Thursday, May 31, 2012

Beach Freaks' Top Ten

Joan & Bob Elmouchi select these beaches in Beach Freaks' Guide to Michigan's Best Beaches. Only a few are close to Kalamazoo, but all are within a day's drive.

Top Ten Beaches in Michigan
1. Wilderness State Park, Sturgeon Bay Beach, city of Carp Lake

2. Michigan Recreation Area
, Manistee National Forest, Manistee

3. Fisherman's Island State Park
, Charlevoix

4. Ludington State Park, Ludington

5. North Bar Lake Nature Preserve
, Empire

6. Warren Dunes State Park
, Sawyer

7. Silver Lake State Park, Little Sable Point Lighthouse Beach, Mears

8. Lake Township Park and Platte River Point, Lake Township

9. Cheboygan State Park
, Cheboygan

10. Tunnel Park, Holland

Honorable Mention

1. Tawas Point State Park
, East Tawas

2. Duck Lake State Park
, Whitehall

3. Kirk Park, West Olive

4. Esch Road Beach, Empire

5. Metro Beach Metropark
, Mt Clemens

[I listed their best beaches near Kalamazoo in an earlier post.]

Available from Amazon

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Summer 2012 Events

Summer in Kalamazoo offers many options: biking, canoeing, hiking, or campingLake Michigan is a short drive (or a long bike ride) away.  Lots of small towns (and bigger ones) offer summer festivals.

 Summer events near Kalamazoo

June 1-3 Cerulean Warbler Weekend Hastings

June 2 National Trails Day

June 9-10 Michigan Free Fishing Weekend

June 14-16 Harborfest South Haven

June 14-16 56th Annual Waterfest Three Rivers

June 16 Breakfast on the Farm  free tickets Scotts 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.

June 30-July 1 Balloon Festival Battle Creek

July 11-15 Kindleberger Summer Festival Parchment

July 21 Southwest Michigan Bicycle Expo Kalamazoo 10am-4pm (county fairgrounds)

August 6-11 Thornapple River Expedition Potterville to Ada

August 9-12 Blueberry Festival South Haven

Also consider:

West Michigan Summer Weekends

Events at Kalamazoo's Arcadia Creek Festival Place
Event listings from Discover Kalamazoo

West Michigan Weekly has a list of W. Michigan bike trails and scheduled bike rides
Gazelle Sports' calendar of West Michigan Races and Running Workshops

League of Michigan Bicyclist's Michigan Ride Calendar

West Michigan Coastal Kayaker's Association Event Calendar
Outdoor Athlete has lists for Michigan running, biking and triathlon events. 

Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy volunteer workdays
Pure Michigan has a list of June events throughout Michigan and August events

State park events for June, July, and August 2012 from Michigan's DNR.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Parklands of the Midwest

Parklands of the Midwest:
Celebrating the Natural Wonders of America's Heartland

Dan Karcher

This book, by the editor of Midwest Living magazine, is part travel journal, part guidebook, and part picture book. Parks from 12 states (from the Dakotas through Kansas to Ohio) are illustrated with full color photos and a personalized account of the author's visit. The level of detail means only a few parks are featured for each state. A separate section in each chapter suggests restaurants, lodging, and attractions near the parks.

The Michigan chapter features three parks-- Porcupine Mountains, Palms Book State Park (Big Spring), and Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore. Sleeping Bear is presented in the most depth:
"The star here is a combined total of 65 miles of pristine Lake Michigan beaches and lumpy dunes-- 31 miles along the mainland and 24 miles around those two islands about six miles from shore.

"I'm greeted by Public Information Officer Bruce Huffman and Chief of Natural Resources Steve Yancho. Bruce, about a year into his job here, proves an able and eager guide-- his newbie enthusiasm is contagious. Steve is a friendly and extremely knowledgeable 28-year Sleeping Bear veteran who obviously loves his posting. We head for the nearest beach, at Empire.

"About 11,000 years ago, the last retreating glacier gouged out Lake Michigan. Aeons of slow-motion glacial action had helped from Sleeping Bear's ivory-colored, jumbo-size dunes, soaring up to 400 feet above the lake. Steve explains that the monoliths in the distance actually are called 'perched' dunes-- gravelly glacial rubble topped with sand, like fluffy frosting on a loaf cake."

The Sleeping Bear section continues with Petoskey stones, Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, historic buildings at Glen Haven, the South Manitou island lighthouse, and a charter fishing trip. It includes nearly 20 photos and a salmon recipe.

The Michigan chapter concludes with a section, "More Michigan Parks," that provides more photos and a paragraph or so on each of a dozen other parks:
Au Sable River and State Forest
Copper Country Trail National Scenic Byway
Grand Island National Recreation Area
Isle Royale National Park
Kal-Haven Trail State Park
Ludington State Park
Manistee River and National Forest
Kitch-iti-Kipi Spring
P.H. Hoeft State Park
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Seney National Wildlife Refuge
Tawas Point State Park

Other states are covered in a similar manner. Indiana's featured park is the Hoosier National Forest, in southern Indiana, with a nod to the Indiana dunes. The Illinois chapter starts with Starved Rock State Park and then looks in detail at the Shawnee National Forest and its Garden of the Gods.

While the featured parks aren't particularly close to Kalamazoo, many are within a few hours' drive. This book with its engaging pictures and enthusiastic descriptions creates a desire to hit the road.

Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, other bookstores and libraries. Iowa Public Television has a companion TV program

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mourning Cloak

Mourning Cloak butterflies (Nymphalis antiopa) are widely distributed in the United States and Canada.  They can be found further south, in Mexico and northern South America.  They are also found in parts of Europe.  Mourning Cloaks are one of Michigan's earliest butterflies since they can overwinter as an adult.  They can live up to 11 months, one of the longest butterfly lifespans.

Mourning Cloaks are a common woodland butterfly since they prefer to drink tree sap to flower nectar.  Their caterpillars eat leaves from a variety of trees and shrubs.  The caterpillars are spiny and cluster together for protection, twitching in unison to discourage predators. 

In England this species is called the Camberwell Beauty.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Muskrat baby

Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) in the north have their first litter in late April or early May.  At birth, they are nearly hairless and blind, so they spend their first two weeks in their den.  We saw this one last weekend, so it was probably on one of its first outings.

Muskrats are widely distributed in the United States and Canada and have been introduced in other countries because of the value of their fur. Muskrats aren't really a rat; behaviorally, they are similar to a beaver-- spending most of their time in the water and building lodges and dens.  (Smithsonian says they are also called Muskbeavers, which would be a better name but I've never heard anyone use it.)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Midwest Canoe Trails

Midwest Canoe Trails
by John W Malo

This guidebook gives short descriptions of over 100 rivers in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ontario. While it's over thirty years old, and much of the rental information is out-of-date, the rivers are still there.

"In all probability there is no region in the world that offers so much canoeable water over such an extensive area and so readily available to millions of people as does the upper Midwest of the United States and the contiguous province of Ontario, Canada."

The guide lists 44 rivers in Michigan, and describes about half of them.

"The water trails of the Wolverine state knew the birchbark canoe long before they floated the bateaus of the French explorers. Indians, voyageurs, settlers, loggers, and, now, recreationists have enjoyed the state's moving waters, which have retained much of their integrity to this day."

Canoe Trails near Kalamazoo

1. Kalamazoo River
"The portion of this river that offers the best canoeing experience is from Allegan (Routes 89 and 40) to Saugatuck. There are well-developed state forest campgrounds in the county and numerous other places along the bank for unrestricted camping. The river flows between high banks and forests with many large trees."

2. Paw Paw River

3. Thornapple River

4. St Joseph River
"This southwestern river is born at Sturgeon Lake near Colon at Route 86, where you can put in. You will meander over a lot of Indian trail water as you cruise this river, which flows through agricultural country."

5. Flat River

6. Grand River

"Add the Grand River, which rambles for 185 miles in scenic beauty through seven counties, to your collection, and you will be able to boast of the experience of canoeing the most crooked river in Michigan. The river also meanders through four cities-- Jackson, Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Grand Haven before it enters Lake Michigan."

7. Looking Glass River

8. Red Cedar River

9 Maple River

10. Muskegon River

"This River rises in Higgins and Houghton lakes in Roscommon County and flows southwesterly for 227 miles to its terminus at Lake Michigan."

11. White River

12. Pere Marquette River

"For a hundred miles the Pere Marquette River is a fast trout water with many quick turns along its wooded course."

13 Pigeon River
"This stream in northeast Indiana from Mongo to the Michigan state line is a twenty-mile cruise with four well-defined portages." "Spring is the time to float this river, for the canoeist will be treated to meadows in bloom and trillium covering the banks and fields in milky white panoramas for miles along the way."

This book is out-of-print. Some used-book sellers may have copies available. I found one at my library.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Swamp Buttercup

Swamp Buttercup's shiny yellow flowers look a lot like Marsh Marigold flowers and the plants both grow in wet areas.  Marsh Marigolds bloom earlier-- they are mostly in seed now, while the Swamp Buttercups in Kalamazoo seem to be at peak flower.  Swamp Buttercups often grow in sunnier spots than the Marsh Marigolds.  The quickest way to distinguish these plants is to look at their leaves: Marsh Marigolds have round leaves while Swamp Buttercup leaves are pointy and divided into three lobes with jagged edges.

Swamp Buttercups (Ranunculus hispidus) are widely distributed through the central United States and Canada.  Until recently, Swamp Buttercups were considered to be a distinct species, Ranunculus septentrionalis, but they have been reclassified as a variety of Hispid Buttercup.

Apparently buttercups contain a harsh chemical, glycoside, that can cause skin irritation and blisters if you are exposed to the sap and poison livestock.  I've never considered picking or eating them, so no problems.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Wood Frog

Wood Frogs are currently Lithobates sylvaticus; until a 2007 reclassification, the scientific name was Rana sylvatica. These frogs are fairly common in Michigan and throughout much of the US and Canada.  Wood frogs are one of the northernmost amphibians since they survive the winter by an extreme form of hibernation; they essentially freeze solid.

Springtime is breeding season for these frogs.  They lay their eggs in vernal pools in the woods so fish can't eat them.

My daughter spotted this little frog last weekend while we were looking for morels. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Tree Frog

I hardly ever see tree frogs and I probably would have missed this one if my daughter hadn't spotted it on a Mayapple while we were hunting for morels with friends.  This is most likely an Eastern Gray Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor).  Michigan has two species of Gray Tree Frogs that are difficult to distinguish without genetic testing, so this one could be a Cope's Gray Tree Frog (Hyla chrysoscelis).

These frogs can change color from grey to green and they can be solid colored or have a mottled pattern.  Color changes let them hide from predators by blending into the background.

photo by Maria Stull