Wilder Side of Oakland County
“Wherever I go, I see little bits of nature, little bits of animal behavior. And nobody else is watching…” Those are the words of iconic conservationist Jane Goodall in her 2018 interview titled, “Living with Chimps” that appears in the BBC publication, Science Focus. I had just finished reading the text of her interview last Friday about her controversial career and how her observations transformed the way we see our primate cousins. It was then time to head off to Springfield Oaks County Park for the grand opening of the 2018 Oakland County Fair. Jane Goodall was not on my mind nor was wildlife observation, but sometimes things change quickly.
Springfield Oaks County Park is not where folks generally go to embrace the wilds of nature or seek solitude. Springfield Oaks bustles with popular crowd oriented activities. The Oakland County Parks website makes no mention of passive nature exploration at their 333-acre multi-use park, but quite correctly boasts of the crowd-attracting venues:
“Springfield Oaks is home of the historic Ellis Barn and annual Oakland County Fair, which draws 100,000+ visitors annually to the 10-day event. The 1884 Ellis Barn is 14,000-square-feet and features an indoor riding arena, 11 box stalls, mechanical exercise ring and cavernous second floor for hay and straw. The barn was donated by former major league baseball players Kirk Gibson and Tim Birtsas and moved from its original located on Dixie Highway to Springfield Oaks in 2005. Today, the barn is used to host weddings and special events like the Ellis Barn Dance and the Michigan Antique Festival. The park also offers a multipurpose room for banquets, reunions and seminars as well as exhibit hall space. The grounds include two outdoor arenas.”
Wilder Side of Oakland County
Strange frothy bubbles are appearing on the stems of meadow wildflowers and garden plantings. They shimmer in summer sunlight and appear in mass along the uncut edge zones of sun-soaked trails, including the big three trail favorites of Oakland County: Paint Creek, Polly Ann, and Clinton River. Walk the shoreline of any lake in Oakland County that has a wild weedy edge and they are nearly impossible to miss. Little kids are not shy about describing what those whitish bubbles look like, or feel like, when inquisitive young fingers explore and poke into the mysterious frothy mass.
Giggles follow the finger poke and some take delight in squealing loudly, “It looks like spit!” They are right, it does, but the details of where that froth really comes from is something I sometimes refrain from sharing with little ones on the trails. The answer would make their giggles totally uncontrollable and confused parents might cringe and say, “Really?” I’ll save the answer on the creation of the spittle for the end.
Wilder Side of Oakland County
I am not a bird-watcher or at least I did not think I was. Here is what I do know:
Hundreds of thousands of folks across our country, maybe even millions, are serious birders that create what the birding in-crowd knows as a ‘Life List.’ That cherished list is a record of every bird species they have ever seen and identified with absolute certainty. I would be ruled out from those prestigious Life List clubs almost instantly because of the words, ‘absolute certainty.’ To my untrained eye and short attention span, a warbler is a warbler, even though 54 different species of warblers are found in North America. I even struggle to find subtle identification marks on many of our common song birds of summer such as the Red-eyed Vireo.
One could say I am just too restless and easily distracted by furry and fanged creatures to focus on a list of birds; I don’t even make shopping lists. People that pursue their personal hobby of chasing after birds to put another name on a list, will think nothing of driving hundreds or even a thousand miles to view a rare species a few days drive away. “Hey Joe, Judy just saw a rare Blue-Beaked Bobolink in the Florida Keys, up for a road trip?” And they are off, driving day and night to add one more name to a list. That’s not for me.
THE WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
It’s never good to pick favorites, but when it comes to flycatchers, the Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus Crinitus) is mine, hands down. These beautiful and boisterous flycatchers are more often heard than seen. Their favorite summer habitat is high up in the leafy canopy of tall forest trees where they nest within deep tree cavities across much of the eastern half of the United States.
I first became keenly aware of the flycatchers last summer when I became completely frustrated by them on South Manitou Island: island overlooking the often stormy Manitou Passage that is part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Whenever I heard their unmistakable territorial call echoing through the woodlands, I stared into the tops of the tall trees in hopes of discovering the source. I failed every time. The melody remained a mystery until the near completion of my 30-day stay on that wilderness island as the National Park Service lighthouse keeper. That’s when a backpacker noticed me craning my neck upwards as the song came from the tree tops. She casually commented that she was happy to discover Great Crested Flycatchers near her campsite overlooking a wooded bluff on the island’s south shore. It was that moment that brought “Bird ID Happiness,” a feeling best understood by birders. I now had a name for the bird that had been just a mysterious, yellowish-brown flash of wings that carried a beautiful song. But try as I might, I was never able to capture a single photo of those island-life loving flycatchers of South Manitou. They stayed in the tree tops and I stayed on the ground, except for when I climbed the 117 steps to reach the catwalk of the 1871 lighthouse. Continue reading
“Imagine a place within a busy city, where shady swamps harbor endangered spotted turtles, ancient reptiles whose dark shells glow with spots of brilliant yellow, gliding just below the water’s surface. Then imagine moving a short distance into a glacial lakeplain prairie, with fields of native grasses and flowers from the time when the glaciers last melted from the land of Southeast Michigan.”
Those words first appeared in the Summer 2000 issue of the Oakland Land Conservancy newsletter in reference to a parcel of undeveloped land on the north side of Square Lake Road between John R and Dequindre in the highly urbanized City of Troy. Fast forward to May 2018. Efforts of the former Oakland Land Conservancy, which eventually merged with other conservancies, and finally morphed into the Six Rivers Land Conservancy finally bore fruit in the form of the new Turtle Woods Preserve. Continue reading