Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Nesting box mice

All of the local schools are on Spring Break right now.  What does that mean for me?  It means that I have a few days of schedule-free time available.  I am using that time to do spring maintenance on pollinator gardens and bluebird nesting boxes. 

One of the hazards of doing maintenance on nesting boxes...

Oh, hello!  Sorry, but this space is occupied!

Mice like to take up residence in the boxes during the winter months.  This is especially true in the boxes that we have at Winn Elementary.  The boxes are in a fencerow and are easy for mice to access.  I think the mouse total this year was only ten (spread between a dozen nest boxes); last years total was fifteen mice.   I expect the mice here, but sometimes a teacher from Winn Elementary cleans out the boxes... 

The mice that take up residence are one of two species, the Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) or the the White-footed Mouse (P. leucopus).  The two species are very similar, but I think this one might be a White-footed based on its orange-brown fur - Deer Mice are generally grey-brown.

The sad evictee must now find a new residence...

Friday, March 23, 2018

Schoolyard Waxwing

On Wednesday (21 March), after completing a program at Pullen Elementary School, I noticed a flock of Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) flitting through the trees along the parking lot.  There are several ornamental crab apples along the north side of the school building; earlier in the day I had noticed several Waxwings feeding on fruit in those trees.  Now those birds were just feet from my truck.  Most of the birds were flitting around too much for me to have any hope of getting a picture.  However, there was one bird sitting still.  I was able to switch lenses on my camera and move into position to get several photos before the bird flew away.  This vertical image was my favorite of the bunch.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

World Water Day (22 March 2018)

Today is World Water Day!  The goal of World Water Day is to focus attention on the importance water.

Here in Michigan we should celebrate water every single day.  We are surrounded by one of the greatest resources in the world - the Great Lakes.  The Great Lakes contain 21% of the world's available fresh surface water!  The name Michigan even comes from the Ojibwe word mishigamaa which mean "big water" or "big lake".

Because of their size, we often take the Great Lakes for granted.  However they face many threats such as invasive species, chemical spills, industrial runoff and more.  The biggest threat to the Great Lakes may be on the horizon as drought and depletion of aquifers in other parts of North America cause for increased cries to divert water from the Great Lakes Basin to other regions.  This could completely destroy the Great Lakes ecosystem.

One of my favorite animated films is about water diversion.  I wish every upper elementary, middle school, high school, and college science class in the Great Lakes Basin would watch this.  Please enjoy The Incident at Tower 37 by Chris Perry and Bitfilms.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Vernal Equinox 2018

An early spring sunrise (2017)

Today at 12:15 PM EST, Winter officially ends and Spring begins in the Northern Hemisphere.  The day that this change occurs is known as the Vernal (Spring) Equinox.  The word equinox comes from the Latin words aequus (equal) and nox (night).  On the Equinox the sun strikes directly on the Equator resulting in approximately equal periods of day and night across the globe.

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.

At any given time, fifty percent of the earth is in sunlight (Day) and the other fifty percent is in darkness (Night).  However, because the Earth is tilted on its axis sunlight does not always strike the Earth at the same angle.  This means during different seasons different parts of the Earth will receive varying amounts of sunlight and darkness.
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, the sun lights a larger portion of the Northern Hemisphere than it does the Southern Hemisphere.  When this happens, we experience Summer in Mid-Michigan and the Southern Hemisphere experiences Winter.  When the North Pole is at its furthest from the sun, we experience Winter and the Southern Hemisphere experiences Summer.  During our Northern Winter, the sun is striking a a larger portion of the Southern Hemisphere than it is the Northern Hemisphere.  On the Equinox, the poles are essentially perpendicular to the rays of the sun so locations in the northern and southern hemispheres should receive nearly equal hours of sunlight and darkness.

Spring flowers to get you in the mood for spring - Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Despite what most people think, the hours of daylight and night experiences on the Equinox are not perfectly equal.  Mt. Pleasant is located at 43 degrees 36 minutes north of the equator.  On the equinox, it experiences 12 hours 9 minutes worth of daylight.  A location located at 43 degrees 36 minutes south of the equator will receive approximately the same length of daylight. There is another lesser known event that occurred over the weekend - the Vernal EquiluxEquilux means "equal light".  On Saturday March 17th, Mid-Michigan (and many other places in the Northern Hemisphere) received approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness.

The hours of daylight that Mt. Pleasant receives each day will grow until it reaches 15 hours 24 minutes around the Summer Solstice.  Then our hours of sunlight will diminish until on the Winter Solstice we experience only 8 hours 57 minutes of daylight, before increasing again. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

You have your St. Patrick's Day traditions. I have mine.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Everyone has their favorite St. Patrick's Day tradition - eating corned beef and cabbage, wearing green, listening to the Irish Rovers (or the Dubliners or the Pogues or Flogging Molly or any other Irish band), attending a parade, etc.

