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Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Science and Emotion

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

 

I am told as a biologist I cannot be emotional. Yet everything I live for, strive for, and believe in is in the dirt outside my door. The dirt outside my door is being carried away and someone says I have not the right to be emotional because I’m a scientist?—Ranger Steve Mueller 7 October 1974

In May 1973 I fell completely in love with Bryce Canyon Nat’l Park and was fortunate to become employed as a ranger there in 1974. My daughter was born there in 1980, my career and family took us in new directions but my heart and soul remained scientifically and emotionally true to that remnant of Eden.

I began working for the creation of Grand Staircase wilderness that lies between Bryce Canyon NP and Grand Canyon NP. The fragile desolate area stretches 80 miles north to south and 150 miles east to west. People recognized the uniqueness and fragility of the area. Focus groups worked for suitable protection.

Competing interests differed. Since the 1920’s, compromises developed. In the 1990’s President Clinton used the Antiquities Act to established Grand Staircase National Monument on public land. It did not meet some of my desires for protecting part of Eden that remains on Earth. It did not meet the desires of others wanting to exploit its cultural and natural resources for short term personal gain. Difficult compromises developed. 

States are granted school land sections as a process of deeding when States are established. Utah wanted compensation for state lands within what became Grand Staircase Nat’l Monument. The federal government deeded other federal lands richer in oil, natural gas, and coal to compensate Utah. 

The establishment of Grand Staircase NM became a long term economic boost for small towns. Recreation increased along with rapid growth of sustainable businesses during the past twenty years. Mining, pollution, and landscape destruction are not compatible with fragility of the arid environment and unique ecosystem species. 

Dr. Dave Warners, Calvin College biologist stated, we’re not heading in a good direction on our current path with the relationship between global temperature, CO2 levels, human population and the prevalence of species extinction that approximates 50,000 species going extinct annually. He suggests:

Preservation—setting aside natural, protected areas, such as national parks

Conservation Biology—Managing those preserved areas

Restoration ecology—Improving degraded areas

Reconciliation—the process of deliberately sharing our habitats with other species.

Compromises developed for establishing Grand Staircase NM. Congress has sole authority to make adjustments. President Trump does not agree with our laws and claims he can dictatorially exempt designated laws protecting the monuments, environment, and private property like those along the Mexican border. He is taking public and private land without due process of law.

Wilderness Society president said, “The Trump administration is ignoring local communities and undoing the thoughtful participation of countless individuals that led to the creation of these national monuments.” She added the Wilderness Society will stand up against the Trump Administration’s illegal actions in court where the facts are on our side. Allies in eight national conservation groups, the $887 billion outdoor recreation industry, and five Native American Nations have sued to restore the protections of Grand Staircase and Bears Ears National Monuments that were established through public involvement and compromise. 

Bill Spalding, business owner by Grand Staircase said, “Without the monument, our business wouldn’t exist.”

I continue scientific nature niche research in the region and emotionally recognize remnants of Eden need protection. I encourage influencing your representative and senators to protect Grand Staircase and due process of law from illegal dictatorial exemption. Rep. Amash has not been favorable toward monument protection.

I have spent scientific and emotional energy for over 40 years with the specific mission to protect the Grand Staircase ecological integrity. Compromise was reached. An illegal dictatorial decision by the Trump administration has negated my life’s work and a reader in January told me I do not have the right to be emotional – stick to science. Other readers have applauded my efforts in defense of creation care. 

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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Butterfly counts

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Mark your calendars. Butterfly count participants will receive Mo Nielsen’s book Michigan Butterflies and Skippers as a bonus. Discover butterflies in a variety of local habitats with people knowledgeable in butterfly identification. It is a great way to begin learning some of the 170 species known to Michigan. Join with the West Michigan Butterfly Association on a count for fun and learning.

