Season of the Spittlebugs

Spittlebug

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.

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Great Crested Flycatchers: Often Heard – Seldom Seen

Great Crested Flycatcher

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

Leopards in the Grass

Leopards in the Grass

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Summer is almost here, it’s the season leopards stalk through moist meadows and tall grass fields in search of prey. They are stealthy, well-camouflaged predators with powerful legs, keen eyesight, and voracious appetites. If prey comes within range, leg muscles tighten and in a lightning fast move, they lunge forward and strike; for that’s what ambush predators of all sizes do. Whether it be a bone-crushing leopard at Serengeti National Park in the wilds of Tanzania or a bug-swallowing northern leopard frog with a long sticky tongue on the wilder side of Oakland County.

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Turtle Woods Preserve

Turtle Woods Preserve

“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.”

Turtle Woods Preserve

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

Secrets of Cranberry Lake Park

Cranberry Lake Park

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

On sultry summer days the beautiful wooded swamps and protected wetlands of Cranberry Lake Park occasionally transform into short term havens for blood-thirsty mosquitoes and squadrons of dive-bombing deer flies. That is nature’s way all across the Wilder Side of Oakland County. I still remember a hot and humid late summer day when I meandered into that Oakland Township Park on a hunt for a few blackberries. I raced back to my vehicle a few minutes later with my arms flailing after becoming an involuntarily blood donor for what felt like millions of mosquitoes.

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