Winter Warmth Ends the Slumber of Skunks

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Love is in the air. Eastern striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) are wandering in search of mates all across Michigan’s lower peninsula. During frigid months, skunks had hunkered down in their winter dens for periods of days, or sometimes weeks, and rarely ventured topside. All that is changing now as spring draws near and weather patterns become more unstable. Skunk sightings are on the uptick in Oakland County and without a doubt, their more-or-less dormant mid-winter slumber has ended. Continue reading

Hike for Your Health at Ortonville State Recreation Area!

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of autumn.”

John Muir’s memorable words inspire adventurers to hike, and that’s a good thing. Hiking is excellent for our health and general well-being, and it doesn’t require a gym membership or any expensive equipment to get started. Being out in fresh air and away from the chaos of our daily lives, the frustration of traffic jams, and distracting technology allow us to reconnect with nature’s way, and that creates a feeling of peace and a sense of well-being. And any hike through a beautiful forested area, even when trails may be slippery as the duel between winter and spring accelerates, can calm nerves and lift our spirits. Hiking is also fun! Continue reading

Tracks, Trails and Tales in the Snow

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Which way did the rabbit go? That was perhaps the wildlife tracking question I enjoyed using the most when I first came to Michigan and worked at the nature center of Cranbrook. Over three decades later, “when rabbit tracks appear in snow” is still my favorite trailside introduction to stir excitement in children – and their parents. Rabbits bound between shrubs and brush, and when a rabbit bounds (they don’t “walk”), they land with their hind feet side by side and their front feet behind their back feet, with the front feet landing with one in front of the other. Confusing? Not once you get field practice! However, if the tracks end at the base of a tree and just disappear, it’s either a tree climbing rabbit (a very rare species indeed), or more likely a squirrel.

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The Great Backyard Bird Count

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

“The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a free, fun, and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, or anywhere in the world.” National Audubon Society

I like birds. I do not, however, look at myself as the kind of birder that maintains a life list of birds seen, nor, perhaps with the exception of Snowy Owls, will I drive a hundred miles or more to see a bird that rare in Oakland County. But after reading background information on the GBBC, and recognizing the importance of this annual worldwide bird survey citizen-scientist event, now in its 22nd year, I decided I would attend a GBBC event sponsored by the Oakland Audubon Society. The information compiled during the bird counts assists researchers at Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society in their study of bird species populations, and how to protect the environment we share with them. With those thoughts in mind, I promised my naturalist and avid birder friend Kathleen Dougherty from Oakland Audubon that I would accept her invitation and take part on Day 2 of this year’s event that ran from Friday, February 15th through Monday, February 18th. Continue reading

Rose Oaks – A Wonder in Winter

An interpretive sign next to a large boardwalk over wetland that is covered by snow.

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Rose Oaks County Park is a nature-embracing and easily accessible winter wonder that presents wide-open vistas, glacially sculpted wooded hills and hidden secrets of nature exposed by tracks and trails in the snow. Six hundred forty acre “Rose” is one of my favorite parks managed by Oakland County Parks and Recreation. I look at her wildness as an early morning wintry haven of solitude enhanced by wind whistling through groves of evergreens, the chatter of chickadees, gurgling waters of icy streams, the near magical mesmerizing booming of lake ice expanding and contracting, and in a few more weeks, the magnificent rattling bugle calls of Sandhill Cranes. The sounds of nature in winter make every trek a delight for those that walk slowly, stop often and listen. The song of coyotes in the moments before sunrise just might be your greeting, and as the sun climbs higher, the distinctive call of the Pileated Woodpecker signals the woods are awakening. Continue reading