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Tag Archive | "Ranger Steve Mueller"

Trilliums and Swamp Saxifrage


 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

The Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum). Photo by Wilson44691 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum). Photo by Wilson44691 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) excites us with its large showy appearance in mature deciduous forests. It is a highlight signaling spring is here to stay. Soon trilliums flowers will be gone for the year.

Forest tree leaves begin to expand as the trillium flower petals expand. As the forest canopy shades the forest floor, the white trillium flowers will turn pink and wither. Leaves continue to photosynthesize in summer and send food underground for winter storage. We do not take notice of the trillium leaves in summer.

It is good to take notice of leaf characteristics when enjoying the beauty of flowers so we can recognize the plant species when the flowers are gone.

The Michigan Botanical Club visited Ody Brook recently to experience ephemeral flowers and learn about their nature niches. Each species contributes a unique role in its habitat and ecosystem. They are dependent on soils, moisture, light intensity, insects, and a variety of subtle survival requirements. Some species like the trillium can thrive in a variety of conditions but surviving can be difficult.

Hoffmaster State Park hosted a Trillium Festival but an excessively large white-tailed deer population has devastated the trillium population and the name was changed to Wildflower Festival.

The abundance of Large-flowered Trilliums continues in many regions. If you travel north for Memorial Day Weekend, expect to see white carpets of trillium flowers in mature forest. The species has a coefficient of conservatism of 5. The rating is used to rank plants for naturalness of habitat composition using a 1-10 system. Habitats that appear to be the same might have species present in one habitat that are not present in another. When species with a high coefficient of conservatism are present in a habitat, it indicates a healthier site.

At Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary we work to encourage the healthiest habitats for greatest biodiversity enhancement and to especially help species survive that have a high coefficient of conservatism. We are fortunate that several pre-European settlement species continue to thrive that have been eliminated from surrounding areas. Some are present in small numbers such at the American Chestnut and Wood Betony. The chestnut’s coefficient rating is 9 and betony’s is 10 on a scale of 1-10. Ten is the highest rating for naturalness of a site.

When managing a site we ask, “Are land management practices effecting the health of the site?”  Hopefully our practices maintain rich biodiversity and improve survival for species that indicate a high-level of naturalness.

Coming into flower in mid-May are Swamp Saxifrage (Micranthes pensylvanica) that are not showy like trilliums. They have a whorl of leaves on the ground with a flower stalk that stands over one foot tall. Flower clusters have small inconspicuous pale flowers that do not capture attention. Its rating is 10 and is as an indicator of healthy habitat naturalness that is much higher than the rating for Large-flowered Trilliums.

As a result, our efforts for sanctuary management are greater for the less showy saxifrage, wood betony, and American chestnut than for the trillium. We personally enjoy the trilliums more because of their beauty. We work to maintain massive trillium blooms while helping the plants with a high coefficient of conservatism.

We explore the natural world around us pretending we live in the 17th century with native species. The presence of exotics species that crowd and eliminate native species from existence remind of us of the daunting challenge to help native species survive in the 21st century. Efforts are to maintain healthy habitats and ecosystems for future generations of plants and animals and for the benefit of future human generations.

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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Kathy Bowler’s discovery


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

In 2000 Kathy Bowler was walking along the White Pine Trail with eyes open to the natural world. A small blue butterfly caught her attention. Several small blue butterfly species fly in spring and summer. The most common is the Spring Azure. Others are the Silvery Blue, Eastern Tailed Blue, and the Karner Blue.

The Karner Blue was not known to live in Kent County and was not expected. Kathy pursued the butterfly and discovered it was the federally endangered Karner Blue Butterfly. I had been hired by The Nature Conservancy and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct research on the Karner Blue in Minnesota. Kathy knew that and contacted me to confirm her new Kent County discovery.

We contacted Mogens Nielsen who wrote the book Michigan Butterflies and Skippers and he also confirmed the identification and discovery.

