On New Year’s morning, I usually meander down to my marsh in the dawn’s early light. It just feels like the right thing to do. Crows announce my approach as cattail stalks rattle in the winds. I often see a buck that bed downs between the woodlands and the cattails, and he sometimes all but poses for a photo. He snorts at my approach and is gone. If my approach is exceedingly stealthy, and the wind is in my favor, every once in a while I have a fleeting glimpse of a coyote that shares my habitat and frequents the marshy area. I take satisfaction in knowing that even when I do not see a coyote, one may have seen me. I am good neighbors with my wildlife.
December 21st brought us the Winter Solstice, the first day of winter. Perhaps you heard winter knocking at your door? That moment in time officially arrived at 4:48 p.m. EST. It was the shortest day of the year with only 8 hours and 46 minutes of daylight. Hours of daylight are now slowly increasing as we creep towards the dawn of spring; just three months away but still well-hidden over the horizon. The dawn of winter, however, is an exciting time. It reminds me to get my cross country skis out of hibernation to be ready for winter adventure in our parks and to plan northern adventures.
I will assume you started reading today’s Wilder Side of Oakland County because of the black bear in the tree. I’ll confess: I used that photo to draw attention to today’s blog. However, I captured that image about 10 years ago in northern Ontario when a black bear yearling took shelter in the lofty branches of a spruce tree, one of many types of conifer trees in North America. It was retreating from humans, myself included, and we wisely went our separate ways.
The season of the annual Christmas tree hunt has arrived. But just what is a “Christmas tree?” The last few weeks had questions coming my way inquiring about “wild” Christmas trees of Oakland County. One question had an obvious error that had me laughing. The writer meant to inquire about different kinds of conifers that grow in Oakland County that would make good Christmas trees. A spell check error had him asking about good carnivorous trees for his home. Conifer trees do however provide excellent ambush habit for carnivorous birds such as Cooper’s hawks that wait for prey to fly by.
Fall and winter hiking is an exhilarating experience, especially after a blanket of fresh snow. Don’t let the chilly weather hold you back; unless perhaps you are visiting snowbound Buffalo. The important thing is to be thankful that you have the opportunity to “Opt OutSide.” Make the day after Thanksgiving, a day to embrace the concept of Opt Outside! I’ll be out there too, not long after sunrise. I might even have a turkey sandwich stashed in my day pack along with a mug of hot cocoa.
The #OptOutside movement was started in 2015 by the outdoor retail company REI. The basic meaning of Opt Outside is to enjoy the outdoors on Black Friday instead of a crowded shopping frenzy. Since 2015, REI has closed its doors on Black Friday—inviting employees and members to spend time outside rather than shopping. This year, REI just announced their Opt Outside movement will be permanent for all their employees.
Many other retailers have joined a similar movement to close their doors on Thanksgiving Day to encourage employees and early bird shoppers to stay at home with their loved ones. In addition, Oakland County Parks and Recreation also hosts one of their Park Appreciation Days on Thanksgiving, when visitors can enjoy free daily park entry with access to natural areas, trails, playgrounds, dog parks and all park amenities.
There are plenty of adventures on the wilder side of Oakland County this season, whether you are taking advantage of Oakland County Parks Appreciation Day on Thursday, or Opting Outside on Friday (or both)!
It has been said that October was the big spender, with the paycheck going to bird migrations, fantastic tree colors, and the fluff of milkweed pods floating freely in the wind. It was also the perfect weather for Painted Turtles to bask in sunlight, and that’s what they were doing. Some of them were even perfectly positioned to be captured by my camera, others coated with duckweed, slipped back into the water with barely a splash at my not-so-stealthy approach.