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Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Bird sightings peer review

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

People have opportunity to list birds from their yards or anywhere in the World to ebird. Google ebird for what has been sighted in the neighborhood, county, state, and nation. Select species of interest or “Birding Hotspots.”

Three friends and I went to the Maple State Area to find Long-eared Owls, Short-eared Owls and another species we might encounter that was listed on ebird. The owls have summer nature niches in the far north but come here for winter. As we traveled M-57, we saw a Rough-legged Hawk. It is another far north species that comes here in winter. A Bald Eagle perched in a tree just west of Carson City.

Near the corner of Taft and Woodbridge in Gratiot County, we observed the Short-eared Owls feeding just before dusk. We were there 4:45 to 5:30 p.m. It was a wonderful experience. Because these birds are not frequently seen, we talked with people from Midland and Detroit that came thanks to ebird postings.

In our more restricted area, Carol Van Oeveren searches ebird daily for species of interest and her husband Fred updates the Grand Rapids Audubon website several times a day. Google Grand Rapids Audubon and explore the website. You can find current sightings for Kent, Ottawa, and Muskegon Counties. Go chase birds.

When people post unusual sightings to ebird that are out of normal range, or seem unlikely for some reason they are automatically flagged. The lister will receive an e-mail requesting information to verify sighting accuracy.

I am entering data from my 1960 and 70’s journals. The Red-headed Woodpeckers get flagged because their numbers have plummeted. In the 1960’s they were common. They fed on insects that were in elm trees treated with DDT. The pesticide greatly impacted woodpeckers, robins, and many species. I remind the reviewers that even though Red-headed Woodpeckers are rare now, they were common in the 1960’s. They are still found near Wolf Lake north Baldwin but my listings get flagged annually when I post. I simply provide supportive data.

Some birders are offended when their sightings are questioned. If one is not a scientist, questioning might seem strange. Science journals require peer review before a paper is accepted for publication. Things that appear questionable are marked and sent back to the author(s) for better clarification. If the information is not convincingly accurate to peer experts in the subject area, the paper is not accepted for publication.

Peer review is critical to help make sure scientific methods used were excellent. It helps make sure conclusions drawn from the data collected are supported with physical evidence. That is why things like human enhanced climate change is accepted by 97 percent of climate scientists. The same process is used regarding bird studies. An ornithologist (bird scientist) is not permitted to enter flawed study results easily. When a paper is published and other scientists question the accuracy or conclusions, they might conduct studies to support or refute the conclusions. Science requires repeated verification supporting conclusions even if they are correct.

Citizen science e-birders should be pleased when some sightings get flagged. It helps posting accuracy and helps the birder review their sighting for accuracy and careful identification. People have reported Pine Grosbeaks to me that were House Finches. Errors are easy. Even though citizen science review does not have the rigor of scientific review, its helps maintain quality ebird postings.

It is a public disservice when peer reviewed studies are not allowed for release to the public like recently occurred with the president’s order to end climate research by the EPA and now requires that politicians decide what will be released to the public instead of scientific peer reviewers. Citizen ebird postings provide data for scientists use to document climate change. You can help scientists keep access to data that has ebird peer review. Despite government censoring or stopping peer reviewed scientific research, you can help scientists by enjoying birds in your yard or by getting outdoors for fun bird chasing and by entering sightings to ebird.

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

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Where do they go?

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

January thaw arrives and many birds disappear from feeders. The recent warm spell with a record high temperature of 62 F recently sent a message to the birds. It caused the remaining 4 to 6 inches of snow to melt at Ody Brook. Last to disappear was ice on packed trails.

Some species like the House Finches, Dark-eyed Junco, and the American Tree Sparrow were nowhere to be found. American Goldfinches and Northern Cardinals were seen less frequently. Downy Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and White–breasted Nuthatches maintained regular visits. For some reason, Blue Jays and Mourning Doves have been mostly absent for weeks. I saw my first Blue Jay four weeks into the new year. Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Hairy Woodpeckers made irregular feeding stops at suet.

American Crows do not visit the feeders but are seen or heard daily. Pileated Woodpeckers stay deep in mature wooded habitats. Today, a pileated pecked a dead aspen tree causing it to lose a six-foot piece of trunk that fell to the ground. The branched tree top had previously fallen. The remaining erect trunk was riddled today with long vertical drillings. Hopefully the woodpecker found more food energy than it expended searching.

