Wednesday, June 29, 2011

TO FOOL A GOOSE? Maybe. Maybe not.

Coyote decoy.  photo provided by Oakland County Parks

There is nothing quite as tasty as a crunched, munched, slurped or sucked goose egg omelette in the shell; that is if you are a coyote wise to the ways of Oakland County. The past ten years have seen an explosive growth of geese on golf courses, palatial lawns, mowed areas of parklands and most anywhere grass is cropped close. Geese are  highly adaptable grazing animals.
And we give them plenty of grass to graze.

Coyotes too are highly adaptable and these intelligent predators know opportunity when they see it. Or smell it.  Adult geese, goslings and goose eggs make for fine entrees.
Geese are not bird brains. They learn what danger is and what danger is not.
They waddle towards the sweet little well-meaning lady tossing bread crumbs.
The flee from four-legged animals, coyotes included.

Oakland County Parks has used that bit of knowledge as a catalyst to place full size coyote decoys at Waterford, Springfield and Groveland Oaks Parks. The decoys are in areas where a reduction  in goose numbers is desired.  Decoys are moved a few times a day to avoid goose habituation.  
 The project is on a trail basis.

BOTTOM LINE: I have seen pigeons sitting calmly on top of roof top  great horned owl decoys and I smile when I view pictures of crows perched on scarecrows.  As ferocious as this decoy may seem to human eyes, I would not be surprised if after awhile geese will graze next to this stealthy yellow-eyed, non-moving predator stuck on a stick.  
Geese are wary of motion.  Shapes are of little concern if not moving. 
Coyotes and geese both learn from experience: That is their dance of evolution.
 "Hey kids, this is just a dummy! Lets eat!, the gander may signal.
Is this a good project?
Yes it is, for without science experimentation the answers remain honking in the winds.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Three Miles From Pavement

Twin fawns in my meadow
all photos by Jonathan Schechter

I do not live out in the wilds, but I am three miles from the closest paved road.There are only four, or maybe it's five traffic lights in my hilly township of 36 square miles. Wilderness? No way. But northern Oakland County is full of wildness and special moments of nature. That is why I live here in an older house perched on top of a  eroded glacial hill, my window to nature's way and a source of constant inspiration for Earth's Almanac. More importantly those moments of nature following their evolutionary course in a human dominated world are moments of peace for me. (All these photos are within 200 yards of my front door)
An eastern bluebird attending to his young: on my driveway fence post

And here he rests on the top of the dead apple tree, where the hummingbird often perches.

On the hidden side of my hill, nature drys and scents my clothes.
Can't do that in the city!
In the late days of June a neighbor's wagon, full of fresh cut hay sweetens the air as it passes my drive.
 My doe watches calmly from her sweet tall grass spot in the meadow near where her fawns hide------three miles from pavement. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Turkey Vultures Get Wet Too - and can clue you to directions.

Note the turkey vulture in the background.
photo by Jonathan Schechter

When clothes are wet you can hang them out to dry. When backpacking and I get soaked and the
rains stop I will try to find a sunny area to let warming rays hit my back and work their magic.
It's the same for turkey vultures. 
Just a few minutes after steady rains ended one of the three turkey vultures that frequent my
 meadow landed on a dead tree limb and spread wings wide, positioned to capture the sun.
I could use this turkey vulture as a living compass, for it was late afternoon and the back
side of the wings were facing west to the warming sun.  
 I steadied the camera on the tractor and zoomed in~! 
The red head is  characteristic of the turkey vulture.
photo by Jonathan Schechter

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A dead tree limb--and a hummingbird

Just a dead tree limb?  Look closely. 
Photo by Jonathan Schechter

To the casual observor it's just an old dead tree limb. But over the past three years that limb and I have become friends. The apple tree gone wild is just outside the window I view when I type indoors. A friend suggested I cut it down so the yard "looks better". No way! I can't do that.

Treefrogs sing from the limb and tell me of rains to come
A screech owl explores the hollow
Red squirrels scamper about
A pair of downy woodpeckers come for bug brunch
Chickadees and white-breasted nuthatch visit in winter
But mostly it's about the hummingbirds of summer

Ruby-throated hummingbirds perch on the uppermost section surveying their world. And the world they view is the front yard world of nature I love.  Cutting the limb would end this delicate dance of life from a dying tree that is a 5-star destination for some many creatures.

