Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Do we really have a vicious coyote problem?

This oddly colored coyote - that  perhaps could even be a rare hybrid -  is very aware of his environment and well blended with dry grasses in Brandon Township. ( Photos by Ronald Lapp, used with permission)

Coyotes, unlike domestic dogs and wolves  always maintain a tail down position.
Hardly a week goes by without coyotes being in the news.  Some coyote tales are exaggerated tall tales, some are editorials or news stories on human-coyote interaction and some are anxious residents sounding off loudly, "Someone needs to take care of the coyote problem!"  And one Rochester Hills resident argued that "packs" of coyotes in wooded areas are "a definite deteriment to real estate value." She even  lamented that these 'vicious meat-eaters" attack "eldery deer and fawns." I can't aruge with the fact coyotes eat deer.  That is what coyotes should do, especially when deer are abundent! But I wonder why she deemed them vicious? If she eats meat - with someone doing her killing - is she now vicious?  And worrying about coyotes dropping your property value? Look to the City of Chicago. Abundent coyotes within their city limits and property prices soar! And Oakland County prices have not diminished because of sizeable rattlesnake population in some  upscale areas.  Real estate near  larger parks and recreation areas - areas with well established coyotes - bring top dollar in SE Michigan.

Fact of the matter is clear: Coyotes cause emotional distress for more than a few residents, however  coyotes do not pose a clear and present danger to well behaved humans going about their buisness in Oakland County.  We seem to suffer from a wide spread perception problem, a foggy understanding as to why coyotes are here (abundent natural food)  and how we should behave around them.  And for those that are fearful they will  be the next victim of a coyote attack, yes, coyotes are wild and they can bite. In all of North America there was only one fatal attack on a human by coyotes in over thirty years. That was last year: A pair of  habituated coyotes attacked and killed a young woman trail hiking in Cape Breton Highlands Provincial Park in Nova Scotia. 

Michigan averages 10 humans a year killed by deer (auto-deer crashes) with hundred injured. We don't fear deer. Domestic dogs kill over one hundred humans every year in the United States, with thousands injured. We still consider dogs our best friends.  West Nile Virus infected mosquitos killed 25 in Michigan not that long ago. We still went outside. I won't even comment on human to human violence and drunk and distracted drivers~! And to take the statistics game further over 30,000 auto deaths a year. We still drive.  

If you want a coyote off your property then you must change your behavior. You be bold~!  Yell. Bang pans. Throw anything at them but food. Never ever let your behavior lead to a food reward or a sense of  "Welcome! Come on over!" for the coyote. And you never back away or turn and run; that behavior shows you are fearful and acting like prey.  Teach your children about them and let them know they should never ever run away. Running can elicit a predatory response.  Accept the fact coyotes are here to stay. Breeding season is not that far off and come spring coyotes will turn to our goose problem. They love geese; for dinner.  And goose eggs too.

Nature's way is  full of surprise and drama and the coyote is an effective and smart player adapting to our human alterted environment faster than we adapt to their ways. And just for the sake of argument lets pretend a local unit of government  foolishly bends to pressures and decides on lethal 'control'.  As our western states learned over the decades, their foolish, fanatical death-dosing  plans of extermination of  this highly adaptable creature failed.  Nature hates a vacuum and we have created perfect habitat where coyotes 'do their thing' taking down injured deer, fawns, geese, rabbits, mice, rabbits and rats. As winter arrives, coyotes turn to hunting mice and rabbits at the edge of  meadows and often visit bird feeders. Not for the seed. Spillage attracts a host of prey species.  Let your cat out at night? Not wise. But no one is screaming "control the cars"  for they may kill  wandering cats or off leash dogs.  I for one enjoy the night yips and howls and walk in the country after dark, alone. You can too. Be smart. Be aware. Be coyote wise.
Note the charecteristic tail down and ears up position even as this coyote trots off to the edge of the woods after an afternoon of resting and mousing in the meadow. The white tipped tail is extremely unusual.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Images of Seven Lakes State Park

These images are an addendum to the Land O' Lakes hiking column on Seven Lakes State Park in Holly, Michigan that appears in the Sunday,  November 29th issue of the Oakland Press. The entire column can be found in print on that date or on line by going to the "Search Box"  in the website of The Oakland Press (http://www.theoaklandpress.com/) entering my name in full "Jonathan Schechter" and scrolling down. All published hiking columns appear, the most recent first. 
The park is well signed and easy to find. Located on the west side of Fish Lake Road, north of Grange Hall Rd.

