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Tag Archive | "Ranger Steve Mueller"

Extinctions


 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Waylon Jennings said, “The wide-open spaces are closing in quickly from the weight of the whole human race.” 

One does not need to be a scientist to recognize how human abundance imposes on people and other species. When does too much of something threaten human existence and other species? Watching the loss of another species and being unable to save it despite best efforts lets us know the fragility of nature niches. 

We watched the most abundant bird species decline to extinction in a 50-year period. We did not understand the ecological requirements of the Passenger Pigeon and could not save it. We were unable to fully analyze its needs and habitat requirements before it was gone. A segment of the human population saw it as a commodity to use until it was gone and dismissed it without remorse. Another segment ached in heart and mind. 

There are those that feel a responsibility for sustaining creation and those that feel all creation is here for unregulated use and consumption for personal desires. Key to that statement is “feel.” It has nothing to with scientific evidence to sustain Earth ecosystems for our health. How we feel trumps evidence-supported science. Compassion and a tender heart are necessary if we hope to embrace science to help us.

The disappearance of a species means little if people do not share a sense of oneness and purpose with other life. When parents lose children to malaria, it is no wonder they hope for the extinction of the disease agent. Many would appreciate extinction of all mosquitoes but most mosquito species cannot transmit malaria. 

Mosquitoes are a nuisance with tremendous impacts on wildlife health. They draw blood that weakens animals as large as moose. Despite the apparent negative impacts of mosquitoes, their presence is essential for maintaining life and reproduction for aquatic insects, fish, birds and even people. Science evidence supports that a great diversity of species is needed to sustain food chains and long-term ecological stability. 

Why am I thinking about extinctions? I am a member of the Mitchell’s Satyr and Karner Blue Butterfly working groups with US FWS and MDNR that are striving to help those endangered species recover adequately to sustain their populations without human assistance. They both live in our region and are declining. 

On September 22, 1979 scientists reported the Large Blue Butterfly (Maculinae arion) became extinct. Efforts to save it were progressing. Life history research was occurring but the species disappeared before intricacies of its nature niche were understood. Saving remnants of habitats is needed because we cannot learn enough.

We reduce species by eliminating habitat. Loss of healthy living space impacts species and our own survival chances. Human survival, like that of the abundant Passenger Pigeons, depends on understanding ecological requirements. How we feel about our role in nature and for maintaining healthy yards can save us. 

Protecting groundwater from discarded chemicals, reducing excessive release of carbon into the atmosphere by switching from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources, in addition to maintaining yards with native species instead of large lawns can protect our own nature niche and that of other species. Protecting National Monuments protects species important for maintaining biodiversity and preventing extinctions.

It is estimated 10 to 50 million species live on Earth. A million may have been lost since the Large Blue became extinct. Evidence supports that human enhanced climate change and other misuses accelerate extinction. Scientific evidence is easily dismissed. How we feel about living things that maintain a healthy world is important. As our population increases, it becomes increasingly critical to eliminate large lawns to allow native species a place to live. We can manage for a healthy future if we feel like it. Sound science and reason can provide the “how to” if our feelings demonstrate caring. Love and caring for life on Earth will lead to accepting and using scientific evidence to sustain people, society, and a healthy future. 

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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Missing evening light


 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

We are back to early darkness in the evening and earlier sunrise in the morning, with the return to standard time from daylight saving time. Most of us have adjusted to the change of moving clocks back an hour. I prefer having light later in the evening because I am not an early riser. My mother-in-law, who moved in with us a couple years ago, prefers light earlier in the morning. 

She goes to bed shortly after supper but gets up at 5 a.m. I go to bed after midnight and sleep until the sun is up. All of us have our own rhythms of sleep. Wild creatures, whether plant or animal, are closely attuned to sun and moon cycles. Plant flowering and leaf drop are linked to darkness hours. Animals have reproductive cycles, migration, or winter activity linked with hours of light and darkness. 

We live at the western edge of the time zone and it is best for me. It provides an extra half hour of evening light compared with those in the middle. I get an extra hour of evening light compared with those at the east side of the time zone. My mother-in-law lived most of her life closer to the eastern edge of a time zone. It provided her with an earlier sunrise. For those that live right in the middle of a time zone, they experience sunrise and sunset half way between the two extremes found at the beginning or end of time zones.

It would be necessary to adjust clocks to about 60 different times across each time zone in order to have the sun directly overhead at noon. The way time zones are established, clocks read noon a half hour past noon for those living at the east side of a time zone. It is a half hour before noon for those at the west side of time zones. 

