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Rare Bear


 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

A black bear was reported to have crossed Northland Drive near 15 Mile Road a few years ago. I wondered if it had followed the Rogue River to Cedar Creek, made its way to Little Cedar Creek, and possibly wandered through Ody Brook before getting to 15 Mile Road. A visitor told me he saw a bear track here a few years ago but I personally never saw evidence of the bear. The track was seen about the time bear crossed Northland. Many people may also recall the sow bear that wintered near Ada and emerged from her winter sleep with young.

Michigan’s regeneration of forest and wild land vegetation has made it possible for bears to re-inhabit areas where they lived prior to forest clearing and large human population settlement. Living near bears may present some problems. Generally, we can co-exist, but not always.

One September I was camping at Yellowstone National Park, at the edge of the campground. A ranger drove through the campground with a loudspeaker warning people to put coolers away and to clean camp well after eating because a bear was coming into the campground for easy food. The park service set a live trap to capture the bear for relocation but had not been successful yet.

My tent was set up with one side over me but I folded one side open so I could view the forest. At about 11 p.m. I was lying in the sleeping bag and saw the bear walking directly towards me. I was deciding if I should get out of the bag and into my vehicle but it was too late. The bear walked past my tent ignoring me. I heard it beat a food cooler on the picnic table that the campers next to me had not properly stored. After breaking it, the bear proceeded to bear proof garbage cans where it pounded them and walked on.

I went to sleep until 3 a.m., when I woke to the noise and breath of a bear. It had walked around my tent and was peering in at me. Our noses were inches apart. In the moonlight, I could see its silhouette. I experienced some fear. Bears are powerful and can be unpredictable. If the bear was getting used to people it might be more likely to injure me in some way.

I have encountered bears in the Upper Peninsula and other locations. In each instance the bear has immediately turned and ran in fear. Their escapes were noisy as they ran through brush, making stems push apart and slap back together.

This bear was inches from my head and a startle might cause it strike out with a powerful paw, break my neck or otherwise injure me. Maybe it would take a quick defensive bite before leaving. Fortunately, I did not have any food in my tent.

For a brief moment the bear and I looked each other in the eye. Almost instinctively I quietly said under my breath “hello.” The bear realized it was where it did not want to be. It turned and started trotting into the forest. I said “hello, hello, hello” a little louder with each word as it left. It picked up speed with each hello. My purpose at that point was to make noise that would keep the bear moving away.

The bear was not interested in me and probably feared me. It was looking for easy food. The neighbor campers were endangering the bear by leaving a cooler accessible. If the bear was captured, moved to a new location and later returned to the campground, it would probably be killed. People can learn to live with bears in nature niches but we need to act intelligently in their presence.

If I shouted at the bear when I first saw it nose to nose, it might have been more defensively aggressive and swipe me with a paw or bite me. Instead, a quiet hello alerted it and it departed quickly. It remains a pleasant memorable experience for me instead of tragic for either of us.

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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Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary expansion


 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

 

Walk Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary with the Michigan Botanical Club on September 13 at 2 p.m. or with the River City Wild Ones on Sept 20 at 1:30. The local conservation clubs will explore the sanctuary in search for plants, animals, and their ecological requirements while enjoying the company of nature enthusiasts.

This will be a great introduction to a couple different nature clubs and great people where many will share their knowledge and excitement for things natural and wild.

Ody Brook is managed to enhance nature’s biodiversity to support a healthy and sustainable human community. The sanctuary is located in the headwaters for Little Cedar Creek south of Cedar Springs on Northland Drive across the road from V&V Nursery. Come explore nature and meet nature enthusiasts from local conservation groups.

Meet and park at V&V Nursery. Spend some time at the nursery considering fall selection specials on plants prior to winter dormancy. V&V Nursery helps area residents beautify yards and lives. We will start the field trips from the nursery parking area. We appreciate V&V’s willingness to allow parking. Parking space is not available at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary.

Over 116 bird species, 24 mammals, 11 herps and 52 butterfly species have been documented along with 250 species of plants. Dragonflies dart with beauty as they feed on aerial insects. They lay eggs in Little Cedar Creek where naiads spend months to years growing to the adult stage. Trout feed and utilize the headwaters in spring.

We will encounter other beautiful insects that are active in the fall. Snowy Tree Crickets, katydids, beetles, colorful flies, and various true bugs are expected. This is an opportunity to view a variety of life and to receive help with identification.

