Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Event Reminder - Winter Animal Tracking Hike (Saturday 03 FEB 2018)

Join me this Saturday February 3rd at 10:00AM at the Halls Lake Natural Area as I lead a Winter Animal Tracking Hike for the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy (CWC).  During this hike we will search for tracks, scat, and other animal signs.  For more information and to preregister visit this event page.  This hike is free, but donations to the CWC are always welcome.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Heat doesn't come from the furnace...

    There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm.  One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other is that heat comes from the furnace.
    To avoid the first danger, one should plant a garden, preferably where there is no grocer to    confuse the issue.
     To avoid the second, he should lay a split of good oak on the andirons, preferably where there is no furnace, and let it warm his shins while a February blizzard tosses the trees outside.  If one has cut, split, hauled, and piled his own good oak, and let his mind work the while, he will remember much about where the heat comes from, and with a wealth of detail denied to those who spend the week end in town astride a radiator.

              - Aldo Leopold
                   "The Good Oak"
                                 A Sand County Almanac

Monday, January 29, 2018

Waxing gibbous moon (27 January 2018)

On Saturday (27 JAN) shortly after sunset I went outside and noticed a gorgeous waxing gibbous moon.  To say that a moon is waxing means that the illuminated portion of the moon is growing - the moon is getting closer to being full.  The opposite of waxing is waning.  A waning moon is a moon that is past full and its illuminated percentage is decreasing.  Gibbous means that a moon is more than 50% full - the moon last night was at 83%.

I took about 30 images of the moon in all.  Here is one of the original images.

For the photo geeks out there - this image was shot on a Canon 60D with a Canon 100-400 lens (at 400mm), shot at f/11, using an ISO of 100 and exposed for 1/100 second.

I decided to crop this image in a couple of different ways.  First as a horizontal image...

Then as a vertical image...

I'm not sure which of these crops I like better.  In both I intentionally placed the moon slightly off-center.  I like the expanse of black extending further from the lit face of the moon.  This is the same technique used in portraits to give the subject somewhere to look or in photos of animals to give them space within the frame of the photo to look or move.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Another Snowy Owl

Yesterday morning I had two presentations to give at Beal City Elementary.  On my drive to the school I kept a watch out for Snowy Owls - one has been reported hanging out between Rosebush and Beal City near the intersection of Weidman Road and Nottawa Road for several weeks.  Sure enough, as I approached the intersection from the east there was an owl perched on a utility pole.

I didn't have time to stop right then, but hoped the owl would still be there when I drove back through the area.

Two and a half hours later, after completing my classroom programs, I drove back down the same road with hopes that the owl I sighted earlier would still be near the road.

Fortunately for me, the owl was perched on the same roadside pole.  I pulled my truck as far off the road as possible and hopped out.  The owl was definitely aware of my presence and it looked directly at me several times, but it was more interested in the several cars and trucks that passed by in the few minutes that I stayed there.  Whenever a car went by the owl would turn its head to follow it.

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)

This is the fourth individual Snowy Owl that I have seen this winter and the third that I have had the opportunity to photograph.  This one was by far the most heavily marked owl that I have seen this winter.  Most likely this is an immature female - female birds are more heavily marked than males. Hopefully I will see several more yet this winter before they return to the Arctic. 

Snowy Owl - cropped to a vertical image

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Space Shuttle Challenger - 32 Years Later

This weekend marks the 32nd anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

On January 28th, 1986 at 11:39:13 EST, the Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after liftoff when an O-ring in one of the solid rocket boosters failed.  All seven crew members died in the accident.

Officially titled STS-51L, this mission of the Challenger was scheduled to be a special one.  STS-51L was carrying a teacher into space.  In 1984, NASA began the Teacher in Space Project (TISP) to inspire students and ignite interest in math, science, and space exploration.  More than 11,000 teachers applied for the program.  Sharon "Christa" McAuliffe was selected to be the first Teacher in Space (with Barbara Morgan as her backup).  McAuliffe (and Morgan) trained for 5 months for the mission.  Once the Challenger reached space, McAuliffe was scheduled to teach two lessons to students back on Earth.  On her return back to Earth, McAuliffe was supposed to go back to teaching in the classroom.

The destruction of the Challenger and the death of seven crew members was a big blow to NASA.  Because of the presence of a non-professional (McAuliffe) on the flight, Challenger had received more press attention than most previous Shuttle flights.  NASA cancelled flights of the remaining Space Shuttles for nearly three years to examine safety issues and determine the cause of the accident.  The Teacher in Space Project was officially replaced with the Educator Astronaut Project in the 1990s.  

Barbara Morgan would eventually make it to space.  She retired from teaching in 1998 and went to work at NASA as a full-time employee.  She flew as a mission specialist on STS-118 in August 2007.  Barbara Morgan retired from NASA in 2010.