New weather brought seasonal chilling with light snow. Birds normally not seen in the sanctuary provided evidence of presence. Wild turkeys used the trails planned for easy human travel and left tracks in the fresh snow. They are not stupid. They enjoy the ease of unobstructed travel. They stop to scratch in thawed ground and rummage through the blanket of leaves laid last fall where they searched for acorns and other food morsels.

Like turkeys finding food scattered about, birds missing from feeders are out gathering food in locations unknown to me. With the exposure of plants uncovered by the thaw, animals are searching and finding adequate food in the neighborhood landscape. The neighborhood includes natural habitats in the sanctuary of field, upland forest, and floodplain forest with a small farm field included. Surrounding the area are larger farm fields, a cattle farm, and residential home lots.

The birds have choices for food exploration. Some are richer than others. I saw a Black-capped Chickadee working small branches on a tree. It was most likely seeking overwintering insects tucked into crevasses on twigs. The chickadees have searched many of the thousands of goldenrods for insect galls. Many of the galls have been pecked open and the single white grub of the Goldenrod Gall Fly eaten. 

The grub resides in the thickened round gall on goldenrod stems and emerges as an adult in spring when new goldenrod shoots are about 3 inches tall. The fly mates and lays an egg on the plant where the hatching larva burrows into the soft young plant tissue and causes irritation.  The plant grows a thick ball of tissue around the insect to protect itself. The growth known as gall is what the grub feeds on all summer.

Several species of small blue butterflies overwinter as eggs laid in flower and leaf buds of host food plants specific for their species. You might find Spring Azure eggs in terminal buds of dogwood shrubs, the Silvery Blue’s eggs in vetch and Eastern Tailed Blues in clovers. The bright yellow Clouded Sulphurs spend their winters as small young caterpillars or pupae nestled among legume host plants. Spicebush Swallowtail and Promethea Moth suspend chrysalis or cocoons on or near their Sassafras caterpillar host. Mourning Cloaks and Eastern Commas overwinter as adults in protected seclusion where they might squeeze behind loose bark. If any of these creatures are discovered by searching birds, they likely become a rich protein meal.

It makes sense for the birds to search for these energy rich meals scattered about habitats during milder weather when they are not burning as much energy as they do during near subzero weather. I do not know if they reason this and return to feeders when they need to eat more to maintain adequate energy to survive. What I do know is I help birds survive winter in their nature niches. Their return to feeders brightens and enriches my 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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Short-eared Owls

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Three friends and I visited eight Short-eared owls at meal time. The owls are smaller than Great Horned Owls and come south to our region in winter. There was a large grassland where they fed near Muskegon, south of M-46 near Swanson Road. A few years ago, building construction eliminated habitat and the owls.

We recently found a place where they are wintering on private land. When observing the owls, posted signs on private property stated “conservation easement.” You might wonder how to establish a conservation easement that will protect your land for your use and for future generations. On February 9, the Kent Conservation District is hosting a dinner and 45-minute program at no cost to you titled “What is the District doing for You and Kent County’s Natural Resources?”

The presentation will bring attention to the resources available to Kent County residents such as the NRCS administered Farm Bill that offers easement programs to eligible landowners to conserve working agricultural lands, wetlands, grasslands and forestlands. The Forestry Assistance Program and the Conservation Technical Assistance Initiative, Michigan’s Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program and invasive species strike team services are a few of the programs that will be covered during the presentation.

Please attend on February 9 for a 5:30 p.m. dinner with a 6 p.m. program at the Grand Rapids Township Hall, 1836 E Beltline Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525. The Kent Conservation District Showcase is free to Kent County residents. RSVP to Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/events/153931478427517/).

Back to the owls. My mother once told me that when habitat is destroyed, like occurred with building construction at the Muskegon site, the animals need to move someplace new. Unfortunately, there are not adequate places remaining for relocation. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Short-eared Owls’ population has declined by 80 percent between 1966 and 2013. Similar declines are occurring for many species as habitat is destroyed to accommodate a growing human population.

Conservation easements can help species survive by curbing habitat loss from agriculture, livestock grazing, recreation, and development that are major causes for species declines. Information from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology states the “owls require large uninterrupted tracts of open grasslands, and they appear to be particularly sensitive to habitat loss and fragmentation.” Habitat restoration programs, such as the Conservation and Wetland Reserve Programs, have shown some success in restoring suitable habitat for Short-eared Owls.

Local farmers and landowners have entered land into the Conservation and Wetland Reserve Programs that are beneficial for our natural heritage and the owner. Such programs not only aid owl survival but help reduce flooding in downstream areas. The conservation programs have significant economic benefits for the community. There is an economic cost that pays for itself in benefits by preventing flood damage losses, soil erosion fertility loss, pollution damage to streams, and it slows loss of wildlife.

The conservation programs can provide hunting easements on private land. The landowner receives financial rewards from the government and community members have access to land. It is considered a win/win for land owners, community members, and declining populations of plants and animals that can now survive. The new Federal administration does not recognize the value of an economic, social, and environmental bottom line. The focus is only on a short-term economic bottom line. Efforts are underway to eliminate many conservation programs that include social and environmental benefits that serve the triple bottom line.

Elimination of conservation programs is not good for the owls that have suffered an 80 percent decline. Elimination is not good for the public at large for flood control, or future generations. Attend the presentation to learn “What the Kent Conservation District is doing for You and Kent County’s Natural Resources?”

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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Cancer’s Nature Niche

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

We choose how we live but not how long. Choices help us survive difficult circumstances. Having purpose and serving others makes a world of difference. I struggle to survive to help human people live in balance with what I consider creation’s animal and plant people. We are charged with caring for all species of creation’s people.

I have commented on cancer aspects but not from a nature niche perspective. My desire is to die a “natural death” instead of an “accidental death” like an automobile accident. I consider my cancer a natural death.

By the time I was in high school, chasing and studying butterflies helped me understand essentials for maintaining a sustainable environment to support future human generations and a healthy society. My survival’s not essential but I hope society’s current behavior helps humans born 100 generations (2000 years) hence inherit a healthy sustainable environment.

There are many natural controls that prevent plant and animal “people” populations from becoming excessively large. Controls create balance that helps maintain a healthy environment for future generations. In the absence of natural predators, deer have become too numerous and have eliminated wildflowers, reduced insect crop pollinators, birds, and other species of value for society.

Cancer is one limiting factor that works on human, plant, and animal “people” to help balance natality (population growth rate) with mortality (death rate). We have been successful in helping humans increase beyond Earth’s long-term carrying capacity. We could be thankful for natural controls that kill us and in effect help insure future generations will inherit a healthy sustainable planet for long-term survival. Of course, we want to live so appreciation for natural causes of death is not likely.

Many cancers are human caused by careless use of natural resources that cause pollution of air, water and land. Cancer is a form of our body going haywire and attacking itself. Causes might be environmentally induced or bodies might malfunction naturally for undetermined reasons. My multiple myeloma cause is unknown.

Some people grow old “old” and others grow old “young.” A friend grew old in old age, gradually lost sight, weakened and died at 101. My body was found to be eating itself with cancer when I was 47. I grew old young. Average survival for this cancer is 7 to 8 years with new treatments. I am in year 19. I like to attribute my extended survival to new treatments and to having a purpose for living.

Meanwhile, many people do not take simple steps to reduce natality to maintain a smaller sustainable human population. My children and I have waited until we were in our thirties to have children. That effectively reduces our families to three per century instead of five and reduces the living population by 40 percent. Reducing family size to two children is effective without depending on cancer and other unfavorable controls.

My purposeful living efforts enhance biodiversity at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, assist in small ways with local, state, national Lepidoptera organizations, Audubon Society, Wild Ones, land conservancies, nature center naturalists, and Creation Care efforts. Those activities provide cancer control. I continue to advocate the importance of biosphere ecology for balancing natality and mortality through self-control instead of disease.

Cancer is a body’s self-destructive activity that consumes one’s life. For some it is quick and for others prolonged. My treatment kills by causing lung, heart, liver, or other organ damage. The gamble has two choices: 1) let cancer growth kill or 2) use treatments that will potentially kill while it slows cancer growth. The chemo seems almost as bad as the cancer but family tells me otherwise. It’s a “Catch 22.”

