Friday, April 28, 2017

More spring wildflowers (Mission Creek Woodland Park - 25 APR 2017)

The spring wildflower season is definitely upon us.  Earlier this week, I spent some time photographing the plants at Mission Creek Woodland Park.  Mission Creek is probably my favorite local photography destination.

The park is located on the north side of Mt. Pleasant at 1458 N. Harris Street (Crawford Rd.).  The park measures 60 acres in size, with the majority of the park being wooded and undeveloped.  The north and east edges of the park are mostly swamp.  This is where I like to spend my time.

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is one of my favorite subjects to photograph.  Its flowers are mostly done for the year and beginning to develop seeds.

The large leaves of the skunk cabbage give the plant its name.  They do indeed look like cabbage leaves and they smell like a skunk when crushed or broken.  The leaves are just now emerging from the muck of the swamp, but will reach eventually grow to be as much as 1foot wide and 2 feet long.  Sections of this swamp will be completely covered with the leaves.

I love how the immense size of the skunk cabbage leaves contrast with just about any other plant such as these sedges.

Right now the swamp is also full of Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris).  Their yellow flowers certainly brighten up the overall green color scheme of the swamp.

I never got close, but I saw a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) butterfly feeding on Marsh Marigold nectar.  It looks like its going to be a big year for Red Admirals - they are everywhere.

One edge of the swamp was covered with the small white flowers of Spring Cress (Cardamine bulbosa).

Spring Cress requires a little bit drier soil than either Skunk Cabbage or Marsh Marigold.  Many of the Spring Cress plants were growing on clumps of sedge.  It is amazing how a change of a few inches can influence the types of plants that can be found.

In drier areas of the park I found dozens of Yellow Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum).  This seems to be a good year for finding trout lilies - a friend sent me a photograph showing at least twenty flowers in an area of probably less than 3 feet by 3 feet.  Unlike many other spring wildflowers, trout lilies do not bloom every year.  Producing a flower takes lots of energy and it takes each plant as much as 7-10 years to store up enough (in the form of sugar) to be able to create a flower.

I found a few Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) flowers in bloom.  These plants typically only flower for a day or two.  Once pollinated they begin to lose their petals within hours.  My Bloodroot plants at home have been done flowering for a week. 

Bloodroot is one of many spring wildflowers that are spread by ants.  Each Bloodroot seed has a fleshy coating known as an eliaosome;  ants like to eat this coating.  They harvest the seeds and carry them back to their tunnels where they eat the eliaosome before depositing the seeds in their garbage piles.

I also found many hundreds (probably thousands) of Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) flowers in bloom in the drier areas of the park. 


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Trail camera pictures (April 14 - 24)

I changed memory cards in my trail cameras yesterday.  It was no surprise that I had lots of pictures of squirrels, raccoons, and white-tailed deer.  Many of the deer took the opportunity to pose for the camera.

While I enjoy the posing deer, I was really excited to get two new species on camera.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What's blooming? (24 APR 2017)

I had a little time yesterday and stopped at Chipp-A-Waters Park to see what wildflowers are in bloom...


Yellow Trout Lily

Cut-leaf Toothwort

False Rue Anemone and Wild Leek

False Rue Anemone

Large-flowered Trillium

Spring Beauty

Yellow Trout Lily

Yellow Trout Lilies

Dutchman's Breeches

Large-flowered Trilliums

Large-flowered Trillium

Blue Cohosh

Common Blue Violet

Friday, April 21, 2017

Earth Day at Audubon Woods

Tomorrow (April 22nd) is Earth Day!

I will be spending the morning at the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's Audubon Woods Preserve leading an educational walk through the preserve.  Joining me in leading this walk will be CWC Executive Director Katie Randall.

Audubon Woods Preserve is located at the corner of Wing Rd and Gilmore Road northwest of the village of Winn.  If coming from Mt. Pleasant:  head west on M-20 (High St./Remus Rd.) to Winn Rd.; turn left on Winn Road and continue south on Wing Rd. for 2.5 miles; turn right on Wing Rd and continue west for 1 mile to the preserve.  Parking is along the side of the road.

For more information on this walk visit the CWC's website.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sounds of Spring - Spring Peepers

We spent the past week in the Traverse City area.  When we pulled up to our hotel on Friday night we immediately noticed a familiar sound.  The area behind the hotel is basically a shrub swamp and this weekend that swamp was hosting dozens of male Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) each hoping to attract a mate with his peep peep peep calls.  The louder and more frequently a frog call, the better his chances of attracting a mate.  There was also at least one Western Chorus Frog (Pseudacris triseriata) that periodically adds his voice.

