Wednesday, April 25, 2012


PILEATED WOODPECKER - photo by Jonathan Schechter April 17, 2012

The pileated woodpecker is a true master of it's craft. Once seen, never forgotten.  
Many birders consider it the most striking forest bird on the continent. I tend to agree!
 It is black with bold white stripes down the neck and a flaming-red crest and has a drumming sound that resonates through the forests, be it the rare sighting in a protected woodland in my home area of Oakland County, Michigan, or on a forested mountainside near a steam in the Nantahala National Forest where I photographed this beauty (photo above) on the last day of my Wilderness EMT course!  And when a pileated whacks away at a dead tree or fallen log in search of insects it is a primordial sound. The species tends to be shy around humans but last week ago while exploring Congaree National Park's Boardwalk Loop Trail  in South Carolina  with my little grand niece she got lucky and watched one blast away high on a trail side tree while she stood near the trunk. (photo below)
  There is no greater woodpecker!

 photo by Jonathan Schechter, April 19, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

Call of the swamp: Congaree National Park!

All photos by Jonathan Schechter
These images accompany the Oakland Press column that will appear in the Sunday, April 22nd edition of Earth Day and profile Congaree National Park, a wilderness area in South Carolina that is part forest, part floodplain and part river.

exploring the base of a giant bald cypress tree

Barred owls are very much at home in the great swamp

"Come see the big woodpecker!"  
Note the pileated high above in the tree.

A slightly blurry close up of the same pileated woodpecker

One of the many large loblolly pines of Congaree

High winds and storms make for a need of boardwalk repairs.

Cedar Creek is used by adventuresome kayakers and canoeists. 

A clever way to update visitors on the mosquito conditions!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Poison Ivy:Reaching for the Sky!

Poison ivy climbing tree trunk
Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina

If the early warmth in the mountains of North Carolina hold any clues as to what is in store for the Midwest, Oakland County, Michigan is in for a banner year of poison ivy growth.  On sections of the Appalachian Trail near the Nantahala River some of these tree-hugging vines from this year are already ten to fifteen feet above the ground and are rapidly reaching for the sky!
Look at the photo again. 
The dried hair-like roots on the left side of the image are from last year's vine and they remain potent if bruised or brushed against. The folks in my N.C. wilderness medicine class and I have been traipsing about the woods and valleys for the past week and we know that poison ivy does not stay on the ground like a well-behaved garden plant.  This plant we all love to hate (birds love the berries)  clings to the trees and reaches for the sky. And perhaps that explains why I have a bit of an itch on the side of my face and arm; the price I paid for fast-paced night operations in search and rescue training scenarios. 
 A price worth paying.
And far less problematic then annoying a black bear or stepping on a copperhead.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Water loving birds at an urban park!

Pair of tree swallows perched on a old stump next to the marsh.
all photos by Jonathan Schechter
Robert H. Long Nature Park
April  4th 2012

This blog is a photo supplement to my hiking column that appears in the April 15th edition of The Oakland Press. That tale explores the trail and wildlife of a small wetland rich urban nature park in Commerce Township, Michigan  on the west side of bustling M5 and equally busy 14 Mile Road.
Nature always struggles to find a way and for many species of birds that need water as part of their habitat this park has become their oasis.

Canada geese behind the thistles.

Great blue heron still hunts in the shallows

How does a mute swan cross a trail? Just waddles across. 

A pair of mallards basks in sunlight creating a perfect reflection.

A perfect line up of goose, swan and heron!

When I knelt by the water this goose swam in the edge and told me to leave.
And I did.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

In the land of the Flowering Dogwood

photos by Jonathan Schechter
In the mountains of North Carolina, April 12, 2012

The flowering dogwood is found in a few locations in Oakland County, Michigan and is native to North Carolina and much of the eastern United States. Its natural habitat is not staked out with ropes in a sunny suburban front yard.  In  the wilds it thrives under tall pine trees or on the edge of a deciduous forest. This special  microclimate of mountain habitat gives the dogwoods  filtered sunlight, high humidity, and much  needed protection from drying winds and heavy snows. And  the layers of leaf litter that falls each year fertilizes the plant and aids the dogwoods shallow root system. Locals down here  in North Carolina I just met on a trail tell me black bears munch the berries and that this beauty of the woods is their State flower!


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Rose Oaks County Park: A walk on the wild side.

all photos by Jonathan Schechter, Rose Oaks County Park,
March 31, 2012

These photos supplement my Oakland Outdoors hiking column appearing in the April  8th edition  of The Oakland Press that profiles the trails and diverse wildlife of Rose Oaks County Park, a 640 acre park managed by Oakland County Parks. The moment I arrived at the park entrance the action began as a pair of Tom turkeys kicked and flapped and fought for the favors of a hen just a few feet inside the park perimeter fence. They are wild turkeys, free to come and go as they please. Read the trail tale in the print edition (or on line on Sunday morning) for more details on the turkey encounter.

The toms circle each other and posture to show their size
A well aimed kick of a leg spur can be a significant factor in victor determination
A beaver dam has raised the water level of Richardson Lake

Tent caterpillars on young black cherry trees.

Red buds(the trees name) adds visual treat to the woodlands.

Moss and algae have painted turkey tail fungi on a downed log green.

Warm, fresh and slick coyote scat (hair and bone evident) tells me these apex predators are not going hungry.

