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

To Migrate or Not? That is the Question.

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

The classic image of bird migration at the approach of winter is the sight of Canada Geese flying high above our lakes, parks, towns and cities in V-shaped flocks. As winter fades, local television newscasters sometimes bubble with excitement at an alleged sign of spring’s return, robins on a snow speckled lawn. They salute the American Robin as the first returning bird of spring when robins are reported stalking about sunny suburban lawns searching for worms between patches of melting snow. These romanticized images of bird behavior and migration are less than accurate. Continue reading

Coexisting with Urban Wildlife at Winter’s Approach

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

“Great and terrible flesh-eating beasts have always shared landscapes with humans. They were part of the ecological matrix within which Homo sapiens evolved. They were part of the psychological context in which our sense of identity as a species arouse.”

“The teeth of big predators, their claws, their ferocity and their hunger, were grim realities that could be eluded but not forgotten. Every once in a while, a monstrous carnivore emerged like doom from a forest or a river to kill someone and feed on the body. It was a familiar sort of disaster-like auto fatalities today – that must have seemed freshly gruesome each time, despite the familiarity.” — Monster of God, David Quammen

Oakland County lacks the man-eating predators of history that still seem to haunt our minds and exaggerate our fears. But as the cold days of November shorten, and some species of wildlife move closer to our homes to forage under bird feeders, we still behave at times as if our lives are at risk by the very presence of wildlife. Negative comments about opossums, raccoons, deer, wild turkeys and the much maligned Eastern Coyote seem to spread like wildfire as Thanksgiving draws near. Some neighborhood social media sites fuel misinformation about urban wildlife with comments such as, “We saw a coyote lurking in a field.” Deer, rabbits, turkeys and coyotes might be seen in a field, but none lurk there: a reminder that the usage of certain words can be powerful and lead to fear-mongering. Continue reading

The Wonderful World of Winter Woodpeckers

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

The feeder frenzy of November is about to begin. Shortly after the crimson and gold colors of autumn disappear, and the first snowflakes swirl about beneath a panoramic sky of gray, an ever-changing menagerie of Eastern Bluebirds, Blue Jays, House Finches, Nuthatches, Tufted Titmice, Cardinals and Black-capped Chickadees will appear at feeders, almost as if by magic. Hang some suet and add extra sunflower seeds to the mix and the woodpeckers of winter may quickly join the feast. The one-ounce Downy Woodpecker, North America’s smallest woodpecker, and our red-crested forest giant, the Pileated Woodpecker, the largest woodpecker of North America, are among the mix of local species that frequent the feeders on the wilder side of Oakland County. Continue reading

THE WILDER SIDE OF NOVEMBER

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

November is upon us once again, an excellent time of the year to get outside and enjoy all the wonders of the wilder side of Oakland County. The fields, forests, wetlands, wildlands and trails bring unique sights, sounds and smells and enjoyable wildlife encounters in a mosquito free environment with the cascading fall of colorful leaves nearing its end, new vistas unfold, exposing the geology and glacial history of our county. It’s time to arm yourself with a camera, and perhaps bring along the family or a good friend and seek out seasonal secrets of nature’s way before snow blankets the landscape.

Continue reading