The Land Conservancy of West Michigan (LCWM) works to preserve natural areas and species to keep nature nearby healthy. They worked with the land owners that owned Karner Blue habitat along the White Pine Trail near 12 Mile Road to create a preserve. The butterfly caterpillars can survive on only one species of lupine.

Wild Blue Lupine (Lupinus perennis) is a legume that fixes nitrogen improving soil fertility. It grows in Michigan’s oak savanna habitat. Oak savanna is Michigan’s rarest habitat and has disappeared throughout most of its range due to land use practices. When habitat is reduced in size, species supported are pushed toward extinction. Fragmented habitats left in small pieces do not support species nature niches well because individuals cannot get from one to another to expand their population.

Some reptiles, birds, and insects dependent on oak savannas have significant survival challenges. People can help save species with declining populations. The Maas family owns property where the Karner Blue has suitable habitat. They donated part of their land to create the Maas Family Nature Preserve.

The LCWM with support from the DNR helped restore oak savanna at the Maas preserve. Plant succession was eliminating the oak savanna that depends on periodic fires to maintain its habitat. A savanna is an open grass and forb area with scattered trees. The open area allows adequate sunlight for the Lupine and Karner Blue to thrive. Fires prevent it from becoming an oak forest that would shade out the lupine and butterflies.

Karner Blue eggs that overwinter hatch, feed on lupine, pupate and transform into the blue beauty in mid to late May. Those adults mate and lay eggs that produce a second brood in midsummer. The second brood’s eggs overwinter. Management for the butterfly creates conditions for other species that people enjoy seeing including wild turkeys, deer and several species of birds. On state and federal lands, hunters find better hunting success for species in Karner Blue managed habitat.

Thanks to Kathy’s sharp eye, the discovery helped an endangered species survive with the aid of people willing to share space with rare species. She also saw the butterfly on wild undeveloped habitat along the opposite side of the trail near 12 Mile road. The owners do not allow people onto that property to determine the extent of the species’ presence and are not interested in helping them survive.

Survival of the regions biodiversity depends on how we utilize the land. Many people began planting Wild Lupine to help the species survive in Kent County. That effort is not likely to help because the plant populations are too fragmented and distant for the butterflies to reach for colonizing new areas.

If everyone allowed some natural habitat in their yards for plants and animals, fragmented habitat would become more connected allowing species to move through the region more easily. Manicured lawns are attractive but do not help pre-settlement biodiversity of species that thrived here in previous centuries.

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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Earth Week Celebration


 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Earth Week is an annual kick-off to remind us how we can have a positive impact throughout the year. How we live impacts the survival of all creatures great and small. We inherited a world rich with biodiversity. There are utilitarian uses that are essential for our survival and there is an inherent responsibility to preserve species and habitats for the wellbeing of future generations. We do not know the value of most species.

Environmental and Earth Care has fallen in priority for reasons I do not understand. Perhaps it is because we do not recognize the importance of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the quality of food we eat, or the value of land in public and private stewardship. A survey prioritized American issues of concern and environment was listed eleven of twelve. The only one of lesser concern was immigration. Due to it being a priority of our President its priority has been raised and moved environment lower. Billions of dollars are being allocated to immigration control and money must come from somewhere. Major budget reductions are proposed for environmental protection and will affect present and future generations.

We can each act locally in addition to contacting representatives and senators to let them know that environmental stewardship is an important value for our wellbeing. In 1973 the Clean Air, Clear Water, and Endangered Species Acts were created to improve living conditions for humans and all species. Currently there is a campaign to eliminate those Acts to return us to conditions like those before the environmental protections.

The idea is that the economy can grow faster without concern for protecting the environment that sustains us. Elimination of the Acts will have negative impacts on human health, health of other species, and our long-term economy. Environmental clean-up cost will increase for future generations if we are not good environmental stewards. We still struggle with pollution clean-up from damage prior to establishment of the protection Acts.