 Rue anemone carpet the oak woods along the trail
A sandhill crane trumpets and disappears where the marsh meets the meadow and woodlands

THE LONE WOLVERINE: Michigan's Most Elusive Animal

The Lone Wolverine author Elizabeth Shaw
photo by Jonathan Schechter

For 370 days self made naturalist Jeff  Ford searched for tracks after an earlier confirmation of an elusive ghost-like wolverine. He traipsed through the mud, snow, rains, swamps, forests and farm lands of what Michiganders call "The Thumb" of mitten-shaped lower Michigan. And then he captured her on film. That moment caused another great stir of excitement among biologists of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, wildlife researchers across the nation and more than a few residents and many outdoor writers.
 For five more years he followed her movements recording much on trail camera in what has been called a love affair between Ford and that lone wolverine; a shadowy ghostly predator of Michigan's past, the first wolverine to be documented in Michigan in over 100 years.
Former Flint Journal reporter Elizabeth Shaw teamed up with Ford  to share this wildlife mystery and record the story that is now a book published by the University of Michigan Press; 
The Lone Wolverine: Tracking Michigan's Most Elusive Animal

Shaw paints a vivid written picture that accompanies Fords unprecedented visual account that together transports readers to "an endless place of flat farm fields and narrow woodlots, where every scattered, solitary farmhouse and silo rears up from the land like the lonely hand of drowning man thrust from a waveless sea Shaw does more than just write of the natural history of this powerful, tenacious hunter and the events from the first sighting to its death in March of 2010; she documented human reports from the thoughtful and factual to the humorously bizarre, including this strange "eyewitness account" perhaps created by a local resident with a very over active imagination.

"Wolverine conspiracies abounded, complete with tales of ominous
military types obscuring evidence like some wildlife version of aliens
inside Area 51. One of the most bizarre accounts was from a Mayville
woman who wrote to confide that just a few years ago her cousin’s
daughter had encountered a “scary-looking animal” lurking in a ditch
as she waited for a school bus and had later positively identified it as a
wolverine. Her cousin reported it to the DNR, she said, but was ignored.
It was only after several more eyewitness reports of wolverines
terrifying local children, she said, that the DNR swept in with the National
Guard and loaded an entire pack of wolverines onto a helicopter,
whisking them away to some remote location in extreme northern
Michigan. Cousin Roy, she said, had been threatened by the authorities
to never tell his story to anyone."
The Lone Wolverine, available for purchase on line ( Barnes and Noble retail outlets soon), is a tale rich with raw facts and natural history and is sure to be treasured as one of Michigan's most intriguing wildlife stories. Shaw does an excellent job of setting this true adventure story of American wildlife lore into the greater context of Michigan's natural history, a tribute to her journalistic and outdoor observation skills.

Liz and I walked in the woods last week and  we talked of her book and the world of nature. 
I quickly realized three things.
1. She too has a love affair with this elusive apex predator.

2.  This book is destined to be a classic, for it factually documents the tracking  and life of Michigan's most elusive animal as it struggled for food and survival in a landscape that is no longer truly wild. 

3. The Lone Wolverine is a great gift for anyone that loves wildlife  and nature's way!

For a look at the actual wolverine visit the Bay City State Recreation Area. An interpretive display has been created around the mounted remains of the lone wolverine of Michigan. 
Or is it? 

 click here to see the book on Amazon.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Photo by Jonathan Schechter
" Exciting news today about the rabbit that hangs out near the foundation of my house. She just hopped off her nest to munch on my apple offerings and exposed the fact she is about to be a mom. 
She laid two eggs! They should be hatching soon"

I posted the photo of the rabbit with her "eggs" and the caption above to my Facebook site on April Fool's Day morning.  Three days later I had over 40 comments and close to 60 'likes' and numerous 'shares' of the photo.  
I am not a terribly tech-savvy person but have discovered Facebook is a good way to promote my newspaper column, this blog and sometimes political or wildlife related causes that I am passionate about.  But nothing I have posted in the past 4 years has drawn as much attention as the photo above.  I'm not sure what to make of that. I did have fun putting two chicken eggs in that small pile of straw near where the wild rabbit  sometimes suns on the south side of my house. And the apples drew her in for the photo. And then on April Fools morning I thought, Why not?

What surprises  me is that  a half dozen people wrote me directly asking if rabbits really lay eggs and others made some posts saying they checked they googled or asked others to see if rabbits really lay eggs before they finally figured out it was a joke.
Perhaps it's time that we all pay a bit more attention to science education.

  (I'll be back with some other wildlife fantasy next April Fool's Day)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Eating Stinging Nettle!

all photos by Jonathan Schechter

Stinging nettle (Uritca dioica) is a plant you will never forget when it touches bare skin. 
The nettle stems are covered with nearly invisible tiny stinging "spines" or "hairs", almost miniature hypodermic needles!  More than once I have the wrong kind of up close and 
personal contact with this herbal/medicinal plant of early spring that by summer
 may be six feet tall and at its peak of flesh attacking ability.

But now is time for  my revenge:
 It's time to eat the stinging nettle. 

Two rules first.

(Although it can be done)


I  went down to a moist area of my meadow not far from where catnip grows and
 searched out the nettles and with scissors carefully clipped the tiniest plants at their base.
Then it was time to gently tear off each leaf. The leaves are the best part.
They can be steamed, but I boil them in water like spinach.

I have done this many times before, and prepare it as any cooked vegetable, but today I experimented and used them in a home made soup that also included sliced tubers of
 garlic gone wild.  I chewed the thick soup two hours ago. 
I am still alive!

 All cooked!

Bon Appetit!