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Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Rogue River Butterfly Count

The Rogue River Butterfly Count was held on July 5, 2014 between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. There was a light breeze with good sunlight to stimulate butterfly activity, and the temperature warmed from 62 to 80 F. Thirty-two species with 239 individuals were seen. Review the species listing and number of each species seen. Consider joining us next year for a fun day and to develop your skills for identifying species in your neighborhood and yard. Consider contacting me to join the West Michigan Butterfly Association to explore butterfly nature niches. Our membership fee is $5.

 

Rogue River Butterfly Count Sightings

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail – 2

Spicebush Swallowtail – 3

Cabbage White – 10

Clouded Sulphur – 60

Orange Sulphur – 2

Acadian Hairstreak – 1

Banded Hairstreak – 6

Edward’s Hairstreak – 2

Coral Hairstreak – 7

Eastern Tailed blue – 4

Summer Azure – 3

Great Spangled Fritillary – 1

Greater Fritillary species – 4

Aphrodite Fritillary – 1

Baltimore Checkerspot – 2

Question Mark – 2

Eastern Comma – 2

Mourning Cloak – 7

American Lady – 3

Red-spotted Purple – 1

Northern Pearly Eye – 6

Eyed Brown – 1

Appalachian Brown – 4

Brown satyr species – 1

Little Wood Satyr – 15

Common Wood Nymph – 5

Monarch – 1

European Skipper – 51

Tawny-edged Skipper – 3

Little Glassywing – 3

Northern Broken Dash – 15

Delaware Skipper – 6

Hobomok Skipper – 1

Black Dash – 1

 

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

 

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Live On Friendly Terms

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

One of my early poems expresses thoughts I maintain today.

 

I cannot say I am educated

because I know plants

in the wild.  When I know

them on friendly terms, I

will not need to say I’m

educated for the wise will know

and others, well they won’t care. – October 13, 1974

 

When you encounter plants in your yard it is not necessary to know its name to appreciate its beauty or presence. It can help if you want help maintain healthy nature niches. Knowing the plants to remove so native species can thrive will better maintain soil health and species diversity.

Many non-native species crowd out native species that maintain soil health or help native animals survive. The exotic Emerald Ash Borer has cost Michigan’s economy ten of millions of dollars in economic loss in ten years and it continues to devastate ash tree populations. It is reducing moth, butterfly, bee, and many other insect populations that are important to birds for feeding young.

Knowing plants on friendly term suggests we take responsibility for our actions and cause no harm. A principal for doctors is to cause no harm. That is easier said than done. Medicines often cause harm but hopefully do more good than harm as they help us recover from variously ailments.

When we remove plants from the landscape to construct homes we do harm. How we manage the remaining yard can allow native plants to thrive. Those plants are better at supplying needs for native mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish, insect and other species than non-natives.

We can learn to live to with nature and in nature niches. Many of our activities work to separate us from nature and eliminate nature niches. Manicured lawns are non-native plants that preclude most native species from surviving.

We maintain some lawn around the house and have mowed trails through our Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary but most of the property and been allowed to revert to native nature niches to maintain healthy biodiversity. The mowed lawn looks nice and keeps mosquitoes away from the house so we can sit comfortably on the porch.

Beyond the lawn, the yard is bustling with birds feeding on insects in knee high wildflowers, shrubland, and forest. The yard is alive with sound, visual beauty, wild activity and enriches our lives and the lives of other species.

I have documented about 250 species of plants here with many more to be discovered. I have overlooked a Wafer-ash growing here that my friend Chip Francke noticed this week. It added a species to my list but it is also a food plant for the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly and probably other species.

Over 100 bird, 24 mammal, 11 herps, 51 butterfly species have been documented along many other species. Many creatures that share our yards and I think it wise for more of us transform part of our yards to wild nature niches.

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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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Isle Royale Discoveries

OUT-RangerSteveMuellerTime in nature niches has rewards. It allows our minds to free from daily pressures, provides healthy exercise, time with family and friends, and a chance to interact with nature.

When I leave work and home for wild places, it takes three days to stop thinking about work needs and tasks. Getting away from home allows freedom from projects waiting there.

Mogens Nielsen found a Northern Blue Butterfly at Isle Royale National Park but little was known about it besides it was the first known presence in Michigan. Another flew over the Wisconsin/Michigan border in Dickinson County. Later I discovered a healthy colony in Alger County while conducting rare plants studies in the Upper Peninsula with Dr. Tony Reznicek, from the University of Michigan Herbarium and Don Henson.

Tony suddenly called out, “Look what I found.” He discovered a plant species not documented for Michigan. It was dwarf bilberry in the blueberry family. I immediately called, “Look what I found.” I was focused on butterflies instead of plants and caught a Northern Blue Butterfly. I found a colony with many and this was the first known colony for Michigan.

