Monday, January 31, 2011

The Groundhog Day Storm: A perfectly normal winter event!

It's not the end of the world but the biggest snow of this winter is heading our way. Forget the groundhog, he's not even going to play the shadow game on the 2nd of February-- snow will be too deep. Groundhogs will be in hibernation dreaming of glutttony in your garden come summer! Allthough it strained my lack of technology abilities, I finally attached the latest model of the Rapid Precision Mesoscale (posted Monday morning at 7 a.m.) as to what is likely to be on the ground by  sunset on Wednesday  The purple --that is us - may get between 12 and 16 inches of snow!  But before you whine about deep snow our brethren in the yellow may take a hit of 24-30 inches.  And note the use of the word "MAY", for when it comes to  Mother Nature's fickle ways, this prediction scale may be low or high. 
But anyway you look at it we will be in world of winter across Oakland County very, very soon.
My snowshoes are ready for a winter trek at Ortonville State Recreation Area! 
 And this is not the storm of the century.
This is winter.
Thunder and lightning with this wet heavy snow is also a possibility! Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

FIRE AND ICE--- a one hour glimpse of a 3 day festival

Today,Saturday January 29th is day two of  FIRE AND ICE  in Rochester. The festival continues on Sunday. Details on this free event are on the website of Oakland County Parks:  Look for Fire and Ice under Events.  All the photos, just a minscule  peek at the fun for children and adults - and I think the sled dogs too -were shot early Saturday afternoon. And how great it was to watch toddlers and little kids trying to snowshoe and cross country ski for the first time with equipment provided. The best comment I heard was from a child about 4 years old asking his dad, "Are these cross country skis used to ski  across the country?" He fell down and stood up smiling. Give him ten years and he will be on the backcountry trails of Independence Oaks County Park.

All photos by Jonathan Schechter

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Red-Tailed Hawk: Winter's Magesty of the Sky!

All photos by Barrie Lynn Totten Wood
When I was about six years old in rural Connecticut I knew the red-tailed hawk as the "chicken hawk". And it was not a rare sight to see one  draped on a fence to warn other bad hawks to stay away! And why not, for predators of all sorts were evil and deserved to die! But even back then, thanks to my biology professor dad, I knew that was wrong.  Much has changed. Red tails, like all our birds of prey, are now  fully protected by State and Federal Law for our human centered view of the ways of nature has morphed  into a vision based on science and the roles of predators.  Hawks are predators, magnificant ones at that.  And in winter, in Michigan, viewing can be spectacular, be it a blur of an image  along the edges of I-75 or in the case of these photos, graciously shared with me by my neighbor/rancher/ friend  Barrie Lynn  Totten Wood, owner of Benchmark Alpacas at the Tin Roof Ranch (, in a rural setting.
 Her photos make the word chicken hawk and  images of dead ones on fences light years away.
  But I have never forgotten.  


Saturday, January 22, 2011

A house keeping moment in the life of a red bellied woodpecker.

A red bellied woodpecker explores an old yellow birch tree for meaty morsels.
All photos at Waterford Oaks County Park: by Jonathan Schechter.

Pictures tell the tale.   A red bellied woodpecker first drew our attention on the trail at Waterford Oaks County Park by its distinctive call.
And then we noticed it in flight: A beautiful bird with a gray belly, red cap and neck. But the black and white pattern makes me wish it was named the Zebra Woodpecker.

 Another rolling shrill call and he alighted on a yellow birch tree and set about a mission of probing and drilling; most likley ingesting hibernating bugs and beetles. And then the bird vanished.
A few minutes later we caught a flash of red and realized we had spotted more than the woodpecker in flight or hunting for dinner.  We had located the nesting tree!   (We promised the woodpecker not to give out the exact location to protect his property investment but the tree is near a trail at Waterford Oaks County Park.)  We watched for five minutes as he set about house-cleaning and home expansion.  Every thirty seconds or so he would pop out at the entrance of his nesting cavity and toss out wood chips. 

