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Bird Opportunity


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Join others for a last bird watching opportunity in 2013. Experienced birders will help you identify about 60 species on December 28, during the Christmas Bird Count sponsored by National Audubon, Michigan Audubon, and Grand Rapids Audubon Club.

This is my 27th year coordinating the Kent County event. It’s a time people enjoy seeing birds in their winter nature niches and celebrate the diversity of life that abounds around us. About 60 people gather and divide into small groups that venture to various areas within the count circle. Birds are counted in an area with a 7.5-mile radius surrounding the Honey Creek and Two Mile Roads intersection.

Some are surprised we annually find American Robins and Eastern Bluebirds. They are birds that stay provided berries are found in wetlands. More exciting are winter bird visitors that consider this area a southern wintering ground. Included are the Snowy Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Snow Bunting, Purple Finch, and Common Redpoll. Other remaining here in winter that most of us do not notice are Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, and Song Sparrow. I saw a kingfisher here at Ody Brook along Little Cedar Creek last week.

Some winter migrants from the north have arrived indicating count day should be great. A Rough-legged Hawk flew over Ody Brook and I observed a Snow Owl west of here. Two Snow Bunting flocks made an appearance in farm fields.

The local Audubon Club hopes you join the free family activity for part or all day. Previous bird knowledge or experience is not necessary. Join experienced birders and carpool for a great birding experience. Meet at the Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center (WWC) across the street from Lowell High School at 11715 Vergennes Rd on December 28. The WWC is a great facility to visit and see many live mounts of birds displayed or hike a trail. WWC is where I was director during the last years before retiring from fulltime work. I hold Federal and State permits to display birds through the Michigan Audubon Society at Howard Christensen Nature Center and WWC. Plan on visiting either facility if you want to learn identification, size, and postures for birds before count day.

We meet at 7:30 a.m. at WWC, organize into groups and are out birding by 8 a.m. Some people join for the morning and others stay for the day. A hot lunch will be provided for $5 or bring a brown bag lunch. Consider making a donation to support the National Christmas Bird Count. Money donated is sent to the National Audubon and is used to maintain the database for all bird sightings on the continent. Scientists as well as birders can view the data online. It is used to monitor population changes from year to year. This is the 116th year for the Audubon Count.

Come dressed in layers that can be removed or added as temperature changes. We are in and out of cars at many locations. Bring binoculars and bird books if you have them. People will share if you do not. It is best to call me ahead of time (616-696-1753) if you plan to participate but just showing up is fine. I can answer questions you might have about count day activities.

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

 

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Fish, Ice, and Lake Oxygen


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

 

It’s been a cold week. Snow arrived and icy roads have challenged drivers. One driver lost control at Ody Brook and slammed into a large spruce tree. It knocked the tree to a 60-degree angle. This Thanksgiving the driver can be thankful he was not injured. The tree probably will not survive. Meanwhile ice has formed on the ponds and protects the water world of nature niche life underneath.

Have you wondered why lakes don’t freeze from the bottom up? If they did, fish would be killed because lakes would freeze solid. Instead they freeze at the top and form an insolating layer that provides safe haven of aquatic wildlife for the winter.

Beavers construct a lodge they enter and exit from under the ice. Branches stored on the lake bottom are brought indoors for bark dinners. The top of beaver lodges rise above the ice allowing air exchange for breathing. A cozy lodge is insolated from extreme winter temperatures.

When fall arrives, air temperature cools and heats more rapidly than water. When cold air-cools surface water, the water sinks at 39-degrees F. At that temperature, water becomes its most compact and heaviest. It also holds the most oxygen possible at 39-degrees F. Because it is most dense, it sinks carrying oxygen to the depths of the lake.

During summer when sun warms water, a layer called a thermocline forms separating the upper and lower lake. The layer prevents easy movement between the lower (hypolimnion) and upper (epilimnion) lake water. Most plant life is above the thermocline, where sunlight reaches allowing photosynthesis to add oxygen to water during the day. At night, plants need oxygen and consume it for their needs. If algae and other plants are too abundant, they consume the oxygen and suffocate fish. This is known as summer kill.

