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Tag Archive | "Ranger Steve Mueller"

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


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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Spring to summer wildflowers

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


The transition from spring wildflowers to summer wildflowers is nearly complete. The greatest difference is whether the plants flower under leafless trees or flower under expanded leaves.

It takes a lot of energy to produce flowers and seeds. It is best for plant sex to occur in full sunlight before trees cut off sun energy to the ground with leaves. I pay more attention to phenological summer beginning than to when the sun reaches its most northern zenith. Calendars mark the summer solstice when the sun no longer appears to move north and apears to start its southward movement.

Spring flowers end flowering when trees leaves expand and shade the forest floor. Plants wither or spend the summer without the flare of flowers while they store energy in roots, tubers, and rhizomes for next spring’s flowering. When sunlight penetrates through early spring branches of bare canopy, ground plants receive high-energy necessary flower sex.

Carpets of Narrow-leaved Spring Beauty flowers brighten the forest floor. The petals appear pink but they are not. Bend and look closely. You will notice white petals with pink lines. When we stand and look down, our eyes do not discern the detail. The pink lines on white petals act as nectar guides. Insects landing on the petals follow the lines like airport runways to nectar.

It is too late this year to take notice of these flowers but it will give you something to notice next year. The spring beauties complete their life cycle and disappear from view for ten months. Their nature niche activities occur between late April and early June. By late May fertilized flowers have formed seeds. Soon the entire plant above ground withers and is hidden below ground until next spring.

To ensure reproductive success this plant produces a series of short-lived flowers. A plant might remain in flower for several days but individual flowers come and go quickly. If poor weather prevents a flower from being fertilized, others blooming before and after will hopefully have had success on better days.

Other spring flowers racing to complete flowering before the forest canopy darkens the forest floor are Hepaticas, Trout Lilies, Bloodroot, Large-flowered Trillium, a variety of blue and yellow violets, with Mayapples squeezing in at the tail end before the canopy thickens. Each plant has it own unique adaptations and story with associated insects, birds, and small mammals. Stories abound.

An early summer plant that flowers in abundance as trees turn the landscape wonderful shades of green is Wild Geranium. It cheery pink blooms abound in forest and forest edges. For me it is a sign that summer has begun. It is still weeks before the summer solstice with the longest day of year and the official start of summer. The phenologies of plants have their own markers to indicate the end of spring and the beginning of summer. Oaks and mulberries are among the last trees to leaf out. Once they expanded their leaves, I consider spring to have ended and summer has begun.

Most trees flower before they have clothed themselves with new leaves. If they are wind pollinated, it best to flower when the wind can flow freely among the branches to spread pollen. Many are insect pollinated and it is easier for insects to travel from flower to flower without leaf obstacles. By the time maple leaves expand, the samaras helicopters are carrying seeds to the ground away from the parent. Non-descript oak flowers fall as withered tan strings but a portion will remain all summer to grow and loudly pound the roof, car, and ground as acorns in fall.

There is more occurring than one can notice but many notice summer blueberries come from spring bell-like flowers, pale current flowers usually do not attract our attention but we enjoy their summer fruits, and we notice of apples as they ripen. Take time to notice the beauty of life surrounding you.

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 49319-8433. Phone: 616-696-1753.

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Watching like a hawk

OUT-Bird-sighting-Coopers-Hawk-Mike-DeGrootMike DeGroot, of Solon Township, sent us this photo of a bird he saw in his backyard recently. “I spotted this bird closely watching over my squirrel feeder in my backyard on White Creek Avenue,” he wrote.

Mike thought it might be an American Kestrel Falcon. We thought it looked similar to a sharp-shinned hawk. We passed the photo on to our resident expert, Ranger Steve Mueller, and he identified it.

“It looks like an immature Cooper’s Hawk,” said Steve. “Adults have bands across the breast and immature’s have vertical tear-drop markings on the breast. It appears this one has the vertical markings.”

He added that the Sharp-shinned hawk looks nearly identical and can be difficult to separate from the Cooper’s Hawk. “The Sharp-shinned is not as common and is smaller than Cooper’s Hawk,” he explained. “The Cooper’s also has a rounded tail caused by the outer tail feathers being shorter. The tail feathers are equal in length on the Sharp-shinned,” he said.

Thanks, Mike, for sending us your photo, and to Steve for identifying it!

Please send us your wildlife photos. Send them to us at news@cedarspringspost.com, and we will run them as space allows.

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Changes in Animal Communities

By Ranger Steve Mueller



Ernest Thompson Seton and his naturalist partner studied caribou, arctic hares, wolves, arctic foxes, Canada Geese, Lapland Longspurs, Ptarmigans, and many other animals when they explored the arctic tundra in 1907. He headed north from the Eastern Deciduous Forest Biome where we live to explore a vast and relatively unknown arctic biome.

