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Tag Archive | "Ranger Steve Mueller"

Bird Watching Hotspots


Ranger Steve Mueller

 

 

Almost 100 bird watching “Hotspots” is listed for Kent County on ebird. Ebird is a web site where people enter bird-sighting observations. The benefit of entering data to ebird for you is the site organizes personal data, keeps record of all the bird species you have seen with dates and locations. Hotspots are locations where many people list sightings for a particular location.

Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC) between Cedar Springs and Kent City currently has the seventh most bird species sightings for Kent County hotspots. The six locations with more bird species sightings are in Grand Rapids population centers that have many observers and thus larger species lists. HCNC has more varied and wilder habitats with greater solitude for enjoyable birding. It remains an undiscovered nature niche resource that waits your visit.

Currently 141 species of birds have been documented for HCNC. The number will grow as more people discover and enjoy the variety of habitats that support bird life at the nature center.

One February afternoon I encountered a Long-eared owl standing on the railing of Thunderwood Boardwalk. It was my first experience with the species. We looked at each other for a moment; it flew into a white pine and looked down at me. The experience invigorated my heart, mind, and spirit. Long-eared owls are quite secretive and usually do not show themselves in daylight.

Another species that does not show itself during the day is the American Woodcock. During spring it dances nightly in the evening sky for about six weeks. In the field north of the Red Pine Interpretive Center at dusk, it will start pneeting on the ground. A pneet is a buzz-like call. It stomps its feet and turns from side to side in the dim light. After many pneets, it takes flight and circles higher and higher before diving toward the ground and quickly leveling to land, where it repeats its ground dance with more pneets. Over the years, I have led many field trips to watch the mating dance display.

Scarlet Tanagers do not arrive until May and are surprisingly difficult to see. They have brilliant red bodies with black wings. It seems they would be easy to see but somehow they blend into the new spring green foliage high in trees. People refer to their song as sounding like a robin with a soar throat. The coarser sound helps locate the bird’s singing location and with careful search the bird can be seen.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful spring songs is made by Wood Thrushes in the deciduous forest. Its Ee-o-lay song is clear, loud, and beautifully musical. Another thrush called the Veery makes one of my most favorite bird songs. It stays well hidden. As a young birder it took me about 10 years to discover what bird was make the song. Its spiral-descending warble is most intriguing.

The Common Yellowthroat, unlike the Veery, will readily show itself. It wears a black mask over it eyes. Maybe it thinks the mask keeps it hidden. A bright yellow breast helps locate this bird in shrubby wetlands. I could describe 141 different species that have been seen at HCNC. Each has a unique nature niche. People would quickly tire of descriptions. Instead, become entranced with sights and sounds by walking nature center trails during spring.

Google “ebird” and explore listings for various locations in the County. Enrich your life and contribute to citizen science efforts by documenting bird species that visit your yard. I have observed 102 species at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary where I live.

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.  616-696-1753.

 

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Giant Swallowtail


OUT-Nature-niche-SJM-GiantSwallowtail-OdyB13May2012-12-copy-2By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Immobile and vulnerable all winter, the Giant Swallowtail waits. It has many adaptations for survival. During the winter wait, it is too cold to do anything but wait. Enclosed in a chrysalis it transforms from caterpillar to winged jewel. It transforms within its last larval skin during the fall from a full-grown caterpillar to a chrysalis in a hidden location.

Inside the jewel of a chrysalis, body tissues of the caterpillar dissolve to an apparent liquid. Primordial cells actively work to rebuild an adult body through most miraculous changes. Cool or cold weather delay completion of the work for weeks or months. In the more southern states the wait between caterpillar and adult is shortest. Warm weather arrives sooner allowing the transformation process to continue.

In Michigan it is thought that the process never completes and the butterfly freezes to death in the chrysalis before spring arrives. The result is that we have no Giant Swallowtails until some immigrate north to colonize the state with a new population.

I disagree in part with such thoughts. I have seen Giant Swallowtails year after year at Ody Brook where the host plant for the caterpillar is abundant and have found them in repeated years in other patches of Xanthoxylem americanum. In still other patches of the prickly ash, I have been unable to find the butterfly. That led me to the scientific hypothesis that some swallowtails survive in isolated patches to provide an ongoing legacy.

