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Archive | Outdoors

Earth Aliens

Garlic mustard is one of the alien (non-native) plants in Michigan that disrupts habitat by replacing native wildflowers and killing native butterflies that try to feed on it. Photo from Michigan.org.

Earth aliens are killing or replacing native species by out competing them. Does it matter to our lives, economy, social, and environmental wellbeing? How do invading aliens impact us?

About seven percent of plants in North America were aliens from other continents by 1840. Presently, about 37 percent of plants in native habitats are aliens. Farm fields are planted with non-natives where aliens are critical to our health and survival. Many non-native yard plants please the eye but have negative effects on animals and native communities. It is a problem when aliens escape and invade native habitats. We need crops and farm fields but we also need healthy native habitats without aliens.

Garlic mustard is one species replacing native wildflowers and plants in forests. Organized groups pull the alien mustard on public and private land to help native species. The Mustard White and the West Virginia White are butterflies dependent on native mustards but are killed when they feed on the garlic mustard. They recognize chemicals in garlic mustard when they are searching plants to lay eggs and the chemicals trigger egg laying.

Their caterpillars die when feeding on the plant. Besides direct death by feeding, the alien plant replaces native plants. This happens with other plants and insects that have specific nature niche adaptations. Plants and animals evolve to co-exist. When alien plants cause plant species to disappear, associated insects disappear.

Plants evolve chemicals over time that prevent herbivores from feeding on them. It allows successful reproduction of their kind. The Mustard White and West Virginia White have been able to circumvent the native mustard’s chemical strategies, feed on them, and survive while other species cannot use the plant. When only a few species evolve to feed on a plant, the plant’s ability to reproduce and survive is improved. Such biodiversity adaptations allow species to survive and perform vital functions in ecosystems.

Most aliens from other continents are unable to survive and disappear shortly after invading in new habitat. Those that live often become economic or health hazards. For Native Americans, small pox that arrived with Europeans was deadly because they had not evolved defenses. Various fungi have caused devastation and starvation. The Irish potato famine that caused the death and economic collapse for Ireland is one example. Agricultural scientists work to protect crops from corn smut, fruit flies, and many threats to cultivated crops.

The scientists also work to protect native communities and species important to the forest industry. White Pine blister rust had environmental impact leading to economic loss and community social hardship. When native plant communities cannot sustain themselves, the human economy declines causing communities problems. The alien emerald ash borer caused billions in economic loss since it arrived and has killed countless native animals. Animals dependent on ash trees have declined. The Dutch Elm disease caused loss of trees and the DDT treatment caused severe environmental problems. Eagles and other species were pushed toward extinction and we are still working decades later at great expense to remedy the pesticide-caused problems.

Native plants enrich soil fertility, maintain mycorrhizal fungi essential for nutrient absorption, and maintain nutrient cycles important for human communities. The economic importance is critical. Our nations soils continue to decline with loss of species disrupted by aliens. We add fertilizers to replace lost nutrients but native species do it more efficiently. It is important to help native species survive to build soils, support native insects, birds, and mammals to maintain our country’s healthy economic, social, and environmental triple bottom line.

To protect your interests, protect native species that support healthy biodiversity in your yard. Prevent alien species from simplifying healthy habitats. Alien species kill native species and harm our economy and social structure by impairing environmental health. Nationally, prevent current efforts to eliminate environmental law protections. Locally, manage your yard in a manner that supports native species survival.

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 reminds moose watchers of traffic hazards

A moose stands not far off U.S. 41 near Humboldt in Marquette County. DNR officials are reminding the public to remember safety and use caution when stopping along roadways to watch and photograph wildlife. Photo from Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials are reminding the public to remember safety and use caution when stopping along roadsides to look at moose and other wildlife.

“We have had recurring concerns reported about motorists stopping along roadsides in the Upper Peninsula to watch and photograph moose,” said Lt. Pete Wright, a DNR district law supervisor. “We understand seeing a moose is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many people and it can be tremendously exciting. However, people need to be mindful of the dangers posed by passing traffic and the animals themselves.”

