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.