Thursday, December 30, 2010

Feather track

Mice aren't the only animals to leave interesting tracks in the snow. Birds of prey often leave imprints of their wingtips when they strike. I think these tracks may have been from an owl. (Only the right side is shown in the picture, the left wing marks were mixed with a lot of small mammal tracks.)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Natural Michigan part 2 (Southwest)

Natural Michigan: A Nature Lover's Guide to 228 Attractions
by Tom Powers

This guidebook describes over 200 natural areas throughout the state, with directions & small maps and some black & white photos. In my first post on this guidebook, I selected areas closest to Kalamazoo. Here are a few more suggestions, a bit further south, but still reasonably close to Kalamazoo.

Southwest Michigan Natural Areas
1. Sarret Nature Center
"There, in a gallery of manmade structures-- towers, elevated platforms, benches, boardwalks, and an extensive system of woodchip covered paths-- you can view 350 acres of swamp and floodplain forest from a wide range of perspectives." Nature trails, birdwatching, visitor center.

directions:from I-94, east of Benton Harbor, take I-196 north 1 mile to Red Arrow Highway (first exit). West on Red Arrow to Benton Center Road (first intersection). North on Benton Center 3/4 mile to entrance. 2300 Benton Center Rd, Benton Harbor.
Sarret Nature Center

2. Love Creek Nature Center
"Your camera will also come in handy during walks down any of the 200-acre center's 13 nature trails." Visitor center, wildflowers, hiking, birdwatching, cross county skiing.

directions: From Berrien Springs take M-139 (Old US-31)southeast to Pokagon Road. East on Pokagon, 2 miles to Huckleberry Road. 1 mile north on Huckleberry to entrance. 9228 Huckleberry Rd, Berrien Center
Love Creek Nature Center

3. Dayton Creek Wet Prairie Preserve
"This quietly spectacular preserve holds one of the last vestiges of a 15,000-acre prairie that at one time spread over much of the Michigan/Indiana border." 47 acres, Nature Conservancy, wildflowers, wet!

directions: From US-31 exit onto US-12, then 2 miles west to Red Bud Trail. South on Red Bud 2 miles to Curran Road. West on Curran, 2 miles to preserve.

4. Bertrand Park

"This heavily wooded 121-acre Berrien County park is as pleasing to the senses today as it must have been to the Indians who passed through it on the Saul and Chicago trails and to the French voyageurs who paddled their fur-laden canoes down the historic St. Joseph River, which marks the park's west boundary." Hiking, birding, picnic shelters, playgrounds, disc golf, cross country ski trails.

directions: From Niles take M-51 south 2 miles to Ontario Drive. East on Ontario 1/2 mile to Adams Road. 1/2 mile south on Adams to park entrance. Admission
Madeline Bertrand County Park

5. Trillium Ravine Plant Preserve
"Press on through all this natural beauty until you get to a V-shaped ravine with almost geometrically perfect sides. By late spring its steep slopes are blanketed in a rich, dense green that from a distance looks like the felt covering on a pool table." Wildflowers, mature hardwoods, toadshade and prairie trillium (bloom as early as April 9th), Michigan Nature Association, 15 acres.

directions: From Niles, north on Business US-31 to Walton Road (US 31). Southwest on Walton to Geyer Road. 0.6 miles east on Geyer to preserve.
Trillium Ravine

6. Fernwood, Inc.

"Fernwood, a 105-acre privately owned preserve and botanical garden on the east bank of the St. Joseph River where you can enjoy the peace and beauty of nature from a garden gazebo, a riverbank, the midst of a garden, or a hillside full of azaleas." Nature trails, arboretum, garden beds, greenhouse.

directions: From Niles, take US 12 west 4 miles to Red Bud Trail. North on Red Bud to Walton Road to Range Line Road.
13988 Range Line Road.
Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve

7. Dowagiac Woods
"Spring is without a doubt the best time to visit, Fifty different blooming species of wildflowers literally carpet the forest floor then in a spectacular display." Trails, wildflowers, birdwatching, Michigan Nature Association.

directions: From Dowagiac, 4 miles west on M-62 then south 1 mile on Sink Road to Frost Road. 1 miles east on Frost to parking area.
Dowagiac Woods

8. Russ Forest Park
"At this Cass County park, you have the rare opportunity to picnic, hike and study nature in a national Natural Landmark that also serves as a living research laboratory." Nature trails, Newton Woods, old growth hardwoods, trout stream, picnic area & playground.

directions: Eight miles west of Marcellus on Marcellus Highway.
Fred Russ Forest Park

9. Dr T.K. Lawless County Park

"A covey of knobby hills and deep hollows ripple the parks landscape." Trails, birdwatching, picnic area with sports fields, cross-country skiing.

directions:From Vandalia, east on M-60, two miles to Lewis Lake Road. South on Lewis to Monkey Run St. East on Monkey Run .5 mile to park entrance.
admission fee
Dr. T.K. Lawless Park

10. White Pigeon River Nature Sanctuary

"Fifty-eight acres of steep hillsides, old river channels, flooded bottomlands, lagoons and riverbanks, plus a riot of plant and animal life are good reasons to visit and explore this premier example of the work of the Michigan Nature Association." