WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
November is upon us once again, an excellent time of the year to get outside and enjoy all the wonders of the wilder side of Oakland County. The fields, forests, wetlands, wildlands and trails bring unique sights, sounds and smells and enjoyable wildlife encounters in a mosquito free environment with the cascading fall of colorful leaves nearing its end, new vistas unfold, exposing the geology and glacial history of our county. It’s time to arm yourself with a camera, and perhaps bring along the family or a good friend and seek out seasonal secrets of nature’s way before snow blankets the landscape.
November is the month of rapidly changing weather, infinite variety and a quickening pace in the world of wildlife. Bucks are on the move and sniff the air as they seek romance, but pause warily at signs or scents of danger. If we walk slowly, stop often, and look and listen to our surroundings, and seek out “shapes out of place”, or listen for a sudden sound in the brush, or the unexpected crackle of leaves when there is no wind, encounters bring photographic rewards.
This is the season of the last of the yellow jackets and bald-faced hornets that take advantage of the plethora of fermented fruit and berries found under fruit trees. Birds seek out those fruits too, and sometimes their behavior becomes odd and rather erratic. They seem to fumble and stumble and have trouble taking flight. Nature’s creatures, like humans, can be affected by drinking too much hard cider, or munching on fermented berries.
Walk down by a wetland in beaver habitat and the signs of their winter home improvements will be noted. Trees have been felled to gain access to limbs that are then gnawed into smaller sections and added to an underwater pantry before ice forms and seals the ponds. Fresh mud fills in spaces between branches and logs of the beaver lodge, and it keeps inquisitive creatures at bay.
Squirrels are in overdrive, scurrying from tree to tree to harvest and store their crops, with red squirrels favoring the cones of spruce trees, while the fox and gray squirrels gather the tree nuts of walnuts, oaks and hickories. A bit of carelessness when pausing to feast during their shopping frenzy, or to watch a human intruder, gives Red-tailed Hawks and the occasional red fox a chance for a meaty treat. That too is nature’s way.
Sandhill Cranes have adapted well to life in our county and loiter here as long as they can easily find food. The early days of November have many of these red-capped beauties scrounging fields for seeds, tubers, insects and even mice. Others stalk around decoratively placed corn stalks in county parks and peck at the nutritious road side snack.
Great flocks of geese have gathered to graze on golf course greens and manicured park lawns and will continue to do so until the cold winds of November bring heavy snows and signal its time to fly further south. The abundance of geese now gathered in one place attracts eastern coyotes at night.
The trailsides of our county are delightfully laced with colorful leaves, late fall fungi emergence and small vernal ponds that reflect the naked branches of trees. Many of these now exposed vernal ponds are the final resting places for fallen leaves that seem reluctant to give up their color. Five months will pass before those vernal ponds will erupt with the quack-like choruses of wood frogs and then spring back to life with masses of mating salamanders. This is November, the time for slumber at the vernal ponds. With leaves down and our line of sight greatly increased as a result, glacial boulders seem to appear almost magically, a reminder of the great forces that shaped the wilder side of our county. More subtle reminders of the seasonal change also appear: the silky parachutes of milkweed pods drifting in gusty winds, and kettles of soaring turkey vultures heading south.
Although the seasonal scenery has changed, the lure of our counties wilds has not: a fact celebrated by hikers, mountain bikers, trail runners and equestrians that may have loved the warm season, but stay active in the transitional month of November. Many of them await the moment that whirling and swirling snows, pushed by great gusts of winds, strip the last of the leaves from most of the trees, leaving only evergreen needles and withered oak leaves to cover the branches till spring. That late November weather change won’t keep them indoors. It stirs them, and me, into new outdoor activity.
November. It’s a season to celebrate. It’s not the time to curl up like a woodchuck in its den and snooze and wait for spring. There are hundreds of miles of easily accessible trails and thousands of acres of publicly owned wildlands in our county. Find your park! Find your trail! Go hike with your eyes and ears alert for memorable moments of nature. Fields and meadows turn golden in the late afternoon sun of early November and good things happen for those that seek nature’s way. What’s that moving amidst the dry stalks of goldenrod? A pair of barely visible antlers gave the answer, and when I froze in place to watch, a buck walked out of the field and tried to size up what that was sitting motionlessly against a tree: me.
Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.
The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.
And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question ‘Whither?’
Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?
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.