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Biting flies


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

At our annual Lehr family reunion in the 1950’s, we gathered at a city park. It was an event for my dad’s mother’s side of the family. I always looked forward to it. One year, I ventured away from family to the large swing sets. The swings sets were tall and we could swing higher than possible on neighborhood swings.

While swinging with pleasure, I suddenly started screaming bloody murder. I was too far from family for anyone to notice. Nearby mothers with their children took notice and came to my rescue but had no idea why I was screaming and in tears. They helped me stop the swing. I was slapping at my leg.

Under the right leg of my trousers was something horrible. A woman pulled up my pant leg to discover a horse fly biting me. It was worse than a bee sting but it did not inject venom. Not all experiences in the outdoors are pleasant and some people avoid outings because they fear the unpleasant. Positive events out number negative ones and hopefully bad events do not prevent time among nature niches.

Deer flies are more common than horse flies. They can drive us inside at certain times of the day and during some weeks of the year. Karen and I hiked in a western cattle grazing area on public land. At Deer Creek in Utah, we found it necessary to leave. The cattle could not. Deer could not. Other mammals could not.

They had to endure the onslaught of biting Tabinid flies. Fortunately, cows have long tails with a hair tuff fly swatter. Deer have shorter tails but one can watch them constantly twitching it back and forth.

Selected behavior helps deer and other mammals avoid painful “bites”. The flies do not actually bite. Their mouth parts are saw-like. They saw into the skin and lap oozing blood to nourish eggs in their abdomen. It is the female that seeks blood much like it is female mosquitoes that poke holes in our skin. Males feed on nectar and pollen at flowers.

Horse flies are much larger than deer flies and cause considerably more pain. Both lay eggs near water on vegetation where hatching young drop into a stream or other water body. The maggots go to the bottom where they feed on other insects and invertebrates. They grow and shed their “outer skin” known as an exoskeleton to reach a size for transforming from maggot to flying adult that leaves the water to mate and produce more flies.

Most of the biting flies do not survive to leave the water. They are eaten by other aquatic organisms from fish to insects. As adult flies, they are eaten by dragonflies and even frogs. Despite us not wanting to share the world with them, they are important for maintaining organisms we want to share time and space with like fish, frogs, and dragonflies. Birds pluck them out of the air for nourishment.

There are tricks that help us enjoy the outdoors despite the presence of biting flies. We can use chemical insect repellents and at times they seem almost essential. Effective repellents are often dangerous if applied to our skin. Most should be applied to clothing instead. I rarely use repellent insect creams or sprays.

Appropriate dress is quite effective. Wear light colored long-sleeved shirts and long pants to keep skin covered. Dark clothes attract flies. The deer flies like to circle around our heads and become a major nuisance. My friend Mary Miller taught me to pick a bracken fern and put the stem in a headband or hat so the leafy frond stands above my head. The flies circle the frond instead of my head.

Choosing where and when to spend time outdoors at certain times of the year helps. During fly season, it is better to hike at a distance from streams. There are many trails in the area, so select one away from deer flies. As August progresses, deer flies become less frequent and areas near water become suitable again. Hiking on breezy days sweeps flies away. Wildlife spend time away from water and in open breezy areas. Learn by watching and enjoying wildlife. Discover ways to keep spending time among nature’s outdoor wonders.

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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Butterflies and citizen science


photos from West Michigan Butterfly Association’s website, http://www.graud.org/wmba.html

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Join on one or more fun citizen science outdoor field studies. Discover butterflies in a variety of local habitats with people knowledgeable in butterfly identification. It is a great way to learn some of the 170 species known to Michigan. Join with the West Michigan Butterfly Association for fun discovery.

Counts are sponsored by the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) and cost $3 for each participant. The money is sent to NABA to create a publication documenting butterfly abundance, distribution, and trends throughout North America. Scientists make use of citizen science data. Between 17 and 22 different counts are held in Michigan annually and you can contact Ranger Steve about other Michigan counts. Your help spotting butterflies is desired. Knowledge of butterflies is not required.