Imagine trying to get to a work, school, or family events if we had 60 different time zones within what we now consider as one. It is a great compromise to have each of the 24 time zones for Earth 15 degrees wide. It provides a reasonably correct time with the sun being nearly overhead at noon. 

The Earth is tilted 23 degrees relative to the sun. In winter, the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, resulting in shorter daylight hours, as the Earth spins on its axis to create what appears to be a sunrise and sunset. Six months later, the Earth has traveled halfway around the sun and the northern hemisphere is angled toward the sun. The result is long summer days. On the first day of spring and fall, days are 12 hours long. Depending how far north or south of the equator one lives will determine how many hours of daylight one gets during summer or winter. 

We have all heard of “the land of the midnight sun” where regions north of the Arctic circle experience 24 hours of daylight in summer. They experience 24 hours of darkness in winter because of Earth’s 23-degree tilt. Here we receive about 16 hours of summer daylight and about 8 hours of light in winter. 

Until we move our clocks ahead in spring for daylight saving time, I will miss the late evening light. On standard time for the winter, my mother-in-law will enjoy an earlier sunrise. Move to the eastern edge of a time zone to experience the earliest sunrise, live at the western edge if you desire light later in the evening.

Take time to notice how rapidly the sun sets in winter when it seems to go almost straight down. During a summer morning or evening, watch how slowly the sun comes up or goes down as it slowly angles its way at the horizon. Enjoy the light slowly shimmer to darkness with a long afterglow. In winter blackness comes quickly when the sun falls quickly over the horizon. Fear not, it will bounce up in the morning. 

If this brief account is too much to comprehend and deal with, take a few essentials and move into the wild country away from standardized time zones and the compromises that are essential when two or more people are together. Live in the real world where it will be noon when the sun is directly overhead no matter where you are. Wild plants and animals do it in their nature niches. Perhaps you can. Most people find it easier and better to live in society with compromise. 

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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Native bees


Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Various bee species have adaptations that serve them well for gathering pollen and nectar from various plants that serve our needs. Most people know something about the honeybees that are important to our agriculture industry. Native bees are also vitally important to nature niche plant and animal communities. The term native bees is used to specify species native to the Great Lakes region and our continent as opposed to the non-native honey bees that were brought to North America to aid agriculture.

It is not only the honeybee that is facing survival challenges. The economic value of bees is worth billions of dollars. They are insects important to our health, wealth, and survival. Native bees have declined for many reasons. They have fascinating life histories and are beautiful insects. Some are fuzzy with yellow, red, and black “hairs” covering their bodies. Others have a bright green exoskeleton or more obscure black bodies.

Look closely at what is visiting flowers in gardens or wild patches in yards. Don’t miss the pageant of activity right outside your home. Come learn about native bees at a free presentation hosted by the WILD Ones.

The River City WILD Ones is a native plant group that offers field trips and programs encouraging people to landscape yards with native plants that strengthen and maintain the health and wealth of the local landscape around our homes, neighborhoods, and community. To celebrate the organizations tenth year, they are hosting a community event for free on September 18, 2017 at 7 p.m. in the Calvin College Fine Arts Center, 1795 Knollcrest Circle SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546. Park in Lot 9, 10, or 11. Enter off the East Beltline near the pedestrian overpass walkway. The Fine Arts Center is east of the E. Beltline.

WILD Ones write: The keynote speaker is Minnesotan Heather Holm a horticulturist and biologist, as well as a writer, designer, and publisher. In addition to taking part in native bee research projects, she informs and educates audiences nationwide, through her writing and many presentations, about the fascinating world of native bees and the native plants that support them. In her most recent research project, she assisted University of Minnesota Extension faculty in a two-year study to determine the types of native bees present in cultivated blueberry farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The study included developing customized plans to enhance and expand both forage crops and nesting sites for bees within the farms.

Heather has written for Houzz, a social media website, about pollinators, beneficial insects, and native plants. Her first book, Pollinators of Native Plants, published in 2014, established her as a knowledgeable resource on the subject of the interactions between native bees and native plants. Her new book is titled Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide. Both books will available for purchase at the event. 

WILD Ones invites the public to attend and would like people to register at the website: https://rcwo-10th-anniversary.eventbrite.com before attending.

Please beeline to the event. It will be enjoyable meeting and visiting with nature niche readers. To make it easy to find me, I will be wearing my ranger uniform.

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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Knee deep death trap


Rough waves on Lake Michigan. Photo from Wunderground.com by unobtrusive troll10.

