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Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

People are made of the environment

By Ranger Steve Mueller

One of the more profound statements I have written was on 19 Oct 1970 when I woke in the middle of the night, jumped from bed, and typed the following:

“People are made of the environment and are born into it; therefore, they cannot be divorced from it even by death.”

I have been ill this September and not up to writing a detailed nature niche article. I have spent much of each 24-hour period sleeping and unable to function effectively. Hopefully, productivity returns soon. In the meantime, contemplate the brevity of the statement and discover deep meaning.

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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Hollow bones and air pressure

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Many people have heard birds sense weather change before clouds, wind, or other obvious indicators. Some have heard birds perceive air pressure drop causing altered behavior. 

One indication reported is that bird feeders empty more rapidly before a storm. A family or school activity might document this by observing the length of time required between feeder filling when weather is stable or lowering. Experiment to determine if it is different when air pressure shifts. 

I described a personal experience a decade ago and it is time to revisit the topic. Repetition helps and many readers likely did not read my original account. Weather forecasters reported a new United States record low air pressure on Thursday, 28 October, 2010 and it impacted me physically. In retrospect I hypothesized what happened and now I empathize better with avian neighbors in my yard. 

The day before, I moved lightweight lawn chairs to the shed because hurricane force wind gusts were on the way due to rapid air pressure lowering. We were advised loose items could become projectiles. It only required lightweight lifting and it seemed within my capabilities. I had seven fractured vertebrae that occurred spontaneously from the cancer. I needed to be careful and cautious because of my porous deteriorating bones.

Thursday morning, I was experiencing severe low back pain in my sacrum. I wondered if I had fractured another bone moving chairs. Family members thought I should see the doctor because pain was obvious from my stooped posture and frequent face grimaces. 

The winds howled for two days and by Friday night I was feeling fine. I think high air pressure in my abnormally porous bones was forcing its way out to equalize air pressure associated with the big drop in air pressure outside my bones. The force exerted great pressure outward in the bone causing pain. Perhaps the pressure could even crack fragile bones. Pay attention to your bones during big air pressure changes.

Birds have hollow air-filled lightweight bones that permit easier lift for flight. The hard outer layer of bones, called the periosteum, does not easily permit quick air movement. I suspect when air pressure changes slightly or greatly, bird bones are more sensitive than mammal bones because of greater air space in bird bones. Air pressure equalizes and will be most noticeable when pressure is high inside bones and low outside. 

Compare this with pressure in your ears when going up or down mountain elevations. A pressure problem is not noticed when walking up or down 3000 feet because pressure equalizes slowly. Driving is different. We experience ear pain with rapid elevation and air pressure changes. It is worse when sinuses are congested and makes pressure equalization more difficult.  

Birds probably do not normally feel bone pain with small weather changes. When there is a rapid air pressure drop, it may likely be perceived with moderate ache sensation. I wonder if birds learn to associate bone ache with the coming of a storm and deliberately begin feeding or storing food more heavily. I have previously written about American Robins and Black-headed Grosbeaks having a rain song minutes before a strong weather front even though we perceive no apparent pressure difference. 

I am currently reading about bird brains and associated learned behaviors. No mention is made about air pressure changes in bones or how it might impact bird nature niche behavior. Normally air pressure changes gradually and should not create discomfort. I hypothesize it might bring about subtle anatomical sensations that might alter bird behavior consciously or subconsciously. 

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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Who would do that?

Ranger Steve

A woman drove up the drive and started to back out. I opened the door and motioned for her to return. She said she was looking for Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary but this is a private residence. I said yes on both accounts. 

“I am Ranger Steve, the sanctuary manager and ecologist that lives here. This is our private property where we allow visitors to experience nature.”

She said, “Who would do that with their private property?”

People post property with no trespassing or keep out signs. It means this is mine and others are not welcome. People have sound reasons because people might hunt without permission, dig up plants, or otherwise despoil the land instead of respecting the rights of plants, animals, and the human residents. 

As a young person, I decided to do good for others and share. People farm their property raising livestock and crops for a living. To support them we buy produce at the farmers market and the grocery instead of raising them here. Farmers make money from animal and plant crops to sustain families. It is my hope that each landowner will set aside at least ten percent of their property to sustain a natural healthy sustainable world. 

I do not think that is adequate so at Ody Brook we leave 80 to 90 percent of the land wild where we manage habitat diversity to support as many species as possible. Many people own property where they allow it to thrive naturally. Periodically they might harvest timber selectively to help pay property taxes. 