Balancing natality with mortality will help grandchildren 100 generations hence maintain a sustainable environmental quality. Cancer has a positive value even if we do not like it.

Personally, I struggle with the choice to let cancer grow or use treatments to survive so I can help change current behavior to support future generations. My choice has been to have three generations per century instead of five for our family. Hopefully others will choose to strive for Creation Care. If my message is ineffective, it might be time for me to depart.

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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Chasing Birds

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Grand Rapids Audubon Club 2016 Christmas Bird Count, Kent County Center at 2 Mile & Honey Creek Roads 

Fifty-nine species of birds were seen (Table 1) by forty-three traveling observers and 1 bird feeder watcher on 31 Dec 2016. A Rough-legged Hawk, Great Horned Owls, and Barred Owl were additional species recorded during count week. Count week is the three days before and after count day. Count week species are reported separately from count day species totals and numbers are not reported.

Total individuals sighted was 9342 and was almost 2000 less than last year’s but was similar with two years ago. Travel conditions and weather were good for field exploration. Mostly frozen still water helped concentrate waterfowl but flowing water was mostly open.

Weather conditions were 100% cloudy. Temperatures were between 33 and 39 F. Winds 0-15 mph with gusts to 30 from the west. Snow cover was 1-4 inches.

We totaled 76.75 hours in vehicles traveling 673 miles. 19.5 hours was spent on foot covering 17.25 miles and 5.5 hours at feeders. A combined total of 690.25 miles were on foot and driving. Groups totaled 199.75 hours of daytime birding. There were 15 birding parties in the morning and 10 in the afternoon with one feeder watcher recording. To count birds at feeders one counts the most seen for each species at any one time during observation time.

Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center (WWC) co-hosted and we appreciate use of the facility. We encourage everyone to visit and enjoy the WWC grounds and to support their community programs.

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.

OUT-Bird-Count-Table

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Growing Cardboard

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

As a child, I observed toilet paper rolls were not wrapped around a cardboard tube. By the time we removed the paper, a cardboard tube had grown on the inside of the roll. I remember my mother telling me a rock on a street corner near her house grew larger as she was growing up.

Our observations were faulty. Both my mom and I thought we made good observations. I looked inside the paper roll and did not see the cardboard. I was not perceptive enough. Mom did not make measurements on the rock to verify growth.

I recall taking local middle school students to Costa Rica to learn about Tropical Rain Forest. We visited schools to plant trees with students. We shared that forests are a renewable resource that were being cut faster than they could regenerate. Some rainforest soils get baked to laterite rock when cleared of trees.

Sustainable practices that support future generations of people living in the rainforest and here need to manage rainforest differently if we desire to have toilet paper or other forest products in the future. Some apply temperate forest management practices there and are unwilling to change because they desire to think it will work anywhere. As adults, we are not making accurate observations based on sound scientific investigations.

Naturally, tree harvest industries are most interested in cutting trees and shipping them. They keep moving and clearing rainforest without adequate concern regarding the impact on the local community or future generations. For some, the goal is only short-term profit for the company. Many people feel that is in their best personal interest and it is particularly true if they invest money in mutual funds that include that forestry company.

Others seek socially screened industry investments that work to provide healthy economic, social, and environmental practices for both present and future generations. It is known as the triple bottom line.

A recent national survey prioritized 12 US citizen concerns. Environment was number 11 of 12. The only one of less concern was immigration. Political policies are based on constituent desires. It is good when people develop good observation skills and behave to support the triple bottom line for the present and future.

When I was director at the Howard Christensen Nature Center, it was operated by the Kent Intermediate School District serving Kent County public and private schools. One purpose was to provide hands on learning to help students develop careful observation skills and to learn how scientists constantly review the work of other scientists to find flaws and correct them. When studies involve things like how nature niches work in forests, we can improve best practice management. Science has self-correcting peer review.

Field trip learning helps children develop accurate observations in fun natural locations. They learn to draw better conclusions than I did regarding toilet paper growing cardboard while on the paper holder.

The Kent ISD superintendent, in 2005, told me they were closing the Howard Christensen Nature Center because environmental education was no longer a priority in America. He stated he was not saying it lacked importance but only it was no longer a priority in America. In the presidential election prior to 2005, Al Gore, with a sustainable environment policy, won the popular vote but lost the electoral. The recent election went the same way with the sustainable environment policy candidate winning the popular vote but losing the election. Environment was only one of twelve American priorities but indicated a sustainable environment for future generations is low on our priority list. The role of environment for sustaining a stable economy is important.

