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Long-shadowed forest speaks silently

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

The groundhog saw his shadow if he woke from hibernation in 34-degrees fahrenheit temperatures. Instead, I expect it continued its chilly winter’s sleep with a body temperature of about 40F. Unconscious to the world above, it does not even wake to poop. Instead it remains in a shadow free subterranean cavity feeding on its plump body’s stored fat.

Cold mid-teen temperatures swept in from the northwest as high pressure brought dense air and clear skies during the night in early February.

The following day remained cloudless and sunny. The late afternoon beauty was too compelling to resist. Unlike the groundhog, I was conscious and drawn to venture into the big woods.

Wild Turkeys left trails with a center toe drag mark between steps. Two side toes glided over the four-inch deep snow without touching. The fourth, rear toe, did not leave a trace except when placed on the ground. Within the track imprint was a gray shadow protected from direct sunlight by the day’s late low-angled light. The un-shadowed snow surface glistened white from the falling sun in the western sky.

The cold following the recent snow kept it fresh, light, and unconsolidated. Wind could move it crystal by crystal. It was not cold enough for the snow to squeak under my footsteps. Instead the lowering sun on the horizon was making trees tell me they were taller than they are. By casting their long silent shadows great distances on a clean white snow palate, trees boasted a tall stature that did not exist.

Turkeys and trees were not the only painters marking the palate. A fox walked nearly straight lines with diversions to investigate brushy areas where cottontail rabbits sought shelter. Deer mice left four footprints and a tail drag mark on the fluffy snow surface. The fox was not fooled into wasting energy following mice tracks that would not provide a meal.

The mouse traveled about 150 feet before its light weight and tiny tracks that barely penetrated the snow surface disappeared through a small hole in the snow near a tree trunk. In a few places, it appeared a minor earthquake broke the flat snow surface and raised the ground cover leaving one long crack with several radiating fissures to the sides. I was unable to decipher what had moved beneath the snow to leave its silent telltale mark.

Fallen trees provide short shadows from horizontal trunks. Squirrels bounded between standing tree trunks to prostrate logs where tracks disappeared at one end and reappeared at the far end. Rabbit tracks looked much like squirrel tracks but circumvented logs to stay on the ground. They went around erect trees unlike squirrel tracks that disappeared at the base of standing trees.

Squirrel leaf nests high in trees blocked sun passage and showed dark balled shadows among the intricate gray branch shadows cast to the ground. Though it was quiet, the long shadowed forest was speaking loudly of its inhabitants.

I returned to my comfortable nest with a west-facing window to put pen to paper as the sun filtered light through pine trees during the last moments of day. Birds had quit feeding at feeders and darkness of night would soon replace the long shadowed forest with an even blackness. In a couple weeks, a full moon will cast shadows during the night when I will be compelled to take a night hike in a same yet different long-shadowed forest. Lighted by moon instead of sun, it will be a different world. Perhaps then I will hear the audible hoots of the Great Horned Owl.

For now, pine branch shadows lighted from behind by the setting sun cast shadows on my face to remind me I am a part of the pine’s nature niche.

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 this Saturday and Sunday

Adults and youths alike can have fun exploring Michigan’s winter fishing opportunities during the 2017 Winter #MiFreeFishingWeekend

Adults and youths alike can have fun exploring Michigan’s winter fishing opportunities during the 2017 Winter #MiFreeFishingWeekend

Everyone in Michigan is invited to fish for free Saturday, Feb. 18, and Sunday, Feb. 19, for the 2017 Winter Free Fishing Weekend. A license is not required to fish for those two days, but all other fishing regulations still apply.
These two days make up #MiFreeFishingWeekend—an annual effort to promote Michigan’s world-class fishing opportunities. While many individuals and families will bundle up and head out to fish for free on their own, the DNR points out that there are several organized events scheduled throughout the state to celebrate the weekend, too. Some of these events include:

