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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Ranger Steve

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Spring Springs

Spring is more than a date on the calendar in nature niches. By the end of March, spring is less than two weeks old and the region appears to be in winter’s wardrobe. A close look reveals change is underway.

The Great Horned Owl pair has selected breeding and feeding territory. In the evenings during March, they are heard hooting together from various vantage points near territory’s edge warning other owls to stay clear. The male owl selected a horizontal branch at field edges. It was more comfortable than standing on one that angles upward. Soon he joined the female to the west and they began a large circle hoot fest as the night sky darkened along Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary’s forest boundary. In darkness, their focus changes to eating mice and rabbits with periodic breaks for nighttime hooting.

I am anxious for the greening of shrubs and trees during April but March has been busy with its own spring activity. Children are better at discovery and seeing changes so make it a family affair to get out as “Spring Springs.” Less commentary below about each species allows more listing of March events but it will be easy to add your own commentary on family outings. Take 15 to 30 minutes with family to explore occurrences at your home site. More will occur if you dedicate some yard space to things natural and wild. Allow yard space for native plants and animals that resided in pre-settlement Michigan.

Male Goldfinches are yellowing and their black cap has returned. Male birds of many species are chasing females wherever they fly. Females birds only find peace when standing.

Groups of male Brown-headed Cowbirds stand in trees near a female ready to pursue when she flies. Female cowbirds select forest/field edges where they stand and watch other species hour by hour to learn where nests are built. When egg laying begins their eggs are deposited in other bird’s nests. They have them raise their young. Nest parasitism is not underway in March in our area.

Male red-winged blackbirds arrived two weeks before females to claim the best habitats for improved mating success. The most fit females compete for best habitat to insure reproductive success with adequate food, nesting location, and water. Most people do not notice the arrival of the dull gray female with its eye stripe and no red on the wing.

Chipmunk daily activity outside their burrows is typical except during late season snows. Painted Turtles sun on logs during moderately warm sunny days. Woodcock’s spectacular display is well underway. Wood Ducks float on streams and ponds where they depend on neighboring live or dead hollow trees for nesting. Let large dead trees stand.

Wood Frogs singing peaks in March and mating winds down by early April. Spring Peepers and Western Chorus Frogs are well into spring chorus. Gray Tree Frogs try out their song on warmer nights.

Moss’s two-toned green of new and old growth is obvious. The sporophyte stalk with spore head stands tall and grows out of the leafy gametophyte plant below. Look closely from inches away.

Elms, silver maples, and aspens flower high above while speckled alder, hazelnut, and skunk cabbage are shedding pollen in closer view.

Eastern Comma and Cabbage White butterflies are on the wing. The first overwintered as adult and the second emerged from a chrysalis that overwintered in protected recesses attached to wood or other structures.

Eastern Bluebirds have not started claiming nest boxes by the end of March but I am anxious for their blue and orange colors to brighten the field. That will be one of the April pleasures not to miss.

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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Michigan records second consecutive hunting season with no fatalities

OUT-No-hunting-fatalities-BuckFor the second year in a row, Michigan recorded no fatalities in 2015 during all hunting seasons, according to reports compiled by the Department of Natural Resources’ Law Enforcement Division. Thirteen incidents resulting in injuries were recorded in the state during the year, up slightly from 10 incidents in 2014. Twelve incidents occurred in the Lower Peninsula and one in the Upper Peninsula.

This is part of an overall trend toward fewer hunting-related fatalities and injuries over the past several decades, a downward trend that started in 1988 when completion of a hunter education class became mandatory for all first-time hunters born after Jan. 1, 1960.

In 1988, the state saw the lowest fatality rate – four deaths – since annual record keeping began in 1970, when there were 18 fatalities. Record keeping began in the 1940s, but fatalities and injuries figures were compiled per decade rather than per year.

Our excellent hunter education program saves lives,” said Sgt. Steve Orange, supervisor of the DNR’s Recreational Safety, Education and Enforcement Section. “When looking at the downward trend over the last five decades, it becomes very clear that our hunter education program is one of the major factors attributed to preventing fatalities and injuries.”

Injuries have fallen substantially since hunter education classes became mandatory. From 212 injuries in 1970 and climbing to 275 injuries by 1974—the most recorded in a single year—injuries have, for the most part, steadily decreased every year since. Incidents involving injury fell below 50 in 1991 for the first time, and after a very slight increase over the next several years, injuries began dropping again. Incidents resulting in injury have not exceeded 15 per year for the past five years.

The steadily decreasing numbers are attributed by Orange to the dedicated team of hunter education volunteer instructors—who currently number over 3,400—and the expanded hunter education programs, which now include a home study program and online hunter safety courses.

Our many hunter education volunteers, who cumulatively donate over 35,000 hours every year, are dedicated to providing new hunters with the skills needed to handle and operate their firearms or archery equipment safely, which results in enjoyable experiences for them and others in Michigan’s out of doors,” said Orange.

He also noted the benefits for experienced hunters in taking or retaking a hunter education class as a refresher.

Individuals completing home study or online hunter safety courses must still complete a hands-on field day, where they receive instruction and practice in operating firearms, bows, traps and more. Field days are taught by volunteer instructors and conservation officers.

Hunter education classes have been available since 1946, although they were not mandatory at that time. In 1971, the program became mandatory for first-time hunters ages 12-16. That was expanded in 1988 to all first-time hunters born after Jan. 1, 1960. Since 1988, more than 600,000 hunters have completed hunter education classes. In recent years, over 20,000 hunters complete the program annually.

During the 2015 season, 651,588 base licenses were sold. Michigan’s hunting incident rate per license is .002 percent. The base license is required to purchase any hunting license.

Of the 13 incidents resulting in injury reported in 2015, one involved a turkey hunter, one involved a waterfowl hunter, one involved a trapper and six involved deer hunters. One injury does not specify animal hunted because the report is pending. Victims ranged in age from 21 to 74. The majority of injuries, over 60 percent, were a result of self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

Five of the deer hunting incidents were reported during the firearm deer hunting season Nov. 15-30 and occurred in the counties of Calhoun, Gladwin, Roscommon, St. Clair and Van Buren. The sixth deer hunting incident that resulted in injury occurred during late antlerless firearm season Dec. 19-Jan. 1. The incident took place in Lapeer County.

The DNR reminds hunters to follow all safety rules and recommendations to ensure a safe hunting season, including:

  • Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all times.
  • Treat every firearm with the respect due a loaded gun. It might be loaded, even if you think it isn’t.
  • Be sure of the target and what is in front of it and beyond it. Know the identifying features of the game you hunt. Make certain you have an adequate backstop; don’t shoot at a flat, hard surface or water.
  • Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot. This is the best way to prevent an accidental discharge.
  • Make certain the barrel and action are clear of obstructions, and carry only the proper ammunition for your firearm.
  • Unload firearms when not in use. Leave actions open, and carry firearms in cases and unloaded to and from the shooting area. Point a firearm only at something you intend to shoot. Avoid all horseplay with a gun.
  • Don’t run, jump or climb with a loaded firearm. Unload a firearm before you climb a fence or tree or jump a ditch. Pull a firearm toward you by the butt, not the muzzle.
  • Store firearms and ammunition separately and safely. Store each in secured locations beyond the reach of children and careless adults.
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages before and during shooting. Also avoid mind- or behavior-altering medications or drugs.

Although these are all common sense rules and recommendations, the majority of accidents and fatalities happen because one or more of these safety points were not followed,” Orange said.

Cpl. Dave Painter of the DNR’s Recreational Safety, Education and Enforcement Section reminds hunters to wear hunter orange during designated seasons.

It’s the law, and it’s paramount in keeping hunters seen and safe,” Painter said.