Below the hypolimnion oxygen is slowly depleted because it is not replenished by photosynthesis or water mixing. Plants are few in the dark water, so they do not consume all the oxygen. Fish will often hang out at the thermocline, where they can cool down and slow metabolism so they require less oxygen and require less food.

In fall, the cold dense water holding oxygen sinks to the bottom of the lake oxygenating the entire lake. The movement stirs bottom sediments. I have seen Chrishaven Lake at the Christensen Nature Center look like someone stirred the lake with a giant stick in fall. The lake becomes filled with nutrient rich sediments. The activity destroys the thermocline and the lake becomes one even temperature body until the following summer when a new thermocline forms.

As water-cools below 39-degrees F, it begins to expand and does not sink. At 32-degrees F, the cold water freezes at the surface forming an insolating blanket. If windy, the blanket will not form smoothly. One can see if air was active or still by how smooth the ice layer is at the surface. Sun can penetrate ice allowing algae photosynthesis to continue. This plant growth will add oxygen to the water during the winter.

Sometimes when the snow layer on lakes is thin, light enters allowing algae to become abundant. When too abundant, the algae might consume all the oxygen during the long winter nights causing what anglers know as winter kill. At ice out in spring, dead fish float at the surface from winter suffocation. If the lake has streams flowing in, oxygen might be replenished. Fish will be found at these oxygen rich areas of the lake. A heavy snow blanket can prevent too much winter sun from entering the lake.

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

 

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Wild Turkeys


 

 

The family was seated and enjoying a turkey dinner. Extended family brought additional side dishes and desserts. Traditional family gatherings are special events. My Cub Scout leader cut turkey shaped pieces of flat wood for our pack to paint and decorate for our mothers. That flat wood turkey given to my mother still survives even though she does not. The turkey decoration is now in my possession along with a coloring of a turkey with fantail made from the outline of my 3rd grade hand.

The holiday season annually began at Thanksgiving by going to my cousin’s for dinner and watching The Wizard of Oz on a TV that got a full three channels. We gave thanks for family members no longer with us that lived happy, sad, joyous, and humorous lives. Those lives continue in our memories. I hope the tradition continues in my absence. Maybe someone will tell the story of a 21-turkey parade at Ody Brook.

It was Thanksgiving Day two years ago. We were eating when a turkey walked through the yard. My brother said it must know it is safe because we already have turkey on the table. Then another appeared followed by more. Like the Count from Sesame Street, we each counted until 18 ventured from the woods, across the drive, behind the landscape mound, reappeared at the other end and disappeared into the tall weeds and shrub thicket. Three more brought up the rear to finish the parade.

Our conversation shifted to wild turkeys. I told of a neighbor farmer that complained turkeys were eating his newly planted crops in the spring. The investigating DNR biologist told him it was not turkeys but deer. The farmer did not believe him because he often saw turkeys in the field feeding. The DNR biologist said deer feed at night and returned to his truck get a rifle. He shot a turkey, cut it open, examined the crop and stomach and showed the farmer it was insects and not young crop plants.

We all make assumptions that are logical and rational but are not supported by scientific evidence. We tend to believe what parents, grandparents, great grandparents, uncles, aunts, and friends tell us. I was trained as a scientist to require supporting evidence before making a conclusion. Like all, I make assumptions that scientists call hypotheses. These are just a first step in science reasoning and we need to study nature niches to gather evidence to learn if our assumptions (hypotheses) are correct.

How much turkey information is myth, fairytale, fact, or correct? Facts as we know them are often incorrect and get corrected was we gather more evidence. Wild turkeys were a staple food of Native Americans and numbers were not excessive due to harvest. Native American populations plummeted with the advent of small pox and other diseases introduced by European settlers. Turkey populations exploded with fewer Indians and collapsed again when market hunting eliminated them from most nature niches.

