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Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Grand Rapids Audubon Club’s Ranger Steve (Mueller)Presenting: Wilderness — Unique Treasure

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Date: Monday, January 31, 2022

Time: 7:00 PM social; 7:30 PM program

Location: John Donnelly Conference Center, Aquinas College, 157 Woodward Lane SE (between Fulton Street and Robinson Road) Parking is available in Lots “S” and “T” off Woodward Ln.
The Center entrance is on the north side of the building.
OR virtually via ZOOM (see instructions below)

Based on the writing of Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, the importance and values for protecting wilderness remnants for recreation, science, and wildlife will be illustrated with pictures of one of Americas most unique and fragile, ecosystems. The life and majesty of American Red Rock Wilderness of Southern Utah will be visited through prose and poetry by well-known authors and will include original poetry by Ranger Steve. The region supports California Condors, Peregrine Falcons, Lazuli buntings, and a rich biodiversity including the rare Nokomis Fritillary. The program weaves science, emotion, and reason to support the American Red Rock Wilderness Act before Congress. The program will touch mind, body, and soul.

People will have the option of attending in person at the Donnelly Center or joining the meeting virtually via ZOOM. Those who choose to attend in person, please follow the COVID-19 protocols listed below. There will be no refreshments served before the meeting. To attend via Zoom, follow the directions below. For those unable to attend, a YouTube video of the meeting is usually available on the GRAC website the day following the meeting.

Details for using the Zoom meeting option below.

Step #1: Go to https://tinyurl.com/mrf2u2dn

Step #2: Enter meeting ID: 853 0438 0380

Step #3: Enter passcode: 962909

Meeting Requirements

We will be holding our in-person membership meetings at the Donnelly Center on the Aquinas College campus with the following protocols.

(1) Regardless of vaccination status attendees will be required to properly wear a mask covering the nose and mouth while indoors.

(2) Social distancing is required for all members outside a personal household. This applies regardless of vaccination status.

(3) Attendees will be asked to provide name and contact information in the event contact tracing is required.

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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Accumulating snow

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve

A fresh accumulating snow is exciting. Duzi, our dog, had great fun chasing snowflakes as they fell. When was the last time you caught snowflakes with your outstretched tongue? 

If only the snow would avoid falling on the roads and sidewalks. Shoveling is enjoyable when the snow is light and fluffy. The heavy wet snows make it a chore. 

How animals enjoy the snow is a mystery, but the snow is used in many ways. Rodents like deer mice and meadow voles burrow under the snow in a long series of tunnels. Weasels with long sleek bodies follow the tunnels making it easier to find a juicy warm meal. Short-tailed shrews are omnivores that eat a great variety of plant and animal matter. Moles continue to burrow underground throughout the winter. When spring arrives, we discover where they pushed soft dirt from tunnels. Most people do not appreciate dirt piles in the lawn.

The good news is that moles churn and aerate the topsoil making it healthier for plant root growth and water absorption. 

Hunting becomes more challenging for Red-tailed hawks because many prey species stay beneath snow cover. 

Reproduction continues throughout the winter for species like mice, shrews, and rabbits. This improves predator feeding opportunities. 

Some animals like chipmunks stay in burrows during the coldest weather where they have stored seeds to eat during lean times. Gray and Fox squirrels remain active in trees and are seen on top of snow or in trees even in the hardest of times. 

If the year has been a good acorn production year, squirrels have buried many acorns that will be dug up and eaten. It is not completely clear whether they remember where they buried seeds, but I think much of the retrieval depends on their sense of smell. Where the excessive exotic gypsy moth caterpillar population defoliated vegetation, trees use stored energy to produce a new set of leaves instead of producing acorns. Most of the trees will survive the foliage devastation but animals depending on acorns will experience greater starvation. This includes many insects and birds that feed on oak feeding insects.

During the recent snows that were not deep, we followed rabbit, squirrel, mice, vole, fox, and cat tracks. I do not appreciate cats exploring Ody Brook and killing wildlife. I like cats provided they are kept as indoor pets. Outdoor cats stalk bird feeders and wild areas killing birds and mammals. We find scattered feathers at kill sites. 

