Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Snow: a new season begins

Red squirrel with black walnut
all photos by Jonathan Schechter
November 30, 2011

Dawn was silent except for the muffled sound of heavy wet snow falling from tree limbs.
A perfect start for winter even though the calender says not yet. A quick walk about my woods
 and meadows revealed abundent tracks of wildlife: deer, rabbits and mice most obvious. At the
edge of the meadow a single file pattern of tracks told of a fox that went on his, or perhaps her
 first snowy meadow mouse hunt. And barely 100 feet from my door a red squirrel gnawed on
a black walnut, one of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of nuts I did not gather for myself. 
 The snow also reminds me it is time to put away the hammock, time to pull in my wooden
'meadow observation chair' and time to dream of cross country skiing and winter adventures. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tale of two herons in the last days of November

Great blue heron sunbathing at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
(late Novemeber ) photo by Duane Corsi

Wild creatures are always adapting. These photos of two great blue  herons, one in South Carolina
and one in Michigan add visual power to the life style variations  of these widespread wading birds. Their body language says it all. Duane's great blue heron (above) is relaxed at the edge of a waterway, perhaps wating for a frog or a fish.
If a heron can enjoy warm sunlight and just take in the scenery and reflect on the moment - and
I think they can "enjoy"- perhaps that is all it is doing. And that is human like behavior.

The huddled in the cattail marsh great blue heron of Ulanawa (below) may be waiting for a late
season frog or a fish at Lake Erie Metropark in SE Michigan.  But he  does not have that relaxed
pose of the southern sun-soakers. This  heron may be content in the cold marsh habitat, at least
until ice covers the hunting grounds,  but the question remains: Why stay this late?
Why when the living is easy in the south and winter is at our doorstep do some herons loiter till
 the last moment to fly. Perhaps the answer is not for us to understand, or perhaps it is just
evolution: survival of the fittest and exploring options; for migration too has risks. 
Or perhaps it is just they want to stay. Birds and humans both make choices.
When vacation time slips my way and wanderlust fever  hits I tend to head for the mountains of
North Carolina or the lakeshore dunes of Sleeping Bear or other  isolated spot of natural beauty. 
And I tend to camp, while others dream of a 5-star hotel or luxury liner cruise.

Great blue heron in chilly cattail marsh of Lake Erie Metropark, Michigan
photo by Ulanawa Foote (Late November)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Turkey Lovin' Needs A Helping Hand: The untold tale of Thanksgiving Dinner

Wild turkey strutting his stuff in my woods  on the 'turkey trail'  April, 2010
(note hen walking away)
photo by Jonathan Schechter

Wild turkeys share my woods and fields, or perhaps I should say I share theirs.
These well-adapted muscular creatures can run faster than a horse and take to flight in bursts of powerful wing beats. Flights are short but serve as as an escape from coyote and fox.  
When I am stealthy (and lucky) I have spied turkeys roosting high up in trees near my swamp.
 Come spring  the woods are full of gobbling and Toms fanning their tail feathers and
struting their stuff in seductive attempts to lure in the willing  and lovely hens. Nature dictates 
some equally fit hens will readily accept the genes offered by a studly Tom while  his elongated
and blood engorged snood dangles and wiggles while he dances sensually in the woods. 
"Over here babe! Over here! Check me out!"
(A snood is a fleshy appendage on his head--lest you wonder!)
28 days after eggs are laid the little ones hatch from a hidden ground nest and the fittest survive.
That is nature's way.
That is way it should be.

