Friday, March 29, 2013

Watch a bird nest but don't touch!

   Over the past 30 years, Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, Violet-green Swallows, Purple Martins, and Eastern Phoebes have dropped in number. The cause remains unknown, though scientists believe it may be linked in part to declines in the insects that birds eat.
   Anyone who loves watching birds can help scientists study and understand their plight by participating in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch citizen-science project (
    “Every year, thousands of volunteers from across the United States monitor bird nests to help researchers track changes in bird populations,” says Dr. Jason Martin, NestWatch project coordinator.    
   “By keeping track of how many eggs birds lay and how many young they raise, anyone can contribute valuable data that may help lead to the conservation of these species.
   A lack of information about reproduction is hindering the investigation as to what the cause is for a decline in numbers.
  The nests of many birds are easy to find and observe. Tree Swallows readily use nest boxes. Barn Swallows and Violet-green Swallows often plaster their nests onto beams inside barns and under bridges.
   Purple Martins use large communal nesting houses, and Eastern Phoebes frequently nest under porch eaves and in garages.
    Participating in NestWatch is free and easy. Information on where and when to look for nests and how to properly monitor them is available at NestWatch accepts observations for all nesting birds, so information about any species is welcome.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

No-Mo kayak fishing tournament, May 19

   No-Mo stands for no motors. For this fourth annual kayak fishing tournament any boat that uses paddle power is welcome. Although canoes fit this requirement, kayakers have been the ones showing up each year.
   Tournament waters include any water in Michigan that is open and accessible to the general public. Your private pond isn't included.
   A required captains meeting is set for May 18 at Riverside Kayak Connection, (734) 285-2925. You can get application forms at Go to forums then click on the general kayaking thread.
   Other questions, contact event chairman Chris LeMessurier at
If you don't own a kayak but would like to see what this popular sport is all about, come out to the weigh-in May 19 beginning at 4p.m. at Bass Pro Shops.
   You'll be able to see boats and how they are set up and visit with anglers who paddle them. This is a great way to get tips and ideas before you purchase a kayak.
 Matt Beukema with  nice largemouth bass fishing from a kayak.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Kalamazoo's VanDam-greatest bass angler in the world

   The first Bassmaster Classic Kevin VanDam won was in New Orleans. It was also a first for ESPN. They had just purchased BASS and were very much in the early throes of exerting muscle from a new owners perspective.
   Prior to ESPN, writers and photographers such as myself had an area right in front of the weigh-in stage where we could greet the pros and they were being towed in, get a quick shot of them holding fish and be ready for the next pro to be towed in.
  ESPN changed all of that by keeping us way back in a penned up area (really) while their camera crews were given preferential access to the best places to take pictures from. But all that is another story.
   I've known VanDam for many years going back before he was a Classic champion. The thing about him is he's always humble, and very accessible, at least to me. I have to add his fans too.
   He'll give a demonstration or a seminar at a show. When he's done there's line up to greet him. Some just wish to say hello, others stay in the background and listen to him talk, and still others may have a fishing question or want an autograph or a picture.
   He obliges them all. I've never seen him walk away or refuse time to anyone. That's saying quite a bit for the stature he enjoys.
   Asked by BASS to attend and cover a BASS University class in Lansing, VanDam, along with Mike Iconelli were the two featured professionals.
   Entertaining and informative as ever, as VanDam spoke he mentioned the equipment he was using and the manufacturer.
   "Of course, in order to see better, you'll want to be wearing your Kevin VanDam polarized sunglasses," he said plugging a style he was representing for an eyewear company.
   After his presentation I kidded him about Kevin VanDam this and that. He took the ribbing well as I figured he would.
   As a representative for Plano Molding, the folks that make all those wonderful boxes, bags and trays we all have in our arsenal of equipment, VanDam recently endorsed the Kevin VanDam Signature Series Bag.
   "Plano's new 4870-40 Elite series bag is the perfect size of the angler on the go, who needs everything yet doesn't want to tote a luggage-size tackle bag around.
   "It's medium in size, fits well on a shelf, yet can be filled with every essential piece of tackle no matter what type of fishing you do," Van Dam said.
   As I blogged a few days ago, smaller is better when it comes to fishing. This bag is a good example of not carrying all the tackle you own to fish one afternoon. For more information visit  

Friday, March 22, 2013

Mt. Brighton-getting ready to ski

   That's right, Mt. Brighton is winding up instead of winding down as many ski resorts have already begun to do.
   That's because the Vail Corporation out in Colorado has bought Mt. Brighton along with Afton ski resort in Minnesota and is planning some seriously expensive improvements to the slopes in both locations.
   Both resorts will get upgrades and improvements amounting to $10 million each. That's a whole bunch of lift tickets not to mention ski rentals.
  At Mt. Brighton a quad chair lift and improved snowmaking will head the list. New snow making equipment will make it possible to begin the ski season earlier and extend it on the other end.
   Other improvements won't be immediately visible but for skiers-average and expert-new lift tickets in the form of a card will be able to track the days skiing via a chip inserted in the card that will upload so the skier can share stories of the day on individual social networks.
   If you think winter is over, the folks working at Mt. Brighton might have another thought. They're getting in high gear in anticipation of opening later this year.
   For more information on Vail and other resorts including Mt. Brighton along with seasonal passes good for out west as well as here visit

