Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dreaming of a White Christmas - A Non-Scientific Study of Holiday Snow Cover Since 2007

It doesn't look like Mid-Michigan will be enjoying a White Christmas this year.

What a contrast to last December...  This photo was taken one year ago today (23 DEC 2013) looking down the street from my house.

Hey look! A squirrel!

Looking at that photo got me thinking about the previous year...

Monday, December 22, 2014

Happy Solar New year!

Happy New Year!

No, not the calendar "new year".  Yesterday marked the Solar New Year

Yesterday 21 DEC 2014 at 6:03PM Eastern Standard Time, Mid-Michigan (and the rest of Earth's Northern Hemisphere) celebrated the annual Winter Solstice.  On our current calendar the Winter Solstice marks the end of Fall and the beginning of Winter.  Many ancient societies (in the Northern Hemisphere) marked the Winter Solstice as the beginning of a new year.

The word Solstice comes from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still).  Yesterday the sun will have reached its lowest position in the southern Sky, giving us our shortest day of the year.  On the Summer Solstice, Mid-Michigan received approximately 15 hours and 24 minutes of sunlight.  Today Mid-Michigan will see only 8 hours and 58 minutes of sunlight, but from now until the Summer Solstice each day will grow longer.

The Earth rotates around its axis approximately once every 24 hours.  However this axis is tilted at 23.5 degrees from the vertical.  The points on the globe that the axis revolves around are referred to as the North and South Poles.  The axis is always pointed toward the same location in the sky.  The North Pole points toward the "North Star" - Polaris.

As the earth revolves around the sun, sometimes the North Pole is closer to the sun, sometimes the South Pole is closer to the sun.  When the North Pole is at its closest, we experience Summer in Mid-Michigan and the Southern Hemisphere experiences Winter.  When the North Pole is at its furthest, we experience Winter and the Southern Hemisphere experiences Summer. 

If you were to arise at dawn every day of the year and record at which point on the horizon the sun rises from you would be able to track the progression from the Summer solstice (in which the sun rises furthest North) to the Winter Solstice (in which the sun rises furthest South) and back again.  Tracking the postion of the rising sun was one of the earliest astronomical observations.  Many ancient monuments were constructed to act as solar observatories, recording the longest and shortest days of the year.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Favorite Photos from 2014

With the end of the year almost upon us, it's time to look back on past 12 months.

2014 was a busy year for me.  The Environmental Education Program expanded beyond anything I would have imagined when I started working for the Conservation District - I did 336 classroom presentations during the calendar year.  Add in programs for the local library district and local Audubon club, participating in a get-kids-outside program for the county parks department, supporting Mother Earth Week activities at the Ziibiwing Center, and manning a booth at the Isabella County Fair; my presentation schedule kept me hopping for much of the year.

My year was also busy because of things that I took on myself.  I became much more involved with  the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy this year, helping to survey plants at several of its preserves and leading a couple of nature walks.  Of course my Wildflowers of 2014 project also took up a lot of my time.

Lucky for me my job often gets me outside.  Even when I am busy I always manage to find at least a little time almost every week to get outside and take photographs.  In no particular order, here are some of my favorite photos from the past year.

The first photo is from my March 6th post titled "Hoarfrost and Horned Larks" and was photographed along the roadside about a half mile from my office.

This photograph of an Indigo Bunting was photographed in May at Mission Creek Woodland Park.  I just really like the bird's facial expression - for a closer look here is the original posting.

The next photo of oak leaves was taken at Mill Pond Park on April 14th. This photo was originally posted on May 1st.  I like the brown tones of the leaves and the decaying log.  It is just a moody photograph that immediately became one of my favorites for the year.

This photograph of Skunk Cabbage leaves appears nowhere else on this blog.  It was taken on April 29th.  Skunk Cabbage is probably my favorite wildflower.  I like this photo because of the contrast between the vibrant green leaves and the drab background of swampy soils and dead leaves.

The next three photographs show people interacting with nature.

This photograph was taken during the Chippewa Valley Audubon Club's moth hunt on June 21st at Mission Creek Woodland Park.  At this stage we were waiting for species to show up at our lights.  I wrote about this outing in post on June 23rd.

The next photograph was taken during a wetland plant survey on June 13th at the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's Hall's Lake preserves.  This photo shows CWC Director Stan Lilley photographing a Wild Calla plant.

The next photograph was also taken during a plant survey - this time at the CWC's Alyce J. Peterson Natural Area on August 16th.  Just for your information, the plant that they are looking up is the Cut-leaved Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniataFor more photos from this field trip please look here.

The next picture came about when a couple brought an ice cream bucket into the Conservation District.  I love surprises of this kind.  This photograph was originally posted on June 27th.  I love how this little 12-inch Eastern Hognose Snake puffed up and acted like a rattlesnake in an effort to be intimidating.