Counts are sponsored by the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) and cost $3 for each participant. The money is used by NABA to create a publication documenting butterfly abundance, distribution, and trends throughout North America. Scientists make use of citizen science data. About 17 counts are held in Michigan annually. Make it a family event. Contact Ranger Steve for more information about Michigan counts. He is the regional editor for all Michigan counts and can help connect with any Michigan count leader. Your help spotting butterflies is desired. Knowledge of butterflies is not required.

We carpool to various sites in the 15-mile diameter designated count circles. 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, and dress with lightweight long sleeves and pants to protect from any biting insects or raspberry thorns. Some exploration is off trail when searching for butterflies. 

Local count dates and meeting locations:

June 30, 2018 (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, 2018 (Wed) 9:00 a.m.

Newaygo County Butterfly Count – Newaygo Co. 

Leader: Ranger Steve (Mueller)

Meeting at the grocery parking lot at the corner of M82 & M 37 in Newaygo. odybrook@chartermi.net

 

July 7, 2018 (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 14, 2018 (Sat) 9:00 a.m.

Greater Muskegon Butterfly Ct – Muskegon Co.

Leader: Dennis Dunlap 

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

Rain day alternates will be the next day. Sign up with Ranger Steve so unexpected changes can be shared.  

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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Seeing Spring wildflowers

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Bloodroot flower by Steve Mueller.

Wildflowers abound in and around our yards. Adder’s tongue, also known at trout lily, has spotted leaves like a trout’s body. Their yellow drooping flowers burst forth with color during the opening of trout season at the end of April. By June, not only will the flowers be gone but the leaves die, decay, and release nutrients back into the soil. Those nutrients will nourish other plants just getting started on their annual cycle. 

Spring beauties carpet the forest floor in late April and early May but will disappear from view by June. Like trout lilies, they complete their annual appearance in weeks. Both species remain alive under the soil surface. They are not like annual plants that thrive during the summer months and die completely except for seeds that carry their species to next year. 

Species have unique mechanisms for passing germ plasm forward. If the environment is adequately stable, the species will not become threatened or endangered. It will thrive for millennia. Our lives are short but we can observe and see the beautiful stream of life continue by providing healthy living conditions in our yards.

Bloodroot flowers have already come and gone. Their stunning white flower petals and yellow stamens persist only a few days. The roots have a red pigment that is used as a dye. Unless the plant is dug up, the root’s pigment remains hidden to our interested eyes. Rarely, do I dig one up. I have seen their bloody beauty. I love the plant and flower so I do not desire to disrupt its life just to see at its inner fluids any more than I desire to cut a friend to see the color of her blood. 

Marsh marigolds have yellow petals coated with shiny wax. They are in the buttercup family with other species that have similar flowers. An identifying character for buttercups is the massive number of male stamens clustered in the middle of the flower. Those that flowered first were in open wet areas with others from more shaded areas flowering later. We clear some areas to maintain best habitat conditions to meet their nature niche needs. Too much clearing along Little Cedar Creek would allow excessive sun radiation on the creek and warm the cold-water habitat brook trout require for survival. Maintaining shrubby vegetation along the south side of the creek is important to aid life giving physical conditions for the fish. 

Small-flowered buttercups and swamp buttercups have yellow flowers resembling marsh marigold flowers but the leaves and growth forms differ. The marsh marigold’s large rounded leaves hug the ground. Common buttercups have deeply dissected leaves on a tall stem. The small-flowered buttercups with tiny flower petals have kidney shaped basal leaves. All have a large number of stamens at the center of the five petalled flowers. The stamens release pollen at a different time from when the pistil is receptive preventing self-pollination.

Spring cress flowers are early bloomers included with the white flowers in field guides. This makes identifying a bit more challenging. When they first flower the petals are pink but soon become white. Unlike buttercups that have five petals, spring cresses are mustards with four petals. Yellow rocket is a non-native exotic mustard that proliferates in disturbed areas. It will carpet a farm field with its yellow blooms each spring. A close look will reveal each flower has four petals. 