A ruby-throated hummingbird perches on the very top of the limb.
photo by Jonathan Schechter

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The dawn of summer nights! The moon, a tractor and fireflies.

photo by Jonathan Schechter  5:43 a.m  June 17, 2011
photo by Jonathan Schechter  5:40 a.m. June 17, 2011

Today is the Summer Solstice--the longest day of the year and the dawn of Summer 2011. Summer officially arrives at 1:16 pm EST. Tonight will be our first full night of summer. The last full moon of spring was a treat and my first chance to play with a new camera (Cannon Powershot SX30 IS) in the moments just before the sun climbed over the pines.  But there was a probem. I did not have a tripod to steady the camera and had just minutes to snap a few pictures before daylight washed the cratered magic of the moon into oblivion. But I do have a tractor. I fired up the old Ford 8n. She came to life with a coughing throaty sound akin to a ruffed grouse drumming her wings against a log.(Naturalists and hunters know that sound)  I raised the blade to just the correct angle to serve as a camera perch and snapped two shots.
And now with summer here it is the season of fireflies on moist, sultry nights.
My next self-taught project?
Figuring out the macro lens to capture tiny images of flickering nature in my meadow.
 I don't think I will be able to use the tractor for this project.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lightning Awareness Week : Being safe is not a matter of prayer

photos by Jonathan Schechter

Lightning Quick Facts From NOAA          

Lightning often strikes the same place
repeatedly if it is a tall, isolated object.

Most lightning victims are in open areas
or near a tree.

In Florida, lightning kills more people
than all other storm-related weather events.

Lightning can heat its path through the air
to five times hotter than the surface of
the sun.

Severe weather is becoming our new norm; and lightning is no exception.   Summer is the peak season for one of the nation's deadliest weather phenomena— lightning: A force that is responsible for some of the fires raging in Arizona and Florida. Summer dawns on Tuesday. In the United States, an average of 55 people are killed each year by lightning. To date, there has been 5 deaths in 2011.

Michigan ranks second to Florida from  injuries from lightning.  Hundreds of people are permanently injured each year in the USA. People struck by lightning suffer from a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms, including memory loss, attention deficits, severe burns, cardiac issues, sleep disorders, chronic pain, numbness, dizziness, stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms and depression.  This is LIGHTNING AWARENESS WEEK and the National Weather Service is pushing its slogan, "When Thunder Roars -Go Indoors!"  Wise advice.  What is not wise behavior is the human thought process of, "I'll be OK, I pray to be safe."   Take a look at the photos above from the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Nothing wrong with prayer if it gives you sense of comfort, but if this statue needs a lightning rod for protection--perhaps we need to be more aware and use common sense too when thunder rumbles. Stack the deck in your favor and give lightning the respect it deserves - - and demands.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rabid groundhog bites an Oakland County woman.

A young groundhog (woodchuck) explores Oakland County
photo by Jonathan Schechter

I cringed when I read  one sentence of the news report in my morning paper. "Groundhogs prefer to remain hidden and typically are seen at dawn and dusk"  Oh please!   Hire me!  I'll write your nature news. Anyone who knows nature and the habits of groundhogs knows  this glutteonous creature is not luking in the shadows.  Groundhogs boldly march and munch about backyards, gardens and roadsides all day and are not "typically hidden"!  
With that out of the way here is the serious stuff.
The Michigan Department of Community Health has confirmed a groundhog (same animal as woodchuck) that bit a Southfield Michigan  woman has tested positive for rabies. This is a first for Michigan.
And that should serve as a  serious warning. Although bats and skunks are the usual carriers in Oakland County, ANY mammal can carry and trasmit rabies, a fatal disease of the nervous system transmitted through the bite or saliva of an infected mammal.
 Never approach a wild animal.
Never pick up a wild animal. Even a cute one.
And be sure your dog and cats are vaccinated against rabies.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Strawberry Fields Forever

Wild strawberry in meadow
   photo by Jonathan Schechter

On this morning after a gentle full moon rain fell to the music of distant thunder a treat from the earth appeared:
The first wild strawberry of the season. 
Sweet. Moist. Fresh!
 A quick walkabout revealed dozens more about to ripen.  This time next week it will be a breakfast of pancakes made from scratch, enhanced with the bounty of nature from a meadow that remains wild.
And some still wonder why I walk my woods and meadows at dawn most every day.

