Monday, August 30, 2010

Is the fox rabid?

(NOTE: This photo image was captured last winter in my meadow by my infra red motion detecting camera.)  On to today: A friend called me from Tawas State Park with a question of urgency. A camper had told her to watch out for the rabid fox along the waterfront trail, a trail not far from the campground. I asked her why the fox was thought to be rabid.  "This guy told me it was, it's hair is falling out and it is near the trail." Facts are important when it comes to safety around wildlife as thousands of us set off  this Labor Day weekend for camping, hiking and exploring adventures in the woods and along the shorelines of our great State of Michigan, a state rich with wildlife and some toothy predators.  And one fact is just because you see wildlife in the daytime that is not running away from people does not make it rabid.  And the lethargy and loss of fur of the fox in question is most likely from mange, a skin disease caused by a tiny mite.  What is important is we all behave well around wildlife and that means not feeding species that are sadly becoming habituated to human activity, like the bolder foxes of Tawas State Park.  And if approached by a big predator: coyote, bear, wolf or cougar (Yes, Michigan has a very few cougars) we never ever run away. Running can stir up a predatory response and that is not a good thing. As for rabies, that is always a possible although unlikely reason for a mammal to be bold and out in the daytime. In Michigan, fox, raccoons, bats and skunks are the most likely species to carry rabies. But if you want to be really safe, stay home and lock your door.  34,000 people died on our nation's highways last year. I am more fearful of the distracted texting and drunk drivers out there than I am about worrying if an animal is rabid.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tale of Two Chicory

Chicory is a common sky blue wildflower well established along country roads and disturbed areas.  It's blooming most every place now in the closing days of August and will continue to flower into early September. The flowers - in the undisturbed wilds - appear all along the stems, stems that reach over three feet high. That is nature's way. None bloom next to the ground. But at the Madison Heights Civic Center Park, in highly urbanized SE Michigan where the field is closely mowed this plant has adapted to a new reality: Bloom low or be decapitated by whirling blades of slashing steel.  The top photo is a close up of a blossom just barely one inch from the ground in Madison Heights, beneath the height of a mower's blade. The bottom photo is from the edge of the road across from my house in much wilder Brandon Township. It's good to know that nature can at times evolve quickly to a new reality in a human alterted world.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Breakfast of Raw Fur Covered Flesh

With the taste of autumn in the air and the flavor of a Spanish omelette still lingering on my taste buds I watch one of my favorite birds at the feeder. And I am not talking about some cute little seed-pecking chickadee or delicate nectar-sipping hummingbird.  Every now and then I scoop up a road-killed groundhog or pancaked squirrel or putrid opossum and lay out my meaty offering on an elevated platform in my meadow. And today is just like any other day when the vultures come about. These magnifcant birds that soar on rising thermals over I-75  land to feast on the flesh, for that is their way. You have not watched the wonders of a bird feeding until you watch a turkey vulture insert its naked red head into a body cavity to start another day of fine dining. Nature is grand. Eat on my friend!

Monday, August 23, 2010

On The Dawn of the Full Moon Frenzy

The full moon of August, the Sturgeon Moon ( A name of respect and honor and observation bestowed by Native Americans ) is upon us. The quickening pulse of nature's way as a new season approaches is palpable. Darkness descends earlier. Night breezes have a hint of coolness. Tonight coyotes yip from over the hills. Crickets have increased their crescedo of chirps. Night shadows seem to dance in the moonlight between my black walnuts and the rusted tin roof of my failing barn.   Deer snort in the meadow disturbed by my late evening intrusion of greetings. "Hey girls, it's just me", I  tell them. They - a doe and two fawns-  loiter for a moment, then bolt into the sanctuary of my  woods. Later the screech owl will add to the night magic. And dawn will bring more zipping about the nectar feeder by high-strung ruby throated hummingbirds. They sip voraciously now and dodge yellow jackets who compete for the sweets. Only the great blue heron seemingly remains unphased, standing staquesque at the edge of the marsh waiting for the slighest twitch of a frog or movement of a fish. But actually I suspect the heron also behaves in ways we don't comprehend, and that magnifcant bird of a sultry summer senses warm days are waning, a time signaled by the full moon of August.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Depot Park: A perfect place to do nothing.

