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Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Bill and Gator’s squirrels

RBy Ranger Steve Mueller


Bill Caldwell received three young flying squirrels from a logger that cut a tree. The mother was killed when the tree fell. Bill was able to secure a permit from the MI-DNR to keep and raise the squirrels in his high school classroom. It is illegal to rescue “orphaned” wildlife. A primary reason is because keeping them alive frequently fails. If successful, the wildlife has not learned essentials for living on their own and death likely results when released. When a person desires to keep the animal, it often becomes a problem in a variety of ways.

When the young animal’s eyes have not opened, success for rearing the “rescued” wildlife is particularly difficult. Licensed rehabilitators have learned the most effective skills for success but still many animals do not survive. Rehabilitators will not accept some species. It is illegal for them to accept some or they might not be able to care for the quantity people find and “rescue.” In most cases the “orphaned” wildlife are not orphaned. Animals like rabbits and deer are left for hours with the adults infrequently returning to nurse them. 

Ray Gates, best known as “Gator,” teaches biology at Cornerstone University. The first time I met Gator, I was leading my college class on a field trip at the Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC). That was before I made the career change from college instructor to become director at HCNC. My class encountered his college class from Cornerstone that was exploring the exciting wild natural world with Gator. 

He reached into his shirt pocket and displayed a bugged-eye Southern Flying Squirrel with soft fur and skin that stretched from front legs to hind legs that allows it to parachute through the air. Though the squirrels are called “flying” it is better to describe them as gliders. They are capable of directing their travel by how they manipulate skin flaps. An adult flying squirrel is smaller than a chipmunk and is perhaps one of the most truly nocturnal mammals. Gator provided an excellent impromptu lesson on the flying squirrel’s nature niche.

It is a rare opportunity to see one in the wild even though they are common provided adequate nesting cavities are available. I had not seen one at Ody Brook until one night my daughter Jenny Jo and I were leaving the house after dark. She asked, “What is making that sound?” I did not know. We listened and determined the sound was coming from inside one of bird feeders. I lifted the cover and four flying squirrels leaped from the feeder and glided to a nearby sugar maple tree.

One time at HCNC, I was inspecting bluebird houses. One was becoming surrounded by shrubs at the edge of the field. Natural plant succession was changing the habitat making it unsuitable for bluebirds. When I peered inside, I discovered the nest box was being used to rear a litter of flying squirrels. I departed with joy that the nest box was remaining valuable for wildlife. 

Many of us have squirrel stories to share. I could continue with stories about Gray, Fox, and Kaibab squirrels and other squirrel species. This week I received a call regarding young squirrels “rescued” from a tree that was cut down. The logger felt badly and wanted to help them. I was called. My best advice was to return the three squirrels to the location so the mother could rescue them and take them to a new cavity. That might seem like a long shot but the chances for their survival are better there than trying to care for them. 

Once I asked the custodian at HCNC to replace a bluebird nest box that was in poor condition. He placed the old one in the garage. The next morning, I heard noise from the box in the garage. Inside were young bluebirds. I immediately returned the box to the post and the parent returned to successfully fledge the birds. Perhaps the mother squirrel will return to carry the blind, naked, baby squirrels to a new nest cavity. We can be hopeful. 

Wildlife biologists with MI-DNR annually instruct people that want to help wildlife to leave them where they are found. They remind us it is illegal to rescue them and chances for successful rearing and release are poor. To offer the greatest help one should harvest live trees and leave dead hollow ones in the forest for wildlife. Harvesting live trees thins the forest and allows neighboring trees to grow faster with more vigor.

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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Colors of Spring

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche By Ranger Steve Mueller

We wait. It is coming. When? Anticipation of green leaves, first garden flowers, butterfly wings, and changing bird feathers from dull winter hues to spring’s festive brightness are all on the way. We can’t wait but we must. 

Unlike many birds who lose their color during the winter, Northern Cardinals retain their bright red feathers. Photo by Hari Krishnan (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

American Goldfinches are displaying patches of yellow that will replace the olive feathers from last fall’s molt. A black cap on males will become prominent. Black wing feathers with white markings will contrast with the sunshine yellow of summer body feathers. Male Northern Cardinals have maintained a bright red all winter. Blue Jays display crystal blues. White-breasted Nuthatches show a splash of orange on the belly under the tail.

