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Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Green tip mystery

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Mysteries in nature niches are always present to please and challenge us. An article in one of the papers where my column appears suggested a mystery “Ranger Steve” might try to solve. Fortunately, I had already worked on it about 30 years ago.

A recent article from the Howard Christensen Nature Center posed a question about the green mystery in the Red Pine Alley forest where the ground is covered with green bough tips that accumulate during the winter. I have not contacted HCNC to clarify the location yet but I think they meant to describe the green on the floor of the “enchanted forest.”

During the 20 years I was director at HCNC, I noticed branch tips from Norway Spruce accumulated all winter on the forest floor. The spruce forest next to Red Pine Alley is known as the “Enchanted Forest” and that is where the green on the forest floor increases all winter. Perhaps something similar occurs in Red Pine Alley.

The enchanted forest has canopy openings that allow sunbeams to light carpets of moss. The scattered carpets appear as electrified green glowing ground cover. Enchanting carpet glow provides its own mysterious experience for all that walk the forest on Nature’s Habitats Trail. I think the trail has been rerouted to circumvent the enchanted forest since I left but we can still peer into the forest.

Walk into the enchanted forest repeatedly from fall to spring to notice the growing number of branch tips on the ground. Trees self-prune branches that do not produce more food energy than they consume. Lower branches that do not receive adequate sunlight to produce abundant sugar are sealed off by the tree and die. Trees spend energy producing new growth on sun-exposed branches, where needles can produce more sugar than they consume. For some mysterious reason those sun-exposed branches are the ones shed in winter.

Branches from the tree trunk produce tip buds that increase their length. Lateral buds grow side branches from trunk branches. Buds formed in the summer have embryonic tissue ready to expand branch length and width when spring arrives. Waiting all winter encased by protective bud scales, the highly nutritious bud tissue is ready for spring’s burst of growth.

It took me a few years to discover why the forest floor was covered with spruce branch tips. At first the mystery made no sense for trees to shed branch tips exposed to sun. It would not benefit the tree to lose new growth buds that provide the best sunlight exposure. Self-pruning occurs at the base of branches closest to the trunk where sunlight is more limited.

Why were branch tips being shed? During summer, red squirrels find choice insects, bird eggs and other food to sustain themselves. When winter arrives, food is not abundant. Red squirrels hungry for winter nutrition eat the buds along the sides of branches. In the process, they sever branch tips that fall. All winter branch tips increasingly accumulate and cover the understory. They cannot produce roots or grow new trees. The tips decay and add nutrients to the soil.

The squirrel pruning process is like us cutting branch tips that make the trees and shrubs grow more compact and thick with branches. We do this on ornamental plants and Christmas trees to provide aesthetic appeal. Squirrels do for their own nutritional benefit and not to shape tree growth.

Discover and solve mysteries awaiting your outdoor experiences.

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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Dust baths

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The drama outside our window provides unending fascination. Deer blinds are primarily used during hunting season but consider sitting in a blind throughout the year. My friends are more patient when it comes to blind use for observing nature niches.

My friend, Don Wollander, would spend the day in a wildlife blind, with camera focused on a bird nest. He captured outstanding photographs and was rated the number one in world nature competition 13 of 14 years. People find countless ways to enjoy the natural world.

Using our home as a blind, we see things we would miss when walking natural areas. When traveling outdoors, we witness things like a deer chasing a coyote recently described in my column. If you missed it search on line at the Cedar Spring Post (www.cedarspringspost.com) where niche articles are archived. Another time a young fawn saw me standing still and approached, touched my knee with its nose before it thought, “You are not my mama!” and bounded off.

A turkey taking a dust bath. By Charles & Clint (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

From our home, we can view our backyard fire pit where we burn brush, roast hotdogs, and make “Some Mores.” Karen woke me to look out the bedroom window where there was a thick gray cloud in the still air over the fire pit. It was hard to see the turkey thrashing in the ash.

