Secrets of Late Winter Cedar Swamps

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Dismal, dreary, forbidding, impassable, impenetrable and treacherous. Those words have all been used to describe swamps. Just say the word “swamp” and the first image some conjure up is a muddy mire “infested” with mosquitos, alligators and snakes: a wetland that must be drained to make it safe for humans. However, swamps are in many ways like giant sponges that hold water, replenish aquifers, sustain life and keep our landscape healthy.

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NATURE•SCIENCE•EDUCATION – And a Cabin in the Woods

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

The morning was perfect for a winter exploration. Fresh snow fell much of the night and continued well into dawn. My trailhead greeting party consisted of cascades of accumulated snow sliding off the boughs of white pine trees, and what sounded like the excited warning chatter of an eastern fox squirrel. I stopped to assess the situation.

Squirrels don’t just sit on tree branches talking to themselves. I decided the squirrel’s concern was the motionless Cooper’s Hawk that I noted seconds earlier perched on a nearby tree. I trudged forward, the hawk flew off, and the squirrel scampered down about ten feet, leapt over to another branch and continued to watch me closely. Perhaps the chatter was a welcoming greeting for me after all. I chattered back and we shared pleasantries for a few moments.

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The Opossum: Our Marvelous Marsupial

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

I’ve always had an infectious sense of wonder when it comes to close encounters with wildlife, but sometimes the very best encounters are totally unexpected, and it’s often with creatures that never seem to make anyone’s “must-see” list.

It was an unusually warm, snowless winter day at the end of January. I had just sprawled out on the ground with my camera resting on a fallen tree to position it for the best angle to photograph a beaver lodge at the edge of a secluded cedar swamp. Slight rustling in the dry leaves drew my attention. I turned to my left and an inquisitive young opossum was just a few feet away—not playing dead, not backing off, and not advancing. It watched me ever so intently as we both moved slightly about for better views of each other. The opossum inched closer and then we were eye to eye. It seemed to freeze in place. So did I. Continue reading

Bald Eagles: Skilled Hunters, Opportunist Scavengers, Masters of the Sky

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

The Bald Eagle is in a word, majestic. When it’s seen in flight against a clear blue sky in a pristine wilderness setting, the image is stunning. One need not travel to the wilds of Alaska or the rugged lakeshores of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to encounter bald eagles; more than a few winter right here in our midst.

Sightings of bald eagles in Oakland County are no longer rare events, and they are not restricted to the “wilder side” of our county. Close encounters may even occur in highly developed areas with significant human intrusion. During the winter months in northern climates, it’s all about available food. Where the food is, the eagles are. The favorite food of the bald eagle is fish, and that takes us to nearby Monroe County, home of one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the nation.

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Answering the Call of the Urban Wilds

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

“Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb, brooks to wade in, water-lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pine-cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of education.” – Luther Burbank (1849 -1926), American botanist/agriculture pioneer  Continue reading