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Archive | Outdoors

Wonderment

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Wonderment opportunities transform us from youth to adulthood. Maintain wonderment as a part of living. Perhaps we get caught in trials of everyday activities that divert attention away from important experiences. Enjoy and share with family and friends the splendor of living and non-living wonders.

When was the last time you lay in your yard and to watch the migration of clouds wisp overhead? I still take time to watch the hippos, dragons, fish, or even ice cream trucks made from clouds pass across the sky. White and gray clouds transform before our eyes. Watch the edges of beautiful puffy cumulus clouds as they evaporate. Small clouds disappear right before your eyes. Have you considered where they go?

The liquid moisture that comprised the cloud has changed state from liquid to gas and has become invisible. The invisible moisture is still present in the sky. That might be a scientific explanation but where does your imagination take you?

I recall wanting to jump from a plane into one of those big puffy clouds to explore hidden mysteries. Perhaps it was Jack and the Beanstalk that stimulated the adventure desire. It is good I never took the jump. It would have been quite the surprise to fall through the cloud and splat on solid Earth.

What wonders wait in your yard? After reading my “Sparklers in the Air” article, a reader said he was enjoying the living lantern fireflies flashing on and off in the yard at night. Share stories about fireflies with kids, or better yet, encourage kids to make up stories about the night flashers to share with family. To become a person that cares for Earth’s creatures, wonderment experiences in nature niches are needed.

Exposure to the natural world of clouds, bugs, summer and streams wait outside. We isolate ourselves in our box cage and bury our heads in electronics. Nature is often experienced vicariously through TV, IPad, or even phone pictures rather than through real world outdoor adventures.

Take time to gaze into the night sky to witness Cygnus the Swan (known to some as the Northern Cross) constellation. Notice all summer it is flying south. One can purchase an App that will identify star constellations in the sky by simply pointing your phone to a section of the sky.

We are amazed each summer by Catsclaw flowers that appear in un-mowed sections of the yard. They have yellow flowers that open to create a wildflower garden of nature’s choosing. Flower stems hold the blooms 10 inches high. The flowers open in the morning and close about noon.

Scientifically I wonder what mechanism causes them to open and close and why they close midday. Do they have adaptations for morning active insects? Does turgor pressure determine when to close? Those are scientific questions intriguing me. The child that spends time enjoying the wonderment of clouds, fireflies, Catsclaw plants, and star constellations might someday desire to answer scientific questions. Kids will transform into adults that take responsibility for Earth Care if they have spent time exploring outside.

Do not expect a child to understand the importance of things natural if you do not provide them exposure to the real world found in wild places of your yard and elsewhere. Maintain wild places suitable for plants, insects, birds, and mammals for your wonderment and their survival.

Make it possible for kids to discover a robin’s nest, squirrels, butterflies, gray tree frogs, crickets, and soaring Turkey Vultures. A touch of wild in the yard will change a young life forever.

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.

 

Correction

In last week’s Nature Niche column, titled “Green tip mystery,” Ranger Steve mentioned an article that recently appeared in a local newspaper challenging him to solve the “Green tip mystery.”

The article had appeared in the Rockford Squire on June 22 and appeared without a byline. It was written by Beth Altena, their Editor/Publisher, and not the Howard Christensen Nature Center, as stated in last week’s column. The sentence in the column should have read “A recent article about the Howard Christensen Nature Center…” instead of “A recent article from the Howard Christensen Nature Center…” We apologize for any confusion that caused.

The rest of the column about the Enchanted Forest at Howard Christiansen Nature Center was strictly Ranger Steve’s own commentary.

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DNR confirms presence of a cougar in Lower Peninsula

This photo was submitted to the DNR from a Haslett resident. The cougar is just behind the mailbox on the right side of the road.