To find species and count numbers, we carpool to various sites in the designated count circle with a 15-mile diameter. Have a good time discovering in the outdoors, learn species identification, habitat associations, behavior, and nature niche needs. Participate for part of the day or stay all day.

Bring a bag lunch, plenty to drink, snacks, camera, and dress with lightweight long sleeves and pants to protect from biting insects or raspberry thorns. Some optional exploration is off trail.

Dates and meeting locations:

July 1, 2017 (Sat) 9:00 a.m. Allegan Butterfly Count – Allegan Co. 

Leader: Ranger Steve (Mueller) Meet at the Fennville Allegan State Game Area headquarters, 6013 118th Ave, Fennville. odybrook@chartermi.net

July 5, 2017 (Wed) 9:00 a.m. Newaygo County Butterfly Count – Newaygo Co. 

Leader: Ranger Steve (Mueller) Meeting at the Leppink’s grocery parking lot at the corner of M-82 & M-37 in Newaygo. odybrook@chartermi.net

July 8, 2017 (Sat) 9:00 a.m. Rogue River Butterfly Count – Kent Co.

Leader: Ranger Steve (Mueller) (Kent, Newaygo, Montcalm Counties) Meet at Howard Christensen Nature Center Welcome Center 16160 Red Pine Dr. Kent City. odybrook@chartermi.net

July 22, 2017 (Sat) 9:00 a.m. Greater Muskegon Butterfly Ct – Muskegon Co.

Leader: Dennis Dunlap Meet on Mill Iron Road north from M-46 (Apple Ave.) east of Muskegon.  Travel to the second set of power lines that cross the road north of MacArthur Road. dunlapmd@charter.net

Rain day alternates will be the next day. It is suggested to sign up with Ranger Steve so unexpected changes can be shared.

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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Spring progression


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Expect the same sequence of change but not the same timing annually. I attempt to record dates when plants and trees first flower to compare changes from year to year. Butterfly appearance is a special treat for me and an excel file is maintained to record the species sightings daily. Daily bird sightings are recorded. A narrative is written in my journal of nature niche occurrences like the location and abundance of Earth Star Fungi and Ebony Spleenwort Ferns.

It is an impossible task and for many species an X on the excel file suffices to document a species has been sighted this year. Busy life activities keep us all from noticing the first day when each species makes its grand appearance. Accurate phenology progression can be important to document things like Climate Change. For most of us, it is more important to experience the wonder and joy of life as it unfolds each day of spring.

I try to walk among the abundance of life daily witnessing what neighbors are doing. I am a nosy sort of guy. Ephemeral neighbors like hepatica, springs beauty, trout lily, bloodroot, marsh marigold, and skunk cabbage race to flower before tree leaves expand and shade the ground. Flowering is an energy expensive activity and for many it needs to be completed before intense tree canopy shade reduces access to adequate sun energy.

Some plants like marsh marigold spend the summer slowly storing energy so when spring arrives they have adequate energy to produce flowers and seeds. Others like the trout lily gather sunlight during the short period before tree shade reduces light. Their flowers and leaves decay by June ready for new growth next spring. Evidence of their existence is only visible for about six weeks annually.

Butterflies have certain flight periods that result in a sequence of appearances and disappearances for various species throughout the warmer seasons. Most have their activity linked with specific plants their caterpillars feed on so their flight is timed with the plant’s life cycle for egg laying.

Join for a couple hours of ephemeral exploration at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary with the Michigan Botanical Club on 6 May from 2 to 4 p.m. Park at V&V Nursery on Northland Drive about a mile south of Cedar Springs. The sanctuary does not have adequate parking space so V&V Nursery has kindly allowed parking. Considering shopping for plants at the nursery before or after the wildflower walk.

This year many species of flowers are blooming one to three weeks earlier than last year. Plant activity is weather dependent. During years when cold and snow persist well into April flowering is delayed. Other years early warm weather encourages ground thawing and sap flow in February. Wildflowers progression advances flowering dates in warm springs. This year it was necessary for maple syrup tree tappers to begin in February to capture the first dense sugar surge rather than wait until March.