Many animals serve as winter food for a variety of predators. It is a joy to see hawks like the Cooper’s and Red-tailed hunting the neighborhood. They have an important nature niche to fill. Lately we have been hearing a Great Horned Owl hooting at 5 a.m. Owls help prevent rabbits from girdling shrubs and young trees.

At 3 a.m., I let Duzi out for a potty break and heard a wonderful chorus of coyotes yapping to each other under a nearly full moon in accumulating snow. There is living space and food for prey and predators in healthy habitats. 

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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Vision for the Future

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

An exciting year awaits for aiding plant and animal nature niches. Every year is a new beginning with hopes for keeping New Year’s resolutions. Most are not kept. Our nature niche can be to enhance living conditions for yourself and others with whom we share “creation care.” Species have unique responsibilities that they know nothing about. They simply go about their essential work without a conscious plan.

We are different. Our abilities allow making decisions to redirect the future toward a sustainable economic, social, and environmentally healthy planet. Many people go about living without a creation care vision as a core value for present and future life. I heard it said, many of us have something the “materially rich” do not have. We have “enough.” Living conservatively within our means is an essential attribute to support the greatest variety of species for abundant biodiversity. 

One aspect I have commented on occasionally is species overabundance. Recently, I described the harmful effects of the oak wilt fungus and emerald ash borer beetles that have caused damage in ecosystems. Any species that becomes excessively abundant destroys conditions for healthy habitats and impairs a rich future. 

I will not belabor the point, but humans have become too abundant and are damaging prospects for a healthy future for our own and coming generations and for other species. There are acceptable and unacceptable methods for limiting our abundance. A good way to bring our population into balance with resource availability is to have no more than two children and wait to start a family until we are about 30 years old. This can reduce our population by about 40 percent in a century. That is a relatively quick fix.

Another important action in the new year is to slow habitat loss by sharing small or large yards with other species. Research shows there has been a continuous wild species decline in population numbers during the past century as well as massive species extinctions. The rate of decline is accelerating. Studies usually do not indicate the role of human population abundance in the discussion, because it is an unsavory “hot” point.

Science magazine reported an average butterfly population decline of 1.6 percent per year over 40 years. Other insect mass has declined by 2.5% per year with bird populations declining by 29 percent in 50 years. The Christmas bird counts are the longest existing community science program documenting bird populations. Bird counts are fun and allow people to learn about species sharing habitats. The backyard bird count is another easy activity done without leaving home. 

Previously, I shared how snowplows were used to remove mayflies on bridges that caused slippery roads when my mother was a child in the 1920s. Reduced aquatic insect populations impacts fish abundance, stream health, lowers water quality, and nutrient recycling. More nutrient runoff increases pollution and bacterial growth.

The vision we take for future decades can reverse the trend of species loss and wild population declines while enriching living conditions, food, and enjoyment for our own species. Whether people are narrowly human-focused or creation care-focused, both have a common goal for a sustainable planet. 

Plan to reduce sterile lawn habitat by allowing native plant species to populate portions of your home site. This is among the best methods for creation care. Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

You are the hope for the future. It requires vision to allow portions of your yard to live wild and full of abundant life. Instead of a New Year’s resolution to save the planet, allow species adapted to the local environment to thrive in your yard. Enhance life by encouraging native species. Do not make it harder than necessary. Allow native species to enchant your family’s life with beauty, joy, and health and pass on a future vision for those coming after us. 

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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Wonder of it all

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

A joy of the season is knowing I share the wonder for the world around us. It is a great pleasure that readers find it worth their time and discover topics of interest. One friend asked how I come up with ideas? The natural world has an endless magnificence awaiting discovery. That is the wonder of it all.

The challenge is to interpret nature niche information in a manner that connects reader experiences and encourages meaningful interactions with things wild and natural. It is easy to walk by the most amazing occurrences and never notice. I do it daily. When walking through the woods, my mind drifts to details for completing a successful day of life. Instead, I should concentrate on the surrounding wonders. 

