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Tag Archive | "ranger steve"

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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Public Invited to Nature Programs


Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Grand Rapids Audubon and Michigan Botanical Clubs invite the public to enjoy two different free nature programs on February 22 and 24, 2014 presented by Ranger Steve.

Botanizing the Natural World sponsored by the Michigan Botanical Club will be at GVSU Allendale Campus in Niemeyer Hall, Room 148 on Saturday Feb. 22 at 2 p.m.

Program Description: Enjoy the world of plants that surround us throughout the year. Plants are friends that share beauty, mystery, and intrigue, while providing basic needs in ecosystems. Their adaptations help them survive where they stand for a lifetime. Enjoy a fascination with plants as we discover special features that serve their needs and those of other organisms in ecosystems. The program will provide a glimpse of wildflowers, trees, and associated animals we will be able to experience at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary on a Saturday, September 13, 2014 on a field trip at 2 p.m. Bring family and friends for enjoyable pictures and dialog with Ranger Steve this Saturday.

Dorothy Sibley, president of MBC says, “Ranger Steve is a great presenter you won’t want to miss. See you there!” Refreshments will be served following the presentation.

Directions to Niemeyer Hall: Room 148 (Case Room) is on the 1st floor in Niemeyer Hall. If you come to campus on M-45 (Lake Michigan Drive) turn onto campus and follow the road called Campus Drive until you come to a four-way stop. This is Calder Drive. Turn left on Calder Drive and then turn left into parking lot M, where you may park. (Open parking on Saturdays).

The Grand Rapids Audubon Club program is Monday evening Feb. 24th at 7:30 p.m. with 7 p.m. refreshments at Orchard View Church on Leffingwell at 3 Mile Rd. Go 1 mile west from the East Beltline on 3 mile Rd. and left on Leffingwell. The church parking is on the right at the corner.

Program Title and Description:

Birds and Life at Ody Brook Sanctuary:

Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary in Cedar Springs is managed to enhance biodiversity. Discover the variety of life that could thrive in your yard when extensive lawns are limited in size and replaced with native plants that support bird and other animal populations. The sanctuary is located in the headwaters for Little Cedar Creek with both upland and wetland habitats. Over 100 bird, 24 mammal, 11 herps, 51 butterfly species have been documented along with nearly 250 species of plants and many other species.

Five acres were added to the sanctuary in 2011 to further protect the floodplain. Nature trails meander the property with bridges over the creek. Ponds, stream, field and forest comprise the splendor. Brook trout enter the sanctuary in spring. Green Herons, Wood Ducks, American Woodcocks, three species of owls, Pileated Woodpeckers, Eastern Bluebirds, Gray Catbirds, Blue-winged Warblers, Eastern Towhees, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks attest to habitat variety. Many Orders of insects thrive and create conditions suitable for bird abundance. Natural history of birds, flowers, trees, and insects will highlight the abundance of life that comprises local biodiversity.

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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Snowshoeing at HCNC


By Ranger Steve Mueller

Finding family time can be challenging. Finding family time enjoying the outdoors especially in winter can be challenging. Finding family time in quiet solitude away from electric distractions can be challenging. Finding a fun safe physical healthy activity can be challenging. Finding fun that is inexpensive can be challenging.

The Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC) will help families fill all those needs. Plan a couple hours adventure on snowshoes on HCNC trails. Trails are well marked and walks can be short or long depending on your desire. Cost: $3.75/person, $3/students, $3/seniors.

Most everyone from early elementary age to senior citizens can use snowshoes. It is a wonderful adventure for multi-generation families to share a common activity. Grandparents, kids, and grandkids can enjoy time together outdoors and indoors. Those wishing not to snowshoe can enjoy discovery inside the Red Pine Interpretive Center while others are on trails.

Traditional wood snowshoes or plastic snowshoes are available. A pair should be found that works for each family member. Bindings on the plastic shoes attach easily with a rubber binder that stretches over the boot heel. Traditional snowshoes have strap bindings. One places their toe in the front binding and fastens a strap over the boot. One’s boot heel is not attached to the shoes like occurs with downhill skies. This allows one to walk nearly normally. There is no left and right snowshoe but bindings are attached in a manner that makes it easier for a left or right foot. Tightening the binding is easier when placed on the appropriate foot. HCNC staff will assist.

One difference for walking is that the large snowshoes size spreads ones weight on the snow to limit the depth the shoe sinks into snow. That purpose is what makes walking in snowshoes effective in deep snow. The snowshoe size requires people spread their feet farther apart than normal. We adjust to the change quickly. It is necessary to leave space between people. If one gets too close they step on the hidden snowshoe tail of the person’s shoe in front of them.

You might like to venture out with members of our community for a special candlelight snowshoeing event planned for Valentine’s evening on February 14, 2014. Enjoy a guided tour through the nature center’s scenic trails. Hot refreshments will be served and snowshoe equipment will be provided. An approximate two-mile walk through candlelit trails will be memorable. Enjoy romantic stories around the campfire at Camp Lily’s location and roast marshmallows. $5/person or $20/family is a suggested for that event. A larger donation will greatly help HCNC’s programming and community service.

Finding HCNC’s web site can be difficult. Visit it at http://lilysfrogpad.com. If you Google Howard Christensen Nature Center, Lily’s Frog pad will also come up. But if you Google HCNC, an old website will be listed. Click that and on the right side under Mission Statement is a forwarding address to click. When that is clicked, it brings you the current Howard Christensen Nature Center site operated by Lily’s Frog Pad. Once at the site click “Programs” and scroll down to Winter Snowshoeing for options and times. Volunteers are always needed. If someone knows how to have a Google search take people directly to HCNC’s current web site when HCNC is entered in the search box, your volunteer help would be appreciated.

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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Owl Relationships


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

I wonder about the important relationships.

Sunday morning I stopped at Ody Brook’s road entrance where I saw a dead bird. At first I thought it was a Ruffed Grouse but quickly realized it was a gray phase Eastern Screech Owl. I drove to church.

During silent prayers I prayed for Greg and Cindi in regards to what is appearing to be a terminal cancer for Cindi. Then I prayed for the owl that lost its life and also for its family.

I received a call in January from a man that found a Great Horned Owl dead in the snow.  Upon retrieving the owl, he realized it died a strange death. The owl was flying close to the ground and flew into a grape vine. The vine branched into a V. The owl’s neck got caught and wedged in the V. The owl was hanging limply by the neck. The skin was ripped and the neck broken. I hoped the owl died instantly instead of hanging helplessly wedged by the neck.

Now that it is dead, I wonder about its mate and plans that were made. It is breeding season. Owl pairs have probably found some advantages and some disadvantages to the two plus feet of snow received. The snow surely affected hunting and daily routines. Males are catching prey to present to females. Nest selection and refurbishing has been underway. Territory boundaries have been claimed and posted with vigilant calls and patrols. We heard a Great Horned Owl begin hooting here this week.

What now? Was it the male or female that died? What emotional strain would envelop the remaining owl? January is a hard month without the loss of a mate.

Males offer food and females expect it. Females may have begun egg laying and should be sitting tight to nests waiting for mates to bring nourishment. The forest must sound empty without the nightly hoots of her mate.

Many think that only people experience emotional loss and associated loss of contributory sustenance when a spouse dies. In nature niches, many species help sustain mates, especially during the breeding season. When a mate suddenly disappears without a trace, the emotional strain must be great. No one notifies the family member of what happened. Emotional strain is a combination of chemical and nervous stimulation. Only in a few social species do others comfort and assist the grieving.

Personal survival demands the owl continue valiantly. For the owl, a lone female left to survive will probably continue but her eggs may not hatch. Exposure while she hunts might be too great and the embryos will likely never develop.

