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Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Biting flies

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

At our annual Lehr family reunion in the 1950’s, we gathered at a city park. It was an event for my dad’s mother’s side of the family. I always looked forward to it. One year, I ventured away from family to the large swing sets. The swings sets were tall and we could swing higher than possible on neighborhood swings.

While swinging with pleasure, I suddenly started screaming bloody murder. I was too far from family for anyone to notice. Nearby mothers with their children took notice and came to my rescue but had no idea why I was screaming and in tears. They helped me stop the swing. I was slapping at my leg.

Under the right leg of my trousers was something horrible. A woman pulled up my pant leg to discover a horse fly biting me. It was worse than a bee sting but it did not inject venom. Not all experiences in the outdoors are pleasant and some people avoid outings because they fear the unpleasant. Positive events out number negative ones and hopefully bad events do not prevent time among nature niches.

Deer flies are more common than horse flies. They can drive us inside at certain times of the day and during some weeks of the year. Karen and I hiked in a western cattle grazing area on public land. At Deer Creek in Utah, we found it necessary to leave. The cattle could not. Deer could not. Other mammals could not.

They had to endure the onslaught of biting Tabinid flies. Fortunately, cows have long tails with a hair tuff fly swatter. Deer have shorter tails but one can watch them constantly twitching it back and forth.

Selected behavior helps deer and other mammals avoid painful “bites”. The flies do not actually bite. Their mouth parts are saw-like. They saw into the skin and lap oozing blood to nourish eggs in their abdomen. It is the female that seeks blood much like it is female mosquitoes that poke holes in our skin. Males feed on nectar and pollen at flowers.

Horse flies are much larger than deer flies and cause considerably more pain. Both lay eggs near water on vegetation where hatching young drop into a stream or other water body. The maggots go to the bottom where they feed on other insects and invertebrates. They grow and shed their “outer skin” known as an exoskeleton to reach a size for transforming from maggot to flying adult that leaves the water to mate and produce more flies.

Most of the biting flies do not survive to leave the water. They are eaten by other aquatic organisms from fish to insects. As adult flies, they are eaten by dragonflies and even frogs. Despite us not wanting to share the world with them, they are important for maintaining organisms we want to share time and space with like fish, frogs, and dragonflies. Birds pluck them out of the air for nourishment.

There are tricks that help us enjoy the outdoors despite the presence of biting flies. We can use chemical insect repellents and at times they seem almost essential. Effective repellents are often dangerous if applied to our skin. Most should be applied to clothing instead. I rarely use repellent insect creams or sprays.

Appropriate dress is quite effective. Wear light colored long-sleeved shirts and long pants to keep skin covered. Dark clothes attract flies. The deer flies like to circle around our heads and become a major nuisance. My friend Mary Miller taught me to pick a bracken fern and put the stem in a headband or hat so the leafy frond stands above my head. The flies circle the frond instead of my head.

Choosing where and when to spend time outdoors at certain times of the year helps. During fly season, it is better to hike at a distance from streams. There are many trails in the area, so select one away from deer flies. As August progresses, deer flies become less frequent and areas near water become suitable again. Hiking on breezy days sweeps flies away. Wildlife spend time away from water and in open breezy areas. Learn by watching and enjoying wildlife. Discover ways to keep spending time among nature’s outdoor wonders.

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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Symphony of Sight and Sound

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The Cardinal flower. Photo by Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, Fish and Wildlife Service.

Symphony players have honed their music through eons of natural selection. Refinement continues with each generation of plants and animals. Individuals have physical advantages for species survival or have adaptations that are eliminated by predators, parasites, or failure to meet environmental conditions.

Enjoy the sight and sound of the life’s orchestra performing its changing symphony. You can walk among players or sit on a lounge chair with a cool beverage to experience more players than are imaginable.

The regional stage is set with an assemblage of plants on wet to dry soils where nutrients and water meet their needs along with varying amounts of light. The Cardinal Flower is one of the most beautiful flowers for my eye and has recently begun blooming. Each animal has favorites. The swamp milkweed is gorgeous and is more beautiful to many insects. It brings insects to the wetland stage better than cardinal flowers. Hummingbirds prefer the cardinal flower where we can enjoy their sound portion of the symphony.

