Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Spring Cleaning

It's that time of year again.

Time to clean up the native pollinator gardens.

Most of the plants are either still dormant or they are just coming out of their dormancy.  There is very little to see above ground. At the bases of some plants there are a few green shoots waiting to spring up once weather conditions become right.

The first four photographs show the garden at the Saginaw Chippewa Academy as of yesterday (30 MAR 2015)

SCA Native Pollinator Garden before cleanup - photo #1

SCA Native Pollinator Garden before cleanup - photo #2

SCA Native Pollinator Garden after cleanup - photo #1

SCA Native Pollinator Garden after cleanup - photo #2

The remaining eight photographs show the condition of the native pollinator garden at Winn Elementary as of yesterday (30 MAR 2015)

Winn Elementary Native Pollinator Garden before cleanup - photo #1

Winn Elementary Native Pollinator Garden before cleanup - photo #2

Winn Elementary Native Pollinator Garden before cleanup - photo #3

Winn Elementary Native Pollinator Garden before cleanup - photo #4

Winn Elementary Native Pollinator Garden after cleanup - photo #1

Winn Elementary Native Pollinator Garden after cleanup - photo #2

Winn Elementary Native Pollinator Garden after cleanup - photo #3

Winn Elementary Native Pollinator Garden after cleanup - photo #4

I still have the garden at the Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum left to clean up.  The garden at the Morey Public School Academy was cleaned out last fall by volunteers at the school.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Gratiot County Heron Rookery

I stopped at Forest Hill Nature Area again today a took a walk on the north side of the property.  I found lots of interesting things, including several firsts for the year, but the best sight of the day was something that I saw on the way home.

I found a heron rookery just down the road - about 1.5 miles south of Forest Hill. The rookery is visible from both Rich Road and Jefferson Road.

When I approached from the north I could see several Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) circling around the rookery.  Four of those herons landed in a field immediately to the west of the rookery.

Of the four herons, I was able to get three of them in a photograph.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Clouds and Birds - Forest Hill Nature Area (26 MAR 2015)

After work yesterday I stopped at the Forest Hill Nature Area for a short walk.  Located in Gratiot County, Forest Hill is own by the Gratiot Conservation District operated as a nature center by the Gratiot Isabella Regional Education Service District.  Forest Hill is approximately 90 acres and consists of woodlands, restored wetlands and grasslands, and several restored farm buildings.  A number of trails criss-cross the property.

Trail Map at Forest Hill

The weather was a little bit dreary for a walk, cold and windy, but the cloudy skies were great for photography.

Cumulostratus clouds over "Mallard Marsh"

A Crab Apple tree silhouetted against the clouds

Clouds over "Grebe Pond"

There was very little that indicated that the seasons have officially changed from Winter to Spring.  With the exception of a few blades of grass, there is very little green to be found.  Last year's flower stalks and seed heads still stand in the fields.

The mostly empty seedpods of a dogbane plant - a few seeds can be seen clinging on

Last year's Purple Coneflowers have been picked over by birds

Empty flowers talks and grass seedheads in the native grassland planting

The branches of trees and shrubs remain bare of leaves, exposing evidence of browsing, flaws, and bird nests.

Red-osier Dogwood - almost every branch had been nipped off by deer

"Witches brooms" on willow shrubs - this irregular growth can be caused by many things including fungi

A closer look at some "Witch's broom"

Last year's goldfinch nest

For most of my walk I avoided the groomed trails and followed deer trails or walked across the open fields.

A well-traveled deer trail through a low swampy area

By walking off of the trails I was able to find a few views that were new to me, as well as a few small surprises.

This wetland area is known as "Sora Swale" - the trail around follows the high ground to the rear

A dead snag, occupied by shelf fungi, and excavated by a woodpecker

A small Eastern White Pine seedling establishing itself in the meadow

One thing that did indicate that the seasons have actually begun to change was the presence of birds.  Everywhere I looked (or listened) there were birds to be found.

A pair of Canada Geese winging overhead

The same pair of geese coming in for a landing

A different pair of geese in "Sora Swale" - to the left you can see three Wood Ducks taking off

The Wood Ducks flying away

A Canada Goose calling loudly as it circles

Most of the birds that I saw were expected (Canada Geese, Wood Ducks, Red-winged Blackbirds, American Crows, etc.), but there was one unexpected species.  In the middle of Grebe Pond, was a single male Greater Scaup.  This species of duck, commonly called a Bluebill, is only found in Michigan during the Spring and Fall migration periods.  I watched this duck for about 20 minutes as it repeatedly dove below the surface of the pond in search of food.  This duck was careful to keep at least 3/4 of the width of the pond between us and I was never able to get a good photograph.

A single Greater Scaup drake

I think I could have probably sat for hours waiting for this duck to move closer with no results.  Eventually I had to pick up my camera and head for home, leaving Forest Hill to the birds.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

100 Species to Know By Sight - #12 Eastern Chipmunk

Species on #12 on my list of species that every kid (and adult) in Mid-Michigan should be able to identify by sight is the Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus).  The Eastern Chipmunk is one of eight species of squirrels that call Mid-Michigan home.  There is one other species of Chipmunk that can be found in Michigan, the Least Chipmunk (Tamias minimus), but its range in Michigan is limited to the Upper Peninsula.

