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.

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