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Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Winter Bird Sightings

by Range Steve Mueller

 

What species were present or absent during the Grand Rapids Audubon Bird Count on 30 Dec 2017? No gulls were seen. Only two other years during the 31 years I have coordinated the count were gulls absent in the Kent County Count area. Carolina Wrens have become regular since the turn of the century but were only seen 7 times between 1953 and 2000. 

Both the White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows were rare sightings during the 1900s but the white-throated has been sighted most of the past ten years. I suspect some sightings might have been misidentifications like the 15 Chipping Sparrows sighted in 1992. It is highly unusual for one Chipping Sparrow to be here in the winter and 15 is not likely. 

Evening Grosbeaks were seen most years between 1970 and 1990 but were absent before and after those decades. Red-winged Blackbird populations were high during the 1960s and their numbers have declined dramatically since. I conducted a spring blackbird nesting survey in 1970 and have never again seen the density of nests I found then.

Bird populations fluctuate for many reasons. Blackbirds have been sprayed with a chemical used to cause death so they do not compete with humans for crops. Climate change is impacting bird distribution and altering survival chances. Seasonal winter weather fluctuations (different from climate change) that are warm, cold, snowy, or dry influence bird annual distribution.
Fifty-six species were seen (Table 1) by 41 field observers and 2 bird feeder watchers. One Winter Wren and one Eastern Towhee were recorded during count week. The three days before and after count day are reported separately from count day species. Count week sightings document winter presence in the area but are statistically evaluated differently from count day sightings.

Total individuals sighted was 6,161. That is down considerably from last year’s 9,342 and almost half the number sighted (11,246) two years ago. Travel conditions and weather were unexpectedly good. Only light snow fell in the morning and the sky cleared for the afternoon. 

We experienced 80 percent cloud cover in the a.m. and 20 percent in the afternoon. Temperature was between 7 and 15 F. A steady NW wind was 8-18 mph. Snow cover depth was 4 to 12 inches. Moving Water was partly open and still water was frozen.

We totaled 65.5 hours in vehicles traveling 529 miles. We spent 14.25 hours on foot, covering 16.75 miles and 9 hours at feeders. A combined total of 545.75 miles were on foot and driving. Groups totaled 88.75 hours of daytime birding. There were 16 birding parties in the morning and 10 in the afternoon, with two feeder watchers.

In the predawn, 11 miles were traveled during one and half hours looking for owls.  

Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center (WWC) co-hosted the count with Audubon. We appreciate use of the facility as our base station. Visit and enjoy the WWC trails. 

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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Snowy Owls

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Forty-eight transmitters were attached to Snowy Owls from North Dakota to Maine during 2013-17. The solar powered devices track movements by recording latitude, longitude and altitude. Some owls remain within a quarter mile of where they were tagged and others move hundreds of miles. “Project SNOWstorm” research focuses on winter movements but reveals information gathered on the summer range in the far north that has previously not been accessible.

In winter, some owls spend weeks or months floating on Great Lakes ice where they hunt gulls, ducks, geese, and grebes. Recently, I have observed Snowy Owls on the center dike between massive ponds at the Muskegon Wastewater facility. Thousands of gulls and waterfowl are found in these ponds. I thought the owls depended on lemmings in the far north and ate a similar diet of voles here.

Evidence indicates gulls and waterfowl can be an important part of their diet and is a reason owls perch on floating ice. Capturing a gull provides more food per catch than a small rodent. I wonder what the success rate is for capturing a rodent compared with a bird. It might be more efficient hunting rodents when abundant. 

Massive numbers of gulls are present at the Muskegon wastewater facility. It is a birding hotspot where people scan with scopes to find rarer gulls. My friends, the two Gregs, Jim, and I have seen Greater Black-backed, Glaucous, and other infrequently seen gulls among abundant Ring-billed and Herring Gulls. 

We have only seen the owls observing or moving to new perch locations. They stand patient. It would be nice to see one pursuing a gull. They have 14 neck vertebrae that allows them to turn their head more than half way around. Other birds and mammals have seven cervical vertebrae preventing such great head swivel. Owls can look straight backwards from the direction their body is facing. It appears their head is on backwards. 

