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Tag Archive | "Mueller"

Lunar Eclipse


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

It was one of those rare occasions when the Earth Sun and Moon aligned in a straight line. This does not occur every month so we do not experience eclipses often. If astronauts were on the moon, they would have witnessed a total solar eclipse while we watched the lunar eclipse. Earth cast its shadow on the moon when it was directly between Sun and Moon.

The Earth hides the moon rapidly unless one is too hurried to watch. Our patience is tried with the hurried business of our lives. I look forward to vacations when time is taken to contemplate the world and nature niches. It takes three days to slow down and shift my focus from work and home obligations.

One visitor joined me to see the eclipsing moon. He was having difficulty locating it and thanked me for being present. His arrival came when the upper right moon was just already starting to whiten. He thought it would was to be a blood moon. I commented that had already come and gone.

Watching the entire drama offers more than the great moments captured with a camera. The news showed pictures through amateur telescopes that were better than seen with the naked eye or binoculars but watching the progression exceeds the best still images.

Darkness began at the lower moon a gradually swept upward to the right until the Earth was centered between Sun and Moon. During the darkest phase the “blood red” hue was apparent. It amazes me how quickly the event comes and goes. Observers have a couple hours to enjoy an uncommon celestial event.

It has only been hundreds of years since Galileo was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life for explaining the science behind celestial objects and described that Earth is not the center of the universe. A great number of people do not accept scientific process or scientific findings because it does not align with what they “know” or want to believe. Scientists mathematically predict events like the lunar eclipse and it occurs rapidly enough for people to watch from beginning to end. Events like extinctions and global climate change are not easily observed and many people dismiss the evidence as too elusive to accept. In some ways we are no different from people of the 16th century.

One beauty of the eclipse is that we watch phases of the moon come and go in a couple hours instead of over one month. The events simulate the new moon, quarter moons, and full moon. Unlike the new moon, the arc of darkness is in the opposite direction at the beginning, but when the lighted portion begins to show, it appears like the new moon. The quarter moons are not divided with half dark and half light. Instead we see the arc of Earth’s shadow on the moon. Always watch for subtleness in nature.

The use of binoculars allows us to see ridges and craters along the edges of the moon. Toward the center we can see light and dark portions but the mountainous relief is only apparent near the edges.

Decades ago about 40 people joined me at Kent County’s highest elevation at Fisk Knob County Park to observe Haley’s comet. The Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC) is too wooded for good viewing of the horizon just before sunrise. I set up a telescope and many people from the Grand Rapids area arrived to witness the once in a lifetime event. Some expected a comet to be the size of the moon. Instead it was star-sized with a faint tail. I searched the dark sky unsuccessfully. Finally as the darkness of night began to fade, Haley’s comet came into view. I described the location for those using binoculars and hurriedly encouraged all to look through the telescope. They viewed the comet and saw its tail. The tail was not easily visible. People said they would not have seen it without help.

Check the HCNC web site for program details or better yet visit. Real experiences in nature exceed the ease of the internet’s vicarious exposure. Individuals and families getting into nature remind us we are a part of nature instead of merely being observers from a distance. When immersed in nature, at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary or HCNC, nature comes alive.

To cap the enjoyment of another fine day, a yellow-rumped warbler was gathering breakfast among dimly lit tree leaves, as the dawn arrived at the eclipse conclusion.

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

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Game and Nongame Management


 

Wildlife management has been shifting to an ecosystem approach for 50 years. In the early 1900’s and before, wildlife management was done species by species. If more deer were desired, that was the focus of management. If more ruffed grouse were desired, effort focused on that species.

Aldo Leopold revolutionized management thinking with his 1933 Game Management textbook. He encouraged a shift from autecology to synecology. Autecology is narrowly focused on single species without concern for other species or impacts of its management on the ecosystems. Synecology is focused on the ecosystem with attention toward improving conditions for wildlife communities.

Today the Michigan DNR uses a synecology approach more extensively. It considers a multitude of species when making habitat management decisions but continues emphasis on selected hunted species. Changing the cultural mindset of the public and staff is a slow difficult process.

Howard Meyerson reported that a National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Related Recreation found 39 percent of Michigan residents watch wildlife and 21 percent hunt and/or fish. The Michigan DNR spends 95 percent of its wildlife management budget for hunting and fishing management and 5 percent to support nongame wildlife management.

A 2011 survey by the US Fish and Wildlife Service found 71.8 million people engage in wildlife watching, while 33 million fish and 13.7 million hunt wildlife. Correspondingly watchers spend $54.9 billion annually, fishers spend $41.8 and hunters spend $33.7 billion.

