Star Crossed Lovers

Wait, that’s astrology…here we are going to talk astronomy!

The solar eclipse is getting major news coverage this month.  Do a quick search and a multitude of videos, maps, news stories, celebration ideas, and more will pop up and make you want to have this as a national holiday. For many astronomical gazers though, it’s more than an excuse to step outside for 30 minutes (the total process of the eclipse is about 2 1/2 hours) during work time. There are many who travel the globe to witness total solar eclipses, which happen every 18 months on average. There are too many stories to give examples here, so I’ll just say that you don’t have to be an astrophysicist to appreciate a total solar eclipse–it’s science phenomenon and awe-inspiring all in one. Here in the U.S., a total solar eclipse hasn’t crossed in almost 40 years and won’t cross again for almost 10 years. So, the mania ensues, as only it can in the United States. We won’t be able to see…actually, don’t look right at it what with the whole “staring at the sun will make you go blind” stuff…we won’t be able to experience a total solar eclipse here in Michigan. Looking at the eclipse map from Great American Eclipse we will be experiencing a 0.8 magnitude between 1:15pm and 2:30pm. Here is the link to the map.

Have I used the word “eclipse” enough yet? Change of pace then, meteor shower. The Perseid Meteor Shower is an annual occurrence that peaks during the month of August. The video below has a great description of meteor showers, in particular the Perseid MS. As seemingly common as meteor showers are they are still a great astronomy event. Peak nights for the shower are August 11, 12, and 13 (that’s this weekend, by the way). If you miss it, the showers will still be visible, albeit at a lesser rate, until the end of August. The moon phase (waning gibbous) may hinder the view-ability of the meteor shower on it’s peak nights, though. Don’t let that stop you from enjoying a summer evening outdoors, staring up at the sky, and unraveling the mysteries of those star crossed lovers.

 

Let’s Talk Birdie

Specifically–Raptors. Why is this order of birds so fascinating? Granted, I enjoy watching the cardinals, yellow finches, and other song birds eating at the window feeder while I sip my morning coffee. People pull over in their vehicles and gaze, unmoved for several minutes (or sometimes hours) when they see an eagle or hawk. This spring I shared a link to the Platte River Eagle cam…not many other birds receive this kind of attention and admiration. So what is it? Their fearsome cry? Their majestic glide? Their almost prehistoric features? Maybe it’s their secretive nature–sightings of many raptors are rare. So, we stick a camera in their nest just to keep an eye on them and revel at the mystery of the species.

There is another group of people, and “fascinated” is probably the wrong word to use with this group. “Threatened” is probably more accurate, but I can’t really say because I do not have any of the unifying factors that make up this other group of raptor-watchers. Now, before I go any further, I would just like to say that all of the blog posts here are meant to be informative. I wouldn’t say I am neutral, but the intent is not to scold people or cause argument with opinions that are the opposite or disagree with mine.

Okay. Now, I never realized the threat that livestock farmers and gamekeepers feel from the raptor order of birds (Falconiformes, which is divided into six families). By livestock, I specifically mean chickens. I guess I can somewhat identify with this group as my family has chickens. Free-range chickens can often become stranded in the middle of a field without cover. Yikes. Chickens may not have a reputation of being intelligent, but they can sense danger and will look for cover–I’ve seen the family chickens run into the coop or duck under the wooden structure in their yard when they feel threatened. “Free range is great for the chickens but also puts them at risk because you’ve concentrated prey in one location. Easy fixes include providing cover for the chickens during raptor migration season when you have more birds coming through. Cover includes trees, bushes, and awning/roofs,” explains one ornithologist. There are a few instances about free-range farmers shooting at raptors to ward them off. Warning shots can sometimes hit the mark though, and probably a time consuming management practice.

The link here is a story about raptors in Scotland and their disappearance around game lands.  What solutions are available for those game land managers whose “livestock” doesn’t follow domestic animal practices? Game bird hunting is a popular sport, especially in open prairie lands (like South Dakota) where many game birds live (pheasants, grouse, etc.), but birds of prey are quite intelligent. I suspect that once they find a hot spot of prey, they continue to visit that area and pass along the knowledge to offspring. Back to the original question–what are the solutions? Would providing man-made cover take away from the hunting experience, and would that be practical? If I knew, I would probably be writing a “did you know” educational piece rather than a “what can we do” piece. For us backyard chicken farmers that wish to free-range, providing cover is a good solution. It may not be a perfect solution, but neither is farming–loss happens.

