web analytics

Archive | Outdoors

Dead cougar found in Dickinson County

 

Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers are seeking information on a dead cougar found approximately 4 miles north of Iron Mountain, in Dickinson County, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The male cougar was discovered by conservation officers around 11 a.m. February 1, near the intersection of Johnson Road and County Road 607 in Breitung Township.

Anyone with information regarding the incident is asked to call 1st Lt. Pete Wright at the Marquette Customer Service Center at 906-228-6561, ext. 3028 during normal business hours, or the 24-hour DNR Report All Poaching (RAP) Line at 800-292-7800.

Information may be left anonymously.

Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned state peace officers who provide natural resources protection, ensure recreational safety and protect citizens by providing general law enforcement duties and lifesaving operations in the communities they serve. Learn more about Michigan conservation officers at www.michigan.gov/conservationofficers.

Posted in OutdoorsComments Off on Dead cougar found in Dickinson County

Homegrown flavor from an indoor garden

Photo courtesy of Gardener’s Supply Company Energy efficient and long lasting high intensity grow lights will provide the greatest yields when growing tomatoes and other fruiting plants indoors.

Photo courtesy of Gardener’s Supply Company
Energy efficient and long lasting high intensity grow lights will provide the greatest yields when growing tomatoes and other fruiting plants indoors.

By Melinda Myers

Add some homegrown flavor to your winter meals. From microgreens to tomatoes, it is possible to grow produce indoors.

Microgreens are a quick and easy way to add some flavor and crunch to your plate. Just plant seeds labeled for sprouting or microgreens in a shallow container filled with a sterile potting or seed starting mix. Within two weeks you will be harvesting nutritious mini vegetable and herb leaves for salads, sandwiches or snacking.

Take it one step further and grow a few of your favorite herbs on a warm sunny windowsill. Select a container with drainage holes and set on the appropriate size saucer to protect your woodwork. Fill the container with well-drained potting mix and plant seeds or transplants.  Purchase basil, chives, parsley, oregano and rosemary plants from your local garden center or the produce department.

Greens, like lettuce and spinach, will also grow in a sunny window or better yet under artificial lights. Grow them in a container filled with a well-drained potting mix similar to your windowsill herb garden.  Plant seeds according to the seed packet. Continually harvest the outer leaves when they are four to six inches tall.

Those that like a bit of a challenge may want to try growing a compact tomato, pepper or eggplant. You’ll get the best production with a combination of natural and artificial light or full spectrum lights.

Natural sunlight and full spectrum lights contain the variety of light plants need to grow, flower and fruit. Blue light promotes leaf and stem growth, while red combined with blue promotes flowering. Consider investing in energy efficient and long lasting high intensity grow lights for the greatest yields when growing tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and other fruiting plants indoors.

Leave lights on for 14, but no more than 16 hours each day. Plants need a dark period as well as bright light each day to grow and thrive. Use a timer to ensure the plants receive the right duration of light.

Most flowering and fruiting plants need a high intensity of light, so keep the lights six to twelve inches above your plants. Use reflective surfaces under and around the plants to bounce light back into larger plants.

Increase your indoor growing space by going vertical. Shelf units with built-in light fixtures like the Stack-n-Grow Light System  (gardeners.com) provide multiple layers of growing space.

And once your tomatoes, peppers and eggplants start flowering, you will need to shake things up a bit.  Gently shake the plants several times a week, better yet daily, to move the pollen from the female to the male parts of the flower so fruit will develop. A gentle breeze from a fan or vibrations from a battery-operated toothbrush work well.

Indoor gardening won’t yield the same results as a sunny outdoor garden, but the flavor can’t be beat when gardening outdoors is not an option.

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. Myers’ web site, www.melindamyers.com, offers gardening videos and tips.

 

Posted in Featured, OutdoorsComments Off on Homegrown flavor from an indoor garden

Winter reading

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Snuggling with a good book helps one savor long winter nights with pleasure. There are significant natural history books I read during my development. I stumbled upon books beyond those required for professional education. Each of us has personal interests for subjects but some books transcend specific content with broader ideas about our relationship with nature niches that support us physically and emotionally. Books from times past can be inexpensively found online or in libraries.

I became interested in sharing natural history through stories and writing by the time I was 20. I wrote little at that time and thought I might find time to write during retirement years. I wrote a short piece about what I observed while following a pheasant’s tracks in the snow. When I showed it to a college professor that wrote a nature column, she requested to publish it in her weekly column.