Fall flowers provide nutrition for wildlife while plants focus on seed production for their own species survival. Come learn to recognize plant families and species common to our neighborhoods. Both field trips will be fun enriching afternoons for families. Come for a short stay or for an hour and a half.

Trails lead around a pond, through the floodplain, over bridges crossing the creek and through upland field and forest. Wear long sleeved shirts and pants to protect legs. Good footwear is recommended. If it rains prior to field trip days, the floodplain may be wet and somewhat muddy.

The sanctuary recently expanded to 54 acres and protects the creek headwaters leading to Cedar Creek, Rogue River, Grand River, and Lake Michigan. This is a great open house opportunity to explore Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary’s expansion. The privately owned and managed sanctuary accepts donation support and welcomes scheduled visits.

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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Live On Friendly Terms


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

One of my early poems expresses thoughts I maintain today.

 

I cannot say I am educated

because I know plants

in the wild.  When I know

them on friendly terms, I

will not need to say I’m

educated for the wise will know

and others, well they won’t care. – October 13, 1974

 

When you encounter plants in your yard it is not necessary to know its name to appreciate its beauty or presence. It can help if you want help maintain healthy nature niches. Knowing the plants to remove so native species can thrive will better maintain soil health and species diversity.

Many non-native species crowd out native species that maintain soil health or help native animals survive. The exotic Emerald Ash Borer has cost Michigan’s economy ten of millions of dollars in economic loss in ten years and it continues to devastate ash tree populations. It is reducing moth, butterfly, bee, and many other insect populations that are important to birds for feeding young.

Knowing plants on friendly term suggests we take responsibility for our actions and cause no harm. A principal for doctors is to cause no harm. That is easier said than done. Medicines often cause harm but hopefully do more good than harm as they help us recover from variously ailments.

When we remove plants from the landscape to construct homes we do harm. How we manage the remaining yard can allow native plants to thrive. Those plants are better at supplying needs for native mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish, insect and other species than non-natives.

We can learn to live to with nature and in nature niches. Many of our activities work to separate us from nature and eliminate nature niches. Manicured lawns are non-native plants that preclude most native species from surviving.

We maintain some lawn around the house and have mowed trails through our Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary but most of the property and been allowed to revert to native nature niches to maintain healthy biodiversity. The mowed lawn looks nice and keeps mosquitoes away from the house so we can sit comfortably on the porch.

Beyond the lawn, the yard is bustling with birds feeding on insects in knee high wildflowers, shrubland, and forest. The yard is alive with sound, visual beauty, wild activity and enriches our lives and the lives of other species.

I have documented about 250 species of plants here with many more to be discovered. I have overlooked a Wafer-ash growing here that my friend Chip Francke noticed this week. It added a species to my list but it is also a food plant for the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly and probably other species.

Over 100 bird, 24 mammal, 11 herps, 51 butterfly species have been documented along many other species. Many creatures that share our yards and I think it wise for more of us transform part of our yards to wild nature niches.

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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Chickadee Loop Trail


The short Chickadee Loop at the Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC) is rewarding. From the Welcome Center parking area take a quarter mile walk for exposure to things wild and natural.

Walking directly west from the Welcome Center, the trail leads through an oak forest to a junction where the trail continues north (right). The habitat transitions from oak forest to young oak forest at the junction. The area was maintained as an oak savanna in the 1980’s through the 2008.

A savanna is an open grass and forbs community with scattered trees. Scattered trees allow sunlight to penetrate to ground vegetation. In the savanna, Wild Blue Lupine (a forb) flowers in late May. It adds nitrogen to the soil with the aid to root nodules that contain nitrogen-fixing bacteria. A variety of plants thrive in a savanna’s lightly filtered sunlight.

Oak savanna is Michigan’s rarest plant/animal community. We often hear how over 70 percent of Michigan’s wetlands have been drained and has led to a great decline in waterfowl and associated wetland species. Groups like Duck’s Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, the Audubon Society, and many others have worked for a century to restore essential habitat for nature niche neighbors that depend on wetlands.

Savannas are home for rare and endangered species that require survival help and management if we are to keep nature’s bounty alive and well. There are a few prairies species that can be found at HCNC but the landscape does not contain any prairie habitats. Michigan’s prairies were mostly restricted to SW counties of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Oak savannas contain some prairie species but referring to it as a prairie would be a disservice and teach scientific misconceptions.

