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Tag Archive | "Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary"

Who would do that?


Ranger Steve

A woman drove up the drive and started to back out. I opened the door and motioned for her to return. She said she was looking for Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary but this is a private residence. I said yes on both accounts. 

“I am Ranger Steve, the sanctuary manager and ecologist that lives here. This is our private property where we allow visitors to experience nature.”

She said, “Who would do that with their private property?”

People post property with no trespassing or keep out signs. It means this is mine and others are not welcome. People have sound reasons because people might hunt without permission, dig up plants, or otherwise despoil the land instead of respecting the rights of plants, animals, and the human residents. 

As a young person, I decided to do good for others and share. People farm their property raising livestock and crops for a living. To support them we buy produce at the farmers market and the grocery instead of raising them here. Farmers make money from animal and plant crops to sustain families. It is my hope that each landowner will set aside at least ten percent of their property to sustain a natural healthy sustainable world. 

I do not think that is adequate so at Ody Brook we leave 80 to 90 percent of the land wild where we manage habitat diversity to support as many species as possible. Many people own property where they allow it to thrive naturally. Periodically they might harvest timber selectively to help pay property taxes. 

My naturalist career did not provide a large income but we were able to purchase 61 acres over the course of living here for 41 years by buying property from neighbors. My neighbor wanted me to protect and enhance nature by acquiring her floodplain that was not suitable for farming. She wanted to keep it until her death. In the last year of life, she needed money to live in a care facility and sold me land. Her tillable land and home were sold to others. She was pleased knowing I would be a good steward caring for the land. 

We lease seven acres for tilling, but the income does not cover the taxes. My pension and social security allows us to live simply to enhance biodiversity. College interns help manage the sanctuary to develop skills for employment advantage. High school students assist with habitat management labor to meet our mission of “biodiversity enhancement.” 

Non-curable multiple myeloma cancer was expected to take me years ago. I continue to survive to write this column, maintain the sanctuary, and share it with people, plants, and animals to promote a sustainable environment for present and future generations. Retirement investments were used to purchase the property. Pension and social security make it possible to live simply. Mostly staying home allows me a good life with my health limitations and I explore the sanctuary daily. I tire quickly and have benches along trails for resting.

We have not charged people to explore natural wonders. Donations and help are appreciated. Interpretive signs line trails. Fallen trees are removed from paths as are exotic plants that cause harm to native ecosystem species. 

Most people do not donate and it is not required for access. Some volunteer time with projects. As my health and abilities decline, it becomes more challenging to do the physical work. I have a 10-pound lifting limit because of brittle cancer bones and have experienced ten fractures. The cancer and chemo tire me and I need frequent naps. Being tired, weak, and brittle is no different from what other seniors experience. We all keep plugging along and doing our best to stay productive for the benefit of community members and family.

For me, being productive is helping enhance living conditions for plants and animals that share the property and being willing to allow people to come learn about nature’s biodiversity that sustains human life. That answers the question “who would open their private property to others?” I hope you will do that with your property and set aside at least 10 percent for native wild species survival. Donate to land conservancies, nature centers, and conservation organizations. It will help economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Be kind and giving. 

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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Enjoyable butterfly counts


By Ranger Steve Mueller

Four West Michigan Butterfly Association (WMBA) count summaries are posted in Table 1. Community members participated with WMBA members. Counts are part of a North American Butterfly Association (NABA) continent wide program. Michigan has 17 plus or minus counts annually. For various reasons not all counts occur each year. As Michigan’s editor, I examine count results and the data are published by NABA annually. Not all data have been received for 2020. We will see how Covid-19 affects this year’s adventures. Hopefully outdoor counts continued with adequate social distancing and masks. 

Personally my immune system is compromised with uncurable terminal multiple myeloma cancer. I thank people for wearing masks to protect others, themselves and me. Mostly, I continue to stay at home except for weekly chemo and rare outings.

