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Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Warblers Come and Go

By Ranger Steve Mueller

American Redstart

American Redstart

Most warblers pass through our yards unnoticed during April and May, and again in August and September. Some stay to raise a family. As a group, they are the most colorful of the birds. They work in shrubs and trees feeding on insects. Insects are essential for them to increase weight rapidly to survive their long migration.

A Chestnut-sided Warbler is setting up summer residence in the yard among shrubs near the pond (Picture 1). It is one of the most colorful with a bright yellow cap and wonderful contrasting patterns of white and black throughout the body. Scattered yellow-green is present on the wings and rump. Varying amounts of rich chestnut orange-red patches line it sides. Adult males have extensive chestnut feathers on the sides and younger birds have shorter bands of color.

Chestnut sided Warbler

Chestnut sided Warbler

When looking for warblers, most people locate them by listening for songs and search the branches for their small presence. The warbler described above is only 4 inches long and weighs less than one half ounce. To identify birds remember GISSS. First acquire a general impression (GI). Is it sparrow, robin, or crow size and does it stand tall and upright or more horizontal. Habitat will help with general impression. Expect some birds high in forest trees, others near the ground in shrubs, or some in wetlands. Most people know to think Great Blue Heron along stream or water, robins in lawns, and Red-winged Blackbirds in marshes. Each warbler has a preferred habitat.

After acquiring a general impression, focus on size, color, and shape to help identify it. Behavior will help. A Black-and-white Warbler will climb on tree trunks like a nuthatch; Chestnut-sided Warblers will be among the shrubbery as will American Redstart (Picture 2). Some warblers just pass through so expect them only in spring and fall. Others will stay for the summer. Very few stay during the winter but the Yellow-rumped Warbler is sometimes found in the cold months. The SSS in GISSS refers to the size, shape, and seasonality. Add another S if you use sound like many birders to identify a warbler. I am not good at separating species by sound. I consider myself at best 80 percent proficient so I do not document presence based on song.

Pine Warblers are considered to have a stable population of 13,000,000. This sounds large but when compared to 200,000,000 European Starlings in the US it is not. Even starlings are not a numerous as humans in the US where we number about 350,000,000. Everyone’s yard can be critical habitat in a shrinking natural world. Encourage family and others to return portions of yards to native habitat to help warblers survive.

Compare the difference between the two warblers pictured. The redstart has an all black head with white only on the belly and not mixed among the body feathers. There is bright orange on the sides instead of chestnut and it has orange in the wings and tail. Nature niches are more interesting when we get to know our wild neighbors. Warblers will come when yard habitats include native wild plants for insects and birds. Horticultural and non-native plants usually do not support insect populations needed by warblers.

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

 

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Birding Without Ears

By Ranger Steve Mueller

An American Woodcock flew over my head this spring and landed 100 feet away. It began its courtship buzz-like pneet. I cupped my hands around my ears to listen. Meanwhile behind me, I heard a distant cow from the Phelps farm. When I turned, I realized the sound was from a woodcock 50 feet away. Many birders would think that is ridiculous. How could one confuse a woodcock and a cow?

I saw nighthawks return earlier than normal in spring 1975. Experts wanted to know if I was confusing woodcocks and nighthawks. This sounds ridiculous unless one knows the two sound similar. My identification was visual and correct.

Tracking bird sounds has become more challenging. As my hearing declines, I still hear birds and look in their direction but have discovered the sound to be closer than I thought. I needed to recalibrate sound to distance measurements. It also became difficult to triangulate the bird’s location. It’s like vision with one eye and not having depth perception.

It has been frustrating but sound never made much sense for me. I have always depended on vision for identification. At best I consider myself 80 percent proficient with sound identification and that is not adequate for documenting species.

High school and church junior choir directors both asked me to mouth singing in concerts. I sat at the piano to match notes but could not. Both directors said I was tone deaf. To sing in the school choir a C average was required. I had a B on written work and D on vocal work. The C average allowed me in concerts but I was asked not to sing.

Breeding bird surveyors stop for three minutes, identify birds by song and move to another location. Its great for covering considerable territory in limited time. That is not where my abilities can contribute. It also is not how I enjoy birding. I prefer watching birds, their behavior, and associating them with habitats. I’m too antsy to sit in observation blinds like photographers or hunters. I miss details they observe.

I could learn more if I observed with the patience of a photographer in a blind. There is a place for different kinds of observers. I seldom bird watch with others so I have not improved auditory skills well. Many improve listening skills with bird tapes. I don’t. When listening to songs in nature, I often do not locate the bird and leave without associating song and bird.

