Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Burning Ban Greets Spring Wildfire Season!

If you are heading north for this warm and dry Easter weekend you need to know that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment has issued a burning ban for all of the upper peninsula  and a good sized chunk of northern lower Michigan. Paul Kollmeyer, DNRE fire specialist explains, "Normally, wildfire season starts in the southern part of Michigan and works its way north.  This year, we have had wildlfires occur in all regions of the state."   He added, "This is an unusal spring for us because we lack snow in parts of the state that usually are blanketed in snow in April." This bulliten is more than just an advisory for you not to burn leaves or other debris. It's the law and a fire you start escapes your control you will also be held liable for the cost of putting out the fire.  Burn permit information: www.michigan.gov/burnpemit.   NOTE: Oakland County is NOT covered by the State burn permit process and most areas of Oakland County - with the exception of some of the more rural townships -  never permit burning. Check with your local fire department for permit information in Oakland.  Bottom line: Spring wildfire season has arrived! Be safe and think composting.  Don't cook the Easter bunny.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Herons, Humans & A Corruption of Nature's Way

Great blue herons thrive in the greater Oakland County area with nearly a dozen rookeries. One of those rookeries is  at Holland Ponds. Although that rookery is just over the county line in Macomb, many of those herons fly west into Oakland to hunt their prey: frogs and fish being  favored cuisine.   Holland Ponds allows distant viewing from a bluff; a good practice with no human access near nests. And that's where my reminisce to another time and place begins. West Bloomfield Woods Nature Preserve once boasted the most productive, popular and loved urban great blue heron rookery in our county. I used to be the parks naturalist for West Bloomfield. Spring tours with school kids viewing from a designated platform was a high demand educational activity with a wonderous primeval Jurrassic Park feeling.  No more: no heron nests in that rookery. Sadly, a deadly one-two punch came into play  four years ago. Humans in active recreational  pursuits were allowed closer access than permitted in the past in that nature preserve.  Half Marthon runners raced the preserve trails creating for the herons a critical level of  visual disturbance. And then high winds came. Trees toppled.  And then more disruptive  human activity: constant joggers and more runners in breeding and nesting season pounded the trails close to new nests relocated by the herons and closer than suggested by DNRE standards.The tolearance threshold was breached.  All herons left for greener pastures. I did too. Nature finds a way if we let her and don't bend nature's rules to suit political whims and special interest pressures (IE: Wouldn't it be nice to run races on the pretty nature preserve trails?) however human  intursions and disturbances are not tolerated by these predatory birds when nesting.  And then last week a surprise: When I visited Holland Ponds I was delighted to see signs I designed for West Bloomfield  years ago to create a Restricted Area to protect their herons are now in use at Holland Ponds. Let's hope the land  stewards in Shelby Township keep doing the right thing. I think they will. We learn from errors. It take more than forceful signs. It takes park management with the courage and wisdom and knowledge of science to do the right thing.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The True Sign of Spring: Fluffy Chicks in Ortonville

Spring arrived six days ago. And  signs are everywhere; from the vultures that soar above Troy high rises and Springfield meadows to the crocuses that poke up in suburban lawns.  Herons are on nests, owls have young. Robins slurp worms. Willows are tinged with color.  Rural roads are quagmires of mud.  Colorfully atttired joggers strut and jiggle their skin tight high fashion stuff on the West Bloomfield Trail as bikers re-claim the Paint Creek Trail with peddle power. But there is no sign or sound of spring as definitive as the presence of  the hot and fluffy chicks in the Village of Ortonville. Hamilton's Feed is the downtown landmark. It's the home town store for rural supplies and for plesant chatter of news about town. The moment I walked in  and reached for a few peanuts in the customer bowl at the service desk and exhanged morning greetings I heard "them".  I snagged employee Logan Amori for a quick hands on tour of Rhode Island Reds and Aracauna chicks. They chirped and squirmed in hand and seemed to enjoy the attention as if to plead "Choose me! Choose me! Choose me!"  ( Bad plan if you are a broiler.) But word spreads fast in Brandon Township and Ortonville. And the word is "The chicks are in!" With that fact on the ground spring is fact even with frosty mornings. You can reach Hamiltons Feed at 248-627-3700 or hamofortonville@aol.com

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Breaking News--Wolf Tracks Confirmed!