To further support the hypothesis, I discovered that reliable patches containing the butterfly year after year had none after a very cold winter with subzero temperatures. It took a few years before those patches supported the species again. My idea is that it took a few years for immigrants to find populations of the host plant.

When host plants are found by an adult swallowtail, it lays eggs that develop into bird turd looking caterpillars that fed on the leaves. Caterpillars pupate and develop into adults by fall to provide many beauties in landscapes with host plants. Those pupating in fall wait the long winter. Many freeze but a few might survive to maintain a population in isolated patches of prickly ash. This is still not scientifically proven.

To scientific prove my hypothesis, it is necessary to provide evidence that chrysalises survived the winter in the wild. I have not looked for or found supporting evidence. That does not mean they do not survive. It means there is no supporting evidence that some survive winter in this climate. This skeptical process is what makes scientific method so valuable and self-correcting. It dispels unsupported information that we often choose to believe because we want to or because it appears logical.

Through scientific process we learned the sun does not rise in the east and set in the west. Instead we discovered the Earth rotates to provide the illusion of sunrise and sunset.

For now, science supports that Giant Swallowtails do not survive Michigan winters. I expect any Giant Swallowtail chrysalises found this winter will be frozen. Immigrants will be essential if we are to see the species this summer. The winter provided chilling subzero temperatures in local nature niches. Maybe the deep snow covered and protected a few precious winged jewels.

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.  616-696-1753.

 

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Signs of Spring


OUT-hawk-march-2014-009

Mary Lou Fuller, of Solon Township, sent us this picture of a hawk having his afternoon meal in the lilac bush right outside her kitchen window.

Ranger Steve Mueller identified it as a Cooper’s Hawk. The Cooper’s Hawk can be found from southern Canada to Northern Mexico, and usually migrates south for the winter.  They mainly prey on smaller birds such as robins, doves, woodpeckers, and others.

Thanks for your photo, Mary Lou, this gives us hope that springs is right around the corner!

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Leaf Experiences


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The best learning is a family experience with fun. I was raking leaves and thought about my girls helping or thinking they were helping. Then I thought about when I helped my dad rake leaves or thought I was helping. What I remember best from both experiences is that I jumped into the pile of leaves and buried myself and my girls jumped into the leaf pile and buried themselves.

A difference in our experiences was what happened to leaves—Earth Stewardship. In the 1950’s people up and down the block raked leaves into the road and burned them. My girls learned leaves make good compost and should not be burned. As mulch they decay and release nutrients into the soil or garden rather than into the air. We used leaves to spread on trails at Ody Brook to prevent dirt from getting in the soles of shoes.

A great experience helps kids observe the intricate natural world. They see details and gain basic knowledge, comprehend what they experience, apply experiences to life at home and in the community, analyze what is best, synthesize what they experienced to use for new unrelated purposes, and then evaluate the value.

The experience allows discovery. I did a leaf activity with students when I was classroom teacher and at the Howard Christensen Nature Center. In fall we found a sugar maple and each student collected ten leaves and then we found a silver maple and collected ten more leaves.

In the process the students learned to distinguish leaf similarities and differences for the two species. Learning more about adaptations for the species took us deeper into reasoning and mental development. Students compared the amount of substance in the two kinds of leaves to discover that silver maple leaves were lighter with less substance. They curled and shrivel more than the heavier sturdy sugar maple leaves. We weighed the leaves and found sugar maple leaves were heavier.

I shared that sugar maple leaves do not remove most of the nutrients from the leaves but allow nutrients to fall to ground in the leaf, where they rot under the tree to release nutrients for the tree’s use in spring. Silver maples ship a greater proportion of nutrients to the roots with the sap, and store it until spring for new growth. Both species have unique nature niche strategies for recycling nutrients. Silver maples are floodplain trees and their leaves wash away with spring flooding so nutrients would be lost if dropped with leaves. Sugar Maples are upland plants and their leaves stay near the tree and release nutrients to their own roots.