I first discovered the wonder and beauty of bird song as a teenager. A particular bird species became a favorite when I heard it on an annual fishing trip with my brother. We camped, fished, and explored nature niches. It was ten years before I discovered it was a Veery making that most wonderful song. The bird remains a favorite.

Nature education has been by fumbling my way in wild places with limited direction or help. I must qualify that statement. I worked on a field biology degree in college where instructors honed my skills and provided direction. However it was personal time in the field developing skills that allowed me to become a knowledgeable naturalist. I never learned to make sense of sound and it remains a mystery. I love music and bird songs. Perhaps that is because it makes no sense. It is a wonderful mystery. Knowing the maker would be nice. It is great for those able to recognize bird songs.

Empathize with those of us with little sound intelligence or those that lost the physical ability to hear a broad range of sound. I retain sound range but must reduce the distance by 50% or more to hear what younger ears are catching. I seldom know the names of music groups or bird songsters but I love their music. I simply marvel and enjoy the music without understanding or knowing the maker. Having low sound intelligence does not equate with lack of appreciation. Others like me marvel at bird sound with pleasure but little understanding.

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

 

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Vernal Ponds

 

Rich vital habitats known as vernal ponds, burst with music during spring in neighborhoods. Vernal ponds are temporary but contain water into summer. Most lose standing water during the summer months but might keep shallow pools. They are vital habitats for frogs and salamanders because their drying prevents fish survival.

Fish eat eggs and tadpoles in permanent water reducing amphibian survival. Ephemeral ponds contain water long enough for the tadpoles to transform to adult air breathing individuals. Once grown, they leave the pools and return to reproduce in subsequent springs.

In essence, life springs from temporary spring ponds. Frogs and salamanders move to woodland habitats and wild residential yards to feast on insects and worms. In summer, my daughter found daily roosts for Gray Tree Frogs in nooks at corners of the house siding. At night they come out to feed. American Toads dig holes in the garden under footpath stones or rocks for daytime hiding. At night they sits like a stone statues waiting for insects or worms.

The first songs of spring come from Wood Frogs that are an obligate vernal pond species. That means they cannot survive without temporary ponds. Their singing starts when some ice remains. Loud and abundant songs come from Spring Peepers and Western Chorus Frogs during April and May. These tiny frogs have bodies the size of an adult’s thumbnail. When you walk by a pond, they quiet but if you stop and sit a few minutes the choral group resumes its serenade. First one brave individual starts and quickly others join.

Egg masses are laid and males fertilize them. Eggs develop in two to three weeks depending on temperature and tadpoles hatch. They breathe with gills while feeding on plant material. Tails absorb and disappear as legs grow. By the time the pond is drying, breathing transforms from external gills to internal lungs. They also breathe through a thin moist skin that must stay moist to function.

When the frogs leave the ponds to take up summer residence in forest and shrublands, they usually stay within 700 hundred feet of breeding pools. Having many small vernal ponds throughout the woodlands is important. Temporary ponds frequently get filled during construction of housing developments. If you are fortunate, you might have a vernal pond near you.

A neighbor advertised he wanted free clean fill for a vernal pond on his property. Contractors looking to dispose of material obliged and after several years filled this pond. The owner now has high dry ground posted for sale. It is temping to destroy nature niches to increase family income. I encourage people to value the lives and the benefits provided by wild neighbors by allowing their home to exist.

Allowing wild places in your yard is a way for nature to thrive among our growing human urban/suburban population land development. Nature’s life forms are a gift trying to share living space with us. We can be stewards of the natural world by allowing life’s places to abound.

Many wildlife species depend on amphibians. Even if you do not see frogs, they are important members of the food chain. I appreciate frogs for song, as agents of natural insect control, and appreciate they share our residence. Sparingly use fertilizers and pesticides. A well-manicured garden and lawn looks beautiful but usually spells death to most life. I prefer abundance of life instead of a picture perfect yard. Organizations schedule outings to Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary to experience life where over 100 bird species, 24 mammal species, 11 amphibians, and 51 butterfly species enrich our lives. We’ve documented about 250 plant species. A trout fisherman was hopeful at creek side recently.

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

 

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Robin Window Fights

 

A friend asked a question that I receive annually. Why is a robin fighting the window and what can be done about it?

Robins return to breeding grounds full of testosterone hormones. They are ready to defend a selected territory. A scientist once pinned an orange robin breast feather in another robin’s territory and the robin defending its territory fought the feather for days.

