Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dance of the Sandhills

All photos by Jonathan Schechter 
Sandhill Cranes, August 31, 2011
 Brandon Township, Michigan

I often hear their mystical primordial sounding musical call at dawn.
But seldom do I see them. 
 Today I had both treats of the wilder side of nature.

A pair of sandhill cranes with their full grown flight-tested young danced about in my neighbor's
 fallow field just before 6 pm. (The pictures were all from my car parked roadside.) But the dance
 of walk and stalk and leap I witnessed was not a dance of pleasure.
It was a dance of survival for the cranes and a death dance for crunchy grasshoppers 
 and perhaps some juicy meadow voles as well.
Each field dance ended with a grab or stab.
A diet rich in protein is essential for the great task that looms ahead: Migration!
And these birds know that their time to fly will be soon.

Spirit Song of A Michigan Ghost Forest

All photos by Jonathan Schechter at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Walk silently through the haunting landscape of the ghost forest of Sleeping Bear Point Trail and 
 wind spirits whisper to you and chatter among the skeletons of long dead cedars.
If you do not hear them you are not listening. 
I am sure the Anishinaabek knew the song in their day on Sleeping Bear.

The ghost forest is stark evidence of shifting sand dunes and endless winds that writes new pages
 daily in the story of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, an ever changing masterpiece 
created by the last glacial retreat and now protected by our National Park Service. 

Sand and wind in concert is powerful.

 Although each grain of sand is just the tiniest of specks, in 1931 the U.S. Coast Guard buildings
 now in the town of Glen Haven had to be moved from Sleeping Bear Point before the
 migrating dunes buried them.

The story of sand dunes and ghost forests is without end, but to feel the earth moving forces of
ice, wind and water that sing nature's song you must walk the sands.
And I will walk there again in a land that is full of mystery and  wonder, and home to
black bears, bobcats and perhaps a few cougars.

NOTEFinal photo by Shaina O'Dwyer, Environmental Management System Management Representive of
 the Grand Traverse Resort And Spa.

 During this most recent exploration of Sleeping Bear I was a particapant in an environmental writers ecology
tour  sponsored by the Grand Traverse Resort And Spa  with assistance and logistical 
support  from the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Traverse City and the staff of the
National Park Service at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Spirit of the Crow -- and a wary buck.

crow photo by my friend Ulanawa Foote 
photo reprinted with permission from :

(NOTE: Turtle Saw is a spirtually uplifting nature blog with incredible photography)

There is a quickening in the land. Seasons are changing. 
Gentle rains of black walnuts signal summer is waning. 
So does the endless night song of crickets. 
As days shorten hummingbirds at the feeder accelerate their activity.
 But pehaps no creature senses this quickening more, and shares the news more loudly than the crow.
 He sees all. He knows all. And he forgets little.
And sometimes he screams  his secrets, building a reputation as a noisy spirit of the woods and fields. 
But somtimes he is silent.
And he just watches.
Look into his eyes and you see wisdom.
And strength.

Crow calls when the owl flies home to the pines.
Crows call when the neighbor's cat stalks birds.
Crow calls when the coyote crosses the road.
Crow calls when the tractor coughs to life.

Crow watches me walk my meadow; but this  ka ka ka  - if  it happens at all -  is not an alarm. 
It is less shrill. He knows my ways and my passings.
His tail feathers and head bob with his song.
I like to think it is  a greeting for me. Only crow knows.
I always "ka ka ka" my hello back as I enter his haunts.
If I lived in the city my neighbors would think me a bit strange. (They might be right.)

But for reasons I do not know when the buck of late summer walks through the tall grass meadow, 
crow watches and says nothing of buck's stealthy passing.  
Crows silence speaks loudly to the buck.
And buck understands.

photo by Bob Davis ( a neighbor who share his passion for wildlife)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Puffballs! Cast iron frying pan sizzles with fungi feast.

Season of the puffballs! 
photo by Jonathan Schechter 8/21/11

My disclaimer first:
Just because I eat something from Mother Nature's endless pantry does not mean you should.

MORE SAFETY: Never gather from a lawn that is sprayed with any chemicals.  And if you are not 100%  certain it
is  a puffball, don't eat it. Some poisonous shrooms when first emerging - including the destroying angel - ( a deadly amanita)  can be confused with a newly emerged puffball. 
A photo is not a mushroom ID class!

The new batch  of puffballs that just emerged after the rains is a perfect palate pleaser. I will grant you a puffball hunt does not create the romance and excitement of searching for the morels of spring,  nor are the flavors and textures the same. But his fantastic fungi that is popping up all
 about my meadow and lawn is tasty when young. In my book when its about six times larger
than a black walnut (see photo) it is the perfect harvest size. 
 Puffballs will eventually swell to the size of a pregnant basketball!