My dad, like most other dads, did not realize that releasing nutrients into the air by burning leaves contributes to air pollution and increased atmospheric carbon. I like fires and “some-mores” so we burn branches cleared during trail maintenance and make our “some-more” treats. We allow many to decay in the woods to replenish soil health. Most nutrients are in the small branches that decay rapidly so we leave those in the woods and burn some larger branches. We use large branches for brush pile construction for bird and mammal shelters.

Create family experiences and build relationships. Our kids are grown but I still desire help with projects at Ody Brook. I can use the help but more importantly I think it continues to build our relationship. Of course, their lives are full and busy but sometimes we still build relationships working together outdoors.

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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February is national bird feeding month


This is the second in a four part series. 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

This little guy was seen at a feeder after the blizzard last year, at Bob and Mary Lou Fuller’s home, south of the Cedar Springs city limits.

This little guy was seen at a feeder after the blizzard last year, at Bob and Mary Lou Fuller’s home, south of the Cedar Springs city limits.

 

Bird feeder variety will attract more birds. It is not necessary to become elaborate but some features may cost more upfront and will save money over time. A coming article will discuss feeder options.

Cost and value (energy content) of seed is important for you and the birds. Days of free suet are gone. When I began using suet, meat markets gave animal fat away. It was a waste product. About 40 years ago, they learned to market the high-energy food and began charging. Their cost was the wrapping paper and of course the butcher’s time. Since then, processed suet cakes have become popular and some have seeds encased.

Your preference might be for simple suet cakes that fit easily into a rectangular wire basket or possibly a larger basket that holds chunks of suet from the meat counter. Baskets are better than bag holders. Hang the suet from tree branches. Rubber coated wire baskets look sharp and last longer. It was rumored that a bird’s eye may freeze to bare wire and blind it in the manner a person’s tongue will stick to frozen metal. I have never heard of a case where an eye was damaged. A real danger is suet holding onion bags made of string or plastic. While I was a ranger at Traverse City State Park, I came home to a dead Downy Woodpecker hanging by the head from my string suet bag. It got caught and could not free itself. That was 1969 and the last time I used the bags.

_OUT-Birdfeedingmonth2-Woodpecker-maleWoodpeckers especially find suet favorable but chickadees, nuthatches, and even crows come to the hanging baskets. Pieces fall to the ground when birds peck at it where ground-feeding birds like juncos and cardinals clean up.

Cost of feed is important and birdseed has doubled in price since sunflowers and corn are now used to make bio-fuel. Other agricultural products are better for that purpose but a shift has not occurred yet.

I consider black oil sunflower seed the biggest bang for the buck. Local feed mills are great and often are more cost effective than chain stores. Locally owned feed mills keep money in the community and provide personal service with a hometown feeling. The black oil seed has a better ratio of seed “meat” to hull compared with striped sunflower seed. One can buy hulled seed but it is prohibitively expensive so I let the birds hull the seeds themselves. If you live in an apartment, the landlord may allow hulled seeds but not seeds with hulls.

When comparing prices, check bag weight. Larger bags are less expensive per unit than 5 or 10-pound bags. Large bags weigh 40 or 50 pounds. I buy the larger ones to keep costs down. Some of you know I am challenged with multiple myeloma cancer that resulted in seven spontaneous spinal fractures. Doctor orders limit my lifting to 25 pounds to help prevent more fractures. That means I cannot move the large bag of seeds but the local mill loads them in my car and at home family members move them to the storage bin. Imposed on many of us are limitations that may require the purchase of lightweight bags. Check your local feed dealer in the yellow pages.

To prevent mice, shrew, and vole access, use a tightly sealed storage bin. Mine holds 100 pounds of seeds but I only buy 50 pounds at a time unless the price is excellent. Keep seed dry to avoid rot. I only feed during the winter and cold weather aids seed storage. Sometimes I feed birds during summer but mostly use yard landscaping to provide bird food. A coming Nature Niche will describe landscaping for wildlife.

Thistle seed is a bird favorite, but expensive. I put it on my Christmas wish list and use it sparingly. Other excellent protein sources are peanuts and live mealworms. More on feeding will be in the coming Nature Niche.

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 or call 616-696-1753.

Read part one in this series here: http://cedarspringspost.com/2013/01/31/ranger-steves-nature-niche-4/

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