Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bald Mountain: Hiking, Hunting and Coexisting

 Bald Mountain Recreation Area is popular in autumn with hikers, color peepers, mountain bikers, nature explorers and hunters. Many users fall under more than one category. (And once the snows arrive the north unit trails offer excellent ungroomed cross country skiing with some challenging hills.) For more on hiking the north trails see the October 31st Oakland Press 'Oakland Outdoors' hiking column: Section A.   With hunting season here a few words of common sense caution are in order.  To insure a safe experience it is advisable to wear some blaze orange or other bright colored clothes when hiking or cycling in areas open to hunting. And to minimize contact with hunters - who also wish to minimize their contact with you - stay on designated and marked trails. A little mutual respect goes a long way in this 4,637 acre hilly wildland maintained and patrolled by the MDNRE for your enjoyment and use.

Small glacial created lakes and bogs provide habitat for beaver and fish.
One of the two DNRE owned rustic cabins available to rent.

Witch hazel is now in peak bloom. The delicate yellow spidery  blossoms usually remain until Thanksgiving.

During hunting season it is best to stay on  marked trails and not explore backwoods.

Sugar maples add brilliant color contrast in early November to a woodland dominated by oaks and evergreens

Monday, October 25, 2010

You might live in Ortonville if.....

photos by Steve Pappas
You might live in Ortonville (Ortonville is located in Brandon Township in northern most Oakland County) if you fall asleep to the yip of coyotes and the pre-dawn hoot of great horned owls. You might live in Ortonville if  layers of mud coating your car is the norm. You might live in Ortonville if you burn your fields in the spring and shun the silliness of leaf blowers in the fall. You might live in Ortonville if you dial 911 and firefighters and paramedics- who are also your neighbors - climb out of bed at 2 a.m. to  race to your aid in their personal automobiles.  You might live in Ortonville if going for ice cream means a short trip to Cooks Farm Dairy for world class home made ice cream and a visit with the cows out back. You might live in Ortonville if a small creek that meaders through town and next to the A&W Drive In Restaurant is also your favorite trout stream.  You might live in Ortonville if your bird feeder draws in deer and flocks of wild turkeys. But you most definitely live in the Village of Ortonville if  early on a Saturday morning the downtown coin operated car wash brings a sight such as this! Ortonville, a place where horses are as loved - - and often cleaner than our cars.  I am happy to say, this town is my town.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Poison or Not: The color red, and your late autumn hikes.





My best advice: If you do not know your leaves and shurbs and vines well, avoid direct contact with the color red in your late autumn hike.It's not just red maples and the sassafras that takes on beautiful hues of red in the waning days of October. So does poison ivy and poison sumac and both can create an itching oozing rash of blistery pain that will make you wish you left all colorful leaves alone.  A blog is not the place to learn the differences, but from top to bottom in this sequence of 'Poison or Not' - and photo sequel to my Scripter Trail hiking column in the  October  24 Oakland Press -  you will find Fragrant Sumac on top, followed by Poison Sumac, another view of Fragrant Sumac behind the trailside boulder, Staghorn Sumac and then Poison Ivy.  (Only the fragrant sumac was photographed on Oxford Village's Scripter Trail but all are found in Oakland County. If you crush a leaf of fragrant sumac you will know why it was so named.)  Poison Sumac loves "wet feet" and this highly potent plant is usually in a wetland and the leaves are at just the right  height for face-slapping contact.  The Staghorn Sumac (also known as red sumac) with the tightly packed fuzzy red seed clusters likes dry sunny areas and is harmless. Poison ivy is everywhere, sometimes as a tree-hugging vine, and sometimes in a bushy form. In autumn and winter you may notice its whitish-yellow berries.  Enjoy your hikes in your local, Huron-Clinton ( or Oakland County Parks (  but watch where you wander and what you touch as you explore nature's colorful ways. And a caution: Even in the dead of winter if you bruise or break a vine of poison sumac or poison ivy and come in contact with the oils you can end up in a dermatological nightmare! 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sandhill cranes, owls, chickadees and the great migration: Or Not!