Adult males and females can be distinguished by plumage. Males are nearly all white, while female have brown or black flecked feathers. Immatures are more heavily dark marked. Snowy Owls appear larger than they are because fluffy feathers provide a robust appearance. Under the fluff is a lean 3 to 6-pound body. Visible contour feathers covering the body shed water. Underneath, non-waterproof down feathers trap air and insulate. 

Large eyes have a yellow iris with dark penetrating pupils. Like ours, their eyes are on the front of the face providing depth of field binocular vision. Close one eye and notice how the distance of two objects is difficult to discern. When hunting it is important to judge distance while flying. Notice birds at your feeder have eyes on the side of the head. To determine distance, they must move their heads to gain a three-dimensional view. Eyes on the sides of the head provide an advantage of a nearly 360º view for spotting predators.

I did not notice a black transmitter on the back of any owls. It would be just below the skull. With only 48 tagged, I would not expect to see an owl with one. Owls are captured in fine mess nets strung in flight areas. Mist nets are similar to golf course screens installed to prevent balls from entering highways and hitting cars. 

Owls living in the tundra far from human activity reveal their movements when they migrate to our region. Information stored in transmitters north of cell tower range is retrieved when they enter tower range in winter. 

Periodically large numbers move south when arctic food is scarce or populations are high forcing hunting dispersal. This year is an excellent year for learning more about the daily lives of owls for which we know little. Many have already arrived southward. 

Spend time exploring farm country and areas with large fields to search for white bumps. Look with binoculars and you might find a Snowy Owl. Enjoy exploring on your own or participate on Audubon field trips.

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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Somber Reality

 

 

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

My life’s mission of wilderness protection has gone awry. All hope is not lost to protect the resources and life forms that make it possible for humans to thrive today and for generations to live well a century from now. 

Theodore Roosevelt advised a century ago: “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders. Do not let selfish men and greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches, or its romance.”

We are in a “Star Wars” type struggle to prevent planetary destruction by a leader that does not value scientific evidence or understand its importance for guiding behavior to ensure a healthy future. I hope to inspire others to cherish nature wonders by encouraging them to spend time outside exploring and having fun.

I made a decision early in life to follow supported physical evidence to protect my family and their offspring. I have an extended family that includes you, butterflies, cedar waxwings, brook trout, white pine, and cinnamon ferns in addition to my immediate family and grandchildren. Our actions should help all family members.

The Grand Staircase National Monument in Utah has known and unknown life forms in a fragile ecosystem. The monument is owned by you like the local Manistee National Forest, Shiawassee Nat’l Wildlife Refuge, and Sleeping Bear Dunes. Each has unique species and nature niches that support our lives and economy. 

When Roosevelt encouraged us to “cherish these natural wonders” much of USA land acquisition was complete. Here at home water supplies your well, trees cool homes and provide oxygen on private and public land. Many people feel they should be allowed to do whatever they desire on private and public lands without regard to impacts on neighbors. If they desire to dump PFAS, fill or plow wetlands that increased flooding to downstream homes, or dump improperly treated sewage in rivers, they should not be restricted. 

I realized as a teen that many people were solely focused on “Me, Myself, I.” Many do not agree that personal actions should protect themselves, neighbors’ water supply, soil fertility, stream quality, sustainable timber, and fellow beings on Earth. To protect resources of wonder, enjoyment and essential need for sustaining society, my mission advocates for wilderness protection. Protection of biological and geological features in designated wilderness, national monuments, and parks maintain healthy ecosystems supporting our needs and livelihoods.

Mistakes like dumping PFAS, overusing fertilizers on yards that get into streams or groundwater, delaying the switch from fossil fuels that alter climate, not treating life on Earth as we want to be treated, and reducing national monument sizes is perilous. It lacks a sense of community and does not leave these lands unimpaired. 

Ask yourself whether dumping PFAS or dumping carbon into the atmosphere will result in greater loss of life. Which will create worse economic and health hardships? For many it only matters what is happening personally in the moment. They are the half that put President Trump in office. Pulling out of the World Climate Accord is similar to dumping PFAS. The negative long-term impacts are imposed on future generations for short-term economic gains. Impacts diminish sustainable economic, social, and environment health. 

