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Tag Archive | "Nature Niche"

Designing land use for people and nature

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche By Ranger Steve

Nature Niches are vital for human survival. Designing land use for people and nature protects current and future generations. Individual humans and future generations are important. Personal wants and needs make it easy to dismiss the wellbeing of grandchildren and great-grandchildren and those that follow. The President and Congress wrestle with this balance daily.

On February 12, new National Monuments were designated by Presidential proclamation using the Antiquities Act of 1906. Congress takes decades to establish protection for proposed areas of national importance while they discuss the pros and cons. They often defer action to future legislators. By the time action is taken, the areas needing protection for future generations could be degraded or lose the value they were proposed to protect. The President is only allowed to protect land that is already owned by the American people. Private property is excluded. The proposed Arctic Wilderness in Alaska and Red Rock Wilderness in Southern Utah are two of the largest Wilderness areas awaiting designation. Wilderness designation has been debated and deferred for well over 50 years by Congress with no resolution. The Antiquities Act was created to mitigate while Congress takes slow or no action. It allows some protection, while Congress debates and considers long term land use. Some areas are approved as National Parks, other federal designations, or can be sold to private interests with Congressional approval.

Most of our national parks began by presidential proclamation. When you see a designation called National Monument it means a president protected it and Congress has not acted yet to make it a national park or eliminate it from monument or federal protection. If it is designated as a National Park, Congress has acted to support the designation. Yosemite is an example of a Congressionally approved National Park in California. It is likely Congress will not complete action on the newly designated California monuments during the lifetime of children born when the monuments were established. Some national parks and federal lands determined as non-vital for society have been closed and sold. National Forests began in a similar manner. Bureau of Land Management lands were established for management to meet different society and private interests. Designation of parks, national forest, and BLM lands have different regulations designated with varied use emphases.

National Monuments limit consumptive use more than national forest and BLM lands. At the Howard Christensen Nature Center, I worked to establish varied protections on a small local scale by acting locally but thinking globally. When driving in the entrance to the Welcome Center, one will find dispersed parking for cars scattered along the drive instead of one large parking area. That entrance area was designed to provide visitors with a natural experience before walking to the Interpretive building. Parking is located far enough away from the Red Pine Interpretative Center to hide view of the building in the woods. It is comparable to parking in a Meijer parking lot farthest from the store. Of course, at the store the building is still visible. The two parking areas have different purposes. At Meijer the purpose is to help visitors gain fast close access for target products. At HCNC the target product is the natural area instead of a building where people become separated from an outdoor experience. It provides people a chance to slow down and enjoy the ambiance of the natural world on their way to the building.

The HCNC buildings (Red Pine Center and Lily’s Retreat Center) have primary parking out of sight of the building but are also accessible by driveways that allow people close access when needed. Nature center areas were designated with high, passive, and limited activity areas. High activity areas reduce the value for survival of native species nature niches and are comparable to your house, driveway and lawn areas. Passive use areas are designated trails through intact nature niche habitats. Limited use areas hopefully prevent impairment of natural areas and include game trails, unnamed trails, and natural areas between trails that serve primarily wildlife species. Use by people should not be obvious or impair wildlife use value in limited use areas.

The new Mojave Trails, Sands to Snow, and Castle Mountains National Monuments in California include sand dunes, Native American petroglyphs, one of the continent’s youngest volcanoes, and critical habitat for threatened and endangered wildlife. They connect Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave National Preserve, and 15 wilderness areas.

HCNC has 135 acres connected to the 5000 acres of the Rogue River State Game Area. The game area provides wildlife habitat for hunting, Grand River Watershed flood control, forest management and other uses. HCNC is outstanding for education, recreation, and it models land use designations on a small local scale. HCNC use protection designations have changed since my retirement but that is to be expected, just like Congress land use decisions change with each new Congress. My best advice is to act locally on private property under your management control with long term care designed to include future generations. Think global and act local. Support HCNC by visiting and purchasing a membership.

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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Winter sleeping


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Chipmunks emerge from underground burrows in mid winter when conditions warm, the sun shines, water trickles, or warmth penetrates deep into their bodies.

