Thursday, April 29, 2010

Appalachian Dreams in The Twilight Zone

I am an unabashed partisan of the Appalachian Mountians: a land of  wildflowers, waterfalls, wildness, ancient rounded mountains and hidden hollows of proud people straddling North Carolina and Tennesse. And so what did this urban based nature writer do when  time became available for a quick getaway from the trails and parks of Oakland County? He snagged a friend and headed for a quirky hideaway--Hot Springs, a tiny rugged mountain town where Mayberry seems to meet the Twighlight Zone. And in this so very different town the Appalachian Trail runs down the sidewalk and over the French Broad River. As for the name Hot Springs: we are talking geothermal activity, Mother Earth is restless and underground magma is not so far down. The land is dynamic and alive and nature's way is the way when we put our boots to the trails and spring sings her ancient magical song in my adopted town of hopes and dreams and basic pleasures.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day Week From the Barn Roof

Earth Day week and the living is easy for the magnificant turkey vultures that patrol the skies of Oakland County. Putrid possum, squished skunk and rancid raccoon are but three of the roadside delights of flattened flesh that have lured these soaring birds to our landscape.  And what better way for them to start their day of fiue dining than perched on a hot metal roof as they wait for morning thermals to ease their artistic flight.  Others have taken to ledges of Troy highrises and dead trees on country roadises.One of these vultures has now adopted my barn roof as his own abode-his morning eye on the world.  And that's just fine with me, for as they are adapting to our ways they do a clean up job on rural highway roadkill that is first rate.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Cougar Encounter On A Trail: AThrilling Experience?

Michigan has wildlife. All kinds. Not all are soft and cuddly species. The list of predators that have adapted to our ways, yet still live a wild and reclusive life include wolves (last  month  the Michigan DNRE confirmed the presence of a pack of wolves in the northern reaches of our lower peninsula)  and the cougar. And no--neither one lives in Oakland County. And yes -- I know  rumors persist about cougars passing through the towns and cities and on the trails of Oakland. Can't say they have. Can't say they have not. But I will say Oakland County is not cougar territory even though this great cat wanders wide and far.  And for over a year the Federal Government has posted signs on the trailheads of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore near Traverse City. These signs are truly eye-catching. They advise hikers that cougars have been reported on the dunes and in the forests. Perhaps for this vey big kitty the dunes are just one big sand box! Advice on the sign advices caution, to spread your arms to make yourself look big and to never run if you encounter a cougar: running can spark an attack. And it advises to fight back aggressively if attacked. What I find funny, and a poor choice of words, is the statement that encountering a cougar on a trail will be a 'thrilling' experience. You bet it would be!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lustful Desires: But no lightning running through her veins.

If that hormone fueled Tom turkey that proudly strutted his stuff  for the entire nearby animal kingdom  to see at the edge of a clearing in  Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore thought he was enticing the nearby hen; and he dreamed that his deep gobbles, curved leg spurs, sexy beard (well-perhaps for her) and flashy throat displays of engorged flesh and tail fanning would fuel her with lustful desires, sadly for him, he had another think coming. She could have cared less. She contined to poke about in the dirt for grubs and dried seeds.  Sex - at least with him  - was not in the cards.  And from the vantage point my friend and I had (eager voyeurs we were) as we watched him try to make the ground tremble one thing became perfectly clear: There was not even a hint of lightning running through her veins. I did my best imitation of a gooble to show him how it might be done. He gobbled back but could not quite figure out who I was and where I was. Perhaps that was just as well. As for the hen, enough of this game. Without even a backwards glance that perhaps would have equaled a scribbled phone number on a moist bar napkin she walked off into the woods leaving him with nothing to do but peck at the ground. And that he did.  But I know that just like a wanna-be stud acting womanizer in a bar with an open shirt flaunting gold chains and far more flash than substance, he would just trot to the edge of the field and try again.  He was not searching for romance.  He was a Tom, a Tom on the make, and in 'turkey world' it's the same for feathered turkeys and male humans that act like that lustful tom in an empty field. Closing time and last call had arrived - - - and she was gone.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pit Vipers in Oakland County?

Pit Vipers in Oakland County? You bet! A few weeks ago our reclusive population of Massasaugas, sometimes known as swamp rattlers, emerged from hibernation in wetland habitats. Many spent all winter submerged in crayfish burrows. Some sections of Oakland County provide excellent habitat for this reclusive,venomous snake, a snake fully protected by law. As sunshine warms the land they slither about trying to avoid human contact, for we are too large and aggressive to be a menu item.  The massasauga is Michigan's only venomous snake and a small one at that, generally under two feet long.  If you were foolish enough to grab one for inspection you would notice that like all pit vipers, they have a triangular shaped head, cat-like eyes with vertical slits and  heat sensing pits between  eyes and nostrils. And if you want to avoid snake bite, it's easy. Don't pick them up! And what good are they? Our fanged-friends may wonder what good are we. (Good news: Medical  researchers are studying their venom's anti-clotting  properties.  Bad news:  Many people, including some  ER docs  and EMS medics do not know we have rattlers slithering in our county.)  The bottom photo was shot last spring at Seven Lakes State Park in Holly.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bluebirds and the truth in Thoreau's wisdom

Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "The bluebird carries the sky on his back". You only need to take the time to watch a perched  eastern bluebird - like this one yards from my door in Brandon Township - on a rainy day in early spring to know that Thoreau got it right. Sometimes few words say the most. His eight words speak volumes. And the blue sky will return.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Flying Cows! An Afternoon at Bullfrogs Bar in Ortonville

Within hours of the mercury nudging towards 80 degrees on Friday afternoon a herd of  low flying cows winged over Bullfrogs Bar and Grill on M-15 just south of Ortonville, gliding to a lawn landing near the outdoor deck overlooking Lake Lousie.  Plop-plop-plop! Most patrons - and there were many on this unseasonably warm afternoon - paid no attention. I know it happened. I was there.  Lest you wonder the drink of my choice was ice tea with a slice of lemon. You recognize these creatures as Canada Geese, but many of the geese in Oakland County are now so finely attuned to our ways, that their life is very much like that of a cow when it comes to grazing. They essential ignore us.  And it is the just greened up lawn of Bullfrogs that  serves as a magnet - a  temptress Garden of Eden - for these geese. Twenty five years ago geese grazing  and just 'chilling' within yards of noisy activity on any bar and grill deck would not have happened. Geese were  far less common and far more skitterish way back then. No more, for it's all a matter of 'flight distance': how close to a food source will geese go if humans are nearby.  The flight distance has shifted to next to nothing as geese adapt to our ways and recognize that humans chowing on burgers, slurping on brew and even the roar of motorcyles in the parking lot pose no threat. Try a twenty foot away approach on geese in the wilds and you wont get close - those geese would look at us as a clear and present danger.