  • If stopping along a roadway to experience a Michigan moose sighting:
  • Pull your vehicle completely out of the traffic lanes to park.
  • Make sure vehicle has stopped moving before exiting.
  • Watch behind for oncoming vehicles before opening vehicle doors.
  • Do not walk through traffic to cross the highway.
  • Wait until there is a sufficient opening in traffic to cross the road. Avoid having to wait in the middle of the road for cars to pass.
  • Remain aware of where you and others are standing while watching or photographing wildlife. Keep away from traffic lanes. Do not rely on motorists to see you and avoid you.
  • Respect moose and other wildlife as the wild creatures they are. Watch or photograph wildlife from a safe distance. Do not approach or harass wildlife.
  • Keep a sharp eye out for traffic when returning to your vehicle. Use safe crossing methods.
  • Watch for approaching vehicles when pulling your vehicle back onto the roadway. Merge properly with traffic.

“Michigan is fortunate to have moose and a wide array of other watchable wildlife to enjoy,” Wright said. “However, when doing so, it’s always best to keep safety in mind.”

For more information on wildlife and wildlife viewing visit www.michigan/gov/wildlife.

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Fishing Tip from the DNR 

Fishing for muskellunge is a premier challenge

Known as “the fish of 10,000 casts,” muskellunge are a game fish native to the lakes and streams of Michigan. They are a prized catch to many anglers, but present many challenges when trying to do target them. But, if you do your research and are patient, you too could possibly land a big one!

Muskie anglers can choose from a variety of methods such as trolling, casting or still fishing with live bait. Muskellunge tackle must withstand the larger, bulkier lures required, as well as the fact these fish can exceed 30 pounds. Anglers should use much heavier line and stronger rods. It should be noted that muskie fishing success usually requires more dedication and persistence than for other species.

Want to learn more about this valued game fish? Check out their section of the Michigan Fish and How to Catch Them website at https://tinyurl.com/michiganfishcatchthem.

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Sparklers in the air

Firefly (species unknown) captured in eastern Canada. The top picture is taken with a flash, the bottom with only the self-emitted light. Photo by Emmanuelm at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10418847

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

A week ago was the first night I noticed sparklers in the air this year. Anticipate them with excitement and joy. There are unanswered questions about the lives of those that surround us.

I grew up with yellow/orange sparklers flying in eastern Michigan. Here I encounter green sparklers. Perhaps you know what I am writing about. Did you grow up with yellow or green fireflies? “Sparklers” or fireflies are names of convenience. It is more important that our kids, grandkids and future generations experience them. Their populations are in decline worldwide.

I usually do not go outside after dark to sit on the Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary bench in the Big Field. It was a pleasantly warm night with no mosquitoes. Late May and June is usually when I dress appropriately to sit out after dark or find ways to be in areas with few mosquitoes.

As a boy scout summer camp counselor where scouts played Capture the Flag, I was stationed to keep scouts from wandering too far. At ground level, mosquitos swarmed me. I climbed a tree and sat for the hour 20 feet up, where only an occasional mosquito arrived. They remain close to the ground feeding on mice and deer.

Fireflies are like nearly all insects. They are not a pest to humans, plants or animals we use. They even help us. It is unfortunate people kill beneficial insects to eliminate a few we find harmful.

Use strategies to minimize biting insects without killing the great majority of other insects. Last week an article was in the paper promoting a company that will kill insects in your yard with chemicals. That reduces healthy living conditions for mammals, birds, predatory insects, pollinators and humans. Have you wondered why signs are posted “stay off the lawn” after treatment? The chemicals are harmful to people and most life.

Fireflies, bumble bees, soldier beetles, ants, honey bees, butterflies, crane flies, carrion beetles, and other insect species that keep nature niches healthy are killed. It is better to avoid chemicals used to create lawns that are picture-perfect carpets devoid of weeds and insects. There are strategies to comfortably live with insects.

Enjoy exploring your surroundings to discover the lives of close neighbors in your yard. Fireflies are not flies. When we see the word fly connected with a prefix such as Butterfly, fishfly, and dragonfly, realize those are not flies. Things like bee fly, robber fly, and housefly are flies.

Flies comprise one classification Order. Entomologists use classification when working to keep food production, forest protection, and human safety secure. Integrated Pest Management is primary for reducing chemical use. Question companies promoting chemical use. Many use strategies to reduce chemical use. Avoid fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides and have a more natural yard that supports life instead of reducing it.

