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Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

North and South Facing Slopes

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The sun is rising higher in sky, moving farther north and shines in our east facing bedroom window. I speak of appearances instead of accurate occurrences. For most of human history, it was thought that appearances were how things worked in nature niches. We thought the sun rose instead of the Earth rotating to make it appear the sun rises. In the 16th century, Copernicus shared that Earth was not center of universe, and he was placed on house arrest for life unless he recanted and stated his scientific discovery was false. He did not recant his scientific discovery.

An event of great significance for plants and animals is the angle the sun strikes the landscape. Though it is easily observable, many of us have not consciously noticed or considered its importance. Our noses may have noticed skunks begin venturing out in February when days are longer. Day light has been lengthening for two months, even though we receive some of our coldest air at this time of year. We experienced -15 F in mid February.

Cold arctic air masses alternate with warmer southerly air masses sweeping over the region. When clouds are not blocking the sun, higher angle sunrays make more direct contact with the landscape. They warm south facing slopes, melt its snow, and warm the ground to kick-start spring growing conditions earlier than occurs on north facing slopes, where sunlight skims over the slope. Sunray energy concentrates in a smaller area when it strikes south facing slopes perpendicularly. On north-facing slopes, the same amount of energy is obliquely spread widely over a larger area and results in less warming of ground, plants, over wintering insects and other creatures.

Growing seasons on north and south-facing slopes vary depending on the amount of energy they absorb and it creates unique plant and animal microhabitats. As March approaches, notice the variations. The north side of Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary’s big field has exposed bare ground earliest when warm rays reflect infrared heat off forest trees. The middle of the field is slower to lose snow and frozen ground. The south edge of the field is slowest to warm and lose snow because naked winter tree trunks and branches filter light energy and prevent some rays from reaching that edge of the field.

Energy captured by dormant winter trees warms the bark and begins sap flow in February. Look closely at tree buds to notice they swell in advance of spring. It is easier to see changes in trees and shrubs than changes in field plants on north and south-facing slopes. Herbaceous plants have dead vegetation above ground but the warming Earth stimulates unobserved root activity. When spring growth emerges, plants on south-facing slopes bloom earlier than the same species growing on north-facing slopes.

Unfortunately, people often reject science evidence for political or religious reasons as happened with Copernicus. Concerns might stem from human fear of the unknown when we consider changing how to use Earth’s resources. Some people are willing to change behavior to sustain future generations, in addition to caring for our present population, while others focus only on the present. When asked, it appears people are interested in our children’s, grandchildren’s, and succeeding generations sustainability. However, actions are more important than talk, when addressing how we live and strive to sustain a healthy Earth for present and future human generations. It is important that we do not ignore accumulating scientific evidence for how things like the Keystone pipeline or human-caused climate change impact the triple bottom line of economic, social and environmental sustainability. Present and future generations depend on healthy functioning ecosystems. In present day society many are unwilling to accept scientific evidence, much like political and religious leaders were unwilling to accept Copernicus’s discoveries.

Go beyond appearances to discover and understand the importance of evidence-based occurrences.

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 or call 616-696-1753.

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Spruce branch tips

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Pounding front feet, a flicking tail, and loud chatter from a red squirrel demonstrates its defiance, as it scolds me in his woods. I do not view the woods as his, mine, or yours. We live and share a space for a short time on Earth and hopefully leave it healthy for those that follow us. We all impact those around us and red squirrels bring benefit and harm to spruces. Gray and fox squirrels seem more tolerant of my presence. All three species give me space but the red squirrel is feistier.

Gray squirrels are most comfortable in extensive, unbroken forest dominated by oaks. Fox squirrels prefer a deciduous forest with openings. The red squirrels claim dominance in the coniferous forest where they let intruders know they are trespassing.

At the Howard Christensen Nature Center, a plantation of Norway spruce referred to as the Enchanted Forest is home to red squirrels. In the forest’s youthful days, green boughs were in contact with the ground and there was more open space among the trees. Younger aspen trees grew in the surrounding area. As the spruce plantation grew, more shade was cast upon the ground. When I first arrived in 1979, the trees were tall and sunlight reached the ground in few locations. Those locations bore luminescent bright green moss. Though it was reflected light, one would think the light was shining directly from within the moss—hence the name “Enchanted Forest.”

