Monday, March 26, 2012


All photos by Jonathan Schechter - March 23, 2012

...from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful  and most wonderful have
 been, and are being evolved."  Charles Darwin.  The Origin of Species   1859

Almost three weeks have passed since frogs of many species answered their seasonal call of the
 wild.Stirred by early warmth they hopped off to their vernal ponds for mass matings.
When it comes to  frog sex there is little in the way of discretion or privacy. 
Each species creates  its own croak, harrumph, peep, or quack (wood frogs quack!) to attract
mates of their species.
That is nature's way.
But today, after wandering back to my woodland vernal pond  to listen to early spring in the
woods - something I  often do - and seeing one particular frog again, kind of by himself again,
I  began to wonder if perhaps nature is experimenting in a fashion that would make Darwin smile.

Wood frogs have a distinct dark mask across the eyes and dark colored legs with occasional
dark bands on the legs.  Larger leopard frogs have spotted legs.  And so when I first saw this
 frog I was puzzled and sent the photo to a Michigan herpetologist who wrote to let me
know "It's a wood frog", but "oddly colored" with "unusual" markings on the legs.
 I wondered some more.
And now maybe you wonder too.
Is this frog perhaps the result of a bit of froggy frolics and dallying and diddling between
 species  last spring on a warm and sultry rainy night of hard-wired, fast-paced frog lust. 
  The answer remains a secret of the frog's night world of  primordial soup we call vernal ponds.

Look closely: The mystery frog is just right of center, about 1/3 the way up from bottom.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Prescription Fire: When Smokey Carries the Torch!

All photos by Jonathan Schechter
Independence Oaks County Park,  March 17, 2012

Prescribed fire is an increasingly common management tool used to maintain wildlands and parks.
 Fire can be a cathartic force stimulating native seed banks into growth while pushing back the spread 
of invasive plant species.  Prescribed fire can also be used to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire in 
areas that practiced total fire exclusion The burns are conducted by contracted crews of specialized 
wildland  firefighters  with  expertise in land management. In Oakland County, oak-hickory habitat and remnant  prairies and some marsh habitats are  fire-adapted environments that are commonly burned. 
Skillfully applied fire can also be used to alter  plantation style plantings of evergreens and bring the land
 back to a diverse, more ecologically sound landscape that benefits native flora and fauna.
Read the upcoming March 25th story for details on this prescribed fire and the practice.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Weather & wildlife thoughts on the dawn of spring

photos by Jonathan Schechter

Wood frogs are nearly done breeding. The maple sap run ended almost as soon as it began.
 A delightful symphony of all frog species drifts in sultry winter evening air. And the first toad of the
season trilled from a swamp in Oakland County on the last night of winter, instead of  June!
 A snake basked on my sunny woodpile that should be capped in crusty snow.
Salamanders and fairy shrimp dance and wiggle to primordial rhythms in shrinking vernal ponds.
Barred owls hoot back and  forth in broad daylight.   
Creatures of all sizes and shapes are restless, perhaps they sense this weather is not the
 norm,  for who are we to question their finely adapted abilities to be aware of, and wary 
of the changing environment around them.
 We are just humans locked in our own  little worlds, a world often light-years removed from true
awareness of nature. Today is Day 4 of consecutive days of records high. 
We should not be flirting with 80 degrees.

Climate change may be an abstract concept for some, and denied by others.
But weather is as real and in your face as this winter has been lame.
  Powerful tornadoes with strange movement patterns this winter should have sent a message:
 Global warming is no longer some alien concept of Al Gore.
Something is happening.
To say otherwise is to be the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand.
Go for a walk in the woods, find a quite spot and sit on this day of the vernal equinox.
Perhaps you, like me, will wonder what spring and summer may bring.
Perhaps we forgot we share the same sun, earth, moon, wind and weather of our wild brethren.
 A walk in the woods may remind us of our place on Earth.

