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Tag Archive | "Ody Brook"

Where do they go?


 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

January thaw arrives and many birds disappear from feeders. The recent warm spell with a record high temperature of 62 F recently sent a message to the birds. It caused the remaining 4 to 6 inches of snow to melt at Ody Brook. Last to disappear was ice on packed trails.

Some species like the House Finches, Dark-eyed Junco, and the American Tree Sparrow were nowhere to be found. American Goldfinches and Northern Cardinals were seen less frequently. Downy Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and White–breasted Nuthatches maintained regular visits. For some reason, Blue Jays and Mourning Doves have been mostly absent for weeks. I saw my first Blue Jay four weeks into the new year. Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Hairy Woodpeckers made irregular feeding stops at suet.

American Crows do not visit the feeders but are seen or heard daily. Pileated Woodpeckers stay deep in mature wooded habitats. Today, a pileated pecked a dead aspen tree causing it to lose a six-foot piece of trunk that fell to the ground. The branched tree top had previously fallen. The remaining erect trunk was riddled today with long vertical drillings. Hopefully the woodpecker found more food energy than it expended searching.

New weather brought seasonal chilling with light snow. Birds normally not seen in the sanctuary provided evidence of presence. Wild turkeys used the trails planned for easy human travel and left tracks in the fresh snow. They are not stupid. They enjoy the ease of unobstructed travel. They stop to scratch in thawed ground and rummage through the blanket of leaves laid last fall where they searched for acorns and other food morsels.

Like turkeys finding food scattered about, birds missing from feeders are out gathering food in locations unknown to me. With the exposure of plants uncovered by the thaw, animals are searching and finding adequate food in the neighborhood landscape. The neighborhood includes natural habitats in the sanctuary of field, upland forest, and floodplain forest with a small farm field included. Surrounding the area are larger farm fields, a cattle farm, and residential home lots.

The birds have choices for food exploration. Some are richer than others. I saw a Black-capped Chickadee working small branches on a tree. It was most likely seeking overwintering insects tucked into crevasses on twigs. The chickadees have searched many of the thousands of goldenrods for insect galls. Many of the galls have been pecked open and the single white grub of the Goldenrod Gall Fly eaten. 

The grub resides in the thickened round gall on goldenrod stems and emerges as an adult in spring when new goldenrod shoots are about 3 inches tall. The fly mates and lays an egg on the plant where the hatching larva burrows into the soft young plant tissue and causes irritation.  The plant grows a thick ball of tissue around the insect to protect itself. The growth known as gall is what the grub feeds on all summer.

Several species of small blue butterflies overwinter as eggs laid in flower and leaf buds of host food plants specific for their species. You might find Spring Azure eggs in terminal buds of dogwood shrubs, the Silvery Blue’s eggs in vetch and Eastern Tailed Blues in clovers. The bright yellow Clouded Sulphurs spend their winters as small young caterpillars or pupae nestled among legume host plants. Spicebush Swallowtail and Promethea Moth suspend chrysalis or cocoons on or near their Sassafras caterpillar host. Mourning Cloaks and Eastern Commas overwinter as adults in protected seclusion where they might squeeze behind loose bark. If any of these creatures are discovered by searching birds, they likely become a rich protein meal.

It makes sense for the birds to search for these energy rich meals scattered about habitats during milder weather when they are not burning as much energy as they do during near subzero weather. I do not know if they reason this and return to feeders when they need to eat more to maintain adequate energy to survive. What I do know is I help birds survive winter in their nature niches. Their return to feeders brightens and enriches my life.

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

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Seeing with Kids Eyes


Ranger Steve

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Walking through the big woods this week, I felt like a kid in a candy shop. It was exciting to experience wonder after wonder. It is a time when winter seems to linger and spring has not arrived but there is more occurring than the senses can grasp.

Song Sparrows are active at brush piles along the forest edge and in wetland shrubs. Just a couple weeks ago, I was seeing a dozen species of birds daily and now it is two dozen. Sandhill Cranes announce evening, Canada Geese fly over, and Wood Ducks are swimming in Little Cedar Creek.

An American Woodcock flew in for its evening dance, saw me, and kept going. The next night a Great Horned Owl was hooting from forest edge and probably kept the woodcock from showing itself. A pair of Red-tailed Hawks soared over the Big Woods and power line clearing by day.

A Turkey Vulture on clean-up duty has been soaring over the highway by Ody Brook’s entrance looking for the dead opossum and muskrat that I reported killed on the road last week. The carcasses are not obvious among the roadside vegetation but the vulture can smell them at great distance.

