Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Happy Apollo 11 Day!

Forty-seven years ago on 20 July 1969 at at 9:56:15 PM EST, mankind stepped on the moon for the first time when astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped down from the Lunar Module "Eagle" onto the a flat volcanic plain known as the Mare Tranquillitatus or "Sea of Tranquility".  Nineteen minutes later he was joined on the surface by Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin.

Armstrong and Aldrin became the first members of the world's most exclusive club.  They were the first of only twelve men to ever set foot on the moon - the last was in 1972.

Landing astronauts on the moon inspired a generation of scientists and ordinary people to dream that anything was possible.  In 2004, the United States announced its intent to return astronauts to the moon by 2020.  Funding for this program was cancelled in the 2010 federal budget to the dismay of many including Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.  Today the dream of a child to become an astronaut and walk on the moon is only a dream.

Neil Armstrong died in 2012.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Civilian Conservation Corps Museum at North Higgins Lake State Park

One final photograph from the DNR Academy of Natural Resources.

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worker statue at North Higgins Lake State Park

North Higgins Lake State Park is home to the Michigan Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Museum.  During the 1930s and '40s, this was the site of Michigan first tree nursery - trees grown at this site were used to replant forests across northern Michigan.  CCC workers in Michigan also built roads and dams, constructed state and national park buildings, fought fires, and more.  The museum is open daily from now through Labor Day (September 5th).  For more information, visit the Michigan History Center website.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Sad news from Wings of Wonder

Sad news from the Wings of Wonder Facebook page:

"A bit of sad news to share . . . our littlest 'family' member, Ned, has passed away suddenly. Ned, a Northern Saw Whet Owl, showed signs of illness on July 9th and was gone by July 11th. We are currently awaiting the results from an autopsey so I will share that information when I receive it. Ned was one of our most popular raptors, delighting thousands of folks over the many years with his cuteness, small size, beauty and quirky personality. He will be so very, very missed . . . and I wish him well on his next journey. My loving thanks to little Ned for opening our eyes and hearts to the greatness of Northern Saw Whet Owls."

Ned made the trip to Mt. Pleasant a couple of times for the International Migratory Bird Day Celebration at the Ziibiwing Center.

Rebecca Lessard with Ned at the Ziibiwing Center (2016)

Shara and I have also been fortunate enough to visit Wings of Wonder on two occasions and see Ned (and all of the other WOW birds) at "home".

Ned in his flight enclosure at Wings of Wonder (2015)

Ned will be missed by many.   Contributions in Ned's memory can be made to Wings of Wonder.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Maple leafs - more than just a hockey team from Toronto

Is a maple tree just a maple tree?


There are seven different native Maple (Acer) species in Michigan as well as several introduced species.

Yesterday (12 July 2016) was the second full day of the 2016 Michigan DNR Academy of natural resources.  While wandering around the grounds of the Ralph A. MacMullan (RAM) Conference Center over the past two days, I noticed that several different species of Maple trees could be found on the property.  While all three species  have similarities, they also bear distinct differences.

The first of the three trees was the Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum).  This species can grow to an average height of 60 to 100 feet and reach a trunk diameter of up to 48 inches.  Michigan's record  Sugar Maple has a recorded diameter of more than 72 inches, but is only 78 feet tall.  Often for "big tree" listings, trees are measured only by their trunk diameter.

The leaves of Sugar Maples are simple (meaning one leaf on one stem) and typically have five lobes (rarely three).  The margins (edges) of the leaves have a few wavy teeth.  These leaves normally measure 2 to 5 inches wide and long (not counting the leaf petiole or stem).  The leaves of this species (and all maple species) are arranged in opposite pairs.

Sugar Maple leaf - note five lobes and wavy-toothed margins

The second Maple species that I noticed was the Red Maple (Acer rubrum).  Red Maples are similar in size to Sugar Maples.  They reach a height of 50 to 100 feet and normally have a trunk diameter of up to 32 inches.  The Michigan record Red Maple is actually larger than the state record Sugar Maple, with a trunk diameter of 74 inches and a height of 120 feet.

The leaves of the Red Maple are similar in size to those of the Sugar Maple (2-5 inches).  They also have three to five lobes - three lobes seem to be more common than five in most trees.  The majore difference between the Sugar Maple and this species is the leaf margins.  Red Maple leaves have margins with many sharply pointed teeth.

Red Maple leaf  - note five lobes and sharply serrated leaf margins

The third Maple species that I found was the Mountain Maple (Acer spicatum).  This species is significantly smaller than the previous two species, only reaching a height of 20 to 30 feet and a trunk diameter of 3 to 8 inches.  The state record Mountain Maple has a trunk diameter of only 11 inches and a height of 58 feet.

Like Red Maple, the margins of Mountain Maple Leaves are serrated (toothed).  The teeth on Mountain Maple leaves are much coarser than those of the Red Maple.  The leaves often smaller (3-5 inches long and 2 to 3 inches wide) and have only three lobes.

Mountain Maple leaf - note three lobes and coarsely serrated leaf margins

In this final photograph you can see all three species for comparison.

Sugar Maple (top left), Mountain Maple (bottom left), and Red Maple (right)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

More Photos from the RAM Center at North Higgins Lake State Park

Yesterday was the first full day of 2016, Michigan DNR Academy of Natural Resources.  I had a little bit of time before and after class sessions to explore and photograph the area around the RAM Center.  A few of the photographs have been labeled, but not all of them.

Deer remains among conifer trees

Backlit spider web

Snail eggs on a decaying log

Daddy-long-legs (not a spider) camouflaged against pine bark

Birch Bark curls

Shelf fungus on a birch log

Daddy-long-legs on birch

Ripples in Higgins Lake

Monday, July 11, 2016

Morning in the woods

This week I am attending the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Academy of Natural Resources at the Ralph A. MacMullan (RAM) Conference Center at North Higgins Lake State Park.  I am going through the process to earn an Environmental Education Certificate.  Actually, I am one of twelve people in the pilot cohort for this certification program. 

So just a photo for today.  This picture was taken this morning at the RAM Center.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Wildflowers of 2016 - #187 through #193

Yesterday (07 July), I added seven species to my Wildflowers of 2016 list.  Of those seven species, two were native and the other five were introduced from Europe.  The first three species were photographed at Chipp-A-Waters Park and the final four were photographed at Mill Pond park.

Wildflowers of 2016 - #187 Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

My first species of the day was found in the open field near the Girl Scout cabin at Chipp-A-Waters Park.  Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) likes dry habitats such as fields and roadsides.  A native of Europe, it has naturalized across most of North America with the exception of the Canadian Arctic territories.  This species is often very conspicuous, growing as much as 7 feet tall.  It has a flowering stalk that can be up to 2 feet long and leaves that can be 4 inches wide and 12 inches long.

Common Mullein - at 2 feet tall this is actually a small example

Also known as Flannel Plant, Common Mullein is a biennial plant.  In its first year, it produces a cluster of fuzzy grey-green leaves 1 to 2 feet across.  These leaves will stay green throughout the winter.  During the plant's second growing season it will send up a single stalk - this stalk rarely branches.  The lower part of the stalk with be covered alternate leaves that get smaller higher up the stalk.  The upper part of the stalk will grow into a dense spike of yellow flowers.  Flowers have have five pale yellow petals and are 1/2 to 1 inch across.  Only a small percentage of flowers on as spike will be in bloom at any one time.  The dried flower spikes often remain through the winter.

Common Mullein -  a closer view of the flower spike

Wildflowers of 2016 - #188 Spotted Knapweed (Cenaurea stoebe)

Spotted Knapweed - note purple flowers and grey-green foliage

The next flower is considered a noxious weed or an invasive species by many states.  Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea stoebe) is a native of Europe that was introduced to the Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s.  It is now found in 46 states and seven Canadian provinces/territories.  Spotted Knapweed spreads aggressively by producing large numbers of seeds that remain viable in the soil for several years.  Once established it quickly outcompetes native species.

Spotted Knapweed flowers resemble those of thistles, but the plants lack thorns

Spotted Knapweed plants may grow up to five feet tall.   The purple flowers resemble those of thistles, but the plant can be distinguished from thistles by its complete lack of thorns.  The leaves and stems of Spotted Knapweed are grey-green in color.  The leaves are deeply lobed.

Wildflowers of 2016 - #189 Bouncing Bet (Saponaria officinalis)

Bouncing Bet

My third species from Chipp-A-Waters park was another non-native, Bouncing Bet (Saponaria officinalis).  This native of Eurasia is naturalized across all of the United States and Canada with the exception of Hawaii, Alaska, and the Canadian Arctic.  Like many introduced species, it is most commonly found in disturbed habitats such as fields and roadsides.  Bouncing Bet is also known as Soapwort - adding the plant to water will result in foam that has traditionally bean used for cleaning.
Bouncing Bet - a closer view of the flowers, note backward angled petals

Bouncing Bet plants may grow up to 2 1/2 feet tall and produces a terminal cluster of white or bluish-white flowers.  The flowers are up to 1 inch across, tube-shaped, and have five petals.  The petals angle backward, exposing the plant's pistil and stamen.  Like many pale flowers, Bouncing Bet is probably pollinated mainly by large nocturnal moths.

Wildflowers of 2016 - #190 Common Burdock (Arctium minus)

After leaving Chipp-A-Waters Park, I went a short distance to Mill Pond Park.  Mill Pond is Mt. Pleasant's largest park at 90 acres.  The first new flower that I encountered at Mill Pond Park was the  Common Burdock (Arctium minus).  This introduced species is a common weed of fields, roadsides, pastures, and other disturbed spaces.  Common Burdock (also known as Lesser Burdock) is native to Europe, but can now be found across most of North America with the exception of Alaska and the Canadian Arctic.

Common Burdock is a large plant
Common Burdock plants can be identified by their large leaves (up to 2 feet long and 1.5 feet wide), purple flowers, and round burs.  The burs encase the plant's seeds and are used to disperse the seeds.  Anyone who has ever brushed up against one of these plants is familiar with how the hooked burs cling to clothing (or animal fur or feathers) and pull off of the parent plant.  Common Burdock plants may grow from 3 to 6 feet tall.

Common Burdock - note purple flowers and developing hooked burs

Wildflowers of 2016 - #191 Willow-herb (Epilobium ciliatum)

Willow-herb - note toothed margins of leaves

My second flower from Mill Pond Park was my first native species of the day, Willow-herb (Epilobium ciliatum).  I found this plant growing in the floodplain area at Mill Pond Park - in the same location where I found it in 2014.  This species is typically found in wet soils.  This species can be found across North America with the exception of seven states in the Southeast and the Canadian territory of Nunavut.

Willow-herb - a closer view of the flower, note the small hairs on stems

Michigan's eight Epilobium species can be difficult to identify to the species level.  I based my identification of this plant on its height (greater than 3 feet), the size of its flower, size of leaves, toothed margins of its leaves, and locations of known populations in Michigan.  However, this species is known to hybridize with Cinnamon Willow-herb (E. coloratum) and the plants in this small colony may very well be hybrids.

Wildflowers of 2016 - #192 Common Plantain (Plantago major)

Common Plantain (Plantago major) did not appear on my 2014 list.  This species is native to Europe, but has naturalized across all fifty states and every Canadian province with the exception of Nunavut.  It has been recorded in about three-quarters of Michigan's counties.

Common Plantain - note basal rosette of leaves and flower spikes

Common Plantain plants consist of a rosette of basal leaves measuring up to 12 inches across.  The leaves are oval-shaped with a long stalk and measure 2 to 5 inches long.  Rising from the center of the rosette are one or more densely packed flower spikes that rise to a height of 5 to 20 inches.  The individual flowers on the spikes are small (1/8 inch) and green colored.  The flowers consist of 4 sepals a single white pistil (which can be seen in the photographs) and four stamen with purple anthers.

Common Plantain flower spike - note protruding white pistils and purple stamen

Wildflowers of 2016 - #193 Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

The final flower on the list for the day is a nettle - Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica).  On June 28th I recorded  Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis) at Species #175.  Although Wood Nettle and Stinging Nettle are in separate genera (Urtica and Laportea), they share a common characteristic.  Both plants are covered with fine needle-like hairs that break off upon contact.  These needles are filled with  a mixture of chemicals that cause an itching or burning sensation upon contact with skin.  Both plants also have small greenish-white or green flowers growing in clusters from the leaf axils.

Stinging Nettle - note opposite leaves and flowers in leaf axils
Despite these similarities the two plants are easy to distinguish.  Stinging Nettle often grows taller than Wood Nettle (up to 7 feet tall versus 4 feet tall).  Although both species like wet soils, Stinging Nettle is also more likely to be found in dry habitats than Wood Nettle.  The most distinguishing characteristic is leaf placement; Wood Nettle has some alternate leaves while those of Stinging Nettle are always arranged in pairs.
Stinging Nettle - a closer view of the flowers

There is some debate over the origin of our Stinging Nettle plants.  The species is native to both North America and Eurasia.  Michigan Flora indicates that most Michigan plants belong to the native subspecies.