Food, warmth, and rest are required. As important are the wonders that abound that will be missed when we do not apply effort to enjoy. I received letters of support and appreciation for sharing in my article “Time for Thanksgiving.” My attempt is to reveal myself openly. We each have joy and sadness. When we bring a little joy into the world for others, we are successful. 

I thank you for giving me reason to continue. The shape and texture of a tree’s buds might seem trivial, but it is of vital importance for successful emergence of new spring growth. Bird songs could simply be music to our ears, but they are life and death territory maintenance for rearing a new fledgling generation. Pollinating insects are fascinating to watch at garden blooms, but without them plant reproduction would fail. 

During the holiday season, go beyond the wonder of it all. I started a new clinical trial treatment for cancer, but oncologists have mostly exhausted options. After one week of treatment, my declining health prevented the next treatment. Now we wait to see if we can proceed to the following week. Such is life but I will keep enjoying the wonder as long as possible. 

I commented in the Thanksgiving Day article that it might be difficult to survive year 2022. I am thankful that I have successfully survived almost 24 years since diagnosis. What a wonderful, unexpected joy it has been. Now at 71, I seem young, but my body says otherwise. Some people get old young and others live long and get old old. 

During my journey exploring nature, I have lived fully. My library has slowly expanded and enriched my life. It is now time to pass on volumes to others wishing to sit fireside and learn the wonders held between book covers. I posted notice to several organizations that my mortal time is ending, and I want to pass on materials to those who will find them useful. Many have already been requested. Please consider a visit to Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary to find treasures on my bookshelves. Donations to perpetuate the sanctuary will be appreciated. 

I acquired several copies of Michigan Butterflies and Skippers that I give to volunteer helpers. Volunteers are always appreciated for work I can no longer do, and the book is given as a thank you. It will be nice to pass on more books. People can call and stop by to get one without volunteering for a bargain donation of $20. 

Some of my library is ready to be given now but some books will be held while I am still able to use them. It is a joy for me pass on items with the knowledge that they will be used and appreciated. 

Wonder comes through eyes, ears, nose, taste, and touch. When entering the brain, it becomes a matter of heart. Until it becomes a matter of the heart, it is of little value. Time outdoors is essential, and books aid successful exploration. Take time to appreciate the wonder of it all. 

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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Grow your own Christmas trees

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

When I was child, it was an exciting and major event when our family selected a Christmas tree. We had a favorite seller we visited each year and searched a large selection of pre-cut trees. It had to be the right height, breadth, fullness, and not too large a trunk base so it would fit into the iron tree stand my grandpa welded. 

Our family event allowed everyone a say. My mother wanted to make sure it was not too full so the ornaments would have room to hang. Dad didn’t want it so broad that it crowded us out of the room. I wanted lots of room underneath for gifts. My wife recently asked if we fought over the final selection. I do not recall unpleasant conversation. We negotiated and found one accepted by all. Now we cut a tree with our 4-year-old grandson.

After I grew and started a family with Karen at Ody Brook, we began a different tradition. We planted several Scotch pine trees in an open sunny area to care and nurse with good husbandry. It was about 7 years before any were ready for harvest. During the intervening years, we bought trees from a neighborhood tree seller. 

While the trees were growing, the tree cluster served as part of a nature niche for itself and other creatures. Mice and rabbit tracks showed evidence the trees provided shelter. Feeding damaged by sawflies killed some branches and created gaps among the branches suitable for larger ornaments. 

Sawflies are not flies but they look fly-like. They are in the Hymenoptera Wasp Order with four wings instead of the Diptera Fly Order with two wings. As larvae, they resemble butterfly and moth caterpillars from the Lepidoptera Order. The adult sawfly lays eggs in mass so when hatched, they feed and devour all the needles on a branch. Rather than use pesticides to prevent damage, we picked the larvae off the tree by hand before significant damage occurred and placed them on a large ant hill as a free lunch for ants. 

In summer that work became my youngest daughter’s when she was about 5 years old. During the years when the girls and trees were growing and being cultivated, the girls learned good natural resource stewardship. Most of Ody Brook remains wild for native plants and animals but portions serve personal use. 