Encourage your children’s teachers to go to HCNC. It is now operated as an independent nature center. Purchase a 2017 family membership. Rent snowshoes there and have fun outdoors. Emotionally connect with the environment that supports us and our future. It will help raise a sustainable environment priority.

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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Breathing Skies

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Warm south winds brought a record high temperature to the region in late December followed by cold air being sucked in from the northwest. By early in the new year warm air was again sweeping the area. The landscape breathes in and out creating varied weather daily.

Each breath is a temporary sigh creating different air mass movements depending on where the air is drawn from. Imagine a giant head looking in a new direction when it inhales its great breath of air. When looking north, it draws air from the north. When looking west, draws air across Lake Michigan picking up more moisture. When looking south, it brings an upwelling of warmer air from the balmy south.

Weather forecasters provide a better and more accurate account for how air masses move. They illustrate the locations of high and low pressure centers with explanations for how they interact to create changing weather.

A couple centuries ago when communication was not instantaneous, predicting weather for the next week was nearly impossible. People kept records of annual occurrences and predicted climatic expectations. It was obvious that winter would provide cold conditions compared with summer warmth.

Astronomers studied sun, Earth, moon, and star movement relationships. They determined the Earth traveled around the sun instead of the sun going around the Earth. Accumulated data gradually was pieced together to provide improved understanding for how air masses move on Earth.

Air movement has significant life and death impact on our lives. To our benefit, weather forecasters caution us about what to expect so we can plan safe travel. We are warned about hazardous driving conditions so we will adjust commute time or make decisions about cancelling school and community events.

Animals are in the dark ages when it comes to knowing what weather is headed toward their nature niche three days hence. They are locked into their own built in “Farmer’s Almanac” for climatic conditions. Climate is the long-term average of weather that occurs for any day, week, month, or year. Evolutionary adjustments in behavior and genetics allow species to survive. Some migrate, some hibernate, some stay active in winter.

Rabbits remain active all winter, warblers migrate to warm climates, and woodchucks hibernate using adaptations developed in response to long-term climate conditions. Survival is not assured because weather conditions bring extreme variations compared with averages that determine climate. A recent cold winter caused the Great Lakes to have 90 percent ice cover and many ducks were forced to small areas of open water where food was depleted. Massive duck die off occurred that year in response to weather.

When weather shifts the average conditions to colder or warmer, it is an indication that climate is changing. Climate change has occurred throughout the 5-billion-year history of Earth. Most often the average change has been slow and allowed organisms to adjust through life and death changes in behavior and genetics selection.

Some animal perceptions are keener than those possessed by humans. Changes in barometric pressure are noticed by animals and they respond before we recognize weather is about to change dramatically. Animals are attributed with responding to severe storms before they arrive while people have not taken notice. People have taken warnings from pets or wild animal behavior that resulted in saved lives.

Changing weather conditions are more easily observed than climate change. We are likely to adjust behavior for things like icy road weather. When it comes changing behavior for long-term averages of weather that create climate change, there is a tendency to deny recognition. When evidence supports human activity is changing global climate, many choose to ignore it. In that regard, we continue to live in the dark ages with animals unable to perceive long-term change. We have the ability to adjust our behavior based on the evidence or ignore it.

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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Meaningful New Year’s resolution

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

When making a New Year’s Resolution, make it fun and emotionally meaningful for you and family members.

I have been reading research studies on how informal learning spaces like your yard provide the opportunity to make life experience connections. They have long-term impact for family understanding about the environment that support a healthy and sustainable future. Create a pesticide free butterfly garden with native plants to entice insects, birds, neighbors, and friends. Let’s get everyone outside.

Creating a pesticide-free butterfly garden helps children learn about nature, while helping the insects and birds in your own backyard.

Creating a pesticide-free butterfly garden helps children learn about nature, while helping the insects and birds in your own backyard.

To develop an interest in nature and natural history research suggests a need for frequent and recurring experiences over many years. Last week’s nature niche was about our family’s Christmas tree experiences that continued throughout the kids’ entire growing up adventure.