Native violets are spring wildflowers with difficult identification challenges. The common blue violet is one of the easier ones to recognize. It has a dark blue flower on a stalk that comes from the ground. Its leaves are stemless also coming directly from the ground. Other blue violets have a small erect stem with leaves and flowers diverging from the stem. Yellow violets are leafy stemmed. Violet petals are fused together. 

What flower details will you see this spring? There are over 300 species of plants at Ody Brook. We have barely begun to consider the diversity and beauty that shares our living space. Your yard can be amazing. Enhance biodiversity conditions for native plants that best serve insect, bird, and mammal ecology. 

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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Vernal Cacophony

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Sit by a vernal pond that will dry by late summer to experience joyous ear pain during April. Listen to the massive cacophony of thousands of frogs vying for the chance to mate. Each species has a unique mating call.

Spring peepers make enough noise in the spring to cause ear pain.

Spring peepers have a single peep but when in mass with other peepers, the sound will generate enough volume to cause ear pain. When you are somewhat distant from a pond, the noise is a pleasant sign of spring. Western chorus frogs make a sound compared with running your thumb across the teeth of a comb. For some reason chorus frogs and their calls have become less abundant. Wood frogs are the third early spring species. They generate a duck-like quack. It seems wood frogs have the shortest period for making mating calls. 

The three early callers actively seek mates as soon as ice melt begins on ponds. They often do not wait for ice to clear the entire pond. If a warm rain arrives, the activity and volume maximize. 

The greatest activity is at night, but daytime choruses abound. Walk to a pond and, as you approach, all will become quiet. Sit quietly and remain still for a few minutes. Soon a brave peeper will venture its call. Another will follow with many soon joining. Continue to be quiet and move your hands slowly so you do not alarm the frogs. Cup your hands in front of your ears with palms facing back. Notice how greatly the sound is diminished when your hands block the sound. Rotate your cupped hands behind your ears. You will not be able to tolerate the volume for long. Cupped hands behind your ears catch the sound and direct too much volume to your ears. It will be necessary to remove your artificially enlarged ear pinnae because of physical pain.

Frogs instinctively grab a nearby frog and begin squeezing to force egg laying. As eggs come out, the males milt filled with sperm fertilizes an egg cluster. A jelly mass containing eggs soaks up water and will become larger than the frog that laid it. Anxious males often grab a nearby male by mistake. The grabbed male will protest with a unique trill that means let go. Listen and you should be able to recognize this sound. 

The egg masses are attached to twigs, vegetation, or debris in temporary spring ponds. Survival is extremely difficult for amphibian eggs. Best survival is in the temporary vernal ponds that dry by midsummer because fish are absent. This allows for eggs to develop without being eaten. Many insects will eat the eggs as well as some birds. Small vernal ponds are often filled or drained by people, but they are essential for frogs.

Counter shading helps hide the eggs. Find a cluster of eggs and lift it from the water. Notice the eggs are surrounded by jelly that protects the eggs. The top of each egg is dark. When a predator is peering into the pond, the dark blends with the bottom and helps camouflage the developing embryo. From beneath they are hidden from underwater predators by having a light or white coloration that blends with the sky above. Algae and cyanobacteria grow in the jelly making it green and they gradually digest it. By the time the polliwogs are ready to escape their protective gel, it is adequately decomposed to allow the young frogs to break loose and swim freely into the water. 

As water warms, larger frogs begin calling and mating activity. Gray tree frogs have a short loud trill that stops abruptly. They continue their calling well into summer even after they leave ponds. Leopard and pickerel frogs have a ratchet-like call that is compared with snoring. When the air temperature reaches 70ºF, American toads and bull frogs begin their calling. The American toad has a trill somewhat like the gray tree frog, but it continues for an excessively long time. 