And now for the rest of the story
(Rated R - But True)

The commercially bred Broad Breasted White Turkey  (real name) you find frozen in a plastic
bag and take home to thaw and stuff is far removed in lifestyle from  their colorful and
physically  fit wild kin running free in the woodlands.  These farm-factory monstrosities result
from man's tinkering with selective  breeding. They are morbidly obese slobs of the bird world, so
 fat and flabby and out of shape from their forced diet and confinement they can not fly. And they
 are are so clumsy  and unfit from  unnatural selection they are incapable of sexual reproduction
the way  nature intended:
"Hey honey, I'm sorry,  I can't even stand up straight and strut, let alone anything else, and 
 by the way all of your flab is in the way too, so quit your gobblin. It ain't gonna happen."
That poses a science question for this naturalist to answer. How do domestic turkeys reproduce?
Two words: Artificial Insemination
And the goal is to creature turkeys with big tender juicy breasts.

Turkey sperm is collected by humans in a method you really do not want to read about in explicit
detail before your Thanksgiving feast .  But here is how the Mereck Veterinary Manuel sums up
 the collection procedure, "Collecting semen from a turkey is done by stimulating the copulatory
organ to protrude by massaging the abdomen and the back over the testes. This is followed
quickly by pushing the tail forward with one hand and, at the same time, using the thumb and forefinger of the same hand to “milk” semen from the  ducts  of this organ."  I want to think the
 Tom turkeys do not line up and gobble, "Me next! Me Next!" After collection a device much like
 a turkey baster is loaded with sperm and without any romancing, tender touching or sweet
gobbling is squirted into the not so willing females to produce a new
generation of big bossomed hens to await their time at the  next Thanksgiving feast.

Summer group photo before fattening up for November! (credit: public internet source)
Bon Appetit!
Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Toad's Art of Pilgrimage

American toad about to leap to freedom.
all photos by Jonathan Schechter
Brandon Township, Michigan Nov 21st, 2011

One toad and six frogs were trapped six feet down in a neighbor's window well. With winter at the
door they had all tried to wiggle under leaves and a bit of mud for hibernation time, and their season
of near deep freeze. But there was no way up and out.
Had they survived winter, death would have greeted them in spring.
The round up took less than an hour. Each one was removed carefully from their not so hidden hideaway they had tumbled into and placed in my lunch bucket for transport to a new land that offered natural shelter and life. Their fine art of seasonal pilgrimage was a 1 mile car ride followed by a 1,000
 foot hike. One by one, the climbed to the top of my lunch bucket transporter, looked about and
 jumped to freedom. Sometimes nature need's a helping hand. Kudos to the Oakland County
Sheriff's Deputy ( a friend of mine) that brought their dilemma to my attention.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"It's all about the meat" So say many hunters

Buck in my tall grass meadow, late summer 2011
photo by Jonthan Schechter

"It's all about the meat!" so say many of my hunter friends. Perhaps they are right. Perhaps not.
But I cringe when I see bloodied bucks propped up on hood of cars and trucks and deer dangling
from deer poles with the proud hunters standing alongside their "monster bucks" And flip through
 the pages of many outdoor magazines during deer season and there are hundreds of shots of
hunters posed with and even  hugging their dead deer. 
 I know when I go to the grocery store for meat I  never pose  next to a great looking rib-eye steak
 or post on Facebook an image of ground beef. But that's just me.

This tree-hugging meat eating outdoor writer (me) has a strong preference for images of deer like
the ones I shot in my yard this year - with my camera.
Doe  picking apples in my front yard.  Early summer 2011
photo by Jonathan Schechter


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Goodbye Turtles: It's Butt-breathing Brumation Time!

Sun-soaking painted turtle on Crooked Lake (Indpendence Oaks County Park) Summer 2011
photo by Jonathan Schechter

A month has slipped by since I saw my last painted turtle basking in sunlight, as relaxed as a sleepy nudist on a secluded beach. But now with the howling winds of November sending snowflakes flying painted turtles have vanished.  But they are not gone.