Earlier this month NASA announced that astronauts orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station would complete and film several of the lessons that were originally planned to be conducted by McAuliffe aboard the Challenger.

For more information on STS-51L please visit the official NASA website.  Information on Christa McAuliffe and Barbara Morgan can be found on their official NASA bios.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

2018 Isabella Conservation District Spring Tree Order

The 2018 Isabella Conservation District Spring Tree Order form is now available.  Orders can be dropped off or mailed to the following address.

Isabella Conservation District
5979 E. Broadway Road
Mt. Pleasant, MI 48858

Orders may also be emailed to

A fill-able PDF order form can be found by following this link.

Deadline for ordering is April 9th 2018.  Orders must be paid in full at the time of the order - we will accept cash, check, or major credit card (Visa/MC/Discover/AMEX)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Trash and art

A trip to Mission Creek Woodland Park on 03 January 2018 resulted in several photos that I shared in the posts Red Oak in Winter and Northern White Cedar - An important winter food source for White-tailed Deer.

One of the features of this park is a sledding hill.  This hill is partially natural and partially man-made.  The sledding hill is actually the highest point within the city limits of Mt. Pleasant.  After snowstorms this park is heavily used by families, teens, and college students.  The hill was empty the day I visited, but as I walked past I saw something that I couldn't resist photographing.

Siting next to a full trash can was a loose pile of broken plastic sleds covered in a dusting of light snow.  It was obvious that someone had tried to clean up the sledding hill, but lacked room in the trash can for these sled fragments.  I love the abstract look of these colorful pieces against the pure white background of the snow.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Snowy Owls in Mid-Michigan 2018

Do you want to see a resident of the Arctic without leaving Mid-Michigan?

Right now we are undergoing an event called a Snowy Owl irruption.  During an irruption, Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiacus) descend from the Arctic in large numbers.  It is normal for some snowy owls to migrate south to southern Canada and the northern United States every winter, but during an irruption year the migration is much larger than normal. Snowy Owls have been reported this winter as far south as Oklahoma and Virginia.

Many people mistakenly believe that an irruption indicates that the animals are suffering food shortages in their native habitat and arrive weak and starving.  Instead, the opposite is probably true.  Irruption years have been linked with abundant summer food supplies allowing more young owls to successfully fledge (develop wing feathers large enough for flight) and strike out on their own.  These young owls form the majority of owls during an irruption.

Snowy Owl near Rosebush, MI (19 January 2018)

While most owls are secretive and prefer to hide during daylight hours, Snowy Owl are quite comfortable hunting during the day - during the Arctic summer these birds experience nearly 24 hours of sunlight each day.  Also these birds are used to open habitats.  While most owls retreat to the security of wooded areas during the day, Snowy owls are more likely to perch on the ground in an open field, atop a building, or atop a roadside utility pole.  This visibility and their exotic nature makes Snowy Owls one of the few birds that will excite non-birders.

Snowy Owl between Alma and Shepherd, MI (19 January 2018) - photo by Shara LeValley

If you want to see a Snowy Owl, you can always just drive around and look for them, but the best way to see them is to find out where other people have been sighting them.  Ask a birder - they will know where the local Snowy Owls are hanging out.  If you lack access to a birder check out the website eBird.  Here is link for the current year's Snowy Owl sighting.  Once on the page you can zoom in to your location and see if any have been sighted nearby.  If want to see other birds, you can search for them on eBird too - just type in the search box.  Most of the Snowy Owls that I have seen were ones that were previously reported on eBird.  The owl in the second photograph above was one that I found on my own simply by observing the fields as I drove home from work.

If you go out looking for Snowy Owls please remember that these owls are best enjoyed from a distance. If the owl keeps looking at you with fully open eyes, stands erect, or takes flight then you are getting too close.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Native Species Profile - Red Milkweed Beetle

During summer the woods and fields of Mid-Michigan are filled with thousands of buzzing, crawling, and flying insects; winter is dull in comparison.  Insects may be the thing I miss most about summer.  

One of the best places to find summer insects is on Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).  Everyone knows that Common Milkweed is a host plant for the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus), but is also host to many other insects.  My favorite of these is the Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus).  

Red Milkweed Beetle - note warning coloration of red with black spots

Red Milkweed Beetles can be found anywhere Common Milkweed grows.  Like the Monarch Butterfly, the Red Milkweed Beetle is able to consume milkweeds without being affected by the toxins that the milkweed produces.  Instead it stores the toxins within its own body and uses them as a chemical defense of its own (as does the Monarch).  Also like the Monarch, the Red Milkweed Beetle advertises these toxin by displaying  warning colors: red or orange-red with black spots.  These warning colors are also known as aposematic coloration.

