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Tag Archive | "Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary"

Only You Can


Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Many of us recall the US Forest Service billboards stating, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” That changed a couple decades ago when the forest service began promoting “Only you can prevent wildfires.” In the 1930’s, scientific study demonstrated the importance of periodic forest fires to promote healthier forest ecosystem niches, prevent the spread of devastating pestilence, thin forest, provide essential nutrients for tree growth, increase the tree growth rate, and enhance wildlife reproductive success, among other benefits. 

Most Midwest forest fires are understory fires that burn near the ground rather than through the canopy. Canopy fires burn haphazardly and skip through the forest leaving a checkerboard appearance with unburned sections. 

The 1988 Yellowstone crown fire that swept the park and national forest improved the forest health and its wildlife populations. Immediately, it left black desolated areas that were unpalatable for many that were taught forest fires are “bad.” They claimed the fire ruined the park. I hiked Yellowstone in 1996 where lodge pole pines dominate. The pine is a fire dependent species that reseeds itself with the aid of fire. Like local jack pines, lodge pole pines depend on fires to open areas to full sunlight and to release seeds.

In 1996, eight years after the fire, crowded young trees were three to six feet tall. They continue to struggle for light, space, and nutrients as they grow and self-thin the forest. I do not understand why the park service spent time and money replanting trees when the tree’s adaptation is fire adapted to reseed itself. 

A couple reasons might be that efforts to prevent fires for decades caused ground duff to become thick and it burned hot destroying released seeds or bowing to political pressure to plant trees demonstrated humans were doing something. Some areas might not have had an adequate seed source to establish a forest rapidly. 

When I fought fires at Bryce Canyon National Park in the 1970’s, the policy was to quickly extinguish them. Fires I fought were caused by lightning. We hiked to them carrying heavy loads of firefighting equipment on our backs. Fire breaks were built to contain fire spread and they were allowed to burn out. We camped by them as needed to prevent spreading. During later decades park policy changed to have “controlled burns” to provide healthier conditions for trees, wildlife, and people. It also helps prevent large uncontrollable fires. 

We have seen news broadcasts that share the devastation of uncontrollable fires that sweep large areas. Frequent controlled burns during carefully selected times and weather conditions allow “safe” burning that does not burn homes, create conditions for deadly and destructive mudslides or cause massive wildlife destruction. It is important to call to get a burn permit from your township fire warden who will verify conditions are safe for you to burn brush. At Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, we cut and haul to a burn area or create wildlife brush piles. 

During the Yellowstone fires, large animals like elk were frequently seen grazing in areas where fires jumped through the forest. Ungulates laid and chewed their cud. There were elk, bears, and many animals that did not escape flames and died. New regrowth, allowed remaining animals to have more successful reproduction with improved conditions of greater and more accessible food availability for grazing. Predators found more prey. 

Human attitudes have been slowly changing during the past 90 years since we began to understand the valuable role of fire in ecosystems. Our knowledge remains inadequate. When to burn, how frequently, and how large an area to burn is different for survival of various species. What works well for plants might be too frequent for insect herbivores that support bird and mammal populations.

This same conundrum causes many people to reject what is known regarding the effects of climate change for our lives and health. Hopefully it will not require 90 years for us to embrace corrective actions. Studies indicate human carbon release increases climate change that increases fire frequency and intensity. Variables prevent complete understanding. “Only you can” support policies that shift us from fossil fuels to renewable energy. 

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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Enjoying the beauty


A Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) perched in the branches of a Weeping Holly tree.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Imagine a bird slightly smaller than a cardinal with a brown crest that it can raise or lay flat on its head at will. It has a black “lone ranger” mask outlined with white “eye-liner” surrounding the black. From head towards the tail, its russet brown head subtly grades to an olive brown on its back to gray wings and rump. On the gray wings are tiny splashes of red on the secondary feathers next to the large primary wing feathers. It appears these smaller wing tip feathers have been dipped in red wax. 