A wild turkey was taking a health improving dust bath. Frequently we find hollows in the sand along sanctuary trails where turkeys dry bathe. Dust bath sand is important for wild turkeys and fowl like chickens that are kept by people. The attuned nature observer will witness woodpeckers, robins, and other birds dust bathing. Water bird baths in the yard are good and get used but dry dust baths have special advantages.

Birds lie in bare sand and use wings to stir dry earth on themselves. They work the dirt into feathers. The turkey that discovered our powdered ash hit the jackpot. The fine powder works better than sand for suffocating external parasites likes lice, fleas, bedbugs, mites, ticks, and fly grubs. The dust helps clog spiracles that allow for parasite oxygen exchange. It is not 100 percent effective but neither is slapping mosquitoes for us.

The parasites might move to get away from the dust and the bird will more easily dislodge them from its body. Observe birds actively using their beak and legs to rid the body of parasites. Infested birds scratch and preen frequently. They exhibit broken or missing feathers. Do not confuse molting loss with parasite damage. When molting, they lose the same corresponding feather on both sides. Notice each wing is missing the same opposing feather during molting.

Someone with me tried to help a nestling that had a mosquito on its head. He reached to remove the mosquito. Five young Eastern Phoebes jumped from the nest. We gathered the birds and put them back in the nest. I held my hand over the young until they calmed. Slowly I removed my hand and the birds stayed. My hand was black with lice. Nests are havens for parasites. When birds fledge the nest, they can begin behavior to reduce blood-sucking parasites that cause anemia, weight loss and general ill health. Dust baths are important health aids.

The very fine ash so light it was suspended in air like a cloud was excellent for helping the bird. It penetrated the feathers and coated the skin like an insect repellant. We are not the only ones that use nature to our advantage.

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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Butterflies and citizen science

photos from West Michigan Butterfly Association’s website, http://www.graud.org/wmba.html

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Join on one or more fun citizen science outdoor field studies. Discover butterflies in a variety of local habitats with people knowledgeable in butterfly identification. It is a great way to learn some of the 170 species known to Michigan. Join with the West Michigan Butterfly Association for fun discovery.

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 documenting butterfly abundance, distribution, and trends throughout North America. Scientists make use of citizen science data. Between 17 and 22 different counts are held in Michigan annually and you can contact Ranger Steve about other Michigan counts. Your help spotting butterflies is desired. Knowledge of butterflies is not required.

To find species and count numbers, we carpool to various sites in the designated count circle with a 15-mile diameter. Have a good time discovering in the outdoors, learn species identification, habitat associations, behavior, and nature niche needs. Participate for part of the day or stay all day.

Bring a bag lunch, plenty to drink, snacks, camera, and dress with lightweight long sleeves and pants to protect from biting insects or raspberry thorns. Some optional exploration is off trail.

Dates and meeting locations:

July 1, 2017 (Sat) 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 5, 2017 (Wed) 9:00 a.m. Newaygo County Butterfly Count – Newaygo Co. 

Leader: Ranger Steve (Mueller) Meeting at the Leppink’s grocery parking lot at the corner of M-82 & M-37 in Newaygo. odybrook@chartermi.net

July 8, 2017 (Sat) 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 22, 2017 (Sat) 9:00 a.m. Greater Muskegon Butterfly Ct – Muskegon Co.

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

Rain day alternates will be the next day. It is suggested to sign up with Ranger Steve so unexpected changes can be shared.

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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Deer chasing coyote

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

A coyote suddenly dashed from the woods, in front of Karen and me, with a deer in close pursuit. The deer was about 15 feet behind the coyote that was running for safety. The coyote looked healthy but was anxious for escape.

The deer was determined to nail the coyote with some serious blows. After passing in front us, the coyote dodged around us and turned again to enter the woods. Karen and I were traveling in a clearing on pavement.

The deer held true to its pursuit, passing in front of us as if we were not there with focus on the canine. She banked on the pavement and made a second turn toward the woods. The pavement was too smooth for her hooves and her legs went out from under her. She fell hard on her left side, jumped up and continued.

Karen was concerned that she might have received a serious injury. She did not appear to have broken a limb and hopefully the worst would be bruising.

