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Tag Archive | "Ranger Steve Mueller"

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: New pollinator guide


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

A new Michigan State University pollinator publication PDF is available for free download titled “Protecting and Enhancing Pollinators in Urban Landscapes for the US North Central Region.” This 2016 publication (MSU Extension Bulletin E3314) is the complete guide to protecting pollinators while gardening, growing flowers, or managing trees, shrubs, or turf grass in urban areas.

The extension service encourages people to plant native species and also suggests use of non-native species. Non-native species plants spring up in the lawn. Like the extension service, I encourage allowing them to live among the grass. They attract nectar seeking butterflies and insects. The Extension Service provides a list of non-natives for the garden; also I suggest New pollinator guide use of non-natives. They point out that cultivars and non-natives often do not attract insects well.

Though I strive to encourage native plants, I am not a purist and tolerate some exotics. Part of the reason is because it would be necessary to use herbicides and fertilizers to eliminate broadleaf plants in the carpet of monocot grasses. A pure grass yard has nice appeal but supports little diversity of life. I encourage the greatest diversity of insect life and that in turn allows more birds to thrive.

Regularly I see an Eastern Phoebe fly from a tree perch into the yard to eat insects. Ground feeding birds walk or hop in the lawn searching for insects. That is not as common in manicured pure grass lawns. Karen commented that our yard looks like something out of a Disney movie. When we look out the window, we see two or three rabbits nibbling on clovers, deer, birds and squirrels. Many birds and mammals are present in our yard because it is not excessively manicured.

When the Wild Ones Native Plant Group comes for field trips, I share that I am not a purist and allow some non-native plants to live. I try to restrict most planting to native species. I realize most people do not have the books that identify species as native or non-native. I encourage landscape nurseries to sell native genotypes but they sell what people buy. Request nurseries to sell native species genotypes. That might affect healthy change that encourage maintenance of native biodiversity in your yard.

In sections of the yard that I mow, I leave areas unmowed until July to allow wildflowers to brighten the landscape. Two species that provide dense beauty, color, and food are Maiden Pink and Cat’s-ear. The pinks form a wonderful layer of pink flowers with Cat’s-ear making a towering layer of bright yellow above them. They are present because of delayed mowing. Both have flowers that open in sun and close in shade or night. Butterflies and other insects visit for nectar. When the pinks go to seed, I mow them but summer garden flowers have begun blooming and provide continued nectar.

I greatly appreciated the volunteer work from the River City Wild Ones that prepared the butterfly garden for the past two springs. They are Meribeth Bolt, Tammy Lundeen, Mindy Miner, Deanna Morse, and Gretchen Zuiderveen. My oncologist has stated my gardening days are through because I am not fungus protected. The cancer and three chemo chemicals limit my body’s immune system. The limitation does not prevent me from exploring, enjoying, and discovering something new every day in nature niches. Use the new pollinator guide will help liven your yard with flowers, insects, and birds.

Download the Pollinator Guide PDF:

<http://msue.anr.msu.edu/uploads/resources/pdfs/ProtectPollinatorsInLandscape_Final-LowRes.pdf>

I met with with Extension Agent Erwin (Duke) Elsner at his request this spring to provide sources for pollinator data. He had most sources for our region identified but I was able to assist with a few more.

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

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Bowl and doily in your yard


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Look for dozens or hundreds of cups and saucers, as I like to refer to them, tied to vegetation in tall grassy areas of your yard in the morning. They are only visible on special days.

The name one uses is not important unless you try to look up information in books or on the Internet. Scientists use the standardized English name Bowl and Doily Weaver (spider) and Frontinella pyramitela for its scientific name to communicate clearly with Arachnologists around the world. I have not confirmed which species lives at Ody Brook. Two Bowl and Doily Weaver species live in Michigan.

Several bowl and doily spider’s webs wet with dew, on a trail in the Adirondacks, between Long Pond and Bessie Pond, St. Regis Canoe Area. By Marc Wanner

Several bowl and doily spider’s webs wet with dew, on a trail in the Adirondacks, between Long Pond and Bessie Pond, St. Regis Canoe Area. By Marc Wanner

Webs are invisible to us and to prey during most of the day and night. If you take an early morning walk, you are likely to get wet shoes and see massive numbers of two parted webs covered with dew. When the dew evaporates, the webs disappear from view but are still present to capture prey.

