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Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Thoughts and poetry

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

A high school teacher from across the state requested writings or poetry for use with his science classes. I shared from my “Thoughts and Poetry” journal. In addition to what I sent him, I added further commentary.

Emotional Scientist

By Steven J. Mueller October 7, 1974

I am told as a biologist I cannot be emotional. Yet everything I live for, strive for, and believe in is in the dirt outside my door. The dirt outside my door is being carried away and someone says I have not the right to be emotional because I am a scientist?

Commentary: There was a time when farmers plowed from road to road, edge of property to edge of property. The dust bowl came and went stripping soil from the land that supports us. That catastrophic event helped us recognize the need for better farming practices. We began using winter cover crops to save soil from wind and water erosion. Areas prone to erosion like small valleys were left vegetated with cover plants and not plowed. Fence rows of wild plants were left along the ditches to reduce erosion and provide wildlife habitat. Many conservation practices are being abandoned by some to gain short term profits. Protecting soil for future generations is not a concern for some and has become a low priority. 

Life is a balance between emotional behavior with goals for personal profit and behaving in a manner that has scientific support that goes beyond personal wants to acquire a sustainable healthy society. Scientific credibility should not be compromised by emotional desires. That is why governmental subsidies for shelterbelts and conservation easements have been created. The Kent Conservation District will help assist healthy agriculture.

We Live from Day to Day

By Steven J. Mueller February 6, 1972

We Live from Day to Day,

We have hindsight, and to an extent,

Know where we have gone wrong.  

We have foresight and have philosophers 

Who guide us where we should go.

We do not live in the past

Nor do we follow long-range plans.

We live from day to day.

By living day to day,

We make the same mistakes.

Therefore, we need to live a long-range plan.

But that is philosophical,

And we do not live by philosophical plans.

We live from day to day.


By SJM April 20, 2010

We should not be known for being recognized but recognized for sustaining a healthy planet.

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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Birds Star Gaze

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Do you dream of walks on clear black nights under sparkling stars? It has always been a pleasure for me. It was especially enjoyable in my early adult years to invite a girl to join me for a night walk. Perhaps she thought I was seeking a romantic evening. I was young and innocent with an intellectual astronomical sighting purpose. Karen can attest to my science focus and priority. It is a wonder I ever romanced.

Birds are big time star gazers and put off romance also. As spring arrives, birds get are anxious for a sky trip. No walking road trips for them. Spring migration with star gazing is a priority. Getting from winter areas to breeding sites is a major undertaking and over half perish before completing a return trip. About 40 of waterfowl do not complete the round trip. It is a reason having many eggs and more than one brood is essential. Migration requires lots of energy but little planning. Ingrained in their brain is a travel route. 

Four major flyways are used in North America. They are the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific. Some birds including some waterfowl and shorebirds migrate east/west but most have a north/south movement.

How birds get from one location to another has received great inquiry, scientific testing and still has many unanswered questions. The Earth’s magnetic field helps birds orient. Landmarks like the Mississippi River are instrumental for navigation. A great percentage of birds migrate at night when visual cues are obscured. The illuminated starlit sky is crucial. It has been found that young Indigo Buntings must be exposed to the stars during the first month of life in order to imprint on the sky for proper migration behavior. 

Birds have been placed in planetariums with the night sky rotated and birds moved in a direction consistent with star placement for migration. Because magnetic field is also used, experiments utilized altered magnetic fields so observations could be verified to associate with star position. 

When it is cloudy and stars used for navigation are obscured, birds use alternate star groups. If a view of all stars is blocked, it is like blinding the birds. They need to stop migration or use alternate navigation methods. Birds fly at various elevations with smaller birds flying at 2000 to 3000 feet. Larger birds often fly 2 to 3 times higher but most travel below 3000 feet. 

On heavily clouded nights birds fly closer to the ground. My thought is they might do this to better hear sounds. Ground sounds such as wave action are documented as useful for navigation. In the absence of star viewing, sound might be important. I have not seen a study supporting my idea but many unknowns are pending study. 

Timing of migration is associated with seasonal progression of sun and stars. Not only is bird travel dependent on sun/star position and length of day/night hours, it depends on availability of emerging food. If birds arrive at a travel destination and food is not available massive starvation is likely. This has been repeatedly documented. I have witnessed it with swallow arrival when insect food was not on the wing.