Make a trilling sound yourself by vibrating your tongue behind your teeth and try to continue until you are out of breath. That will be about how long the toad sings. Frogs pass air back and forth between their lungs and mouth when calling and do not expel air like we do when making sounds. Each frog species call is unique for its mating nature niche. Most depend on temporary ponds. Green frog and bull frog tadpoles require more than one year to develop so they require permanent ponds. Spend time enjoying the vernal cacophony.

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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Only You Can

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Many of us recall the US Forest Service billboards stating, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” That changed a couple decades ago when the forest service began promoting “Only you can prevent wildfires.” In the 1930’s, scientific study demonstrated the importance of periodic forest fires to promote healthier forest ecosystem niches, prevent the spread of devastating pestilence, thin forest, provide essential nutrients for tree growth, increase the tree growth rate, and enhance wildlife reproductive success, among other benefits. 

Most Midwest forest fires are understory fires that burn near the ground rather than through the canopy. Canopy fires burn haphazardly and skip through the forest leaving a checkerboard appearance with unburned sections. 

The 1988 Yellowstone crown fire that swept the park and national forest improved the forest health and its wildlife populations. Immediately, it left black desolated areas that were unpalatable for many that were taught forest fires are “bad.” They claimed the fire ruined the park. I hiked Yellowstone in 1996 where lodge pole pines dominate. The pine is a fire dependent species that reseeds itself with the aid of fire. Like local jack pines, lodge pole pines depend on fires to open areas to full sunlight and to release seeds.

In 1996, eight years after the fire, crowded young trees were three to six feet tall. They continue to struggle for light, space, and nutrients as they grow and self-thin the forest. I do not understand why the park service spent time and money replanting trees when the tree’s adaptation is fire adapted to reseed itself. 

A couple reasons might be that efforts to prevent fires for decades caused ground duff to become thick and it burned hot destroying released seeds or bowing to political pressure to plant trees demonstrated humans were doing something. Some areas might not have had an adequate seed source to establish a forest rapidly. 

When I fought fires at Bryce Canyon National Park in the 1970’s, the policy was to quickly extinguish them. Fires I fought were caused by lightning. We hiked to them carrying heavy loads of firefighting equipment on our backs. Fire breaks were built to contain fire spread and they were allowed to burn out. We camped by them as needed to prevent spreading. During later decades park policy changed to have “controlled burns” to provide healthier conditions for trees, wildlife, and people. It also helps prevent large uncontrollable fires. 

We have seen news broadcasts that share the devastation of uncontrollable fires that sweep large areas. Frequent controlled burns during carefully selected times and weather conditions allow “safe” burning that does not burn homes, create conditions for deadly and destructive mudslides or cause massive wildlife destruction. It is important to call to get a burn permit from your township fire warden who will verify conditions are safe for you to burn brush. At Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, we cut and haul to a burn area or create wildlife brush piles. 

During the Yellowstone fires, large animals like elk were frequently seen grazing in areas where fires jumped through the forest. Ungulates laid and chewed their cud. There were elk, bears, and many animals that did not escape flames and died. New regrowth, allowed remaining animals to have more successful reproduction with improved conditions of greater and more accessible food availability for grazing. Predators found more prey. 

Human attitudes have been slowly changing during the past 90 years since we began to understand the valuable role of fire in ecosystems. Our knowledge remains inadequate. When to burn, how frequently, and how large an area to burn is different for survival of various species. What works well for plants might be too frequent for insect herbivores that support bird and mammal populations.

This same conundrum causes many people to reject what is known regarding the effects of climate change for our lives and health. Hopefully it will not require 90 years for us to embrace corrective actions. Studies indicate human carbon release increases climate change that increases fire frequency and intensity. Variables prevent complete understanding. “Only you can” support policies that shift us from fossil fuels to renewable energy. 

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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Prepare for Earth Day April 22

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Celebrate Earth Day and be active in nature to renew your spirit and strengthen family relationships. Having healthy nature niches for wildlife and us to live protects our families and future. Recognize the importance of science-based evidence to protect the fish and wildlife we eat, water we drink from home water taps, and crops that come from farm fields to sustain our physical and mental health. They provide a sustainable future.

