Friday, May 27, 2011

Independence Oaks County Park-North: Oakland County's newest parkland!

all photos by Jonathan Schechter
The snows are gone, cranes are singing, flowers are blooming and  frogs are calling! Summer is just around the corner.  Although nearly constant rains in May slowed the construction progress of a boardwalk and fishing dock, on Saturday, May 28th Independence Oaks County Park - North opens to the public. These photos are a nature supplement to accompany the detailed story/hiking column that will appear in the Sunday, May 29th edition of The Oakland Press.

For details on Independence Oaks County Park and the new northern extension and all 13 parks in the Oakland County Parks system see the website:
NOTE:  The only access for this new section if from a separate entrance on Sashabaw Road one mile north of the main entrance. Park entry permits required. Fishing license required if you fish. Dogs must be leashed.

       A female red-winged blackbird at the edge of Upper Bushman Lake
Beaver were busy all last fall. Evidence remains among a fresh crop of skunk cabbage and sensitive fern.
     This morel came home with me. Found it at Independence North on my exploratory hike last week! 
        One of the last of the 2011 shrooming season
    Cedar and tamarck grow at the edge of the field. Wild mustard in foreground.
The shallows and shore of Upper Bushman lake are attractive to muskrat---and mink.
  Look closely: That's a wild turkey feather behind the sensitive fern on the birch log.
      Finishing touches added to the fishing dock a week before the opening.       
            Park staff worked all winter to bring the boardwalk and dock to completion.
     Executive officer Dan Stencil near the southern tip of Independence Oaks County Park - North
                                                         all photos by Jonathan Schechter

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

NO BIRD LEFT BEHIND - a strange tale of being booted off the bus

Brandon Schools bus garage as operation "Bus #8 is Not Your Bus!"  began.
all photos by Jonathan Schechter

The early morning phone call did  not make a whole lot of sense to me, at least at first. "We need to get robins off the school bus before they get killed on the bus route"  Finally, I comprehended what driver Tammy was telling me.  And then she pleaded to all my various hats. "You've got to help us. You are a paramedic. You are a firefighter. You are a naturalist. You love nature. You write about nature." 
 And then she told me the rest of the story:
A robin had built a nest several weeks ago under the back of a school bus on the frame next to the back up buzzer. And Driver Fay was worried that the baby birds would fall off as the bus bumped along dirt roads along her Ortonville/ Brandon Township bus route. 
She covers about 50 miles a day. Sometimes more.
With the school kids. And with the robins. 
 Minus mom robin.
  I pushed her a bit, "Where is the mom robin?" Turns out, Ma robin flys off in a huff when the bus rolls out and returns in flurry of protest when the bus backs in. 
Maybe she wondered if the babys were getting good grades.
Fay made a good point. The fledglings were near the flight stage and the nest was cramped. Robins don't have hands to hang on tight,  and so I headed off on the rescue, so no bird would get left behind on a back road in Brandon.  The nest was carefully relocated to a tree near the back of the bus. Ma bird screamed and protested and then--headed for the nest. 
 I wonder if the school bus robins will  miss their daily ride in the country?
 Home sweet home under a Brandon school bus! A school bus that goes 50 miles a day.

                                        Brandon school bus drivers Fay and Tammy pose underneath the newly relocated nest.
                                                                            Ma Robin is just out of the frame.                 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Season of the Fox Frolics and Meaty Feasts

All photos by Jeff Nedwick (Thanks Jeff!)

Nature is full of adventure and change in the waning days of May. And for the red fox, it is the season 
for curious kits to explore and play and learn the art of the hunt. These pictures are all courtesy of my Michigan Outdoors Writers Association friend Jeff Nedwich. He took the images of this family of  five in  Lapeer County. Life is not as carefree as it may appear for the red fox. Coyotes and cars kill 
them. Life can be short and brutal. But for a few days in May Jeff shot away - with his camera.
Sure beats watching TV!

Yummy woodchuck!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Avon Nature Area: a river runs throught it.

Consider this a short photo supplement for the hiking column that appeared in the May 22 Sunday  edition readers of The Oakland Press. The colum highlighted the Avon Nature Area in the City of Rochester Hills.  A good hike,  but trails can be soggy after rains and are not clearly marked in some locations. Fun? You bet! And it's about time to practice mosquito awarness.
Rains have added to the growth of the Jack-in-the pulpit, a wildflower of shady woods.
photo by Jonathan Schechter

The bench on the Riverside Trail has very few days left.  photo by Jonathan Schechter
The Clinton River is hungry in spring and gnaws at her banks. photo by Jonathan Schechter

An old overlook on the trail along the ridge line affords a good view of the ravine below.
photo by Jonathan Schechter

Saturday, May 21, 2011

MORELS: The gathering, the feast. And the thanks!