Involvement with local fauna and flora instill emotional feelings that create responsibility for the local natural and human community. It is an experiential place-based education. When local plants and animals like insects are discovered and valued, conservation and re-wilding our neighborhoods becomes feasible. One research paper focused on the ecological importance of insects for our own healthy living.

When considering a New Year’s Resolution, select activities where the family explores outdoors on trails at county parks, nature centers, or has excursions in the yard. I recall one family experience when Jenny Jo saw dots high in the sky when she was about three. She asked what birds were flying. I looked and said I missed them. She asked again and I looked more intently. I was looking too close. The birds were very high in the sky.

We went outside and saw about 250 Broad-wing Hawks soaring in a heat thermal as they migrated south one October. It was an amazing experience that took about five minutes. It provided an emotional connection with the natural world. Reading and showing pictures of hawks riding thermals in books or on the Internet does not create an emotional connection that effectively builds appreciation for the natural world.

Perhaps your childhood experiences did not include similar events but it is I time to create new meaningful family traditions with emotional nature connections. Walking in natural areas, exploring wild things in your yard, or growing a butterfly garden will persist in the mind and heart of child for a lifetime.

Outdoor experiences help organize knowledge in the brain by what I call “hook” placement. It provides a hook in the mind to place experience knowledge in your own mental file cabinet. Once sorted and stored in a meaningful manner, book knowledge has a good place to be combined for rapid recall. It prevents searching unsuccessfully for things that get misplaced somewhere deep in memory recesses. Classroom book knowledge becomes more effective when connected with real world experiences like field trips to nature centers.

We learn best when we connect emotional outdoor experiences with new knowledge gained from what we hear, read, or see when surfing the Internet. We can compare a multitude of misinformation we are bombarded with from other people or see on the Internet. Nature exposure helps us make better sense of our surroundings.

Make the best New Year’s resolution ever. Explore outdoors with the family to build connections with each other and with the nature world during the coming year. It is more fun than resolving to lose weight.

The research paper concluded that intellectual messages detached from direct real world experiences in the outdoors are often impotent.

My friend Bob Pyle, a nature writer and butterfly field guide author, states that the butterfly net is perhaps the cheapest, simplest and most effective environmental tool ever invented.

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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Christmas tree experiences

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

It was an exciting and major event when our family selected a Christmas tree when I was child. We had a favorite seller we visited each year and searched a large selection of pre-cut trees. It had to be the right height, breadth, fullness, and not too large a trunk base so it would fit in our tree stand.

Our family event allowed everyone to have a say in the choice. My mother wanted to make sure it was not too full so the ornaments would have room to hang. Dad didn’t want it so broad that it crowded us out of the room. I wanted lots of room underneath for gifts. My wife recently asked if we fought over the final selection. I do not recall unpleasant conversation. We negotiated and found one accepted by all.

After I grew and started a family with Karen at Ody Brook, we began a different tradition. We planted several Scotch Pine trees in an open sunny area to care and nurse with good husbandry. It was about 7 years before any were ready for harvest. During the intervening years, we bought trees from a neighborhood tree seller.

While the trees were growing, the tree cluster served as part of a nature niche for itself and other creatures. Mice and rabbit tracks showed evidence the trees provided shelter. Feeding damaged by sawflies killed some branches and created gaps among the branches suitable for larger ornaments.

Sawflies are not flies but as adults look fly-like. They are actually in the Hymenoptera Wasp Order instead of the Diptera Fly Order. As a larva, they resemble Lepidoptera Order butterfly and moth caterpillars. The adult lays eggs in mass so when hatched, they feed and devour all the needles on a branch. Rather than use pesticides to prevent damage, I picked the larvae off the tree by hand before significant damage occurred and placed them on a large ant hill as a free lunch for ants.

That growing season work became my youngest daughter’s when she was about 5 years old. During the years when the girls and trees were growing and cultivated, the girls learned good natural resource stewardship. Most of Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary remains wild for native plants and animals but portions serve personal use.

Wild species besides rabbits, mice, and sawflies made use of the growing trees. Chipping Sparrows, American Robins, and Northern Cardinals chose to construct hidden nests among the thick branches. Deciduous tree embryonic leaves do not expand from buds by the time birds weave spring rearing chambers for young.

