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Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Human Health and Insect Surveys

 

OUT-Nature-niche-Swamp-milkweed-monarchSome people might wonder why the Monarch butterfly is currently proposed for Federal Endangered Species status. Monarch numbers have declined significantly during this new millennium and there are several contributing factors. One concern is the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO). GMO crops have been genetically altered to be herbicide resistant so more chemicals can be used on crops, allowing higher yield to support our growing human population.

It is difficult for farmers to purchase seeds that are not genetically modified. The increased use of chemicals in farm fields has eliminated many of the milkweeds that Monarch butterflies require to successfully migrate from Mexico to Michigan.

Lincoln Brower conducted studies in the 1960’s to gain understanding about how Monarchs acquire chemicals from milkweeds that protect them from bird predators. Milkweeds developed chemical protections through natural selection that protected them from most insects trying to feed on them. Most insects cannot feed on milkweeds because of the plant’s poisons. Monarchs, milkweeds bugs, milkweed longhorned beetles and some others have developed the ability to feed on the plant and have developed ways to isolate the poisons without being killed.

Brower fed Monarchs to blue jays and the birds became ill, vomited, and had an irregular heartbeat. The birds learned to not eat Monarchs or other orange insects.

Later other scientists studied cardiac glucocides ingested by monarch’s from the milkweeds to learn how they affect the heart. It was discovered that if a person has an irregular heartbeat, the chemical could be used to help correct the heartbeat. After learning its medical value, the chemical has been manufactured in the laboratory and used to save human lives.

If monarchs were allowed to become extinct before the study, we might never have made the life saving discovery. Many, if not most, medicines first come from studying plants, fungi, and other organisms to understand their role in nature niches. Scientists do not just throw chemicals together and test them to see how they might be useful. They look to the natural world.

Butterfly and other insect surveys conducted by citizen scientists aid in monitoring the abundance and distribution of insects. Similar surveys for birds, mammals, and plants help us understand trends for various species populations. Most species have not been studied for their value to humans. The value of many has been lost to extinction and will never reveal their life saving secrets. What if the chemical in milkweeds and Monarchs was lost before the life saving use was discovered?

The recent local butterfly survey conducted by citizens like you has value for fun and learning about local nature niche relationships. It also is important in tracking population changes. The information can be used to preserve species that save human lives. Some people require a known human use before they are willing to support saving a species from extinction. It is impossible to know the value of each species. It is estimated that between five and fifteen million species live on Earth and possibly 30 million. We have named about 1.5 million so far and, for most of those, we know little about their value for us.

Insects that live in your yard might be human life saving organisms provided we do not eliminate them with pesticide and herbicide use. You have life saving control that is important for future generations. If we eliminate species, their value disappears with them. Encourage people to live in harmony with nature rather than trying to dominate it.

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

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Allegan Butterfly Count

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Conditions were excellent for the Allegan State Game Area Butterfly Count. Clear skies with temperatures between 70 and 81 degrees F provide butterflies with good flying weather. Butterfly emergence for many species is later than expected due to this year’s weather conditions. People joined with the West Michigan Butterfly Association (WMBA) to learn identification and to enjoy wild areas. We carpooled and even encountered other people looking for butterflies. What joy!

The Newaygo Count in the Manistee National Forest, Rogue River State Game Area Count, Grand River Count in Ottawa County, and the Muskegon State Game Area Count held by WMBA will occur during July. The Allegan count was held on July 5, and species sighted are listed in Table 1. The results from the Rogue River SGA Count will be published in a nature niche column, but visit the WMBA Web Site for results from all our counts. A $5 membership sent to our treasurer will keep you connected for club activities (address on web site) www.graud.org/wmba.html.