My naturalist career did not provide a large income but we were able to purchase 61 acres over the course of living here for 41 years by buying property from neighbors. My neighbor wanted me to protect and enhance nature by acquiring her floodplain that was not suitable for farming. She wanted to keep it until her death. In the last year of life, she needed money to live in a care facility and sold me land. Her tillable land and home were sold to others. She was pleased knowing I would be a good steward caring for the land. 

We lease seven acres for tilling, but the income does not cover the taxes. My pension and social security allows us to live simply to enhance biodiversity. College interns help manage the sanctuary to develop skills for employment advantage. High school students assist with habitat management labor to meet our mission of “biodiversity enhancement.” 

Non-curable multiple myeloma cancer was expected to take me years ago. I continue to survive to write this column, maintain the sanctuary, and share it with people, plants, and animals to promote a sustainable environment for present and future generations. Retirement investments were used to purchase the property. Pension and social security make it possible to live simply. Mostly staying home allows me a good life with my health limitations and I explore the sanctuary daily. I tire quickly and have benches along trails for resting.

We have not charged people to explore natural wonders. Donations and help are appreciated. Interpretive signs line trails. Fallen trees are removed from paths as are exotic plants that cause harm to native ecosystem species. 

Most people do not donate and it is not required for access. Some volunteer time with projects. As my health and abilities decline, it becomes more challenging to do the physical work. I have a 10-pound lifting limit because of brittle cancer bones and have experienced ten fractures. The cancer and chemo tire me and I need frequent naps. Being tired, weak, and brittle is no different from what other seniors experience. We all keep plugging along and doing our best to stay productive for the benefit of community members and family.

For me, being productive is helping enhance living conditions for plants and animals that share the property and being willing to allow people to come learn about nature’s biodiversity that sustains human life. That answers the question “who would open their private property to others?” I hope you will do that with your property and set aside at least 10 percent for native wild species survival. Donate to land conservancies, nature centers, and conservation organizations. It will help economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Be kind and giving. 

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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Trees down

Ranger Steve

Strong winds whipped trees to the breaking point throughout the Cedar Springs area a couple of weeks ago causing great damage. A power outage hit much of Cedar Springs, where homes were without electricity for 24 hours or longer. 

Tiny insects like the Harvester butterfly I recently wrote about survived. I saw one standing in its usual haunt on a following sunny day. At Ody Brook the top two thirds of a balsam fir in the yard was broken off. The tree was 30 feet tall. Now we wait to see if a branch will turn upward to replace the leader shoot. 

The tree was planted 35 years ago when the girls were young. We have pictures of them standing next to tree when they were taller than the tree and when Jenny was confirmed. We experience loss when any friend dies. I try to be a good friend to the species living and sharing Ody Brook. Though I have documented less than a thousand species here, I expect the number could reach a few thousand with the wonderful variety of insects. 

There were 10 locations with larger trees down across the trails that require chainsaw cutting to open the paths. Four have been cut but more work is needed. Our mission is biodiversity enhancement at the sanctuary but we open our property for others to discover and learn. Another article will address that. We have not charged for access, but donations are welcome for maintaining trails, signage and enhancing biodiversity.

Trees down on powerlines in Cedar Springs and in other communities is an immediate safety hazard and loss of power threatens cold food storage and, at certain times of the year, home warmth and pipes freezing. Trees on buildings might open roofs to weather elements and internal damage. Things could be worse. 

The current fires in California, Oregon, Washington, and other western states dwarf our problems. The high magnitude hurricanes coming off the Gulf of Mexico recently devastated communities to a greater extent. Of course, we focus on our own local problems, but we should recognize we are generating global problems through Anthropocene behavior. Rapid consumption of fossil fuels by humans is causing climate change. It is causing self-induced problems, financial expense, and loss of lives and livelihoods for people and wildlife.

We can live like ostriches with our heads buried in the sand or run around like Chicken Little screaming “the sky is falling.” Neither is wise but we must acknowledge human generated problems and take action to resolve them. Pulling out of the world climate accord and ignoring the problem is an ostrich head in the sand behavior that requires us to demand immediate change. 

Changing from fossil energy fuels to alternative solar and wind energy is a reasoned moderation with positive direction for present and future generations of people, wildlife and plant community nature niches. It will provide increased employment, improve the economy, and stabilize community social wellbeing. It will require a change in attitude and behavior for those wanting to keep things the same. Without change we allow living conditions to deteriorate for both present and future generations of people and other life.

Trees down in communities by severe storms is systematic of global problems we are worsening by not proactively addressing climate changing behavior. We can increase employment by changing from fossil fuel use, improve the economy, help humans stave off self-generated life-threating problems, and be a solution that helps people and nature niches. Retraining worker livelihood skills from fossil fuel work to alternatives is good.

Dave Wagner and Weston Henry from the University of Connecticut recently concluded an article with “there is little doubt that the most important matters for those that value planetary biodiversity are to slow and mitigate climate change and the loss of tropical forests. These are the most urgent threats to butterflies and wildlife. We must dial back our use of fossil fuels, while simultaneously ramping up green energy technology and solutions.” 

We can choose a healthier future but it requires us to unite for positive actions and behavioral change. 

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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Nature Niche Appeal

Ranger Steve

Observing wild creatures has great appeal. People visit state, national, and county parks to enjoy animal antics, seasonal blooms, and tree colors. The events unfolding in yards draws us outside to enjoy sun, garden, breeze, and beauty. It is a joy to share nature niche appeal occurrences about fish, warblers, butterflies, fireflies, squirrels, moles, stars, pond life, herons, canoeing and more.

Flowers, insects, and birds thrive together allowing survival that is dependent on one another. It is revealed in intricate relationships. 

My desire is to enrich reader interest in the natural world on which we depend. 

Within our community we depend on each other in intricate ways. Covid-19 has caused havoc. I am associated with business owners that tell me their business activity and income has increased and others whose livelihoods are precariously on the edge of closing their doors permanently. 

How we pull together as a community depends on personal action. The CS Post and other papers unfortunately have been hit financially hard for a number of reasons that have been explained in a number of articles in the paper in recent years. My effort of contributing nature niche articles is a volunteer effort guided by passion to increase appeal and support for nature that is essential to sustaining community livelihood. 

It has become increasingly difficult for the Post to continue printing nature niche articles because of space cost restrictions. If nature niche articles are appealing, I suggest readers contribute financial support to keep the paper in print. Beyond the nature niche, it documents local events in a manner otherwise left as a deep void. Please send a check or stop into the office to provide support and let the staff know how important their work is to you. 

It is good to support businesses that advertise in the Post but direct personal support is also important. 

I hope to continue sharing the richness of the natural world. That depends on the community’s supportive role to help local businesses like the CS Post survive. Contribute to keep our local paper serving the community. The paper gives and we receive. Give to the paper so readers continue to receive.

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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Predictable Harvester

Ranger Steve

Animals have mysterious routines we know little about to keep their bodies and minds fit. From early to late afternoon the Harvester visits selected roosting locations. It is a small butterfly with brown and tan undersides of wings that are visible when it stands on a leaf with wings folded upward over its back. A number of irregular silver lines or circles loop on the wing outlining brown speckles.

The top of wings can be viewed when the butterfly partially opens them. The upper wing has large patches of orange bordered in black. How color patterns aid survival is mostly unknown to me. Colors help with mate or rival recognition. 

Observations indicate predictable activity periods. I do not see the Harvester in the roosting area until afternoon and it continues a presence into late afternoon. The butterflies perch on shrub leaves about five feet above the ground along the north side of a forest clearing where sun glistens on leaves. There it stands patiently waiting. Later in the day it perches at the east border of the clearing when sun rays brighten leaf landing pads.

Apparently the butterfly has business elsewhere in the morning. Perhaps it travels to speckled alders and ash trees on the floodplain where wooly aphids suck juices from tender stems. Harvesters lay eggs among the white wooly wax covering aphids create and use it to cover their bodies. When the caterpillar hatches, it covers its body with the waxy fluff and begins eating aphids. It is concealed and camouflaged from its predators by the wax and eats peacefully controlling aphid numbers. 

The caterpillar develops rather quickly, pupates and soon emerges as an adult butterfly. 

I visit the butterfly’s afternoon roosting site daily on walks. When a second one flies near, it darts toward it. It could possibly be a suitable mate or rival male. 

Last year there were three broods. Spring, summer, and fall broods were present. The spring brood flew 31 May through 21 June. The summer brood flew from 19 July through August and the fall brood began in August and overlapped with the summer brood. Harvesters were present through 26 September. This year the spring brood began flight on 31 May and was only noticed until 6 June. A long gap occurred until the summer (or fall?) brood began on 5 Aug. That brood continues at this writing in late August. 