During my naturalist career, we shared the best evidence-based scientific discoveries about hibernators, deep sleepers, and those that stay active all winter. Insects hibernate, diapause, or even stay active all winter but they are excluded from this discussion, as are birds that also have some hibernators. Those groups like reptiles and amphibians will merit their own nature niche adaptation stories.

Within the Class Mammalia, we taught Michigan has four groups with true hibernators, including some bats, the 13-lined ground squirrel, woodchuck, and jumping mice. Bears are deep sleepers but are not considered true hibernators. Chipmunks that periodically pop out of the ground during winter were reported as deep sleepers.

An authoritative book I depend on is Michigan Mammals by William Burt (1957). It referred to chipmunks as hibernators. Despite the rigorous scientific scrutiny used in making the text accurate, questions were raised regarding chipmunks’ winter behavior in regards to sleeping or hibernating. I was not greatly concerned with the issue and referred to the small striped mammals as deep sleepers.

I should have pursued the issue with more vigor but information seemed conflicting and I had other scientific controversies to address that seemed more pertinent and meaningful for society’s welfare. Things like climate change or animal species origins related to Earth’s biodiversity, for ecological sustainable conditions that people need, took precedence.

Recently my naturalist friend, Greg, spoke about chipmunk hibernation and I challenged the idea. It stimulated me to examine peer-reviewed research. New technology developments during recent decades make it easier to study winter sleep for various species. Small monitoring devices can be implanted in animals to monitor breathing, heart rate, and temperature on a 24-hour basis.

Studies supported chipmunks are true hibernators but there are still unknowns. Hibernators’ breathing and heart rate become extremely slow and body temperature drops to near freezing. Bears do not experience such dramatic reduction and are considered deep sleepers. Bear body temperature only drops from about 100 to 90 F. Respiration and heart rate slow but are not so reduced that it is difficult to arouse the bear.

Chipmunk heart rate slows from 350 beats per minute to about 4, temperature drops from 94 F to 40 F, and respiration changes from 60 to about 20 breaths per minute. It is difficult to arouse them. The adaptations merit the designation of true hibernation but other factors are not consistent with what is normally considered true hibernation.

Chipmunks awake periodically instead of remaining in deep torpor for months. The triggers causing them to periodically waken are unknown. They become active, eat cached food in burrows or even venture outside. Other true hibernators do not defecate or urinate for months, but chipmunks do.

I learned long ago that it is not either/or in nature. Most everything is on a gradation from one end of a continuum to another. It is not either hibernate or not hibernate. Different species demonstrate behaviors and adaptations along a continuum. Most might show a particular adaptation, such as hibernation, but all are experimenting through the process of natural selection and evolution for survival.

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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Monarchs of Hope

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

It was asked to write on behalf of Monarch butterflies. I expect to see the first Monarch’s arrive during Memorial Day Weekend. I usually see them in the Upper Peninsula before I see them in the Lower Peninsula. I have wondered why? First, I think they follow the Mississippi River and tributary rivers northward and then spread east and west from the major drainage.

By following the Mississippi flyway they funnel northward to Minnesota and Wisconsin and reach the UP with greater haste than making it around Lake Michigan. They must follow the Ohio River Valley also and make it directly eastward. West Michigan remains cooler in spring than Wisconsin and Minnesota because of regional cooling from Lake Michigan. Temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s often arrive in northern states to our west that do not have chilling waters of the big lake to refrigerate the climate.

This year a monarch was seen just north of Grand Rapids on May 2 while all other reports were only as far north as Tennessee and Oklahoma. Monarchs are a hope for the future despite growing odds against their survival chances. It has been predicted by scientific researchers like Lincoln Brower that the migratory phenomena of Monarchs in the North America may end during the lifetime of many of us.

How we maintain our yards is important for monarch survival. Our influence can help the existence of all life forms. We can enhance conditions that promote living space for species that share our yards or we can make landscapes sterile with extensive lawns. Yard care in neighborhoods is critical for life on Earth. Hence the famous quote “Think globally and act locally.”

Benefits from native landscaping your yard save money because we consume less gas by mowing less. As our own species becomes more populous we can maintain yards to enjoy and preserve natural beauty and wildlife.