The light golden brown on the head, back, and chest, transitions to become lighter and changes to yellow on the belly and sides. The yellow belly gives way to white under the tail. The tail above is gray with a rather abrupt change to a black crosswise band near the tail’s end. The terminal end has a bright yellow band. 

When the bird stands on branches, it is more erect than many birds. One often expects birds to stand horizontal with head out front and tail protruding backwards like a robin. A cedar waxwing posture angles from head to tail at an angle steeper than 45 degrees. Its black mask provides a penetrating look even though it eyes are quite hidden in the mask. 

Waxwings became a favorite beauty for me in the 1970s because their brilliant colors blend in a manner that creates a gentle over-all appearance that must be studied for details. The beauty of goldfinches, cardinals, and blue jays grab our attention with flamboyance. Cedar waxwing colors are vivid but hidden in plain view among subtle transitions.

Even their calls are someone secretive. They have a high-pitched simple call that I can no longer hear. The calls are not meant for me anyway. The waxwings travel in small to large flocks where they cluster in trees and maintain vocal contact. This morning I saw a half dozen together with four eastern bluebirds. Last week I saw 100 together. 

During the winter, they seek shrubs and trees with berries. As I waded a stream one early summer during a mayfly hatch, waxwings fluttered from tree branches to snatch mayflies in the air like one expects from a flycatcher. 

For today, no bird equals the beauty of these avian wonders. Tomorrow, next week, or month, a different species might claim the title as “my favorite.” Our choice of favorite depends somewhat on where we live and observe. When I was a ranger at Bryce Canyon National Park for nearly a decade, the Green-tailed Towhee provided hidden brilliance of blended colors similar to what we experience with waxwings here.

Use a bird field guide to study the patterns, shapes, distribution, and habitats of moving beauties that come and go in yards. I am an old guy and still prefer to hold a book in hand. An Internet search provides hundreds of outstanding photographs for each species. You could while away the day with beauty on the computer screen but for me it does not match the joy of seeing these neighbors in real life. 

Your outdoor yard is the place to be or at least view from a home window. To attract cedar waxwings, provide for their needs by planting viburnums and other native berry producing shrubs and trees. Waxwings are not attracted to bird feeders. They seek yards with choice berry shrubs and insects. 

It is nice to see a dozen species that visit bird feeders daily. A yard and neighborhood planted to meet bird nature niche needs provides opportunity to enjoy the beauty of 50 to more than 100 species. Enrich your life by inviting birds of beauty by landscaping for wildlife. 

Hope to see you this Saturday, March 24, at the Howard Christensen Nature Center for the Modes of Animal Behavior program at 9 a.m. 

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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Outdoor groups for you


Howard Christensen Nature Center on Red Pine Drive offers outdoor opportunities for both adults and children.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The New Year is bright with opportunities for being outdoors with nature organizations. Enjoy being in the natural world with others of common interests. 

There are organizations that address activity interests most important to you. Each takes a different approach and all offer enjoyable opportunities. Support some or all the organizations listed that serve your interests. It is not a complete list but hopefully adds new opportunities for you. Spend time enjoying the outdoors with groups to create connections with nature that will hopefully lead to its protection.

Select local conservation organizations that work to support fun outside in healthy and nature niche ecosystems. Some organizations providing outdoor enjoyment are:

Michigan Botanical Club White Pine Chapter (wild flower field trips and programs); Grand Rapids Audubon (birding field trips); a variety of hunting clubs with most being affiliated with National Wildlife Federation and Michigan United Conservation Clubs; River City Wild Ones (native plant group); Izaak Walton League (fishing and conservation); West Michigan Butterfly Association; Kent, Ottawa and other County Parks; township, city and village parks (Ada, Hudsonville, Grand Rapids, Wyoming and others); Sierra Club (outdoor adventure and conservation); local nature centers (Howard Christensen, Blandford, Calvin College’s Bunker Interpretive Center); Nature Preserves (Land Conservancy of West Michigan, Michigan Nature Association, Grand Rapids Audubon Maher Sanctuary, Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary); county Conservation Districts; MSU Extension agencies; and the Stewardship Network. 

