Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Babes in the woods...

On Monday (29 May), I switched out the memory cards in my trail cameras.  Among the dozens of pictures of squirrels, raccoons, and adult deer, there was this series of pictures...

The first photo doesn't look like much.  Just another White-tailed Deer...

But, then enter stage right... a perfect little fawn.

This doe looks small.  She may only be one year old herself  - many does breed when they are only six months old. 

A word of caution:  If you find a fawn, leave it alone!  It has not been abandoned, mom knows where it is and will return to it later.  

Thank You Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe!

Last week, the Isabella Conservation District received approximately 128 thousand dollars from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe

As part of an agreement with the State of Michigan, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe distributes 2% of its earnings from electronic gaming at its two casinos to local governments and schools.  To get any of this money, government agencies and schools have to submit a grant proposal that details what they propose to do, how it will benefit the local and tribal community, and includes a detailed budget for the project.

The money that the Isabella Conservation District received will allow us to operate our Environmental Education Program for another two years.  This means that we will be able to provide classroom programs on environmental and conservation education in local schools through the 2017 - 18 and  2018 - 19 school years.  Since 2009, our programs have been presented to over fifty thousand students in the local schools.   This year we provided approximately 400 classroom programs, and expect to do the same for the each of the next two school years.

Thank you to the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Council and all employees of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe who support the Isabella Conservation District Environmental Education Program!

Chi Miigwetch!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day

In Remembrance

In the past 241 years, over one  million men and women have died in the service of the United States of America.  This Memorial Day please remember the reason for the holiday is to honor and remember those who have given their life in the service of this country.  

Below are the words of the original Memorial Day proclamation issued by General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic on May 5th, 1868 to commemorate and remember the fallen from the American Civil War.  The Grand Army of the Republic was the largest veterans' organization representing soldiers who served the Union cause.



General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868

  1. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
    We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

    If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

    Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from hishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

  2. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith. 
  3. Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.

    By order of


    Adjutant General

    WM. T. COLLINS, A.A.G.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Bluebird and Swallow eggs

Yesterday (24 May), we stopped after work to check on the nesting boxes at the Ziibiwing Center.  Out of seven boxes, we found five active nests - one Eastern Bluebird (Sialis sialis) nest and four Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) nests.  The remaining two boxes showed evidence of House Sparrows and were cleaned out.

Here are photos of four of the active nests; the fifth nest had a swallow in the box and we didn't open it.

First up is the Bluebird nest.  This box was also used by a pair of Bluebirds in 2016 - last year they successfully raised five young.  The colder weather this spring has delayed nesting for many birds.  At this point last year, the Bluebird chicks were a week old.  As of yesterday they were still eggs.

Eastern Bluebird eggs (photo by Shara LeValley)

Next is a picture of a Tree Swallow nest.  You'll notice the difference in nests right away.  Bluebirds construct their nests of fine grasses.  So do Tree Swallows, but then they line their nests with feathers.
This nest got a late start - the bird have only laid one egg so far.

Tree Swallow nest and egg (photo by Shara LeValley)

The final two active nest both contained six Tree Swallow eggs.

Tree Swallow eggs (photo by Shara LeValley)

Another Tree Swallow nest (photo by Shara LeValley)

We'll check on the boxes again next week - hopefully there will be baby birds to show.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Where have all the blog posts gone?

The past two weeks have been some of my busiest weeks of the year.  I had two major events that I was responsible for organizing, the International Migratory Bird Day Celebration at the Ziibiwing Center on Saturday May 13th and our annual Environmental Education Day on Friday May 19th.  Planning for each of these event begins about a year in advance, but the two weeks immediately prior to both events are hectic with last minute details such as confirming presenters and ordering and organizing supplies, not to mention the actual day of the event.  As a result I have had very little time to think about writing new blog posts.  Things are slowly starting to return to normal.

Meanwhile, nature continues with its usual springtime activities.  Flowers continue to bloom.  Trees are mostly leafed out.  A robin built its usual nest on our house, laid eggs, the eggs hatched, and the babies fledged.  And lets not forget that the bluebirds and tree swallows are nesting in natural cavities and man-made nesting boxes.

During the Bird Celebration at the Ziibiwing Center, Shara was able to sneak off for about a half hour to watch the birds at the nesting boxes.  Here are a few of her photographs...

Hey, you kids, get off my lawn!  (Photo by Shara LeValley)

What is that?  (Photo by Shara LeValley)

I've got my eye on you!  (Photo by Shara LeValley)

Oh, you're still here!  Run along, you!  (Photo by Shara LeValley)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Trail camera turkeys (28 April - 05 May 2017)

Last week I switched out the memory cards of my trail cameras.  It was no surprise that the most common species photographed was the White-tailed Deer.  The cameras also captured images of Fox Squirrel, Grey Squirrel, Red Fox, Virginia Opossum, and Northern Raccoon.  One series of three nighttime images seems to show a large American Mink.

Other than the White-tailed Deer, the species that showed on the cameras most frequently during this time period was the Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo).  The cameras captured images of soliary birds and bird traveling in pairs or flocks.  Many of the birds were females (hens), with a few young males (jakes), and mature males (toms) thrown in for good measure.

My favorite set of images shows a tom in full strut (its mating display).  When strutting, tomes fan up their tail feathers extend their wings so the tips hit the ground, puff up it feathers to look bigger, and more.  The turkey in the pictures below was too far away from the camera to trigger it on its own so it only showed up when something else tripped the motion sensor.  The interesting thing to me is the time stamp on the bottom right of the photos.  In the first image it reads 17:32 (or 5:32PM).  The last image reads 19:12 (7:12PM).  The tom appears to have remained strutting for more than 90 minutes.  This may not have been continuous; there is a large time gap between some of the photos (not all of which are shown below).  Even if it was not continuous, the tom barely moved from the place where it first appeared during this entire time.


The tom finally stopped strutting after a deer walked through the flock.  Disrupted by this interruption the flock finally wandered away from the area.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Aquatic Ecology with Shepherd Elementary students

Last week I spent two days at the Little Salt River with students from Shepherd Elementary students. 

Why were we at the river? 

The students were collecting and identifying aquatic macroinvertebrates. 

Shepherd 5th graders use a dip net to sample aquatic macroinvertebrates from the Little Salt River

What exactly is an aquatic macroinvertebrate? 

Let's break that into parts.  Aquatic means that a plant or animal lives in or around water.  It comes from the Latin word aqua which means "water".  The word invertebrate comes from the Latin root word vertebra which means "joint" - normally refering to the joints of the spine.  Invertebrate means that an animal lacks a spine.  The prefix macro- means large or large scale.  It comes from the Greek word makros meaning "large or long".  Therefore, a macroinvertebrate is a large animal that lacks a spine - large in the sense that it is big enough to see without magnification.  Add it all together and an aquatic macroinvertebrate is an animal that lives in water, lacks a spine, and is large enough to see with the naked eye.

This crayfish is an aquatic macroinvertebrate.

So is this gilled snail.

Why were students trying to collect aquatic macroinvertebrates?

Many aquatic macroinvertebrate species have varying tolerances for water pollution.  The absence of certain species may indicate low water quality.  The presence of a wide range of species usually indicates higher water quality.

Students complete a biological monitoring sheet to determine water quality

Overall the students found a wide variety of aquatic macroinvertebrates including mayfly larvae, caddisfly larvae, gilled and pouch snails, damselfly larvae, dragonfly larvae, scuds or amphipods, crayfish, freshwater clams and mussels, leaches, and midge larvae.  Vertebrate lifeforms collected included fish and tadpoles.  The wide variety (and number) of animals collected indicated that at this site, the Little Salt River has excellent water quality.

Here are a few more photos of the students sampling...

Thursday, May 11, 2017

In a knot...