The rains have ended and the time for the Great Harvest of 2011 - the harvest of the morels - is now. And  as I walked to my small known patch of morels, I spotted one more poking its pitted head through a lacing of faded and fallen blossoms from my old front yard apple tree.
                      A close up of that  perfectly formed morel in my front yard.
                                                 The best of the best!
Breakfast: Harvest, and then an omlette with fresh eggs from a neighbor's chickens, onions from my garden, and morels from nature. Darn good reason to live in the countryside of Brandon Township and not drown the lawn in chemicals. Let the feast of nature begin! (And while some fret that the rains of the past five days followed by today's sunshine and warmth will bring a crop of blood-hungry mosquitos, I know it accelerates the growth of sweet and tasty wild strawberries down in my meadow.)
                                                      photos by Jonathan Schechter
                                                                                     May 20/2011

Friday, May 20, 2011

END OF THE WORLD IS NEAR! And sex trills of the toads.

American toad trilling. photo by James Harding
ARMAGEDDON!!  There goes my eggplants!  If all  ends as the followers of the Doomsday folks of the Family Radio Worldwide -- predict, well  THE END IS NEAR!  and  with RAPTURE at the door  I guess this is my last Earth's Almanac blog post.  At least that's what they think!  And that means --if I was to be among the believers of the end, I would not be around to see my eggplants grow. But unless I am mistaken I will be here all summer, watching  eggplants and tomatoes grow and waiting for black walnuts to ripen.

Roadside billboards  say otherwise.  Some are heralding the world's end, tommorow Saturday, May 21st. And a statisic is floating about that 3% of the world's population -those that believe in this media fanned sillyness  lacking any logic  - will be beamed up to heaven for eternal life  tomorrow and the rest of us will be---well, you know..will be very very dead  before the sun rises on Sunday and will be condemned to to a deep down dismally hot location of fear and fantasy and pitchforks.

My plans for tonight, the last night of our  world?   I'll be listening  to mating sex trills of the toads on Friday night and celebrating the ways of nature and thinking about trails to hike and sunrises and sunsets to see. And if there is sunshine on Saturday and the mercury soars to 70 or higher the sex trills (that's trills, not thrills!) of toads will be heard wide and far in wet meadows and shallow ponds across Oakland County as they explode into a passion of song held back by a week of cold rains.  (That heavenly music of long drawn out trills should be a great earthly send off for the faithful followers of one self proclaimed prophet.)

Toad Talk Translation: I'm over here babe! Over here! Come on, before the pond drys up~ or the world ends!"    

A Missed Opportunity:  After scanning the internet I stumbled upon information from some creative self proclaimed atheists.  I wish I would have thought of it before them ! Eternal Earth-Bound Pets says on its website that they will "take the burden off your mind."  You must pay in advance --time is fleeting folks ! - but this post-doomsday pet rescue service will for $135 ensure your pet that gets left out of the Rapture will be looked out for after their owner goes over to the other side.  Tell you what!  For readers of The Oakland Press I will have a similar service ready for just $125 for the next planned End of the World in 2012--no checks please! And no French poodles.

My take on it all:  I've got a feeling we have many more season of toad  sex trills and magnificant sunsets waiting for us. Life on Earth is good, and our planet and most of humanity is not going away if we take care of it and ourselves. Well, then again there are those monstrous asteroids.
Bay of Fundy sunset, photo by Jonathan Schechter

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Feasting On Not So Fresh Flesh!

Turkey Vultures on their feeding platform (in my backyard)
 photo by Jonathan Schechter 05/14/11

For two weeks vultures have been waiting and soaring and swinging low over my meadow as if to ask me one word, "When?"  Feeding turkey vultures is not for everyone. It means presenting not so fresh flesh. Bloated is good. Fresh is not. I have been feeding vultures for the past three years and am awed by their grace in sky. Watch them ride the thermals and it is pure poetry in motion.

Four days ago a neighbor - aware of my odd habit - presented me with a freshly flattened groundhog. Today I came home from running errands and everything fell into place: they came home for dinner. My camera was in my car and a light drizzle made it less likely the vultures would rapidly take wing. But perhaps most importantly they had become acclimated to my presence.  And from the looks of the remains of the groundhog - not much left - these three gluttonous birds were quite content just resting with bellys of not so fresh flesh.  I never left my car to get the picture. I lowered the window and snapped one clear shot from the edge of the driveway above my meadow.  But I know now, and they do too, that I will be a presenter of fleshy goodies for another season.

