Wilder Side of Oakland County
Walk slowly, stop often, and listen. I have been sharing those six words of advice with friends and blog followers that inquire how I manage to find so many species of wildlife to photograph. “Such cool stuff,” as one Facebook follower said. Critter encounters remain exciting and sometimes totally unexpected in November. The best viewing opportunities are the days between the leaves falling and snow carpeting the earth. Many creatures; winged, furry, feathered and a few with scales, are active trail side and often hidden in plain sight. Walking briskly along while chatting with friends, or walking silently staring down at a smartphone, is not the way to discover the Wilder Side of Oakland County.
If you walk slowly, stop often and listen, here is what happens:
The conscious act of walking slowly heightens senses and alertness soars. Stopping, even when nothing appears to be in sight, forces the seeker of wildlife to look about. When we listen, something else happens. In addition to acute audio awareness, we find ourselves visually scanning the environment and that is when the ways of nature unfold.
Leaves may suddenly rustle and there is no wind. What’s there?
A gnawing sound from the trees.
More likely than not a Red Squirrel with a black walnut.
An explosive burst of loud pounding.
This may indicate the largest woodpecker in North America. The magnificent Pileated Woodpecker, a species that is becoming more common in Oakland County with the abundance of dead ash trees, is no longer a rare sight.
A sudden movement draws attention.
What’s that seemingly out of place shape amidst the tall grasses? A White-tailed Deer watching, all but hidden in plain sight is also practicing slow movement, stopping often and listening.
Trumpeting in the air, but where?
Stand still and wait. This is the season Sandhill Cranes migrate, and Oakland County offers refueling stops.
The list is endless, and every now and then a real surprise comes along. That happened to me last weekend at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as I led a small group on a woodland hike. I had just reminded them as their noise level and social chatter increased, that they must be quiet if we are to find wildlife. Barely five minutes later as we silently walked under evergreens we suddenly saw a shape out of place moving along the trail, and it seemed to glisten. A Porcupine that was not yet aware of our presence foraged in front of us. For the next five minutes we froze in place and watched. It was its quills in the sunlight that made Michigan’s most prickly rodent shine.
November is not the time to hibernate, unless perhaps you are a 13-lined ground squirrel or a groundhog. It’s a time to explore the trails and pathways of Oakland County, and discover the wildlife that remains active in our midst. Walk slowly, stop often, and listen.
Text and photos by Jonathan Schechter, Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Parks.