  • Free Fishing Festival (Bay County) Feb. 18, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Join this annual event at the Saginaw Bay Visitor Center at Bay City State Recreation Area where tons of winter recreation activities are highlighted.
  • 8th annual Wakefield Volunteer Fire Department Ice Fishing Contest (Gogebic County) Feb. 18, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Participate in this annual ice fishing contest where lots of prizes are raffled off.
  • Wild about Winter Activity Day (Van Buren County) Feb. 18, 11 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m. Visit the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery in Mattawan for its Ice Fishing 101 course, held at three separate times. Additional on-site activities will include snowshoeing, a winter scavenger hunt and much more.
  • Family Ice Fishing (Wexford County) Feb. 18,  noon to 4 p.m. Come to the Carl T. Johnson Hunt and Fish Center in Cadillac for an on-the-ice experience and learn how to ice fish.

OUT-Free-fishing2-ice-safety-tipsPlease note that all events are subject to weather conditions. Even if there is no fishable ice in certain parts of the state this weekend, other types of fishing may be available. Also, during the 2017 Winter #MiFreeFishingWeekend no DNR Recreation Passport is required for entry to any state park or recreation area.

There are many other events scheduled in locations throughout the state. Information about these events, including those listed above, can be found at Michigan.gov/freefishing.

Michigan has celebrated the Winter Free Fishing Weekend every year since 1994. 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 natural match.

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Bird sightings peer review

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

People have opportunity to list birds from their yards or anywhere in the World to ebird. Google ebird for what has been sighted in the neighborhood, county, state, and nation. Select species of interest or “Birding Hotspots.”

Three friends and I went to the Maple State Area to find Long-eared Owls, Short-eared Owls and another species we might encounter that was listed on ebird. The owls have summer nature niches in the far north but come here for winter. As we traveled M-57, we saw a Rough-legged Hawk. It is another far north species that comes here in winter. A Bald Eagle perched in a tree just west of Carson City.

Near the corner of Taft and Woodbridge in Gratiot County, we observed the Short-eared Owls feeding just before dusk. We were there 4:45 to 5:30 p.m. It was a wonderful experience. Because these birds are not frequently seen, we talked with people from Midland and Detroit that came thanks to ebird postings.

In our more restricted area, Carol Van Oeveren searches ebird daily for species of interest and her husband Fred updates the Grand Rapids Audubon website several times a day. Google Grand Rapids Audubon and explore the website. You can find current sightings for Kent, Ottawa, and Muskegon Counties. Go chase birds.

When people post unusual sightings to ebird that are out of normal range, or seem unlikely for some reason they are automatically flagged. The lister will receive an e-mail requesting information to verify sighting accuracy.

I am entering data from my 1960 and 70’s journals. The Red-headed Woodpeckers get flagged because their numbers have plummeted. In the 1960’s they were common. They fed on insects that were in elm trees treated with DDT. The pesticide greatly impacted woodpeckers, robins, and many species. I remind the reviewers that even though Red-headed Woodpeckers are rare now, they were common in the 1960’s. They are still found near Wolf Lake north Baldwin but my listings get flagged annually when I post. I simply provide supportive data.

Some birders are offended when their sightings are questioned. If one is not a scientist, questioning might seem strange. Science journals require peer review before a paper is accepted for publication. Things that appear questionable are marked and sent back to the author(s) for better clarification. If the information is not convincingly accurate to peer experts in the subject area, the paper is not accepted for publication.

Peer review is critical to help make sure scientific methods used were excellent. It helps make sure conclusions drawn from the data collected are supported with physical evidence. That is why things like human enhanced climate change is accepted by 97 percent of climate scientists. The same process is used regarding bird studies. An ornithologist (bird scientist) is not permitted to enter flawed study results easily. When a paper is published and other scientists question the accuracy or conclusions, they might conduct studies to support or refute the conclusions. Science requires repeated verification supporting conclusions even if they are correct.

Citizen science e-birders should be pleased when some sightings get flagged. It helps posting accuracy and helps the birder review their sighting for accuracy and careful identification. People have reported Pine Grosbeaks to me that were House Finches. Errors are easy. Even though citizen science review does not have the rigor of scientific review, its helps maintain quality ebird postings.