Impacts of the tax cut will likely result in unfunded protection of water, soil, air, endangered species, and wilderness as well many non-nature concerns. Trump campaigned to deregulate Clean Water, Clean Air, and Endangered Species Act protections. Such actions will allow deregulating things like dumping PFAS. He has opened protected public lands like the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and monuments for mineral extraction. He supports fossil fuel mining and dumping of pollutants like carbon into the atmosphere. His supporters want this.

I have failed in the effort to help build a critical mass essential to protect Grand Staircase NM and other national treasures. Public comments were 98 percent in favor of protecting parks but Trump is ignoring public desires. He’s eliminating sustainable resource programs that protect generations to come. My mission is floundering. 

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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Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary’s Mission

 

by Steve Mueller

 

Like most nature lovers, I am bound to the land by heart, spirit, and labor of love. Bob Stegmier requested I write about Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary for the Izaak Walton League (IKEs). The mission here is to protect and enhance life in the native ecosystem where we live as members of the natural community. 

Here Little Cedar Creek’s permanent flowing headwaters begin. In spring, the creek carries water from about one mile upstream. By mid to late summer the creek bed is mostly dry upstream. Springs feed the creek with cold water to keep a constant flow. Groundwater springs are critical to make the creek suitable for brook trout. 

As I was leaving Ody Brook on opening day of trout season, an angler fishing at the highway bridge told me he had a brookie in his creel. The next Saturday an angler told me had his limit by 10 a.m. It pleases me environmental conditions supply healthy living space for these beauties and other stream life.

I was concerned the important headwaters that make life possible for thousands of plant and animal species, clear water, and solitude would be replaced with box houses to create a sterile landscape. Most of my life, I owned seven acres. Mrs. Williams owned land I purchased to expand the sanctuary on the stream’s floodplain. She desired to retain her 80-acre farm that included the creek and floodplain until her death. After her death, she said the children could do as they needed with the land. 

For 30 years I helped safeguard her land. Her husband died the year I bought seven acres adjoining her property. She leased tillable upland to a farmer. There were trespass and other issues I helped resolve. She told me to use the property like I owned it but I did little except maintain some walking trails. Consumer’s Energy owns a swath that bisects the property for its high-power utility line that crackles on rainy days. 

When it became necessary for her to move to a nursing home, she sold me the floodplain property with some adjacent upland forest to pay for her needs. We were both pleased. She knew I would care for the land like I cared for my kids. I thought it would never be possible to afford ownership of the land to protect the creek, floodplain, and upland. I chose a career as a naturalist where one does not gain wealth studying natural history of ecosystems and teaching others about the world’s natural wonders that sustain our health. 

The purchased portion was landlocked. I wanted to purchase additional acreage north of the powerline where the creek flowed so I could protect that portion of the creek and have access from a road. She was pleased to sell me that wetland. The farmhouse and tillable land was sold to another. 

This happy story allows me to protect the creek with adjacent treasures like three federally threatened American Chestnut trees. That species played an important role in our country’s development as part of the oak-hickory-chestnut ecosystem that encompassed much of the eastern US. Today textbooks refer to oak-hickory forest ecosystem because an exotic imported fungal blight eliminated most chestnuts from existence. 

As ecosystem ecologist for Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary’s 61 acres, my efforts focus on ecosystem enhancement for species that share the landscape. It is not primarily a nature center for education and human activity. The Howard Christensen Nature Center, Luton County Park, and the IKES property serve that purpose in our area. Here we serve plants and animals to help them thrive. In turn, they help society flourish.

Visitors are welcome to enjoy the sanctuary provided they call or email to request permission. I detest “No Trespassing” signs and am pleased to share with those willing to follow use guidelines. Some groups organize guided field trips to learn management strategies implemented for woodcock, turtlehead plants that support Baltimore butterflies, swamp saxifrage, forest, field, and wetland. College interns earn credit learning habitat management. I present a program titled “Restoring Biodiversity to Home Landscapes” and others. Program fees help fund management at Ody Brook and help others learn ecology for landscape sustainability. 

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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Desire to have a bird brain

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Black-capped Chickadees have an advantage that we apparently do not. They grow new brain cells each fall and get rid of some old cells containing information no longer needed. The cells destroyed hold information on where they hid seeds last winter. The new neurons will store locations for this winter’s seed hiding.