A problem birds cannot anticipate are effects of climate change. When birds arrive and food is not available they die and their genes are not passed on to the next generation. The population numbers decline and a species can become endangered and face extinction. Climate change is challenging the human economy and community sustainability. It is having a negative impact on many animal populations. The speed of climate change is occurring faster than birds can readily adapt. For a healthy planet, reduction of atmospheric carbon is essential.

Once birds arrive on breeding grounds, they shift from star gazers to romancing a mate to insure survival of their species. American Woodcocks at Ody Brook are foot stomping and dancing in circles on the ground where they make a buzzy nasal peent. After sufficient ground dancing, they take flight, circle high overhead, and dive toward the ground with a twittering that ends before landing. They repeat the dance at dawn and dusk on spring evenings. Visit Luton County Park prairie at dusk to enjoy woodcocks and stay to star gaze. 

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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April Cuts Corners

By Ranger Steve (Mueller)

A blue jay will take a seed and then fly out of sight. By Darren Swim – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2918281

One can learn common behaviors of animals by spending time with them observing. I enjoy horseback riding and learned each horse has unique behaviors. Decades ago, I rode a horse named April and learned she had a habit of cutting corners too tightly when cantering. I needed to head rein her to make wide turns on the trail.

One time when cantering through the Manistee national forest I forgot to make sure she made a wide arch at a curve in the trail until it was too late. She cut close to a tree and I knew my knee was going to hit the tree. Quickly I brought my leg up over the horse’s rump. Not quick enough and when my knee connected with the tree it knocked me off April. I rolled under her summersaulting. April continued on the trail and I rolled forward off the trail.

The person behind me said I went under the horse and it looked like I was getting kicked by the horse’s legs. All the riders stopped as did April. Somehow, she avoided kicking me and my summersaults protected me from injury. I remounted and our trail ride continued. I never forgot on future rides that April cut corners.

Daily, watch bird behavior around the bird feeders. Each species has unique mannerisms for retrieving seeds and eating them. Some take a seed and fly out of sight like the Blue Jay. Finches stay on the feeder to eat seed after seed until they are displaced with aggressive behavior by other birds. Chickadees and titmice take one seed and fly to a nearby branch where they peck through the sunflower hull to gain access to the seed heart. 

Their behavior of pecking breaks the bark on branches. Now that spring has arrived the tree wounds bleed sap. I notice patches of sugar water staining the sidewalk under the sugar maple tree, but I do not see where the bleeding sap stains the leaf cover under the tree. 

We are experiencing freezing nights with warm days. Sap continues to flow upward during the night and seeps from branch wounds. As it drips, the sweet sugar water freezes and forms sapsickles. Birds land on branches, hang down, and drink the sugar water during the day until the sapsickles melt. This winter Common Redpolls are present, and they join in eating the sweet treat. I like tasting the sapsickles when I can reach them.

Spend time watching interesting behavior of different species and possibly even how members of a species act. It is hard to recognize individuals of a species because they look similar. Perhaps you can pick out features that allows individual recognition, like how we recognize different people. Nature niche behavior is unique to species, but individuals also exhibit their own temperaments. 

Park service acquired different horses when I was a ranger at Bryce Canyon National Park. When two new ones arrived, a fellow ranger and I took them out to see how they responded. Dutch was a bit older than Midnight. We took them through their paces to learn behaviors to expect. 

They did well cantering and I decided to ride up a low drainage in a grassy valley where logs were placed as check dams to prevent erosion. As we came to each log, Midnight hurtled the obstacle, but Dutch kicked the top of each. Jim tried to rein the horse out of the drainage to avoid the logs, but Dutch refused and continued to follow me on Midnight. Jim called to me and said get out of the ditch. Dutch was set in his behavior to follow. 

Inexperienced riders preferred Dutch because he was calm and plodded nicely along without incident and was almost a sleepwalker. No surprises from him. LD was also an easy ride, but I did not like taking him because he had a habit of trying to bite the rider in the butt when his hooves were cleaned and struggled to prevent us from lifting his legs. My favorite was Thunder, who had the smoothest ride. Thunder was fearful of objects and, when he saw something unusual like a tree stump or some other unexpected object, he would shy with a quick bolt to the side. It was necessary to always maintain pressure in the stirrups or the rider would be unseated and find himself on the ground. Learning animal behavior helps understand how animals function. 

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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Late season frogs

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Northern leopard frogs were common when I was young and exploring neighborhood wetlands. They have become uncommon and even rare in many locations for reasons unknown. It is not just because I have grown and developed other pursuits that they seem less abundant. Herpetologists studying the frogs confirm decreased numbers. If you have them in abundance, celebrate and protect healthy habitat. We do not understand all the critical features in their nature niche needed for survival.

The pickerel frog is a small North American frog, characterized by the appearance of seemingly “hand-drawn” squares on its dorsal surface. Photo by Brian Gratwicke, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

They begin breeding later in spring than the Wood Frogs, Western Chorus Frogs, and Spring Peepers described in last week’s article. The late season frogs do best in permanent water. Shallow water near lake shores with lots of grassy vegetation, marshes, and moderately slow stream borders and inlets provide good breeding habitat. I think that clearing lake shores of vegetation for better beaches and eliminating vegetation for better swimming areas contributed to frog decline. I have not seen that confirmed by amphibian studies so that hypothesis remains unanswered. 

Removing vegetation chemically or with manual equipment does not bode well for aquatic organisms. People want fish to thrive, but fish are challenged with more sterile habitat as are amphibians, insects, and wetland feeding birds and mammals. 

Pickerel frogs look similar to leopard frogs but can be distinguished by two features. Pickerel frogs have large rectangular dark spots with narrower light areas between them. The leopard frogs’ dark spots are smaller and rounded with greater light color separating spots. More significant is the Pickerel frog’s hidden bright yellow at the base of the hind legs. Leopard frogs might have a faint yellow there. Both frogs normally develop into an adult in one season but some require two summers. That is a reason they do best in permanent waters. Those breeding in late April or early May are more likely to reach adulthood in one warm season. 

Two similar frogs are green and bull frogs. Bull frogs get much larger but that takes time and may require a few years growth. Both usually take more than one year to transform from the tadpole stage to a tailless adult frog. Green frogs line up around the edge of the vernal pond to the west of the Red Pine interpretive building at the Howard Christensen Nature Center. That pond sometimes retains water throughout the winter but not always. Many developing frogs that breed there must die. The permanent tadpole pond southwest of the building offers better survival chances. 

One habitat management policy I implemented when I was director at HCNC was for interpretive teachers to only take students around the west shore of vernal pond to allow the east shoreline to remain undisturbed by school groups. The purpose was twofold. Number one was to teach a respect and reverence for life and secondarily to hopefully improve survival opportunity for frogs in that half of the pond.

Green frogs have what is called a dorsolateral ridge or fold that runs from head toward the rear. This ridge is absent on bull frogs so even smaller bull frogs can be distinguished by the lack of the long ridge. Bull frogs have a ridge that runs from behind the eye and wraps around the flat circular eardrum called a tympanum that is behind and below the eye. Green and bull frogs sing when the temperature warms to above 70ºF making them the latest to join the seasonal orchestra. A green frog sounds like someone plucking a banjo or guitar string. Bull frogs resemble a cow mooing. 

The last late season frog common in our region is the gray tree frog that is medium sized between the wood frog and green frog. It is somewhat toad like in appearance and has suction cup toes and can climb windows. Like other frogs it breeds in water. It moves away from ponds when grown, like chorus frogs, spring peepers, wood frogs, and leopard frogs. These frogs all feed in moist forests but the gray tree frogs seems to tolerate drier areas better. They can be found hiding on the siding of our homes and feed on insects by lights at night. Their call is a sharp short trill unlike the exceedingly long trill of American toads that reside in insecticide free gardens.

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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X Marks the Spot

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The Spring Peeper is tan with a darker X on its back. Photo is in the public domain.

The music is about to begin with different members of the orchestra joining in proper sequence. Every member has its assigned seat and music score. There is pushing and shoving for the best seat in the wet swale. The first to tune up their vocal instruments are the Western Chorus Frogs, Northern Spring Peepers, and Wood Frogs. Before all the snow is gone, they move to temporary pools called vernal ponds or swales. They also congregate in permanent ponds, swamps, and marshes. 