Be thankful for efforts of The Stewardship Network that helps support multiple organizations by:

  • Empowering people to care for land and water by providing field based opportunities using best scientific based practices
  • Protecting biodiversity through activities, education and land management
  • Working to control invasive species that degrade ecosystem functions, our economy, health, and nature niches
  • Safeguarding water to keep nutrients on the land and out of creeks, rivers, lakes and groundwater
  • Caring for habitats that support threatened and endangered species
  • Defending local communities by promoting local ecosystem solutions to prevent flooding
  • Working to prevent human enhanced climate change
  • Supporting organizations with missions to protect land and water ecosystems to sustain our economy, social community structure, and environment.

Do an Internet search or better yet attend any or all of the organizations listed to learn more about them. Most state and national conservation organizations are not listed. This article focuses on local organizations where you can personally get together with others in the outdoors or attend entertaining educational programs.

Spend time outdoors with at least one of the listed organizations to enjoy local natural wonders. Learn from others how the natural world serves your physical and mental wellbeing.  

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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Sparklers in the air


Firefly (species unknown) captured in eastern Canada. The top picture is taken with a flash, the bottom with only the self-emitted light. Photo by Emmanuelm at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10418847

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

A week ago was the first night I noticed sparklers in the air this year. Anticipate them with excitement and joy. There are unanswered questions about the lives of those that surround us.

I grew up with yellow/orange sparklers flying in eastern Michigan. Here I encounter green sparklers. Perhaps you know what I am writing about. Did you grow up with yellow or green fireflies? “Sparklers” or fireflies are names of convenience. It is more important that our kids, grandkids and future generations experience them. Their populations are in decline worldwide.

I usually do not go outside after dark to sit on the Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary bench in the Big Field. It was a pleasantly warm night with no mosquitoes. Late May and June is usually when I dress appropriately to sit out after dark or find ways to be in areas with few mosquitoes.

As a boy scout summer camp counselor where scouts played Capture the Flag, I was stationed to keep scouts from wandering too far. At ground level, mosquitos swarmed me. I climbed a tree and sat for the hour 20 feet up, where only an occasional mosquito arrived. They remain close to the ground feeding on mice and deer.

Fireflies are like nearly all insects. They are not a pest to humans, plants or animals we use. They even help us. It is unfortunate people kill beneficial insects to eliminate a few we find harmful.

Use strategies to minimize biting insects without killing the great majority of other insects. Last week an article was in the paper promoting a company that will kill insects in your yard with chemicals. That reduces healthy living conditions for mammals, birds, predatory insects, pollinators and humans. Have you wondered why signs are posted “stay off the lawn” after treatment? The chemicals are harmful to people and most life.

Fireflies, bumble bees, soldier beetles, ants, honey bees, butterflies, crane flies, carrion beetles, and other insect species that keep nature niches healthy are killed. It is better to avoid chemicals used to create lawns that are picture-perfect carpets devoid of weeds and insects. There are strategies to comfortably live with insects.

Enjoy exploring your surroundings to discover the lives of close neighbors in your yard. Fireflies are not flies. When we see the word fly connected with a prefix such as Butterfly, fishfly, and dragonfly, realize those are not flies. Things like bee fly, robber fly, and housefly are flies.

Flies comprise one classification Order. Entomologists use classification when working to keep food production, forest protection, and human safety secure. Integrated Pest Management is primary for reducing chemical use. Question companies promoting chemical use. Many use strategies to reduce chemical use. Avoid fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides and have a more natural yard that supports life instead of reducing it.