Dr. Fernando Nottebohm of Rockefeller University in New York studies the growth of neurons in the brains of birds. Todd Peterson and Frances Wood shared this information in Audubon Notes.

I suspect studies on other bird species would reveal similar findings. Species visiting my feeders grab a seed and depart to unknown locations. I see birds wedging seeds in tree bark crevasses. White-breasted Nuthatches have long slim bills, a black cap, white underparts, and short tail feathers. They appear quite flat on their upper side. You could place a ruler on their back and it would touch the entire length from head to tail.

A Black-capped Chickadee’s back is more contoured with its head raised higher than its back and holds its long tail at slightly different angles. A ruler would not touch head to tail at the same time. They have gray wings with a white marking along the leading edge of flight feathers. People heading south for winter can see the Carolina Chickadee that looks nearly identical but lacks the white feather edging. 

The three species collect and hide seeds for winter. It is likely studies of the nuthatch and Carolina Chickadee bird brain hippocampus will reveal importance for their spatial memories also. People wonder why spend time and money to learn such things. Some ask, “What good are these species? 

Aldo Leopold said such a question is the height of ignorance. We are all ignorant in most areas of knowledge. Every organism has hidden values. Most benefit them. Not everything is about “me” nor should it be. We know little about the natural world and nature niches. It is not reasonable to assume other species have little value. My friend Bob Raver replied to people asking that question with, “What good are you? 

For those needing a better answer to why learn about birds replacing brain cells, Dr. Nottebohm said, “Studying the ability of a bird’s brain to generate new neurons might uncover ways to replace brain cells lost due to injury, stroke or degeneration, as happens in diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s.”

I am on a combination of chemos that causes chemo brain, meaning that I have memory impairment from the chemicals used to keep me alive. Fortunately, they do not impair my long-term memory but I have difficulty learning new things or remembering things like what I had for lunch without writing it down as a memory jogger. I am concerned about dementia because my dad and his mother suffered from dementia. For now, I can blame my short-term memory difficulties on chemo. 

My cancer is terminal and not curable but great advances have been made. My oncologist’s goal is to keep me alive until I die from something else. When my multiple myeloma was first diagnosed when I was 47, life expectancy was one to three years and it was likely I would not reach age 50. Fortunately, the blood cancer progressed slowly. By age 57 the cancer caused seven bone fractures in my spine and I was using a walker. I could not navigate stairs. Scientists were studying frogs that could regenerate bones in lost limbs. Doctors used chemicals to help my bones’ regeneration and chemo to slow cancer progression. I do not know if my bone regeneration had anything to do with frog bone research. Today, another ten years later, I am walking without a walker and look reasonably normal except for 30 pounds of weight gain caused by a steroid chemo. 

Practical uses of bird neuron development that helps us is good and desirable. I contend species have their own value and we should not only be concerned with what good are they for us? Instead, ask what value you are for other species. What you do to help other species might help you in unknown ways. It is good citizenship to protect species like chickadees that have a right to share the world even if there is no apparent value to 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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Extinctions

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Waylon Jennings said, “The wide-open spaces are closing in quickly from the weight of the whole human race.” 

One does not need to be a scientist to recognize how human abundance imposes on people and other species. When does too much of something threaten human existence and other species? Watching the loss of another species and being unable to save it despite best efforts lets us know the fragility of nature niches. 

We watched the most abundant bird species decline to extinction in a 50-year period. We did not understand the ecological requirements of the Passenger Pigeon and could not save it. We were unable to fully analyze its needs and habitat requirements before it was gone. A segment of the human population saw it as a commodity to use until it was gone and dismissed it without remorse. Another segment ached in heart and mind. 

There are those that feel a responsibility for sustaining creation and those that feel all creation is here for unregulated use and consumption for personal desires. Key to that statement is “feel.” It has nothing to with scientific evidence to sustain Earth ecosystems for our health. How we feel trumps evidence-supported science. Compassion and a tender heart are necessary if we hope to embrace science to help us.

The disappearance of a species means little if people do not share a sense of oneness and purpose with other life. When parents lose children to malaria, it is no wonder they hope for the extinction of the disease agent. Many would appreciate extinction of all mosquitoes but most mosquito species cannot transmit malaria. 

