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Tag Archive | "Ranger Steve Mueller"

Rogue River butterfly count 


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The weather was great with sunny skies and little wind. Eight participants enjoyed butterflies, learned identification and associations with nature niche habitats. Thirty species sighted on count day are listed in Table 1 with the number of individuals and participants. We began at the Howard Christensen Nature Center for our 30th count year at 9 a.m. Counting began at HCNC’s Welcome Center. The group car-pooled to various Rogue River State Game Area locations within the count circle.

We visited the highest elevation in Kent County at Fisk Knob where we anticipated “hill topping” Black Swallowtails but none were present. We know what species to expect based on normal flight dates but some species are not present because we either missed them or their flight schedule is different from our count date in a given year.

During the day, butterfly behavior is observed and described to help make the count a wonderful experience. Larval host plants are inspected for caterpillars or eggs. One Viceroy larva was found on aspen this year. The eight participants spent most time looking for adults and counting individuals.

The total number of species observed has varied over the 30 years from 18 to 43. Weather effects 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. I was surprised that a few species we normally find were not present. The flowering plants and apparently some butterflies seem to have delayed emergence this year. We had a cool spring but I expected the warm days in June would allow species to get back on schedule. Activity is closely linked with blooming of nectar sources.

Consider joining the 2018 counts next July. 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 learning but it is best experienced by exploring the real world. Time outdoors is enjoyable, healthy, and provides family time that creates wonderful memories. People can join for part of the day.

Other count results will be posted on the West Michigan Butterfly Association (WMBA) Web Site by August. Consider becoming a member of WMBA for $5/yr. A check can be sent to our treasurer Dennis Dunlap, 2599 W. Chester Dr., Zeeland, MI 49464 and his address is also posted on the web site (http://www.graud.org/wmba.html). The date for the Muskegon count is 22 July 2017 so there is still opportunity to participate. Visit the WMBA web site for location directions.

Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary is the last place we visit after diligently searching all day. I am always hopeful we will be able to find at least one species we have not discovered elsewhere during the day. This year we added the Appalachian Brown. During count week, which is the three days before and after count day, we saw two Harvesters, 1 Mourning Cloak, and 1 Hobomok Skipper at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary. Those species and numbers of individuals are not included in the count day list. They are listed as an addendum to the report and turned in to the North American Butterfly Association.

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.

 

click link to download results: 2017 Rogue River Butterfly Ct.pdf

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Wonderment


 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Wonderment opportunities transform us from youth to adulthood. Maintain wonderment as a part of living. Perhaps we get caught in trials of everyday activities that divert attention away from important experiences. Enjoy and share with family and friends the splendor of living and non-living wonders.

When was the last time you lay in your yard and to watch the migration of clouds wisp overhead? I still take time to watch the hippos, dragons, fish, or even ice cream trucks made from clouds pass across the sky. White and gray clouds transform before our eyes. Watch the edges of beautiful puffy cumulus clouds as they evaporate. Small clouds disappear right before your eyes. Have you considered where they go?

The liquid moisture that comprised the cloud has changed state from liquid to gas and has become invisible. The invisible moisture is still present in the sky. That might be a scientific explanation but where does your imagination take you?

I recall wanting to jump from a plane into one of those big puffy clouds to explore hidden mysteries. Perhaps it was Jack and the Beanstalk that stimulated the adventure desire. It is good I never took the jump. It would have been quite the surprise to fall through the cloud and splat on solid Earth.

What wonders wait in your yard? After reading my “Sparklers in the Air” article, a reader said he was enjoying the living lantern fireflies flashing on and off in the yard at night. Share stories about fireflies with kids, or better yet, encourage kids to make up stories about the night flashers to share with family. To become a person that cares for Earth’s creatures, wonderment experiences in nature niches are needed.

Exposure to the natural world of clouds, bugs, summer and streams wait outside. We isolate ourselves in our box cage and bury our heads in electronics. Nature is often experienced vicariously through TV, IPad, or even phone pictures rather than through real world outdoor adventures.

Take time to gaze into the night sky to witness Cygnus the Swan (known to some as the Northern Cross) constellation. Notice all summer it is flying south. One can purchase an App that will identify star constellations in the sky by simply pointing your phone to a section of the sky.