Depot Park in the Village of Clarkston is a pleasant blend of nature's way natural and nature's way altered.
A creek that feeds the Clinton River flows through this 25 acre landscape that is just a stone's throw downhill from downtown Clarkston.  If you are looking for a wildland this is not the place. But for a relaxing walk in a slightly altered by ecologically sustainable environment there is not better time than now to grab a meal in the village then walk down Depot Road to the bottom of the hill and find yourself a bench, or a swing or just the shade of a tree: all pefect places to do absolutly nothing. And sometimes that is exactly what we need. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Gates of Hell: Nature Fights Back!

Bald-faced hornets are ready for you; that is the message from this trio on entrance hole guard duty. Mess with their papery nests and they will counter attack with  powerful stings of venom that can be just pure pain, or if you are sensitive to 'bee stings' a life-threatening allergic reaction  that can close down your airway may result. (Hornets are not bees, they are the largest member of our wasp family.) These winged warriors of our wild kingdom of stinging insects are not looking for human flesh.  They zip away from the nest in search of bugs, caterpillars and other meaty treats; many of them found in your garden: and that is good for your veggies. But if you take a swipe at a nest, run a mower underneath one, or in other ways stir them into a defensive or attack mood you will quickly discover  the very gates of hell.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Lawmen on Peddle Patrol: And now the rest of the trail story.

Planet Earth was once a seething mass of radioactive elements under constant bombardment by an endless stream of cosmic debris. Four and one half billion years slipped by and then one day peddle pumping officers from ShelbyTownship appeared on the scene and began to patrol the Macomb Orchard Trail. The first sentence is correct: It was Planet Earth under cosmic attack way back then! The second sentence - as it first appeared in my hiking column last Sunday (Go ahead: Pedal Across the Border) in the Oakland Press - minus my reference to the cosmic time frame- had an error of misidentification:  I captioned the photo as "Shelby Township Police." My goof. I did take that photo while peddling in Shelby Township close to where the 24 mile long Macomb Orchard Trail connects with Oakland County's Clinton River Trail and assumed they were Shelby Police ( a reminder to this writer to never assume). I soon discovered that the column is read out of county and that the peddle pumpers in the photo are Macomb County Sherrif's Department Deputy Reserves, an all volunteer unit. I made contact with the cycling trail patrol after my story made print and as Deputy Ray Cavaliere (the lead officer in the photo) explained to me, "We enjoy the heck out of patrolling the trail." And from the smiles and waves that they all gave me when we passed on the trail - having no idea I was writing a story - I know that to be true. Also pictured in the photo is Deputy Tom Kimbro. And I did say trio! That is not an error. Just as I clicked the camera as I peddled towards the bike patrol, the third deputy, Bill Kole slipped behind Kimbro leaving only a smigen of his tire visable. (Sorry Bill) Kudos to that Malcomb County Sherrifs Deputy Reserves trio for a job well done and their earthy efforts of giving to the community and a trail they love.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Perseid Meteors: And you do NOT need a telescope!

If our night sky remains cloud free the annual August night sky show of Perseid meteors may be more dramatic than the photo above (courtesy of NASA and Pete Lawrence) of a 2009 Perseid meteor. The show of debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle should be excellent this year and you won't need a telescope to view. As a matter of fact using a telescope will ruin the show, for you need to see wide open sky, not be looked through a tube at one tiny area.  The trickle of meteors now flaming across the sky is rapidly increasing and could become a torrent of exciting viewing enjoyment between August 11th and 13th. Those days are critical for that is when our Planet Earth passes directly through the very heart of the comet's debris trail.  According to Dr. Tony Phillips at NASA Science News the very best viewing (if the night is cloudless) will be be during the hours of darkness just before dawn on Friday morning the 13th when the largest number of comet specks zip into our atmosophere creating briliant streaks of light as they approach speeds of 140,000 miles per hour! Try to find a place away from city lights with an unobstructed view and you are ready for a first rate show of 'shooting stars'. This week potential exceptional viewing is because the moon will not be up and out shining the comet debris that enters our atmosphere during the midnight to dawn hours of viewing - - neither will most of us. But  you better believe it I'll be outside on my rural lightless hillside, perhaps to the accompaniment of the rhythmic hoots of a great horned owl that sings his ballads to the lonely night and the chirping field crickets from his perch in the pines behind my weathered barn.