Interest in wildlife is shifting toward watching from hunting. There is a management need for both to maintain healthy ecosystems. Deer and rabbit abundance damages ecosystems because we have reduced predator populations to unhealthy ecosystem levels. That was a result of autecology practices. The synecology practice of allowing wolves to survive in ecosystem is controversial to our traditional autecology mindset.

Unfortunately most people are not aware of autecology or synecology. Our culture remains focused on autecology game management instead of the synecology ecosystem management. Public focus is often focused on “What I want from the environment” instead of supporting healthy ecosystem management. Wildlife biologists strive for synecology practices but public pressure and support lags behind.

Leopold’s book is revolutionary but dry reading. What Aldo Leopold described almost 100 years ago is still a new idea compared with hundreds of years of wildlife management. We tend to follow practices and focus money on how things were previously done instead of changing our culture toward ecosystem nature niche management.

The question “why staff energy is devoted most heavily to hunted species,” when more of the public watches instead of hunts is not easy and creates uneasiness. Some hunters do not want money they spend on hunting licenses used on non-hunting programs. Some watchers do not want nongame money spent on programs that also supports hunting. Both are essential for healthy ecosystem management. We had an opportunity to approve a tax on sporting equipment like binoculars that would support watching wildlife management programs. The public voted no but hunters generally support hunting taxes.

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

 

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Snowshoeing at HCNC


By Ranger Steve Mueller

Finding family time can be challenging. Finding family time enjoying the outdoors especially in winter can be challenging. Finding family time in quiet solitude away from electric distractions can be challenging. Finding a fun safe physical healthy activity can be challenging. Finding fun that is inexpensive can be challenging.

The Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC) will help families fill all those needs. Plan a couple hours adventure on snowshoes on HCNC trails. Trails are well marked and walks can be short or long depending on your desire. Cost: $3.75/person, $3/students, $3/seniors.

Most everyone from early elementary age to senior citizens can use snowshoes. It is a wonderful adventure for multi-generation families to share a common activity. Grandparents, kids, and grandkids can enjoy time together outdoors and indoors. Those wishing not to snowshoe can enjoy discovery inside the Red Pine Interpretive Center while others are on trails.

Traditional wood snowshoes or plastic snowshoes are available. A pair should be found that works for each family member. Bindings on the plastic shoes attach easily with a rubber binder that stretches over the boot heel. Traditional snowshoes have strap bindings. One places their toe in the front binding and fastens a strap over the boot. One’s boot heel is not attached to the shoes like occurs with downhill skies. This allows one to walk nearly normally. There is no left and right snowshoe but bindings are attached in a manner that makes it easier for a left or right foot. Tightening the binding is easier when placed on the appropriate foot. HCNC staff will assist.

One difference for walking is that the large snowshoes size spreads ones weight on the snow to limit the depth the shoe sinks into snow. That purpose is what makes walking in snowshoes effective in deep snow. The snowshoe size requires people spread their feet farther apart than normal. We adjust to the change quickly. It is necessary to leave space between people. If one gets too close they step on the hidden snowshoe tail of the person’s shoe in front of them.

You might like to venture out with members of our community for a special candlelight snowshoeing event planned for Valentine’s evening on February 14, 2014. Enjoy a guided tour through the nature center’s scenic trails. Hot refreshments will be served and snowshoe equipment will be provided. An approximate two-mile walk through candlelit trails will be memorable. Enjoy romantic stories around the campfire at Camp Lily’s location and roast marshmallows. $5/person or $20/family is a suggested for that event. A larger donation will greatly help HCNC’s programming and community service.

Finding HCNC’s web site can be difficult. Visit it at http://lilysfrogpad.com. If you Google Howard Christensen Nature Center, Lily’s Frog pad will also come up. But if you Google HCNC, an old website will be listed. Click that and on the right side under Mission Statement is a forwarding address to click. When that is clicked, it brings you the current Howard Christensen Nature Center site operated by Lily’s Frog Pad. Once at the site click “Programs” and scroll down to Winter Snowshoeing for options and times. Volunteers are always needed. If someone knows how to have a Google search take people directly to HCNC’s current web site when HCNC is entered in the search box, your volunteer help would be appreciated.

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

 

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Bird Opportunity


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Join others for a last bird watching opportunity in 2013. Experienced birders will help you identify about 60 species on December 28, during the Christmas Bird Count sponsored by National Audubon, Michigan Audubon, and Grand Rapids Audubon Club.