In winter, the forest is quiet unless one passes too close to a red squirrel. Often we do not see or hear the squirrel but other evidence of its presence is abundant. It took some time for me to link the evidence to the red squirrel. Six-inch green spruce branch tips regularly cover the ground in winter. I wondered why. It does not seem that they would break free from the tree in mass. A strong windstorm or ice covering should not cause branch tips to break.

Finally I realized red squirrels venture toward branch tips to eat lateral buds along the branch. Buds swell most toward branch tips and their succulence is preferred. The bud at the branch tip would taste even better but the branch becomes too flimsy for easy access.

When the squirrel eats the two buds along the side, the remaining tip falls to the ground. If it does not fall immediately, wind will break the weak gnawed area causing it to fall in short order. On the ground, the red squirrel could enjoy the terminal bud that it could not reach when it was in the tree. I do not find evidence that it eats those buds but I have not really inspected the new and growing green carpet that thickens under spruces as winter progresses. Mice or other ground animals might find good nutrition just laying around for their taking. It does not cross their minds to thank the squirrel for making food accessible. The squirrel’s action might even be compared to us putting out birdseed. Actions of one animal in nature niches often have positive effects for other animals.

One would think biting branch tips off would only cause harm. The squirrel activity also has some positive impacts for the tree. We prune Christmas trees to cause them to form shorter bushier thick growth. The squirrels do the same for Norway spruce. It encourages the tree to put more energy into vertical growth and helps prevent growing branches into a neighbor’s space. It forces the tree to spend energy for upward growth that keeps its head in sunlight. That helps the tree live instead of being shaded to death by neighboring trees.

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, or call 616-696-1753.

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Family hiking exploration (part 2)

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Five Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC) trails were described last week and five more follow.

Trail signs have word names, picture icons, and color codes to involve all family members.

Spring Creek Loop (light blue lettered signs with frog icon)

Begins at the Welcome Center parking area and follows east past Chrishaven Lake and lake’s floating dock. It connects with Nature’s Habitats Trail (NHT) for a short distance and then continues eastward to Spring Lake where it loops south to follow the ridge above Spring Creek westward. It joins with NHT along the south side the enchanted Norway Spruce forest at the Spring Creek access spur and continues west until it spurs north to complete a loop near Chrishaven Lake.

Arboretum Paths (Red lettered signs with oak leaf icon)

It is a two-part trail. The East Arboretum Loop contains many species originally planted for ornamental transplant. The West Arboretum Loop is a Spruce/Pine plantation. The East Arboretum Loop is .4 kilometers (.25 miles) long.  The West Arboretum Loop is .5 kilometers (.3 miles).

Boardwalk to Chrishaven Lake (Dark blue lettered signs with sensitive fern frond icon)

A boardwalk leads through an old lake that has been largely replaced with vegetation to create a swampy/bog. A floating dock is present on the remnant of a once much larger lake and the boardwalk leads north to connect with Nature Habitats Trail. Its length is .27 kilometers (.2 miles).

Swamp Ridge Trail (Brown lettered signs with turtle icon)

Begins at the amphitheater fire circle between the Welcome Center parking area and the Red Pine Interpreting Building. It follows the south edge of the swamp eastward to Chrishaven Lake and continues east along the ridge.  At the open area south of the lake it raises from the lowland trail to upland but continues to follow the swamp ridge until meets Nature’s Habitats trail.

Thunderwood Trail (Green lettered signs with woodpecker icon)

Trail departs from Nature’s Habitats Trail, loops through upland forest to a boardwalk through what has become mostly swamp from what was once a marsh. Before entering an upland forest, hikers encounter large hemlock trees on their way to joining Arrowhead Trail. Length is .44 kilometers (.27 miles).

Some unnamed trails are meant for limited activity to allow wildlife privacy but are used during special programs. HCNC’s trail plan provides human access to nature niches balanced with providing plants and animals with needed sanctuary isolation for survival. Design incorporates three-use activity levels: High Activity, Passive Activity, and Limited Activity areas.

Constructed features along the trails enhance family hiking experiences. They include two interpretive buildings, Howard Christensen Memorial Spring, floating docks on the north and south side of Chrishaven Lake, Floating Bridge on Tadpole Pond, Swamp Shelter and Swamp decks on NHT, amphitheater, Swamp Tower, Tadpole Tower, Legend Circle, and Serenity Circle. A Welcome Center with restrooms is located at the south parking 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 or call 616-696-1753.