In 1977, wearing hunter orange became mandatory on certain lands for the first time. In 1984, the law was amended to require hunters to wear hunter orange on all lands open to public hunting.

Regulations require hunters, during designated hunting seasons, to wear a cap, hat, vest, jacket or rain gear of hunter orange. The garments that are hunter orange must be the outermost garment and visible from all sides.

Hunter orange is a high-visibility color that, when worn according to regulations, increases hunters’ safety,” Painter said.

Hunter orange is readily identified as the color worn by hunters, according to Painter.

For nearly 40 years, hunters have worn this color so that they can be seen by other hunters while in the field. This is an important added safety measure and can also be attributed, along with hunter education programs, to saving lives and reducing the number of incidents leading to injury.”

Painter encourages individuals who aren’t hunters but enjoy public and private lands with hunters – such as hikers, birders and general outdoor enthusiasts – to also wear hunter orange during designated seasons so they are seen and recognized.

Outdoor enthusiasts who share lands with hunters are taking the initiative to wear hunter orange because they recognize its significance,” Painter said. “They correctly attribute the color to safe hunting and safe outdoor recreation.”

Information on the hunting incidents recorded in 2015 can be found online at www.michigan.gov/conservationofficers under Law Enforcement Reports.

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Plant a pollinator garden and enjoy the many benefits

A monarch butterfly on a tithonia blossom. Photo by Melinda Myers, LLC.

A monarch butterfly on a tithonia blossom. Photo by Melinda Myers, LLC.

By Melinda Myers

Whether planting a garden, enjoying the beauty of your landscape, or sitting down to a delicious meal, you have bees, butterflies and other pollinators to thank. These essential members of our ecosystem are responsible for much of the food and beauty we enjoy each day.

Unfortunately, pesticides and habitat loss are threatening their existence. There is something you can do to help. Turn your garden, backyard or balcony into a pollinator’s habitat.

Plant a variety of flowering plants that provide nectar and pollen throughout the season. Planting masses of natives, herbs and other pollinator favorites like sedum, zinnias, alyssum, cosmos, and columbine will attract these beauties to your landscape. Include a variety of day and night blooming flowers in a variety of colors and shapes to support the widest range of pollinators. But don’t let a lack of space dissuade you; even a window box of flowers can help.

Keep your plants healthy and blooming with proper care. Match the plants to the growing conditions, provide needed water and fertilize with an organic nitrogen fertilizer like Milorganite (milorganite.com) when needed. You’ll promote slow steady plant growth that is less susceptible to drought and pests. Plus the slow release low nitrogen won’t interfere with flowering, which is essential to the health and well being of our pollinators.

Supplement pollinators’ diets with a bit of rotten fruit. And be sure to provide trees, shrubs, parsley, dill and other plants that caterpillars, grubs and the immature stage of other pollinators prefer to feed upon. Put away the pesticides and tolerate a few holes in the leaves of their favorite plants. With a diversity of plants, you can easily overlook the temporary leaf damage. Plus, this is a small price to pay for all the benefits they bring to the garden.

Provide pollinators with shelter from predators and the weather. Include a variety of trees, shrubs and perennials. Leave patches of open soil for ground nesting bees and some leaf litter to shelter some butterflies, bumblebees and other pollinating insects. Supplement natural shelter with commercial or homemade nesting boxes. You’ll find do-it-yourself plans on the internet from various educational sources.

Puddles, fountains, birdbaths and even a damp sponge can provide needed water. Include water features with sloping sides or add a few stones to create easier access. Or sink a shallow container of sand in the ground. Keep it damp and add a pinch of sea salt for the butterflies and bees.

Maximize your efforts by teaming up with your neighbors. Together you can create a larger more diverse habitat that provides pollinators with the resources they need to thrive. 

Your efforts will be rewarded with greater harvests, beautiful flowers, and colorful birds and butterflies visiting your garden.

