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Archive | Outdoors

New Michigan Fishing Guide available 

OUT-Fishing-guide

The Department of Natural Resources has announced release of the 2016-2017 Michigan Fishing Guide, which includes rules and regulations effective April 1, 2016, through March 31, 2018. Copies of the two-year guide can be obtained at any location where fishing licenses are sold.

Anglers should note this year’s publication is a two-year guide, covering regulations for both 2016 and 2017.

As in the recent past, this year’s guide is intended to be useful to anglers in the field by being printed on higher-quality paper to better withstand the wear and tear of fishing in Michigan, produced in a smaller physical size to better fit in tackle boxes, and printed in an easier to read font size.

This is the second year the DNR solicited photos from the public for possible use on the cover of the guide. This year’s selected photo is of Grand Haven’s north pier and was submitted by Eric Zattlin. The DNR will be collecting potential cover photos for the 2018-2019 guide as well. The DNR is looking for photos that focus on places to fish, not so much on people or fish species themselves. Interested individuals can send their submissions to DNR-Fisheries@michigan.gov.

The 2016-2017 Michigan Fishing Guide also is available in a user-friendly, electronic format online at michigan.gov/fishingguide.

Again this year, excerpts of the new Michigan Fishing Guide are available in Spanish, Arabic and Chinese to better accommodate non-English speaking anglers. These documents—each five pages in length—are available online at michigan.gov/fishing under the “Rules & Regs” button.

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Life in desolate woods

By Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve

After the big snow, schools were closed. Country roads were not safely passable for school buses. Previously the ground was mostly bare of snow and spring seemed upon us. Sandhill Cranes arrived with a throat-gargling prehistoric sound. The first Red-winged Blackbird sang from a tree at cattail marsh. It was early for arrival. I normally expect them between March 3-10 but sometimes it is later and uncommonly earlier. This year the male blackbird arrived locally on February 26 but I saw one closer to Lake Michigan a week earlier.

The snowstorm returned winter’s desolation as March arrived “Like A Lion.” We walked through 6 inches of unblemished snow in Big Field and Big Woods. Upon entering the Big Woods, a Great Horned Owl hooted in the distance. I listened and watched for it to fly as we penetrated the wood’s depth. As we exited the woods and crossed Little Cedar Creek, the owl called from the woods north of the power line clearing. A concealed owl quieted but it saw us and flew. It flew south into the larger section of Big Woods.

It was the only bird we had encountered between 5:45 and 6:15 p.m. The sun was above the horizon at our start but was now hidden creating a golden glow on clouds.

The Owl disappeared into the woods we would soon reenter. Suddenly a Black-capped Chickadee appeared from nowhere and disappeared into nowhere. We completed our walk at 6:30 with one more bird gobbling in the big woods when a lone Wild Turkey sounded its presence. Food must be fairly scarce and birds no doubt are more anxious for spring than we are.

Mammals provided track evidence. Cottontail rabbits, Gray Squirrels, Red Squirrels, White-footed Deermice, Meadow Voles, White-tailed Deer broke the snow surface with fresh tracks. A Coyote and Red Fox visit on occasion but not tonight. Turkey tracks and unidentifiable small bird tracks announced they were recently here searching.

The woods and field appear desolate following the late winter storm but signs of life abound. Trees and shrubs captured our attention as stationary denizens in nature niches. They provide insects with places to hide all winter and produce buds that sustain animals of forest and field. Seeds produced last summer found their way to the ground. Rodents dug through snow to salvage meals. It is not obvious where birds and small mammals find insects during winter but survivors are successful.

We can each help birds survive the lean times by keeping a bird feeder full. Regularly Mourning Doves, Red-bellied, Downy, and Hairy Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Dark-eyed Juncos, Northern Cardinals, House Finches, and American Goldfinches are at the feeder. Occasionally a Cooper’s Hawk seeks a bird for lunch near the feeders. Great Horned and Barred Owls bring life to the night with calls starting in earnest during January. Crows are abundant daily and Pileated Woodpeckers are occasional. Canada Geese become more frequent as spring nears. Wild Turkeys are regular. Red-tailed hawks watch the field from forest edge.