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Family Hiking Exploration (Part 1)

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC) has great diversity of habitats and a variety of trails to entice family hikers. Anticipate articles highlighting individual trails to interest family members during coming months. In the meantime, explore the trails to make your own discoveries. Plant communities influence the animals that can be found along trails.

Hikers will notice trail signs at trail junctions have three different marker codes. Most obvious are the printed trail names on signs. Each trail also has a unique picture and color code. Along the trails blue trail markers have been painted on trees but these have not been color coded to match trails at this time.

Five trails are described this week and five more next week.

Nature’s Habitats Trail (white lettered sign with butterfly icon)

The longest and widest trail at HCNC. It’s route leads through the major ecological communities found at the nature center. The trail traverses oak upland, skirts swampy/bog, crosses a small stream outlet from the lake, cuts through the Enchanted Norway Spruce forest, Red Pine plantation, accesses Spring Creek, meanders through mature aspen forest, transects the arboretum, Scotch Pine plantation, and concludes by Tadpole Pond where it began. Parts of the trail are located in the Rogue River State Game Area. Length is 2.1 kilometers (1.5 miles).

Deer Hollow Trail (black lettered signs with deer icon)

Located in the southwest corner of HCNC’s property, it loops through an upland oak, aspen forest, Scotch Pine plantation and traverses a swamp boardwalk. The trail connects with the arboretum loop trails and Chickadee Circle. Oak savanna habitat management area and owl roost forest are found along the trail. It is about 1.2 kilometers (.75 miles).

Chickadee Loop (yellow lettered signs with chickadee icon)

Trail loops from the Welcome Center westward and north around tadpole pond, past vernal pond, over a floating bridge past Howard Christensen Memorial Spring, and returns to the Welcome Center. It is comprised of oak forest, oak savanna, a vernal pond and permanent pond. Its length is about .4 kilometers (.25 miles).

Arrowhead Trail (orange lettered signs with arrowhead icon)

An ecological succession trail leads through an old fallow farm field, shrubland, developing pioneer forest, a pine plantation, and sub climax forest.  HCNC’s highest point is on this trail. Length is 1.5 kilometers (.9 miles).

Succession Loop (Gray lettered signs with rabbit icon)

Begins along the south side of the field north of Red Pine Interpretive Center and progresses east until it loops south to join Arrowhead Loop for a return to the handicap parking area near the interpretive building.

A “designed with nature” concept was used in planning parking and building placement to maintain the nature center’s natural ambiance and provide visitors with nature exposure before they encounter the interpretive center building. By using the Welcome Center parking lot, it keeps the Red Pine Interpretive from view and offers a nature walk before encountering the human constructed environment. A special needs parking area was designed for direct access to the building by use of the north driveway.

The second interpretive building is located off 20 Mile Road with a similar “design with nature” construction. A loop parking area keeps vehicles away from the building to provide a quiet, calming, access walk to the building hidden in the woods. A drive for direct handicap parking access is available from loop parking 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, or call 616-696-1753.

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Great Blue

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

How cheery and uplifting a bright blue sky is for the soul in mid winter. It draws me to break trail in fresh snow. The experience is most beautiful when scattered white clouds parade in front of the sun creating an alternating blue-gray snow blanket when clouds temporary block the glistening sparkles of sunrays on snow crystals that soon reappear once clouds have passed. I want to bundle everyone in warm winter clothes to join on the Courier and Ives experience among the natural wonders beyond our confining doors.

It is easy to dream about the beauty of times past when viewing Courier and Ives pictures or watching winter scene screen-savers cascade across the computer. Stick your head out the window and yell “I’m Excited” to alert your neighbors. Bundle up and show others it is time to explore the Great Blue.

With unrestrained excitement I started the morning. The dog was anxious to head into the great blue yonder. I carried a camera to concentrate on the snow covered tree branches with the blue and white backdrop created by the crisp winter sky. A 20-degree temperature was comfortably warm but cold enough to preserve snow snakes on stark winter branches. Some of the snow was slipping from branches but was cohesive enough to hang in loops creating the appearance of long white snakes resting in the winter sun. Just as I was ready to snap a picture the loop broke and fell. I’ll wait for another day to capture an intact winter snow snake.

Meanwhile the dog was searching the snow with nose buried deep in rabbit and deer tracks. His nose was to the ground while my eyes were raised to the sky. We finished our joint walk and I ventured out to explore on my own.