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Enjoying the big waves has always been fun but poses life threatening challenges for many species. If you happen to be a duck you are probably safe. Big waves were rolling on shore at Traverse City State Park shortly after mallard ducklings hatched from eggs. The hen led fledglings to water. People concerned for the safety of the little ones approached and caused the mother to move away from young and shore.

She disappeared among the tall waves with most of the ducklings but a couple lost sight of her and became separated. The people that frightened the mother picked up two ducklings and brought them to me at the ranger station. They should have left them to the mother’s care. At the beach, we could not locate the mother or her other young.

One-fourth of a mile away, a stream entered Grant Traverse Bay and provided an inlet where water was calm. We took the two ducklings there and found several adult ducks with young. We released the ducklings with hope the mother was present in the protective cove. If not, the young should be safe and might join another family.

The big waves did not pose a death threat to them but people causing the mother to move away from young did.

When I was a “young duckling” so to speak, I had my own death threat among big waves. Our family was at a beach on a giant wave day. It was exciting and fun in the waves. I waded into the water and stood in knee deep water between waves. When a wave arrived, the water was over my head. I rode up on the wave and came back down when it passed to stand on the bottom again.

All was going well until one time when I rode high on the wave and came back down, the undertow of water returning along the bottom knocked my feet from under me. I thought no big deal and stood up. It happened that I stood up in middle of a tall wave. Almost immediately the undertow knocked my feet from under me again. Quickly I stood and found myself in the middle of another wave. This repeated.

By now I was out of air, frightened, and desperate to inhale.  A breath would flood my lungs with water and begin the drowning process. My folks had no idea I was in danger in knee high water. They hadn’t even noticed I had disappeared. I was only underwater a short time.

It seemed impossible to stand up between waves and I could not get my head into the air. Finally, I managed to get my head out of water but was knocked down by the undertow. A push off the bottom allowed me to ride up and down on a big wave. I discovered the danger of knee deep water between large waves and survived. Many people do not and several times each year, families lose a member to the power of water.

It is not just people whose lives get threatened by water. Fall bird migration season has arrived. Massive avian numbers from songbirds to hawks encounter the Great Lakes migration water barrier. They pile up on the north end of the lakes on their southbound journey and move along the shoreline searching for safe crossing sites. I’ve watched hundreds of Broad-winged Hawks move west along northern Lake Michigan to go around the lake. Others moved east towards Mackinaw Bridge where crossing the straits is shorter. Once there, they wait for proper weather and wind conditions to venture safely over water.

Migration over water is one of many life-threatening challenges for species in nature niches. Not all survive. I have found small birds washed dead to shore after being knocked into the water by storms or winds. People and wildlife lives depend on respect for the power of water. Have fun in turbulent water but remain safety conscious.

Consider a trip to Whitefish Point Bird Observatory north of Paradise on Lake Superior to witness bird migration from Canada to the US this fall. Michigan Audubon staff can assist with species identification.

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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Symphony of Sight and Sound


Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The Cardinal flower. Photo by Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, Fish and Wildlife Service.

Symphony players have honed their music through eons of natural selection. Refinement continues with each generation of plants and animals. Individuals have physical advantages for species survival or have adaptations that are eliminated by predators, parasites, or failure to meet environmental conditions.

Enjoy the sight and sound of the life’s orchestra performing its changing symphony. You can walk among players or sit on a lounge chair with a cool beverage to experience more players than are imaginable.

The regional stage is set with an assemblage of plants on wet to dry soils where nutrients and water meet their needs along with varying amounts of light. The Cardinal Flower is one of the most beautiful flowers for my eye and has recently begun blooming. Each animal has favorites. The swamp milkweed is gorgeous and is more beautiful to many insects. It brings insects to the wetland stage better than cardinal flowers. Hummingbirds prefer the cardinal flower where we can enjoy their sound portion of the symphony.

Hummingbirds hover at the flowers with wings moving in a figure eight that allows them to hang stationary like a helicopter. Bees and Hummingbird Sphinx moths hover at milkweed flowers with their own unique buzz. Bees land and probe the unique flower structure with mouthparts that sometimes get trapped and held. One can find dead butterflies or other insects that were unable to break free.

Death is common for symphony players. Bird love songs often come from hidden locations that do not betray their presence and would expose them to predators. Their song announces breeding territory limits to prospective females that inspect male’s habitat suitability for rearing young. The singing male moves around the territory perimeter in earlier morning announcing to other males they are not welcome.

Each bird produces music in varying sized territory space that is adjusted to resource requirements. In the big woods at Ody Brook, Ovenbirds (a warbler) sing from low branches in the mature forest and build a Dutch oven shaped nest on the ground. Once in my lifetime, I found a well-hidden nest with the help of another naturalist.