Gardening expert, TV/radio host, author & columnist Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening and the Midwest Gardener’s Handbook. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything: Food Gardening For Everyone” DVD set and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and spokesperson for Milorganite. Myers’ web site is http://www.melindamyers.com/www.melindamyers.com.

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Celebrate National Arbor Day by planting trees

_OUT-Arbor-Day-Red-Maple_WebReceive 10 free shade trees by joining the Arbor Day Foundation

National Arbor Day is Friday, April 29, this year, and the Arbor Day Foundation is making it easy for anyone to celebrate the annual tree-planting holiday. Join the Foundation in April and receive 10 free shade trees.

By joining the Foundation in April, new members receive the following trees: red oak, sugar maple, weeping willow, baldcypress, thornless honeylocust, pin oak, river birch, tuliptree, silver maple, and red maple.

The free trees are part of the Foundation’s Trees for America campaign.

These trees provide shade in the summer and vibrant colors throughout the fall,” said Matt Harris, chief executive of the Arbor Day Foundation. “Through the simple act of planting trees, one person can make a difference in helping to create a healthier and more beautiful planet for all of us to enjoy.”

The trees will be shipped postpaid with enclosed planting instructions at the right time for planting in April or May. The 6- to 12-inch trees are guaranteed to grow or they will be replaced free of charge.

To become a member of the Foundation and receive the free trees, send a $10 contribution to TEN FREE SHADE TREES, Arbor Day Foundation, 100 Arbor Avenue, Nebraska City, NE 68410, by April 30, 2016, or visit arborday.org/april.

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“Boaty McBoatface” leads names for new research vessel

_N-Boat-storyWebThe Natural Environment Research Council will be launching a new polar research vessel, and they are asking for the public’s help to name it.

According to NERC’s website, the vessel will be the UK’s largest and most advanced research ship yet. She will allow scientists to carry out research safely and efficiently, even through the harshest of winters, in both Antarctica and the Arctic. She will be the first British-built polar research vessel with a helideck, opening up access to new locations for scientists. She will be one of the most sophisticated floating research laboratories operating in the polar regions. She will carry nine double-decker buses worth of scientific equipment, and be able to blast through ice up to a meter thick.

The ship is due to launch in 2019, and they are letting the public name it. Leading in votes right now is RRS Boaty McBoatface, with 106,815. Coming in a distant second is RRS Poppy-Mai, with 16,991 votes. Other interesting entries include Boatimus Prime, Boatasaurus Rex, Clifford the Big Red Boat, Flying Spaghetti Monster, and Ship Happens.

To submit an entry or vote for your favorite, go to: https://nameourship.nerc.ac.uk/

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Ice, ice baby

Ice on the windmill.

Ice on the windmill.

After having warm temperatures last week, it was a change to get freezing rain last Thursday. Many people got home from work to find their trees and yards covered with ice. Kim Tompkins, who lives on 17 Mile Road, sent us these photos of her yard. “I was surprised to find my whole yard in a frozen state,” she said.

Thanks, Kim, for sending us your photos!

If you have nature or wildlife photos you’d like to send us, email them to news@cedarspringspost.com.

Ice on the bushes.

Ice on the bushes.

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Everyday Wonders

Ranger Steve

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Every day brings newness from what were yesterday’s normal everyday events. We might ask if anything has changed in the past 24 hours, week or month. Things are different from a month ago and the wonders of change capture our attention as nature’s progression transitions into April.

The “plump robin-sized” American Woodcocks perform a ground dance by stomping feet and twisting from side to side in evening’s last glow. Eyes bulge from the side of the head looking in opposite directions. How is it they avoid confusion from seeing two different views of the world at the same time? They see nearly everything on each side but combine the scenes into one understandable picture.

They benefit from seeing in every direction at once. It becomes difficult for predators to approach unnoticed. For mating, the bird stomps feet and turns from side to side. It makes a nasal buzz called pneeting every few seconds in evening’s dusk. I count pneets of the bird that is usually not in view. My ears triangulate the direction and distance to the sound in the brushy field.

