Sunday, March 31, 2013

NATURE GONE WILD: When the Easter Bunny Meets April Fool's Day!

photos by Jonathan Schechter
 Spring is almost two weeks old but our landscape remains more barren than green.
For rabbits that makes no difference for only two things are on their minds.
1: Avoiding hungry great horned owls, red-tailed hawks, coyotes and fox.
Late March is a bit early for rabbits to be nesting but one rabbit has been 
incubating her eggs for nearly three weeks on a nest of straw near the foundation
 of my house. When it snowed she stayed put and kept her eggs warm.
 Finally, with a few  juicy apple bits to lure this soon to be motherly 
rabbit off her nest a few days ago I was able to photograph her eggs.
.  Looks like two baby Easter Bunnies will be great the lst day of April!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

MALLARD DUCK MOMENTS: Sex, Food, Lies & Snapping Turtles

Photos by Jonathan Schechter,  Bloomfield Township. Michigan   3/26/13

To the casual observer  mallard ducks are pairing off in preparation for spring breeding.
Not so!
Fact of the matter is  mallard ducks tended to pair off back in autumn but only now  are they 
establishing  their  nesting territory across all of Oakland County and much of the United States.
These ubiquitous duck are recognized by the smallest of children and their great grandparents and
rightfully so, for the wild mallard duck is the ancestor for almost all our domestic duck species.
The mallards in the photo (above) swam among a tangle of branches in a populous 
suburban area of Oakland County within 100 feet  of the roar of a highway. 
 But for them the living is good in a human dominated world.
The backwaters habit is rich with  secluded places to build a nest and the
edge of the cattail marsh provides shelter and food and other ducks.
And for the snapping turtles that lurk in the pond muck some ducklings will become dinner.
That is nature's way.
  And  then there is sex. 
According  to the ornithologists of Cornell University "Mallard pairs are generally monogamous,
 but  paired males pursue females other than their mates."
Duck behavior sounds a bit like human behavior?
"Generally monogamous" leaves much open for interpretation, for mallards and for man.
Is that too nature's way?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Muskrat's Salute to Spring

All photos by Jonathan Schechter at Hawk Woods Nature Center/Oakland County, Michigan 3/17/13

The small partially frozen stream seemed lifeless.
I knew better and a flash of motion under the ice told me something was happening.

Moments later a furry brown shaped emerged in the open water.

The dawning of spring had supercharged a muskrat, a semi-aquatic mammal that wears a 
rich brown waterproof layer of fur.  Within seconds I was awe-struck watching this beautiful
 "water rat"swim back and forth with mouth loads of emergent vegetation.

The muskrats behavior reminded me of my own behavior when gathering wild blueberries. 
 Instead of taking all the blueberries home I stop to eat. And instead of dragging all the 
vegetation back to his small bank burrow under the ice this muskrat stopped to nibble.

Marshes, steams, shallow lakes and ponds and even drainage ditches are perfect habitat 
for the well-adapted muskrat.  Although they remained active all winter mostly hidden out of
 sight, during the early days of spring this mostly nocturnal mammal has spurts of increased
 activity and are often seen in daylight; a risky habit.
Time for one more bite of vegetation before slipping back under the ice and a quick paddle 
back to the burrow.  Moments later a sharp call drew my attention and I looked up noting a
 red-tailed hawk circled slowly overhead.  Perhaps those keen eyes in the sky had 
hoped for meaty treat to celebrate the dawn of spring.
One more seasonal change paddle about, perhaps searching for a small crustacean or
 sluggish frog with dreams of warmer days and a world full of fresh cattail shoots.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


photos by Jonathan Schechter

The waning day of winter and the dawn of spring means one thing: Night woods belong to the 
eastern striped skunk! A few days ago I hiked in the Hawk Woods Nature Center in Oakland County 
and was delighted with the new trailside  nature interpretive signage.  
"Chemical Warfare" caught my eye; a well worded sign about habits of skunks. 
But what really caught my attention were tracks less than ten feet from the sign!