It is a public disservice when peer reviewed studies are not allowed for release to the public like recently occurred with the president’s order to end climate research by the EPA and now requires that politicians decide what will be released to the public instead of scientific peer reviewers. Citizen ebird postings provide data for scientists use to document climate change. You can help scientists keep access to data that has ebird peer review. Despite government censoring or stopping peer reviewed scientific research, you can help scientists by enjoying birds in your yard or by getting outdoors for fun bird chasing and by entering sightings to ebird.

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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Make your own bird feeders

 

A home-made bird feeder can attract many species. This is a Chestnut-backed Chickadee, which is found on the West Coast and in the Pacific Northwest. Photo by Phil Khaler.

A home-made bird feeder can attract many species. This is a Chestnut-backed Chickadee, which is found on the West Coast and in the Pacific Northwest. Photo by Phil Khaler.

From Cornell Lab of Ornithology, BirdSleuth K-12

Birds need steady sources of food throughout the year to survive cold nights, migration, and harsh weather. This makes bird feeders of any kind perfect for birds! There are many options available for feeders both online and in stores. But sometimes, the best thing to do is to make your own.Here are some simple feeders that can easily be made with household items!

Pine cone feeders

What you will need:

  • string
  • pinecones
  • peanut butter
  • bird seed (any type)

This feeder is simple and easy to make, costing very little, and easily reused or disposed of when done. Pine cones can be found outside near pine trees or often bought in craft stores.

Take a pine cone and gently brush off any lingering dirt.

Tie a string in a secure loop around the top of the pine cone, leaving enough to tie it to a tree or pole. Alternatively, use a pipe cleaner or twist tie.

Carefully spread a generous layer of peanut butter on the pine cone, making sure that the outside is well covered. Note: If you have peanut allergies to consider, try using almond butter, coconut oil, or Crisco.

Roll your pine cone in bird seed until it is well covered.

Using smaller seeds like millet, milo, and nyjer will ensure that everything sticks better, but mixed seed or black-oil sunflower seed will work too so long as they are well-attached.

Hang your feeder on a tree branch or pole not too close to your window and watch the birds enjoy their winter feast!

*Note: Squirrels love this kind of feeder so be sure to hang it somewhere it will be difficult for squirrels to reach like on thin branches several feet off the ground.

 

Bird Seed Cookies. Photo by Heather Katsoulis.

Bird Seed Cookies. Photo by Heather Katsoulis.

Bird seed cookies

These feeders are festive and easy to make.

What you will need:

  • 2 cups bird seed (any type)
  • cookie cutters
  • 1 packet unflavored gelatin
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 1/3 cup boiling water
  • string
  • skewer
  • non-stick cooking spray

Spray your cookie cutters with non-stick spray to make the cookies easier to pop out.

Empty 1 package of unflavored gelatin into a bowl with 2 tablespoons of cold water. Let this sit for 1 minute. Add 1/3 cup of boiling water to the gelatin, stirring for a few minutes or until the gelatin is dissolved. This is the binder that keeps seeds together.

Next add 2 cups of bird seed to the gelatin and mix thoroughly.

On a tray or sheet of wax paper, lay out your desired cookie cutters. Fill the cookie cutters with the mixture and press into shape firmly. Make a small hole in each cookie with the skewer for the string.

Place in the refrigerator for a few hours to allow the seed mixture to set. After setting warm to room temperature before removing the cakes from the pan. Carefully pop the cookies out of their molds and thread a string through the hole. Hang the ornaments from a tree, pole, or hook outside your windows and watch the birds devour them!

Recycled feeders

We’ll let you in on a little secret: plastic containers make great bird feeders. Our friends at the Chebeague Island School have made bird feeders out of re-purposed yogurt containers to great success.

It’s easy to make your own feeder using anything from a square milk container to a round yogurt container!