A garter snake sunned on my woodpile on the last full day of winter. Temp: 82 degrees

Friday, March 16, 2012

Slither time for our Massasauga Rattlesnakes!

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. All photos by Jonathan Schechter, September 2011

  The day was perfect for a bike ride, and it is a day I will always cherish. And every since that day early
last autumn I try to keep my camera with me to capture the unexpected.
 I had just noticed a sign at Indian Springs Metropark (Oakland County Michigan) reminding hikers and 
cyclists to stay on the paved trail because they were in rattler habitat. 

 The cyclists and hikers did just that. And so did the rattlers.

Cold-blooded rattlers are fond of warm pavement to absorb heat on cool days. 
 I stayed a few yards back, plopped down on my belly and captured the diagnostic mark of all pit 
vipers in North America: the heat sensitive facial pits  used to track warm-blooded prey.
Something that you can not see clearly in the photo are two other definitive ID characteristics
 of all venom-packing pit vipers: keeled middorsal scales and undivided subcaudal scales. 
 DO NOT flip the snake over for scientific scale checks you do not understand!
And getting too close for an ID, or photo, is extraordinarily dangerous.
It wont be long before the entire cryptic population of Michigan's only venomous reptile emerges from 
the moist crayfish holes where they over wintered in a state of near suspended animation.  
Perhaps these very warm days already have them topside!

And unless you are a tasty frog or furry little meadow vole our native little swamp rattlers want nothing
 to do with you. A strange thing about rattlesnake bites: Almost all occur on the dominant hand
 of young  adult intoxicated white males.  I call it the "Hey Joe, Watch  this!" syndrome.
Hike the trails of Oakland County, enjoy yourself, and practice situational awareness. 
Rattlesnakes will do the same and do their best to avoid you.

Perhaps the rattlers read the signs, for they too stayed on the trail.

Monday, March 12, 2012

ICE OUT: Before the dawn of spring

photo by Jonathan Schechter,  Timberland Lake, Oakland County, Michigan

Winter never arrived this year, at least to southern Michigan. Sure, we had a few snowfalls but
each time Mother Nature teased us with a taste of winter it melted a few days later.Small lakes
 did freeze partially over, but now in the second week of March the ice is out, making warning
signs for foolish humans like this one at Indian Springs Metropark, (photographed on Saturday)
so very unnecessary.
What does this new weather pattern mean?
Time will tell, but I wonder about the the wood frogs and salamanders that snuggled down under logs
for the winter, but never had lasting insulating coats of snow over those logs.
And time will tell if our little 13-lined ground squirrels that nap the winter away underground like their
much larger woodchuck cousins have been affected by this skewed season.
And I wonder about the spring peepers that emerged today to sing to to the overcast sky as the temperature flirts with 60 degrees. And I wonder about the killdeer that already run frantically about the
edge of my gravel drive announcing their presence with their shrill call as I type from my screened porch,
 suck down coffee and watch a rabbit nibble boldly in daylight under the bird feeder.
What do I think?
I think that those creatures that can adapt to change survive and pass on their gene pool.
Those that do not die. For that too is nature's way.

Friday, March 9, 2012


Heat-generating skunk cabbage is Michigan's earliest wildflower!
(all photos by Jonathan Schechter)

Skunk Cabbage is my favorite "swamp thing" of the waning days of winter. This amazing plant
 is now emerging through the frozen mud and cold soil of fertile wetlands throughout
 southern Michigan. These photos are all from March 2nd at the Ortonville State Recreation Area
just a few miles north of my house.  Although parts of the plant are considered toxic to eat,
Native Americans used skunk cabbage for pain, swelling and muscle aches. 
 But what I find most fascinating is the fact this plant is thermogenic. 
Thermogenic plants have the ability to create heat above the ambient temperature. The top
photo  shows the result  of heat production perfectly as one pushes through remnant snow! 
Research shows bursts of intense metabolism can heat the yellow flower spike (spadix)  within
the purplish shell like spathe as much as 30 degrees above ambient temperature.  A finger
gently inserted into the spathe can  detect warmth on cold days. A spadix peeks out of  the spathe
 in the final photo in a cluster of spathes next to newly green moss.