“Monarchs of Hope.” Like all species Monarchs do what they can to survive, reproduce, and continue their lineage. Monarch butterflies face survival problems but we can make a difference to benefit Monarch’s.

Which solutions might you do in your yard with family focused activities?

-Encourage milkweed and nectar plants as habitat for Monarchs.

-Avoid or reduce pesticide use in yards and gardens. Live with nature.

-Maintain fencerows on farmlands instead of “clean farming” to provide wildlife living space.

Fencerows were encouraged after the dust bowl to help save farmers from bankruptcy and poor land management causing soil loss. It provided essential habitat for native species. Income from farming every foot of land places farm security at risk and it diminishes land quality.

-Migratory corridors can provide safe harbor habitats free from pesticides and herbicides. People across the nation can do this locally in yards. Do not underestimate the importance of your personal effort.

-Migratory corridors with shelterbelts containing food, water, shelter, in appropriate abundance for migratory species can be funded with government grants for conservation easements.

-Visit winter refuges where Monarchs hibernate in Mexico to support the local economy so Monarch forests will be maintained.

The real Monarchs of Hope in this story are families willing to maintain healthy nature niche landscapes with less lawn and more 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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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche


The barred owl is one of the owls found in our area.

The barred owl is one of the owls found in our area.

By Ranger Steve Mueller




Night is not just a time for sleep. If you are an unlucky insomniac like I sometimes am, get up and listen outdoors. One night I was about to go bed just after midnight when our dog began barking. No one was in the drive but I then I heard a Great Horned Owl hooting.

Usually I cannot hear owls from inside the house. This one was close. As quietly as I could, I opened the front window a couple inches to hear the repeated whoo whoo, whoo whoo. It was pleasantly loud and clear. Typically in January we start hearing the Great Horned Owls conversing just after midnight and again about 5:30 a.m.

The female often stands in the trees between the house and the road. Her voice is deeper than the males. He stands about a quarter mile west of the highway. I have not found their nest. My dog and I were on a walk at dusk when a Great Horned owl flew toward us. As soon it as it saw us, it diverged into the woods. I suspect it heard us and came to investigate what was for breakfast (evening is breakfast time for the owls). It had recently stirred from a day’s rest and was no doubt hungry.

The Great Horned Owl is the largest in our area. The next largest is the Barred Owl and it inhabits low wetland forests compared to the more upland forest of its larger relative. His call is “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you alllllll.” It has a southern droll at the end of second repeat phrase. Usually I hear it in the big woods on my neighbor’s property but have not found its tree cavity nest.

Crows occasionally find an owl during its daytime rest and gather to noisily mob the predator. When I hear a raucous murder of crows, I expect a mob has formed to harass a resting owl or hawk. As long as the owl is stationary, it is fine. When it flies, the mob pursues and tries to peck the bird’s back and head from above and behind.

This week Karen found blood on the snow with rabbit fur but no mammal footprints. An owl had swooped in and successfully captured a meal. I thank the owl for helping save my young trees. The rabbits kill many of the trees by chewing the bark during the winter. The trees are then unable to send spring sap upward and the trees die. Tree and fruit farmers appreciate the free labor from owls and hawks that help reduce agriculture losses.

A third resident species is the Eastern Screech Owl with two color phases. The most common in our area is the gray phase and the other is red phase. They can be siblings much like we can have red and brown haired children. We frequently observe this small 6 to 8 inch tall owl looking at us from a cavity nest box we installed. Its soft voice is a trilling sound. I can imitate it by putting the tip of my tongue against the front roof of my mouth and blowing out. As my tongue vibrates on and off the roof of my mouth, a trilling sound imitates the owl’s call well.

All three owls are common but secretive. They lay eggs during the winter with young ready to fly about the time mammal young abundantly leave their nests. The newly fledged owls help guard our vegetable garden, trees, and reduce the number of rodents coming into the home. We are fortunate our yard is a suitable nature niche for them. Poison rodent baits often do not rapidly kill mice but they later kill owls that eat poisoned mice. Snap traps are an environmentally safer and friendly choice.

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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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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