Monarch Month

If you are a bug nerd like me, you have probably been following the progress of the Monarchs this summer. Or maybe you enjoy Monarchs and no other bugs, either way, this is an exciting time for the butterflies. I have included a few videos below from sources around Michigan who are also super geeked about Monarchs. The videos are not in chronological order, which is interesting in itself–while many Monarch butterflies are emerging from eggs that were laid in June, there is another generation of caterpillars that is just hatching (we have Micky at the office that hatched this past Sunday). The videos show the last instar of a Monarch caterpillar as an eating machine, the process of cocoon creation, and the beauty of emerging after 10-14 days of transformation from wiggly, striped caterpillar to bright orange, majestic butterfly.

Monarch butterflies, their migration, and their loss of habitat have been big topics lately, for several reasons.

  1. There is a current campaign to make the Monarch butterfly the State Insect. Yes, the same as we have a state bird, tree, flower, wildflower, stone, gem, reptile, fish, fossil, game mammal, and soil (really?). Why is there a state soil and no state insect? I have nothing against Kalkaska sand, especially since the area I live is quite rich with it, but insects are much more fascinating than dirt. Also, how did rocks get two representatives?
  2. Many insect pollinators are declining and a major reason (per research, not just hear-say) is due to the loss of habitat. I don’t really want to get into the details here, but the Monarch is a recognizable symbol to represent all pollinators. Every campaign needs a pretty face, or at least a lovable personality.
  3. While many other insects can utilize several different plants, Monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed. The eggs are laid on the plant and the caterpillars eat until they are so fat they have to turn into a butterfly. This point goes back to the loss of habitat, but it is even more important for Monarchs than for many of the other insect pollinators because they are so specific. Talk about a picky eater!
  4. Their migration is a scientific marvel, trust me, I’ve done the research. How does a 5th generation Monarch know to travel south for the winter? That’s right–the generation that travels north in the spring is not the same generation that will travel south in October. 4 other generations grow up, have babies, and die before the migrating generation is born. Birds will migrate each year–the same bird–and that bird teaches it’s young to do the same. However, a Monarch butterfly’s knowledge is passed on through genes rather than hand holding and teachable moments. Amazing, to say the least.

 


Want to tag your own Monarch and track it’s travel south in the fall and back north in the spring? Join Missaukee Conservation District on August 25th for a Monarch tagging event! Call for more details: 231.839.7193.

 

Christmas is not in July

Some enjoy the numerous sales that come along this time of year that retailers enjoy calling “Christmas in July.” I am not entirely sure why this yearly occurrence bothers me. Maybe it’s because birthdasys in July should not be reminded of the mountains of snow that generally accompany the December holiday. It may also be that I believe a holiday should be celebrated when it was originally set to be celebrated…we don’t have St. Patrick’s Day in November, do we? There may be more to my dislike of “Christmas in July,” but I won’t go on anymore.

July (and the rest of summer and fall) is the time to think about your Christmas Tree farm (maybe that is where the idea came from?). Especially if it is no longer maintained as a tree ‘farm’ and has overgrown itself into something more of a forest. Maybe you would like to do something different with the numerous acres, but just aren’t sure of the options. First: you’re not the only one; Second: we have a workshop for that! Join District forester, Larry Czulesta to discuss the challenges and explore the opportunities of converting a Christmas tree farm. This workshop should give you a practical plan to making your conversion happen.

What to do with an old Christmas Tree farm:                                                                                                                   July 29, 2017 9am to 1pm at the Cherry Grove Townhall, 4830 E. M-55 .  Pre-register is required by calling the Wexford Conservation District office at 231-775-7681 ext. 3 or emailing larry.czelusta@macd.org by July 21. 

 

The Little Things

Sometimes it’s the little things you do in life that make a big difference. A smile, a helping hand, or a shared laugh can make a major impression. What you may not realize is that there are also ‘little things’ that can impact the wildlife with which we share our lands. As the human population continues to multiply, expand and develop the land, it’s the little things that can make all the difference for wildlife and fish habitats. What can you do?

Grass and hay fields. 

  • Leave streamsides, ditchbanks, roadsides, grassed waterways, and other odd areas undisturbed or wait until after the nesting season to mow.
  • Add flush-bars to mowing equipment. Mow hay fields from the center to the outside, giving wildlife a chance to escape to field edges.

Crop fields

  • Use no-till or conservation tillage to provide cover and food for wildlife in winter.
  • Flood crop residue during the winter for waterfowl habitat and shorebirds while allowing stubble breakdown.
  • Leave a few rows of standing crop along field edges to provide wildlife food. Maximize the likely survival of pheasants, quail and other birds by leaving these rows next to large tracts of grasses, trees or other habitat.

Smart pest control.

  • Use integrated pest management practices to minimize fish and wildlife exposure to pesticides and encourage beneficial insects, bats, raptors and other species to help in reducing crop pests.