Bird colors are often ephemeral pigments that serve survival and breeding functions. The genetic bases of color is sometimes structural instead of pigmental. Diet can cause color variation. House Finch males typically have red feathers but yellow develops instead if they do not eat adequate carotenoids in their diet during feather development. They need a mother to remind them to eat their carrots. Plants and insects often contain the needed carotenoids. 

Melanin is responsible for black, brown, and earth tones. Carotenes provide yellow, orange, and red that please our eyes. Joyful blues on Eastern Bluebirds, Indigo Buntings, and Blue Jays are structural colors instead of pigments. 

Colors provide a variety of functions in bird nature niches. During the non-breeding season, the bright displays used in breeding season to court females or to claim territory could draw the attention of predators when trees are bare. Having bright colors is not as dangerous during breeding season when birds can hide among tree foliage. Birds advertise their presence with songs to females and other males from secluded perches where they can show off bright colors to her or use them to threaten other males in territorial disputes. Some colorful birds sing from exposed perches but many, like warblers and vireos, sing more secretively in the thick tree canopy. 

Why Northern Cardinals stay bright red all year remains a mystery to me. It would seem changing to the rusty color of females during the fall molt would be advantageous. People feeding birds ask me why predators, like the Cooper’s Hawks, always have to take their cardinals? They wish they would pick on duller colored birds. I am sure they take both but we notice the bright red feathers scattered on the ground. 

Blue color appears when feather structure splits short light waves from longer reds and yellow light waves. The blue is reflected outward while reds and yellows are absorbed by melanin and remain hidden to our eyes.

White feathers lack pigments and strength. We notice the new black feathers in fall on European Starlings have white edges creating a spotted appearance. During the winter the white tips wear off and the birds become shiny black by spring. Pigment gives feathers greater strength and durability.

Feather pigments aid important ornamental breeding displays, territory establishment, protective camouflage, and help with heat absorption.

Perhaps your heart has been momentarily stopped when a Ruffed Grouse burst into the air from vegetation near your feet. How often have we walked past birds that remained hidden with stillness? They have many essential behaviors for survival aided by color. 

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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Exploring

Ranger Steve

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

It is time to break free from our restrictive indoor dens to explore the lengthening days outside. Twelve hours of light and darkness signal lengthening daylight and we recognized March 17 as the time to adjust schedules for an extra hour for outdoor evening exploring. Daylight saving time provides opportunity to hit golf eggs in hopes of finding an adult “golf” to retrieve the egg and take it to safety. Golfers have not succeeded.

Beside the ribbons of fairways, shrub and forest woodland animals anxiously explore nature niche habitats for food after long winter nights secluded in den darkness. Like many mammals, we feel hostage to the confines of walls for months. Snow maintained a foot of cover to peoples joy or dismay depending on whether we chose to explore or be confined to indoor safety. Many went north to snowmobile the UP’s deep snow and beauty.

We maintain warm temperature and light in our home dens during winter’s cold darkness. Wild mammals hole up underground in dark seclusion, waiting. As warming spring weather approached, we found ourselves cast into a burrowing winter mammal’s lifestyle when sleet coated tree branches with glazing beauty. Nearly 100,000 people in our region experienced isolation and darkness that skunks, chipmunks, and opossums experience daily. Trees and shrubs snapped breaking power lines that maintain summer-like indoor conditions for us. Lights out and heat off for a day to a week disrupted routines and let us know we are part of nature’s whims.

During March, we smelled a skunk exploring the neighborhood as it searched to discover if spring arrived. Opossum tracks indicated inspection of our compost pile for morsels of nourishment but it found cottontails that remained active all winter scarfed usable vegetables. Mice, vole, and weasel tracks traverse the snow surface leading from tunnel exit to entrance along regularly traveled runways. Occasional coyote and fox tracks traverse wide ranging routes and become more frequent as spring approaches. Hairy black stringy scat identifies that canine predators protect young trees from bark girdling rabbits that would kill trees if left in abundance to gnaw succulent tissues where sap has begun to flow. 

Sap flow is evident by the formation of sapsickles where they drip from sun-warmed branches that cracked or snapped during the ice storm. Dripping sap exposed to cold air freezes and I cannot resist enjoying the sweet taste of spring. Sapsickles are shared with squirrels, chickadees, titmice, and a variety of birds seeking early spring treats when snow still lies deep. Trees have awakened even though they continue a dead appearance until April, when buds swell and early flowers bloom on silver and red maples proving spring has arrived.

To see the earliest blooms of the year, one must explore inside the spathes of skunk cabbage, where minute yellow flowers pepper the club-like spadix on these floodplain plants. Skunk cabbage produces heat that prevents freezing of its flowers. Tiny insects find the maroon spathes and take shelter during cold nights until winter conditions wane. If you happen to step on one while exploring, the odor clues to the source of its name.

Red-tailed hawks have paired and nest near forest edges. Nest 2019-1 is the first active nest noticed this year. Adults sit on tree branches along open fields and flash crimson tail feathers when circling grassland hunting grounds. Similar appearing Rough-legged hawks have a white band at the base of a dark tail, a broader dark band across the belly, whiter head, and longer wings lacking the dark ribbon along the leading wing edge. Roughlegs winter here but depart with spring’s approach to find the best breeding sites in the far north. 

We seldom view Barred, Great Horned, or Eastern Screech Owls that work winter night shifts but we hear them when most mammals venture forth in the cover and safety of darkness. When fortunate, we see a screech owl peering from a nest cavity at dusk while waiting for the safety of darkness to hunt with less chance of being eaten if it ventures out too early. It might become evening dinner for a Cooper’s Hawk when it is still light. 

Night activity is the rule for most mammals. Rising hormone levels, longer daylight hours, diminished fat, and warm weather work together to drive denning animals to explore the countryside. You are a mammal. Explore.

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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Distance disappears

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche.  By Ranger Steve Mueller

John Muir wrote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

Picture by Jim Markham.

The Great Lake Restoration Fund is hitched to the border wall funding. The federal budget President Trump proposed plans to significantly cut environmental protection funding. Farmland protection is hitched to the border wall and protections are waived. Eagle protection is hitched to the border wall and waived. Many environmental protection laws Congress established from 1899 to present are being waived without due process. Eight billion dollars is proposed to continue funding the border wall by taking money largely from two areas of the Federal budget. Environmental Protection is one of the two.

The nature niche column focuses on environmental concerns having direct effect on our lives locally. PFAS’s are hitched to the border wall. Safe drinking water is hitched to the wall. The Kent ISD superintendent told me in 2005 that environmental education was no longer a priority in America when they closed the Howard Christensen Nature Center. He said that does not mean it is not important. It means it is no longer a priority. HCNC is now a 501.c3 primarily operated independently by volunteers. 

Hopefully you will voice to legislators your view regarding environmental protection funding priority. The Great Lakes Restoration fund is critical for our regional economy, health, and future. Perhaps people do not make the connection between eagle protections discussed in last week’s nature niche and our own health. The current issue of PFAS in drinking water should provide awareness to the importance of environmental monitoring and protection. Defunding the Environmental Protection Agency and other environmental programs to build a wall does not provide sound ecological or economic reasoning. 

$77 million dollars’ worth of cocaine was recently confiscated coming through a border check point. Authorities maintain that is how most drugs and undocumented immigrants access the United States. A border wall will direct money away from environmental health protection in our local community without effectively addressing the immigration and drug trafficking problem where it is most prevalent. Drug trafficking and illegal immigration are hitched to Great Lakes ecosystem health and sustainability making distance disappear.

Budgeting money for a fence will have minimal desired effect compared to enhancing security at entry check points as a priority. The shift in priority is waiving laws protecting communities throughout America. 

Laws Waived for The Border Wall (See photograph provided by Jim Markham):

The National Environmental Policy Act; The Endangered Species Act; The Federal Water Pollution Control Act (commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act); The National Historic Preservation Act; The Migratory Bird Treaty Act; The Archeological Resources Protection Act; The Paleontological Resources Preservation Act; The Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988; The Safe Drinking Water Act; The Noise Control Act; The Solid Waste Disposal Act; The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act; The Archeological and Historic Preservation Act; The Historical Sites, Buildings, and Antiquities Act; The Farmland Protection Policy Act; The Coastal Zone Management Act; The Federal Land Policy and Management Act; The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act; National Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956; The Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act; The Administrative Procedure Act; The River and Harbors Act of 1899; The Eagle Protection Act; The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act; and the American Religious Freedom Act.