2105 Allegan SGA Butterlfy Count No.

Swallowtails

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail 2

Spicebush Swallowtail 1

Whites & Sulphurs

Cabbage White 7

Clouded Sulphur 6

Blues and Hairstreaks

American Copper 2

Bog Copper 6

Coral Hairstreak 18

Edward’s Hairstreak 693

Banded Hairstreak 25

Striped Hairstreak 2

Summer Azure 2

Brushfooted Butterflies

American Snout 1

Great Spangled Fritillary 17

Aphrodite Fritillary 21

Pearl Crescent 2

Gray Comma 3

Mourning Cloak 1

Red Admiral 53

Red-spotted Purple 2

Hackberry Emperor 6

Tawny Emperor 2

Eyed Brown 1

Appalachian Brown 1

Skippers

European Skipper 8

Northern Broken Dash 5

Delaware Skipper 3

Mulberry Wing 1

Broad-winged Skipper 1

Dion 1

Black Dash 1

Dun Skipper 2

Total Adult Individuals 896

Early Life Stages

Spicebush Swallowtail larva on Sassafras 1

Edward’s Hairstreak eggs oak 5

Karner Blue larva 4

Monarch larva on milkweed 1

Total Species 30

Allegan SGA Butterfly Count

Time 0900 – 1715 hrs (1 party)

AM 100% sunshine

PM 100% sunshine

70 – 81 F

Wind stilll to light breeze for short period in early afternoon

Total Party hours 8.0 hrs

Total Party Miles on foot 3.3 miles

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

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Wildlife recognition

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The average child can recognize 1,000 corporation logos but is unable to identify 10 plants and animals native to the region where they live. I have seen statements similar to this repeatedly during the past few years from research surveys. I have not tried to check the validity but it does raise concern. Kids get exposure to tremendous advertising. The question I pose is whether they get tremendous exposure by parents and grandparents to plants and animals that live in their neighborhood.

Check with your own children, grandchildren, neighborhood kids, and others to see how much exposure they get on their own or from you. It is likely that those reading this column expose youth to nature. Those children probably recognize plants and animals better than most kids do.

Those that do not read the nature niche columns probably associate with youth that are more likely to reflect the statistical normal. I suspect I am “preaching to the choir” with my writings. That is valuable because many readers tell me they learn new desired information. How to reach others is a dilemma that requires parents, grandparents, and friends to solve. Most people learn best by doing.

When my daughters were very young, we lived five miles east of Manistique, in the Upper Peninsula. Our home was one mile from Lake Michigan. We regularly walked a gravel road to a County Park on the shore. Along the way, we explored everything of interest and spent time discussing tree species and associated animals. Before the girls learned to talk, they clearly soaked up great knowledge.

We pulled a wagon so the girls could ride when they became tired of walking. At the beach, we found much to explore. Shorebirds ran on the wet sand and found food morsels by staying close to the coming and ebbing of waves. Gulls and terns were common. Occasionally we would see a Bald Eagle.

We stood on flat rocks surrounded by water. We each selected a special vantage point to search the water for life. When we did not desire to look for wild creatures, the kids played on the slide, swing and teeter-totter. It was joyous time outdoors where we built a meaningful relationship with our kids.

Some memories of experiences the girls had from ages one to four years might be recalled. Most are lost in the hidden recesses of their brains but I am confident they are still there and they played a vital role in their development.

At home, we played a form a concentration. Using picture cards of birds and mammals, I placed them face down on the floor and would ask for an animal. When they selected correctly, they got to put it in their pile. With each picture of a bird or mammal, I would make a sound and motion to associate with the animal making it more fun and interesting.

Before they could talk, they could recognize over 100 birds and mammals. The girls could recognize many tree species we saw on our walk to Lake Michigan. On camping trips, they were great observers and saw things I missed. Maybe this was because their eyes were closer to the ground but I think they simply learned to observe creatures that shared the world with them. They developed good observation skills.

It was fun to play wildlife concentration, walk to Lake Michigan, and explore outdoors. Of course, they would tire and we found other things to do when we were growing weary. Today they appreciate the multitude of life and try to live lives that promote sustaining a healthy environment for humans and other creatures. I still expose them to nature. Help children exceed the norm for wildlife recognition and keep it fun. The best learning comes from one on one experiences between adult and child.