Wild species besides rabbits, mice, and sawflies used the growing trees. Chipping Sparrows, American Robins, and Northern Cardinals chose to construct hidden nests among the thick branches. Deciduous tree embryonic leaves do not expand from buds by the time birds weave spring rearing chambers for young. 

For 7 to 10 years the trees are important for wildlife shelter and food. To insure we had a sustainable harvest, I required we plant two seedlings annually so we could harvest one each Thanksgiving weekend. If all survived, we could harvest two for different locations in the house or give one away. 

The fresh cut tree would be decorated and last indoors until the new year. Then the tree still offered years of service after the holiday season. We placed it near a bird feeder to provide winter cover and protection for birds. I do not know if birds appreciated our efforts, but they used the tree for the remainder of the winter. 

When springs arrived, we cut the limbs from the tree and placed them on one of the brush piles as a slowly decaying roof that helped stop rain infiltration. Rabbits used the ground level maze among brush pile logs and birds used upper openings. The Christmas tree trunk was cut to sections and used for family backyard campfires where some-mores were made.

The annual tree ritual serves wildlife for about 20 years and provides us pleasure with family bonding. It helped our girls learn about sustainable harvest. Scotch pines are unsightly when allowed to become large. They are a non-native species that competes with native trees. Scotch pine stands are relatively sterile habitat for wildlife when compared with native tree stands. I recommend harvesting them while they are still small trees. Enjoy nature related holiday traditions that build family relationships.

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.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Grow your own Christmas trees

When I was child, it was an exciting and major event when our family selected a Christmas tree. We had a favorite seller we visited each year and searched a large selection of pre-cut trees. It had to be the right height, breadth, fullness, and not too large a trunk base so it would fit into the iron tree stand my grandpa welded. 

Our family event allowed everyone a say. My mother wanted to make sure it was not too full so the ornaments would have room to hang. Dad didn’t want it so broad that it crowded us out of the room. I wanted lots of room underneath for gifts. My wife recently asked if we fought over the final selection. I do not recall unpleasant conversation. We negotiated and found one accepted by all. Now we cut a tree with our 4-year-old grandson.

After I grew and started a family with Karen at Ody Brook, we began a different tradition. We planted several Scotch pine trees in an open sunny area to care and nurse with good husbandry. It was about 7 years before any were ready for harvest. During the intervening years, we bought trees from a neighborhood tree seller. 

While the trees were growing, the tree cluster served as part of a nature niche for itself and other creatures. Mice and rabbit tracks showed evidence the trees provided shelter. Feeding damaged by sawflies killed some branches and created gaps among the branches suitable for larger ornaments. 

Sawflies are not flies but they look fly-like. They are in the Hymenoptera Wasp Order with four wings instead of the Diptera Fly Order with two wings. As larvae, they resemble butterfly and moth caterpillars from the Lepidoptera Order. The adult sawfly lays eggs in mass so when hatched, they feed and devour all the needles on a branch. Rather than use pesticides to prevent damage, we picked the larvae off the tree by hand before significant damage occurred and placed them on a large ant hill as a free lunch for ants. 

In summer that work became my youngest daughter’s when she was about 5 years old. During the years when the girls and trees were growing and being cultivated, the girls learned good natural resource stewardship. Most of Ody Brook remains wild for native plants and animals but portions serve personal use. 

Wild species besides rabbits, mice, and sawflies used the growing trees. Chipping Sparrows, American Robins, and Northern Cardinals chose to construct hidden nests among the thick branches. Deciduous tree embryonic leaves do not expand from buds by the time birds weave spring rearing chambers for young. 

For 7 to 10 years the trees are important for wildlife shelter and food. To insure we had a sustainable harvest, I required we plant two seedlings annually so we could harvest one each Thanksgiving weekend. If all survived, we could harvest two for different locations in the house or give one away. 

The fresh cut tree would be decorated and last indoors until the new year. Then the tree still offered years of service after the holiday season. We placed it near a bird feeder to provide winter cover and protection for birds. I do not know if birds appreciated our efforts, but they used the tree for the remainder of the winter. 

When springs arrived, we cut the limbs from the tree and placed them on one of the brush piles as a slowly decaying roof that helped stop rain infiltration. Rabbits used the ground level maze among brush pile logs and birds used upper openings. The Christmas tree trunk was cut to sections and used for family backyard campfires where some-mores were made.