It is a preferred joy to write about the beauty and nature niche intricacies found in yards, neighborhoods, and region. I am sure that is most pleasant to read. For beauty and niche intricacies to thrive, it is important to share your views regarding environmental protection and our natural heritage with Congressional Representatives and Senators. Distance disappears because you are hitched to everything in the universe. Keep healthy nature close whether near or far and your great grandchildren will thank you.

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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Eagle successes

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Immature Bald Eagle still with white on wings changing to white adult head and tail plumage. Photo by Marilyn Keigley.

My father-in-law and I were driving the countryside when we spotted a Bald Eagle eating a car killed deer. This is typical behavior for scavenger birds like Bald Eagles. Fish is a high dietary component. Golden Eagles regularly fed on Federally Endangered Utah Prairie Dogs killed on the highway near the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park. Eagles were hit and killed while eating prairie dogs. I stuffed two for the park service. Golden Eagles and Utah Prairie Dogs numbers declined dramatically for several reasons as did Bald Eagles. 

People realized Bald Eagles like many species comprising our natural heritage were declining. Dr. Wallace, ornithologist from Michigan State University, recognized a problem when American Robins returned in spring to die in large numbers on the MSU campus where DDT was used. The poison bio-accumulated to a lethal level in robins that ate worms and insects. Rachael Carson in her book Silent Spring enlightened the general public to the veil of doom affecting a broad spectrum of wildlife and human health. Her book included information about DDT presence in human breast milk and other health hazards directly affecting people. 

People and industry tried to discredit Carson with hopes that verified and supported science findings would be ignored. Activities to undermine scientific data continue as is currently prevalent by well-funded protagonists opposing climate change evidence. Successes that limited DDT use and other chlorinated hydrocarbons in our country helped eagles and other species increase populations and reduced human health hazards. 

Rather than directly die from metabolized derivatives of DDT, eggs shells thinned and broke under the weight of the parent. With few young to replace long-lived adults, eagles declined toward extinction. It was thought our great grandchildren would not see eagles. Peregrine Falcons also disappeared from most of their range.

The establishment of the Endangered Species Act created hope for declining wildlife and hopefully would help reduce harmful chemicals in our own diet. With the banning of DDT use in the US, conditions for eagles, falcons, other wildlife, and humans improved. 

This past week a friend and I took a Sunday afternoon drive toward Lake Michigan, along the coast and home. We observed twelve Bald Eagles with most being immatures. The young can be distinguished from mature adults because they lack a white head and tail. The long black wings have white bands extending from near the body to wing tips. Eagles seemed to enjoy playing in wind currents on the bright sunny afternoon shoreline. 

The pleasure of seeing young eagles that hatched from eggs with calcium rich shells brings joy beyond knowing the species is recovering from chemical abuses humans released into the environment. It offers comfort knowing our grandkids and future generations might experience healthier lives if we maintain a safe environment for all life. That is one of the fundamental purposes supporting the Endangered Species, Clean Water, and Clear Air Acts. I envision children in the outdoors watching eagles play in the wind. 

Experience elation when you see an eagle eating its fill on a road killed deer. Eagle numbers are increasing despite well-funded efforts to discredit scientifically supported evidence documenting hazards. DDT is still heavily used around the world instead of safer alternatives. People will continue substantive discussions about current issues like the importance for replacing fossil fuels with long term economically sound alternatives. The change to alternative energy can provide our kids and future generations with a healthy environment that serves food production, stable agriculture, and sustainable environmental conditions for people and wildlife.

Bald Eagles are now a common part of our neighborhood nature niche landscape because we recognized our activities impacted their survival and implemented laws to protect them and our health. Whether it is PFAS, climate change, recycling household waste, or the kind, quantity, and frequency of chemicals we use to treat our yards and gardens, it not only affects Bald Eagle survival, we can protect our family’s health and lives. 