What can we do that is positive to protect life, economy, and society’s wellbeing locally and in our daily lives? I am honored and appreciative to be invited to offer a Creation Care message on Sunday, 23 April, at 10:15 a.m. at the United Methodist Church located at the corner of 140 Main and Church Streets one block N of the traffic light in Cedar Springs. Traditional worship is blended with creative and enriching touches, music ministry and time with children. Families and individuals are invited. Please come.

I will address what I call complimentary multiple realities. It is an idea most have not considered. The nature of science is self-correcting through physical evidence with experimentation. Religion is based on faith without physical evidence. We each experience the environment through different realities based on how we interact with the world. Some relate through artistic expression, song, music, internal reflection, interaction with people, or direct physical interaction through farming, hunting, watching wildlife, or camping the grandeur of creation.

Regardless for how we encounter the wonders of the world, we share a common dependence on Earth’s biodiversity for our current survival and that of generations to come.

Many faith traditions emphasize the importance of being “Creation Care Stewards” for the planet and honoring its life-sustaining blessings. The question to ask is whether your actions support healthy stewardship?

I will share the practical value of species for utilitarian use, psychological value, ecosystem value of nature niches, and value for present and future generations. Please come for an hour of what I hope will be an energizing Creation Care message. Move through spring, summer, fall, and winter with more than hope. Live with joy knowing your actions are valuable for your family’s health, wellbeing, and future. I hope to share personally with readers what is usually only done though print. Celebrate Earth Week with me and the UMC.

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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Oak Wilt


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Oak wilt can impact your home cooling when shade trees die by exposing the house to heat from the summer sun. The beauty of the yard, as well as a multitude of valuable wild neighbors surrounding your family, will disappear with an oak’s death. Prevention of oak wilt disease infection is important.

The spread of the disease can be most prevalent where new home construction occurs. Once the disease becomes established it is expensive to treat in both money and environment altering impacts.

Oak wilt is a fungal infection that clogs sapwood under the bark of oak trees. Trees ship water and nutrients upward through straw-like tubes called xylem. When the tubes become clogged and flow is stopped, the tree cannot survive. An infected tree can die within weeks. Think about it like very rapid coronary occlusion where blood can no longer supply your heart. The heart will cease to function and your entire body dies.

When water and nutrients are no longer transported throughout the tree, the leaves wilt, growing stems die, and the entire tree succumbs. Some oak species are more susceptible. The red oak group is at highest risk. The white oak group roots do not graft as extensively as red oaks and they have little plugs in their sapwood that slow the spread of fungus growth.

Grafting is common where roots overlap. You might be familiar with fruit tree grafting where a favorite apple variety can be grown on another apple tree by taking a cutting from a favored variety twig, remove a similar sized piece on another apple tree, insert the favored twig, and seal around the surgical implant. That might be an oversimplification but it is the basic process.

Where small oak roots come in contact, the thin outer bark between two roots wears and the inner tissues become interconnected. Once connected bark healing encases them together and material can flow from tree to tree. They are not Siamese twins but physiologically they are attached in a similar manner. They can be separated and it might be essential to stop the spread of oak wilt from progressing through an entire forest.

Forest treatment is expensive so prevention is the most important practice. Treatment is not detailed here.

From April Fool’s Day to the 4th of July is when it is important to prevent oak trees from experiencing open sores. Do not prune branches on oak species or cut down trees during that time. Notice oaks are specified. The fungus Ceratocystis fagacearum is the culprit killing agent. It is oak specific and can spread by two methods. One is from tree to tree through the root grafts referred to as “underground spread.”

The other is by “overland spread”. When tree bark is wounded by cutting branches, it allows sap to flow out and attracts tiny sap-feeding Nitudulid beetles that come to feast on the sweet-smelling sap. Infected trees have fungus blisters that produce spores that get on the bodies of the beetles. When the insect travels to a freshly wounded tree, the fungus is transferred and begins growth.