Birds have birdbrains and are not good at reasoning. I suppose that could be said for young men infatuated with a lady friend. The robin’s orange color triggers bird behavior to defend its territory. Reason and logic fade when chemically induced behavior takes charge. To some degree this happens with people in road rage incidents, when population increase threatens our space, or when states or countries want another’s natural resources like food, water or oil.

Living space for birds is a natural resource that can be an important limiting factor worth defending. When wildlife populations have living space reduced by a growing human population and development, essential wildlife resources are in higher demand and their populations decline. Crowding triggers territorial defense. This also happens when a wildlife population increases and forces them to have smaller territories. A number of things can occur including increased fighting, reduced fertility and even genocide. Humans are not the only species experiencing these problems.

Solving the robin’s problem might be easier that harnessing our own hormone induced problems. The robin recognizes its own reflection as a competing male. When it attacks its reflection, the reflection also attacks and they meet fighting to claim breeding territory. The bird is not intelligent enough to understand it is fighting itself.

I have seen pictures of a robin with a broken beak from combating its reflection. At my home a bird fought the basement window. I placed a piece of cardboard in front of the window for the spring and as far as the bird knew its competitor left the area. When it is a picture window, we do not want to cover it for weeks.

Disrupting the reflection might solve the problem. People have hung strips of crepe paper in front of windows with success. The important thing is to prevent or reduce the chances of the bird seeing its reflection by breaking up the reflection. They will even fight reflections in hubcaps and car mirrors.

Cardinals are frequently challenged by their reflection and will fight a window to exhaustion or even death. Hormones in nature niches are powerful, whether in frogs, fish, mice, deer, birds, insects, or people. Fortunately, we have some intelligence to exert control over our emotions if we desire.

Help a robin that cannot help itself when it starts fighting your windows.

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

 

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Game and Nongame Management

 

Wildlife management has been shifting to an ecosystem approach for 50 years. In the early 1900’s and before, wildlife management was done species by species. If more deer were desired, that was the focus of management. If more ruffed grouse were desired, effort focused on that species.

Aldo Leopold revolutionized management thinking with his 1933 Game Management textbook. He encouraged a shift from autecology to synecology. Autecology is narrowly focused on single species without concern for other species or impacts of its management on the ecosystems. Synecology is focused on the ecosystem with attention toward improving conditions for wildlife communities.

Today the Michigan DNR uses a synecology approach more extensively. It considers a multitude of species when making habitat management decisions but continues emphasis on selected hunted species. Changing the cultural mindset of the public and staff is a slow difficult process.

Howard Meyerson reported that a National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Related Recreation found 39 percent of Michigan residents watch wildlife and 21 percent hunt and/or fish. The Michigan DNR spends 95 percent of its wildlife management budget for hunting and fishing management and 5 percent to support nongame wildlife management.

A 2011 survey by the US Fish and Wildlife Service found 71.8 million people engage in wildlife watching, while 33 million fish and 13.7 million hunt wildlife. Correspondingly watchers spend $54.9 billion annually, fishers spend $41.8 and hunters spend $33.7 billion.

Interest in wildlife is shifting toward watching from hunting. There is a management need for both to maintain healthy ecosystems. Deer and rabbit abundance damages ecosystems because we have reduced predator populations to unhealthy ecosystem levels. That was a result of autecology practices. The synecology practice of allowing wolves to survive in ecosystem is controversial to our traditional autecology mindset.

Unfortunately most people are not aware of autecology or synecology. Our culture remains focused on autecology game management instead of the synecology ecosystem management. Public focus is often focused on “What I want from the environment” instead of supporting healthy ecosystem management. Wildlife biologists strive for synecology practices but public pressure and support lags behind.

Leopold’s book is revolutionary but dry reading. What Aldo Leopold described almost 100 years ago is still a new idea compared with hundreds of years of wildlife management. We tend to follow practices and focus money on how things were previously done instead of changing our culture toward ecosystem nature niche management.

The question “why staff energy is devoted most heavily to hunted species,” when more of the public watches instead of hunts is not easy and creates uneasiness. Some hunters do not want money they spend on hunting licenses used on non-hunting programs. Some watchers do not want nongame money spent on programs that also supports hunting. Both are essential for healthy ecosystem management. We had an opportunity to approve a tax on sporting equipment like binoculars that would support watching wildlife management programs. The public voted no but hunters generally support hunting taxes.