The upper portion is largest and looks like a bowl that has many threads stretched to plants above the bowl. The threads create a sloppy appearance but those guy wires cause small insects to collide and fall into the bowl. Beneath the bowl is a flat doily where the spider sits belly up waiting. When an insect falls into the bowl, the tiny spider reaches up, bites the insect and pulls it through the bowl for a meal.

The spiders are about as long as a dog tick. Males are only two tenths of an inch and females are about three tenths of an inch long. Most insects and spiders are tiny but we notice the big ones like honeybees, June beetles, butterflies or big moths that hit our screens at night. Most of the insect world remains hidden to us unless we look for minute organism nature niches. The little Bowl and Doily Weaver is not easily seen on its doily beneath the bowl shaped web. They often stand toward the web’s edge.

My brother and his wife live in a rural area outside of town where a plane flies over and sprays for mosquitoes. Mosquitos are food for many organisms we like to have in our yards. Very few insects are bothersome to people and most are beneficial in a variety of ways. About three of every five bites of food we eat are present because of insect or other pollinators.

More insect pollinators means larger bird, mammal, and wildflower populations.

Some people prefer to live in a sterilized environment. They do not recognize the negative impact pesticides have by reducing necessary insects that pollinate and maintain ecosystem health. I see a commercial on TV showing a man spraying a family’s yard with mosquito pesticide. He is wearing a mask and protective clothing. This is meant to look good for eliminating mosquitoes but many pesticides also eliminate pollinators and organisms like the Bowl and Doily Weavers that eat mosquitoes. Many pesticides are not healthy for people.

If you maintain a portion of your yard as field with grasses and wildflowers growing one to three feet tall, you have ideal conditions for weaver webs. They occur in shrublands and forests but my experience indicates fewer numbers. I’m amazed with the abundance of webs scattered throughout the field on wet mornings and then suddenly there are none seen. They have not gone anywhere but without dew droplets they become invisible.

Their abundance increases all summer but dewy mornings are less frequent in July and August. September and October provide the best opportunity for seeing the webs and finding the spiders. My colleague, Diantha, has focused attention on spiders and she tells me we are never more than three feet from a spider even in the house. Most are so small we never notice. I pick up spiders in the house and carry them outside because I think they will find more food so they can “live and be happy.” Let spiders do the killing instead of poisons. If you do, you should get to see more butterflies and interesting insects.

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

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Silver beads of guttation


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Shining silver that does not tarnish glistens at the tips of wild strawberry leaves early in the morning. Instead of tarnishing, the silver evaporates in the morning warming sun. Humidity in the air determines how long silver beads will persist.

Guttation is responsible for water drops developing in rows along leaf edges and tips. At strawberry leaf tooth tips are microscopic spongy cells surrounding a tiny pore that allows water to ooze from the leaf. Water is drawn into plant roots like corn, grasses, and many other plants by uneven water pressure between high soil moisture and low moisture within the plant.

When soil is dry, water does not enter the plant. Avoiding dehydration is essential and all plants have adaptations in their nature niche to help them survive. In the Great Lakes region, it seems we have plenty of moisture but even within sight of the Great Lakes, some plants live in an arid environment.

The sand dunes have large coarse sand particles where water flows through rapidly. Without drought resistant adaptations, dune species would not survive. Plants living in constantly wet soils or in shallow standing water would drown without special adaptations for such conditions.

To some degree plants regulate water flow through their bodies. Leaves have massive numbers of tiny pores on the surface called stomata. Surrounding each pore are two bean shaped guard cells. When the plant is full of water, the guard cells swell. The inner side of each guard cell by the pore has a thick inflexible wall and the outer side has a thin wall that bulges when the cell fills with water. The more inflexible side arches to make the pore opening bigger as the outer side bulge increases outward.

The tips of the two bean-shaped cells touch but the opening between the two cells enlarges allowing water to escape to the air. When water evaporates from the surface, it tugs on water molecules and pulls more up through the root, stem, and leaves. It helps transport nutrients for plant tissues. The plant controls water content by opening and closing stomata based on moisture in the guard cells.

Guttation is different and is not regulated. The pore at the leaf edge is always open but these pores are limited in number. During the night when water vapor is high in the atmosphere (high humidity), evaporation is reduced. Large drops form and grow to form the silver beads we see in the morning.

During the Memorial Day weekend, it was a great pleasure to venture in the naturalness of Ody Brook to see any and all special things. Hopefully everyone spent time outdoors between infrequent rain showers. Much of the weekend was rain free but both ground and air humidity were high. As water was drawn into roots by uneven water pressure, it accumulated on leaf tips as it leaked from the always open pores. The result was beautiful silver water beads shining in the early day’s sun along leaf edges.

For eons this natural process occurred before our presence. It moves valuable nutrients like potassium and nitrogen through the plant. If we add too much nitrogen to the soil, fertilizer burn can occur. During the past 20 years’ a new danger to life has been added. Neonicotinoid insecticides have been added and become concentrated in guttation water beads. When bees drink guttation water from plants grown from neonic treated seeds, they can die within minutes. It is increasingly difficult for farmers to purchase seeds that have not been treated. Neonics are thought to be a cause of bee colony collapse disorder. Research continues but scientific confirmation takes time and repeated verification.

We can enjoy the natural wonders in our yards but we should learn to live in harmony with the lives of bees and other insects that make our lives possible by their daily work in gardens and farm fields.

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

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Lead in wildlife 


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The U.S. Army is going with green ammunition. This summer soldiers in Afghanistan began using a new “green” bullet that experts say is more effective than the traditional lead round. The green bullet will eliminate up to 2,000 tons of lead from the manufacturing process annually.

Lead hazards in the environment have been known for over a century. Alternatives for lead shot are known. Questions remain regarding the impact on wildlife. Some hunters are concerned that more wildlife will be injured and escape if alternates are used. For the past 40 years, I have heard hunters state that steel shot is not as lethal so we should not use it. Research conducted at Shiawassee River State Game Area in 1973 and other locations across the US showed no significant statistical difference in crippling loss between steel and lead shot. People’s perceptions often do not match verifiable research studies.

The distance at which waterfowl are shot is important. Shooting birds from too far away results in escape of injured birds. It is an unfortunate reality that there will be injured wildlife that are not killed for various reasons.

In 1977, steel was required in the Mississippi flyway for waterfowl hunting and that includes Michigan. Lead is still permitted for upland game hunting. This is not the place to list decades of research papers. For quick concise information I suggest reviewing the Michigan DNR website.

Embryonic exposure to lead can affect avian immune systems, brain development, and hatchability. Early post-hatch exposure can affect behaviors critical to survival including brain development, and growth. In adult birds, the effects of lead exposure include anemia with potential detriment to migration capability, increased mortality due to environmental temperature stress, immunotoxicity, behavioral deficits, and reduced egg production.

The banning of lead shot for waterfowl hunting in wetlands 40 years ago has likely reduced lead levels in some areas. Lead poisoning in animals continues. Animals ingest it thinking pellets are seeds, nuts, or eat it when scavenging on carcasses. It is ingested as stones to grind food in their gizzard.

Similar concerns have made headlines recently regarding lead exposure to people in Flint’s water and how it affects people’s health. For some reason it has been ok to knowingly inflict this on wildlife but not people.

What goes around comes around and I suspect what we do to life in nature niches will return to impact our families. We want to believe we are isolated from damaging substances we put in to the environment but we are not. Whether it is lead, excessive carbon, DDT, oil in drain sewers, or toilet boil cleaners, we are not isolated.

Three studies, as example, estimated densities of 11,000 lead pellets per acre in a field managed for dove hunting in Indiana; the Washington Fish and Wildlife Nontoxic Shot Working Group in 2001 estimated densities of 188,000 to 344,000 pellets per acre at two pheasant release sites in Washington; and over 122,000 pellets per acre were in uncultivated fields near duck blinds in Missouri.

Hunting and fishing gear containing lead could economically be replaced with non-toxic alternatives. I still have lead sinkers in my tackle box but I do not use them. They were my grandfather’s. I do not think my grandfather understood the dangers from lead. I didn’t, as a youngster. I bit on lead split-sinkers to attach them to my fishing line. My dad had a lead rod used for soldering. I demonstrated my strength by showing how I could bend a “steel” rod like superman. My hands probably went in my mouth afterwards. What damage was done?

Once lead reaches toxic levels in tissues, muscle paralysis and associated complications result in death in eagles, loons, ducks, geese, swans or others that ingested it. The Common Loon on display at Howard Christensen Nature Center washed into the shore of Lake Michigan. A DNR autopsy showed it died from lead pellet ingestion. I would rather see it live in a healthy wild world than be displayed as a casualty of lead we put in the environment.

