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Archive | Outdoors

Tips for residents encountering snakes

Hognose snake

Hognosed snake

This time of year, as snakes are out and about in the great outdoors, the Department of Natural Resources gets many questions about Michigan’s snakes. Michigan is home to 17 different species of snakes, 16 of which are completely harmless to humans.

There are two that are very similar and often cause a stir when people encounter them. Eastern hog-nosed snakes, when threatened, puff up with air, flatten their necks and bodies and hiss loudly. (This has led to local names like “puff adder” or “hissing viper.”) If this act is unsuccessful, the snakes will writhe about, excrete a foul-smelling musk and then turn over with mouth agape and lie still, as though dead. Despite this intimidating behavior, hog-nosed snakes are harmless to humans.

The eastern massasauga rattlesnake, the only venomous species found in Michigan, is quite rare and protected as a species of special concern due to declining populations from habitat loss. As the name implies, the massasauga rattlesnake does have a segmented rattle on its tail. It should not be confused with the other harmless species of snake in Michigan that do not have segmented rattles but will also buzz their tails if approached or handled.

Massasauga

Massasauga rattlesnake

Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes are shy creatures that avoid humans whenever possible. Also known as “swamp rattlers,” they spend the vast majority of their time in year-round wetlands hunting their primary prey, mice. When encountered, if the snake doesn’t feel threatened, it will let people pass without revealing its location. If humans do get too close, a rattlesnake will generally warn of its presence by rattling its tail while people are still several feet away. If given room, the snake will slither away into nearby brush. Rattlesnake bites, while extremely rare in Michigan (fewer than one per year), can and do occur. Anyone who is bitten should seek medical attention immediately. To learn more about the massasauga and for more snake safety tips, visit http://mnfi.anr.msu.edu/emr/index.cfm.

Milksnake

Milksnake

Those who encounter a snake of any kind should leave it alone and should not try to handle or harass the snake – this is primarily how snake bites happen. A snake can only strike roughly one-third of its body length, so it is physically impossible for people to get bitten if they do not get within 24 inches of the snake’s head. Michigan snakes do not attack, chase or lunge at people or seek out human contact. Simply put, if left alone, Michigan snakes will leave people alone.

The DNR asks Michigan residents to consider reporting any reptile or amphibian sightings to the Michigan Herp Atlas research project to help monitor amphibian and reptile populations in Michigan and protect these valuable resources for future generations. Visit www.miherpatlas.org for more information.

To learn more about Michigan’s snakes, visit www.michigan.gov/wildlife, click on the “Wildlife Species” button and select “Amphibians and Reptiles.”

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Michigan Eat Safe Fish Guides Released

 

The Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) is pleased to announce the release of the new regional Eat Safe Fish Guides, formerly known as the Michigan Fish Advisory. The Eat Safe Fish Guides provide fish consumption guidelines based on the levels of chemicals in the edible portions (usually the filets) of fish taken from waterbodies around the state of Michigan.

“In an effort to better prepare Michigan residents for eating the fish they catch within our state, we are releasing these new Eat Safe Fish Guides to ensure people have access to the information they need to decide what fish, and how much, their family should eat,” said James K. Haveman, Director of the MDCH. “These new guides are an easy-to-use resource for individuals and families looking for information about healthful fish consumption.”

Throughout the past three years, and thanks to a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, MDCH’s Division of Environmental Health has completely updated the science behind the Michigan Fish Consumption Advisory Program making it more scientifically defensible, replicable, and transparent. Additionally, MDCH has updated its outreach plan regarding communicating the new Eat Safe Fish Guides to Michigan residents ensuring it is easier for people to understand and properly use the guidelines.

Unlike the Michigan Department of Natural Resource’s Michigan Fishing Guide, the MDCH Eat Safe Fish Guides are not laws or regulations and no one is required to use them. Instead, the Eat Safe Fish Guides are a free resource for Michigan residents who would like information regarding what fish and how much is healthy to consume from various bodies of water across the state.

While chemicals in fish are a worldwide problem not limited just to Michigan and other states in the Great Lakes region, it is important to note that fish from some areas in Michigan are more contaminated than others. By using the Eat Safe Fish Guides, Michigan fish consumers can be confident that they are making informed choices about eating the fish they catch from their local lake or river.

For more information or to view the new Eat Safe Fish Guide for your region, visit www.michigan.gov/eatsafefish or call 1-800-648-6942.

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Farming in Sand

After the logging era, farmers began clearing remaining slash, cleared stumps from the land and planted crops. With visions of hope they planted. Till plains left by glaciers offered the best soils for crops.

Till plains are areas where melting glaciers left unsorted material in a gently rolling landscape. Very fine clay particles, larger silt, and sand particles were left with gravel, rock, and a few boulders mixed together. After removing residual stumps, farmers moved larger rocks to piles at the edge of fields or used them in home construction. The mix of clay, silt, and sand-sized particles provided fertile soil with good water holding capacity. Farms on those soils continue today.

Where the glacier front melted at the speed of the advancing ice sheet, unsorted material dropped in long ridges known as glacial end moraines. The end moraines have hills and valleys that are steep for farming. Such a moraine lies west of the Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC). West Michigan moraine ridges run north/south. Retreating glaciers melted westward into what is now Lake Michigan.

End Moraines acted like dams holding water between them and the ice sheet that was a few thousand feet thick. The temporary lake between glacier and moraine overflowed the moraine carrying rocks, gravel, sand, silt, and clay in floodwaters onto the land east of the moraine. Flowing water created a very wide river that was short in length unlike typical rivers that are long and narrow. The river may have only been a few miles long but many miles wide.

The rushing water that flowed over the moraine dropped the largest and heaviest material when water speed and volume reduced. Boulders and big rocks dropped first. Next gravel dropped as it was sorted from big rocks and the finer sands, silt and clay. Gravel deposits became choice for gravel companies to purchase because much of the sorting of crumbled rock was well underway.

As remaining water flowed east, it continued to lose volume, slowed, and dropped thick layers of sand with finer silts dropped farther east and finally clay settled. HCNC and the 6000-acre Rogue River State Game Area are mostly on the sorted sandy outwash soils. Sandy outwash soils are left where the floodwaters slowed enough to drop sorted sand.

Farmers settling those areas did not understand the importance of geological events and tried to make a living by farming sorted sands. The little organic topsoil quickly disappeared. The 1930’s drought across America pushed these farmers into bankruptcy. Those areas should not have been farmed.

Hunting license fees provided funds to purchase and create the Rogue River State Game Areas. Work began restoring health to the land to support wildlife and hopefully built soil structure. Pines were planted on many sandy outwashes. Farming continued in the field north of Red Pine Interpretive Center on the sterile soil where little grew, water quickly flowed through the sand, and fertility was low. Eventually the farm failed.

In 1986 I dug a soil pit so students could observe topsoil and subsoil layers. Each pit lasted about five years before we needed a new one. A 4X4 post was placed in the ground and a pit dug east of the post. After five years I moved the pit to north of the post, then west, and finally south. The demonstration area lasted twenty years. It started with a small opening 1 by 2 feet and 18 inches deep. Periodically we needed to shave the sides and enlarge the pit for good soil profile viewing.

The soil surface humus layer was thin. Organic matter blackened topsoil beneath. Abruptly a dividing line is apparent separating the more fertile topsoil from infertile subsoil. When selecting nature niches suitable for farming and supporting a family, one should understand the role of glaciers and geology of landscape development. HCNC provides real world learning applications.

 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.  616-696-1753.

 

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Sandhill Cranes in your Community

Photo by Beth Olson

Photo by Beth Olson

Photo by Brian Stalter

Photo by Brian Stalter

Breeding season for Sandhill Cranes is well underway in Michigan and chances are you have observed these birds in your community. Standing almost four feet tall cranes are easy to notice and entertaining to observe, but Michigan Audubon wants to remind Michiganders to maintain a safe viewing distance and let wildlife be wild. Here are few tips to help you live comfortably together with the Sandhill Cranes in your community.

Give cranes ample space. Sandhill Cranes are large and require a big area in order to take flight. Many people have seen cranes walking across roads, through neighborhoods, and on golf courses. If you encounter cranes while driving a vehicle, garden tractor, or golf cart, make sure to give the birds a wide berth. Sandhill Cranes may not always take flight, especially if they are escorting juvenile cranes called “colts.” Please slow down and let the cranes get to a safe place.

Do not intentionally feed cranes. Michigan Audubon receives reports of Sandhill Cranes taking advantage of backyard bird feeding stations and even cases where cranes are pecking at patio windows. If cranes become regular visitors at a home feeding station, we encourage property owners to take down feeders for a few days and allow the cranes to find natural food on their own. Bringing cranes to your feeding station can put the birds in contact with more potential predators such as domestic dogs, raccoons, foxes and other urban wildlife.