Later in graduate school in northern Minnesota, I was invited to speak. After my program, a literature professor, Dr. Saur, provided me with one of the better compliments of my life. He said I reminded him of a young Sigurd Olsen. I had read several of Olsen’s books about experiences in the north woods wilderness. Perhaps the “The Singing Wilderness” and “Listening Point” are my favorites where Olsen reveals the magic and mystery of wilderness experiences.

For readers desiring details of life, John Bardach’s book, “Downstream,” describes the life of species found from a stream’s headwaters to its mouth emptying into the ocean. It is an enlightening natural history of stream and river life addressing how human activity impacts the quality of life for people and nature.

“The Desert Year,” by Joseph Wood Krutch, will take you to the dry warm desert if you feel like escaping our cold weather. It is a most delightful introduction to the marvels of life able to survive in dry habitats. This author is one of my favorites. One Christmas I thought I would would tell him how much I appreciated his writing. I called and heard happy family voices. I asked to speak to Joseph. The women said who is this? I told her they would not know me but I wanted to tell Joseph how much I enjoyed his work. She said you wouldn’t know this but he has been dead for 10 years. I told her I hoped my call would give Christmas joy regarding appreciation for her husband’s work.

I read few novels because excellent nonfiction books keep me occupied but fiction stories with accurate natural history descriptions allow an author to create images of events that occur daily. “Those of the Forest,” by Wallace Byron Grange, is the story of Snowshoe, a hare, that everyone should meet.

For short spurts of reading, “Sisters of the Earth” is a collection of women’s prose. I have marked the table of contents with checks and stars for those to reread over and over again. I cannot read something once and absorb it all. Whether it is a good movie, book, or short story, I revisit for full enjoyment to garner new details or to just feel the joy of words rippling under my skin.

Emotional connections with places, experiences, and creatures captivate us. We relate through wishful desire and hunger for ancient roots lingering in our souls. Authors take us to places we want to go but do not know how to get there on our own. Helen Hoover’s “The Gift of the Deer” is a wonderful account of her experiences with deer that lived near her north woods home.

Invite me for an entertaining evening of story telling for your nature interested group, club, business, church, school, or even for a family and friends campfire. I have a variety of programs tailored for heart, soul, and mind. Contact me to receive an e-mail program brochure or to discuss tailored presentations.

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.

Posted in OutdoorsComments Off on Winter reading

What a difference a year makes

 

DNR biologists discuss effects of milder winter on wildlife

Canada geese and mallards enjoying a stretch of open water in Ingham County are shown. During this milder winter so far, waterfowl have been able to find more areas of open water for feeding.

Canada geese and mallards enjoying a stretch of open water in Ingham County are shown. During this milder winter so far, waterfowl have been able to find more areas of open water for feeding.

Looking out your window, do you find yourself saying, “This winter is different?”

Remembering last winter, areas of Michigan had not inches, but feet of snow on the ground by mid-November. In stark contrast, this winter, many parts of Michigan didn’t receive any significant snowfall that stayed on the ground, until after Christmas.

With the effects of one of the strongest El Nino weather patterns on record—warmer Pacific Ocean waters producing atmospheric changes in weather thousands of miles away—this winter certainly is different.

Moose are built for cold conditions, with long legs for deep snow and thick fur coats for winter temperatures.

Moose are built for cold conditions, with long legs for deep snow and thick fur coats for winter temperatures.

As a result, weather forecasters are predicting above-average temperatures and drier than normal winter conditions across the northern tier of the country, including Michigan.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologists have been fielding inquiries about how the milder conditions might be affecting wildlife this winter.

“The 2014-2015 Michigan winter had record low temperatures for numerous days,” DNR Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason said. “Along with those cold temps, winter brought snow depths that challenged even the most adapted wildlife.”

Waterfowl

Less than a year ago, waterfowl were being negatively affected across Michigan by lakes, rivers and streams freezing completely, or more extensively than usual, leaving smaller areas of open water for ducks and swans to feed. After the last two hard winters, this winter is providing many open water locations.

“Instead of ducks being concentrated in small areas, ducks and swans have good amounts of open water in a mild winter, giving them room to forage and find the food they need,” said Barbara Avers, a DNR waterfowl and wetlands specialist.