Fireflies, also called lightning bugs, are beetles. Realize they are not flies or bugs. Bugs are an Order including stinkbug, milkweed bug, and giant water bug. Lightning bugs flash through the air entertaining us. More importantly, they flash to attract mates for reproduction. Help them by maintaining a healthy environment where they will find chemical free food, water, and shelter in suitable living space. Larvae are carnivorous feeding on smaller insects, snails and slugs. Allow them to eat insects and snails in your garden for free instead of killing them with pesticides. Adults feed sparingly and are short-lived. They mate, lay eggs and die.

Fireflies are declining worldwide so use strategies to help them survive. Avoid use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Keep lawn mowing infrequent and to minimum size to enjoy the wildflowers that show up in the lawn. Add native trees and shrubs and avoid planting exotic species that few insects can use. Leave some dead leaves and thatch on the ground to hold moisture. A moist habitat is essential for “sparkler’s” survival. Turn off outdoor lights interfering with firefly behavior. You will save energy and money while helping save fireflies.

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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Spring progression


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Expect the same sequence of change but not the same timing annually. I attempt to record dates when plants and trees first flower to compare changes from year to year. Butterfly appearance is a special treat for me and an excel file is maintained to record the species sightings daily. Daily bird sightings are recorded. A narrative is written in my journal of nature niche occurrences like the location and abundance of Earth Star Fungi and Ebony Spleenwort Ferns.

It is an impossible task and for many species an X on the excel file suffices to document a species has been sighted this year. Busy life activities keep us all from noticing the first day when each species makes its grand appearance. Accurate phenology progression can be important to document things like Climate Change. For most of us, it is more important to experience the wonder and joy of life as it unfolds each day of spring.

I try to walk among the abundance of life daily witnessing what neighbors are doing. I am a nosy sort of guy. Ephemeral neighbors like hepatica, springs beauty, trout lily, bloodroot, marsh marigold, and skunk cabbage race to flower before tree leaves expand and shade the ground. Flowering is an energy expensive activity and for many it needs to be completed before intense tree canopy shade reduces access to adequate sun energy.

Some plants like marsh marigold spend the summer slowly storing energy so when spring arrives they have adequate energy to produce flowers and seeds. Others like the trout lily gather sunlight during the short period before tree shade reduces light. Their flowers and leaves decay by June ready for new growth next spring. Evidence of their existence is only visible for about six weeks annually.

Butterflies have certain flight periods that result in a sequence of appearances and disappearances for various species throughout the warmer seasons. Most have their activity linked with specific plants their caterpillars feed on so their flight is timed with the plant’s life cycle for egg laying.

Join for a couple hours of ephemeral exploration at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary with the Michigan Botanical Club on 6 May from 2 to 4 p.m. Park at V&V Nursery on Northland Drive about a mile south of Cedar Springs. The sanctuary does not have adequate parking space so V&V Nursery has kindly allowed parking. Considering shopping for plants at the nursery before or after the wildflower walk.

This year many species of flowers are blooming one to three weeks earlier than last year. Plant activity is weather dependent. During years when cold and snow persist well into April flowering is delayed. Other years early warm weather encourages ground thawing and sap flow in February. Wildflowers progression advances flowering dates in warm springs. This year it was necessary for maple syrup tree tappers to begin in February to capture the first dense sugar surge rather than wait until March.

I am waiting with anticipation to discover when the trilliums, baneberry, saxifrage, wood betony, and many other ephemerals bloom. I expect they will be in flower during the 6 May field outing. Though the sanctuary’s purpose is to primarily enhance survival success for plant and animal species, we are pleased to share the beauty of nature’s bounty with our human neighbors and to encourage you to discover the opportunities provided by the Michigan Botanical Club.

Come mingle with plants and plant enthusiasts. I will meet you in the parking lot at V&V Nursery before 2 p.m. for our stroll through ephemeral days of spring.

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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Rogue River Butterfly Count 


By Ranger Steve Mueller

The European Skipper butterfly was in great abundance during this year’s Rogue River butterfly count.

The European Skipper butterfly was in great abundance during this year’s Rogue River butterfly count.

The weather was great with sunny skies and little wind. New participants enjoyed butterflies, learned identification and associations with nature niche habitats. We met at the Howard Christensen Nature Center for our 29th year at 9 a.m. The counting began at HCNC’s Welcome Center. The group car-pooled to various areas in the Rogue River State Game Area. We visited the highest elevation in Kent County at Fisk Knob where we anticipated “hill topping” Black Swallowtails.

Hill topping is a behavior where butterflies fly to the highest location in the area and increase their chance for finding a mate. Not all butterflies exhibit this behavior. During the day, butterfly behavior was observed and described to help make the count a wonderful experience. Larval host plants were inspected for caterpillars or eggs. Both Viceroy eggs and larva were found. Most time was spent looking for adults and counting individuals of each species. European Skippers were in greatest abundance.

The total number of species observed has varied over the 29 years from 18 to 43. Weather affects butterfly activity. Sunny days with little or no wind in the 70’s and 80’s is ideal. Adults often emerge from pupae following a soaking rain. Activity is closely linked with blooming of nectar sources. Consider joining in 2017. Watch the Nature Niche column for next year’s dates for the Allegan, Muskegon, and Rogue River State Game Area Counts as well as the Newaygo Count in the Manistee National Forest. Books and internet web sites help but most of us learn best by exploring the real world. Time outdoors is most enjoyable, healthy, provides family time and creates wonderful memories.

See Table 1 for this year’s Rogue River Count discoveries. Results for the other counts will be posted on the West Michigan Butterfly Association (WMBA) Web Site in August. Consider becoming a member of WMBA. Membership fee is $5/yr. A check can be sent to the treasurer’s address posted on the web site (http://www.graud.org/wmba.html). The date for the Muskegon count has been rescheduled to July 17 2016 from July 24. Visit the WMBA web site for location details.

Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary is the last place we visited after diligently searching all day. I am always hopeful we will be able to find at least one species we have not discovered elsewhere. This year we saw three additional species. They were Eastern Comma, Eyed Brown, and Harvester. We work to enhance the greatest biodiversity possible at Ody Brook and the work is successful.

During count week (3 days before and after the count) we also added Common Wood Nymph and Silver-spotted Skipper that were not sighted on count 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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365 days of new


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

New sightings, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch are waiting for you to experience. Do not miss the opportunity to explore nature niches everyday. Spend a few minutes outside reaping at least one newness each day. Do not make a resolution that you will not keep. Instead, find something new for this year and savor it as the special.

The White Pine tree is the only pine with five needles held together by a tan follicle at the base. Photo from www.bates.edu.

The White Pine tree is the only pine with five needles held together by a tan follicle at the base. Photo from www.bates.edu.

It might be most rewarding to discover something you have not noticed previously but relish things you have known and find new joy in experiencing them this year. You might know Black-capped Chickadees but enjoy them anew this year. Look closely at a tree branch in your yard to notice buds. Can you count the small bud scales that cover the bud during these cold winter months? Some trees like the Bitternut Hickory do not have protective scales over the embryonic leaf and stem tissues. Two small leaves tightly crumple as protective covers over the inner tissues. Willows have a single scale over next spring’s new growth. Oaks have several sturdy scales covering the nearly microscopic leaves and stems within.

Make it simple and enjoy things you want to explore. Continue to make new discoveries for 365 days. The year has already progressed a few days. There will be days without observations so catch up by making more discoveries on other days. Keep a list of new experiences daily. You can keep track what you have seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or felt. It is good to list date, location, time, and observation. Look over your list once in a while to refresh your memory and relive the experience. This can be the beginning of nature journaling.

Walk with a friend on the White Pine trail. Avoid being so engrossed in conversation that you miss the natural world. Stop along the trail and use your senses. Share a discovery with your friend. It might be as simple as pointing out the sound of an American Crow. You might take notice of how many pine needles are held together in a cluster. White Pines have 5 needles held together by a tan follicle at the base. Each needle is shaped like a cut piece of pie. Two sides are straight and meet at the inner point. The outer edge is curved like that of a pie. Run your fingers from the base to tip and notice they all fit together like a freshly cut pie. I contend this is a pine tree’s version of the compound leaf.