Two Pileated Woodpeckers feasted at an old ash tree stump. My friend, Greg, was coming to visit and I told him about the woodpeckers at the driveway’s edge. He arrived, stopped, and watched as one woodpecker worked. When the woodpecker left, we looked to see what was being eaten. Termites.

On a smaller scale, Skunk Cabbages are blooming on the floodplain. They have a hood covering minute flowers. The hood protects this first flowering plant of the year from freeze damage. The hood wraps around an inner spike that holds many flowers. The spike with flowers is called a spadix and the hood is called a spathe. Small flies and crawling insects move into this temporary shelter where they find protection from being frozen. The plant generates heat that keeps the temperature above freezing in the spathe. Heat protects plant tissues and the variety of creatures in the hood. The benefit to the plant for providing lodging is that insects pick up pollen and carry it to other Skunk Cabbage flowers.

Other flowering plants already blooming at Ody Brook by mid March are Silver Maple trees, Speckled Alder, and Whitlow-grass. Whitlow-grass, a mustard, has a small rosette of leaves found on exposed bare ground. It is only about one inch across the radiating ring of leaves. Small white mustard flowers about the size of a pinhead ensure reproduction. The plant and its flowers are so small that few people notice them but hundreds are currently in bloom.

It is good to carry a small magnifying hand lens to examine the near microscopic world of life in wetland, field, shrubland, and forest.

Bluebirds still have not arrived to inspect nest boxes cleaned and readied. They arrive before wrens to claim bird houses. When wrens arrive, they enter and kill bluebirds or destroy eggs to use the box themselves. If houses are kept in open areas away from shrubbery and forest edge, it is less likely wrens will invade.

I place two bird houses within 15 feet of another. Tree Swallows often claim one and keep other swallows from nesting that close. The swallows do not mind having bluebirds as neighbors. The bluebirds, so to speak, have a swallow guard that protects them from other swallows that try to take the second nest box.

Nature niches have a greater variety and abundance of wondrous special treats than candy in a candy shop.

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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Who was that?


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Do you know what type of bird this is? Check out Ranger Steve’s tips on what to look for. Answer is in the article. Photo from the Audobon.org field guide.

Do you know what type of bird this is? Check out Ranger Steve’s tips on what to look for. Answer is in the article. Photo from the Audobon.org field guide.

A brown sparrow-sized bird captured my attention. A luminescent white shown from its throat. Narrow black lines framed the white on sides and bottom. Have you identified the bird? Noticing key field marks, in a short time, is often essential because many birds do not stay in easy view. 

The bird was in the willow thicket at Ody Brook. Several were present. It was early October when flocks of birds move through on a southward journey. I could eliminate most choices. Clearly, it was not waterfowl, and shorebirds tend to be along water edges or wading, so I can rule those out, except for possibly the Killdeer. Killdeers have departed, so that is not a likely choice. Shorebirds, like killdeer, stay mostly on the ground and this bird was on a shrub branch.

Large birds like gulls, grouse, hawks, and doves do not fit this observation. When trying to identify, narrow choices by selecting from a sparrow, robin, or crow-size. Then consider habitat and eliminate waterfowl, if you are in a forest or shrubland. Some waterfowl, like wood ducks, could be in a tree, so do not be so absolute that you rule out those you are looking at. Some species are unlikely to be in Michigan, so you can eliminate species restricted to dry arid deserts along the Mexico/US border, or other habitats not found in Michigan.

There are good bird field guides for Michigan, Eastern North America, and North America north of Mexico. Some popular Michigan bird field guides are incomplete so I suggest getting one that is most inclusive, instead of only having common birds. Some guides are much better than others.

The bird in question moved from the willow to a speckled alder. It faced me, showing a plain gray breast with no striping. Its bill was short and thick. Eliminate birds with thin bills like warblers and kinglets as well as flycatchers that have long point bills. Have you figured out the bird from the characters provided?

As the bird looked at me from the alder branch and turned its head, I could see white stripes on its head running from the beak to the back of the head. A neon yellow spot between the bill and eyes was evident in the sunlight. In shade, the yellow was not obvious. Perhaps you have figured it out now. If not, pause here, get a bird field guide, and find a sparrow-sized bird, with white stripes on the head, yellow by the bill and eye, white throat, thick short bill, plain gray breast, brown back and legs for perching on twigs.