This is my 27th year coordinating the Kent County event. It’s a time people enjoy seeing birds in their winter nature niches and celebrate the diversity of life that abounds around us. About 60 people gather and divide into small groups that venture to various areas within the count circle. Birds are counted in an area with a 7.5-mile radius surrounding the Honey Creek and Two Mile Roads intersection.

Some are surprised we annually find American Robins and Eastern Bluebirds. They are birds that stay provided berries are found in wetlands. More exciting are winter bird visitors that consider this area a southern wintering ground. Included are the Snowy Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Snow Bunting, Purple Finch, and Common Redpoll. Other remaining here in winter that most of us do not notice are Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, and Song Sparrow. I saw a kingfisher here at Ody Brook along Little Cedar Creek last week.

Some winter migrants from the north have arrived indicating count day should be great. A Rough-legged Hawk flew over Ody Brook and I observed a Snow Owl west of here. Two Snow Bunting flocks made an appearance in farm fields.

The local Audubon Club hopes you join the free family activity for part or all day. Previous bird knowledge or experience is not necessary. Join experienced birders and carpool for a great birding experience. Meet at the Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center (WWC) across the street from Lowell High School at 11715 Vergennes Rd on December 28. The WWC is a great facility to visit and see many live mounts of birds displayed or hike a trail. WWC is where I was director during the last years before retiring from fulltime work. I hold Federal and State permits to display birds through the Michigan Audubon Society at Howard Christensen Nature Center and WWC. Plan on visiting either facility if you want to learn identification, size, and postures for birds before count day.

We meet at 7:30 a.m. at WWC, organize into groups and are out birding by 8 a.m. Some people join for the morning and others stay for the day. A hot lunch will be provided for $5 or bring a brown bag lunch. Consider making a donation to support the National Christmas Bird Count. Money donated is sent to the National Audubon and is used to maintain the database for all bird sightings on the continent. Scientists as well as birders can view the data online. It is used to monitor population changes from year to year. This is the 116th year for the Audubon Count.

Come dressed in layers that can be removed or added as temperature changes. We are in and out of cars at many locations. Bring binoculars and bird books if you have them. People will share if you do not. It is best to call me ahead of time (616-696-1753) if you plan to participate but just showing up is fine. I can answer questions you might have about count day activities.

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

 

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Walk with Father Nature


A retired friend used his talents and skills as a teacher to stimulate appreciation and excitement for creation, in which we are part. We can be on-ookers or participants taking joy and responsibility for the Earth that supports us. I have always desired to be more than an onlooker. Personal time outdoors is essential for me. My experiences are enriched by mentors with greater skills and abilities.

Rich Havenga continues to share his talents through photography of nature’s wonders and writing that is inspired by experiences in the outdoors. He states, “I will share what I know and have learned through observation and reading. I will examine ways to look closer and deeper at nature. I hope to encourage my viewers to get outside, and explore with curiosity. To be grateful for these gifts from God.”

Looking deeper into nature is best accomplished by experiencing the natural world through personal immersion. It is a daily part of my life and a daily part of Rich’s life. It stirs our souls, stimulates our brains, strengthens our bodies, and heightens our emotions. Rich has been keeping a journal for 38 years since the birth of his son Aaron. He adds a new page daily.

If you like pictures, poetry, or prose, Rich’s blog has something to enrich your outdoor and internal experiences. http://walkwithfathernature.blogspot.com/

In his blog Rich wrote in a piece called Aaron, “Over the past 18 years, I’ve become very verbal when I see Fathers interacting with their children, in positive, caring, and fun ways. Especially when they are outdoors: in the park, at the playground, messing around in the creek, going fishing, watching insects up close, or spotting planets in the night sky. They may be working in the garden with their kids, raking leaves, building a snowman, taking a hike, exploring the woods, or simply balancing on an elevated log.”

See the entire piece at: http://walkwithfathernature.blogspot.com/search/label/Aaron

By scrolling down the right side of the blog you can select archive entries by month or scroll farther to select by subject under Labels. I am always encouraged and humbled by the work of others. How we experience the world of nature niches can be different for each of us. It helps us appreciate the world around us and stimulates a caring and responsibility for Earth stewardship. Enjoy your journey through the blog: Walk with Father Nature.

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

 

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Monarch Migration Plight


OUT-Nature-Niche-MonarchPopulationEstimate_graphic3By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

In September people see Monarch butterflies migrating south.

Mrs. Tacoma, a kindergarten teacher at Cedar Trails Elementary, collects Monarch caterpillars on milkweed plants and feeds them until they form a chrysalis. When the adult butterfly emerges to pump fluid into its bright orange wings, students see a miracle that most people have not witnessed. Once fluid has dried in the butterfly’s wing veins, the class releases it for a 2000-mile journey to south central Mexico.