Life is hard with emotional traumas. When a bird’s nest is raided, an ant’s food taken, or a person’s body withers from disease, these organisms experience emotion. How we choose to interpret nervous and chemical changes and then define emotion is our choice.

Emotion may be quantified and even dismissed by some scientific standards for some organisms. Perceptive people will recognize what I call many realms of reality. Ants, owls, and people share experiences of living and emotion. We are all of the same DNA.  Our perceptions and emotions are different in degree with links dating back to the beginnings of life.

I wonder about the important relationships.

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

 

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Christmas Bird Count


Christmas-bird-countFifty-one participants observed 60 species of birds (Table 1) on the Kent County Bird Count. With the addition of a Snowy Owl, 4 species of owls were recorded this year. No additional bird species were reported during count week. Total individuals sighted were 8725.

Carolina Wrens were big news with 17 sighted. Until this year only 37 have been sighted since 1953. About one third of the wrens sighted in 60 years were sighted this year. Carolina Wrens have been expanding their range northward. Robins sporadically began appearing on the Christmas Count beginning in 1965 with one and by 1977 17 occurred. Their numbers varied from zero to 27 until 1998 when 228 stayed for winter. Numbers were fewer than 25 annually until 2002 when we reached at high count of 238. Robins have been yearly regulars since 1997 and this year reached 105.

Canada Geese were not observed until 1975 and have been present every year since. In the early part of the 20th century Aldo Leopold noted Canada Geese were headed for extinction. Thanks to groups like Audubon, Ducks Unlimited and Federally funded programs, Canada Geese decline was reversed along with that of many species. The Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Clear Air Act, and establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency have improved environmental health for people, birds and economy. The establishment of conservation reserve easements on private farmlands and establishment of National Wildlife Refuges have been significantly important.

Christmas bird counts across the continent help document seasonal abundance, population trends, and changes in distribution. Citizen science projects like this help provide data useful for scientists studying environmental quality and changes in things like climate. As always, you are encouraged to participate in the annual bird count.

Conditions were 100 percent sunny all day with temperatures between 25 and 44 F. A light southerly breeze blew. Snow depth was between 3 and 12 inches. Moving water was partly open and still water was frozen.

We totaled 84 hours in vehicles traveling 830 miles. On foot we spent 15 hours covering 22 miles. A total of 852 miles were on foot and driving. Total birding hours was 100 plus 5 hours owling for 26 miles. There were 18 birding groups in the morning and 13 in the afternoon.

I am grateful for the needed support from group leaders and many people that made the count a success.

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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Wintering Monarchs


A Monarch Butterfly feeding on Swamp Milkweed.

A Monarch Butterfly feeding on Swamp Milkweed. 

You can save the world for monarch butterflies in your yard. Monarch numbers are down.

Follow through on a New Year’s Resolution to save the world for Monarchs. Make sure milkweeds grow in your garden or on disturbed ground. Saving the world is within our grasp if we are responsible Earth stewards. Actions in our yards can make a difference for good. Grow milkweeds for the love of wildlife and beauty in your yard, as a religious mandate for creation stewardship, or to protect your own survival by keeping fellow inhabitants of Earth present that provide essential contributions to nature niches.

The following information is based on a New York Times article passed along by colleagues Barb Bloetscher and further massaged by Dave Horn.

Numbers of over wintering monarch butterflies are at record low numbers this year in Mexico. Last year’s estimate of 60 million was already a record low, and fewer than three million have appeared so far this fall (20 times fewer). Some fear that the spectacular monarch migration might be a thing of the past.

The decline is real, although the cause or causes are not obvious. Recently, scientists have focused on loss of native vegetation, especially in and around agricultural fields in mid America. As the price of corn has soared recently, farmers have expanded fields by plowing every available piece of land that can grow corn. Millions of acres once in conservation reserve are now plowed, and more and more herbicide is used in crop production. That has led to loss of many nectar sources plus uncounted acres of milkweed, the food for monarch caterpillars. It is estimated that Iowa has lost 60 to 90 percent of its milkweed. Roads, malls and sterile lawns have also contributed to the loss of food for monarch larvae and adults, along with those of other butterflies.