Chemicals help us live well but careful selection with minimal application is essential. We challenge our health and wellbeing along with that of coming generations if we do not take responsibility for eagle survival. 

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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Morning’s first arrivals

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche By Ranger Steve Mueller

Does the early bird get the worm? I recorded the order bird species arrived at feeders or flew through the sanctuary one morning between 7 a.m. and 8:30. I expected arrival to begin shortly after 7 a.m. in mid-February. Table 1 shows the first arrival time for each species on three dates. 

After observing one morning, I thought it necessary to get additional data because one day’s observation might be quite different from other days. It would be good to gather arrival times and the order species arrived for many days to determine if there is a pattern. I would like to have gathered data for 20 or 30 days so it would be more statistically reliable. 

Each succeeding midwinter day, the sun rises a little earlier so it is expected to change bird wake up and activity times. 

With previous casual observation, I noticed Northern Cardinals are among the first arrivals at daylight and last to depart at dusk. The number of birds at the feeders are most abundant midday. Squirrels impact bird use. It seems like birds and squirrels take turns but I do not think it is by choice. There are 18 squirrels that visit and when they are present, birds tend to stay away. As soon as squirrels leave birds come to feed. 

A factor that affects bird activity is foot-candles of light. That is the amount the light produced by a candle at a distance of one foot. More candles produce more light at one foot. As daylight breaks, the area lightens with increased foot-candles of light. Various species become active at different light levels. Some are late sleepers until it is brighter. 

If the sky is clear there will be more light to produce a higher foot-candle luminance. It is obvious that on cloudy days there are fewer foot-candles of light. I did not measure foot-candles of light to compare with bird arrival times. That would be interesting to see how light levels affected early morning bird activity times. 

Another factor that makes a difference for bird arrival is their location in the time zone. Birds living at the same latitude but at the eastern edge of the time zone experience sunrise an hour early than birds living at the western edge. For convenience, time zones are set for a middle longitude and the time is accepted as the same for the whole zone. Birds do not use our clocks. They use foot-candles of light in the area where they live.

It gets light almost an hour earlier on the east coast of North America than it does at the Lake Michigan shoreline. Birds living on the east coast become active earlier in the day. North-south latitudes affect daylight hours. We are familiar with the land of the midnight sun in the Arctic Circle summer and 24 hours of darkness in winter. Here summer daylight is about 16 hours and winter light about 8 hours. Near equator light and dark remains close to 12 hours all year. 

Table 1 shows first arrival time for each species. The arrival sequence is numbered. It was not the same. If I gathered data for many days, it would provide a more reliable record for determining if species have a consistent sequence for arrival.

Outlier data needs to be ignored. It is possible that an individual for a species could arrive unusually early or late for an abnormal reason. Having many days’ data would allow us to see the abnormal and ignore it. Other outlier data I needed to ignore was first arrivals recorded much later in the day. I did not watch the feeder continuously after 8:30 a.m. Arrival times recorded for bird species later in the day most likely was not a first arrival. They might have come a few minutes after I stopped watching at 8:30. Times later in the day are outlier data that cannot be included when determining nature niche activity.

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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Theory and Theory and Evolution

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller


Nearly everyone knew certain facts as absolute truth but science evidence changed accepted knowledge. Examples of known facts that are no longer accepted: 

*The Earth is the center of the universe.

*Swallows hibernate in winter at the bottom of lakes.

*The sun moves around the Earth daily.

*The Earth is flat.

Facts change as new physical evidence is gathered. Scientific theories, however, are the most supported evidence for understanding how nature functions. They are based on experimentation with rigorous scientific challenges. Science is self-correcting. Scientists challenge experimental methods and conclusions for every finding. Conclusions must be verified with repeatable physical experimental evidence 100 percent of the time. When always supported, the conclusion can be elevated to scientific theory status.

Some supported scientific theories are atomic theory, gene theory and theory of evolution. There is another definition for theory that most people know but it has a different definition from scientific theory. 

