web analytics

Archive | Outdoors

Pileated Woodpecker

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Many people refer to Pileated Woodpeckers as flying dinosaurs. They have a unique appearance and life history. Every species fills a unique nature niche separating it from other species. Adaptations allowing a species to survive might cause it to become extinct if its habitat changes and its needs are too specialized.

This photo shows two Pileated Woodpeckers eating at a feeder at the home of David Marin, of Nelson Township, in 2013. The male is on the lower left. Photo by David Marin.

This photo shows two Pileated Woodpeckers eating at a feeder at the home of David Marin, of Nelson Township, in 2013. The male is on the lower left. Photo by David Marin.

Pileateds declined significantly in Michigan as a result of unregulated logging in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Trees were cut and the remaining branches were deliberately burned to clear regions. Fires spread to burn towns, kill people, and destroyed habitat that many species required.

Following deforestation, areas were cleared for farming and settlement. Much of Lower Peninsula was no longer suitable for Pileated Woodpeckers and in the Upper Peninsula the species was relegated to restricted areas. Second growth forest expanded in the Upper Peninsula creating large stands of maturing forest where the bird expanded its population. Few remained in lower Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio because of deforested habitat. Southern Ohio and Indiana landscape prevented complete clearing. Pileated Woodpeckers remained more prevalent southward into Kentucky and Tennessee.

For most of the past 100 years it was special to see this woodpecker between the Upper Peninsula and Southern States. Now it is quite common. They are regularly seen at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary where adequately large habitat exists. The sanctuary is not large enough by itself to support the species. Fortunately, neighbors have allowed maturing forest to remain along Little Cedar Creek where it creates a ribbon of habitat containing essential food, water, and shelter in appropriate living space.

Habitat space is critical but it does not need to be shaped in squares, rectangles, or ribbons.  It needs to be large enough to contain adequate food of the correct type and shelter for nest sites. The pileated normally drills a fresh nest cavity in a tree annually and requires large trees. Minimal habitat to supply food and shelter is thought to be about 150 to 200 acres. Food includes many insects, acorns, and fruit.

They feed heavily on carpenter ants by using their long sharp beak for chipping large pieces of wood from a tree. The trees are usually partially hollowed by ants. The woodpecker can hear the hollowness when it pounds its head against the tree. A solid healthier tree will not provide a smorgasbord of food inside. Trees hollowed by ants are easier to drill into.

Woodpeckers have cartilage in the skull that helps absorb shock and protect the brain. When the bird creates a hole in the bark, it can reach deep into an ant tunnel with its long tongue to retrieve many ants. There are barbs on the end of the tongue to help capture prey. When not feeding, the tongue must be stored somewhere besides hanging out of the mouth. It draws it into a cavity between the skin and skull, wraps it around the back of the skull for storage until needed.

I have State and Federal permits to salvage dead birds for educational use and have stuffed a pileated woodpecker. I retained the long tongue to show people its adaptation. The feet are also uniquely adapted for anchoring the bird to a tree while it works. It has a zygodactal toe on each foot. It can move its outer toe forward so it has three pointing forward or move it backward so two are forward and two back. When drilling the two backward toes provide greater grip. It uses its tail feathers that have stiff central veins to prop and hold the bird in place. This is the only woodpecker in the US to make long rectangular cavities in trees. Even without seeing the bird you can recognized the presence by cavity shape.

Males have a red crest that reaches the bill. Females are gray from the bill to the top of the head. Males have a red mustache along the side of the head while females have a black one. White can be seen in the wing of this crow-sized bird when it is in flight. Enjoy seeing this increasingly common bird as forests regenerate in our region.

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 Pileated Woodpecker

Perseus Meteor Shower

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

 

“Shooting stars” create fire in a black sky. To celebrate my birthday, the Perseid meteor shower reoccurs annually with a peak fire performance from August 11-13. I pretend the fireworks are a personal birthday celebration but I know scientifically we all share this annual nature niche event equally.

Why does the Perseus meteor shower gain prominence as my birthday approaches and diminish afterward?