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

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Glowing Sparks on Sleeping Bag

OUT-Nature-niche-Ranger-Steve-Head-ShotBoy scouts hiked two miles to Mr. Cook’s farm woodlot to set up camp. First, selecting a proper tent site was important. Then collecting adequate firewood to cook dinner was essential and additional wood was gathered for an evening campfire.

Once the essentials of camp construction like making a latrine were completed, games, exploration, and mischief followed. We practiced tying knots and completed other camp skill activities for rank advancement or merit badges.

In those days, we packed in heavy food. It predated most freeze-dried food. The food was good. After removing apple cores, we packed cinnamon sugar in the center and cooked them in aluminum foil on the fire. We made meat, potato, and vegetable stews.

We explored Mr. Cook’s farm woodlot for animal signs hoping to find deer, bears, and cougars. Well the bears and cougars were not present. The deer were good at avoiding us. Squirrels would chatter and scold us from high in tree branches.

Desirable insects were fun to observe. We found it necessary to wear insect repellant and lightweight long sleeve shirts and pants for protection from biting insects. When we were in sunny areas, the mosquito problems were minor but deer flies could be bad in season. We learned Native American practices to fool the flies. We cut a bracken fern and wore it so the stem held the frond over our head causing the flies to circle the leaf-like frond instead of circling our head.

Scout and Native American skills helped us live in harmony with nature niches. We discussed some or these around the campfire after dark and, of course, told scary stories to put others on edge before turning in for the night.

Some scouts sneaked away during the campfire and collected sparks. After collecting one or two hundred, they went to my dad’s tent, opened the flap and released the sparks inside. They quickly closed the flap and returned to the fire.

After bed check, my dad as scout leader went to his tent expecting a good night’s sleep outdoors. When he opened his tent, he saw glowing embers covering his sleeping bag. Immediate shock and thoughts of getting a water bucket surfaced until he realized the embers were lightning bugs or fireflies.

They were not flies at all. Fireflies are actually beetles that have highly efficient light production, with little heat production. Our incandescent light bulbs are inefficient and produce excessive heat. New style light bulbs will save energy and money without the excessive heat production like the firefly light. They are more expensive but you will probably save enough money within a year to offset replacing the old incandescent bulbs and it will also lower your harmful carbon imprint.

Once dad determined the blinking embers were insects, he realized the scouts pulled a good joke on him. Interestingly, where I grew up the Saginaw area, we had lightning bugs (fireflies) that glowed amber red. Most places, like where we live now, have green glowing fireflies. It is a mystery that I still do not understand. Maybe scouts today will become scientists of the future that explain this mystery. There is so much to discover and learn.

I became an official “Girl Scout” leader when my girls were of age and enjoyed learning with them. Find ways to enjoy the outdoors often with your kids and grandkids.

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 49319-8433 or call 616-696-1753.

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Sunscreen in plants

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

A red pigment called anthocyanin has been considered a sunscreen that protects plants from becoming sunburned, much like the sunscreens we use to protect us, from ultraviolet radiation (UV).

Look at newly emerging leaves from buds and notice the red color of the delicate tissues that have not yet “hardened.” When leaves expand from the bud, they are somewhat like a water balloon. They fill with water but the plant cannot build the necessary support tissues that rapidly. Feel newly expanded leaves to notice how delicate they are. The cellular tissues remain thin for days.

The leaves of trees and shrubs expand rapidly but it takes much longer to reinforce cells with cellulose and other strengthening tissues. The first line of defense to protect delicate tissues from UV radiation would reasonably be found in the protective outer cell layer called the epidermis. This layer lacks the green chlorophylls that make leaves green and it also has a low concentration of anthocyanin. Anthocyanin is more abundant deeper in leaf tissues called palisade cells, where vertical rows of cells stand next to each other and circulate green chloroplasts to capture sun energy. It also is more abundant in photosynthetic cells beneath the palisade cells know as spongy mesophyll cells. Studies are trying to understand the mystery UV protection.

Think of the palisade cells like a series of farm silos packed closely together to fill a checkerboard. They are tall and slim. Imagine each silo filled with water and beach balls. The balls represent the chloroplasts that form a moving loop inside silo like an internal Ferris wheel. The chloroplasts are like seats on the Ferris wheel following others as they rise to the top and circulate back down to bottom. The spongy mesophyll cells below the palisade cells are more globular in water filled spaces between cells.

UV can cause damage to DNA in the cells of the two layers, just like damage can cause cancer in our skin tissues. Anthocyanin filters radiation to varying degrees and helps protect plants. Melanin in our skin serves that function and is built when our skin is exposed to UV and makes us tan.

Shade tolerant plants in the understory of forests are protected from intense sun radiation by the forest canopy. When trees are clear cut, the ground plants are suddenly exposed to UV and respond. They produce large quantities of anthocyanin and become intensely red. Unfortunately, it is not adequate to save them and most succumb to sunburn. Plants adapted to tolerate open sunny nature niches colonize the new sunny habitat. When you see a clear-cut forest, stop to notice how red the ground plants become when exposed.

Explore with family members to notice new growth on dogwood shrubs, maples, sassafras, oaks, and cherries. Choose any tree or shrub and feel how soft and delicate new tissues are and that they are pigmented red until they harden and feel sturdy. It is universal that the new tissues concentrate anthocyanin. The water-soluble pigment has other functions also but it plays a role as protective sunscreen. Phenolic acids in corn and other crops are UV-absorbing compounds so anthocyanin is not the only sunscreen. More mysteries are waiting discovery.

Declining levels of ozone in the upper atmosphere have generated concern because more UV radiation is entering the lower atmosphere where we live. In our latitudes, UV has risen by 3 to 5 percent in recent decades. Closer to the poles it has risen 6 to 8 percent. Increased skin cancer in people is occurring. People are not the only species impacted by UV radiation but we tend to think we are isolated from nature niches. That is not now nature works. What happens to plants happens to people. We do not live alone and sustainable care for other life is essential for our own health. Food and forest productivity depend on how we care for ozone layers.

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 49319-8433. 616-696-1753.

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Butterfly Counts

 

Please join some or all of the West Michigan Butterfly Association counts.

Counts are sponsored by the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) and cost $3 for each participant. The money is sent to NABA to create a publication available to any one interested. Scientists make good use of citizen science data. Between 17 and 22 different counts are held in Michigan annually. As Michigan’s count editor, I review and write the annual Michigan summary report the proceeds the count reports.

To locate different species and count numbers we carpool to various sites during the day.

The purpose is to have a good time outdoors as well as to learn to identify species, learn habitat associations, behavior, and nature niche needs. Some families come for part of the day while others stay the full day. Also consider joining our West Michigan butterflies Association – membership $5/year.

Bring a bag lunch, plenty to drink, snacks, and dress with lightweight long sleeves and pants to protect from any biting insects or raspberry thorns. We explore off trails when searching for butterflies.

Dates and meeting locations:

July 5, 2015 (Sun) 9:00 a.m.

Allegan Butterfly Count – Allegan Co.

Leader: Ranger Steve (Mueller)

Meet at the Fennville Allegan State Game Area headquarters, 6013 118th Ave, Fennville. odybrook@chartermi.net

July 7, 2015 (Tues) 9:00 a.m.

Newaygo County Butterfly Count – Newaygo Co.

Leader: Ranger Steve (Mueller)

Meeting at Plum’s Grocery parking lot at the corner of M82 & M 37 in Newaygo. odybrook@chartermi.net

July 11, 2015 (Sat) 9:00 a.m.

Grand River Park Butterfly Count – Ottawa County Parks

Leader: Dennis Dunlap

Meet at Grand River Park, 9473 28th Ave., Jenison (north of Filmore St.)

dunlapmd@charter.net

July 12, 2015 (Sun) 9:00 a.m.

Rogue River Butterfly Count – Kent Co.

Leader: Ranger Steve (Mueller)

(Kent, Newaygo, Montcalm Counties)

Meet at Howard Christensen Nature Center Welcome Center 16160 Red Pine Dr., Kent City odybrook@chartermi.net

July 19, 2015 (Sun) 9:00 a.m.

Greater Muskegon Butterfly Ct – Muskegon Co.