Eastern Chipmunk peering from behind a log

The Eastern Chipmunk is a ground squirrel.  It digs extensive burrows and can be found in hardwood and coniferous forests, along forest edges, and in suburban areas.  Despite being a ground squirrel, the Eastern Chipmunk is an excellent climber and will climb trees.

A "tame" Eastern Chipmunk as a state park campground

Eastern Chipmunk identification is easy.  The Eastern Chipmunk is an overall reddish-brown color on its upper parts.  Its upper back is lined with five dark brown stripes alternating with light brown stripes that run from the shoulders to the lower back where they fade out.  The tail typically is covered with the same reddish-brown fur as the body with longer black-tipped guard hairs giving it grayish appearance.  This tail is often held upright as the chipmunk runs.

Eastern Chipmunk - the same campground chipmunk as in the above photo

Another feature of the Eastern Chipmunk that you might notice is its cheek pouches.  Food that is not consumed immediately is cached for later use.  Chipmunks stuff this food into expansive pouches in their cheeks in order to carry it back to their caches.  If a Chipmunk has filled pouches it looks as if its face is swollen.

Eastern Chipmunk - note the filled cheek pouches

Eastern Chipmunk - the same chipmunk showing the filled cheeks from the side

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Think Spring

Spring may be officially here, but Winter does not want to give up its grip entirely.  This morning, freezing rain is leaving a coat of ice on everything.

I don't want to think about Winter anymore.  I want to think about Spring.

Last Friday I shared some photographs from a walk through Mission Creek Park.  I mentioned that Mission Creek is my favorite park in Mt. Pleasant.

Spring is the reason why.

In about six weeks, the park will look like it does in these photos from 2009.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Mission Creek Walk - 20 MAR 2015

Friday was the first day of Spring.  With only a couple of programs on my schedule for the day, I was able to take a little bit of time to visit Mission Creek Woodland Park and see if the conditions that I found also indicated a change in the seasons.

Mission Creek is my favorite park in Mt.Pleasant.  When I visit Mission Creek, almost all of my tie is spent exploring the wetlands that make up more than half of the park.  These wetlands are a diverse group of habitats made up of sections of cedar swamp, red maple/green ash swamp, and shrub swamp.  The presence of so much water in the ground means that these habitats  react a little bit differently to the seasons that the surrounding uplands habitats.

Much of the cedar swamp is deep in shade along Mission Creek.  Parts of it are still covered with snow and ice.  Other sections do not have any visible ice, but still have frozen ground that can support my weight.

This habitat once had large cedar trees that were logged off sometime in the past.  Now only stumps remain of these monsters, hidden in the second-growth that remains.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Vernal Equinox 2015

Happy Vernal Equinox!

Today at 6:45PM (EST) the seasons switch from Winter to Spring.  The date that this switch occurs is known as the Vernal Equinox.

On this date, the sun appears to cross the equator from the southern sky to the northern sky.  The sun does not really cross the equator, but a tilt in the Earth's axis means that the sun does not strike the globe evenly.  During the Northern Winter, the North Pole points away from the sun by an angle of 23.5 degrees while the South Pole points toward the sun an equal number of degrees.  This ensures that during our northern winter we get much less sunlight during a day than the southern hemisphere does during the same period (their summer).  During our Northern Summer, the northern hemisphere is angled toward the sun so we receive more hours of sunlight that the southern hemisphere does during the same period (their winter).

On the Equinox, poles are essentially perpendicular to the rays of the sun so locations in the northern and southern hemispheres receive equal hours of sunlight and darkness.  Mt. Pleasant is located at 43 degrees 36 minutes north of the equator.  On the equinox, it experiences 12 hours 8 minutes worth of daylight.  A location located at 43 degrees 36 minutes south of the equator will receive approximately the same length of daylight.  The hours of daylight that Mt. Pleasant Experiences will grow until it reaches 15 hours 26 minutes around the Summer Solstice.  Then our hours of sunlight will diminish until on the Winter Solstice we experience only 8 hours 56 minutes of daylight, before increasing again.

To learn more about the changing of the seasons please look at my Vernal Equinox posts from 2013 and 2014.

Here is photo to get you in the mood for Spring.

A small metallic green bee on Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) - April 2014

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Field Trip - 2015 "Butterflies in Bloom" at Dow Gardens

Last Spring I posted some photographs from the 2014 "Butterflies in Bloom" exhibit at Dow Gardens.

This year's exhibit opened on February 27th and continues until Sunday April 19th.  The exhibit is open daily from 10:00AM to 4:00PM.  Admission to Dow Gardens is $5.00 for a daily pass or $10.00 for an annual pass.

This is great exhibit for kids.  Butterflies in Bloom features butterflies from around the world.  Many of the butterflies are very approachable and will allow gentle handling.  With Spring Break coming up soon for local schools this would make a great day trip!

Here are a few more of my photographs from last year's Butterflies in Bloom.

Five weekends left