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

 

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Seventeen and Twelve

 

Spring-cleaning time has arrived. Seventeen bird nest boxes contained last year’s nesting material at Ody Brook. The backyard supported an Eastern Bluebird family. House wrens arrived later in the spring and raised a family in the same box. We were concerned the wren might kill young bluebirds to gain nest box access but it did not.

This year I checked 29 nest boxes. Seventeen had nesting material and twelve were empty. Empty ones probably were not used to raise young but likely provided winter shelter. Boxes are in the field, shrub thickets, woods, and at pond’s edge in hopes of attracting a variety of 30 plus cavity nesting species.

Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and even the Great-crested Flycatchers nest in hollow living or dead trees. Lack of tree cavities could be a limiting factor that prevents bird reproductive success when hollow trees are removed from neighborhoods or are in short supply. Unless a tree poses a danger to the house or people, let them stand. Woodpeckers excavate cavities that other birds use in succeeding years. Fortunately dead trees stand for many years. People remove many for firewood and that makes nesting success difficult.

About 20 years ago a cherry tree died at the edge of the yard and it still stands through gale force winds. An Eastern Phoebe selected it as a favorite perch from which to hunt insects. The Northern Yellow-shafted Flicker considers it a great drumming tree. The dead wood resonates sound creating a loud territorial announcement. The barren tree provides great views of perching birds.

Install nest boxes to assist bird survival. Avoid placing them close to trails or where people regularly frequent. Most should be obscure of easy view to provide nesting privacy from predators and people. I have placed nest boxes in the woods to reduce nest cavity shortage. Boxes in the field serve Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds where they vie for the nesting space. Two boxes are placed within 15 feet of each other. Tree Swallows claim one and prevent other swallows from using the second box. Swallows do not object to bluebird neighbors but draw the line at other tree swallows. In effect the swallow helps bluebirds by protecting the second box from swallow use.

Wrens prefer shrubbery nearby. When shrubs grew too close for bluebirds, I cleared more area and bluebirds returned to use the box.

The Eastern Screech Owl nest box was not checked to make sure it is empty. We can see the nest box opening as we enter the carport and sometimes the owl peers out at us. The box is the same style used for Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, and Buffleheads. We have suitable habitat for Wood Ducks that are present each summer.

I clean nest boxes but let the birds do their own spring-cleaning in natural cavities. Hopefully nest cavities are not in short supply at Ody Brook. To help bird populations install nest boxes where you live. Our expanding human population is crowding birds out of neighborhoods so help by providing nest boxes. Hopefully clean water and food are abundant if pesticide and herbicide use is limited. Provide nest boxes and maybe you will have 17 occupied boxes and 12 empty ones. If water and food are plentiful, empty boxes might indicate adequate nesting space is present in nature niches.

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

 

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Bird Watching Hotspots

Ranger Steve Mueller

 

 

Almost 100 bird watching “Hotspots” is listed for Kent County on ebird. Ebird is a web site where people enter bird-sighting observations. The benefit of entering data to ebird for you is the site organizes personal data, keeps record of all the bird species you have seen with dates and locations. Hotspots are locations where many people list sightings for a particular location.

Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC) between Cedar Springs and Kent City currently has the seventh most bird species sightings for Kent County hotspots. The six locations with more bird species sightings are in Grand Rapids population centers that have many observers and thus larger species lists. HCNC has more varied and wilder habitats with greater solitude for enjoyable birding. It remains an undiscovered nature niche resource that waits your visit.

Currently 141 species of birds have been documented for HCNC. The number will grow as more people discover and enjoy the variety of habitats that support bird life at the nature center.

One February afternoon I encountered a Long-eared owl standing on the railing of Thunderwood Boardwalk. It was my first experience with the species. We looked at each other for a moment; it flew into a white pine and looked down at me. The experience invigorated my heart, mind, and spirit. Long-eared owls are quite secretive and usually do not show themselves in daylight.

Another species that does not show itself during the day is the American Woodcock. During spring it dances nightly in the evening sky for about six weeks. In the field north of the Red Pine Interpretive Center at dusk, it will start pneeting on the ground. A pneet is a buzz-like call. It stomps its feet and turns from side to side in the dim light. After many pneets, it takes flight and circles higher and higher before diving toward the ground and quickly leveling to land, where it repeats its ground dance with more pneets. Over the years, I have led many field trips to watch the mating dance display.