I like to share pictures of snakes...

Why snakes?

There are all sorts of legends surrounding St. Patrick.

My favorite legend about St. Patrick says that Ireland has no snakes because St. Patrick chased them from the island.  The story is that St. Patrick was involved in the middle of a forty day fast when he was attacked by snakes.  This angered Patrick so greatly that he chased the snakes into the sea and banished them from the island forever.  To this day, Ireland has no native population of snakes.

Run away!  Run away!
While this is a great story, the truth is that there were never any snakes on Ireland for St. Patrick to chase away.  Ireland has been covered with glaciers during more than one ice age.  During the last glacial maximum, which occurred about 11 thousand years ago, three-quarters of Ireland was buried under a thick layer of ice.  The remainder of the island was too cold and inhospitable to support snakes and most other species of wildlife.

When the glaciers retreated, Ireland was temporarily connected to Great Britain and the rest of Europe by a land bridge.  This connection allowed some species to repopulate Ireland, but snakes did not make it across before the connection was severed by rising sea levels.  This isolation is the true reason for Ireland's lack of snakes, not an angry fifth century saint.

You're welcome, Ireland! (photo by Shara LeValley)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Happy Pi Day 2018!

Happy "Pi Day"!  Not pie the pastry, but pi the number.  

The number pi is symbolized by the Greek letter π . We use pi to figure the circumference and area of circles and the volume of spheres and cylinders. The circumference of any circle is its diameter times pi.  The area of any circle is its radius squared time pi.  So what does that have to do with today?

Today is the 14th of March.  Otherwise expressed as 3/14 or 3.14.   Just like the number pi!  
But, pi doesn't end at 3.14.  The number is thought to be infinite and non-repeating - no one has found the last digit of pi (currently at over one trillion digits and counting) and there is no sequence of numbers that repeats itself within pi!  Written to 100 decimal points pi is...

3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582097494459230 78164 

Just for fun I bought two pies to celebrate Pi Day.

It's about the math, not the deliciousness!

Now for a little Pie (pi) related math.  The diameter (the distance across a circle from one side to the opposite side, passing through the center of the circle) of each of these pies is 8.5 inches.  To calculate the circumference (the distance around the perimeter of a circle) we just need to multiply 8.5 inches by pi (3.14).

                  Circumference  = π x diameter

                  Circumference = 3.14 x 8.5 inches

                  Circumference =  26.69 inches

To calculate the area of the pie we need to know the radius.  Radius is the distance from the center of a circle to the edge of the circle.  This number is one half of the diameter - so if the diameter of these pies is 8.5 inches, the radius would be 8.5 inches divided by 2, which equals 4.25 inches.  The formula for calculating the area of a circle is Area = pi times the radius squared (the radius times the radius). Expressed as a mathematical formula this is A= πr2.

                 Area = πr2
                 Area = π x (radius x radius)

                 Area = 3.14 x (4.25 inches x 4.25 inches)

                 Area = 3.14 x (18.0625 inches2)

                 Area = 56.71625 inches2

That's 56.71625 square inches of delicious per pie!

Check out all that delicious math!

I hate to admit it , but I can never remember pi past five decimal points.  I only remember that much because of a chant that I learned in college.  From 1993 to 1997 I attended the Illinois Institute of Technology.  One of the school chants was:

Tangent, secant, cosine, sine
i, pi, cube root 3
Rock 'em, sock 'em IIT!

Go Scarlet Hawks! 

To learn more about Pi Day and how to celebrate the event please visit Pi Day's official website.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

2018 Isabella County Household Hazardous Waste/Clean Sweep and Tire Recycling Collections

The Isabella Conservation District is hosting two dates for Household Hazardous Waste/Clean Sweep Collection and two dates for Tire Recycling in 2018.  These event are open to all residents of Isabella County.

Household Hazardous Waste/Clean Sweep Collection dates are Saturday May 19th and Saturday September 29th.

Dates for Tire Recycling are Saturday June 16th and Saturday September 8th. 

All collections run from 8:00AM to 12:00PM (Noon) and take place at the Isabella County Fairgrounds (500 N. Mission Rd, Mt. Pleasant).  Tire collection may end early if the collection trailers are full before 12:00PM.

Items that are accepted during collection are listed below.  For further questions please call the Isabella Conservation District at 989-772-5927 ext. 3 or visit our offices at 5979 E. Broadway, Mt. Pleasant during normal business hours.

Please note that we cannot accept items early - we do not have a facility to store these items until collection.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Butterflies in Bloom 2018

Outside it might look like this...

But the inside of the Dow Gardens Conservatory is a tropical paradise.