Conservation organizations are appalled with current efforts to undo or weaken environmental protections that protect groundwater from things like PFAS, mining practices that allow waste to again be dumped directly into rivers where it was stopped, and the release of air pollutants because protections are thought to be unnecessary. The President is championing deregulation of environmental protection and has elected supporters in Congress. Many elected leaders do not understand the relevance of John Muir’s journal entry from July 27, 1869. Muir wrote “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” 

Dave Straus states and asks: “My Nature Conservancy colleagues and I believe we have a responsibility to stand up for just how critical science is at this make-or-break moment for our Earth. With our 600 scientists on the ground around the world, now is the time to champion cutting edge, evidence-based conservation.

Science matters—especially at this critical time for nature. On April 14, The Nature Conservancy will participate in the March for Science in Washington, D.C., to join with concerned people from across the country in speaking out for the importance of science.

That’s why I’m marching. And it’s why I hope you’ll be with us in spirit—even if you can’t be there in person. As someone who’s shown your commitment to protecting nature, you know that we have a shrinking window of time left to put our planet on the path to a more hopeful future.

Show that you agree that science is key to safeguarding the air we breathe, the water we drink, the safety of the places we love and the places we call home.” The Nature Conservancy web site is www.nature.org.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, President, Defenders of Wildlife sent me this message. “If the Trump administration gets its wall built, it will leave wildlife and communities broken apart at the border. The biologically rich lands and waters that make up our southern border with Mexico would be irretrievably damaged.

This nightmare is quickly getting closer to reality. In fact, Congress just approved more than $1 billion for the wall that could forever divide species and tear apart wolf packs as well as human families. Ultimately, it could be the end of the road for critically endangered species like Mexican gray wolves, jaguars and ocelots. 

But Defenders won’t let the administration or Congress steamroll wildlife without a fight. We have already filed a lawsuit challenging the wall’s construction and Defenders’ of Wildlife legal team is preparing to take this battle all the way to the Supreme Court.” Defenders Of Wildlife web site is: defenders.org.

It was stated the entire wall will cost $20 billion and this does not include the cost of the National Guard standing at the border. It is my thought, $20 billion could be used to protect our nation’s economy, physical/social health, and environmental sustainability more effectively. It would not divide and isolate critical habitat and prevent access to water of the Rio Grande for wildlife or prevent movement essential for population maintenance. 

I am a member of the North American Butterfly Association. We own property adjacent to the border that is being taken without due process of law under orders from the President. Our property ranks with areas having the highest butterfly biodiversity in the United States. It is being taken and wall construction has begun. NABA has filed suit to protect our private property. This administration exempted our property rights from due process of law and has begun illegal construction on our property. Trump and supporters do not want the Endangered Species Act or pollution regulations to interfere with their desires. This is a critical Earth Day for action.

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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Nesting records

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Many species are nesting though it might seem early because it looks wintery brown. Rabbits, mice, shrews, and other mammals are producing families despite the cold, dreary brown pre-spring appearance of neighborhoods. Bald Eagles, hawks, and owls have eggs or young in nests. The timing for predatory birds to have young in the nest is linked with the other species young leaving nests. February eggs in the nest is normal.

It is important adults find enough food to supply rapidly growing young with nutrition. A young owl or hawk that hatches first gets a head start on growth. If the first hatched is satisfied with a full stomach, other birds in the nest might get to eat. When this is not the case, others go hungry or might be pushed out of the nest by the larger sibling. When predators are searching for prey it is good when many of the prey’s young are just out of the nest. They are easier to capture and can be abundant. 

Population replenishment is better when one owl or hawk survives than for two or three to die of starvation. When prey populations are doing well the predator population can do well and produce more than one young. 

I have observed a Great Horned Owl fledge three young. Bravo! Normally, I encounter nests haphazardly by chance. Birds have a good knack for hiding nests. One March I flushed a Horned Lark and noticed it left a nest. I sat nearby waiting for its return. When it came back, it landed a distance away and sneaked through the vegetation on foot to the nest where it continued incubating. I noted behavior and other interesting details.