They are snuggled down into muddy pond bottoms but they are not in hiberatation.
Turtles practice brumation, loosely equivalent to mammal hibernation. When a reptile brumates
it becomes lethargic and moves little during the cold season.  Painted turtle have lungs but since
they stay under water for almost six month respirations take on a new twist: butt breathing!
This odd practice supplements their ability to exist on minimal oxygen

  'Blow it out your after regions' is more than a figure of speech in the world of aquatic turtles.
Many species have a pair of sacs (bursae) opening off the cloaca (multi purpose anal opening
more or less). These areas are heavily vascularized which facilitate the uptake of oxygen. 
Breathing through their butts is a trait that I fear my also be practiced 
by some televangelists and the current crop of politicians. 
The evidence appears overwhelming, at least to me.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Alaskan Grizzly Bear Tragedy: The Detroit connection aftermath

all photos courtesy of John Gomes of the Alaska Zoo

A human caused tragedy in Alaska will bring three grizzly bear cubs to Detroit. And although the cubs have been 'saved' they will no longer truly be wild; for without living in their natural habitat they are not living as the great wild bear Ursus arctos horribilis, a signature species of the American wilderness. They will be dependent on humans for the rest of their lives, as captive/ambassadors of a species that needs wilderness and the freedom to roam to be wild.  Some may debate if the relocation to Michigan was the best solution. I would vote yes. For left on their own after being orphaned by a poacher, they would most certainly would have come in conflict with humans as they searched the outskirts of Anchorage for food. A sad tale, but I salute the Alaska and Detroit Zoos for making the best of this tragedy--for the cubs--and for public safety.
                                                                    Jonathan Schechter

The Detroit Zoo press release follows:

"Three orphaned grizzly bear cubs rescued this month by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) will soon call the Detroit Zoo home. The 10-month-old brothers were orphaned in October after their mother was shot and killed by a poacher. The bears are being cared for at Anchorage’s Alaska Zoo and are scheduled to arrive in Detroit in a couple of weeks.

"It's tragic that the cubs’ mother was killed. We will take good care of them," said Ron Kagan, Detroit Zoological Society Executive Director.

The poacher who shot the mother grizzly has been arrested and will be prosecuted. After the mother was killed, her cubs were spotted several times in residential areas near Anchorage looking for food. The ADFG contacted the Detroit Zoo seeking sanctuary for the trio as they felt the cubs would not survive the harsh Alaska winter on their own. A female grizzly bear typically cares for her young until they reach about 3 years old.

The cubs are approximately 2½ feet tall and weigh 100 to 125 pounds. Once they arrive at the Detroit Zoo, they will be out of public view for 30 days to ensure that they have no health issues and to give them time to adjust to their new surroundings.

The Detroit Zoo is also home to two other rescued grizzly bears, both of which were relocated twice in the wild before arriving at the Zoo as 2 year olds. Female Kintla, 27, was captured by Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks in 1986 after showing interest in the area’s honey industry, frequently “inspecting” the beehives. Male Lakota, 26, arrived here from Wyoming in 1987 after being deemed a public threat at Yellowstone National Park and captured by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) is a North American subspecies of the brown bear and gets its name from the grayish – or grizzled – tips of its fur. One of its most noticeable characteristics is the hump on its back, which is a mass of muscles that gives the bear additional strength for running and digging. Mature males can grow as tall as 8 feet and weigh 800 pounds. Their average lifespan in the wild is 25 years.

The grizzly bear is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and only about 1,000 remain in the continental U.S. Grizzlies still roam the wilds of Canada and Alaska."

                                                            John Gomes, Alaska Zoo
            Video of the cubs in  Alaska:
Detroit Zoo:
Alaska Zoo:

The secret life of the robins of November: False Prophet

Worm-hunting robin.  Oakwood Lake Township  Park  11/14/2011
photo by Jonathan Schechter

All second graders  and most of their moms and dads know that robins are the first bird of spring. And more than a few local newscasters will in breatheless enthusiasm report their presence once snow melts in late March  next spring.   The little kids and the newscasters are wrong.

