Helping Ospreys Return

osprey-1Once found on wetlands and other water bodies across southern Michigan, the osprey population sharply declined during the mid-20th Century.  The primary culprit in this crash was the overuse of harmful pesticides. Over the last 30 years, The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and many other organizations have worked to re-establish the osprey population in Michigan. The number has risen from 81 pairs in 1975 to 166 by 1988 and has been on the rise ever since (Source:Huron River Watershed Council). In several places where Ospreys nest they provide a popular wildlife viewing opportunity.

My interest in ospreys was piqued when looking for an Eagle Scout project.  To achieve the highest rank in Boy Scouts of Eagle Scout, scouts need to lead a project that benefits an organization in their community. My Eagle Scout project beneficiary was the Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC).  HRWC was interested in  building an observation deck in a local park.  The observation area was to compliment a recently installed osprey nesting platform–which would  hopefully attract, an osprey.  The HRWC revitalizes and monitors the Huron River watershed which covers seven counties and 900 miles in the Detroit Metropolitan area.  I have been a proud macroinvertebrate data collection team leader and volunteer for this organization since the eighth grade.

Since the nesting platform is far from the shore, I suggested we include commercial binoculars (with a child step) and a child-friendly educational sign.  This project involved raising over $7660, developing and managing a budget, obtaining permits from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Ann Arbor Building Department, making several presentations to stakeholder groups, and organizing a team of volunteers to build the deck. The project involved 176.6 volunteer hours.

Thinking I would have to design the educational sign myself, I  completed a fair amount of research on the Ospreys  I was somewhat relieved when many local bird experts offered to be part of the sign design team.  I quickly realized the sign had become the unifying element for our community. The sign was symbolic of the passion so many people have for our rivers and the Ospreys. In the end, the sign will help to create awareness of HRWC and their revitalization initiatives. It will also inform the public how conservation efforts can impact the return and survival of interesting birds like the ospreys.  It is a very inspiring message. The project went well and the platform installed with the help of volunteers from my scout troop and other volunteers.

Last month it was great to watch 30 school kids line up to take a turn looking through the new binoculars. I have already seen several wildlife photographers use the deck to take pictures of the waterfowl in the area.   It has been rewarding to see our community so vested in being part of HRWC’s vision for our rivers.  I am looking for the day when a pair of ospreys decides that our nesting platform is perfect for their nesting site.  Maybe it will be this spring.  I will be waiting and watching.

If you are an Eagle Scout candidate or Boy Scout troop looking for a small or large project, please consider a conservation project.  Many opportunities exist for service projects like this.  Contact any one of your local outdoor or conservation groups or organizations.

Dale (Trip) J. Apley, III, YCC Member, Ann Arbor

 

State Forest Campgrounds – Finding A Hidden Treasure

sf-campground

When one hears the word “camping” in this day and age, thoughts of RV’s, running water, showers, and electricity often come to mind. However, for me, I think of a remote lake or river with a few cleared out campsites, a vault toilet, and a hand pumped well. If this appeals to you, than I’d like to recommend camping at one of Michigan’s state forest campgrounds.

Located on state forest land in the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula, Michigan’s 130 state forest campgrounds offer very few amenities and provide each camper with a way to reconnect with nature unlike modern campgrounds. Ranging from 3 sites to 50 sites, state forest campgrounds vary in size. Some have hiking trails, others have boat launches and beaches. What stays the same, however, is where they are located – off of the beaten path.

When I discovered these “hidden treasures” several years ago while camping with my family, I immediately fell in love. For $13 a night, you get peace, tranquility, and the ability to experience nature at its finest. No crowds, paved campsites, hotel-like amenities, or internet. This is what camping is all about.

Michigan is blessed with 3.9 million acres of state forest land. Take advantage of it, because each citizen in Michigan owns it. To find a state forest campground near you, visit http://www.michigan.gov/dnr or call your nearest DNR field office.

