Eastern Bluebirds On the Dawn of Summer

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

With its brilliant royal blue back, and rusty-red brown breast there is no mistaking a male Eastern Bluebird. They are heralded as one of the first Oakland County birds of spring. Naturalists and writers have long associated the arrival of bluebirds with spring. On March 2, 1859, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The bluebird comes and with his warble drills the ice and sets free the rivers and ponds and frozen grounds.” It is now the 23rd day of June in 2017 and the heat of the summer has already arrived. Bluebirds keep warbling, not to melt ice, but to announce round two of their nesting season. The fact of the matter is clear, many of our bluebirds did not migrate and ate old berries and fruits all winter, with occasional visits to suet feeders.

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Oakland County’s Highway Patrol: Red-Tailed Hawks

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

I first become aware of Red-tailed Hawks in rural Connecticut. I was a five or six-year-old nature-hungry kid running barefoot through the meadow that led to a musty barn full of magical things, and then it was on to my favorite forbidden destination: “grandma’s shack”. Red-tails soared above the meadow and I fell in love with their sharp cry. My dad told me that the neighbors called them, chicken hawks. He liked them; so did I. I vaguely remember the horror of seeing some hanging dead on fences. Those are my first recollections of any bird of prey. But the history of birds of prey, and the way humans interacted with them go back thousands of years to the sport of falconry.

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Woodpeckers: Master Excavators of Oakland County

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

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Adult male Pileated Woodpecker searches for bugs and beetles in a dead Oakland County tree

Winged, wood-whacking, carpenters have been practicing their craft all spring. Evidence of their excavation skills is abundant, but sometimes almost hidden in plain sight. Contrary to myth, woodpeckers do not get headaches from banging away on a tree, a telephone pole, or the wood siding of a home. These master craftsmen have evolved powerful neck muscles, thick skulls and chisel-like bills that let them chip away at tree trunks with ease as they search out bugs, or create the perfect nesting cavity. Woodpeckers have a special skull bone, the hyoid bone, which functions a bit like a seat-belt for their brain. Their hyoid bone design diverts impact and vibrations away from the cranium and the woodpecker pounds on, free from headaches.

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The Drum Beats of Spring: Michigan’s Exotic Dancer

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

DSCN0519I was hunkered down against the moist moss at the base of tree near the edge of a tamarack swamp at Indian Springs Metropark. It was about two hours after sunrise. My mission was simple and pleasurable. Sip coffee from a thermos; and wait to see what creatures stirred. Sitting motionlessly in promising habitat, and just listening, is my favorite method of intentional wildlife encounters. I expected turkeys, perhaps a deer, or maybe even a dramatic appearance of the red-crested forest giant, a Pileated Woodpecker. I did not expect an encounter with a beautiful exotic dancer in the dappled sunlight of a spring morning. But as John Muir once penned, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” You will discover more than you seek along the trail system that meanders through prairies, woodlands and swamp habitats of 2,215 acre Indian Springs Metropark. You might even meet the dancing drummer, a Ruffed Grouse. Go early, when the park is most peaceful. And check out their Environmental Discovery Center before heading home.

A faint, slightly muffled sound seemed to come from a tangled thicket of branches at the edge of the tamarack woods. The sound quickly snared my attention. Perhaps the sound could be best described as an old lawn mower engine struggling to start. Almost a minute of silence, except for the chatter of chickadees that flitted overhead followed, and then that odd chug-chugging sound increased in tempo and perhaps volume, or maybe it was my concentration that made the sound seem louder. My friend, the exotic dancer, the woodland drummer, was back. And if you have ever witnessed a Ruffed Grouse drum on a log to entice the ladies, well, that drumming dance is about as exotic as they come.

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AMERICAN GOLDFINCH: Adapting for Survival & Late Summer Nesting

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

IMG_6932On a desert island in the heart of the Galapagos archipelago, Darwin received his first inklings of the theory of evolution by observing the variations of finch beaks. His awareness led to later confirmations that through the process of evolution and natural selection, species physically change and adapt to the landscape they inhabit. This endless process of evolutionary change, or survival of the fittest, continues today. (The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner presents an exciting and compelling modern day look back at the process of evolution, a process that is neither rare nor slow and is never ending.) Continue reading