Let Nature Be Your Teacher: On the Wilder Side of Heritage Park

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

I am an unabashed partisan of nature’s way, even when it is limited to small protected pockets of land surrounded by suburbia. One of those pockets is 211-acre Heritage Park, a multi-use park under management of the City of Farmington Hills Department of Special Services. For those that want to explore easy-to-navigate trails that meander through woods, over hills and through meadows, Heritage Park is just the place. Their park brochure states “Never Stop Exploring” and “Every Day Is an Adventure.” I smiled to myself at those slogans but my biggest smile, before I started my exploration, was the slogan on their trail map, “Let Nature Be Your Teacher.” Continue reading

The Eastern Garter Snake, a Common “Garden” Snake

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. A summer vegetable garden is not only beautiful, but in the eyes of an Eastern Garter Snake, it’s an oasis of plenty. There, slugs, snails, spiders, grasshoppers, millipedes, bugs, and the occasional low-to-the-ground tree frogs may be hunted. Thamnophis sirtalis, more commonly known as the Eastern Garter Snake, is without a doubt the most commonly seen snake of Oakland County.

A bit of name clarification may be in order as well, for as much as garter snakes are attracted to gardens, there is no such snake species as a “Garden Snake” or “Gardener Snake.” The incorrect name Garden Snake seems to stay with us, and is sometimes repeated by teachers and even park professionals without a strong knowledge of snake species. Continue reading

Barred Owls: Songsters of the Swamps

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

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The swamps and wetlands of Oakland County fell silent after heavy frost laced the landscape. Green frogs and bullfrogs are now lying on top of the muddy bottoms of shallow wetlands. No more ker-plunks of turtles attempting to discreetly slide off sunning logs. Except for the occasional warning crack of the tail of a beaver slamming forcefully against water, there are few surprise noises to be heard near the near magical world of the bog and the swamp. There is however one notable exception: the melodious and rich baritone hooting of our beautiful Barred Owls, an owl that some refer to as the “swamp owl”Barred Owls (Strix varia) are breaking the silence of the swamps. Continue reading