Photo taken in Bath Township, Clinton County

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has confirmed the presence of a cougar—also referred to as a mountain lion—in Bath Township, Clinton County. This is the first time the presence of a cougar has been verified by the DNR in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

On June 21, 2017, a Haslett resident took a photograph of an animal from his vehicle in Bath Township near the DNR’s Rose Lake State Wildlife Area. The individual reported that he spotted a large cat in his headlights as the animal attempted to cross a road. He captured the photograph as the cougar turned back from the road into an area of thick vegetation.

The picture was made available to the DNR June 26. A field investigation ensued. DNR biologist Chad Fedewa and biologists from the DNR’s Cougar Team reviewed the photo and visited the site where it was taken, determining that the animal in the photo was a cougar.

“Even with this verification, questions remain, especially regarding the origins of the animal,” said Kevin Swanson, DNR wildlife specialist and member of the agency’s Cougar Team. “There is no way for us to know if this animal is a dispersing transient from a western state, like cougars that have been genetically tested from the Upper Peninsula, or if this cat was released locally.”

Cougars originally were native to Michigan, but were extirpated from Michigan around the turn of the century. The last time a wild cougar was legally taken in the state was near Newberry in 1906. Over the past few years, numerous cougar reports have been received from various locations throughout Michigan. Until this time, all confirmed sightings or tracks have been in the Upper Peninsula. Since 2008 a total of 36 cougar sightings have been documented in Michigan’s U.P. To date, the DNR has not confirmed a breeding population of cougars in Michigan.

Cougars are protected under the state Endangered Species Act and cannot be harmed except to protect human life.

Interested landowners within the area of the recent Clinton County sighting may wish to place trail cameras on their properties. The DNR encourage citizens to submit pictures of possible sightings for verification. Observations should be reported at mi.gov/eyesinthefield. If you find physical evidence of a cougar such as scat, tracks or a carcass, do not disturb the area and keep the physical evidence intact. Please include any photos with your report.

The odds of encountering a cougar in the wild are very small, and attacks on humans are extremely rare. Should you encounter a cougar:

  • Face the animal and do not act submissive. Stand tall, wave your arms and talk in a loud voice.
  • Never run from a cougar or other large carnivore. If children are present, pick them up so they cannot run.
  • Do not crouch and get on all fours.
  • If attacked, fight back with whatever is available. DO NOT play dead.
  • Report the encounter to local authorities and the DNR as soon as possible.

To learn more about cougars, visit mi.gov/cougars.

 

 

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Deer in the city

Ed Bremmer, who lives on West Muskegon Street within the city limits of Cedar Springs, shared some photos with us of a deer family that likes to hang out in his backyard. He said that this is the second year that the doe has had triplets. What a beautiful family! Thanks, Ed!

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Back to the nest: Falcons return to Michigan bridges

DNR wildlife technician Brad Johnson examines the wing of a peregrine falcon chick after successfully attaching a leg band June 23. The bird was one of three that hatched at a nest box on the Portage Lake Lift Bridge this year. (MDOT photo) 

Peregrine falcons have returned to the Portage Lake Lift Bridge between Houghton and Hancock again this year—the same nesting spot, but this year with a choice between new and familiar nests.

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) installed two nest boxes at the Lift Bridge in 2012—one each on the north and south bridge towers. A pair of falcons discovered the nesting site the next spring and has raised a total of 12 chicks there. But, in recent years, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has noticed the boxes were showing signs of wear. Enter some enterprising high school students.

“(DNR wildlife technician) Brad Johnson asked if we would be interested in building a pair of peregrine falcon boxes,” said Baraga Area Schools industrial arts teacher John Filpus. The idea turned into a multi-class project.

“There were a few classes that participated in the design and construction of the nest box,” Filpus said. “Our AutoCADD class worked developing a blueprint for the design of the box based on pictures of others built. Some students in Baraga’s wood shop and construction trades class built the box.”

Filpus said it took the students about a week to learn a little background about falcons and how nest boxes are built, then design the initial blueprint of the box. Building the box took an additional two weeks, with classes working one to two hours per day.

