6
April

Fisheries Biologists at Work


I had the opportunity to observe fisheries biologist form the Michigan DNR collection Walleye eggs today. I joined a friend and headed to the Muskegon River in Newaygo, below the Croton Dam. We thought we were early but found the boat working on the river when we arrived just below the Croton Dam. After moving to the Pine Street boat launch we found the rest of the crew waiting for the boat to return with fish. While the local news media was crying about the rain and snow, these guys said it was one of the best weather days they have had to work in while collection eggs.

Three people work the boat by lowering a pole with tentacle looking conductors hanging into the water on either side of the front of the boat. With a charge of 1 to 2 amps at 350 volts dc current, fish are stunned for about 15 feet from the boat. Once stunned, the fish surface and are collected with long handled nets and placed in a live tank with fresh river water circulating through. When the tank is full the boat returns to the landing and the fish are sorted by sex and readiness to release the eggs. “Green” females are returned to the river and ripe females and males are placed into separate holding pens along the river. The largest fish of the day was nearly 14 pounds.

The eggs are worked out of the female fish into steel pans and the sperm is taken from the males and mixed with water that is added to the eggs which is then placed in pails of river water that has been mixed with a powdered clay to keep the eggs from sticking together. They are then placed in a holding net in the river to “harden them off” for an hour. They can then be treated with iodine and loaded for transport back to the fish hatchery.

Yes, these fish are raised to stock our fishing waters but also because of the lack of natural areas with the appropriate make up of gravel areas needed to protect the eggs and small fry while they develop. In southern Michigan, there is very little natural spawning area available, so fish must be raised and stocked in lakes and rivers to provide for our fishing enjoyment.

My grandfather used to take to me Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery west of Kalamazoo on M43 when I was a young boy. I really enjoyed seeing the fish and still do. I love to stop at fish hatcheries whenever possible and love to see the process as well. It is also very educational. Next time you see a fish hatchery sign while traveling, stop in and take a tour. Wolf Lake is still and excellent place to visit with its interpretive center and tours.

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2
March

Invasive Species – Why Should I Care?

Flowering Rush


This week is National Invasive Species Awareness Week and has been used by organizations to highlight some of our not so welcome species. Many folks do not understand the devastating impact of invasive species on our ecosystems and the economy; therefore we tend to continue with harmful practices. We plant flowers or grasses because we think they are beautiful but have no idea what happens when we don’t dispose of them in a way to prevent the spread of the plant into natural communities. Seeds are spread by wind, birds, animals and us. The Weed Science Society of America estimates that the cost caused by invasive plant species is $34.7 billion a year to the US. That figure doesn’t reflect invasive insect damage like those destroying our forests and landscapes. Companies continue to sell species of plants and insects that are invasive or that out compete and replace native species; all to make a buck with no responsibility for the results. I have even heard of a local nursery threatening groups to stop informing the public of the negative impacts on the plants they promote and sell.

Chinese Mantis egg case


What is an “Invasive Species”? The Michigan Department of Natural Resources defines invasive species “as non-native, rapidly reproducing species which threaten the integrity of natural areas”. These species also affect our economy in the millions of dollars spent each year to control and in the attempt to eradicate them. They out compete native species for nutrients, water and habitat; ultimately replacing them. Many if not all of these species have absolutely no benefit to wildlife, therefore replacing food sources with plants of no use to our wildlife that we so much enjoy watching here in Michigan.

Purple Loosestrife


One source of these is from gardeners planting these plants and then they escape into natural areas. You cannot completely if at all, control the spread from your garden. One way to help combat the problem is to plant legally obtained native plant species or those known to not be invasive in your garden. Do the research. We were initially told that Purple Loosestrife was sterile in the garden and would not reproduce because they would need another plant to pollinate with if they reproduced at all. Well guess what? Whether they were sterile or not or people planted too many to close, they have escaped and are a major problem. We are now importing insects to help reduce the populations. I hope the studies are right about these insects or we’ll have another problem when they run out of the target species.