What you will need:

  • medium-sized plastic container (milk, yogurt, juice, etc.)
  • scissors or box cutter
  • single hole punch or skewer
  • string
  • thin wooden dowels or spoons

Wash out your desired container and let it dry completely. Then very carefully cut out several small holes along the sides near the bottom*. Make sure they are large enough for a bird’s head to fit inside but small enough that a bird will not be able to climb inside.

*If you are using a square container, you can cut one large opening in the side so that birds may perch and feed.

Punch two small holes about the size of your dowels on opposite side of your container just below the openings you have cut. Insert the dowels into these holes so that the ends of the wood stick out on both sides. These will serve as perches for the feeding birds.

Punch two holes at the top of your container and thread a string through in a large loop. Fill your new feeder with desired birdseed and hang near your house. Be sure to hang it somewhere where birds will have space to perch.

From http://www.birdsleuth.org/diy-feeders/

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The Great Backyard Bird Count

This Red-tailed Hawk photo was taken by Peter Ferguson, 2015 GBBC.

This Red-tailed Hawk photo was taken by Peter Ferguson, 2015 GBBC.

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count Feb. 17-20

Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.

Now, more than 160,000 people of all ages and walks of life worldwide join the four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds.

We invite you to participate! For at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, February 17-20, 2017, simply tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see. You can count from any location, anywhere in the world, for as long as you wish!

If you’re new to the count, or have not participated since before the 2013 merger with eBird, you must create a free online account to enter your checklists. If you already have an account, just use the same login name and password. If you have already participated in another Cornell Lab citizen-science project, you can use your existing login information, too. Go to http://gbbc.birdcount.org/get-started/ to get started.

In 2016, Great Backyard Bird Count participants in more than 130 countries counted 5,689 species of birds on more than 162,000 checklists!

During the count, you can explore what others are seeing in your area or around the world. Share your bird photos by entering the photo contest, or enjoy images pouring in from across the globe. You can also add photos and sounds to your checklist.

Your help is needed every year to make the GBBC successful!

Then keep counting throughout the year with eBird (www.ebird.org) which uses the same system as the Great Backyard Bird Count to collect, store, and display data any time, all the time.

Why count birds?

Scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn a lot by knowing where the birds are. Bird populations are dynamic; they are constantly in flux. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document and understand the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.

Scientists use information from the Great Backyard Bird Count, along with observations from other citizen-science projects, such as the Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch, and eBird, to get the “big picture” about what is happening to bird populations. The longer these data are collected, the more meaningful they become in helping scientists investigate far-reaching questions, like these:

  • How will the weather and climate change influence bird populations?
  • Some birds, such as winter finches, appear in large numbers during some years but not others. Where are these species from year to year, and what can we learn from these patterns?
  • How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?
  • How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?
  • What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?

The Great Backyard Bird Count is led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, with Bird Studies Canada and many international partners. The Great Backyard Bird Count is powered by eBird. 

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Where do they go?

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

January thaw arrives and many birds disappear from feeders. The recent warm spell with a record high temperature of 62 F recently sent a message to the birds. It caused the remaining 4 to 6 inches of snow to melt at Ody Brook. Last to disappear was ice on packed trails.

Some species like the House Finches, Dark-eyed Junco, and the American Tree Sparrow were nowhere to be found. American Goldfinches and Northern Cardinals were seen less frequently. Downy Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and White–breasted Nuthatches maintained regular visits. For some reason, Blue Jays and Mourning Doves have been mostly absent for weeks. I saw my first Blue Jay four weeks into the new year. Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Hairy Woodpeckers made irregular feeding stops at suet.

American Crows do not visit the feeders but are seen or heard daily. Pileated Woodpeckers stay deep in mature wooded habitats. Today, a pileated pecked a dead aspen tree causing it to lose a six-foot piece of trunk that fell to the ground. The branched tree top had previously fallen. The remaining erect trunk was riddled today with long vertical drillings. Hopefully the woodpecker found more food energy than it expended searching.