The Michigan DNR immediately listed both plant and butterfly as Threatened Species and provided me a life history research grant to study the butterfly species. I later collected its larvae on the plant species Tony discovered. The newly known butterfly larvae use that plant as a food plant. We discovered two species with ecological nature niche connections on the same day.

My research took me to various locations where Don Henson found additional colonies of the plant. I was looking for more Northern Blue colonies. The research also took me to Isle Royale NP to where Mo had found the first Northern Blue in Michigan. I wrote an extensive report of my research for the DNR but the rest of this article is unrelated with other discoveries at Isle Royale.

The park provided me with a collecting permit to document new species in the park during my research on the Northern Blue. I discovered two butterflies species not documented for the park. They were the Common Wood Nymph and the Bog Copper.

Unfortunately, those specimens were set aside and forgotten until this year. I was reviewing my research journals and saw a note to myself stating “species to be listed later.” I quickly looked in my collection database and saw they were not listed there either. I went to my specimen collection and found them waiting to be processed. I called the national park to inform them of the long overdue discovery report. It has been 25 years but the species were still unknown for the park. Arrangements have been made to place them in the Michigan State University collection as scientific proof of presence at Isle Royale NP.

The park resource manager requested specific collection locations. I provided details. The park service cannot protect or understand the ecological nature niches without knowing the species that live there. The plants, mammal, bird, insect, and other species lists continue to grow. Geology, climate and air quality studies monitor the environment for comparison with our modified human communities. The data helps us understand things that degrade our health and living conditions so we can protect society’s health for present and future generations.

Most of us go to national parks to refresh our spirits, physical health and souls. Parks provide society with much more to help sustain our culture’s social, environmental, economic health.

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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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Natural ambiance & disperse parking

Entering natural areas should provide an ambiance for immersion in nature and things wild. From the moment one enters Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC), the design maintains a natural experience. The entrance off Red Pine Drive to the Welcome Center leads through the woods to dispersed parking.

Dispersed parking means a large parking area does not exist. Instead many small parking pads hold a few vehicles in several areas along the drive. A large area is mowed and kept open for times when more parking is infrequently needed.

By having dispersed parking, the area appears natural instead of having a large area sterile of life. The small parking pads allow water to filter into soil instead of running off pavement that would increase flooding during spring and wet periods.

Even with 40 vehicles, the area maintains its natural ambiance. A map on the wall at the Welcome Center allows visitors to orient to trails and shows how to reach the Red Pine Interpretive Center through woods. The walk leads passed Tadpole Pond. The design invites people to experience nature niche ambiance instead of being exposed to a human constructed building environment immediately.

The Design With Nature concept keeps HCNC’s focus on nature and the natural world. When one walks the path to the interpretive building, an ambiance of wild beauty entices ones spirit.

Not everyone is able to walk a few hundred feet. A handicap access drive north of the Welcome Center entrance allows people to access the building directly. This also allows for deliveries and staff parking.

We purchased an old farm field and old home north of the interpretive building. It allowed driving access through the north field on a two track to a team building initiatives course in the woods. We needed quick medical access and needed to use the two track for transporting activity materials. The home was removed with intent of using the open yard as a parking area. The fairly close proximity to the interpretive center would not destroy the natural ambiance surrounding the interpretive building.

Development focused on Design With Nature. When we constructed the Research Field Station facility off 20 Mile Road in 2002, we kept the parking a couple hundred feet from the building to maintain a sense of wildness and natural ambiance for people as they approached the building. The handicap access and delivery drive meandered through the woods avoiding a straight through view that would degrade the natural appearance.

Your yard can be designed with nature. We have been working with that goal at our Ody Brook home for 35 years. Recently a visitor told me a visit to Ody Brook is like going to a national park. That was a nice compliment indicating successful design with nature. A few acres can be a wonderful natural haven for wildlife, plants, and people. Even a small city lot can be designed with nature for a natural ambiance. Try it.

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.  

 

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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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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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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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Birding Without Ears

By Ranger Steve Mueller

An American Woodcock flew over my head this spring and landed 100 feet away. It began its courtship buzz-like pneet. I cupped my hands around my ears to listen. Meanwhile behind me, I heard a distant cow from the Phelps farm. When I turned, I realized the sound was from a woodcock 50 feet away. Many birders would think that is ridiculous. How could one confuse a woodcock and a cow?

I saw nighthawks return earlier than normal in spring 1975. Experts wanted to know if I was confusing woodcocks and nighthawks. This sounds ridiculous unless one knows the two sound similar. My identification was visual and correct.

Tracking bird sounds has become more challenging. As my hearing declines, I still hear birds and look in their direction but have discovered the sound to be closer than I thought. I needed to recalibrate sound to distance measurements. It also became difficult to triangulate the bird’s location. It’s like vision with one eye and not having depth perception.

It has been frustrating but sound never made much sense for me. I have always depended on vision for identification. At best I consider myself 80 percent proficient with sound identification and that is not adequate for documenting species.

