Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Rebel Woodpecker - 153

I've always enjoyed woodpeckers, but not when I had excruciating headaches, but a Northern Flickers life is all about using their slightly curved bills to excavate dead wood or partially rotting wood for a nest site. Sometimes they just like to beat the snot our of hollow metal objects; like mail boxes. Sometimes I think it's just to annoy humans. Each year once both sexes meet they start excavating a new hole preferably someplace in the same nesting tree. Choice home sites include hollow tree stumps and branches, or old weathered fence posts in pasture fields, utility poles or behind the damaged
sidings of buildings. It's wherever they can roost from 2-60 feet above the ground. If threatened by man or predator they will protect their young.

After the nest cavity is hollowed out the female lays from 7-9 pure white, smooth, oval to short oval eggs. Both sexes over the next 11-12 days will incubate the eggs and rotate incubation between themselves every hour. The male incubates the eggs at night while the female rests at a nearby resting perch or preening spot. After the eggs hatch the male takes great care in incubating the brood. Once the young arrive both sexes are nonvocal to each other and the woods return to silence. This is a survival tactic to keep hawks and owls from finding the nestlings. Birds watch each other especially cow birds.

Believe it or not, ornithologists studying the reproductive systems of flickers have discovered that if one egg is removed from the nest each day, the female will lay another egg within 24 hours. She knows how many eggs she laid. Studies show that by removing one egg per day, leaving one egg as a "nest egg," 71 eggs were removed from 1 flicker nest in 73 days. The female only missed 2 days in egg production over the course of 2 months of laying additional 71 eggs. Flickers have the uncanny ability to lay the correct number of eggs that will permit them to produce the maximum number of offspring. Flickers will produce as many surviving young as possible to replace those lost to forces of Mother Nature and man. If a cowbird finds the nest and deposits one of her own in the nest with the other eggs, the woodpeckers will abandon the entire clutch and relay another set of eggs up to nine times. Flickers know the differences in eggs.

Unlike other members of the woodpecker family, the Northern Flicker is known as the "rebel woodpecker," because it does most of its foraging for food on the ground as opposed to pecking insects from behind tree bark. It is a migratory bird to Michigan from Canada and they begin migrating north as the earth warms and ants come to the surface. They begin moving as the snow and ice recede towards the north. Spring, summer and fall diets consist of more than 50% ants. They follow the progression of ants north like geese following the receding snows of winter.

Flickers will sit on the ground below bird feeders and occasionally hang on them, but only sort the seeds. They do swipe a sunflower seed, but prefer looking for ants to eat. Flickers come to feeders looking for cracked corn from April to June, not for the corn, but the ants it attracts. Ants love the sugar properties of corn. They love suet, peanut butter seed cakes in the winter and forage on insects killed by summer bug zappers. Catch the dead bugs and watch the flickers sort them. From mid-summer to fall they feed heavily on wild berries, nuts and seeds.

What also makes flickers rebels is the fact that they have long, smooth, sticky tongues instead of the barbed tongues like other woodpeckers. Flicker tongues are so sticky that ants quickly adhere to it and they love little fire ants in those big ant hill mounds in open fields. These birds do a war dance atop those two to three foot diameter ant hills using their feet and bills to stir up the ants inside. When the crawling nasties storm out to defend their home the flicker slurps them them up faster than an Aardvark. Flickers make craters in the tops of those ant hills when probing for ants, which are used for trapping more ants, too.

That African aardvark on the Pink Panther cartoon show always made me laugh when I saw his long probing nose with a flared nostril sucking up ants with mega sounds of a powerful vacuum cleaner. Aardvarks like flickers really use their long sticky tongues for slurping up ants and termites.

Flickers regurgitate food to their young unlike their cousins who feed their young with sticky sap-well dunked insects. During early morning hours the young are fed about every ten minutes, but after noon are fed only once an hour. Both sexes take turns feeding the young continually for three weeks.

Once the young birds start sticking their heads out of the nest hole, they will leave the nest and fly within seven days. Leaving the nest they are strong fliers, but will remain with the parents for two-three more weeks. The young are still dependent on their parents for food and protection, but by the end of that three week period they will be able to take care of themselves. Once the young leave the adult flickers they will go through one complete molt. The plumage colors change from late July through September, but time lapsed depends on when the young left the family group.