Learn more about cranes. Sandhill Cranes have made a tremendous comeback in Michigan, thanks to a variety of conservation measures. Cranes are regularly observed during spring migration at places like Whitefish Point and Brockway Mountain in the Upper Peninsula. Breeding cranes and adults with young are widely observed throughout Michigan, and because of their size do not even require binoculars to be fully appreciated. This fall Michigan Audubon encourages Michiganders to visit one of the numerous sites in the southern Lower Peninsula where cranes will be staging for migration. The 20th Annual Sandhill Crane & Art Festival, also known simply as “CraneFest,” will take place October 11 and 12 in Calhoun County and includes crane-viewing, special presentations, 25 Michigan artists, and activities for kids. Visit www.cranefest.org for more information.

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Weekly Fishing Tip

 

Stream trout fishing: a forgotten pastime?

 

It isn’t a secret that Michigan hosts some of the best trout streams in the nation. The surprising thing is how under fished they are.

Anglers can have some fantastic fishing all to themselves on some incredibly beautiful streams if they do their homework. Michigan’s trout streams range in size from jump-across tributaries to the mighty Muskegon, Manistee and Au Sable rivers. While our streams can be busy at times (opening weekend, salmon/steelhead runs, the hex hatch, etc.) they can be utterly devoid of anglers at other times.

Michigan trout streams hold brown, brook and rainbow trout, and they can be caught by all kinds of tackle and techniques, ranging from nightcrawler dunking to spinner tossing or fly fishing. Anglers should check with the Fisheries Division management biologist for the area they wish to fish and the species they wish to target. Give it a try—you’ll be surprised at how good the state’s trout fishing is and how few people are doing it!

For more info visit www.michigan.org/dnr and click on fishing.

This tip was written by Mark Tonello, Fisheries Management Biologist in Cadillac.

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Chickadee Loop Trail

The short Chickadee Loop at the Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC) is rewarding. From the Welcome Center parking area take a quarter mile walk for exposure to things wild and natural.

Walking directly west from the Welcome Center, the trail leads through an oak forest to a junction where the trail continues north (right). The habitat transitions from oak forest to young oak forest at the junction. The area was maintained as an oak savanna in the 1980’s through the 2008.

A savanna is an open grass and forbs community with scattered trees. Scattered trees allow sunlight to penetrate to ground vegetation. In the savanna, Wild Blue Lupine (a forb) flowers in late May. It adds nitrogen to the soil with the aid to root nodules that contain nitrogen-fixing bacteria. A variety of plants thrive in a savanna’s lightly filtered sunlight.

Oak savanna is Michigan’s rarest plant/animal community. We often hear how over 70 percent of Michigan’s wetlands have been drained and has led to a great decline in waterfowl and associated wetland species. Groups like Duck’s Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, the Audubon Society, and many others have worked for a century to restore essential habitat for nature niche neighbors that depend on wetlands.

Savannas are home for rare and endangered species that require survival help and management if we are to keep nature’s bounty alive and well. There are a few prairies species that can be found at HCNC but the landscape does not contain any prairie habitats. Michigan’s prairies were mostly restricted to SW counties of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Oak savannas contain some prairie species but referring to it as a prairie would be a disservice and teach scientific misconceptions.

Chickadee Loop turns east at the north end of the former savanna. A beautiful shrub known a winged sumac grows at the clearing edge. It has large compound leaves. A compound leaf is a leaf that has many leaflets that appear leaf-like. To recognize a leaflet from a leaf, look at the base of the flat leaf-like blade. If a bud is present, it is a leaf. If one needs to look farther back to find a bud, it is a compound leaf made of several leaflets.

At the next trail junction Chickadee Loop turns south toward the Welcome Center. At the junction one can take a short spur to the left that leads about 100 feet to a vernal pond. I designed a trail around the west side of the pond to the nature center’s service drive. That allowed the east half of the pond to remain wild for nature to carry on without disturbance from human activity. Please recognize you are a guest in nature’s habitats when visiting HCNC and provide proper respect for plant and animal privacy and living condition needs.

On the final stretch to the Welcome Center, you will cross a floating bridge that rises and lowers with water level at the permanent pond. A pond is a body of water where light penetrates to the bottom. Lakes are deep enough to prevent good light penetration. Size is not best measure for separating ponds and lakes biologically.