Mosquitoes are a nuisance with tremendous impacts on wildlife health. They draw blood that weakens animals as large as moose. Despite the apparent negative impacts of mosquitoes, their presence is essential for maintaining life and reproduction for aquatic insects, fish, birds and even people. Science evidence supports that a great diversity of species is needed to sustain food chains and long-term ecological stability. 

Why am I thinking about extinctions? I am a member of the Mitchell’s Satyr and Karner Blue Butterfly working groups with US FWS and MDNR that are striving to help those endangered species recover adequately to sustain their populations without human assistance. They both live in our region and are declining. 

On September 22, 1979 scientists reported the Large Blue Butterfly (Maculinae arion) became extinct. Efforts to save it were progressing. Life history research was occurring but the species disappeared before intricacies of its nature niche were understood. Saving remnants of habitats is needed because we cannot learn enough.

We reduce species by eliminating habitat. Loss of healthy living space impacts species and our own survival chances. Human survival, like that of the abundant Passenger Pigeons, depends on understanding ecological requirements. How we feel about our role in nature and for maintaining healthy yards can save us. 

Protecting groundwater from discarded chemicals, reducing excessive release of carbon into the atmosphere by switching from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources, in addition to maintaining yards with native species instead of large lawns can protect our own nature niche and that of other species. Protecting National Monuments protects species important for maintaining biodiversity and preventing extinctions.

It is estimated 10 to 50 million species live on Earth. A million may have been lost since the Large Blue became extinct. Evidence supports that human enhanced climate change and other misuses accelerate extinction. Scientific evidence is easily dismissed. How we feel about living things that maintain a healthy world is important. As our population increases, it becomes increasingly critical to eliminate large lawns to allow native species a place to live. We can manage for a healthy future if we feel like it. Sound science and reason can provide the “how to” if our feelings demonstrate caring. Love and caring for life on Earth will lead to accepting and using scientific evidence to sustain people, society, and a healthy future. 

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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Gift of Christmas birding

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

 

You, your family, and friends are encouraged to participate in a day with the birds. The purpose of the Christmas Bird Count held between 14 December and 5 January is for people and for birds. Frank Chapman began the annual count in 1900 as an alternative to an annual event where people killed as many birds as possible on Christmas Day to see who could shoot the most.

This year marks the 118th year for the count. It is the longest and largest existing citizen science survey. Over 40,000 people survey specified count circles each year for comradery with others interested in the gift of seeing birds and to gather population data that assists scientists. Discovering winter bird population abundance, distribution, and changes over time helps us understand bird ecology. 

Some bird species are increasing while others are declining. One aspect frequently reported in the news is the change in where birds are found in winter. Several species are occupying more northerly locations as climate changes. The Christmas Bird Count supplements the Breeding Bird Surveys to provide a more complete understanding for species. Our local count is the Saturday after Christmas.

Mark December 30 to search for birds with the Grand Rapids Audubon Club (GRAC). Meet at 7:30 a.m. at Wittenbach/Wege Agriscience and Environmental Education Center (WWC), 11715 Vergennes Rd. in Lowell, Michigan 49331. Field teams depart by 8:00 AM. Return around noon for lunch. Joan Heuvelhorst will prepare a lunch. Lunch costs $5.00 or you can BYO. Choose to participate part or all day. 

The GRAC count circle surveyed has its center at Honey Creek and 2 Mile Rds. A radius of 7.5 miles is consistent among all count circles in North, Central, and South Americas. Our group of 40 to 60 people assembles between 7:30 and 8 a.m. to divide into small survey teams. Each team surveys birds in selected portions of the count circle. Experienced observers assist with identification and help participants learn about species’ nature niches. Most birding is done close to the car as teams drive specified areas. Some birders participate during the morning and others continue all day. 

I compile the data and submit it to the National Audubon Society where statistical analysis is addressed over a period of months and years to discover trends and changes in bird population numbers and movements in the Americas. Participation is free but donations are welcome to support the National Audubon Program.

Wear layers of clothing so you can add or remove items to remain comfortable. Binoculars and field guides are helpful but Audubon members will share if you do not have them.  

Plan on having a great time enjoying birds and bird watchers. Make new friends.

Direct inquiries to count coordinators:

Tom Leggett: (616) 249-3382, email tomleggett@hotmail.com or Ranger Steve (Mueller) 616-696-1753, email odybrook@chartermi.net.

