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Tag Archive | "Ranger Steve Mueller"

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Itty Bitty Sleeper


Ranger Steve

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Being hard to find has an advantage when you are a tasty morsel. Consider how tasty you are to female mosquitoes. Being thousands of times larger than a mosquito makes you an easy target. You make yourself an even easier target by expelling carbon dioxide and by giving off heat. If you quit breathing, mosquitoes will lose interest and your heat will quickly dissipate.

I do not recommend that tactic to avoid mosquitoes. Animals have many adaptations that actually provide improved survival chances. Being small is one advantage. It is difficult to find a creature that is less than one-fourth of an inch long. When the creature does not move for months, it makes it even more difficult to find.

The creature I am describing ties a willow leaf to a twig so, when fall leaf drop arrives, the leaf stays on the shrub. Silk from salivary glands becomes a strong binding thread when exposed to air.

During the summer months, this insect might have three broods of young. Summer broods hatch from a minute eggs and begin eating willow leaves. If fortunate, they are not eaten by Blue-winged Warblers, Indigo Buntings, ants, or stink bugs. It will pupate and transform from caterpillar to butterfly.

People often refer to the pupa as a resting stage but it is not. Tremendous work of changing its body from caterpillar to winged adult is accomplished in the chrysalis (pupa). Little rest takes place. If it is warm, the pupa will transform more rapidly and chances of becoming food for mice or other things is reduced. Less time in the chrysalis increases survival chances. It is likely that less than one percent survive from egg to adult. A primary ecological function of the adult is reproduction to keep its nature niche occupied in willow thickets.

Late season reproduction differs from earlier generations that feed heavily and work to transform to an adult as quickly as possible. The late season animal is affected by changing day length. On hatching, the egg prepares for a long resting sleep. First it must tie a leaf petiole to a twig so the leaf does not fall off as autumn progresses. It then wraps and binds itself in the small leaf with silk.

In its sleep chamber, it waits for new spring leaf growth. If it escapes a multitude of animals looking to eat it, it might get to feed and grow in spring’s warming sunlight. If we have a wet fall or early spring, fungus or bacteria might kill the small upstart. Surviving is tough.

During the long winter months, the caterpillar is actually in a deep sleep called diapause. It is hormone induced caused by shortening days and lengthening nights that bring chemical changes to its body. The hormones result in behavior different from summer broods.

Try to find one of these sleeping Viceroy butterfly caterpillars in a brown coiled leaf that looks like a leaf fragment attached to a willow twig. It is the work of birds to search twigs all winter in an effort to eat the insect. I feed birds all winter in hope of distracting them enough to help some Viceroys survive to grow, pupate, become an adult, and reproduce here at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary.

The tiny caterpillar, about the size of a pencil’s visible lead, has a big challenge to survive a long winter sleep but its adaptations improve the odds. When it emerges from the crumbled leaf in spring, its color pattern looks much like a bird turd. When disturbed it arches its body and looks even more like a turd.

Develop observation skills and patience with the challenge of finding an overwintering caterpillar in its deep sleep. Take the family to a willow thicket and search the shrubs. My friend Ken is more skilled than me at finding them. The last one he found was on a willow shrub along the White Pine Trail.

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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Walt’s Stream Crossing


 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Time outdoors is refreshing but can be life threatening if one does not learn to read the landscape. It is easy to become disoriented and lost. It is easier to get lost in Michigan than in the mountainous west. When hiking unfamiliar territory in the west, I use mountain peaks and ridges to keep my bearing. In Michigan, a compass is more essential because one cannot see distinctive landmarks in the distance.

On cloudy days when the sun is obscured, it is difficult to maintain orientation.

In our personal home range, we become familiar with objects and know exactly where we are and how to get to specific locations. Going to and from work, school, or regular haunts, it becomes so familiar that we can almost travel the routes blind folded.

As a teenager, my father-in-law hunted, hiked, and played in southern Minnesota’s landscape along the Minnesota River near Le Sueur. Wildlife in the forest and fields changed during the year depending on available food and shelter. Walt learned to track animals and it helped him hunt successfully.

Landscape features helped him survive solo outings. The Minnesota River was wide and at certain times of the year was not crossable due to high water. Even in seasons with lower water, crossing required submerging to his thighs or waist. He learned to read the landscape for safe crossing in shallowest water.

