web analytics

Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

A Sand County Almanac

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.”

“Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost things in 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.” Aldo Leopold from the preface of A Sand County Almanac.

I stumbled upon the book in 1969. I did not know such good reading existed. Outdoor studies were where I experienced firsthand why geese are more important than television and discovered why finding rare flowers is an inalienable right. It was not until 1978 that I first found a pasque-flower in northwestern Minnesota at Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge. I can describe the experience like it happened last year.

Part 1 of a Sand County Almanac has wonderful prose for each of the twelve months. One gets steeped in the lives of wildlife and unknowingly is provided the basics for wildlife ecology and nature niches. The chapters are a delight. Part two is “Sketches Here and There.” It takes the reader on a journey across North America from Canada to Mexico. It relates how our quest for a “still higher standard of living” has diminished the quality of the environmental ecosystems and our lives. The almanac section provides essential basics that help the reader understand how the dilemmas described in part two impact the economy and esthetic quality of our lives.

The most significant section is part three called “The Upshot,” where Aldo presents a blueprint for maintaining a healthy biosphere. He demonstrates with science and emotional connections how we can pass on a healthy planet for future generations. Many, like me, have written about nature and wildlife or described conservation challenges we face. Few have provided a framework for forging a healthy and sustainable future for people and nature as well as Leopold. The book concisely laid out such a plan in 1949.

After reading the book, I meet Wakelin McNeel, who was a professor at Central Michigan University. He and I camped together in wild country. I learned he grew up with Leopold as a neighbor in Wisconsin. His dad and Aldo were close friends and Wake was friends with Leopold’s kids. I was told then that Leopold was probably the most significant conservationist of the 20th century.

When the 21st century rolled around, committees selected people for the 20th century’s most significant title in many endeavors. For conservationist of the century it came down to two people. One was Rachel Carson and the other was Aldo Leopold. Choosing one became impossible so both share the title.

If you have an inkling to enjoying nature through observation, growing plants, or hunting, I encourage you to read the book. I have been presenting a program titled “Wilderness–Unique Treasure” since 1974 based on the book. I insert prose of my own and that of poets and literary giants like Thoreau. Invite me to present the program for organizations such as conservation, hiking, hunting, fishing, birding, or botanical clubs.

“The Upshot” of the book establishes the importance of wilderness for recreation, science, and wildlife. It clearly articulates their value. I have taken pictures to illustrate the values of wilderness for present and future generations. Anticipate hearing me recite Leopold’s most famous piece titled “Thinking like A Mountain.”

I have read several great books and I am pleased to share in this book review; it can be a life changer beyond a pleasant read.

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 Off on A Sand County Almanac

Long-shadowed forest speaks silently

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

The groundhog saw his shadow if he woke from hibernation in 34-degrees fahrenheit temperatures. Instead, I expect it continued its chilly winter’s sleep with a body temperature of about 40F. Unconscious to the world above, it does not even wake to poop. Instead it remains in a shadow free subterranean cavity feeding on its plump body’s stored fat.

Cold mid-teen temperatures swept in from the northwest as high pressure brought dense air and clear skies during the night in early February.

The following day remained cloudless and sunny. The late afternoon beauty was too compelling to resist. Unlike the groundhog, I was conscious and drawn to venture into the big woods.

Wild Turkeys left trails with a center toe drag mark between steps. Two side toes glided over the four-inch deep snow without touching. The fourth, rear toe, did not leave a trace except when placed on the ground. Within the track imprint was a gray shadow protected from direct sunlight by the day’s late low-angled light. The un-shadowed snow surface glistened white from the falling sun in the western sky.

The cold following the recent snow kept it fresh, light, and unconsolidated. Wind could move it crystal by crystal. It was not cold enough for the snow to squeak under my footsteps. Instead the lowering sun on the horizon was making trees tell me they were taller than they are. By casting their long silent shadows great distances on a clean white snow palate, trees boasted a tall stature that did not exist.

Turkeys and trees were not the only painters marking the palate. A fox walked nearly straight lines with diversions to investigate brushy areas where cottontail rabbits sought shelter. Deer mice left four footprints and a tail drag mark on the fluffy snow surface. The fox was not fooled into wasting energy following mice tracks that would not provide a meal.