One box was deployed on March 17, just days before the nesting pair returned this spring. The second will be installed before the next nesting season. The new boxes feature tough construction, a trap door in the rear, and a roof that folds down across the front of the box to prevent chicks from falling out during banding operations.

Webcams, viewable at http://pasty.com/nestbox.html, also have been installed in cooperation with the Copper Country Audubon Club to allow people to watch potential nesting activity at both boxes.

“We went ahead and partnered with Pasty.com, an internet service provider in the area,” said Phil Quenzi of the Copper Country Audubon Club. “They provided some of the equipment. Audubon bought the cameras, and the DNR and MDOT helped us out and allowed us to put the cameras on the bridge. The feedback so far has been pretty positive. At this point we don’t have a count of the people who visit the site, but it seems like there are quite a few, locally and from elsewhere, that visit the site. And we’ve gotten a lot of good comments.”

At the other end of the Upper Peninsula, another pair of peregrine falcons successfully nested on the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge, hatching four chicks this year.

“This site has hatched 24 falcon chicks since 2010, when we put in the nest box and started counting,” said International Bridge Engineer Karl Hansen, “There were more before that but we don’t know the number.” Hansen said a falcon cam for the International Bridge is also planned.

The chicks at the International Bridge were banded by a DNR team on June 19, while the Lift Bridge birds were banded on June 23. They were also named. The Baraga AutoCADD students and MDOT employees settled on naming the Lift Bridge birds Hank, Esther, and Bridgette. In recognition of Canada’s 150th anniversary, this year’s International Bridge bird names honor Canada’s first two men and first two women in space: Marc, Roberta, Steve, and Julie.

Karen Cleveland, a wildlife biologist with the DNR, said biologists try to band as many peregrine falcon chicks as they can at nest sites in Michigan. These color-coded metal bands stay on the falcons’ legs through their entire lives and give researchers a way to find out how long they live, where they travel, and whether they are able to raise chicks of their own.

“Michigan lost its peregrine falcons in the 1960s and 1970s due to the use of DDT and other environmental contaminants,” Cleveland said. “Since conservation efforts started in the mid-1980s, the number of peregrine nests has slowly increased. Now there are about 40 falcon pairs actively trying to nest statewide, with one to two new pairs discovered most years.”

The peregrine falcon has now been removed from the federal endangered species list, but is listed as an endangered species in Michigan, protected by state and federal law. Peregrines have adapted to city habitats, nesting on tall buildings, smokestacks and bridges around the world. Studies have found the birds in this region tend not to nest in the same area where they were hatched, but spread out across the Midwest.

“The restoration of peregrine falcons to Michigan has truly been the result of the work of the DNR with multiple other partners” Cleveland said. “Whether it’s MDOT providing nest boxes on their bridges or more traditional conservation groups, like the National Park Service or Michigan Nature Association, protecting nesting sites on cliffs and ledges, their efforts have helped this species succeed.”

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Green tip mystery

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Mysteries in nature niches are always present to please and challenge us. An article in one of the papers where my column appears suggested a mystery “Ranger Steve” might try to solve. Fortunately, I had already worked on it about 30 years ago.

A recent article from the Howard Christensen Nature Center posed a question about the green mystery in the Red Pine Alley forest where the ground is covered with green bough tips that accumulate during the winter. I have not contacted HCNC to clarify the location yet but I think they meant to describe the green on the floor of the “enchanted forest.”

During the 20 years I was director at HCNC, I noticed branch tips from Norway Spruce accumulated all winter on the forest floor. The spruce forest next to Red Pine Alley is known as the “Enchanted Forest” and that is where the green on the forest floor increases all winter. Perhaps something similar occurs in Red Pine Alley.

The enchanted forest has canopy openings that allow sunbeams to light carpets of moss. The scattered carpets appear as electrified green glowing ground cover. Enchanting carpet glow provides its own mysterious experience for all that walk the forest on Nature’s Habitats Trail. I think the trail has been rerouted to circumvent the enchanted forest since I left but we can still peer into the forest.

