Audio Guide to Spring: Birds and bees
IPR's Red Pine Radio brings you nature spotting tips and wildlife news from northern Michigan.
Wildflowers are popping up this week, much to the delight of northern Michigan's numerous bee species.
Today, we hear more about those bees, learn about birds' nesting habits and get updates on other natural happenings in the region.
Red Pine Radio contributor Cheryl Bartz recently noticed a small cloud of insects in her yard, zooming around less than a foot off the ground.
Curious about the bugs, she sent a video to entomologist and retired extension agent Duke Elsner.
He said they were one of our region's native bee species, and that they spend the winter underground as larvae.
Adult males emerge first and hover in groups where they sense a female will emerge, but whether they find a mate or not, they die off in about a week. The females live on, and their first task is to dig a burrow.
“It may take them many days to dig as deep as they want to go. They’ll go over a foot sometimes. There will be little side branches off the main channel, and those are going to be where they’ll store food," Elsner says.
If you’re lucky, you might see these bees eject soil from the burrow as they dig or bring in pollen and nectar. They use these substances to make a kind of dough that serves as food for bee larvae. The female then stashes it in each of the burrow's side chambers, which she lays eggs in and seals for the winter.
BEES' FAVORITE FLOWERS AND TREES
It may look like there are not many flowers blooming yet, but trees are loaded with flowers that bees rely on.
“Willows are one of the really critical early food crops for these super early bees,” Elsner says.
You can also find bees around serviceberry trees in early spring.
Native bees are critical to pollinating native trees and plants, and Elsner says Michigan is home to hundreds of species of solitary bees - those who don't live in hives or colonies - alone.
EAGLES AND OSPREYS
You might have seen a bald eagle soar into a nest in a tall tree, but if you see a large nest under construction, that's probably an Osprey. These birds inhabit similar territory, and both build large nests. The Benzie Audubon Club's Doug Cook says their nesting habits give them away, though.
Ospreys nest at the very top of a tree, but you won't find an eagle's nest that high.
"It'll be down from the top 10, 15, 20 feet depending on where the crook of the tree is that they need,” Cook says.
Both species do nest near water, though, where they can easily swoop down and grab fish.
“So they, in a sense, compete,” Cook says.
We met Cook at Crystal Lake in Benzie County, where an eagle nest sits high on a ridge, overlooking a lake. Cook says that's important to the species - the view from the nest. Ideally, it spans 360 degrees.
The nest is about four feet deep and four feet wide, and the eagle in it is likely sitting on two or three eggs. We don’t know for sure. But she is watching our every move … or is it he?
“They look the same. So if they're standing side by side, the female is a little bit larger sometimes than the male, but it's hard to just look at them and tell,” Cook says.
It’s estimated there are 800 nesting pairs of bald eagles and 250 osprey nests in Michigan, and you can see both species all summer long.
Today is Earth Day, and Duke Elsner, who told us about bees today, will be in Traverse City with a butterfly display at the Civic Center's Earth Day Celebration from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. along with other exhibitors, food and music.
WATCH FOR ...
Spring flowers! Despite snow earlier this week, they're popping up in quick succession. This weekend, look for spring beauties, yellow trout lilies and blood root in woods and even along roadsides.
Let us know what you’re seeing! Send your photos of northern Michigan flora and fauna to email@example.com. Put "Audio Guide to Spring" in the subject line.
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