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

Northern Border: A Year’s End Salute to Hiking

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

img_3728

Sixty-five! That’s how many times I set out on a trail within the boundaries of Oakland County this year. Most were short meanders of three or four miles that followed designated trails in our Oakland County Parks, the Huron Clinton Metroparks or wildlands managed by local units of government. Some hikes were adventuresome treks of ten or more miles in our State Recreation Areas and State Parks managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. All were pleasurable, even when mosquitos swarmed, thunder rumbled, the mercury plunged, or humidity glued my shirt to my chest. Song birds sang, snakes slithered, owls hooted, turkeys trotted, Sandhill cranes trumpeted, turtles sun bathed, and once at dusk a coyote yipped. On a snowy day, both a cardinal and a deer froze for photos as I meandered close by both of them. It was a good year and I met people who shared the passion of the wilder side of nature’s way. Continue reading

Rose Oaks on the Dawn of December

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

img_5062

“Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and places to pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” – John Muir
Rose Oaks County Park is that kind of place.

img_4998

An early morning walk through this 640 acre protected wildland in the northwest corner of Oakland County at the dawn of December offers rich rewards, reaching beyond the obvious benefits of healthy hiking and fresh air. Solitude, natural beauty, and a chance to embrace silence without distractions are three of them. The radiant glow of morning sunlight on trees enriches forest stillness, and warms the human spirit.

Continue reading

Woodpeckers: Master Excavators of Oakland County

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

IMG_0457

Adult male Pileated Woodpecker searches for bugs and beetles in a dead Oakland County tree

Winged, wood-whacking, carpenters have been practicing their craft all spring. Evidence of their excavation skills is abundant, but sometimes almost hidden in plain sight. Contrary to myth, woodpeckers do not get headaches from banging away on a tree, a telephone pole, or the wood siding of a home. These master craftsmen have evolved powerful neck muscles, thick skulls and chisel-like bills that let them chip away at tree trunks with ease as they search out bugs, or create the perfect nesting cavity. Woodpeckers have a special skull bone, the hyoid bone, which functions a bit like a seat-belt for their brain. Their hyoid bone design diverts impact and vibrations away from the cranium and the woodpecker pounds on, free from headaches.

Continue reading

The Red-Crested, Tree-Whacker of Oakland County

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

A male Pileated with a noticeable red cheek stripe creates a cavity to search out insects.

A male Pileated with a noticeable red cheek stripe creates a cavity to search out insects.

Pileated Woodpeckers are the loudest and most striking forest birds in the woodlands of Oakland County. They are also the largest woodpecker species to be found in North America, with the exception of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker: a magnificent bird that once haunted the southern swamps of the United States and forests of Cuba. Sadly, most ornithologists believe that the Ivory Billed is now extinct due to habitat destruction. In 2004, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and The Nature Conservancy put a team together to investigate a dramatic sighting of an Ivory Billed Woodpecker in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas. Their findings remained inconclusive but leaned toward credibility; the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker remains the Holy Grail of ornithology. Continue reading