Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hornet Nests & Myths On The Dawn of Winter

Bald-faced hornets nest.
photographed December 18, 2012

This nest is about 25 feet above the ground. 
The Winter Solstice is in just a few days.
There is no  measurable snow on the ground.

What do those three facts have to do with the photograph?

Every year in my wanderings as a naturalist and writer I hear fables about nature. 
One that persists is that hornets and squirrels build their nests high up in trees, above the
level of the  snowfall to come.  I am polite and just smile when I hear this. 
 But since last winter was nearly snowless in Oakland County  (Michigan) and I want snow
 and this now abandoned hornet's nest (I photographed yesterday) is 25 feet above the ground and I
 saw  gray  squirrel nests even higher all I can say now is "Bring it on!"
Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

DECAPITATION: One dove's price of feeder gluttony

Decapitated mourning dove under my feeder.
photos by Jonathan Schechter
December 16, 2012

 Cooper’s Hawks are one of the most skilled fliers of  our Michigan woodlands. These beautiful
predators that feast on other birds are sometime seen zig-zagging between trees in high speed pursuit of
 feathered prey.  They are highly adaptable and quickly discover where bird feeders are located, feeders that
 lure in  midsized birds that  practice feeder gluttony.  And that makes for easy picking.
 Such was the case at my home late Sunday afternoon.

I have a small platform feeder attached to my window  next to where I sit and write and daydream.
Today it was more dreaming than writing.  My feeder was busy with chickadees and nuthatches and a
few mourning doves. The doves stay put and gorge themselves while the smaller birds grab a single seed
 and rapidly fly off  to the nearby apple tree to eat their morsel. 
A sudden blur of activity followed by a thump on the window shattered my lazy day trance.
A Cooper's had just hit the feeder and the dove's scattered. 
 I did not realize at that moment a kill was made.
A few hour later I went outside and discovered  a dove under the feeder, minus his head, apparently a
 delicacy for this wonderful accipiter.  There are no "good guys" or "bad guys" here, just endless
 interactions between predator and prey in a human altered environment; in this case, a nature-loving
 writer whose  habit of overstocking  the feeder set the stage for a Cooper's  hawk dinner.
Other doves will return---and the hawk will be back!



Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Woodpile Dilemma

I have 11 acres of land. I bought this firewood
photo by Jonathan Schechter

I have ll acres of land.
What is on 'my' land?
 Live trees. Dead trees. Fields. Meadows.
Swamps. Wildlife. 
And me.

And I had a dilemma. 
 Five large ash, black cherry and oak trees are dead.
They would be perfect firewood for my wood burner. 
A few weeks ago I wandered to make my choice on which to cut first.
One held multiple red squirrel nests.
Another was habitat for flying squirrels!
(The uniquely chewed nuts stored near the base confirmed that fact.)
Another just had a majestic look and towered over the edge of the swamp.
I think that is the tree a barred owl perches  on when he sings to the night.
And tree number five, an ash tree, is a cafeteria for woodpeckers.

And that is when I recognized again that this land is not "mine".
I share it with creatures great and small.

I had no choice.  I called a local company that sells wood cut after storms,
 cut to make way for construction, and cut at the request of others.
I purchased two cords.
That wood I can burn in peace.
But I will wonder what the story is behind that woodpile
when I sit in my den and read or write and feel the warmth.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

WAITING FOR ATHENA: The virgin goddess of reason

Road in front of my house, winter of 2010
photo by Jonathan Schechter

Winter was a wimp last season.  My cross country skis only once carried my weight and
 my steep uphill drive never needed plowing.  But now as some count down to December
 21st  as the End Of The  World/ Doomsday/ Apocalypse   I am counting down to Dec. 21st 
as the Winter Solstice, the first  day of winter.
And I wait for the arrival of of a virgin goddess,  Athena.
And so does the Weather Channel

Athena is the Greek virgin goddess of reason, intelligent activity, arts and literature.
(Sounds like she would be a great companion in my travels.)

The National Hurricane Center has been naming tropical storms since the 1950's
 bestowing them with memorable names, some that will not be repeated.
Hurricane Sandy is one such storm.

But now the Weather Channels will be tracking and  naming powerful winter storms in the
 same  fashion of hurricane tracking and naming with the hope that communications and
 information sharing via news networks and weather  outlets  and social media with named storms
 will  add to emergency preparedness and public understanding 
 The list of names for the 2012-2013 winter storm season borrows heavily from mythology.
The first three storms:  ATHENA,  BRUTUS and CAESAR.
Let it snow! Let it snow. Let it snow!
And come on Athena, bring on the virgin powder!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Death by Mushrooms: Foragers be wary and aware!

"Death Cap" amanita emerging at Cape Chignecto National Park (Nova Scotia)
photo by Jonathan Schechter

A fourth senior citizen died a  few days ago from eating homemade soup made with poisonous mushrooms
 in  November at a senior care facility (Gold Age Villa)  in Northern California. The soup was prepared by
a caretaker  that gathered them on the grounds of the facility with the belief that they were prized
  chanterellee mushrooms.
They were not.

The residents fell victim to Amanitas, a species also found in the woods of Michigan.
The Placer County Sheriff's Department ruled the deaths accidental.

I share this slice of information as a word of caution in gathering wild edibles.
  I too am an active forager of edible plants of all sorts and with no snow on the ground in these
early days  of December treats of nature are still easily  available.
 But I never eat what I do not know. When it comes to mushrooms I only gather morels,
 shaggy manes and giant puffballs but never gather any mushrooms when they first emerge. 
Young shrooms of different species look similar. 
It's believed that is the fatal error made by the caretaker.

FACT: Nature is full of rich rewards and bountiful harvests.
FACT:  Nature is unforgiving when it comes to mistakes with mushrooms

Death Cap/Destroying Angel (Amanita)
Cape Chignecto Provencial Park, Nova Scotia
photo by Jonathan Schechter

A young fly amanita  (Amanita muscaria) emerging last year in my woods.
photo by Jonathan Schechter

 Mature Fly Amanita (Amaniata muscaria):  my woods, Brandon Township, Michigan
photo by Jonathan Schechter