Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving holiday. Take some time this weekend to think about the things and especially the people that you are thankful for.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving Options

*The Following Blog Post is a Public Service Announcement from Wild Turkeys of AmericaWild Turkeys of America is a fictional organization dedicated to the cause of protecting the glorious Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) from becoming the centerpiece of Thanksgiving meals across North America.  Any resemblance that Wild Turkeys of America bears toward any real organization is strictly coincidental.*

Turkey , minus the stuffing and cranberries

Wild Turkeys of America would like to remind you that although turkeys were definitely eaten by the settlers at Plymouth Colony, there is no evidence that points to them being consumed at the famous "First Thanksgiving".

Instead, the aforementioned Wild Turkeys, would like to suggest the following more historically correct menu options for your Thanksgiving feast.


Who's having what for Thanksgiving?


Thanksgiving?  Not interested!


I don't think so!


We are so out of here!
This message has been brought to you by Wild Turkeys of America.  Please enjoy a historically correct, turkey-free Thanksgiving.  We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thank You to the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe

Last week, the Isabella Conservation District received approximately 175 thousand dollars from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe

As part of an agreement with the State of Michigan, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe distributes 2% of its earnings from electronic gaming at its two casinos to local governments and schools.  To get any of this money, government agencies and schools have to submit a grant proposal that details what they propose to do, how it will benefit the local and tribal community, and includes a detailed budget for the project.

The money that the Isabella Conservation District received will allow us to run a community Household Hazardous Waste disposal program in 2014.  More importantly, from my perspective, it will also allow our Environmental Education Program to operate for two more years.  This means that we will be able to provide classroom programs on environmental and conservation education in local schools through the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.  Since 2009, our programs have been presented to over fifteen thousand students in the local schools.   This year I expect to provide more than 300 classroom programs, and expect to do the same for each of the next two years.

Thank you to the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Council and all employees of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe who support the Isabella Conservation District Environmental Education Program!

Chi Miigwetch!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Dendrochronology - Studying Tree Rings with Third Grade Students

One activity that I do with students is called Michigan Trees and Plants.  During this activity, we discuss the parts of plants and the roles of each part, students learn to classify leaves based on their appearance and also how to determine the age of trees.

Trees can be aged by counting their annual growth rings.  This process of is called dendrochronology from the Greek words dendron (tree limb), khronos (time), and logia (study). In temperate climates, most trees will produce an annual growth ring each year.  Annual growth usually consists of a wide light-colored ring (spring growth) and a narrow dark-colored ring (summer growth).

An individual tree does not grow at the same rate each year, but instead grow at rates that depend on the temperature and availability of water.  A year with little precipitation may be marked by a very narrow growth ring, while a year with abundant precipitation will be marked by a wide growth ring.  These pattern can be used to determine climate patterns for a region even when precipitation records do not exist.

Here are photos of six different species showing different patterns of growth.  Each photograph was taken a 2X magnification with a digital microscope.  Each photograph shows an area of the same size on the sample of tree trunk.

The first sample is of an American Beech.  American Beech is a slow-growing hardwood species.  The rings on this sample are running from left to right.  Counting from the top of the photograph over one dozen closely-packed rings are visible in this small sample.  Each ring is approximately the same size.

American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)
The second sample is another hardwood species, Green Ash.  Green Ash is typically found in moist soils and grows much faster than American Beech.  This sample has  parts of seven rings visible in the photograph.  Each ring is of a different width depending on the that year's precipitation.

Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)
The third sample is from a Red Pine.  Like the American Beech, the Red Pine grows on upland sites, but grows at a faster rate - parts of four growth rings can be seen in the photo.

Red Pine (Pinus resinosa)
Silver Maple is another fast growing hardwood that is found in wet sites.  This Silver Maple shows parts of three wide annual growth rings in this photo.

Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)
The last two photos show growth rings on samples of petrified wood a Sycamore and a Willow.

Sycamore (Platanus spp.) - petrified

Willow (Salix spp.) - petrified

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Five Science Websites for Kids

Almost every time I go to a classroom, students ask me how I know "so much" about science.  I always say that I studied a lot in school and still read lots of books, articles, and websites about science. Because I know that there are student that look at this blog, here is a list of five cool science websites:

Field Guide to North American Mammals  

This is a list generated by searching on the Smithsonian North American Mammals website.  You can search for your location (North America Only) by latitude/longitude, by state, or by searching a national park.once the list comes up, click on the name of each animal to learn more about it.

All About Birds Bird Guide

This website is run by the Cornell Institute of Ornithology and is amazing! Any time I want to know anything about birds, this is the first place I look.  To find any bird on this site, just start typing its name in the box.

