Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cougars, Beavers,Porcupines and Me

Although Oakland County is full of ooutdoor adventure, sometimes we need to wander north. And so, it was off to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (near Empire Michigan), the only location in the Midwest or East where the Federal Government has posted cougar advisory signs. Michigan DNR now also states what many have known or presumed for some time: cougars - call them mountain lions if you wish - roam a few locations of our state, staying mostly very out of sight. With that said, I am far more worried about drunk drivers, cell phone distracted drivers and unstable humans than I am about a cougar passing through our woods and treating  the dunes as a giant kitty litter box.  But safety is always good and being firearms dear season I outfitted my backpack with a lime green covering, covered my head with a blaze orange cap and trekked a ten mile loop with a tenting overnight at White Pines Campground where coyotes serenaded loudly and frequently adding a primeval touch of wildness to the foggy night.  Dawn brought evidence of fresh beaver activity along the shore of Otter Lake. Trees were being felled in abundance, as nature's greatest engineer raced the seasonal clock to stash away a rich underwater pantry of inner bark and young branches. But perhaps the most memorable encounter was right in the middle of the trail. A young porcupine was busy searching for whatever young porcupines search for when on the ground. Distracted by human presence it stopped, froze and then remembered, "Oh yeah, spin around and face the tail towards the enemy. " And that it did allowing me time to sit and watch and rejoice in a moment of sunny  wildness on the last weekend before Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

November - A Month of Infinite Variety

November is the month of leaves crunching under foot, the month of first ice and the beaver moon. It's the season of the rut -- deer on the move. Song bird nests are empty, chickadees tear at sunflower seeds and it's high time you and I take down our hummingbird feeder: those hovering beauties are long gone. Wild turkeys stalk our woodlands in flocks and make guest appearances in many suburbs and city fringes.  And with leaves down, the lay of the land becomes increasingly visible exposing  hidden secret.  You may spy a small tree under a  forest canopy: if that tree sprouts bright yellow spider like blossoms now, you've found witch hazel, a tree that blooms right up to Thanksgiving. Gusts of wind send the silky parachutes of cracked milkweed pods to flight and set papery grey hornet nests swinging.   No need to worry about the hornets. The nests are empty. The stinging inhabitants are dead except for the queens who are already in hibernation under logs and in woodchip piles. And here's where I'm going with this ramble: Go visit a park or go for a neighborhood walk and be bold; don't let your child bring along any electronic devices.   Last week I was down at Edisto State Park in the lowcountry of South Carolina and was amazed, but sadly not surprised to watch two young kids about seven or eight years old whose parent's car sported Michigan plates, sit by the ocean and play video games of some sort as pelicans dove into the water and shrimp boats chugged off shore  They did not even walk to the water's edge, pick up a sea shell or look anyplace but down at their laps till the parent's said, "Time to go".  Earth's almanac is always open to explore but we  need to find a way to transform youthful energy away from the world of addictive electronic distractions to the wonders of nature that make every day full of magic, even in the "drab" month of November.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Coyotes: A tragedy with a lesson

Coyotes live and breed in Oakland County, a dynamic and wild presence in the woods, suburbs and cities. They are here because their food source is abundant: mice, rabbits, geese, geese eggs, dead deer, suburban fawns, trash, cat food, cats and even on occasion small dogs that run off leash. They have not been driven out of the woods as some in the media have claimed. But there is a problem; these highly adaptable predators – which I find fascinating – are adapting to our ways more quickly than we are to theirs.  Before I write another sentence, let set my bias straight: I am sadden and shocked by an incident that barely made our news, but I still like coyotes.
A horrifying interaction in Cape Breton Highland National Park in Nova Scotia late last week does not bode well for those of us that are not willing to alter our behavior.  The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has confirmed that a 19 year old woman, a young athletic, healthy musician who was hiking a popular trail alone, was attacked and killed by a pair of coyotes.   Exactly what happened will never be known but witnesses found her trying to fight off the coyotes and responding officers shot one.  Biologists suspect that these coyotes were bold and lost all fear of humans. They surmise perhaps she ran, perhaps she tripped.  Mostly likely she acted like prey, they capitalized on the situation and responded as predators and killed her.  Not out of anger. Not out of starvation.  The coyotes had become used to a human presence without retribution and saw an opportunity. Whether they looked at her as a meal or a territorial trespasser will never be known.   I am sure, based on some e-mails that more than a few residents of our county would like to find a way to make Oakland coyote-free. That's not going to happen. They are found throughout the state. And true tales, not just tall tales tell the same tale: coyotes that do not run away, coyotes that eat out of cat food bowls, coyotes that hike the same trails we hike.  Coyotes have learned by watching our behavior that we are weak, we are afraid, we run and we are of no concern. That situation needs to be changed. If you encounter a coyote, never ever run. Stand tall. Wave. Yell. Throw anything but foods.  We need to watch their behavior, be bold and practice aversion condition: creating negative stimuli that makes them shun humans. That's good for us and even better for the coyotes.  And let's keep things in perspective: 1,648 humans were injured in deer related crashes in Michigan in 2008. Twelve died. We don't fear deer; we try to drive in an alert fashion. We need an educational campaign on how humans should act around coyotes; we already gave them theirs.