Oakland County’s Yellow-Necked Reptile: The Blanding’s Turtle!

Blanding's Turtle

Wilder Side of Oakland County

Looking for a yellow-necked timid dinosaur? I’ve got the next best thing: A Blanding’s turtle! Signs of these ancient creatures may be a slow-moving dome lumbering across the road or a mysterious shell appearing like a glistening algae coated rock at the edge of a marsh. If the turtle’s long neck is extended and the dazzling golden-yellow throat and chin are exposed, the confirmation is certain, you are viewing a Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii); a “Species of Special Concern” in the State of Michigan. Species of special concern are generally described as:

“any species of fish or wildlife that does not meet the criteria as endangered or threatened but is particularly vulnerable and could become a threatened, endangered or extirpated species due to restricted distribution, low or declining numbers, specialized habitat needs or limits, or other factors, or is a species likely deserving of threatened or endangered status, but for which insufficient data are currently available.”

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Leopards in the Grass

Leopards in the Grass

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Summer is almost here, it’s the season leopards stalk through moist meadows and tall grass fields in search of prey. They are stealthy, well-camouflaged predators with powerful legs, keen eyesight, and voracious appetites. If prey comes within range, leg muscles tighten and in a lightning fast move, they lunge forward and strike; for that’s what ambush predators of all sizes do. Whether it be a bone-crushing leopard at Serengeti National Park in the wilds of Tanzania or a bug-swallowing northern leopard frog with a long sticky tongue on the wilder side of Oakland County.

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Earth Day Weekend in “The Boonies”

Boonies Hike

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

On Earth Day weekend almost 300 Boy Scouts gathered for two nights of camping near Big Fish Lake in the Ortonville State Recreation Area for the 10th annual Boonies Hike. None of the young participants or many of the leaders were alive for that first Earth Day, held on April 22nd, 1970. It was an era when Americans were slowly becoming aware of environmental concerns and the need to take action. It was a time when rivers were so thick with oils that some burned. Massive V8 engines swallowed enormous amounts of leaded gasoline. Factories spewed rivers of chemicals and sludge without fear of much in the way of environmental or legal consequences. Scouting was a welcoming gateway to a changing outdoor world.

The need for environmental awareness accelerates again today as the world of scouting continues to move forward. This wilder side tale really starts with Boy Scout Troop 139 based in Ortonville. Scoutmaster Jeff Hafnt explained to his troop that he always liked hiking and exploring the 5,430 acres of Ortonville State Recreation Area. He explained this troop is the most northerly located troop of the Pontiac-Manito District of the Great Lakes Field Service Council. Ten years have passed since Hafnt invited more southerly located troops to join them “in the boonies” for a big day hike and the title stuck. The annual hiking event soon turned into a weekend long nature-embracing camping event. Michigan Department of Natural Resources gave the nod to allow the scouts to tent at Big Fish Lake. I was invited to hike with them for their grand 10th anniversary hike.

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Eastern Gray Squirrels: Tree Planters and Survivalists

Eastern Gray Squirrel

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) ignored last week’s icy duel between the seasons and continued full speed ahead with their spring home improvement projects. Gray squirrels don’t just survive in the midst of intense human activity and predation, they thrive thanks to their ability to adapt rapidly to changing situations while maintaining a healthy degree of wariness. It’s been that way for hundreds of years, going back to a time when gray squirrels migrated through tree tops in the vast unbroken hardwood forests of eastern North America. Gray squirrels greeted early settlers before they carved their open space niches into the landscape.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

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Season of the Sandhills

Sandhill Crane

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Sandhill Cranes are dancing and singing their courtship songs all across Oakland County. Their leaping, wing-flapping dance moves are one of the finest and perhaps most astonishing shows of nature for those that are lucky enough to witness their exuberance for life. The spectacular performance takes one’s breath away. An early morning solo hike near the entrance of Rose Oaks County Park presented me with an opportunity to watch that ritual from a crouched position among dry cattails with Red-Winged Blackbirds as my companions.

Sandhill Crane

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