The adult beetles are active from early spring to the 4th of July. Completing tree and branch cutting by March and not resuming until July is important to prevent the spread of the disease.

During my forestry training I learned painting wounds with pruning sealer tree paint was not particularly important and was an unnecessary expense. Not all foresters agreed. Today applying it has become important to prevent beetle access to save oaks and should be used immediately when a tree is cut down or branches are cut.

Little things like where you place bird feeders is important. Chickadees and titmice take seeds to branches in their nature niche to peck sunflower seed hulls. In the process, they create small openings in branch bark that exposes sapwood to infection. Place feeders on other tree species or use shepherd hooks away from oaks.

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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Whipping Willow Tree


 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

We have a favorite willow tree at the intersection of US 131 and I-96. As one exits from east I-96 to enter north US 131, a weeping willow lives in the cloverleaf. Three decades ago, I saw what looked like a chicken in the tree. I could not safely take an extended look to determine what was in the tree. It was winter and it seemed extremely odd for a dark brown chicken to be in a tree along the highway.

I watched on future passages when I used the off ramp. It turned out to be a dark phase of the Rough-legged Hawk that was using the willow as a favorite perch for hunting. I told my naturalist friend, Greg Swanson, about the “chicken in a tree.” We laughed and he said he knew the bird. He had seen it during previous winters. This bird had found a good winter hunting location and it returned winter after winter.

When human “snowbirds” head to Florida or Arizona for the winter, many arctic birds come to this balmy winter feeding area in Michigan to escape the barren arctic where finding food is a winter challenge. Our family enjoyed looking for what I originally thought was a chicken a tree. It helped us remember to look for interesting animals wherever we drove. After thirty plus years, we still talk about the bird but it has not been seen in decades. It likely died sometime in the 1990’s.

The weeping willow tree also experienced life challenges. Julianne, our youngest daughter, called it a whipping willow. What fun! Ever since, the family refers to it as a “Whipping Willow.” It has become a family friend.

One day when we were circling around the tree on the off the ramp, we were dismayed to see the tree had been blown down and was laying on the ground. Fortunately, a portion of the trunk was still attached to the base and the tree refused to die. It sprouted vertical stems along the prostrate trunk. Before the new leaves expand, you can see the old trunk on the ground and several large stems growing upward.

Once leaves grow and obscure view of the stems, one would not recognize its hard life recovery from being blown down. Neither can one see into the past to witness a “chicken in a tree.” We each need to aware of our surroundings and make family discoveries as we travel together.

For thirty years, the dark phase Rough-legged Hawk and the “Whipping Willow” have given us joy and family moment connections with nature niches. We have many moments to reminisce. Such moments strengthen family relationships. We all love each other and the natural world helps us maintain that love in a simple way.

Experiencing the outdoors does not need to be an elaborately planned outing. Take notice of things natural to enjoy and share with parents, spouses, kids, grandkids, and friends.

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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Coyotes, Ducks, and People


 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

 

One would expect coyotes to prey on ducks and their eggs. They do, but foxes are better duck hunters than coyotes. When coyotes are present, they keep fox numbers down. Studies by National Biological Survey research scientists found predator control programs that reduce coyote populations increase fox populations. The increase in foxes causes a greater reduction in duck production.

Many people support coyote control programs because they think it will reduce duck predation. Instead the increased fox population preys more heavily on ducks. At the same time, people support draining wetlands. Many wetland areas are drained or filled for farming or human habitation development. Wetlands are also filled to eliminate species we do not like such as mosquitoes. That reduces duck reproduction. Ducks Unlimited and other organizations work to establish conservation easements that restore drained wetlands and support programs that pay farmers to keep natural wetlands on their land. The Wetland east of Cedar Springs on 17 Mile Road is restored wetland that was drained for farming and has restored to the liking of waterfowl.