It didn't happen while I was recording, but at one point a storm passed through with a loud crack of thunder.  Every single frog, which to that point had been vociferously calling, immediately went silent.  The effect was enough to make me chuckle.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A few "spring ephemerals"

On Sunday afternoon (17 April) I send a few minutes photographing wildflowers.  I found Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia), Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), and Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) in bloom.  I also photographed the foliage of Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) and Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum).

Wild Strawberry

Common Blue Violet


Dutchman's Breeches
Virginia Waterleaf and Large-flowered Trillium foliage

Where did I find these wildflowers?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Wild Leeks

One of my favorite sights in the spring woods is the patches of Wild Leek (Allium tricoccum). Some years they emerge from the ground so fast that I think you could hear them growing if only you listened close enough.



Thursday, April 13, 2017

Upcoming Event - Bird Day Celebration (13 May 2017)

Join me on Saturday May 13th as we celebrate International Migratory Bird Day in Mt. Pleasant.  Start the day at 9:00AM with a bird walk at the Soaring Eagle Hideaway RV Park (5514 E. Airport Rd.).  Chippewa Valley Audubon Club president Gary Kramer will lead a search for waterfowl on Grewes Lake and spring migratory songbirds on the nearby walking trail.

At 1:00PM join us at the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways (6650 E. Broadway Rd.) for an afternoon of bird-related crafts and learning activities.  The afternoon starts at 1:00 with a welcome ceremony and Eagle Dance.  

Outside, the fields surrounding the Ziibiwing Center are a great place to see grassland birds such as Eastern Meadowlarks, Bobolinks, and Grasshopper Sparrows.  The nesting boxes along the Bluebird Trail should be attracting residents such as Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows.

End the day with a live Birds of Prey presentation by the Howell Nature Center.  This presentation will give you the opportunity to see a variety of raptor species up close including an adult Bald Eagle!

This will be the sixth year that we have celebrated this event.  Please come and help us make it bigger and better than ever.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Upcoming Event - Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's Spring Banquet (20 April 2017)

It's not too late...

It's not too late to purchase tickets for the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's Annual Banquet. I put this event on my calendar months in advance.  It's a fun evening with good food and good company.  The CWC has a history of bringing interesting speakers - this year's presentation by Kyle Bagnall is about a canoe trip down the entire length of the Chippewa River.  The silent auction is always full of items that I can't live without - I am currently putting together a basket of hiking/outdoor items to enter in the auction.

The best part is that all proceeds go to support land and water conservation/preservation in Mid-Michigan.  Visit the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's website to reserve your tickets.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A hawk makes a kill...

Yesterday I shared a short video segment that I recorded at Forest Hill Nature Area.

Today I wanted to share just a couple of photographs from the same walk. 

As Shara and I walked along the edge of the property's South Woods, we noticed a Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) fly up from trailside and land in one of the trees.  It stayed in the tree for about 10 seconds and then flew away.

A Red-tailed Hawk in distant tree

This photograph is nothing to write home about.  It was taken from about 50 yards away with a lens more suited to close subjects.  The real excitement came when we approached the spot where the hawk had been on the ground.

Plucked feathers indicate a kill site

The ground beside the trail was strewn with feathers.  Lots of feathers.  Obviously, the hawk had been on the site of a kill.  While Red-tailed Hawks often eat mice and other small animals whole, with larger animals they use their beak to pluck the prey's fur (or in this case feathers) before feeding.

Several of the feathers on the ground were quite distinctive such as the spotted feathers to the left of the photo and one iridescent purple/blue feather.  My first impression from the feathers was that the hawk had made a kill of a Wood Duck (Aix sponsa). 

A little more searching confirmed this as I found the remains of a Wood Duck drake (adult male) a few feet away on the other side of a tree.

This Wood Duck drake was killed and partially eaten by a Red-tailed Hawk

The breast of the duck was completely plucked and most of the meat had been eaten from one side of the breast.

Although Red-tailed Hawks have been persecuted in the past because people thought that they preyed on large numbers of game birds and game animals (such as rabbits), the majority of their diet is made up of small mammals such as mice and voles.  Overall, between 80% and 95% of their diet consists of mammals (mostly rodents).  Birds (of all types) consist of at most 10% of their diet.  The remainder of their prey consists of insects, reptiles, and amphibians.  Red-tailed Hawks will also occasionally feed on fresh carrion such as road-killed deer.

I don't know if the hawk flew away from the kill because it heard us (we were still not visible when it flew) or if it was just done with its meal.  Either way, the meat from the duck will not go to waste.  The hawk may have returned after we left to resume feeding or another animal would eventually find it and scavenge the remains.

Although I have found kills by hawks (or owls) in the past, this was by far the freshest.  It was pretty cool to be able to piece together this story so easily.