I dare not approach for fear of stopping the spring dance. The number of pneets has reached 17 and stopped. The long-billed bird flies toward me at a low climbing angle. I get to see its long bill piercing the darkening sky ahead of its plump body. It does not see me as it concentrates on a series of climbing spirals over the field. Short stubby wings are in rapid flutter as the bird reaches higher altitude with each spiral. It becomes difficult to keep track of the dark spot shrinking in size with each successive upward loop toward heaven. It seems the woodcock is on an invisible spiral staircase that it climbs with ease. I run to where it left the ground while it is in the air. On its zigzag return to Earth, I will be close to where it will continue its ground dance.

While it is in the air, I invariably lose sight of it as it fades from view into high clouds or haze of the darkening sky. Suddenly I hear a twittering sound that indicates it reached its flight apex and is now plummeting earth bound. I scan for the bird in sky dive. When it is well on its way downward, I catch a view. Before the long bill pierces the ground, leaving a dead bird’s body sticking up like a sucker ball on the end of a candy stick, it levels its downward flight before crashing and safely lands.

Safely on the ground, it pneets with more foot stomping and turns from side to side. As the evening sky darkens the bird spends longer on the ground and the number of pneets between aerial flights increases. Their antics impress me more than TV mysteries. It has been nearly 50 years that I have watched the spring ritual and still do not know mating details. Somewhere a male and female mate.

Friends have found ground nests and photographed females sitting on eggs in a forest or shrub thicket. I have found recently hatched young running about soon after gaining freedom from the cramped quarters of eggshells. My presence has caused these little fuzz balls to lay still and flat on the ground in hopes that I will not see or eat them. Several young lay still nearby as I photographed. Most will not survive to perform next spring’s mating dance. During the lifetime of a mated pair, most offspring will not survive.

American Woodcocks populations seem stable. Having four to five young annually during a four to six-year life span is enough to maintain the population but habitat is decreasing in our area. At Ody Brook, we have maintained suitable nature niche habitat to meet woodcock needs. Once a year in late October, I mow an upland dancing ground to ready it for spring. Little Cedar Creek’s muddy floodplain is kept natural. Woodcocks probe their long bills deep into mud in search of worms and insects. Muddy lowland shrub thickets along creeks are essential as are upland fields for mating. Clearing along creeks for a manicured lawn and view reduces woodcock populations as well as eliminates a multitude of plants and animal communities. Share space with life on Earth. Grandchildren will appreciate your efforts.

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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Feeding more than the birds

OUT-Feeding-more2-chipmunkOUT-Feeding-more1-bunnyRon Parker, of Courtland Township, sent us some beautiful wildlife photos last week. “We have been feeding wild birds all winter, but now that Spring seems to  be here we have been receiving other visitors who are just as much fun  to watch,”  he said. Thanks, Ron, for sharing your photos with us!

We would love to see your wildlife photos! Snap a photo and send it to us with some information and your contact info. Send it to news@cedarspringspost.com.

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Help prevent spread of invasive New Zealand mudsnail

 

Anglers should do what they can, including cleaning their boats and equipment after any and all fishing trips, to protect against the spread of the invasive New Zealand mudsnail.

Anglers should do what they can, including cleaning their boats and equipment after any and all fishing trips, to protect against the spread of the invasive New Zealand mudsnail.

In 2015, the Michigan departments of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources confirmed the presence of the invasive New Zealand mudsnail in the Pere Marquette River near Baldwin, which is a popular destination for trout and salmon anglers.

New Zealand mudsnails are each only about 1/8 inch long and can be difficult to see. However, these snails can significantly change the aquatic habitats they live in by reaching extremely high densities. When that happens, they can out-compete native species that are important food sources for trout. They also have no nutritional value for trout species that may feed upon them, which can negatively affect the overall condition of the trout.