The annual tree ritual serves wildlife for about 20 years and provides us pleasure with family bonding. It helped our girls learn about sustainable harvest. Scotch pines are unsightly when allowed to become large. They are a non-native species that competes with native trees. Scotch pine stands are relatively sterile habitat for wildlife when compared with native tree stands. I recommend harvesting them while they are still small trees. Enjoy nature related holiday traditions that build family relationships.

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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Oak Wilt Prevention

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Winter is a time of reprieve from the spread of oak wilt pandemic disease until April. In the spring and summer simple efforts will slow the spread of the illness. Oak wilt is caused by the fungus Ceratocystis fagacearum transferred across the ocean. It is spreading through oak forests by different methods and killing whole stands of trees. Things we can do to save our “sturdy oak” neighbors is to avoid limb pruning from April through July. 

Limb pruning creates wound openings where beetles can gain access to the inner bark. The beetles themselves will not cause life-threatening illness to the tree. Woodpeckers and various insect predators help control the native beetles. The foreign oak wilt fungus that gets on the beetle bodies from infected trees gets carried to other trees. Native oaks do not have adequate immunity protection for the new foreign disease. 

We can help protect trees by not moving oak wood, such as firewood, to different areas. That will slow the spread. When planting oaks, it is good to plant them in isolation or with different tree species. The reason is underground oak roots overlap with roots of other oaks and the roots fuse together allowing sap to flow from tree to tree through a process called root grafting. This allows the disease to spread from oak-to-oak underground and can kill an entire forest.

Many of us are familiar with the process of grafting branches of tasty apple varieties to other apple trees to grow choice apples. Several different apple varieties can be grown on one tree by grafting. 

When the oak wilt is spread underground by root grafting, it is necessary to bulldoze around infected forest stands to stop the disease spread by severing root connections. This is an expensive process. Preventing infection is the primary means that should be used to maintain a healthy forest and save tree friends. 

Loss of beautiful community forest stands that supply timber, oxygen, animal homes, bird nesting sites, gorgeous moths, and beauty is heartbreaking. The dying of a treasured old mature tree in our yard is the loss of a friend. Behaving in a manner that protects tree neighbors that share our yards and neighborhoods enriches our community and lives. House shading by a tree in summer saves air conditioning energy and money.

It is wise to hire an arborist to inject systemic propiconazole fungicide in a treasured tree to prevent symptoms for up to two years in healthy oaks that are not already infected. Booster shots will be needed. White oak trees with early infection can be helped and possibly saved by the vaccine injection but red oaks are less likely to recover. White oaks have better resistance to the disease than red oaks. Unfortunately, the fungicide treatment vaccine does not prevent movement of the fungus through oak roots to other trees.

Prevention of disease spread is key to maintaining healthy oak forest communities. It is best done by using the fungicide vaccine, not moving wood, no oak timber cutting in summer, and pruning at the correct time of year. 

It is logical to make the connection to other pandemics. Individual ash trees can be protected by vaccination from the exotic emerald ash borer, thought to have entered North America in shipping pallets shipped to Detroit. Pallets are now heat treated to kill foreign insects living in the wood. The economic damage is billions of dollars annually to human communities by emerald ash borers. The death of trees destroys nature niche habitat for massive numbers of species that depend on ash trees. Creation care is a religious responsibility for me. 

A logical human pandemic protection is to get vaccinated to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus. It can stop a process I refer to as legalized manslaughter. People carrying the disease can kill others and carriers will never know they killed people. It is known that unvaccinated people are likely to get seriously ill and are more likely to die. That is a choice, but I hope people protect others from legal manslaughter. My weak immune system caused by cancer has kept me home for a couple years to avoid getting infected by the unprotected. 

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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Bird Talk

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve

I hadn’t seen a Winter Wren in a few years. Two primary reasons are I am not exploring wild areas as often and secondly my hearing has declined. I do not hear their beautiful song unless they are singing close to me. 