Loss of wetlands reduces spawning beds for fish like the northern pike. When pike decline, society spends money on hatcheries for restocking of pike. Poor land use decisions cost society more to maintain clean water, reduce flooding and to restore wildlife. The current proposed elimination of the Clean Water Rule by President Trump will have negative impacts on wildlife as well as community water of human use.

In Michigan’s past, predator control programs supported killing wolves. In locations where wolves and coyotes live in the same area, wolves kept coyote numbers low. Historically, coyotes were rare in Michigan.

Nature niches are finely tuned systems that function quite well until people decide to reshape them. When large predators live close to humans, there are occasions when they take the opportunity to kill domestic animals.  It is more effective to control a specific wolf or coyote problem than to try to eliminate a population.

When coyotes are removed through predator control, ecologic/economic studies have found coyote’s social structure is damaged and rapid reproduction occurs. Rapidly increasing populations spread into new areas. Additional money is then needed for more extensive predator control. A cost/benefit analysis shows it is generally poor and ineffective to try to control coyote populations instead of handling a specific problem.

It does not seem to make common sense that coyotes help duck populations increase but they do by controlling fox population predation. It does not seem to make common sense that wolves strengthen deer herd health but they do by keeping the deer population from over browsing habitats and causing long-term habitat damage. Human population expansion also reduces duck populations by destroying critical habitat. Many attributed reduced duck populations to predators, when it is often caused by human population increase. Human altered habitats and draining wetlands is more harmful to the ducks than predators. We do notice a growing human population reduces other life on Earth.

Coyotes live in our area but usually are not excessively abundant. Foxes live in our area but are not abundant. Life is very hard for all wildlife. Most coyote pups never live a year.

Predator nature niches are complex systems. It is necessary to control particular individuals that interfere with our livelihoods but large scale predator programs are usually unproductive, wasteful of life and money.

As a society, we have not recognized the positive role of predatory mammals like coyotes and wolves. Public understanding has gradually increased its understanding for how nature niches function. Public policy has not kept pace to reflect healthy land management but positive changes are gradually being implemented. Emotions usually trump research-based evidence and practices.

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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Long-shadowed forest speaks silently


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

The groundhog saw his shadow if he woke from hibernation in 34-degrees fahrenheit temperatures. Instead, I expect it continued its chilly winter’s sleep with a body temperature of about 40F. Unconscious to the world above, it does not even wake to poop. Instead it remains in a shadow free subterranean cavity feeding on its plump body’s stored fat.

Cold mid-teen temperatures swept in from the northwest as high pressure brought dense air and clear skies during the night in early February.

The following day remained cloudless and sunny. The late afternoon beauty was too compelling to resist. Unlike the groundhog, I was conscious and drawn to venture into the big woods.

Wild Turkeys left trails with a center toe drag mark between steps. Two side toes glided over the four-inch deep snow without touching. The fourth, rear toe, did not leave a trace except when placed on the ground. Within the track imprint was a gray shadow protected from direct sunlight by the day’s late low-angled light. The un-shadowed snow surface glistened white from the falling sun in the western sky.

The cold following the recent snow kept it fresh, light, and unconsolidated. Wind could move it crystal by crystal. It was not cold enough for the snow to squeak under my footsteps. Instead the lowering sun on the horizon was making trees tell me they were taller than they are. By casting their long silent shadows great distances on a clean white snow palate, trees boasted a tall stature that did not exist.

Turkeys and trees were not the only painters marking the palate. A fox walked nearly straight lines with diversions to investigate brushy areas where cottontail rabbits sought shelter. Deer mice left four footprints and a tail drag mark on the fluffy snow surface. The fox was not fooled into wasting energy following mice tracks that would not provide a meal.

The mouse traveled about 150 feet before its light weight and tiny tracks that barely penetrated the snow surface disappeared through a small hole in the snow near a tree trunk. In a few places, it appeared a minor earthquake broke the flat snow surface and raised the ground cover leaving one long crack with several radiating fissures to the sides. I was unable to decipher what had moved beneath the snow to leave its silent telltale mark.