The threat of New Zealand mudsnail spreading to new waters is high because they are easily transported via recreational users, such as anglers, due to their ability to attach to fishing equipment, wading gear and other hard surfaces. Once attached, they can hitch a ride to a new river or lake and begin the invasive process again. Additionally, a single snail can reproduce once transported.

New Zealand mudsnails are very resilient and have been known to survive in damp environments for up to 26 days.

As the spring fishing season gears up, anglers are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to target steelhead on the Pere Marquette and other popular Michigan rivers. It is important for anglers to clean, drain and dry their equipment to help prevent the spread of these invasive snails, as well as all types of aquatic invasive species.

Anglers are encouraged to clean boats and equipment (including waders) with hot water or a diluted bleach solution, and, when possible, allow the equipment to dry for at least five days before reusing.

Additional information about the New Zealand mudsnail and other aquatic invasive species can be found at michigan.gov/invasives.

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Seeing with Kids Eyes

Ranger Steve

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Walking through the big woods this week, I felt like a kid in a candy shop. It was exciting to experience wonder after wonder. It is a time when winter seems to linger and spring has not arrived but there is more occurring than the senses can grasp.

Song Sparrows are active at brush piles along the forest edge and in wetland shrubs. Just a couple weeks ago, I was seeing a dozen species of birds daily and now it is two dozen. Sandhill Cranes announce evening, Canada Geese fly over, and Wood Ducks are swimming in Little Cedar Creek.

An American Woodcock flew in for its evening dance, saw me, and kept going. The next night a Great Horned Owl was hooting from forest edge and probably kept the woodcock from showing itself. A pair of Red-tailed Hawks soared over the Big Woods and power line clearing by day.

A Turkey Vulture on clean-up duty has been soaring over the highway by Ody Brook’s entrance looking for the dead opossum and muskrat that I reported killed on the road last week. The carcasses are not obvious among the roadside vegetation but the vulture can smell them at great distance.

Two Pileated Woodpeckers feasted at an old ash tree stump. My friend, Greg, was coming to visit and I told him about the woodpeckers at the driveway’s edge. He arrived, stopped, and watched as one woodpecker worked. When the woodpecker left, we looked to see what was being eaten. Termites.

On a smaller scale, Skunk Cabbages are blooming on the floodplain. They have a hood covering minute flowers. The hood protects this first flowering plant of the year from freeze damage. The hood wraps around an inner spike that holds many flowers. The spike with flowers is called a spadix and the hood is called a spathe. Small flies and crawling insects move into this temporary shelter where they find protection from being frozen. The plant generates heat that keeps the temperature above freezing in the spathe. Heat protects plant tissues and the variety of creatures in the hood. The benefit to the plant for providing lodging is that insects pick up pollen and carry it to other Skunk Cabbage flowers.

Other flowering plants already blooming at Ody Brook by mid March are Silver Maple trees, Speckled Alder, and Whitlow-grass. Whitlow-grass, a mustard, has a small rosette of leaves found on exposed bare ground. It is only about one inch across the radiating ring of leaves. Small white mustard flowers about the size of a pinhead ensure reproduction. The plant and its flowers are so small that few people notice them but hundreds are currently in bloom.

It is good to carry a small magnifying hand lens to examine the near microscopic world of life in wetland, field, shrubland, and forest.

Bluebirds still have not arrived to inspect nest boxes cleaned and readied. They arrive before wrens to claim bird houses. When wrens arrive, they enter and kill bluebirds or destroy eggs to use the box themselves. If houses are kept in open areas away from shrubbery and forest edge, it is less likely wrens will invade.

I place two bird houses within 15 feet of another. Tree Swallows often claim one and keep other swallows from nesting that close. The swallows do not mind having bluebirds as neighbors. The bluebirds, so to speak, have a swallow guard that protects them from other swallows that try to take the second nest box.

Nature niches have a greater variety and abundance of wondrous special treats than candy in a candy shop.

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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