The next day, three inches of snow covered the landscape. The adult bird kept the eggs in its well-hidden nest warm. I returned to observe the nest until the two young ventured into the world on their own. I numbered that nest 1971-2 in my journal. It was the second nest I found that year. When I encounter a nest and note it in my field journal, it receives a number that follows the year. If I observe the nest repeatedly to monitor development and nesting success, the nest number remains the same, but the new date and activity are documented. For 1971, I had 65 separate nest discoveries. 

Interesting observations are recorded that hopefully will add to our understanding of bird ecology. Last year I found a Yellow Warbler nest with six eggs. At Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Center, I found a Wood Thrush nest with five eggs but one was not a thrush egg. It was a Brown-headed Cowbird egg. 

Cowbirds have a nature niche adaptation to follow bison that were constantly on the move grazing prairies. By laying eggs in other birds’ nests, cowbirds can continue to follow bison eating insects stirred by the bovines. Cowbirds were not a natural part of Michigan’s European pre-settlement wildlife communities. When we reduced the forest cover, cowbirds expanded their range. The adventive establishment of cowbirds to new habitat created survival risks for many bird species. 

Young cowbirds are raised by the parasitized species adult. Often the baby cowbird pushes the parent’s eggs or young out of the nest and will be the only bird to fledge. I removed the cowbird egg from the thrush nest and set it on the ground for a chipmunk or other small mammal to discover and eat. Hopefully a cowbird adult did not return to lay another egg in the thrush nest. 

It is good to avoid nests for a number of reasons. A mallard cracked an egg when it rapidly flushed from a nest when people approached. Eggs left unattended might be preyed upon or lose heat needed for development. Walking to nests can create a scent path that predators like raccoons or opossums use to find nests with eggs or young. Rarely do I monitor nests. I note what I discover and hope the bird successfully raises a family.

I note the species, habitat, nest location, tree species used, height of nest among other details such as behavior. Nests records are entered to ebird and will be available for others to review the what, when and where for bird nesting well after I am dead. You can become a part of citizen science data gathering and add it 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.

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Enhancing community health

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Nick Sanchez, our district forester with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, is sharing a cost-effective incentive to help protect our health, stream health, ground water, and air quality. A healthy community depends on people caring for themselves, neighbors, and community. The program available was included in the Farm Bill in 2014 that Congress approved.

Nick states, “Trees have many benefits. They provide food and a home for wildlife, and even help keep your family happy and healthy! Did you know that trees filter dirty water and keep our topsoil from washing away? Trees also help store water underground, preventing flooding in the spring and low levels during summer drought. Even the shade from trees provides a benefit, keeping streams clear and cold, ideal for fish like trout! Planting trees along a stream provides big benefits and we want to help you keep our home rivers clean and healthy for your family, fish, and other cool wildlife!” 

He would like community members and farmers know about the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. A representative from the Rogue River Partners came to Ody Brook to enlist my advice for protecting the quality of the local environment for the benefit of people and wildlife. 

Nick would like all to know, “Conservation partners have teamed up to bring farmers and forestland owners access to a unique pool of funding to help them take actions on their land to help prevent soil loss, and to create and improve fish and wildlife habitat in the Rogue River and Indian Mill Creek watersheds, a 250 square mile area in northern and western Kent County. Financial assistance is available now to help you plant: filter strips, grassed waterways, cover crops, and riparian forest buffers, as well as many other options to help in this effort. This special opportunity is available through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) over the next four years. Call Matt Soehnel, NRCS District Conservationist, at (616) 942-4111 ext. 3 for more information!” Programs are available for others besides farmers. Give Matt a call to learn how NRCS can help you be a good land steward in your neighborhood. 