Theory in general use is an educated guess. An example is that swallows hibernated at the bottom of lakes. Swallows gathered over lakes in fall, suddenly disappeared, and then reappeared over water in spring. The ancient idea of hibernating in lakes was an educated guess based on what people thought was occurring. Experiments could provide evidence that swallows could not be found in lake bottom mud. Putting a swallow underwater would cause it to drown. Most songbirds migrate at night so their departure was not easily noticed. 

The words theory and theory are different words with different definitions but are spelled the same. It is much like the words: bark (dog’s vocal) and bark (tree covering), bank (land along stream) and bank (financial institution), or bat (flying mammal) and bat (baseball club). Theory (scientific) and theory (hypothesis) are spelled the same but do not have the same meaning. 

I wrote about the two theory definition concepts in a December 2010 nature niche article to help clarify that a theory is not always a theory. In everyday use the word theory means a preliminary idea of what happened. “How did the accident occur”? In science, a theory is the evidence-based conclusion proving “How the accident occurred.” For scientific acceptance, it must have repeatable methods of experimentation. A scientific theory requires physical evidence as proof and is not an educated guess (hypothesis).

When the scientific community identifies something as a theory, it means scientific evidence is overwhelmingly conclusive as the one correct explanation. When new scientific experiments demonstrate a flaw in a theory, the theory must either be discarded or the flawed portion removed from the theory. 

In one of the papers (Rockford Squire) where my Nature Niche column is published, a question was posed to readers: Should creationism and evolution be taught in schools as theories? Readers provided interesting responses. The science and non-science theory definitions were not clarified. Physical scientific evidence verses faith beliefs was not addressed as to what can be accepted as science. 

Physical evidence supports the theory of evolution. Many people accept or reject it depending on the conclusion they desire regardless of evidence or lack of evidence. People often have beliefs based on perceptions without rigorous scientific experimental support. That is typical for politics and religion. Physical evidence usually will not convince people concerning politics or religion. What people want to believe takes priority.

Science and faith can complement each other. Science is about “How” the world works based on physical evidence. Religion is about “Why” the world exists. Faith is belief without supportable physical evidence. 

Should religion be dismissed because it is not supported with rigorous scientific evidence? My answer is No. There is a place for multiple realities that impact our lives. Faith should not be taught as science because it is not based on physical evidence. Science should not be taught as faith because it requires physical evidence.

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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Wildlife Barriers

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

An electric Asian Carp barrier is being used to prevent the exotic fish from entering the Great Lakes where the fish will cause billions of dollars in damage to the economy, disrupt the ecosystem, and likely cause direct death of people by knocking them from boats. 

Constructing the St. Lawrence Seaway and the locks for shipping allowed sea lampreys to enter the Great Lakes and greatly impaired native fish survival and the fishing industry. Chemical treatment of streams is required to kill young lamprey to reduce lamprey surviving to enter the Great lakes. The dams on the Grand River have prevented lamprey from getting upstream from Grand Rapids to reproduce in streams. A plan is being implemented to remove the dams to return the river to its natural flow like it was a couple hundred years ago. Pros and cons were debated and dam removal was decided. Treatment of upstream tributaries will be required. 

The US Department of Agriculture spends massive quantities of money inspecting products to prevent micromoths, fruit flies, beetles, and other invertebrates from entering our country. The money spent is miniscule compared to the economic losses experienced when exotic species successfully establish here. Most of us are aware of the billions of dollars damage the Emerald Ash Borer has caused in Michigan since it arrived in 2002. The list of direct economic impact is primary for most people. The social impact came in second when streets were denuded of trees and beautiful woodlots stand with dead leafless trees. Third comes concern for the loss of native insects and associated birds and mammals that depended on the ash trees for life.

I do not fully understand why the order of concern is money, social, and then ecological. If we protect the ecological, a good economy and good social wellbeing follow. 

A wildlife/human barrier is the center of national concern. The evidence supports a wall will be largely infective for preventing people and drug trafficking into the United States. Most unlawful immigration and drug travel is achieved through border inspection sites. Most everyone is opposed to illegal entry but many businesses hire illegal immigrants because it costs less than hiring legal immigrants and people prefer to pay less for products. 

