr. Brower recognized many people relate to human created treasures. Many species comprising Earth’s diversity are not equally valued and are considered expendable. Regarding protection of endangered species, Congress is not protecting the value of Grand Staircase National Monument in Utah where protections were removed by Executive Order last year. By who voters elected, we support the unlawful taking of private property along the Mexican border without due process. I am part owner of North American Butterfly Association property there where the Endangered Species Act has been exempted as a matter of national security. Dr. Brower objected to such taking and recognized personal rights and environmental protection are essential to national security and sustainability. 

I am honored to have known Lincoln and to have been mentored by him personally and through his published works. “Google” Lincoln Brower to discover the authors I used to cull information shared and to read details about his amazing life. Sadly, we have lost a monarch champion and icon. Will you champion monarchs? 

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

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Great places to target muskellunge in Michigan

Are you interested in targeting muskellunge this summer? Many anglers would place the four water bodies listed on their lists of top spots to visit.

1. Tahquamenon River in Luce County

From below Tahquamenon Falls all the way to Lake Superior produces great muskie fishing.

2. Thornapple Lake in Barry County

Muskies can be found on the east or west ends of the lake. Please note there’s a 50-inch minimum size limit on this lake.

3. Skegemog Lake in Kalkaska County

A good spot to focus on here is the edges of a deep hole that’s off the entrance to Elk Lake.

4. Lake St. Clair in St. Clair County

Lots of inlets and outlets on this lake provide ideal conditions for muskies.

If you harvest a muskellunge, don’t forget you have 24-hours to register it. This action is required and can be done online at Michigan.gov/registerfish, toll-free by calling 844-345-FISH (3474), or in person at any DNR Customer Service Center during normal state business hours with advanced notice of arrival.

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Coyote attacks dog in Ensley Township

by Lois Allen

Watch out for coyotes in the area.

An Ensley township couple were relaxing at home last week Thursday, July 19, when they heard  a commotion coming from their back yard. They were shocked to see a coyote mauling one of their two dogs, a Yorkie Poo, in broad daylight. 

The Castles, who live in Ensley township near Gould’s Mini Mart, have two dogs, a Yorkie Poo (Jack) and the other an Australian Shepherd (Ruby).

It was approximately 7 a.m., when they had let their dogs out into the back yard to do their “business.”

Jack, a Yorkie Poo, was a victim of a coyote attack last week.

Machell Castle said it was shortly after when she heard a bunch of “yipping” coming from the backyard. When she looked to see what was going on, she saw a large coyote with the Yorkie Poo in its mouth that was heading back into the woods. However, the Australian Shepherd, Ruby, was hot on its tail and the coyote eventually dropped the 12 pound Yorkie Poo.

After the coyote let loose of Jack, both dogs headed for the house with the coyote chasing them, literally on their tails. “I flung open the back door and they came running in,” said Machell.

It was then that the coyote retreated back into the woods.

Pictured here is one of Jack’s puncture wounds on his back left leg.

Thanks to Ruby’s bravery, Jack the Yorkie Poo survived the attack and was taken to the animal hospital to be treated.  “Ruby saved him,” said Machell. 

Jack’s injuries included approximately four puncture wounds on his back and leg, the largest on his back left leg. He is doing well and is expected to make a full recovery.

According to the DNR of Michigan, “…coyotes can be killed without a hunting license on private land by the landowner or designee if the coyote is doing or about to do damage to private property, pets, livestock, or humans…” To learn more about Michigan Coyotes go to the DNR website by visiting www.michigan.gov/wildlife found under the “Mammals” section.

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DNR seizes record amount of illegal crayfish

Michigan DNR conservation officers seized more than 2,000 pounds of live, illegal red swamp crayfish in 55 bags, the largest aquatic invasive species seizure by the DNR.

More than 2,000 pounds of live, illegal red swamp crayfish recently were seized by Department of Natural Resources conservation officers on July 13—the largest aquatic invasive species seizure by the Michigan DNR.

Growing from 4 to 7 inches in length, red swamp crayfish are dark red with bright red, raised spots on their claws and a black wedge-shaped tail that is a black or dark blue color underneath.

Red swamp crayfish are prohibited in both Michigan and Canada. They burrow and create shoreline erosion, creating instability. Additionally, they compete with native crayfish, reducing the amount of food and habitat available for amphibians, invertebrates and juvenile fish.

Conservation officers in St. Clair County were notified Friday, July 13, by U.S. Customs and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when a commercial hauler transporting red swamp crayfish was denied entry into Canada and would be returning to Michigan. The commercial hauler was stopped by Canadian officials at the Sarnia, Canada, border crossing in an attempt to leave the United States.