Check if the bird you are considering is here all year or migrates. If it migrates, is it here in summer, or does it nest farther north, in places like the boreal forest? This bird happens to be a boreal nester so we would not see it during the summer months. That is not evident from our current observation, but maybe you noticed a bird with such a description was not seen all summer.

It has one of the most beautiful songs but is usually quiet during fall migration. Its musical song is a favorite sign of spring and offers wonderful joy to one’s spirit when heard. Sometimes one will let loose its song in fall or part of its song. It is described as reminiscent of the words “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” and belongs to the white-throated sparrow. Canadians prefer “Oh My, Canada, Canada, Canada.”

Start with yard birds you regularly see in your neighborhood nature niche to discover unique feather color patterns, size, bill, and leg characteristics. Many birds change plumage with the seasons, but some do not. I enjoy watching birds in the yard and at the feeder more than television so I usually wait to watch TV until after dark. Listening to music CDs is a nighttime pleasure also, so as not to interfere with the activity and music abounding from the depths of the wild sanctuary where I live.

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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Limits of Cold Tolerance


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Mike’s water line burst in the crawl space at -23 F, Charlie and Julianne had the main water line to the house freeze at -16 F, and we had a kitchen waterline freeze. Mike replaced a 6-inch section of piping and the others, with quick attention, were thawed with no damage.

Significant below zero temperatures in the area have not occurred in 20 years. Cold air settles in the lowland at Ody Brook. During a recent week, two days experienced -15 F and another -16 F.

For wildlife the cold can be more than an inconvenience. Locally millions of animals, mostly insects, likely froze during February’s cold snap. Some survivors were probably maimed. Such events are hidden from our view. Opossums have established more northerly and we can expect frostbit, stub-tailed animals this spring unless the naked tailed animals had well protected shelters. Many opossums likely froze because they do not have a well-developed under fur and protective guard hairs like mammals better adapted to this climate.

Insect species inhabit areas with suitable climate and expand populations northward when milder climatic conditions allow. Each year Painted Lady butterflies immigrate northward, reproduce, and late season offspring succumb during winter. Other species have partial success until an extreme winter ends range expansion. Life expands, from best survival conditions in core habitat areas, to outlying fringe areas, where generations over time might develop survival adaptations to new conditions. The new local genotype adaptations get passed on to offspring.

Flowering Dogwood trees from Georgia, sold at plant nurseries in Michigan, will not be as hardy as those with local genotypes developed in a northern climate. Nursery purchasing agents probably buy appropriate plant stock but ask for stock origin when buying.

Over-wintering Giant Swallowtail butterflies spend the winter in pupae and are thought to die during Michigan winters. Most probably do but there might be exceptions. I’ve found them in some habitats year after year and not in suitable neighboring habitats. That indicates that some populations have succeeded in isolated areas. In the mid 1990’s, -30 F eliminated the Giant Swallowtail from even those limited areas. It was several years before immigrants established colonies in those areas again.

Eastern Bluebirds used nest boxes at Ody Brook but the -30 F froze a bird during the night. In the morning a survivor sharing the nest box tried to leave but its wing feathers were frozen to the dead bird and it could not break free. It was found hanging dead outside the nest box hole. I wonder if more birds had huddled in the box and survived.

Nuthatches, Brown Creepers, chickadees and many other birds spend the winter picking millions of hibernating insects from vegetation. Even one failed food-finding day could spell death and successive day failures result in starvation. Fortunately the Black-capped Chickadee has a hibernation-like torpor during the night to help it save energy and survive. Once I saw a chickadee eating a dead chickadee and it insured existence through another winter’s day.

A multitude of insects undoubtedly perished in recent cold but their bodies continue as food for other animals, fungi, bacteria, and Protozoans. Those that selected winter hibernation sites that became buried in snow have a better chance for survival. Deep snow is fortunate. The Viceroy butterfly winters as a tiny 1/8-inch long caterpillar in a curled willow leaf tied with silk to the twig. Will its nature niche adaptations developed over millennia ensure survival this year? Interestingly, Florida Viceroy genotypes have developed unique genotype adaptations to that climate and its predators.

Local aspens might not be adapted to -20 F and many could experience tree bark splitting injuries in extended cold, while those in northern Canada have adaptations to survive to -40 F. Take a walk to look for fresh splits in tree trunks and branches. They are good places to watch birds and squirrels eating sap-sickles when tree juices flow. Yes, its time for us to taste sugary sap-sickles. Any season is good for nature exploration.

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, or call 616-696-1753.

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