Scientific studies are providing impact evidence the wall between Mexico and United States will have on wildlife populations. Laws are bypassed to build the wall. The Endangered Species, Clean Water, and Clean Air Acts have been exempted for wall construction. How would you feel if laws were exempted to allow PFAS chemicals in your drinking water? There is a movement at the national level for that but that is a separate issue. 

The border wall harms wildlife populations by eliminating, degrading, and fragmenting habitats. Studies indicated 1506 species of native land and aquatic animals will be negatively affected. Most species have not been evaluated. Sixty-two critically Endangered or vulnerable species listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature will be impacted. This is not only a question of economic, social, and ecological impacts for sustaining a healthy future for coming generations. It is an ethical behavioral decision of our society’s behavior. It is a “me first” verses an “us first” attitude that affects species that share the planet with us.

The more we impair ecosystems, economics hits our pocketbooks and wellbeing. The estimated 80-billion-dollar wall with a down payment of 5.7 billion has been critically analyzed as less effective than other border security measures. That debate continues with evidence mounting against the wall’s effectiveness. 

For wildlife, the wall will eliminate or degrade natural vegetation, kill animals directly through habitat loss, prevent breeding by separating wildlife, erode soils, change fire regimes, cause flooding and prevent animals from accessing water. The physical barrier will prevent access to food, water, mates, and migration routes. If space allowed I could provide information about how studies indicate specific species will be impacted. 

Scientists are urging the US government to recognize and give high priority to conserving the ecological, economic, political and cultural value of the US-Mexico borderlands. They state national security can and must be pursued with an approach that preserves our natural heritage. Our national leader dismisses science. 

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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Wolves of Isle Royale

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Moose were free from large predators from the beginning of the 1900’s when they colonized the island. In the mid 1900’s, wolves were able to cross an ice bridge from Canada to Isle Royale National Park. The danger of moose living in a predator free habitat is that the population can grow to a level causing starvation when food becomes over browsed and depleted. That is evident for human populations in many places around the world. It was a reason for massive Irish immigration to America during the potato famine in Ireland. 

On Isle Royale during the last 70 years, wolves helped keep the moose population from becoming too large. By searching the Internet for Isle Royale wolves, one can find graphs showing moose population fluctuations relative to wolf numbers. A large moose population occurred after someone illegally brought a dog to the island and parvo virus spread into wolves and reduced their population. Later wolf numbers increased and declined again. The limited number of wolves interbred with relatives and weakened their genetic blood strain similar to what occurred with European royalty when they could only marry royalty chosen from a small population set. 

Mating with first cousins is not allowed because of the genetic dangers for the health of children. Where many unrelated individuals live, opportunity allows genes to spread through the population and maintain a healthy population. On the island, wolf gene exchange was limited. Climate warming now prevents ice bridge formation between Canada and the island making it impossible for wolves to naturally come to or leave the island. 

Inbreeding weakens the wolves. A female bore a male and later a female. The declining wolf population was reduced to two wolves. They were the offspring of the female. The male mated with his half-sister. Their offspring did not survive. That male has not been seen for over a year and has probably died. Aerial flights are used to inventory moose and wolf populations in winter. The male could have stayed out of sight but more likely he has died. 

I have wondered about the last remaining lone wolf on the island and how a pack animal handles living alone. Bringing down a large animal like a moose is a pack endeavor. Other animals like beavers are good prey but are not available in winter. Wolves develop emotional relationships with their pack. 

It is clearly evident that when I went away for a week, BeeGee, our dog, was lonely and did not eat for days. When I returned, his demeanor changed. He became excited and joyous in my arrival. Scientists caution us from applying human emotion to animals. BeeGee and I developed a friendship where I was his and he was mine. He was a family dog but, in our case, he and I developed an especially close emotional bond. 

The lone wolf on the island has continued life on her own with no breeding opportunity. This past fall, four wolves were trapped in Canada and released on Isle Royale. One was male and three were female. They are fitted with radio collars that will fall off in two years. Batteries will die before then. At present the collars track wolf movements. The four wolves have remained on the north side of the island. Research scientists hypothesize it is because the south side is occupied wolf territory. That is where the lone female lives. 

The male’s collar stopped moving. His dead body was located for necropsy (autopsy) to determine cause of death. Only three released females occupy the north side of the island and the lone female remains on the south side. More wolves will be released in coming years. Release of 30 wolves is planned. They will come from Canada, Minnesota, and possibly from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to provide genetic variation. 

