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Tag Archive | "nature"

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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