When a large northern water snake(Nerodia sipedon sipedon) swims alongside your canoe and then suddenly looks straight at you on a sultry summer day, one thing is certain; it has your undivided attention. Northern water snakes are one of the most common snakes of Oakland County and are frequently encountered as the days of summer sizzle on and we relax and recreate near ponds, lakes, marshes and rivers. They are often under-appreciated, and at times heavily feared because of their appearance and bold, opportunist behavior. Herpetologists and nature lovers in theknow are enthralled with their behavior and patient observation helps to better understand their ways and coexist peacefully. Sadly, some people “know” they are venomous. They are not!
“To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same fields, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
It’s not easy to compress an entire season into 1,000 words but I’ll give it a try in today’s Wilder Side of Oakland County. Taking place the day before the first day of summer, consider this a phenology flashback to the ways and wonders of nature while we mostly stayed home the entire season of spring.
Phenology! It’s a word that devoted followers of nature’s way know well. Phenology is the calendar of nature’s “whens” — when trillium blooms, when gray treefrogs first sing, when monarchs migrate, when sassafras leaves turn red, when snapping turtles cross roads, when honey bees gathered first pollen, when turkey vultures return. In more scientific terms, the Aldo Leopold Society describes phenology as “The study of periodic life-cycle events in nature that are influenced by climate and seasonal change.” That critical sentence confirms nature’s calendar changes – sometimes slightly, sometimes dramatically. Attentive eyes note the change.
Spring was truly a beautiful season of renewal for those with a love for nature and the ways of the wild. I meandered my woods and meadows as well as few nearby wildlands armed with my camera and abundant patience almost every day from late March until the middle of June. I found peace, pleasure and endless excitement in nature’s way. The words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, which I cited above, were my guiding light of exploration; for even common flowers and wild creatures take on special beauty when we pause long enough to watch, listen, discover, and learn. Perhaps they were your guiding lights of comfort as well?
We may think they are strangers in the night, but when the sun goes down and night shadows dance, a nocturnal cast of nature’s characters appear. They are not strangers in the night, but under the cover of darkness, dramas of life and love, predator and prey and human avoidance go on. If I was to select just one species that increases activity by leaps and bounds at night, and sometimes trips my concealed motion-activated trail cameras, it would be our eastern coyotes. They inhabit every corner of our county and their yips and howls sometimes stir Facebook chat rooms into phobia-creating chatter resembling, “The coyotes are coming! The coyotes are coming!”
“A sap-run is the sweet good-by of winter. It is the fruit of the equal marriage of the sun and frost.” John Burroughs, Signs and Seasons (1886)
Eastern bluebirds had been flitting about my meadow for the past few weeks. Skunk cabbage emerged from frozen mud down at the marsh. Great Blue Herons and Sandhill Cranes stalked the edge of our county’s wetlands as the duel between the seasons accelerated. Those signs all teased of the approach of spring and then the county was bathed in blue sky with temperatures flirting with the 50 degree mark last weekend. Continue reading →