I have never heard of needle clusters being referred to as compound leaves but each cluster is one needle-like leaf divided into five parts. When spread apart they make it possible to capture more sunlight for photosynthesis. Red Pines, Jack Pines, and Scotch Pines have two needles in a cluster that fit together like two half moons. Spruce and firs have one needle attached directly to the branch.

Feel tree trunks to notice different bark textures. Do some feel smooth or rough, furrowed up and down or crosswise? Do trees have different bark colors?

When looking at birds in flight, are wings long and narrow, short and wide, light or dark? Are tails longer or shorter than wings?

Be cautious with tasting but bite into a cherry twig and describe the taste. Try tasting a Sassafras twig. Find a White Oak acorn and taste it. Do the same with a Red Oak acorn. It is good to have a bottle of water with you just in case you do not like a taste and want to rinse your mouth. You might discover why deer have preferences for what they eat. Smell each item to discover new pleasant or unpleasant smells.

Rather than isolate yourself from nature when outside with music coming through ear plugs or by being totally engrossed in conservation, put the ear plugs away for a few minutes or cease talking for a few hundred feet. Stop at a random location for a short time to experience the surroundings. Introduce a friend to a nature’s wonderful world. Turn New Year outdoor experiences into meaningful conversations full of newness.

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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Exciting Discoveries


By Ranger Steve Mueller

The next time a thundershower approaches, listen for the American Robin’s rain song. Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service, Donna Dewhurst.

The next time a thundershower approaches, listen for the American Robin’s rain song. Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service, Donna Dewhurst.

Anyone spending time outdoors has most likely made exciting observations worth sharing. Some might be new discoveries or are experiences new to others. One time a man told me he had an experience I would not believe. He said he was walking in a stream and killed a trout by stepping on it. I replied, I believed him because the same thing happened to me.

I was wading in Calf Creek in Utah, when a trout tried to swim past me as I was stepping down. It was caught between foot and rock. I tried to shift my weight quickly to the other foot but it was too late. The fish began to roll downstream. I held it for several minutes in the water hoping it would recover. Sadly, it did not survive.

A new discovery occurred in the 1970’s while I was observing birds. As a thundershower approached, I noticed an American Robin began singing an altered song. Four minutes later, the sky opened with rain. I listened to other robins shortly before thundershowers and repeatedly they gave me a four-minute rain warning.

When camping with a group of fellow college students in the Manti LaSal Mountains of Utah, the sky was overcast but appeared unchanging. Suddenly, I heard the robin rain song and told others we had four minutes to get into tents. They did not believe me. I entered my tent and they were caught in the rain four minutes later. The storm came and went. Later another rain song was heard under an unchanging sky and I gave warning. Others did not enter tents and got wet. A third time when I heard the rain song, fellow campers went to their tents and it began raining four minutes later.

When a gentle rain arrives, robins have not provided warning but when it was a thundershower they did. I presume a greater barometric pressure change occurs when a thundershower approaches and stimulates their rain song. An ornithology professor told me he never noticed the four-minute warning.

Another time I was sketching a rock formation at Capitol Reef National Park, when I heard a Black-headed Grosbeak provide a song I thought might be a rain song. I looked at my watch and immediately headed for my campsite a half mile away. Seven minutes later it began to rain. Since then, I have referred to the grosbeak as the seven-minute bird.

Each of us can make original discoveries when we pay close attention to occurrences in nature niches. I have not prepared research experiments to prove robins or grosbeaks sing a unique song before the rains begin. Someone else will need to do that but I have warned others based on my discovery.

I made an unexpected discovery at Bryce Canyon National Park when I watched a parasitoid Sphecid wasp with prey. The wasp was dragging a grasshopper to a burial hole it dug. It had stung and paralyzed the grasshopper. This behavior is known. The wasp lays an egg on the grasshopper and the larva hatches to eat the prey. The wasp larval grows, pupates, emerges as an adult, and is a natural control for grasshopper populations. I did not identify the species of grasshopper or wasp.