I am waiting with anticipation to discover when the trilliums, baneberry, saxifrage, wood betony, and many other ephemerals bloom. I expect they will be in flower during the 6 May field outing. Though the sanctuary’s purpose is to primarily enhance survival success for plant and animal species, we are pleased to share the beauty of nature’s bounty with our human neighbors and to encourage you to discover the opportunities provided by the Michigan Botanical Club.

Come mingle with plants and plant enthusiasts. I will meet you in the parking lot at V&V Nursery before 2 p.m. for our stroll through ephemeral days of spring.

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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Fishing with feet


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

A reader told me that I probably would not believe him but he said he caught a trout with his foot. Before he said more, I said, “I believe you because I have also.” How many others have done the same? Trout fishing season is under way but angling with feet is not a chosen fishing tactic.

The reader was wading a stream when a fish tried to dart past him just as he stepped down and caught the fish between foot and substrate. My experience was similar.

In Calf Creek in Utah, I was wading bare foot in a small desert stream fed by snow melt and ground water from Boulder Mountain. The mountain road summit was over 12,000 feet with a spruce/fir forest in highest locations and ponderosa pines in the 8,000-foot range. Down the mountain, pinyon pines and juniper trees reigned at 7,000 feet.

Calf Creek was at 5,500 feet but that water remained cold, rich in oxygen, and full of trout food. Willows and other woody plants were abundant along the three to ten feet wide creek. In most places the creek was one to twelve inches deep. A beaver constructed a couple dams and created a pond where it built a lodge. After a few years, the beaver exhausted its food supply. The pond filled and became a wet meadow full of life.

It surprised me to see a Great Blue Heron standing on a bare sandstone desert cliff over Calf Creek. It made sense because trout were present for the heron to hunt in the stream’s shallow clear cold water.

My barefoot walk for about two miles was in the stream’s cold water but the desert air was near 100 F. The stream bed was mostly bare sandstone a few inches deep with frequent holes a foot to three feet deep. Deep holes were places the trout hid in shadows. They often remained stationary in shallow water with use of their powerful tail muscles beating just enough to hold their stable position.

As I walked downstream, a trout facing upstream was alarmed by my presence and attempted to dart past me up stream. My right foot was just coming down as the trout slipped between my foot and rock. The fish’s body pressed against the bottom of my foot and was squeezed to the sandstone stream bed.

Quickly, I shifted my weight to my left foot to prevent hurting the fish. Too late. The fish began to roll downstream stunned by physical trauma. I picked up the fish and held it with head upstream to allow water to flow over the gills.

For several minutes, I hoped it would recover as it continued to open and close its mouth. Each time I released it, it could not swim and rolled in the current. After considerable time, I let the fish roll out sight.

Such events are now out of sight but not out of mind. It occurred in the 1990’s but stays with me. Previously, I wrote about this in my column. Like most stories shared with family and friends, they get repeated at gatherings, campouts, or in another group setting. We all have experiences to share and reminisce.

Many do not end in tragedy like it did for this trout. When you are fishing or on adventures into the wondrous world around us, remember to bring back fish stories or those of your personal experiences with wildlife and nature niches. Truthful stories are best and most interesting. Exaggerated “fish stories” are not necessary. The more time you are outdoors the more exciting stories you will accumulate for sharing.

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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Short-eared Owls


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Three friends and I visited eight Short-eared owls at meal time. The owls are smaller than Great Horned Owls and come south to our region in winter. There was a large grassland where they fed near Muskegon, south of M-46 near Swanson Road. A few years ago, building construction eliminated habitat and the owls.

We recently found a place where they are wintering on private land. When observing the owls, posted signs on private property stated “conservation easement.” You might wonder how to establish a conservation easement that will protect your land for your use and for future generations. On February 9, the Kent Conservation District is hosting a dinner and 45-minute program at no cost to you titled “What is the District doing for You and Kent County’s Natural Resources?”

The presentation will bring attention to the resources available to Kent County residents such as the NRCS administered Farm Bill that offers easement programs to eligible landowners to conserve working agricultural lands, wetlands, grasslands and forestlands. The Forestry Assistance Program and the Conservation Technical Assistance Initiative, Michigan’s Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program and invasive species strike team services are a few of the programs that will be covered during the presentation.