New weather brought seasonal chilling with light snow. Birds normally not seen in the sanctuary provided evidence of presence. Wild turkeys used the trails planned for easy human travel and left tracks in the fresh snow. They are not stupid. They enjoy the ease of unobstructed travel. They stop to scratch in thawed ground and rummage through the blanket of leaves laid last fall where they searched for acorns and other food morsels.

Like turkeys finding food scattered about, birds missing from feeders are out gathering food in locations unknown to me. With the exposure of plants uncovered by the thaw, animals are searching and finding adequate food in the neighborhood landscape. The neighborhood includes natural habitats in the sanctuary of field, upland forest, and floodplain forest with a small farm field included. Surrounding the area are larger farm fields, a cattle farm, and residential home lots.

The birds have choices for food exploration. Some are richer than others. I saw a Black-capped Chickadee working small branches on a tree. It was most likely seeking overwintering insects tucked into crevasses on twigs. The chickadees have searched many of the thousands of goldenrods for insect galls. Many of the galls have been pecked open and the single white grub of the Goldenrod Gall Fly eaten. 

The grub resides in the thickened round gall on goldenrod stems and emerges as an adult in spring when new goldenrod shoots are about 3 inches tall. The fly mates and lays an egg on the plant where the hatching larva burrows into the soft young plant tissue and causes irritation.  The plant grows a thick ball of tissue around the insect to protect itself. The growth known as gall is what the grub feeds on all summer.

Several species of small blue butterflies overwinter as eggs laid in flower and leaf buds of host food plants specific for their species. You might find Spring Azure eggs in terminal buds of dogwood shrubs, the Silvery Blue’s eggs in vetch and Eastern Tailed Blues in clovers. The bright yellow Clouded Sulphurs spend their winters as small young caterpillars or pupae nestled among legume host plants. Spicebush Swallowtail and Promethea Moth suspend chrysalis or cocoons on or near their Sassafras caterpillar host. Mourning Cloaks and Eastern Commas overwinter as adults in protected seclusion where they might squeeze behind loose bark. If any of these creatures are discovered by searching birds, they likely become a rich protein meal.

It makes sense for the birds to search for these energy rich meals scattered about habitats during milder weather when they are not burning as much energy as they do during near subzero weather. I do not know if they reason this and return to feeders when they need to eat more to maintain adequate energy to survive. What I do know is I help birds survive winter in their nature niches. Their return to feeders brightens and enriches my life.

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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Maintaining wilderness for future generations is essential

OUT-Mueller-Utah

By Ranger Steve Mueller, Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary

Jenny Jo, age 1, with me in 1981 exploring SE Utah. I continue to explore wilderness areas there since my first visit in 1973. This past summer (2016) Jenny Jo accompanied my wife, Karen, and I to explore this magnificent treasure. Wilderness in the region should be protected so others can take their children to explore when they are young and again 35 years later. We have made many visits with our kids during those 35 years. Maintaining pristine country for future generations is essential for reasons Aldo Leopold articulated well for recreation, science, and wildlife. Places with quiet solitude lacking modern day development is increasingly difficult to find. It is up to current generations to maintain wilderness areas for unique species that require them for survival as well as for our human generations that will follow us. I discovered a new species of moth in the area and I am sure many other new species await discovery. Since 1974 I have presented a program titled “Wilderness – Unique Treasure” about Utah. One is scheduled for May. It has been a lifelong effort to ensure future generations have this region to explore in its pristine health.

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Short-eared Owls

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Three friends and I visited eight Short-eared owls at meal time. The owls are smaller than Great Horned Owls and come south to our region in winter. There was a large grassland where they fed near Muskegon, south of M-46 near Swanson Road. A few years ago, building construction eliminated habitat and the owls.

We recently found a place where they are wintering on private land. When observing the owls, posted signs on private property stated “conservation easement.” You might wonder how to establish a conservation easement that will protect your land for your use and for future generations. On February 9, the Kent Conservation District is hosting a dinner and 45-minute program at no cost to you titled “What is the District doing for You and Kent County’s Natural Resources?”