You will always know when spring arrives in the bird world when you see Northern Flickers slurping up ants or seeing them stomping the ground. "Shall we, dance" takes on a new meaning when you watch Northern Flickers eating.

Watch for more exciting tales about nature from my naturalist travels.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Rebel Woodpecker - 152

John Burroughs (1837-1921) and John Muir (1838-1914) were two of the most popular and successful American nature writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During their lives and writings both approached the subject of nature differently. Muir spent much of his adult life exploring the rugged mountain wilderness areas of California and Alaska. John Burroughs spent most of his entire life (84 yrs.) living on a small New York farm that overlooked the Hudson River just a short distance from the Catskill Mountains where he was born.

Burroughs was a quiet, cheerful writer who popularized amateur nature observations and instilled an appreciation for local wildlife on his readers. Burrough's geographical area was small, but his intellectual range was large for he was observant of birds and wildlife around him. His talent for nature writing is similar to my own. Observe, listen, then write.

One spring day Burrough's wrote, "We cannot greet every new spring in a new land, but we can in every spring celebrate the miraculous return of the birds, whose disappearance in autumn is as sweetly sad as the falling leaves, and whose return is as cheering as the first flower to bloom in the woods." Already the mute swans and geese have paired off as winter ice wanes.

Spring in Michigan can be enjoyed from early March to the middle of June and it is during this period that many birds return, like Scarlet Tanagers, Northern Orioles, Great Crested Flycatchers, Carolina Wrens, Cedar Waxwings, Brown Thrashers, Black and White Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, Red-winged blackbirds, Grackles, Robins, yes even Blue Jays and Northern Flickers migrates southward a few hundred miles.

When singing male Bluebirds drop out of blue sky in mid-March spring begins - when the dandelions bloom and mosquitoes become vampires the swallows return and when the wild violets bloom the Wood Thrushes arrive. When the Cottonwoods trees flower and the puffy white fuzz flies like a blizzard the Northern Orioles return and so the spring cycle for all returning birds is complete.

"Knowledge is only half the task. The other half is love," said Burrough's.

In order to understand the true rites of spring we must have a passionate love affair with Mother Nature. Each day we must observe and listen to what nature teaches us and here's an example. Have you ever noticed the difference between late winter and early spring. On cold overcast days the woods are silent, but on bright early mornings when the sun is rising the woods are alive with bird chatter. As the days get longer, brighter and warmer, the robins sing beautiful musical tunes from tall trees and the face the sun. They sing louder as storm clouds build and raindrops fall. Even the frogs and spring peepers are silent, but the very next day the meadows, woods and wetlands come alive with the ear piercing screeching from Northern Flickers. The Blue Jays entertain us with their loud tea-kettle sounds and yet their voice is nothing compared to the loud ear piercing, "Woicka-woika-woika, wicker, wicker, wicker or flicka, flicka, flicka" calls of Northern Flickers that echo from distant woodlots far and wide on a warm spring day.

Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) are slightly larger than American robins or Blue Jays. These 13-14 inch long birds are the only brown-backed members of woodpecker families in Michigan. The are beautiful with brown back with dark black bars. They are whitish below with black spots and a black crescent slash across the breast and have a white rump in flight. Michigan birds have a red spot on nape of neck. The males sport a black mustache from the bill to just below the black eyes. In forward flight they undulate up and down and the underside wing linings and tail feathers are a flashy golden yellow. They inhabit open woodland areas around farms, orchards (don't drill holes like their cousins) and woodlots. They love parks and tree lined city streets, because these have next cavities just the right size to raise families. They are quite sociable birds.

Due to the warm winter without much snow, already I can hear their boisterous courting rituals, the singing between two pairs of Northern Flickers. Like the Yellow-bellied sapsucker, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, the Northern Flickers are staking out territorial boundaries to attract their mated for life partners with loud rhythmical drumming by striking their bills against hollow or dead branches producing that 'dat-dat-dat-dat' racket on whatever they land upon. To further annoy humans mating flickers will pound out a beat like American Indians banging on drums. They pound on metal rain gutters, drainpipes, stovepipes, dryer vents, trashcans, aluminum siding, mail boxes and street signs. You name it and they'll drive humans nuts. Now you understand what bird puts those tiny dents in these items.