Monday, June 13, 2011

THE BARE FACTS: Sex, Wanderlust Fever & Habitat (But mostly sex.)

A large Michigan black bear.  NOT photographed at Hudson Mills Metro Park!
file photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Wanderlust fever. Good habitat. Sex.
Those are the three main factors that make a young black bear wander. But mostly it's all about the sex.
So before you get nervous about the (probable) black bear sighting on Saturday, June ll, on the West River Trail of Hudson Mills Metropark near Dexter know this: 
That black bear does not want to eat you.
And it certainly does not want to mate with you.
And here is another bare fact about black bears in SE Michigan. A black bear in our neck of the woods is not improbable or extraordinary and except for the novelty of "Oh my God, I think that's a bear!", a bear exploring SE Michigan is not really a big news item.
 For the past dozen years black bears have been pushing south.  A few years ago a black bear was confirmed in the Waterloo State Recreation Area midway between Jackson and Ann Arbor.  Bear rumors growled about last year near the Ortonville and Hadley State Recreation Areas.  And last fall Oakland County Sheriffs Deputy searched for a bear reported in a wooded back yard on Perry Lake Road in Brandon Township less than a mile from my home. (I was there scouting about with our deputies. No bear found. I have no idea what their plan was if we found the reported wanderer. Maybe the deputies thought I had a plan.) Two summers ago a bear was flattened on I-75 not far from Genesys Hospital just north of the Oakland County line.  And back in 1988 a bear went a wandering into downtown Clarkston. A media circus of mayhem and madness followed the bear. 
The DNR live-trapped that bear and trucked it back north.
Black bears wander wide and far searching for good habitat and potential mates. And sex. 
And without much chance of finding a bear lady looking for romance on the meandering trails and in the sultry woods of Hudson Mills that black bear will in all likelihood keep on moving. 
And hoping. And dreaming.
A FEW WORDS ON SAFETY: If you encounter a black bear you never ever turn and run! Running incites a predatory response be the animal a cougar, coyote or black bear. Just back away slowly and keep an eye on the bear. Bears, like people often follow trails. Give a bear a wide berth. Happy hiking!
For more bare facts on the Hudson Mills bear sightings see the Metropark website.  Got to their blogs link.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Season of the Fawn: Rules of Engagement

all photos by Jonathan Schechter
(photo #1 viewed from barn looking down into my meadow, the next 3 from edge of the meadow near the barn)

Mowing of the field beneath my barn now must wait. We are in the season of the fawn.  A few days
 ago I noticed a pair of ears poking up above the tall grasses. I smiled.
 Today I realized there were two sets of alert ears almost hidden in the grasses and a doe, a doe I
have come to know well the past few months - a creature that accepts me as part of the landscape - 
was loitering at the edge of the woods.  She did not flee.
I went back to the house and armed with my camera I walked out on the creaky old boards of the
barn and slowly stepped over broken boards and gaps until I reached the eastern open side with a view
of the meadow below. One fawn stayed low and out of sight, the other, perhaps in response to my
creaky steps, stood and looked around. (Note how the spots of a fawn offer camouflage)
  The doe was nowhere to be seen.
I know she was near.

Fawns do not get lost.  Yet every year we hear tales of well meaning people trying to rescue a lost 
fawn. The doe stays away from her nearly scentless fawns except to nurse. A coyote, domestic dog,
 or other predator would have to stumble on it to find it, or follow the trampled scented path created
 by humans walking back for a second or third look
The kindness thing you can do for a fawn you encounter is to turn your back and walk away. 
Consider that the rules of engagement. That shows love for and respect of nature's way.

EPILOGUE:  A few minutes after posting this blog I went back outside to see what the ruckus
was; crows were louding calling.  Crows were mobbing a red-tailed hawk. And I was not the only
 one looking towards the tree top noise~!
My twin fawns were at the edge of the barn posed just perfectly. I stayed on my side of the fence
and clicked away! What a great end of the day, for the inquistive fawns and me.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Turtle, A Leech and Me

Painted turtles sunning on a log along the edge of the Polly Ann Trail
photos by Jonathan Schechter
 A leech firmly attached to the back of a female painted turtle that was crossing the trail.