Horned Larks stay in farm fields surrounding Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary. A couple European Starlings rarely come for suet but it does not disappoint me that they are rarely here. Unusual visitors are American Tree Sparrows, Brown Creeper, and Red-breasted Nuthatch. Abundant birds leave the feeders and disappear into surrounding habitats late in the day. Most had already left the feeders during our walk. Where do they hide in the desolate forest and field?

The desolation will soon be changed by song, dance, and early nesting birds as they push winter northward and drag spring with them on their way to claim breeding habitats.

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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Fishing Tip: Safety tips for spring ice fishing

 

From the DNR

It’s almost officially spring and although this season has been fairly inconsistent for ice fishing, there still may be numerous opportunities in different locations throughout the state to get out on the water. But just remember, there are a few important safety precautions to take if you plan to do so:

1. Towards the end of the season, ice becomes rotten and soft. Even if it’s thick, it might not be strong enough to hold someone safely.

2. Don’t forget to still carry the appropriate safety items, such as ice picks and a throw rope. And remember to wear a personal flotation device when heading out.

3. Continue to use the buddy system and know you’ll have someone with you to help if you fall through the ice.

4. Carry a fully charged cell phone in a waterproof plastic bag. Make sure it is easily accessible on your person in case of an emergency.

5. Pay attention to the weather. If it hasn’t been consistently cold or if there has been a lot of wind you can’t guarantee there will be solid ice to head out on.

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Protect people and nature

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The closer someone is to our own life the more we care about their health and wellbeing. Clearly, we do not want our children brain damaged by lead in our water in order to receive less expensive water to balance the city budget. Flint has gained temporary national news and the economic cost will far exceed the cost of having continued purchasing water from Detroit. The greatest cost is social and environmental.

Such stories are common and are quickly forgotten. The PBB fire retardant that was accidentally put in cow feed was buried with the cows in St. Lewis, Michigan, and was perhaps as bad or worse than the lead in water. Now the PBB incident is far from people’s minds. The PBB disposal site is still one of the most serious toxic waste dumps and many think it is not adequately confined. People claim deaths are attributed to the contamination leaks and are likely still occurring. That is partly due to the public not wanting to know about it. We are good at burying our heads in the sand like ostriches.

How many recall the Times Beach, Missouri incident from the 1970’s? A school was built on buried toxic waste. The grown children are experiencing 33 percent miscarriages and their surviving children have the same percentage of chromosome damage as their parents. Do you recall the Love Canal, New York Dioxin incident?

Who remembers the groundwater salt contamination by Dow wastewater injection into well water before the Clean Water Act of 1973? People can no longer use well water. It has become more expensive to obtain clean water and it removed a valuable resource from community use.

My first job upon graduating from College was as an urban forester in Midland. My job was to select trees on Dow Chemical woodlots to vegetate the city. I had a crew prepare 15-foot-tall trees for transplant to reforest the city. Air pollution from Dow had killed most of the trees in Midland. The Clean Air Act of 1973 required industries place pollution scrubbers on chimneys. Many fought the new regulation because it would increase the cost of doing business. Like the lead problem in Flint, the cost in human lives and lung disease as well as life loss to plants and animals was not factored into the business cost. The cost was passed on to individuals, medical insurance premiums and to government programs that private companies did not include in their bottom line.

In 1962, Rachel Carson brought the DDT insecticide problem to public awareness. Unlike many other scientists, she was skilled at writing in a manner that connected with non-scientists. She was able to make the written word readable for those not trained in scientific terminology and complex methodologies. Aldo Leopold also wrote about the essential importance of wilderness for recreation, science, and wildlife in 1949, in a manner understandable for the general public. As a result of their communication abilities, they share the designation as the two most outstanding environmentalists of the 20th century. Read their books.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 is partly due to Carson’s book “Silent Spring” building a critical mass of people to support the connection between human and nature niche protection. We could use a writer like Carson to write a similar book about climate change that connects with the general reader. Like the DDT issue, there is massive money being spent to discredit climate change even thought nearly all climate scientists agree evidence supports it is human caused. People prefer to believe what they want instead of evidence supported studies.

Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac,” was important for building the critical mass of American citizens to support the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964. We had a more bipartisan Congress during those decades that acted with concern when people were dying from air, water, and pesticide contamination and for future generations health. Now elected officials have become so interested in serving only a portion of the citizens that elected them, they ignore nearly 50 percent of citizens. Consider supporting politicians that work for all Americans instead of just some people. The downside of that is nobody gets all what they want. I always maintain no one should complain about government. We should complain about our neighbors. The problem is not with government; it is with neighbors that elect government officials to serve only them instead of serving all Americans.

Elect those that understand how important nature’s ecological processes are for long term community social, economic, and ecological sustainability. The present is fleeting. The future is forever.

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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Designing land use for people and nature

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche By Ranger Steve

Nature Niches are vital for human survival. Designing land use for people and nature protects current and future generations. Individual humans and future generations are important. Personal wants and needs make it easy to dismiss the wellbeing of grandchildren and great-grandchildren and those that follow. The President and Congress wrestle with this balance daily.

On February 12, new National Monuments were designated by Presidential proclamation using the Antiquities Act of 1906. Congress takes decades to establish protection for proposed areas of national importance while they discuss the pros and cons. They often defer action to future legislators. By the time action is taken, the areas needing protection for future generations could be degraded or lose the value they were proposed to protect. The President is only allowed to protect land that is already owned by the American people. Private property is excluded. The proposed Arctic Wilderness in Alaska and Red Rock Wilderness in Southern Utah are two of the largest Wilderness areas awaiting designation. Wilderness designation has been debated and deferred for well over 50 years by Congress with no resolution. The Antiquities Act was created to mitigate while Congress takes slow or no action. It allows some protection, while Congress debates and considers long term land use. Some areas are approved as National Parks, other federal designations, or can be sold to private interests with Congressional approval.

Most of our national parks began by presidential proclamation. When you see a designation called National Monument it means a president protected it and Congress has not acted yet to make it a national park or eliminate it from monument or federal protection. If it is designated as a National Park, Congress has acted to support the designation. Yosemite is an example of a Congressionally approved National Park in California. It is likely Congress will not complete action on the newly designated California monuments during the lifetime of children born when the monuments were established. Some national parks and federal lands determined as non-vital for society have been closed and sold. National Forests began in a similar manner. Bureau of Land Management lands were established for management to meet different society and private interests. Designation of parks, national forest, and BLM lands have different regulations designated with varied use emphases.

National Monuments limit consumptive use more than national forest and BLM lands. At the Howard Christensen Nature Center, I worked to establish varied protections on a small local scale by acting locally but thinking globally. When driving in the entrance to the Welcome Center, one will find dispersed parking for cars scattered along the drive instead of one large parking area. That entrance area was designed to provide visitors with a natural experience before walking to the Interpretive building. Parking is located far enough away from the Red Pine Interpretative Center to hide view of the building in the woods. It is comparable to parking in a Meijer parking lot farthest from the store. Of course, at the store the building is still visible. The two parking areas have different purposes. At Meijer the purpose is to help visitors gain fast close access for target products. At HCNC the target product is the natural area instead of a building where people become separated from an outdoor experience. It provides people a chance to slow down and enjoy the ambiance of the natural world on their way to the building.

The HCNC buildings (Red Pine Center and Lily’s Retreat Center) have primary parking out of sight of the building but are also accessible by driveways that allow people close access when needed. Nature center areas were designated with high, passive, and limited activity areas. High activity areas reduce the value for survival of native species nature niches and are comparable to your house, driveway and lawn areas. Passive use areas are designated trails through intact nature niche habitats. Limited use areas hopefully prevent impairment of natural areas and include game trails, unnamed trails, and natural areas between trails that serve primarily wildlife species. Use by people should not be obvious or impair wildlife use value in limited use areas.

The new Mojave Trails, Sands to Snow, and Castle Mountains National Monuments in California include sand dunes, Native American petroglyphs, one of the continent’s youngest volcanoes, and critical habitat for threatened and endangered wildlife. They connect Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave National Preserve, and 15 wilderness areas.

HCNC has 135 acres connected to the 5000 acres of the Rogue River State Game Area. The game area provides wildlife habitat for hunting, Grand River Watershed flood control, forest management and other uses. HCNC is outstanding for education, recreation, and it models land use designations on a small local scale. HCNC use protection designations have changed since my retirement but that is to be expected, just like Congress land use decisions change with each new Congress. My best advice is to act locally on private property under your management control with long term care designed to include future generations. Think global and act local. Support HCNC by visiting and purchasing a membership.