The mouse traveled about 150 feet before its light weight and tiny tracks that barely penetrated the snow surface disappeared through a small hole in the snow near a tree trunk. In a few places, it appeared a minor earthquake broke the flat snow surface and raised the ground cover leaving one long crack with several radiating fissures to the sides. I was unable to decipher what had moved beneath the snow to leave its silent telltale mark.

Fallen trees provide short shadows from horizontal trunks. Squirrels bounded between standing tree trunks to prostrate logs where tracks disappeared at one end and reappeared at the far end. Rabbit tracks looked much like squirrel tracks but circumvented logs to stay on the ground. They went around erect trees unlike squirrel tracks that disappeared at the base of standing trees.

Squirrel leaf nests high in trees blocked sun passage and showed dark balled shadows among the intricate gray branch shadows cast to the ground. Though it was quiet, the long shadowed forest was speaking loudly of its inhabitants.

I returned to my comfortable nest with a west-facing window to put pen to paper as the sun filtered light through pine trees during the last moments of day. Birds had quit feeding at feeders and darkness of night would soon replace the long shadowed forest with an even blackness. In a couple weeks, a full moon will cast shadows during the night when I will be compelled to take a night hike in a same yet different long-shadowed forest. Lighted by moon instead of sun, it will be a different world. Perhaps then I will hear the audible hoots of the Great Horned Owl.

For now, pine branch shadows lighted from behind by the setting sun cast shadows on my face to remind me I am a part of the pine’s nature niche.

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 Off on Long-shadowed forest speaks silently

Bird sightings peer review

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

People have opportunity to list birds from their yards or anywhere in the World to ebird. Google ebird for what has been sighted in the neighborhood, county, state, and nation. Select species of interest or “Birding Hotspots.”

Three friends and I went to the Maple State Area to find Long-eared Owls, Short-eared Owls and another species we might encounter that was listed on ebird. The owls have summer nature niches in the far north but come here for winter. As we traveled M-57, we saw a Rough-legged Hawk. It is another far north species that comes here in winter. A Bald Eagle perched in a tree just west of Carson City.

Near the corner of Taft and Woodbridge in Gratiot County, we observed the Short-eared Owls feeding just before dusk. We were there 4:45 to 5:30 p.m. It was a wonderful experience. Because these birds are not frequently seen, we talked with people from Midland and Detroit that came thanks to ebird postings.

In our more restricted area, Carol Van Oeveren searches ebird daily for species of interest and her husband Fred updates the Grand Rapids Audubon website several times a day. Google Grand Rapids Audubon and explore the website. You can find current sightings for Kent, Ottawa, and Muskegon Counties. Go chase birds.

When people post unusual sightings to ebird that are out of normal range, or seem unlikely for some reason they are automatically flagged. The lister will receive an e-mail requesting information to verify sighting accuracy.

I am entering data from my 1960 and 70’s journals. The Red-headed Woodpeckers get flagged because their numbers have plummeted. In the 1960’s they were common. They fed on insects that were in elm trees treated with DDT. The pesticide greatly impacted woodpeckers, robins, and many species. I remind the reviewers that even though Red-headed Woodpeckers are rare now, they were common in the 1960’s. They are still found near Wolf Lake north Baldwin but my listings get flagged annually when I post. I simply provide supportive data.

Some birders are offended when their sightings are questioned. If one is not a scientist, questioning might seem strange. Science journals require peer review before a paper is accepted for publication. Things that appear questionable are marked and sent back to the author(s) for better clarification. If the information is not convincingly accurate to peer experts in the subject area, the paper is not accepted for publication.

Peer review is critical to help make sure scientific methods used were excellent. It helps make sure conclusions drawn from the data collected are supported with physical evidence. That is why things like human enhanced climate change is accepted by 97 percent of climate scientists. The same process is used regarding bird studies. An ornithologist (bird scientist) is not permitted to enter flawed study results easily. When a paper is published and other scientists question the accuracy or conclusions, they might conduct studies to support or refute the conclusions. Science requires repeated verification supporting conclusions even if they are correct.

Citizen science e-birders should be pleased when some sightings get flagged. It helps posting accuracy and helps the birder review their sighting for accuracy and careful identification. People have reported Pine Grosbeaks to me that were House Finches. Errors are easy. Even though citizen science review does not have the rigor of scientific review, its helps maintain quality ebird postings.