The Harvester is the only predatory caterpillar found in the United States and it aids rapid development. Others are vegetarians and mature more slowly. Every species has something uniquely special.

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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Dragons and damsels

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Rapid flight with exceptional maneuverability allows dragonflies to challenge the flight skills of other insects and take them as food. They challenge our identification skills. We can identify them into major groups and even recognize some species easily. On the wing identification can be difficult. Along lake and stream edges, they land long enough for us to get a good viewing. Their eyesight is among the best in the insect world and they will take flight when approached too closely. 

Ebony Jewelwing damselfly. Photo by Marilyn Kiegley.

Practice stalking skills when exploring outdoors. Move slowly when you approach a standing dragonfly and be careful not to allow your shadow to fall upon it. First distinguish between damselflies and dragonflies. Marilyn Keigley’s photographs show Ebony Jewelwing damselflies hold their wings together over their back and White-faced Meadowhawks hold wings to the side like other dragonflies. 

We were taught as kids to fear dragonflies because “darners” would sew our mouths shut. We ran for the safety of homes when we saw a Green Darner. Many of us were raised with misconceptions. Hopefully we do better helping our children appreciate the wonder and beauty that thrives in yards and do not instill fear. 

The Ebony Jewelwing male has all black wings and the female has white spots near the wing tips. Which sex is pictured? Damselfly eyes do not touch each other. Dragonfly eyes touch on top of the head in most cases. The large compound eyes are composed of tiny individual eye facets that allow them to view their entire surroundings at once. Movement attracts their attention and focuses attention to a confined area.

Movement will alert a standing dragonfly of your presence. By moving very slowly you can approach closely before it takes flight. When the agile insect flies, it maneuvers quickly in pursuit of mosquitos or other prey.

Colors of the rainbow are encased on their exoskeletons. Our skeleton is uniform in color and hidden inside our body. The Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) wear their skeleton on the outside with muscles attached inside. To move wings, their muscles pull in different directions on the inside to make the wings go up or down by reshaping the thorax. The thorax where wings are attached is between the head in front and the long thin abdomen that contains digestive and reproductive organs behind.  

White-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly. Photo by Marilyn Kiegley.

Different species have iridescent color patterns. Many of the larger dragonflies like darners (the ones we were taught would sew our mouths shut) have yellow, blue, or green stripes angled on the side of the thorax. They are among the largest and have beautiful checker colored abdomens. August and September is migration season for some of the large dragonflies. The three-inch insects will travel south to a warm climate and reproduce. Their offspring will munch their way north as rapidly as spring allows small insect availability.

A group of dragonflies known as clubtails has a swollen tip at the end of the thin abdomen giving them their name. The skimmers like the meadowhawks, twelve-spotted skimmer, common whitetail, Halloween pennant, and widow skimmer have wider abdomens of various colors. Skimmers are smaller than darners and clubtails. Start dragonfly enjoyment by observing differences among groups like darners, clubtails, and skimmers. 

When comfortable notice more subtle differences. The white-faced Meadowhawk clearly shows a white face. There are cherry-faced, ruby-faced, and others. The scarlet abdomen with black checks along the sides adds brilliance among wildflowers. Wander fields for Meadowhawks but do not expect them only in meadows. Their ecological nature niche is broader. Dragonflies and damselflies require water for egg laying. Young develop and spend the winter as predators feeding on aquatic organisms in healthy flowing or still waters.

Close focusing binoculars that focus to six feet are best. Those focusing to 10 to 15 feet work. Those focusing at 30 to 35 feet prevent easy identification. You might choose to improve your stalking skill rather than buy close focusing binocs. Check prices to find a pair that is affordable and good for dragonflies, butterflies and birds.

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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Steeped in Science

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Science has discovered it is the wind over wings that allows flight in nature niches, but we generally speak of “the wind beneath my wings.” The wind flowing upward over wings creates lower air pressure to provide essential lift for flight. This knowledge has been used to make airplane flight possible. If flight is taken with an improperly designed wing, the plane will likely crash at the end of the runway. 

In general people ignore scientific discoveries when they do not align with what they want to believe. Scientific process filters out erroneous conclusions like “the wind beneath wings” allows flight. Science requires time and repeated experimentation. During the process, evidence gradually refines toward a most correct analysis.

The public is anxious for a vaccine for Covid-19 to save human lives. The experimentation cannot bring results fast enough. Massive money is spent with high priority for different potential vaccines. Drugs like Hydroxychloroquine have proven to be ineffective but wishful believers refuse to accept scientific evidence regarding the ineffectiveness of the drug. I have been steeped in science for 55 years and find it difficult to understand such rejection. 

Adequate evidence supports that wearing masks prevents death by reducing the spread of Covid-19. It is thought 40,000 lives could have been saved if everyone wore masks. Over 160,000 people have died in the US and nearly one quarter could have been saved by mask wearing and social distancing. Why many people refuse to wear masks and/or social distance makes little logical or science sense. We all face such questions daily in many ways.

It is not only a constitutional and scientific question (whether to wear a mask) but a moral one. This question is a biological one impacting our human nature niche. Ask what you can do to save others’ lives or prevent illness and not what you can do for self-interest and desire.

We face the same dilemma regarding climate change and its impact on human lives for present and future generations. Evidence has accumulated for a century about how fossil fuel consumption changes Earth’s thermal retention and causes glacial melting. A small number of studies do not support that climate change is magnified by human activity. Those studies generally do not deny human caused climate change; they just lack quantitative evidence for how much. Over 95 percent of climatologists’ studies have adequate evidence that significant human generated climate change threatens flooding of coastal cities and lowlands. A few studies are getting promoted by those wanting to deny overwhelming scientific evidence for various reasons.

The current US administration has pulled out of the climate accord even though it promotes long term sustainability for human health and economic prosperity for cities, states, and nations. Science is being ignored despite overwhelming evidence regarding the importance of switching to renewable energy sources. 

Renewable energy is not a cure-all and poses different problems to be addressed. It can move us in a positive direction for jobs, economic development, and sustainable environmental health. In addition to long term benefits for economic growth and society sustainability, ecosystems support plant and animal nature niches that provide essential economic value and natural resource benefits. We are in the mist of rapid worldwide extinctions, in part, because we ignore the physical evidence provided and supported by the scientific process. Being steeped in science is good for present day families and future generations. We fear change and difference.

Ignoring science about Hydroxychloroquine might serve personal goals but is not wise. Peer reviewed scientific studies support our nation’s wealth and sustainability. Without healthy ecosystems, human wellbeing is not secure. Science is a tool to be used with social conscience for a better tomorrow. 

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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Where stars shine bright

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve

Does your star shine bright? What do you wish upon a falling star? 

About 2000 stars can be seen with the unaided eye on a black night. With the aid of binoculars and telescopes, we see more and have discovered the depths of space. Our local star, the sun, is not particularly special except to us. Billions and billions more are found in 100 to 200 billion galaxies in the universe.

The Perseids meteor shower each August brings “shooting stars” to wish upon during black moonless nights. For 365 days a year the Earth moves around the sun and then repeats its route. Today is my birthday and the peak of the Perseids shower. I pretend the fireworks is a celebration for my birthday, but I know better. I have taken the trip around the sun 70 times and hope for many more trips. On the trip around the sun, the Earth spins on its axis once every 24 hours making 365 spins. We do not notice the spin because the atmosphere travels about the same speed as the land under it. Air is more fluid than land. We feel it’s refreshing breeze cool our faces on hot August days. At our feet, rock and soil are moved slower by flowing water or strong winds. 

High above in airless space, specks of frozen iron or stone left by passing comets aimlessly move about in a vast void. To our good fortune, some drift into the path of Earth’s orbit. When debris comes in contact with the atmosphere, gravity draws the tiny speck toward our ball of rock. As it descends through the atmosphere at speeds of over 40 miles per second, friction with the air takes it from frozen invisibility to an intense hot glow. We call it a meteor or “shooting star.” Most “shooting stars” are the size of a sand grain.

A heated sand-sized particle glows with effervescence, making a momentary streak of light across the sky as it vaporizes. Most vaporize before reaching land, but occasionally a larger one makes it to Earth as a meteorite. 

When I see a “shooting star” flash on and off in an instant, it reminds me of our own short flash of life. We all come and go in a burning flash; but I allege to have importance in the universe even if it is only for the briefest time. For family, friends, and others, my presence is enjoyed and appreciated. More so, I enjoy knowing and loving them. Hopefully my activities protect and enhance the health and wealth for all nature’s life.

In August, Earth’s orbit passes through space where a comet intersected the orbit at a time when the Earth was elsewhere on its journey around sun. When Earth returns annually to this location, it collides with specks of iron dust and rock particles left floating in space by the comet.

