Wednesday, February 19, 2014

COLD FACTS ON ICE SAFETY: A chilling first hand wake up reminder!

My snowshoe tracks leading from the beaver lodge to my plunge just yards from shore.
photos by Jonathan Schechter  2/15/2014
Oakland County,  Michigan

It happened four days ago.  It was a frigidly beautiful day and the third week the temperature had not climbed above the  freezing mark.  Deep snow added to the drama of the woods and wanderlust fever was running strong and so I set off with my camera to photograph a beaver lodge on the far side of a small lake in  a wildland of Oakland County. 

Less than 90 minutes after strapping on my snowshoes and walking across the lake  to explore the outside of the lodge I had a a bitter cold reminder on my return route across the ice that no ice is guaranteed safe ice. I was about 10 feet from the far shore - a glacial moraine - when suddenly there was no ice under the snow. I sank to my knees  in bitter cold water.  I leaned forward, spread my weight and crawled to shore. And of course I turned around to take a photo of my plunge hole.

Without unsettled weather streaming into Oakland County let my experience serve as a reminder that no one can safely judge the strength  of ice by its appearance or whether or not the ice is covered with snow.  Strength is based on many factors and in this case I failed to notice subtle warning signs there may have been a hidden spring.  There was.
Ice that forms over currents or streams or small hillside seeps is always dangerous and the insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process. And as I discovered ice near the shore is often weaker than ice further out.

(But I did get my beaver lodge photo and a cold dash of wild woods ice safety wisdom.)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Free Fishing Weekend is here: Perfect for kids, no license required!

photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources
     Winter free fishing weekend has arrived. Children, adults, residents and non-residents alike can
 all fish for free without a license in the State of Michigan on Saturday, February 15th and  Sunday February 16th.  The only stipulation is fishing regulations must be followed and Recreation Passport is required to enter a  Michigan State Park or 
State Recreation Area with a vehicle.
 This special DNR event occurs twice a year to introduce everyone to the pleasures of fishing.
(The summer free fishing weekend will be June 7th and 8th)

"Michigan is home to many fun and family friendly activities  during the cold months and  fishing is definitely among the most popular," said DNR director Keith Creagh."Our Winter Free Fishing Weekend is a great time for people to  get outdoors and explore the broad range of  Pure Michigan fishing opportunities. There is something for everyone - 
on your own or with a friend or the family." 

Fishing events are scheduled  across the State to encourage involvement and many make it easier for children that have never ice fished. Two Oakland County sites with special events are Seven Lakes State Park in Holly Township ( Ice Fishing Derby) and Bald Mountain State Recreation Area in Orion Township  has "Into to Ice Fishing" that includes instructions and loan of gear. 
 For full details on all Free Fishing Weekend events across the state visit Open the 2014 Official  Events Link and look for your county.
Seven Lakes and Bald Mountain even loan ice fishing equipment for this event.
Or be like my young experienced fisher friend Ryan ( below) and find your own lake!
    Happy Ryan Burkeen with a northern pike from an Oakland County Park
Visit  Destination Oakland

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Groundhogs: Tree-climbing false prophets of winter!

A tree climbing groundhog,  Oakland County, Michigan (late spring 2013)  photo J. Schechter

       On  Sunday, February 2nd a famous tree-climbing,  media-hog of a rodent on the slightly
 chubby side with the name of Punxsutawney Phil will be pulled from his burrow in Pennsylvania 
and  displayed to cheering crowds and TV cameras and be called upon to predict the weather. 
If Phil casts his shadow legend has it that winter is here to stay for six more weeks.

SECRET FACT: Listen up folks!
 Even is there is no shadow spring is a long way away. Groundhogs are still in hibernation
 with only four or five heartbeats a minute, a drastic drop  from the normal rate of 80-100. 
And their body temperature is still hovering just a few  degrees above freezing.  
Shadow looking on the 2nd?  I do not think so! 

Any doubt that the groundhog - also known as a woodchuck - is a member of the squirrel family should evaporate with one glance at this young chuck in a tree; a photo I took last spring at the edge of my woods.  This well known rodent, also known as a whistle-pig due to its shrill  warning call is the largest member of the squirrel family, belonging  to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. Many homeowners consider them pests due to their gluttonous habits.
 But groundhogs  are loved by coyotes, fox and red-tailed hawks---as plump dinner entrees.

Love them or hate them Groundhogs Day is the day nature lovers and city dwellers 
 take time to salute this creature and celebrate the great winter weather myth~!