This year fewer Monarchs will be migrating. It has been a rough year and decade for survival. Dr. Lincoln Brower predicted long ago that migrating Monarchs would become a thing of the past during the first decades of the 21st century. It is hoped his prediction will prove wrong. The predictions of Brower and other scientists are based on several factors that have been building to diminish wildlife in North America.

Dr. ‘Chip’ Taylor, of Monarch Watch, highlighted factors. He said, for monarch recovery, we need to create a lot of milkweed habitat and need to mobilize people to do it to save wildlife, by creating habitats in yards and gardens. He continued that gardeners across this country could help by planting milkweed and using native plants to stabilize native pollinator communities. People now have another purpose for creating a garden. The purpose is conservation.

Taylor identifies factors that have led to the sharp drop in the monarch population.

1. Monarch numbers seen each year in the eastern United States and Canada are determined by the amount of habitat that remains. New roads, housing developments, and agricultural expansion serving a growing human population transform a natural landscape in ways that make it impossible for Monarchs to live.

2. Month to month temperature and moisture conditions are critical factors and are affected by climate change. Climate change is well documented but the question of how much is human caused is still not precise. It is clear human activities are affecting the rate of climate change but quantifying exactly how much is exceedingly difficult.

3. Increased planting of genetically modified corn in the U.S. Midwest promotes greater use of herbicides, which in turn kills milkweed. Monarch decline is coincident with the adoption of Roundup-ready corn and soybeans. We’re basically creating a desert out there, except for the corn and the soybeans.

4. The increase of soybean and corn crops as bio-fuels has reduced wildlife habitat.

5. Extreme weather events threaten to become more common and may have a negative impact on Monarch populations and other wildlife.

6. Taylor points out that sustaining the monarch migration will be a challenge that requires support and cooperation of Canada, the United States and Mexico. This is symptomatic of issues affecting plant and animal nature niches and may impact our national wellbeing.

7. As human populations grows, lumbering, clearing land for growing food and grazing cattle reduces space essential for survival of other life forms, on which society is dependent.

8. Our own population is projected to increase by two billion people by 2040 so Taylor doesn’t see the monarch in that future world. Our population cannot continually grow and also maintain a healthy world. We are going to see a lot of changes. There are natural restrictions on how fast populations can grow based on food production, declining arable land, and limitations of water. If we don’t get with it and if we don’t start modifying our behavior, life is going to get to be pretty tough.

He says the Monarch issue is his way of introducing people to the larger issues.

9. Monarch over wintering sites are vulnerable for a number of reasons. A census taken at the monarchs’ wintering grounds found their population had declined 59 percent over the previous year and was at the lowest level ever measured.

Italics in this article are my commentary additions. To read Taylor’s complete discussion go to http://e360.yale.edu/feature/tracking_the_causes_of_sharp__decline_of_the_monarch_butterfly/2634/

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

 

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Biodiversity Conservation


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Aldo Leopold revolutionized wildlife management with his 1933 Game Management textbook. He is most famous for his 1949 Sand County Almanac that formulated “Land Ethic” concepts. He and Rachel Carson share the distinction of being “Conservationists of the 20th Century.”

Leopold changed how wildlife is managed by changing the practice from single species focus to ecosystem focus. He maintained that we must look at the whole natural community. For centuries people only focused on one species at time and did not consider the impact of narrow focus in regards to environmental health.

Following his publication, scientists and the general public began looking at how the ecosystems function and how our lives and economy are impacted by our practices. Rachel Carson brought it to public attention that DDT and other chemicals were not only harming wildlife and destroying biodiversity but were harming humans.

There will always be those that do not care if negative impacts affect families if they can make more money for themselves. When it became apparent that the sleeping aid Thalidomide caused children to be born with stubs for legs and arms, the medicine was outlawed. More testing was required on drugs while some people do not think public protection merits laws to protect people or wildlife.

There is always a struggle between self-interest and public interest. There are efforts to persuade public opinion away from public interest so that individuals can do more activities without considering their impacts on the general public and health of the environment that supports us.

As Earth Day approaches (April 22) there is controversial legislation in Michigan (Senate Bill 78) that will prevent wildlife biologists from considering biodiversity in management practices if passed. SB 78 redefines “biological conservation” and restricts the ability of the Department of Natural Resources to consider “biodiversity” when managing state lands.

The bill would amend several parts of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act to do the following:

– Prohibit the DNR and the Natural Resources Commission from enforcing a rule that designates an area of land specifically for the purpose of achieving or maintaining biological diversity.