He wondered if caribou and musk ox still survived with the onslaught of uncontrolled shooting. He hired local native people to guide him north through known country and then ventured farther into an unknown landscape with the use of sketchy maps created by early explorers.

When I lead groups through various habitats in the deciduous forest biome at Howard Christensen Nature Center or Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, I focus attention on the succession of animal communities in habitats. Lichens and mosses colonize bare ground and are followed by a variety of plants in succession from grasses, herbs, shrubs, and trees. Associated with each set of plants are specific animal communities of greatest interest to people. The animals can only survive when associated with appropriate plant communities. The plants sustain many animals that become prey for other animals.

Farm fields at Ody Brook and HCNC were abandoned and became good study sites. At the site that later became Ody Brook, the farmer drove his tractor and equipment through the creek in spring and found it problematic so two 5-acre fields were abandoned. This also stopped the stirring of sediments that would cover trout eggs. Farming was abandoned in one field during the 1970’s and the other in the late 1980’s. At HCNC, the farm field was abandoned in the early 1960’s.

Habitats became qualitative observation areas (general overviews) when HCNC was established in 1974 for students in the Kent Intermediate School District. Observational field trips were led to help students understand succession relationships in nature niches. Qualitative studies are a good introduction to science but provide limited evidence required for making supported conclusions.

When I became director at HCNC in 1986, we established a study plot where students could learn how to gather quantitative data (detail numerical observations) in the abandoned field. The study plots supported school curricula expectations in science, mathematics, social studies, language arts, and art classes. The field trips allowed students to gather detailed quantitative data with hands-on learning experiences that helped apply classroom “book learning” to real-life applications. Quantitative studies supported the students general qualitative impressions made on discovery hikes at the nature center.

As society becomes more urban and suburban, people have fewer opportunities to learn the importance of qualitative or quantitative farming and wildland ecology values or their importance and how they are essential for maintaining a sustainable society. Farmers need quantitative observations to know when to treat insect infestations because qualitative is not accurate enough. They also need to know how to properly space crops. Following my departure for HCNC, the Kent Conservation District that assumed management of HCNC removed the quantitative study plot in the field. Quantitative studies in wildland communities require long term detailed data collection, and require coordination and integration among a variety of subject areas. Teachers need classes to return yearly and have students gather data for current classes to analyze to make valid scientific conclusions using data from previous years. Science, math, art, social studies, and writing teachers need to coordinate together for student learning to be most effective. Students need guidance to apply connections among art, math, science, and social studies.

What does this have to do with Seton’s arctic expedition? He spent the summer recording general qualitative observations but he also gathered some scientific quantitative evidence. Both are useful. Qualitative observations provided a general appearance of occurrences but quantitative evidence provided detailed records with specific numbers, species, and plant growth that would be useful for documenting changes over time. That is what students were gathering between 1986 and 2005 at HCNC. Detailed long-term data collection is necessary to make valid conclusions. In the arctic Seton made initial qualitative observations that set the stage for quantitative studies to follow. He also gathered quantitative data by collecting animal and plant specimens. Representative animals were shot for the American Museum of Natural History. The opened the stomachs of animals to document food eaten as well as documented behaviors observed.

It was not until Dr. Curtis provided detailed quantitative data from Lake Michigan Dunes that concept of plant succession was supported with adequate quantitative scientific evidence for valid analysis and conclusions. His model is now used worldwide. Quantitative studies are essential. Quantitative studies are not perfect but further repeatable studies allow scientific debate and corrections. Quantitative science is self-correcting. Most of us did not receive that kind of education as students. I didn’t. Modern curricula better prepares students with the help of places like HCNC. Unfortunately field trips have become fewer even though they are vital for helping students apply content learned in classrooms. Cedar Springs used to visit HCNC regularly with all grades from K through fifth. Parental encouragement at schools may help reinstate them. Lily’s Frog Pad Inc. has now assumed management of HCNC and we will see where the future leads learning. HCNC has expanded opportunities beyond school groups to community programming.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.



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Easter Egg Bird


By Ranger Steve Mueller


What you call it is not as important as what you enjoy about it. In the spring, this bird leaves Michigan’s cozy balmy winter residence, for regions to the north, where it will nest. Some people call them “snow birds.” Small flocks of the Dark-eyed Junco are seen throughout the winter but they head northward in April. Some linger well into May.

They are gone from our area during summer. My first sighting this Fall was October 10, when one arrived in the yard. Within a week several were present. They prefer open woodlands, so many of our neighborhoods are desirable habitat. Similar to us, they prefer fields with scattered trees and thicket borders. It is easy to be a good neighbor to these small active sparrows.