Most of us are aware the sun is the center of our solar system with planets that revolve around it and are held by its gravity. It takes the Earth about 365 days for a trip around the sun and we call it a year. The time it takes planets to go around the sun is their year but it is easier to compare their orbits to our year. It takes Jupiter nearly 12 Earth years to go around the sun once and only 88 days for Mercury.

Earth’s path around the sun brings the planet into contact with space debris that becomes “shooting stars” (meteors) nightly. During mid-August, the Perseid meteor shower light show might have 200 shooting stars an hour because there is massive debris in Earth’s orbit at that location. A comet likely passed through Earth’s path and left billions of rock, iron, or nickel bits floating in space.

Comets orbit the sun making large oval loops. We can predict return dates for some but adequate data is not present for others. Some may not return. Little is known about the source of debris for the Perseus meteor shower. Perhaps a comet passed through Earth’s path and it may or may not return.

Think of Earth’s path as a tube that the planet is in as it travels around the sun. When debris drifts into the tube, it gets caught by Earth’s gravity and is pulled to the surface. As the material within the tube is drawn toward Earth, it heats, glows, and vaporizes. Material farther outside the tube continues to float in space and next year it might drift close enough to be caught by gravity.

Material left by a passing comet is called a meteor swarm. It is a mass of material that is mostly very small. The average size of a meteor is .0005 (5 ten thousands) of an ounce. That is the size of sand grain. When the Earth passes, it draws particles that heat, glow, and vaporize. Some larger pieces glow very bright and may even survive to land on Earth as a meteorite.

My friend Bob and I went to see the “Old Woman” that is kept hidden away in recesses of the Smithsonian National Museum. We received permission to have someone escort us to see her because she is not in a public access area. The Old Woman is the largest meteorite found in California and the second largest found in the United States. It was named for the location it was found (The Old Woman Mountains).

This week spend time watching the sky for meteors. It is best to look between midnight and dawn when Earth faces the direction of travel and collides with more debris. Before midnight, we can see many but it is like backing into debris instead of hitting it face on. Think of it like driving a car forward into insects or backing into them. You will notice most when looking and driving forward as you hit them. The front windshield gets splattered and the back does not.

Shooting stars are usually about 50 to 75 miles over head but emit bright light for a tiny sand-sized particle. Meteor showers are named for the constellation where they appear to originate. The constellation Perseus can be found in the northeast sky and moves west during the night. Perseus stars are light years away and have no relationship to the meteor shower that originates in Earth’s orbit. Look before the moon rises or after it sets because the sky will be darkest. Get away from lights that impair the ability to enjoy a dark night sky. You have a couple weeks for watching the Perseid Meteor shower.

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 Perseus Meteor Shower

Catch of the Week

OUT-Catch-of-week-PatinJessa Patin, 11, the daughter of Jerry and Kim Patin, of Solon Township, had a great day fishing recently, when she caught three big ones! The one in the photo is 18 inches long, and she also had one measuring 16-1/2 inches, and another 15 inches! Good job, Jessa, you made the Post Catch of the Week!

Posted in Catch of the WeekComments Off on Catch of the Week

Michigan’s waters: not a good home for pet fish

 

OUT-Pet-fish-Red-belliedpacuJuly in Michigan is becoming synonymous with reports of anglers landing pacus—fish with human-like teeth used for eating nuts and seeds—in the southeastern part of the state. Last month, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources received three pacu reports—two from Lake St. Clair and one from the Port Huron area.

Reeling in a pacus would be a surprise, perhaps even a shock to anyone fishing in Michigan. Though it looks somewhat like a native shad, the pacu’s squarish, blunt teeth clearly set it apart. It isn’t similar to any native, toothed fish, including trout, muskellunge or northern pike.

The red-bellied pacu, Piaractus brachypomus, is a popular aquarium fish imported from South America. The U.S. leads the world in importing ornamental fish, supporting a worldwide aquarium industry that tops $1 billion annually.