Here is my step to step 10 minute guide from waking up to consumption.

 Look out my window and smile at new puffballs in moist grass.
    Walk outside while barefoot and pick one puffball.
    (Why barefoot? Why not!) 
Make sure no little critters are napping on puffball.
    Slice the puffball thinly, maybe 1/8 of an inch.
 Lay slices on cast iron pan sizzling with hot olive oil.

Flip once.
    Season with a hot sauce and sprinkles of feta cheese .
    Eat and Enjoy.

Feeling a bit wild? Chop into squares and prepare with roasted peppers, garlic and spinach!
And don't forget to thank Mother Nature for her bountiful harvest of a waning summer.

    Thursday, August 18, 2011

    Fruits of my trespass: My confession.

    photo by Jonathan Schechter  August/2011

    I am not certain what laws I broke, but I am rather certain I am a law-breaking naturalist.
    This image is at the end of my driveway and the wildflowers are growing in the right of the way of my dirt road in northern Oakland County.
     Up until two years that right of way was mostly dirt and stubble and grasses that were planted by the county to stablize  soil along the shoulder. One or two times a year a tractor came by to cut back any roadside growth to keep a clear view.

    Late October 2009:  I went to the roadside and "took cryptic measures of trespass"  late one night to remove the bit of green that was growing.
    I waited three weeks.  Then it was time to hand sow a mix of hardy wildflower seeds a few days before the first snow fall.   Nature did the rest.  
      Almost two years have passed: A few weeks after I took this picture of a doe sampling summer flowers, a county tractor worked its way slowly down my road with the blade streched out cutting back any plant growth. When it reached my small patch of law-breaking beauty it stopped.  I watched unobserved from my porch.  The blade was lifted and he drove on, lowering it again a few hundred feet down the road.  I was happy that he sensed what I saw--natural beauty (created by an unsanctioned act). 
    Yesterday a neighbor asked me how I make the flowers grow.
    I see a trend. 
    A good trend. He will be my co-conspirator in an expanding operation: "Seeds gone wild"
    My trespass shall expand later this fall just before the snows of November.
     I ordered more seed today.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011

    Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: Most Beautiful Place in America!

    all photos by Jonathan Schechter

    Early this morning (August 17, 2011) ABC News announced Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes
    National Lakeshore (  ) as "The Most Beautiful Place in America"! 
     Congratulations to  our National Park Service for their fine managment of this beautful resource
    and a special thanks to the Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitor Bureau  ( ) for their endless promotion and support of our great NW shore on Lake Michigan.
    But most of my thanks are for the glaciers, powerful winds, ice and raw power of nature 
    that created this incredible landscape of rugged beauty, streams, meadows, forests and wildlife
    habitat, and for the people who love the land and all her inhabitants.
    Sleeping Bear Dunes is a four-season wonderland and now her secret is out.


    Sunday, August 14, 2011

    A gray treefrog, a wren box and a world of mosquitoes!

    Gray treefrog in house wren box
    All photos by Jonathan Schechter

    Sunday, August 14th 1 pm.  Great flocks of  newly emerged micro mosquitoes are on their blood
     hunt making it nearly impossible to stand still on my rain-soaked hillside.
    But I am not one to stay indoors and so I went for a quick walk to my woods and then to my mini
     arbor to harvest a few tomatoes dangling from their aerial pot in back of the vacated house wren box.

    And that is when I saw a hint of motion.
      Back inside for the camera!

    The weathered old empty wren box has a new resident, one without feathers. A content gray
    treefrog, with his (or perhaps her) coloration adjusted to the shade of the wood leaned partially out
    of his new window on the world, watching my arm swinging antics and perhaps slurping down
     a skeeter or two on this humid Sunday afternoon of cozy comfort for amphibians, and misery for humans that sit still outside. 
    But it's a great day for the treefrogs, and for humans that love
     wilder moments of nature and the tiny interactions all around us.

    HIGHWAY PATROL : Keen eyes from the sky

    Red-tailed hawk 
     photo by Barrie Lynn Totten Wood

    I try not to be a distracted driver when navigating the endless ribbon of concrete and asphalt we call Interstate 75. 
    But a few days ago as I headed south not far  from my entry point at Exit 89 (Sashabaw Road) I could not help but be distracted.
    The highway patrol is out in force.
    They distract me no end.
    And I noticed one pair of eyes hidden in plain sight adjacent to my entrance ramp.

    If you are spotted by the Highway Patrol in the waning days of summer a quick death may await you; that is if you are a grass-chewing meadow vole, leaf-munching rabbit or nut-happy squirrel paying more attention to gluttony than the shadows and eyes in the sky.

    The red-tail is a keen-sighted sky warrior, a beautiful and powerful  hawk with the ability to hover in flight and then descend with sharp talons outstrechted to secure a meaty fur covered meal.
    These common North American hawks adapt well to opportunity and that is what many do when  major highways are part of their habitat. 
    Why fly about searching  distant fields when one can perch roadside and still hunt, waiting for potential prey in the human created zone between the edge of the shoulder and woods?

    Barrie Lynn Totten Wood photo

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    Perseid Meteors streaking to Earth! WARNING: You may get mooned.

    Perseids 2010 (Pete Lawrence, 200px)
    A brilliant Perseid meteor 'fireball' photographed in Aug. 2009 by Pete Lawrence of Selsey, UK.
    photo from NASA/SCIENCE   

    The Perseid meteor shower is caused by debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle. When Mother Earth zips through the debris field, specks of that comet slam into our  atmosphere and are consumed in flashes of light. Some are brilliant, others are faint lines of light.  They are all called Perseids because they fly out of the constellation Perseus. Your little one calls them shooting stars. Me too.

    "The meteor shower is already underway.  According to the International Meteor Organization, worldwide observers now are counting more than a dozen Perseids per hour with more to come on August 12-13 when Earth passes near the heart of the debris stream." NASA SCIENCE

    Swift-Tuttle's debris zone is so vast our planet spends weeks travelling inside the debris zone . Go outside at this very moment if it is night - no matter what moment it is within a week of August 13  -  and you might see a Perseid.  More likely than not--you won't. You will just feed hungry mosquitoes.

    Here's Why: The peak of this year’s Perseids is August 12-13, but you being 'mooned' by a heavenly body  - our moon-  is much more likely than seeing stars streaking.  Our full moon will outshine all but the brightest  players of this year's shooting star display. But do not give up too soon. You may get lucky and spot a brighter fireball or two despite moon shine. And since the Perseids can be seen in small numbers for several weeks on either side of the peak night, you might try to view a few when the Moon isn’t quite so full a few days after the peak period.

    My Tips:  Lunar glare wipes out a good meteor shower so if I was you - and I am not - I would head for the darker countryside tonight in hopes of seeing meteors streak into our atmosphere before they are drowned in moon glare.  I'm lucky. No street lights in my neck of the woods. (Meteors are almost impossible to see near city lights. ) If you do not see any during  moon glow  in the middle of the night, get back outside just before dawn rise when the moon is sleepy and wea andsettle in a lawn chair with coffee and bug spray. You may see a few!  But I'll be happy with my night meander regardless, and celebrate the whinny of screech owls from my pines, the hum of zillions of crickets and perhaps the trill of a treefrog, the deep song of a bullfrog or sharp yip of a coyote -- and of course the full moon exposure on a sultry summer night--------.
                    There is no bad night in the world of nature!

    And there is a bonus:
    "Before dawn is also the time of the International Space Sation flyby. All week long and into the weekend, the International Space Station will be making a series of early-morning passes over the United States. The massive spacecraft glides silently among the stars, shining so brightly that moonlight and even city lights have little affect on its visibility. You simply cannot miss it if you know when to look. Check NASA's ISS Tracker for local flyby times."  NASA@SCIENCE

    If I had planned ahead I would be at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore  sitting on a sand dune on the shore of Lake Michigan, one of the best places in Michigan to enjoy the streaking in the sky or the glow of being mooned, or just celebrating the wonders of nature and Mother Earth.  
    Note to self: Mark my calander for Perseid 2012.

                                                             photo by Jonathan Schechter
                                                     Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
                                                       Full moon of July 2011 from the dunes

    Sunday, August 7, 2011

    Ulanawa Foote: Introducing a SE Michigan nature photographer, magic maker!

    All photos by Ulanawa Foote
    (used with permission)

    Ulanawa Foote is gentle-hearted. She is a soft-spoken proud Native American woman with an incredible ability to capture wonders of nature and share those wonders through her camera's lens
      and thoughtful writings. Her peaceful passion for silence, tiny creatures, running water, fields of
    flowers, mountains and infants; as well as the colors, shapes, shadows and sounds of our Mother Earth
    come alive on her Turtle Saw blog.

    Her macro lens artistry coupled with late night rainy walks and pre-dawn
    treks in fields and woods and roadsides create magic and art. 
    She can transform a simple grass spider huddled in a raindrop sparkling web into an image as powerful and captivating as a grizzly bear with gaping jaws.
    Ulanawa has the art of capturing simple beauty.
    Even a raindrop on a broken leaf is art and has as story to tell.
    She tells the stories well.

    I have never met Ulanawa.

    But one day, several months ago, while browsing a Huron-Clinton Metropark link in the odd,
     often convoluted and superficial world of Facebook I noticed some of her
     postings artfully blended with words. 
    They were full of life.
    They inspired.
    The made me smile.

    It did not take long to realize that unlike many photographers with the ability to capture
    great images, she has developed a gift of adding spirtuality and sensitivity to the camera image 
    and blend them with prose while retaining the simplicity of nature's way.
     She and I began to share E-notes and postings and thoughts on the ways of nature and man and
    the fine art of hiking in woods with worn boots and torn sneakers.

    It is with great pride that I use my Earth's Almanac blog to share a few images captured by
    Ulanawa and to introduce her beautiful and inspiring Turtle Saw blog:    
     (You will discover her wonderful insight, love of turtles and the musky scent of our Earth)
    Almost all images she shares on Turtle Saw  are captured in or near Lake Erie
    Metropark in SE lower Michigan
    Ulanawa's captivating words of beauty and joy and sadness and tears take us beyond her images
    of  nature-----they help us all find our way home.

    Red-tailed hawk  with fire in the eyes.
    Grass spider in web--waiting. (one of my favorite Ulanawa images!)
    Green frog with mosquitos
    Skipper on thistle
    White tailed deer in the woods and at peace.
    Lake Erie Metropark  in the quiet of summer
    Seeds in the wind
    Water lily - a landing pad for tiny winged creatures.
    Ulanawa Foote
    Note: In the Tsalagi  (Cherokee) language Ulanawa means soft-shelled turtle.
    Ulanawa in her sea of sunflowers at Lake Erie Metropark

    Friday, August 5, 2011

    KENT LAKE (Kensington Metropark) FISH DIE OFF-- a not good surprise

    To my readers of Earth's Almanac---What follows is a press release that came to me this evening from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Nothing has been added or removed. But it is stark reminder that the release of 'pet fish' can have dire consequences.  Jonathan

     Koi Herpesvirus Detected in Kent Lake Fish Kill

    Samples taken from a June 2011 fish kill, involving an estimated 300 to 500 common carp from Kent Lake in Oakland and Livingston counties, have detected the presence of koi herpesvirus (KHV), which may have contributed to the fish kill, the Department of Natural Resources announced today.

     This virus is capable of large-scale common carp die-offs as seen in Ontario in 2007 and 2008,” said Gary Whelan, DNR Fish Production Manager. “The virus is an internationally reportable disease, and it is being officially reported at this time.
    KHV had not been previously found in wild fish samples in Michigan but was detected in a private koi pond near Grand Rapids in 2003.

     Identification of KHV in Kent Lake was a joint effort with Michigan State University’s Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory and the USDA- APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. Laboratory analysis failed to detect spring viremia of carp virus (SVCV), which was originally suspected in the Kent Lake fish kill. The involvement of KHV as a factor in this fish kill is still under investigation.

    KHV affects common carp, goldfish and koi. There are no human health effects. The impact of KHV on native minnow species, which are members of the carp family, is not known at this time. KHV disease is found worldwide and likely was introduced to Michigan waters from the release or escape of infected ornamental fish.

    “The disease is easy to confuse with other diseases such as viral hemorrhagic septicemia, so laboratory analysis is needed to confirm this disease,” Whelan said. “While there are no treatments for this disease, the DNR is evaluating potential steps to manage it.”

    The public is reminded to contact the DNR when they see unusual fish kills at

     “This disease outbreak is another example of why the DNR reminds anglers and boaters that they need to drain bilges and live wells upon leaving a boat launch,” said Jim Dexter, Acting Chief of the DNR’s Fisheries Division. “Anglers should clean their boats, disinfect their gear, and not move live fish, to reduce the possibility of any fish diseases being transferred to new locations.”

    The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to

    The Woodpecker Hummingbird!

    All photos by Jonathan Schechter

    Ruby-throated hummingbirds are regular visitors to my suction cup attached nectar feeder. These
    tiny artists of the air that zip about in marvelous overdrive found the feeder just hours after it went
     up late this spring.  But now they have company. 

    All wildlife species - humans included - adapt to habitat and prevailing conditons. That is  the very
     root of survival and  fuels evolution even when the advantage of their activity is minimal.  A few
    days ago I noted both adult and large fledgling downy woodpeckers making bold visits to my 
     hummer feeder.  Unable to hover they cling to the feeder and their long tounges plunge into the
     slurry of sweetness spiced with a few dead ants.  A question remains. Is it the sugary sweet liquid
    or  the hapless sweetened ants that lure in my new friends. 
    My guess: Both!