Believe it or not, one spring afternoon I had a terrible headache. I laid down on my bed and before I could fall asleep a clicker was loudly drumming on my roof flashing about twenty feet away. The drumming was obnoxious and loud and the resonant sounds vibrated through the walls nearly causing my head to explode. I was in utter misery. All I wanted to do was rest in silence, but oh, no, the obnoxious birds were bound to drive me nuts. Thoughts of 'justifiable homicide' popped into my mind.

Actually Northern Flickers only utter the loud vocal calls and drummings for about eith weeks from early April to June. The racket they create is for territorial and courtship rituals to attract the females and females arrive two-three weeks after the males arrive. These are head bobbers, a natural response to females. The birds raise their breasts and bob their heads up and down and from side to side. Wings are lifted slightly and tails spread outward to expose the flashy golden yellow underside feathers and then the "Woika, woika, woika" serenades begin. They get pretty intense during territorial conflicts or sexual rivalries for a life mate during the first several days of courtship.

Drum rolling is the rapid hitting of the beaks on resonant objects that produce a "tatatatata" which generally occurs near the nest hole. The "tatatatata" sounds are used to attract its mate to the tree from a distant woodlot. Flickers will return to the same nesting tree year after year and defend a home range about 1/2 mile square near the nest cavity. Once the eggs hatch the territory shrinks and they defend only a 150-acre site. Whenever male and female come together they greet each other with a soft "weeta-weeta-weeta" call. I love listening to the sweet singers.

Well that's all for today's blog. Continued.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Dreams and Destiny of Fred Meijer - 6

Hello, my name is Fred... or just call me Fred...or "Hello, I'm Fred and this is my wife Lena. These were respectful introductions Fred always used to make us feel at ease. He was always proud to make your acquaintance with a firm handshake and smile. His way of breaking the ice of those he didn't know was to tell them a short story or good class joke. Fred & Lena Meijer, Rich Devos, Jay Van Andel and my father gave us insights into their humanity and humility. Fred though really shined in conversation and his face was aglow. Where didn't matter, but his smile and laughter are sorely missed in the galleries and halls of FMG and outside in the sculpture park. Volunteers and staff miss the elderly senior gentleman passing out Purple Cow ice cream cards.

From what I hear Fred told an Indianapolis man he had 50 years to redeem it, but the man quickly replied, "Fifty years? I'll be with the Lord by then." Fred whipped out another card and said, "Well, in that case, here's one for the Lord, too! Other wealthy friends and acquaintances have yelled across rooms, like Jay Van Andel, Rich Devos, Norman Schwartzkopf, Gen. Colin Powell and even the Netherlands Queen Beatrix got a card. The Purple Cow ice cream cards
became the Meijer's most coveted card worldwide. Fred and Lena gave these cards to my sister and brother-in-law. They got the surprise of their lives when this old senior couple sat down next to them in an Elton John concert and said, "Hi, I'm Fred and this is my wife Lena Meijer."
I've had several cards over the years, but it is redeemable anytime, but to me its a precious keepsake curio from Fred or Lena.

After all I've written about Fred Meijer there is a sadness in volunteers, friends and family. Much was published in the Grand Rapids Press for nearly a week after his death giving glowing accounts of his achievements, but little was said about Lena, the love of his life, but she was the true power behind his successes. To me she should have gotten some praise while still living, because she supported Fred with her love and compassion for others, too. Seems strange that her name isn't as prevalent on buildings and entities, but maybe that's what she wanted. The love of a faithful wife is what propels her man to do great things, but they seemingly didn't share equally the limelight of success. Opposites do attract each other. I thought it strange in the newspaper stories about Fred to separate or cut Lena from his successes.

