RANGER STEVE’S NATURE NICHE
Sensing Sequence and Succession
By Ranger Steve Mueller
Sequence of flowers through the seasons brings new beauty to our eyes and nose with each passing week as spring progresses from brown duff to the laying of autumn leaves. The sequence fills our senses of sight and smell but delicate, rough, smooth, prickly, and wet adds the discovery of touch. One cannot avoid the desire to taste when finding wild strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. Sounds change with the sequence of seasonal plant progression when wind moves through barren tree branches and those full of leaves.
A day lacking fulfillment occurs if we do not notice the sequence unfolding in yards, neighborhoods, parks, and natural areas. Separation of body and soul from the natural world has increased during the past century with concentrated urban living and by cooping ourselves inside homes away from fresh air, plants, and animals. Daily natural world ventures bring us in contact with plants and animals sharing the world.
It is easy to continue isolation outdoors with earbuds that limit sounds to human music piped to ears when walking or running. Listen to the sounds of crickets and scores of insects that replace the quieting of birds finished with their early breeding season family duties. By staying attuned, discover a full orchestra playing that will become annually familiar and provide a calming comfort through the seasons.
Changes that occur during succeeding years replace orchestra members with new ones that compete for limited seating. Early members prepare richer soil, different lighting, and moisture holding capacity suitable for plants and animals auditioning for their place in a developing community where change is referred to as succession.
The most obvious community change from barren farm field is plant succession from annual plants, to herbaceous perennial wildflowers, woody shrubs like raspberries and dogwoods, and then pioneer trees like musclewood and aspen. Under the pioneer trees, oaks and hickory find root and good living conditions. Associated with plant changes is animal succession. When exploring with others and especially children, I emphasize animal succession. Different animals live in successional plant communities.
We do not need to be young to notice the animals, but it helps. Mouse abundance becomes great in grassy fields where we can find “mouse houses” made of woven grasses. Hawking the grasslands are Red-tailed Hawks feasting on mice. As shrubs colonize fields, Cooper’s Hawks become more abundant in search of birds. In maturing forest Broad-winged Hawks find residence and food.
Different bird species have habitat preferences for early succession herbaceous communities to late succession forests. In each stage of succession called a sere, different insects and invertebrates make their home. Unique bird species and mammals depend on different kinds of insects found in each sere. For many of us, focusing on the succession of animals is more interesting and fun than the change in plant species. Keep exploration fun. Kids are great guides and explorers that will discover abundant life most of us will drift past. Let kids help you enjoy and experience your senses of sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste.
The annual sequence of animals and plants making appearances during the seasons will liven our attention. Little blue butterflies of Spring disappear with the coming of various hairstreak butterflies near the 4thof July. Great Spangled Fritillaries with orange wings soar over fields later in summer. Butterflies have a special beauty but dragonflies feeding on an abundance of small flying insects offer their own thrilling aerobatic displays. Watch for Common Whitetails, Chalk-fronted Corporals, Widow Skimmers, Green Darners, and various species of meadowhawk dragonflies.
A sequence of beetles, flies, grasshoppers, and others abound seasonally. Different successional changes occur over a period of years. Take notice of animal species having ecological niches dependent on specific community relationships that develop in successional communities. Seasonal sequence is different from community succession that occurs over many years.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at [email protected] – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.