Please attend on February 9 for a 5:30 p.m. dinner with a 6 p.m. program at the Grand Rapids Township Hall, 1836 E Beltline Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525. The Kent Conservation District Showcase is free to Kent County residents. RSVP to Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/events/153931478427517/).

Back to the owls. My mother once told me that when habitat is destroyed, like occurred with building construction at the Muskegon site, the animals need to move someplace new. Unfortunately, there are not adequate places remaining for relocation. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Short-eared Owls’ population has declined by 80 percent between 1966 and 2013. Similar declines are occurring for many species as habitat is destroyed to accommodate a growing human population.

Conservation easements can help species survive by curbing habitat loss from agriculture, livestock grazing, recreation, and development that are major causes for species declines. Information from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology states the “owls require large uninterrupted tracts of open grasslands, and they appear to be particularly sensitive to habitat loss and fragmentation.” Habitat restoration programs, such as the Conservation and Wetland Reserve Programs, have shown some success in restoring suitable habitat for Short-eared Owls.

Local farmers and landowners have entered land into the Conservation and Wetland Reserve Programs that are beneficial for our natural heritage and the owner. Such programs not only aid owl survival but help reduce flooding in downstream areas. The conservation programs have significant economic benefits for the community. There is an economic cost that pays for itself in benefits by preventing flood damage losses, soil erosion fertility loss, pollution damage to streams, and it slows loss of wildlife.

The conservation programs can provide hunting easements on private land. The landowner receives financial rewards from the government and community members have access to land. It is considered a win/win for land owners, community members, and declining populations of plants and animals that can now survive. The new Federal administration does not recognize the value of an economic, social, and environmental bottom line. The focus is only on a short-term economic bottom line. Efforts are underway to eliminate many conservation programs that include social and environmental benefits that serve the triple bottom line.

Elimination of conservation programs is not good for the owls that have suffered an 80 percent decline. Elimination is not good for the public at large for flood control, or future generations. Attend the presentation to learn “What the Kent Conservation District is doing for You and Kent County’s Natural Resources?”

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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Growing Cardboard


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

As a child, I observed toilet paper rolls were not wrapped around a cardboard tube. By the time we removed the paper, a cardboard tube had grown on the inside of the roll. I remember my mother telling me a rock on a street corner near her house grew larger as she was growing up.

Our observations were faulty. Both my mom and I thought we made good observations. I looked inside the paper roll and did not see the cardboard. I was not perceptive enough. Mom did not make measurements on the rock to verify growth.

I recall taking local middle school students to Costa Rica to learn about Tropical Rain Forest. We visited schools to plant trees with students. We shared that forests are a renewable resource that were being cut faster than they could regenerate. Some rainforest soils get baked to laterite rock when cleared of trees.

Sustainable practices that support future generations of people living in the rainforest and here need to manage rainforest differently if we desire to have toilet paper or other forest products in the future. Some apply temperate forest management practices there and are unwilling to change because they desire to think it will work anywhere. As adults, we are not making accurate observations based on sound scientific investigations.

Naturally, tree harvest industries are most interested in cutting trees and shipping them. They keep moving and clearing rainforest without adequate concern regarding the impact on the local community or future generations. For some, the goal is only short-term profit for the company. Many people feel that is in their best personal interest and it is particularly true if they invest money in mutual funds that include that forestry company.

Others seek socially screened industry investments that work to provide healthy economic, social, and environmental practices for both present and future generations. It is known as the triple bottom line.

A recent national survey prioritized 12 US citizen concerns. Environment was number 11 of 12. The only one of less concern was immigration. Political policies are based on constituent desires. It is good when people develop good observation skills and behave to support the triple bottom line for the present and future.

When I was director at the Howard Christensen Nature Center, it was operated by the Kent Intermediate School District serving Kent County public and private schools. One purpose was to provide hands on learning to help students develop careful observation skills and to learn how scientists constantly review the work of other scientists to find flaws and correct them. When studies involve things like how nature niches work in forests, we can improve best practice management. Science has self-correcting peer review.