NOTE: For more on the hike at Waterford Oaks County Park read the print edition of Sunday's Oakland Press on January 23rd or look for the Hiking Column on the Oakland Press website at
Enter my full name  Jonathan Schechter  in the search box and all published hiking columns appear.


Monday, January 17, 2011

NATURE'S WAY AT THE BIRD FEEDER: A time to eat. And a time to be eaten.

A mourning dove, possible with an injury, rests under the bird feeder.  Note the closed eye.
  photo by Jonathan Schechter (through the den window)

Look at the world through Darwinian eyes - something I try to do - and you too may be astonished at the diversity of wildlife interactions surrounding us. Winter makes those observations easier to read with the easel of snow being the backdrop.  Throw a bird feeder into the mix and life and death drama reigns.

                         This interaction story is short and sweet -- for a Cooper's hawk.

I noticed a  mourning dove under my feeder. Not feeding. Resting, so it seemed.  One eye closed.  Mourning doves tend to be social birds and usually feed in flocks. For reasons unknown to me this one was out of the norm - - and was about to be out of the gene pool.   Two hours passed and he was recycled.  The plucked feathers and a few splashes of bright red blood told the rest of the story. All evidence pointed to the Cooper's Hawk, a sleek hawk of woodlands that has adapted its ways to the ways of the feeders and is skilled in the high speed pursuit of other birds.  Birds are not bird brains. They learn. They adapt.

Spillage of seed leads song birds to ground gluttony in unnatural gatherings and careless behavior.  And when one bird is slower than the rest  - as this one was - it became dinner.

And that is the way it should be and serves as a reminder that our actions when we intervene in the ways of nature, even actions such as feeding birds we like, will bring other actions: In this case a hawk that swooped in to eat the bird he liked.  And there is nothing wrong with that in the never ending processes of nature, evolution, adaptation and competition. It is not a happy go lucky Walt Disnery World at the bird feeder: It is dinner time.

A spash of blood and plucked out feathers bear witness to the work of a Cooper's hawk that  as an opportunist  fast-flying hunter 'tended' to the resting and exposed dove.  photo by Jonathan Schechter

Friday, January 14, 2011

Dateline Belarus : Fox shoots hunter during a scuffle!

NOTE:  This is not the fox that shot the hunter.
This is a red fox captured by trail camera last January in my meadow  in back of my house.

There are perks if you subscribe to various wildlife related news feeds.  And that is something freelance nature writers like me need to do to find fresh fodder of nature's way and man's foolishness.  This breaking news tale from Belarus is worth sharing.  And it is weird.
 But first I had to figure out exactly where Belarus is located.

I knew it was someplace in Europe. A quick fact check with a website run by our Central Intelligence Agency produced a map showing Belarus is landlocked, surrounded by Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia and the Ukraine.  Fox hunting is popular in their farming region.
 On to the story, first reported from Moscow.

Here is what I know.  A man showed up in a hospital with a leg wound.  And just  like here in Oakland County when you show up in an emergency room with a gun shot wound  police are notified.  The strange tale the man with gun shot wound to his leg  told  investigators went more or less like this:               

I shot the fox.
     ( Fox wounded but alive. )
 Fox shoots me during a scuffle. 

       The hunter approached the wounded fox with the intent to "finish it off" with the butt of his rifle.   According to the prosecutor for the Grodno Region of Belarus, "The animal fiercely resisted and in the struggle accidentally pulled the trigger with its paw."

And Mr. Fox made a getaway.

That is all I know, but here is what I think:

A.  Hunter shot himself by mistake and invented a story the prosecutor swallowed.

B. Hunter had a good dose of alcohol mixed with his blood and was foolish in his fox scuffle.

C. This hunter was not the sharpest tack in the box of Belarus fox-hunters.

APOCALYPSE NOW: When carp fly and birds fall from the sky! A twitterbrain nation speaks.