Both coyote and deer disappeared into the woods in seconds. We hardly had time to process what was occurring. We were dumbfounded a coyote was running for its life from a deer in hot pursuit.

If a deer is healthy, a coyote’s chance of killing it are reduced. A heavy coyote weighs about 35 pounds and an adult doe averages 125 to 150 pounds. The deer has the advantage of weight, height, speed, and sharp hooves. It is not the best use of time and energy for a coyote to attempt to take a healthy deer.

I personally possess a scar on my right arm from 58 years ago when a deer casually sliced me open with one swipe of its hoof. That wild deer did not intentionally try to injure me. Back in the day, people fed wild animals in national parks. My mother put some salt on my hand and I held it out for the deer. It licked the salt and when the salt was gone, the deer pawed for more like a dog might. Its hoof gashed my arm.

Laws have since been established to prevent feeding or getting too close to wild animals in parks to protect both animals and people.

When an adult deer is weak, injured, or sick, a coyote has a better chance to kill it. That would shorten a prolonged demise and would likely help prevent the spread of disease among deer. Coyotes find and eat dead deer but occasionally adults are killed. In one study, 10 percent of coyote scat has been found to contain deer hair. Because of scavenging, the presence of hair in scat does not mean the coyote killed a deer.

So why was this deer chasing a coyote? The deer would not eat the coyote. What would cause it to endanger itself with high pursuit of an animal clearly wanting to get away? A fawn! Taking fawns is common.

The drama we witnessed the first week of June will never have a complete answer. The coyote was probably intent on killing a fawn so she could feed her own young. Does regularly leave fawns for extended periods when they are very small but by June fawns can travel with mom. If mom was nearby when the coyote arrived, the doe would let the coyote know you don’t mess with momma or her fawn.

The coyote likely had hungry pups to feed. Coyotes help keep deer numbers from being excessive and denuding the forest of many plants. Many forests have lost wildflowers and vegetation from deer over browsing. Fortunately, Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary still has healthy plant populations. That could in part be due to the presence of coyotes that take fawns. Mice and other small rodents along with insects are a staple in the coyote’s diet. Coyotes know you don’t mess with mamma deer.

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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Sparklers in the air

Firefly (species unknown) captured in eastern Canada. The top picture is taken with a flash, the bottom with only the self-emitted light. Photo by Emmanuelm at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10418847

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

A week ago was the first night I noticed sparklers in the air this year. Anticipate them with excitement and joy. There are unanswered questions about the lives of those that surround us.

I grew up with yellow/orange sparklers flying in eastern Michigan. Here I encounter green sparklers. Perhaps you know what I am writing about. Did you grow up with yellow or green fireflies? “Sparklers” or fireflies are names of convenience. It is more important that our kids, grandkids and future generations experience them. Their populations are in decline worldwide.

I usually do not go outside after dark to sit on the Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary bench in the Big Field. It was a pleasantly warm night with no mosquitoes. Late May and June is usually when I dress appropriately to sit out after dark or find ways to be in areas with few mosquitoes.

As a boy scout summer camp counselor where scouts played Capture the Flag, I was stationed to keep scouts from wandering too far. At ground level, mosquitos swarmed me. I climbed a tree and sat for the hour 20 feet up, where only an occasional mosquito arrived. They remain close to the ground feeding on mice and deer.

Fireflies are like nearly all insects. They are not a pest to humans, plants or animals we use. They even help us. It is unfortunate people kill beneficial insects to eliminate a few we find harmful.

Use strategies to minimize biting insects without killing the great majority of other insects. Last week an article was in the paper promoting a company that will kill insects in your yard with chemicals. That reduces healthy living conditions for mammals, birds, predatory insects, pollinators and humans. Have you wondered why signs are posted “stay off the lawn” after treatment? The chemicals are harmful to people and most life.

Fireflies, bumble bees, soldier beetles, ants, honey bees, butterflies, crane flies, carrion beetles, and other insect species that keep nature niches healthy are killed. It is better to avoid chemicals used to create lawns that are picture-perfect carpets devoid of weeds and insects. There are strategies to comfortably live with insects.

Enjoy exploring your surroundings to discover the lives of close neighbors in your yard. Fireflies are not flies. When we see the word fly connected with a prefix such as Butterfly, fishfly, and dragonfly, realize those are not flies. Things like bee fly, robber fly, and housefly are flies.

Flies comprise one classification Order. Entomologists use classification when working to keep food production, forest protection, and human safety secure. Integrated Pest Management is primary for reducing chemical use. Question companies promoting chemical use. Many use strategies to reduce chemical use. Avoid fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides and have a more natural yard that supports life instead of reducing it.

Fireflies, also called lightning bugs, are beetles. Realize they are not flies or bugs. Bugs are an Order including stinkbug, milkweed bug, and giant water bug. Lightning bugs flash through the air entertaining us. More importantly, they flash to attract mates for reproduction. Help them by maintaining a healthy environment where they will find chemical free food, water, and shelter in suitable living space. Larvae are carnivorous feeding on smaller insects, snails and slugs. Allow them to eat insects and snails in your garden for free instead of killing them with pesticides. Adults feed sparingly and are short-lived. They mate, lay eggs and die.

Fireflies are declining worldwide so use strategies to help them survive. Avoid use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Keep lawn mowing infrequent and to minimum size to enjoy the wildflowers that show up in the lawn. Add native trees and shrubs and avoid planting exotic species that few insects can use. Leave some dead leaves and thatch on the ground to hold moisture. A moist habitat is essential for “sparkler’s” survival. Turn off outdoor lights interfering with firefly behavior. You will save energy and money while helping save fireflies.

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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Migration Stopover

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

White-throated sparrow Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area, Quebec, Canada. Photo By Cephas, Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15086427

White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows stopover on their way to northern breeding grounds. If you have feeders in your yard, expect these interestingly marked sparrows to feed on the ground. They salvage seeds that fall when Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, American Goldfinches and others get seeds from the feeder. Mourning Doves will also be feeding on the ground.

The White-throated Sparrow has a beautiful distinctive song people describe with words to help remember it. It sings “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” or our friends to the north like to describe it as “My Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada.” It is a refreshing sound to enjoy for a few weeks as the birds work their way to Canada and northern Michigan breeding grounds. Google the species by name to get pictures and song.

Look for the white throat under the bill. The breast is gray with some streaking so its white throat stands out well. Between the eye and bill is a bright yellow patch. It is easy to miss if one does not look closely. When light is bright, the yellow patch shows best but in shade it is subdued. Above the eye and behind the yellow patch are white or tan stripes between darker stripes that run the length of the head. Attention to head details is helpful for identifying many sparrows.

Some might think “a sparrow is a sparrow” but attention to details reveals a beauty missed by those that do not take a few moments for a close look. House Sparrows are common in town, on farms, and in area of heavy human use like grocery store parking lots. The White-throated is not likely to be found in grocery parking lots but your yard can be a good stopover location. Do not assume all are House Sparrows.

White-crowned Sparrows superficially look similar to White-throated Sparrows but head details separate them. I saw both species together recently. The White-crowned is slightly smaller but that is a difficult character to recognize when the species are not together. The White-crowned has a plain gray throat and cheek below the eye and bill. The breast is a plain gray with no streaking like that present on the White-throated. On the head are alternating white and black stripes running from front to back. The stripes are more brilliant than those on the White-throated. No yellow is present at the base of the bill.

Young birds from last year’s brood can make identification difficult because alternating light stripes are tan instead of white and the dark ones are rusty brown instead of black. Don’t get frustrated with variations. Concentrate on the typical.

About 10 species of sparrows can be expected in or near our neighborhoods in spring. Those present will be associated with unique nature niche requirements. The two-species described like shrubby areas with some conifer trees nearby. I find the White-crowned Sparrow in more open areas than the White-throated. Sparrow recognition can be difficult but these two separate easily when one looks at head details.