Canada Thistle


I have begun a project that will take a couple of years to complete on the “Deceptive Beauty of Invasive Species”. The photos included here are in no way intended to sell you on the positive aspects of these plants, but to help you see the deception that draws people into using them. Whether it is the beauty of the flowers or the claims of benefits to wildlife, we need to be careful or Michigan as we know and appreciate it will cease to exist. Look at the big picture and the negative affect these plants and insects cause.
Rather than continuing to contribute to the problem, join in a program or workday at a natural area to help eradicate these species from our natural areas. Many conservancy organizations or the MDNR have these work days when you can make a difference. If you are interested I can send you some organizations to contact or sign up for their email lists with this information. For more information on Michigan’s invasive species visit: http://www.michigan.gov/invasives. Please take time to research and learn about these species and be careful.

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7
February

Two New Resources


While this has been a somewhat crazy and unpredictable winter, I have been able to finish and print the next poster from CDENature. This new poster features 33 Native Michigan tree buds in winter. For those wanting help in identifying trees in winter or for the classroom I think this poster will be helpful. While my tree bud collection is just shy of 50 species, I have chosen 33 of the more common trees from southern Michigan. I have also begun to ad shrubs to the collection and maybe in a few years a shrub poster will come out. These posters which measure 12×18 inches, along with other items and photos I have produced will be available on Etsy or by contacting me direct through the contact page on this web site.


Another project that is coming to fruition is the tree identification signs and web site for the Hudsonville Nature Center. These signs are printed on a pvc plastic with UV resistant inks which will allow them to be weather resistant and durable. The signs at the HNC are scheduled to be installed as early as possible this spring. Each sign has on it the common and scientific names of the trees and a QR code that when scanned with your smart phone will take you to the location on the web page for that tree. The web page contains identification information as well as other information about the trees and their uses. This can be found at http://www.hudsonville.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=content.faq&faqTypeID=40168.

If you are interested in these signs and information for a web site like we have done for Hudsonville, please contact me for information on producing these signs for you. I can also write or help you write the information for the corresponding web pages. These signs can also be used for wildflower identification or other marker signs out of doors.

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8
December

Learning In Your Own Backyard


Many of us like to trek off to far away destinations to observe nature and especially birds. But have you paid attention to what you can see and learn right at home, in your own backyard? Over the years I have had many wonderful and fascinating observances and discoveries right here where I live. I have had pleasant surprises such as Indigo Buntings or Scarlet Tanagers to name a couple right here in my yard and easy to see. Just a few evenings ago while photographing the wet, heavy snow clinging to the trees in my yard after dark; I heard a familiar sound coming from the neighbor’s trees. Yes after sever failed attempts at finding owls on the “Owl Prowls” at the Hudsonville Nature Center, there they were right here where I live. Two Great Horned Owls where calling me as I shot from my deck. Since the power was out and not much else to do, I put the camera away and my wife and I quietly followed them through the field behind our home and to the next street before they flew off to a park area down the road.

As I think about some of these experiences, I realize that these close encounter observations can be great learning experiences if we pay attention. Just this morning I saw a House Finch in the crab apple tree behind my house. This is not an unusual sighting since the bird feeders are right next to this tree. What caught my eye was, one male House Finches eating the fruit of this tree. Most of us usually put out black oil sunflower for birds like this assume that they only eat seeds. Well, I learned something this morning because of this observation. Not only do House Finches exclusively eat plant material including but not only seeds, they also feed their young plant material. This is unique in that many or most birds that are seed eaters will feed their young insects. I also learned that these Finches do in fact eat fruits and not just seeds from plants. So now I know another bird that may eat my berries from the garden.

While there is much to see out there in nature, remember to look right in your own backyard to see what wonders you can see and learn.

