Saturday, April 30, 2011

Waiting For The Scent of Flesh

Patiently they wait and watch--for an offering from me.

"My" vultures are back, catching  warmimg rays on the metal roof of my old barn.
All photos by Jonathan Schechter

Now that warmth has returned so have my turkey vultures. 
 I feed birds. In the winter a mix of seed and suet brings in the usual mix of backyard species.
Yesterday I  filled the hummingbird feeders with their sugar water mixture and wait for our tinest bird.
 But yesterday I noticed another species I have been feeding for the past 3 warm weather seasons
(they migrate south in the winter) have returned to my yard and are they are waiting for me to act.
And they don't want sugar water.

They are waiting for my fleshy offerings.

Not visable in these hurridly shot and slightly blurred photos is my vulture feeder: A 4 foot square
elevated platform between the house and the 1860's barn.
On this platform I present my road kill offerings of pancaked possum, squished squirrel, rancid
rabbit  or their favorite, tire-whacked woodchuck. And when the time is right a farming friend adds
alpaca placenta to the fleshy treats.  I feel bad that they are waiting for I have not yet
made a single offering, but I smiled at their return. Stay tuned for the strange saga of feeding these
magnifcant high-soaring birds that like to drop down from the sky for an easy-pickings putrid lunch.
That is their way. And that is their job in nature's way.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kearsley Creek: She's on the move!

All photos by Jonathan Schechter
Just over two inches of rain fell during the past 24 hours over the already saturated hills and meadows of Brandon Township. And now tiny Kearsley Creek -  a designated Michigan trout stream - is racing through woodlands, meadows, fields, farmlands and a few creekside backyards as she starts her long journey that ends at the Atlantic Ocean. An epic flood? Not by an means, but just nature's way  in spring  to flush the banks, move sediments, renew the natural systems and maintain a degree of healthy wildness to this great little stream that meanders through northernmost Oakland County. And to the homeowners who are upset your yard was flooded--you were flooded because you built in what we call the flood plain.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Not Quite the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker: But Darn Close!

Photo by Jonathan Schechter   Orion Oaks County Park  4/20/11

Some believe the ivory-billed woodpecker is extinct. I am one of the hopeful ones that believes this elusive  red-crested giant hangs on in the mountains of Cuba and isolated bottomland swamps of the southeastern United States. One thing is certain: If the ivorybills survive, they are extremely rare and elusive and shy of human activity. While a high quality photo or video has yet to be obtained, various groups of knowledgable and skilled birders have been reporting ivory-billed woodpeckers. Two separate areas of Louisiana have produced credible multiple sightings, while Florida and Arkansas credible sighting have waned. The search continues with human eyes and high-tech sound and image monitoring.

Michigan old growth forests are home to the  magnificant pileated woodpecker and it has been said that there is no other bird it can be confused with. Not so! One glance at this classic Audubon print of an ivory billed woodpecker  (below) and my photo of a pileated woodpecker (above) shows their stunning resemblance. On April 20th I hiked about the western section of  Orion Oaks County Park and was delighted to first hear, and then see and then snap one quick photo of our native pileated woodpecker, our red-crested forest giant with an almost 30 inch wing span that has adapted to  protected  habitat conditions in this Oakland County Park, a 916 acre parkland surrounded by suburbia.

File:Campephilus principalisAWP066AA2.jpg
An Audubon sketch of the elusive ivory billed woodpecker

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day 2011: Looking back to a sunny land on the sea.

Israeli sunset on the Mediterranean Sea.  
(this photo by Irit Kovacsi with permission)

On this cold and blustery Earth Day in Oakland County-  with tiny hail pellets and a few snowflakes in the higher elevations of my Brandon Township - I thought it appropriate for a final Earth's Almanac look back with photos of my recent trek in northern Israel. Sunny pictures only to stir our passion for our long delayed spring in Michigan. Our time will come!
(All photos are mine with the exception of above, sent by an Israeli hiker I met.) 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Old Man and The Shepherd

An old Israeli man (Jewish) chats with an Israeli shepherd (Druze) high above the Sea of Galilee.
all photos by Jonathan Schechter

My travels in the Land of Israel are drawing to an end. I hiked from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Gailee on a four day trek through canyons and over mountains.  I  have explored Crusader castles and Moslem fortresses and gazed at the massive Syrian-African Rift. Witnessed bird banding at dawn in the Hula Vallley, and the raging waters of Nahal Hermon in the heat of the sun. Explored three wonderous Israeli national parks and reserves: Tel Dan, Nimrods Fortress and Hermon Stream Nature Reserve. Visited ancient battle sites from the Bible, and others ripped from today's headlines. Walked under bridges built by the Romans and viewed arches from 4,000 years ago. Chatted with Israelis of three faiths:  Druze, Moslem and Jewish.  Dined on fresh pita with goat cheese. Walked for miles between towns and pastoral villages. Slept in a hammock-tent lulled to sleep by jackels. Biked along the Jordan River.  But at no time did I feel more at ease and connected to the land than when I sat high on a bluff laced with wildflowers and watched a Druze shepherd herd his goats up towards a spring and a trough of stone--and my perch.  And with about 100 meters to go, an older Israeli man  sitting with me stood and walked slowly down the hill to greet the goat herding shepherd he did not know. They shook hands and talked of the land, the goats and life in the Galilee.