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Other signs of spring

   Today I noticed fencing up and secure in the local Kmart parking lot indicating that plants, trees and shrubs would soon be filling up the empty space.
   Already stacked and waiting to be loaded in someone with a green thumb's vehicle are pallets of fertilizer, peat, decorative mulch and sand for the kids sandbox.
   Another sure sign that spring can't be too far off is all of the accumulated trash alongside highways, streets and the freeway.
   Snow acts as a cover for this mess but once the thaw begins, trash in all manner raises its head. Each year there seems to be more of it too.
   Some say, let county prisoners out but supervised, to pick this stuff up. Granted, instead of lifting weights or watching TV, these people could be put to better use. But picking up roadside trash shouldn't be on the list.
   We're all responsible and should take better care of how we dispose of our discards. Driving down the road and giving an empty bag full of food wrappers from your favorite fast food  restaurant, the toss out of an open window isn't acceptable.
   How about we all carry it home and dispose of it in our own refuse containers? Makes better sense and in the long run will save us money for another service we don't need.

Monday, March 18, 2013

"Tween"-good name for current weather

   "Tween" or "tweener"is sometimes used as slang to describe the current weather we've been having. Short for between, it's tween this or that.
   In other words, it isn't really great for any sort of outdoor sports save hiking. And that can get nasty with the muck caused by melting snow and ice.
   The cure for the tween seasons is to find something to do that will put you in the game once the ice clears making the lakes ice-free.
   Each year it's the same ritual for me. I begin by looking over my tackle, trying to remember what I used last year and what stuff stayed in the bag.
   For instance, already this year I've decided to make do with a small bag containing 4, Plano, 3650 tackle trays.
   I've already marked them with some of Bill McElroy's decals. One has a bass, another a bluegill and a third has a musky. The decals fit nicely on the top cover.
   The bluegill box will contain small baits for crappie too. The musky box will have walleye baits. The one remaining box will be labels "terminal tackle" for weights, hooks, swivels, snaps and so forth.
   Standing on end, I won't be able to see the individual labels until I take the box out of the bag. Therefore I'll make labels for each box, placing them on the latch end of the box so I'm looking right at them when I open the bag.
      I've got a small, zippered bag or binder  that holds pre-punched plastic bags for Gulp and other plastics. I can even use the bag the baits come in by punching a couple of holes near one edge and inserting them into the binder.
   The rest of the tackle; the things you carry just in cast, will find a place in a Plano 3700. These are larger trays great for storage. (The 3700's are good for carrying tackle in a larger bag. Anglers with boats leave them on board in a tackle compartment.)
   Think I'm pretty organized? Sounds like it, but I've got a long way to go. That's why I welcome the tweener season.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Evie Boss uses ukele to teach about outdoors

   Evie Boss has nothing against hunting and fishing. In fact, she understand that there is a balance when it comes to nature and these activities have their role in the outdoors.
   Teaching about the environment, biology, and conservation has been her vocation for over 30 years. The now retired science teacher from Metamora is still teaching but in a different way. Her students now are usually younger than the highschoolers she used to teach.
   Pre-schoolers have many of the same questions older children do and according to Boss, many questions are science-related. Why is the sky blue, where do frogs go in the winter and many other questions are some of the things Boss is asked on a regular basis.
   Often she'll answer with a song she has written, playing it on he uke and singing in her beautiful voice.
   Recently she has been called on to train or in-service teachers on how to play the uke develop songs that are topic related, and present programs to young children.
   With the help of her puppets, songs, and props such as birds nests, Boss brings the wonder of the outdoors into the classroom.
   Another passion of hers is Gilda's Club where she helps run the ukulele program, teaches the uke, and supervises a coffee house a couple of times a month featuring stringed entertainment.
   In her spare time, she maintains the gardens at Gilda's and does whatever else she can to be of service.
   Boss knows of what she speaks. A 17 year breast cancer survivor and a 7 year thyroid cancer survivor, she knows the importance of the programs Gilda's Club offers.
   One of her favorite sayings is, "you can uke too," meaning you too can play the uke in a very short time.
   If playing a musical instrument, especially one with strings interests you but you gave up when guitar strings hurt your fingers you might want to try a uke.
   Strings are softer, chords much easier, and you can play songs with one or two chords while strumming.
   What could be easier? For more information on Evie Boss and the wonderful contributions she makes to life and society visit For more information about Gilda's Club call (248) 577-0800. 
   In no time, you'll be able to "uke too."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Scales and Tales decals? Find em' at KD Outdoors

   On Monday I wrote that Waterford artist Bill McElroy's popular cartoons, Scales and Tales, were available on a website.
   Later I spoke with Mac. He told me he had discontinued association with that site and is in the process of launching a brand new web site for his products.
   In the meantime, you can purchase Scales and Tales decals at KD Outdoors on M-59 in Waterford. If you've never seen these creatures McElroy draws, you're in for a treat.
   Not only does he draw funny looking bass, but he'll add a toothy critter like a muskie or walleye to the mix.
   Nothing is spared from catfish to bluegills and more. Nor is any bait off limits. Gulp, Power Baits, cranks and spinnerbaits are just some of the things that find their way into McElroy's fertile mind only to be released as special characters in one of his cartoons.
   If you don't own any, better get yours now so you'll have one or more before launch day.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