Ovenbirds are abundant and heard throughout Michigan. Their music keeps rhythm with its repeated “teacher, teacher, teacher” song like our symphony’s drums. High above in tree tops, the Red-eyed Vireo sings its melody, “Here I am, where are you?” Like all orchestras players, species begin and end at specific times during the performance. Most birds make music during peak breeding season of May and June.

Sight, sound, and players change as one moves from forest to drier field and shrubland. Field Sparrows cannot be found in the mature forest but are loud musicians in open shrub habitat. They make introductory music notes followed by a trill that resembles a ping-pong ball bouncing on a table with accelerating speed as the ball loses energy with each bounce of less height. The Chipping Sparrow has a more evenly spaced trill without introductory notes. Close your eyes and recognize wild orchestra instruments in nature niches. You might not see the players but you can enjoy and recognize different sounds.

As summer progresses in forest, field, and wetlands, bird sounds become less frequent. Insect orchestra members increase the sight and sound beauty. Crickets of various species pick up the tempo. The Snowy Tree Crickets play a uniquely beautiful instrument. Cicadas have a tympanum at the base of their abdomen that resonates deafening volume. Katydid grasshoppers repeat their name during dark hours to attract mates.

Flowers and leaves feed insects, attract birds, predatory insects, and spiders that eat insects. The arrangement of color and species distribute players in nature like the stage for human orchestras. The multitude of players is greater than can be learned in a lifetime and they are dressed in interesting attire. Discover the magnificent sight and sound orchestra. To enjoy it, wild habitat is necessary. Less grass will allow more “nature,” save gas, and extend mower life. Spend more time hearing nature’s orchestra instead of a mower engine’s roar.

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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Shifting Sands


A sand dune at Silver Lake swallowed up a house in April. Photo from woodtv.com.

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Reading the landscape is a development skill taught in middle school Earth science. It is taught to preschoolers by parents. Young minds are open to learning.

The local news reported advancing sand dunes are burying homes. An Earth science lessen is easily forgotten without experiential learning. The dangers of building or buying a home too close to the big lake can be seen during family or school outings. It is a gamble to determine exactly which homes will get buried.

A trip to Lake Michigan’s shoreline dune complex for a swim will be a fun outing where one can see trees buried by moving sand at Hoffmaster State Park or in other parks. Some of the trees have adaptations allowing them to produce adventitious roots from tree trunks as their original roots get buried too deep to survive. The new roots give the tree continued life under tough circumstances.

At some future date, the sand dunes will shift and uncover tree trunks, exposing the roots developed from the growing trunk that was previously high in the air before being buried. If fortunate, the tree will have lived and died before sand is blown away to expose its skeleton.

One might refer to sand dunes as a living, moving, entity, but by reading the landscape, we discover they are not. Moving dunes bring life or death to species by the lake and will crush buildings. Contractors build and sell homes close to the shoreline. They arrive, construct and leave with a profit. The buyer that did not learn to read the landscape might lose their home to the crushing weight of sand depending on where the home was built.

The news showed a cottage that collapsed under the weight of moving sand. People were interviewed about nature’s destroying power. Owners are hiring bulldozer operators to move sand to save homes and resorts. The reporters hoped the home owners would win the fight against nature’s forces.

A fight is not necessary. If the people refused to buy homes close to shore or on shifting dunes, their homes would not be endangered. Many want the shoreline view and are willing to gamble their home’s future. The result is their home might be buried or washed into the lake. A Go-fund-me account has been established to help save homes because people cannot afford to hire contactors to keep moving sand.

Learning the school lessen might have resulted in choosing to live in a safer location. In the 1980’s I observed homes falling into Lake Michigan when high lake levels undercut foundations. I witnessed multi-million dollar homes fall into the Pacific Ocean as erosion undercut cliffs. The homes were too large to move and should not have been built close to the ocean.

Homes are built on barrier Islands along the Atlantic Ocean even though barrier islands are known to move and wash away. Classroom education is valuable but field trip experience is essential for learning to read the landscape. Book learning requires supplemental practical experiences to learn to read the landscape. That is the purpose of places like the Howard Christensen Nature Center and for parents to take families to natural areas.