Mositure in the cold atmosophere produced a rainbow like event:  A Sundog. 

Several of the recently installed trail signs have been damaged by fresh shotgun blasts.
Hepatica leaves poking up through leaves in late November hint at what wildflowers bloom first.
The fire scars are evidence of a prescribed fire to maintain the oak, hickory habitat.
During firearms season it is wise for woodland hikers and park road walkers to wear blaze orange!
Deer hunters in the park are mandated by State Law to wear blaze orange.
Bright orange would have made this Green Trail hiker more noticable.
Glacial erratics (boulders) are common along the trail's edge and in the woodlands.
Trail junctions have maps and location numbers to indicate your position.
This  prairie habitat near the park's entrance is a meadow of color in summer.
Even in winter a barbecue is possible if you plan ahead. Hikers pass near this boat launch site on the green trail.

Friday, November 26, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: When Wolverines Attack!

All photos by Jonathan Schechter
A sports reporter I am not. Yawn. Zzzzzz. Who, me? Write about sports? Oh please...Noooo! No way~! And I just can't see plopping down in front of a television on a perfectly good day to watch grown men in  matching colored tights fight over a pointed ball and spend a good part of their day trying to kick it over an H shaped object at the end of their play pen, I mean playing field.  But an assignment is an assignment and so with a little help from friends at the Detroit Zoo I bring you a wildlife enhanced football pep rally so perhaps this Saturday the University of Michigan Wolverines will tear up the Ohio State Buckeyes. Perhaps not. They never seem to do so. Six straight defeats at the hands of Buckeyes for the UM Wolverines. And if UM loses again they need a new critter name so as to not to continue their insult to the dignity and fierce reputation of wild wolverines: UM Lambs? What do you think? 

Now hang on tight for that inspirational banner Breaking News! Here are a few images I captured at the Detroit Zoo's wolverine habitat where the zoo's wolverines Luka and Jigi had a go at attacking and tearing apart and then eating...yes, EATING the Buckeyes' mascot Brutus. And in case you wonder what instilled their teeth and claw fury, here is the rest of the story: Zoo staffers stuffed sedentary Pinata Brutus with raw meat and other goodies as part of an enrichment activity to keep the wild in some of their wildlife. The wolverines caught scent of the hidden meat and the attack was on.  Detroit Zoo information: http://www.detroitzoo.org/    And  FYI: The zoo is a great place to visit in our cold blustery days.

Time for the take down!
Boy on boy, Brutus has tasty innards.  Let's rip his head off next.

Wonder if I can reach any more goodies inside?
That was really yummy. Hey, what are you looking for? A Buckeye? Saturday will tell.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Snoods, Wattles, Parks and You: Thanksgiving Thoughts from Brandon Twp.

If wise old  Ben Franklin had his way the wild turkey would have been our national symbol and perhaps today we would be sitting down with family, friends and loved ones to a  heaping plate of hot stuffed eagle. Ben looked at the eagle as a thief, stealing fish from osprey. He praised the turkey as a respectable bird.  The wild turkey has expanded its range greatly in the past dozen years and is now well established in much of Oakland County.  I'm lucky. I often see these colorful birds strutting through my Brandon Township woods, pecking near the edge of my woods for seed and grubs in the last days before snow. And if spooked, sometimes I seem them in flight.Yes, muscular wild turkeys are powerful fliers unlike their flabby morbidly lily-white obese farm kin that are so unsteady on their feet they can't even mate. Fact is the mass produced turkey you are eating today most likely never flew one wing flap and is a product of artificial insemination.  And now that you are loosing your appetite I'll toss is some turkey sex facts to spice up your attitude. The Toms (males) have a fleshy red wattle on the neck and a fleshy mass over the beak known as a snood. These features are thought to be physical lures to attract as many wild woods hens as they can. For if you want to be a turkey that spreads your genes far and wide you want to be totally irresistible: One hot strutting Tom!  Seeing turkeys in the wild is easier now that leaves are down. I'm thankful I need only to walk out my back door to encounter turkeys. Many of the parks in Oakland County have excellent turkey habitat. Two of my personal favorites for chance turkey encounters are Kensington Metropark (try near the nature center) http://www.metroparks.com/ and Independence Oaks County Park (most anywhere!) http://www.destinationoakland.com/  Happy Thanksgiving to all and thanks for being a reader of Earth's Almanac. And your comments make it more fun for all.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"StormReady" This Oakland County Polar Bear Is Ready! ARE YOU?