Field trip learning helps children develop accurate observations in fun natural locations. They learn to draw better conclusions than I did regarding toilet paper growing cardboard while on the paper holder.

The Kent ISD superintendent, in 2005, told me they were closing the Howard Christensen Nature Center because environmental education was no longer a priority in America. He stated he was not saying it lacked importance but only it was no longer a priority in America. In the presidential election prior to 2005, Al Gore, with a sustainable environment policy, won the popular vote but lost the electoral. The recent election went the same way with the sustainable environment policy candidate winning the popular vote but losing the election. Environment was only one of twelve American priorities but indicated a sustainable environment for future generations is low on our priority list. The role of environment for sustaining a stable economy is important.

Encourage your children’s teachers to go to HCNC. It is now operated as an independent nature center. Purchase a 2017 family membership. Rent snowshoes there and have fun outdoors. Emotionally connect with the environment that supports us and our future. It will help raise a sustainable environment priority.

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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Flames in the tree tops


By Ranger Steve Mueller

Flames are in the tree tops and red reflections are on the clouds. It is fall with color beginning to abound. Red maples are among the first to redden. Tree top leaves are exposed to greater temperature extremes and are among the first to show color. Red maples in swamps begin color change in August. Life there is more difficult but the red maples seem to survive. Those experience a shorter growing season than those in upland but manage to live.

In the upland forest surrounded by many other trees, temperature is more stable in the lower canopy. A multitude of insects find refuge in the more protected thicket of leaves and branches as they continue their work late into fall. Trees are busy moving sugar and nutrients from leaves to roots for winter storage. Birds and predatory insects glean insects as the last days of the season approach.

All species are in preparation for a long winter’s hiatus. Some insects will overwinter as hibernating adults, pupae, larvae, or eggs. Each species has its own unique nature niche adaptations to survive the cold season. Many birds will migrate south or in the case of many waterfowl they will migrate east to the Atlantic Coast. Others will stay for the winter. Birds like Black-capped Chickadees that were here all summer might shift southward and be replaced by some from northern Michigan to spend the next many months in our yards.

Mammals will vary in how they respond to shortening days, longer nights, and colder weather. The woodchucks will hibernate, chipmunks will spend long periods in their burrows with a large food cache and only make an occasional appearance above ground during warm spells. Squirrels will stay active smelling locations where they stashed morsels of food for harsh season recovery.

Plants unable to move have their own methods to help them survive to spring. Some will overwinter as seeds and the rest of the plant will die. Some die back to the ground and will sprout new growth from underground when conditions are suitable.

The woody plants must have a way to keep the above ground stems alive through the harsh conditions. The evergreens drain much of the fluid from needles but will be able to continue photosynthesis late into fall provided tissue temperatures are above 40 F and they will be able to become active earlier in spring than deciduous plants.

The deciduous plants like the red maple are completing activity in late September and October. Now is the time we take pleasure in the demise of this year’s leaves as they become red in their final days of life. As the sun was nearing sunset and peaked through breaks in the clouds, it shined its spotlight on tree tops making them burst flame red above green leaves below. Cloud bottoms shined red and orange glowed, making the evening a pleasure to spend outside. Life will appear to drain from trees as leaves fall leaving a dead appearing skeleton but spring will demonstrate a resurgence to life.

Soon other trees in fall will change to yellow, brown, red, and mixtures of color. A spectacular few weeks of change will progress in a manner determined by adaptations suitable for each species survival. Pay attention to which trees change first and the species sequence as each prepares for winter. Notice those struggling to live. We had a Black Cherry that became red weeks earlier than other cherries for a few years and died. Its skeleton stood at the edge of the backyard where birds found a wonderful perching location for about 25 years. Last year it finally blew down. Birds found a new viewing perch next to it in an ash tree that was killed by the Emerald Ash Borer. Life and death provide a dynamic of constant change in our yards.

The seasonal flame of color reoccurs annually around us. Do not let it pass without notice.