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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Repelling Insects 


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Biting insects can drive us indoors. Wildlife are not as fortunate as we are in escaping biting critters. They find ways to reduce the nuisance by selecting breezy locations that keep mosquitoes and black flies away. Deer flies arrive later in the season and provide a painful bite but not as bad as a horse fly bite.

Black flies swarm in early spring. A friend said black flies were in thick swarm around me. I did not receive a single bite. When black flies first emerge, they do not seem to bite. I need to study that more. Maybe males emerge first. They do not need blood for egg development. When tiny black fly females arrive, they crawl around on skin looking for edges like hairline or bite at clothing edges.

When I wore a swimsuit, black flies couldn’t find a place to bite except at the suit’s edge. I treated that edge with repellent and I remained bite free while fishing. Large numbers of these small humpbacked flies landed on me and crawled about but they are so small I did not feel them. We do not feel their bite either. It is not until later that bite sites become red, itchy, and painful.

Avoid insect repellent chemicals as much as possible. Many repellants are not healthy for us when applied to skin. Place repellent on clothes. When biting insects are numerous, keep your body covered for protection and apply a safe repellent to limited exposed skin. Insect head nets are better than chemicals for protection.

Be careful not to get the chemical on the palms of hands because it will get on things you touch. I touch plants, insects I study, frogs, or other life. I do not want to injure anything I handle or leave chemical traces on leaves that are beneficial for insects to eat. Apply repellent to the back of hand and wipe it on face or neck. Do not spray your face because some might get in eyes. Avoid applying to forehead. When you sweat, it will to run into your eyes.

Mary Miller, who worked with me at the Howard Christensen Nature Center, taught me that wearing a bracken fern worked well to keep deer flies from biting and swarming my face. These flies circle our heads and are disturbing beyond their bite. Pick the fern and place its stem in hair or hat. The leafy portion of the fern rises above your head. Flies swarm that instead of our face. It is a simple repellent.

Wearing cologne, perfume, or hair gels attract biting insects and even irritated stinging wasps. We might want to smell great for people but it will attract unwanted insects. It has been difficult to get some students to appreciate the natural world if they use hair gels. They are bothered too much by insects to enjoy the outdoors.

Some people have their own natural repellents. My youngest daughter and I are not bothered by insects as much as Karen and my older daughter. I think it is because Julianne and I have more vitamin B. The four of us were hiking Five Lakes trail near Strongs in the UP and it was 80 F. Karen and Jenny Jo wore sweatshirts with hoods and covered all but face and hands. Biting insects were so thick around them they could not enjoy the hike. Julianne and I wore light weight clothes with skin exposed and insects were not thick around us.

A world of natural chemicals in nature niches attract, irritate, or repel insects. Plant chemicals protect them from insects and we extract those to use as commercial repellents. Native Americans historically rubbed sweetfern leaves on themselves because the chemical in leaves repels insects.

Biting insects are most problematic from May to late June. It is wonderful to be outside but bugs can drive us indoors. Find ways to be outside during all seasons. Staying in open sunlit breezy areas works well to avoid biters. Shaded wet areas have more mosquitoes. Camping in mid to late summer and fall has fewer irritating insects and makes for a better family experience.

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

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Hidden Sounds


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Deep within tree and shrub canopy some birds sing to announce their presence without exposing themselves to predators. Gray tree frogs sing from obscure shrub branches and hidden crevasses of house siding. Chipmunks cluck from logs and red squirrels chatter on needle-filled pine branches.

Many of us have experienced a stern scolding from a red squirrel when we entered what it considers its territory. Animals lay claim to territorial space in order to establish adequate room for rearing a family. The living space might provide essential food, water, and shelter but maybe not. Protected territory space does not always meet basic needs for survival.

That is fine for some species because space needed for family raising is different from where they acquire food and water during the breeding season. They leave a smaller size nesting “territory” to feed in social groups or to visit convenient watering areas in “home range” space.

Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds gather in feeding groups within inches of one another but will not tolerate such closeness in nesting territory. At nesting sites, larger territories are guarded by singing males. Even females have territories. Not all species behave in this manner.

Gulls, terns, swallows and several other species nest in close proximity to one another. There are advantages and disadvantages for colonial nesting. Isolation is important for the hidden singers.