Hummingbirds hover at the flowers with wings moving in a figure eight that allows them to hang stationary like a helicopter. Bees and Hummingbird Sphinx moths hover at milkweed flowers with their own unique buzz. Bees land and probe the unique flower structure with mouthparts that sometimes get trapped and held. One can find dead butterflies or other insects that were unable to break free.

Death is common for symphony players. Bird love songs often come from hidden locations that do not betray their presence and would expose them to predators. Their song announces breeding territory limits to prospective females that inspect male’s habitat suitability for rearing young. The singing male moves around the territory perimeter in earlier morning announcing to other males they are not welcome.

Each bird produces music in varying sized territory space that is adjusted to resource requirements. In the big woods at Ody Brook, Ovenbirds (a warbler) sing from low branches in the mature forest and build a Dutch oven shaped nest on the ground. Once in my lifetime, I found a well-hidden nest with the help of another naturalist.

Ovenbirds are abundant and heard throughout Michigan. Their music keeps rhythm with its repeated “teacher, teacher, teacher” song like our symphony’s drums. High above in tree tops, the Red-eyed Vireo sings its melody, “Here I am, where are you?” Like all orchestras players, species begin and end at specific times during the performance. Most birds make music during peak breeding season of May and June.

Sight, sound, and players change as one moves from forest to drier field and shrubland. Field Sparrows cannot be found in the mature forest but are loud musicians in open shrub habitat. They make introductory music notes followed by a trill that resembles a ping-pong ball bouncing on a table with accelerating speed as the ball loses energy with each bounce of less height. The Chipping Sparrow has a more evenly spaced trill without introductory notes. Close your eyes and recognize wild orchestra instruments in nature niches. You might not see the players but you can enjoy and recognize different sounds.

As summer progresses in forest, field, and wetlands, bird sounds become less frequent. Insect orchestra members increase the sight and sound beauty. Crickets of various species pick up the tempo. The Snowy Tree Crickets play a uniquely beautiful instrument. Cicadas have a tympanum at the base of their abdomen that resonates deafening volume. Katydid grasshoppers repeat their name during dark hours to attract mates.

Flowers and leaves feed insects, attract birds, predatory insects, and spiders that eat insects. The arrangement of color and species distribute players in nature like the stage for human orchestras. The multitude of players is greater than can be learned in a lifetime and they are dressed in interesting attire. Discover the magnificent sight and sound orchestra. To enjoy it, wild habitat is necessary. Less grass will allow more “nature,” save gas, and extend mower life. Spend more time hearing nature’s orchestra instead of a mower engine’s roar.

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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Shifting Sands

A sand dune at Silver Lake swallowed up a house in April. Photo from woodtv.com.

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Reading the landscape is a development skill taught in middle school Earth science. It is taught to preschoolers by parents. Young minds are open to learning.

The local news reported advancing sand dunes are burying homes. An Earth science lessen is easily forgotten without experiential learning. The dangers of building or buying a home too close to the big lake can be seen during family or school outings. It is a gamble to determine exactly which homes will get buried.

A trip to Lake Michigan’s shoreline dune complex for a swim will be a fun outing where one can see trees buried by moving sand at Hoffmaster State Park or in other parks. Some of the trees have adaptations allowing them to produce adventitious roots from tree trunks as their original roots get buried too deep to survive. The new roots give the tree continued life under tough circumstances.

At some future date, the sand dunes will shift and uncover tree trunks, exposing the roots developed from the growing trunk that was previously high in the air before being buried. If fortunate, the tree will have lived and died before sand is blown away to expose its skeleton.

One might refer to sand dunes as a living, moving, entity, but by reading the landscape, we discover they are not. Moving dunes bring life or death to species by the lake and will crush buildings. Contractors build and sell homes close to the shoreline. They arrive, construct and leave with a profit. The buyer that did not learn to read the landscape might lose their home to the crushing weight of sand depending on where the home was built.