This Fistulous Goat's Beard seed head was also photographed on June 26th. This is the first time this photo has been posted.  I like the delicate look of the "parachutes" contrasted against the barbed edges of the seeds.

The next two photographs were taken during my vacation along the Lake Michigan shoreline.  The first photograph shows the S.S. Badger car ferry passing the Ludington breakwater light on August 10th.  The second photo shows "Big Red" (the Holland, MI lighthouse) being passed by a small boat at sunset on August 11th.

I like the next photograph because of the interesting clouds.  This photo was taken on September 3rd at a property on the west side of Isabella County.  I have not posted this photograph before, but other photos from this property can be found on this post about the Milbert's Tortoiseshell Butterfly.  This was the site where I found more than 40 Monarch caterpillars this year.

I took lots of photographs of insects this year.  It wasn't intentional like the wildflower photos, I just happened to see lots of insects when I had a camera in my hand.  Here are my two favorite insect photos of the year.

This picture of a female Twelve-spotted Skimmer was taken on September 8th at the Saginaw Chippewa Academy Native Pollinator Garden.

This preying mantis was photographed on September 2nd in the field behind the District office while I was searching for Monarch caterpillars.

In 2013, I shared my favorite photograph from each month. This year I noticed that I had a couple of months, that due to time constraints and weather conditions, for which I really didn't have any photographs that I liked.  For other months I had lots of photos that I liked.  I had a hard time choosing which pictures to include here, but some photos made my "favorites" list as soon as I took them.  This photograph from the CWC's Quigley Creek Natural Area was taken on July 31st.  I thought I had posted pictures from Quigley Creek, but it looks the only one that made it online was one of a Lesser Purple-fringed Orchid.

The final photograph was taken at Mill Pond Park in Mt. Pleasant on November 20th.  I like how the sunlight filters through the clouds in this photo.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Ghosts of Caribou Past

Christmas is just on week away.  The reindeer are ready, are you?

These reindeer escaped from a trailer and were running around a gas station parking lot (photographed December 2009)

Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) can be found across the Northern Hemisphere in Scandinavia, Siberia, and North America - in North America the species is known as Caribou.

While the species is not currently found in Michigan, it was probably very common during the last Ice Age.  During this period, Caribou were an import food source for the paleo-indians that populated the Great Lakes region.  Because so much of world's water was frozen in glaciers, migratory herds of caribou were able to cross a land bridge called the Alpena-Amberly Ridge across what is today Lake Huron.  The people of the time probably followed migratory caribou herds as the land bridge.  Since 2008, archaeologists have been using sonar to scan this ridge and have found numerous stacked stone structures that were probably used to ambush migrating herds.

Caribou are still found in the Canadian forests north of Lake Superior.  They were found on Isle Royale as late as the 1920s.  I remember reading somewhere that Caribou occasionally ventured south of the Straits of Mackinaw as late as the 1870s(?).  Today, the only Caribou that can be found in Michigan are in zoos or captive herds.  The reindeer in the photo above are from the Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm in Clare, MI.  They just happened to escape from a parked trailer during transport on a snowy night in December 2008.  I had taken one of our dogs outside and ran back in to tell Shara that she needed to come outside immediately. It is not everyday that you see caribou/reindeer running around next to your house in Mid-Michigan.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Insect Photos

Yesterday I posted a worksheet that I use during a presentation on Michigan's Insects.  Today I am going to share the Powerpoint slides that I use during the same presentation.  I use these photos to show Third Grade students the diversity of insect species that can be found in the local habitats and to illustrate the various adaptations that insects have developed including warning coloration, mimicry, false eyespots, etc.. 

As before, if you can use these images for an academic purpose please feel free to borrow them.  Many of these photos appear elsewhere on this blog.

 There are 57 more slides below the break...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Free Insect Worksheets

I do a lot of different programs with students.  I always try to have something that they take home after the program.  This often takes the form of a worksheet that they complete as part of a hands-on activity.  I try to not have this be a worksheet for the sake of doing a worksheet, but rather as part of a learning experience that they can take home and share with their parents.  Because my programs are specific to the Mid-Michigan area, I find that pre-made worksheets rarely work for what I want to talk about.  So I end up creating my own.  This worksheet is one that I created this morning to go along with a presentation on insects to Third Grade students.   If these are something that you can use, please feel free to take them.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Gifts and Giving

Last December I wrote a post titled "Ten Things Kids Should Ask for This Christmas (or Their Parents Should Get for Them Anyway)".  The list included items to help kids get outside(rubber boots and a waterproof jacket/raincoat); things useful to help kids find things (aquatic dip net, insect net, and magnifying glass); and tools for identifying and recording their finds (guide books, a notebook/sketchbook, colored pencils, a pencil sharpener, and a cheap digital camera).  I still think this list is appropriate for kids of ages (including adults).

This year, instead of suggesting gifts for kids.  I would like to suggest giving money to groups that support the environment.  I used to gift money to national groups, but now I prefer to give my support to groups that support conservations and education efforts locally.

