Saturday, October 27, 2012

An acorn, a seedling; rabbits and hares: Nature's dance!

photo by Jonathan Schechter,  October 2012
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

A storm churning off Lake Michigan pushed at my back and sent shifting sands against my neck as
 I trudged from the shore and dunes back to my  campsite in a woodland of evergreens  and oaks.
 During my two mile trek I smiled at an up close encounter with a buck and my heart raced  at the sight of
fresh coyote tracks in  the sand and the rapid flight of a Cooper's hawk.
 But what snared my attention the most was a young  sapling of an oak pushing up  through the sands a
few  hundred  yards from the nearest oak. I suspect strong  shifting  winds rolled the acorns across
the leeward side of the dunes and set the stage for the  woodland  to march  closer to our great inland 
 freshwater sea.   But I also wondered  just how many of the scattered seedlings would make it until
spring 2013  or the next year or  the next. 
 Nothing like a seedling to nourish a rabbit or snowshoe hare when winter arrives
And as Aldo Leopold once mused  the seedlings that survive are the products of rabbit  scarcity or rabbit 
neglect. I made it back to my tent 20 minutes before the rains came and then for the next 12 hours of 
 downpours I had the gifted luxury to ponder on many things with no interference from the outside world.
The rabbits and the acorns and the giant oaks were just one of those things.
A very good day it was.

Monday, October 22, 2012

FLYING COWS: A sign of late autumn!

photos by Jonathan Schechter
Independence Township, Michigan  October 21, 2012

Flying cows are on the move! And the closely cropped lawns of condominiums across lower Michigan
 lure them in to rest and graze and gather in great herds.  You may call these creatures Canada geese
 and the  "herds" flocks; but for many residents of Oakland County, Michigan these grazing creatures
 are  despised for their  gatherings  and propensity to poop. 

Don't want Canada geese around?

Then do not cut your lawns so short. 
(Or pray for more coyotes!)
We self-centered humans have created a mecca for geese in suburbia and the geese have responded.
But the gatherings of geese and their all day grazing reminds me that in a few more weeks they will
take wing  and fly south in great formations honking as the depart our land of lakes and lawns.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Wtich hazel: Blooming beauty of late October!

Witch hazel in full bloom - photos by Jonathan Schechter
Independence Oaks County Park, Oakland County Michigan
late October 2012  

Halloween is just around the corner!  This is the flowering season of an amazing  tree-like shrub 
that thrives in  the understory of many woodlands.  The beautiful spider like flowers are missed by
 many hikers  distracted by  the colors of the rest of the trees. Witch hazel may have earned its name from its
 association with  dowsing,  the earlyAmerican practice of using a forked stick to 'witch' for water.
The bent and forked sticks of witch hazel were perfect for dowsing rods.
 Some fearful "religious" people looked at that as a form of witchcraft and a threat to their beliefs.

Herbal uses of the plant are numerous with the bark, leaves, and twigs of witch hazel all high in tannins
 giving this  plant astringent properties.
More likely than not your grandparents medicine cabinet still has witch hazel oil.

Another  trait of this awesome overlooked tree is the fact that when the seed pods are ripe and they
 "explode"  with a snapping sound, shooting the seeds almost twenty feet away from the parent plant.
 And now you know why this plant is often found in clusters in the woodlands of our county

Witch hazel blossoms in front of an oak tree.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Salamander Sex, Love & Frustration on a rainy warm October night.

photo by Barry Beard, Davisburg Michigan

 A few nights ago steady rains fell across Oakland County as the mercury climbed into the low 70's. 
 In Davisburg, Michigan a creature responding to the spring-like rains and warmth emerged from
 under a log. This ancient  cryptic carnivore slowly crawled about  following primordial signals above our
 level of understanding. 
One thing was on this eastern tiger salamander's mind:
 Tiger salamanders are the largest species of terrestrial salamander found in the Great Lake region.
This one was close to eight inches long. Some are bigger.
And here is the rest of the story:
Almost a month ago tiger salamanders entered their burrows, wiggled under logs or thick layers of
leaves.   And that is where they usually stay until warm spring rains thaw the ground and send 
 them topside to trek to a vernal pond. And then it's time to engage in a water-ballet of
 seductive courting activities that make prudish humans cringe and naturalists stare with delight.
This salamander on the prowl must have felt frustrated as he explored the warm moist night in search
 of  breeding  pond and a mate. Perhaps he managed a meal of an earthworm as consolation.
  How did the story end?
 Only the salamander knows. 
 I suspect it was a lonely night of unsatisfied lust, amphibian frustration and dreams of a better night out.

(And thank you Barry Beard for sharing your great photo!)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Beautiful trailside demon duo! Poison Ivy & Poison Sumac

all photos by Jonathan Schechter
Photo above Staghorn Sumac (red sumac) --safe to touch

Colors are near peak and  woods, trails and wetlands pull at hikers  like magnets tugging on iron filings.
 A week from now some woodland visitor and trail hikers will be itching and scratching and wondering
 where the  rash  came from. Poison ivy and poison sumac do not sleep autumn or winter away. 
The volatile oils remain active all year.
These photos are meant to help identify poison ivy, poison sumac  and are meant to accompany the
Trailside Demons  hiking column that will appear in the Sunday, October 14th edition of The Oakland Press.

Poison Sumac
She is looking closely--not touching!
 Poison sumac likes 'wet feet' and is restricted to wetland areas. It takes on a brilliant scarlet color in autumn and is
 usually the brightest colored plant in a Michigan wetland.
This photo is from Rose Township, Michigan and is modeled by Erika Pratt of the Novi Parks Foundation.

Poison Ivy climbing a tree on the banks of the Shiawassee River

In autumn poison ivy can be orange, red or scarlet. Every part of the plant including the
leaves, stems and roots remain rich with rash-causing oils.

Virginia Creeper  (safe to touch)

By early October the harmless creeping vine, Virginia creeper changes in color from
dark green to brilliant.scarlet.  Some people avoid this five-leafed plant fearing it
is poison ivy. It is not  and is safe to touch.


Monday, October 8, 2012


photos by Jonathan Schechter

Warning signs can be helpful advising us of hidden hazards like not using a hair blower in the shower.
I knew that already.  Those that did not know--well, I will not comment beyond "Darwin Award"
Now I know something else that might have saved me from disaster!
A few days ago I was at a trails event and among the items passed out was a popular
 fishing  lure promoting Oakland County and our great outdoors.  
During lunch break I took my leaflets and small items and went outside.
 I was sitting under a sassafras tree rich with fiery orange leaves and was about to sink my teeth into a
turkey sandwich when I happened to flip the bubble wrapped lure over and read  the back of the package.
I am lucky I did. The warning may have saved my life. I was going to eat the fishing lure too.
I discovered that the trebled hooked lure from Eppinger Manufacturing in Dearborn, Michigan is:
Wow! I did not know that!
I wonder if fish know that.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

The eye of the buck!

Photos of buck and doe at Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area
by Jonathan Schechter
September 27, 2012

I  had barely entered a secluded meadow somewhere in the Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area
 (after I misplaced the trail and became a bit bewildered ) when I noticed a buck staring at me.
Just staring. 
 And this comment of mine shows we humans think it is all about us. 
I sensed something behind me and slowly turned and quickly realized that although the buck was aware
 and wary of me, the objection of his attention, (perhaps '"hormonal desire" is a better phrase) was not me. 
A doe was barely 100 feet behind me working her way along  a fence line. 
 I sat still for a few minutes and to my surprise when the buck bolted, the doe went his direction.
As always it is the woman that makes the choice!