Friday, December 30, 2011

Tree Climbing Wild Dogs!

Red fox caught on my trail camera January 2010 (in meadow behind house)
Brandon Township, Michigan

You know the red fox, (Vulpes vulpes) the elusive little fox that is found throughout
Michigan and is very much at home in Oakland County.  This highly adaptable creature
hunts meadow voles under snow in winter: That is what this one (above) was
doing last winter in my meadow between the barn and house.  And if a chicken, squirrel,
 bird or rabbit is a bit too slow, they too may join the menu. When pursued by man or
beast (coyotes and wolves kill red fox) they race for thick brush or their underground den.
 But there is another fox found in Oakland County and across much of the
United States that few know of.
Meet the gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargentus)
The gray fox is smaller than a red fox and usually has a prominent gray back. But there
 is a better way to tell them apart, the tip of the tail. The red fox has  a white tip, the gray
 fox a black tipped tail.
But perhaps the best way to tell is a behaviorial charecteristic captured perfectly by my
friend Duane Corsi duing his recent wanderings in South Carolina: Gray fox are excellent
tree climbers, the only member of the dog family with this ability. And in Oakland County
 with numerous oaks in woodlands there are plenty of trees to climb.
Their claws are adapted to grasp the tree and faster than you can say, "What the heck is that?"
 the gray fox grips the tree trunk and heads up for a big limb. 
Gray fox watched the world from his tree in coastal South Carolina
photo courtesy of Duane Corsi

Friday, December 23, 2011

DTE Energy Monroe Power Plant Eagle Tour!

Want a chance to perhaps see our national bird - the American bald eagle - in the wild?
Then submit your name and you might join the US Fish and Wildlife Service staff and volunteers, along with the International Wildlife Refuge Alliance at the DTE Energy Monroe Power Plant for an exciting wintertime adventure in search of one of our nation's most magnificent, majestic birds of prey, the bald eagle!  This mighty hunter of the sky is making a comeback in Michigan and is very much at home in winter in the improved habitat in and around the Detroit River International Wildlife RefugeFollow the links below and read the entry/registration instructions very carefully. A lottery style entry form
 is your only way to participate and is avialable in the poster below
                                          Deadline is December 31st.
                              Two tours are on Saturday, January 28th. 
    "Wherever a man may happen to turn, whatever a man undertake, he will always end up
      returning to the path which nature has marked out for him"  Johann Wolfgang Von Goeth
                  Perhaps the path of late January will take you to a bald eagle on its hunt!
Join the US Fish and Wildlife Service staff and volunteers, along with the International Wildlife Refuge Alliance at the DTE Energy Monroe Power Plant for a wintertime adventure in search of one of our nation's most magnificent, majestic birds of prey, the bald eagle!

Registrations accepted only through December 31, 2011.

2012 Eagle Tour

           Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: Santa's Reindeer Exposed!

Rudolph resting at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Fish and Game

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, while both male and female reindeer grow
 antlers in the summer each year, male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually
late November  to  mid-December. Female reindeer, however, retain their antlers until after they
give birth in the spring. Therefore, according to every historical rendition depicting Santa's reindeer,
every single one  of them, from Rudolph to Blitzen had to be a female. And that means only
female reindeer would be able to  drag a jolly old fat man in a poorly fitted red velvet
suit all around the world in one  night;

The quote above is a summary of the shocking gender bending expose' making the rounds on the Internet.       My friends at Michigan Department of Natural Resources had "No Comment!"

And below, more evidence I scanned from the Internet that supports the racuous rumor good old Santa has an all female crew hauling their scantly clad thick reindeer rumps around the world 
to make him look good and get the job done right.
Body fat and behavior hints Rudolf might be female.
I wonder if Santa followed a vetting process, or if there was a cover up?

"The mating season depletes males of body fat, leaving them with just 5 percent on their
scrawny frames by Christmas Eve. Females, on the other hand, retain 50 percent of their body fat. They'd be in shape to haul Santa. The extra body fat on females during winter which can be a
couple of inches thick on their rumps, keeps the reindeer toasty in temperatures as low as minus 
45 degrees Fahrenheit. And that means females would be prepared for the frantic journey."

Perhaps Rudolph , if female, even whimpered to Santa, "Santa, Does this harness make my
rump look fat to you?"

If you believe in elves--why not believe  that!

The FACTS I sifted out of the seasonal myths, mayhem and madness follows:

1. Reindeer males (bulls)  and females (cows) both have antlers.
2. Most bulls drop their antlers before the fat man in the red suit goes for his famed ride.
3. But wildlife biologists state: Some of the younger more studly bulls carry their antlers
 into spring and THAT MEANS  some may well still be adorned on Christmas Eve.

So what does this all mean?

If you think a reindeer powered sled can carry ten zillion trillion toys and circumnavigate the
Earth in one night while avoiding hostile air defense and missile systems and get the delivery right without the help of GPS you are going to believe just anything.  All this without stopping to ask directions!  And that means we can not disprove that Rudolph and his gang of hoofed companions are female with the certainty Alaskan wildlife bilogists claim they are.  Maybe they are testosterone stoked hoofed dudes just like a friendly elf  living under a colorful 
Amanita mushroom in my snowless woods told me. Perhaps Santa told the truth!
Perhaps not.
If Santa does not watch his own health and weight does he care about sexing his reindeer?