Visit the Grand Rapids Audubon Club website (graud.org).

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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Rain catching leaves

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Recently it was brought to my attention how events in nature frequently slip past me without notice. In the book A Year in the Maine Woods, Bernd Heinrich noted water droplets bead on the undersurface of fallen leaves during a rain if they land bottom side up. I have noticed water beads on leaves but had not noticed them being restricted to the lower surface. 

After the next rain, I investigated while walking the back 40. The upper surfaces were evenly wet while clusters of silvery bead beauties radiated light from the bottom surfaces. I should have noticed this sometime during the past six decades. If I had, it did not register in the recesses of my memory. 

A friend that teaches botany at a local university told me he had not noticed it either. It is amazing how everyday events escape our attention. 

I had not mentioned it to Karen but a couple weeks later she made the discovery herself. She decided to capture the richness of water drops on fallen leaves. Thousands of leaves covered the ground and a recent rain insured there would be drops on leaves. She headed out with high hopes and camera in hand. 

She found leaves with water beads on the duller bottom surfaces and continued the search for beads on bright red upper surfaces. She found leaf upper surfaces she wanted to photograph but they lacked water beads. The water evenly covered those surfaces enhancing a red gleam. Her search failed to find leaves having bright upper surfaces with tiny silver domes. Only duller lower surfaces held droplets.

She shared her discovery with me and I told her that I had recently made the discovery after being alerted to it by reading about it first. It was wonderful she made the discovery independently through careful observation while exploring outdoors. I wish I were as observant as her. 

After sharing with many people, I have been asked why one surface holds beads and the other does not. I am not completely sure but I have a good hypothesis that needs testing. The upper surface of leaves has a thick waxy cuticle that helps prevent water loss when exposed to sun and wind. The lower surface is more protected from direct drying by sun. Wind moving air across the pitted lower surface of leaves has better protection. 

We are familiar with how moving air causes “wind chill” by sweeping heat away from our skin to make the temperature feel cooler. It hastens water evaporation from our skin causing rapid heat loss. 

The bottom surface of leaves is covered with tiny pores called stomatas, where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged. The pores create a rough surface compared with the smooth waxy upper surface. I suspect the rough surface holds water droplets while the smooth upper leaf allows the water to flow easily. 

For those of us observing nature niches in our backyards, it is amazing how much we walk past without notice. Exercise your observations skills and have fun challenging friends and family to make new discoveries. There is always something we have passed unnoticed.

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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Value of wild places

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

In 1975, I began sharing my passion for preserving what is now known as Grand Staircase National Monument. It was established in 1996 using the Antiquities Act. I have been presenting a program titled “Wilderness, Unique Treasure” advocating for wilderness protection for that area and others for 42 years. Thanks to efforts by Theodore Roosevelt over a century ago, the Antiquities Act was created allowing presidents to create national monuments on publicly owned land to protect and preserve areas for present and future generations. Congress then has authority to make it a national park, leave it as a monument or eliminate it.

Roosevelt established national forests as another means for maintaining economic, social and environmental sustainability. Michigan has national and state forests with wilderness areas within them.

The Bureau of Land Management is another agency charged with protecting and managing public lands. Each is governed by you and your neighbors collectively under the name government. When using the term government, think of it as you and your neighbors instead of some nebulous thing called government. 

My wilderness program is based on a book written by Aldo Leopold who was designated as the most outstanding conservationist of the 20th century. In “A Sand County Almanac,” he shared the significance for preserving remnant wilderness areas for recreation, science, and wildlife. 

My program, with photographic slides, includes prose and poetry and is accompanied by Leopold’s reasoning for preserving wilderness. It is my most popular and well-received program. Email me for a program brochure and request your organization to invite me to present. Wilderness protection is of immediate concern. 

You and neighbors are represented by a majority in the US House and Senate that are considering proposed legislation to prevent establishment of new national parks and to give the president authority to reduce the size of current parks without Congress approval so they can be mined for oil, coal, and be timbered. Congress and the judicial branches represent you and neighbors to limit the president from making unilateral decisions that only represent him and a limited number of people. The public comment period regarding the issue had 99 percent of 2.8 million comments say leave the parks alone. The three branches representing you and neighbors protects from dictatorial decisions by those expected to represent all Americans and not just 1 percent.