photo courtesy of Detroit Zoological Society
With winter weather at the door and Michigan full of unpredictable severe weather events all year long it is worth taking note of the Detroit Zoo.  The Detroit Zoo just became the first zoo in the country to be certified "StormReady" by NOAA, the National  Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And kudos to our zoo for their accomplishment!  The nationwide StormReady preparedness program leads communities, universites and other venues in developing plans to handle local severe weather events.  To be recognized as StormReady a location must:  1. Establish a 24 hour warning point and emergency  operations center. 2. Have more than one way to receive severe weather forecasts and warn the public. 3 Create a system that monitors local weather conditons. 4 Promote the importance of public readiness through community seminars. 5. Develop a formal hazardous weather plan which includes training severe weather spotters and holding emergency exercises.  Do you have a plan  for your family?  When severe weather hits, and in its aftermath, the probability of a rapid emergency response is greatly reduced. What will you do if your power goes out, snows get deeper, winds howl, powerlines crack, trees snap, lightning flashes, tornado sirens scream, wildfires rage, rivers flood and EMS, police and fire services can not reach your location?  We are not like the thick furred polar bears at the zoo, content in fish-munching and gazing at curious humans in the viewing tunnel. We humans are poorly adapted. We are frail and often careless creatures when it comes to severe weather impacts. But we can plan. We usually do not. Dialing 911 for advice during severe weather is not a plan.  It is a sign of your failure.  So is texting for help when you are stuck in a blizzard-spawned snow drift and all you have in your car is a thin dressy coat. Follow the lead of our zoo: Be ready for whatever nature has in store.  Detroit Zoo: http://www.detroitzoo.org/     StormReady: http://www.stormready.noaa.gov/

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pleasures of Wood Heat

Up until last week when it was time for me to scribble thoughts and words for this blog, the hiking column or other projects with a pen I would retreat to my rustic outside arbor and let my mind race, or sometimes drift ever so slowly into "writing mood". No more. Just too many chilly rain drops. And wet snow flakes and  hail pellets are not good for paper or laptops. And the real snows are about to come.  If I was to sit outside and write now the squirrels and chickadees and sunflower seed-fanatic nuthatch might think me odd. And the one neighbor that is close enough to see my house would know I am.  And so with this blog I have retreated to the favorite corner of my house, the corner with the wood stove. The corner with a view of the meadow beneath my hill and a bird feeder attached to the window. And there is something soothing about the feel of dry heat from a wood fire, the sweet smell of wood smoke and the simmer of coffee that fuels the spirit. The pleasures of wood heat  far outweigh the quick convenience of adjusting a thermostat. And with four face cords of oak and ash stacked outside, even  my  very poor math ability tells me I have enough wood to set the mood for all writing projects - if I allow 3 split logs per project-  until the first drip of maple sap in tin buckets signal spring.

Monday, November 15, 2010

"I hunt for the meat!" Oh, Really?

It's opening day of the firearms deer season and Michigan's massive peace time army clad in orange is on the hunt. But first a few things about me to set the record straight. I am a non-hunter.  Never have hunted. Probably never will. Maybe some day when I am retired and living in the mountain cabin of my dreams I may  hunt grouse and eat them. Deer? That just won't happen. Maybe it's just a touch of the Bambi syndrome, wimpy me not wanting to take a shot at a big eyed gentle creature that stares at me.  I do eat meat. (I like my ribeye steaks well done.) Many of my friends are hunters and I think the majority of my outdoor writer friends - and some very good friends among them - are deer hunters.  And here is where I am going with all of this.  There is more than a some slice of hypocrisy out there among the hunters who blabber on and on that they don't like the killing, they don't look at it as sport, "We do it for the meat!"  Really?   Then why all the boasting rights about who hangs the biggest buck on the community "Buck Pole" and why all the attention to the mounting of  the head of big bucks, and why the display of big racks on autos and trucks coming home  from the woods with their trophy? And corner bar talk of "Going to lay me down a really big one this season" sure does not sound like it's all about the meat. And look at hunter related magazines: the pages are full of pictures of the biggest dead deer with macho type poses of the meat-gatherer. Well,  got to stop my rant now. It's off to the corner grocery store to get myself a trophy size monster ribeye. Maybe I'll tie  it to the hood of my car to show the world my success in gathering meat. And then after dinner I'll mount the bone on my wall to record my conquest.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Blazing Trails! Firey flashback to the Indian Springs Burn

On November 8th, a prescribed burn was conducted in the prairie areas next to the Environmental Discovery Center of Indian Springs Metropark. The burn is part of multifaceted management plan to restore and maintain prairie flora and fauna and keep invasive species at bay. The photo above is of a drip torch being used to set a back burn (a back burn controls the main fire) and the photos below show a few of the more firey highlights along and near the Discovery Trails. For more details on on the 17 acre burn go to http://www.theoaklandpress/ and type Indian Springs in the search box. On  Sunday,Nov 14th Oakland Press will have details on the hiking trails near the burn.

And of course there were spectators- some watched from the nearby paved loop trail.

Return in spring and you will witness flowers and grasses rising from the fire and ashes!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Coyotes, Sasquatch and manic media madness over predators!

COYOTES!  Just say that word and folks get all stirred up.  And sometimes when media gets wind of a coyote on a slow news day they tend to blabber breathlessly with  the kind excitement one might expect if hairy old Sasquatch himself was photographed riding into town on the back of a unicorn to the blare of heavenly trumpets. Get over it! Coyotes live in every county in the State of Michigan. They are one of the best established, mosty highly adaptable and intelligent creatures on our Oakland County landscape. And they have not been "driven out of the woods because of development." Coyotes live among us because predators follow prey and Oakland County is a land of great opportunity with ideal habitat for this often elusive predator.  And of course we have plenty of tasty things: Car killed deer, abundent mice, rats, rabbits, groundhogs, squirrels, birds and the occasional carousing cat or off leash fluffy little yippie dog. Come next spring goose eggs and geese become delicious appetizers and entrees.   As for many reported coyote sightings: Misidentifications. This photo from last week - the real thing - photographed at Willow Metropark by Jennifer Reddig - is excellent for making note of three classic coyote charecteristics. 1. Ears pointing up.  2. Bushy tail hanging down. 3. And that 'last look back over the shoulder glance'. A coyote sighting is not news enough for the media to be yipping about. Not ever seeing one would be. I'm happy I have seen coyotes in the wild, but their presence is not a "Breaking News" story with "Details at 11."

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Images of Kensington

A pair of sandhill cranes feeds along the main park road, just north of the nature center.
Images of Kensington Metropark  change dramatically in the blustery days of November. The last of the loitering sandhill cranes -like this pair hunting bugs and seeds just north of the nature center - take wing and head south.. The trails are less crowded with humans and offer great hiking adventures. Consider these photos an accompaniment  to the Wildwing Trail hiking column in the Sunday Oakland Press of November 7th. (To find  that column on line go to http://www.theoaklandpress.com/ and type 'Wildwing Lake' in the search  box ) But instead of just looking at pictures, tie those hiking boots tight and explore this ever popular Metropark in the month of great transition and first snows. 

Chickadees: To feed or not to feed? The answer is not to be found on this informational sign.
The well marked nature trails all start near the nature center. Follow the signs and enjoy!
Carpets of leaves flavor the season. Walk with care when the bridges are wet.
I incorrectly stated  in my Wildwing Trail column that a few great blue herons were on the edge of the island rookery. I was  wrong! A closer look  at my photo shows the island was sheltering a small gathering of sandhill cranes - a flock feeding before flight to the south.

The 800 foot board walk is a place of solitude and quiet in the days of November.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Migration: The greatest show on Earth!

Cranes fly over their Hula Valley staging area at sunset in Israel's Upper Galilee before departing for Africa.

MIGRATION:  The greatest spectacle of nature is underway.  Wildlife species of all sizes, shapes and means of locomotion are on the move.  For some- lady bugs - their migration was a matter of yards. They crawled from outside your house to hidden recesses inside your house. (You'll find them next spring on the window sills trying to get back out.)  Monarchs flapped out of Oakland County before the big chill stormed into town. Destination:Mexico.  Delicate ruby-throated hummingbirds are already living the good life in Cuba. Migration is more than the greatest show on earth for the human mind and fodder for television nature specials for arm chair naturalists. It is raw. Primeval. Beautiful. Somtimes bloody. And it is the way to pepetuate a species as the earth rotates around the sun.  I feel gifted that 10 years ago I witnessed wildebeest in migration on the Serengeti Plains not far from where early humans first walked. And yesterday morning I was happy to hear 'my' sandhill cranes in flight. I think this was their departing flight, not the daily trip to the local corn stubble field. As the cranes winged over my barn on that  frosty red dawn it was awe inspiring, a  melodic wonder of nature.  The photo above: A gathering of cranes at sunset in the Hula Valley of Israel's Upper Galilee as they continue on their grand journey from Europe down to Africa. Maybe one day we humans will decipher how species know it is  time to slip into collective travel mode and navigate en mass through all sorts of weather to reach a place of new life, and then return when Earth wobbles back to a better warming rendezvous with the sun. It won't matter if we don't.  What matter is they are free to migrate, unhindered by human roadblocks. And the photo below: a rare whooping crane captured in flight (bird in the lead) with a sandhill crane near Jackson, Michigan. The time of their great migration is near.
Over 2,500 sandhill cranes and one whooping crane have staged near Jackson at the Phyllis Haehnke Memorial Audubon Sanctuary (operated by the Michigan Audubon Society) in preparation for migration.  The whooping crane is the white bird in the lead. This photo from Oct 31st is  courtesy of Diane Constable. (Excellent job Diane!)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mother Nature: Doctored Facts, Messages from God! and "Tell everyone you know!"

"The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper."  Eden Phillpotts .   This widely circulated  image sent to me of  a "Fire Rainbow" is not one of them.    

Every now and then well meaning readers - and mostly likley a few hoaxsters - send me pictures with accompanying text to include in my blog with that melodramatic Internet advice: "Tell everyone you know!" Some are obvious hoaxes or clever composite pictures.    And some pictures are accurate but for reasons that baffle me the accompanying text is pure fiction like a picture sent to me of  a "really big mountain lion in michigan near a friend's house". The mule deer and flora in the same picture shows it was clearly not  photographed in Michigan.  And then there are some tales with a grain of truth  but doctored to add flare with personal motivation twists.  This is one such tale: A "Fire Rainbow" that happened "just last week" and  "one of the rarest of all atomospheric phenomena" And it proclaimed it as: "A message from God!"   It took about sixty seconds of detective  work to debunk, "last week" and "rare".  The photo is real. Not last week. Idaho in 2006.  A "fire rainbow"  has nothing to do with fire and is not a rainbow and they are not the rarest of atmospheric phenomena. It's properly called a circumhorizontal arc (a ho-hum sounding name, yawn) and is formed when the sun's rays pass in just the right way through high altitude cirrus clouds.  It is a fairly common halo in Michigan and several  small patchy ones were visable in Oakland County on the afternoon of October 29th.  As for a message from God? The person who forwarded it to me did not tell me the secret Lordly message. What puzzles me is why when our Earth is full of real things in nature's way that are magical but real we must create false facts (translate that as lies)  or alter images and  tales to "improve" on the wonders of nature and the adaptations and wonders of evolution of life on Earth. Passing on or creating doctored facts do not make our wits grow sharper.