Fallen trees provide short shadows from horizontal trunks. Squirrels bounded between standing tree trunks to prostrate logs where tracks disappeared at one end and reappeared at the far end. Rabbit tracks looked much like squirrel tracks but circumvented logs to stay on the ground. They went around erect trees unlike squirrel tracks that disappeared at the base of standing trees.

Squirrel leaf nests high in trees blocked sun passage and showed dark balled shadows among the intricate gray branch shadows cast to the ground. Though it was quiet, the long shadowed forest was speaking loudly of its inhabitants.

I returned to my comfortable nest with a west-facing window to put pen to paper as the sun filtered light through pine trees during the last moments of day. Birds had quit feeding at feeders and darkness of night would soon replace the long shadowed forest with an even blackness. In a couple weeks, a full moon will cast shadows during the night when I will be compelled to take a night hike in a same yet different long-shadowed forest. Lighted by moon instead of sun, it will be a different world. Perhaps then I will hear the audible hoots of the Great Horned Owl.

For now, pine branch shadows lighted from behind by the setting sun cast shadows on my face to remind me I am a part of the pine’s nature niche.

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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Bird sightings peer review


 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

People have opportunity to list birds from their yards or anywhere in the World to ebird. Google ebird for what has been sighted in the neighborhood, county, state, and nation. Select species of interest or “Birding Hotspots.”

Three friends and I went to the Maple State Area to find Long-eared Owls, Short-eared Owls and another species we might encounter that was listed on ebird. The owls have summer nature niches in the far north but come here for winter. As we traveled M-57, we saw a Rough-legged Hawk. It is another far north species that comes here in winter. A Bald Eagle perched in a tree just west of Carson City.

Near the corner of Taft and Woodbridge in Gratiot County, we observed the Short-eared Owls feeding just before dusk. We were there 4:45 to 5:30 p.m. It was a wonderful experience. Because these birds are not frequently seen, we talked with people from Midland and Detroit that came thanks to ebird postings.

In our more restricted area, Carol Van Oeveren searches ebird daily for species of interest and her husband Fred updates the Grand Rapids Audubon website several times a day. Google Grand Rapids Audubon and explore the website. You can find current sightings for Kent, Ottawa, and Muskegon Counties. Go chase birds.

When people post unusual sightings to ebird that are out of normal range, or seem unlikely for some reason they are automatically flagged. The lister will receive an e-mail requesting information to verify sighting accuracy.

I am entering data from my 1960 and 70’s journals. The Red-headed Woodpeckers get flagged because their numbers have plummeted. In the 1960’s they were common. They fed on insects that were in elm trees treated with DDT. The pesticide greatly impacted woodpeckers, robins, and many species. I remind the reviewers that even though Red-headed Woodpeckers are rare now, they were common in the 1960’s. They are still found near Wolf Lake north Baldwin but my listings get flagged annually when I post. I simply provide supportive data.

Some birders are offended when their sightings are questioned. If one is not a scientist, questioning might seem strange. Science journals require peer review before a paper is accepted for publication. Things that appear questionable are marked and sent back to the author(s) for better clarification. If the information is not convincingly accurate to peer experts in the subject area, the paper is not accepted for publication.

Peer review is critical to help make sure scientific methods used were excellent. It helps make sure conclusions drawn from the data collected are supported with physical evidence. That is why things like human enhanced climate change is accepted by 97 percent of climate scientists. The same process is used regarding bird studies. An ornithologist (bird scientist) is not permitted to enter flawed study results easily. When a paper is published and other scientists question the accuracy or conclusions, they might conduct studies to support or refute the conclusions. Science requires repeated verification supporting conclusions even if they are correct.

Citizen science e-birders should be pleased when some sightings get flagged. It helps posting accuracy and helps the birder review their sighting for accuracy and careful identification. People have reported Pine Grosbeaks to me that were House Finches. Errors are easy. Even though citizen science review does not have the rigor of scientific review, its helps maintain quality ebird postings.