Jake Putala, YCC Member, Pelkie

 

The One That Almost Was

It was a typical late October evening. I had driven by houses decorated with pumpkins and ghosts on my way to the state park where I do the majority of my deer hunting. It was the first east wind after quite a few north wests, and I was pumped that it was finally the right wind to hunt one of the tree stands my dad and I had put up earlier this fall.

martin-chown-practiceThe beginning of my sit was uneventful, a few squirrels here and there, a couple of chickadees and blue jays flitting around. With about 20 minutes left of shooting light, I caught a glimpse of a gray hide slinking along the edge of a swamp 25 yards to my left. Peering through the thick pines with my grandpa’s binoculars, I could barely make out  the eight points sticking up from the buck’s old body. With my heart beginning to pound, I reached for my bow and started double checking the range I thought he would step out at. “Twenty yards, money, just like I practiced after school today,” I thought to myself. Thumbing my bow release nervously, I peered into the quickly darkening forest to check on his location. I peered and peered, not seeing anything through the thick pine and cedar mess. My heart rate started to drop as the seconds ticked by. After about five minutes, I couldn’t take it any longer. I stood up, fumbling with Papa’s binos. A wave of relief washed over me as I immediately saw specks of his old hide through the trees. He hadn’t disappeared into the swamp. The wave of relief turned into a tsunami of despair as I realized the buck was staring right back into my binoculars. Trembling, I put the binos down. Just in time to see a white tail bobbing gracefully off into the distance.

Martin Chown – YCC Member, Traverse City

More Than Just an Experience

deer-patchLike many avid outdoorsmen, November 15th is a national holiday worth celebrating. This year was no different. Unlike most mornings, getting up at the crack of dawn was no issue for me today.  It was long awaited.  I was eager to get in the woods before daylight to hear the raccoons, rabbits, and squirrels, but more importantly, the see the deer scurrying along the fence rows.  I sat for five long hours and not a deer in sight.  Was this going to be a fruitless day?  As my mind began to drift, I suddenly heard movement in the distance –12 turkeys.  Now, anyone who understands deer hunting knows that turkeys are very weary birds — and deer use them to their advantage. Not long after, a group of six does and one buck were approaching.  Now being from central lower Michigan, there are many farm fields packed with hunters, essentially World War III.  My cousin was in a tree stand a couple hundred yards ahead of me. The deer began to cautiously trot closer and closer.  Shortly thereafter, I heard a single gun shot.  And within seconds the group came charging near my vicinity.  Letting out a couple grunts, I was hoping to lure in the big eight point buck I saw a few days prior during bow season — but no such luck. However, there was a large doe which stopped dead in its tracks.  I quickly pulled up my 12-gauge and took a 60 yard shot. Down goes the doe!  My heart was racing — this was my first successful kill of the year.  I waited 15 minutes before climbing out of my stand to check on the deer.  Forty yards from where my doe laid was the big buck I was initially out to get.  My cousin dropped it instead. After dragging then both out of the woods and dressing them, we proudly showed our harvested deer to our grandpa.  It was indeed a good day!

 Understanding wildlife diseases is also an important concept for all hunters to grasp.  Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is no different. This disease attacks the lymph nods and brain of deer, which in turn slowly kills the deer.  Well, I live in the region where this is a serious problem. So after we were done taking pictures, we headed over to the nearest DNR check station in Eagle Township. To test deer for CWD, they cut off the head and send it to a lab for further testing. When the DNR biologists test the head, they take the lymph nods from behind the ears, as well as brain matter, and check for unwanted bacteria. With CWD, it is recommended that you not eat the meat.  Also at the check station, the DNR will provide you two things: 1) a patch that shows you had your deer tested, and 2) an orange slip that identifies the specimen number which allows you to track the test results online. Luckily, my doe tested negative.  However, if your deer does test positive, the DNR will provide you another deer tag to fill. 

This entire process was a good learning experience for me.  First, there are only a handful of counties in Michigan of which CWD has been documented — and I happen to hunt in one of those counties (Clinton County). Second, it allowed me to talk with other hunters who were getting their deer tested, and hear some of their interesting outdoor experiences (although I’m sure the turdy point buck is still on the prowl!). And finally, it showed me the true dedication that the Department of Natural Resources has to Michigan’s great outdoors. Their enthusiasm and willingness to share their knowledge to our youth is nothing short of exceptional. Last fall, I was privileged to job shadow a DNR wildlife biologist (Chad Fedewa) at one of these check stations.  Mr. Fedewa taught me how to cut the heads off, how to determine the age of the deer, and much more.  Needless to say, the day flew by and I couldn’t be more grateful for the experience.  

 Graham Smith – YCC member, Lyonsautumn-day

 

A Family Affair

duck-huntingHunting isn’t always about harvesting animals; it is about getting outdoors and doing what you love with who you love. This past duck season I had the opportunity to get back to the way it all started for me.  My grandpa was the first on to introduce my dad to the sport.  Once my dad got hooked on duck hunting, he started to take me.  When I was about two years old, my dad took me out duck hunting for the first time.  From then on I have been hooked on the fast paced action that the sport brings.  My dad and I would always drive to my grandma and grandpa’s house the day before the opening day of duck season so we could head out on the water bright and early the next morning with my grandpa.  I loved going out with both my dad and my grandpa and still do.  The places we used to hunt have “slowed down” over the past few years so my grandpa and I haven’t had the opportunity to hunt together lately, but I wanted to change that.  So this year we made a plan for my grandpa to come over and hunt with us.   We had a blast and we also harvested a few ducks along the way.  I had a great time and loved to get back to the way it all started for me.  So if you have the opportunity, make sure you also get some time in doing what you love with who you love.