Mating Red Milkweed Beetles

Red Milkweed Beetles are also known as Four-eyed Milkweed Beetles.  Each of their compound eyes is bissected by its antennae, giving the appearance that the beetle has four eyes.  

These beetles are commonly found in mid- to late-summer as they feed and mate on Common Milkweed.  After mating, eggs are laid on the plant's stem near ground level. The beetles overwinter as larvae in the roots of milkweed plants, pupate in spring, and then emerge as adults.  As adults, these beetles measure 0.3 - 0.6 inches long.

Red Milkweed Beetle (AKA Four-eyed Milkweed Beetle)

Basic Information

Red Milkweed Beetle 
Tetraopes tetrophthalmus

Size: 0.3 - 0.6 inches long (8 - 15 mm)

Color:  red or orange-red with dark spots

Habitat:  Found wherever Common Milkweed grows

Eats:  Milkweeds, especially Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca); Dogbane

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Year of the Bird

2018 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  In celebration of this milestone, this year has been declared "Year of the Bird" by the National Audubon Society, National Geographic Society, Bird Life International, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

In honor of the celebration I thought I would share a few of my favorite bird photographs.

Don't forget to mark your calendar for Saturday May 12th from 1:00PM TO 5:00pm.  Join me on that date as the Isabella Conservation District, Chippewa Valley Audubon Club, and Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe celebrate World Migratory Bird Day at the Ziibiwing Center.




Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Six views of a dead Beech Tree

Following an afternoon presentation at Fancher Elementary yesterday, I drove to Chipp-A-Waters Park to take a few photographs.  Many of the park's trees have fallen victim to the Emerald Ash Borer in recent years.  These trees have begun falling and knocking down many of the park's healthy trees.  Some of the older trees in the park are simply dying of other natural causes (insect infestations, fungus infection, high winds, etc.).  All that remains of one American Beech is ten foot tall stump.  This trees is covered with a great collection of lichen and fungi.

With apologies to Katsushika Hokusai, here are six views of that American Beech trunk.

Monday, January 15, 2018

IMG_0115 for 01/15 (A random collection of photos that all have the same name)

The following photographs have nothing in common, except their file names.  Each of these photos is titled IMG_0115.  I don't do a good job of labeling photos as I add them to my computer.  Each of the pictures goes into a separate file according to the date that the picture was taken, but the individual pictures all have the name that the camera assigned to them.

I actually thought of this idea of posting several of the pictures a few months ago while I was searching for an image on my computer.  I was writing a new blog post and wanted to use a certain photograph, but I couldn't remember which file it was saved in.  Fortunately I had used the file previously in another blog post.  When I use an image on this blog the link to the image contains the name of the file so I was able to look at that link and then do a search on my computer for the original file.  I found the file that I wanted, but I also found several dozen more images with the same name.

With that experience, I decided that I would share several photos that share the same name.  Why did I pick IMG_0115 as the title to share?  Today's date is January 15th, or if you are expressing it as a number in the format MM/DD it is 01/15.  So IMG_0115 it is.

IMG_0115 - Devil's Tower as seen from the base of its boulder field (July 2017)

IMG_0115 - Mt. Rushmore (July 2017)

IMG_0115 - Red Admiral butterfly  (May 2017)

IMG_0115 - Yellow Trout Lily (April 2017)

IMG_0115 - Trail clearance at Audubon Woods Preserve (April 2017)
IMG_0115 - Rural sunrise (January 2017)
The rest of the photos can be found below the break.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Why nature?

Why nature?

Let me explain that better.  Why should people care about nature?

With technology it is possible to instantly connect with people around the globe, but people alive today are more disconnected from nature than at any previous point in human history.  This disconnection is unfortunate, because exposure to nature has been proven to be good for people.

Scientists are just beginning to measure the positive effects of nature on our well-being, but available
research indicates that it has the following effects:

It reduces stress,

reduces heart rate,

increases concentration,

improves learning,

and improves the retention of knowledge.

I currently sit on the board of directors for two organizations that know all about the value and power of nature.

The Chippewa Watershed Conservancy (CWC) protects natural habitat and open space in the counties of the Chippewa River watershed.  The CWC currently protect over 600 acres of land on twenty-two preserves in Mid-Michigan.  These preserves protect woodlands, wetlands, and river frontage throughout the Chippewa River watershed.  With the exception of a couple of preserves that have limited access, these preserves are currently open to the public. 

The Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) has the goal of promoting environmental literacy through education.   To achieve this goal, MAEOE hosts an annual environmental education conference, certifies teachers in environmental education, gives environmental education grants to its members, and offers online education resources.