Though the pacu is a non-native fish, it is not considered invasive in Michigan. Invasive species are defined as those that are not native and also can cause harm to the environment, the economy or human health. A 2012 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service assessment concluded the risk posed by pacus in the continental United States is uncertain due to a lack of research on the fish’s negative impacts. While the risk is uncertain for the U.S., pacus are not considered invasive in Michigan because they are tropical warm water fish that are not likely to survive the severe cold of Michigan winters.

Pacus have been caught in lakes, ponds or creeks in at least 27 U.S. states. However, there is no evidence that breeding populations have been established in any of these locations. Current climate data indicate this tropical, freshwater fish is unlikely to survive Great Lakes winters, but climate change may increase the possibility.

Finding pacus in the Great Lakes is evidence of a common dilemma; what to do when you can no longer keep an aquarium pet? Pacus are known to grow significantly, often beyond the capacity of their tanks.

“Pet release is almost never humane. Pets released from confined, artificial environments are poorly equipped to fend off predators and may be unable to successfully forage for food or find shelter,” said Nick Popoff, manager of the DNR’s Aquatic Species and Regulatory Affairs Unit. “Those that do succeed in the wild can spread exotic diseases to native animals. In the worst-case scenario, released animals can thrive and reproduce, upsetting natural ecosystems to the degree that these former pets become invasive species.”

In the case of the pacu and other ornamental fish, there is another issue.

“Invasive or not—planting fish of any kind in the waters of the state without a permit is illegal,” said Popoff. “This includes the release of aquarium fish like pacus and goldfish, as well as farm-raised fish from private ponds.”

Paige Filice of Michigan State University works with a new statewide campaign to Reduce Invasive Pet and PLant Escapes, or RIPPLE, offering solutions for aquarium and pond owners.

“If your pacu has outgrown its tank or begun to feed on your other fish, rather than releasing it into a pond or stream, consider donating or trading it with another hobbyist, an environmental learning center, an aquarium or a zoo,” said Filice. “You can also check with the pet store where you purchased the fish to see if they will take it back.”

Another option is to talk with a veterinarian or pet retailer about humane methods to dispose of the pet.

More information about the RIPPLE campaign and managing aquarium pets and plants is available from the Michigan Invasive Species website.

If you catch an unusual fish, keep it and preserve it on ice. If that is not possible, take photos of the fish. Do not return it to the water. Contact Seth Herbst, DNR aquatic invasive species biologist, at 517-284-5841 or herbsts@michigan.gov for assistance in identification.

Posted in Featured, OutdoorsComments Off on Michigan’s waters: not a good home for pet fish

Inspired to get outdoors

 

Kid-friendly tips to encourage more outside play 

BLOOM-Get-inspired-to-get-outdoors(Family Features) In today’s digital world, creating memories with loved ones and experiencing the joys of Mother Nature are some of the best reasons to turn off the TV, put down the tablet and get outdoors. From picnics to wild adventures to simple backyard games, there are dozens of ways to help kids explore all the exciting ways to live life outside.

A generation ago, 75 percent of American children played outside daily, but according to the National Recreation and Park Association, only 25 percent do the same these days. Not only are today’s youth missing out on a pastime treasured for generations, repeated studies have shown that children who play outside are more physically active, more creative in their play, less aggressive and show better concentration.

From camping in your backyard to planning a scavenger hunt, these tips from the outdoor experts at TruGreen can help provide inspiration to get your family on track toward living life outside more often.

Edible entertainment. Dining al fresco is one of the greatest ways to enjoy the outdoors. Invite family, friends or neighbors over for a barbecue, and be sure to save room for dessert with the gooey goodness of marshmallows roasted over a fire pit (add graham crackers and chocolate for a timeless campfire favorite in your own backyard).

Delight after dusk. Streetlights were once the signal that it’s time to head indoors, but once kids are safely home, take them out back to explore the outdoors at night. Stargaze under the open night sky, watch for nighttime critters such as lightning bugs or pitch a tent for a backyard campout. Ask the neighbors to join you, and organize a game of flashlight tag or enjoy a movie under the stars.

Home-grown experience. Even many adults don’t fully understand where food comes from. Help foster a greater understanding by encouraging kids to plant a mini garden they can tend themselves until the produce is ready to harvest. Inspire the project with a trip to the local farmer’s market, where together you can wander outdoors while selecting fresh produce to prepare for dinner.

Physical fun. If you don’t already have them, take kids along on a quick shopping trip to gather the items they need for more physical activity outside. Bikes, helmets, bats, balls – the possibilities go on and on.

Artistic expression. Turning the imagination loose outdoors can result in magical artistic creations. Pull out a tub of oversized chalk and watch a masterpiece emerge on the sidewalk, or let the sun’s rays melt old crayons into funky new colors and shapes. And, for a fun arts and crafts project, try making homemade bird feeders.

Imaginative play. Away from all the digital distractions, kids’ minds are free to wander. Let them set their imaginations free by assembling their own backyard games. Make water toys with sponges, create a “river” out of rocks or dirt where homemade boats can sail or plan a scavenger hunt to explore every corner of the yard.

For more outdoor activity ideas, visit TruGreen.com and Pinterest.com/TruGreen.

Posted in Featured, OutdoorsComments Off on Inspired to get outdoors

The science of lawn care made simple

BLOOM-science-of-lawn-care

(BPT) – America has home renovation fever. At one time, a handful of home improvement shows were on late at night or during the day, but now entire networks are dedicated to showcasing remodels, flips, additions and new constructions.

The result is that more homeowners are ready to tear out the old and install maple cabinets, granite counters or marble bathtubs.

Many undertake these renovations with the belief that it will increase their home’s value. But the simple fact is that large-scale projects often cost more than the value they add, and rarely do homeowners recoup their expenses.

A far easier, less expensive and effective strategy is to focus on your lawn. As every good realtor will tell you, curb appeal and making a good first impression are fundamental in selling your house at the price you want. Therefore, having a well-kept lawn is key to your home’s value.

Even if you’re not selling right now, a healthy lawn is a long-term investment that contributes to the overall value of your neighborhood and location.

Science, simplified

Those immaculate greens you see on golf courses or large estates are so pristine partially due to engineering and a scientific understanding of the soil and how grass grows. People go to college to specifically study the science of lawn care.

The good news is, to get similar results, you don’t need men in lab coats to study your lawn. The basis of the best kept lawns in the world is the same as in your neighborhood: a lawnmower.

Types of lawn

The biggest challenge many homeowners face is how to adequately mow a yard that has a variety of terrain. Hills, dips and bumps can stop many lawnmowers and result in uneven cutting. Many push mowers now come with a propulsion system that takes a lot of the work out of mowing the lawn. The big advantage here is that a self-propelled mower is able to navigate a variety of terrain, and in wet conditions, provide an even cut.

To bag or to mulch?

There are the two main types of lawn mowers, ones that mulch and ones that collect.

Mulching, which leaves behind a finely chopped layer of grass, is ideal for areas suffering from droughts. The grass clippings not only aid in water conservation, but also fertilize the soil, leading to a greener, healthier lawn. These lawn mowers have a high cutting deck, which increases the airflow that helps to evenly distribute the clippings. When summer rolls into autumn, mulching can also be used to dispose of leaves while cutting grass. The mixing of grass clippings with mulched leaves helps both decompose more quickly, making it a great and easy way to prep your yard for winter.

People who suffer from seasonal allergies or don’t plan on mowing as frequently, usually have a lawn mower that bags the clippings. These type of lawn mowers also extend their usefulness into the autumn months, allowing homeowners to skip raking and use their lawn mower to collect and bag fallen leaves. This option works particularly well with dry leaves.

The do-all solution

There is a reason golf courses have a fleet of lawnmowers, as they require a special machine for each job, for many variants and terrain. Thankfully, consumers don’t need a garage full of lawn mowers. Self-propelled, with 4-wheel drive, the Husqvarna LC221A lawn mower offers an all-in-one advantage that gives you the choice to mulch or to bag clippings.

This allows people to adapt to environmental conditions, such as mowing a small yard or a farmyard, in a drought or after a rainfall. It also provides multiple options for leaf removal, which extends its value past the end of the usual mowing season. In essence, they’ll be able to maintain a lawn they’ll be proud of and, more importantly, adds value to their home.