An Asian carp 'flys' over startled derby oganizer Betty Deford in Bath, Illinois: photo by Jonathan Schechter

Twitterbrain Fools in a Facebook Nation!  That's what I am beginning to think we are becoming. Some of us already have made that transformation with all  'news' coming from Facebook and Twitter.  And "we" and "us" includes more than a few in the national media.  Are we just a nation of fearful sloths that know nothing of science and the reality of nature's way on Planet Earth?

  Fox News reported the mass casuality of 5,000 red-winged blackbirds falling from the sky on New Years Eve in Arkansas as "Near Apocalyptical" Oh please!  And then when I jumped to CNN for what I expected would be a saner read of the facts, I found Anderson Cooper acting like a bird brain with his Kirk Cameron interview. Cameron's creditionals for the dead birds on the road  interview?  He had starred in the evangelical movie "Left Behind" which was concerned with  End Time beliefs!    To Cameron's credit he quickly pointed out to Cooper that he did  not see any prophetic messages and suggested Cooper talk with veterinarians.  Well said.
Two points for Cameron.
Zero for Cooper.

Enter self proclaimed ultra-conservative prophet Cindy Jones: And better sit down for this one! She actually got airtime on several networks to proclaim that birds falling from the sky were God's warning to us that marriage is between one man and one woman and the dying birds showed God's displeasure on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  I've got real trouble connecting the dots with her rambling lack of any logic, but then again I don't get excited about prophets of doom, Nostradamus and the 2012 END. 
 I am rather biased towards a seven letter word:  SCIENCE.

Quirks of nature and mass animal deaths are nothing new. And you won't find a scientist or naturalist anywhere that has  pushed the panic button on the falling red-wings.  Most scientists concur that they were startled into night flight and encountered solid objects or perhaps suffered trauma from a lightning bolt concussion.    But if someone wants to find a message from the heavens in the birds falling from the sky--so be it.  But I pose a question to them: What is the message from the heavens in the carp that fly and leap out of the Mississippi River and connected waterways?  An event I witnessed during my crazed participation in the Red Neck Fishing Derby last summer. But maybe there was a message to me that I missed when several slammed into my neck and chest.  I just fished on.

Asian carp rockets out of water and hits my shoulder: photo credit: Kevin Fowler

Prophet of Doom?  A red-winged blackbird just perched and doing nothing. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Get Ready for the REI Frosty 15K or 5K Freestyle Cross-Country Ski Race!

photo credit: Huron-Clinton Metroparks

As I write these words late Monday night on the 10th day of January steady snow is falling, trees are bending, power is flickering, cars are skidding and the conditions are getting pretty darn good for cross-country skiing; that is if you live in South Carlonia. That's right: South Carolina!  Six inches should be on the ground by dawn in the hill country of South Carolina. A State of Emergency has been declared.

And back in SE Michigan our great Cross-Country Ski Race, the Frosty 5/15K Freestyle at Huron Meadows Metropark in Brighton, Michigan (8765 Hammel Road)  is coming, and I've got a feeling the fickle Weather Gods of Michigan will shine on us at the last moment and produce enough snow for the skiers to swish away on Saturday, January 15th at 10:30 a.m.
(NOTE: Our race will be re-scheduled if there is not enough snow.)

This cross-country ski event  is for both experienced and novice cross country skiers and is the only ski race that is part of the Michigan Cup Race Series to be held south of Higgens Lake.  The race is open to anyone and is endorsed by the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports.    
Pre-registraion  is $29, or $39 day of the event.  ($15 for children 15 and under). You must also have  a 2011 Metroparks sticker or daily permit. (Daily permit $5.) Lunch is included in your entry and will be served at the park ski center.   Proceeds from this popular race across the meadows and hills of Huron Meadows Metroparks will be used by Metroparks for cross-country skiing related expenses. 
Park maps and Metropark details at
 Huron Meadow Metroparks: 810-231-4084  or 734-426-8211

To  register or for additional information call Mike, the race director, at 248-535-9351 or go to
What are you waiting for?  It's a long drive to the hills of South Carolina to ski!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

FIRE AND ICE: Volunteering! Dog sledding, Tastefest and Microbrews, Ice Sculptures, Fireworks, Snow tubing = FUN!