Familiarize yourself with the natural world we share with a multitude of life. Start with the two stopover sparrows and then learn the Song Sparrow, Field Sparrow, and Chipping Sparrow that stay for the summer to raise young. Be a good neighbor by providing suitable nesting and feeding habitat where you live. Though sparrows are often considered seedeaters, they depend on insects especially during young rearing. Avoid sterilizing your yard and garden with pesticides. Allow 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.

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Trilliums and Swamp Saxifrage

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

The Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum). Photo by Wilson44691 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum). Photo by Wilson44691 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) excites us with its large showy appearance in mature deciduous forests. It is a highlight signaling spring is here to stay. Soon trilliums flowers will be gone for the year.

Forest tree leaves begin to expand as the trillium flower petals expand. As the forest canopy shades the forest floor, the white trillium flowers will turn pink and wither. Leaves continue to photosynthesize in summer and send food underground for winter storage. We do not take notice of the trillium leaves in summer.

It is good to take notice of leaf characteristics when enjoying the beauty of flowers so we can recognize the plant species when the flowers are gone.

The Michigan Botanical Club visited Ody Brook recently to experience ephemeral flowers and learn about their nature niches. Each species contributes a unique role in its habitat and ecosystem. They are dependent on soils, moisture, light intensity, insects, and a variety of subtle survival requirements. Some species like the trillium can thrive in a variety of conditions but surviving can be difficult.

Hoffmaster State Park hosted a Trillium Festival but an excessively large white-tailed deer population has devastated the trillium population and the name was changed to Wildflower Festival.

The abundance of Large-flowered Trilliums continues in many regions. If you travel north for Memorial Day Weekend, expect to see white carpets of trillium flowers in mature forest. The species has a coefficient of conservatism of 5. The rating is used to rank plants for naturalness of habitat composition using a 1-10 system. Habitats that appear to be the same might have species present in one habitat that are not present in another. When species with a high coefficient of conservatism are present in a habitat, it indicates a healthier site.

At Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary we work to encourage the healthiest habitats for greatest biodiversity enhancement and to especially help species survive that have a high coefficient of conservatism. We are fortunate that several pre-European settlement species continue to thrive that have been eliminated from surrounding areas. Some are present in small numbers such at the American Chestnut and Wood Betony. The chestnut’s coefficient rating is 9 and betony’s is 10 on a scale of 1-10. Ten is the highest rating for naturalness of a site.

When managing a site we ask, “Are land management practices effecting the health of the site?”  Hopefully our practices maintain rich biodiversity and improve survival for species that indicate a high-level of naturalness.

Coming into flower in mid-May are Swamp Saxifrage (Micranthes pensylvanica) that are not showy like trilliums. They have a whorl of leaves on the ground with a flower stalk that stands over one foot tall. Flower clusters have small inconspicuous pale flowers that do not capture attention. Its rating is 10 and is as an indicator of healthy habitat naturalness that is much higher than the rating for Large-flowered Trilliums.

As a result, our efforts for sanctuary management are greater for the less showy saxifrage, wood betony, and American chestnut than for the trillium. We personally enjoy the trilliums more because of their beauty. We work to maintain massive trillium blooms while helping the plants with a high coefficient of conservatism.

We explore the natural world around us pretending we live in the 17th century with native species. The presence of exotics species that crowd and eliminate native species from existence remind of us of the daunting challenge to help native species survive in the 21st century. Efforts are to maintain healthy habitats and ecosystems for future generations of plants and animals and for the benefit of future human generations.

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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Kathy Bowler’s discovery

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

In 2000 Kathy Bowler was walking along the White Pine Trail with eyes open to the natural world. A small blue butterfly caught her attention. Several small blue butterfly species fly in spring and summer. The most common is the Spring Azure. Others are the Silvery Blue, Eastern Tailed Blue, and the Karner Blue.

The Karner Blue was not known to live in Kent County and was not expected. Kathy pursued the butterfly and discovered it was the federally endangered Karner Blue Butterfly. I had been hired by The Nature Conservancy and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct research on the Karner Blue in Minnesota. Kathy knew that and contacted me to confirm her new Kent County discovery.

We contacted Mogens Nielsen who wrote the book Michigan Butterflies and Skippers and he also confirmed the identification and discovery.