Robins are false prophets of spring.
Some migrate south.
Many stay put right in Oakland County

Early this gray mid-November morning I hiked the woodland and wetland trails of Oakwood
 Lake Township Park, a lesser visted 300 acre wildland in Oxford Township in the northeastern corner of Oakland County.  The grassy berm at the entrance to the park  was rich with robins hopping about, ears cocked earthward, waiting for a worm to give away its location. Another
flock of robins was at the edge of the swamp feasting on late season berries.  In a few more
 weeks snow will cover the ground but the robins that are here now will stay.  We just see them
 less, because when snow covers the grass, robins retreat to thickets and swamplands and switch
to a berry diet. Some even dabble in seeds at your feeder.
  When snows melt robins return to your lawn and will once again be proclaimed the
first bird of spring as they slurp down entrees of  squishy worms. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Beaver Brunch and Psychology in Brandon Township

Brandon Township (Michigan) beaver habitat.  November 7, 2011
all photos by Jonathan Schechter

It was noon Monday.  I was on my way home when I detoured to a local creek to see what the
 beavers were up to. It was their 'branch brunch' time and they should have been hard at work
preparing for winter. As soon as I walked to  the creek bank I only caught a glimpse of one
swimming around a bend.

I  relate to these flat-tailed critters.  They get distracted as easily as I do.
  And some of their freshly cut trees had lodged in the limbs of nearby trees making the target of
 their quest inaccessible.
Their  work shows another trait I share with them: scattered and compulsive behavior.
Unfinished tree projects scattered the banks of the slow flowing creek. Wood chips littered the
 moist earth. And a dozen stripped tiny limbs floating in the water told me not all tree limbs were
 being stashed away for winter.
I related to that too.
 I smiled and walked on.
 The first snow fell before dawn today. In another month ice will coat the creek and I'll be starting
 one project, and then jumping to another, with the first project left  hanging in the trees of my mind.
Got a feeling that beaver work behavior and the psychology behind our actions is not far apart. 
But I like a good salad or well done rib-eye steak better than inner tree bark.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pleasures of Smoky Gold

A "Smoky gold" morning at Independence Oaks County Park - North
photos by Jonathan Schechter

To hike to the edge of a swampland at sunrise or sunset in the early days of November is an
adventure in pure pleasure, a sensual delight for the senses of sight, smell and touch. There is
no better time than now to explore the world of the tamarack, a deciduous coniferous tree that
looses all  her clustered soft needle-like leaves before this month ends.  Walk silently near the 
now golden tamarack and  you discover why the term 'smoky gold' was coined by Aldo Leopold
in  his classic work, Sand County Almanac.   
It's a perfect description of the result of a  near magical transformation from their summer mantle
 of soft emerald green to their smoky gold hue that signals the waning days  of autumn. Wait 
 two weeks to walk and every one of their needle-like leaves will carpet the the woodlands or float
on quiet waters leaving only the tiny cones as a reminder that spring will return.
Although these images were all captured at Independence Oaks County Park on November
7th, tamarack trees can be found in many colder parts of the northern hemisphere. In northern
Oakland County they are most common around small glacially sculpted  kettle lakes, bogs, marshes
 and undeveloped wetlands.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Migration Flight: Not for every bird!

Great blue heron in Drayton Plains (Michigan)
photo by Jonathan Schechter

Fall migration season is well underway. It has been weeks since I have seen a hummingbird or tree swallow.They had to leave. Not because it was getting too cold, but because their food supply was gone.  Ruby-throated hummingbirds needed nectar and swallows gulp down insects on the wing. 
Their store is closed.
  Hawk and owls stick around all winter with plenty of voles, mice, rabbits and squirrels to eat.
Turkey vultures are leaving soon for as connoisseurs of  decaying flesh, they must. Frozen carrion is not something they can consume. Black-capped chickadees and woodpeckers feast in Michigan all winter with an aubundance of  seeds in fields and bugs under bark to be found. Most great blue herons headed to warmer areas in pursuit of fish and frogs  weeks ago but a few loiter on perhaps quietly reflecting on their time for departure and searching for one last fish in silent waters before ice coats their hunting grounds.