 Dog sled rides at  FIRE AND ICE  in 2010 (photo by Jonathan Schechter)

Fire and Ice is coming back to Rochester for the last weekend of January. And this three day winter
festival in downtown Rochester is sure to be an outdoorsy hit for all ages. I was there last year and 
assure you this event is great fun and people watching reigns supreme!

Fire and Ice is the result of cooperation between Oakland County, Oakland County Parks, the City
 of Rochester, the City of Rochester Hills and the Rochester Downtown Development Authority. With
 those credits out the way, here is some of what you can expect: Dog sled rides (thrilling for little kids!)
 a tastefest featuring local food (yummy) and microbrews (good I have been told), a tubing hill,
iceskating, fireworks on Friday and Saturday night, ice sculpture show, ice carving demonstrations, 
figure skating demos, downtown shopping, carriage rides and a lot of enthusiatic, happy people
 celebrating the ways of nature in winter in a friendly urban setting.  And I'll add a large exclamation 
point to the words of Oakland County Parks Recreation Supervisor for Outdoor Adventure,
Derenda Howard, "You have to come out and see it  for yourself---and maybe even jump on a
dog sled for a ride!!" 
More good news: All events are provided at no charge!

Details on the Oakland County Parks website:  including a
lively YouTube video of last year's Fire and Ice.
 NOTE: Look for Fire and Ice under Things to Do sub-heading


If you enjoy people and like working outside in winter and really want to
  help make this great community event  happen - and have fun at the same time-  then sign up
to volunteer for 2011 Fire and Ice. 
 And it's also a great way for families, scouts, students and other groups
to get community service hours in 3 to 4 hour shifts.
Prospective volunteers should contact Volunteer Coordinator  Rachel Boyd ASAP at or call 248-975-9717

  Fire and Ice is Friday Jan 28, (6:00 - 9:00 pm), Saturday, Jan 29, (10:00 am - 9:00 pm.) and Sunday,
 Jan 30, (11:00 am - 4 pm.)    I'll see you there~!  I hope.
photo by Jonathan Schechter

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Miracle Fox: A Gift From Nature

Sierra Nevada Red Fox  photo credit: U.S. Forest Service (trail camera). 
Colors are markedly different from our red fox.  NOTE: photo of a red fox appears on bottom.

If a miracle is the unexpected resurrection of a wildlife species thought to be nearly extinct --I believe in miracles. Nature is constantly working to "create miracles" through the wonders of adaptation  and evolution.   One such tale is the Sierra Nevada Red Fox. Last August a bit of genetic slobber on a bait bag of chicken scraps confirmed what a photograph taken by a motion sensitive trail camera a bit north of Yosemite National Park seemed to hint-- and woodsmen and hikers had rumored: The oddly colored Seirra Nevada Red Fox was not extinct. (The last confirmed sighting had been over two decades ealier)  The hunt for confirmation with more trail cameras and genetic collection studies was under way.

By autumn two more Sierra Nevada red fox were confirmed in the Stanislaus National Forest just a few miles from the original sighting. The U.S. Forest Service and the Califonia Department of  Fish and Game now knew they had a genetically unique breeding population, not a single wandering individual. Once wide spread in northern California  it now appears that nature has found her way and  the Sierra Nevada red fox is here to stay. And as you read these words in the New Year these rare fox are hunting in the snowy mountains for a feast of hare, unaware of the excitement they stirred to life among nature lovers and wildlife biologists everywhere.

A red fox captured on my motion sensitve trail camera one year ago this week between by barn and house.  His tracks in the snow this year tell me he still has successful mouse hunts. 
photo by Jonathan Schechter (trail camera)