Fireflies, also called lightning bugs, are beetles. Realize they are not flies or bugs. Bugs are an Order including stinkbug, milkweed bug, and giant water bug. Lightning bugs flash through the air entertaining us. More importantly, they flash to attract mates for reproduction. Help them by maintaining a healthy environment where they will find chemical free food, water, and shelter in suitable living space. Larvae are carnivorous feeding on smaller insects, snails and slugs. Allow them to eat insects and snails in your garden for free instead of killing them with pesticides. Adults feed sparingly and are short-lived. They mate, lay eggs and die.

Fireflies are declining worldwide so use strategies to help them survive. Avoid use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Keep lawn mowing infrequent and to minimum size to enjoy the wildflowers that show up in the lawn. Add native trees and shrubs and avoid planting exotic species that few insects can use. Leave some dead leaves and thatch on the ground to hold moisture. A moist habitat is essential for “sparkler’s” survival. Turn off outdoor lights interfering with firefly behavior. You will save energy and money while helping save fireflies.

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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State record broken by same angler nearly nine years later

Roy Beasley of Madison Heights has the distinction of holding two state records for the same species of fish, first in 2008 and again in 2017. Here he is with his recent record-setting bigmouth buffalo catch from the River Raisin in Monroe County.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently confirmed a new state-record fish for bigmouth buffalo. This marks the first state-record fish caught in 2017—and it was caught by an angler who held the previous state record for bigmouth buffalo from 2008.

The new record fish was caught by Roy Beasley of Madison Heights, Michigan, in the River Raisin (Monroe County) Saturday, May 13, at 11 a.m. Beasley was bowfishing. The fish weighed 27 pounds and measured 35.25 inches.

The record was verified by Todd Wills, a DNR fisheries research manager on Lake St. Clair.

Beasley held the previous state-record bigmouth buffalo—this one caught on the Detroit River—from August 2008. That fish weighed 24.74 pounds and measured 34.50 inches.

“More and more people are enjoying the sport of bowfishing and recognizing the thrill it can offer those who pursue it,” said Sara Thomas, the DNR’s Lake Erie Management Unit manager. “The river system in Southeast Michigan offers ample opportunity to catch rather large fish. A huge congrats to Mr. Beasley for having broken this record twice.”

The DNR reminds anglers who bowfish to properly dispose of all specimens they harvest.

State records are recognized by weight only. To qualify for a state record, fish must exceed the current listed state record weight and identification must be verified by a DNR fisheries biologist.

To view a current list of Michigan state fish records, visit michigan.gov/staterecordfish.

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DNR creel clerks to collect angler information 

Anglers may encounter DNR creel clerks, as pictured here, this summer at certain Great Lakes ports and inland waterbodies. These individuals may ask you a few questions about your fishing effort that day and potentially collect data on the fish you caught.

As this year’s open-water fishing season gets under way, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources reminds anglers that Fisheries Division personnel are at lakes, rivers and Great Lakes ports collecting fishing data from anglers.

DNR creel clerks will be stationed at boat launches and piers around the state asking anglers questions as they return from fishing trips. Information will be requested on trip length, target species and number and type of fish caught. In some cases, creel clerks may ask to measure or weigh fish and to take scale or other body parts for aging. These data are key information in the DNR’s management of the state’s fisheries resource.

“The DNR appreciates anglers’ cooperation with these interviews, and it will only take a couple of minutes to answer the questions,” said DNR fisheries biologist Tracy Kolb. “This program helps us gather information that is critical in managing the state’s fisheries and is used in every aspect of our management efforts.”

These efforts are part of the DNR’s Statewide Angler Survey Program, a long-term monitoring program that tracks recreational fisheries and harvest across Michigan’s waters. This is one of the most comprehensive angler survey programs in the country, with DNR creel clerks interviewing upwards of 50,000 anglers in most years.

Information about where creel clerks are stationed and the data they collect is available online. Go to www.michigan.gov/dnr and click on fishing, then fishing in Michigan, then under tools for going fishing in Michigan, click on creel clerks.