– Delete the conservation of biological diversity from the DNR’s duties to balance its management activities with economic values.

– Eliminate a requirement that the DNR manage forests in a manner that promotes restoration.

– Provide that a State department or agency would not have to designate or classify an area of land specifically for the purpose of achieving or maintaining biological diversity.

– Revise the definition of “conservation” with regard to biological diversity.

– Delete a legislative finding that most losses of biological diversity are the result of human activity.

Perhaps the best thing you can do for our community this Earth Day is read the bill and contact your legislators with your thoughts.

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

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Breakfast for two


N-Pileated-woodpeckersDavid Marin, of Nelson Township, has been waiting a long time to get this photo. He finally got his chance last Thursday, March 14, at 9:45 a.m.

“On rare occasions, the notoriously camera-shy and nervous pileated woodpeckers come to the suet at my feeders,” explained Marin. “This morning, I was able to capture a photo of both male and female at the same time, something I’ve been hoping and trying to get an opportunity to do for decades.” Marin lives about three miles east of Cedar Springs.

According to Ranger Steve Mueller, although the birds look similar, you can definitely tell one is male and one is female. “The male (lower bird) has red on forehead to bill and the female does not (her red stays on top of her head). The male has a red mustache (dark strip from base of bill) and the female has a black mustache,” he said.

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Birds Displayed


Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Frank Rackett collected and mounted birds starting in 1876 and continued through about 1936. He donated his collection to Godwin Height Public Schools. The school district could not properly care for the collection and was no longer displaying them. They contacted the Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC) to see if they would be a useful addition to our extensive display collection.

More than 150 bird cases containing about 450 birds were picked up in March 2012. During the summer and fall, volunteer Dave Cartwright refurbished cases and cleaned specimens. Preparing the collection for display has taken hours and great dedication from Dave. Without his efforts, the current display would not be suitable for viewing, enjoyment and education.

Come to HCNC between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays or noon and 4 p.m. on weekends to enjoy the displays. Taxidermist Harold Moody donated live mount specimens (those prepared to look like living animals) to HCNC starting in the 1970’s and continued for 30 years. When a bird or mammal was killed, we contacted Harold and he volunteered to mount specimens in memory of his daughter, Pamela, who was killed at age 24 by a drunk driver.

We also worked with MI DNR conservation officers to acquire animals that were confiscated from poachers or were found dead like the Common Loon that swallowed a fishing lure. The Mute Swan flew into a power line. The bobcat was hit on Red Pine Drive north of the nature center.

The Rackett collection contains many birds from western North America, including a few from south of the United States. There are several warblers and rarities like the Green Jay, MotMot, Painted Redstart, Lewis’s Woodpecker, and Mountain Plover that one will not see in Michigan or may not be found in other Michigan collections.

We developed what might be the most extensive bird and mammal collection for any nature center in Michigan. Universities and some large public museums have more but it is rare to find such an extensive collection at any nature center in the nation or world. Our collection is especially rich in birds of prey and I doubt it is matched by other nature centers.

HCNC is now a 501c3 non-profit operated by Lily’s Frog Pad and is working to continue serving school districts and area communities. HCNC is an important community resource and deserves community support. To help HCNC continues its mission, you can sponsor a display case or live mount display by providing funding for operations. Explore the displays free during open hours and please sponsor a display for a year. Come pick a display of your choice and provide $25 or more in support for 2013 programming to serve education and community interests. When visiting ask about individual or family memberships.

Though I am retired, I continue to volunteer at HCNC where more volunteers are encouraged and welcomed. Contact Cindy Perski at 616-675-3158 to offer your skills from technology, grant writing, woodworking, outdoor projects, nature study surveys and more. http://lilysfrogpad.com/volunteer-opportunities/.

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

 

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Christmas bird count results


By Ranger Steve Mueller

The 2011 Christmas Bird Count for the Grand Rapids Audobon Club took place on December 31, 2011, at 2 Mile Rd NE and Honey Creek Avenue in Kent County. 62 participants observed 66 species of birds on count day. There were 59 counters in the morning and 32 in the afternoon. Four species of owls were recorded and that is up from zero last year. No additional bird species were added during count week. Table 1 lists the birds sighted for the count circle. Total individuals sighted were 13811.
A significant sighting was a Rufous Hummingbird. I received a call regarding the hummer presence while I was in Minnesota for family Christmas. I referred the call. Allen Chartier came and banded the bird before count day so we knew we had it for count week. Fortunately several of us were able to see it on count day.
Mark your calendars now for the December 29, 2012 count.
For more info, contact Ranger Steve at odybrook@chartermi.net or 616-696-1753.

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