Friday, May 23, 2014

Eastern Tent Caterpillars: A time for a feeding frenzy & a time to say goodbye.

EASTERN TENT CATERPILLARS  Oakland County,  Michigan 
 All photos by Jonathan Schechter  5/23/2014
  The eastern tent caterpillar is a creature that is hard to miss and fascinating to watch.  The silky nests make for positive identification and the tent caterpillars tree campsites are popping up all over Oakland County in these waning days of May.  Most of the nests are secured  in the crotches of black cherry tree limbs, with the tender young leaves being the favorite food source.  The caterpillars crawl about all day munching on the leaves and return to the shelter of the nest after a last meal shortly after darkness.  Some say the caterpillars are late this year. Not so! Their emergence is timed to the food source and the great feeding frenzy began with the recent warm days and rains finally accelerated leaf growth.   Although branches are often defoliated the tree does just fine and careful observation confirms the tents are usually oriented with the largest wall facing the morning sun making for a longer feeding day.
 So is the case of these nests in my Brandon Township meadow.  
NOTE: This unfortunately is most likely my last Earth's Almanac blog post for The Oakland Press. Number 436. Its been fun! Look for a new nature blog I have created that appears on the government website of Oakland County, Michigan. WWW.LIVEOAKLANDCOUNTY.COM   is the  direct link to  my Oakland County Parks sponsored  "The Wilder Side of Oakland County"and readers will also find posts from others that promote and share tales and facts about life in Oakland County.  
Perhaps one day I will blog again for The Oakland Press.
 I have left the door open for occasional posts.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Goose Territorial Defense: Get off my land!

All photos by Jonathan Schechter,  Erie County N.Y. & Oakland County, MI   May 2014

Canada Geese are great parents. And they do not like intruders when nesting season arrives.
And one pair of Canada geese that has taken up housekeeping at the Ramada Inn in Getzville N.Y. uses a light post for a look out station and when hordes of humans approach from tour buses destined for nearby Niagara Falls it's time for their territorial defense action plan. The geese honk, wing flap and make impressive power dives warning humans to keep back.   And they mean business; so much so that hotel management posted signs in Japanese on the doorways to advise their Japanese clientele that geese may not be cuddly and a wary eye is in order.

The nests are easy to approach for what is more perfect for a goose than the median strip!

On the other side of the creek  the geese have found the living easy at an independent living facility and that management too is now warning their guest of the territorial defense in no uncertain terms.
And back in the rolling hills of  lake-studded Brandon Township, Michigan one pair of geese has hired an "alarm company" to warn of intruders. They have built their nest at the edge of a small lake in Sandhill Crane habitat.  Those geese activate their territorial defense needs based on the behavior of the keen-eyed cranes.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

SNOW:THE GREAT INSULATOR! Tales of a winter lake mishap and a lackluster spring forsythia bloom.

Photos by Jonathan Schechter.  Snow image February,  2014  Forsythia image April, 2014

It was frigidly cold morning in Oakland County and after nearly two weeks of the temperature hovering in single digits in late February I was not worried about thin ice.  I should have been. The snow was  deep and the lake is spring fed. I was on an early morning  mission to photograph a beaver lodge on a small kettle lake in a protected wildland of Oakland County.  My trek straight across the lake on snowshoes went well and I was enamored with the snow-capped lodge at the far side of the lake.  On my return trek across the lake taking a different route I missed some warning signs when I was about 15 feet from shore.  A few willows and cattails grew on the edge of the slope---- and willows and cattails like their feet' wet. I kept walking.  Suddenly one foot in slow motion plunged through the snow and ice into the water.  I quickly spread my weight and belly-slithered to shore, a bit shaken and far more respectful of the fact that snow is a great insulator and ice near the spring remained dangerously thin when sheltered from the extreme cold by snow.