The lawn of Bullfrogs Bar and Grill in Brandon Township at the edge of Lake Louise has become a staging area for one of nature's  greatest adventure: migration! Sandhill cranes and Canada geese are in a holding pattern and 'fueling up'. But contrary to common belief birds do not fly south because they get cold. Birds go south  for their food and in almost all cases the birds that depart are bug and insect hunters or nectar sippers, like the ruby-throated hummingbirds that have already zipped south to Cuba and Central America.  If the bugs and insects and frogs and tiny creatures that fuel your metabolism die, hibernate or depart, so must you: thus the need for cranes, warblers and house wrens to flap away. The choice is simple: adapt to the new reality or die.Canada Geese have learned to adapt to a human altered environment and a warmer world and many stay in Oakland County all winter, seeking open water from 'bubblers' and lawns that stay  free of total snow cover offering places to graze. For others Ohio is south enough.  Mouse hunting screech owls have no need to migrate, nor do the great horned owls that now hoot to the approach of dawn bringing me pleasure as they reign night terror on  rabbits. Chickadees, well protected by layers of downy feathers do well in winter and an unnatural gathering of them already vists my sunflower seed feeder, which in turn will draw in Cooper's hawks -- for fluffy and crunchy Chickadee McNuggets. But loitiering sandhills will soon wing south and send a signal to all that can read their ways that winter and is on the way. Some geese will ignore that signal, for that too is nature's way.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Smashing Pumpkins! Enrichment Time At Our Detroit Zoo

I am darn proud of my cousin with the impish grin holding that pumpkin!  That chimpanzee is your cousin too.  And just like humans, our wilder primates thrive and have a 'smashing good time' when enrichment items are made available.  Enrichment items? "Enrichment includes the introduction of novel and sometimes unpredictable elements such as objects, sounds, scents or other stimuli that give animals choices and control in their environment and encourages them to respond in species-typical ways."  Detroit Zoo animals will be having themselves a smashing good time of enrichment on Thursday October 21 when they are presented with pumpkin treats, corn stalks, pinatas and red-colored pasta, some of which is stuffed into hollowed out pumpkins. (Sounds like a typical human four year old's party, if you ask me.) The presentations are part of the enrichment experience at the zoo; a time to play with, roll around on,or  just tear apart and smash and devour their treats.According to PR spokesperson Patricia Janeway, each year around Halloween the Zoo's animal welfare staff provides environmental enrichment in the form of pumpkins, gourds and corn stalks as special holiday treats for the animals."The items are hidden in the habitats and placed in a unique manner to stimulate natural behaviors".  Animal welfare manager Eizabeth Arbaugh added, "The gorillas enjoy digging in and eating ghoulish spaghetti."  My thought: Just look at any two or three year old in the same situation and their behavior will be exactly the same! Except human parents will not call food throwing, pasta squishing and pumpkin smashing dynamic and engaging.  But it's looking like a good time at our zoo. The wild creature enrichment schedule:  10:30 am- Gorillas, 11:00 am - Snow Monkeys,11:30 am - Rhinos, Noon- Zebras, 12:30 pm-Bison, 1 pm- Wolverines. 1:30 pm - Polar Bears.  Your own little Homo sapiens food-smashing enrichment schedule back home is up to you. Keep your kitchen mop handy, for your little walking-up-right primate will be imitating their zoo cousins.The Detroit Zoo is located at 10 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue.Zoo Detail:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Images of Addison Oaks: Time to hike!

Consider these photos an addendum to my hiking column on the 2.5 mile paved Buhl LakeTrail of Addison Oaks County Park that appeared  in the Oakland Press on October 17. Last week I hiked that trail with other participants of the 2010 Oakland CountyTrail Summit.  Most woodland trails in Oakland County are now at their peak color so get out and hike: just don't step on any rattlesnakes,  for our shy massasauga rattlers - our only venomous snake - are catching the last rays of warming sunshine, sometimes on the dark surfaces of trails! The building pictured here is a tudor style conference center; the mushroom a shaggy mane: both are trailside at Addison. For information on all Oakland County Parks:  Autumn is fleeting with the first frost  just around the corner. In the not to distant future my Earth's Almanac blog will be exploring a world of snow adventure and winter wildlife.  (To discover the trails of the Huron Clinton Metropark System connect with  And be sure to check your local town or city for their trails! Stay tuned to the Sunday Oakland Press for hiking tales and locations to hike across our county; the column appears in print and on-line.)   

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Strangers In The Night

There is more to this odd, non romantic encounter at dusk than meets the eye at first glance: a "strangers in the night exchanging glances meeting"at the edge of my woods  Sometimes in nature's way species that don't mean to mingle do just that, but that mouthful of 50 teeth tells only part of the tale. What you can't see clearly is a small mass of black with a raised tail that the opposum is having a hissy chat with. (Note the black form on left side of picture) And you can't see the white stripe down  the back of that critter. Living in a semi-rural area is full of wildlife adventure: I had just finished slashing brush to open an old pathway in my woods to prepare for cross-country ski season. I think my activity stirred up either the opossum or the skunk and one or the other moved about and encountered the other. When I walked back down the path to inspect my work and gather tools I heard noise in shrubs next to where I was last working and saw the two circling each in a potential mutual destruction showdown.  I ran back to the house for the camera, walked back, took one photo, backed up and watched. Lest you wonder, the skunk blinked first and wandered off without spraying. Towards me.  I left.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Battle of Colors, a Big Blue Lake and Butt Slaps

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 9TH:  A PERFECT DAY!  Hundreds of thousands, some with their faces smeared with green or blue, packed into dim Sports Bar in sardine-like fashion on a beautiful day with summer like temperatures and balmy breezes.  I am glad I was not them. They missed our late season treat of nature as they hollered, hooted and rejoiced at the odd annual spectacle of grunting men clad in skin tight leotards of blue and gold  run after green and white clad men and both groups rumble over a pointy ball made of a pig's skin. And of course there were those strange celebratory butt slaps unique to this sort of manly combat. That's my take on the big game. I might even sound un-American (I do like Apple Pie) but I have never attended - not even once.  But on the same day as the 'big game'  (ho-hum, yawn) I sought out another color war. After a night of sleeping in the sweet smelling pine forest near the Platte River I joined a few hundred others who gathered on the dunes of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore near the town of Empire.  A battle of colors was raging: Vivid colors of autumn sparkled against a backdrop of  the blue of Lake Michigan and her incredible sand dunes: perhaps our greatest land-sculpting gift from the glaciers. But perhaps the sport's addicts might be glad they are not me. "You hiked up sand dunes and watched leaves change colors all day and slept in a tent at night where there are bears and a cougar or two and perhaps a wolf?" But if you have never been to Sleeping Bear, it's a trek worth taking for Sleeping Bear Dunes  is a landscape of sandy beaches beneath rugged towering dunes, dense beech-maple forests and birch-lined streams.  Info:  And I ended up with a sharp butt slap too, from a cedar branch as I slipped on a sandy incline on Pyramid Point. Go blue. And green. And orange, red and yellow!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Fun With Fungi

The rains of last week coupled with warm weather have produced a bumper crop of woodland and field mushrooms, some edible and delicious, some dangerous and deadly and others just "Blah, Why did I eat that?"  I am not about to try to  identify them here: that spells foolish.  If you are after shaggy manes, they are great if you get them when they are young and very fresh,before they go into the inky stage. I sliced and fried one with garlic and added it to scambled eggs early this morning. (I am still alive!)  Or perhaps hunt a small puffball: tasty when sliced and seasoned and fried like a fritter. However you need someone to take you in the field to teach you first hand. Someone who knows that they are doing.  But for looking for colorful fungi it only takes a walk in the woods and you may find one such as this 'bird bath fungi '(not its real name) that edged a shady spot of  the wood chipped fitness trail in Troy. The part we see (the mushroom) are the fruting part,  just the tip of the fungi iceberg, most of the fungi is hidden underground. As I knelt for a closer look at this stump-eating mushroom I almost expected to find elves bathing in the water filled cup. The puffball below is in my chemical free front yard. NOTE: As for morels, they will not appear till next May, about the time the lilacs bloom. I'll be waiting. And feasting.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Oakland County's Pit Viper: Eastern Massasauga is on the slither!

AN INTOXICATED WHITE MALE ON HIS DOMINANT HAND.  That's the answer to a two part question, "Who is most likely to be bitten by a massasauga rattlesnake,  and where will the fangs puncture the flesh?  With that preamble out of the way, many residents of Oakland County are unaware that we have a healthy and generally well-hidden population of massasauga rattlesnakes, the only pit-viper to be found in Michigan.  These reclusive rattlers are generally timid and only strike when provoked, thus the intoxicated male scenario, "Hey Joe, Watch This!" This past week media has carried stories about  our rattlesnakes.  Almost all had the same error, calling our native and fully protected little swamp rattler a poisonous snake.  They are not poisonous. Poison is absorbed or ingested. Venom is injected! Massasaugas are venomous. We have many plants, poison ivy being one, that are poisonous, but only one snake that packs venom. And so in these early days of October as our Massasaugas slither about in the last pockets of warmth (sometimes sunning themselves on a trail) or hunting for the last frog or mouse enroute to hibernation locations (often a moist crayfish burrow) one would do well to give them a wide berth. They will return the favor.  The snake warning sign  is at Seven Lakes State Park in northern Oakland County, but these rattlers are found in many of our County and Metroparks and perhaps in your yard, perhaps down where the meadow meets the marsh. NOTE: Only venomous snakes have the vertical cat-like pupil 'slit'. But if you are that close, you are way too close! (I used the zoom lens to capture this rattler at Holly State Recreation Area.)