The chorus frogs and spring peepers are tiny and are about the size of an adult person’s thumb nail. The wood frogs are two to three times that size. Chorus frogs start the spring music and are quickly followed by peepers and wood frogs. They require vernal pools for breeding and temporary standing water is ideal. The frogs migrate to the pools and begin singing before ice has completely melted. 

The chorus frogs sound like someone rubbing their thumb along the teeth of a comb. Spring peepers make a single repetitive peep. Wood frogs sound like quacking ducks. Each species recognizes its own kind. Females might select a larger or louder member, but males are anxious to breed and will grab any nearby frog. It is not always a female but if it is another male a struggle ensues to break free with a characteristic trill. 

The male squeezes the female and that helps egg laying. As the eggs emerge, they are fertilized by the male. Eggs are laid on twigs or vegetation in the water. When finding an egg mass, you can notice three things. One, the egg masses are much larger than the frog that laid them. Egg masses swell with water creating the larger size. Two, they are enclosed in a clear jelly where algae grows and helps camouflage the eggs. It helps prevent eggs from being seen and eaten. The gel also helps prevent things from biting into the egg mass. The third noticeable characteristic is that eggs are two-toned. They are dark on top which helps them blend with muck at the bottom of the pool. They are light colored on the bottom which helps make them invisible against the sky. 

Algae and bacteria growing in the egg gel breaks it down and by the time the tadpoles are developed enough to hatch, tadpoles can easily escape from the gel. Tadpoles feed on algae. Frog eggs laid in permanent ponds are often eaten by fish as an egg or tadpole. Temporary ponds that dry by mid-summer are essential for continued long term survival of amphibians because they lack fish. Because vernal ponds are small they are not protected by laws and most people are not aware the damage people cause to amphibians, birds, small mammals and even insect populations by draining or filling these pools. Destruction of small pools destroys important nature niche requirements for amphibians or other wildlife. By protecting vernal ponds, it is a form of creation care.

To identify the three frogs, the larger of the three is the wood frog and I refer to it as the lone ranger because it has a dark mask over the eyes. In spring it is not alone when they gather in large masses at ponds. For the rest of the summer and fall they move into moist woodlands. In addition, they have a ridge that runs along their back on both sides dividing the back from the side. 

The two smaller thumb nail sized frogs have their own unique features. The chorus frog has a small dark mask but does not have the ridges on the back. They usually have three dark lines on the back extending from head toward the rear. They have swollen suction cup toe tips that are not present in wood frogs. Spring peepers also have suction cup toe tips and are the lightest colored of the three frogs. They are tan with a darker X on the back. This is the one where X marks the spot. 

The frogs serenade us at dusk and throughout the night. They are most vocal on warmer nights and will sing loudly in rain. When you walk to a pond, they quickly quiet. Calmly sit and within a few minutes one brave individual will begin its peep, make a rachet-like comb tooth call, or duck-like quack. Then others join.

In warmer weather, more frogs will add their instruments to the chorus so next week their stories will be shared.

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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Wildflower and butterfly field trips

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Spring flowers are on the way. Already Skunk Cabbage flower spathes with spadix are up on the flood plains. Other flowers will brighten the landscape soon. Daffodil leaves have broken ground but are still less than two inches tall. Even iris leaves have broken ground on the floodplain. Exciting events are growing.

Among the first flowers are hepaticas, speckled alders, and hazelnuts with male staminate and pistillate flowers.  Many blooms will come early including bloodroot, spring beauties, and trout lilies. Soon to follow are baneberry, nodding trillium, large-flowered trillium, starry Solomon’s-seal, jack-in-the-pulpit, wild geranium, wood betony, mayapple and enchanter’s nightshade.  

The trout lily is a early spring flower. 

Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary will be a carpet with many flowers before trees fully leaf out. It requires a lot of energy to produce flowers and fruits. Adequate sunlight is essential. Many plants have the adaptation to bloom before canopy leaves block too much sunlight energy from reaching the understory. By the time tree leaves fully expand, many plants have completed their reproductive blooming cycle. 

Trout lilies have not only completed flowering in spring but their leaves wither by the end of May. Their flowers and leaves are only present during a few weeks in spring. The plant is dormant the rest of the year. 

Plan for spring and summer events and mark your calendar to participate. 