Its song is one of my favorites with a long and vibrant warble. They reside in wetland thickets and nest mostly north of here. House Wrens are more familiar and are found at yard edge thickets. They occupy houses erected for bluebirds. Wrens hold their tails up making identification easier. All wrens species have melodious songs.

It is a special joy to encounter a bird I haven’t seen for a considerable time. As a casual birder, I do not see birds observed by avid bird watchers. Again, there are two primary reasons for me seeing fewer species. First is my casual effort and secondly, I seldom speak “bird talk.” What I mean by “bird talk” is that I do not regularly use bird song or call recordings to bring them into close view. 

Many birders competently identify them by recognizing songs and calls. I can recognize several, but most are a mystery to my ears. Unlike avid birders that can identify calls or songs, I do not. To list sightings, I usually require visual confirmation. 

Various Empidonax flycatcher species cannot be easily separated by appearance and require song or call identification. It is difficult for me to distinguish calls and drumming of Pileated Woodpeckers from Northern Flickers so I must see them. The calls of Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers are similar and confuse me. 

A solution that helps determine species is to play bird song or call recordings (bird talk). They will frequently come to see who from their species is talking in the area. The recording changes the bird’s normal behavior by stopping current activity to investigate. If the bird is feeding, it distracts it from eating. Many birds have protected spring breeding territories and guard feeding areas in winter. When they hear one of their own species in their territory, they come to chase it away. That takes energy and is stressful. 

For comparison, think of it like nuisance phone recordings we each receive daily. Today, I got four unwanted recorded calls. Yesterday three of seven were disturbances. Two came while I was napping. I do not want to turn the ringer off because I want desired calls. Four of the calls were from people I wanted to speak with. When awakened, I have difficulty getting back to sleep. My illness makes it difficult to sleep at night and it stresses me to be awakened by unwanted calls during daytime naps. Birds nap or rest midday and if a recording is played, they wake to investigate. When engaged in other activities, it interferes with normal behavior.

Playing calls in a bird’s territory might be a minor disturbance when it rarely occurs. At Ody Brook, we use tapes infrequently with friends to bring a bird into view or to confirm identification. That is fine because it only happens a few times a year and only once or twice for a given species.

Recently, at a popular birding location visited by many birders, a Winter Wren was reported. Because I have not seen one for a few years, my friend played the tape, and the bird quickly came into view. Since many people want to see this gorgeous and infrequently seen bird, they call it with “bird talk.” The result is like the excessive nuisance phone calls I receive. It is not in the bird’s best interest because of its frequency. It benefits us but can negatively impact bird survival by consuming fat energy reserves and exposing them to predators.

Another method for calling birds is to “pish.” That means making sound by blowing out through closed lips on the back of the hand or saying psst, psst, psst repeatedly. Many birds are intrigued and come to see what the noise is about. In places where it occurs infrequently, it is probably not a problem. In locations like bird sanctuaries, national parks, and local birding “hot spots,” the sound can cause undue stress when it happens often. I use both recorded calls and pishing, but I am selective for where and how often they are used. Limited use demonstrates respect for bird health and wellbeing. I encourage people to put bird welfare equal to their own. That is good birding ethics.

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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Time for Thanksgiving

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Last week a deer narrowly survived crossing the road at Ody Brook. It would not have survived if a driver did not swerve to miss it. The maneuver could have cost the driver’s life. She avoided the deer but hit the guard rail and buckled it for about 25 feet. We are advised not to avoid deer because it could kill us. Only her knee was slightly injured, and she can celebrate Thanksgiving. Her car was totaled. 

Three days later a deer was killed crossing the road. Each year in October/November at least one and usually more are hit and killed here. Deer know to hang out between the house and the road during fall. The county used to annually post a deer crossing sign in the fall by Little Cedar Creek so people would slow down. Being in a hurry, they choose to maintain speed. The county no longer erects the useless sign annually.

Wildlife accidental deaths are disheartening but it is most devastating when it’s a person we know. We contemplate the unthinkable horror and purchase insurance just in case it is a family member taken too soon. My dad said the end of the world comes to each of us individually when we die. Many are waiting for the end to come for all at once with the second coming. I agree with my dad that we each experience the end of the world individually. 