Walk into the enchanted forest repeatedly from fall to spring to notice the growing number of branch tips on the ground. Trees self-prune branches that do not produce more food energy than they consume. Lower branches that do not receive adequate sunlight to produce abundant sugar are sealed off by the tree and die. Trees spend energy producing new growth on sun-exposed branches, where needles can produce more sugar than they consume. For some mysterious reason those sun-exposed branches are the ones shed in winter.

Branches from the tree trunk produce tip buds that increase their length. Lateral buds grow side branches from trunk branches. Buds formed in the summer have embryonic tissue ready to expand branch length and width when spring arrives. Waiting all winter encased by protective bud scales, the highly nutritious bud tissue is ready for spring’s burst of growth.

It took me a few years to discover why the forest floor was covered with spruce branch tips. At first the mystery made no sense for trees to shed branch tips exposed to sun. It would not benefit the tree to lose new growth buds that provide the best sunlight exposure. Self-pruning occurs at the base of branches closest to the trunk where sunlight is more limited.

Why were branch tips being shed? During summer, red squirrels find choice insects, bird eggs and other food to sustain themselves. When winter arrives, food is not abundant. Red squirrels hungry for winter nutrition eat the buds along the sides of branches. In the process, they sever branch tips that fall. All winter branch tips increasingly accumulate and cover the understory. They cannot produce roots or grow new trees. The tips decay and add nutrients to the soil.

The squirrel pruning process is like us cutting branch tips that make the trees and shrubs grow more compact and thick with branches. We do this on ornamental plants and Christmas trees to provide aesthetic appeal. Squirrels do for their own nutritional benefit and not to shape tree growth.

Discover and solve mysteries awaiting your outdoor experiences.

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

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Wildlife shot of the week

Ron Parker, of Courtland Township, sent us some great photos of one of their many chipmunks trying to get sunflower seeds out of one of their feeders. This cute little guy worked hard for them, and deserves all the sunflower seeds he can get!

Thanks, Ron, for sending us your photos!

Do you have a wildlife photo(s) you’d like to send us? Email them to news@cedarspringspost.com, and include your contact info and some information about the photo.

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Saginaw County man sentenced in illegal deer baiting case

Sugar beets are shown spread over a field where illegal baiting took place in November 2016.

A Saginaw County man was fined heavily, ordered to serve jail time, probation, and community service, and had his hunting privileges revoked when he was sentenced recently for deer hunting violations he committed during the fall 2016 firearm deer hunting season. Dexter James Sysak, 40, of Merrill, Michigan, was convicted by a District Court jury in April of multiple hunting violations, dating back to Nov. 29. He was sentenced June 21.

“Sysak had taken a dump truck of sugar beets and two dump trailers of corn and placed them on his hunting property,” said Michigan Conservation Officer Joseph Myers, who investigated the case. “The actual measure of bait was impossible to count but was estimated at two-and-a-half tons.”

Myers said conservation officers were alerted to a complaint of over use of bait via an anonymous tip to the DNR Report All Poaching hotline (800-292-7800) on Nov. 27.

The following day, officers went to the area, which turned out to be an old golf course—property owned by Sysak near the Gratiot-Saginaw county line. Myers said he found access to the site using a county road easement.

“I saw a hunting blind on the right and I could see an orange object through the trees,” Myers said. “It was a grain trailer full of corn with the door broken off and about 100 gallons of corn on the ground.”

Corn was spread over a wide area. Myers said he kicked a hard object while walking, which was a sugar beet.

“There was a 150-yard cobblestone road of sugar beets making a J-shape around the blind,” Myers said. “It looked like an individual had drove onto the property and just dumped the sugar beets out of a truck.”

With no name on the blind and no one at the site, Myers didn’t know who owned the land or the property. He decided to return the next day, Nov. 29.

“There was a truck parked there. I walked up to the blind and there were four individuals in the blind,” Myers said.

Myers said he saw Sysak pick up a hunter orange vest as Myers approached the blind.