Jump ahead to late April. The forsythia shrubs that edge my driveway should be thick with yellow blossoms.  This year, next to nothing; maybe three dozen blossoms. And every single blossom that finally appeared this year were within two feet of the ground and mostly on the leeward side. I thought about the record deep freeze during a time of high winds and the mercury plunging for days on end between  -10 and  -20 Fahrenheit.  You do not need to be a botanist or be an earth sciences forensic expert to figure out the rest of this story. The snow was just over two feet deep on the slope of the drive and snow was the great insulator that protected the blossoms that finally bloomed. Snow may be cold, but it remains a great insulator from extreme cold and frigid winds.

Monday, April 21, 2014

EARTH DAY 2014: Round-lobed Hepatica Confirms Spring!

Round-lobed hepatica (Hepatica americana)  Photos by Jonathan Schechter 4/19/2014

The calendar and worm-slurping robins are  false prophets of spring. At the dawn of Earth Day 2014 snow still carpets large swaths of the northwoods of Michigan and frost remains deep in the earth.  But  in 'my' semi-wilds of Oakland County the season of  this never ending winter has come to an abrupt end.  Less than 72 hours before Earth Day I hiked across the glacially sculpted hills of Holly State Recreation Area, a 7,817 acre wildland managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in search of a particular   wildflower. The target of my of foray was the spring beauty ( Claytonia virginica), a delicate spring ephemeral wildflower also known as "fairy spud" for its tiny and tasty roots.  None were to be found, not yet. But proof  spring has finally taken root was confirmed in the emergence of round-lobed hepatica (Hepatica americana), one the earliest of our ephemeral wildflowers. These beauties were bathed in dabbled sunlight next to a glacial erratic that has graced a glacial moraine for some 11,000 years. Sunlight, soil moisture and nutrients are key factors in the early emergence of  hepatica and they fell perfectly into place for this clump of wild natural beauty at her finest.  However before the forest floor is shaded by a canopy of leafy deciduous trees, the ephemeral's blossoms will be gone; but the season of spring remains and the cycles of nature continue.

                      A  hill top clump of hepatica above a small glacial erratic.  J.S.S. photo

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Fish Planting with the Michigan DNR!

All photos by Jonathan Schechter:   Huron River/ Proud Lake State Recreation Area 3/31/2014

It was one of those days when everything went right even though boot-sucking mud was thick with slush 
and ice in  the woodlands of Oakland County.   A great adventure with the Fisheries Division of the  Michigan 
Department of Natural Resources was underway.  And I had front row seat. The late afternoon setting was a
a small dam on the Huron River within the Proud Lake State Recreation Area. The Huron sparkled in
afternoon sunlight, evergreens smelled like spring, chickadees sang their new season melody and excited  
children were invited to help release the rainbow and brown trout to the river.  Kids loved it! So did I.

                          The Huron at the site of the fish planting.  (One of my favorite local kayaking rivers!)



Monday, March 24, 2014

Garlic Mustard vs Skunk Cabbage: Wetland Wars and Adaptation

 Garlic mustard is a European exotic that has spread rapidly into 27 Midwestern and Northeastern States   
 and Canada and continues to spread into high quality woodlands upland and floodplain forests, not just     disturbed high-use  trail use areas.  Sadly garlic mustard alters habitat suitability for the success of  native flora and fauna.  I photographed these bright green just emerged garlic mustard leaves last weekend in a wooded wetland of the Oak Openings Preserve of Lucas County, Ohio. Of note is the young garlic mustard plants received  a head start on their growth season by  emergence adjacent to skunk cabbage (hooded reddish/yellow plant in photo),  a native plant that creates its own  heat and melts and pushes up through ice and snow before other plants and by that act created a more suitable habitat for  invasive garlic mustard.  .                     

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Not So Secrets Signs of Spring's Approach!

All photos by Jonathan Schechter,  March, 2014  
The ways of nature and dates on the calendar are not always in sync especially as restless humans wait for spring. But natural and behavioral signs confirm spring will arrive--but  more snow falls first.
Why stay in a cold tree den when 25 degree sunshine provides warmth for one raccoon?

Hepatic leaves on the south side of lofty oaks hint of pale blue blossoms to follow.

Skunk cabbage generates heat and melts through icy snow granting moss an early growth start.

A restless river crackles and moans as shifting ice lures a hiker to a bench for warm season dreams.