Before reaching the Welcome Center, you pass the Howard Christensen Memorial Spring. Frank and Rita’s only child died from a brain tumor while a high school senior and graduated posthumously in 1962-63. To honor him, his parents donated land to establish a nature center that would allow youth to experience discovery in the natural world. Frank and Rita were not wealthy people but owned about 100 acres they gave to the community. It was a gift of the heart that founded HCNC in fall 1974. The Grand Rapids Downtown Kiwanis Club provided funds for the construction of the Welcome Center, memorial spring stonework, and the drilling of the flowing well. Visit the office to purchase a HCNC membership.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.  616-696-1753.

 

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Exclosure Observations

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Helping students and the public understand the nature of science was an important goal for me as director of Howard Christensen Nature Center. Education deals with many misconceptions and the scientific process helps people understand that science, based on verifiable evidence, is self-correcting.

To see science in action we constructed an “exclosure.”  It helped people observe natural changes in nature niches. It was a ten by twenty foot fenced area. Fence posts were five feet apart. In the first section we did not disturb the area during construction and left it untouched for the next twenty years. The other five by ten-foot sections were cleared of vegetation on a rotating three-year cycle.

Sheep sorrel was an early colonizing ground cover. Plants, insects and small animals could enter and colonize without our influence. Large animals like deer were excluded. After the plants were cleared and roots filtered from the soil, we observed colonizing plants and animals. Ants made about 20 small mounds about 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Sheep sorrel, pigweed, and five clumps of grass also took hold within three weeks.

Rather than describe details of what was observed, lets focus attention on nature niche establishment. John Curtis first described the process of plant succession. By documenting the species and the order they colonized sand dunes, he established predictable models. Plants changed the soil and made it more hospitable for different species. It could be predicted how long it would take for particular species to establish.

Plant colonizers were replaced by mosses, perennial grass or other plants when soil conditions improved. Later woody shrubs and trees could establish. With each new plant species various insects, birds, and mammals could make a living.

I mentioned science is self-correcting. Over the years, repeated studies showed a predictable sequence of colonizing plants and animals. It was found the sequence was somewhat variable based on surrounding vegetation and animal populations. Generally species arrived in the same sequence to occupy nature niches. Continued long-term studies corrected initial conclusions.

Using HCNC’s exclosure, students learned the process of collecting and analyzing data. As humans, we are prone to draw conclusions based on how things appear or how we want them to be. Often they are correct but frequently we have not collected adequate data to confirm our conclusions. Scientific process slowly builds valid conclusions that get modified and corrected when studies indicate our conclusions are not perfect.

The process allows us to discard misconceptions and support what is shown to be correct. That is where climate change discussions frustrate many. Some people deny it is greatly influenced by human activities. Most scientists acknowledge climate change is greatly human influenced but qualify the statement with “pending further data collection.” Science process is always open to modification pending further data collection. Many people accept unsupported absolute conclusions because they do not like science being open to modification or not being what they desire to think.

The exclosure experiment at HCNC helped people learn how scientific process works and how new data collection modified our understanding of how nature functions. It would have been nice if the experiment were continued after I left. We could have documented changes in growing season as well as plant and animal composition. Many scientific studies take decades or centuries to make valid predications. We tend to be impatient and want absolute answers now.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.  616-696-1753.

 

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Muskellunge harvest tag issue

The Department of Natural Resources has found a key error on this year’s muskellunge harvest tag.

The tag is legally required for anglers to be in possession of a muskellunge (including tiger muskellunge) harvested in Michigan waters. The months of April, May and June were omitted from the tags. Anglers are requested to write the date of harvest and harvest location on the line provided on the tag, if they harvest a muskellunge during this time frame. Anglers who harvest muskellunge after June can use the tag as indicated.
The muskellunge harvest tag is free (except for those under 17 years of age and nonresident anglers, who would need to purchase a DNR Sportcard to obtain the tag) and available at all license agents. Those fishing on Michigan-Wisconsin boundary waters using a Wisconsin fishing license are also required to use the tag if they harvest a muskellunge in Michigan waters.

All muskellunge shall be immediately released unless the fish is to be tagged for harvest. If harvested, it should be tagged with a valid muskellunge harvest tag. The possession limit for muskellunge (including tiger muskellunge) is one per angler per fishing season (April 1 through March 31). While registration of muskellunge harvest is not required, registering all harvested fish greatly assists the DNR with management of this important species and is encouraged. For more information or to register a fish, visit www.michigan.gov/muskie.

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Warblers Come and Go

By Ranger Steve Mueller

American Redstart

American Redstart

Most warblers pass through our yards unnoticed during April and May, and again in August and September. Some stay to raise a family. As a group, they are the most colorful of the birds. They work in shrubs and trees feeding on insects. Insects are essential for them to increase weight rapidly to survive their long migration.