Breaking news today, March 23rd from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the United States Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services Division: Wolves have been confirmed in Cheyboygan County. In early February the DNRE requested citizens provide wolf observations to detect the presence of wolves in the northern lower peninsula. (Wolves began returning to the UP via Canada and Wisconsin in  the early 1990's and the first lower penninsula wolf was confirmed in Presque Isle County in 2004 when it was accidentally killed.)  It's looking like our penninsula now has a pack. According to the DNRE, "First spotted by area residents, the state and federal officials were about to confirm at least two wolves in one location; however, the landowner who made the report stated he has seen three seperate sets of tracks. This is the first official verification of multiple animals together in what may be described as a pack (in the lower peninsula.) " The DNRE is asking the public to report additional wolf sightings to the Gaylord Operations Service Center at 989-732-3541 ext 5901.  Wolf identification information and an on-line reporting form can be found at www.michigan.gov/wolves.   Wolves know a good thing when they see,or smell one and our "Pure Michigan" is now wolf country, on both sides of the big bridge.  And contrary to some hunters who believe they will 'eat all their deer' wolves keep the wild in deer as nature intended.

Monday, March 22, 2010

You are pathetic-- and a low life scum.

Spring is a time when the land is refreshed and wooded wetlands and roadside ditches are alive with the song of chorus and wood frogs. Each dawn brings new discovery. Sandhill cranes in corn stubble field. Hepatic blooming on sunny slopes.  Vultures soaring high.  Herons on tree-top nests. Chickadees in spring melodies.  Coyotes yapping to the night. Red-winged blackbirds claiming their cattail marshes. And at long last; longer days. Yesterday I hopped in my car to drive to Paint Creek Trail.  I drove slowly down  Granger Road in Brandon Township - very slowly to avoid being swallowed by car hungry mud - fully enjoying the views and melody of the wooded wetlands just a bit west of Baldwin Road. And that's when I saw it. A soggy  mattress roadside at the edge of the woods, freshly dumped by some low life lazy scum. Yes, I am being judgemental.  You bet I am.  But had I caught you in the act, let me tell you this. At the very least, I would have stayed on your tail as I called in your license plate to the Oakland County Sheriffs Department and I would be in court if you tried to wiggle your sorry hind end out of your slobbish behavior.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ocean Peace at Ned's Point

Spring is 48 hours away. I have been away from my woods, marsh and meadows for almost four days: they are at times the keel of my life. Now I find myself with my cousin Judy in Massachusetts. It's a bit after sunrise down at Ned's Point, a spit of land jutting into the bay in the town of Mattapoisett. The funeral was the afternoon before. Just as in the ways of nature there are beginnings and endings; so it is in the ways of human life. Nothing we can do about that.  The funeral was for Henry. Henry was her uncle; my step dad. We wandered off to Ned's Point for solace and peace, the kind of peace and comfort offered by the rhythm of the sea, the flight of the gull and early morning low-horizon sunshine shimmering on gentle waves. If you understand the ways of nature you understand. If not, you don't. And although I had not seen Judy for almost three decades, as she stood near the lighthouse on Ned's Point I  came to realize this wind-swept point of land was something of a keel in her life. We walked back to the family gathering at her house, past stone walls and sassafras trees and weathered seaside homes without saying much. We did not have to. Henry might have understood too, for Ned's Point was a place he used to sail - - a long, long time ago.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Establishing Territory: Birds, Humans and Warfare