Then something more significant occurred. While the wasp was pulling the grasshopper into the hole, a fly appeared at the entrance and began shooting eggs into the hole. The fly eggs would hatch and either feed on the grasshopper or developing wasp. I did not have collecting equipment so the discovery details and fly species will need to be investigated by someone else.

By spending time in the yard observing, you will likely make new discoveries to share with family, friends, or scientists. An exciting, unknown, natural world awaits your discovery.

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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Fall Ephemerals


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Fall has a resurgence of some spring activity but has its own unique ephemerals. Anxiously we wait for the fall color pageant. By August, cherry trees were dropping red and yellow leaves and sugar maples began releasing some green leaves.

The Michigan Botanical Club visited Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, on September 19, and witnessed 1200-1500 Clouded Sulphur butterflies flying over and among Frost Asters, in the field. Of the 40 people present, most said they have never seen so many butterflies in one area. It was a great, moving experience lasted through most of September and continues into October. After killing frosts, asters are mowed annually, in late October, to prepare the area for the ephemeral spring mating display of American Woodcocks. Also present were some Orange Sulphurs that hold off making an appearance until late in the year. We work to manage the sanctuary for greatest habitat biodiversity.

Fall flowering species of showy yellow goldenrods were observed in sunlit openings. Ragweeds with small unnoticed green flowers bloom at the same time. It is ragweed’s ephemeral, small, lightweight pollen carried on the wind that causes “hay fever.” Unfortunately, many people blame goldenrods because their fall ephemeral flowering occurs at the same as ragweed. Goldenrod pollen is large, heavy and falls to the ground. Goldenrod depends on insects to carry its pollen to other flowers and is not a source of “hay fever.”

A small fall resurgence of spring flowering maiden pinks shows pink petals with white dots and fringed petal tips. As daylight hours shorten and night lengthens, spring and summer plant physiology is confused and causes a slight increase in plant hormone levels that stimulates some out-of-season flowering. It is normal for fall flowering plants to have their full plant hormones increase late to stimulate fall flowering. Spring flowering plant schedules are completed because of earlier hormone peaks but a hormone resurgence stimulated by night length similar to spring brings about some out-of-season blooming.

Even animals like spring peeper frogs have a late season hormone rise that stimulates some breeding behavior. One will hear scattered peeping throughout the woods but the frogs do not migrate to their essential fishless breeding vernal ponds to lay eggs like they do in April and May. Gray tree frogs call with their short loud trilling burst from the woods. Of course, deer begin their ephemeral rut.

Bird migration time varies among species and is partly driven by hormone level changes. Many shorebird species migrate south as early as July. Warblers move through from August to October. Interestingly, it is the first year young birds that come through ahead of parents.

Bur Oak is an ephemeral of centuries, with its coming and going in Michigan, where remnants still survive. It has become less common due to habitat change. It thrives and reproduces best in grasslands, with widely scattered trees known as savannas. It has adaptations to survive periodic fires. We have largely stopped wildfires and the tree is in decline as savannas disappear. With periodic fires, savanna habitat supports conditions where this species can increase.

Nature niches have yearly ephemerals and others that occur over centuries (probably not technically classified as ephemerals). Some species are “ephemeral” that come and go over centuries, depending on adaptations to events like essential fires. Our lives are too short to witness all the ephemeral wonders around us.

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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Changes in Animal Communities


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

 

Ernest Thompson Seton and his naturalist partner studied caribou, arctic hares, wolves, arctic foxes, Canada Geese, Lapland Longspurs, Ptarmigans, and many other animals when they explored the arctic tundra in 1907. He headed north from the Eastern Deciduous Forest Biome where we live to explore a vast and relatively unknown arctic biome.