After interviewing Sysak, Myers determined the bait, far in excessive of the 2-gallon limit, had been in the area for some time.

“Sysak also admitted to me that he had taken a 9-point buck over the illegal bait, making it an illegal deer,” Myers said. “I seized evidence and cited the suspect.”

Myers said Sysak showed him the gun he used and where he shot the deer from. He also told Myers which meat processor the deer had been taken to—a place just a couple miles down the road.

Myers contacted the processor and recovered the deer meat and antlers.

Sysak pleaded not guilty.

A jury trial was held April 28 in District Court 65B in Ithaca in Gratiot County, where Sysak was found guilty by the panel of six jurors on all three charges against him. Those misdemeanors included an over limit of bait, failing to wear hunter orange and taking a deer by an illegal method.

Myers said Sysak admitted the facts necessary to prove the case during his testimony at trial. He also admitted he had rented a dump truck to place the bait on the property.

Sysak was sentenced June 21 to serve 45 days in jail, fined roughly $15,000, including $6,500 reimbursement for the deer and ordered to serve 90 hours of community service to the DNR once his jail sentence is served. He was banned from all DNR activities during his 2-year probation term. All sport license privileges were revoked through 2022.

The meat from the deer will be given to needy families in the community.

There were extensive terms set for Sysak’s probation. If any of those terms are violated, it will be grounds for Sysak serving up to 1 year in jail and potential lifetime revoking of his hunting license privileges.

Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned state peace officers that 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.

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Dust baths

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The drama outside our window provides unending fascination. Deer blinds are primarily used during hunting season but consider sitting in a blind throughout the year. My friends are more patient when it comes to blind use for observing nature niches.

My friend, Don Wollander, would spend the day in a wildlife blind, with camera focused on a bird nest. He captured outstanding photographs and was rated the number one in world nature competition 13 of 14 years. People find countless ways to enjoy the natural world.

Using our home as a blind, we see things we would miss when walking natural areas. When traveling outdoors, we witness things like a deer chasing a coyote recently described in my column. If you missed it search on line at the Cedar Spring Post (www.cedarspringspost.com) where niche articles are archived. Another time a young fawn saw me standing still and approached, touched my knee with its nose before it thought, “You are not my mama!” and bounded off.

A turkey taking a dust bath. By Charles & Clint (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

From our home, we can view our backyard fire pit where we burn brush, roast hotdogs, and make “Some Mores.” Karen woke me to look out the bedroom window where there was a thick gray cloud in the still air over the fire pit. It was hard to see the turkey thrashing in the ash.

A wild turkey was taking a health improving dust bath. Frequently we find hollows in the sand along sanctuary trails where turkeys dry bathe. Dust bath sand is important for wild turkeys and fowl like chickens that are kept by people. The attuned nature observer will witness woodpeckers, robins, and other birds dust bathing. Water bird baths in the yard are good and get used but dry dust baths have special advantages.

Birds lie in bare sand and use wings to stir dry earth on themselves. They work the dirt into feathers. The turkey that discovered our powdered ash hit the jackpot. The fine powder works better than sand for suffocating external parasites likes lice, fleas, bedbugs, mites, ticks, and fly grubs. The dust helps clog spiracles that allow for parasite oxygen exchange. It is not 100 percent effective but neither is slapping mosquitoes for us.

The parasites might move to get away from the dust and the bird will more easily dislodge them from its body. Observe birds actively using their beak and legs to rid the body of parasites. Infested birds scratch and preen frequently. They exhibit broken or missing feathers. Do not confuse molting loss with parasite damage. When molting, they lose the same corresponding feather on both sides. Notice each wing is missing the same opposing feather during molting.

Someone with me tried to help a nestling that had a mosquito on its head. He reached to remove the mosquito. Five young Eastern Phoebes jumped from the nest. We gathered the birds and put them back in the nest. I held my hand over the young until they calmed. Slowly I removed my hand and the birds stayed. My hand was black with lice. Nests are havens for parasites. When birds fledge the nest, they can begin behavior to reduce blood-sucking parasites that cause anemia, weight loss and general ill health. Dust baths are important health aids.