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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Earth Shine

By Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve

Two nights of Earth Shine has brightened my spirit and eyes under a clear dark sky. The Earth follows a path around the sun that takes 365 days and creates our planet’s year. Earth is a satellite of the big hot yellow ball we call sun. We are not the only planet held by the sun. Without its constant light and heat, nature niches filled with life would not exist. Take joy in the sunlight daily.

Our home planet, Earth, has it own satellite we call the moon. The moon does not have an atmosphere and that prevents establishment of conditions for life. It has mountains and valleys. Craters that mark the surface can be easily seen with binoculars, a small telescope, or spotting scope used by bird watchers. The best views of ridges and valleys are seen along the edges of the moon where the curve of the surface allows us to see greater detail.

Think of the moon like a baseball. When one looks at the surface stitching of a baseball, the surface closest to you will not appear as rough or elevated as the stitching along the edges where we can see the relief of valleys and ridges among the threads more easily.

The moon appears to rise about 56 minutes later each night. View it from your yard on a full moon night when the Earth is between the sun and moon. Rarely the three objects are aligned so perfectly straight that the Earth’s shadow blocks sunlight from hitting the moon. When they do, we have a moon eclipse. When the moon is between the sun and Earth in perfect alignment, its shadow blocks sunlight from hitting Earth creating a solar eclipse. Such perfect alignments are rare and make the news.

About every 28 days, the moon moves around the Earth in a similar manner to how the Earth moves around the sun. As a result, we see different amounts of the moon’s surface lighted by the sun. On a full moon night, it appears that the entire moon is lighted by the sun and we see a bright round ball. The Earth is between the sun and moon on those nights. Keep in mind that half of the moon is dark with no sunlight when we see a full moon. That half is the surface facing away from us so we do see any of the dark side.

When the moon and sun are both on the same side of the Earth at sunset or sunrise, the dark side is facing us and is not being hit by sun rays. We call it a new moon. We can still see the dark circle of the moon and this is where Earth Shine becomes important. If no light at all was coming from the moon’s surface to Earth, we would not see it.

This past week on clear nights shortly after sunset, we observed a small bright crescent moon. The entire half of the moon was reflecting bright light from the sun but almost all of the lighted portion of the moon was facing away from Earth. With the moon between Earth and sun, the dark side was facing Earth except for a thin strip of the lighted portion. The next night the moon’s positon had changed and it was setting 56 minutes later so it was not aligned as straightly with sun. The moon showed a wider bright crescent.

Perhaps only 10 percent of the moon seen was a brightly lighted crescent. However, the other 90 percent was also visible. With no sunlight hitting it directly, one would expect it should be absolutely black and invisible. There is no moon atmosphere to reflect light onto the dark surface of the moon.

Sunlight hitting the Earth bounces off our planet’s surface, hits the moon, and bounces back to Earth. There is enough reflected sunlight bouncing off Earth to hit the dark side of the moon and even bounce back to Earth so we can actually see the surface that receives no direct sun rays. The dimly visible lighted 90 percent is a result of Earth Shine. The Earth does not produce its own light but it does reflect enough sunlight to create Earth Shine on the moon.

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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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Itty Bitty Sleeper

Ranger Steve

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Being hard to find has an advantage when you are a tasty morsel. Consider how tasty you are to female mosquitoes. Being thousands of times larger than a mosquito makes you an easy target. You make yourself an even easier target by expelling carbon dioxide and by giving off heat. If you quit breathing, mosquitoes will lose interest and your heat will quickly dissipate.

I do not recommend that tactic to avoid mosquitoes. Animals have many adaptations that actually provide improved survival chances. Being small is one advantage. It is difficult to find a creature that is less than one-fourth of an inch long. When the creature does not move for months, it makes it even more difficult to find.

The creature I am describing ties a willow leaf to a twig so, when fall leaf drop arrives, the leaf stays on the shrub. Silk from salivary glands becomes a strong binding thread when exposed to air.

During the summer months, this insect might have three broods of young. Summer broods hatch from a minute eggs and begin eating willow leaves. If fortunate, they are not eaten by Blue-winged Warblers, Indigo Buntings, ants, or stink bugs. It will pupate and transform from caterpillar to butterfly.