I try not to pick sides when it comes to the endless dual of predators and prey; those
 that kill and those who are killed. Roles often reverse and there are no good animals or bad animals in the world of nature.
 Naturalists know not to mess with Mother Nature.
This time I did.

I was cycling on the Polly Ann Trail midway between the towns of Oxford and Leonard (Michigan) when I came upon a small pond covered in duckweed.  And on a sun-soaked log turtles jostled - as quickly as a turtle can jostle - for their best sunning positions.  At the edge of the trail a lone turtle started her trek across the trail most likely searching for an egg-laying site in warm moist soil. On her back a firmly attached leech.
 I used a stick to scrape the hitchhiking blood-sucker from her shell and let the turtle continue her trek. The leech  was left on the trail where it most certainly died in the dust, without me giving it any more thought than a quick swat to a mosquito on my neck.
Perhaps it was the unthought connection about blood sucking animals that led to my swift action.
We are better than that. We kill. Then we eat.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Nature's Magic! The bonus of fishing at dawn

A male red-winged black bird: just one of the many distractions.
all photos by Jonathan Schechter 6/9/2011

My rural neighbor called a few days ago, "Want to meet at dawn on Thursday and kayak and fish?"  
 "Yup",  and I told Alan I would be ready before sunup. It was to be just a catch and release fishing exploration of Independence Oaks County Park - North, the marvelous new 188 acre extension 
of Independence Oaks, a wildish land parcel that includes Upper Bushman Lake.  (

I was ready to fish. I was not ready for all the distractions of nature.We portaged our kayaks 1,200 
feet to the water's edge and pushed off. There was a problem: Every time I prepared to send my
jitterbug lure to the edge of a lily pad, or wiggle a red plastic worm throught the weed beds somthing
would distract me:

The call of  crows. 
The flight of geese.
 Red-winged blackbirds mobbing a great horned owl.
The swirl of fish sucking down insects. 
The beauty of flowering water lilies.
A muskrat lodge.
  Swans on a nest. 
A pair of green herons on a tree branch
Tree shallows skimming over the water.
 A mysterious splash just around the bend.
The sweet scent of rain to come.
Perfect reflections in water.
 Warm restless breezes. 
Sandhill cranes singing.
Bullfrogs calling from the shallows.
Low flying squadrons of dragonflies hunting skeeters 
The music of rustling cattail stalks.

 But just the same we fished and in short order we caught and released crappie, bluegill, and some 
darn good sized bass and a feisty northern pike.  Catch and release is the way to go, but the fact of
the matter is clear: Alan did more fishing than me. The entire time I felt like a six year old in candy store,
 so much nature to see, and just not enough time. 
A perfect morning on a perfectly peaceful glacial lake in the newest park in Oakland County.

This undersized bass, and all the fish caught were released, including the big ones.
A big crappie seconds from release
A great horned owl peaks out from its lofty white pine nest
Park personnel and Oakland County Sheriffs Dept keep an eye on this remote section of the park.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

To Kill A Child

photo by Jonathan Schechter
49! That is how many unattended infants or toddlers died horrific deaths by hyperthermia in cars last year in the United States. Extreme heat has Oakland County and a large slice of the Midwest sweltering with the temperatures hovering near three digits. When the outside temperature reaches 100 F the inside of a car soars to 140 degrees.  A small child or infant in a car has no way to regulate environmental heat and take preventive methods that wildlife and thinking sober adults can and will do.
 Heatstroke occcurs when a person's temperature exceeds 104 degrees. And when the core body temperature reaches 107 the results are almost always lethal with the brain cooked, vital organ cells damaged and thermoregulatory mechanisms overwhelmed. Worse yet, toddler or infant's temperature soars thee to five times faster than an adults with the results tragic.
 "I was only gone a little while" won't change the facts.

And yet it happens every year: A helpless toddler or infant is left unattended with the window "cracked open a bit" as the driver runs errands.  If you see an unattended child or infant in a car there is one thing you must do at once: Dial 911. You have no other choice.  The sun gives life to our planet, yet it kills those that can not retreat from the heat.( More info:

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Monster Crawl - and you!

Algae coated snapping turtle crawls out across a rural county roadwide.
photo by Jonathan Schechter

Turtles have been crawling across the landscape with little change from their ancient forms for hundreds of thousands of years. These present day dinosaurs are well adapted to life in Michigan with the notable exception of crossing highways when the pond, the lake or the egg laying site lures them to the other side.
So what do you do when you encounter one on the roadway?
What you do not do is take her - and it is usually a her  - back to where she came from. Take her to the other side and keep her pointed in the direction she was going. And if you encounter our monster turtle, the prehistoric looking snapping turtle of weedy lakes and backwaters use caution in handling. Be sure to hold her well back on the shell out of twisted neck reach. The neck can extend and twist with lightning speed.  The bite is powerful and claws can scratch with force. Taking a snapping turtle by the tail and tossing is not helpful, it's cruel.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Recreation 101 Summer Fun with the Michigan DNR


A quiet fishing moment at Holly State Recreation Area  Oct. 2010
photo by Jonathan Schechter
Looking for something to do that's fun and free and  oudoors and close to  home?  Consider the Michigan State Parks offering: Rec 101 Programs! From hiking, birding, and biking to kayaking, snorkeling and windsurfing - and nearly everything in between - you can learn new outdoor pursuits with all the gear, guides and good times included. Come conquer Michigan's woods and waters with your friends and family through these free events! New classes are added weekly, so check back to the DNR site frequenty or 'friend them'  at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources link on Facebook.

It all kicks off on June 4th with the Rec 101: Intro to Summer program at Holly State Recreation Area in Groveland Township, from 2-8 pm. Learn more than 15 different kinds of outdoor activities from the best outdoor pros in the state. Rain or shine, they will entertain you.  DNR Director Rodney Stokes and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson will both be there and officially declare summer open at 2 pm. Free ice cream for attendees, and a day your family will never forget. Events include but are not limited to outdoor survival skills, face painting, backpacking, disc golf, nature watching and fire building. Additional info can be obtained from 248-634-8811. Park is located at 8100 Grange Hall Road just east of Dixie Highway.
Visit the GO--Get Outdoors Calendar to find a Recreation 101 event near you. Don't forget to puchase your Recreation Passport auto sticker!,1607,7-153-10365-256544--,00.html

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

MONSTERS OF GOD - Terror Looms for Oakland County!

MOSQUITO METER from the trail head at Congaree Swamp National Park in South Carolina
photo by Jonathan Schechter
Planet Earth is full of human-eating predators.  From the jungles, mountains, swamps and oceans of our history, to the darkest corners of our fearful and superstitious minds, wild beasts have been parts of our lives: Tigers in India with a taste for flesh. Bears with attitude and appetite.  Great white sharks. Alligators in southern swamps. Man-eating lions in Kenya and Uganda. Rabid wolves in old time Europe--and of course werewolves  in London at twilight.

Flesh-eating beasts have shared the landscape with Homosapiens since our earliest days. They have left lasting impressions on our behavior as they emerged like doom from dark forboding forests to hunt us, to  kill  us, and then to feast on our flesh.  And in many ways it was the very presence of these predators that made us truly human, and sent the message to be self-aware and wary,  for when confronted by  "Monsters of God"  we must adapt or die. That  is evolution. That is the way of nature.

A month of rains and sultry heat on the first day of June has set the stage for encounters with the most ferocious, ravenous and blood-thirsty monster of all: The mosquito!  These ravenous blood sipping young ladies - who won't take no for an answer - and can transmit West Nile Virus are about to emerge from puddles, ponds, pools, urban ditches and flooded farm fields. The only thing on their mind will be a meal of blood.  And if Oakland County had mosquito meters like those at Congaree Swamp National Park in the  bug rich midlands of South Carolina I would turn the dial to a notch above RUTHLESS for this coming weekend.

NOTE: If you like Earth's Almanac you should read Monsters of God by David Quammen. This brilliant writer blends science fact with high drama and leave you with haunting  images and a better understanding of species that like humans - - as entrees made easy.  His book,  the nudging of an ER nurse, and mosquito larvae wiggling by the hundreds in my bird bath inspired today's blog.