It is a public disservice when peer reviewed studies are not allowed for release to the public like recently occurred with the president’s order to end climate research by the EPA and now requires that politicians decide what will be released to the public instead of scientific peer reviewers. Citizen ebird postings provide data for scientists use to document climate change. You can help scientists keep access to data that has ebird peer review. Despite government censoring or stopping peer reviewed scientific research, you can help scientists by enjoying birds in your yard or by getting outdoors for fun bird chasing and by entering sightings to ebird.

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 Off on Bird sightings peer review

Where do they go?

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

January thaw arrives and many birds disappear from feeders. The recent warm spell with a record high temperature of 62 F recently sent a message to the birds. It caused the remaining 4 to 6 inches of snow to melt at Ody Brook. Last to disappear was ice on packed trails.

Some species like the House Finches, Dark-eyed Junco, and the American Tree Sparrow were nowhere to be found. American Goldfinches and Northern Cardinals were seen less frequently. Downy Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and White–breasted Nuthatches maintained regular visits. For some reason, Blue Jays and Mourning Doves have been mostly absent for weeks. I saw my first Blue Jay four weeks into the new year. Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Hairy Woodpeckers made irregular feeding stops at suet.

American Crows do not visit the feeders but are seen or heard daily. Pileated Woodpeckers stay deep in mature wooded habitats. Today, a pileated pecked a dead aspen tree causing it to lose a six-foot piece of trunk that fell to the ground. The branched tree top had previously fallen. The remaining erect trunk was riddled today with long vertical drillings. Hopefully the woodpecker found more food energy than it expended searching.

New weather brought seasonal chilling with light snow. Birds normally not seen in the sanctuary provided evidence of presence. Wild turkeys used the trails planned for easy human travel and left tracks in the fresh snow. They are not stupid. They enjoy the ease of unobstructed travel. They stop to scratch in thawed ground and rummage through the blanket of leaves laid last fall where they searched for acorns and other food morsels.

Like turkeys finding food scattered about, birds missing from feeders are out gathering food in locations unknown to me. With the exposure of plants uncovered by the thaw, animals are searching and finding adequate food in the neighborhood landscape. The neighborhood includes natural habitats in the sanctuary of field, upland forest, and floodplain forest with a small farm field included. Surrounding the area are larger farm fields, a cattle farm, and residential home lots.

The birds have choices for food exploration. Some are richer than others. I saw a Black-capped Chickadee working small branches on a tree. It was most likely seeking overwintering insects tucked into crevasses on twigs. The chickadees have searched many of the thousands of goldenrods for insect galls. Many of the galls have been pecked open and the single white grub of the Goldenrod Gall Fly eaten. 

The grub resides in the thickened round gall on goldenrod stems and emerges as an adult in spring when new goldenrod shoots are about 3 inches tall. The fly mates and lays an egg on the plant where the hatching larva burrows into the soft young plant tissue and causes irritation.  The plant grows a thick ball of tissue around the insect to protect itself. The growth known as gall is what the grub feeds on all summer.

Several species of small blue butterflies overwinter as eggs laid in flower and leaf buds of host food plants specific for their species. You might find Spring Azure eggs in terminal buds of dogwood shrubs, the Silvery Blue’s eggs in vetch and Eastern Tailed Blues in clovers. The bright yellow Clouded Sulphurs spend their winters as small young caterpillars or pupae nestled among legume host plants. Spicebush Swallowtail and Promethea Moth suspend chrysalis or cocoons on or near their Sassafras caterpillar host. Mourning Cloaks and Eastern Commas overwinter as adults in protected seclusion where they might squeeze behind loose bark. If any of these creatures are discovered by searching birds, they likely become a rich protein meal.

It makes sense for the birds to search for these energy rich meals scattered about habitats during milder weather when they are not burning as much energy as they do during near subzero weather. I do not know if they reason this and return to feeders when they need to eat more to maintain adequate energy to survive. What I do know is I help birds survive winter in their nature niches. Their return to feeders brightens and enriches my life.

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

Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off on Where do they go?

