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Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Migration Stopover

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

White-throated sparrow Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area, Quebec, Canada. Photo By Cephas, Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15086427

White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows stopover on their way to northern breeding grounds. If you have feeders in your yard, expect these interestingly marked sparrows to feed on the ground. They salvage seeds that fall when Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, American Goldfinches and others get seeds from the feeder. Mourning Doves will also be feeding on the ground.

The White-throated Sparrow has a beautiful distinctive song people describe with words to help remember it. It sings “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” or our friends to the north like to describe it as “My Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada.” It is a refreshing sound to enjoy for a few weeks as the birds work their way to Canada and northern Michigan breeding grounds. Google the species by name to get pictures and song.

Look for the white throat under the bill. The breast is gray with some streaking so its white throat stands out well. Between the eye and bill is a bright yellow patch. It is easy to miss if one does not look closely. When light is bright, the yellow patch shows best but in shade it is subdued. Above the eye and behind the yellow patch are white or tan stripes between darker stripes that run the length of the head. Attention to head details is helpful for identifying many sparrows.

Some might think “a sparrow is a sparrow” but attention to details reveals a beauty missed by those that do not take a few moments for a close look. House Sparrows are common in town, on farms, and in area of heavy human use like grocery store parking lots. The White-throated is not likely to be found in grocery parking lots but your yard can be a good stopover location. Do not assume all are House Sparrows.

White-crowned Sparrows superficially look similar to White-throated Sparrows but head details separate them. I saw both species together recently. The White-crowned is slightly smaller but that is a difficult character to recognize when the species are not together. The White-crowned has a plain gray throat and cheek below the eye and bill. The breast is a plain gray with no streaking like that present on the White-throated. On the head are alternating white and black stripes running from front to back. The stripes are more brilliant than those on the White-throated. No yellow is present at the base of the bill.

Young birds from last year’s brood can make identification difficult because alternating light stripes are tan instead of white and the dark ones are rusty brown instead of black. Don’t get frustrated with variations. Concentrate on the typical.

About 10 species of sparrows can be expected in or near our neighborhoods in spring. Those present will be associated with unique nature niche requirements. The two-species described like shrubby areas with some conifer trees nearby. I find the White-crowned Sparrow in more open areas than the White-throated. Sparrow recognition can be difficult but these two separate easily when one looks at head details.

Familiarize yourself with the natural world we share with a multitude of life. Start with the two stopover sparrows and then learn the Song Sparrow, Field Sparrow, and Chipping Sparrow that stay for the summer to raise young. Be a good neighbor by providing suitable nesting and feeding habitat where you live. Though sparrows are often considered seedeaters, they depend on insects especially during young rearing. Avoid sterilizing your yard and garden with pesticides. Allow 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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Trilliums and Swamp Saxifrage

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

The Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum). Photo by Wilson44691 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum). Photo by Wilson44691 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) excites us with its large showy appearance in mature deciduous forests. It is a highlight signaling spring is here to stay. Soon trilliums flowers will be gone for the year.

Forest tree leaves begin to expand as the trillium flower petals expand. As the forest canopy shades the forest floor, the white trillium flowers will turn pink and wither. Leaves continue to photosynthesize in summer and send food underground for winter storage. We do not take notice of the trillium leaves in summer.

It is good to take notice of leaf characteristics when enjoying the beauty of flowers so we can recognize the plant species when the flowers are gone.

The Michigan Botanical Club visited Ody Brook recently to experience ephemeral flowers and learn about their nature niches. Each species contributes a unique role in its habitat and ecosystem. They are dependent on soils, moisture, light intensity, insects, and a variety of subtle survival requirements. Some species like the trillium can thrive in a variety of conditions but surviving can be difficult.

Hoffmaster State Park hosted a Trillium Festival but an excessively large white-tailed deer population has devastated the trillium population and the name was changed to Wildflower Festival.

The abundance of Large-flowered Trilliums continues in many regions. If you travel north for Memorial Day Weekend, expect to see white carpets of trillium flowers in mature forest. The species has a coefficient of conservatism of 5. The rating is used to rank plants for naturalness of habitat composition using a 1-10 system. Habitats that appear to be the same might have species present in one habitat that are not present in another. When species with a high coefficient of conservatism are present in a habitat, it indicates a healthier site.

At Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary we work to encourage the healthiest habitats for greatest biodiversity enhancement and to especially help species survive that have a high coefficient of conservatism. We are fortunate that several pre-European settlement species continue to thrive that have been eliminated from surrounding areas. Some are present in small numbers such at the American Chestnut and Wood Betony. The chestnut’s coefficient rating is 9 and betony’s is 10 on a scale of 1-10. Ten is the highest rating for naturalness of a site.

When managing a site we ask, “Are land management practices effecting the health of the site?”  Hopefully our practices maintain rich biodiversity and improve survival for species that indicate a high-level of naturalness.

Coming into flower in mid-May are Swamp Saxifrage (Micranthes pensylvanica) that are not showy like trilliums. They have a whorl of leaves on the ground with a flower stalk that stands over one foot tall. Flower clusters have small inconspicuous pale flowers that do not capture attention. Its rating is 10 and is as an indicator of healthy habitat naturalness that is much higher than the rating for Large-flowered Trilliums.

As a result, our efforts for sanctuary management are greater for the less showy saxifrage, wood betony, and American chestnut than for the trillium. We personally enjoy the trilliums more because of their beauty. We work to maintain massive trillium blooms while helping the plants with a high coefficient of conservatism.

We explore the natural world around us pretending we live in the 17th century with native species. The presence of exotics species that crowd and eliminate native species from existence remind of us of the daunting challenge to help native species survive in the 21st century. Efforts are to maintain healthy habitats and ecosystems for future generations of plants and animals and for the benefit of future human generations.

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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Kathy Bowler’s discovery

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

In 2000 Kathy Bowler was walking along the White Pine Trail with eyes open to the natural world. A small blue butterfly caught her attention. Several small blue butterfly species fly in spring and summer. The most common is the Spring Azure. Others are the Silvery Blue, Eastern Tailed Blue, and the Karner Blue.

The Karner Blue was not known to live in Kent County and was not expected. Kathy pursued the butterfly and discovered it was the federally endangered Karner Blue Butterfly. I had been hired by The Nature Conservancy and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct research on the Karner Blue in Minnesota. Kathy knew that and contacted me to confirm her new Kent County discovery.

We contacted Mogens Nielsen who wrote the book Michigan Butterflies and Skippers and he also confirmed the identification and discovery.

The Land Conservancy of West Michigan (LCWM) works to preserve natural areas and species to keep nature nearby healthy. They worked with the land owners that owned Karner Blue habitat along the White Pine Trail near 12 Mile Road to create a preserve. The butterfly caterpillars can survive on only one species of lupine.

Wild Blue Lupine (Lupinus perennis) is a legume that fixes nitrogen improving soil fertility. It grows in Michigan’s oak savanna habitat. Oak savanna is Michigan’s rarest habitat and has disappeared throughout most of its range due to land use practices. When habitat is reduced in size, species supported are pushed toward extinction. Fragmented habitats left in small pieces do not support species nature niches well because individuals cannot get from one to another to expand their population.

Some reptiles, birds, and insects dependent on oak savannas have significant survival challenges. People can help save species with declining populations. The Maas family owns property where the Karner Blue has suitable habitat. They donated part of their land to create the Maas Family Nature Preserve.

The LCWM with support from the DNR helped restore oak savanna at the Maas preserve. Plant succession was eliminating the oak savanna that depends on periodic fires to maintain its habitat. A savanna is an open grass and forb area with scattered trees. The open area allows adequate sunlight for the Lupine and Karner Blue to thrive. Fires prevent it from becoming an oak forest that would shade out the lupine and butterflies.

Karner Blue eggs that overwinter hatch, feed on lupine, pupate and transform into the blue beauty in mid to late May. Those adults mate and lay eggs that produce a second brood in midsummer. The second brood’s eggs overwinter. Management for the butterfly creates conditions for other species that people enjoy seeing including wild turkeys, deer and several species of birds. On state and federal lands, hunters find better hunting success for species in Karner Blue managed habitat.