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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Weigh less under a full moon


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

If you desire to weigh less, weigh yourself when the moon is overhead or even better when it is a New Moon. When the sun and moon are both on the same side of the Earth during a new moon, they exert greater gravitational pull together and make you weigh less. Tides are highest when the gravity from both pulls toward them. You will weigh your least when the sun and moon are directly in line. The opposite side of the Earth experiences high tides at the same time. This results in high tides every twelve hours. Unfortunately, our bathroom scales do not measure fine enough to actually show how much less you weigh. It is only a fraction of a pound.

The Perseus Meteor shower article two weeks ago took precedence over the moon’s gravity because it only occurs once annually. We experience moon cycles monthly. The Perseid meteor shower peaks about August 11-13 but we can observe increased meteors for a greater time about a week before and after peak.

I have read the moon’s gravity is not great enough to create tides in the Great Lakes because the size of the lakes is too small but my observations do not agree. It is well known that tides in oceans raise and lower water by several feet daily. In the open ocean it is not observable, but along the shore, water retreats great distances when the sea floor slope is gentle. If the coast drops abruptly, it is still noticeable but one must look at the nearly vertical cliff walls. Sea wall life becomes visible for several hours before the water rises again.

I observed a tide in Lake Michigan near Manistique in the Upper Peninsula. We lived there for a couple years when the girls were little. We would frequently walk the mile to the lakeshore with wagon in tow just in case the girls became too tired.

The lake surface was as smooth as glass on a warm summer night. A full moon worked its way to zenith. Dolomitic limestone slabs of flat rock peppered the shallow water near the swimming beach. Some of the flat slabs barely protruded above still water. Rocks made an inviting stepping-stone trail to a large rock that rose several feet above lake level. We walked on the dry slabs to the big rock and sat to enjoy the evening. It was a movie quality evening. We had the lake, quiet, beauty, and the distance sounds of nature from the shore all to ourselves. It was a choice family evening.

We sat on the rock as the moon moved overhead. A Great Blue Heron fed in the shallows to the west. Ring-billed and Herring Gulls walked the beach gathering food morsels in the dimming light as day became night. The moon was bright enough to create shallows of our silhouettes. Aquatic insects skimmed the shiny water surface. We looked for fish but I do not recall if we saw any. I guess it is good reason to pull my daughters away from their busy lives and take them back to look for the abundance of life and see if we can observe fish. Life thrives in the water, on the surface, and above it. I know fish must be present or the heron would not have been wading and hunting.

When we decided it was time to walk home, we planned to walk on flat rocks used to reach our high rock perch. Most were now under water. Moon’s gravity had drawn Lake Michigan closer. The surface of the lake was higher but unlike large ocean tides, Lake Michigan had risen about a half inch. It was enough to submerge several of our stepping-stones. I did not have a millimeter ruler to measure the change. I should have gotten a dried grass stem to determine the vertical lake level change. It is another reason to return so I can measure how high a rock protrudes at low tide twelve hours earlier and then measure how much it is submerged when the moon pulls Lake Michigan closer. Take your family outdoors to observe and experience wonderful everyday nature phenomena.

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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Perseus Meteor Shower


Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

 

“Shooting stars” create fire in a black sky. To celebrate my birthday, the Perseid meteor shower reoccurs annually with a peak fire performance from August 11-13. I pretend the fireworks are a personal birthday celebration but I know scientifically we all share this annual nature niche event equally.

Why does the Perseus meteor shower gain prominence as my birthday approaches and diminish afterward?

Most of us are aware the sun is the center of our solar system with planets that revolve around it and are held by its gravity. It takes the Earth about 365 days for a trip around the sun and we call it a year. The time it takes planets to go around the sun is their year but it is easier to compare their orbits to our year. It takes Jupiter nearly 12 Earth years to go around the sun once and only 88 days for Mercury.

Earth’s path around the sun brings the planet into contact with space debris that becomes “shooting stars” (meteors) nightly. During mid-August, the Perseid meteor shower light show might have 200 shooting stars an hour because there is massive debris in Earth’s orbit at that location. A comet likely passed through Earth’s path and left billions of rock, iron, or nickel bits floating in space.