Chickadee Loop turns east at the north end of the former savanna. A beautiful shrub known a winged sumac grows at the clearing edge. It has large compound leaves. A compound leaf is a leaf that has many leaflets that appear leaf-like. To recognize a leaflet from a leaf, look at the base of the flat leaf-like blade. If a bud is present, it is a leaf. If one needs to look farther back to find a bud, it is a compound leaf made of several leaflets.

At the next trail junction Chickadee Loop turns south toward the Welcome Center. At the junction one can take a short spur to the left that leads about 100 feet to a vernal pond. I designed a trail around the west side of the pond to the nature center’s service drive. That allowed the east half of the pond to remain wild for nature to carry on without disturbance from human activity. Please recognize you are a guest in nature’s habitats when visiting HCNC and provide proper respect for plant and animal privacy and living condition needs.

On the final stretch to the Welcome Center, you will cross a floating bridge that rises and lowers with water level at the permanent pond. A pond is a body of water where light penetrates to the bottom. Lakes are deep enough to prevent good light penetration. Size is not best measure for separating ponds and lakes biologically.

Before reaching the Welcome Center, you pass the Howard Christensen Memorial Spring. Frank and Rita’s only child died from a brain tumor while a high school senior and graduated posthumously in 1962-63. To honor him, his parents donated land to establish a nature center that would allow youth to experience discovery in the natural world. Frank and Rita were not wealthy people but owned about 100 acres they gave to the community. It was a gift of the heart that founded HCNC in fall 1974. The Grand Rapids Downtown Kiwanis Club provided funds for the construction of the Welcome Center, memorial spring stonework, and the drilling of the flowing well. Visit the office to purchase a HCNC membership.

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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Exclosure Observations


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Helping students and the public understand the nature of science was an important goal for me as director of Howard Christensen Nature Center. Education deals with many misconceptions and the scientific process helps people understand that science, based on verifiable evidence, is self-correcting.

To see science in action we constructed an “exclosure.”  It helped people observe natural changes in nature niches. It was a ten by twenty foot fenced area. Fence posts were five feet apart. In the first section we did not disturb the area during construction and left it untouched for the next twenty years. The other five by ten-foot sections were cleared of vegetation on a rotating three-year cycle.

Sheep sorrel was an early colonizing ground cover. Plants, insects and small animals could enter and colonize without our influence. Large animals like deer were excluded. After the plants were cleared and roots filtered from the soil, we observed colonizing plants and animals. Ants made about 20 small mounds about 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Sheep sorrel, pigweed, and five clumps of grass also took hold within three weeks.

Rather than describe details of what was observed, lets focus attention on nature niche establishment. John Curtis first described the process of plant succession. By documenting the species and the order they colonized sand dunes, he established predictable models. Plants changed the soil and made it more hospitable for different species. It could be predicted how long it would take for particular species to establish.

Plant colonizers were replaced by mosses, perennial grass or other plants when soil conditions improved. Later woody shrubs and trees could establish. With each new plant species various insects, birds, and mammals could make a living.

I mentioned science is self-correcting. Over the years, repeated studies showed a predictable sequence of colonizing plants and animals. It was found the sequence was somewhat variable based on surrounding vegetation and animal populations. Generally species arrived in the same sequence to occupy nature niches. Continued long-term studies corrected initial conclusions.

Using HCNC’s exclosure, students learned the process of collecting and analyzing data. As humans, we are prone to draw conclusions based on how things appear or how we want them to be. Often they are correct but frequently we have not collected adequate data to confirm our conclusions. Scientific process slowly builds valid conclusions that get modified and corrected when studies indicate our conclusions are not perfect.

The process allows us to discard misconceptions and support what is shown to be correct. That is where climate change discussions frustrate many. Some people deny it is greatly influenced by human activities. Most scientists acknowledge climate change is greatly human influenced but qualify the statement with “pending further data collection.” Science process is always open to modification pending further data collection. Many people accept unsupported absolute conclusions because they do not like science being open to modification or not being what they desire to think.

The exclosure experiment at HCNC helped people learn how scientific process works and how new data collection modified our understanding of how nature functions. It would have been nice if the experiment were continued after I left. We could have documented changes in growing season as well as plant and animal composition. Many scientific studies take decades or centuries to make valid predications. We tend to be impatient and want absolute answers now.

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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Game and Nongame Management


 

Wildlife management has been shifting to an ecosystem approach for 50 years. In the early 1900’s and before, wildlife management was done species by species. If more deer were desired, that was the focus of management. If more ruffed grouse were desired, effort focused on that species.

