A Riverside Nature Ramble in Rochester Hills

A river cuts through the land. One side is grassy and tall trees run along the far side. The sky is blue with white puffy clouds.

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

The Ice Age was coming to an end. Shuffling its 8-ton frame, a shaggy mastodon crossed a steep moraine and lumbered down to the edge of a bend in the icy rock-strewn river. That mighty herbivore, soon to be extinct, browsed on perhaps forty or fifty pounds of riverside shrubs and then wandered into the darkness of a changing world, along what is now the Riverside Trail.

A grassy area with tall trees on an autumn day. The foliage is changing from green to yellow, orange, and red. A bit of light blue sky and white clouds shows through the trees.

Fast forward to the last week of October 2018. Autumn in Oakland County had reached its full glory, and I was setting out on the Riverside Trail that’s part of the Avon Nature Study Area in the City of Rochester Hills. Within minutes of my arrival, I noted fresh raccoon tracks in mud, a flash of silvery movement in a bend of the Clinton River and evidence of beaver activity. The river sparkled under a clear blue sky. It was a great day. Perhaps consider replicating my journey for a quick immersion into nature’s way before the snows and strong winds of November arrive. Continue reading

Mysteries of Red Efts and Red-Spotted Newts

A red eft, red and orange in color with small black spots, sits on a log.

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

The lifestyle and behavior patterns of the elusive red-spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) is very strange, at least in the eyes of humans. The red-spotted newt, and its reddish-orange terrestrial sub-adult stage known as the red eft, is perhaps our most beautiful salamander, a creature herpetologists refer to as a “gape-limited predator.” For the lay person, that translates as “If it fits in your mouth, its food.”

Most people have never seen an adult red-spotted newt in the wild, unless they are an amphibian lover that flops down on their belly and stares into a vernal pool in the early days of spring on a rainy night, hoping for a glimpse of their underwater courtship ritual. That takes planning, persistence and patience. Encountering the juvenile land-trekking terrestrial form of the red-spotted newt, known as the red eft, is far more likely for those that wander woodlands with an eye to the ground, watchful for movement among leaves on the forest floor. Continue reading

Orion Oaks: An Easy Autumn Meander

Fallen leaves cover a dirt path leading through trees. The rising sun can be seen through the trees where the end of the path opens up to a meadow.

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Hiking can be daunting for those that never wandered off pavement or experienced any trail adventures; and at times it can be discouraging for those that have. Weather conditions change. Darkness comes early. Trails can be narrow and slippery. The visuals, perhaps comforting cues of sidewalks, buildings, road signs and urban activity are also absent. And then there is the matter of time. “My life is so busy, I only have an hour to hike and I don’t know where or how to start?”

Start now.

I’m not talking about planning an all day hike, nor suggesting a hike that takes significant planning. And I’m certainly not suggesting you do what I did a few weeks ago and set off on a 40 mile trek on the Appalachian Trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. A trek that included total elevation changes of 8,650 feet over steep rocky terrain while keeping an eye out for sunning Timber Rattlesnakes, and then before darkness fell, hanging food bags high enough between trees to make things tough for hiker-savvy black bears. “Why am I doing this?” I experienced that feeling momentarily on day two, but I trekked on, for I am hopelessly addicted to outdoor adventure. Continue reading

Our Wilderness of Little Things

A photo taken from the edge of a swamp on a cloudless day. Tall trees surround the swamp. Foliage is just starting to turn from green to fall colors.

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Three weeks have raced by since the position of Planet Earth in relation to the sun signaled the autumn equinox; except during much of this week, we have been bathed in sultry summer-style heat with the mercury soaring into the 80s. Some of nature’s creatures became briefly “confused” and were stirred into off-season activity, with spring peepers sounding off from the edge of wetlands and well camouflaged gray treefrogs calling from moist foliage. A walk in the woods to the edge of my marsh reminded me of the timeless words of John Muir, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness” and got me thinking. Continue reading

October Gold: Adventures and Situational Awareness

A view of tall trees in fall colors from across a body of water. Deep oranges, yellows, and green reflect brilliantly on top of the water.

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

October heralds the peak beauty of autumn’s colors; that alone makes this month special. We are in the season of crisp morning air, fast-moving clouds, clear night sky and the last blooms of meadow wildflowers. It’s a month of roaming raccoons, woolly bear caterpillar, owls hooting, coyotes yipping, hyper-active squirrels scurrying, restless bucks in rut and osprey departing. October means scarlet sky sunsets, first frost and sudden outbursts of short-lived snowflakes. October is truly the golden month for those that love nature’s way, and perhaps the very best time to hike and explore the wilder side of Oakland County. Continue reading