The last two winters resulted in some malnourished or dead waterfowl being trapped on the ice, unable to fly. Not this winter.

Smaller mammals

Squirrels never take a break. They are active all year long, and this mild winter provides an easier hunt for food. Less snow to get through equals less energy needed to find food and stay warm.

With a milder winter, snowshoe hares are likely to be under a bit more pressure from predators. Their fur is light brown in the fall and molts to white as the amount of daylight changes. Until snow is on the ground, the white fur stands out, allowing hawks, owls and other predators better opportunities to benefit.

Alternatively, hares this winter should have plenty of food they can easily access.

Skunks and raccoons go into an inactive or dormant state in the winter. This is something they are naturally wired to do to conserve energy. This won’t change with the mild winter. Their late winter mating seasons, won’t be affected. As usual, they will be out and more visible for brief periods of time looking for a mate.

Large mammals

Black bear have this same instinct; their internal clock is telling them they need to conserve energy, regardless of temperature, find a place to den and go into a deep sleep.

What is frequently referred to as a bear hibernating is really a bear in a very deep sleep. Even with the warm fall and warm December, a bear will still den. Black bears also den in southern states, where temperatures and snow levels are much more moderate compared to even a mild Michigan winter.

Bears are triggered to enter their dens by a combination of things, with the amount of daylight being an important main factor. Bears are able to survive the denning period because they bulk up during the fall, gaining 1-2 pounds per day.

Not all animals will benefit from this mild winter.

“Moose are a species that are just built for the cold,” said DNR wildlife research biologist Dean Beyer. “Moose are at their southern extent of their range in the Upper Peninsula.”

Moose, with their long legs and thick winter coat, are built for deep snow and cold temperatures. When moose have their winter coat, and temperatures are warmer than 23 degrees, they become stressed and need to take action to cool down.

“When an animal is stressed, its heart and respiration rates will increase, in turn increasing the amount of energy they are using,” Beyer said. “This December was probably stressful on Michigan moose, as temps were warmer than they normally experience.”

Deer, on the other hand, will find some relief with a mild winter.

For winter survival, deer reduce their movements by about 50 percent and their food intake by about 30 percent. Mild temperatures allow deer to survive on the layer of fat they’ve built up the previous fall.

Just like with moose, the more deer move in the wintertime, the more energy they use. However, deer, with their shorter legs, should be able to find the little food they need in the winter accessible, above and below the snow.

In the Upper Peninsula, the effects of three consecutive harsh winters, combined with the contributions of predators, have been tough on deer populations. Though wildlife biologists caution that one mild winter will not be enough to allow the herd to quickly rebound, the moderation in conditions is beneficial and welcomed.

Birds

Wild turkeys will also have an easier time in a mild winter. Typically at higher snow depths or when a hard snow crust is formed, turkeys rely solely on fruits, nuts and catkins on trees and shrubs—food found above the snow.

When possible, turkeys will continue to scratch through the snow in farmed fields, getting the valuable crumbs left behind by farming equipment, and can even find acorns and beech nuts in the woods.

Ruffed grouse may be more susceptible to predators, without several feet of snowy insulation. These birds can almost dive into the snow and burrow, staying warm and concealed. They typically do well during those hard winters.

Migrating birds generally started leaving and heading south months ago. Therefore, this unseasonably warm winter is something they’ll realize only when they return in the spring.

Some migrating birds that leave relatively late, like sandhill cranes, may stay behind as long as they can find the food they need to make it through the winter, but will continue south if temperatures drop.

Birds like American robins, eastern bluebirds and hermit thrushes may remain in the state in small numbers, because of the mild weather and availability of berries and seeds.

Resident backyard birds, like blue jays, American goldfinches, northern cardinals and black-capped chickadees will use less energy keeping warm during a mild winter, which can result in better body conditions and larger egg clutches or broods of chicks in the spring.

Outlook

So far, the milder winter we’ve experienced has been a welcome break for many people and some wildlife that have had a hard go the last few winters. Although we may think this relative lack of snow and warmer temperatures make this winter different or easier, the winter is certainly not over.

For many animals, the next couple months could still be challenging. However, animals have habits or instincts and are hard-wired to survive. They will adapt.

For more information, visit the DNR’s webpage at www.michigan.gov/wildlifeactionplan.

Posted in Featured, OutdoorsComments Off on What a difference a year makes

DNR marks progress in pheasant restoration

A male, in the background, and female ring-necked pheasants are shown. The species was introduced to the United States from Asia in the late 19th century.

A male, in the background, and female ring-necked pheasants are shown. The species was introduced to the United States from Asia in the late 19th century.

A few years ago, when the Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced it was putting together a coalition to rehabilitate pheasant hunting in Michigan, it assembled an impressive array of partners to address many of the problems that led to the declining fortunes of “ringnecks.”

Now, halfway through the 10-year project, those involved in the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative say the program has made significant headway.

“We are seeing enhanced partnerships, excellent teamwork, habitat improvements and increased enthusiasm for pheasants and pheasant hunting,” said Al Stewart, the DNR’s upland game bird specialist.

About a dozen volunteers from the Lenawee County chapter of Pheasants Forever recently showed up to work with Michigan Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Division staff to take out an overgrown fence row between two grassy fields at the Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The goal is to create a large block of land that will be more hospitable to not only pheasants, but other grasslands residents as well. Pheasants Forever member Ken Parts helps clear a fence line in between two large grass fields.

About a dozen volunteers from the Lenawee County chapter of Pheasants Forever recently showed up to work with Michigan Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Division staff to take out an overgrown fence row between two grassy fields at the Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The goal is to create a large block of land that will be more hospitable to not only pheasants, but other grasslands residents as well. Pheasants Forever member Ken Parts helps clear a fence line in between two large grass fields.

The coalition began the pheasant initiative by establishing three pilot focus areas, concentrating efforts in areas that offer some of the best remaining pheasant habitat in the state.

These priority Pheasant Recovery Areas each have three counties and are situated in the “Thumb Area” (Huron, Tuscola and Sanilac counties), central Michigan (Gratiot, Saginaw and Clinton counties) and southeastern Michigan (Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties).

Since the “golden days” of Michigan pheasant hunting in the 1950s, changes in agricultural practices and land use have contributed to pheasant habitat loss, declining food sources and lower production of chicks.

Over the first five years of the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative, the DNR has enhanced or restored roughly 7,400 acres of grasslands on state game, wildlife and recreation areas and established 3,160 acres of food plots.

Another 556 acres of enhanced grasslands and 203 acres of food plots have been cultivated around the Sharonville State Game Area, just to the north of the Hillsdale-Lenawee-Monroe focus area.

In addition, the DNR has acquired 742 acres to add to existing game areas within the Pheasant Recovery Areas. There have also been 765 acres of grasslands and 2,000 acres of food plots established at the Allegan State Game Area, which is located outside the existing focus areas.

“Things are really starting to happen,” Stewart said.

However, those significant improvements on state-managed land represent only one small part of the equation, as most of the state’s prime pheasant range—located in southern Michigan—is privately owned.

To address this, the initiative has helped establish cooperatives and hired a co-ops coordinator in the focus areas so private landowners can meet with other like-minded individuals to help improve habitat for pheasants across the landscape.

The DNR has funded five conservation district Farm Bill biologists, with more to come, to assist private landowners in habitat improvement projects. The money for the biologists was raised from the DNR’s recent license restructuring.

Jason Myers, a Farm Bill biologist who covers four counties working out of the Tuscola Conservation District, says 80 percent of his efforts are directed toward pheasant restoration projects.

He said much of his work involves finding cost-share programs for landowners and providing technical assistance for managing Conservation Reserve Program and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program lands.

Under these two federal Farm Bill programs, farmland is removed from production in exchange for annual rental payments with the lands improved for conservation or environmental quality enhancements.

“I do a lot of habitat plans for guys,” Myers said. “We’re kind of like therapists in a way—kind of hold their hands through the process and make sure they do it right. I spend a lot of time visiting CRP and CREP lands to help landowners maintain them in the shape their supposed to be in.”

The work is paying off, he said.

“A couple of guys in the pheasant cooperatives have said they wouldn’t have done what they’ve done in the last few years if it wasn’t for the initiative,” Myers said. “Tuscola County had about 200 CRP and CREP contracts when I started. About 190 of them have re-enrolled and about half of those have added acreage.”

Bill Vander Zouwen is the Michigan Region representative for Pheasants Forever, a group dedicated to conservation of pheasants, quail and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness, education and land management policies and programs.

Vander Zouwen was a biologist and chief of the wildlife ecology section of the Wisconsin DNR for more than 30 years before returning to Michigan.