On May 15 at 2 p.m. the Michigan Botanical Club White Pine Chapter will host a wildflower walk at Ody Brook. Parking will be at V&V nursery 1.25 mile south of traffic light in Cedar Springs or 1.75 miles north of traffic light at M-57 on Northland Drive. Park close to the road at V&V nursery. Come early to shop for plants at the nursery. Ranger Steve will meet you there.

We will walk across the highway to Ody Brook’s entrance south of the bridge. Mark your calendar for wildflower discoveries to learn their ecological adaptations. Botanical club membership information will be available for those interested. Other botanical outings are planned during the warm season. Donations to support Ody Brook’s mission of “biodiversity enhancement” are not required but are welcome. 

Consider participating in mid-summer butterfly counts hosted by the West Michigan Butterfly Association and the North American Butterfly Association. Summer flowers will be peaking. Details are available on the WMBA web site: http://www.graud.org/wmba.html

Butterfly counts begin at 9 a.m. and end by about 5 p.m. but participants can come for shorter time periods if desired.

5 July – Rogue River State Game Area 

7 July – Allegan State Game Area 

10 July – Greater Muskegon 

12 July – Newaygo in the Manistee National Forest

Butterfly counts are great opportunity to become familiar with summer butterflies and their habitats with help from butterfly association members. Mark calendars and plan to participate. 

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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Gumming it

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Young deer like adults need to gum their food. They do not have upper incisor teeth on the jaw. When they bite a branch, their lower front teeth grip the twig and begin to cut into it. The lower jaw pushes it against the upper toothless gum where it is necessary to pull on the twig to rip it completely freely. 

When one looks at the remaining bitten twig, it can be seen that the teeth cut into the bottom and the top has small strips of bark or wood that were not cleanly cut. Once the eaten portion is in their mouth, premolar and molar teeth with flattened tops, like ours, grind the food.
They do not have a dentist to tell them to chew the food well before swallowing. They quickly swallow poorly chewed food and gather more. Soon they wander to a safe place to lay and chew their cud that was hurriedly swallowed. Deer, like cows, are ruminants and after swallowing food to their upper digestive track, they regurgitate it back up for more complete grinding. 

While lying in a secure location, they are mostly still and quiet while they eat with pleasure and keep watch for predators. Because they are still, they do not draw attention. It is only the moving jaw and occasional head movement that might be seen. Their odor could announce their presence, but they have long slim legs if they need to jump up and bound away. I recall one time a deer jumped up about 15 feet in front me, where it was hidden in bracken ferns. It nearly stopped my heart. By the time I recovered from being startled, it had disappeared into thick woods.

Unlike deer, rabbits and hares called lagomorphs have both upper and lower incisors that cleanly cut twigs. Not only are the front teeth sharp for cutting, one set is directly behind the other. We have four incisor teeth in a row next to each other. By having two incisor teeth directly behind another set, it creates excellent snippers. 

After chewing food, it is swallowed and quickly passes through the digestive tract without adequate digestion. The lagomorphs return to eat their feces and are able to better extract more nutrition from the partially digested vegetation. The nature niche advantage of quickly eating and moving on allows them to consume a large amount of food quickly and return to eat rabbit pellets later. They can quietly keep watch for danger while gathering already eaten food. 

There are no hares in the local area. It is necessary to travel farther north to find snowshoe hares. They are larger than cottontail rabbits, with larger feet that aid them in moving on top of snow instead sinking in. Cottontails remain brown in winter, but snowshoe hares change to a white winter coat that helps them camouflage in snow covered surroundings. 

Both rabbits and hares have restricted home ranges they know well. Hiding locations and shelters are readily accessible. When startled, they flee but make a broad circle in order to remain in known territory. 

Follow tracks when they are obvious during the beautiful snowy season. They will lead to interesting places. Along the way you will get to see where branches were sharply snipped. If a deer path crosses, you might diverge to follow it to where you can find a twig that was gummed and ripped instead of being cut. 

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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Tree huggers

By Ranger Steve Mueller

When I was a national park naturalist leading walks through a ponderosa pine forest at Bryce Canyon National Park, I worked to help people discover by exploration. One strategy was to lead them over a large fallen dead tree. They needed to sit on the tree and swing their legs to the other side. 

In the process, some noticed the large meandering cavities where bark once hid them from view. Now with the bark fallen off, we could see tunnels where Cerambycid long-horned or Buprestid flat-headed woodboring beetle larva fed. Both of the beetles’ eggs are laid on dying or recently dead trees. The larvae fed on nutritious cambium tissue that lies between outer bark and inner xylem wood. 

By creating an opportunity to discover the tunnels on their own, visitors asked questions that were more interesting to them than if I pointed out the tunnels. They also found straight line tunnels on some trees with small tunnels leading at right angles from a larger central tunnel. An adult Ips pine bark beetle laid eggs in the center line tunnel as it chewed its way along. Newly hatched young fed in rows next to each other as they ate outward from the center line. As they fed and grew, their tunnels became larger and finally stopped where they pupated. After emerging from their pupae, they exited the tree to find a mate and lay eggs. 

At another location I asked people to hug a ponderosa pine. The trees are beautiful, tall, and have mottled yellow, orange, and black bark with deep crevasses. Many were willing but I recall one man who strongly protested. He said he was not a tree hugger. Of course, I did not try to force him. When others complied, comments erupted that the trees smell like vanilla or butterscotch. People had discovered the unique odor without me telling them and they found different people had different smell descriptions. That was my goal. After a rain, the forest is permeated with odor; but when is it dry, one must get close to sense the smell.

The protesting gentleman walked to a tree, leaned toward it to smell, but refrained from touching or hugging the tree. It was the other field trip participants that got him to greet the tree and get to know it better. 

Ponderosa pine trees grow at about 8000 feet elevation at Bryce Canyon National Park. At lower elevations pinyon pines Utah and Rocky Mountain junipers grow and in some areas Gambel’s oak creates a pygmy forest at the 6500-foot elevation. Douglas fir, white and Engelman spruces dominate at 9000 feet. There are nature niche details to discover in each forest type. Perhaps it will be tree odor, types of insects, growth patterns, or essential distance needed between trees for water, light, and nutrient gathering. 

Another “tree hugging” activity to get people closer to trees is to have them put their backs against a big tree shoulder to shoulder. I count how many people it takes to surround the tree. Because they are in circle, I keep walking in a circle counting to a higher number until someone stops me and says, “You already counted me.” Then I count again but stop when I have walked around the tree once. It keeps it fun and involves participants. 

It helps to be a tree hugger to get close and intimate to discover the secrets of those of the forest. Spend time helping others engage life that abounds in nearby trees. 

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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Hey Bud

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Winter tree and shrub buds have distinctive character. They are recognizable by features like being fat, short, tall, scaly, fuzzy or with varied color. Twigs bear terminal and lateral buds. Often winter buds are larger or swollen indicating they are flower buds instead of new leaf or stem buds. 

Bud scales hide inner layers protecting delicate tissues during the cold season. Some common shrubs like witch-hazel and poison ivy buds are not covered with protective scales. 

The tissues for new leaf, stem, and flowers are produced during the previous year’s growing season. That makes them vulnerable to frost and abrasion damage as well as being harvested by wildlife as winter food. Besides being protected by scales, bud tissues are mostly devoid of water. Water is minimally maintained in roots to sustain life but stem, branch, and twigs are somewhat dehydrated. 

Water expands when it freezes like many of us old timers discovered if we did not promptly bring milk in from below 32ºF temperatures when home delivery was common. Glass bottles would break. This happens with fruit and vegetables that freeze causing cells to burst and ruin food. With little water in bud tissues, the freezing liquid is not present to rupture cell membranes. 

Take winter walks from tree to tree or shrub to shrub to enjoy the variety of buds in the neighborhood. I have frequently stated it is not necessary to the learn names but it is more important to discover the wonder and beauty that surrounds us. After observing the diversity, you might want to learn names. Winter is one of the best times to recognize species. Leaves on woody plants vary in shape and can make identification difficult. A major problem with leaves is caused by production by long or short shoots or apical or basal stems. That is a topic for a different nature niche but the different stem types create varying leaf shapes and sizes. 

Winter buds are more consistent and reliable for identification. There are differences between leaf, stem, and flower buds and variation between lateral and terminal buds is relatively minor. 

A terminal bud grows at the tip of a twig. Lateral buds grow at an angle from the stem or might grow at the end of a stem but do not protrude straight and centered from the end. They angle to the side and is called a false terminal bud. Look at an elm’s false terminal bud at the end of a branch. Maples provide a good example for terminal buds and have lateral buds growing outward to the side at the base of the terminal bud. 

Silver or red maples in our yards have rounded buds and sugar maples have pointed buds. Gently tap the end of a maple bud with your fingertip to notice if it is pointed or rounded. A difference between red and silver maples compared with sugar maple buds is the lateral buds are not as heavily clustered on sugar maples. More flower buds are present on red and silver maples high in the tree and produce a greater quantity of early spring flowers. Sugar maple flowers bloom about a month later. 

Choke cherry buds are dark with a light tan border along the edge of each protective scale. Their buds are pointed. Bitternut hickory is common in our area and like the hazelnut, it does not have bud scales. You can observe the new embryonic leaves that are tightly clumped together as naked exposed leaves all winter. This is best seen with a small magnifying lens called a loop. Willows have a single scale covering embryonic leaves.

Some buds are covered with minute hairs and others are smooth and shiny. Each species has distinctive buds.

About 70 native tree species are known to Michigan and about 130 shrubs. Look at interesting characteristics. When the protective bud scales fall in spring, they leave bud scale scars where the scales attached to twigs. The distance between bud scale scars helps determine how much a branch grew during the year. Hey bud, enjoy a close look at plant buds. 

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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By Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve

Ten processes of life are essential for each species survival in its nature niche. I created an acronym 50 years ago as a memory jogger for when I need to contemplate them. The acronym is DAAGRESMIR. The processes are digestion, absorption, assimilation, growth, respiration, excretion, secretion, movement, irritability, and reproduction. 

Remove any one of them and a species cannot survive. Each species has different methods for handling the ten processes. We digest our food outside the body, absorb it, and then assimilate it into body tissues. You might think we digest food inside our body but not so. Food in our stomach and intestine is still out of the body like food being chewed in our mouth. It is not until it passes through the intestinal lining that it enters the body. 

Some organisms, like amoebas, surround food with its cell membrane and incorporate it into its cellular body in what is called a food vacuole. Inside the body it is digested. After digestion the molecules pass through the body by a variety of means depending on the species. Most familiar to us is transfer via blood. The digested nutrients are carried to the appropriate place for assimilation into a needed product such as bone. 

Growth is needed even when an organism is full size. Things like bone tissue are continuously replaced or repaired. Inadequate growth might result in osteoporosis. Growth and body maintenance cannot occur without adequate respiration, which is the use of oxygen for life processes and the removal of carbon dioxide waste. 

Organisms have special organs or, in single-celled species, organelles that secrete things like digestive enzymes or hormones that allow life processes to continue. At this time of year, hormone secretions are being released into bird blood that results in changes in both appearance and behavior. Watch during the next couple of months as male American Goldfinches change from the dull winter olive green to bright yellow. Internally hidden from view, reproductive behavior takes hold. The same occurs in humans. Male and females develop different appearances and behaviors based on hormone secretions.   

Movement occurs in all species including plants. One might think that plants are stationary and do not move but movement is more inclusive. One of the well-known movements is with sunflower flower orientation. A flower faces the morning sun and moves with it to still face it at sunset. Beyond that, internal organs function to move things in the body to complete work. 

A great example in mammals is how a deer’s digestive tract moves to excrete waste from its intestine. The deer eats plants and undigested material still outside the body tissue but in the digestive tube it gets pushed along and we find it as fecal pellets along deer trails. We call them deer droppings.

Irritability is not about temperament. It is an organism’s ability to respond to occurrences in its environment. It can be how a caterpillar responds to a parasitic fly trying to deposit eggs on the caterpillar. It can be how a butterfly stands broadside to the sun to warm its body or changes position to allow sunrays to pass by without heat being absorbed by the wings so the butterfly can cool down when too hot.

Stated earlier, each species handles DAAGRESMIR differently. Cold blooded organisms (Poikilothermic) regulate body temperature using external heat absorption to help life processes. Warm blooded organisms (homeothermic) regulate temperature with internal processes to maintain life. When we cannot maintain proper temperature, we will have movement like shivering that produces heat. 

This might take you back to 7th grade biology but I bring it up to be applied to what is occurring around us every day in every organism in every habitat where species work to thrive. 

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.

Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off on DAAGRESMIR

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