Maximize odd areas

  • Make full use of non-farmed areas by establishing habitat used by the wildlife you want to see on your farm.
  • Use native grasses as well as forbs and legumes: Lightly disc a portion of your grasses early in the year–new growth of annual forbs will encourage insects and produce seeds for pheasants, quail and other wildlife.
  • Plant native trees and shrubs to produce fruits and nuts.
  • Leave dead trees standing in woodlots to provide nesting and foraging sites for woodpeckers and other cavity nesting wildlife.
  • Put up bird houses, bat boxes, and other artificial nesting structures to encourage wildlife to use spaces outside of barns and fields.

Jim Williams is the NRCS Conservationist covering Missaukee and Wexford counties. Visit Jim at the Cadillac office: whatever whatever Boon Rd. or visit the NRCS home web site at www.nrcs.usda.gov 

Drink it up

Local farmers speak of the “million dollar rains” that the area has experienced lately. Dry spells (without rain for several days, or even weeks) are common in northern Michigan throughout the summer months. The usual consequences are that residents manually water their vegetable and flower gardens, or farmers run their irrigation systems.

The expanse of tree roots

We often don’t realize how dry spells and droughts affect the forests of our area. Obviously young trees and seedlings with their shallow root systems will struggle to survive hot weather with a lack of moisture. What is less obvious is the effects of dry weather on older, more established forests. Rains of less than inch may help your lawn grass grow (the roots are inches from the surface), but small amounts of rain do little to alleviate dry conditions in the deep rooting zone of trees. 

Trees like firs and spruces have much of their roots within 2 feet of the soil surface. They will struggle earlier than the deeper rooted hardwoods, but they will also benefit earlier from rain relief. Hardwoods, however, often have a delayed or accumulating effect of prolonged dry weather. One species that is still suffering from several recent dry summers is our sugar maple. Sugar maple does grow on our sandy soils, but it prefers a richer soil with more moisture. Die-back of branches in the upper crown is a common sight of sugar maple trees. This condition is, in part, caused by two successive dry and hot summers. So the next time you walk in the woods and you see wet trails, along with a healthy hatch of mosquitoes, remember that the trees are making up for two years of lost rains!

Larry Czelusta is the Missaukee and Wexford County Forester. Call or email to tap into his wealth of forest and landscape tree knowledge: 231.839.7193, larry.czelusta@macd.org .

Summer Bug Club

Join Missaukee Conservation District for Summer Bug Club, starting next week, to explore the wonderful world of bugs. Far from being the negatively portrayed “creepy crawlies,” insects are an interesting and important facet of our natural environment. From aquatic insect larvae (the life stage before adult) to the well-known & beautiful Monarch butterfly, insects can give us information about the habitat in which they live.

Scientists study and collect insects for what they call “biological indicators.” Certain insects require pristine environmental conditions and others can tolerate very polluted conditions. Insects are used as biological indicators very often in aquatic environments: lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds. Certain species can also be used in a laboratory setting in water quality and sediment tests. Pretty amazing, right?!

Other wildlife such as migratory birds, mountain lions, grey wolves, they sometimes receive the spotlight of a movie star. Protection of these species is very important, but so to is the protection of our smallest biological indicators–insects. They are often overlooked because they aren’t as glamorous as the Asian Tigers (those eyes!), or as cuddly as the Giant Panda. They are no less vital to environmental conservation. Monarch butterflies have become the face of insect conservation, and they are an excellent choice–smart, beautiful, with a little mystery, and recognizable (unless you mistake a Viceroy for a Monarch…) and plummeting populations. The Rusty Patch bumblebee is also beginning to share some of the minimal spotlight that is shed on insect species. Both are excellent symbols of the importance of conservation, but most insects get the “icky” reputation and companies have even been built on the destruction of their lives. Sure, not all insect species are decreasing in number, and not all of them should be on the threatened list. During bug club, we invite you to look past the stereotype, jump that first hurdle, and discover something new about those “creepy crawlies.” I’ll give you a first little morsel: spiders are not insects, and true bugs are just one of several orders of insects. That wasn’t a great morsel, but you’ll just have to join us to learn something more interesting!

Look for our flyer at the Ardis Library. Call our office to RSVP for these club events at least two days in advance, please: 231.839.7193. You can also visit us at 6180 W. Sanborn Rd. Lake City, explore the insects in our gardens and along our forested trail.

In-tents!

Warmer weather brings out the bugs. Insect eggs hatch out larvae that are eating machines. Some insects are more noticeable than others, either for the amount they eat or they way they bother us. “Tent caterpillar” and “army-worm” are two descriptions of insect larvae that can be confusing and also misunderstood. Eastern Tent Caterpillars cause some stir in the late spring due to their very obvious “tents” that they create in between tree arms (really it’s the armpit or crotch). Wild cherry trees are one of their favorite camp sites, and these trees are often on road sides. Many tend to be alarmed by the sheer number of caterpillars that occupy each tent and the number of tents per tree or shrub.  The caterpillars do eat a great deal of foliage, however the tree or shrub generally survives, no problem. Plus, they provide a very easy-to-access buffet for many birds.

Caterpillars, including tent caterpillars, provide a bountiful food source for birds and their growing young!

 

 

Another caterpillar also emerging about this time is the Forest Tent Caterpillar. They are often called “army-worms,” but they aren’t worms (caterpillars have legs and eyes and other features that true worms lack) and they don’t put up tents like the Eastern Tent Caterpillar. Their names don’t make much sense, do they? Maybe they added “tent” because of their in-tents nature of destruction! Too much with the tent joke? The photo above shows just how to identify each of the common late-spring caterpillars. The Eastern is probably the easiest to spot from a distance because of their tent structures. If you see the tents, think of the birds before torching this mostly harmless camp site!

Forest Tent Caterpillar outbreaks usually last 3-5 years and are quite destructive. They prefer aspen, but will also eat maple leaves. Pest specialists are expecting an increase in the population of Forest Tent Caterpillar. If you see damage to your trees but are unsure of the cause, contact Larry Czelusta, Missaukee County Forester, to help identify and brainstorm solutions. Call 839.7193 or email larry.czelusta@macd.org. 

 

See the Forest for the Trees

In colonial days, the best of the trees were set apart by the king for masts on British ships. As the nation grew, the lumber of white pines built our homes and businesses. –National Arbor Day Foundation

Toothpaste, parmesan cheese, electricity and bubble gum… Did you know we enjoy these thanks to TREES!? Americans use an average of 4.5 pounds of wood products per day. Trees provide habitat, provide flood and shoreline protection, throw oxygen and absorb pollutants like carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Their importance cannot be overstated, and Missaukee Conservation District presents a tree and an activity each spring to students in the county.

This year over 300 students were wowed by the secret life of trees. Each student went home with a free Eastern White Pine seedling, Michigan’s State Tree, and at least one fun new factoid about how great all trees are.  “Many families in our community are supported by the forestry industry and of course, all of us use wood products daily,” Laura Quist, conservation educator, explains, “not only did we give away trees, but participants learned about the importance of forestry as wildlife habitat, its role in our local economy, and the ecological services forests provide.” Students also learned the inner works of a tree with a Project Learning Tree (PLT) activity.

Missaukee Conservation District offers a variety of free programming to school, scout and community groups. Find out more about scheduling our education programs or how you can volunteer with Missaukee Conservation District by exploring the Education and Volunteer Opportunities tabs.

HHW 2017

 

There are a few changes to our collection this year:

  • First, we will be only able to offer one tire collection due to the new timeline of the DEQ grant requirements. The tire collection will be at the Missaukee County Road Commission. The first 7 passenger tires will be free and only $2 each after that. Large, oversized tires will cost $15; we are unable to accept tires that are taller than 4 feet and 12 inches wide.
  • Second, we are unable to take latex paint this year as our vendor is unavailable. Thankfully latex paint is not hazardous to you or the environment. Donate leftover paint to a neighbor or family project. Latex paint can easily be stirred back into beauty! If there isn’t much left or it’s starting to dry up you can finish the job in two ways: leave the lid off (in a safe place) or add sand or kitty litter to the can (to absorb the paint). Once it’s dried up it can be disposed of it in your regular trash.
  • Third, electronics will be limited to certain items this year–computer towers, laptops and circuit boards, hard drives, along with keyboards, computer speakers, mouse and printers ONLY. Batteries and ink cartridges must be removed, please.  Absolutely NO televisions or computer monitors will be accepted. The electronics will be collected at the Missaukee Recycling Center. Goodwill accepts flat screens.
  • Fourth, on-site paper shredding and household hazardous waste will be collected at the Missaukee County Road Commission.
  • Finally, the recycling center will be open as usual the same day collecting your happy, weekly recycle items!

Volunteers are still needed to assist with non-physical needs such as traffic directors, tally markers and assistants. Call our office: 231.839.7193 or email Becky at rebecca.bode@macd.org for volunteer sign up! Help us carry out our conservation mission!

More information (including a partial list of accepted items) can be found under the “Recycling” tab at the top of the page, or share our event on Facebook.

Becky Bode is the Recycling Center Coordinator & Recycling/Compost Educator. You can find her at the Missaukee County Recycling Center Saturdays, 9 am to 1 pm and Wednesdays, 9 am to 5 pm.