The presentation will bring attention to the resources available to Kent County residents such as the NRCS administered Farm Bill that offers easement programs to eligible landowners to conserve working agricultural lands, wetlands, grasslands and forestlands. The Forestry Assistance Program and the Conservation Technical Assistance Initiative, Michigan’s Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program and invasive species strike team services are a few of the programs that will be covered during the presentation.

Please attend on February 9 for a 5:30 p.m. dinner with a 6 p.m. program at the Grand Rapids Township Hall, 1836 E Beltline Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525. The Kent Conservation District Showcase is free to Kent County residents. RSVP to Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/events/153931478427517/).

Back to the owls. My mother once told me that when habitat is destroyed, like occurred with building construction at the Muskegon site, the animals need to move someplace new. Unfortunately, there are not adequate places remaining for relocation. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Short-eared Owls’ population has declined by 80 percent between 1966 and 2013. Similar declines are occurring for many species as habitat is destroyed to accommodate a growing human population.

Conservation easements can help species survive by curbing habitat loss from agriculture, livestock grazing, recreation, and development that are major causes for species declines. Information from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology states the “owls require large uninterrupted tracts of open grasslands, and they appear to be particularly sensitive to habitat loss and fragmentation.” Habitat restoration programs, such as the Conservation and Wetland Reserve Programs, have shown some success in restoring suitable habitat for Short-eared Owls.

Local farmers and landowners have entered land into the Conservation and Wetland Reserve Programs that are beneficial for our natural heritage and the owner. Such programs not only aid owl survival but help reduce flooding in downstream areas. The conservation programs have significant economic benefits for the community. There is an economic cost that pays for itself in benefits by preventing flood damage losses, soil erosion fertility loss, pollution damage to streams, and it slows loss of wildlife.

The conservation programs can provide hunting easements on private land. The landowner receives financial rewards from the government and community members have access to land. It is considered a win/win for land owners, community members, and declining populations of plants and animals that can now survive. The new Federal administration does not recognize the value of an economic, social, and environmental bottom line. The focus is only on a short-term economic bottom line. Efforts are underway to eliminate many conservation programs that include social and environmental benefits that serve the triple bottom line.

Elimination of conservation programs is not good for the owls that have suffered an 80 percent decline. Elimination is not good for the public at large for flood control, or future generations. Attend the presentation to learn “What the Kent Conservation District is doing for You and Kent County’s Natural Resources?”

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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DNR to answer questions about CWD in Mecosta County 

 

Feb. 22 town hall meeting in Morley

The Michigan departments of Natural Resources (DNR) and Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) recently announced the finding of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in a Mecosta County deer farm facility.

There are two upcoming opportunities for interested landowners, hunters and deer farmers to get the latest information and ask questions about this finding:

For deer farmers – Wednesday, Feb. 1
MDARD will hold a meeting at 7 p.m. at the Big Rapids Holiday Inn, 1005 Perry Ave., Big Rapids.

For hunters and area landowners – Wednesday, Feb. 22
The DNR will host a town hall meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Morley Stanwood High School Cafetorium, 4700 Northland Drive, Morley.

At the Feb. 22 meeting, local DNR wildlife biologist Pete Kailing, DNR deer management specialist Chad Stewart and DNR wildlife veterinarian Kelly Straka will present information on CWD, its effects on deer and deer populations, and the DNR’s CWD response to date. Following presentations, the panel will welcome questions.

“I have been getting many calls from hunters from the area, who want to understand our next steps,” said Stewart. “We scheduled our meeting a few weeks out in order to be able to share the most complete information available. When battling a disease like CWD, it is critical that local hunters and landowners are on board to help with the fight. We are thankful for the great cooperation we have received so far.”

CWD affects members of the deer family, including elk and moose. It is caused by the transmission of infectious, self-multiplying proteins (prions) contained in saliva and other body fluids of infected animals.