Yesterday (11 March 2018) we made our annual trip to Dow Gardens to see the Butterflies in Bloom exhibit.  This annual event features thousands of (mostly tropical) butterflies from around the world.  These butterflies fly freely in the Conservatory.  Visitors to the exhibit are encouraged to interact with the butterflies - in other words, touching the butterflies is okay at this exhibit.  This means that some of the butterflies are a bit haggard due to mishandling and many of them are extremely skittish.

Butterflies in Bloom is open until Sunday April 15th.  The exhibit is open daily from 10:00AM to 4:00PM.  Extended viewing hours will be available on Wednesdays starting this week - on Wednesdays the exhibit will remain open until 7:30PM.

Admission to the exhibit is included with admission to Dow Gardens.  Daily admission prices are $5.00 for adults, $1.00 for children aged 6 - 17, and children aged 5 and under free.  I highly recommend getting the annual membership; at only $10.00 this allows unlimited visits throughout the year.  The best thing about the annual pass is that you can loan it to a friend or family member and they can enter the gardens under your name!

I don't try to touch the butterflies, but sometimes they land on me. (Photo by Shara LeValley)

If you go, be prepared for crowds (especially on weekends).  Sometimes the crowds can be a bit overwhelming and can definitely make it difficult to take pictures.  Many people will try to grab butterflies that are sitting still, even as someone else tries to photograph them.  The butterflies are most active on sunny day, but sit best for photographs on overcast days.

Here are some more of my photos from the exhibit.


For a better photographic experience, I would recommend visiting the Grand Traverse Butterfly House and Bug Zoo which opens for the season on May 1st.  Touching butterflies is not allowed at the GT Butterfly House so the butterflies are often in better condition and less skittish.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Trees for tomorrow

There is a quote that says "The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago.  The second best time is now."  This quote is often attributed as a Chinese proverb - probably not true, but I like the sentiment.

The Isabella Conservation District is currently accepting orders for its 2018 spring tree and shrub sale.  When people come into the office the first question they often as is "What grows fast?"  Most people have a very short-sighted approach to planting trees - a five-year mindset.  They want something to screen out their neighbors or they want to create instant "cover" for White-tailed Deer.  They want some magical tree that will reach 10 feet in one year;  will produce fruit in two years;  never loses its lower branches no how densely planted;  can be planted in standing water or fine sand;  tolerates both deep shade and direct sunlight;  can be left out of the ground for two weeks before being planted;  and will never need any care beyond plopping them in the ground.  Ideally these trees would cost pennies each.

Here's the secret - there is no magic tree that fits all of those criteria. 

Most of the people that want all of those magic qualities will buy a large quantity of one species (often a non-native such as Norway Spruce or Blue Spruce) and then come in the following year (or two or three years later to complain that half of them died.  Picking the right tree for the right location is too much work.

We try to talk them into selecting a wider variety of trees, a few pines or spruces for "cover", but also some maples and oaks for future food for wildlife.  The response is often "I'll be dead before an oak tree will make any acorns!"  I want yell at them that that is the entire point of planting trees.  It shouldn't be about instant gratification, instead it should be about the future.  There are heavily managed forests in Europe that have been productive for over a thousand years.  Why would anyone only look at the benefits that can be accrued from trees in five years?

There is another quote that sums up how we should think about trees.  This one is supposedly a Greek proverb (again probably not true).  "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."  

A final quote about planting trees comes to us from George Orwell.  Written in 1946, this passage come from the essay  "A Good Word for the Vicar of Bray".  Orwell is best known for his novels "Animal Farm" and "Nineteen Eighty-four", but it is his thoughts on trees that concern me right now,
"The planting of a tree, especially one of the long-living hardwood trees, is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost and with almost no trouble, and if the tree takes root it will far outlive the visible effect of any of your other actions, good or evil."

Go plant a tree.  It's one of the biggest lasting marks you can make upon the world, and the only time better to do it than now has already passed. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Wildflower Association Michigan Anuual Conference 2018 (Plus a few garden pics!)

Today (05 MAR 2018) I am attending the Wildflower Association of Michigan (WAM) annual conference at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center on the campus of Michigan State University.  This is marks the thirty-first year that WAM has hosted an annual conference.  Yesterday, WAM awarded seven education grants.  In 2011 my wife Shara received a grant from WAM to install a native pollinator garden at her school (Saginaw Chippewa Academy).  This year will mark the eighth growing season for this garden.  Right now this garden is just waiting for spring to be fully here so it can begin to grow - it is also waiting for its usual spring cleaning.  Here are a few photos of the garden taken last week.

This garden has seen lots of changes in seven years - there used to be a building next to it.

Rattlesnake Master continues to add character to the garden.

Winter was rough - many of the stems are now on the ground

Switchgrass is still standing tall.

Adult bees and wasps will emerge once the weather warms up.

Several vole tunnels can be seen traversing the litter of leaves and stems.