Leader: Dennis Dunlap

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

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 49319-8433. 616-696-1753.

 

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Mosquito and Phoebe

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Outdoor memories last a lifetime. It was on a field trip to Gwen Frostic’s outdoor nature studio, in Benzonia, west of Traverse City, that provided an interesting experience with an Eastern Phoebe. I was on a busman’s holiday, from my job as a State Park ranger, at Traverse State Park in the late 1960’s.

Gwen had screened in studios, where she painted her wonderful post cards and stationary, as well as wrote penetrating prose. If you have not experienced her wor, it will be a joyous outing this summer to visit. The natural beauty of her inspirational property offers others respite long after her passing.

Our group walked the boardwalks in June observing birds flit among shrubs and trees. Some mosquitoes brightened the day for hungry birds and filled their stomachs. We wore lightweight long sleeved shirts and used insect repellent as we visitors traversed the nature niches where a variety of life made home.

Birds thrive in habitats where insects live. One cannot expect birds where food is not abundant for feeding young. Even seed eating species raise young on an insect diet.

We came upon a screen shelter that was temporarily closed to access because an Eastern Phoebe constructed a nest on top of the door. Mike Jarea noticed a mosquito biting an almost grown young phoebe on top of its head. To help the young bird, he used his finger to kill the mosquito. When he did, five young birds prematurely left the nest. They were almost able to fly but not quite.

The two of us quickly gathered the birds and placed them back in the nest. I placed my hands over the birds until they calmed. Slowly I removed my hands and the birds remained huddled in the nest. What did not stay in the nest were hundreds of bird lice that blackened my hands.

Nests are dangerous places for birds but they are essential for their rearing. The sooner they leave the better they are able begin caring for themselves. Once able to minimally fly, they often fledge. Parents continue to feed them away from the nest, as well as teach them where and how to look for food.

When fledglings venture off on their own, they continue to depend on parents. The parents are not often seen, but they are in the area much like mother deer are in the area to return to couple times a day to feed fawns. Some people think they are rescuing orphaned young when, in reality, they are taking them away from caring parents and reducing young survival chances.

Sometimes young are orphaned because adults were killed by cars, cats, or some other event. It is best to leave apparent orphans where they are found, because there is a better chance that adults will return.

I brushed the massive black lice from my hands and was happy we were able to secure the birds in the nest to fledge another day. I suspect Mike learned to allow the mosquito its minute feast. It would be less dangerous to survival than the chicks leaving the nest prematurely. It is wonderful to observe animals from a safe distance in a manner that does not disrupt the lives.

An Eastern Phoebe has nested in our carport annually for 35 years. I wonder how many generations of birds succeeded one another. Normally they live only a few years and would be fortunate to reach an age 7, give a take a years. We disturb them when we approach the carport but it doesn’t cause them to move elsewhere for a new nest site. It is necessary to only pull the car part way into the carport for a few weeks when young are present. The young raise the rears to the edge of the nest and defecate. They cover our car hood with corrosive turds. We enjoy their presence and willingness to share space with us, so we do not remove the nest. Instead we take joy in seeing them daily.

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 49319-8433 or call 616-696-1753.

Written for CS Post, Vol. 28 No. 23.  11 June 2015.

Submitted: ? June 2015

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Spring to summer wildflowers

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The transition from spring wildflowers to summer wildflowers is nearly complete. The greatest difference is whether the plants flower under leafless trees or flower under expanded leaves.

It takes a lot of energy to produce flowers and seeds. It is best for plant sex to occur in full sunlight before trees cut off sun energy to the ground with leaves. I pay more attention to phenological summer beginning than to when the sun reaches its most northern zenith. Calendars mark the summer solstice when the sun no longer appears to move north and apears to start its southward movement.

Spring flowers end flowering when trees leaves expand and shade the forest floor. Plants wither or spend the summer without the flare of flowers while they store energy in roots, tubers, and rhizomes for next spring’s flowering. When sunlight penetrates through early spring branches of bare canopy, ground plants receive high-energy necessary flower sex.

