Our Elusive Black-billed Cuckoo

A Black-billed Cuckoo perched on a tree branch with its head cocked to the left

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

You must have the bird in your heart before you can find it in the bush.” – John Burroughs Locusts and Wild Honey, (Burroughs, 1895)

I never knew Black-billed Cuckoos existed until a few hours after an early evening encounter near the end of May, and that’s where this bird tale begins. First, however, I must establish I do not qualify as a “birder” by any means. I have no interest in creating a life list of bird species I have seen, but I take great pleasure in watching Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at the feeder and listening to the cheerful song of House Wrens nesting in my arbor.

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Bullfrogs: Masters of the Swamp!

A young bullfrog in pond, its bottom half is submerged in the water

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

“Nothing exists for itself alone, but only in relation to other forms of life.Charles Darwin

Darwin’s timeless quote might just be the perfect mantra for the American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus), the largest frog in North America. This giant of a frog is heard far more often than seen. It is a major player in Oakland County ponds and wetlands and an integral part of its watery environment.

Bullfrogs can weigh well over a pound and be almost eight inches long. Their appetite is even larger than their size. Unlike other frogs that just wait patiently at the edge of a swamp to snag a passing bug or dragonfly with a lightning-fast sticky tongue, bullfrogs lunge open-mouthed at unsuspecting passing prey.

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Wild Moments of May

A 2x2 collage of photos that includes a yellow lady slipper orchid, an Eastern Bluebird, a shagbark hickory terminal bud, and a white trillium

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of each.” – Henry David Thoreau The Journal, 1837-1861 (Thoreau, 2009)

Nature’s way springs to life in May with greening of the woodlands, the blooming of wildflowers, bird song at sunrise, and delightfully longer hours of daylight. It’s the month that not just every naturally curious child, but every adult, should embrace the joys of nature’s way. May is also a month of surprising finds and totally unexpected encounters in wetlands, woodlands, and along our trails.

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Geese on the Wilder Side of Oakland County

Two geese and their goslings swim through duck-weed covered water. A painted turtle sunbathes on a log close by.

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Not all Oakland County geese spend their days grazing out in the open on lawns, golf courses, the greens of schools and college campuses, and along the shorelines of our multi-sport lakes. Nor do all geese exhibit aggressive behavior when a human meanders too close to a nesting site that’s hidden in office-plaza shrubbery or along a popular and well-traversed trail. Some are more reclusive and head to secluded swamps and woodland ponds when it’s nesting time. This is their story and brings to mind the first sentence of Aldo Leopold’s classic book of nature essays, A Sand County Almanac (Leopold, 1949): “There are some who can live with wild things, and some who cannot.” I look to the woodland geese as wild things.

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Gray Squirrels: Nature’s Adaptable Acrobats

A gray squirrel stands on its hind legs on a rock

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

An unexpected encounter last month, while inspecting my Screech Owl nesting box, served as a reminder that assumptions of any kind may be wrong, especially when it comes to less-than-attentive observations of nature’s way. I had assumed the nest box to be empty since I had not noticed any activity, nor had I heard any of the whinny-like nighttime and territorial trills of this rather common cavity-nesting species of owl.

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