Aldo Leopold revolutionized management thinking with his 1933 Game Management textbook. He encouraged a shift from autecology to synecology. Autecology is narrowly focused on single species without concern for other species or impacts of its management on the ecosystems. Synecology is focused on the ecosystem with attention toward improving conditions for wildlife communities.

Today the Michigan DNR uses a synecology approach more extensively. It considers a multitude of species when making habitat management decisions but continues emphasis on selected hunted species. Changing the cultural mindset of the public and staff is a slow difficult process.

Howard Meyerson reported that a National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Related Recreation found 39 percent of Michigan residents watch wildlife and 21 percent hunt and/or fish. The Michigan DNR spends 95 percent of its wildlife management budget for hunting and fishing management and 5 percent to support nongame wildlife management.

A 2011 survey by the US Fish and Wildlife Service found 71.8 million people engage in wildlife watching, while 33 million fish and 13.7 million hunt wildlife. Correspondingly watchers spend $54.9 billion annually, fishers spend $41.8 and hunters spend $33.7 billion.

Interest in wildlife is shifting toward watching from hunting. There is a management need for both to maintain healthy ecosystems. Deer and rabbit abundance damages ecosystems because we have reduced predator populations to unhealthy ecosystem levels. That was a result of autecology practices. The synecology practice of allowing wolves to survive in ecosystem is controversial to our traditional autecology mindset.

Unfortunately most people are not aware of autecology or synecology. Our culture remains focused on autecology game management instead of the synecology ecosystem management. Public focus is often focused on “What I want from the environment” instead of supporting healthy ecosystem management. Wildlife biologists strive for synecology practices but public pressure and support lags behind.

Leopold’s book is revolutionary but dry reading. What Aldo Leopold described almost 100 years ago is still a new idea compared with hundreds of years of wildlife management. We tend to follow practices and focus money on how things were previously done instead of changing our culture toward ecosystem nature niche management.

The question “why staff energy is devoted most heavily to hunted species,” when more of the public watches instead of hunts is not easy and creates uneasiness. Some hunters do not want money they spend on hunting licenses used on non-hunting programs. Some watchers do not want nongame money spent on programs that also supports hunting. Both are essential for healthy ecosystem management. We had an opportunity to approve a tax on sporting equipment like binoculars that would support watching wildlife management programs. The public voted no but hunters generally support hunting taxes.

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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Seventeen and Twelve


 

Spring-cleaning time has arrived. Seventeen bird nest boxes contained last year’s nesting material at Ody Brook. The backyard supported an Eastern Bluebird family. House wrens arrived later in the spring and raised a family in the same box. We were concerned the wren might kill young bluebirds to gain nest box access but it did not.

This year I checked 29 nest boxes. Seventeen had nesting material and twelve were empty. Empty ones probably were not used to raise young but likely provided winter shelter. Boxes are in the field, shrub thickets, woods, and at pond’s edge in hopes of attracting a variety of 30 plus cavity nesting species.

Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and even the Great-crested Flycatchers nest in hollow living or dead trees. Lack of tree cavities could be a limiting factor that prevents bird reproductive success when hollow trees are removed from neighborhoods or are in short supply. Unless a tree poses a danger to the house or people, let them stand. Woodpeckers excavate cavities that other birds use in succeeding years. Fortunately dead trees stand for many years. People remove many for firewood and that makes nesting success difficult.

About 20 years ago a cherry tree died at the edge of the yard and it still stands through gale force winds. An Eastern Phoebe selected it as a favorite perch from which to hunt insects. The Northern Yellow-shafted Flicker considers it a great drumming tree. The dead wood resonates sound creating a loud territorial announcement. The barren tree provides great views of perching birds.

Install nest boxes to assist bird survival. Avoid placing them close to trails or where people regularly frequent. Most should be obscure of easy view to provide nesting privacy from predators and people. I have placed nest boxes in the woods to reduce nest cavity shortage. Boxes in the field serve Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds where they vie for the nesting space. Two boxes are placed within 15 feet of each other. Tree Swallows claim one and prevent other swallows from using the second box. Swallows do not object to bluebird neighbors but draw the line at other tree swallows. In effect the swallow helps bluebirds by protecting the second box from swallow use.

Wrens prefer shrubbery nearby. When shrubs grew too close for bluebirds, I cleared more area and bluebirds returned to use the box.

The Eastern Screech Owl nest box was not checked to make sure it is empty. We can see the nest box opening as we enter the carport and sometimes the owl peers out at us. The box is the same style used for Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, and Buffleheads. We have suitable habitat for Wood Ducks that are present each summer.

