Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Window View

As evening settled in, I knelt like a kid on the couch and drifted into the wild outside my window. The sun had set but dusk lingered. A large cluster of fleabane flowers decorated the view. Most gardeners would have long removed the plant in favor of something more glamorous. It is my joy to have the fleabane. I should have spent part of the day watching its flowers to meet its visitors.

Instead of a manicured lawn, the yard is an unkempt marvel of plants and animals. A bird feeder brings visitors that brighten the day. A handful of common species keeps me company. For the serious birder, travel is required to see species other than the common place. I am a common place person with common place birds. It is a pleasure to see the more unusual birds or even common birds like the Gray Catbird that remain in the thickets at yard’s edge. The catbird watches me from thickets as I take daily walks. It often mews or calls a variety of sweet melodies. It has now retreated for the night and is not heard or seen from my window view.

Ragweed populates bare ground around the feeders with blooms that most would not consider flowers. Nondescript flowers producing pollen remain hidden in plain sight as tiny green bumps. Those bumps release massive quantities of minute pollen that irritate the sinuses of untold numbers of people and animals. They will be cut or pulled tomorrow when the sun rises and I make a futile attempt to reduce their “hay fever” effect.

People tend to blame beautiful goldenrod flowers as the “hay fever” culprit. Its pollen is too large and heavy to be carried far from the parent and seldom enters our sinuses. It falls rapidly to the ground. Insects are required to carry its pollen from one plant to another.

A large ash tree killed by the emerald ash borers, stands just far enough from the house that it should not cause home damage when it falls. Other ashes whose cambium was destroyed by the beetle grubs have begun to fall. They crumble piecemeal with branches breaking and falling before the main trunk crashes. It has surprised me that the trees are falling so soon after being killed. Other species like elms and cherries stand for long periods after succumbing to age or disease.

A Ruby-throated Hummingbird has a couple favorite perches on the dead ash’s branches. The skeleton stands tall above the butterfly garden and provides an ideal location for the hummer to guard the sugar water feeder and nectar flowers.

My mind has drifted with the sights and sounds of the outdoors without leaving my reading and writing room. The surrounding abundance of life in view from my window offers contentment. Night has crept over the yard. Black-horned tree crickets are trilling their best tunes to call mates in their nature niche.

A welcome rain dampened the landscape after weeks of dryness. Plants stood stoic during the drought. Their leaves stayed green and coiled in the dryness waiting for a needed drink. Several times I have witnessed the plants response to welcome water after dry conditions. Within a day of roots capturing as much liquid as possible, some leaves and branches turn dead brown while others revive. This occurred with the arrowwood viburnum this week. The plant will live but not all leaves or branches.

I have never understood the reaction. It appears the plant maintains the appearance of life for all its green leaves until it finally has a drink. Then it rapidly sends vital fluid to leaves able to survive but not to those too desiccated. Those almost instantly turn brown and will be discarded. Plants are resilient. They only keep parts that can be sustained.

From my kneeling perch on the couch, I turned and sat like a proper adult to contemplate the wonders of nature surrounding the house.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.