To cross the river, Walt would seek a bend in the river where a sandbar extended from the inside of a curve toward the downstream bank on the opposite shore. Water flowing toward the curve would flow straight into the outside edge of the curve, hit the bank and be diverted toward the center of the river.

Sand and other material carried by the river dropped in the slower current on the inside of the curve and created a sandbar. Directly opposite another sandbar extended toward the center of the river because the stronger current was diverted from the bank to the center of the river. Slower water on the far side dropped sediments.

When Walt crossed the river, he waded on one sand bar, was able to cross deeper water in the center, and finish crossing on the other sandbar. The Minnesota River was wide and reasonably shallow so he could wade water that was usually shallower than the length of his legs.

In February, when the temperatures seldom rose to zero during the day and dropped to -15 to -30 F at night, the river surface froze enough to walk on despite the flowing current beneath. One winter day he was crossing the frozen surface and the current had thinned the ice. He broke through and submerged to his waist. The air was about -20 F.

He scrambled out of the water and started running as fast as he could for home a mile away. Wet clothes on skin draws heat quickly from one’s body. He knew hypothermia would come fast. When he arrived home, his pants were frozen solid everywhere except at the knees where they were constantly flexed as he ran.

Good fortune allowed him to arrive home, cold and shivering instead of becoming a frozen ice statue in the wild country he enjoyed. It was good he crossed the river where it was shallowest. When venturing outside, we should pay attention to the landscape and read its secrets so when the need arises we can safely navigate. Outdoors should be enjoyed and not feared. Fear will dissipate when we become familiar with the outdoors. Spend time with family exploring nature niches during all seasons.

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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Christmas Bird Count 2015


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

OUT-Nature-niche-Christmas-bird-count-Sheet1-1Fifty-three species of birds were seen (Table 1) by 48 traveling observers and 16 bird feeder watchers on January 2, 2016.

Three Great Horned Owls and 3 Barred Owls were reported on count day with one Eastern Screech Owl added during count week. Total individuals sighted was 11,246 and was about 1,500 more than last year. Weather was great for field exploration. The species count of 53 was 6 fewer than last year but might be explained by more open water this year. Frozen water concentrates waterfowl and increases the likelihood for counting more species. We usually have approximately 60 species sighted annually so our species count was slightly down even though over all numbers were up.

Two Golden Eagles were sighted. This is the first time the species has been seen on our Christmas count. They are in surrounding areas and counties with more frequent sightings in recent years and especially during the winter months.

Regarding hawks, note the order of birds on checklists has been rearranged in recent years. The falcons now follow the woodpeckers instead of being grouped with other hawks. DNA sequencing is one reason for the revised placement as scientists work to understand evolutionary phylogenetic order of species. Phylogenetic trees have several developmental aspects that are cross referenced to understand bird origins, relationships and development.

The Carolina Wren continues to be present with four seen this year. It is becoming a regular but in the past it was primarily a southern bird.

The Christmas bird counts across the continent document geographic population changes with shifts resulting in decreases or increases. Data helps scientists with environmental quality, habitat and climate change evidence to understand impacts for our growing population, land use changes and resource consumption. When I was in high school there were 3 billion people on Earth. Now there are over 7 billion.

Weather conditions were 100 percent cloudy in the morning but mostly clear during the afternoon. Temperatures were between 24 and 36F. Winds grew to 19 mph from the southwest. Snow cover was 1-3 inches. Moving water was open with still water partly frozen.

We totaled 107 hours in vehicles traveling 884 miles. We had more hours on the road than last year but drove about half the distance. I am thinking we might have spent more time out of the vehicles at stops because it was such a fine weather day. About 18 hours was spent on foot covering 23 miles. A combined total of 907.5 miles were on foot and driving. Groups totaled 125.5 hours of daytime birding. Night owling was 7.5 hours covering 13.5 miles of effort in four count sections. There were 16 birding parties in the morning and 15 in the afternoon.

Consider joining us next year. We were pleased to have new participants this year. Check out the Grand Rapids Audubon Club at www.graud.org.

Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center (WWC) in Lowell co-hosted and we appreciate use of the facility. We encourage everyone to visit and enjoy the WWC grounds and to support their community programs.

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

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365 days of new


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

New sightings, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch are waiting for you to experience. Do not miss the opportunity to explore nature niches everyday. Spend a few minutes outside reaping at least one newness each day. Do not make a resolution that you will not keep. Instead, find something new for this year and savor it as the special.

The White Pine tree is the only pine with five needles held together by a tan follicle at the base. Photo from www.bates.edu.

The White Pine tree is the only pine with five needles held together by a tan follicle at the base. Photo from www.bates.edu.

It might be most rewarding to discover something you have not noticed previously but relish things you have known and find new joy in experiencing them this year. You might know Black-capped Chickadees but enjoy them anew this year. Look closely at a tree branch in your yard to notice buds. Can you count the small bud scales that cover the bud during these cold winter months? Some trees like the Bitternut Hickory do not have protective scales over the embryonic leaf and stem tissues. Two small leaves tightly crumple as protective covers over the inner tissues. Willows have a single scale over next spring’s new growth. Oaks have several sturdy scales covering the nearly microscopic leaves and stems within.

Make it simple and enjoy things you want to explore. Continue to make new discoveries for 365 days. The year has already progressed a few days. There will be days without observations so catch up by making more discoveries on other days. Keep a list of new experiences daily. You can keep track what you have seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or felt. It is good to list date, location, time, and observation. Look over your list once in a while to refresh your memory and relive the experience. This can be the beginning of nature journaling.

Walk with a friend on the White Pine trail. Avoid being so engrossed in conversation that you miss the natural world. Stop along the trail and use your senses. Share a discovery with your friend. It might be as simple as pointing out the sound of an American Crow. You might take notice of how many pine needles are held together in a cluster. White Pines have 5 needles held together by a tan follicle at the base. Each needle is shaped like a cut piece of pie. Two sides are straight and meet at the inner point. The outer edge is curved like that of a pie. Run your fingers from the base to tip and notice they all fit together like a freshly cut pie. I contend this is a pine tree’s version of the compound leaf.

I have never heard of needle clusters being referred to as compound leaves but each cluster is one needle-like leaf divided into five parts. When spread apart they make it possible to capture more sunlight for photosynthesis. Red Pines, Jack Pines, and Scotch Pines have two needles in a cluster that fit together like two half moons. Spruce and firs have one needle attached directly to the branch.

Feel tree trunks to notice different bark textures. Do some feel smooth or rough, furrowed up and down or crosswise? Do trees have different bark colors?

When looking at birds in flight, are wings long and narrow, short and wide, light or dark? Are tails longer or shorter than wings?

Be cautious with tasting but bite into a cherry twig and describe the taste. Try tasting a Sassafras twig. Find a White Oak acorn and taste it. Do the same with a Red Oak acorn. It is good to have a bottle of water with you just in case you do not like a taste and want to rinse your mouth. You might discover why deer have preferences for what they eat. Smell each item to discover new pleasant or unpleasant smells.

Rather than isolate yourself from nature when outside with music coming through ear plugs or by being totally engrossed in conservation, put the ear plugs away for a few minutes or cease talking for a few hundred feet. Stop at a random location for a short time to experience the surroundings. Introduce a friend to a nature’s wonderful world. Turn New Year outdoor experiences into meaningful conversations full of newness.

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

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Selective hearing and response


 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

A naturalist walking in an urban area mentioned a bird song. The friend said he could not hear it over city noise. The naturalist dropped a dime on the sidewalk behind his friend who immediately stopped in response. The naturalist said, “You heard that!” We have selective hearing.

Since the 1960’s, I have been engaging peoples’ awareness to the abundance of life and encouraging responsible creation care in our yards. Professionally, my focus has been as a scientist and educator.

For various reasons, society limits attention to a narrow selection of things like money verses Earth care. Some of the most important things impacting our survival are ignored including nature niche survival. Some losses are in plain view but remain obscure. I read about a snowshoe hare that scanned the countryside before venturing onto a snow-covered open hillside. When all looked clear, it ventured onward. A Snowy Owl rose from a snow-covered knoll, swooped in, and made it the last memory the hare would experience.

Though the owl was in plain view, the hare did not see it and it cost his life. It had mated and its legacy continued. Rabbits do not have the ability to foresee the negative impact of excessive population that would kill grandchildren through starvation. If they could, a pair would not voluntarily limit reproduction to only replace themselves with two offspring.

By voluntarily maintaining a stable population, they would not over browse vegetation that creates an absence of adequate food, shelter, and appropriate living space for succeeding generations.