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17
September

Get Out of the Boat

Purple-Bladderwort-From-Kayak

Purple-Bladderwort-From-Kayak

While I have taken some nice photos from the kayak or canoe (especially of birds), I recently decided to get out of the boat for much better pictures of some bladderworts and water lilies. It is difficult to hand hold or use a long lens from a boat that doesn’t really stop moving. The desired angle can also be difficult to achieve and how close can you really get while setting in a boat? The photo above was taken from my kayak. Not terrible and maybe usable until you compare it with the ones taken from a tripod. So after not being satisfied with images like this I decided to go back the next morning and wear hip boots to keep the leeches of and stay somewhat dry. Since my new and best tripod should be taken all apart and cleaned after being in the water or mud, I decided to pull out the old aluminum tripod. It doesn’t have a ball head but much less mess and work to clean, plus it is considerably heavier which helps with stability when sitting on the lake bottom. I could now us my macro lens and get the affect I was after. Oh yea, don’t forget to remove the strap if you try this.

Purple-Bladderwort-From-Tripod

Purple-Bladderwort-From-Tripod

White-Water-Lily-From-Tripod

White-Water-Lily-From-Tripod

Sometimes the right equipment isn’t just camera gear, but appropriate clothing to keep us safe and give some versatility to working in different environmental conditions. Muck and hip boots can also be good for those muddy areas along the shoreline. Also if the older tripod or other equipment is still usable it may be worth keeping around. I currently have 3 tripods at my disposal due to upgrades over the last 10 or 12 years and they all have a specific purpose of possible use while my newest and best tripod is my main go to tripod.

Over the coming months I plant to share tips to help with getting better nature images (especially flowers). I am also looking at giving a combination “photo/interpretive” eco-tour in the spring which will give instructions on flower photography and information about the subjects. Details will be posted when available.

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31
August

The Heavens Declare!

IMG_9164

September 31

The Heavens Declare!

This past Friday evening while camping at the Tahquamenon Falls State Park at the River Mouth campground I experienced a spectacular sight which I am not sure I have even seen before. We joined a few other campers on the bank of the river at the edge of the campground looking up in utter amazement of the beauty and quantity of stars that could be seen. The Milky Way was bright and other stars were so bright that for the first time in my life I saw stars reflecting on the water in front of me. The sky looked like a photo from an astronomy magazine or the Hubble telescope. Words can verily if at all describe what we saw. The black sky was filled with blotches of light and color from the multitude of stars.

 

IMG_9165

As I reflect on the sights of that evening I can only think of the verse, Psalms 19:1, The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. What more could we say?

If you would like to experience the beauty and awe of the night sky: head north on a clear evening away from the city lights. The farther north you go the better and darker it can be. Emmet County has the Headlands Dark Sky Park just west of Mackinaw City. Any beach or open area away from lights in the UP, are great places as well. The less light the better.

I apologize that the quality of the 2 accompanying photos are not as sharp and grain free as I would like, I am still learning to shoot at night and trying to find the right speed for my camera.

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3
August

Majestic Lotus

American Lotus Bed

American Lotus Bed

I have heard that there is American Lotus, Nelumbo lutea in Michigan, particularly in the Grand River in Ottawa County. As I am always interested in finding new plants that I have not yet seen or photographed, I was especially interested in an article in the Michigan Botanist about research of native populations of Louts in Michigan. The largest of these native populations are in the Grand River just upstream from Grand Haven. So a couple of weeks ago we drove out to recon the Stearns Bayou area to see if we could see them from the road and find access points to the water. The Grand River boat launch near Stearns seemed to be the best place to put in, so we launched our kayaks last evening and set out to find these majestic wonders.

American Lotus Leaf Upturned

American Lotus Leaf Upturned

We began by paddling back towards Stearns Bayou; looking at the map again would have helped. As we reached the turn into the bayou on the right, we went left as the article said they were half a mile from the bridge over the bayou, where the bayou meets the river. So we paddled through the opening it cattail marsh and photographed Great Blue Herons. We came to a “T” in the marsh and I decided to turn right and after paddle to what should be about half a mile from the bridge all I could see were more cattails with not exit to the river. So we turned around and headed back in the opposite direction only to find the same situation. So we returned the same way we had come and when we reached the boat launch the only words out of my mouth were “you’ve got to be kidding me” as I looked over at the Lotus reaching for the sky from the water. You could see them from the launch; well we had a good hour’s paddle anyways.

American Lotus

American Lotus

The Lotus has large creamy white to pale yellow blossoms on stems reaching a foot or more out of the water. These flowers are quite a sight. The large rounded leaves begin by laying flat on the water and later rise above the water in a funnel shape. The leaves cause water to bead up and run of when splashed on. We found some leaves at over two feet in diameter, one I used the blade of my paddle to get a size on measured out at 26 inches across. Leaves have the petiole attached in the center and have no sinus. The seed pods are quite unique with a somewhat funnel shape and flat on top with circular openings where each receptacle was. Each of these will contain a seed to drop out after the head breaks off and floats downstream.

American Indians used the tubers and leaves for food and believed that the plants had mystic powers and often kept tubers to ward of witches. This threatened species is found about 6 feet of quiet waters of rivers and lakes.

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25
July

Don’t Miss the Little Things

Sundew

Sundew

In my photography, my macro lens might be considered my main or “prime” lens during the warmer months. I enjoy shooting flowers and insects close up to see the detail and beauty often missed or taken for granted by just looking from a standing position so far away from the subject. But even more fun is finding things in creation that are so small most people wouldn’t even know that they are there. These may be small flowers, small flowers within an umbel, spike or raceme of flowers, mosses and lichens, small insects or close ups on insects so that the details of hairs or spins can clearly be seen. Macro photography opens up a whole new world to enjoy, even if it’s in your back yard. Another thing you can do is to carry a loop or magnifier so you can look at details in the field.

Timothy

Timothy

When you see a plant with small inconspicuous flowers or with very small flowers that are usually over looked, take a moment to look at and study them. In this post I have included flowers of Timothy Grass and Curly Dock. I suspect is safe to say most of you have never taken the time to look for let alone look at the flowers of these plants. Look at the intricate details of the Timothy flowers, quit amazing.

Stinging Nettle

You can also look at individual flowers of a group such as in the umbel of American Elder or single flowers of the Poke Weed. We see the almost stringy looking hanging spikes of the flowers of Stinging Nettle and keep on walking, but look close at the intricate beauty and detail.

Blanchards Cricket Frog

Blanchards Cricket Frog

And what about those small creatures we may over look? I recently found out that a park not far from my home is home to a population of the threatened Blanchard’s Cricket Frogs. These tiny frogs are only about an inch when grown and because they hang out in the vegetation at the edges of ponds and sit on floating vegetation in the water, they can blend in with their green and brown bodies making them easy to over look.

Mexican Bean Beetle Larvae

Mexican Bean Beetle Larvae

Small larval and nymph stages as well as small insects can also be easily overlooked. Some creatures we just don’t want to see like the Mexican Bean Beetles that ravage my beans in the garden, but take a close look before you squash them. They can look like creatures from a science fiction movie.

I don’t usually crop my photos outside of the camera expect for fitting to print sizes, but I have cropped most of these to help easier show the detail.

While you are out in the garden or walking, take time to look for and enjoy the often hidden beauty of the smaller things in the great out-of-doors.

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11
June

Persistence and Timing

Rose Twisted-Stalk - Prebloom

Rose Twisted-Stalk – Prebloom

In May of 2015 I located a plant at the Headlands just outside of Mackinaw City in northern Michigan. It had a somewhat similar look to False Solomon Seal except the stem was branched.  I thought I recognized it as Twisted-Stalk from having seen it in books over the years. The plant wasn’t blooming yet so I stopped again in June on my way north and couldn’t even locate the plant. Did something (deer) eat it or did it look different after blooming? I’m not sure. That may be a question I can soon answer on a return June trip this year.