Some people think that humans should not release wolves, while others think it is essential to prevent moose devastation of habitats that will disrupt the survival for many plants and animals. Human-caused climate change is already preventing wolves from getting to the island. We are a part of nature niches and need to determine how we fit into the natural world scheme. In our yards we determine life and death of species by how we landscape. Our yard landscaping is not wolf management but it is important for the survival of plants, birds, insects, toads, frogs, salamanders, snails, and many mammals. Wild yards are beautiful with abundant life.

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

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Kayaking Prentiss Bay

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller


For a decade I organized and led exploration outings during Labor Day Weekend. They were not the wilderness adventures where we camped with no toilets or restaurants. At Prentiss Bay off northern Lake Huron, we lodged in comfortable rooms and had great meals served in a dining hall. 

From early morning until well after dark, nature niche encounters filled our days. Early morning bird watching transitioned into nature preserve field trips from Cedarville and Drummond Island. Lake Huron’s north shore is rich with glacial drumlin islands I have weaved among in a canoe.

To provide tour participants with a new experience, I led interpretive kayak trips. Other naturalists lead canoeing and kayak outings down rivers or in lakes with a focus on paddling skill development or outdoor discovery. I desired to lead a more focused interpretive experience that I haven’t seen done by others. 

My purpose was to help people enjoy kayaking while discovering new aspects about the natural world. I kept participation to ten people. Prentiss Bay has a narrow inlet where water flushes in and out of the bay from the wide-open water of Lake Huron that reaches south to Port Huron by Sarnia. In the bay waves are usually small. Wearing life preservers, I helped each kayaker launch a kayak into calm water with instruction to paddle straight toward a tall white pine where the shoreline curved to the north. Once all were launched and hopefully becoming comfortable gliding across the water, I quickly caught up with the group. 

Upon joining the group, I put my kayak in reverse so to speak. I paddled backwards with my bow facing the group. A small group size allowed me to project my voice so all could hear. Instead of lecturing about the wonders of nature surrounding us, I helped them observe, question, and inquire about our encounters. 

Most obvious was the shoreline vegetation of fall flowers, trees and the impact of deer over browsing. White cedar trees lined the shore with green branches eaten as high as a deer could reach on hind legs. Yellow goldenrod flowers added late season color before deciduous trees ripened with golds and reds. Some maples provided red in wetlands but those on drier ground had not begun to lose their green chlorophyll. I could have spent time detailing the wonders of the life on the shore but beneath us we found richness in the water.

A dolomitic limestone bedrock underlays the bay. Since we were skirting the shoreline, we could watch fish and other aquatic inhabitants. Some organisms crawled along the bottom. Large lumps of bedrock projected from the water. Each was pitted with holes making the surface look like the inside of an egg carton. Hundreds of shallow holes covered rock surfaces. Observers were challenged to determine what caused such microtopography. It did not take long for some to determine that water sitting in small depressions dissolved rock to create pits. People discovered favorite gull perches by noticing whitewash deposits that dissolved rock. 

At the north end of the bay, I led the group through reeds projecting above the water surface. I knew what they would encounter as we glided through the plants but they did not. I let them know there was no danger. We could see easily through stiff pointed green grass-like stems to the shoreline. Water movement in the shallow water caused the firmly anchored plants to wave to passing birds.

It wasn’t long before our explorers were voicing anxiety about spiders crawling on the kayaks and on them. I assured them these spiders were not capable of biting them but many were still uncomfortable in the presence of arachnids. We pondered how the numerous spiders established residence on the scattered reeds far from shore. 

Green darner dragonflies hovered, darted, and fed among the offshore greenery. Many other waterway life form encounters enriched our experience. We reached the inlet to Prentiss Bay where we needed to cross to our landing. Waves were mild but larger than we had encountered. I had kayakers line up beside my kayak so mine would break the waves to make it easier for them. My kayak lessened wave height and with others in a row beside me, they could paddle calmer water. It was a good plan but each year it never worked. People were not able to hold their position. Regardless, they enjoyed the interpretive outing and no one dumped. 

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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