“Our officers have great working relationships with professional law enforcement partners across the U.S. and Canada. This is a fine example of how important those relationships are in protecting Michigan’s natural resources,” said Chief Gary Hagler, DNR Law Enforcement Division.

Assisted by customs officials, DNR conservation officers stopped the truck and obtained 55 bags of live crayfish. After interviewing the driver, the officers learned the truck originated from Canada and made stops in Maryland and Arkansas to pick up cargo prior to attempting its return to Canada. The driver did not have appropriate records, other than a few purchase receipts. DNR Law Enforcement Division’s Great Lakes Enforcement Unit is conducting further investigation. It currently is unknown if any stops or sales were made in Michigan.

The first concern regarding red swamp crayfish in Michigan was in 2013, when conservation officers learned the illegal crayfish was being used as bait in southwest Michigan. The first live infestations in Michigan were detected and reported in 2017. Confirmed infestations include locations in southeast Michigan.

Native in southeast states of the U.S., red swamp crayfish are the most widespread invasive crayfish in the world, and often are used in classrooms as teaching tools and at food festivities such as crayfish boils. Any possession of live red swamp crayfish in Michigan is illegal. The DNR is working to increase awareness and reporting of the illegal crayfish, in addition to removing infestations from confirmed locations.

 

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Genes and inheritance

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Some male and female organisms look nearly identical. It is not easy to recognize a male and female robin apart. Is it a boy or girl cottontail hopping through the yard? Plants like wild strawberries have both sexes in one flower while others like willows are either male or female plants.

Male and female American Goldfinches look very different in summer but by winter look quite similar. It is the outward appearance we notice. What is hidden from view is the genetics. We can observe the results but the secrets for how genes and inheritance help species survive in nature niches is an ongoing discovery process. 

DNA sequencing has become popular for tracing personal family origins and is a tool for solving cold case crimes. As an ecological tool, molecular analysis aids understanding the evolution of species. 

DNA and RNA analysis has provided great advances toward understanding origins of species. It has also revealed new difficulties to decipher. When I first encountered the Northern Blue butterfly in Michigan, I confused it with Karner Blue butterfly. The two are nearly identical twins in appearance. 

Mo Nielsen immediately told me I did not make a Karner Blue discovery in the Upper Peninsula when I reported one. He said there is no wild blue lupine there that the Karner Blue requires. He instructed me to look closely at the wing pattern to see if it was a Northern Blue. I was unfamiliar with the Northern Blue but that is what I found. It was a breeding colony that confirmed the species as a Michigan resident. The Michigan DNR nongame program provided a grant for me to conduct life history research for this new Michigan species. 

I was not involved with the molecular analysis, but it was found the Northern Blue showed a closer relationship with the Karner Blues genetically than with the Northern Blues of western North America. Outwardly, Michigan Northern Blues look more like Karner Blues than they look like western Northern Blues. 

As scientific abilities become more advanced, we find separation between species is more difficult to assess. We like to think species are distinct entities that are clearly separated. They are not. A key feature that helps define species separations is ecological nature niche adaptations. Species adapt to utilize different food plants and micro-habitats that result to speciation. 

Many species are cryptic. Physically they look alike but are ecologically and reproductively separated. They share habitat but have developed isolating survival strategies that are different from the parent species. Specific isolating adaptations create new species but interbreeding during the process complicates analysis. 

Yellow-shafted and Red-shafted Flickers (woodpeckers) were considered separate species. We planted trees across the Great Plains and the two got together. They mate and produce fertile offspring. The two are now lumped as one species called the Northern Flicker. Interestingly where they live together, the yellow and red do not readily interbreed. This has caused some ecologists to think they should be considered separate sibling species. Others think they are one species with two color forms that reduces interbreeding based on appearance. 

We experience the same difficulty among humans where Danes, Germans, French, Hispanics, and other races live together. Our genes are fully compatible. There was a time when people thought each race was a separate species but DNA sequencing indicates our genetic differences are superficial and too minor to separate humans as different species. The differences are primarily cultural. We are one species that developed different physical adaptations that helped us survive in various climatic conditions. Cultural isolation helped define our races.

Science is supported by physical evidence. It often conflicts with what we want or choose to believe. Our cultural background helps define our behavior. Like flickers, some people like Karen (Norwegian) and me (German) intermixed our genes while others choose to limit relationships to their race and cultural history. 

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

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A mama and her babies

Ed Bremmer, of Cedar Springs, dropped off this beautiful photo of a doe and her twin fawns. He said it was taken on the west side of Cedar Springs.

Thank you so much, Ed, for sharing it with us!

Do you have a wildlife or wildflower photo you’d like to share? Send it to news@cedarspringspost.com.

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