Posted in OutdoorsComments Off on The science of lawn care made simple

Construction impacting White Pine Trail use

 

From Friends of the White Pine Trail

OUT-White-Pine-trail-construction

In the southern area of the tail, in Plainfield Township, there will be trail disruptions during this summer and fall.

In Comstock Park there will be equipment in and adjacent to the trail due to sewer line work for the next few weeks, and possibly into the fall. Please be very careful in this area and do not interfere with the construction activity. If you encounter someone directing you around construction, please follow their directions.

Between Belmont and Rockford there will be some equipment on the trail for the next month or longer.  There will be persons directing traffic whenever there is equipment on the trail – please cooperate with these folks that are doing their best to keep the trail open, you safe, and get the project done. The Trail Will Not Be Closed For Extended Periods in this area unless there are unforseen circumstances.

If you have questions regarding trail conditions please contact us. We will do our best to keep everyone informed.

Check our FaceBook page for up-to-date information.

If you see any problems that you feel needs attention please contact us as soon as possible—we need your help!

In Howard City Area, Montcalm County

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials announced that construction of the Rice and Tamarack Creek bridges on the White Pine Trail in Howard City will begin Monday Aug. 8.

The White Pine Trail is actively utilized by non-motorized users throughout the year and snowmobile users in the winter months. Bridge construction will include abutment replacement and pier removal, as well as the placement of a 60-foot-prefabricated bridge over Rice Creek and a 84-foot-prefabricated bridge over Tamarack Creek.

The White Pine Trail has been temporarily re-routed to Federal Road bypassing both bridges. The detour is posted. Construction is anticipated to be completed in November.

Questions about the trail closure may be directed to Scott Slavin, DNR unit supervisor of White Pine Trail State Park, at 231-775-7911 or slavins@michigan.gov

Posted in OutdoorsComments Off on Construction impacting White Pine Trail use

Turtle encounters

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Seeing turtles sunning on logs is a joy. At times, a dozen line up on a log. When climbing onto a log, one often climbs on the turtle in front of it creating a row of several turtles propped on the backs of others. They appear like a row of fallen dominos as they warm in the sun.

When Karen and I canoe, turtles pay little attention to us unless we approach too closely. Maintaining a distance allows them to stay on their sun perch. Last week, we drove Chicago’s I-94’s ribbon of pavement that meanders through the city like a river. Turtles often cross ribbons of payment to reach wetlands or to find leg laying areas.

Finding a location for egg survival has become increasingly challenging. The increase in raccoons, skunks, and opossums has had negative impact on turtle egg survival. The increase of roads to serve our growing human population is a deadly challenge for turtle survival.

On I-94, three eastbound lanes were full and bottle-necked at a speed of 20 mph. A cement barrier was present to prevent vehicles from crossing into the on-coming west bound lanes. Traffic flow eastward improved and gained speed to 50 mph as we passed an on-ramp where cars were merging.

A large painted turtle with a shell about 10 inches from front to back was standing where the on-ramp joined with the traffic lane. Its legs and head were retracted into its shell. It faced the three travel lanes. If it proceeded across the three lanes, it is doubtful it would survive to reach the impassible cement center barrier.

I wanted to stop and rescue the turtle from certain death. If I returned it to the roadside vegetation, it might survive. There would be a good chance I would become roadkill if I tried to rescue the turtle so we drove on. Traffic was too heavy for even a large creature like me to enter the traffic lane. There have been many times I could safely rescue a turtle but this was not one of those times.

I made the decision to protect my life instead of the saving the turtles. I asked Karen if we should call 911. We thought the police would not respond so we did not. Perhaps I should have have made the call anyway. Saving a fellow denizen of nature niches is important during this era of turtle decline due to human population growth that is eliminating wetland habitats and requires more road building.

A study was conducted where rubber turtles were placed on a road shoulder. The researcher watched driver behavior. Six in 1000 drove onto the shoulder to deliberately kill the turtle. Some drivers stopped to rescue the turtle. Some people have what I refer to as a “reverence for life” and others do not.

Hunting and fishing licenses help maintain wildlife habitat and turtle survival. People kill turtles for food and laws regulate the take just like fishing and mammal take limits designed to maintain sustainable populations. I find great dismay in roadkill loss, whether it is people killed that we read about weekly or wildlife roadkill. It is such a wasteful death. The DNR attempts to maintain turtle populations from long term decline but it is an enormous, tenuous challenge. I have personally watched people go out their way to kill turtles just because they are present.

Encourage young children to appreciate turtles so they learn when it is appropriate to take turtles like fish or deer and to avoid killing roadside turtles just because they are present. Encourage a reverence for life. Help a turtle that is crossing the road but make sure you do not become roadkill.

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 Turtle encounters

What does the fox…eat?

OUT-Nature-center1

By David A Kieft, Howard Christensen Nature Center

I suppose the fox eats whatever he wants to eat, when it’s available. But that is indeed just the simple answer. As a child I was always outdoors, something I know my own daughter cannot say nearly enough. As I spent time outdoors, I learned things that aren’t often “well known” facts about our wildlife, habitats, plants and the multiple ecosystems we have in Michigan.

I grew up in Jenison with gravel pits (and an abundance of wild nature) right in my backyard. It was here, in my adolescent traipsing, that I learned such useless facts as: groundhogs can climb trees; Blandings turtles use their yellow necks to attract insects for lunch; goldfish can survive in Michigan’s waters; I can’t swim against the current of the Grand River; and the Eastern Hognose snake backs down when you call his bluff. At the family cottage near Baldwin, I continued learning about animals like Purple Martins, Red Head Woodpeckers and yep, more snakes. I would spend every waking minute outdoors (or reading about it when Mom wouldn’t let me out) and to this day my favorite thing to do when I’m not cooking or sitting at my HCNC desk is to get outside and continue learning (mostly about snakes because they are awesome).

But it also saddens me that in today’s day in age, less than 35 years from my good ol’ days, we have seen a shift in the characteristics of youth; liability seems to be a hot topic for businesses like gravel pits; and parents guard their children ever more. One can no longer roam the gravel mines; after hours problems have shut parks down earlier; funding has closed some of the greatest places we’ve known as kids ourselves; and parents feel safer with their kids at home more (even I can attest to that). But, that is where Howard Christensen Nature Center comes in.

OUT-Nature-center2Now, I may be biased, but hear me out. HCNC has been no exception to the current times, as a not for profit, we too struggle with funding and after hours problems. But our first priority is to get people outdoors more, to learn, to teach and enjoy. Did you know that our weekly Wild Wednesday programs offer-learning experiences that will enhance your child’s senses, interest and knowledge of the wild world around us? Were you aware that once a month we host family friendly programs that aren’t always “nature oriented” but are still designed to get you out? Have you heard that a walk in the woods can ease anxiety and stress? Did you know that even though I keep bees I am deathly afraid of insects in general? If you answered no to any of the above, the answers await you at HCNC. If you think you are too old for Wild Wednesdays, check out “Mom’s Night Out” where we make a few premade frozen meals to lighten your schedule at home or simply stop in and take a walk on some of our dozen miles of trails, visit me during the day and ask to see my bees! There are so many things to do at Howard Christensen that I cannot share them all here, but I urge you, beg you even, to come out and visit; buy a membership and visit often or bring your young ones to a day camp.

Here are some pictures from a couple of our recent day camps that show the joy on the faces of those who get out to learn and enjoy nature at HCNC. Ask them, I’ll bet they know what the fox eats!

Posted in Featured, OutdoorsComments Off on What does the fox…eat?