To date, there is no evidence the disease presents any risk to non-cervids including humans, either through contact with an infected animal or from handling venison. As a precaution, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend infected animals not be consumed as food by either humans or domestic animals.

To learn more about CWD, visit www.michigan.gov/cwd.

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State is home to thousands of miles of trails, great riding opportunities

A rider heads out on a trail, having just made a highway crossing. Michigan has more than 6,000 miles of snowmobile trails to enjoy.

A rider heads out on a trail, having just made a highway crossing. Michigan has more than 6,000 miles of snowmobile trails to enjoy.

Ask snowmobilers around the country about the best places to ride a sled, and the Great Lakes State is sure to come up in conversation.

Michigan is known by snowmobilers nationally for its unique combination of abundant and dependable snow, exciting terrain and an extensive network of nearly 6,500 miles of designated snowmobile trails.

American Snowmobiler magazine recently featured Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula on the top of its list of “25 Epic Snowmobiling Destinations.”

“The area’s location by Lake Superior guarantees plenty of lake-effect snow each winter. This natural phenomenon coupled with state-of-the-art grooming equipment makes the western U.P. a premier destination in the Midwest,” the magazine said. “As you travel over 2,000 miles of trails you can see Lake Superior ice caverns, scenic overlooks, frozen waterfalls and abandoned railroad beds that lead you over majestically high trestle bridges.”

Michigan’s snowmobile trails are among the finest anywhere.

Michigan’s snowmobile trails are among the finest anywhere.

Over the past several years, SnowGoer magazine has named the Upper Peninsula the best overall snowmobiling area, as well as the area with the most scenic snowmobiling and the best trail riding.

“If you close your eyes and imagine perfect riding, what do you see? Do you visualize trails weaving through the forest? Do you see hotels with more snowmobiles than cars in the parking lot?” said an excerpt from SnowGoer. “Well, welcome to the best all-around snowmobile spots in North America. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan, with an average snowfall of 60 to over 200 inches, offers plenty of snowmobiling amid spectacular natural beauty.”

As these national publications have recognized, Michigan’s draw for snowmobilers, besides the plentiful snow and vast trail network, is the unique opportunity for sightseeing along the way – and a great deal of those sights to see are located in Michigan’s state parks.

“A lot of snowmobilers visit places like the Lake of the Clouds in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Indian Lake State Park and Tahquamenon Falls State Park,” said Ron Yesney, U.P. trails coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “Bond Falls and Brockway Mountain are other popular sightseeing destinations as well.”

The U.P. has about 3,300 miles of state snowmobile trails, which connect communities, provide access to beautiful scenery and draw riders from near and far.

“We really have an outstanding snowmobile system in the U.P., that’s very accessible and links you to snowmobile-friendly towns,” said Rob Katona, DNR central U.P. trail specialist.

The northern Lower Peninsula also is a popular snowmobiling destination.

The new, highly anticipated Snowmobile Trail No. 37 in Wexford and Manistee counties recently opened for the 2016-17 snowmobile season. The 16.5-mile trail, which runs from Yuma to Copemish, connects the trail systems near Cadillac to trails north in Benzie, Manistee and Leelanau counties.

“This new connector trail will greatly enhance snowmobiling opportunities in the northwest Lower Peninsula, as well as increase tourism in towns such as Mesick and Copemish,” said Todd Neiss, a DNR recreation specialist who works out of the Cadillac office.

Another northern Michigan snowmobiling hotspot is the Gaylord area, which,  according to American Snowmobiler, “offers great winter fun with rolling hills, thousands of acres of unspoiled forests and reliable snowfall.

“Sledders are welcomed by local businesses and you can ride your machine right up to your door and back out onto the trail. Plus there are many trail connectors for uninterrupted travel.”

The magazine calls the trail from Gaylord to Indian River “the crown jewel of snowmobile trails in northern Michigan. The trail runs along an abandoned railroad corridor, crosses the Sturgeon River and winds through some of the most spectacular scenery in northern Michigan.”