I clean nest boxes but let the birds do their own spring-cleaning in natural cavities. Hopefully nest cavities are not in short supply at Ody Brook. To help bird populations install nest boxes where you live. Our expanding human population is crowding birds out of neighborhoods so help by providing nest boxes. Hopefully clean water and food are abundant if pesticide and herbicide use is limited. Provide nest boxes and maybe you will have 17 occupied boxes and 12 empty ones. If water and food are plentiful, empty boxes might indicate adequate nesting space is present in nature niches.

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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Beavers and Dams


 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Beavers became a commodity and fashion product. They were heavily trapped and numbers were greatly reduced. They brought business trade to what became Michigan. In prior centuries native people used the resource as part of a sustainable livelihood. The European beaver trapping industry became a boom and bust business. One might wonder how beavers change nature niches.

Beavers weigh 30-50 pounds and are the largest rodent in the area. Their natural history provides benefits but sometimes they are troublesome neighbors.

At the local Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC), a family of beavers moved into the outlet of Spring Lake in 1970s. They are better dam builders than most of us could hope to become. One wonders how a particular dam site is selected. Narrow sections of Spring Creek were ignored and a dam over two hundred feet long was constructed near the outlet of Spring Lake. It required lots of work but was successful. Two smaller dams were constructed down stream to create additional flood ponds.

Elevated pond water allowed beavers to swim to the upland shore for aspen trees without going far from shore. It is safer to stay in water. Water access to trees reduces danger from predators and makes it easier to move wood. That is the reason people used rivers to float logs to sawmills during the boom and bust era of Michigan logging. Current forestry practices encourage sustainable logging instead of boom and bust cycles. That practice helps maintain a sustainable community economy.

Beavers topple trees and gnaw branches for underwater storage. They eat meals as needed all summer but branches are hauled to flood ponds and stuck in mud that accumulates behind the dam. Branches provide food during the long winter when timber harvest is not possible.

A domed beaver lodge with an underwater entrance is constructed in the beaver pond. Beavers enter and come above water level to dry living quarters with no easy predator access. A family of beavers can live cozy and exit as needed during winter months to raid their refrigerator. They retrieve branches stored in the mud and feed on nutritious bark. Remaining inner wood is used for construction or discarded like we discard chicken bones or corncobs.

Beavers move to new areas after a few years when they have eaten themselves out of house and home. Their temporary residence activities provide valuable services. The area behind the dam traps sediments and reduces debris and soil in downstream areas. This helps some animals that need clear flowing water and also those that need ponds. Water flowing over dams picks up additional oxygen essential for fish and insects. Fishing generally improves but pond water can warm streams. Various plants are able to colonize the wetlands behind the dam. Willows and alders are colonizing shrubs. In such areas, animals like the Alder Flycatcher and the Acadian Hairstreak find living good.

A great many creatures benefit from the temporary residence of a beaver family. Beavers move in and move out but leave a life giving legacy for others that last for decades. We most notice water that floods roads or drowns trees we might desire survive. Beavers do not recognize our legal title to property so we remove them when their activities do not meet our approval.

Beaver benefits include raising water tables that keep wells flowing. They provide habitat for many wildlife like fish, ducks, and deer and many less noticed animals. During spring high water dams help reduce spring flooding along rivers and it is then when beavers search real estate for new homes and food. Maybe one will come your way and bring activities that improve nature niches in your area.

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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From Pond to River


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Water flows from high to low areas and over time it shortens its path. Tadpole Pond, at Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC), is higher than Chrishaven Lake, Spring Lake, Spring Creek, and Rogue River. The route water takes from Tadpole Pond to the Rogue River has a “youthful” geology.

Surrounding Tadpole Pond, rain and snowmelt drains a small area of higher ground to feed the pond. The pond was dredged deeper before becoming HCNC. The dredging cut deeper below the water table and allowed water to enter the pond from surrounding groundwater. This created a permanent shallow pond. An earth dam was constructed at the east end of the pond, with an overflow drain installed under Nature’s Habitats Trail leading toward Chrishaven Lake.

From the pond, water flows east into a boggy swamp that fills a glacial kettle lake basin formed 8000 years ago. A large block of ice left by a retreating glacier was buried and slowly melted. The melt water filled the resulting lake depression. Chrishaven Lake has been shrinking in size as vegetation gradually fills from shorelines.

Chrishaven Lake Boardwalk begins at the edge of an ancient 8000 year old shoreline and makes its way to the current open water of the lake. We cannot see open water from the ancient shoreline where the boardwalk begins. Water from Tadpole Pond makes its way through the swamp, enters the lake, and exits eastward through what was once part of the open water lake. Water continues flowing eastward saturating swampland forest where open water was once present. A small stream channel flows from the lake and crosses Nature’s Habitats Trail where a boardwalk leads through the lowland near the Swamp Shelter building.

View of the creek is lost as it merges into a large wetland forest on it way to Spring Lake. At one time Chrishaven Lake and Spring Lake may have been connected with open water. When water reaches Spring Lake, it no longer continues eastward. Spring Creek coming from north of 20 Mile Road enters Spring Lake and flows out its southwest corner. Upstream from the lake, Spring Creek is small. Where it exits the lake, the stream is about 30 feet wide because additional water feeds the creek from springs in the lake.

The east flowing water from Tadpole Pond turns westward and flows south of Chrishaven Lake and Tadpole Pond on its way west to the Rogue River. Given time, the water will flow directly west to the Rogue River from Tadpole Pond. Water takes the least resistant route. The current landscape is geologically known as youthful because water flow does not all converge directly toward Rogue River but follows an erratic path.

Given time, water will carry land away particle by particle to create a channel directly from Tadpole Pond to Rogue River. We will not live thousands of years to witness landscape changes that develop a mature river system and then an old geologic river system. Details of change from geologic youth to mature, and old age river systems will need to wait for another time.

During our lives, enjoy varied nature niches at HCNC that have developed along a youthful water course that flows east from Tadpole Pond to Spring Lake and turns 180 degrees to flow west to Rogue River. Dramatically different nature niches enhance biodiversity along the meandering watercourse. Visit HCNC and purchase an individual or family membership at the Red Pine Interpretive Center. HCNC has perhaps wildest and most diverse habitat variety of any designated nature study areas in Kent County.

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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Red-winged blackbird arrival


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

OUT-Nature-niche-red-winged-blackbirdEncourage family members to predict the arrival date and first sighting of Red-winged Blackbirds. For decades it has been an annual activity for me. It helps us tune in to nature occurrences. I wait until mid February before making a final hypothesis. The hypothesis is different than a wild guess. I could make a guess in September. Instead I gather available evidence to make an educated guess on an annual basis. My friend Greg and I always try to guess the closest date and hope our own is the most accurate. It is a fun activity.

It is somewhat like predicting weather. Daily variations are going to impact the actual arrival day.

Evidence from previous years indicates early March is usually when they arrive in our area. With evidence from past years, we can make a hypothesis months early. For a more accurate prediction, I like to gather additional information. I look at long-range weather forecast, current snow depth, the amount of frozen water on lakes, and spring progression in plant communities. The final critical piece is determined by when a good south wind will facilitate bird flight. I make a prediction before information on wind direction is available. I once predicted February 28 and hit it right on and have gotten it right on at least one other time. I usually do not hit the date exactly but I am quite close.

It is mid February and already willow tree branches are turning brighter yellow. Silver Maple buds are beginning to swell just a little. This is occurring despite this winter being much colder than usual, snow depth much deeper, and winter storms persisting. The plants are anxious for their seasonal spring work. A few sunny days have warmed tree trunks and branches causing sap to start flowing. This afternoon the first sapsickle has formed on the sugar maple. Time to go sample the sweet taste of spring before the squirrels start licking it.

Frost may still be moving deeper into the ground, but a higher sun and longer days indicate spring is near. Male Red-winged Blackbirds want to claim the most productive breeding habitat available. First arrivals get first dibs. They will choose cattail marshes where they can broadcast claim to breeding territory, with a vocal konk-a-ree and by flashing as much as possible of the red wing patch bordered with yellow.

For 10 to 14 days, males vie for the most desirable territory, before females arrive. Amid male territory challenges, females arrive to compete for ideal nest and feeding habitat, with other females. Females are drab brown flecked with tan for a camouflage appearance. We tend not to notice their stealth arrival without effort.

Beautiful males are loud and stand in open exposed areas that capture our attention more than many bird arrivals. It is always a fun bird to anticipate and to watch changing season signals that help predict arrival most accurately. My prediction for this year’s first arrival is March 7. I need to leave Ody Brook to see the first arrivals. They come here and visit feeders but not until they have first inspected breeding habitats and filled the air with konk-a-ree in favored nature niches.

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.  

 

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