Sunday, August 18, 2013

Fantastic Fungi of Oakland County: One for the skillet, another produces visions of Santa and flying reindeer!

All photos by Jonathan Schechter  Above and below: Amanita muscaria

Late summer is the perfect time to forage woods, fields and meadows for nature's treats in the wilds of Oakland County: Jerusalem artichoke roots fatten. Apples ripen on old farm trees gone wild. Sunny trail blackberries will soon stain my tongue.  And  nestled away in Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore my secret patch of blueberries calls my name. I must answer that call soon before their black bears feast on all the berries we both love.

And then there are the mushrooms of late summer.
Unless you know them and know them well, leave all wild mushrooms  alone. 
All of them.

One of the most beautiful of  mushrooms is the Amanita muscaria, also known as the fly agaric. It is now emerging  under some canopies of evergreens in Oakland County. Some  patches are hidden away in our larger wilder parks, others just yards from suburban landscapes that have not been raped with mowers and poisoned with herbicides.   The Amanita is rich with fantastic lore and amazing truths and has been credited - perhaps properly - in creating the myth of flying reindeer and a jolly fat man in a red suit. When consumed, it can cause an intense psychedelic experience and is looked at as one of the most potent psychedelic mushrooms on our planet. They contain potent hallucinogenic compounds and were used by  some cultures for  transcendental experiences. The Amanita muscaria is a shroom that was historically consumed by Lapland herders and mystics and were also fed on in the wild by reindeer resulting in the expected effects of stumbling and prancing and visual distortions.  Prancing?  Sound familiar?  And perhaps you know of a red-nosed reindeer that flies!  These colorful mushrooms are still used today to illustrate  fairy tales, children’s storybooks, cartoons and most notably Christmas cards and Christmas ornaments.

When the Amanita first emerges (see photo below)  it looks like many other species; thus the potential for severe poisoning  The specimen below was photographed by me yesterday ( August 17)  just over the county line a few yards from a suburban home. The mature specimen (above) is from mid-September two years ago in a patch of woods about  two  hundred feet from my door.  

Amanita muscaria

Giant puffball in my yard August 18, photo by Jonathan Schechter

Calvatia gigantea is commonly known as the Giant puffball, and it is a true giant among the mushrooms. It grows rapidly sometimes appearing almost overnight in suburban yards.  (And contrary to rumor these odd beauties are not alien pods harboring strange life forms waiting to emerge! ) This tasty (when properly prepared)  mushroom is found in meadows, fields, and deciduous forests worldwide usually appearing in late summer or early autumn. In Oakland County conditions are perfect right now!  Giant puffballs are also  common throughout Europe and  much of North America and about the only thing it can be confused with when mature is a soccer ball. But when it is small and first emerging from the soil it can be confused by a novice with the potentially dangerous Amanita. A word to the wise!

There are many ways to prepare puffballs, but my favorite is cutting the mushrooms into small cubes to be simmered with vegetables , or sliced and fried in seasoned olive oil as a side with with breakfast eggs.  And keep in mind the inside of this mushroom species must be pure white, if the color has even a hint of yellow or any shade--time to toss. 

Eat hearty but forage cautiously my friends!   

Friday, August 9, 2013

Osprey attacks great blue heron: GET OFF MY NEST!

The initial blow knocks the heron upside down
All photos by Jane Purslow except for photo of heron being released

On August lst a great blue heron at Kensington Metropark made a near fatal mistake and landed on the osprey nesting platform on Kent Lake. Mistaking the hapless heron for a threatening predator, the resident ospreys mounted a fierce defense of their nest and attacked without hesitation toppling the heron in the water. What is so amazing is this incident was witnessed by birders armed with cameras.  Birders often gather on shore with telephoto lens to watch the osprey raise their young and witnessed and recorded this dramatic encounter between two native and protected predatory bird species. The heron was quickly out of the contest. A call for help went out to nearby Heavner Canoe rental to attempt to rescue the great blue heron floundering in the water. I am grateful Huron-Clinton Metroparks shared Jane Purslow's amazing photos with me. Thank you!
Not  a happy heron.

Note osprey swooping in for another attack!

Nick Rudofski of Heavener Canoe and osprey watcher Lou Waldock paddled a canoe to the  injured bird and took it shore for transport to the Howell Nature Center’s Wildlife Clinic, where waiting staff  attended to a gash on the head and treated it for shock. The bird recuperated for a week at Howell Nature Center before being deemed healthy enough to be released back at Kensingon on August 9th.  
Photo courtesy of Kensington Metropark

Staff from Kensington Metropark and the Howell Nature Center released the bird from the public boardwalk on Wildwing Lake at Kensington Metropark, not far as the heron flies from where the attack occurred. The heron quickly flew off, rested briefly on the water and then returned to the nearby rookery. “We are grateful for our osprey watchers, as well as Heavener Canoe and Howell Nature Center, who all pitched in to help this beautiful bird return to Kensington,” said Kimberly Jarvis, Huron-Clinton Metroparks western district park superintendent.  ( And I will add that I bet this heron will never try to land on an osprey nesting platform again, especially an osprey that is a ninja warrior!)
Located along the Huron and Clinton Rivers, the Huron-Clinton Metroparks provide a natural oasis from urban and suburban life as well as year-round recreational activities and events. The Metroparks consist of 13 beautiful parks covering nearly 25,000 acres, ten spectacular public golf courses and two marinas on Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair, respectively. The parks also offer scenic nature trails, breathtaking beaches, educational activities and exciting winter sports.  A vehicle entry permit is required to enter any Metropark and is only $25 annually for regular admission, $15 annually for seniors, or $5 daily. General information can be found at or by calling 1-800-47-PARKS. 
 The Howell Nature Center's Wildlife Rehabilitation program celebrated 30 years in service to injured and orphaned animals in 2012. It is the largest and most comprehensive program of its kind in Michigan, and is recognized across the country for its specialization in raptors, or birds of prey. The Nature Center cares for 2,300 injured and orphaned animals every year, with the bulk of those intakes coming in May, June and July.