The Land Conservancy of West Michigan (LCWM) works to preserve natural areas and species to keep nature nearby healthy. They worked with the land owners that owned Karner Blue habitat along the White Pine Trail near 12 Mile Road to create a preserve. The butterfly caterpillars can survive on only one species of lupine.

Wild Blue Lupine (Lupinus perennis) is a legume that fixes nitrogen improving soil fertility. It grows in Michigan’s oak savanna habitat. Oak savanna is Michigan’s rarest habitat and has disappeared throughout most of its range due to land use practices. When habitat is reduced in size, species supported are pushed toward extinction. Fragmented habitats left in small pieces do not support species nature niches well because individuals cannot get from one to another to expand their population.

Some reptiles, birds, and insects dependent on oak savannas have significant survival challenges. People can help save species with declining populations. The Maas family owns property where the Karner Blue has suitable habitat. They donated part of their land to create the Maas Family Nature Preserve.

The LCWM with support from the DNR helped restore oak savanna at the Maas preserve. Plant succession was eliminating the oak savanna that depends on periodic fires to maintain its habitat. A savanna is an open grass and forb area with scattered trees. The open area allows adequate sunlight for the Lupine and Karner Blue to thrive. Fires prevent it from becoming an oak forest that would shade out the lupine and butterflies.

Karner Blue eggs that overwinter hatch, feed on lupine, pupate and transform into the blue beauty in mid to late May. Those adults mate and lay eggs that produce a second brood in midsummer. The second brood’s eggs overwinter. Management for the butterfly creates conditions for other species that people enjoy seeing including wild turkeys, deer and several species of birds. On state and federal lands, hunters find better hunting success for species in Karner Blue managed habitat.

Thanks to Kathy’s sharp eye, the discovery helped an endangered species survive with the aid of people willing to share space with rare species. She also saw the butterfly on wild undeveloped habitat along the opposite side of the trail near 12 Mile road. The owners do not allow people onto that property to determine the extent of the species’ presence and are not interested in helping them survive.

Survival of the regions biodiversity depends on how we utilize the land. Many people began planting Wild Lupine to help the species survive in Kent County. That effort is not likely to help because the plant populations are too fragmented and distant for the butterflies to reach for colonizing new areas.

If everyone allowed some natural habitat in their yards for plants and animals, fragmented habitat would become more connected allowing species to move through the region more easily. Manicured lawns are attractive but do not help pre-settlement biodiversity of species that thrived here in previous centuries.

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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Spring progression

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Expect the same sequence of change but not the same timing annually. I attempt to record dates when plants and trees first flower to compare changes from year to year. Butterfly appearance is a special treat for me and an excel file is maintained to record the species sightings daily. Daily bird sightings are recorded. A narrative is written in my journal of nature niche occurrences like the location and abundance of Earth Star Fungi and Ebony Spleenwort Ferns.

It is an impossible task and for many species an X on the excel file suffices to document a species has been sighted this year. Busy life activities keep us all from noticing the first day when each species makes its grand appearance. Accurate phenology progression can be important to document things like Climate Change. For most of us, it is more important to experience the wonder and joy of life as it unfolds each day of spring.

I try to walk among the abundance of life daily witnessing what neighbors are doing. I am a nosy sort of guy. Ephemeral neighbors like hepatica, springs beauty, trout lily, bloodroot, marsh marigold, and skunk cabbage race to flower before tree leaves expand and shade the ground. Flowering is an energy expensive activity and for many it needs to be completed before intense tree canopy shade reduces access to adequate sun energy.

Some plants like marsh marigold spend the summer slowly storing energy so when spring arrives they have adequate energy to produce flowers and seeds. Others like the trout lily gather sunlight during the short period before tree shade reduces light. Their flowers and leaves decay by June ready for new growth next spring. Evidence of their existence is only visible for about six weeks annually.

Butterflies have certain flight periods that result in a sequence of appearances and disappearances for various species throughout the warmer seasons. Most have their activity linked with specific plants their caterpillars feed on so their flight is timed with the plant’s life cycle for egg laying.