Scarlet Tanagers do not arrive until May and are surprisingly difficult to see. They have brilliant red bodies with black wings. It seems they would be easy to see but somehow they blend into the new spring green foliage high in trees. People refer to their song as sounding like a robin with a soar throat. The coarser sound helps locate the bird’s singing location and with careful search the bird can be seen.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful spring songs is made by Wood Thrushes in the deciduous forest. Its Ee-o-lay song is clear, loud, and beautifully musical. Another thrush called the Veery makes one of my most favorite bird songs. It stays well hidden. As a young birder it took me about 10 years to discover what bird was make the song. Its spiral-descending warble is most intriguing.

The Common Yellowthroat, unlike the Veery, will readily show itself. It wears a black mask over it eyes. Maybe it thinks the mask keeps it hidden. A bright yellow breast helps locate this bird in shrubby wetlands. I could describe 141 different species that have been seen at HCNC. Each has a unique nature niche. People would quickly tire of descriptions. Instead, become entranced with sights and sounds by walking nature center trails during spring.

Google “ebird” and explore listings for various locations in the County. Enrich your life and contribute to citizen science efforts by documenting bird species that visit your yard. I have observed 102 species at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary where I live.

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

 

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Beavers and Dams

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Beavers became a commodity and fashion product. They were heavily trapped and numbers were greatly reduced. They brought business trade to what became Michigan. In prior centuries native people used the resource as part of a sustainable livelihood. The European beaver trapping industry became a boom and bust business. One might wonder how beavers change nature niches.

Beavers weigh 30-50 pounds and are the largest rodent in the area. Their natural history provides benefits but sometimes they are troublesome neighbors.

At the local Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC), a family of beavers moved into the outlet of Spring Lake in 1970s. They are better dam builders than most of us could hope to become. One wonders how a particular dam site is selected. Narrow sections of Spring Creek were ignored and a dam over two hundred feet long was constructed near the outlet of Spring Lake. It required lots of work but was successful. Two smaller dams were constructed down stream to create additional flood ponds.

Elevated pond water allowed beavers to swim to the upland shore for aspen trees without going far from shore. It is safer to stay in water. Water access to trees reduces danger from predators and makes it easier to move wood. That is the reason people used rivers to float logs to sawmills during the boom and bust era of Michigan logging. Current forestry practices encourage sustainable logging instead of boom and bust cycles. That practice helps maintain a sustainable community economy.

Beavers topple trees and gnaw branches for underwater storage. They eat meals as needed all summer but branches are hauled to flood ponds and stuck in mud that accumulates behind the dam. Branches provide food during the long winter when timber harvest is not possible.

A domed beaver lodge with an underwater entrance is constructed in the beaver pond. Beavers enter and come above water level to dry living quarters with no easy predator access. A family of beavers can live cozy and exit as needed during winter months to raid their refrigerator. They retrieve branches stored in the mud and feed on nutritious bark. Remaining inner wood is used for construction or discarded like we discard chicken bones or corncobs.

Beavers move to new areas after a few years when they have eaten themselves out of house and home. Their temporary residence activities provide valuable services. The area behind the dam traps sediments and reduces debris and soil in downstream areas. This helps some animals that need clear flowing water and also those that need ponds. Water flowing over dams picks up additional oxygen essential for fish and insects. Fishing generally improves but pond water can warm streams. Various plants are able to colonize the wetlands behind the dam. Willows and alders are colonizing shrubs. In such areas, animals like the Alder Flycatcher and the Acadian Hairstreak find living good.

A great many creatures benefit from the temporary residence of a beaver family. Beavers move in and move out but leave a life giving legacy for others that last for decades. We most notice water that floods roads or drowns trees we might desire survive. Beavers do not recognize our legal title to property so we remove them when their activities do not meet our approval.

Beaver benefits include raising water tables that keep wells flowing. They provide habitat for many wildlife like fish, ducks, and deer and many less noticed animals. During spring high water dams help reduce spring flooding along rivers and it is then when beavers search real estate for new homes and food. Maybe one will come your way and bring activities that improve nature niches in your area.

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

 

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From Pond to River

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Water flows from high to low areas and over time it shortens its path. Tadpole Pond, at Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC), is higher than Chrishaven Lake, Spring Lake, Spring Creek, and Rogue River. The route water takes from Tadpole Pond to the Rogue River has a “youthful” geology.

Surrounding Tadpole Pond, rain and snowmelt drains a small area of higher ground to feed the pond. The pond was dredged deeper before becoming HCNC. The dredging cut deeper below the water table and allowed water to enter the pond from surrounding groundwater. This created a permanent shallow pond. An earth dam was constructed at the east end of the pond, with an overflow drain installed under Nature’s Habitats Trail leading toward Chrishaven Lake.