I walked toward Peninsula Bridge at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary. As I approached the footbridge over the creek, another Great Blue leaped from the shallow water, stretched large wings and flew upstream. Each winter I occasionally see a Great Blue Heron frozen statue-like in the creek’s shallow water waiting to spear a passing fish for lunch.

When it flew, I was unprepared to raise the camera to capture the departing Great Blue. I expected I might see it again when walking the pond loop trail. Quietly I traversed the narrow isthmus between the two frozen ponds and crossed high ground separating the west pond from the flowing creek. The hidden heron flew from the creek and landed on a branch long enough for me to capture a picture.

Today was this year’s first heron sighting. Its Great Blue added to the Great Blue sky above and the Great Blue reflecting from shadowed snow. Cottontail tracks and droppings were telltale signs of where the rabbit has nightly explorations. Deer trails provided evidence for preferred travel routes. Snow was deep enough to show drag marks where hooves scraped the surface between tracks.

All are beautiful art in the snow. They are not snow angels we make but are natural artifacts made by animal winter activities. Deer and rabbits remain hidden by day but squirrels are seen nosing the snow for hidden treasures buried months ago. Some large areas have been cleared of snow by deer searching for the squirrels buried treasures. Deer beds were melted in snow where deer rested. One group of beds was along the forest south edge where it meets field. Deer were taking advantage of the sun’s low winter angle warmth while remaining protected among shrubs. The snow has allowed me to locate two other bedding areas that would be hard in find without snow.

I approached the creek near the road and discovered the Great Blue Heron standing in the stream waiting patiently for food to pass within reach. I snapped a distance picture, got the mail and left without disturbing it. As long as there is open water, these long legged Great Blue wading birds stay the winter and brighten my days in nature niches, as do the other exciting Great Blues provided in nature’s winter world.

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, or call 616-696-1753.

 

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2014 Christmas bird count results

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The Canada Goose totaled 1671

The Canada Goose totaled 1671

There were 47 traveling observers and 12 stationary watching at bird feeders that observed 60 species of birds (Table 1) for the 2014 Kent County Bird Count period on held January 3, 2015. No additional bird species were reported during count week. Total individuals sighted were 8,763.

A female Rose-breasted Grosbeak was reported. We are waiting for a verification description before the species is counted for the official report submitted to National and Michigan Audubon. The female grosbeak and the female Purple Finch have somewhat similar appearances. The grosbeak species should have migrated to South America for the winter but it is possible one remained Michigan. One is occasionally seen on a Michigan Christmas Count. A rare bird report with convincing detailed description must be submitted for birds that are rarely found in the state during the winter count period.

Bird counts held across the continent document population numbers and distribution trends. The large data set helps provide reliable information regarding southward or northward population changes over several decades. Individual year population movements to the north or south do not indicate habitat or climate change but long-term changes provide evidence that the environment is changing. Citizen science projects like the annual bird count provide useful data for scientists studying environmental quality, habitat, and climate change. The information helps business and government analyst predict economic impacts of environmental change for society. This year’s count was the 115 Christmas bird count and is the longest running citizen science project.

Weather conditions were 100 percent cloudy with snow falling and temperatures were between 26 and 38 F. A light breeze blew east-northeast.Snow depth on the ground was between 0 to 1 inches.Moving water was open and still water was 80 percent frozen.

We totaled 82.25 hours in vehicles traveling 649 miles. Fourteen hours were spent on foot covering 21 miles. A combined total of 670 miles were on foot and driving. Groups totaled 106.5 hours of daytime birding. Night owling occurred during 1 hour and six miles of driving. There were 19 morning birding groups and 13 in the afternoon.

We are grateful for essential section coordination by group leaders and the many people that offered help to make the count a success.

OUT-Nature niche Christmas bird count table Sheet1

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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Cedars of Cedar Springs

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

Two cedars are common in West Michigan but neither is actually considered a true cedar (Cedrus sp.). The true cedars do not grow naturally in North America. Perhaps the best-known true cedar is the over harvested Cedar of Lebanon whose removal caused flooding and other environmental problems.

Locally two cedars grow in different habitats filling different nature niches.

The White Cedar, also known as Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis), is a wetland species, for which the town of Cedar Springs gains its name. In our area, it is most common in cold swamps or along streams, where moving water prevents acidic stagnant conditions. Cedars require neutral to basic nutrient rich soil conditions, with a pH of 7 or greater. This is more important than keeping their feet (roots) wet.

When crossing Mackinac Bridge northward, we are greeted in the Upper Peninsula with White Cedars along I-75, growing on high ground composed of high pH soil covering dolomitic limestone. The cedars give me the feeling that I am entering the North Country. The Grand Rapids area of West Michigan, eastward across Michigan, is nearing the southern limit of the tree’s abundance. White Cedars are found farther south but large native stands primarily end their southward range here. They also hug the cooler climate along Lake Michigan and have found growing conditions suitable to southern Michigan.

In good habitat, the trees grow densely. Roots are shallow and spreading, allowing them to receive oxygen easily. If deprived of oxygen, they will not thrive. Moving water in swamps brings a fresh supply of nutrients annually, during spring snowmelts and high water.

The shallow roots result in trees being toppled easily by strong winds. I have been in Cedar swamps with fallen trees piled ten feet thick. Many times White Cedars grow in thick, pure stands following fire. Deer feed heavily on cedars and depend on mature trees, where they yard together for survival in harsh dangerous winter conditions.

Cedars’ dense growth and evergreen flattened branches hold snow, preventing it from falling to the ground. Shallow snow depth on the ground allows easier deer movement. Predators find it more difficult to capture and kill deer in such conditions. When deer leave the safety of cedar swamps into deep snow, they become vulnerable and even without the presence of predators deep snow requires increased energy expenditure.

Finding food buried in snow is difficult. Along Cedar and Little Cedar Creeks, Cedar trees are no longer abundant. When humans settled here, the native habitats were greatly altered. It is interesting to note that many roads and towns are named for species once abundant but were removed by human development. Now the plant and animal names dominate communities more than the species themselves.

One can gauge deer abundance by how heavily Cedars are browsed. When deer populations are excessively high, Cedars are browsed as high as deer can reach, when standing on their hind legs. Where deer populations have not exceeded the carrying capacity of food, water, and shelter, Cedar branches can be found growing closer to the ground. Lower green branches have become rare in much of Michigan.

The Red Cedar is actually a juniper (Juniperus virginiana) growing on high dry ground. It is a southern tree that found its way into mid Michigan. Prior to logging and European farmer settlement, the Red Cedar was uncommon here. Clearing of forests allowed this shade intolerant species to expand its range northward on well-drained calcareous soils. When driving south in winter, the Red Cedars seem to dominate highway shoulders where its evergreen branches are apparent during the cold season.

Its branches are very prickly to the touch, unlike the softer feel of White Cedars. It is drought resistant, slow growing and might live a few hundred years if not harvested. Its wood is also decay resistant, used for fence posts, cedar chests, and closet linings like that of White Cedar, for which Cedar Springs was named. Wood from both repel insects, fungi, and provide a pleasant aroma.

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

 

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Carry On

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

 

As I begin a happy and joyous new year, I have been contemplating years past. A poem I wrote, in 1972, carries an important idea, from when I was a young man. The idea holds true as I age. I remain functional and hopefully productive despite a new normal, and experimental cancer treatments received at the University of Chicago hospital twice weekly. Though the cancer is not curable, it is treatable. I fully expect to thrive for many years and continue as a productive citizen for human and non-human communities.

The coming year is bright and full of cheer. Plans for enhancing life at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary are many. Plans for maintaining and enhancing nature niche conditions for fellow species are reason enough to “Carry On” myself. How we live in neighborhood nature niches that we share with life on Earth is vital for the wellbeing of future human generations. It is impossible to live, much less thrive, without other species that maintain a healthy biosphere.

Carry On

A person’s body is only a means

to carry his ideas into the world.

Death should return his body to the soil

while his ideas live on in others.

A person’s philosophies need be passed on

and not his picture or mummy.

Embalm me not, destroy my body,

but put my thoughts to use.

Though people like recognition,

their names are on the books,

It’s of no value to my cause

to memorize my name.

Continue where I leave

so my goals might be achieved.

October 9, 1972

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.616-696-1753

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Cherry Crop Pest Management

OUT-Cherries

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Cherries and plums for our Christmas festivities depend on crop production. Michigan has an important cherry orchard industry. We eat cherries throughout the year and I particularly like Traverse City Pie Company cherry pies.

The American Plum Borer is a micro moth that few people ever see but it feeds on cherry and plum trees. It is the most important pest of these trees in Michigan. Natural control species such as birds, spiders, beetles, ants, and wasp parasitoids are important for maintaining pest control.