We are amazed each summer by Catsclaw flowers that appear in un-mowed sections of the yard. They have yellow flowers that open to create a wildflower garden of nature’s choosing. Flower stems hold the blooms 10 inches high. The flowers open in the morning and close about noon.

Scientifically I wonder what mechanism causes them to open and close and why they close midday. Do they have adaptations for morning active insects? Does turgor pressure determine when to close? Those are scientific questions intriguing me. The child that spends time enjoying the wonderment of clouds, fireflies, Catsclaw plants, and star constellations might someday desire to answer scientific questions. Kids will transform into adults that take responsibility for Earth Care if they have spent time exploring outside.

Do not expect a child to understand the importance of things natural if you do not provide them exposure to the real world found in wild places of your yard and elsewhere. Maintain wild places suitable for plants, insects, birds, and mammals for your wonderment and their survival.

Make it possible for kids to discover a robin’s nest, squirrels, butterflies, gray tree frogs, crickets, and soaring Turkey Vultures. A touch of wild in the yard will change a young life forever.

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.

 

Correction

In last week’s Nature Niche column, titled “Green tip mystery,” Ranger Steve mentioned an article that recently appeared in a local newspaper challenging him to solve the “Green tip mystery.”

The article had appeared in the Rockford Squire on June 22 and appeared without a byline. It was written by Beth Altena, their Editor/Publisher, and not the Howard Christensen Nature Center, as stated in last week’s column. The sentence in the column should have read “A recent article about the Howard Christensen Nature Center…” instead of “A recent article from the Howard Christensen Nature Center…” We apologize for any confusion that caused.

The rest of the column about the Enchanted Forest at Howard Christiansen Nature Center was strictly Ranger Steve’s own commentary.

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Migration Stopover


 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

White-throated sparrow Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area, Quebec, Canada. Photo By Cephas, Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15086427

White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows stopover on their way to northern breeding grounds. If you have feeders in your yard, expect these interestingly marked sparrows to feed on the ground. They salvage seeds that fall when Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, American Goldfinches and others get seeds from the feeder. Mourning Doves will also be feeding on the ground.

The White-throated Sparrow has a beautiful distinctive song people describe with words to help remember it. It sings “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” or our friends to the north like to describe it as “My Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada.” It is a refreshing sound to enjoy for a few weeks as the birds work their way to Canada and northern Michigan breeding grounds. Google the species by name to get pictures and song.

Look for the white throat under the bill. The breast is gray with some streaking so its white throat stands out well. Between the eye and bill is a bright yellow patch. It is easy to miss if one does not look closely. When light is bright, the yellow patch shows best but in shade it is subdued. Above the eye and behind the yellow patch are white or tan stripes between darker stripes that run the length of the head. Attention to head details is helpful for identifying many sparrows.

Some might think “a sparrow is a sparrow” but attention to details reveals a beauty missed by those that do not take a few moments for a close look. House Sparrows are common in town, on farms, and in area of heavy human use like grocery store parking lots. The White-throated is not likely to be found in grocery parking lots but your yard can be a good stopover location. Do not assume all are House Sparrows.

White-crowned Sparrows superficially look similar to White-throated Sparrows but head details separate them. I saw both species together recently. The White-crowned is slightly smaller but that is a difficult character to recognize when the species are not together. The White-crowned has a plain gray throat and cheek below the eye and bill. The breast is a plain gray with no streaking like that present on the White-throated. On the head are alternating white and black stripes running from front to back. The stripes are more brilliant than those on the White-throated. No yellow is present at the base of the bill.

Young birds from last year’s brood can make identification difficult because alternating light stripes are tan instead of white and the dark ones are rusty brown instead of black. Don’t get frustrated with variations. Concentrate on the typical.

About 10 species of sparrows can be expected in or near our neighborhoods in spring. Those present will be associated with unique nature niche requirements. The two-species described like shrubby areas with some conifer trees nearby. I find the White-crowned Sparrow in more open areas than the White-throated. Sparrow recognition can be difficult but these two separate easily when one looks at head details.

Familiarize yourself with the natural world we share with a multitude of life. Start with the two stopover sparrows and then learn the Song Sparrow, Field Sparrow, and Chipping Sparrow that stay for the summer to raise young. Be a good neighbor by providing suitable nesting and feeding habitat where you live. Though sparrows are often considered seedeaters, they depend on insects especially during young rearing. Avoid sterilizing your yard and garden with pesticides. Allow 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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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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