Saturday, December 7, 2013
Muskrats: Masters of winter survival and cozy construction!
|Photos by Jonathan Schechter, Oakland County, Michigan |
The muskrats of Michigan are perfectly adapted to their semi-aquatic life style. And just like their much larger cousin the beaver, they are pros at constructing cozy lodges. But unlike beavers that built large lodges from sections of trees they gnawed down and branches they gathered, muskrat uses wetland vegetation as building material. Lodges have an underwater entrance and a cozy above water level feeding platform. Most of the winter is spent in the lodge sleeping and keeping warm and sometimes the lodge is even shared with other muskrats. Muskrats the live in areas devoid of abundant vegetation have another trick; they dig burrows into banks and create subterranean homes. Predation hazards remain in winter for all muskrats; for they are hunted by mink and on days when muskrats venture above the ice or snow they can fall victim to red-tailed hawks. But for most of winter they are safe for they have another neat trick of adaption. Not long after the ice forms they chew though thin ice to create an opening and then build a tiny lodge of mud and vegetative matter on top of the ice known to wildlife biologists as "push-ups". The push-ups function as small feeding stations and secure resting areas when on underwater forays for food away from their main lodge. The push ups remind me of the back country shelters that add to the comfort and safety of hikers on the Appalachian Trail!
To some the muskrat is nothing but a large pesky field mouse. But to those that know this amazing "water rat", it's a cleaver creature that makes the best of its harsh environment. The muskrat even has four chisel like teeth that protrude ahead of its cheeks and lips that seal tightly behind the teeth enabling this amazing well adapted creature to chew on vegetation underwater with its mouth closed or swim on the surface with a mouthful of veggies!
Sunday, December 1, 2013
Oakland County Coyote Nests?
|Eastern coyote caught on my wildlife camera in Brandon Township, Michigan|
(The mound behind the coyote is a large anthill)
The heading in The Oakland Press front page story screamed, "2 Coyotes spotted in recent weeks". I decided to sit down and read the story since there is absolutely nothing unusual about coyotes being in Oakland County. The eastern coyote, our native wild canid, is found in every county in the State of Michigan including our highly urbanized areas. So why the news story about a coyote being seen in Oakland County?
I cringed as I read the rest of the story about coyotes in the Village of Lake Orion as if that was a rare event. The story included a police officer stating that he believed the "the coyote had a nest in someones backyard".And from the Lake Orion Village Police Chief ,"While coyote are typically afraid of humans the fact they are nesting closer to neighborhoods means they could get more comfortable with that environment." Fact of the matter is we are "nesting" in their habitat and have created a mecca of more good habitat for them with our landscaping techniques interspersed with woodlands and fields.
Coyotes are very much a part of the natural scene in Oakland County and are adapting to our ways faster than we learn about their ways. Sightings increase in December primarily because with leaves down we can see them! During summer and autumn the leafy cover of Oakland County provided great cover. As for coyote nests; I have seen bird nests and mouse nests and squirrel nests but never a coyote nest. Coyotes establish large territories and during spring dig dens for raising pups.
Want something to fear?
Fear the texting and distracted drivers that infest our highways leading to injuries and deaths. Fear the drunk drivers. Fear aggressive off-leash dogs.When it comes to coyotes, learn about their behavior and how we should behave if we come in close contact. Rule number one is never ever run from a coyote. Keep them fearful of humans by standing your ground, yelling, throwing things and never ever giving access to a food source. Keep coyotes wild by respecting their wild ways!
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
A Salute to John Muir on Thanksgiving.
|Beaver-felled black cherry tree in Oakland County, Michigan Nov 23, 2013|
photo by Jonathan S. Schechter
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” - John Muir
John Muir was an keen-eyed early advocate of the preservation of wilderness in the United States. His words are timeless. His enthusiasm for nature's way and his understanding of the relationship of man to nature is evident to anyone that reads his words. There is a spiritual quality in his
writings that inspired readers and fueled the energy of early day and present day naturalists. No one can deny his writings helped create an awareness of wildness in America and was paramount in the early protection of wild tracks of land. On Thanksgiving Day why not take a walk in the woods and appreciate the wonders of our natural world, for as Muir so thoughtfully penned, "When one tugs at a single thing in nature he finds it attached to the rest of the world."
Friday, November 22, 2013
ROSE OAKS COUNTY PARK: A trail tale of bluebirds and a beaver lodge.
|Rose Oaks County Park photos by Jonathan Schechter November/2013|
Rose Oaks County Park is a wildland gem of the Oakland County Park System, 640 acres of woodland and wetlands nestled away in the glacially sculpted landscape of northwestern Oakland County. Today's blog post supplements with photos my featured hiking column that appears in the Sunday, November 24 edition of The Oakland Press. The column can be found in the print edition and online at the Oakland Press website: www.theoaklandpress.com (Type my name in the search box and the most recent column appears) The Rose Oaks column explores the newly expanded equestrian-friendly trail system with special attention to a surprise encounter with eastern bluebirds.
A casual glance may only reveal a beaver lodge with freshly gnawed sticks on top. But look up high on the left above the lodge and there perches a bluebird. One of the most pervasive misconceptions about bluebirds is that they all migrate south for winter. That facts confirmed by keen-eyed observers tell the true story; many bluebirds over winter right here in Oakland County in protected habitat that provide berries that persist well into winter. Rose Oaks County Park is such a place, a natural wonder of nature rich with berry producing shrubs, wetland swales and the meadows and forest edge that bluebirds love.
