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Morning’s first arrivals


Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche By Ranger Steve Mueller

Does the early bird get the worm? I recorded the order bird species arrived at feeders or flew through the sanctuary one morning between 7 a.m. and 8:30. I expected arrival to begin shortly after 7 a.m. in mid-February. Table 1 shows the first arrival time for each species on three dates. 

After observing one morning, I thought it necessary to get additional data because one day’s observation might be quite different from other days. It would be good to gather arrival times and the order species arrived for many days to determine if there is a pattern. I would like to have gathered data for 20 or 30 days so it would be more statistically reliable. 

Each succeeding midwinter day, the sun rises a little earlier so it is expected to change bird wake up and activity times. 

With previous casual observation, I noticed Northern Cardinals are among the first arrivals at daylight and last to depart at dusk. The number of birds at the feeders are most abundant midday. Squirrels impact bird use. It seems like birds and squirrels take turns but I do not think it is by choice. There are 18 squirrels that visit and when they are present, birds tend to stay away. As soon as squirrels leave birds come to feed. 

A factor that affects bird activity is foot-candles of light. That is the amount the light produced by a candle at a distance of one foot. More candles produce more light at one foot. As daylight breaks, the area lightens with increased foot-candles of light. Various species become active at different light levels. Some are late sleepers until it is brighter. 

If the sky is clear there will be more light to produce a higher foot-candle luminance. It is obvious that on cloudy days there are fewer foot-candles of light. I did not measure foot-candles of light to compare with bird arrival times. That would be interesting to see how light levels affected early morning bird activity times. 

Another factor that makes a difference for bird arrival is their location in the time zone. Birds living at the same latitude but at the eastern edge of the time zone experience sunrise an hour early than birds living at the western edge. For convenience, time zones are set for a middle longitude and the time is accepted as the same for the whole zone. Birds do not use our clocks. They use foot-candles of light in the area where they live.

It gets light almost an hour earlier on the east coast of North America than it does at the Lake Michigan shoreline. Birds living on the east coast become active earlier in the day. North-south latitudes affect daylight hours. We are familiar with the land of the midnight sun in the Arctic Circle summer and 24 hours of darkness in winter. Here summer daylight is about 16 hours and winter light about 8 hours. Near equator light and dark remains close to 12 hours all year. 

Table 1 shows first arrival time for each species. The arrival sequence is numbered. It was not the same. If I gathered data for many days, it would provide a more reliable record for determining if species have a consistent sequence for arrival.

Outlier data needs to be ignored. It is possible that an individual for a species could arrive unusually early or late for an abnormal reason. Having many days’ data would allow us to see the abnormal and ignore it. Other outlier data I needed to ignore was first arrivals recorded much later in the day. I did not watch the feeder continuously after 8:30 a.m. Arrival times recorded for bird species later in the day most likely was not a first arrival. They might have come a few minutes after I stopped watching at 8:30. Times later in the day are outlier data that cannot be included when determining nature niche activity.

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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Nature in Framed Images


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Find nature at Framed Images in Cedar Springs. The frame shop has the beauty of nature captured through the eyes of artists. We can experience nature vicariously there and take a favorite home. There are few homes I visit that are without some form of nature hanging on the walls. 

An original acrylic butterfly painting by William Howe brightens my writing room all year. I purchased the unframed painting and framed it myself with doorframes. One of our butterfly association members kindly told me the frame did not do the painting justice. She didn’t say my framing looked crud but that is what she was probably thinking. We took it to Framed Images where it was professionally framed. Now people are not embarrassed for me when they look at it. 

Bill Howe donated several paintings to Smithsonian National Museum. They could not use all of them and sold pictures to visiting scientists. I donated butterflies to the Smithsonian and visited behind the scenes for my butterfly and moth research several times. I was pleased to acquire my friend’s painting on one of my visits. 

Bill illustrated the book Butterflies of North America used as a primary resource for my graduate research. At the time, few regional books had been published. William Holland’s book from 1903 was still an important reference and Alexander Klots 1951 book was the only book of choice for most people in the East.  

Bill Howe called me from Kansas requesting to borrow the painting for an event. Before that could happen, he died. We all have connections beyond family that somehow penetrate our souls. We have a wall of family pictures. Nature pictures bring added life to our walls.

My daughter, Jenny Jo, painted one of my favorite butterflies called the Harvester. People make special trips to Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary to see the live butterfly in the sanctuary. Adults have two broods and fly twice a year. Once in the spring and again in midsummer. It is the only butterfly here that eats animals as a caterpillar. It eats wooly aphids that suck juices from speckled alder twigs. The picture Jenny Jo created is now nicely framed and hangs on our wall. A friend from Kentucky painted two water scenes that she gave me and they have frames that accent the scenes. You do not need to drive to Kentucky to have pictures nicely framed. Come to Cedar Springs where they can be matted and framed to suit your desires. 

There is no need to drive to the big city. Get a custom frame locally that fits your home perfectly. Create nature niche views in your house to carry you through long winters so you don’t have to sleep them away with the bears. Enjoy trilliums and other ephemeral wildflowers all year instead of a limited three weeks in spring. Apple blossoms come and go and if frost does not kill flowers we get to taste the fruit of the tree’s labor come fall. We can enjoy an orchard scene on our walls all year. 