Project Beak

Another website about birds.  My favorite part of this website is the page about Adaptations.  Make sure that you Build a Bird and see if you gave it the right adaptations to survive in its habitat.

Wildlife of Pennsylvania Clue Game

This is a "hangman" game using animal names.  It is for Pennsylvania Animals, but Michigan has most of the same animals.  Once you figure out the name of the animal go here to read an article about that animal.

The Life of a Tree

This website from the National Arbor Day foundation is a great place for kids to learn about the lifecycle and parts of a tree.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Four Score and seven year ... plus another one hundred fifty years

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. 

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
19 November 1863

Somehow in the excitement of losing power over the weekend I neglected to remember that yesterday was the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.  Given at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Monument at Gettysburg, Lincoln's words were received with mixed responses at the time.  Many observers thought that his speech was too short.  (He spoke only 10 sentences.) It received little if any applause from the assembled crowd. At the time, many newspapers criticized Lincoln's speech as being unintelligent and dull.  

Others recognized the eloquence and importance of Lincoln's words.  Lincoln was not the primary speaker of the day.  That honor fell to Edward Everett, a well-politician and orator of the time.  Everett spoke for two hours.  After the conclusion of Everett's speech.  Lincoln rose to speak briefly.  Everett later wrote to Lincoln asking for a copy of Lincoln's address with the words,

"I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes."

Over time, most people have come to recognize Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as on of the finest examples of the English language ever written.  

I thought I would share a picture from the Gettysburg battlefield.  

This photograph is a monument to the 24th Michigan Regiment.  The 24th Michigan was part of the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 1st Corps of the Army of the Potomac.  Better known as the "Iron Brigade", this unit was the first Union Infantry to arrive on the battlefield and delayed the Confederate advance long enough for other Union troops to deploy.  The largest of four regiments within the Iron Brigade, the 24 Michigan entered battle on 01 July 1863 with a total strength of 496 officers and men.  By the end of the battle 363 soldiers from the unit had been killed, wounded, or captured (73 percent!).  The Iron Brigade was so devastated by the battle that it was disbanded and merged into other units.

If you ever visit Riverside Cemetery in Mount Pleasant, you can find the graves of two men who served in the 24th Michigan - Charles H. Houk (Company I) and William H. Quance (Company C).  Both men were listed on the roster of the 24th Michigan at the time of Gettysburg and Quance is listed as wounded on the first day of the battle.  Interestingly, there are two headstones for Houk in Riverside Cemetary - one at the Grand Army of the Republic monument and another at a different location.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Electricity (or the lack thereof)

We think very little about the wonder of electricity until it goes out.  Our lights are electric.  Many of us cook on electric stoves, or in electric ovens, or in microwave ovens.  Our furnaces will not turn on without electricity.  If your home has a well, it runs with an electric pump.  That water is then heated with a water heater that requires electricity to turn on and off.

The United States is a nation that runs on electricity.  Sometimes that electricity shuts off.  People cannot do their work. It relies on electricity.  Schools close down because there are no lights (and the windows do not let in enough natural light) and the heat won't kick on without electricity.  Neighborhoods go dark except for candles or lanterns.  Some people possess gasoline powered generators, but this is a temporary solution.

My house was without power for only 26 hours, but in that time the inside temperature dropped by 15 degrees (Fahrenheit).  It wasn't cold, but it was less comfortable.  My wife had some work that she had to do - work requiring a computer and internet access (which doesn't work without power).  I sent her to a hotel room for the night.  A friend's family was staying in the same hotel, while he was trying to find a generator to run a pump to keep their basement from flooding.

Compared the effects of storms on other parts of the world, what we experienced was an inconvenience.

Interestingly, two of the last three books that I have read were about people living in hard times and hard places.

Paddling to Winter by Julie Buckles is a book about a newlywed couple's decision to canoe from their home in Wisconsin north to the Canadian Arctic.  They traveled 1700 miles by canoe and then spent the winter in a cabin (with no electricity, heated by wood, no running water) loaned by a couple they met along their journey.

Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression by Mildred Armstrong Kalish is a memoir of a childhood spent on a family farm in small town Iowa during the 1930s.  Her childhood homes were lit by lantern and gas lamp, heated by wood (only in the kitchen and parlor - no heat upstairs in the bedrooms), food was prepared on the wood stove, water was pumped from a well by windmill or by hand, and the bathroom was an outhouse in the back yard. 

While both authors' experience were hard, they were prepared for the hardships.  They knew what to expect.

Reading books like these puts an interesting spin on losing your own electricity (if even for only a short time).  Realizing that much of the world's population still lives without electricity really makes me thankful for those things that we have.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Nature Photos - April 2005 - March 2006

Here are some photos from my first "real" camera - a Canon 35mm SLR (Single Lens Reflex) with two zoom lenses.  I bought this camera in 2005 and used it until I bought my first digital SLR in July 2007.  I love the instant feedback of using a digital camera, but sometimes I miss the excitement of having to wait to have my film developed to see what my pictures looked like.