I have shared such scenarios since the 1960’s to encourage people to voluntarily limit our human population to maintain a healthy environment supporting our economic, social, and environment triple bottom line. Waiting to have children until we are in our 30s would reduce or human population by 40  percent by having three generations per century instead of five that result from bearing children at age 20. Waiting does not limit the number of children per family but I have also encouraged a two-child family to balance death rate with birthrate. We have greatly reduced the death rate with vaccines and health care. Responsible care for future generations requires a balance between birth rate and death rate.

When I was in college, there were 3 billion people on Earth and now there are more than 7 billion. Thomas Malthus, in about 1900, predicted massive human deaths from starvation due to rapid population birth rate exceeding death rate. It did not happen in the time frame he predicted, because of innovative farming practices that increased food production, fertilizer use, genetic engineering, improved food transport and by removing natural habitats worldwide for human crop production. Instead of the human population crashing, mass extinction of other species supporting a healthy creation is occurring instead. Paul Ehlrich in the 1960’s, E.O. Wilson in the 1990’s, and many others for more than a century have been sharing the immediate call action to prevent massive die off of people but society chooses not to hear the abundance of scientific evidence. Reducing our population is essential to avoid a boom and bust for our present and future human generations. It is like hearing the bird song and dime. We select what we want to hear instead of hearing all and responding appropriately.

Would you retrieve a hundred-dollar bill on the ground but destroy native plants worth more? Plants have real economic value for water purification, atmospheric carbon removal and more that protect future generations and society.

The President of the US gathered with leaders of 180 countries in the perhaps the largest gathering of world leaders this past week to work on climate change agreements. He stated that natural communities have real economic value that are ignored because we focus only on economics instead of including social and environmental aspects of the equation. I and other scientists have been promoting this idea with scientific evidence for decades to deaf ears. One aspect of energy conservation is related to how many people are living on Earth at one time. Many people work to prevent change to carbon free energy production. Many have lawns instead of maintaining natural habitats in portions of yards. In many ways I feel my career has been a failure by falling on deaf ears.

At the Howard Christensen Nature Center, we had energy-monitoring kits we sent to schools to measure consumption to show how they could save millions of dollars with simple energy conservation actions. It fell on deaf hears until energy prices soared and they began implementing practices solely for money. It has not a priority in America to conservative energy to save money, future generations or environment.

More personally, anyone that exceeds the posted speed limit consumes excessive fossil fuel that degrades the environment and it costs more money. Arriving at a destination a few minutes sooner hurts or kills our grandchildren by causing atmospheric damage. Society’s ears are deaf and our actions are poor. In 1973, Jimmy Carter implemented a 55 mph speed limit that reduced billions of gallons of gas consumption and saved billions of dollars. If we continued driving with an economic, social, and environmental behavior at 55 mph, we would have been reducing our personal carbon imprint for 40 years. Our desire for speed takes precedence over health of coming generations. My Christmas gift is to suggest local behavior solutions to reduce human-caused carbon imprint by encouraging voluntary family size limits and to change from carbon energy production sources. Implement creation care for economic, social, and environmental essentials that protect present and future generations. Deaf ears, with no behavior change, are dangerous.

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

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Who was that?


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fall Ephemerals


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Fall has a resurgence of some spring activity but has its own unique ephemerals. Anxiously we wait for the fall color pageant. By August, cherry trees were dropping red and yellow leaves and sugar maples began releasing some green leaves.

The Michigan Botanical Club visited Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, on September 19, and witnessed 1200-1500 Clouded Sulphur butterflies flying over and among Frost Asters, in the field. Of the 40 people present, most said they have never seen so many butterflies in one area. It was a great, moving experience lasted through most of September and continues into October. After killing frosts, asters are mowed annually, in late October, to prepare the area for the ephemeral spring mating display of American Woodcocks. Also present were some Orange Sulphurs that hold off making an appearance until late in the year. We work to manage the sanctuary for greatest habitat biodiversity.

Fall flowering species of showy yellow goldenrods were observed in sunlit openings. Ragweeds with small unnoticed green flowers bloom at the same time. It is ragweed’s ephemeral, small, lightweight pollen carried on the wind that causes “hay fever.” Unfortunately, many people blame goldenrods because their fall ephemeral flowering occurs at the same as ragweed. Goldenrod pollen is large, heavy and falls to the ground. Goldenrod depends on insects to carry its pollen to other flowers and is not a source of “hay fever.”