Short-eared Owls

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Three friends and I visited eight Short-eared owls at meal time. The owls are smaller than Great Horned Owls and come south to our region in winter. There was a large grassland where they fed near Muskegon, south of M-46 near Swanson Road. A few years ago, building construction eliminated habitat and the owls.

We recently found a place where they are wintering on private land. When observing the owls, posted signs on private property stated “conservation easement.” You might wonder how to establish a conservation easement that will protect your land for your use and for future generations. On February 9, the Kent Conservation District is hosting a dinner and 45-minute program at no cost to you titled “What is the District doing for You and Kent County’s Natural Resources?”

The presentation will bring attention to the resources available to Kent County residents such as the NRCS administered Farm Bill that offers easement programs to eligible landowners to conserve working agricultural lands, wetlands, grasslands and forestlands. The Forestry Assistance Program and the Conservation Technical Assistance Initiative, Michigan’s Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program and invasive species strike team services are a few of the programs that will be covered during the presentation.

Please attend on February 9 for a 5:30 p.m. dinner with a 6 p.m. program at the Grand Rapids Township Hall, 1836 E Beltline Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525. The Kent Conservation District Showcase is free to Kent County residents. RSVP to Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/events/153931478427517/).

Back to the owls. My mother once told me that when habitat is destroyed, like occurred with building construction at the Muskegon site, the animals need to move someplace new. Unfortunately, there are not adequate places remaining for relocation. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Short-eared Owls’ population has declined by 80 percent between 1966 and 2013. Similar declines are occurring for many species as habitat is destroyed to accommodate a growing human population.

Conservation easements can help species survive by curbing habitat loss from agriculture, livestock grazing, recreation, and development that are major causes for species declines. Information from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology states the “owls require large uninterrupted tracts of open grasslands, and they appear to be particularly sensitive to habitat loss and fragmentation.” Habitat restoration programs, such as the Conservation and Wetland Reserve Programs, have shown some success in restoring suitable habitat for Short-eared Owls.

Local farmers and landowners have entered land into the Conservation and Wetland Reserve Programs that are beneficial for our natural heritage and the owner. Such programs not only aid owl survival but help reduce flooding in downstream areas. The conservation programs have significant economic benefits for the community. There is an economic cost that pays for itself in benefits by preventing flood damage losses, soil erosion fertility loss, pollution damage to streams, and it slows loss of wildlife.

The conservation programs can provide hunting easements on private land. The landowner receives financial rewards from the government and community members have access to land. It is considered a win/win for land owners, community members, and declining populations of plants and animals that can now survive. The new Federal administration does not recognize the value of an economic, social, and environmental bottom line. The focus is only on a short-term economic bottom line. Efforts are underway to eliminate many conservation programs that include social and environmental benefits that serve the triple bottom line.

Elimination of conservation programs is not good for the owls that have suffered an 80 percent decline. Elimination is not good for the public at large for flood control, or future generations. Attend the presentation to learn “What the Kent Conservation District is doing for You and Kent County’s Natural Resources?”

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

Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off on Short-eared Owls

Cancer’s Nature Niche

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

We choose how we live but not how long. Choices help us survive difficult circumstances. Having purpose and serving others makes a world of difference. I struggle to survive to help human people live in balance with what I consider creation’s animal and plant people. We are charged with caring for all species of creation’s people.

I have commented on cancer aspects but not from a nature niche perspective. My desire is to die a “natural death” instead of an “accidental death” like an automobile accident. I consider my cancer a natural death.

By the time I was in high school, chasing and studying butterflies helped me understand essentials for maintaining a sustainable environment to support future human generations and a healthy society. My survival’s not essential but I hope society’s current behavior helps humans born 100 generations (2000 years) hence inherit a healthy sustainable environment.

There are many natural controls that prevent plant and animal “people” populations from becoming excessively large. Controls create balance that helps maintain a healthy environment for future generations. In the absence of natural predators, deer have become too numerous and have eliminated wildflowers, reduced insect crop pollinators, birds, and other species of value for society.

Cancer is one limiting factor that works on human, plant, and animal “people” to help balance natality (population growth rate) with mortality (death rate). We have been successful in helping humans increase beyond Earth’s long-term carrying capacity. We could be thankful for natural controls that kill us and in effect help insure future generations will inherit a healthy sustainable planet for long-term survival. Of course, we want to live so appreciation for natural causes of death is not likely.