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Migration Stopover

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

White-throated sparrow Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area, Quebec, Canada. Photo By Cephas, Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15086427

White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows stopover on their way to northern breeding grounds. If you have feeders in your yard, expect these interestingly marked sparrows to feed on the ground. They salvage seeds that fall when Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, American Goldfinches and others get seeds from the feeder. Mourning Doves will also be feeding on the ground.

The White-throated Sparrow has a beautiful distinctive song people describe with words to help remember it. It sings “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” or our friends to the north like to describe it as “My Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada.” It is a refreshing sound to enjoy for a few weeks as the birds work their way to Canada and northern Michigan breeding grounds. Google the species by name to get pictures and song.

Look for the white throat under the bill. The breast is gray with some streaking so its white throat stands out well. Between the eye and bill is a bright yellow patch. It is easy to miss if one does not look closely. When light is bright, the yellow patch shows best but in shade it is subdued. Above the eye and behind the yellow patch are white or tan stripes between darker stripes that run the length of the head. Attention to head details is helpful for identifying many sparrows.

Some might think “a sparrow is a sparrow” but attention to details reveals a beauty missed by those that do not take a few moments for a close look. House Sparrows are common in town, on farms, and in area of heavy human use like grocery store parking lots. The White-throated is not likely to be found in grocery parking lots but your yard can be a good stopover location. Do not assume all are House Sparrows.

White-crowned Sparrows superficially look similar to White-throated Sparrows but head details separate them. I saw both species together recently. The White-crowned is slightly smaller but that is a difficult character to recognize when the species are not together. The White-crowned has a plain gray throat and cheek below the eye and bill. The breast is a plain gray with no streaking like that present on the White-throated. On the head are alternating white and black stripes running from front to back. The stripes are more brilliant than those on the White-throated. No yellow is present at the base of the bill.

Young birds from last year’s brood can make identification difficult because alternating light stripes are tan instead of white and the dark ones are rusty brown instead of black. Don’t get frustrated with variations. Concentrate on the typical.

About 10 species of sparrows can be expected in or near our neighborhoods in spring. Those present will be associated with unique nature niche requirements. The two-species described like shrubby areas with some conifer trees nearby. I find the White-crowned Sparrow in more open areas than the White-throated. Sparrow recognition can be difficult but these two separate easily when one looks at head details.

Familiarize yourself with the natural world we share with a multitude of life. Start with the two stopover sparrows and then learn the Song Sparrow, Field Sparrow, and Chipping Sparrow that stay for the summer to raise young. Be a good neighbor by providing suitable nesting and feeding habitat where you live. Though sparrows are often considered seedeaters, they depend on insects especially during young rearing. Avoid sterilizing your yard and garden with pesticides. Allow 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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Wetlands Month featured creature: the bullfrog

Michigan’s largest frog, the bullfrog, can be found in many wetlands around the state.

Michigan’s largest frog, the bullfrog, can be found in many wetlands around the state.

May is American Wetlands Month—a month to appreciate and enjoy the wonders of wetlands. Take some time to experience this amazing native ecosystem by visiting one of Michigan’s Wetland Wonders. There, you may find Michigan’s largest frog, the bullfrog.

Bullfrogs are large frogs ranging in size from 3.5 to 8 inches long. They can be green, brown, olive or yellowish in color. You can tell the difference between the male and female bullfrog by looking at their throats. The adult male bullfrog has a bright yellow throat, and the female has a white throat.

These impressive frogs live in ponds, lakes, marshes, sloughs, and impoundments, and they love areas with warm water and abundant plant life. Bullfrogs eat almost anything they can swallow, including insects, other frogs, snakes, small mammals and even birds!

Bullfrogs mate in June and July, and females lay anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 eggs. The eggs form a jelly-like mass that can cover the surface of the water up to 5 square feet. Bullfrog eggs hatch very quickly—in three to six days. The tadpoles grow rapidly and can reach 6 inches in length. It takes two to three years for a bullfrog tadpole to mature into an adult frog.

When calling to attract a mate, male bullfrogs give a low, resounding “brr-rr-rr-rum” or “jug-o-rum” call. Bullfrogs may also scream or yelp if they are captured or startled. This loud outburst may startle a captor enough to drop the frog, allowing it to swim to safety.

These fascinating frogs can be found in many of Michigan’s wetlands, including Michigan’s Wetland Wonders. To learn more about these areas visit mi.gov/wetlandwonders.