A small fall resurgence of spring flowering maiden pinks shows pink petals with white dots and fringed petal tips. As daylight hours shorten and night lengthens, spring and summer plant physiology is confused and causes a slight increase in plant hormone levels that stimulates some out-of-season flowering. It is normal for fall flowering plants to have their full plant hormones increase late to stimulate fall flowering. Spring flowering plant schedules are completed because of earlier hormone peaks but a hormone resurgence stimulated by night length similar to spring brings about some out-of-season blooming.

Even animals like spring peeper frogs have a late season hormone rise that stimulates some breeding behavior. One will hear scattered peeping throughout the woods but the frogs do not migrate to their essential fishless breeding vernal ponds to lay eggs like they do in April and May. Gray tree frogs call with their short loud trilling burst from the woods. Of course, deer begin their ephemeral rut.

Bird migration time varies among species and is partly driven by hormone level changes. Many shorebird species migrate south as early as July. Warblers move through from August to October. Interestingly, it is the first year young birds that come through ahead of parents.

Bur Oak is an ephemeral of centuries, with its coming and going in Michigan, where remnants still survive. It has become less common due to habitat change. It thrives and reproduces best in grasslands, with widely scattered trees known as savannas. It has adaptations to survive periodic fires. We have largely stopped wildfires and the tree is in decline as savannas disappear. With periodic fires, savanna habitat supports conditions where this species can increase.

Nature niches have yearly ephemerals and others that occur over centuries (probably not technically classified as ephemerals). Some species are “ephemeral” that come and go over centuries, depending on adaptations to events like essential fires. Our lives are too short to witness all the ephemeral wonders around us.

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

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River fishing challenges


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Fishing inland lakes in summer and ice fishing in winter is wonderful outdoor exposure. It’s a joy to look through the ice hole and observe swimming fish. Ice shanties create a dark room and sun filtered through the ice lights the water. The hole resembles a TV viewing screen. I find joy watching fish and catching them.

Now is a time when anglers crowd the rivers to catch fish swimming upstream. I am an infrequent angler and had little experience river fishing until I was teenager. At age 15, my older brother took me fishing to Fletcher County Park, near Alpena, and it became an annual Memorial Day weekend event.

At that park, I learned an important fishing lesson. Many Northern Pike were just under the size limit and needed to be released. It was fun for me to reel in a fighter big or small. I am sure that is not what the fish considered a good time. I prefer continuously casting my lure instead of sitting with a static line waiting for fish to bite. I am too antsy. Watching a bobber is not the best time for me.

Thunder Bay River flowed into and out from Sunken Lake. We floated the rowboat downstream to where we thought “the big one” would be lying in wait for its next meal. It was a great place to perfect casting skills. Too long a cast would land on a log; too short would not reach hidden hollows where fish were waiting; and too far to the left or right was not suitable for fish to hunt their prey. My older brother, Mike, was excellent at casting. Whatever he did was always better than I could do. I think that is true of older brothers in general (true or not).

As we floated down the lazy river, we would cast to where we thought fish were waiting. I hooked one and the fish decided it was not going to be landed. One must not to exert too much instant pressure on the line or it might snap. I kept constant pressure on the line and reeled the fish closer as it fought for freedom with powerful “fish moves.” Gradually the fish exhausted and was drawn close to the boat.

When it was close, I released some line and the fish took its chance to escape. Mike, with shock, said, “What are you doing?!” I said I wanted to play the fish longer. He said, “You cannot do that.” Instantly I learned why. The fish immediately swam to an underwater log and swam around the log. The log now caught me on one end of the line and the fish on the other. Mike rowed to the log that was submerged near the water surface. We could see the fish on a short line unable to get away.

It was near the water surface and Mike was able to net it. We landed the fish and prepared it for dinner. Mike explained more do’s and don’ts for fishing while we enjoyed a Northern Pike dinner. We enjoyed bass, sucker, and pan fish dinners on our fishing weekends. We smelt fished the Great Lakes. Each fish species has unique habitat requirements for temperature, depth, vegetation, currents, and prey.

The fish we catch taste better than those caught by other people. When one spends time exploring fish nature niches to learn behavior, selected habitats, and experiences time in beautiful wild places fishing, it adds flavor to the meal. This makes the fish we catch the best tasting. It is a psychological benefit that transposes to our taste buds.