None survived in Michigan but fortunately some survived in the deep swamps of the southeast US. Environmental conservationists introduced laws to manage hunting practices. Turkeys were reintroduced to Michigan and today a healthy turkey population fluctuates between 100,000 and 200,000. Enjoy watching or hunting turkeys that filled the void vacated when turkeys were extirpated without thought for our children’s generations.

With younger generations that are following mine, we ate Thanksgiving dinner watching wild turkeys. I have satisfaction having been a part of the DNR release of Wild Turkeys back into the Rogue River State Game Area surrounding the Howard Christensen Nature Center about 1988. They thrive in the forest with scattered farm fields. Turkeys feed on grain left after fall harvest, acorns and other forest food. Some natural predators kill adult turkeys but humans remain their primarily predator. Skunks, raccoons, and foxes prey heavily on eggs. The presence of coyotes helps keep these predators in check.

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

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Cracking Ice


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

It is the time of year when people are thinking of getting on the ice. Polar bears hunt seals from the ice. We hunt fish or maybe just enjoy a walk on open ice of meandering streams or on lakes.

When I lived along the headwaters of the Mississippi River in the section that is classified as “Wild and Scenic,” the river froze thick in winter. We experienced below zero temperatures from about Christmas to mid February. Day temperatures were up to about zero and night temps were -20 F or -30 F except on cold nights when it dropped to -40 F.

I waited for solid ice before venturing out. Unfortunately, some are too anxious. A young father and vice-president of a local bank traveled by snow machine on a lake and never returned. It amazed me that when I would leave Minnesota for a Michigan Thanksgiving, Lake Bemidji was mostly open water. Four days later when I returned, people were driving pickup trucks on the ice to open water. Brave or foolhardy?

Where I lived, I hiked through knee to thigh deep snow to the wild section of the Mississippi. It was a peaceful joy to reach the river. The ice was bare and windswept. Walking was easy. Where shallow snow was present, I could follow fox tracks. The fox knew the easy travel routes. I lived along the first 35 miles of the river between Lake Itasca (the headwaters) and Bemidji. After Lake Bemidji, the river no longer qualified for the Wild and Scenic status. It does remain scenic and many areas still have wild character.

The woods were quiet in winter but red squirrels sometimes chattered at me, common ravens croaked over the forest. Black-capped chickadee, evening grosbeaks, purple finches, common redpolls among others kept me entertained at home feeders. The river was quieter except for occasional conversations it initiated.

The ice was friendly and talked to me. I wondered if it was sending mixed messages but it was not. I would hear loud cracks and snaps. I could peer down 2 to 3 feet into some cracks. The river said it was safe for walking. For that matter it would be safe driving but that section of the river was not accessible to motor vehicles. Not even snow machines accessed the area. That pleased my senses of sight, hearing, and smell. Wild places are best enjoyed when we allow nature to make the sounds, sights, smells, touch textures, and taste. Wild places for nature niches are wonderful for supporting wildlife and for our visits and experiences.

In the southern Michigan climate, ice is more treacherous than where it got cold. Respect nature’s whims for freezing and thawing. Learn to live with nature. The alternative is to die by natural events. Enjoy the coming long or short winter.

One last story. I wondered if the fox I was following was male or female. She eventually told me. She squatted to urinate between her tracks. A male would have lifted a leg to grasses along the riverbank. Read the landscape like a good book and behave appropriately for your safety and the health of wildlife that make it home.

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

 

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Walk with Father Nature


A retired friend used his talents and skills as a teacher to stimulate appreciation and excitement for creation, in which we are part. We can be on-ookers or participants taking joy and responsibility for the Earth that supports us. I have always desired to be more than an onlooker. Personal time outdoors is essential for me. My experiences are enriched by mentors with greater skills and abilities.

