Saturday, February 26, 2011

Oakland County Parks Need A Few Good Men and Women - as Nestbox Monitoring Volunteers!

Tree Swallows at Orion Oaks County Park, Spring 2010. 
 Photo by Jonathan Schechter

Winter is waning. Winds are shifting.  Maple sap is dripping. Great horned owls are on their nests. Coyotes are yipping to the night as the days are longer. The northward bird migration is underway, led by turkey vultures and red-winged black birds. And then it's nesting season.  And that means Oakland County Parks and Recreation needs volunteers to monitor nest boxes at five parks for the 2011 nesting season from April – August.   More than 116 nest boxes are located in five parks and maintained by volunteers. Training is required for new and veteran volunteers. Volunteers must register for the workshop by March 4 and must be willing to commit to weekly visits.  Oakland County Parks Nestwatch Monitoring Program was developed to protect native birds from aggressive species that contribute to their decline.

For details, contact Educational Resource Specialist Kathleen Dougherty at  248-858-0704, or To register, contact Rachel Boyd at 248-975-9717 or

WHEN:   Sunday, March 6, 2011  3- 5 pm
WHERE:  Wint Nature Center at Independence Oaks County Park, 9501 Sashabaw Rd., Clarkston


Contact Educational Specialist Kathleen Dougherty at 248-858-0704, visit or find Oakland County Parks on Facebook

Friday, February 25, 2011

TED GRAY TRAIL: Fast and furious fun. Not for a first timer!

The Ted Gray Trail is not a trail for a first time cross country skier. This hilly trail is less than one mile long, but what a mile! Except for a boardwalk over a marshy area you are in a world of wooded ups and downs.
And you ski over a glacial moraine formed about 11,000 years ago when the last great sheet of mile high ice retreated. Keep an eye out for glacial erratics (boulders) torn from the Canadian Shield and dropped here as the ice melted. You will see some of these boulders trailside and on adjacent hills. Consider these photos a supplement to the hiking column that appears in The Oakland Press ( on Sunday February 27 that describes  Ted Gray in detail.  After opening the Oakland Press link type my name in the Search Box and all the published  hiking columns appear.
 For more on  Independence Oaks County Park -  the home of the Ted Gray and all 13 Oakland County Parks - explore
(Note: Some of these photos are on the SpringLake Trail that connects you with the Ted Gray making an adventuresome loop of over three miles.)


Wednesday, February 23, 2011


The bald eagle shot in Genesee County last week is blindfolded and  prepared for  emergency treatment.

You don't have to be a tofu-loving, tree-hugger to be outraged at the recent rash of shootings of protected species across the United States and here in Michigan.  A few weeks ago another whooping crane was killed, this time in eastern Alabama. (This banded bird was part of the Wisconsin flock that learns to migrate by following the lead of an ultralight aircradft.) Three other whoopers were shot and killed in Georgia late last year.  And here in Michigan a Bay City man (58 year old William Hayward) has pleaded guilty to killing three wolves in Mackinac County in January. He's off for 365 days in jail with 90 days to be served immediately and the remaining time suspended if all terms of his 24 month probation are met.  And in addition to the $3,000 in restitution for the wolves, and $590 for the replacment of the tracking collars they wore and $1,500 in fines and court costs, his hunting privileges were revoked for three years.

Only three years? I would say for life. He's not a kid. He knew what he was doing!

And just yesterday the Michigan Department of Natural Resource and Environment and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  announced they are seeking information regarding  another wolf poaching case, this time in Chippewa County. This is addition to the wolf poaching case in Luce County announced earlier this week. (Wolves are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act and a person may be charged in both state and federal court for killing wolves.)

And if you've been following the news you already know an American bald eagle - protected by state and federal laws -  was shot in Genesee County on Valintines Day. This bird survived but may never fly again.

Rewards are being offered for information that leads to the arrest of the subject or subjects in all the Michigan shootings.  Anyone with information is urged to call the REPORT ALL POACHING HOTLINE at 800-292-7800, 24 hours a day, seven days a week or contact th nearest DNRE office or conservation officer. Information may be left anonymously while remaining eligible for a reward. Take a moment and add the 'RAP' number to your cell phone. And do the right thing!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Black Squirrels of Friendship Woods

Which squirrel is the gray squirrel?  They both are! And perhaps litter mates.

A 'black squirrel' hauls a load of shredded grape vine bark up to its nest.
photo by Jonathan Schechter

One of the dozens of black squirrels of Friendship Woods peers down at trail hikers. 
all photos by Jonthan Schechter

Hike the one mile trail of Friendship Woods at the Madison Heights Nature Center (Michigan) and
unless you have your eyes closed you will see black squirrels. And with snows of winter returning,
 this is a perfect time to go for a black squirrel hunt-with your camera!  Black squirrels are uncommon
 in many parts of Michigan but they are not at all rare. They are just a melanistic variety of our common eastern gray squirrel. If  gray squirrels mate and both hold the recessive gene, one or more of the
squirrels in the litter may be jet black. And in some isolated pockets of woodlands - such as this 31
 acre nature site surrounded by homes, highways, and industry- the black squirrel is the dominant
 squirrel. For more on the Friendship Woods Trail see the hiking column in the February 20th edition
 of The Oakland Press in print or on line at  (Type my full name into the search box and all published hiking columns appear.)


Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Eastern Bluebird in my meadow in  Brandon Township.  Photo by Jonathan Schechter

Eastern bluebirds perch on barren tree limbs and eye their slowly thawing world. Chickadees sing. Squirrels skitter in overdrive. Skunks pittter-patter at night. Great horned owls hoot from down in the pines. Turkeys kick about slushy snow hunting old acorns. Maple sap drips. Wolves howl in the northern most section of our Lower Peninsula! Woodpeckers drum to dawn.  Crows dance in playful flight.  Raccoons mate: Sometimes in your attic.  Icicles drip. And with people out and about more than before, robins are sighted. But contrary to breathless TV newscasters that will soon proclaim" "The first robin of spring has been seen!" fact of the matter is many robins spend all winter right here in Oakland County. Forget the calender: Spring is when you want it to be as Planet Earth contines her amazing journey around the sun. Just don't put away your snow shovel. Not yet.

Mother Nature is a fickle lady, spring is a sweet tease and robins are false prophets. Winds are shifting. Days lengthening.  And today as I watch a trio of eastern bluebirds on my sun-soaked but still frosted meadow I recall the timeless words of  Thoreau,  "The bluebird comes and with his warble drills the ice and sets free the rivers and ponds and frozen ground."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Independence Oaks - North: Photo Update

The curved boardwalk will lead from uplands to the edge of the swamp--and beyond.

I had the pleasure of spending a blustery morning with Oakland County Parks employees working through the Groundhogs Day snow storm to keep  trail constuction at Independence Oaks - North on schedule in anticipation of a public opening in April.  For details on the expanding acreage of Independence Oaks County Parks see the hiking column in the "A" section of the Sunday edition of The Oakland Press on February 13th. Or you can access the hiking column on line at  and type my name in the Search Box and all hiking columns appear.  Once the new trails open you will be afforded excellent views of Upper Bushman Lake and a cedar-tamarack swamp habitat. Kudos to Oakland County Parks for their efforts and a job well done!

Snow and cold made for a mosquito free work environment!

Way up north? No, just northern Independence Township. Upper Bushman Lake in distance.
Remnants of last year's senstive ferns protude above the snow near the boardwalk.
Michael Donnellon, Chief of Park Facilities, Maintenance & Development points out the crossing point at the tip of Upper Bushman Lake at the Brandon and Independence Twp Line near Oakhill Road.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Deep snow set the stage in the winter wonderland of the Sleeping Bear.
all photos by Jonathan Schechter

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore embraces 36 miles of Lake Michgan's rugged northeast shoreline and encompasses over 71,000 acres of forests, meadows, rivers,  wetlands and towering sand dunes.  The dunes are as old as the the mile high ice sheet that created our Great Lakes and are they are constantly being molded and shaped by the forces of wind, weather and erosion.  Most tourists head for the sun-baked dunes in summer and hike in small herds of nature-loving, dune-hugging, water-sipping humanity. But with winter dark still keeping her firm grip on the land, and deer hunkered down in cedar thickets and birds huddled against biting winds, and enormous wedges of ice slicing into shoreline driftwood and only a few bald eagles present to bear witness to it all, it was the perfect time for me to head into the wilds for twenty-four hours. And that's what I did: I hiked, snowshoed, cross country skied, yipped with coyotes, soaked in the solitude and talked with a few like minded adventurers and a park ranger I met while he patrolled the backcounty of the Alligator Hill Trail on skis. For detailed information on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore see the National Parks Service link    and the Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitor Bureau  Both are excellent and accurate sites with details on the natural and unnatural history of this sparkling Federal slice of our Pure Michigan landscape that does not slumber in winter.

Lookout Point on the Alligator Hill Trail towers over Lake Michigan

Powerful forces still shape the land and the landscape.

Snow covers most trailside benches, this one swept clear by strong lake winds.

The 'kitty cats' of Sleeping Bear get big and few have seen them.
A national park service ranger sets off into the woods on back country patrol
My woodland journey on skis brought close encounters with deer-------and

a coyote was startled by my sudden appearance in his deep woods.