Take time to look closely when they are near bird feeders to notice the pink bill and their charcoal dark heads. They have gray backs and sides but their bellies are white. They also have outer white tail feathers that flash as they walk or hop about the yard. The white tail feathers are usually visible in flight. Notice the moderate long tail. Females have a brownish back but it is not obvious so separating sexes is not easy.

When I was first learning about birds, the junco reminded me of an Easter egg that had been dipped in dark gray coloring. Only the portion that was not dipped remained white so I began referring to it as the Easter egg bird. I wonder how many people remember dipping eggs? When my daughters were young, we referenced them as the Easter Egg Bird but the girls learned the name Dark-eyed Junco also. The descriptive Easter Egg Bird name was more memorable and fun for us. It was an enjoyable way to help them learn to observe the wonderful variety of shape, form, and color in nature niches. We spent family time outside observing and enjoying while experiencing the natural wonders around us.

There are several subspecies of juncos across North America. In Michigan and the East the Slate-colored Junco subspecies is normally the only one present. They tend to hop but will walk about the ground while foraging seeds. Watch how different species move about uniquely. During summer about half of their diet is insects. Young are raised on an even higher percentage of insects. Insects are important for successful rearing of young for most songbirds.

Juncos are a winter treat that offers variety from the regular summer birds. They appreciate the open yards that have scattered conifers and deciduous trees where they can take shelter. When they return north in spring to breed, they select open areas among conifers and hardwood trees.

Nesting occurs northward from Cadillac and well into Canada’s open forested areas. I have seen Juncos remain near the Howard Christensen Nature Center during summer and suspect there could be some nesting this far south. They nest on the ground near logs or other objects that help conceal the location.

While you stay nestled in the house this winter, keep feeders full and enjoy the variety of feathered neighbors that stop by for a meal. Your yard can provide entertaining activity all winter when you provide food and shelter.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433, 616-696-1753.

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Warblers Come and Go

By Ranger Steve Mueller

American Redstart

American Redstart

Most warblers pass through our yards unnoticed during April and May, and again in August and September. Some stay to raise a family. As a group, they are the most colorful of the birds. They work in shrubs and trees feeding on insects. Insects are essential for them to increase weight rapidly to survive their long migration.

A Chestnut-sided Warbler is setting up summer residence in the yard among shrubs near the pond (Picture 1). It is one of the most colorful with a bright yellow cap and wonderful contrasting patterns of white and black throughout the body. Scattered yellow-green is present on the wings and rump. Varying amounts of rich chestnut orange-red patches line it sides. Adult males have extensive chestnut feathers on the sides and younger birds have shorter bands of color.

Chestnut sided Warbler

Chestnut sided Warbler

When looking for warblers, most people locate them by listening for songs and search the branches for their small presence. The warbler described above is only 4 inches long and weighs less than one half ounce. To identify birds remember GISSS. First acquire a general impression (GI). Is it sparrow, robin, or crow size and does it stand tall and upright or more horizontal. Habitat will help with general impression. Expect some birds high in forest trees, others near the ground in shrubs, or some in wetlands. Most people know to think Great Blue Heron along stream or water, robins in lawns, and Red-winged Blackbirds in marshes. Each warbler has a preferred habitat.

After acquiring a general impression, focus on size, color, and shape to help identify it. Behavior will help. A Black-and-white Warbler will climb on tree trunks like a nuthatch; Chestnut-sided Warblers will be among the shrubbery as will American Redstart (Picture 2). Some warblers just pass through so expect them only in spring and fall. Others will stay for the summer. Very few stay during the winter but the Yellow-rumped Warbler is sometimes found in the cold months. The SSS in GISSS refers to the size, shape, and seasonality. Add another S if you use sound like many birders to identify a warbler. I am not good at separating species by sound. I consider myself at best 80 percent proficient so I do not document presence based on song.

Pine Warblers are considered to have a stable population of 13,000,000. This sounds large but when compared to 200,000,000 European Starlings in the US it is not. Even starlings are not a numerous as humans in the US where we number about 350,000,000. Everyone’s yard can be critical habitat in a shrinking natural world. Encourage family and others to return portions of yards to native habitat to help warblers survive.

Compare the difference between the two warblers pictured. The redstart has an all black head with white only on the belly and not mixed among the body feathers. There is bright orange on the sides instead of chestnut and it has orange in the wings and tail. Nature niches are more interesting when we get to know our wild neighbors. Warblers will come when yard habitats include native wild plants for insects and birds. Horticultural and non-native plants usually do not support insect populations needed by warblers.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.  616-696-1753.


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