He praised the cooperation between agencies and hunters under the pheasant initiative.

“I’m impressed with the attention pheasants are getting and I’m happy to see it,” he said. “Pheasants are a priority of the DNR, a focus of the More Bang for Your Buck program. The DNR has really stepped up.”

Pheasants Forever has 30 active chapters in Michigan and focuses most of its attention on private land, dispensing seed for food plots to its members, though Vander Zouwen said “about 15 chapters put their money up for matching grants from the DNR to improve habitat on public land where anyone can hunt.”

The DNR has awarded State Wildlife Grants totaling more than $850,000 to benefit 49 projects that include almost 3,000 acres of grassland complexes.

Beyond the DNR and Pheasants Forever, other members of the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative coalition include the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Quality Deer Management Association, Ducks Unlimited, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

These additional government and nongovernmental entities often focus on other priorities, but they value grasslands for everything from biodiversity to improving water quality.

“Doing work for pheasants is central for wildlife on the ground,” Myers said. “It helps everything from songbirds to white-tailed deer.”

And, of course, it helps pheasants.

Cooperative landowners say they’re hearing more crowing pheasant roosters in recent years, and some hunters report seeing more pheasants on state-managed land.

Despite these advances, much of the effort of the pheasant initiative has yet to bear fruit, but members say the seeds have been sown for the future.

“The coalition is committed to an even more productive next five years,” Vander Zouwen said.

To learn more about upland game bird hunting in Michigan, visit the DNR’s Web page www.michigan.gov/dnr.

Posted in Featured, OutdoorsComments Off on DNR marks progress in pheasant restoration

Winter sleeping

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Chipmunks emerge from underground burrows in mid winter when conditions warm, the sun shines, water trickles, or warmth penetrates deep into their bodies.

During my naturalist career, we shared the best evidence-based scientific discoveries about hibernators, deep sleepers, and those that stay active all winter. Insects hibernate, diapause, or even stay active all winter but they are excluded from this discussion, as are birds that also have some hibernators. Those groups like reptiles and amphibians will merit their own nature niche adaptation stories.

Within the Class Mammalia, we taught Michigan has four groups with true hibernators, including some bats, the 13-lined ground squirrel, woodchuck, and jumping mice. Bears are deep sleepers but are not considered true hibernators. Chipmunks that periodically pop out of the ground during winter were reported as deep sleepers.

An authoritative book I depend on is Michigan Mammals by William Burt (1957). It referred to chipmunks as hibernators. Despite the rigorous scientific scrutiny used in making the text accurate, questions were raised regarding chipmunks’ winter behavior in regards to sleeping or hibernating. I was not greatly concerned with the issue and referred to the small striped mammals as deep sleepers.

I should have pursued the issue with more vigor but information seemed conflicting and I had other scientific controversies to address that seemed more pertinent and meaningful for society’s welfare. Things like climate change or animal species origins related to Earth’s biodiversity, for ecological sustainable conditions that people need, took precedence.

Recently my naturalist friend, Greg, spoke about chipmunk hibernation and I challenged the idea. It stimulated me to examine peer-reviewed research. New technology developments during recent decades make it easier to study winter sleep for various species. Small monitoring devices can be implanted in animals to monitor breathing, heart rate, and temperature on a 24-hour basis.

Studies supported chipmunks are true hibernators but there are still unknowns. Hibernators’ breathing and heart rate become extremely slow and body temperature drops to near freezing. Bears do not experience such dramatic reduction and are considered deep sleepers. Bear body temperature only drops from about 100 to 90 F. Respiration and heart rate slow but are not so reduced that it is difficult to arouse the bear.

Chipmunk heart rate slows from 350 beats per minute to about 4, temperature drops from 94 F to 40 F, and respiration changes from 60 to about 20 breaths per minute. It is difficult to arouse them. The adaptations merit the designation of true hibernation but other factors are not consistent with what is normally considered true hibernation.

Chipmunks awake periodically instead of remaining in deep torpor for months. The triggers causing them to periodically waken are unknown. They become active, eat cached food in burrows or even venture outside. Other true hibernators do not defecate or urinate for months, but chipmunks do.

I learned long ago that it is not either/or in nature. Most everything is on a gradation from one end of a continuum to another. It is not either hibernate or not hibernate. Different species demonstrate behaviors and adaptations along a continuum. Most might show a particular adaptation, such as hibernation, but all are experimenting through the process of natural selection and evolution for 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.

Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off on Winter sleeping

Christmas Bird Count 2015

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

OUT-Nature-niche-Christmas-bird-count-Sheet1-1Fifty-three species of birds were seen (Table 1) by 48 traveling observers and 16 bird feeder watchers on January 2, 2016.

Three Great Horned Owls and 3 Barred Owls were reported on count day with one Eastern Screech Owl added during count week. Total individuals sighted was 11,246 and was about 1,500 more than last year. Weather was great for field exploration. The species count of 53 was 6 fewer than last year but might be explained by more open water this year. Frozen water concentrates waterfowl and increases the likelihood for counting more species. We usually have approximately 60 species sighted annually so our species count was slightly down even though over all numbers were up.

Two Golden Eagles were sighted. This is the first time the species has been seen on our Christmas count. They are in surrounding areas and counties with more frequent sightings in recent years and especially during the winter months.

Regarding hawks, note the order of birds on checklists has been rearranged in recent years. The falcons now follow the woodpeckers instead of being grouped with other hawks. DNA sequencing is one reason for the revised placement as scientists work to understand evolutionary phylogenetic order of species. Phylogenetic trees have several developmental aspects that are cross referenced to understand bird origins, relationships and development.

The Carolina Wren continues to be present with four seen this year. It is becoming a regular but in the past it was primarily a southern bird.

The Christmas bird counts across the continent document geographic population changes with shifts resulting in decreases or increases. Data helps scientists with environmental quality, habitat and climate change evidence to understand impacts for our growing population, land use changes and resource consumption. When I was in high school there were 3 billion people on Earth. Now there are over 7 billion.

Weather conditions were 100 percent cloudy in the morning but mostly clear during the afternoon. Temperatures were between 24 and 36F. Winds grew to 19 mph from the southwest. Snow cover was 1-3 inches. Moving water was open with still water partly frozen.

We totaled 107 hours in vehicles traveling 884 miles. We had more hours on the road than last year but drove about half the distance. I am thinking we might have spent more time out of the vehicles at stops because it was such a fine weather day. About 18 hours was spent on foot covering 23 miles. A combined total of 907.5 miles were on foot and driving. Groups totaled 125.5 hours of daytime birding. Night owling was 7.5 hours covering 13.5 miles of effort in four count sections. There were 16 birding parties in the morning and 15 in the afternoon.

Consider joining us next year. We were pleased to have new participants this year. Check out the Grand Rapids Audubon Club at www.graud.org.

Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center (WWC) in Lowell co-hosted and we appreciate use of the facility. We encourage everyone to visit and enjoy the WWC grounds and to support their community programs.

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.

Posted in OutdoorsComments Off on Christmas Bird Count 2015

Use Michigan’s parks and trails to realize fitness goals

A group snowshoes through a northern woodland, enjoying a sunny Pure Michigan winter’s day.

A group snowshoes through a northern woodland, enjoying a sunny Pure Michigan winter’s day.

From the Michigan DNR

A week into this new year, many people are working on—or perhaps already struggling to keep—resolutions to get in shape.

While those resolutions often go by the wayside before the first flip of the calendar page, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources suggests a different approach to exercise that might help people stick with a healthier lifestyle beyond a few weeks—combining exercise with family and friends.

This graphic outlines five benefits of exercising outdoors.

This graphic outlines five benefits of exercising outdoors.

“Fitness resolutions come and go each year, but spending quality time with friends and family is no fad. Spending that family time out for a walk can make for a powerful fitness pledge,” said Maia Turek, DNR statewide recreation programmer.

The DNR is encouraging Michigan residents to make 2016 #MiShoeYear and to put on their shoes, skis or skates to get outside and move.

“Whether you are taking the first step toward fitness ever or the first step in a long time, the beginning of the year is when a lot of people kick off healthier lifestyle routines,” Turek said. “When you declare #MiShoeYear, it’s more than just a workout, it’s an adventure. Explore new trails. See new vistas, get to know Michigan while you get fit.”

Calling the idea “a movement for movement,” Turek said many of Michigan’s state parks offer programs featuring outdoor winter activities like hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing—some  even by candlelight or lantern light. Those looking for an outdoor adventure can find nearby events at www.michigan.gov/dnrcalendar.