So what to do? Anyone with a yard or garden can increase biological diversity with a variety of wild and cultivated plants including milkweed. For additional ideas, log onto the Monarch Watch website: http://www.monarchwatch.org/

An additional note that I mentioned in a previous Nature Niche article is that genetically modified corn and soybeans have made crops resistant to herbicides. Plants necessary for wildlife cannot survive the increased herbicide use. Monarchs have lost most food sources between Mexico and Michigan. Our yards are essential habitat and each of us is essential in the effort to maintain healthy biodiversity. Our cities and our rural yards are the new Ark for Monarchs, Earth, and us.

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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Silhouettes of Life


By Ranger Steve Mueller

A cottontail rabbit was in the backyard under the apple tree eating something in the deep snow. When I first noticed, it was sitting tall with front legs high above the ground. I first thought it was a plant silhouette that looked like a rabbit until it dropped to all fours and resumed eating. The yard was snow covered with no vegetation apparent above the snow. I wondered what it was eating. Later I discovered it was eating fallen apples.

Young trees will be killed during winter when rabbits girdle them for the tasty and nutritious bark. The yard took on a new beauty with twelve inches of snow. A wonderful cold spell remained in the low 20’s or colder keeping snow light and fluffy. Snow glazed tree branches but was thickest on larger branches. A cherry that would stand about 18 feet tall was arched with ice and snow highlighting its bent silhouette. I had not noticed the tree was bent until the snow outline drew my eye. It was not bent from snow or ice weight. This tree has been bent for a long time and I wondered how it became bent.

It crossed my mind that I should cut it to make room for it to sprout new straight growth or remove it so surrounding plants could grow without interference. Immediately I realized how much influence I could exert on the community at Ody Brook. It is not just my meddling but that of other creatures that shape the biotic landscape of silhouettes. Rabbits annually kill many young woody stems but roots strive to survive and produce new clusters of shoots in spring. There was a bird nest in the sugar maple in front of the house. I wondered if the bird was successful in rearing young. It seems that one of the many squirrels living here might have found the nest and eaten the eggs. During winter many nest silhouettes become apparent on naked exposed branches that were well camouflaged during the growing season.

Large trees stand tall protecting the open yard and house from winter’s heat stealing winds. They shelter birds, mammals, insects and us from the wind chilling bitter cold. Branch silhouettes provide a variety of views during long winter months. One night at dusk a few clouds mottled the sky behind living tree skeletons. Only a faint hint of orange penetrated between the branches making the view subtly beautiful as night took hold. Dimness slowly blurred and erased the separation of light and dark between trees and sky. Soon all was a dark canopy waiting for the next day’s new stories to be written in sky, on snow, and among the tree branches. Life activities continue during the depths of night and are revealed by telltale signs left for the sun to illuminate, when an interested explorer seeks nature niche mysteries.

As the year wound down to the solstice, my thoughts anticipated what might happen as daylight lengthened in the coming six months. Many best friends share Ody Brook Sanctuary and surroundings. Many will not survive the winter. Some friends are plants and are some animals. I even wondered if I would witness another year’s cycle of life and death as my body attacks itself with its own cells out of control with cancer. Cancer reminds me of my own mortality and heightens awareness and joy for everyday wonders.

I work diligently to enhance conditions that support healthy habitats for wild creatures, other people, and my family that call West Michigan home. Without hundreds of species at Ody Brook Sanctuary making life sustainable, rich, and meaningful for family and friends, there would be little purpose to wake. Without wild creatures there would be no breathable air, soil would be sterile, and plants could not grow food to nourish animals or us. Not only would there be no reason to wake but we could not wake without the contributions of nature that sustain life. We like to think we can survive and even thrive without wild creatures but we cannot. Happy New Year to all creatures bringing life and health to a new year.

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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