Empire Bluff is a great place to kick back and relax and take in the views.
Some bluff  trails are almost obscured by snows, but can be navigated with proper gear and caution.
The trail on Empire Bluff remains a four-season favorite.  Winter foot wear? Snowshoes!
Meandering Platte River flows through the park and connects with Lake Michigan.
Camping near the Platte River in winter is an adventure, and the silent day woods talk to you at night. But your must listen.
U.S. Park Rangers have a large territory to patrol and are excellent sources of trail conditions information.  And don't forget to visit the top notch visitor center/ park headquarters in the Village of Empire.

Sleeping Bear Dunes may slow its pace in winter, but it never slumbers.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dancing With A Coyote: A Sleeping Bear Dunes Trail Adventure

Coyote in cedar thicket on Alligator Hill Trail at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore 
Photo by Jonathan  Schechter

The moment was primordial and unscripted and occured about one hour cross country ski time
 along the Alligator Hill Trail, a meadering  trail that crosses some of the wilder sections of Sleeping
 Bear and affords excellent views of Lake Michigan.  I had just descended a long down hill section
 and stopped to pause and take in the sights of the deep woods in an area of windfalls. Steep hills
were on both sides. Large trees, snapped near their bases told me storms command this land.  And
 then j,ust when I dropped my ski poles to the ground, and unzipped my coat (exposing my camera
 in the process) and was about to stuff my mittens within the coat before answering my call of
 nature's need, I detected movement 30 yards away.
I was not alone.

An adult coyote stood and stared. I know he saw me, but he would not look directly at me.
I suspect he had been cat napping in the snow and  perhaps my falling poles, or descending zipper
noise told him he had company. He appeared startled. But he did not bolt.  I quickly yipped twice
hoping to hold his attention: His glance at me could have been amusement or perhaps it was a
look of disgust, "Hey stupid, I know you are not a coyote."  But for the next 30 seconds we
watched each other. He kept glancing around for reasons I do not know, and that encouraged me to
 do the same. I turned back around and with out even a goodbye, old yellow eyes melted magically back
into the forest.  Note my use of "melted magically".  If I was not a fan of wild things I would have
said, "slinked sullenly".  But it will be a long time before I forgot our shared dance of observation,
in a peaceful and raw moment of interactions. 
Same coyote without camera lens zooming in.  photo by Jonathan Schechter

Monday, February 7, 2011

Trekking Empire Bluff in winter - Why?

Looking north from Empire Bluff.  photo by Jonathan Schechter

Superbowl Sunday found me far from a big screen TV at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore at the very edge of Empire Bluff on a deep-snow trail 440 feet above the frigid waters of Lake Michigan.  A foggy sky and falling snow left me wondering what drives me to seek out moments like this.  I sat on the crest of the bluff watching a coyote far beneath  me and wondered if that coyote ever sensed danger from sand slides or snow avalanches.  And at about that moment I reflected on a quote I read earlier in the Village of Empire defining nature lovers. The quote: "A nature lover is a person who when treed by a bear enjoys the views."  I  relate to that and try to take unexpected events on trails in stride.  But that fails to explain why I sometimes "seek out the bear" so I may be 'treed.'  Today I am 'seeking out the bear', for with the temperature slipping towards single digets, in  12  hours I will be in my tent in the forest not far from the Platte River in an ice-age terrain. The  black bears are in  hibernation, but I will hope for howls of coyotes and the night crackle of trees as I drift to sleep in my mummy bag.

And come dawn when I heat coffee over a wood fire and smile at the snowy woods I will wonder  if a wolf or a cougar I did not see or hear was aware of my presence, for these two predators are cryptically carving out their niche  in the wild lands of the sleeping bear -- and the humans who want to be treed for the experience.

Looking South from Empire Bluff.  photo by Jonathan Schechter

Thursday, February 3, 2011

When squirrels go wild: Questionable cohabitation shenanigans!

photo by Jonathan Schechter

The setting: Dodge 4 State Park on the shore of Cass Lake. 
 Before you read another word look at the expressions of the squirrels.
 The bottom one is pretending she is busy chewing on a nut. And the top guy is doing one of those, "If I don't move and look at you, then you don't see me", the same sort of attitude a nervous teen in a group might take when a Sherrif's Deputy asks questions.

Well, let me tell you squirrels something: I watched you long enough to take this picture and had about a 10 second eye-full of your nutty interspecies shenanigans on a tree limb.

And here is the rest of the story! The upper limb squirrel, (Mr.You Don't See Me) is a fox squirrel, while (Little Miss Innocence) on the lower limb is a gray squirrel. And what you can't see in the picture is a hole in the side of the oak tree between the two of them. Both of them;  let me spell that out, 
 B O T H squirrels emerged  togeather and scampered off to seperate limbs like they did not even see each other. Trust me. They did.

 I see one of three scenerios.

1. Everything is innocent and they are sharing a tree hole for cuddle warmth.
2.  They are not cuddling but sharing the tree hole for nut storage.
3. They are interspecies friends - very close friends - and don't give a shake of their furry tails what others may think.