Justin Cobb – YCC Member, Bark River

Five Generations

squires-photoOf the 11,000 lakes in Michigan, I’d like to tell you about my favorite lake: Lake George!  Lake George is 134 acres in size and is located in Clare County, north of Farwell.  The area around Lake George was originally surveyed by my great-great grandfather, Arthur D. Johnson.  He was paid by being given lots surrounding the lake and eventually built our family cottage there around the mid-1940’s.  During World War II, it was difficult to get building materials, so he built the walls of the cottage from blocks that he made himself out of sawdust and other materials he had on hand.  The original cottage is still standing, and I am the fifth generation to vacation there — a tradition that we are all proud of.

I started going up to our cottage at Lake George as a baby, and I learned how to do one of my favorite hobbies there, fishing! My preferred fish to catch there is bass, but we have many other fish in the lake including pike, carp, bullhead, sun fish, crappie, perch, and more.  I remember so many mornings waking up early to go out fishing with my dad on our pontoon boat, and as my brother grew up, he would go with us too.

There are so many fun things to do outdoors at Lake George. I love tubing and wake boarding on the lake, and it’s also fun to anchor our boat at the “swimming hole” and go swimming.  When not on the water, I enjoy hiking around the lake, or walking to town for an ice cream cone!  In the evenings, we always have a campfire and roast marshmallows! The 4th of July is always a fun time to be on the lake as well because there is usually a boat parade and after dark, the neighbors around the lake set off fireworks.

The best part of being at Lake George is just enjoying being outdoors. My family has always had a rule of “no television sets” at the cottage.  When I was younger, I never understood why we couldn’t have a TV there.  However, now that I am in high school and look back at those times, I realize why my parents enforced that rule, because it encouraged my brother and I to be outdoors and enjoy all that Lake George had to offer, whether it be catching turtles, climbing trees, shooting our BB guns, or teaching my dog how to look for fish in the water.   Lake George will always be a very special place for me – it feels like home!

Tyler Squire – YCC member, Midland

A Yooper’s Right of Passage

Waking up at five-thirty in the morning is not usually something a high schooler looks forward to during his summer vacation. Regardless, that is the position I found myself in, on my way to what was described by my dad as a “yooper passage”‒ Brook Trout fishing. I was also about to be reminded that enjoyment is not entirely in a direct relation with fishing success.

Brook Trout fishing requires a specific type of location. Our’s was a little outside the norm‒ Agate Fallsmenigoz-picture of Trout Creek, Michigan. The hike down the steep slope to the river below was tricky to say the least, but it was soon forgotten when we reached the bottom. The rushing whitewater of the river high above cascaded over the edge of the falls in a deluge and crashing down to foam and mists right at our feet. It is difficult to understand how such a sense of silence is experienced in the midst of the roar of the falls.

We didn’t waste time admiring the falls, walking right out into the water and looking for a good place to cast. The ideal spots to cast are the dead spots within the swiftly moving stream (typically behind rocks or any other blockages), where the fish like to sit. Inevitably, these are always in the farthest and most difficult reaches of the river.

After some time of minimal luck, we began picking our way away from the falls and down the river, snagging often and contantly losing bait. As the thundering of the falls faded the natural sound of the woods increased, so did the mosquitoes. It was not long before my dad hauled in the first catch of the day‒ the first of very few. After a few more hits (no catches) and a little further down the river, my sister somehow managed to silently break off the end of her rod in a tree and lose it in the rushing current. Of course, my dad’s response to this was to catch two or three more fish.

It was some time after nine o’clock when we decided to call it quits. Myself experiencing only nibbles brought our grand total to about four Brook Trout and half of a rod lost. We didn’t, however, count it a failure as we had enjoyed beautiful weather and scenery and also a great outdoor activity. My dad always says that time outdoors doesn’t count against your life, and I think days like these makes me believe that to be true. After a day like this, I may even find myself looking forward to my next opportunity to wake up at five-thirty in the morning during my summer vacation.

Henry Menigoz – YCC member, Ontonagon