He wondered if caribou and musk ox still survived with the onslaught of uncontrolled shooting. He hired local native people to guide him north through known country and then ventured farther into an unknown landscape with the use of sketchy maps created by early explorers.

When I lead groups through various habitats in the deciduous forest biome at Howard Christensen Nature Center or Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, I focus attention on the succession of animal communities in habitats. Lichens and mosses colonize bare ground and are followed by a variety of plants in succession from grasses, herbs, shrubs, and trees. Associated with each set of plants are specific animal communities of greatest interest to people. The animals can only survive when associated with appropriate plant communities. The plants sustain many animals that become prey for other animals.

Farm fields at Ody Brook and HCNC were abandoned and became good study sites. At the site that later became Ody Brook, the farmer drove his tractor and equipment through the creek in spring and found it problematic so two 5-acre fields were abandoned. This also stopped the stirring of sediments that would cover trout eggs. Farming was abandoned in one field during the 1970’s and the other in the late 1980’s. At HCNC, the farm field was abandoned in the early 1960’s.

Habitats became qualitative observation areas (general overviews) when HCNC was established in 1974 for students in the Kent Intermediate School District. Observational field trips were led to help students understand succession relationships in nature niches. Qualitative studies are a good introduction to science but provide limited evidence required for making supported conclusions.

When I became director at HCNC in 1986, we established a study plot where students could learn how to gather quantitative data (detail numerical observations) in the abandoned field. The study plots supported school curricula expectations in science, mathematics, social studies, language arts, and art classes. The field trips allowed students to gather detailed quantitative data with hands-on learning experiences that helped apply classroom “book learning” to real-life applications. Quantitative studies supported the students general qualitative impressions made on discovery hikes at the nature center.

As society becomes more urban and suburban, people have fewer opportunities to learn the importance of qualitative or quantitative farming and wildland ecology values or their importance and how they are essential for maintaining a sustainable society. Farmers need quantitative observations to know when to treat insect infestations because qualitative is not accurate enough. They also need to know how to properly space crops. Following my departure for HCNC, the Kent Conservation District that assumed management of HCNC removed the quantitative study plot in the field. Quantitative studies in wildland communities require long term detailed data collection, and require coordination and integration among a variety of subject areas. Teachers need classes to return yearly and have students gather data for current classes to analyze to make valid scientific conclusions using data from previous years. Science, math, art, social studies, and writing teachers need to coordinate together for student learning to be most effective. Students need guidance to apply connections among art, math, science, and social studies.

What does this have to do with Seton’s arctic expedition? He spent the summer recording general qualitative observations but he also gathered some scientific quantitative evidence. Both are useful. Qualitative observations provided a general appearance of occurrences but quantitative evidence provided detailed records with specific numbers, species, and plant growth that would be useful for documenting changes over time. That is what students were gathering between 1986 and 2005 at HCNC. Detailed long-term data collection is necessary to make valid conclusions. In the arctic Seton made initial qualitative observations that set the stage for quantitative studies to follow. He also gathered quantitative data by collecting animal and plant specimens. Representative animals were shot for the American Museum of Natural History. The opened the stomachs of animals to document food eaten as well as documented behaviors observed.

It was not until Dr. Curtis provided detailed quantitative data from Lake Michigan Dunes that concept of plant succession was supported with adequate quantitative scientific evidence for valid analysis and conclusions. His model is now used worldwide. Quantitative studies are essential. Quantitative studies are not perfect but further repeatable studies allow scientific debate and corrections. Quantitative science is self-correcting. Most of us did not receive that kind of education as students. I didn’t. Modern curricula better prepares students with the help of places like HCNC. Unfortunately field trips have become fewer even though they are vital for helping students apply content learned in classrooms. Cedar Springs used to visit HCNC regularly with all grades from K through fifth. Parental encouragement at schools may help reinstate them. Lily’s Frog Pad Inc. has now assumed management of HCNC and we will see where the future leads learning. HCNC has expanded opportunities beyond school groups to community programming.

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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