The news showed a cottage that collapsed under the weight of moving sand. People were interviewed about nature’s destroying power. Owners are hiring bulldozer operators to move sand to save homes and resorts. The reporters hoped the home owners would win the fight against nature’s forces.

A fight is not necessary. If the people refused to buy homes close to shore or on shifting dunes, their homes would not be endangered. Many want the shoreline view and are willing to gamble their home’s future. The result is their home might be buried or washed into the lake. A Go-fund-me account has been established to help save homes because people cannot afford to hire contactors to keep moving sand.

Learning the school lessen might have resulted in choosing to live in a safer location. In the 1980’s I observed homes falling into Lake Michigan when high lake levels undercut foundations. I witnessed multi-million dollar homes fall into the Pacific Ocean as erosion undercut cliffs. The homes were too large to move and should not have been built close to the ocean.

Homes are built on barrier Islands along the Atlantic Ocean even though barrier islands are known to move and wash away. Classroom education is valuable but field trip experience is essential for learning to read the landscape. Book learning requires supplemental practical experiences to learn to read the landscape. That is the purpose of places like the Howard Christensen Nature Center and for parents to take families to natural areas.

I began as director at HCNC in 1986 when an Environmental Education Advocacy Council and School administrator agreement required some Kent ISD teachers to bring students to HCNC. I was told HCNC was securely funded by property taxes. As time passed, and shifting sands of education politics changed. I was told environmental education was no longer a priority in America after the early 2000’s presidential election. The Kent ISD stopped funding HCNC. An impact of that decision might result in students losing their homes to nature’s forces when they are grown. We are in a phase of political temperament again when many want to focus only on the present without considering the triple bottom line of economic, social, and environmental impacts for the future. Economic health cannot be sustained without social and environmental sustainability. Security in our personal nature niche depends on the shifting sands of politics and how well people learn to read the landscape to protect their wellbeing and investments.

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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Rogue River butterfly count 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The weather was great with sunny skies and little wind. Eight participants enjoyed butterflies, learned identification and associations with nature niche habitats. Thirty species sighted on count day are listed in Table 1 with the number of individuals and participants. We began at the Howard Christensen Nature Center for our 30th count year at 9 a.m. Counting began at HCNC’s Welcome Center. The group car-pooled to various Rogue River State Game Area locations within the count circle.

We visited the highest elevation in Kent County at Fisk Knob where we anticipated “hill topping” Black Swallowtails but none were present. We know what species to expect based on normal flight dates but some species are not present because we either missed them or their flight schedule is different from our count date in a given year.

During the day, butterfly behavior is observed and described to help make the count a wonderful experience. Larval host plants are inspected for caterpillars or eggs. One Viceroy larva was found on aspen this year. The eight participants spent most time looking for adults and counting individuals.

The total number of species observed has varied over the 30 years from 18 to 43. Weather effects butterfly activity. Sunny days with little or no wind in the 70’s and 80’s is ideal. Adults often emerge from pupae following a soaking rain. I was surprised that a few species we normally find were not present. The flowering plants and apparently some butterflies seem to have delayed emergence this year. We had a cool spring but I expected the warm days in June would allow species to get back on schedule. Activity is closely linked with blooming of nectar sources.

Consider joining the 2018 counts next July. Watch the Nature Niche column for next year’s dates for the Allegan, Muskegon, and Rogue River State Game Area Counts as well as the Newaygo Count in the Manistee National Forest. Books and Internet web sites help learning but it is best experienced by exploring the real world. Time outdoors is enjoyable, healthy, and provides family time that creates wonderful memories. People can join for part of the day.

Other count results will be posted on the West Michigan Butterfly Association (WMBA) Web Site by August. Consider becoming a member of WMBA for $5/yr. A check can be sent to our treasurer Dennis Dunlap, 2599 W. Chester Dr., Zeeland, MI 49464 and his address is also posted on the web site (http://www.graud.org/wmba.html). The date for the Muskegon count is 22 July 2017 so there is still opportunity to participate. Visit the WMBA web site for location directions.

Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary is the last place we visit after diligently searching all day. I am always hopeful we will be able to find at least one species we have not discovered elsewhere during the day. This year we added the Appalachian Brown. During count week, which is the three days before and after count day, we saw two Harvesters, 1 Mourning Cloak, and 1 Hobomok Skipper at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary. Those species and numbers of individuals are not included in the count day list. They are listed as an addendum to the report and turned in to the North American Butterfly Association.

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.

 

click link to download results: 2017 Rogue River Butterfly Ct.pdf

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Wonderment

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Wonderment opportunities transform us from youth to adulthood. Maintain wonderment as a part of living. Perhaps we get caught in trials of everyday activities that divert attention away from important experiences. Enjoy and share with family and friends the splendor of living and non-living wonders.

When was the last time you lay in your yard and to watch the migration of clouds wisp overhead? I still take time to watch the hippos, dragons, fish, or even ice cream trucks made from clouds pass across the sky. White and gray clouds transform before our eyes. Watch the edges of beautiful puffy cumulus clouds as they evaporate. Small clouds disappear right before your eyes. Have you considered where they go?

The liquid moisture that comprised the cloud has changed state from liquid to gas and has become invisible. The invisible moisture is still present in the sky. That might be a scientific explanation but where does your imagination take you?

I recall wanting to jump from a plane into one of those big puffy clouds to explore hidden mysteries. Perhaps it was Jack and the Beanstalk that stimulated the adventure desire. It is good I never took the jump. It would have been quite the surprise to fall through the cloud and splat on solid Earth.

What wonders wait in your yard? After reading my “Sparklers in the Air” article, a reader said he was enjoying the living lantern fireflies flashing on and off in the yard at night. Share stories about fireflies with kids, or better yet, encourage kids to make up stories about the night flashers to share with family. To become a person that cares for Earth’s creatures, wonderment experiences in nature niches are needed.

Exposure to the natural world of clouds, bugs, summer and streams wait outside. We isolate ourselves in our box cage and bury our heads in electronics. Nature is often experienced vicariously through TV, IPad, or even phone pictures rather than through real world outdoor adventures.

Take time to gaze into the night sky to witness Cygnus the Swan (known to some as the Northern Cross) constellation. Notice all summer it is flying south. One can purchase an App that will identify star constellations in the sky by simply pointing your phone to a section of the sky.

We are amazed each summer by Catsclaw flowers that appear in un-mowed sections of the yard. They have yellow flowers that open to create a wildflower garden of nature’s choosing. Flower stems hold the blooms 10 inches high. The flowers open in the morning and close about noon.

Scientifically I wonder what mechanism causes them to open and close and why they close midday. Do they have adaptations for morning active insects? Does turgor pressure determine when to close? Those are scientific questions intriguing me. The child that spends time enjoying the wonderment of clouds, fireflies, Catsclaw plants, and star constellations might someday desire to answer scientific questions. Kids will transform into adults that take responsibility for Earth Care if they have spent time exploring outside.

Do not expect a child to understand the importance of things natural if you do not provide them exposure to the real world found in wild places of your yard and elsewhere. Maintain wild places suitable for plants, insects, birds, and mammals for your wonderment and their survival.

Make it possible for kids to discover a robin’s nest, squirrels, butterflies, gray tree frogs, crickets, and soaring Turkey Vultures. A touch of wild in the yard will change a young life forever.

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.

 

Correction

In last week’s Nature Niche column, titled “Green tip mystery,” Ranger Steve mentioned an article that recently appeared in a local newspaper challenging him to solve the “Green tip mystery.”

The article had appeared in the Rockford Squire on June 22 and appeared without a byline. It was written by Beth Altena, their Editor/Publisher, and not the Howard Christensen Nature Center, as stated in last week’s column. The sentence in the column should have read “A recent article about the Howard Christensen Nature Center…” instead of “A recent article from the Howard Christensen Nature Center…” We apologize for any confusion that caused.

The rest of the column about the Enchanted Forest at Howard Christiansen Nature Center was strictly Ranger Steve’s own commentary.

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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.

Posted in Outdoors, Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments (0)

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