I receive requests asking me to address the PFAS groundwater issue, the water mining issue impacts on wells and wetlands, and other pressing issues. I could write an article a week on issues for the entire year. Environmental quality for our lives depends on sound science-based data being scrubbed from the EPA website. Information is being censored to downplay the impact of human caused climate change that is degrading the environment. The long-term cost of anti-environmental policies threaten a sustainable economy, our health, and future generations. Scientific data supported by decades of research is not “fake news.” 

I encourage people living in the Rogue River Watershed to take positive action locally to enhance the health of the environment that supports our physical and financial health. First contact the NRCS at the number listed above to learn what you can do on your property and in the community to enhance the health of our neighborhoods. Second contact your US Representative and Senators to protect environmental laws established in the 1970s that are currently on the chopping block. They protect a sustainable economy and our health. Both actions are important for your family. The current administration is working to remove Water, Air, Endangered species, and Wilderness Act protections. Such actions will allow a return to things like PFAS dumping that was stopped decades ago. Things like the PFAS contamination that occurred prior to the federal environmental protection acts could result again if laws are dismantled.

It is less expensive to protect the environment that supports our livelihoods and health than to try to clean it up after we discover it is injuring our health, killing people, and causing economic hardship such as lowering home and property values. Contaminated fish and wildlife affects their health. It makes them dangerous for us to eat.

Nature niche health for fish, bees, birds, and mammals ensures healthy conditions for people. The triple bottom line of economic, social, and environment stewardship protects your family’s future. 

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

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Enjoying the beauty

A Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) perched in the branches of a Weeping Holly tree.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Imagine a bird slightly smaller than a cardinal with a brown crest that it can raise or lay flat on its head at will. It has a black “lone ranger” mask outlined with white “eye-liner” surrounding the black. From head towards the tail, its russet brown head subtly grades to an olive brown on its back to gray wings and rump. On the gray wings are tiny splashes of red on the secondary feathers next to the large primary wing feathers. It appears these smaller wing tip feathers have been dipped in red wax. 

The light golden brown on the head, back, and chest, transitions to become lighter and changes to yellow on the belly and sides. The yellow belly gives way to white under the tail. The tail above is gray with a rather abrupt change to a black crosswise band near the tail’s end. The terminal end has a bright yellow band. 

When the bird stands on branches, it is more erect than many birds. One often expects birds to stand horizontal with head out front and tail protruding backwards like a robin. A cedar waxwing posture angles from head to tail at an angle steeper than 45 degrees. Its black mask provides a penetrating look even though it eyes are quite hidden in the mask. 

Waxwings became a favorite beauty for me in the 1970s because their brilliant colors blend in a manner that creates a gentle over-all appearance that must be studied for details. The beauty of goldfinches, cardinals, and blue jays grab our attention with flamboyance. Cedar waxwing colors are vivid but hidden in plain view among subtle transitions.

Even their calls are someone secretive. They have a high-pitched simple call that I can no longer hear. The calls are not meant for me anyway. The waxwings travel in small to large flocks where they cluster in trees and maintain vocal contact. This morning I saw a half dozen together with four eastern bluebirds. Last week I saw 100 together. 

During the winter, they seek shrubs and trees with berries. As I waded a stream one early summer during a mayfly hatch, waxwings fluttered from tree branches to snatch mayflies in the air like one expects from a flycatcher. 

For today, no bird equals the beauty of these avian wonders. Tomorrow, next week, or month, a different species might claim the title as “my favorite.” Our choice of favorite depends somewhat on where we live and observe. When I was a ranger at Bryce Canyon National Park for nearly a decade, the Green-tailed Towhee provided hidden brilliance of blended colors similar to what we experience with waxwings here.

Use a bird field guide to study the patterns, shapes, distribution, and habitats of moving beauties that come and go in yards. I am an old guy and still prefer to hold a book in hand. An Internet search provides hundreds of outstanding photographs for each species. You could while away the day with beauty on the computer screen but for me it does not match the joy of seeing these neighbors in real life. 

