The Wilder Side of Oakland County
Oakland County seasons do not always begin and end when the calendar says they should. The dawn of this winter was no exception as the temperature soared back into the sixties, leaving the landscape without snow, and lawns green. For those who appreciate winter’s subtleties and many moods, Winter remains a splendid time to embrace the great outdoor recreation opportunities found within our Oakland County Parks and around the county.
During the long nights and short days of January the world of nature is very much alive and trails are 100% mosquito free. In this leafless world of winter, wildlife is easier to spot along the trails if hikers walk slowly, stop often, look and listen. Even though winter limped lamely along into the New Year, birds that do not migrate have shifted into an overdrive of activity. Contrary to myth, not all Eastern Bluebirds fly south for winter. Many bluebirds have adapted to life in our county and they are easily lured to suet-rich feeders. As murky darkness descends in mid-January, the deep melodious courting calls of the Great Horned Owl can be heard wafting from pine woods as they establish breeding territories. Before the month ends, some Great Horned Owls will be on their nests. Much to the pleasure of birders the enigmatic Barred Owl, a ghost of the swamps, can sometimes be seen in the daylight hours perched near meadows and woods.
Dry cattails rattle in the wind along lakeshores and almost hide swimming muskrats that search for aquatic greens in a nearly ice-free world. Red squirrels and chipmunks continue to scamper on the fresh snow, appearing as playful as a two year old, but are always wary and alert for predators. Tracks in the snow tell the tales of coyotes and foxes on the hunt. Lucky, observant hikers may even discover large wing prints in the snow, dramatic evidence of a hawk or owl that swooped down for a meaty morsel. White-tailed deer are far from being snowbound, continuing their travels between swamps, woodlands and backyard bird feeders where they feed on seed spillage.
It will be another three weeks before meteorologists talk with breathless anticipation of Punxsutawney Phil and his predictions of seasonal changes to come. The facts are clear however, winter is here, so why not live it and love it.
Oakland County Parks offers miles of trails and open spaces that welcome winter hikers and snowshoers. Cross country ski and snowshoe rentals are available at Independence Oaks County Park, snow and weather conditions permitting. Kids love the 325-foot sledding hill at Waterford Oaks. Addison Oaks has over twenty miles of trail including nearly six miles of groomed trails for winter fat bike enthusiasts; some of which include scenic hills. Adventuresome explorers can hike, ski or snowshoe the back country trails of Highland Oaks and Rose Oaks County Parks in peaceful solitude amidst panoramic views.
Save the dates for the annual Fire & Ice Festival January 22 – 24. Held on the streets of Downtown Rochester, it’s fantastic family-friendly fun with dog sledding, ice skating, sledding and snowshoeing. Winter is here, LIVE IT! LOVE IT!
Text and photos by Jonathan Schechter, Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Parks.