Monday, January 23, 2017

Searching for color in the winter woods

Yesterday morning I drove into Mt. Pleasant to spend a little bit of time wandering through the swamps at Mission Creek Woodland Park.  While I enjoy swamps any time of year, winter is the easiest time to travel through them in mid-Michigan.  Much of the surface water in the swamp is frozen this time of year and if you tread carefully you can walk across places where you would normally be in mud up to your knees.  I will admit to a few ill-advised steps that broke through thin ice and a few more that were made in areas with no ice present.  Mud... it happens.

Any time spent outdoors is good time.

Most of the time a walk through the woods in winter is about seeing the small details.

Leaves and stems melting through ice left by a recent storm

Fog droplets on a young American Beech tree

Color can be hard to find.  Sometimes it is subtle...

Turkey Tail fungus on a stump

Sometimes it is jarring when seen against all the drabs colors of the snow and sky.

Moss on a fallen log

Did you notice spider webs on the moss in the picture above?  There were hundred of webs strewn everywhere throughout the swamp.  A closer look revealed the architects...

The brightest color to be found throughout the swamp was the green of sedge tussocks.  Some of the tussocks were surrounded by open water (and last year's leaves); other tussocks were surrounded by ice and snow.

Sedge tussock and Red Oak leaves

Sedge tussocks surrounded by ice

The recent spate of warm weather has caused much of the snow and ice to melt away.  The trees both slow it down by blocking some of the rays of the sun, and speed it up by warming at the base because of the sun.

Snow melts quickly at the base of trees

Some meltwater is pooling in low areas, filling what will become seasonal ponds later in the year.  Other water is flowing away to lower areas.  As the water flows it cuts down through the ice.

Water flowing over the ice

A channel curves around tussocks and through the ice

Eventually, much of the water will flow either over the ground or through the soil to Mission Creek and from there to the Chippewa River.

Mission Creek

Someday this curve of the creek will cut completely through that bank and create an oxbow

Some of the my favorite finds of the day were the smallest.  Many of the trees in the swamp are covered with various types of lichens.  Some are easy to see from the ground.  Others are found higher in the trees.  When a tree falls, it brings those lichens down to a level where they are easy to see.

My favorite image of the day though was taken as I left the park.  Both sides of Crawford Road (also known as Harris St.) are lined with woods that arch over the roadway.  Even on sunny days this section of road is dark.  Yesterday, the warm temperatures and melting snows caused dense fog throughout the area.  It creates a really cool moody feeling to any woodland scene.

Crawford Road (Harris Street) near Mission Creek Park


  1. Gorgeous photos!
    There might not be a whole lot of color this time of year, but there is still plenty to see.

  2. Thanks Sue! I am glad that you enjoy the blog.