Thursday, February 15, 2018

Sunset and Hawk (14 February 2018)

Red-tailed Hawk at sunset

I spied this Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) outside the Saginaw Chippewa Academy last evening.  It lined up perfectly with the sunset and allowed me to take several photos.

Another view of a Red-tailed Hawk silhouetted against the sunset

A closer view of the hawk
Looking back at older posts, I photographed a Red-tailed Hawk outside of the Academy almost exactly three years ago.  I wonder of it could be the same bird?

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Adaptations - Stratification

Wild Leek waiting out the winter months

A simple definition of the word adaptation is a physical trait or behavior that helps a living organism survive in its habitat.  Every living organism has adaptations.  Physical adaptations are easy to see - think the spots on a fawn or the thorns on a rosebush.  In animals behavioral adaptations can be easy to observe, such as hibernation during periods of extreme cold or heat.  Behavioral adaptations in plants are more difficult to recognize.

One behavioral adaptation that can be observed is stratification.  While some seeds of some plants are capable of germinating immediately upon maturation, for other species this would be less than ideal.  For instance, early germination might mean that a plant begins to grow at the wrong time of the year.  A plant that requires 90 days of warm weather to grow and develop flowers and seeds would not want to sprout and begin growing in September when it will be killed by cold within weeks.

Instead, many seeds experience a period of dormancy once they mature.  Stratification is an adaptation that allows the seeds to break that period of dormancy and then sprout.  Many seeds require a period of cold stratification.  This means that they must experience an extended period of cold temperatures before they will come out of dormancy.  One good example of a plant that goes through cold stratification is Common Milkweed.  I have planted milkweed seeds in spring that did not undergo stratification.  Rather than sprouting, they remained in the ground dormant all summer before finally sprouting the following spring (after a winter in the ground).  Many summer and fall wildflowers require this type of stratification.

Common Milkweed seeds need to undergo cold stratification before they can sprout.

Other wildflowers require a more complex hot-cold stratification, requiring a long period of warm weather followed by a period of cold weather.  Many spring wildflowers such as Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) fit in this category.  Other species such as Wild Leek (Allium tricoccum) require a multi-year hot-cold-hot-cold stratification process.  All of these different stratification requirements can be very frustrating when trying to start a wildflower garden from seed.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Watch the 2018 Winter Olympics!

Shara posing for a picture at the US Olympic Training Center at Lake Placid, NY back in 1998 or '99.

A break away from the usual science and nature blogging to remind everyone that the XXIII Olympic Winter Games are currently taking place in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

We love the Winter Olympics in our house.  I was too young to remember the 1980 Lake Placid Games, but since the 1984 Sarajevo Games I have eagerly awaited the arrival of each Winter Olympics.

The Winter Olympics feature few sports that are familiar to most Americans.  Most of the sports are never shown on the major American broadcast networks with the exceptions of ice hockey, alpine skiing, figure skating, and snowboarding. 

But, once very four years we are reminded of other winter sports such as bobsled, luge, cross country skiing, ski jumping, skeleton, etc.

My favorite moment of this Olympics so far was watching American Chris Mazder place second in the men's single luge.  Why is this such a big deal?  Luge has been competed in the Winter Olympics since 1964, but no American man had ever won an individual medal.

In cross country skiing, American Jessie Diggins placed 5th in the women's skiathlon, 14.7 seconds behind the gold medal time.  This the highest finish by an American woman in Olympic cross country competition.  The other big story in this race was the silver medal finish by Norwegian Marit Bjorgen.  This was her eleventh Olymic medal!  She is now the most decorated female Winter Olympian of all time.  In the men's skiathlon, Norwegian Simen Hegstad Krueger was involved in a crash at the very start of the race, but came back to lead a 1-2-3 sweep by Norway

I eagerly anticipate the rest of these Olympic Games.  I hope everyone will tune in to watch the games and support the athletes from every country as they pursue their Olympic Dreams.  Unlike professional athletes in basketball, football, and baseball, most of the athletes in these sports will never become rich.  Many of them work other jobs during the year to support their participation in the sport.  They compete for the love of their sport.  Passion like this is something to aspire to.  In other countries besides the United States, Olympic competitors and especially Olympic champions are celebrated as national heroes.  Unfortunately, this is something we do not do very well in the United States - once the games are over these athletes go back into the shadows where they continue to work to improve so they can represent their country in the sport they love.  These men and women should be revered for their athletic prowess and devotion to something that they love. 

Watch the Olympics!  Be a fan and supporter of all Olympic athletes.