Rich Havenga continues to share his talents through photography of nature’s wonders and writing that is inspired by experiences in the outdoors. He states, “I will share what I know and have learned through observation and reading. I will examine ways to look closer and deeper at nature. I hope to encourage my viewers to get outside, and explore with curiosity. To be grateful for these gifts from God.”

Looking deeper into nature is best accomplished by experiencing the natural world through personal immersion. It is a daily part of my life and a daily part of Rich’s life. It stirs our souls, stimulates our brains, strengthens our bodies, and heightens our emotions. Rich has been keeping a journal for 38 years since the birth of his son Aaron. He adds a new page daily.

If you like pictures, poetry, or prose, Rich’s blog has something to enrich your outdoor and internal experiences. http://walkwithfathernature.blogspot.com/

In his blog Rich wrote in a piece called Aaron, “Over the past 18 years, I’ve become very verbal when I see Fathers interacting with their children, in positive, caring, and fun ways. Especially when they are outdoors: in the park, at the playground, messing around in the creek, going fishing, watching insects up close, or spotting planets in the night sky. They may be working in the garden with their kids, raking leaves, building a snowman, taking a hike, exploring the woods, or simply balancing on an elevated log.”

See the entire piece at: http://walkwithfathernature.blogspot.com/search/label/Aaron

By scrolling down the right side of the blog you can select archive entries by month or scroll farther to select by subject under Labels. I am always encouraged and humbled by the work of others. How we experience the world of nature niches can be different for each of us. It helps us appreciate the world around us and stimulates a caring and responsibility for Earth stewardship. Enjoy your journey through the blog: Walk with Father Nature.

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

 

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Rob Vander Zee’s ArtPrize


Rob VanderZee’s entry into ArtPrize.

Rob VanderZee’s entry into ArtPrize.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Rob Vander Zee, talented young man, was seeking an art project while in high school and has now displayed in Artprize 2013. When I was developing a wetland learning station at the Howard Christensen Nature Center in the 1980’s, it was fortunate that Rob connected with us. I explained a wetlands vision and gave him an image. From there he created the artwork mural that still draws youth and visitors to think about wetlands. Please visit HCNC and become a member.

I gave Rob a picture of a beaver pond and he painted a wonderful realistic rendition. The work entices viewers to think about the world we live in. Rob is at native of Cedar Springs and his work helps people think about the future.

Wetlands are major contributors to Michigan’s recreation economy.  They are economically valuable assets that filter toxics from water, reduce flood damage, are major food producers, and provide desirable sites for human habitation. Wetlands modify weather conditions and determine the depth of ground water tables that recharge city and private wells.  Water moves from wetlands to ground water and vice-versa.  How we handle sewage, fertilizers, pesticides, and toxic substance disposal are important community health issues that are constantly in debate. Safe drinking water is taken for granted and there are those that want to reduce community efforts to protect water quality by reducing government programs protecting our health and the environment.

In the 1970’s we passed the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species. These programs have helped restore conditions that improve our quality of life. Those protections are being challenged to reduce taxes. People forget the pollution costs were more expensive and damaging to health than the preventive tax programs. Saving tax dollars spurs efforts to reduce government programs but at what cost? They may not be perfect but the programs protect our economy, health and quality of life. Rob’s art work hopes to engage people to think about the future and I hope my articles do the same.

When we bought Ody Brook property in 1979, the home plumbing from the toilet went into a 55-gallon drum that had rusted away and other water was piped directly to the Little Cedar Creek. We installed a proper septic system and drain field. It was not until 1976 that government regulations changed construction codes to meet the Clean Water Act and provide environmental protection. We recently added five acres to Ody Brook that has an existing home. That home’s plumbing ran to the Little Cedar Creek without a septic drain field. The home construction predated the 1970’s Clean Water Act tax legislation. We recently installed a proper septic system to protect the stream, wetlands, and water quality for Cedar Springs human and wildlife neighbors.

How many homes still have systems that pollute water quality, fishing, health, and damage our community’s economy and quality of life? The current budget battle in Washington is wrestling with what is needed to maintain a high quality of life in Cedar Springs. That brings us back to Rob Vander Zee’s art.

Rob painted a mural for ArtPrize called Michigan Forest: The Future of Genetic Manipulation on an Eco System. He comments his artwork is open for interpretation. He wants people to think about society actions. His work displays possibilities for the future. He wants viewers to contemplate nature niches and our role as participants in the ecosystem. I hope many of you viewed his work. If not, view and read his comments about the painting at: www.artprize.org/rob-vander-zee.

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

 

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Fruit Abundance


By Ranger Steve

 

Tree branches hang heavy under the weight of fruit. A falling apple hit Isaac Newton. I hit my head on a hanging apple when mowing because I did not duck low enough. My thoughts will not revolutionize science like Newton’s gravitation law, but maybe hitting my head on an apple knocked some good sense into me.

People have commented on the abundance of fruit this year and wonder why it is expensive. A news report stated the cost last year was high because fruit production was low and the market could charge more. This year, it was expected the abundance would bring down the price but it went up instead. I am not an economist and do not understand what drives market prices. Perhaps farmers are recovering last years losses.

One thought is that people want slave labor wages paid to fruit pickers but that means hiring undocumented immigrants. Orchard owners have had difficulty finding American citizens willing to work for the low wages. Even when fruit is abundant, the farmer needs to find a way to get the product to market and hopefully consumers would be willing to support fair wages for workers.

A news report proposed many migrant workers did not come to Michigan this year because they found work in other states last year and returned to those states. Others suspect tighter immigration efforts reduced the number of available cherry and apple pickers. As consumers, we only see the price at the store and do not understand why prices go up for both less and more abundant produce.

As a naturalist, I have a better understanding for why plants may be producing a bumper crop of fruit this year. Growing conditions have been very good. Last year frost killed flowers that resulted in trees storing energy instead of spending it on fruit production. Insects that year did not have flowers for nectar and they suffered from the frost. Pollinating insects found better survival conditions this year so they were able to do their work of helping plants with successful fertilization.

Because flowers were killed last year, the plants were able to store more energy for use this year. Oak trees normally produce a small crop of acorns the year following a large crop because they do not have the stored energy for the task. It serves them better to produce a large crop one year and a smaller crop the next. Wildlife cannot eat the large supply in a good year and surviving seeds produce young trees. A low crop likely means a lower survival rate for animals but that is not trees concern.

Tree reproduction is determined by weather conditions, insect abundance, and the ability to be flexible enough to survive good and bad production years. Each tree only needs to replace itself during its lifetime to maintain a stable tree population.

My thoughts are that trees saved energy and stored it in roots last year. Fortunately, this year they encountered great growing conditions and had stored energy for massive fruit and seed production. Farmers are resilient like trees. They survived tough times last year and this year they are reaping the benefits of a good growing season. Farming horticulture depends on nature’s growing conditions and farmers roll with the punches. Fortunately, an excess of fruit production allows us to enjoy apple pie. Migrating birds get to fill their stomach for their long trip. Squirrels and deer get to enter winter with a good supply of fat.

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

 

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Red Flannel Warmth


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Amazing methods for surviving cold weather abound in nature. Cedar Springs became famous by spreading warm red flannels around the world. Humans are not endowed with adaptations for cold climates. Fortunately we have devised many ways to create a tropical climate around our bodies. Homes are heated to tropical temperatures. We clothe to hold heat between clothing and skin so a tropical environment exist in that narrow space even when we venture into freezing outdoor temperatures.

Mammals are changing summer coats to winter coats. Their underfur thickens in fall but it is not waterproof. Outer guard hairs have oils that repel water. The number of hairs in underfur increases producing dead air space to hold warm air near the body. Opossums do not produce a thick under underfur and they become vulnerable to killing cold. There tails are especially are at risk for frostbite.