I learned to never allow slack in the line because the fish will seize the escape opportunity. We were lucky to eat the fish that taught me a lesson. It is good for people to learn where fish come from. Too many people think they come from grocery stores or fish markets instead of rivers, lakes, and oceans. We cannot protect habitats if we do not know them from personal intimate outdoor experience. Go outdoors.

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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Big Year Birder Speaks


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The Big Year movie showed in area theaters in 2011, and featured Greg Miller, played by Joe Black, in the movie. The movie was about three men trying to see as many bird species in one year as possible. Each hoped to see more than anyone else had seen in one year. People found the movie fun and comical despite it portraying a real life serious experience and quest. The Grand Rapids Audubon is hosting Greg as speaker on September 28, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. in the Wege Auditorium on the Aquinas College Campus.

The Audubon club invites us to enjoy this entertaining speaker describe his quest to surpass seeing 700 species of birds in one calendar year, by traversing the continent in his quest. The motion picture entertained many in our community, and, if you missed it, I suggest you rent and view it prior to Greg’s talk at the end of September. The actors Steve Martin and Owen Wilson portrayed the other birders in the quest. Come to Greg’s presentation, where he will relate some of the hilarious stories about his journey and tell of his role as movie consultant.

A free-will donation at the door is encouraged to defray the speaker fee and to support Audubon club bird conservation and education efforts. For more information, you can contact John Chronowski at vice.president@graud.org.

The GR Audubon presentation will be at the Wege Student Center on the Aquinas College Campus at 1607 Robinson SE to accommodate a larger audience. The Wege Student Center is accessible from Fulton St on the north and from Robinson Rd on the south. Parking is available in Lots A and B on Fulton St and in Lots L and M on Robinson Rd. I approach Aquinas College from the East Beltline by taking Lake Michigan Ave to Robinson.

For those of us that watch and pursue birds, the birding quest is familiar, but to others it is a not. My sister-in-law saw the movie and asked if people really do this. Like any hobby, some people take great effort to be among the best in their pursuit. Personally, I am more casual about my pursuit but I do try to notice as many bird species as possible. This year, my list is over 350 species of bird species sighted and that is not an easy number to see in one year.

In my personal quest, I try to learn the habitat for each species and observe its strategies for survival. Where does it spend most of its time and what food is it eating? Does it associate with particular plants in its nature niche? Where does it nest and what foods are preferred during each month? What are spring arrival and fall departure dates? Natural history questions continue to challenge our observation skills.

I seek similar quests for butterflies, plants, amphibians, mammals, and even fish. One of my college professors commented that what he remembered most about me is that I am a generalist. As a generalist, it is impossible to excel in any one area, but I am most satisfied with connecting the lives of all organisms in an ecosystem, and thus claim to be an ecologist. We each have our personal quest but I am greatly looking forward to hearing Greg discuss his quest that he refers to as “My Big Story.”

My big year will never approach that of serious birders like Greg, but mine helps me learn about the birds encountered and aids my understanding for how ecosystems function. I will greatly enjoy learning how Greg enjoys nature and his great knowledge of birds. Come for an entertaining evening.

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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I spy; a spider


N-Spider-Cook

Mike Cook, of Solon Township, brought this large spider into the Post, which he found under his porch. His friend wanted to take it out of the jar for a picture, but we were perfectly happy to leave it inside!

While it resembles a wolf spider, we discovered it actually is a type of fishing spider (dolomedes tenebrosus). Ranger Steve Mueller verified that for us.

According to Penn State’s webpage on this spider, the species Dolomedes tenebrosus is more frequently associated with wooded areas (it would be more accurately classified as a tree-dwelling spider) and is a common household invader in these locations. It occurs from New England and Canada south to Florida and Texas.

Another website, www.spiders.us, said that “Despite the moniker of fishing spider, this particular species is frequently found far from water. Look for the spiders waiting motionless in ambush on tree trunks, fenceposts, walls, and other vertical surfaces, mostly at night. The spiders dash into tree holes, under bark, and into crevices when startled.”

It also said that this is a powerful hunting spider that does not spin a prey-catching snare. Prey is composed of large insects and even small vertebrates that the spider can overpower. This includes small fish (e.g. minnows) and various aquatic insects when this spider hangs out near bodies of water.

These spiders mature in late spring, and reproduce in mid-summer.

If you have wildlife you’d like to show us, please take a photo and send it to us with some information to news@cedarspringspost.com. We prefer you send us photos over bringing in the actual wildlife.

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