Here are 10 photos taken during the first year of using a "real" camera.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Deer Season

Today is opening day for firearms deers season in Michigan.  Good luck to all the hunters!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Waterproof Fur

One of my programs for Third Grade classrooms is called "Fur, Feathers, Skins, and Scales".  It is a comparison of different types of body coverings found on Michigan's native animals.  Different types of body coverings have evolved to perform different jobs.  One of the things that we talk about is the idea that aquatic mammals often have "waterproof" fur that keeps the animals warm and keeps their skin dry even when swimming in ice cold water.  For example, this Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) climbed onto a shelf of ice after swimming  in a partially frozen river, shook like a dog and looked almost completely dry within seconds.

Muskrat looking completely dry seconds after emerging from a partially frozen river

On this Muskrat (below) you can see the water beading up on its fur.

A Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) with water beading up on its fur

Besides the Muskrat, two of the animals that I use to demonstrate this are the North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) and the North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis).

Beaver pelt

Otter Pelt

Both the Beaver and River Otter (and the Muskrat) have two layers of fur: an outer layer of long straight guard hairs and a dense interwoven inner layer.  The hair of both animals is oily and this combination of dense oily fur prevents most water from reaching through to their skin.  Both the Beaver and Otter groom often to keep their fur clean of debris and to spread oil (from glands located near their tail) evenly over their fur.

Looking closely at the fur, the beaver's fur is nearly twice as long as that of the otter.  Many of the outer guard hairs on the beaver pelt are more than an inch long.

None of the otter hairs measure more than a half an inch long, but the otter has many more hairs per square inch of skin than the beaver.  Both furs are equally good at repelling water.

Beaver fur (above) & otter fur (below)

In addition to the oil that the animals rub on their fur, the secret to waterproofing lies in the structure of the fur.  Looking at the hairs under a microscope, the hair of the beaver and otter look remarkably similar.  The guard hairs are straight and relatively thick.  The underfur is thinner than the guard furs and is wavy.  These wavy hairs interlock easily with each other and form a dense interwoven mat.  It is this dense matted layer, combined with the oil rubbed into the fur, that forms the waterproof barrier that allows these animals to swim in near-freezing water without becoming cold.

Beaver fur (magnified 2Xs) - the straight hairs are the outer guard hairs, the wavy hairs form the underfur

Beaver fur - another closeup at 2X magnification

Otter fur (2X magnification) - thick straight guard hairs and wavy underfur

Otter fur (2X magnification) - notice how the wavy underfur interlocks forming a matted layer

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

November in Northwest Michigan

November comes,
And November goes
With the last red berries
And the first white snows,

With night coming early
And dawn coming late,
And ice in the bucket
And frost by the gate.

The fires burn
And the kettles sing,
And earth sinks to rest
Until next spring.

                               -Elizabeth Coatsworth

This past weekend offered us one last time to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the rest of northwest Michigan before winter sets in.  While many of the facilities Sleeping Bear Dunes are closed down for the season, the park is just as beautiful as it is during the Spring and Summer.  The big advantage to visiting in the "off-season" is that you will have the park almost to yourself - many of the places that we stopped at in the park were completely deserted.  This was a nice contrast to Summer when there is no place to park and other visitors always at hand.  

Sunday was cold and windy, with beautiful cloud formations during the entire day.

Poplar trees with Glen Lake in the background

Bare poplar trees

Dune Climb - Sleeping Bear Dunes

Red, White & Blue - Highbush Cranberry (red), Red Osier Dogwood (white) and Riverbank Grape (blue)

"the last red berries"

Beach rocks and clouds - the view west at Glen Haven

The view east at Glen Haven
On Monday (Veterans' Day), a strong wind had come out of the north and snow was falling. Winter wanted to let us know that it is not far away.  An inch of snow was on the ground by the time we left Traverse City and more was falling.  The storm followed us most of the way home.

Waves crashing on the seawall at the "Open Space" in Traverse City

"and the first white snows"

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Native Species Profile - Great Blue Lobelia

Our flowering season is mostly done for the year here in Mid-Michigan.  Here and there, if I look really hard, I can still find a few flowers (mainly asters).  Just a few weeks ago I could have found a dozen species easily.  Two months ago, I could have found 40 species.  Late-Summer and Fall wildflowers tend to be larger and showier than the flowers.  They want to be noticed.

One of my favorite showy fall wildflowers is the Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica).  This plant is commonly found in wet woodlands, floodplain forests, emergent marshes, wet meadows, and swamps throughout the eastern United States and Canada. 