Chippewa Valley Audubon Club
My wife and I are members of our local Audubon chapter - I am currently the vice president.  Every year we pay our annual membership dues, but we also typically give a small donation to the club.  I know that our money goes to support educational nature programs in our local area.

Chippewa Watershed Conservancy
We also give an annual donation to the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy.  The CWC  currently protects over four thousand acres in the local community through conservation easements and a series of preserves.  This year for our donation, we did something a little bit different.  
I own a lot of plaid shirts - more than twenty in all.  I wore a different one every week day during the month of November.  My wife posted a photo of my shirt each day on her Facebook account - at the end of the first three weeks we challenged all of her friends and family to wear a plaid shirt on the same day.  We said we would donate $5 to the CWC for each person who joined me in wearing plaid that day.  Fifteen people took up the challenge - meaning that we would donate $75 dollars in response.  We made a further (previously planned) donation at the same time.  It was fun  including other people in our gift giving and I plann on doing something similar in 2015.

Wings of Wonder
The third organization that I plan to make a gift to before the end of the year is Wings of Wonder.  Wings of Wonder is a non-profit raptor sanctuary located in Empire, MI - that's in the northwest corner of the Lower Peninsula.   In addition to providing a sanctuary for injured raptors, Wings of Wonder provides rehabilitation services for injured raptors that can be released to the wild, and provides numerous raptor education programs throughout the northern Lower Peninsula with their ambassador birds.  
Rebecca Lessard is the founder and director of Wings of Wonder.  In May, Rebecca brought several of the WoW ambassador birds to Mt. Pleasant for our International Migratory Bird Day Celebration at the Ziibiwing Center.  The presentation was absolutely wonderful.  In October, Rebecca lost her husband Don.  After Don's passing, the WoW board of directors cleared Rebecca's schedule for the remainder of the year.  Because Wings of Wonder gets approximately 30% of its revenues from presentation fees, this meant a significant part of WoW's income suddenly disappeared.  If you have any extra funds and can make a donation, I am sure it will be greatly appreciated.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Fuzzy Squirrels for Your Enjoyment

My presentation schedule since the start of the school year has left me less time to write substantial posts than I would like.  I plan to get back to a more regular schedule after the 1st of the year, but for now... Hey look a squirrel!

Oh look!  A bunch of squirrels!

Large numbers of squirrels actually make me a little nervous.  It's like they're plotting something...

Probably planning to dig up all of the tulip bulbs in my yard.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Owls, owls, everywhere!

Keeping with the recent theme of owls... I have seen two in the past twenty-four hours.  A Barred Owl crossed the road in front of me at dusk last night and then today I saw this beauty along the road in northwest Isabella County.

Snowy Owl near Weidman, MI (09 DEC 2014)

This Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) has been hanging around the same general location since Thanksgiving Day.  I found it along Weidman Road., between Littlefield Road and Gilmore Road.  At one point a flock of Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) swooped around over the owl's head - two arctic tundra species meeting in Mid-Michigan.  It makes you wonder if these individuals migrated from the same location only meet up again here.

Snowy Owl and Snow Buntings near Weidman, MI (09 DEC 2014)

Monday, December 8, 2014

In the Company of Owls

Saturday night was a great night to walk through the woods at the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's Sylvan Solace Preserve.  CWC Director Stan Lilley and I led this walk for a total of twenty-one interested people.  Most of those attending had never taken a moonlit walk through the woods before and a few people had never visited Sylvan Solace.  We gave everyone a glowstick so people would not get lost.  The weather cooperated with a crisp clear night with a full moon and lots of stars (until the moonlight blotted most of them out).  We took a little over an hour to walk one for the preserve's trails.

The moon through the trees

At several points along the trail we stopped to call for owls - Eastern Screech, Barred, and Great Horned.  We were successful at calling in a pair of Barred Owls along the Chippewa River.  The first owl just swooped around overhead, but the second landed in a tree nearly overhead.  When we shined a light on it there were several cries of amazement.  Unfortunately I was unable to get a good photograph of it while shining a flashlight at the same time.
Stan Lilley calls for owls with an app on his phone.

The blurry thing in the very center of this photo is one of the Barred Owls

After the walk, a small group stayed around to drink hot chocolate and talk.  There is already talk of schedule a spring moonlit walk to listen for frogs and we have a moth outing scheduled for July.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


I take many close-up photos of things that I find in nature without being entirely sure of what I am going to use the pictures for.  One thing the images have in common is that they often show something that has an interesting texture or combination of textures.

Along the banks of Mission Creek
Paper Birch

Feathers and beach rocks
Ripple Marks

Beach rocks

Bark and lichen

Melting snow

Frosty spruce needles

Snow-covered rocks

Entangling vines and ash bark

Ice crystals

Shells along Lake Michigan