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Tag Archive | "birding"

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche Different Kinds of Birding


By Ranger Steve

Are you a window watcher? That means most of your bird watching is done through a window. Much of my birding is casual with glances out the window. I used to leave for work before sun up and arrive home after dark. I still fed the birds all winter for their benefit even though I was not present to enjoy them. 

On occasion, a friend and I travel to interesting locations in West Michigan to see birds that are not found in our yards. Lake Michigan shoreline is a great place to see winter waterfowl. Binoculars are needed. A closer view in the open water where rivers like the Grand and Muskegon empty into the big lake provide good views. 

During the winter, my friend and I pick a January or February weekend when we can make a trip to the Upper Peninsula to enjoy the snowy scenic beauty and birds that do not come this far south in winter. The Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, Northern Hawk Owl, and Sharp-tailed Grouse require us to visit their winter range to see them. This is referred to as “target birding” where people go somewhere to see a specific species. 

Birds end up in places where they are not expected. Some have been seen only a few times in our region. Why they are there is a mystery. Perhaps their navigation system has been confused. Their survival can be precarious. We observed a Rufous Hummingbird visiting a sugar water feeder the last week of December one year. The home owner saw a hummingbird and promptly put out a feeder to help it survive. It stayed for a couple weeks before disappearing. It was never known if it made the trip south or died in the stark cold winter weather. The Rufous Hummingbird is a western species that winters in the extreme southeastern states or farther south. 

I find exploring bird nature niches an exciting and rewarding endeavor that can shed new information for understanding bird behavior, ecological adaptations, and normal daily habits. Forging my way into difficult areas people tend to avoid is fun and challenging but reveals things not generally observed. 

The American Woodcock has a wonderful ground dance followed by an aerial spiral flight, plunges toward the earth, levels before crashing and resumes the ground foot stomping and spinning display at dawn and dusk. This can be observed during the late March and April breeding season at Luton Park and many area locations. We manage habitat for the bird at Ody Brook and always enjoy its performance. I occasionally keep records of the vocal calls called peents during the ground dance between aerial flights. They vary from a few to more than fifty. Peents increase in number as dark settles in. I note where they land and what they do on the ground. 

A different kind of birding is to discover woodcock activity before their breeding displays begin. I have tried to determine how early they arrive north. In late February and early March, I have forced my way through thick swamp shrubbery in hopes of flushing one when thick snow still covers the landscape. Trudging in such habitat is not easy and I have never encountered another person on such adventures. To my joy, I have come upon a woodcock feeding along a tiny rivulet of open water where it can probe its long bill in to mud in one of the few places where food can be found at that time of year. My observations indicate the species returns earlier than most people expect but they remain hidden and focus on feeding and shelter until breeding time. 

Another different kind of birding is documenting where nests are constructed, how many eggs are typically laid, the height of nests, plant species used for nest placement, and behavioral interactions with their own species and others. I waded in a marsh from nest to nest during a Red-winged Blackbird nesting season. Attached is an abbreviated table of observations from that venture into the wild wet world of blackbird nesting territory. Some data fields were deleted for space limitations and to prevent losing your interest with too much information. I keep bird nest records annually as shown in the accompanying sample table. That year I had records for 65 nests. This year, I have records for 49 nests. 

A different kind of birding is the life blood for sustaining a naturalist. I also keep records for plants, insects, weather, and more so we can best manage Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary to “Enhance Biodiversity.”

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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Lakes appreciation month: enjoy and protect Michigan’s lakes


Michigan is blessed with all types of waterbodies, including scenic locations without much civilization in site, like this view of Tahquamenon Natural Area between Newberry and Paradise in the state’s Upper Peninsula.

Michigan offers unique combination of four Great Lakes and 11,000 inland lakes

With Gov. Rick Snyder’s proclamation of July as Lakes Appreciation Month in Michigan, it›s the perfect time to encourage residents to enjoy and protect the state’s lakes.