Thanks to Kathy’s sharp eye, the discovery helped an endangered species survive with the aid of people willing to share space with rare species. She also saw the butterfly on wild undeveloped habitat along the opposite side of the trail near 12 Mile road. The owners do not allow people onto that property to determine the extent of the species’ presence and are not interested in helping them survive.

Survival of the regions biodiversity depends on how we utilize the land. Many people began planting Wild Lupine to help the species survive in Kent County. That effort is not likely to help because the plant populations are too fragmented and distant for the butterflies to reach for colonizing new areas.

If everyone allowed some natural habitat in their yards for plants and animals, fragmented habitat would become more connected allowing species to move through the region more easily. Manicured lawns are attractive but do not help pre-settlement biodiversity of species that thrived here in previous centuries.

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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Spring progression

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Expect the same sequence of change but not the same timing annually. I attempt to record dates when plants and trees first flower to compare changes from year to year. Butterfly appearance is a special treat for me and an excel file is maintained to record the species sightings daily. Daily bird sightings are recorded. A narrative is written in my journal of nature niche occurrences like the location and abundance of Earth Star Fungi and Ebony Spleenwort Ferns.

It is an impossible task and for many species an X on the excel file suffices to document a species has been sighted this year. Busy life activities keep us all from noticing the first day when each species makes its grand appearance. Accurate phenology progression can be important to document things like Climate Change. For most of us, it is more important to experience the wonder and joy of life as it unfolds each day of spring.

I try to walk among the abundance of life daily witnessing what neighbors are doing. I am a nosy sort of guy. Ephemeral neighbors like hepatica, springs beauty, trout lily, bloodroot, marsh marigold, and skunk cabbage race to flower before tree leaves expand and shade the ground. Flowering is an energy expensive activity and for many it needs to be completed before intense tree canopy shade reduces access to adequate sun energy.

Some plants like marsh marigold spend the summer slowly storing energy so when spring arrives they have adequate energy to produce flowers and seeds. Others like the trout lily gather sunlight during the short period before tree shade reduces light. Their flowers and leaves decay by June ready for new growth next spring. Evidence of their existence is only visible for about six weeks annually.

Butterflies have certain flight periods that result in a sequence of appearances and disappearances for various species throughout the warmer seasons. Most have their activity linked with specific plants their caterpillars feed on so their flight is timed with the plant’s life cycle for egg laying.

Join for a couple hours of ephemeral exploration at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary with the Michigan Botanical Club on 6 May from 2 to 4 p.m. Park at V&V Nursery on Northland Drive about a mile south of Cedar Springs. The sanctuary does not have adequate parking space so V&V Nursery has kindly allowed parking. Considering shopping for plants at the nursery before or after the wildflower walk.

This year many species of flowers are blooming one to three weeks earlier than last year. Plant activity is weather dependent. During years when cold and snow persist well into April flowering is delayed. Other years early warm weather encourages ground thawing and sap flow in February. Wildflowers progression advances flowering dates in warm springs. This year it was necessary for maple syrup tree tappers to begin in February to capture the first dense sugar surge rather than wait until March.

I am waiting with anticipation to discover when the trilliums, baneberry, saxifrage, wood betony, and many other ephemerals bloom. I expect they will be in flower during the 6 May field outing. Though the sanctuary’s purpose is to primarily enhance survival success for plant and animal species, we are pleased to share the beauty of nature’s bounty with our human neighbors and to encourage you to discover the opportunities provided by the Michigan Botanical Club.

Come mingle with plants and plant enthusiasts. I will meet you in the parking lot at V&V Nursery before 2 p.m. for our stroll through ephemeral days of spring.

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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Fishing with feet

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

A reader told me that I probably would not believe him but he said he caught a trout with his foot. Before he said more, I said, “I believe you because I have also.” How many others have done the same? Trout fishing season is under way but angling with feet is not a chosen fishing tactic.

The reader was wading a stream when a fish tried to dart past him just as he stepped down and caught the fish between foot and substrate. My experience was similar.

In Calf Creek in Utah, I was wading bare foot in a small desert stream fed by snow melt and ground water from Boulder Mountain. The mountain road summit was over 12,000 feet with a spruce/fir forest in highest locations and ponderosa pines in the 8,000-foot range. Down the mountain, pinyon pines and juniper trees reigned at 7,000 feet.