Birds produce insulating down feathers for winter and those are protected from getting wet by contour feathers that we see covering the body. At the base of the bird’s tail is an uropygial or preening gland that produces an oily substance the bird retrieves with its bill to spread on contour feathers. This water repellant keeps feathers dry in wet weather. Ducks as well as songbirds use the oil to prevent down feathers from becoming waterlogged and losing the ability to provide warm dead air space.

Insects have a variety of adaptations to maintain populations until summer. Most wasps freeze to death after the first few hard frosts but the queen leaves the nest and finds a log to crawl under or some other protected place. There she survives the winter to begin a new colony in the spring.

Viceroy butterflies lay eggs that hatch in late summer and the tiny caterpillars use silk to attach a willow leaf to a branch. The caterpillar hibernates hidden and suspended in the curled leaf until spring. Woolly Bear Caterpillars are seen walking about on warm fall days. They hibernate in secluded locations like leaf litter until spring conditions warm to encourage plant growth. The caterpillar in spring continues feeding and development. A white winged Woolly Bear moth will emerge from the pupa in summer to begin the cycle anew. Many aquatic insects, like dragonflies, winter as larvae in streams with the some adult dragonflies, like darners, migrating south.

June beetle grubs burrow into ground to get below frost line. In 1985 our dog, Ody Brook, died and we buried him in January. Yes, Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary is named after him in 1979. A fire was built with a reflector to direct heat downward to thaw the ground. It was a cold winter and the frost line was deep. We dug the grave and found a large white June beetle grub four feet deep at the bottom of the grave. Had the beetle only dug three feet deep, it would have frozen.

Trees do not maintain heat to survive winter but have special nature niche adaptations. They remove most of the water from cells to prevent cells from bursting when water freezes. If the cells kept water, it would expand and rupture tissues killing them. Trees must maintain their trunks and branches so they move water to roots and that protects from frost damage. The antifreeze nature of rich sugar water prevents freezing. Desiccation in winter can kill tissues. Bud scales help prevent bud tissue drying by covering delicate tissues that wait for spring. The above ground portion of herbaceous perennial plants dies but living tissue survives in the ground. New spring growth arises from underground tissues. Annuals die except for the seed that carries new life to spring. Wear red flannels and survive until spring.

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

 

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Pod People


 By Ranger Steve Mueller

Common milkweed gone to seed.

Common milkweed gone to seed.

Many of us remember the movie where giant pods took over human bodies while people slept. Now when I talk about pod people, I refer to people that collect milkweed pods to gather seeds to take over patches of the yard to help monarch butterflies. Suggested methods of collecting and spreading seeds will help milkweed success. Following my recent monarch article, I received questions about when and how to best plant milkweeds. Now is the time to be a pod person and collect pods.

Milkweed seeds need a cold period to improve germination. Keep seeds dry when cold treating during winter to prevent mold or bacteria from causing destruction. Milkweeds are herbaceous perennials that grow from rootstocks in the spring so seeds are not their only way to maintain a population. The seeds have a parachute called a coma for dispersal. The coma or plume spreads seeds when blown by the wind.

To plant seeds it is best to remove the comas so they do not disperse from where you want them. The easiest way to remove them is by collecting mature pods that are ready to open. Squeeze the pod to open. If pods open easily, they are mature and ready for harvest. Seeds will be brown rather than pale or green.

After the pod is opened grab the center support stalk at the pointed end and hold it tightly. Use your thumb to remove seeds from the coma. Store dry seeds where they will receive prolonged cold. In spring it is helpful to further vernalize seeds by placing seeds between damp paper towels for a few cold weeks. They can be kept in plastic bags during this cold treatment. An alternate method is to refrigerate dry seeds and place them in warm water for 24 hours to improve germination rates. Store seeds dry to protect from mold and bacteria and keep them secure from insects and mice.