Colorful warblers, thrushes, chickadees, sparrows, finches and many others need isolated hidden locations to successfully raise a family. Many do not succeed with difficult challenge. Singing from a hidden podium offers protection from predators when birds claim breeding territories. Sometimes the danger from predators is not significant but breeding song still comes from among the thickness of leaves.

It is nearly impossible to see other birds of their own species in the thick of the woods. Searching every tree and shrub for intruders would take time away from gathering food and courting. Instead, each species has a unique song to sing from hidden locations to warn others “this space is taken.” When one dares challenge the boundary, the resident will hear the song and travel to oust a space competitor.

Territorial singing is most prevalent early in the day. Birds patrol their boundary singing from hidden locations. Sound travels well through the canopy where sight is limited. In addition to sound being an important territorial marker, color is important when the birds see one another. When seen, particular colors might make birds see “Red” in the case of another male and causes them to defend a territory. The beautiful flash of color patterns owned by many birds are also used to woo a mate.

Singing from a hidden location can protect nature niche food, water, and shelter during family upbringing from others of the same species. Once appropriate space is established, the bird can display its flamboyance to a resident female.

Great variety of species behaviors fill habitats. The Red-winged Blackbird does not sing from a hidden place. Instead it stands bold on a cattail in an open marsh. Explore and witness over 300 species of birds in unique Great Lakes ecosystem habitats and their diverse behaviors.

Listen and enjoy the hidden sounds of nature even when you do not get to enjoy seeing the maker.

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

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Snippets of life 


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Picking wild blue berries with the family, catching grasshoppers and worms for fishing, swimming in a lake, canoeing a river, climbing a tree with neighborhood kids, catching lightning bugs are all snippets from my childhood outdoor experiences. Each of us recall a multitude of experiences from growing up.

Make a mental list of your experiences growing up. How many are outdoor experiences with family? How many are outdoor experiences by yourself or with other kids? Ask your kids to list outdoor experiences with family, by themselves or with other kids.

Compare your lists. Do you and your kids have similar outdoor experience lists? Times have changed but are you providing your children or grandchildren with experiences that were a joy for you as a kid?

One of my happier moments came with each of my girls separately. I asked each when we were alone, to tell me their favorite family activity from when they were growing up. Interesting both had the same answer. They said going horseback riding at Wolf Lake Ranch. That is something we did during a fall weekend each year. My favorite family activity when I was growing up was going to Wolf Lake Ranch with my parents every fall.

How many parents can say their children’s favorite family activity is the same favorite activity they had with their parents? Going to a rustic ranch for horseback riding, hayride, campfire, and other activities is one way to experience the outdoors.

In some ways, the girls and I grew up in the same time three decades apart. Of course, the world changed but the natural world was there for all of us. We had time to explore on our own and with friends.

Technology brought new advances as I grew. A new thing called transistor radios came into existence, FM radio developed, and automatic engines were replacing stick shift automobiles in my youth. As my kids grew, pinball machines gave way to video games, computers like the Apple IIe hit the market, and CD’s replaced vinyl records.

TV shrunk the world even more and brought distant places and events closer to home. Despite the changes going on around us, our kids grew up with frogs, deer, ants, oak trees, and apples as neighbors. We grew Christmas trees in the yard and learned tree husbandry. Each girl had their own garden. As  waves rolled toward Lake Michigan’s shore, we threw stones to see if we could hit white caps.

We camped in Hiawatha National Forest campgrounds and put our feet in the icy water of Lake Superior. In warmer shallow water of a campground lake, we waded among thousands of American toad pollywogs.

We choked on campfire smoke that seemed to follow us where ever we moved.

The world might be changing in ways we wish it were not but that does not mean our kids and grandkids cannot grow up in a time and place that was present 50 years ago. The natural world provides a place to nurture one’s sole, spirit, and physical health.

Tents are still sold, outhouses still are found in rustic campgrounds, dirt hiking trails are more abundant throughout the state, birds are singing, coyotes howl, bull frogs bellow, and deer bound from secret bedding areas. Raise kids in a time and place that you remember. It is safe and wonderful.

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

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Beyond belief


Ranger Steve

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The wonders of nature are often beyond belief. Constant amazement surrounds us with the antics of life. All sizes, shapes, colors, sounds, and smells take us to emotional highs that enrich our lives or lows that break our hearts.

Science is isolated from emotion and belief when used properly. Science accepts nothing about nature niches without the support of physical evidence from repeated experimentation.

A published study documented planaria could be taught to turn left to eat but to avoid turning right because they would get an electric shock. Planaria are small flat worms about one forth inch long and live under rocks in streams. I look under rocks in the creek at Ody Brook annually to enjoy the emotional uplift of seeing the worms and knowing stream conditions are still suitable for them.

In the study, “educated” planaria were ground up and fed to other planaria. The study reported flat worms that ate the “educated” planaria turned left to eat and avoided turning right. The scientist concluded planaria learned their behavior by eating “educated” planaria. Other scientists repeated the study to verify the findings but the results could never be duplicated. Science discarded the conclusions of the original scientific study. Science is self-correcting through repeatable, verifiable tests using controlled experimentation.

Many things in nature seem unbelievable but repeated tests often support conclusions. One thing people informally test annually in our yards is with robins, cardinals, and some other birds. The male birds fight their reflection in windows until they break their beaks or even die. Bird brains are not smart enough to know the reflection is not another bird and they try drive the other male from their territory.

TV shows try to portray the “ideal” scientific thinking devoid of emotional influence and devoid of making conclusions without adequate physical evidence. Shows like “Bones” and “Rizzoli and Isles” have scientists that do not make conclusions without adequate physical evidence. In the real world, scientific process requires peer reviewed analysis to help prevent erroneous conclusions from getting published. The rigors of science help keep beliefs from influencing scientific conclusions.

Belief is beyond scientific acceptability. Evidence supports climate change is greatly human influenced. Many people however accept or reject it depending on the conclusion they want. Science requires tentative conclusions based on physical evidence. Science conclusions are always tentative pending further study like in the planaria behavior study. People usually believe based on their perception without rigorous scientific experimental support. That is typical with politics and religion. No amount of physical evidence will usually convince people otherwise concerning politics or religion.

The question can be asked, should religion and politics be dismissed because they are not supported with adequate rigorous scientific conclusions? My answer is No. There is a place for multiple realities that impact our lives. Emotions and feelings are a real part of our lives and drive our moral behavior. Science does not include morals. It is about “How” the world works solely based on physical evidence. It is not about “Why” the world exists. Society is guided by melding logical reasoning of “How” with emotional feelings and morals taught during upbringing of “Why.” Religion is a “Why” reality. Faith depends on acceptance without physical evidence. Faith is believing without supportable physical evidence. Science and faith can complement each other for a sustainable future.

When something seems beyond belief, determine if it is scientifically supportable or is accepted on faith. Determine if decisions benefiting future generations should be made based on science, faith, or both. I suggest science and faith together will support a better future and should not be an either/or decision.

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

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Howard Christensen Nature Center


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve

The Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC) has developed a cadre of community programs under the leadership of Dave Kieft. Weekend, spring break, and summer camps are part of the variety. Family events meet the interests for all family members. School programming is increasing.

Individual and family memberships provide opportunity for people to visit everyday of the week at no additional fee. Swamp boardwalks lead to where spring frog chorus is a highlight just before dusk. Learn about additional HCNC membership benefits at the office or web site.

One can slowly approach Vernal Pond near the Red Pine Interpretive Center and frogs will quiet. You might see their heads retreat beneath the surface. Stop, sit, and wait less than three minutes and a brave Spring Peeper will begin a single peep. Soon others will feel safe and a massive chorus will fill the air.

While you are sitting, cup your hands behind your ears to enlarge your sound catching ear pinnae. The sound will become so painfully loud you will unable to continue with hands cupped behind your ears. Rotate hands so the cup is facing behind you. The back of your hands in front of ears reduces a large amount of sound from reaching and hurting your vibrating eardrums.

When you leave Vernal Pond, discuss how valuable movable ear pinnae are for dogs, foxes, squirrels, deer, and other mammals. They allow gathering of specific directional sound. Mammals are able to determine exactly where danger might approach. Notice Vernal Pond has more frogs than nearby Tadpole Pond. Vernal ponds are more important for frog survival than permanent ponds and lakes.

Predators approach prey quietly but a rustle of leaves, a broken twig, or even brushing against a shrub can alert mammals because ear pinnae enhance sound. People cannot move ear pinnae but we can use our hands to demonstrate the effectiveness of movable pinnae.

It was always my expectation when director at HCNC to share space with creatures that make the nature center home. We maintained a single file pathway along the west side of Vernal Pond from beech tree to driveway. The east shoreline was reserved for frogs and other creatures with no human disturbance.

Green Frogs sat frozen like statues. On the west shore, frogs submerge as we approached or they would jump frightened into the pond. Some would stay motionless ready to escape. They blended well with shoreline vegetation. East shore frogs waited still and quiet until we left the pond.

Green Frogs begin singing much later in the season when temperatures approach 70 F. Wood Frogs are mostly done singing by early April. Spring Peepers and Western Chorus Frogs continue song through April. Unfortunately, Western Chorus Frogs have declined in our area. It is a reason to leave some pond borders free of disturbance for native species. We worked to help people recognize we are visitors in wildlife nature niches and encouraged living with nature instead of crowding animals from homes in ponds, streams, forests, fields, and our yards. Small vernal ponds are essential with fewer predators.

Seeing animals is difficult without entering their home but we can provide minimal disturbance that allows habitats to remain healthy. That is a primary reason for restricting activity to one half of Vernal Pond. It allows vegetation to grow to pond edge and provides frogs with healthy living space in appropriate arrangement for food, water, and shelter to meet survival needs.

Please become an HCNC member. Discover frogs by walking nature center trails maintained for school and family groups in wild habitats. Make real world connections that would otherwise be vicariously through books, digital screens, or stories about the natural world. Enjoy being outdoors with wildlife.

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

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche


Ranger Steve

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Spring Springs

Spring is more than a date on the calendar in nature niches. By the end of March, spring is less than two weeks old and the region appears to be in winter’s wardrobe. A close look reveals change is underway.

The Great Horned Owl pair has selected breeding and feeding territory. In the evenings during March, they are heard hooting together from various vantage points near territory’s edge warning other owls to stay clear. The male owl selected a horizontal branch at field edges. It was more comfortable than standing on one that angles upward. Soon he joined the female to the west and they began a large circle hoot fest as the night sky darkened along Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary’s forest boundary. In darkness, their focus changes to eating mice and rabbits with periodic breaks for nighttime hooting.

I am anxious for the greening of shrubs and trees during April but March has been busy with its own spring activity. Children are better at discovery and seeing changes so make it a family affair to get out as “Spring Springs.” Less commentary below about each species allows more listing of March events but it will be easy to add your own commentary on family outings. Take 15 to 30 minutes with family to explore occurrences at your home site. More will occur if you dedicate some yard space to things natural and wild. Allow yard space for native plants and animals that resided in pre-settlement Michigan.

Male Goldfinches are yellowing and their black cap has returned. Male birds of many species are chasing females wherever they fly. Females birds only find peace when standing.

Groups of male Brown-headed Cowbirds stand in trees near a female ready to pursue when she flies. Female cowbirds select forest/field edges where they stand and watch other species hour by hour to learn where nests are built. When egg laying begins their eggs are deposited in other bird’s nests. They have them raise their young. Nest parasitism is not underway in March in our area.

Male red-winged blackbirds arrived two weeks before females to claim the best habitats for improved mating success. The most fit females compete for best habitat to insure reproductive success with adequate food, nesting location, and water. Most people do not notice the arrival of the dull gray female with its eye stripe and no red on the wing.

Chipmunk daily activity outside their burrows is typical except during late season snows. Painted Turtles sun on logs during moderately warm sunny days. Woodcock’s spectacular display is well underway. Wood Ducks float on streams and ponds where they depend on neighboring live or dead hollow trees for nesting. Let large dead trees stand.

Wood Frogs singing peaks in March and mating winds down by early April. Spring Peepers and Western Chorus Frogs are well into spring chorus. Gray Tree Frogs try out their song on warmer nights.

Moss’s two-toned green of new and old growth is obvious. The sporophyte stalk with spore head stands tall and grows out of the leafy gametophyte plant below. Look closely from inches away.

Elms, silver maples, and aspens flower high above while speckled alder, hazelnut, and skunk cabbage are shedding pollen in closer view.

Eastern Comma and Cabbage White butterflies are on the wing. The first overwintered as adult and the second emerged from a chrysalis that overwintered in protected recesses attached to wood or other structures.

Eastern Bluebirds have not started claiming nest boxes by the end of March but I am anxious for their blue and orange colors to brighten the field. That will be one of the April pleasures not to miss.

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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