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Tag Archive | "Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary"

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.



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Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary expansion


By Ranger Steve Mueller



Walk Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary with the Michigan Botanical Club on September 13 at 2 p.m. or with the River City Wild Ones on Sept 20 at 1:30. The local conservation clubs will explore the sanctuary in search for plants, animals, and their ecological requirements while enjoying the company of nature enthusiasts.

This will be a great introduction to a couple different nature clubs and great people where many will share their knowledge and excitement for things natural and wild.

Ody Brook is managed to enhance nature’s biodiversity to support a healthy and sustainable human community. The sanctuary is located in the headwaters for Little Cedar Creek south of Cedar Springs on Northland Drive across the road from V&V Nursery. Come explore nature and meet nature enthusiasts from local conservation groups.

Meet and park at V&V Nursery. Spend some time at the nursery considering fall selection specials on plants prior to winter dormancy. V&V Nursery helps area residents beautify yards and lives. We will start the field trips from the nursery parking area. We appreciate V&V’s willingness to allow parking. Parking space is not available at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary.

Over 116 bird species, 24 mammals, 11 herps and 52 butterfly species have been documented along with 250 species of plants. Dragonflies dart with beauty as they feed on aerial insects. They lay eggs in Little Cedar Creek where naiads spend months to years growing to the adult stage. Trout feed and utilize the headwaters in spring.

We will encounter other beautiful insects that are active in the fall. Snowy Tree Crickets, katydids, beetles, colorful flies, and various true bugs are expected. This is an opportunity to view a variety of life and to receive help with identification.

Fall flowers provide nutrition for wildlife while plants focus on seed production for their own species survival. Come learn to recognize plant families and species common to our neighborhoods. Both field trips will be fun enriching afternoons for families. Come for a short stay or for an hour and a half.

Trails lead around a pond, through the floodplain, over bridges crossing the creek and through upland field and forest. Wear long sleeved shirts and pants to protect legs. Good footwear is recommended. If it rains prior to field trip days, the floodplain may be wet and somewhat muddy.

The sanctuary recently expanded to 54 acres and protects the creek headwaters leading to Cedar Creek, Rogue River, Grand River, and Lake Michigan. This is a great open house opportunity to explore Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary’s expansion. The privately owned and managed sanctuary accepts donation support and welcomes scheduled visits.

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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Public Invited to Nature Programs

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller


Grand Rapids Audubon and Michigan Botanical Clubs invite the public to enjoy two different free nature programs on February 22 and 24, 2014 presented by Ranger Steve.

Botanizing the Natural World sponsored by the Michigan Botanical Club will be at GVSU Allendale Campus in Niemeyer Hall, Room 148 on Saturday Feb. 22 at 2 p.m.

Program Description: Enjoy the world of plants that surround us throughout the year. Plants are friends that share beauty, mystery, and intrigue, while providing basic needs in ecosystems. Their adaptations help them survive where they stand for a lifetime. Enjoy a fascination with plants as we discover special features that serve their needs and those of other organisms in ecosystems. The program will provide a glimpse of wildflowers, trees, and associated animals we will be able to experience at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary on a Saturday, September 13, 2014 on a field trip at 2 p.m. Bring family and friends for enjoyable pictures and dialog with Ranger Steve this Saturday.

Dorothy Sibley, president of MBC says, “Ranger Steve is a great presenter you won’t want to miss. See you there!” Refreshments will be served following the presentation.

Directions to Niemeyer Hall: Room 148 (Case Room) is on the 1st floor in Niemeyer Hall. If you come to campus on M-45 (Lake Michigan Drive) turn onto campus and follow the road called Campus Drive until you come to a four-way stop. This is Calder Drive. Turn left on Calder Drive and then turn left into parking lot M, where you may park. (Open parking on Saturdays).

The Grand Rapids Audubon Club program is Monday evening Feb. 24th at 7:30 p.m. with 7 p.m. refreshments at Orchard View Church on Leffingwell at 3 Mile Rd. Go 1 mile west from the East Beltline on 3 mile Rd. and left on Leffingwell. The church parking is on the right at the corner.

Program Title and Description:

Birds and Life at Ody Brook Sanctuary:

Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary in Cedar Springs is managed to enhance biodiversity. Discover the variety of life that could thrive in your yard when extensive lawns are limited in size and replaced with native plants that support bird and other animal populations. The sanctuary is located in the headwaters for Little Cedar Creek with both upland and wetland habitats. Over 100 bird, 24 mammal, 11 herps, 51 butterfly species have been documented along with nearly 250 species of plants and many other species.

Five acres were added to the sanctuary in 2011 to further protect the floodplain. Nature trails meander the property with bridges over the creek. Ponds, stream, field and forest comprise the splendor. Brook trout enter the sanctuary in spring. Green Herons, Wood Ducks, American Woodcocks, three species of owls, Pileated Woodpeckers, Eastern Bluebirds, Gray Catbirds, Blue-winged Warblers, Eastern Towhees, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks attest to habitat variety. Many Orders of insects thrive and create conditions suitable for bird abundance. Natural history of birds, flowers, trees, and insects will highlight the abundance of life that comprises local biodiversity.

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


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