Yesterday, as I was collecting some pond water at Chipp-A-Waters Park, I noticed four different Northern Water Snakes (Nerodia sipedon) around the margins of the ponds.  I have found snakes around this pond before; the pond is full of things they like to eat such as frogs, tadpoles, fish, leaches, etc..  So it was no surprise to find one near this pond.  It was unusual to find more than one at a time.

It's confusing, but you can count four snakes in this picture - the female is the biggest and the other three are males

Why were all of these snakes congregated in one place?

The answer to that question soon became obvious.

One of the snakes that I saw was significantly larger than the other three snakes.  Not only that, but the three smaller snakes were vigorously pursuing the largest snake.  Eventually all four snakes clustered together in a loose ball on some cattail stalks a dozen feet from the edge of the pond.

The period April to June is mating season for Northern Water Snakes.  The largest snake was a female.  The smaller snakes were males, competing for the opportunity to mate.  Eventually one (or more) of the males successfully mated with the female.

Female (center) and largest male (right) Northern Water Snake - he was the apparent winner of the mating competition.

I don't expect to find a bunch of snake eggs any time soon.  Northern Water Snakes give birth to live babies (7 to 9 inches long) during late summer.  Once the babies are born they are completely on their own.

One thing that I noticed about these snakes was the color variation.  All Northern Water Snakes have a pattern of dark striped with a (usually) lighter background of brown or grey.  As they age, their colors typically darken so there is little difference between the stripes and the background color.  On of the three male snakes was noticeably lighter than his co-suitors.  His stripes were an almost olive green against a tan background.  You can this in the two pictures below.

A lighter color morph Northern Water Snake

In this photo you can really see the color variation in the species - fours snakes, four different colors

It's nice to have the opportunity to see and interact with this species.  I didn't see my first Northern Water Snake in the wild in Mt. Pleasant until 2013, despite having worked in Mt. Pleasant Parks for nearly a decade.  Now I see them on a somewhat regular basis, especially at Chipp-A-Waters Park.

Just for fun...  A group of snakes can be known as a"knot".  I can see why!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Frost damage on Skunk Cabbage plants

 This picture shows how Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) plants should look right now.

The next picture shows how they actually looked yesterday morning.

Several nights of heavy frost have badly damaged the leaves of the plants.  Hopefully they can recover.

It amazing to me that the plant's flowers can melt snow due to the metabolic heat that they generate,

but the leaves can be damaged by a few hours of freezing temperatures.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Harassing a hawk

Red-tail Hawk sits peacefully in tree...

Hawk attracts the attention of small birds (such as this Common Grackle)... 

Small birds begin to raise a ruckus and harass the hawk, thus attracting the attention of more small birds (and crows)...

Hawk decides it has had enough and flies away...

Crows (and smaller birds) dive bomb the hawk until it leaves the neighborhood...

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Spruce Pollen

When I arrived at work this morning I noticed an American Robin (Turdus migratorius) fly into one of the spruce trees that line our parking lot.  As the robin disappeared into the tree a cloud of dust appeared.

Was the robin a magician using smoke to distract its audience?


The spruce tree was heavily laden with pollen and the impact of the robin caused a pollen release.

A close examination revealed that the lower branched of the spruce trees are covered with male cones.  Male cones produce pollen and then fall off the tree once their job is done.

These male cones release pollen in huge quantities any time they are disturbed.  That disturbance could be a bird, the wind, or someone (me) hitting the branches with a stick to trigger the release of pollen.

First up is a native White Spruce (Picea glauca).

And here is a non-native, but commonly planted, Norway Spruce (Picea abies)

For good measure, I took a number of still photographs of the pollen as it was released.  The first picture shows the exact instant the stick hits the branch (of a White Spruce) and the whole sequence took less than 1 second to photograph.



The goal of all of this pollen is to float through the air and find a female cone.  Usually spruce trees have their male cones on lower branches and their female cones near the top of the tree.  This is to avoid self-pollination.  Although spruce trees can self-pollinate.  It is preferable that they exchange genetic information with other trees.

With this much pollen flying around, it's no wonder that my allergies are bothering me.