Carpets of Narrow-leaved Spring Beauty flowers brighten the forest floor. The petals appear pink but they are not. Bend and look closely. You will notice white petals with pink lines. When we stand and look down, our eyes do not discern the detail. The pink lines on white petals act as nectar guides. Insects landing on the petals follow the lines like airport runways to nectar.

It is too late this year to take notice of these flowers but it will give you something to notice next year. The spring beauties complete their life cycle and disappear from view for ten months. Their nature niche activities occur between late April and early June. By late May fertilized flowers have formed seeds. Soon the entire plant above ground withers and is hidden below ground until next spring.

To ensure reproductive success this plant produces a series of short-lived flowers. A plant might remain in flower for several days but individual flowers come and go quickly. If poor weather prevents a flower from being fertilized, others blooming before and after will hopefully have had success on better days.

Other spring flowers racing to complete flowering before the forest canopy darkens the forest floor are Hepaticas, Trout Lilies, Bloodroot, Large-flowered Trillium, a variety of blue and yellow violets, with Mayapples squeezing in at the tail end before the canopy thickens. Each plant has it own unique adaptations and story with associated insects, birds, and small mammals. Stories abound.

An early summer plant that flowers in abundance as trees turn the landscape wonderful shades of green is Wild Geranium. It cheery pink blooms abound in forest and forest edges. For me it is a sign that summer has begun. It is still weeks before the summer solstice with the longest day of year and the official start of summer. The phenologies of plants have their own markers to indicate the end of spring and the beginning of summer. Oaks and mulberries are among the last trees to leaf out. Once they expanded their leaves, I consider spring to have ended and summer has begun.

Most trees flower before they have clothed themselves with new leaves. If they are wind pollinated, it best to flower when the wind can flow freely among the branches to spread pollen. Many are insect pollinated and it is easier for insects to travel from flower to flower without leaf obstacles. By the time maple leaves expand, the samaras helicopters are carrying seeds to the ground away from the parent. Non-descript oak flowers fall as withered tan strings but a portion will remain all summer to grow and loudly pound the roof, car, and ground as acorns in fall.

There is more occurring than one can notice but many notice summer blueberries come from spring bell-like flowers, pale current flowers usually do not attract our attention but we enjoy their summer fruits, and we notice of apples as they ripen. Take time to notice the beauty of life surrounding you.

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 49319-8433. Phone: 616-696-1753.

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Hummingbird Brawl

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

OUT-Nature-niche-hummingbirdRuby-throated Hummingbirds are a joy to watch as their iridescent throat patches catch sunlight and radiate brilliant ruby. It is not viewed with equal joy, when a male sees another’s ruby throat.

I watched a male performing its mating display by swooping down and up in a U pattern to impress a female. The Rudy-throated Hummingbird display was not as impressive as some western species I have observed. I watched western species loop 75 feet down and up. Here the bird was looping 20 feet.

When the male favorably captures the attention of a female, she will land nearby. His flight changes to sideways movement back and forth, as he tries to woo her.

At the feeder, birds are less tolerant and unwilling to share food resources with females or males. This evening turned into a Saturday night brawl for two males.

At 8:30 EDT, two tumbled to the ground and rolled around. I did not know if they were opposite sexes engaged in mating or males fighting. When they flew up, I could see both had ruby-throat patches. One tried visiting the feeder and the other charged from above, in a blur of speed. I thought both would be severely injured if they made physical contact.

The feeding bird quickly took evasive moves and the two continued aerial combat maneuvers for twenty minutes. In mid air they would come into physical contact and separate. Sometimes their contact would bring them to the ground, where I could only see them thrashing in the grass.

At 8:50 p.m., the two engaged in a ground brawl that I observed with binoculars. I could see one appeared to be pinning the other beneath. At times, both would be in view until one was subdued underneath again. This continued 20 minutes. It was getting dark. I left the window for a moment, and, on my return, I saw one at the feeder and could not see other.

I went outside to look for an injured, maimed, or dead male hummingbird, where they had a 20-minute exhausting fight. Fortunately, I did not have an unpleasant discovery. I did not see the second male again.