Presidents, like other elected people, tend to represent a limited number of people instead of representing all Americans through compromise. Presidential actions are balanced by Congress and Judicial branches representing you. When Congress struggles to protect your inalienable rights, it requires compromise to meet the desires of the real government that I refer to as you and your neighbors. Our current president stated Congress and Judicial branches prevent him from accomplishing work he wants done and he wants authority to make decisions without their approval. That would move us towards dictatorial leadership. 

Aldo Leopold who was an avid hunter and advocate for protecting wilderness stated: “Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away them.” Now, we face the question whether a still higher standard of living is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free. For us in the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech. 

Elected officials should represent all of us and appoint agency heads that focus on agency missions. They should be staffed with skilled people that make decisions based on the agency mission for present and future generations. My program will help provide understanding on why Roosevelt and Leopold advocated for protecting parks and wilderness. Hopefully, you will agree with them. Not only is Utah’s Grand Staircase threatened with elimination but parks across America might lose protected status. National Parks have been said to be America’s best idea. 

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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Senescence 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The growing season is senescing. In the temperate region, it would seem that most plant life grows old at the same time and dies. Many species complete their adult life cycle by late fall. It appears life comes to an end with death surrounding us until new life and growth resurges in the spring.  

No more strawberries, raspberries, or apples to harvest. Fortunately, we are still able to pick and enjoy apples late into fall in our backyard tree. Deer also enjoy them. The raspberries are gone by late summer. Strawberries from the garden are a distant memory from early summer. Each plant has its own moment in the sun. 

Growth and life cycles in nature niches are linked with day length. More accurately I should refer to night length. It is the hours of darkness that most influences the timing of annual flowering and fruit production. As the hours of darkness increase during the fall, senescence advances.

When the girls were young, we had a wonderful raspberry garden in the front yard and a strawberry patch in the backyard. Raspberries seemed to attack with serious thorns when we tried to harvest fruit. Strawberries were not defensive in that manner but required more bending. As the girls aged, we added what I called patch gardens. They were small 4 by 6-foot flower gardens that were their responsibility. It was a good way to introduce them to the value of caring for life. They selected the plants they wanted to grow.

Plants in our produce garden served some nutrition needs and the flower gardens were feasted on by eyes. Besides glorious feasting for our eyes, flower gardens provided food for small neighbors like bees and butterflies. They attracted birds and small mammals into view that enriched our lives. 

When I was young, my mother was busy in fall canning tomatoes and other produce in Kerr jars. She aged and her own senescence arrived. A few years ago, we emptied her residence and found Kerr jars that were passed on to others. Canning from personal gardens is done by fewer people now in this age of economic richness. 

People complain about the bad economy but nearly all families have more economic resources than families had 60 years ago. People now afford warmer homes, more travel, an abundance of electronic gadgets, outrageously priced phones and service instead of party phone lines. Many have phones for each family member instead of several families sharing a party line. We have more clothes than needed and most kids no longer go to school with patches sown on pants except for stylish appearance. Most can afford to buy food and do not need to grow their own. Today, many grow food to avoid pesticides and herbicides. Our apple tree is chemical free providing healthy apples.

Looking beyond our personal needs, we see wild neighbors struggle to survive in balance with natural life cycle influences of season, precipitation, soil nutrients, predators, necessary plants and animal associates. Fall signals, it is time for plants to senesce. Their demise is hastened some years by an early killing frost. This year, frost delayed to late October. Plants still progressed with their aging and decline. 

Metabolic activity and cell growth came to a season’s end without a killing frost. Many plants die to the ground and store personal produce in roots for a spring resurgence. The roots and stems of others die completely but their kind survives because they leave behind seeds to replenish the Earth. 

Senescence comes to us all. Along the way we can experience and enjoy the abundance and variety of life when we allow wild neighbors to provide real richness in our lives. As I pen this, red leaves on maples, yellow on cherries and maroon on oaks signal the annual passage of time. I wonder how many more cycles of color and falling leaves I will experience. 

It is always sad to see summer go but I have great hope and anticipation for spring that I am sure will come.

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 Outdoors, Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments (0)

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