Explore the Framed Images shop to enjoy nature’s beauty captured through artists’ eyes. The frame shop is found on Main Street one block south from the Kent Theater and across the street from the Chase bank. Enjoy the quaintness of Cedar Springs and hardworking shop owners in Cedar Springs. It will be a pleasant indoor “outside” outing for an inclement day.  

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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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche


Waves of Birds

On March 11 a south wind brought the first big wave of birds on their northerly migration. A flock of twenty Red-winged Blackbirds clustered in a tree near my home. Two individual Common Grackles were flying about the area. One American Robin was singing in a neighbor’s front yard. Over 100 American Crows flocked northward. This occurred during a short walk between 8:30 and 9 a.m.

We were still experiencing NE winds for a couple days prior to the south wind but some birds anxiously pushed their way against the wind to get to a desired destination. I saw the first redwings on 7 March. A friend and I have a contest to see if we can best predict the date of first arrival for redwings. This year he predicted the 6th and I chose the 7th. It happened that I hit the date right on. I am not usually that accurate.

Scientists gather evidence and make a hypothesis based on available data. It appeared snow would linger in depth into March and the National Weather Service was predicting that March would be cold. Based on that limited information I thought the redwings would arrive later than usual this year and was lucky that I selected the exact date. I have seen them as early as 28 February here in Cedar Springs but usually expect them the first week of March.

When I saw that Indiana was getting hit with 8 inches of snow just prior to my selected date and saw that northeast winds were expected to continue for days, I thought my prediction was probably too early. Instead three redwings forged their way here anyway. Thank you redwings!

Other first sightings providing evidence of spring were exposed skunk cabbage flower spathes along the creek edge where snow melted by 3 March. I was sure many were up already up in February but I could not see them beneath the 15 inches of snow. I need my hand lens to see if the small flowers on the spadix enclosed by the hood-like spathe are already mature and receptive for pollen.

Snowfleas were active on the snow but that may occur in January on a sunny day. Their abundance increases as spring nears and are usually most abundant near the base of the tree trunks where snow has melted. Snowfleas are not fleas and only resemble them in size. They are important and desirable soil insects that are present in the billions and trillions.

The first pussy willow shrub exposed its fuzzy gray buds 7 March along my hiking trail on the south side of a shrub clump where the sun could warm plant tissues. There were three beetle larvae crawling on top of the deep snow. I could not identify the half-inch long larvae beyond that of being a beetle. In the higher late winter sun, red-osier dogwood shrubs have already brightened their red bark with anthocyanin.

My first robin sighting was here in Courtland Township on 9 March. Two were together at road’s edge. I heard the first one singing on 11 March. Get out to see, hear, feel, smell, and touch spring nature niches. They will touch and energize your body in return.

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

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche


Phoebes prefer open wetland areas to nest in.

By Steve Mueller

Shift in bird nest sites

Questions from Joan.
Where did chimney swifts nest before there were chimneys?
Chimney swifts continue to be resident throughout Michigan. Even in areas with fewer human residents, Chimney Swifts continue to be present. This likely indicates they still use natural cavities. Most swifts are in southern Michigan where chimneys abound. Lesser numbers are presents in the Northern Lower Peninsula with an increase again in the Upper Peninsula. I suspect the large number of hollow trees left standing in the UP benefit swifts and I encourage people to leave dead trees stand. Too much tidiness is unnatural and not in the interest of increasing biodiversity for a healthy ecosystem.
Where did barn owls nest before there were barns?
Michigan’s Barn Owl population is peripheral to the species primary range. Prior to human settlement nesting occurred in tree cavities, rock crevices, or on ledges mostly outside of Michigan. Native prairie habitat extended into southwestern Michigan and was used by Barn Owls. Suitable barn nesting sites were created after the clearing of Michigan’s forest and this aided range expansion for the birds. Hayfields provided food for voles and subsequently voles for owls. Now Barn Owls are currently accidental residents due to Michigan returning to a forested state, loss of abundant grassland vole habitat, and predation by Great Horned Owls. Small size grasslands make Barn Owls vulnerable to neighboring Great Horned Owls that live in surrounding forests. Do not confuse Barn Owls with Barred Owls.
Where did phoebes nest before there were overhangs and bridges?
Phoebes prefer somewhat open riparian and wetland areas compared to heavily forested areas. They have continued to be abundant throughout the state from pre-European settlement to present. There has been a shift in nesting occurrence from ledges, crevices, and fallen trees to the preferred human constructed sites. Our carport has been a choice site for the 32 years we have lived at Ody Brook. Near the carport I have attached a ledge platform to a tree for phoebes and robins but it has not been used. That nest structure is similar to a birdhouse with no front wall.
Where did martins nest before there were martin houses?
Early records indicated that Purple Martins used tree cavities near wetlands and lakes and were more abundant closer to the Great Lakes than inland. Reports indicate they used cavities in buildings but this use decreased as cities became larger and competition with starlings grew. Michigan approaches the climate tolerance and numbers decrease markedly as one gets north of our area. The blizzard of April 1982 trapped Michigan Audubon conference attendees in Grand Rapids and local birders provided lodging until roads were open. That storm devastated the martin populations through starvation. The population has not yet recovered in thirty years to the pre-1982 size. The cold spring this year likely caused martin starvation by delaying insect population emergence. Of course, healthy streams are essential for insect abundance and healthy nature niches. Thanks to volunteers that recently cleaned Cedar Creek.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net  or Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.

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