Legislation has been introduced to revise the definition of “conservation” regarding biological diversity to remove key provisions regarding restoration, distribution and the “continued existence” of native species and communities. It would prevent biodiversity from being considered when managing natural resources. Biodiversity is fundamental to healthy functioning nature niches. It is beyond my comprehension and the scope of the article to address political motivations that undermine maintenance of healthy ecosystems. By the time this article is printed the vote will likely have occurred.

The focus here is on the American Plum Borer, Euzophera semifuneralis (Walker), a Pyralid moth and other species that control it. Like so many aspects of the natural world, very little is known about the moth’s biological control despite it being the most important pest of the cherry and plum trees. A change in how we harvest cherries is one reason it is an important pest. About 40 years ago we shifted to hydraulic tree shakers from human manual pickers. The mechanical harvesting by machines instead of humans causes cracking and tearing of the bark.

The moth lays eggs that hatch and enter through the bark injuries. Caterpillars feed on the thin cambium that produces new tissue for transporting food, water, and nutrients. Trees usually die within five years if the insects are too abundant. To control the insect, pesticides are used but pesticides used are being discovered as harmful to us. They are increasingly restricted to safeguard our health. That makes a case for maintaining natural biodiversity of native species to help control the insect that takes food from our tables.

A variety of birds including the Northern Flicker and other woodpeckers were commonly found probing the bark in spring and summer for moth larvae. White-breasted Nuthatches and other birds search the tree wounds and bark for larvae and over-wintering hibernators.

The most common parasitoid eating the moth larvae is a tiny ichneumon wasp. Parasitoids are different from parasites in that they kill their prey. They feed inside the caterpillar on non-vital tissues at first and later eat vital organs causing death. A true parasite does not kill its host. A mosquito is a good example of a parasite on us.

Crab spiders species were found preying on the moths. A beetle, nematode roundworms, fungi, and ants are important natural controls. Many natural control species await discovery. Often when pesticides are used, the natural control species are more severely reduced than the pest species because they are not as abundant. The pest species is then able to reproduce more rapidly in the absence of natural controls and create increased economic harm.

Two things that would help keep cherries on our tables would be to reduce the mechanical damage to tree bark by tree shaker machines and to maintain natural biodiversity so native species are able to continue their ecological role in the food web. One might think it would have minor impact for politicians to prevent scientists and land managers from using best practices to maintain biodiversity but their action can be devastating. Details about the biological control of the American Plum Borer can be found in a scientific paper written by David Biddinger and Tim Leslie in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of The Great Lakes Entomologist journal.

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

 

 

 

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Annual Christmas Bird Count

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Join others for the Christmas Bird Count on 3 Jan 2015. Experienced birders will help identify about 60 species during the National Audubon, Michigan Audubon, and Grand Rapids Audubon Club sponsored Christmas Bird Count. Meet at the Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center (WWC) across the road from Lowell High School.

We assemble at 7:30 a.m. and are searching various count circle sections by 8 a.m. Spend the morning or the whole day. There is no charge to participate but the National Audubon welcomes an optional donations. A lunch will also be provided for $5 for those that desire or people can brown bag their lunch.

This is my 28th year coordinating the Kent County event. Plan to discover birds in their winter nature niches and celebrate the diversity of life that abounds during the winter. About 60 people gather and divide into small groups to explore various areas with section leaders. The count area has a 7.5-mile radius surrounding the Honey Creek and Two Mile Roads intersection.

It is a mystery what species will arrive to compliment our regular winter residents. Some people are surprised that American Robins and Eastern Bluebirds are regulars each winter. Their primary winter diet is berries found in wetlands. Birds from more northern areas might arrive if food is scarce farther north or if weather is particularly harsh. Other species like the Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, and Song Sparrow might linger here instead of heading south if winter conditions are mild. Many species of waterfowl will be expected on open water.

The Grand Rapids Audubon Club and WWC invite families for this free family event for part or all day. Previous bird knowledge or experience is not necessary. To enhance a great birding experience we carpool. The WWC is located at 11715 Vergennes Rd across the street from Lowell High School. The co-sponsoring WWC has a great facility where you will see many live mounts of birds displayed. The hiking trails are open for hiking every day of the year. We hope to see you on January 3, 2015.

Come dressed in layers that can be removed or added as temperature changes. We are in and out of cars at many locations. Bring binoculars and bird books if you have them. People will share if you do not. Call me ahead of time with questions or just show up on count day.

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

 

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