The bluebird now zoomed in on with a telephoto lens. The sky blue colors had been noted by Henry David Thoreau long ago when he penned his simple and accurate words, "The bluebird carries the sky on his back". And on the gray November day I hiked the 4.5 miles or Rose Oak trails the sighting of bluebirds added happiness to my solo trek. When you hike with bluebirds you are not hiking alone.
Moments after spotting the first bluebird a downy woodpecker appeared behind the bluebird and set to work in the seasonal search for bugs and grubs behind the bark of the trees next to the beaver lodge
LESSON LEARNED: An apparent desolate scene is just an illusion of human reality. Hike a trail with an eye for seeing and the world of nature comes alive even in the fading days of autumn. For details on exploring all 13 Oakland County Parks visit: www.DestinationOakland.com
Saturday, November 9, 2013
A Swamp-Loving Tree of Smoky Gold
|Tamarack trees shimmer in smoky gold in an Oakland County wetland (photos by J. Schechter)|
To the Chippewa the tree that turns smoky gold in later autumn was known as 'muckigwati' a word that translated as swamp tree. And that name is just perfect for the tamarack is most commonly found in wetlands, swamps and sphagnum bogs of glacial origin. The tree is unique in the fact that although it resembles other evergreens during spring, summer and early autumn it is a deciduous conifer and sheds all its needles every year in late autumn. In Oakland County (Michigan) the tamaracks have just reached their transformation peek from pale green to smoky gold and are about to shed their needles!
The tamarack holds the Latin name Larix laricina and is also known as the both the eastern larch and the American larch.
Tamarack needles are in brush-like tufts and their cones are less than one inch long
According to Aboriginal Plant Use in Canada’s Northwest Boreal Forest the inner bark of tamarack is used as a poultice in treating wounds, frost bite,
boils and hemorrhoids an the outer bark is used as a treatment for arthritis and colds. A tea from the bark has been used as a tonic and laxative and skin ailments Old literature and notes mention that the inner bark when crushed has been used with success on sores and burns. My friend, Sakoieta Widrick, a native American and instructor of Aboriginal Studies and Mohawk Language in Ontario emphasized "The Indigenous nations use of trees, plants and
other grasses and bushes was only part of a healing formula. There was a
ceremony that had to be done, asking the tree for permission
to use it for healing purposes as well as taking those ingredients at
the proper time during a yearly cycle which would insure the medicinal
use was at its strongest. In this way medicines were used by the Native
people of North America."
photos by Jonathan Schechter at Independence Oaks & Highland Oaks County Parks
There are few trees as beautiful as a tamarack suddenly laced in gold against a brilliant blue sky.
Sadly many humans are unaware of the natural seasonal transformation of the tamarack and wonder
if perhaps a blight has yellowed their beloved evergreen when they note the rapid color change.
Others have gone a step further and cut down their trees; only to discover later their horrific error.
And that is why I wrote this blog, to share the wonders of our swamp tree that turns smoky gold.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Roadside Cafe: Saga of a red-tailed hawk and a rabbit.
|All photos by Jonathan Schechter 10/21/13 Brandon Township, Michigan|
I was just a few hundred yards from my house driving home on my rural hard-packed dirt road when a sudden movement caught my eye; a large bird flew out of the ditch and landed in a tree perhaps 20 feet from where his take off point was located. I slowed as I approached and quickly noticed it was red-tailed hawk, a young one I think. As I reached for my camera in the car's back seat and squinted into the sunlight I could see he seemed to be swallowing
and something - a little piece of meat - dangled from his mouth.
I watched through the car window for another few minutes until the watchful hawk grew
uneasy at my roadside loitering and flew to the limb of another further away tree.
I then drove slowly to the spot from which he had first appeared.
The facts on the ground told the rest of the story.
A bloodied eastern cottontail rabbit was sprawled on his back in a most unglamorous pose and was most obviously the tasty late afternoon entree at this hawk's roadside cafe. The rabbit did not appear to be pancake-flat as is the usual case when crushed by a car. My best guess is the rabbit was captured at the edge of my neighbor's closely cropped lawn and dropped by the hawk when trying to fly with his heavy prey.
I left so the hawk could finish his fine dining at this Oakland County (Michigan)
all you can eat roadside cafe where all the food is fresh --- and served very rare.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
65 miles of trails: Hike your Oakland County Parks!
|photos by Jonathan Schechter |
The first snow flurries have laced the northern reaches of Oakland County. Nature's late October artistry is at her finest. The woods are alive with the refreshing scents, sounds and sensational smells of autumn. Go hike! You need not be a mountaineer, or rush off to a pricey outfitter for high tech equipment and survival gear to enjoy the trails. Just visit one of our Oakland County Parks and you will find an incredible mix of trails waiting for your feet. Many of the most popular trails are located at Addison (Addison has equestrian friendly trails) and Independence Oaks County Parks. There are trails that are paved and flat and perfect for slow paced strolls and there are glacial sculpted trails that are hilly and rough and great for muscle and lung conditioning jaunts into the wilder side of Oakland County. Or head to Rose Oaks for an even more primitive experience. Want to know more? Explore www.DestinationOakland.com for details on all 13 Oakland County Parks and links for park locations, trails, regulations and special events.
Head for the hills and find your trail!
Crooked Lake at Independence Oaks County Park