 To the casual hiker the tracks may appear to mean nothing; but to a naturalist or skilled outdoor
 observer  those tracks told a tale.  A skunk had waddled across the landscape the night before  in its 
 typical  pattern leaving alternately paced oval prints partially obscured by the drag marks of the belly.
And where did the tracks end?
They ended under the boardwalk next to the sign; a den site most likely.

 As this photo from last summer shows skunks are usually mild tempered.  A skunk set up house 
keeping within my old barn and even during forced-relocation via a live trap it did not spray.  A word of
 caution is in order: If a skunk is encountered and rapidly stomps the ground you have been warned.
And when it spins about and raises its tail it is too late!
You know how that tale of woes ends: 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Ghost Forest of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

All photos by Jonathan Schechter  March 10, 2013
                     NOTE: These photos are meant to accompany my featured hiking column in 
the Sunday, March 17th edition of The Oakland Press

The ghost forest is a hauntingly beautiful  habitat within Sleeping Bear Dunes National
 Lakeshore. Sand dune migrate to the east from the wind-swept shores of Lake Michigan 
and  have swallowed forests and reshaped the landscape. As the dunes continue to move once 
buried trees are exposed again; thus the name ghost forest.  This ghost forest is found along the Sleeping Bear Point Trail that overlooks the Manitou Passage.

Several hundred yards from the leeward side of the ghost forest is a rich habitat of cedar and hemlock; a perfect place for porcupines to rest and dine.

After hiking up hill and passing through the cedar-hemlock forest the dunes are reached.

Six foot tall blue marker posts show the trail location, a trail of shifting sands

High winds have caused dune  blow-outs. Heavy winter rains filled them with water.

 Red fox are very much at home in the dune landscape

Deer live in the dunes and ghost forest habitat

As the dunes shift and move to the east, once buried forest emerge again

Dune grasses struggle to stabilize the shifting sands

Look closely, the six foot tall blue trail marking sign is buried by a dune on the move

Fresh shifting sands have buried a section of the trail----

--- and is setting the stage to create a new ghost forest.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Maple Season Memories!

Leelanau County, Michigan    March, 2013 photo by Jonathan Schechter

Maple sugaring season is well underway; a time when glistening drop of sap roll off metal 
spiles and create musical pings in tin buckets setting the stage for the ritual of sugaring.
  My love affair with traditional maple sugaring began long ago in the hills of Plainfield, 
Vermont as a nature-loving, trail-trekking hippie at Goddard College. 
It has never ended.

Forget the calendar, for once the days drifted above freezing the backbone of winter  broke.
We are in the season of emerging skunk cabbage plants in frozen marshes.
The season of the return of the turkey vultures and the song of the bluebirds.
And the time where rural dirt roads turn to car-swallowing mud.
( Vermonters call it mud season.)
Later this week I will tap my three maple trees on my Oakland County hillside and 
collect enough sap before month's end to create a pint of  sweet amber gold. 
But most importantly the art of sugaring  in mid-March brings back maple 
sugar memories and sets the stage for new spring adventures.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Mystery Tree Rock of Bald Mountain

Glacial erratic wedged into tree trunk at Bald Mountain/ photos by Jonathan Schechter

Bald Mountain State Recreation Area in northern Oakland County, Michigan 
encompasses almost 5,000 acres of glacially sculpted hills and lakes.  
Without much effort hikers can spot glacial erratics (boulders  ripped from the Canadian
 Shield and pushed south by the last great glacier some 12,000 years ago) along the trails
 and in the woods.
 Some weight just 50 pounds or so, others are tons. 
 But one ancient  and colorful glacial erratic formed millions if not billions of years ago
 before being moved and smoothed by the glacier is wedged in a tree trunk along the Graham 
Lake Trail.Without question the last glacier did not put the stone on a tree. 
The mystery remains: How many years ago did a human place the rock between the forked 
trunk of the tree?  All I know for sure is this rock is now firmly and permanently wedged 
between the trunks with the expanding bark sealing it in place.  