But if Santa reads my ramble and my politcally incorrect comment "Fat man in red velvet
 suit", you can bet your milk and cookies one thing:
I will not be on the "NICE" list.
It's a lump of coal for me.
But NAUGHTY can be NICE  when science supports nature's way.
p.s. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Eye-catching breasts link two species

American robin ( Turdus migratorius) in Oakland County, Michigan
late November 2011
photo by Jonathan Schechter

      American robins are common in Michigan. We see them lawn-hopping from early spring
  until late autumn and some hang out in Michigan all winter. Their cheerful song, rusty orange
breast and  worm-slurping behavior are trademarks.  
 Adults simply call them robins.
Little kids call them, "Look! A robin red-breast!!!"
Newscasters refer to them as our quintessiental early bird --the (false) harbinger of spring.

But on this blustery day at the dawn of winter robins of a different feather are on the move in the
 Upper Galilee of Israel, enroute from Europe to North Africa where they will spend their winter. 
The American robin (above) is actually a thrush and a member of the  genus Turdus. 
 Our robin gained its name from homesick  Europeans that settled (invaded )North America and 
 saw the orange breasts  of "our" robin and thought back to their  beloved European robins.  The beautiful European robins are in the genus Erithacus and are thrush-like true flycatchers.  They share that eye-catching rusty red  breast of its American namesake. 
The photos below are a European robin, photographed  yesterday during migation near
 Kibbutz Kfar Blum in the Upper Galilee by my sister.
Nature is a true artist and the diversity of birds is the art of evolution.

European robin (Erithucus rubecula )
Upper Galilee, Israel 12/17/2011
photos by Laurie Schechter Rimon

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bittersweet: splashy killer exposed

Oriental Bittersweet  - December 2011
photo by Jonathan Schechter

The berries are beautiful adding delightful splashes of yellow and red to many trailsides of
Oakland County. But make no doubt about it: This rapidly spreading invasive species is a real
killer and has proven to be a successful invader of habitats across the Midwest.  The berries are
not  now "just getting ripe" as some may think, but they have been there since October, hidden
among the foliage. But now as the winds of Decemeber wash the woods clear of the
last leaves these prolific and non-edible fruits are exposed for all to see.  And how do they kill?
They strangle other plants with their numerous wrap around vines and in the process change the native landscape and the species that live there.
But that too is nature's way for nature respects no boundary and has no preference.
We are one Earth and it will always change, for better or worse, but it is human behavior
and our ways that serve as the greatest catalyst.

Monday, December 12, 2011


 A gray squirrel adding leaf insulation to its winter shelter
photo by Jonathan Schechter

The black squirrels of Oakland County are not some kind of rare species.  As a matter of fact
there is no such species as a 'black squirrel'. Black squirrels are in fact a  rather common 
 melanistic variation of our eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis),  the squirrel species that once dominated the great unbroken forests of New England and the Midwest. Some  biologists
 have claimed that nationwide about one of every 10,000 gray squirrels  is black. I think that figure is way, way off.  My guess, maybe 1 in 20 in Oakland County are black and  litters are often mixed with black and gray siblings from the same mom. Being a  black gray squirrel has a great advantage at the dawn of winter: Black fur absorbs heat during the sunny days of a cold winter.  My observations seem to show black squirrels are more common  in pockets of hardwoods that are biologic "islands" cut off from larger woodlands.  And in winter with leaves down we see black squirrels more often than summer since this omniverous forest species flirts with the edge of suburbia and is more than eager to raid your bird feeder.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Red-tails : Air patrol of winter's marshland edge zone.

Red-tailed hawks perched on top of ITC transmission line tower
Dec 4, 2011 West Bloomfield Township, Michigan
photos by Jonathan Schechter

Red-tailed hawks adapt well to changing conditions and take advantage of human created
 landscapes.  Closely cropped lawns in summer offer easy hunting for careless squirrels and 
plump rabbits. And when trees with excellent viewing vantage points are scarce there is nothing
like a transmission  tower for a bird's eye view of the landscape. These two young red tails ( most
likely siblings)  keep watch over a seemingly barren marshland near the new West
Bloomfield Trail Extension.  My best guess is the muskrats that still waddle up onto the banks 
 in the waning days of  December  are on the menu as meaty fur-coated moist entrees
 for the red-tailed hawks, the air patrol of our sky on the dawn of winter.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sun-soakers of December: Two turtle doves and ------

Mourning doves and a white-breasted nuthatch on the the dead limb of apple tree.
photos by Jonthan Schechter 

"On the second day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree ---"

It's hard to have a radio on now without hearing the timeless jingle of 12 Days of Christmas.
My front yard has an old hollow apple tree with dead upper branches, branches I will not cut for
they are feeding grounds for woodpeckers and nuthatch and sunny perches for mourning doves.
I doubt I will find  french hens or a partridge in my front yard fruit tree - I do keep checking - but hardly a day passes in December that I don't find the mourning doves facing the late
afternoon setting sun, for that it is their way.
Yesterday a small flock of turkeys scrounged  about under the tree. I told them to leave for
 they are not in the jingle. 
They trotted back to the woods.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

FIRE IN A CREEK: A western New York wonder of nature!

All photos by Jonathan Schechter
Thanksgiving Day 2011
(no images have been altered)

These images are meant as a photo supplement to my hiking column that appears in the
December 4th edition of The Oakland Press (; a hiking adventure to
a secluded creek in western New York State that has a hidden waterfall with a grotto housing a
 fire breathing dragon.  This natural phenomena of gas seepage is the result of decomposition of organic matter from the Devonian Period, a time when great warm seas covered the land. The
 gas now  seeps between layers of shale and burns behind the current of water. The site is in the
 southwest corner of Chestnut Ridge Park in Erie County, New York and is accessible by a
slippery hike through a mature hemlock-maple forest and then up Shale Creek.
Sitting by the water and flame is a pure primordial moment!

Shale Creek downstream from the waterfalls