A Chestnut-sided Warbler is setting up summer residence in the yard among shrubs near the pond (Picture 1). It is one of the most colorful with a bright yellow cap and wonderful contrasting patterns of white and black throughout the body. Scattered yellow-green is present on the wings and rump. Varying amounts of rich chestnut orange-red patches line it sides. Adult males have extensive chestnut feathers on the sides and younger birds have shorter bands of color.

Chestnut sided Warbler

Chestnut sided Warbler

When looking for warblers, most people locate them by listening for songs and search the branches for their small presence. The warbler described above is only 4 inches long and weighs less than one half ounce. To identify birds remember GISSS. First acquire a general impression (GI). Is it sparrow, robin, or crow size and does it stand tall and upright or more horizontal. Habitat will help with general impression. Expect some birds high in forest trees, others near the ground in shrubs, or some in wetlands. Most people know to think Great Blue Heron along stream or water, robins in lawns, and Red-winged Blackbirds in marshes. Each warbler has a preferred habitat.

After acquiring a general impression, focus on size, color, and shape to help identify it. Behavior will help. A Black-and-white Warbler will climb on tree trunks like a nuthatch; Chestnut-sided Warblers will be among the shrubbery as will American Redstart (Picture 2). Some warblers just pass through so expect them only in spring and fall. Others will stay for the summer. Very few stay during the winter but the Yellow-rumped Warbler is sometimes found in the cold months. The SSS in GISSS refers to the size, shape, and seasonality. Add another S if you use sound like many birders to identify a warbler. I am not good at separating species by sound. I consider myself at best 80 percent proficient so I do not document presence based on song.

Pine Warblers are considered to have a stable population of 13,000,000. This sounds large but when compared to 200,000,000 European Starlings in the US it is not. Even starlings are not a numerous as humans in the US where we number about 350,000,000. Everyone’s yard can be critical habitat in a shrinking natural world. Encourage family and others to return portions of yards to native habitat to help warblers survive.

Compare the difference between the two warblers pictured. The redstart has an all black head with white only on the belly and not mixed among the body feathers. There is bright orange on the sides instead of chestnut and it has orange in the wings and tail. Nature niches are more interesting when we get to know our wild neighbors. Warblers will come when yard habitats include native wild plants for insects and birds. Horticultural and non-native plants usually do not support insect populations needed by warblers.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.  616-696-1753.

 

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Registration for Rogue River Expedition Closes on May 31

N-rogue_river_pic

This is your last chance to sign up for this 3-day public journey of discovery to experience conditions and opportunities of Michigan’s Rogue River and its watershed. It will be held June 19 through the 21. The Expedition team will travel by land, canoes, and kayaks, and provide demonstrations, interactive displays, and exhibits in communities along the Rogue River.

* Thursday, June 19th: The Expedition will begin with an opening ceremony at the Howard Christensen Nature Center, followed by a land tour of the Rogue River’s Headwaters. The night will conclude back at the Howard Christensen Nature Center with a dinner, owl walk, and camping.

* Friday, June 20:  Participants will gather at Nash Creek in Sparta for the paddling portion of the Expedition. The Rogue River Watershed Partners and the Village of Sparta will be hosting a Watershed Showcase that is free and open to the public with water demonstrations, hands-on activities for kids, and free prizes. Expedition participants will kayak down Nash Creek in to the Rogue River and take out at Camp Rockford right at the mouth of Stegman Creek.  Participants will enjoy dinner in downtown Rockford along with live music and microbrews at Rockford Brewing Company. $1 of every pint sold that evening at Rockford Brewing will be donated to conservation and restoration efforts in the Rogue River watershed.

* Saturday, June 21: Water activities (stream insects, fish, birds) will take place at Camp Rockford and our open and free to the public.  Expedition participants will float down to the City of Rockford and enjoy lunch and a presentation by the Rockford Historical Society. A watershed booth will also be at the Farmers Market so stop by for some free stuff and watershed information.  Expedition participants will finish the last leg of the Rogue and have a wrap-up event and celebration at the park along the Grand River.

Join this journey and learn more about the Rogue River. Cost for the full trip is $75/person. For more information about the Rogue River Expedition and to sign-up please visit the website at www.swmtu.org/rogueriverexpedition.  Thank you to our major sponsors – the City of Rockford, the Rogue River Expedition Planning Committee, Schrems West Michigan Trout Unlimited, and Trout Unlimited.

 

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