Scientists have figured out when the world will end with a fiery conclusion. The sun is about 4.5 billion years old. It will continue for another 4.5 billion years and likely a few more before burning out. Though stable now, it will transform into a red giant and later condense to a white dwarf. In the process of becoming a red giant, it will expand to engulf the Earth and vaporize the planet. 

Many organisms evolved, came, and went during the developmental 4.5 billion years. On Thanksgiving we can be thankful for the biodiversity that has developed to support us and enrich our lives. Human existence is a blip in Earth’s history. We have only been here a couple million years. Dinosaurs were present for about 175 million years with various dinosaur species living during that period. 

Two of my ministers viewed creation differently. One chose to believe creation happened in seven days and the other said most people did not read or write in early history, so bible authors explained creation in concrete understandable terms. The seven-day creation was not meant literally to explain creation. He explained it was to make a point that religion is about why and not designed to explain how. The development of science focused on how and not why. The two can support each other if we recognize one is about why we exist and the other is about how we came to be. 

Human behavior is not heeding the signs of global climate change caused by our excessive fossil fuel consumption during a couple centuries. It will likely bring about the demise of our species. Though the sun will engulf us in about 3 to 4 billion years, we will likely create our own destruction earlier if we do not practice creation care to slow human accelerated climate change. One helpful solution is to reduce carbon emissions. Half of Americans are not onboard with climate accord initiatives to help present and future generations.

Personally, my life is drawing to a close. I plead with everyone to take creation care seriously for our children’s children. When we act to protect the people that will be born 2000 years from now, we protect present people and living conditions for all life to thrive at the same time. I chose 2000 years because it has only been 2000 since Christ walked the Earth. That is a short time compared to Earth’s 4.5 billion years of existence. 

I am hopeful to live functionally much longer but it is becoming more challenging. I will write nature niche articles while able, manage Ody Brook, advise college interns, and continue research. My cancer is aggressively growing, and treatment options are few with severe side effects. My family has had tearful days recently. I decided this week not to choose hospice yet but will try another treatment. I am exhausted from treatments and the most recent in April failed. I am thankful for the extended years chemo afforded me. I am saddened by limitations, but this Thanksgiving will be full of thanks even if I do not see one in 2022. Be thankful.

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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Joys of Yard Clean Up

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

In early childhood, we “helped dad” with fall leaf clean up. Perhaps he did not consider us help, but he probably enjoyed our joy. We jumped in leaf piles and buried ourselves in leaves. My girls did similar antics. It brought happiness for all.

Hidden among the leaves are wonderful things to be discovered besides buried kids. This week we found a Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar. They are large and stretch up to 3 inches in length. The body is covered with black hairs but hidden under the bristles are red rings circling the body. The caterpillars survive winter as larvae because they contain protective antifreeze in their system. In short north country summers, they may require more than one season to mature and transform to an adult. 

When lucky, you might see the adult moth standing on a screen door under a porch light. They are observed infrequently as adults but when they are, it captures one’s attention. White wings are covered with black ring spots centered with white creating little o’s. They are the source for their appropriate name leopard. 

Common Wooly Bear caterpillars are spotted walking yards and driveways each fall. They are seeking places to hibernate. Sometimes they are uncovered when leaves are raked. The caterpillars wander neighborhoods in fall making grand appearances. They bodies are black with a rusty orange/brown band of stiff hairs in the middle section. The width of the band varies with age. As caterpillars outgrow their outer exoskeleton, it must be shed for a larger one. The outer “skin” splits and the caterpillar crawls out. The caterpillar expands its size by filling with air before the new soft skeleton hardens to allow room for growth. It is not rigid like the exoskeleton of adult insects but is leathery. Flexibility allows it to curl and bend when walking and feeding. 

People often think the width of the rusty orange band foretells future winter weather conditions. Instead, it indicates the age of the caterpillar. When they age and get a new outer exoskeleton it has a wider orange band. If the growing season is short, the caterpillar will be blacker because it has not molted as many times. 