People often refer to the pupa as a resting stage but it is not. Tremendous work of changing its body from caterpillar to winged adult is accomplished in the chrysalis (pupa). Little rest takes place. If it is warm, the pupa will transform more rapidly and chances of becoming food for mice or other things is reduced. Less time in the chrysalis increases survival chances. It is likely that less than one percent survive from egg to adult. A primary ecological function of the adult is reproduction to keep its nature niche occupied in willow thickets.

Late season reproduction differs from earlier generations that feed heavily and work to transform to an adult as quickly as possible. The late season animal is affected by changing day length. On hatching, the egg prepares for a long resting sleep. First it must tie a leaf petiole to a twig so the leaf does not fall off as autumn progresses. It then wraps and binds itself in the small leaf with silk.

In its sleep chamber, it waits for new spring leaf growth. If it escapes a multitude of animals looking to eat it, it might get to feed and grow in spring’s warming sunlight. If we have a wet fall or early spring, fungus or bacteria might kill the small upstart. Surviving is tough.

During the long winter months, the caterpillar is actually in a deep sleep called diapause. It is hormone induced caused by shortening days and lengthening nights that bring chemical changes to its body. The hormones result in behavior different from summer broods.

Try to find one of these sleeping Viceroy butterfly caterpillars in a brown coiled leaf that looks like a leaf fragment attached to a willow twig. It is the work of birds to search twigs all winter in an effort to eat the insect. I feed birds all winter in hope of distracting them enough to help some Viceroys survive to grow, pupate, become an adult, and reproduce here at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary.

The tiny caterpillar, about the size of a pencil’s visible lead, has a big challenge to survive a long winter sleep but its adaptations improve the odds. When it emerges from the crumbled leaf in spring, its color pattern looks much like a bird turd. When disturbed it arches its body and looks even more like a turd.

Develop observation skills and patience with the challenge of finding an overwintering caterpillar in its deep sleep. Take the family to a willow thicket and search the shrubs. My friend Ken is more skilled than me at finding them. The last one he found was on a willow shrub along the White Pine Trail.

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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Free fishing weekend Feb. 13-14

This weekend affords anglers of all ages opportunities to get outdoors and fish for free as part of the DNR's 2016 Winter Free Fishing Weekend.

This weekend affords anglers of all ages opportunities to get outdoors and fish for free as part of the DNR’s 2016 Winter Free Fishing Weekend.

Everyone in Michigan – including residents and non-residents – can fish without a license Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 13 and 14, though all other fishing regulations still apply.

Michigan has celebrated the Winter Free Fishing Weekend every year since 1994 as a way to promote awareness of the state’s vast aquatic resources. With more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams, and 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan and fishing are a perfect match.

“Michigan offers many enjoyable winter outdoor activities, and fishing is among the most popular options,” said Bill Moritz, DNR director. “We encourage everyone to get outside this February and explore the angling opportunities available throughout the state – on your own, with your family or with some good friends.”

Organized Winter Free Fishing Weekend activities are being scheduled in communities across the state to assist with public participation. These activities are coordinated by a variety of organizations including constituent groups, schools, local and state parks, businesses and others.

A full listing of activities can be found online at michigan.gov/freefishing.

Also, during the 2016 Winter Free Fishing Weekend no DNR Recreation Passport is required for vehicle entry to any state park or recreation area.

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DNR reminds public of ice-safety measures

With warm and rainy weather patterns seen in recent weeks in many parts of the state, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources urges ice anglers and snowmobilers to remember that no ice is safe ice.

“When temperatures reach into the 40s, as they have recently in many areas, thawing will occur and that will definitely weaken ice,” said Sgt. Steve Orange, DNR Law Enforcement Division’s recreational safety, education and enforcement supervisor. “It’s very important to know and follow guidelines to determine how ice looks and feels so that your day of ice fishing or snowmobiling is enjoyable and safe. Ignoring warning signs of weakened ice can result in a life-threatening incident.”

The DNR does not recommend the standard “inch-thickness” guide used by many anglers and snowmobilers to determine ice safety, because ice seldom forms at a uniform rate.

Orange said a warm spell may take several days to weaken the ice; however, when temperatures vary widely, causing the ice to thaw during the day and refreeze at night, the result is a weak, “spongy” or honeycombed ice that is unsafe.

Ice strength can’t be determined by its look, thickness, the temperature or whether or not it’s covered with snow, Orange said.