She fulfilled her role in her husband's life as a companion, lover and partner, to the end of his life. Fred blossomed because of her selfless love. She was his rock, fortress and the driving force that made Fred excel beyond his father Hendrik's wild dreams for his son's success. Fred accomplished whatever his mind could envision. She allowed him to make mistakes for better or worse, but she stood beside her risk taker, and she like most wives didn't always agree. Fred was a driven man (good) and he did his thing, but he listened to others, and he put joy into the lives of others for knowing him. She was his sugar and spice and she saw him rise to the pinnacle of success, but she never let him forget his humble roots of compassion for others using her Purple Cow ice cream cards.

Fred's latest challenge, vision and dream was the new Japanese Garden at FMGSP. He saw the layouts and drawings, but he began to doubt he'd see construction begin and the final phase be completed. Still he had lots of challenges as he pushed his walking stroller down the hall at FMG the Wednesday before Thanksgiving 2011. He wouldn't sit in a wheelchair and let someone else push him. He was self motivated and that's what kept him a mover and shaker all his life. He thought little of himself and more about others. In fact he gave 50% of his investments back to humanity - to benefit people. He never cared for religious teachings. He didn't like it that wealthy Christians tithed only 10%. He saw no benefit in humanity that those with the most gave so little and it is perhaps this that kept Fred and Lena atheists.

When Rich Devos told Lena 'We have to get Fred right with Jesus Christ' well that was mute point, too, because Fred told her years ago he didn't want any religious contact with Christians.
I was at Fred's memorial service at Sunshine Community Church on the East Beltline in Grand Rapids Township. I did so out of respect to Fred's memory.

Dr. Rev. Richard Rheam talked not so glowingly of Fred. Rheam gave no personal comments about Fred. He never spoke about Jesus Christ or religion. I was saddened to hear this at the time, but didn't know the outcome of whether Fred accepted the teachings of Christ before his death and sought salvation or was he just a true agnostic; a person who refuses to believe the existence of God or Salvation through Jesus Christ. Fred with all his heart made good decisions in business...but not so when it came to religion. Rich DeVos tried to make Fred a believer in Christ, but Fred's heart was like stone. Rich associated himself with Fred hoping he could influence or help Fred make better interpretations of religious theology and viewpoints about Salvation. In doing so he was reaffirming his own beliefs. Fred's heart was hardened against religion. Despite this force-field of religious differences they still remained separate business associates and friends. Christ and religion weren't discussed at the memorial service. Those who attended did so out of respect for Fred and his achievements.

Rheam said, "Fred, asked me have I done enough good works?" Sorry, that didn't sound good to my ears and Fred didn't receive Salvation through Jesus Christ. Was our Fred, the humble man, the man who fueled the dreams of others and those he met with friendship acknowledge Christ.
Christ says of mortal man, (Biblical teachings) "No man shall get to heaven by his good works alone" and Fred's statement of 'have I done enough good works' tells me he remained true to his purest beliefs and didn't accept Christ even at death. The bible says, "he that believes in Me shall inherit eternal life." Did Fred become right with Jesus the last few seconds of his life, well Christ tells us that mortal man is, "Not the judge on earth to decide if Fred yes or no went to heaven." Only our Lord knows the truth. Still we are humble of his passing. We miss him, but sad for Lena, who lost the love of her life.

During the memorial service for Fred Meijer, a Grand Rapids Police Officer sang, "Amazing Grace." I felt it was for the public who attended the service. As he sang on closed circuit TV Fred's old truck carrying his casket came rolling down the pathway from FMG going out to the old Farm house for burial in the farm garden. His monument won't be sited until Spring 2012.

As for Fred "Nothing in mortal life beats stronger than the sacrificed heart of a volunteer's volunteer." The sculptures in the beauty of nature he left behind stand as a monument to the man who truly enjoyed living life to the fullest and leaving a piece of his life behind for all to enjoy. The volunteers at the FMGSP learned much from Fred and miss his presence, friendly smile and jovial nature, as well as Lena, family and friends around the world. He left a big foot print that hard to fill.

What is your destiny? Got a dream? Go for it, but it can't be realized without taking risks in people who have money to enjoy it to help others. Time will tell if his children can rise to meet his expectations. How will Fred's legacy in life compare to their own yet unfolding destiny? Don't forget your destiny, too.