 Come summer the leaves of this swamp loving heat generator can be as large as elephant ears.
 And why the name skunk cabbage? Crush or tear a mature leaf and your nose will tell you why.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

A coyote, a tennis ball, and a very big dog!

A wild eastern coyote approached the invisible fence barrier with a tennis ball offering:
All photos courtesy of Charles Dean,  Clarkston,  Michigan
(Clarkston is a small city in Independence Township, Oakland County, Michigan)

I am a skeptic when it comes to many wildlife talesmany are illusions of reality.  
 Not this one, for Charles Dean captured detailed images of what some might
call "the beast in the garden" but others view the beautiful intriguing interaction between two
 adult coyotes and his domestic 80 pound Saluki  (Royal Dog of Egypt) with awe.  
 The photo (above) made the  newspaper and stirred a mix of reactions. One reader wrote me 
to say "Coyotes are so smart using the tennis ball to lure the dog into the woods".
 I agree on smart. Coyotes are highly  intelligent, well adapted to life near humans, and for
 better or worse are learning our ways  faster than we learn theirs.  There is something else 
I should share.The Saluki is one of the earliest domesticated breeds of dogs. They are perhaps
the fasted breed in the world. In the Middle East they  hunted gazelle and jackals.
So what is the coyote doing? 
 Based on what I know about wildlife and the expression on this coyote's face that all 
dog  lovers recognize, this coyote is having a bit of fun and wants to play.  And this coyote has
 figured out the pink flags marking the invisible fence are a barrier for their frustrated 'playmate'. 
Coyotes playing with objects and  teasing humans is not new. California coyotes steal golf balls.

FACT: Coyotes, like all wildlife can be defensive if threatened.
FACT: Coyotes should never be fed.
FACT: Never ever run from a coyote.
FACT: Coyotes are in every county in Michigan.

Will a coyote eat a stray cat or small dog? It happens. But vehicles pose far more threat
to pets than coyotes.  Coyotes have killed two humans  in the United States in the past 100 years 
in  highly  unusual circumstances however The Center for Disease Control states there are 
4.7 million dog bites per year in the US, with 800,000 Americans needing hospital treatment and 
and average of 16 deaths from dogs.
I am thrilled by the image captured by my not so far away neighbor Charles Dean and the
two coyotes that come calling at the fringe of wildlands and urban living. The tennis ball
offering reminds me of humans looking and smiling at primates in the zoo.  And when I hear
coyotes howl and yip outside my home tonight in Brandon Township I'll smile and
 think of tennis balls and a coyote with a sense of pleasure and perhaps sense of humor.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


A church roof in Santa Fe, New Mexico. photo by Jonathan Schechter

           Severe weather spawned powerful tornadoes that ripped across the American landscape 
yesterday and last night leaving at least 12 dead and hundreds injured. The National

Weather Service  Storm Prediction Centers rated the devastating Harrisburg, Illinois

tornado as an EF-4 packing winds of 200 miles per hour. Before dawn today I watched a bit

television news on the hard hit areas and interviews with survivors.
A theme occurred: "I prayed to God to be spared." 

 I thought back to a statue I saw on a church roof in Santa Fe a few years back as I
to hike into the mountains. When a church installs a lightning rod on a religious
the message to me is clear.  Pray if you want, but take responsibility and plan ahead.

Atmospheric conditions are forming now to make Friday, March 2nd a  day of even more 

weather and this time the danger zone is likely to include southern Michigan.
 If your  personal awareness plans is to simply to hope an outdoor siren warns you in time
you better get enough life-insurance to keep your loved ones cared for when you are gone. 
The National Weather Service may get the warning out, but severe weather awareness and

a safety plan is a personal responsibility. 

What's your plan?

And calling 911 is not a plan, it's a sad testimony to your unpreparedness.