WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
Indian Springs Metropark sparkles with adventure during the sultry days of summer. The “Spray ‘n’ Play” area keeps toddlers and children cool – and mom and dad happy. Beautiful picnic areas are abundant. Golfers purse their passion on a challenging 18-hole course. A paved bike trail embraces prairie areas and woodlands.
The Environmental Discovery Center is a nature-lovers delight rich with nature displays and scientific facts. This 2,215 acre parkland located just nine miles northwest of Pontiac, managed by Huron-Clinton Metroparks, has excellent habitat for the Compass Plant, the 13-lined Ground Squirrel and the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake.
This is their habitat story from the “Wilder Side Of Oakland County“:
Indian Springs provides more than just a glimpse of what the landscape of Oakland County and much of Southeast Michigan looked like more than a century ago; it has tall grass, prairie remnants, with perhaps the Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum ) being the most obvious species. This sunflower-like plant grows 10 to 12 feet tall and towers over other flora in the Environmental Discovery Center prairie area, a restored landscape managed with carefully planned, prescribed fires.
The Compass Plant’s flower is an eye-catching, slow-growing prairie flower that excites children and adults as they meander along the child-friendly discovery center trails. As for the intriguing name Compass Plant, early pioneers pushing west in covered wagons across the tall grass prairie noticed that the large leaves oriented themselves in north-south direction on hot sunny days.
The 13-lined Ground Squirrel (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus); is a seldom seen sleek creature that is sometimes confused with the Eastern Chipmunk. Both creatures are about the same size, with the 13-lined ground squirrel appearing sleeker, and it has 13 stripes that alternate between white dots and solid white stripes separated by dark bands. The far more common chipmunk has five bold stripes.
The ground squirrel is a very fast creature, and a wary hunter-gatherer. Seeds of all sorts, grasshoppers, a wide variety of other insects, bird eggs and mice all qualify as entrees. Loss of habitat is the biggest survival threat to the 13-lined ground squirrel, for its high-state of alertness usually keeps it one step ahead of hungry hawks, foxes and coyotes. When feeling threatened by a predator, or human, it quickly plunges down strategically located escape tunnels perhaps thinking, “Now you see me, now you don’t!” The accompanying photo was lucky timing, for my camera was already in hand when the ground squirrel suddenly appeared at the edge of the entrance sidewalk to the Environmental Discovery Center.
The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) is the only venomous snake of Michigan. The massasauga lead a docile existence in pockets of remaining good habitat hidden away in our midst, critical habitat that is becoming increasingly fragmented, threatening the very existence of the species. The massasauga is classified as a species of “Special Concern” in Michigan and is protected by law and is a candidate for federal listing.
The landscape and land management practices of Indian Springs Metropark provides well for this camouflaged reptile. Our reclusive “swamp rattlers”, as they are sometimes called, remain in the rolling hill uplands of the park for most of the summer. In September they begin to return to the nearby wetlands in search of crayfish burrows for hibernation. During that slithering journey, and sometimes earlier, they may pause on warm paved trails and bask in the sun.
On the rare occasion a bite occurs in Oakland County, it is almost always provoked and on the dominate hand of the offending human. Practice “live and let live” and all will be good in the wilder side habitat of Oakland County.
Jonathan Schechter is the Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Government and blogs weekly about nature’s way, trails, and wildlife on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.