Wednesday, August 29, 2012


An Aerial Yellow Jacket Nest
photo by Jonathan Schechter
(On a historic farm house at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, August 25, 2012)

We are in the season of the yellow jacket; a fact well known by lawn workers, gardeners, hikers, picnickers and emergency medicine and wilderness medical professionals. For most human victims of their painful stings, a sting or stings is simply a painful fun ruining event and is characterized by localized swelling. But for about 3 to 4 % of the population a sting is a life threatening event that rapidly cascades to  anaphylactic shock  and the real possibility of death. Those people need to carry with them and know how to use an epi pen; an in the field emergency intervention device that prevents the airway from closing but must be followed by follow up rapid medical intervention.

Here's what you do NOT know. And I think I have right.
Maybe an entomologist knows for sure!

Many yellow jacket nest are found in the ground and they boil up in a stinging  frenzy if a lawn mower runs over the entrance hole, or a hiker steps too close to the nest. 
They are the Eastern yellow jackets, a  common native species.

But this summer more and more aerial yellow jacket nests are being found, sometimes with painful results.
They are, and the  nest in the photo is made by Dolichovespula arenaria, the Aerial yellow jacket ,
 a more aggressive specie's that often attaches to homes like bald-faced hornets.
They tend to be more forceful in nest defense.
All yellow jackets present a clear and present danger to bold fools like me;
 that come in close for a photo.


Monday, August 27, 2012

SLEEPING BEAR HERITAGE TRAIL: A trail for generations

Cyclists explore the newest section of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.
Note the shelf fungus on the back side of the beech tree.
photo by Jonathan Schechter

Work continues on the the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, a 27 mile long paved trail that will run from the southern edge of  Leelanau County (Michigan) through the magical world of forests and sand dunes of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to Good Harbor Bay when complete. In addition to the obvious pleasure of peddling in a wonderland of woods, lakes, streams and historic farms the trail offers improved connectivity to natural features and local businesses.   A few days ago I peddled from the famed Dune Climb northward and then east to Glen Haven Historic Village and then further east on the newest section that takes  walkers, hikers, cyclists and even wheel chair users through the D.H. Day Campground and a few miles beyond into a mature forest.
I took great pleasure in dismounting and walking quietly among the giants in a land carved by the glaciers and reshaped by shifting sand dunes.
 Moments after I snapped this photo a pileated woodpecker blasted away on an old snag  high above on the edge of a forested dune. Come winter I will return with cross country skis and explore this trail once more in search of tracks of more cryptic creatures. All outdoor recreationists and nature lovers should be thrilled about this new trail that gives a safe and exciting car free route to explore sections of the National Lakeshore and small neighboring towns.

More info:

Monday, August 13, 2012

Bald Faced Hornets in all the wrong places!

Hornets guarding the entrance of their nest.
photos by Jonathan Schechter

We are entering the season of the bald-faced hornet. These large black and white members of the wasp family pack a powerful punch. Even one sting can cause searing pain and in some life-threatening anaphylactic shock.
   I am very accustomed to dealing with these benefical hunters of garden pests.
I try to practice live and let live but sometimes I take lethal action when a nest appears over a door or next to a window.
Those nests present a  clear and present danger.

Something is different this year,
something that had me one step from bare leg disaster.
Note hornet hovering at the entrance of this ' land mine' nest just inches above ground!

Their nests, which can be larger than a basketball are usually fastened to a tree limb way above our heads. 
  But a few evenings ago I was walking with sandals on my feet to a black cherry tree at the edge of the meadow to have a tart snack before dark.
  I was one step from disaster when I looked down.
 Perhaps it was the  movement among the grass that caught my attention. 
 Bald-faced hornets were in flight and they were zipping in an out of a nest that was below the height of my knee. I barely avoided impact. I know keep a wary eye out for other nests hidden in shrubs and  meadows.
 And come autumn when I cut back the meadow to keep it as a meadow I will be brush-hogging with care to avoid contact with a land mine full of angry venom!  
You should do the same.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A tool using bird:The green heron is no "bird brain"!

photo by Jonathan Schechter  August 7, 2012
adjacent to Addison Oaks County Park (Michigan)

The green heron is very much at home in some wetland areas of Oakland County (Michigan.) Although it is most often seen standing motionless as it waits for a frog or fish in shallow water to come within striking range, this one was perched next to a short grass meadow at the edge of a dusty roadside. I wondered if perhaps in this time of drought and drying ponds it was watching for a meadow vole to add to its varied diet.
The green heron has also been document by researchers and birders in its ability to use tools!  
This stocky little wading bird will drop "bait" onto the surface of a shallow wetland and then swoop in and grab  small fish lured in. Bait include bugs, beetles, insects, earthworms, twigs and feathers.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Nature's Gourmet Trailside "Weed": Purslane

Purslane Flourishes Along The Edge of this Urban Trail in Troy, Michigan.
photo by Jonathan Schechter
August 1, 2012

Purslane is a wonderfully nutritious tasty succulent 'weed' that many consider the gourmet plant of sidewalk cracks and the  dry edges of paved trails; two places it flourishes in the heat of summer.
It grows well in direct sun and and thrives with the trickles of water that run off the pavement. 
But before you snack on this wonder of nature, a native of the Indian sub-Continent know this:

1. Never gather where chemicals are used on lawns.
2.  First  taste samples should be in small amounts.
3. Wash first if in an urban area.

Research indicates that the fresh leaves of this plant contain more Omega-3 fatty acids than other leafy veggies
and it is also rich in fiber and a host of minerals and vitamins.  
My personal research shows that it tastes good too!

Although some of my wild edibles cohorts are not fond of this plant, I like its slightly sour taste and have on several occasions mixed chopped up leaves of purslane in early summer with the sweet orange petals of the day lily.

If raw wilds are not your thing,  or its late in the summer try steaming it like spinach.
Eat hearty my friend and stay healthy!
Nature is full of gifts for us.
Go find them!