Calf Creek was at 5,500 feet but that water remained cold, rich in oxygen, and full of trout food. Willows and other woody plants were abundant along the three to ten feet wide creek. In most places the creek was one to twelve inches deep. A beaver constructed a couple dams and created a pond where it built a lodge. After a few years, the beaver exhausted its food supply. The pond filled and became a wet meadow full of life.

It surprised me to see a Great Blue Heron standing on a bare sandstone desert cliff over Calf Creek. It made sense because trout were present for the heron to hunt in the stream’s shallow clear cold water.

My barefoot walk for about two miles was in the stream’s cold water but the desert air was near 100 F. The stream bed was mostly bare sandstone a few inches deep with frequent holes a foot to three feet deep. Deep holes were places the trout hid in shadows. They often remained stationary in shallow water with use of their powerful tail muscles beating just enough to hold their stable position.

As I walked downstream, a trout facing upstream was alarmed by my presence and attempted to dart past me up stream. My right foot was just coming down as the trout slipped between my foot and rock. The fish’s body pressed against the bottom of my foot and was squeezed to the sandstone stream bed.

Quickly, I shifted my weight to my left foot to prevent hurting the fish. Too late. The fish began to roll downstream stunned by physical trauma. I picked up the fish and held it with head upstream to allow water to flow over the gills.

For several minutes, I hoped it would recover as it continued to open and close its mouth. Each time I released it, it could not swim and rolled in the current. After considerable time, I let the fish roll out sight.

Such events are now out of sight but not out of mind. It occurred in the 1990’s but stays with me. Previously, I wrote about this in my column. Like most stories shared with family and friends, they get repeated at gatherings, campouts, or in another group setting. We all have experiences to share and reminisce.

Many do not end in tragedy like it did for this trout. When you are fishing or on adventures into the wondrous world around us, remember to bring back fish stories or those of your personal experiences with wildlife and nature niches. Truthful stories are best and most interesting. Exaggerated “fish stories” are not necessary. The more time you are outdoors the more exciting stories you will accumulate for sharing.

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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Earth Week Celebration

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Earth Week is an annual kick-off to remind us how we can have a positive impact throughout the year. How we live impacts the survival of all creatures great and small. We inherited a world rich with biodiversity. There are utilitarian uses that are essential for our survival and there is an inherent responsibility to preserve species and habitats for the wellbeing of future generations. We do not know the value of most species.

Environmental and Earth Care has fallen in priority for reasons I do not understand. Perhaps it is because we do not recognize the importance of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the quality of food we eat, or the value of land in public and private stewardship. A survey prioritized American issues of concern and environment was listed eleven of twelve. The only one of lesser concern was immigration. Due to it being a priority of our President its priority has been raised and moved environment lower. Billions of dollars are being allocated to immigration control and money must come from somewhere. Major budget reductions are proposed for environmental protection and will affect present and future generations.

We can each act locally in addition to contacting representatives and senators to let them know that environmental stewardship is an important value for our wellbeing. In 1973 the Clean Air, Clear Water, and Endangered Species Acts were created to improve living conditions for humans and all species. Currently there is a campaign to eliminate those Acts to return us to conditions like those before the environmental protections.

The idea is that the economy can grow faster without concern for protecting the environment that sustains us. Elimination of the Acts will have negative impacts on human health, health of other species, and our long-term economy. Environmental clean-up cost will increase for future generations if we are not good environmental stewards. We still struggle with pollution clean-up from damage prior to establishment of the protection Acts.

What can we do that is positive to protect life, economy, and society’s wellbeing locally and in our daily lives? I am honored and appreciative to be invited to offer a Creation Care message on Sunday, 23 April, at 10:15 a.m. at the United Methodist Church located at the corner of 140 Main and Church Streets one block N of the traffic light in Cedar Springs. Traditional worship is blended with creative and enriching touches, music ministry and time with children. Families and individuals are invited. Please come.

I will address what I call complimentary multiple realities. It is an idea most have not considered. The nature of science is self-correcting through physical evidence with experimentation. Religion is based on faith without physical evidence. We each experience the environment through different realities based on how we interact with the world. Some relate through artistic expression, song, music, internal reflection, interaction with people, or direct physical interaction through farming, hunting, watching wildlife, or camping the grandeur of creation.