For 7 to 10 years the trees are important for wildlife shelter and food. To insure we have a sustainable harvest, it was required we plant two seedlings annually so we could harvest one each Thanksgiving weekend. If all survived, we could harvest two for different locations in the house or give one away.

The fresh cut tree would be decorated and last indoors to the new year. The tree still offers years of service after the holiday season. We place it near a bird feeder to provide winter cover and protection for birds. I do not know if birds appreciate our efforts but they use the tree for the remainder of winter.

When springs arrives, we cut the limbs from the tree and place them on one of the brush piles as a slowly decaying roof that helps stop rain infiltration. Rabbits use the ground level maze among brush pile logs and birds use upper openings. The Christmas tree trunk is cut to sections and used for family backyard campfires where some-mores are made.

Each annual tree ritual serves wildlife for about 20 years and provides us pleasure with family bonding. It helped our girls learn about sustainable harvest. In my opinion, Scotch pines become unsightly when allowed to become large. They are a non-native species that competes with native trees. The large Scotch Pine stands are relatively sterile habitat when compared with native tree stands. I recommend harvesting them while they are still small trees. Enjoy nature related holiday traditions.

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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Diversity for nature and learning

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

It is a wonderful time of year to experience diversity at a of variety nature locations. Your yard is a great place to start. Diversity of life is limited in yards unless they maintain space for native plants and associated animals.

Community opportunities provide connections with things wild and natural with diverse emphasis. They exist because community members value and support them. Local wonderful diverse places meet multifaceted interests for people. Some places are mostly wild with limited accommodations for people while others are hardly wild where the plants and animals require constant care to survive such as the Fredrick Meijer Gardens for plants or the John Ball Zoo for animals. Wild and cultivated places offer their own greatness.

The Rogue River, Cannonsburg, and Allegan State Game Areas have large wild areas that support plants and animals in a native landscape with minimal human accommodations. The North Country hiking trail traverses and one can listen in quiet solitude to hear one’s own heart or the melodies sung by plants and animals. The squeak of a flexing tree, the rubbing growl of branches against one another on a breezy day, or the hidden chewing on inner tree bark by beetle larvae expresses the presence of life in the forest.

During the year, people hunt morels, blueberries, rabbits, fish, ducks, or deer for meals. Others seek photographs, birds, butterflies, and wildflowers. Hiking the wild is a favorite. Hunting license purchases allows for the existence of the game areas. Tree harvest is managed to help desired wildlife thrive and it supports local economies.

Places like the Howard Christensen Nature Center maintain trails, boardwalks, toilets, water, camping, museum displays of birds, mammals, insects, mounted herbarium plants and twig collections for education and recreation. The library includes resources about organisms, geology, weather and climate. Membership and donation support is essential. Visit the wonderful facility to learn and join the effort. HCNC has one of the most extensive collections of birds and mammals for visitors and school group study. As this year succumbs, consider making the coming year’s programs possible by purchasing a membership or donate to support school programming. Be a champion for your school district that connects teachers, students, and nature at HCNC. The nature center is unique by being isolated in a wilder area than other nature education facilities in Michigan.

The wonderful Blandford Nature Center is a vestige of wild surrounded by urban development. It is more easily accessible for massive human influx and provides connections for people with native plants and animals. Rescued wildlife that cannot survive if released allow us to see creatures that most do not otherwise experience. Membership and donations are required for the facility to thrive.

Luten, Long Lake, and Millennium County Parks provide different degrees of diversity and preservation. Many enjoy Luten Park for the thrill of its mountain biking trails while others discover nature niches in the native prairie.

The Land Conservancy of West Michigan establishes preserves to ensure natural areas maintain the biological and physical environment that allowed settlers to colonize, live and prosper in West Michigan.

Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary manages for the greatest native plant and animal diversity. Human visitors are welcome to study the diversity of life and unique rare species such as the federally threatened American Chestnut. College interns study plants with a high co-efficient for conservancy for preservation and conservation groups like the Michigan Botanical Club visit. The site is a “Birding Hotspot” for ebirders.

Bunker Interpretive Center, Wittenbach/Wege Center, GR Audubon’s Maher Preserve, and others are sites worthy of financial support. Support is requested for maintaining a diversity of natural areas locally. Contact the sites to provide essential support in your local community financially or by volunteering.

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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