Friday, February 9, 2018

A Winter day at Mill Pond Park (08 February 2018)

Yesterday, during the middle of the day, I was able to spend a little more than an hour walking through Mill Pond Park.  This 90 acre park is located along the Chippewa River right in the middle of Mt. Pleasant.

Despite its location, this park is home to a diverse collection of wildlife.  Although I saw only a few birds and one squirrel (plus a feral cat), I did find lots of evidence of animals including tracks and evidence of feeding.

Tracks on ice at the river's edge

Ice flows in the Chippewa River

A Fox Squirrel high in a tree at Mill pond Park

A gentle curve of the Chippewa River

Like other parks in the city, Mill Pond Park has lost large numbers of trees due to an Emerald Ash Borer infestation.  As these trees fall it can be very difficult to travel off trail within the park.

Fungi on a dead tree

A deer trail through the woods

 A clump of reeds along the edge of the marsh

Looking south over the marsh

Dramatic clouds

I was surprised to find several trees that showed evidence of beavers.  There have been beavers in the park many times, but these trees were nearly one hundred yards from the river.  Despite this distance, it was obvious that the beaver had visited this site multiple times

Vole of shrew tracks on the ice

Looking down at the spillway of the Mill Pond dam

Trees and ice on the Chippewa River

Ice formed in patches on one of the weirs that slow the rivers drop

I like how the shape of the trees is repeated by the shape of the clouds

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Upcoming Event - Wildflower Association of Michigan Annual Conference (Sunday 04 March and Monday 05 March 2018)

On Sunday March 4th and Monday March 5th I will be attending the Wildflower Association of Michigan (WAM) annual conference.  This year's conference theme is Growing in a Post-Wild World.  This conference is held at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center (219 S. Harrison St., East Lansing, MI).  Early-bird registration for the WAM conference closes in two week (February 22rd), after that you can do a walk-in registration at the conference.  Walk-in registration is $80 for Sunday or Monday and $150 for both days - Early-bird registration is $70 for one day or $125 for both days.  Membership to WAM is required to register and costs $15 for an individual.  A buffet style lunch is included in the registration cost.

Even though it is a bit pricey, this is the one conference that I make sure to attend every year.  The keynote speakers are usually great and I learn a lot at the concurrent sessions.  It's a great place to pick peoples' brains if you have any questions about wildflowers and wildflower gardening - I make new connections and renew old connections every year.  There is also a room for vendors (books, jewelry, photography, pottery, art prints, etc.) - I always end up spending more than I should on wildflower and gardening books.

While planting native plants seems to be a new(er) movement in gardening, it has had its advocates for years as this article from the April 1941 issue of Nature Magazine shows.  Nature Magazine was published between 1923 and 1959 by the American Nature Association before being absorbed by Natural History.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Peregrine Falcon in Mt. Pleasant

I have said repeatedly in the past that I am not a birder, but I seem to have spent a fair amount of time lately looking for specific birds.  In January I shared photos of several Snowy Owls from around Mid-Michigan.  This is not the only uncommon bird to show up in the area this winter.  For the past month, there has been a Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) hanging out in Mt. Pleasant.  This is only the sixth Peregrine Falcon reported on eBird for Isabella County all since 2014. 

This bird has chosen to hang out on the City of Mt. Pleasant water tower located north of Pickard Road, between Mission Road. and Kinney Avenue.  When I saw the Falcon it was perched on a metal seam along the center of the tower.  Others have seen it perched on the railing above the catwalk at the base of the tank. 

Good luck searching for this bird.  I saw it on my first attempt, but I know of one birder that has made at least four unsuccessful attempts to find it.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Upcoming Event - Quiet Water Symposium (03 March 2018)

On Saturday March 3rd I will be attending the 2018 Quiet Water Symposium.  The Quiet Water Symposium (QWS) is a gathering dedicated to non-motorized transportation in the outdoors including biking, sailing, backpacking, and especially canoeing & kayaking.  QWS takes place at the Michigan State University Livestock Pavilion at 4310 Farm Lane Road in East Lansing.  Tickets for adults are $10, $5 for students with an ID, and free for kids 12 and under.

This year there are over 160 different vendors/exhibitors setting up at QWS.  In addition to the vendor there are thirty-three presentations scheduled over the course of the day.  QWS is a great event whether you are new to paddling and hiking or if you have been doing them for decades.  

This year I can be found in one of three places - helping sell axes and other outdoor equipment at the LeValley Outdoors booth, manning a table for the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy (CWC), or at the booth for the Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE).