Green Dinosaurs and Orange Meadowhawks: Secrets of Springfield Oaks

Springfield Oaks

Wilder Side of Oakland County

“Wherever I go, I see little bits of nature, little bits of animal behavior. And nobody else is watching…”  Those are the words of iconic conservationist Jane Goodall in her 2018 interview titled, “Living with Chimps” that appears in the BBC publication, Science Focus. I had just finished reading the text of her interview last Friday about her controversial career and how her observations transformed the way we see our primate cousins. It was then time to head off to Springfield Oaks County Park for the grand opening of the 2018 Oakland County Fair. Jane Goodall was not on my mind nor was wildlife observation, but sometimes things change quickly.

Springfield Oaks County Park is not where folks generally go to embrace the wilds of nature or seek solitude. Springfield Oaks bustles with popular crowd oriented activities. The Oakland County Parks website makes no mention of passive nature exploration at their 333-acre multi-use park, but quite correctly boasts of the crowd-attracting venues:

“Springfield Oaks is home of the historic Ellis Barn and annual Oakland County Fair, which draws 100,000+ visitors annually to the 10-day event. The 1884 Ellis Barn is 14,000-square-feet and features an indoor riding arena, 11 box stalls, mechanical exercise ring and cavernous second floor for hay and straw. The barn was donated by former major league baseball players Kirk Gibson and Tim Birtsas and moved from its original located on Dixie Highway to Springfield Oaks in 2005. Today, the barn is used to host weddings and special events like the Ellis Barn Dance and the Michigan Antique Festival. The park also offers a multipurpose room for banquets, reunions and seminars as well as exhibit hall space. The grounds include two outdoor arenas.”

Continue reading

Season of the Spittlebugs

Spittlebug

Wilder Side of Oakland County

Strange frothy bubbles are appearing on the stems of meadow wildflowers and garden plantings. They shimmer in summer sunlight and appear in mass along the uncut edge zones of sun-soaked trails, including the big three trail favorites of Oakland County: Paint Creek, Polly Ann, and Clinton River. Walk the shoreline of any lake in Oakland County that has a wild weedy edge and they are nearly impossible to miss. Little kids are not shy about describing what those whitish bubbles look like, or feel like, when inquisitive young fingers explore and poke into the mysterious frothy mass.

Giggles follow the finger poke and some take delight in squealing loudly, “It looks like spit!” They are right, it does, but the details of where that froth really comes from is something I sometimes refrain from sharing with little ones on the trails. The answer would make their giggles totally uncontrollable and confused parents might cringe and say, “Really?” I’ll save the answer on the creation of the spittle for the end.

Continue reading

Turtle Woods Preserve

Turtle Woods Preserve

“Imagine a place within a busy city, where shady swamps harbor endangered spotted turtles, ancient reptiles whose dark shells glow with spots of brilliant yellow, gliding just below the water’s surface. Then imagine moving a short distance into a glacial lakeplain prairie, with fields of native grasses and flowers from the time when the glaciers last melted from the land of Southeast Michigan.”

Turtle Woods Preserve

Those words first appeared in the Summer 2000 issue of the Oakland Land Conservancy newsletter in reference to a parcel of undeveloped land on the north side of Square Lake Road between John R and Dequindre in the highly urbanized City of Troy. Fast forward to May 2018. Efforts of the former Oakland Land Conservancy, which eventually merged with other conservancies, and finally morphed into the Six Rivers Land Conservancy finally bore fruit in the form of the new Turtle Woods Preserve. Continue reading

Secrets of Cranberry Lake Park

Cranberry Lake Park

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

On sultry summer days the beautiful wooded swamps and protected wetlands of Cranberry Lake Park occasionally transform into short term havens for blood-thirsty mosquitoes and squadrons of dive-bombing deer flies. That is nature’s way all across the Wilder Side of Oakland County. I still remember a hot and humid late summer day when I meandered into that Oakland Township Park on a hunt for a few blackberries. I raced back to my vehicle a few minutes later with my arms flailing after becoming an involuntarily blood donor for what felt like millions of mosquitoes.

Continue reading

Hawk Woods – Not Just For The Birds!

Hawk Woods

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

The distant din of traffic from M-24 and I-75 was barely audible when I heard a rather odd sound. It seemed to come from a small pond nestled away on the west side of Bald Mountain Road in Auburn Hills. It sounded something like a hoarse frog struggling to sing an unknown melody. I knew it wasn’t a spring peeper, wood frog, or chorus frog, the three species most likely to have been singing in the last weeks of April. I tried to peer through a thick wall of invasive phragmites for a better view of the hidden songster, but had no luck. As I advanced off trail, my steps made a crunching noise on dried sticks. Then, in a burst of speed and flurry of wings the “frog” and his companion erupted into flight. That’s how my unforgettable and most delightful early morning exploration of the 80-acre Hawk Woods Nature Center began.

Continue reading