Comets orbit the sun making large oval loops. We can predict return dates for some but adequate data is not present for others. Some may not return. Little is known about the source of debris for the Perseus meteor shower. Perhaps a comet passed through Earth’s path and it may or may not return.

Think of Earth’s path as a tube that the planet is in as it travels around the sun. When debris drifts into the tube, it gets caught by Earth’s gravity and is pulled to the surface. As the material within the tube is drawn toward Earth, it heats, glows, and vaporizes. Material farther outside the tube continues to float in space and next year it might drift close enough to be caught by gravity.

Material left by a passing comet is called a meteor swarm. It is a mass of material that is mostly very small. The average size of a meteor is .0005 (5 ten thousands) of an ounce. That is the size of sand grain. When the Earth passes, it draws particles that heat, glow, and vaporize. Some larger pieces glow very bright and may even survive to land on Earth as a meteorite.

My friend Bob and I went to see the “Old Woman” that is kept hidden away in recesses of the Smithsonian National Museum. We received permission to have someone escort us to see her because she is not in a public access area. The Old Woman is the largest meteorite found in California and the second largest found in the United States. It was named for the location it was found (The Old Woman Mountains).

This week spend time watching the sky for meteors. It is best to look between midnight and dawn when Earth faces the direction of travel and collides with more debris. Before midnight, we can see many but it is like backing into debris instead of hitting it face on. Think of it like driving a car forward into insects or backing into them. You will notice most when looking and driving forward as you hit them. The front windshield gets splattered and the back does not.

Shooting stars are usually about 50 to 75 miles over head but emit bright light for a tiny sand-sized particle. Meteor showers are named for the constellation where they appear to originate. The constellation Perseus can be found in the northeast sky and moves west during the night. Perseus stars are light years away and have no relationship to the meteor shower that originates in Earth’s orbit. Look before the moon rises or after it sets because the sky will be darkest. Get away from lights that impair the ability to enjoy a dark night sky. You have a couple weeks for watching the Perseid Meteor shower.

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 European Skipper butterfly was in great abundance during this year’s Rogue River butterfly count.

The European Skipper butterfly was in great abundance during this year’s Rogue River butterfly count.

The weather was great with sunny skies and little wind. New participants enjoyed butterflies, learned identification and associations with nature niche habitats. We met at the Howard Christensen Nature Center for our 29th year at 9 a.m. The counting began at HCNC’s Welcome Center. The group car-pooled to various areas in the Rogue River State Game Area. We visited the highest elevation in Kent County at Fisk Knob where we anticipated “hill topping” Black Swallowtails.

Hill topping is a behavior where butterflies fly to the highest location in the area and increase their chance for finding a mate. Not all butterflies exhibit this behavior. During the day, butterfly behavior was observed and described to help make the count a wonderful experience. Larval host plants were inspected for caterpillars or eggs. Both Viceroy eggs and larva were found. Most time was spent looking for adults and counting individuals of each species. European Skippers were in greatest abundance.

The total number of species observed has varied over the 29 years from 18 to 43. Weather affects 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. Activity is closely linked with blooming of nectar sources. Consider joining in 2017. 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 but most of us learn best by exploring the real world. Time outdoors is most enjoyable, healthy, provides family time and creates wonderful memories.

See Table 1 for this year’s Rogue River Count discoveries. Results for the other counts will be posted on the West Michigan Butterfly Association (WMBA) Web Site in August. Consider becoming a member of WMBA. Membership fee is $5/yr. A check can be sent to the treasurer’s address posted on the web site (http://www.graud.org/wmba.html). The date for the Muskegon count has been rescheduled to July 17 2016 from July 24. Visit the WMBA web site for location details.

Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary is the last place we visited after diligently searching all day. I am always hopeful we will be able to find at least one species we have not discovered elsewhere. This year we saw three additional species. They were Eastern Comma, Eyed Brown, and Harvester. We work to enhance the greatest biodiversity possible at Ody Brook and the work is successful.

During count week (3 days before and after the count) we also added Common Wood Nymph and Silver-spotted Skipper that were not sighted on count day.

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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