I know of a field with heirloom fruit trees (a location I shall keep secret), where Timberdoodles hide in plain sight to incubate their eggs and dance in the sky. That’s where this wilder side tale really begins a few months ago on my spring hunt for morel mushrooms. Now you may ask, what do morel mushrooms have to do with Timberdoodles (American Woodcock), one of the strangest appearing birds of Oakland County you may ever encounter? More than you may think, for “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks,” a quote from John Muir that so often comes to life for me. That day in May was no exception.
“To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same fields, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
It’s not easy to compress an entire season into 1,000 words but I’ll give it a try in today’s Wilder Side of Oakland County. Taking place the day before the first day of summer, consider this a phenology flashback to the ways and wonders of nature while we mostly stayed home the entire season of spring.
Phenology! It’s a word that devoted followers of nature’s way know well. Phenology is the calendar of nature’s “whens” — when trillium blooms, when gray treefrogs first sing, when monarchs migrate, when sassafras leaves turn red, when snapping turtles cross roads, when honey bees gathered first pollen, when turkey vultures return. In more scientific terms, the Aldo Leopold Society describes phenology as “The study of periodic life-cycle events in nature that are influenced by climate and seasonal change.” That critical sentence confirms nature’s calendar changes – sometimes slightly, sometimes dramatically. Attentive eyes note the change.
Spring was truly a beautiful season of renewal for those with a love for nature and the ways of the wild. I meandered my woods and meadows as well as few nearby wildlands armed with my camera and abundant patience almost every day from late March until the middle of June. I found peace, pleasure and endless excitement in nature’s way. The words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, which I cited above, were my guiding light of exploration; for even common flowers and wild creatures take on special beauty when we pause long enough to watch, listen, discover, and learn. Perhaps they were your guiding lights of comfort as well?
We may think they are strangers in the night, but when the sun goes down and night shadows dance, a nocturnal cast of nature’s characters appear. They are not strangers in the night, but under the cover of darkness, dramas of life and love, predator and prey and human avoidance go on. If I was to select just one species that increases activity by leaps and bounds at night, and sometimes trips my concealed motion-activated trail cameras, it would be our eastern coyotes. They inhabit every corner of our county and their yips and howls sometimes stir Facebook chat rooms into phobia-creating chatter resembling, “The coyotes are coming! The coyotes are coming!”
“A sap-run is the sweet good-by of winter. It is the fruit of the equal marriage of the sun and frost.” John Burroughs, Signs and Seasons (1886)
Eastern bluebirds had been flitting about my meadow for the past few weeks. Skunk cabbage emerged from frozen mud down at the marsh. Great Blue Herons and Sandhill Cranes stalked the edge of our county’s wetlands as the duel between the seasons accelerated. Those signs all teased of the approach of spring and then the county was bathed in blue sky with temperatures flirting with the 50 degree mark last weekend. Continue reading →