The very fine ash so light it was suspended in air like a cloud was excellent for helping the bird. It penetrated the feathers and coated the skin like an insect repellant. We are not the only ones that use nature to our advantage.

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

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DNR celebrates herpetofauna during Michigan Wildlife Weekend 

 

This gray tree frog is just one of the many species of Michigan amphibians and reptiles to be celebrated during Michigan Wildlife Weekend. Photo by Jim Harding.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources will highlight herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians) during Michigan Wildlife Weekend (June 23-25), with three days of outdoor education programming in a handful of Michigan state parks. The family-friendly programs are free for campers and visitors.

This year’s program will feature pond and wetland hikes, animal identification programs and other interactive activities. Participants will learn about frogs, turtles, snakes, salamanders and other interesting creatures. The annual program features a different group of animals each year, while providing a fun and educational experience for the whole family.

Michigan Wildlife Weekend and many other programs are led by state park Explorer Guides and park interpreters who work in the park and present a variety of outdoor education opportunities in nearly 30 Michigan state parks. These enthusiastic, nature-minded folks lead hikes, activities and programming that shine a spotlight on each park’s unique resources.

To find nearby Michigan Wildlife Weekend programs, visit www.michigan.gov/natureprograms and look for Wildlife Weekend under Special Programs. To see all available Explorer programming throughout the summer, view the interactive map or alphabetical list of parks.

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Butterflies and citizen science

photos from West Michigan Butterfly Association’s website, http://www.graud.org/wmba.html

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Join on one or more fun citizen science outdoor field studies. Discover butterflies in a variety of local habitats with people knowledgeable in butterfly identification. It is a great way to learn some of the 170 species known to Michigan. Join with the West Michigan Butterfly Association for fun discovery.

Counts are sponsored by the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) and cost $3 for each participant. The money is sent to NABA to create a publication documenting butterfly abundance, distribution, and trends throughout North America. Scientists make use of citizen science data. Between 17 and 22 different counts are held in Michigan annually and you can contact Ranger Steve about other Michigan counts. Your help spotting butterflies is desired. Knowledge of butterflies is not required.

To find species and count numbers, we carpool to various sites in the designated count circle with a 15-mile diameter. Have a good time discovering in the outdoors, learn species identification, habitat associations, behavior, and nature niche needs. Participate for part of the day or stay all day.

Bring a bag lunch, plenty to drink, snacks, camera, and dress with lightweight long sleeves and pants to protect from biting insects or raspberry thorns. Some optional exploration is off trail.

Dates and meeting locations:

July 1, 2017 (Sat) 9:00 a.m. Allegan Butterfly Count – Allegan Co. 

Leader: Ranger Steve (Mueller) Meet at the Fennville Allegan State Game Area headquarters, 6013 118th Ave, Fennville. odybrook@chartermi.net

July 5, 2017 (Wed) 9:00 a.m. Newaygo County Butterfly Count – Newaygo Co. 

Leader: Ranger Steve (Mueller) Meeting at the Leppink’s grocery parking lot at the corner of M-82 & M-37 in Newaygo. odybrook@chartermi.net

July 8, 2017 (Sat) 9:00 a.m. Rogue River Butterfly Count – Kent Co.

Leader: Ranger Steve (Mueller) (Kent, Newaygo, Montcalm Counties) Meet at Howard Christensen Nature Center Welcome Center 16160 Red Pine Dr. Kent City. odybrook@chartermi.net

July 22, 2017 (Sat) 9:00 a.m. Greater Muskegon Butterfly Ct – Muskegon Co.

Leader: Dennis Dunlap Meet on Mill Iron Road north from M-46 (Apple Ave.) east of Muskegon.  Travel to the second set of power lines that cross the road north of MacArthur Road. dunlapmd@charter.net

Rain day alternates will be the next day. It is suggested to sign up with Ranger Steve so unexpected changes can be shared.

Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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