Many cancers are human caused by careless use of natural resources that cause pollution of air, water and land. Cancer is a form of our body going haywire and attacking itself. Causes might be environmentally induced or bodies might malfunction naturally for undetermined reasons. My multiple myeloma cause is unknown.

Some people grow old “old” and others grow old “young.” A friend grew old in old age, gradually lost sight, weakened and died at 101. My body was found to be eating itself with cancer when I was 47. I grew old young. Average survival for this cancer is 7 to 8 years with new treatments. I am in year 19. I like to attribute my extended survival to new treatments and to having a purpose for living.

Meanwhile, many people do not take simple steps to reduce natality to maintain a smaller sustainable human population. My children and I have waited until we were in our thirties to have children. That effectively reduces our families to three per century instead of five and reduces the living population by 40 percent. Reducing family size to two children is effective without depending on cancer and other unfavorable controls.

My purposeful living efforts enhance biodiversity at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, assist in small ways with local, state, national Lepidoptera organizations, Audubon Society, Wild Ones, land conservancies, nature center naturalists, and Creation Care efforts. Those activities provide cancer control. I continue to advocate the importance of biosphere ecology for balancing natality and mortality through self-control instead of disease.

Cancer is a body’s self-destructive activity that consumes one’s life. For some it is quick and for others prolonged. My treatment kills by causing lung, heart, liver, or other organ damage. The gamble has two choices: 1) let cancer growth kill or 2) use treatments that will potentially kill while it slows cancer growth. The chemo seems almost as bad as the cancer but family tells me otherwise. It’s a “Catch 22.”

Balancing natality with mortality will help grandchildren 100 generations hence maintain a sustainable environmental quality. Cancer has a positive value even if we do not like it.

Personally, I struggle with the choice to let cancer grow or use treatments to survive so I can help change current behavior to support future generations. My choice has been to have three generations per century instead of five for our family. Hopefully others will choose to strive for Creation Care. If my message is ineffective, it might be time for me to depart.

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

Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off on Cancer’s Nature Niche

Chasing Birds

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Grand Rapids Audubon Club 2016 Christmas Bird Count, Kent County Center at 2 Mile & Honey Creek Roads 

Fifty-nine species of birds were seen (Table 1) by forty-three traveling observers and 1 bird feeder watcher on 31 Dec 2016. A Rough-legged Hawk, Great Horned Owls, and Barred Owl were additional species recorded during count week. Count week is the three days before and after count day. Count week species are reported separately from count day species totals and numbers are not reported.

Total individuals sighted was 9342 and was almost 2000 less than last year’s but was similar with two years ago. Travel conditions and weather were good for field exploration. Mostly frozen still water helped concentrate waterfowl but flowing water was mostly open.

Weather conditions were 100% cloudy. Temperatures were between 33 and 39 F. Winds 0-15 mph with gusts to 30 from the west. Snow cover was 1-4 inches.

We totaled 76.75 hours in vehicles traveling 673 miles. 19.5 hours was spent on foot covering 17.25 miles and 5.5 hours at feeders. A combined total of 690.25 miles were on foot and driving. Groups totaled 199.75 hours of daytime birding. There were 15 birding parties in the morning and 10 in the afternoon with one feeder watcher recording. To count birds at feeders one counts the most seen for each species at any one time during observation time.

Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center (WWC) co-hosted and we appreciate use of the facility. We encourage everyone to visit and enjoy the WWC grounds and to support their community programs.

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.

OUT-Bird-Count-Table

Posted in Featured, Outdoors, Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off on Chasing Birds

Growing Cardboard

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

As a child, I observed toilet paper rolls were not wrapped around a cardboard tube. By the time we removed the paper, a cardboard tube had grown on the inside of the roll. I remember my mother telling me a rock on a street corner near her house grew larger as she was growing up.

Our observations were faulty. Both my mom and I thought we made good observations. I looked inside the paper roll and did not see the cardboard. I was not perceptive enough. Mom did not make measurements on the rock to verify growth.

I recall taking local middle school students to Costa Rica to learn about Tropical Rain Forest. We visited schools to plant trees with students. We shared that forests are a renewable resource that were being cut faster than they could regenerate. Some rainforest soils get baked to laterite rock when cleared of trees.

Sustainable practices that support future generations of people living in the rainforest and here need to manage rainforest differently if we desire to have toilet paper or other forest products in the future. Some apply temperate forest management practices there and are unwilling to change because they desire to think it will work anywhere. As adults, we are not making accurate observations based on sound scientific investigations.

Naturally, tree harvest industries are most interested in cutting trees and shipping them. They keep moving and clearing rainforest without adequate concern regarding the impact on the local community or future generations. For some, the goal is only short-term profit for the company. Many people feel that is in their best personal interest and it is particularly true if they invest money in mutual funds that include that forestry company.

Others seek socially screened industry investments that work to provide healthy economic, social, and environmental practices for both present and future generations. It is known as the triple bottom line.

A recent national survey prioritized 12 US citizen concerns. Environment was number 11 of 12. The only one of less concern was immigration. Political policies are based on constituent desires. It is good when people develop good observation skills and behave to support the triple bottom line for the present and future.

When I was director at the Howard Christensen Nature Center, it was operated by the Kent Intermediate School District serving Kent County public and private schools. One purpose was to provide hands on learning to help students develop careful observation skills and to learn how scientists constantly review the work of other scientists to find flaws and correct them. When studies involve things like how nature niches work in forests, we can improve best practice management. Science has self-correcting peer review.

Field trip learning helps children develop accurate observations in fun natural locations. They learn to draw better conclusions than I did regarding toilet paper growing cardboard while on the paper holder.

The Kent ISD superintendent, in 2005, told me they were closing the Howard Christensen Nature Center because environmental education was no longer a priority in America. He stated he was not saying it lacked importance but only it was no longer a priority in America. In the presidential election prior to 2005, Al Gore, with a sustainable environment policy, won the popular vote but lost the electoral. The recent election went the same way with the sustainable environment policy candidate winning the popular vote but losing the election. Environment was only one of twelve American priorities but indicated a sustainable environment for future generations is low on our priority list. The role of environment for sustaining a stable economy is important.

Encourage your children’s teachers to go to HCNC. It is now operated as an independent nature center. Purchase a 2017 family membership. Rent snowshoes there and have fun outdoors. Emotionally connect with the environment that supports us and our future. It will help raise a sustainable environment priority.

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

Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off on Growing Cardboard

Breathing Skies

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Warm south winds brought a record high temperature to the region in late December followed by cold air being sucked in from the northwest. By early in the new year warm air was again sweeping the area. The landscape breathes in and out creating varied weather daily.

Each breath is a temporary sigh creating different air mass movements depending on where the air is drawn from. Imagine a giant head looking in a new direction when it inhales its great breath of air. When looking north, it draws air from the north. When looking west, draws air across Lake Michigan picking up more moisture. When looking south, it brings an upwelling of warmer air from the balmy south.

Weather forecasters provide a better and more accurate account for how air masses move. They illustrate the locations of high and low pressure centers with explanations for how they interact to create changing weather.

A couple centuries ago when communication was not instantaneous, predicting weather for the next week was nearly impossible. People kept records of annual occurrences and predicted climatic expectations. It was obvious that winter would provide cold conditions compared with summer warmth.

Astronomers studied sun, Earth, moon, and star movement relationships. They determined the Earth traveled around the sun instead of the sun going around the Earth. Accumulated data gradually was pieced together to provide improved understanding for how air masses move on Earth.

Air movement has significant life and death impact on our lives. To our benefit, weather forecasters caution us about what to expect so we can plan safe travel. We are warned about hazardous driving conditions so we will adjust commute time or make decisions about cancelling school and community events.

Animals are in the dark ages when it comes to knowing what weather is headed toward their nature niche three days hence. They are locked into their own built in “Farmer’s Almanac” for climatic conditions. Climate is the long-term average of weather that occurs for any day, week, month, or year. Evolutionary adjustments in behavior and genetics allow species to survive. Some migrate, some hibernate, some stay active in winter.

Rabbits remain active all winter, warblers migrate to warm climates, and woodchucks hibernate using adaptations developed in response to long-term climate conditions. Survival is not assured because weather conditions bring extreme variations compared with averages that determine climate. A recent cold winter caused the Great Lakes to have 90 percent ice cover and many ducks were forced to small areas of open water where food was depleted. Massive duck die off occurred that year in response to weather.

When weather shifts the average conditions to colder or warmer, it is an indication that climate is changing. Climate change has occurred throughout the 5-billion-year history of Earth. Most often the average change has been slow and allowed organisms to adjust through life and death changes in behavior and genetics selection.

Some animal perceptions are keener than those possessed by humans. Changes in barometric pressure are noticed by animals and they respond before we recognize weather is about to change dramatically. Animals are attributed with responding to severe storms before they arrive while people have not taken notice. People have taken warnings from pets or wild animal behavior that resulted in saved lives.

Changing weather conditions are more easily observed than climate change. We are likely to adjust behavior for things like icy road weather. When it comes changing behavior for long-term averages of weather that create climate change, there is a tendency to deny recognition. When evidence supports human activity is changing global climate, many choose to ignore it. In that regard, we continue to live in the dark ages with animals unable to perceive long-term change. We have the ability to adjust our behavior based on the evidence or ignore it.

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

Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off on Breathing Skies

Meaningful New Year’s resolution

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

When making a New Year’s Resolution, make it fun and emotionally meaningful for you and family members.

I have been reading research studies on how informal learning spaces like your yard provide the opportunity to make life experience connections. They have long-term impact for family understanding about the environment that support a healthy and sustainable future. Create a pesticide free butterfly garden with native plants to entice insects, birds, neighbors, and friends. Let’s get everyone outside.

Creating a pesticide-free butterfly garden helps children learn about nature, while helping the insects and birds in your own backyard.

Creating a pesticide-free butterfly garden helps children learn about nature, while helping the insects and birds in your own backyard.

To develop an interest in nature and natural history research suggests a need for frequent and recurring experiences over many years. Last week’s nature niche was about our family’s Christmas tree experiences that continued throughout the kids’ entire growing up adventure.

Involvement with local fauna and flora instill emotional feelings that create responsibility for the local natural and human community. It is an experiential place-based education. When local plants and animals like insects are discovered and valued, conservation and re-wilding our neighborhoods becomes feasible. One research paper focused on the ecological importance of insects for our own healthy living.

When considering a New Year’s Resolution, select activities where the family explores outdoors on trails at county parks, nature centers, or has excursions in the yard. I recall one family experience when Jenny Jo saw dots high in the sky when she was about three. She asked what birds were flying. I looked and said I missed them. She asked again and I looked more intently. I was looking too close. The birds were very high in the sky.

We went outside and saw about 250 Broad-wing Hawks soaring in a heat thermal as they migrated south one October. It was an amazing experience that took about five minutes. It provided an emotional connection with the natural world. Reading and showing pictures of hawks riding thermals in books or on the Internet does not create an emotional connection that effectively builds appreciation for the natural world.

Perhaps your childhood experiences did not include similar events but it is I time to create new meaningful family traditions with emotional nature connections. Walking in natural areas, exploring wild things in your yard, or growing a butterfly garden will persist in the mind and heart of child for a lifetime.

Outdoor experiences help organize knowledge in the brain by what I call “hook” placement. It provides a hook in the mind to place experience knowledge in your own mental file cabinet. Once sorted and stored in a meaningful manner, book knowledge has a good place to be combined for rapid recall. It prevents searching unsuccessfully for things that get misplaced somewhere deep in memory recesses. Classroom book knowledge becomes more effective when connected with real world experiences like field trips to nature centers.

We learn best when we connect emotional outdoor experiences with new knowledge gained from what we hear, read, or see when surfing the Internet. We can compare a multitude of misinformation we are bombarded with from other people or see on the Internet. Nature exposure helps us make better sense of our surroundings.

Make the best New Year’s resolution ever. Explore outdoors with the family to build connections with each other and with the nature world during the coming year. It is more fun than resolving to lose weight.

The research paper concluded that intellectual messages detached from direct real world experiences in the outdoors are often impotent.

My friend Bob Pyle, a nature writer and butterfly field guide author, states that the butterfly net is perhaps the cheapest, simplest and most effective environmental tool ever invented.

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 Featured, Outdoors, Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off on Meaningful New Year’s resolution