Great Blue Lobelia plants can reach a height of up to four feet.  The upper half of the plant is commonly covered in lavender-blue to dark-blue flowers.  The flowers of the Great Blue Lobelia are densely packed on a spike rising above large (2 inch wide x 5 inch long) leaves that are arranged alternately on the lower half of the stem. These blooms can be found from August to October in Mid-Michigan.

The individual flowers are tube-shaped and may be 1 to 1.5 inches long.   Each mature flower has two extending "lips" on the lower side of the tube's opening - these lips provide an inviting landing zone for pollinators.  The flower is mainly visited by long-tongued bumble bees.  The bees force their way into the flower's tubes and use their long tongues to reach nectar deep in the flower.  The flower is occasionally visited by hummingbirds, large butterflies, and short-tongued bumble bees.  However, the short-tongued bumble bees often become nectar robbers- cutting a slit near the base of the flower to take nectar without pollinating the plant.

Basic Information

Great Blue Lobelia 
Lobelia siphilitica

Height:  1-4’ tall

Habitat:  wet woodlands, wet meadows, shorelines, swamps

Flower Color:  blue

Bloom Time:  August – October

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Edmund Fitzgerald - 10 November 1975

...the big lake they called "Gitche Gumee."
Today marks the 38th anniversary of the most famous shipwreck in the Great Lakes. 

On the evening of 10 November 1975, the freighter S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald was approaching Whitefish Point, MI with a full load of taconite (iron ore) in a Lake Superior storm.   Despite the hurricane force winds, the ship did not appear to be under distress before it sank suddenly at 7:10 PM.  All twenty-nine men aboard the Edmund Fitzgerald perished aboard the ship.  To this day, the exact cause of the ship's sinking is unknown.

The ship was commemorated by Canadian singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot in his 1976 song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fizgerald".

The wreck site was visited by dive teams in 1989, 1995, and 1995 to survey the site and collect artifacts.  The ship's bell was recovered during the 1995 dive.  The bell was restored and now rests at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point, MI.

For more information on the Edmund Fitzgerald visit the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum website.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Five Science Things - Nature in Clay

Among other things, my wife and I collect pottery.  Some of our pottery collection is old, some of it is new.  Many of pieces have images of nature on them.  Here are a few of those pieces.

This decorative tile bears the image of a Red-backed Salamander (Plethodon cinereus).  The tile was made by Sporck Tile Art in Suttons Bay, MI. 

The actual Red-backed Salamander is a small amphibian that is found in deciduous woods throughout Michigan.  Red-backed Salamanders are among the smaller salamanders in the state and only reach an adult size of 2.5 to 5 inches.  Unlike most salamanders, it spends its entire life cycle on land - even its eggs are laid on land in moist dark places under logs and rocks.

The second piece of pottery is another tile from Sporck Tile Art.  This one shows a Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on a Common Milkweed (Asclepias Syriaca).

This photo of a Monarch on a Common Milkweed is from 2009.  Monarch populations have declined severely over the last three years.  There are several campaigns underway to help restore Monarch Butterfly habitats and populations (Monarch Waystations, Bring Back the Monarchs, and Wild for Monarchs)

The third piece of pottery is a small vase made by Odawa Indian artist Shirley K. Brauker (Moon Bear Pottery) from Coldwater, MI.  This vase is decorated with a design of Wild Strawberries (Fragaria virginiana).

Wild Strawberry is a low growing perennial wildflower that is found in nearly every county in Michigan, every state except Hawaii, and every Canadian province.  To Anishinaabe people in Michigan the Strawberry is known as ode' imin (heartberry) and the month of June is known as Ode' imin Giizis (Strawberry Moon).

The fourth piece of pottery is by the Roseville Pottery Company.  This small bowl (as it was called by the company) was made between 1943 and 1954 and depicts a White Water Lily (Nymphaea odorata)

The White Water Lily is a floating wetland plant found throughout most of North America.  It a characteristic plant of emergent marshes throughout the state of Michigan.

The fifth and final pottery piece is a small decorative tile by Pewabic PotteryPewabic Pottery is a Detroit, MI company established in 1903.  Since 1907 it has operated out of the same registered historic building.  This tile is decorated with a design of a small turtle - probably a Painted Turtle.

This small Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) was photographed on a lily pad sometime between 2002 and 2005 in Mt. Pleasant, MI.  This very common turtle will grow to a size of 4 to 10 inches as an adult and may live for more than 25 years.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Busy as a...

Right now I am busy as a bee.

Or, if you prefer, as busy as a beaver...

In October, I did 38 classroom programs.  By the time November is over I will have given 115 presentations since school began on September 3rd.