It could have been 2,000 years earlier. For those that love the land, it is all the same.
I smiled, wondering what it would be like to be that old man or shepherd, connected so closely to their land.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Adapting to life--In an ancient fortress

A resident pigeon in the Nimrod Fortress: all photos by Jonathan Schechter

The Nimrod Fortress is one of the largest and most impressive fortresses which have survived in the
 Mid-East  since the Middle Ages.  Construction began in the year 1228 to protect against  invading Crusaders.
 With the surrender of the Crusaders and their ejection from the Holy Land at the end of the 13th century, the prestige of  this stone fortress diminshed.  In the 15th century it served as a prison for rebels but was soon abandoned.  Up until the  time it became an  Israeli national park (located in northern most Israel within view of Lebanon and just over the mountain from Syria)  it  would at times shelter shepherds and their flocks.  Today the vastness of this fortress remains a  draw for wildlife that has adapted to the stones, stairwalls and towers of rock. And that is the way it is with wildlife around the world, adapting to our ways, be it a coyote in Michigan or a hyrax at an ancient fortress in Israel.
 The name of the game is always adapting  for survival.
 Photos below: The Syrian rock hyrax resembles our groundhog but is native to Israel and is most closely related to the elephant. Lizards, like lizards every where seek places to adjust  body temperature: sun warmed rocks cut in the 12 century  are just perfect.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bird Banding in the Israeli North: Agmon Hula


The mist nets are set before dawn.

Northern Israel is rich in birdwatching sites and is of great importance to hundreds of thousands of wintering birds and migrants. The Agmon Hula Ornithology (Bird Watching) and Nature Park  in the heart of the Hula Valley is one of those places. Mountains of Lebanon are to the west. Syria to the northeast. Snow-capped Mt Hermon rises magestically to the north at the edge of the Upper Galilee. Agmon Hula is critically located in the center of the Afro-Syrian Rift making it one of the most significant bird migration routes in the world. During every migration season over 500 million birds from more than 400 species migrate in the skies over this area. Thousands  of those birds remain at Agmon Hula during winter. Others nest at Agmon Hula during their breeding season.  The park has taken on international importance to the scientific community and is a highly significant and prominent center for eco-tourism in Israel and a model for cooperation between nature, tourism and agriculture.  Visitors can tour the park on bicycles, peddle carts, or on guided tours in a Safari Wagon.

 During my visit I made special arrangements with a staffer to be on site before dawn to witness a bird banding operation. In Israel, bird banding is known as 'ringing', named for the small ID ring placed around a leg. Information gathered when they are recaptured or found  anywhere in the world provides valuable scientific information on habitat needs, avian health, changing weather patterns and gives humans a bird's eye view into the health of the planet we call Earth. On the day I observed, one bird bore a tag showing it had been ringed in Lebanon. Information was recorded and the Lebanese bird took flight to continue on its journey.
                                                       Four words sum it best:
                                                      Birds Know No Borders

The proper size ring is selected for this black cap, a common species.
Nets are checked every twenty minutes or sooner.
Common Kingfisher, seconds before release.
European Bee Eater - one of the most colorful birds of the day.

A reed warbler visiting from Lebanon displays its homeland ring.

Sedge warbler having just been weighed, is about to be released.

Golan Heights are the backdrop for this ringing station.
Masked shrike smiling at the camera.

Israeli adults attend an interpretive program on the science of ringing.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

From Sea to Shining Sea: Trail Distractions Abound

The 55 mile hike over forested mountains and wide open meadows, down deep canyons  and along narrow trails is over.  The trail led from the waves of the Mediterranean Sea to the pastoral settting of the Sea of Galilee. And what a hike!  40 times we had to cross water. (Heavy rains lashed northern Israel a few days earlier)  Cattle stood their ground. Goats "stampeded".  And a misstep on steep cliffs would be the end.  But every minutes was an adventure:  wonderful encounters with Bedouin Shepards, Druze villagers, a group of almost 500 Israeli teen scouts on an outing (hiking a short section of the trail via a spur trail connection), ond of course other trail hikers  Four highways needed to be crossed, two by tunnels, two by  dashing across.  And then the Sea of Galilee; rains had raised the level and our final approach was made by wading down a nearly waist deep path to the new shoreline of the lowest  fresh water lake in the world: 712 feet below sea level. You call it the Galilee, the Israelis call this sparkling gem Lake Kinneret.  Everything I saw was a distraction: These uncaptioned photos are but a few of the best distractions:  Streams to cross. Boots to dry. Crusader castles to visits. Cliffs to conquer. Clever signs to read. And multi-tasking escorts for school groups, skilled in trekking, first aid and protection. This is but a sliver of what is on the Sea to Sea Trail that leads to the Galilee and smiles as we waded to the end.
NOTE:  In two or three weeks a feature travel story on this trek will appear in the Oakland Press with links to many more photos - this time captioned - of the Israel Sea to Sea Trail.

The trail starts at the Med Sea