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Red-tailed hawk lunches in Royal Oak!

photo by Jerry Kunnath , Royal Oak, Michigan  March 5, 2013

Almost everyone that lives in Oakland County is familiar with the great variety of
 restaurants in  Royal Oak. On summer evening crowds pack the outside dining 
areas of Main Street.

Want variety in you menu?
Head to Royal Oak.
Want to eat a raw gray squirrel?
Head to Royal Oak!

The many urban trees of Royal Oak  have created  perfect nesting and breeding ground 
for gray squirrels, the squirrels that once dominated unbroken forests that stretched as far
 as the eye could see.
Over the years some gray squirrel populations have transformed  into an urban savvy species.  
But sometimes they become fat and careless. 

My fellow Michigan Outdoor Writers Association friend Jerry Kunnath noticed a crowd 
gathering on  the  edge of a Royal Oak street yesterday afternoon.  Jerry jumped from his 
car thinking there was some sort of confrontation between a young man and three young girls.  
And then he saw they were watching a hawk vs. squirrel drama unfold. 
He captured this image of the red-tailed hawk making  off with a super-sized dinner!
(And Jerry let the small crowd know it was not an eagle as some  had thought.)
Thanks for sharing the tale and photo Jerry!


Monday, March 4, 2013

The Robin Tree: A place of intoxication.

American Robin: Bald Mountain State Recreation Area/ March 3rd, 2013 
photos by Jonathan Schechter

   Robins do not herald the arrival of spring.
And sometimes they are drunk.
(Look closely at the eyes of the robin above)

Contrary to popular myth fueled by media madness proclaiming robins as "the first bird of spring", 
many robins in Oakland County (perhaps most) over-wintered among the shrubs, swales and 
sheltered areas of our diverse county, a landscape mosaic rich with food and excellent habitat. 

And as the winter passes they quite by accident sometimes get drunk. 

During winter  months these omnivorous birds feast on dried berries and fruits.  
AFTER spring thaw when worms come to the surface in suburban lawns they revert back
 their preferred foods of juicy worms; and that's when media goes mad reporting robin sightings.  
But here is fact you may not know, robins (cedar waxwings and other species too) will sometimes 
become more than  a bit tipsy and  appear woozy from feasting on fermented berries. 
 A harmless endeavour for them unless one  tumbles out of a tree and becomes cat chow.

A few days ago I hiked the Graham Lake Trail of the Bald Mountain State 
Recreation Area where I came upon what a fellow hiker dubbed The Robin Tree. 
A half dozen robins feasted on bittersweet berries and seemed to sway in the breeze.
I felt like telling the robins to lay off the berries and sober up; worm slurping time is near!

  woozy robin
sleepy robin
The "empties" of the bittersweet berries littered the ground.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Eastern bluebirds: & words of wisdom from Thoreau

                 "A man's interest in a single bluebird is worth more than a complete but dry list of
 the flora and fauna of a town" Henry David Thoreau
 all photos by Jonathan Schechter, March 2nd, 2013

If I had the honor to walk in woods with only one person that wrote of nature and wildness 
back in the 1800's without doubt Thoreau would get my nod.  His words are timeless and it 
was Thoreau's through writing that introduced me to the art of seeing more deeply
 into the world of nature back when I was a nature-hungry hippie in the woods and 
meadows of Plainfield, Vermont. 
I remain hungry.

Today on the second day of March his words spring back to life for me for eastern bluebirds, 
a much loved subject of Thoreau have appeared again in my meadows and trees and
 have discovered my freshly stocked suet feeder. Many eastern bluebirds overwinter in 
Michigan but now with longer daylight their activity is increasing and we see them more. 
The diverse habitat that surrounds my house if perfect for them and reminds me
 that the waning days of winter are here; something Thoreau wrote of 154 years ago today.

 On March 2, 1859, Henry David Thoreau wrote: "His soft warble melts in the ear, as the snow 
is melting in the valleys around. The bluebird comes and with his warble drills the ice and sets 
free the rivers and ponds and frozen ground ... the leading edge of spring."

 "The bluebird carries the sky on his back" Thoreau