I began as director at HCNC in 1986 when an Environmental Education Advocacy Council and School administrator agreement required some Kent ISD teachers to bring students to HCNC. I was told HCNC was securely funded by property taxes. As time passed, and shifting sands of education politics changed. I was told environmental education was no longer a priority in America after the early 2000’s presidential election. The Kent ISD stopped funding HCNC. An impact of that decision might result in students losing their homes to nature’s forces when they are grown. We are in a phase of political temperament again when many want to focus only on the present without considering the triple bottom line of economic, social, and environmental impacts for the future. Economic health cannot be sustained without social and environmental sustainability. Security in our personal nature niche depends on the shifting sands of politics and how well people learn to read the landscape to protect their wellbeing and investments.

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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Rogue River butterfly count 


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

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

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

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

The total number of species observed has varied over the 30 years from 18 to 43. Weather effects butterfly activity. Sunny days with little or no wind in the 70’s and 80’s is ideal. Adults often emerge from pupae following a soaking rain. I was surprised that a few species we normally find were not present. The flowering plants and apparently some butterflies seem to have delayed emergence this year. We had a cool spring but I expected the warm days in June would allow species to get back on schedule. Activity is closely linked with blooming of nectar sources.

Consider joining the 2018 counts next July. Watch the Nature Niche column for next year’s dates for the Allegan, Muskegon, and Rogue River State Game Area Counts as well as the Newaygo Count in the Manistee National Forest. Books and Internet web sites help learning but it is best experienced by exploring the real world. Time outdoors is enjoyable, healthy, and provides family time that creates wonderful memories. People can join for part of the day.

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

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

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

 

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

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Wonderment


 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Correction

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

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

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

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Migration Stopover


 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trilliums and Swamp Saxifrage


 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

The Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum). Photo by Wilson44691 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum). Photo by Wilson44691 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) excites us with its large showy appearance in mature deciduous forests. It is a highlight signaling spring is here to stay. Soon trilliums flowers will be gone for the year.

Forest tree leaves begin to expand as the trillium flower petals expand. As the forest canopy shades the forest floor, the white trillium flowers will turn pink and wither. Leaves continue to photosynthesize in summer and send food underground for winter storage. We do not take notice of the trillium leaves in summer.

It is good to take notice of leaf characteristics when enjoying the beauty of flowers so we can recognize the plant species when the flowers are gone.

The Michigan Botanical Club visited Ody Brook recently to experience ephemeral flowers and learn about their nature niches. Each species contributes a unique role in its habitat and ecosystem. They are dependent on soils, moisture, light intensity, insects, and a variety of subtle survival requirements. Some species like the trillium can thrive in a variety of conditions but surviving can be difficult.

Hoffmaster State Park hosted a Trillium Festival but an excessively large white-tailed deer population has devastated the trillium population and the name was changed to Wildflower Festival.

The abundance of Large-flowered Trilliums continues in many regions. If you travel north for Memorial Day Weekend, expect to see white carpets of trillium flowers in mature forest. The species has a coefficient of conservatism of 5. The rating is used to rank plants for naturalness of habitat composition using a 1-10 system. Habitats that appear to be the same might have species present in one habitat that are not present in another. When species with a high coefficient of conservatism are present in a habitat, it indicates a healthier site.

At Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary we work to encourage the healthiest habitats for greatest biodiversity enhancement and to especially help species survive that have a high coefficient of conservatism. We are fortunate that several pre-European settlement species continue to thrive that have been eliminated from surrounding areas. Some are present in small numbers such at the American Chestnut and Wood Betony. The chestnut’s coefficient rating is 9 and betony’s is 10 on a scale of 1-10. Ten is the highest rating for naturalness of a site.

When managing a site we ask, “Are land management practices effecting the health of the site?”  Hopefully our practices maintain rich biodiversity and improve survival for species that indicate a high-level of naturalness.

Coming into flower in mid-May are Swamp Saxifrage (Micranthes pensylvanica) that are not showy like trilliums. They have a whorl of leaves on the ground with a flower stalk that stands over one foot tall. Flower clusters have small inconspicuous pale flowers that do not capture attention. Its rating is 10 and is as an indicator of healthy habitat naturalness that is much higher than the rating for Large-flowered Trilliums.

As a result, our efforts for sanctuary management are greater for the less showy saxifrage, wood betony, and American chestnut than for the trillium. We personally enjoy the trilliums more because of their beauty. We work to maintain massive trillium blooms while helping the plants with a high coefficient of conservatism.

We explore the natural world around us pretending we live in the 17th century with native species. The presence of exotics species that crowd and eliminate native species from existence remind of us of the daunting challenge to help native species survive in the 21st century. Efforts are to maintain healthy habitats and ecosystems for future generations of plants and animals and for the benefit of future human generations.

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

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