It is a public disservice when peer reviewed studies are not allowed for release to the public like recently occurred with the president’s order to end climate research by the EPA and now requires that politicians decide what will be released to the public instead of scientific peer reviewers. Citizen ebird postings provide data for scientists use to document climate change. You can help scientists keep access to data that has ebird peer review. Despite government censoring or stopping peer reviewed scientific research, you can help scientists by enjoying birds in your yard or by getting outdoors for fun bird chasing and by entering sightings to ebird.

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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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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Cancer’s Nature Niche


 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

We choose how we live but not how long. Choices help us survive difficult circumstances. Having purpose and serving others makes a world of difference. I struggle to survive to help human people live in balance with what I consider creation’s animal and plant people. We are charged with caring for all species of creation’s people.

I have commented on cancer aspects but not from a nature niche perspective. My desire is to die a “natural death” instead of an “accidental death” like an automobile accident. I consider my cancer a natural death.

By the time I was in high school, chasing and studying butterflies helped me understand essentials for maintaining a sustainable environment to support future human generations and a healthy society. My survival’s not essential but I hope society’s current behavior helps humans born 100 generations (2000 years) hence inherit a healthy sustainable environment.

There are many natural controls that prevent plant and animal “people” populations from becoming excessively large. Controls create balance that helps maintain a healthy environment for future generations. In the absence of natural predators, deer have become too numerous and have eliminated wildflowers, reduced insect crop pollinators, birds, and other species of value for society.

Cancer is one limiting factor that works on human, plant, and animal “people” to help balance natality (population growth rate) with mortality (death rate). We have been successful in helping humans increase beyond Earth’s long-term carrying capacity. We could be thankful for natural controls that kill us and in effect help insure future generations will inherit a healthy sustainable planet for long-term survival. Of course, we want to live so appreciation for natural causes of death is not likely.

Many cancers are human caused by careless use of natural resources that cause pollution of air, water and land. Cancer is a form of our body going haywire and attacking itself. Causes might be environmentally induced or bodies might malfunction naturally for undetermined reasons. My multiple myeloma cause is unknown.

Some people grow old “old” and others grow old “young.” A friend grew old in old age, gradually lost sight, weakened and died at 101. My body was found to be eating itself with cancer when I was 47. I grew old young. Average survival for this cancer is 7 to 8 years with new treatments. I am in year 19. I like to attribute my extended survival to new treatments and to having a purpose for living.

Meanwhile, many people do not take simple steps to reduce natality to maintain a smaller sustainable human population. My children and I have waited until we were in our thirties to have children. That effectively reduces our families to three per century instead of five and reduces the living population by 40 percent. Reducing family size to two children is effective without depending on cancer and other unfavorable controls.

My purposeful living efforts enhance biodiversity at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, assist in small ways with local, state, national Lepidoptera organizations, Audubon Society, Wild Ones, land conservancies, nature center naturalists, and Creation Care efforts. Those activities provide cancer control. I continue to advocate the importance of biosphere ecology for balancing natality and mortality through self-control instead of disease.

Cancer is a body’s self-destructive activity that consumes one’s life. For some it is quick and for others prolonged. My treatment kills by causing lung, heart, liver, or other organ damage. The gamble has two choices: 1) let cancer growth kill or 2) use treatments that will potentially kill while it slows cancer growth. The chemo seems almost as bad as the cancer but family tells me otherwise. It’s a “Catch 22.”

Balancing natality with mortality will help grandchildren 100 generations hence maintain a sustainable environmental quality. Cancer has a positive value even if we do not like it.

Personally, I struggle with the choice to let cancer grow or use treatments to survive so I can help change current behavior to support future generations. My choice has been to have three generations per century instead of five for our family. Hopefully others will choose to strive for Creation Care. If my message is ineffective, it might be time for me to depart.

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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