The Trumpeter Swan 

 

July’s Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial featured bird

OUT-TrumpeterSwan“To form a perfect conception of the beauty and elegance of these Swans, you must observe them when they are not aware of your proximity, and as they glide over the waters of some secluded inland pond. On such occasions, the neck, which at other times is held stiffly upright, moves in graceful curves, now bent forward, now inclined backwards over the body. Now with an extended scooping movement the head becomes immersed for a moment, and with a sudden effort a flood of water is thrown over the back and wings, when it is seen rolling off in sparkling globules, like so many large pearls. The bird then shakes its wings, beats the water, and as if giddy with delight shoots away, gliding over and beneath the surface of the liquid element with surprising agility and grace. Imagine, reader, that a flock of fifty Swans are thus sporting before you, as they have more than once been in my sight, and you will feel, as I have felt, more happy and void of care than I can describe.”

More than 150 years ago, John James Audubon wrote this about the awe inspired by watching trumpeter swans as they go about their business, untroubled by the doings of humans. Thanks to the determined efforts of conservationists across North America, these impressive birds will continue to mesmerize future generations.

Early settlers and explorers in Michigan noted that trumpeter swans were found here in abundance. Starting in the late 1800s, however, an increase in European settlement brought with it the conversion of wetlands to farmlands. It also brought market hunters, who harvested swans to sell their meat to restaurants, fluffy down for pillows, feather quills for pens, and skins and feathers for the fashion and hat trade. Unlike today’s hunters, who provide conservation funding through their hunting license and equipment purchases and only take as many animals as can be replaced through reproduction, market hunters had few regulations and little care for ensuring the future of the species that they decimated.

Thanks to the passage of federal wildlife protection laws in the early 1900s, this unrestrained harvest was curtailed, but the bird’s habitat still was imperiled. By 1933, only 66 trumpeter swans remained in the United States; mostly in remote areas of the Rocky Mountains and Alaska. The tide began to turn for trumpeter swans in the 1930s, when the Red Rocks Lake National Wildlife Refuge was created to protect the swans around the Rocky Mountains and hunters rallied for additional hunting fees to protect and restore America’s wetlands.

Through careful stewardship, the trumpeter’s numbers slowly increased until wildlife biologists were able to collect limited numbers of swan eggs from the wild to be added to eggs collected from zoos, which were hatched and raised for release into the wild in Michigan. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, these birds were raised until they were two years old and then released in high-quality wetlands around the state. Today, over 750 trumpeter swans can be found in Michigan alone and 35,000 swans across the entire United States!

If you venture out to capture the magic that Audubon experienced in the presence of trumpeter swans, be sure to know your quarry. These are the largest waterfowl in the world and can weigh more than 25 pounds. They are 4 feet tall and have a wingspan of over 7 feet; all in all, an intimidating bird. Don’t fear, though, since trumpeter swans are generally shy around people. They even avoid nesting on lakes with a lot of people swimming, boating and fishing. But beware around a swan family—adults are very protective of their young cygnets and may attempt to chase off or attack a person that they think may pose a danger. A canny explorer will know to look for nests atop muskrat lodges on quiet lakes or marshes and will come armed with binoculars and patience.

Today’s conservation challenge for the trumpeter swan is competing with people and the non-native mute swan to find homes to raise the next generation of trumpeters. Lakefront property is highly valued for residential development, and this increased human use may drive off nesting swans. Mute swans, imported from Europe in the 1800s, use the same types of habitats as trumpeter swans and tend to be more aggressive than trumpeters, pushing out our native swan.

When you visit a lake where you see trumpeter swans, respect their privacy and enjoy them from a distance. Try to limit loud and fast recreational activity around trumpeter swans and their nests, and encourage others to do so as well. If you see mute swans on a lake where you live, contact the DNR to find out what can be done to remove this invasive species and help native wildlife. With wise stewardship, we’ll be able to hear the trumpet of the swan for years to come.

The trumpeter swan remains in Michigan year-round; however, is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The year 2016 marks the centennial of the Convention between the United States and Great Britain (for Canada) for the Protection of Migratory Birds (also called the Migratory Bird Treaty), signed on Aug. 16, 1916. Three other treaties were signed shortly thereafter with Japan, Russia and Mexico. The Migratory Bird Treaty, the three other treaties signed later, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act form the cornerstones of efforts to conserve birds that migrate across international borders.

Posted in OutdoorsComments Off on The Trumpeter Swan