With more than 100 state parks and thousands of miles of trails in Michigan, there’s also plenty of opportunity for self-guided workouts that explore the great outdoors. Find a new favorite place to run, hike, ski or snowshoe using the DNR’s Recreation Search website, www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails/

Don’t forget about local and regional parks.

“Michigan has some of the country’s best parks, with endless ways to stay active and spend time with family and community,” said Ann Conklin, chief operating officer for mParks (Michigan Recreation and Park Association). “They’re a convenient and affordable place to get moving and build healthy, active habits.”

The unique advantages of outdoor exercise can make people more likely to stick with a fresh air fitness routine, rather than with a gym.

“There are plenty of reasons to take your workout outside,” Turek said. “Enjoying nature’s scenery will distract from your effort or fatigue, so you’ll work out longer. You’ll burn more calories because the varied terrain of a park or trail helps keep you out of a fitness rut and you’ll be happier—breathing fresh air can create a feeling of euphoria.”

Outdoor fitness also can save money and help manage time.

The DNR’s Recreation Passport—at only $11 per year for access to Michigan workout destinations, including thousands of miles of trails, 102 state parks and 136 state forest campgrounds–could be considered the most affordable gym membership available, with the most locations statewide.

The flexibility of not being confined to class schedules allows outdoor workouts to fit more easily into daily routines. Not to mention, getting outside for some active adventures can make the long Michigan winter a lot more enjoyable.

“Winter is way more fun when you get outdoors and embrace it, instead of wishing it was over. Hiding indoors has never successfully made winter go away, so make the most of it,” said Jacquelyn Baker, communications and marketing manager for mParks. “Michigan is a four-season state, and that’s a great thing. There’s something exhilarating about getting active in winter. Bundle up and breathe some fresh air. Enjoy the picturesque snow and ice.”

Eva Solomon, founder and CEO of Epic Races, agreed.

“Michigan winters are for embracing, not escaping,” Solomon said.

Solomon’s organization is offering a virtual 5K event for those who want some great gear and accountability backing their New Year’s fitness resolution. Register to participate at http://epicraces.com/event/shoe-years-day-virtual-5k/ and a portion of the proceeds will support fitness programs and reforestation efforts in Michigan state parks.

“After the overwhelming response to our Heart MI Run Virtual 5K, we created the Heart MI Snow Virtual 5K. So many people have a 5K run or walk on their bucket lists, but need some extra motivation to begin. Others are worried about feeling out of place at a group event with experienced runners,” Solomon said. “The virtual 5K gave people the opportunity to run, walk, hike, ski or snowshoe their 5K where they want and when they want, and we will reward them by sending them a shirt and medal in the mail.”

Turek said those who exercise outdoors can add to the fun by sharing their adventures on social media using #MiShoeYear.

“State parks, township parks, your neighborhood—wherever it is, just get outside and snap a selfie,” Turek said.

To help fuel up for active outdoor pursuits, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has compiled recipes for nutritious meals using Michigan-grown produce. The recipes, and other healthy, active lifestyle tips for families, are available at michigan.gov/puremichiganfit.

Interested in seeing how fun and easy winter outdoor fitness can be? Watch a video filmed at Muskegon State Park to get tips from Cari Draft with EcoTrek Fitness. The video is part of the “Active Living Through Parks” series, showcasing different forms of outdoor fitness and their benefits through a partnership between the DNR, mParks and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“Whether you want to shed a few pounds, strengthen your heart or reduce stress, outdoor exercise can get you there,” Turek said. “Grab your friends and family and head outside to take the first step toward being fresh air fit.”

Posted in Featured, OutdoorsComments Off on Use Michigan’s parks and trails to realize fitness goals

Free youth rabbit hunt Jan. 16 in Belding 

Participants in the Flat River State Game Area’s 2015 youth rabbit hunt. This year’s hunt is set for Jan. 16.

Participants in the Flat River State Game Area’s 2015 youth rabbit hunt. This year’s hunt is set for Jan. 16.

Register by Jan 12

The Department of Natural Resources is teaming up with the Mid-Michigan United Sportsmen’s Alliance, the Belding Sportsman’s Club, the Montcalm County Branch of the Quality Deer Management Association and several other sporting groups and local businesses to sponsor a youth rabbit hunt at the Flat River State Game Area Saturday, Jan 16.