Each butterfly count is organized differently. We travel in one group to help each other with searching and identification. Some groups split and survey small sections of their count area individually to provide greater site coverage. Locally we like the single group. It helps new people learn species and habitat associations. 

Table 1 shows that both species and individual numbers vary among count circles. Reasons for variance include dates for counts and habitat suitability. As the season progresses, different species end flight periods and new ones begin. Highly important is habitat size and plant composition. We try to visit a good representation of habitats in each count circle. Count circles have a 7.5-mile radius from a selected center point that remains constant from year to year. Rogue River and Muskegon counts have been surveyed for more than 30 years. 

Fifty-six species were observed on our combined four counts. That is about 1/3 of all Michigan species. At the bottom of Table 1, notice the species and numbers for each count. Included are the immature butterfly life cycle stages found as egg, larva, or chrysalis. 

To learn butterflies and associate them with habitat, consider joining the WMBA and participating in the 2021 local counts. Club members are friendly and helpful. If interested in other Michigan or national counts contact me for information. You can contact me now and I will reach out to you next summer. Contact me if you are interested in acquiring the book Michigan Butterflies and Skippers by Mo Nielsen. I have some of the last remaining copies.

Google the “West Michigan Butterfly Association” web site or contact me for club or butterfly information. 

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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Sunset’s mood


Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Lead gray coals high in the sky were surrounded by blue air near flaming white clouds. A sunset mood was created during the day’s last hour. Sitting by a campfire, we witnessed the sky’s final glows. White clouds flickered like flaming flashes from the campfire before us. Unlike fire’s heat, cold ice vapor slowly moved to reshape sky blazes. From below the horizon, the sun gave elemental life to create color and textures above. 

Rippled cloud surfaces replicated windblown sand dune ridges with a gentle windward slope that dropped steeply on its lee. The “cloud-sand” changed as light rays lengthened in the dimming evening. Burning above the steel gray cloud coals, changing light of dusk deepened the shades of light. As night blanketed the Earth, drifting clouds replicated campfire flashes as they changed from white to blue, yellow, orange, and red. 

From the warm campfire vantage point a few feet away, we witnessed a larger aroura pulsating physical life into sky’s water vapor high above. An ethereal experience settled the day with an evening calmness that created peaceful darkness enveloping heart and soul. Wilderness solitude allows time among elements that slips by us unnoticed during the bustle of daily life.

Clouds and sky deliver life’s contentment for our spirit. Rejuvenation and anticipation for the next day’s adventure on hiking trails, paddling waves, and intervening portages build. Morning light brings fresh green visions through translucent leaves trembling in day’s growing breeze after night quietly serenades us to sleep.

The songs of spring peepers and chorus frogs calling through the night lulled us into a dream world and is replaced in the warmth of a new day when gray tree frogs and American toads bellowed unique trills. The gray tree frog’s is loud, short and abrupt. The toad has an extended trill extending on and on. It is fun to imitate and continue the trill as long as the toads, but our lungs do not have the capacity for such long trills. The toad draws air in nostrils, seals them and passes air back and forth across the larynx allowing production of long trills.

The wail in night darkness across calm water by a common loon chills fearful nerves or creates a peace not found away from wild lakes. Each person experiences the tremolo differently. A morning mist hanging above the lake like rising steam outlines a loon’s silhouette before it dives to pursue fish. It is a mystery where it will surface and how long it will stay submerged. Loons can hold their breath longer than us and plunge deeper. Sometimes fish are swallowed underwater but occasionally they are brought to the surface. I wonder if the size of the fish determines the swallowing location. 

In wilderness, pressing questions like these have primary importance instead of minutiae that arise continuously in the workplace and home. 

Near shore white-throated sparrows call “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” at day’s awaking. If we cross to Canada’s forest, the song will be interpreted as Oh Sweet, Canada, Canada, Canada.” In areas south of Canada, the eastern towhee chimes in from shrubbery with “drink your tea” before it drops to ground scratching among dead leaves for breakfast. Where the towhee reaches its northern limit, the hermit thrush establishes its southern breeding range and fills the air with hidden notes of a forest flutist.