Regardless for how we encounter the wonders of the world, we share a common dependence on Earth’s biodiversity for our current survival and that of generations to come.

Many faith traditions emphasize the importance of being “Creation Care Stewards” for the planet and honoring its life-sustaining blessings. The question to ask is whether your actions support healthy stewardship?

I will share the practical value of species for utilitarian use, psychological value, ecosystem value of nature niches, and value for present and future generations. Please come for an hour of what I hope will be an energizing Creation Care message. Move through spring, summer, fall, and winter with more than hope. Live with joy knowing your actions are valuable for your family’s health, wellbeing, and future. I hope to share personally with readers what is usually only done though print. Celebrate Earth Week with me and the UMC.

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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Big Trip

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

We have the itch to travel come spring. What about food along the way? Where will we stay? Do we have good directions? Will we find affordable lodging? What if we encounter high wind storms or tornadoes? How will we spend time besides traveling? Will others help us find food, lodging, water, and the best stopping locations?

In nature niches, the answers mean life and death. Perhaps it would be best not to migrate and stay in a warm region near the low latitudes of South Florida or Central America. It is important for birds to risk their lives to travel to mid and high latitudes. If not, survival of their species would be at greater risk of extinction.

During the winter, food, shelter, and water are limited resources in the far north. One species, the Arctic Tern, flies from the North Pole region to the South Pole region where it experiences 24-hour summer daylight. During the arduous long trip, it experiences night and many survival challenges. All migrating species face conditions that reduce survival chances. This past year I took a pelagic boat trip into the ocean to view birds that do not come to land except to nest. Species, like gulls, that frequent land also venture out to sea.

A Savannah Sparrow was flying ten miles from shore cutting across expansive open water with distant land in view. Two California Gulls saw it and thought lunch. They pursued the bird and tried to nab it from the air. The sparrow was about 30 feet above water on a beautiful calm warm weather day. When a gull swooped to take the bird from the air, the sparrow quickly dropped down and slipped behind the gull out of reach of its bill. The second gull gave it try. I was rooting for the sparrow’s survival and hoped the gulls would find a meal elsewhere. The drama continued until we were out of sight of the trio. The best I could do was to offer a prayer for the sparrow to safely reach shore and shelter.

Such drama is commonplace for birds on migration. Most song birds are night migrators and the dark provides cover for safer travel. When light arrives, it is important to settle in protective thick vegetation. If birds are over one of the Great Lakes, they might experience the challenge faced by the Savannah Sparrow.

When a bird has flapped its wings all night, it has consumed stored fat and hunger will be high. Some birds are so focused on destination, they think little about food. I banded birds with Dr. Dwain Warner in the Big Bog of northern Minnesota near Red Lake and the Canadian border. The bog is over 100 miles across. Warblers on their way south from Canada stop in the Big Bog to replenish fat reserves. By the time, they get as far south as the bog, they have lost half their weight. After gorging for a few days and doubling weight, they resume travel on their big trip. It was found they fly without feeding much until thy arrive in Louisiana swamps where insects are abundant. They have lost half their weight again and must replenish fat before continuing the trip.

Avoidance of predators and hunger are only two migration perils. Storms can knock a small bird out of the air. My friend Donna Hickey told me about a tiny Golden-crowned Kinglet that had been knocked into the water of Lake Superior by a storm. It washed to shore alive. On shore, it took flight and flew up under her sister’s blouse and startled her. She slapped it from the blouse and the bird fell dead on the beach. They brought the bird to me to stuff for museum educational display.

What would make it worth the hazards to fly great distances? Breeding success is paramount. Daylight in the tropics is only about 12 to 14 hours. In the Arctic summer, it is light for 24 hours and in Michigan it is about 16 to 18 hours. Tremendous feeding on insects can occur during long daylight. Mosquitoes can cover and darken exposed skin in seconds. Insect populations fill high latitude habitats. When I was doing insect research above the Arctic Circle, a Say’s Phoebe was feeding every time I observed her during a 24-hour period. I presume she took short “catnaps.” It is easier to raise a family there than in the tropics. Greater diversity of insect species exists in the tropics but great population abundance is found in the arctic summer. That is one of the most important values for risking long spring migration to favored breeding grounds where days are long.

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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Whipping Willow Tree

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

We have a favorite willow tree at the intersection of US 131 and I-96. As one exits from east I-96 to enter north US 131, a weeping willow lives in the cloverleaf. Three decades ago, I saw what looked like a chicken in the tree. I could not safely take an extended look to determine what was in the tree. It was winter and it seemed extremely odd for a dark brown chicken to be in a tree along the highway.

I watched on future passages when I used the off ramp. It turned out to be a dark phase of the Rough-legged Hawk that was using the willow as a favorite perch for hunting. I told my naturalist friend, Greg Swanson, about the “chicken in a tree.” We laughed and he said he knew the bird. He had seen it during previous winters. This bird had found a good winter hunting location and it returned winter after winter.

When human “snowbirds” head to Florida or Arizona for the winter, many arctic birds come to this balmy winter feeding area in Michigan to escape the barren arctic where finding food is a winter challenge. Our family enjoyed looking for what I originally thought was a chicken a tree. It helped us remember to look for interesting animals wherever we drove. After thirty plus years, we still talk about the bird but it has not been seen in decades. It likely died sometime in the 1990’s.

The weeping willow tree also experienced life challenges. Julianne, our youngest daughter, called it a whipping willow. What fun! Ever since, the family refers to it as a “Whipping Willow.” It has become a family friend.

One day when we were circling around the tree on the off the ramp, we were dismayed to see the tree had been blown down and was laying on the ground. Fortunately, a portion of the trunk was still attached to the base and the tree refused to die. It sprouted vertical stems along the prostrate trunk. Before the new leaves expand, you can see the old trunk on the ground and several large stems growing upward.

Once leaves grow and obscure view of the stems, one would not recognize its hard life recovery from being blown down. Neither can one see into the past to witness a “chicken in a tree.” We each need to aware of our surroundings and make family discoveries as we travel together.

For thirty years, the dark phase Rough-legged Hawk and the “Whipping Willow” have given us joy and family moment connections with nature niches. We have many moments to reminisce. Such moments strengthen family relationships. We all love each other and the natural world helps us maintain that love in a simple way.

Experiencing the outdoors does not need to be an elaborately planned outing. Take notice of things natural to enjoy and share with parents, spouses, kids, grandkids, and friends.

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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Coyotes, Ducks, and People

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

 

One would expect coyotes to prey on ducks and their eggs. They do, but foxes are better duck hunters than coyotes. When coyotes are present, they keep fox numbers down. Studies by National Biological Survey research scientists found predator control programs that reduce coyote populations increase fox populations. The increase in foxes causes a greater reduction in duck production.

Many people support coyote control programs because they think it will reduce duck predation. Instead the increased fox population preys more heavily on ducks. At the same time, people support draining wetlands. Many wetland areas are drained or filled for farming or human habitation development. Wetlands are also filled to eliminate species we do not like such as mosquitoes. That reduces duck reproduction. Ducks Unlimited and other organizations work to establish conservation easements that restore drained wetlands and support programs that pay farmers to keep natural wetlands on their land. The Wetland east of Cedar Springs on 17 Mile Road is restored wetland that was drained for farming and has restored to the liking of waterfowl.

Loss of wetlands reduces spawning beds for fish like the northern pike. When pike decline, society spends money on hatcheries for restocking of pike. Poor land use decisions cost society more to maintain clean water, reduce flooding and to restore wildlife. The current proposed elimination of the Clean Water Rule by President Trump will have negative impacts on wildlife as well as community water of human use.

In Michigan’s past, predator control programs supported killing wolves. In locations where wolves and coyotes live in the same area, wolves kept coyote numbers low. Historically, coyotes were rare in Michigan.

Nature niches are finely tuned systems that function quite well until people decide to reshape them. When large predators live close to humans, there are occasions when they take the opportunity to kill domestic animals.  It is more effective to control a specific wolf or coyote problem than to try to eliminate a population.

When coyotes are removed through predator control, ecologic/economic studies have found coyote’s social structure is damaged and rapid reproduction occurs. Rapidly increasing populations spread into new areas. Additional money is then needed for more extensive predator control. A cost/benefit analysis shows it is generally poor and ineffective to try to control coyote populations instead of handling a specific problem.

It does not seem to make common sense that coyotes help duck populations increase but they do by controlling fox population predation. It does not seem to make common sense that wolves strengthen deer herd health but they do by keeping the deer population from over browsing habitats and causing long-term habitat damage. Human population expansion also reduces duck populations by destroying critical habitat. Many attributed reduced duck populations to predators, when it is often caused by human population increase. Human altered habitats and draining wetlands is more harmful to the ducks than predators. We do notice a growing human population reduces other life on Earth.

Coyotes live in our area but usually are not excessively abundant. Foxes live in our area but are not abundant. Life is very hard for all wildlife. Most coyote pups never live a year.

Predator nature niches are complex systems. It is necessary to control particular individuals that interfere with our livelihoods but large scale predator programs are usually unproductive, wasteful of life and money.

As a society, we have not recognized the positive role of predatory mammals like coyotes and wolves. Public understanding has gradually increased its understanding for how nature niches function. Public policy has not kept pace to reflect healthy land management but positive changes are gradually being implemented. Emotions usually trump research-based evidence and practices.

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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Make life better

 

Ranger Steve

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Thanking Mr. Hayes was important for both of us. He taught middle school social studies to help me develop social responsibility and understanding for my role in living a healthy productive life for myself. Several years ago, I wanted to thank him. When I looked at the city’s long list of Hayes in the phone directory, I had no idea which one would be his phone number.

I called my high school biology teacher to ask if he happened to know Mr. Hayes so I could call to thank him for his role in my life. Serendipitously, he said, “Yes. Do you want to talk to him now? He is here visiting.” Though it had been 40 years since we heard each other’s voices, I recognized his immediately. I doubt he recognized mine or clearly remembered me.

We had a nice conversation and I mentioned a social studies assignment that was helpful. We were told to interview someone in a profession we might want to pursue. I interviewed a conservation officer. After the conversation, I imagine Mr. Hayes probably asked Fred Case to remind him about who I was. Hopefully, my good points were shared. Mr. Hayes did not let on that he did not recall me, but I did not think he could picture me in his classroom. Mr. Case died about a decade ago. Perhaps Mr. Hayes did also.

What we do during our lives can have important impacts on those around us while it improves our own lives. Think about your neighbors and their role in your life. Bees and other insects are good neighbors. They make it possible for us to eat many choice foods. They bring birds to our yards. We cannot call to thank them for their role in our lives but we can do better.

We can provide yards as safe havens full of selected native genotype plants. Buying plants native to the region instead of cultivars is a first major step. Ask landscape nurseries if they sell native genotype plants. If they do not, request they start by having a small section designated for such plants. Hopefully they will and the section will grow larger each year if buyers like you select plants that support native pollinators and wildlife.

Many cultivars sold have had important qualities needed for animal nature niches bred out of them by accident while other characters were selected. Some characteristics like larger flowers or double petals are nice but the breeding process often results in some valuable wildlife characteristics being bred out of them. Take joy in plant characteristics of native stock that evolved with insects, birds, and mammals instead of seeking excess of one character.

Google River City Wild Ones to view their web site and learn more about sources for native plants. Providing yards that support native species is one way to thank species we cannot directly converse with. Avoid use of pesticides and herbicides in yards and gardens. It will provide a richer and safer habitat for you to enjoy and supports survival of native species.

Our thank you is well received by native plants that grow and support native animals. Spring life is well underway in the wild natural areas of the yard. On 9 March, high wind gusts broke a silver maple branch that revealed its flowers had already shed pollen from anthers. A willow shrub had fuzzy pussy willow buds. Both hazelnut and speckled alder catkins had elongated but flowers were not yet open. Skunk Cabbage spathes with spadix flowers were present on the floodplain muck. On the 10th, an Eastern Screech Owl spent the morning peering at us from the nest box we provided. Eastern Bluebirds were inspecting nest boxes.

Thank a person important for improving your life. Allow plants and animals to thank you for providing them good living conditions in your yard. They will thank you by being present for you see and enjoy.

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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