Rose Twisted-Stalk

Rose Twisted-Stalk

When I returned in mid May of this year I once again found the plant in exactly the same place as last year. Again it had buds, but wasn’t blooming yet. I paid close attention to location in relation to markers on the trail to aid in relocating it. I decided since I had missed the bloom the previous year by waiting a month to go back, that I needed to return sooner this time. Temperatures shot up into the 80’s that next weekend and I decided if I waited until after Memorial Day it might be too late. So I went just over a week later and found Rose Twisted-Stalk, Streptopus lanceolatus blooming. It was a breezy day and light was good but not the best for shooting in the woods but I was able to get some useable images. For those photographing flowers, I am finding that increasing the camera’s ISO to give you faster shutter speeds in helping get those low light pictures we would otherwise miss.

If you are from northern Michigan or are familiar with this plant, you may be asking why the bid deal? Well, this was a new plant for me. One that I have wanted to find for years of seeing it in the books while looking to identify others I had seen. Rose Twisted-Stalk may not be a bright showy flower, but it is a new one on my list that continues to grow.

As you find and learn plants around you and venture out to new areas check back if the plant isn’t blooming yet to see the flower and maybe help identify it. You too may have to make several visits over multiple years but it will be worth it. You may also want to add estimated return time to your calendar as I have missed several blooms by forgetting to go back at the right times.

As the temperatures rise and the bugs become bothersome, prairies and wetlands will come alive with blooms over the summer: waiting for you to find them.

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4
May

Be Careful

This blog is intended to educate people and share things in nature that I find and photograph as well as about places I visit to give the reader ideas and inspiration to visit these wonder natural areas. While today’s subject could possibly be under education, it is a topic I feel needs to be addressed. I have promoted “social media” as a resource for times and places to find natural features of interest. I have used posted information to determine when and sometimes where to go to look for a particular species of plant or butterfly. Facebook groups can be a great place to ask for help as well as report findings to others.

The problem that seriously concerns me is the tremendous amount of misinformation being posted by well meaning people who are not as expert as they may think. I will put it bluntly; you should research and think before giving your opinions (especially plant identifications) or keep those opinions to yourselves. This may seem harsh and insensitive but your misidentifications could cost someone their life. In just the past week, 50 percent of the posts asking for identification help on the Michigan Botanical Clubs facebook page have been very wrong. It seems that those who respond quickly and right away should spend more time studying and becoming familiar with the plants in the field before being so quick to give identifications. Unfortunately the people who are expert botanists have better things to do with their time than watch facebook. They are probably spending their free time learning and studying.

Poison-Hemlock

Poison-Hemlock

A good illustration would be the above photo. If I posted this looking for identification help, I am all but certain that I would quickly be told it is Queen-Anne’s Lace or Wild Carrot and someone would say it is edible. All would be very seriously wrong. It is Poison-Hemlock, Conium maculatum. Look at the details; the purple-spotted, slightly glaucous stem verses a hairy stem with no purple spotting. This plant can be extremely poisonous depending on the time of year, part of the plant and varying toxicity from plant to plant, determining the exact outcome of ingesting it. The point being if you ingested this plant, particularly the root you would be very very ill, if not very very dead in less time than you could try to get help. Ask Socrates as he is the best known victim of Poison-Hemlock.

When I first started doing interpretive hikes and talks in the late 1980’s, I was told by my teacher and mentor Karen Niels, not to act like you know the answer if you don’t. Be truthful and offer to find the answer rather than give out wrong or misinformation. This has been and still is great advice. So, pay attention to the details; check and recheck your identifications before handing out information that is wrong or could be dangerous to someone. There is nothing wrong in not knowing and these are good opportunities to learn. Get out find, study, take pictures of later identification help and get familiar with the plants around you so that you really will know what you see.

 

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