Now all I need is a good telephoto lens and the real fun will begin! My goal: A photo of the beaked, red faced  featherless head disappearing inside a body cavity. That is their way. We use a steak knife.

Spring Creek / Red Loop - a glacial footprint hike in SE Michigan

These photos are to supplement the hiking column that will appear in the Sunday, May 15th edition of  The Oakland Press.  The hiking column presents the Red Loop (Spring Creek ) trail of the South Unit of Michigan's Bald Mountain State Recreation Area. The trail is hilly and takes you through woodlands and past wetlands and gives great views of an impressive landscape created by the last great glacial retreat. A landscape now rich with woodland wildflowers thanks to the recent and continuing rains of spring.
High quality Trail Point Indicator signs mark the trails of the South Unit of the
Bald Mountain State Recreation Area
Sadly some have aleady been used as target practice: Pathetic behavior.

Trail side bloodroot is in full bloom

Marsh marigold adds splashes of color to the wetlands

This circular shaped depression (a kettle lake)was created by the weight of a detached melting block of glacial ice that sunk into the soil left behind as the last great sheet of ice retreated. Perfect breeding area for salamanders!

A sea of skunk cabbage can be found where the trail meets spring creek.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

MORELS! Thank you Mother Nature.

photos by Jonathan Schechter

 Mother Nature has been good to me. On a quick dawn walkabout in my wet woods this morning in search of morels I came back empty handed without any of my favorite fantastic fungi. But I did see a Cooper's hawk, two deer, heard a turkey and just loved the smell of the woodlands after the stormy rains of last night. All good. And then as I walked down to the mailbox for my morning paper something caught my eye at the edge of the wildflower meadow. Right there in the grassy part of the lawn under a hollow old  apple tree that sheltered a screech owl last year and is home to a treefrog were a small cluster of morels poking their pitted heads up to the sun. 
In a few more days they will be sizzling in a frying pan. 
Thank you Mother Nature!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Wild asparagus, morel mushrooms and strutting Toms

A wild turkey struts and displays for hens in my woods - barely 200 yads from my  door.
photo by Jonathan Schechter

Three great events of Mother Nature occur every May just about now as the first of  lilacs gone wild struggle to bloom in my meadow. Morel mushrooms poke their convoluted heads up through old leaves. (I have already been eyeing a few under a dying apple tree near my old barn.) Wild asparagus - gathered from an abandonded railbed at the edge of my property - was added to an omelette a few mornings ago.  But the grand event of the great three events of spring are wild turkeys.  A great Tom, with his beard dangling, proudly strutted about a sunny spot on the trail I created through my woods. The hens seem uninpressed. They turned and walked away. At least on this day.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A turtle with a sense of balance!

photo by Jonathan Schechter

Look closely at this photo and check out the second turtle in the lower right hand corner. Perhaps a caption contest should be in order. "Hey! How did you get up there?" or maybe "Come on! Jump!"
(Post your suggestions to the blog site if you wish, but the only prize is your moment of printed fame.)
Eastern painted turtles spent winter in pond bottoms in a near state of suspended animation waiting for spring warmth.  And then last week as I hiked about the trails of the E.L. Johnson Nature Center in Bloomfield Township as the sun fnally warmed the land,  this log-perching opportunist turtle used his claws to climb out of the water and then align his shell towards the sun to catch warming rays. Time for a  sun-soaked snooze with legs tucked back into the shell as he perfected the art of balance!
 (For more on the E.L. Johnson Nature Center trails see the hiking column in the Mother's Day edition of
The Oakland Press.)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nature's Way is Timeless

Marsh Marigold is taking hold along the creeks.  photo by Jonathan Schechter

When the world seems just a bit too crazy and fast paced there are ways to gain a moment of peace and calmness. A walk in the moist woods of spring reminds me the ways of nature are timeless and predictable. That can bring a degree of comfort. I met three old friend of springs gone by on a hike today through the South Unit of the Bald Mountain State Recreation Area: marsh marigold, bloodroot and skunk cabbage.  And that meadering hike of about five miles or so in a 'blank place' on the crowded map of Oakland County reminded me of the equally timeless words of Aldo Leopold.  "To those devoid of imagination, a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part." 

Bloodroot: An early spring wildlflower of the forest with a rich history. 
Photo by Jonathan Schechter

A sea of skunk cabbage thrives in moist soil along the trail.  photo by Jonathan Schechter