When venturing onto ice, remember:

  • Clear ice that has a bluish tint is the strongest. Ice formed by melted and refrozen snow appears milky, and is very porous and weak.
  • Ice covered by snow always should be presumed unsafe. Snow acts like an insulating blanket and slows the freezing process. Ice under the snow will be thinner and weaker. A snowfall also can warm up and melt existing ice.
  • If there is slush on the ice, stay off. Slush ice is only about half as strong as clear ice and indicates the ice is no longer freezing from the bottom.

Although it’s a personal decision, the DNR does not recommend ice anglers take a car or truck onto the ice,” Orange said.

Anyone venturing onto the ice is urged to wear a life jacket, wear bright colors, bring a cell phone and bring along a set of ice picks or ice claws, which can be found in most sporting goods stores.

If ice does break, Orange offered the following tips:

  • Try to remain calm.
  • Don’t remove winter clothing. Heavy clothes won’t drag you down, but instead can trap air to provide warmth and flotation. This is especially true with a snowmobile suit.
  • Turn in the water toward the direction you came from; that is probably the strongest ice.
  • If you have them, dig the points of the picks into the ice and, while vigorously kicking your feet, pull yourself onto the surface by sliding forward on the ice.
  • Roll away from the area of weak ice. Rolling on the ice will distribute your weight to help avoid breaking through again.
  • Get to shelter, heat, warm dry clothing and warm, nonalcoholic and noncaffeinated drinks.
  • Call 911 and seek medical attention if you feel disoriented, have uncontrollable shivering or have any other ill effects that may be symptoms of hypothermia (the life-threatening drop in the body’s core temperature).

Learn more about ice safety on the DNR website www.michigan.gov/dnr.

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Walt’s Stream Crossing

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Time outdoors is refreshing but can be life threatening if one does not learn to read the landscape. It is easy to become disoriented and lost. It is easier to get lost in Michigan than in the mountainous west. When hiking unfamiliar territory in the west, I use mountain peaks and ridges to keep my bearing. In Michigan, a compass is more essential because one cannot see distinctive landmarks in the distance.

On cloudy days when the sun is obscured, it is difficult to maintain orientation.

In our personal home range, we become familiar with objects and know exactly where we are and how to get to specific locations. Going to and from work, school, or regular haunts, it becomes so familiar that we can almost travel the routes blind folded.

As a teenager, my father-in-law hunted, hiked, and played in southern Minnesota’s landscape along the Minnesota River near Le Sueur. Wildlife in the forest and fields changed during the year depending on available food and shelter. Walt learned to track animals and it helped him hunt successfully.

Landscape features helped him survive solo outings. The Minnesota River was wide and at certain times of the year was not crossable due to high water. Even in seasons with lower water, crossing required submerging to his thighs or waist. He learned to read the landscape for safe crossing in shallowest water.

To cross the river, Walt would seek a bend in the river where a sandbar extended from the inside of a curve toward the downstream bank on the opposite shore. Water flowing toward the curve would flow straight into the outside edge of the curve, hit the bank and be diverted toward the center of the river.

Sand and other material carried by the river dropped in the slower current on the inside of the curve and created a sandbar. Directly opposite another sandbar extended toward the center of the river because the stronger current was diverted from the bank to the center of the river. Slower water on the far side dropped sediments.

When Walt crossed the river, he waded on one sand bar, was able to cross deeper water in the center, and finish crossing on the other sandbar. The Minnesota River was wide and reasonably shallow so he could wade water that was usually shallower than the length of his legs.

In February, when the temperatures seldom rose to zero during the day and dropped to -15 to -30 F at night, the river surface froze enough to walk on despite the flowing current beneath. One winter day he was crossing the frozen surface and the current had thinned the ice. He broke through and submerged to his waist. The air was about -20 F.

He scrambled out of the water and started running as fast as he could for home a mile away. Wet clothes on skin draws heat quickly from one’s body. He knew hypothermia would come fast. When he arrived home, his pants were frozen solid everywhere except at the knees where they were constantly flexed as he ran.

Good fortune allowed him to arrive home, cold and shivering instead of becoming a frozen ice statue in the wild country he enjoyed. It was good he crossed the river where it was shallowest. When venturing outside, we should pay attention to the landscape and read its secrets so when the need arises we can safely navigate. Outdoors should be enjoyed and not feared. Fear will dissipate when we become familiar with the outdoors. Spend time with family exploring nature niches during all seasons.

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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