Michigan’s state game and wildlife areas are free to wildlife watchers. Hunting license fees pay for habitat management at these areas. Even if you are not a hunter in the traditional sense, consider purchasing an $11 dollar base license to help the creatures you hunt with your binoculars, cameras and spotting scopes.

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Using stick/body baits when fishing for trout

 

 

From the Michigan DNR

Trout season is well under way with many anglers using dry flies and spinners. But what if you’re interested in waging a battle with the largest trout in the river? Have you considered using stickbaits or body baits?

Many avid trout anglers swear by using these types of lures if you’re looking to catch big stream trout. Stickbaits and body baits mimic the minnows and small fish many trout species love to eat.

Keep in mind you won’t catch large quantities of trout when you’re using this type of bait, but the ones you do find may be high quality and worth the effort. Consider fishing with lures you’d normally use when targeting bass and/or northern pike and stick with natural colors for the best chance of success.

To learn even more about fishing for trout in Michigan check out the Michigan Fish and How to Catch Them website at https://tinyurl.com/michiganfishcatchthem.

 

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Trilliums and Swamp Saxifrage

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

The Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum). Photo by Wilson44691 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum). Photo by Wilson44691 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) excites us with its large showy appearance in mature deciduous forests. It is a highlight signaling spring is here to stay. Soon trilliums flowers will be gone for the year.

Forest tree leaves begin to expand as the trillium flower petals expand. As the forest canopy shades the forest floor, the white trillium flowers will turn pink and wither. Leaves continue to photosynthesize in summer and send food underground for winter storage. We do not take notice of the trillium leaves in summer.

It is good to take notice of leaf characteristics when enjoying the beauty of flowers so we can recognize the plant species when the flowers are gone.

The Michigan Botanical Club visited Ody Brook recently to experience ephemeral flowers and learn about their nature niches. Each species contributes a unique role in its habitat and ecosystem. They are dependent on soils, moisture, light intensity, insects, and a variety of subtle survival requirements. Some species like the trillium can thrive in a variety of conditions but surviving can be difficult.

Hoffmaster State Park hosted a Trillium Festival but an excessively large white-tailed deer population has devastated the trillium population and the name was changed to Wildflower Festival.

The abundance of Large-flowered Trilliums continues in many regions. If you travel north for Memorial Day Weekend, expect to see white carpets of trillium flowers in mature forest. The species has a coefficient of conservatism of 5. The rating is used to rank plants for naturalness of habitat composition using a 1-10 system. Habitats that appear to be the same might have species present in one habitat that are not present in another. When species with a high coefficient of conservatism are present in a habitat, it indicates a healthier site.

At Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary we work to encourage the healthiest habitats for greatest biodiversity enhancement and to especially help species survive that have a high coefficient of conservatism. We are fortunate that several pre-European settlement species continue to thrive that have been eliminated from surrounding areas. Some are present in small numbers such at the American Chestnut and Wood Betony. The chestnut’s coefficient rating is 9 and betony’s is 10 on a scale of 1-10. Ten is the highest rating for naturalness of a site.

When managing a site we ask, “Are land management practices effecting the health of the site?”  Hopefully our practices maintain rich biodiversity and improve survival for species that indicate a high-level of naturalness.

Coming into flower in mid-May are Swamp Saxifrage (Micranthes pensylvanica) that are not showy like trilliums. They have a whorl of leaves on the ground with a flower stalk that stands over one foot tall. Flower clusters have small inconspicuous pale flowers that do not capture attention. Its rating is 10 and is as an indicator of healthy habitat naturalness that is much higher than the rating for Large-flowered Trilliums.

As a result, our efforts for sanctuary management are greater for the less showy saxifrage, wood betony, and American chestnut than for the trillium. We personally enjoy the trilliums more because of their beauty. We work to maintain massive trillium blooms while helping the plants with a high coefficient of conservatism.

We explore the natural world around us pretending we live in the 17th century with native species. The presence of exotics species that crowd and eliminate native species from existence remind of us of the daunting challenge to help native species survive in the 21st century. Efforts are to maintain healthy habitats and ecosystems for future generations of plants and animals and for the benefit of future human generations.

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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