Milkweeds grow best in sandy (light) soils rather than clay (heavy) soils. Their nature niche is adapted for disturbed soils in full sun where competition from existing plants is few or lacking. Plant the seeds in spring while weather is still cool because high summer temperatures may prevent germination. The plants produce large numbers of seeds because few survive to grow. The method described helps improve seeds germination and plant survival rates as well as providing greater opportunity for monarch survival. Monarch caterpillars feed on the leaves and the adults of many kinds of butterflies find the nectar from milkweed flowers among the best nature has to offer.

Enjoy smelling the rich fragrance when milkweed flowers perfume the yard better than most wildflowers.

The following You Tube video shows the milkweed seed collecting process:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFXWitrxOmQ

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

 

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Monarch Migration Plight


OUT-Nature-Niche-MonarchPopulationEstimate_graphic3By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

In September people see Monarch butterflies migrating south.

Mrs. Tacoma, a kindergarten teacher at Cedar Trails Elementary, collects Monarch caterpillars on milkweed plants and feeds them until they form a chrysalis. When the adult butterfly emerges to pump fluid into its bright orange wings, students see a miracle that most people have not witnessed. Once fluid has dried in the butterfly’s wing veins, the class releases it for a 2000-mile journey to south central Mexico.

This year fewer Monarchs will be migrating. It has been a rough year and decade for survival. Dr. Lincoln Brower predicted long ago that migrating Monarchs would become a thing of the past during the first decades of the 21st century. It is hoped his prediction will prove wrong. The predictions of Brower and other scientists are based on several factors that have been building to diminish wildlife in North America.

Dr. ‘Chip’ Taylor, of Monarch Watch, highlighted factors. He said, for monarch recovery, we need to create a lot of milkweed habitat and need to mobilize people to do it to save wildlife, by creating habitats in yards and gardens. He continued that gardeners across this country could help by planting milkweed and using native plants to stabilize native pollinator communities. People now have another purpose for creating a garden. The purpose is conservation.

Taylor identifies factors that have led to the sharp drop in the monarch population.

1. Monarch numbers seen each year in the eastern United States and Canada are determined by the amount of habitat that remains. New roads, housing developments, and agricultural expansion serving a growing human population transform a natural landscape in ways that make it impossible for Monarchs to live.

2. Month to month temperature and moisture conditions are critical factors and are affected by climate change. Climate change is well documented but the question of how much is human caused is still not precise. It is clear human activities are affecting the rate of climate change but quantifying exactly how much is exceedingly difficult.

3. Increased planting of genetically modified corn in the U.S. Midwest promotes greater use of herbicides, which in turn kills milkweed. Monarch decline is coincident with the adoption of Roundup-ready corn and soybeans. We’re basically creating a desert out there, except for the corn and the soybeans.

4. The increase of soybean and corn crops as bio-fuels has reduced wildlife habitat.

5. Extreme weather events threaten to become more common and may have a negative impact on Monarch populations and other wildlife.

6. Taylor points out that sustaining the monarch migration will be a challenge that requires support and cooperation of Canada, the United States and Mexico. This is symptomatic of issues affecting plant and animal nature niches and may impact our national wellbeing.

7. As human populations grows, lumbering, clearing land for growing food and grazing cattle reduces space essential for survival of other life forms, on which society is dependent.

8. Our own population is projected to increase by two billion people by 2040 so Taylor doesn’t see the monarch in that future world. Our population cannot continually grow and also maintain a healthy world. We are going to see a lot of changes. There are natural restrictions on how fast populations can grow based on food production, declining arable land, and limitations of water. If we don’t get with it and if we don’t start modifying our behavior, life is going to get to be pretty tough.

He says the Monarch issue is his way of introducing people to the larger issues.

9. Monarch over wintering sites are vulnerable for a number of reasons. A census taken at the monarchs’ wintering grounds found their population had declined 59 percent over the previous year and was at the lowest level ever measured.

Italics in this article are my commentary additions. To read Taylor’s complete discussion go to http://e360.yale.edu/feature/tracking_the_causes_of_sharp__decline_of_the_monarch_butterfly/2634/

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

 

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