For many, a mallard’s quack, Canada goose’s honk, or blue jay’s short-lived early morning “hick hick up” call will be heard near camp. If we are lucky, the rattle from a belted kingfisher’s perch will break morning silence. They patrol favored streams or lakes to find a fish fitting in size for their nature niche. 

Ephemeral spring flowers attract pollinators and astound us with memorable beauty during outdoor adventures. Sunset’s mood, frog calls, bird songs, and flowers merge to create enduring moments. We enter wilderness burden filled and go home serene and refreshed. Spiritual renewal is essential, craved, and can be found in wilderness when excursions attune with surroundings. 

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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Guardabosque Esteban


 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Fall is a good time to plant trees. Here, I am known as Ranger Steve. When I took middle school students to Costa Rica from Kent County, we worked with students from their communities to plant trees in damaged rainforests. There I was called Guardabosque Esteban. As “forest guard Steven,” the effort was to help young people learn how to protect the environment that supported community health, water, and the economy. 

Our students were paired with Costa Rican students and they planted nursery-grown trees. It was a wonderful experience for all, including the trees that could establish a good root system in a suitable nature niche.

Those middle school students are now 25 years older and I hope they show their kids the trees they planted. It was a fun and thrilling experience where the young people recognized how they could do something in their community to help maintain a healthy sustainable environment. 

Here at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary our girls planted trees yearly. We planted seedling Christmas trees to harvest for our personal use. In order to harvest a tree at Christmas, it was required we plant trees so they would learn how to maintain a sustainable supply. 

Pine trees need care as they grow. Sawflies, a type of wasp, would eat limbs bare of needles. The girls were responsible for protecting the trees from the foraging damage and manually removed the insects rather than use poisons. The caterpillar like larvae were placed on ant mounds as a special treat for the ants. 

We wanted fir and spruce trees to provide winter cover for birds and to block visual and sound impacts from the road. They were planted in several locations. The trees were only knee high. Within a few years they were taller than the girls and heavily used by birds and rabbits for shelter. Now the trees are 30 plus feet tall. 

It started with the family act of planting. Fall has cooler weather that is good for plants and tree planters. We prefer to work in cool weather. It is even great to plant during a light rain. It protects the roots from drying. Fall soil is still warm and allows the tree to grow and establish before the ground freezes. 

Fall showers aid root survival. Trees were planted in locations that are not accessible to the garden hose and carrying water long distances is difficult. We hoped adequate rain would come as needed but that is always a gamble. During dry periods carrying water helps survival. Properly planting is important. 

Fertilizer is not recommended with fall planting. It encourages new root growth that will be killed by winter weather. Allow the tree to establish on its own in the warm fall soil with available moisture. When planted properly it should survive the winter and grow vigorously in the spring. I have noticed slow growth during the first few years as the roots establish out of sight and rapid stem growth follows.

It is best to plant trees and shrubs a few weeks before freezing weather cools the ground. Keep newly planted trees well-watered when possible so they go into winter dormancy well hydrated. 

Dig a hole twice as wide as the tree root mass and properly deep so the base of the stem meets the ground surface. Do not bury the stem or have the root trunk exposed above ground. Use the same soil removed from the hole when planting. Using other soil is not recommended because new root growth will stay in the richer amended soil. Let the tree seek nutrients from the surrounding area and reach outward. 

Hold the tree upright as it is planted and pack the soil so air pockets are eliminated. Watering helps eliminate air pockets that can cause roots to dry and die. Mulching around the tree prevents plant growth that will compete to make living difficult. Keep mulch away from the stem. Watch the tree grow. It will add zest and beauty to the yard for you and wildlife. Select native trees species because they have adaptations to the local environment.

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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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.

Posted in OutdoorsComments Off on Rogue River Butterfly Count 

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