After eons of floating aimlessly, specks of debris have a flash of importance that countless people enjoy if they spend some time looking into the black void above. Upon seeing a shooting star, we ponder private thoughts. Many make a secret wish known only to them. That wish takes its own journey across an endless universe. If lucky, it will materialize. Like most wishes, it more likely will travel on and never come to fruition. 

Our lives, like shooting stars, come and go in a hasty flash that will scarcely be noticed. 

On a dark moonless night among the pinpoints of stars, I see a shooting star and make a wish for the equity, fairness, and wellbeing of all creatures traveling in space at this moment in time. Hopefully during momentary existence, our activities will be selflessly meaningful to sustain life on this minuscule planet. 

Experience flashes of light each August as we pass through debris from the Perseids shower where specks floating haplessly are drawn to Earth creating shooting stars. Make wishes and enjoy being a part of a grand wonderous existence. Explore this planet’s nature niches and travel in mind through the immensity of space.

When my flash burns out, I hope to have aided others in finding contentment in the night’s black sky on this tiny rock called Earth. Be a shining star sharing kindness, love, and compassion for others above self. 

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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Squirrel abundance

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Squirrels have exceeded affordable abundance at our bird feeders. Gold arrives daily in the form of American Goldfinches but not in pocket treasure for buying birdseed. Their gold body with black wings and cap have streaks of white across the wings. Pink legs and orange bill brighten the day and our spirits. 

Male crimson headed House Finches have thick seed crushing bills bigger than those of goldfinches. Females of both species are more modest and subdued than males. Though gold shines through on the female goldfinches, they mostly glow olive green. White stripes on their wings are more prominent than on males and in equal the amount with black. House Finch females are mostly brown from tip of bill to tail tip. Brown overlies white on the chest and belly to the base of tail.

Blue Jays visit often but spend more time in the woods. Their less frequent presence is probably appreciated by other birds. The large size, long bill, and flashy big wings startle other birds. Jays fill their gullet and leave to hide food or eat privately. Watching behavior of the birds reveals different habits.

Black-capped Chickadees and Tufted Titmice make hurried comings and goings to the feeder and take a seed to another perch for eating. We watch them peck sunflower hulls to access the protein rich meaty innards. White-breasted Nuthatches spiral down a nearby tree and dart to the feeder to grab a bite. 

Summer seems to be peaking but some birds are already gathering in small flocks. Shiny black Red-winged Blackbird males with red shoulder epaulettes lined with a stripe of orange at the base are gathering in small numbers to announce migration will soon be underway. Female redwings are dark with light streaking. 

Always fun are the woodpeckers. Like all woodpeckers, the small Downy Woodpeckers have stiff pointed tail feathers that help them anchor when pecking tree branches. Larger Hairy Woodpeckers look nearly identical to downys but their undertail feathers do not have black bars on the white feathers. Red-bellied Woodpeckers barely have red on their bellies. The breast is solid gray and back is black with an almost equal amount of white lines and dots. Unlike Red-headed Woodpeckers, its red is restricted to a stripe on the back of the female’s head and red both on top and back of the male’s head but not on the gray sides or front.

Mourning Doves spend most of their feeder time eating seeds that fall to the ground but will perch on feeders. Other birds eating nearby that do not visit the feeder are American Robins and Northern Flickers. They find plenty of food in the yard. Eastern Phoebes prefer fresh live animal food and fly from perches to take flying insects. Species like Gray Catbirds lurk in hidden surroundings and require a sharp eye for viewing. 

A dozen or more squirrels have been breaking the bank by emptying the basket feeders daily. It became necessary to purchase a metal cone squirrel baffle to mount on the sheperd’s hook poles. Much to the squirrels’ chagrin, they are now limited to seeds that fall to the ground when birds pull seeds from the wire basket. About eight gray squirrels, four fox squirrels, and a couple red squirrels forage at once. This is a good time for them to learn they must search the neighborhood far and wide for native seeds and fruits. 

Trees and shrubs are busy producing this year’s bounty. Squirrels will plant many seeds with the purpose of returning to eat them. Some will escape rediscovery and grow new plants. We enjoy the squirrels. During the 90ºF heatwave, squirrels often laid on the shaded concrete sidewalk with legs outstretched to cool their bellies. 

Variety and numbers of birds are abundant filling different nature niches but they eat less than squirrels. Now I fill the feeders once or twice a week. It is nice to attract wildlife to view them through the living room window. One visitor says when she comes, it is like going to national park with squirrels, rabbits, and birds scattering in all directions when she comes up the drive. We still have plenty of squirrels but they are now required to spend more time as it should be foraging in the wild. 

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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