Monday, April 21, 2014

EARTH DAY 2014: Round-lobed Hepatica Confirms Spring!

Round-lobed hepatica (Hepatica americana)  Photos by Jonathan Schechter 4/19/2014

The calendar and worm-slurping robins are  false prophets of spring. At the dawn of Earth Day 2014 snow still carpets large swaths of the northwoods of Michigan and frost remains deep in the earth.  But  in 'my' semi-wilds of Oakland County the season of  this never ending winter has come to an abrupt end.  Less than 72 hours before Earth Day I hiked across the glacially sculpted hills of Holly State Recreation Area, a 7,817 acre wildland managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in search of a particular   wildflower. The target of my of foray was the spring beauty ( Claytonia virginica), a delicate spring ephemeral wildflower also known as "fairy spud" for its tiny and tasty roots.  None were to be found, not yet. But proof  spring has finally taken root was confirmed in the emergence of round-lobed hepatica (Hepatica americana), one the earliest of our ephemeral wildflowers. These beauties were bathed in dabbled sunlight next to a glacial erratic that has graced a glacial moraine for some 11,000 years. Sunlight, soil moisture and nutrients are key factors in the early emergence of  hepatica and they fell perfectly into place for this clump of wild natural beauty at her finest.  However before the forest floor is shaded by a canopy of leafy deciduous trees, the ephemeral's blossoms will be gone; but the season of spring remains and the cycles of nature continue.

                      A  hill top clump of hepatica above a small glacial erratic.  J.S.S. photo

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Fish Planting with the Michigan DNR!

All photos by Jonathan Schechter:   Huron River/ Proud Lake State Recreation Area 3/31/2014

It was one of those days when everything went right even though boot-sucking mud was thick with slush 
and ice in  the woodlands of Oakland County.   A great adventure with the Fisheries Division of the  Michigan 
Department of Natural Resources was underway.  And I had front row seat. The late afternoon setting was a
a small dam on the Huron River within the Proud Lake State Recreation Area. The Huron sparkled in
afternoon sunlight, evergreens smelled like spring, chickadees sang their new season melody and excited  
children were invited to help release the rainbow and brown trout to the river.  Kids loved it! So did I.

                          The Huron at the site of the fish planting.  (One of my favorite local kayaking rivers!)



Monday, March 24, 2014

Garlic Mustard vs Skunk Cabbage: Wetland Wars and Adaptation

 Garlic mustard is a European exotic that has spread rapidly into 27 Midwestern and Northeastern States   
 and Canada and continues to spread into high quality woodlands upland and floodplain forests, not just     disturbed high-use  trail use areas.  Sadly garlic mustard alters habitat suitability for the success of  native flora and fauna.  I photographed these bright green just emerged garlic mustard leaves last weekend in a wooded wetland of the Oak Openings Preserve of Lucas County, Ohio. Of note is the young garlic mustard plants received  a head start on their growth season by  emergence adjacent to skunk cabbage (hooded reddish/yellow plant in photo),  a native plant that creates its own  heat and melts and pushes up through ice and snow before other plants and by that act created a more suitable habitat for  invasive garlic mustard.  .                     

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Not So Secrets Signs of Spring's Approach!

All photos by Jonathan Schechter,  March, 2014  
The ways of nature and dates on the calendar are not always in sync especially as restless humans wait for spring. But natural and behavioral signs confirm spring will arrive--but  more snow falls first.
Why stay in a cold tree den when 25 degree sunshine provides warmth for one raccoon?

Hepatic leaves on the south side of lofty oaks hint of pale blue blossoms to follow.

Skunk cabbage generates heat and melts through icy snow granting moss an early growth start.

A restless river crackles and moans as shifting ice lures a hiker to a bench for warm season dreams.

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~!