Monday, August 9, 2010

And--We Were Sober! Just This Side of Chaos: Secret Tales (and photos) from the Redneck Fishing Derby!

Our adventure on the not so quiet backwaters of the Illinois River within a fish-flops length from the tiny, usually quiet town of Bath, Illinois was an adventure with a media-luring purpose just this side of chaos. And just how did a small team of  now brusied and bleeding Michiganders - including this coffee indulging writer/medic/naturalist - manage  to walk (limp) away with second place in this strange fishing competition of mostly southern rednecks in pursuit of Asian Carp? Although we told the rolling cameras from Animal Planet ( They flew in from NYC and rode with us filming for a special)  it was because of our teamwork and river studies and skilled boatmanship, I've got a feeling something else came into play: We were sober!  And when silver asian carp (see previous post) are airborne and smashing into boats, heads, bodies and nets, it's good to have our wits about us. I smiled during our award presentaion when a local guy bellowed out - grinning from ear to ear  as he did, that "They cheated, They were sober!" Now for those of you who are waiting to see photos of dozens of fish in flight at once - at times 10 feet above the water - you must wait a week - although one incidental carp leaping before the event behind Betty Deford, the derby organizer, does appear.  During the actual competition, when the noise and vibrations of churning motors stirred the beastly invaders into their frantic flight mode, the time at which we net them in flight,  my camera was securely stowed and my hands were occupied with a slime and scale coated net. But chase-boats of media were fillming and our Michigan contact, Kevin Fowler was clicking away.  He has captured awesome images that are other-wordly! Hope to share some of his camera work in the near future. And now it's time to thank the organizer of the Great Lakes Guardians (our team name), Ron St.Germain. Look for his upcoming story in Woods N' Water News. That's him cooking and sampling a silverfin Asian carp!  And tons of praise for the skilled  boatmanship of owner and captain of Luring Addictions, Brian Curtis who navigated us in tight cat and mouse manuevers in his charter jet boat - although his wife had a black eye from a powerful direct carp face hit - that brought us just two fish shy of first place: We captured 493 carp in 8 hours of fishing without poles, an all time team record! And yes, that's me posing proudly on a muddy river bank with self-anointed Ms.Silver Fin with two of our bigger scaled alien invader brutes that ended their days of breeding in the river of mayhem and madness (one boat sank during competition, others were grounded) at the hands of a small sober team of Michigan men and women. And for more on the serious side of the invasion of Asian Carp and the clear and present danger to our Great Lakes check:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Scaly Adventures, Alien Invaders and Fishy Warfare on The River of Mayhem and Madnesss!

I am off to the Illinois River and the town of Bath, a small town that is about to bustle with national media and camera crews from across the nation.  The Red Neck Fishing Derby is this weekend: a time of total mayhem and madness blended with camaraderie, fun and more than a touch of seriousness. We are going to war in small boats to battle invaders that threaten our Great Lakes and economy.  But this is also a media - luring fishing derby, a derby that does not allow hooks or lines.  Call it sensationalized total warfare with a southern flare against the spread of Asian Carp, the invasive species that is almost - but not quite yet - in Lake Michigan. During the tounge-in-cheek named derby the invading flying fish  of nightmares are captured with nets as they leap over the boats and sometimes directly into them causing bruises and bumps and occasional serious injury. Asian carp, because of their size, fecundity and abiltity to consume incredibly large amounts of food could become the dominant species in the Great Lakes if they make it through the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal that connects the Mississippi River system with our lakes. They are almost here. At this very moment scaly swarms of these scaled invaders are flip flopping. And so is our government. It is time to order the Army Corp of Engineers to close the canal to restore that ecological barrier that we created. For if these creatures, that were brought here in the 90's to southern aquaculture facilities and then escaped during flooding become established, we and our Great Lake's way of life are fried. And now it's time to pack a helmet for my head, a life jacket for padding, my capture net, Illinois non-resident fishing license and of course a first aid /trauma kit, for this writer/naturalist/paramedic will also serve as boat medic on my carp assault team, not a bad idea with some of these finned monsters propelling themselves out of water like living missles from hell.