More signs of spring? Pay attention to trash pickup days

   That's right, those days when trash haulers cruise by to pick up yours and others discards. Garbage, recyclables-paper, cans, bottles-and those things you don't need or use up week to week.
  The way you can tell it's spring by the trash put outside is the amount and kinds of things that are being discarded.
   Amounts pick up because people are going through their basements, attics, and garages, attempting to  clear out those things that are no longer used.
   Come on. We all have them. I've got a bunch of miscellaneous fishing gear that I haven't used in years. It won't go to the trash but will end up in some kids possession who would like to fish but hasn't any means to get the equipment.
   That old child's crib. The one where the sides can be raised up and down. It's no longer of any use because all of your kids are grown, and maybe you don't have any grandchildren.
   And don't forget, the government has told you these beds are not safe for little ones because the side that moves can accidentally come down, hurting a child.
   And so the list grows. Some items like clothes and furniture are best donated to the Salvation Army, Purple Heart or some other worthwhile organization.
   Still, that trash grows out there by the curb. Everything that has been swept up is put into those large garbage bags for disposal. More of those appear this time of the due to a phenomenon we know as spring cleaning.
   So keep an eye on increasing amounts of trash but look for those robins and the buds on trees to begin to swell.
   With warmer weather predicted, we just might be out of the woods soon.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Birds singing-spring could be in the air

   The sounds of birds singing is for me, the first sign that spring is near. Even with cold, nighttime temperatures below freezing and snow still on the ground, the birds can be heard during the day.
   I don't know how active woodpeckers are during the winter. They come to my suet feeder to get a bite but I don't hear they rat-tat-tat like I do now. Maybe another sign of spring?
   These cold days with lots of sunshine seems to have an effect on birds. They move around more, chatter and make calls to any other bird in the area.
   Be sure and get those feeders full. This is a good time of year to see what shows up. While not the best bird habitat, our backyard has been crowded with birds flying in and out, from bush to bush.
   Incidentally, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada reports finches that normally spend much of their time in northern Canada have been seen farther south.
   What kind and how many may turn up in your yard are some of the questions Project Feeder Watch hopes to answer.

   The 26th season of FeederWatch is underway and lasts through early April. By watching feeders and submitting their observations, FeederWatchers make it possible for scientists to keep track of changing bird populations across the continent.
   New or returning participants can sign up anytime at in the U.S. and at in Canada.
   “FeederWatch is easy to do, and the information is incredibly valuable in helping us better understand what’s going on in the environment and in the lives of the birds,” says project leader David Bonter.  
   So, who’s coming to dinner at feeders this winter? Common Redpolls, for one.
   This perky finch with the red cap and rosy vest typically drops into the U.S. in years when food is scarce up north—but usually only on one side of the continent, east or west.
   This year, however, redpolls are being reported across the continent and pushing as far south as North Carolina. There have been more redpolls reported in Colorado so far this year than in any year since Project FeederWatch began in 1989.
    In addition to redpolls, from the Great Lakes to the southern U.S.,  people are seeing Pine Siskins and Red-breasted Nuthatches.
   Siskins have even been turning up in South Florida. FeederWatchers in the Northeast are hosting more Evening Grosbeaks than in recent years. And keep an eye out for crossbills. Though they are rare visitors, White-winged Crossbills and Red Crossbills are seen more often at feeders between February and April when natural food supplies are depleted.
    Learn more about joining Project FeederWatch in the U.S. and to sign up, visit or call the Cornell Lab toll-free at (866) 989-2473. In return for the $15 fee ($12 for Cornell Lab members), participants receive the FeederWatcher Handbook and Instructions with tips on how to successfully attract birds to your feeders, an identification poster of the most common feeder birds, and a calendar.
    Participants also receive Winter Bird Highlights, an annual summary of FeederWatch findings, as well as the Cornell Lab's quarterly newsletter, Living Bird News. FeederWatch in Canada is $35 and includes Bird Studies Canada membership. Learn more and sign up at

Friday, March 1, 2013

Volunteering a new catch word in the outdoors

   You've no doubt heard all of the dire predictions about everything from seaports to national parks closing due to a lack of funding.
   Volunteering at a national, state, county or municipal park isn't something new. But it's something that is needed and involves more than pulling weeds and picking up trash.
  Volunteers might be assisting full-time staff by providing assistance in campgrounds to make finding a campsite, setting up and learning about the general area and the programs available, to campers, both seasoned and beginners.
   In many instances, trails aren't cleared of blow downs, encroaching vines, washed out trails and other things detrimental to a good trail system-markers are one such example-that volunteers can have a hand in and make a difference.
   Read more about it in Sunday's sport section of the Oakland Press. Learn what you can do to help out and where to go for more information.
   It's volunteering that in many instances, might just help in keeping these facilities open.