Recreation on Michigan’s lakes—boating, fishing, birding, swimming and more on the water—leads to jobs throughout the state in support of a $7 billion recreational fishery, a $4 billion boating industry, and a major part of the state’s $38 billion tourism revenue.

Michigan’s 11,000 inland lakes and four Great Lakes provide a combination of water resources and recreational opportunities not available anywhere else. In his proclamation, Gov. Snyder recognized “the need to protect these resources for future generations,” stating that “lakes and shorelines are critical resources to Michigan’s environment and quality of life, providing sources of drinking water, irrigation, energy, commerce, recreation, scenic beauty, and habitat for fish and wildlife.”

“It’s important for everyone who uses and values Michigan’s lakes to do their part to protect them,” said Joe Nohner, inland lakes analyst for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “Our inland lakes face threats from declining water quality, invasive species, changing climate and unnatural shorelines that lack vegetation or woody habitat. There are simple steps each of us can take to protect the lakes we love.”

Fishing and boating go hand in hand as staple activities on many of Michigan›s lakes, making huge contributions to the state’s economy.

Here are just a few ways to show appreciation for these valuable natural resources:

Be a lake volunteer. Volunteer opportunities are available with programs across Michigan. Clean Boats, Clean Waters (http://micbcw.org/) is recruiting “volunteer heroes” to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species by showing boaters how to inspect their boats, trailers and gear. Michigan’s Clean Water Corps supports volunteers engaged in water-quality monitoring through its Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program. Adopt-a-Beach volunteers remove litter from shorelines around the Great Lakes.

Protect your shore. Lakefront property owners can learn more from the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership about maintaining natural shorelines to improve fish and wildlife habitat and keep the water clean. Learn how to be recognized through the Michigan Shoreland Stewards program. http://www.mishorelandstewards.org/.

Prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Lakes Appreciation Month and Aquatic Invasive Species Awareness Week were kicked off by the 4th annual AIS Landing Blitz with outreach events at more than 60 boat launches, to raise awareness and prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species through recreational boating and related activities. When it’s time to head home from the lake, take steps to ensure aquatic invasive species don’t come with you:

  • Remove weeds, mud and debris from boats and gear, and drain live wells and bilges before leaving the landing.
  • Give boats and equipment at least five days to dry thoroughly before heading to a different body of water.
  • If that’s not possible, clean boats, water receptacles and gear with hot water or a diluted bleach solution before the next trip.

In short, remember to clean, drain and dry boats, trailers and gear after a day on the water. Concerned about aquatic invasive species? Consider inviting the free Mobile Boat Wash to a boat launch near you. https://www.michigan.gov/documents/invasives/Boat_wash_flyer_2017_554286_7.pdf or check them out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MobileBoatWash/.

Take a friend or a young person fishing. Fishing Michigan’s lakes provides an opportunity to spend quality time with someone, reunite a friend with a favorite hobby, or introduce someone to a new pastime. Whether it’s taking the boat to that favorite fishing hole or casting from a pier or quiet dock, fishing is a unique way to connect with the water.

Spend a day at the beach. A picnic or a day of swimming is a great way to get the kids outdoors in the summer. A sunset stroll along the shoreline can be a relaxing end to a perfect day. Looking for a place to take your four-legged best friend? According to bringfido.com, there are 27 dog-friendly beaches across Michigan.

Float your boat. If that boat is still covered and sitting on the trailer, or the kayaks haven’t yet left the garage, it’s time to hit the water. Take a cruise or paddle around the shoreline of your favorite lake to admire the waterfowl and flowering plants, or visit a new lake – with more than 1,300 public boating access sites around the state to choose from, it’s easy to plan a water-bound adventure.

The Lakes Appreciation Month proclamation was supported by the Michigan Inland Lakes Partnership, an organization that promotes collaboration to advance stewardship of Michigan’s inland lakes.

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