Why can’t animals get along? Hummers seem to be particularly anti-social with others of their species. In general, the behavior is common for many species and driven somewhat by hormone levels. Books and research papers elaborate and are beyond review here. In brief, reasons include:

*Individuals desire adequate breeding and nesting space with appropriate food, water, and shelter. This applies for species from hummers to people.

*Food is critical and many are unwilling to share a limited resource. Hummingbirds gather food in a small home range. Other species, like us, access food from around the world as well as from local farm markets.

*Water is generally accessible in our region for birds and people. Historically and currently, water rights conflicts abound. Proposals to pipe Great Lakes water to arid regions are frequent. Some question why people want to retain the Great Lakes instead of draining or lowering them to supply the southwest deserts and California. Lowering the Great Lakes would dry many wells, inland lakes and alter Great Lakes agriculture and ecosystem.

*Successful nesting requires good nest sites. It is difficult to raise young to adulthood. In the case of humans, we have become quite proficient with modern medicines, vaccines, food distribution, and community health programs. We expect most children to survive. A century ago, youth deaths were common. Youth deaths are still common for animals in nature niches. Help by allowing natural living space in a portion of your yard. We can each support Earth’s biodiversity.

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

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Fly Zone

OUT-Nature-niche-Ranger-Steve-Head-ShotBy Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Flying animals have their own flight zones but they can change with weather conditions. Last week I was called regarding a Common Loon stranded in a farm field. Loons are very heavy birds and must run on the water for a considerable distance to become airborne. It is impossible for them to take flight from land. They cannot even walk on land because their legs are set back too far and their chest rests on the ground.

People told me the loon appeared to be ok and was calling from the field. Immediately I wondered if it hit a power line and tumbled to the ground. We headed for the site to determine how to help it. Thirty minutes lapsed between the time people left the bird and we returned. The bird was gone when we returned.

Other people had been watching and perhaps someone transported the loon to water. It is wonderful to help wildlife but people should know that it is illegal and often dangerous for the wildlife. It is best to call the Michigan DNR or a wildlife rehabilitator.

Many birds can be observed at this time of year but it is more likely to hear them. Each species has its own “fly zone.” Some remain high in the tree canopy and are very difficult to observe, like the Red-eyed Vireo or Cerulean Warbler. To see a Cerulean Warbler I suggest attending the Cerulean Warbler Festival at Michigan Audubon’s Otis Sanctuary near Hastings, during the first weekend of June. Look at Michigan Audubon’s Website for details.

Some birds like the American Robin and Eastern Phoebe are commonly seen in our yards. Robins fly from vegetation to lawn and forest floor in search of a meal. Phoebes perch near open areas and “hawk” insects by flying out to capture insects in the air and return to a perch. Protect healthy nature niches in home yards by avoiding chemicals that create a monoculture of grass. Allow other plants to grow among the grass because they support a variety of life essential for native birds and it allows them to find enough insects to feed the young. A picture perfect lawn is a sterile desert to wildlife.

On cool sunny days I often see insects in a very narrow fly zone, within inches of the ground. You might need a jacket but when you bend feel how warm the air is close to the ground. It might surprise you how many insects are present in that narrow fly zone close to the ground. I watched White-crowned Sparrows outside my window that appeared to be feeding in that narrow zone. I could not see anything they could feed on.

I went outside and got close to the ground to see what might present. There were massive numbers of minute flies much smaller than mosquitoes flying just above the grass. The sparrows were feasting on the tiny morsels. It seems they would not get adequate nutrition from such tiny creatures but volume counts.

On chilly days, butterflies stay close to the ground to take advantage of the thin thermal blanket of air warmed by the sun. When wind is present, the thin area close to the ground is even more important. Insects do not have internal heat regulation like we do. They must depend on the surrounding environment to provide their heat.

By using behavior that keeps them in warm fly zones, they can survive unless a bird finds them concentrated in fly zones. Even then, an abundance of insects allows enough to survive to reproduce, provided we allow our yards to become healthy nature niches for insects and birds.

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

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