The day will kick off with breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and will conclude with lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Belding Sportsman’s Club, located at 10651 Youngman Road in Belding, Michigan.

There is no fee to participate, and maps of potential hunting hot spots on the 11,000 acres of nearby public hunting land will be available. Participating youths will be eligible for a number of raffle prizes, including several firearms.

“This event is possible thanks to the cooperation of many partners with an interest in keeping Michigan’s hunting tradition going strong,” said DNR wildlife biologist John Niewoonder. “We hope that getting new hunters out in the woods and exposed to the fun and camaraderie of rabbit hunting will encourage them to become lifelong hunters.”

Hunting parties should register by Jan. 12 and must have at least one member younger than 17 years of age. For more information or to register, contact the Flat River State Game Area at 616-794-2658.

Participating hunters must have a valid base license or mentored youth hunting license, available online at www.mdnr-elicense.com or anywhere hunting licenses are sold.

To learn more about youth hunting, visit www.michigan.gov/mentoredhunting.

Posted in Featured, OutdoorsComments Off on Free youth rabbit hunt Jan. 16 in Belding 

365 days of new

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

New sightings, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch are waiting for you to experience. Do not miss the opportunity to explore nature niches everyday. Spend a few minutes outside reaping at least one newness each day. Do not make a resolution that you will not keep. Instead, find something new for this year and savor it as the special.

The White Pine tree is the only pine with five needles held together by a tan follicle at the base. Photo from www.bates.edu.

The White Pine tree is the only pine with five needles held together by a tan follicle at the base. Photo from www.bates.edu.

It might be most rewarding to discover something you have not noticed previously but relish things you have known and find new joy in experiencing them this year. You might know Black-capped Chickadees but enjoy them anew this year. Look closely at a tree branch in your yard to notice buds. Can you count the small bud scales that cover the bud during these cold winter months? Some trees like the Bitternut Hickory do not have protective scales over the embryonic leaf and stem tissues. Two small leaves tightly crumple as protective covers over the inner tissues. Willows have a single scale over next spring’s new growth. Oaks have several sturdy scales covering the nearly microscopic leaves and stems within.

Make it simple and enjoy things you want to explore. Continue to make new discoveries for 365 days. The year has already progressed a few days. There will be days without observations so catch up by making more discoveries on other days. Keep a list of new experiences daily. You can keep track what you have seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or felt. It is good to list date, location, time, and observation. Look over your list once in a while to refresh your memory and relive the experience. This can be the beginning of nature journaling.

Walk with a friend on the White Pine trail. Avoid being so engrossed in conversation that you miss the natural world. Stop along the trail and use your senses. Share a discovery with your friend. It might be as simple as pointing out the sound of an American Crow. You might take notice of how many pine needles are held together in a cluster. White Pines have 5 needles held together by a tan follicle at the base. Each needle is shaped like a cut piece of pie. Two sides are straight and meet at the inner point. The outer edge is curved like that of a pie. Run your fingers from the base to tip and notice they all fit together like a freshly cut pie. I contend this is a pine tree’s version of the compound leaf.

I have never heard of needle clusters being referred to as compound leaves but each cluster is one needle-like leaf divided into five parts. When spread apart they make it possible to capture more sunlight for photosynthesis. Red Pines, Jack Pines, and Scotch Pines have two needles in a cluster that fit together like two half moons. Spruce and firs have one needle attached directly to the branch.

Feel tree trunks to notice different bark textures. Do some feel smooth or rough, furrowed up and down or crosswise? Do trees have different bark colors?

When looking at birds in flight, are wings long and narrow, short and wide, light or dark? Are tails longer or shorter than wings?

Be cautious with tasting but bite into a cherry twig and describe the taste. Try tasting a Sassafras twig. Find a White Oak acorn and taste it. Do the same with a Red Oak acorn. It is good to have a bottle of water with you just in case you do not like a taste and want to rinse your mouth. You might discover why deer have preferences for what they eat. Smell each item to discover new pleasant or unpleasant smells.

Rather than isolate yourself from nature when outside with music coming through ear plugs or by being totally engrossed in conservation, put the ear plugs away for a few minutes or cease talking for a few hundred feet. Stop at a random location for a short time to experience the surroundings. Introduce a friend to a nature’s wonderful world. Turn New Year outdoor experiences into meaningful conversations full of newness.

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.

Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off on 365 days of new