While the focus tends to be on the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula when it comes to snowmobiling, there are plenty of opportunities to ride in southwestern Michigan as well, with about 700 miles of sled trails.

“There are a lot of trails in southwest Michigan that are close to population centers that many folks don’t even think about. Many of these trails go through DNR lands, and can be very scenic,” Neiss said. “While snow conditions are much more temperamental in southwest Michigan than in the north, if you catch it right, there is no need to drive hundreds of miles to ride.”

There are snowmobiling trails on National Forest lands too, which riders often use along with state trail routes.

“There are 1,157 miles of designated snowmobile trails on National Forest system lands. The U.S. Forest Service and Michigan DNR work together with club sponsors to ensure these trails are maintained,” said Kristen Thrall, recreation and hydropower program manager and forest accessibility coordinator for the Huron-Manistee National Forests. “We have worked together since the 1970s to develop a high-quality long-distance system that connects communities to the great outdoors.”

According to a 2012 National Visitor Use Monitoring Study, 27 percent of people recreating in the national forests identify snowmobiling as their primary activity.

There is plenty of information available on the DNR website to help plan a snowmobiling adventure, including trail maps in a variety of formats and links to trail reports from organizations like the Michigan Snowmobile Association.

Snowmobilers need to purchase a snowmobile trail permit, which is required to operate snowmobiles in Michigan and is valid for one year, from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. Riders also need to register their snowmobile, as a valid registration from the Secretary of State (or another state or province) is required to ride as well.

Those new to snowmobiling who would like to try out this fun winter experience should consider rental snowmobiles that are available.

This week (Jan. 21-29) is International Snowmobile Safety Week, a great time to brush up on how to stay safe while out on the trail.

“Safety is the most important aspect of this sport,” said Lt. Pete Wright, a DNR district law supervisor. “Safe snowmobiling means riding within your own capabilities, operating at safe and appropriate speeds for the terrain, and never drinking alcohol before or while driving. Always wear a helmet and adequate clothing, stay on the designated trails, and always snowmobile with another person, never alone.”

Other safety tips from the DNR include:

  • Always keep your machine in top mechanical condition.
  • Pick safe places to stop off the trail.
  • Be aware of changing trail conditions.
  • Use extra caution when riding on an unfamiliar trail.
  • Stay far enough behind other riders to avoid the snow kicked up by their machines. This flying snow may blind snowmobilers to hazards, including other riders.
  • Check the weather conditions before you depart.
  • When possible, avoid crossing frozen bodies of water. Never operate in a single file when crossing frozen bodies of water.
  • Always be alert to avoid fences and low-strung wires.
  • Never operate on a street or highway.
  • Always look for depressions in the snow.
  • Keep headlights and tail lights on at all times.
  • When approaching an intersection, come to a complete stop, raise off the seat and look both ways for traffic.
  • Steer clear of trail groomers if you can. Never follow a groomer, give groomers the right of way, and if you meet one head-on, give it room to maneuver.

Snowmobilers also should make sure they are familiar with all of the rules and regulations for snowmobiling in Michigan, as well as the universal snowmobile trail signage the DNR developed to help keep everyone safe on the trails.

Snowmobile safety education training and online safety courses are recommended for all snowmobile operators and are required for youth 12 to 16 years old.

In 2016, Michigan had more than 200,000 registered snowmobiles – only Minnesota and Wisconsin had more, according to a report from the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association.

The same report indicates that, in the United States, snowmobiling has an economic impact of $26 billion annually and that the average rider spends $4,000 each year on snowmobile-related recreation.

It’s clear that snowmobiling contributes significantly to Michigan’s tourism industry and the state’s economy.

“I snowmobile quite a bit and meet all kinds of wonderful people out being safe on the trails, spending money, and enjoying the U.P.,” Yesney said.

Snowmobiling is a social sport, with clubs throughout the state. The Michigan Snowmobiling Association maintains a list of clubs at www.msasnow.org/snowmobile-clubs.

Learn more about snowmobiling in Michigan at michigan.gov/snowmobiling.

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