From the pond, water flows east into a boggy swamp that fills a glacial kettle lake basin formed 8000 years ago. A large block of ice left by a retreating glacier was buried and slowly melted. The melt water filled the resulting lake depression. Chrishaven Lake has been shrinking in size as vegetation gradually fills from shorelines.

Chrishaven Lake Boardwalk begins at the edge of an ancient 8000 year old shoreline and makes its way to the current open water of the lake. We cannot see open water from the ancient shoreline where the boardwalk begins. Water from Tadpole Pond makes its way through the swamp, enters the lake, and exits eastward through what was once part of the open water lake. Water continues flowing eastward saturating swampland forest where open water was once present. A small stream channel flows from the lake and crosses Nature’s Habitats Trail where a boardwalk leads through the lowland near the Swamp Shelter building.

View of the creek is lost as it merges into a large wetland forest on it way to Spring Lake. At one time Chrishaven Lake and Spring Lake may have been connected with open water. When water reaches Spring Lake, it no longer continues eastward. Spring Creek coming from north of 20 Mile Road enters Spring Lake and flows out its southwest corner. Upstream from the lake, Spring Creek is small. Where it exits the lake, the stream is about 30 feet wide because additional water feeds the creek from springs in the lake.

The east flowing water from Tadpole Pond turns westward and flows south of Chrishaven Lake and Tadpole Pond on its way west to the Rogue River. Given time, the water will flow directly west to the Rogue River from Tadpole Pond. Water takes the least resistant route. The current landscape is geologically known as youthful because water flow does not all converge directly toward Rogue River but follows an erratic path.

Given time, water will carry land away particle by particle to create a channel directly from Tadpole Pond to Rogue River. We will not live thousands of years to witness landscape changes that develop a mature river system and then an old geologic river system. Details of change from geologic youth to mature, and old age river systems will need to wait for another time.

During our lives, enjoy varied nature niches at HCNC that have developed along a youthful water course that flows east from Tadpole Pond to Spring Lake and turns 180 degrees to flow west to Rogue River. Dramatically different nature niches enhance biodiversity along the meandering watercourse. Visit HCNC and purchase an individual or family membership at the Red Pine Interpretive Center. HCNC has perhaps wildest and most diverse habitat variety of any designated nature study areas in Kent County.

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

 

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Living With The Land

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Some people live off the land. Stories in this column are from one who strives to live with land. We cannot walk and breathe tomorrow, if we do not eat and drink today. It is essential we take from nature but is also essential that we give back to nature, if we hope to thrive in another year, decade, century, or millennium.

We personally will not see another millennium and few will see the next century. Family members in succeeding generations will be able to live healthy lives a thousand years from now, if we responsibly sustain the environment that supports us.

Living off the land might mean taking what we need or want for our interests. Living with the land does not exclude taking from nature to sustain our families but it does include allowing the land to live and breath in a manner that will provide for the needs of future generations. That defines sustainable in a very practical sense.

This column focuses on aspects of nature niche relationships with wild creatures in our yards, neighborhoods, and region to promote sustainable biodiversity. Each species holds secrets and mysteries. Some species are more essential to our lives than others but all hold a fascination that stimulates our hearts to beat stronger, happier, and with greater purpose when we know them better.

Spring is here. Life is springing forth from the ground, returning from distant winter retreats or maybe from hidden places in neighborhoods. Nature niche stories will help families experience and enjoy wild wonders in the yard. They might assist in bringing nature closer to home, heart, and mind. Simply knowing about nature is not enough. It is essential that our hearts burn with love for the natural world that gives us life.

Nature should not be something that we need to go to. It should be something we draw closer to us by how we manage yards and neighborhoods. Creation is a gift that sustains us so we have responsibility to sustain creation. Many practices in our lives are focused on living off the land instead of living with the land. We cannot hope for a better tomorrow if we fail to maintain Earth’s life giving virtues and products.

We are members of a natural community with other creatures in nature niches that provide food, water, shelter, and appropriate living space. When members of the community are lost they no longer provide services that help your family. We have a vested interest in maintaining all creatures great and small for our own interests and for the interest of our children’s children.

It is equally important to develop emotional relationships through nature walks, photography, venison on the table, trout on the line, butterflies in the garden or birds at the feeder. We each interact with the natural world differently but we all share the common purpose of maintaining biodiversity for a healthy future.

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

 

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