After overwintering, it continues feeding on a variety of plants before making a cocoon where it transforms to an adult moth. This adult Isabella Tiger Moth has brown wings with a few black spots and a row of black dots on the upside of its abdomen. Like the Giant Leopard Moth, this caterpillar contains glycerol antifreeze allowing it to survive in its winter nature niche. 

Warm days continued into November pulling me to outdoor joys. Garter snakes were seduced by sunshine to locations where their dark bodies lined with lighter stripes blended among layered leaves. A bulky dark brown meadow vole with its short tail ran in front of me and disappeared in the dead vegetation that fell from now naked trees. Maybe it will survive into winter or be eaten by a garter snake, a Red-tailed Hawk, or Barred Owl. A grass ball-like shelter made by the vole might be found while you rake leaves. We leave portions of the yard leaf covered to provide multiple winter animal homes and for leaves to decay to fertilize the soil.

I walked from the yard for a colorful diversion and to rest from yard clean up. Physically, I tire more easily these days and want to simply experience fall colors resting peacefully on the ground instead of waving at me from tree limbs. A Mourning Cloak butterfly flitted nearby where it came into view more than once as I traversed the wooded trail. 

I returned to finish the joys of yard clean up that some might refer to as work. 

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

Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off on Joys of Yard Clean Up

Pandora Excitement

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The sight of a pandora moth is an exciting event. We live in the northern reaches of its range. Adam N. saw one of these sphinx moths perched at a local gas station. It most likely flew to lights at dusk where it remained motionless under bright lights. Adam was observant to notice this spectacular animal. They have a long proboscis used to probe deep into evening and night flowering plants for nectar. They mate and lay eggs that hatch to feed on grapes and Virginia creeper. They are colorful caterpillars and have a row of brilliant eye-like spots along their body. The eye spots have a black ring enclosing white, with a central dot like a pupal. A small horn projects at the caterpillar’s tail end. If you read this account Adam, please call me again. Somehow the number I recorded when you called to share was recorded incorrectly so I could not return your call. I would love to discuss your wonderful discovery. I appreciate hearing from readers and try to respond.

Pandora sphinx moth by Patrick Coin, CC BY-SA 2.5 Wikimedia Commons

Excitement is an everyday occurrence during fall. Each year we expect the front yard sugar maple to retain leaves until October 20th when they seem to drop almost overnight resulting in the tree becoming winter barren. This year as November arrived, the tree still held leaves. Trees tend to drop leaves on schedule, but that is modified by weather. The warmer than normal fall allowed trees to delay leaf shedding. 

Oaks keep the countryside green while other species change color. Most oaks become maroon before the leaves turn brown. Many oaks, especially young trees, hold dead leaves through winter. Sassafras leaves turn yellow early and gradually transform to red before dropping. They are trees that provide extra excitement by displaying different leaf shapes. Some look like a mitten with the thumb projecting to the right and others to the left like right- and left-hand mittens. Others have what appears to be two thumbs and some are oval with no thumbs. Excitement has small nuances of discovery on crisp fall walks.

Red Maples are among the showiest fall trees. They have an abundance of anthocyanin red pigment. Most sugar maples turn yellow instead with an abundance of xanthophyll pigment. A collage of colors blend making a beautiful forest mosaic as we wonder through stands of trees. Look down and pick up a red maple leaf and then find a sugar maple leaf. Compare the feel and texture of each. Red maple leaves are thin and papery. They have removed much of their substance and shipped nutrients to the roots. Sugar maple leaves are thick and leathery. They dropped nutrients with and in the leaves. Their fallen leaves rot and release nutrients to the soil where they will be gathered by minute root hairs when spring growth resumes. Each of the maples has its own nature niche method for nutrient retention. 

Recently, raindrops stood on fallen leaves to create a rainbow of colors when light refraction in the droplets separated light rays into individual colors as sun rays poked through clouds. On frosty mornings, glowing ice crystals brighten the chilly start to our day.

The excitement does not end with the setting sun. The fall harvest moon shines orange and appears larger than normal around the fall equinox. Do not fret because the late fall full moons continue to make evenings worth a stroll with a lover or friends. Engage fall’s seasonal excitement with the thrill of living among nature’s wonders.

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

Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off on Pandora Excitement

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