On the road today near the rising flood waters of Tonawanda Creek in Western N.Y, my old stomping grounds from high school days.  A quick walkabout in the chilly rain to strech my legs before I wandered back to my hotel room -which I located by the number on the door  -reminded me that it's territory establishing  times for wild creatures, birds most notable.  Just as the mailbox number tells the world that the property is yours, and border protection officers and passport requests establish you are crossing from one country to another, and the number on my motel room tells others this is my space (for now), the behavior and song of birds establishes territory: mine mine mine!  A cardinal smashing his reflection in the window is trying to drive off an invading intruder--wondering why his song of land ownership is ignored.  The sweet tweets and chirps of endless species may be love ballads to the human ear, but for birds, it's all buisness. My territory, my land! Move on or face warfare. Woodpecker pounding on your downspout? Why not. That hollow metal tube echos his message of your house is in his territory. My favorite feathered territory proclaimer is the wild turkey.  Gobbles are only part of the territory establishment;  dramatic tail fanning - as one does on my backwoods trail at home in Ortonville-  tells the ladies, 'Come see me' and the Toms, "Be on your way!"

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Eau De Skunk: Tis the season

The rains and warmth have skunks on the move--along with their surging hormones and search for mates and grubs.  I don't know which one is more important to this creature we love to hate: sex or food. But the fact of the matter is clear; the stinky striped ones are out and about and show no mercy if harrassed by dogs or humans.  And with skunks ruling the night the myths of tomato juice are back.FACT: Tomato juice does not remove skunk smell. It masks it! There are some good commercial products out there,"Skunk Off " is one, but our best bet is a tried and true home remedy developed by Illinois chemist Paul Krebaum. Mix in a pan (out of doors is best) 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup baking soda and one teaspon of liquid soap.  When washing yourself, or your pet keep it out of the eyes. Rinse. Repeat. Rinse. And you are good to go--hopefully. And never ever store any unused product of this mixture in a sealed container.Can we spell.  B A N G.  It's volitale in a sealed container! Happy Spring.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Spring's teasing: Time to celebrate the simple life!

Sunny Monday and it's still 12 days to the Vernal Equionox.  Spring is teasing: Coyotes yip, howl  and romance at night, crows raise a ruckus at dawn, bluebirds flit in meadows, deer are looking mighty shaggy as their winter coats shed, maple sap is pinging in buckets, turkey flocks strut meadows and squirrels are in hyperactive overdrive. A lone turkey vulture rides the crystal blue sky as the distant call of sandhill cranes in flight announces their return; the earliest I can ever recall. And then there is that robin, staring at his reflection in the window as if to say, "What are you doing here guy. This is my territory!!"  And that's just up by me, in my still snow covered slab of land in northern most Oakland County.  No matter where you travel in our county of hills and valleys, flat lands and flood plain, woods and suburbia the signs of the new season are everywhere. But you have to get out the car and walk. There is no better way to refresh yourself then leaving the world of ashpalt and iPods, Facebook and Twitter and all our modern "conveniences" that cut us of from the reality of nature's way on a beautiful day. Follow the wisdom  of John Burroughs classic comment, "To find the unviersal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter....to be thrillled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird's nest or a wildflower in spring, these are some of the rewards of the simple life."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Kensington Metropark - Spring's Pounding On Her Door!

The Vernal Equinox is still a few weeks away but on my recent camera-totting visit to the nature trails of Kensington facts on the ground spoke loudly: Spring is not gently, tentativly, tapping at the door; she's pounding on it! Chickadees are in spring song. Tom turkeys strut their stuff. Purplish green skunk cabbage is pushing up in the icy marsh. And visitors, they are smiling, happy and full of energy. Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, a German philospher/scientist penned in the late 1700's, "Wherever a man happen to turn, whatever a man may undertake, he will always end up by returning to the path which nature has marked out for him."  Explore Kensinton and no matter what path you undertake a world of nature discovery awaits.  And for a first time visitor I suggest a visit to their nature center. Their interpreters (Interpreters are park naturalists, but interperters are the title used by Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority) may share the secrets of feeding birds from your hand; a popular trailside pastime as a human acclimated tufted titmouse in one photo shows. Explore the website before you go for a wealth of information on Kensington and all 13 Metroparks.  http://www.metroparks.com/   And let me know when the sandhill cranes return to their nature wonderland of Kensington. They are winging north!