Join for a couple hours of ephemeral exploration at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary with the Michigan Botanical Club on 6 May from 2 to 4 p.m. Park at V&V Nursery on Northland Drive about a mile south of Cedar Springs. The sanctuary does not have adequate parking space so V&V Nursery has kindly allowed parking. Considering shopping for plants at the nursery before or after the wildflower walk.

This year many species of flowers are blooming one to three weeks earlier than last year. Plant activity is weather dependent. During years when cold and snow persist well into April flowering is delayed. Other years early warm weather encourages ground thawing and sap flow in February. Wildflowers progression advances flowering dates in warm springs. This year it was necessary for maple syrup tree tappers to begin in February to capture the first dense sugar surge rather than wait until March.

I am waiting with anticipation to discover when the trilliums, baneberry, saxifrage, wood betony, and many other ephemerals bloom. I expect they will be in flower during the 6 May field outing. Though the sanctuary’s purpose is to primarily enhance survival success for plant and animal species, we are pleased to share the beauty of nature’s bounty with our human neighbors and to encourage you to discover the opportunities provided by the Michigan Botanical Club.

Come mingle with plants and plant enthusiasts. I will meet you in the parking lot at V&V Nursery before 2 p.m. for our stroll through ephemeral days of spring.

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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Fishing with feet

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

A reader told me that I probably would not believe him but he said he caught a trout with his foot. Before he said more, I said, “I believe you because I have also.” How many others have done the same? Trout fishing season is under way but angling with feet is not a chosen fishing tactic.

The reader was wading a stream when a fish tried to dart past him just as he stepped down and caught the fish between foot and substrate. My experience was similar.

In Calf Creek in Utah, I was wading bare foot in a small desert stream fed by snow melt and ground water from Boulder Mountain. The mountain road summit was over 12,000 feet with a spruce/fir forest in highest locations and ponderosa pines in the 8,000-foot range. Down the mountain, pinyon pines and juniper trees reigned at 7,000 feet.

Calf Creek was at 5,500 feet but that water remained cold, rich in oxygen, and full of trout food. Willows and other woody plants were abundant along the three to ten feet wide creek. In most places the creek was one to twelve inches deep. A beaver constructed a couple dams and created a pond where it built a lodge. After a few years, the beaver exhausted its food supply. The pond filled and became a wet meadow full of life.

It surprised me to see a Great Blue Heron standing on a bare sandstone desert cliff over Calf Creek. It made sense because trout were present for the heron to hunt in the stream’s shallow clear cold water.

My barefoot walk for about two miles was in the stream’s cold water but the desert air was near 100 F. The stream bed was mostly bare sandstone a few inches deep with frequent holes a foot to three feet deep. Deep holes were places the trout hid in shadows. They often remained stationary in shallow water with use of their powerful tail muscles beating just enough to hold their stable position.

As I walked downstream, a trout facing upstream was alarmed by my presence and attempted to dart past me up stream. My right foot was just coming down as the trout slipped between my foot and rock. The fish’s body pressed against the bottom of my foot and was squeezed to the sandstone stream bed.

Quickly, I shifted my weight to my left foot to prevent hurting the fish. Too late. The fish began to roll downstream stunned by physical trauma. I picked up the fish and held it with head upstream to allow water to flow over the gills.

For several minutes, I hoped it would recover as it continued to open and close its mouth. Each time I released it, it could not swim and rolled in the current. After considerable time, I let the fish roll out sight.

Such events are now out of sight but not out of mind. It occurred in the 1990’s but stays with me. Previously, I wrote about this in my column. Like most stories shared with family and friends, they get repeated at gatherings, campouts, or in another group setting. We all have experiences to share and reminisce.

Many do not end in tragedy like it did for this trout. When you are fishing or on adventures into the wondrous world around us, remember to bring back fish stories or those of your personal experiences with wildlife and nature niches. Truthful stories are best and most interesting. Exaggerated “fish stories” are not necessary. The more time you are outdoors the more exciting stories you will accumulate for sharing.

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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