Your outdoor yard is the place to be or at least view from a home window. To attract cedar waxwings, provide for their needs by planting viburnums and other native berry producing shrubs and trees. Waxwings are not attracted to bird feeders. They seek yards with choice berry shrubs and insects. 

It is nice to see a dozen species that visit bird feeders daily. A yard and neighborhood planted to meet bird nature niche needs provides opportunity to enjoy the beauty of 50 to more than 100 species. Enrich your life by inviting birds of beauty by landscaping for wildlife. 

Hope to see you this Saturday, March 24, at the Howard Christensen Nature Center for the Modes of Animal Behavior program at 9 a.m. 

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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Bird nest boxes

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

It is time to clean nest boxes. Bird behavior announces they are claiming breeding territory. It is beautiful music to our ears when we hear the variety of songs in our neighborhood. In bird neighborhoods, songs announce property boundaries and call for mates. 

Within a given breeding territory, appropriate nesting space is essential. Many species require cavities in hollow trees. People have a habit of removing dead and hollow trees for a variety of reasons. To maintain adequate cavity nest opportunities, install nest boxes in a variety of habitats. 

Most well-known are Eastern Bluebird and Tree Swallow nest boxes. If not placed well they are taken over by House Wrens or House Sparrows that frequently kill bluebirds and swallows. 

At the Howard Christensen Nature Center, I made sure the nest boxes were a considerable distance from shrubbery. When placed in open areas, the House Sparrows and House Wrens usually did not interfere with the open field nesting species. Tree Swallows compete with bluebirds for nest boxes. That problem can be reduced by placing two nest boxes within 15 feet of each other. A Tree Swallow that claims one box does not allow other Tree Swallows to use the nearby box. The swallow will allow bluebirds to use it. In effect the swallow protects the bluebirds from being driven out by swallows when two boxes are placed near one another.

Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary’s field has experienced plant succession with the invasion of native shrubs and trees. The shrubs have driven swallows out and bluebirds have not used some boxes meant for them. We have begun clearing shrubs and trees from the field to create more open habitat. Hopefully we will once again entice swallows and keep the bluebirds nesting here. In one area where bluebirds stopped nesting, I cleared an area around the nest box and the next year bluebirds began using the box again. 

Birds like Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and White-breasted Nuthatches nest in cavities in wooded areas. I place houses in the woods for their consideration. Birdhouse boards are often about a half inch thick. We have placed predator guards on the boxes. It is an additional board that makes the entrance hole about one inch deep. Animals, like raccoons that reach in, cannot bend their leg to reach the eggs or young birds. 

The boxes are placed in locations away from heavy human traffic. When close to human activity, birds are often alarmed and leave the nest box when people approach. It interrupts egg incubation. 

Many designs offer selection options for nesting. The entrance hole size is important to prevent unwanted species from entering. Sometimes wrens, that are smaller than bluebirds, enter and kill bluebirds. Instead of a round or oval opening, a rectangular slit is used. It allows the bluebird to escape instead of being trapped by an invading wren. If an entrance hole is too large, European Starlings can enter and kill resident birds. 

Last year’s nest material should be removed from boxes so birds can start fresh with new materials that are fungus and parasite free. Cleaning nest boxes removes health hazards like mice turds or bird droppings. Wear rubber gloves and a facemask for your own protection when cleaning nests. Mice often occupy nest boxes during the winter and they can carry diseases to avoid like Hantavirus. 

One time near the edge of an invading forest, I found Southern Flying Squirrels using one of the nest boxes. Having lots of nest boxes provides opportunities for many species to nest. It is a joy to serve nature niche needs for a diversity of animals. 

Carrol Henderson wrote a book titled Woodworking for Wildlife. It is available from the Minnesota DNR. It provides the plans for making different wildlife nest boxes. If you haven’t cleaned nest boxes this spring, I recommend completing the task before the end of March. Install more boxes to provide nesting cavities.

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 (0)

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