High school and church junior choir directors both asked me to mouth singing in concerts. I sat at the piano to match notes but could not. Both directors said I was tone deaf. To sing in the school choir a C average was required. I had a B on written work and D on vocal work. The C average allowed me in concerts but I was asked not to sing.

Breeding bird surveyors stop for three minutes, identify birds by song and move to another location. Its great for covering considerable territory in limited time. That is not where my abilities can contribute. It also is not how I enjoy birding. I prefer watching birds, their behavior, and associating them with habitats. I’m too antsy to sit in observation blinds like photographers or hunters. I miss details they observe.

I could learn more if I observed with the patience of a photographer in a blind. There is a place for different kinds of observers. I seldom bird watch with others so I have not improved auditory skills well. Many improve listening skills with bird tapes. I don’t. When listening to songs in nature, I often do not locate the bird and leave without associating song and bird.

I first discovered the wonder and beauty of bird song as a teenager. A particular bird species became a favorite when I heard it on an annual fishing trip with my brother. We camped, fished, and explored nature niches. It was ten years before I discovered it was a Veery making that most wonderful song. The bird remains a favorite.

Nature education has been by fumbling my way in wild places with limited direction or help. I must qualify that statement. I worked on a field biology degree in college where instructors honed my skills and provided direction. However it was personal time in the field developing skills that allowed me to become a knowledgeable naturalist. I never learned to make sense of sound and it remains a mystery. I love music and bird songs. Perhaps that is because it makes no sense. It is a wonderful mystery. Knowing the maker would be nice. It is great for those able to recognize bird songs.

Empathize with those of us with little sound intelligence or those that lost the physical ability to hear a broad range of sound. I retain sound range but must reduce the distance by 50% or more to hear what younger ears are catching. I seldom know the names of music groups or bird songsters but I love their music. I simply marvel and enjoy the music without understanding or knowing the maker. Having low sound intelligence does not equate with lack of appreciation. Others like me marvel at bird sound with pleasure but little understanding.

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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Vernal Ponds

 

Rich vital habitats known as vernal ponds, burst with music during spring in neighborhoods. Vernal ponds are temporary but contain water into summer. Most lose standing water during the summer months but might keep shallow pools. They are vital habitats for frogs and salamanders because their drying prevents fish survival.

Fish eat eggs and tadpoles in permanent water reducing amphibian survival. Ephemeral ponds contain water long enough for the tadpoles to transform to adult air breathing individuals. Once grown, they leave the pools and return to reproduce in subsequent springs.

In essence, life springs from temporary spring ponds. Frogs and salamanders move to woodland habitats and wild residential yards to feast on insects and worms. In summer, my daughter found daily roosts for Gray Tree Frogs in nooks at corners of the house siding. At night they come out to feed. American Toads dig holes in the garden under footpath stones or rocks for daytime hiding. At night they sits like a stone statues waiting for insects or worms.

The first songs of spring come from Wood Frogs that are an obligate vernal pond species. That means they cannot survive without temporary ponds. Their singing starts when some ice remains. Loud and abundant songs come from Spring Peepers and Western Chorus Frogs during April and May. These tiny frogs have bodies the size of an adult’s thumbnail. When you walk by a pond, they quiet but if you stop and sit a few minutes the choral group resumes its serenade. First one brave individual starts and quickly others join.

Egg masses are laid and males fertilize them. Eggs develop in two to three weeks depending on temperature and tadpoles hatch. They breathe with gills while feeding on plant material. Tails absorb and disappear as legs grow. By the time the pond is drying, breathing transforms from external gills to internal lungs. They also breathe through a thin moist skin that must stay moist to function.

When the frogs leave the ponds to take up summer residence in forest and shrublands, they usually stay within 700 hundred feet of breeding pools. Having many small vernal ponds throughout the woodlands is important. Temporary ponds frequently get filled during construction of housing developments. If you are fortunate, you might have a vernal pond near you.

A neighbor advertised he wanted free clean fill for a vernal pond on his property. Contractors looking to dispose of material obliged and after several years filled this pond. The owner now has high dry ground posted for sale. It is temping to destroy nature niches to increase family income. I encourage people to value the lives and the benefits provided by wild neighbors by allowing their home to exist.

Allowing wild places in your yard is a way for nature to thrive among our growing human urban/suburban population land development. Nature’s life forms are a gift trying to share living space with us. We can be stewards of the natural world by allowing life’s places to abound.

Many wildlife species depend on amphibians. Even if you do not see frogs, they are important members of the food chain. I appreciate frogs for song, as agents of natural insect control, and appreciate they share our residence. Sparingly use fertilizers and pesticides. A well-manicured garden and lawn looks beautiful but usually spells death to most life. I prefer abundance of life instead of a picture perfect yard. Organizations schedule outings to Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary to experience life where over 100 bird species, 24 mammal species, 11 amphibians, and 51 butterfly species enrich our lives. We’ve documented about 250 plant species. A trout fisherman was hopeful at creek side recently.

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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