Polar Vortex Exploration at Draper Twin Lake Park

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” That memorable quote of Thoreau applied perfectly late last Thursday afternoon as I set out to explore Draper Twin Lake Park during the Polar Vortex. The temperature hovered at zero degrees. I resigned myself to the influence of the earth and with situational awareness in mind, and a brave nature-loving friend in tow, it was time for my first nature exploration winter hike at Draper. Continue reading

Mysteries of the Mighty Meadow Vole

A close up photo of a meadow vole in the dark.

Photo Credit: Phil Myers, Animal Diversity Web – http://animaldiversity.org

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Eastern coyotes loves meadow voles. So do red foxes. Our near blizzard-like conditions followed by sub-zero temperatures earlier this week did nothing to slow down their love affair with these tiny creatures that remain active all winter and thrive under a wintry blanket of snow. However, it’s a one way love affair because these slightly pudgy, meaty, mouse-sized morsels that we call voles are delectable delicacies for the wild canids that must continue to hunt no matter what Mother Nature brings. As a matter of fact, there is hardly a winter active predator in Oakland County that hasn’t developed a taste for the meadow voles in our wintry midst, and the local list of vole-snatchers includes owls, hawks, mink, weasels, opossums, skunks, raccoons, feral cats and domestic cats. Continue reading

Reptile Roundup and Winter Survival

A nature educator listens to questions from children gathered around aquariums on a table

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Nature in winter is an amazingly beautiful and at times mysterious place, especially when the temperature plunges well below the negative zero mark, as it did in the pre-dawn hours of the Blood Moon Eclipse. Some humans celebrated that onslaught of winter, while others acted like the world was about to end. We humans are endotherms, creatures that create heat internally. One could say we are actually walking heat-generating furnaces. Thanks to our physiologic adaptations, adaptations we share with many other mammals, we can pretty much maintain a nearly constant body temperature if properly attired and sheltered from frigid winds. We can also go inside. We can turn the heat up. And some of us can even fly off to exotic tropical locations. Continue reading

Black-capped Chickadees: Forest Warriors or Suburban Feeder Flirts?

A Black-capped Chickadee perches on the author's hand.

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Black-capped Chickadees are well adapted to life in the woodlands of Oakland County, and are equally comfortable living a suburban lifestyle. The secret of their success is adaptability and inquisitiveness, and during the cold months, a few tricks bestowed upon them through eons of evolution.

Chickadees may be found in any local habitat that has trees or woody shrubs, from our expansive State Recreation Area forests managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, to small brushy areas in our urban areas. During times of heavy snow, they often hunker down in sheltered swamps such as those at Lakeville Swamp Nature Sanctuary and Timberland Swamp Nature Sanctuary, two of my favorite Oakland County swamps managed by the Michigan Nature Association. When extreme cold grips the landscape, they may hunker down in abandoned woodpecker nesting cavities, knotholes on the leeward side of trees and occasionally excavate their own shelters in soft rotten wood. Continue reading

A Winter Picnic for Muskrats

A muskrat stands on two feet on a lake that's beginning to melt.

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

The woods fell silent last Friday afternoon as I slowly made my way along a seldom used trail, perfect conditions for my stealthy approach with a photographic mission in mind. My plan was very simple: photograph Black-capped Chickadees that frequent a sheltered thicket on a bluff that overlooks a small lake. I expected those boisterous little fellows to greet me with their cheerful chickadee-dee-dee melody. I was certain they would, for with the sky a radiant shade of blue and the mercury climbing over the fifty degree mark, the chickadees would be flitting about and singing like it was spring.

My stealthy approach failed and not a chickadee was in sight. Continue reading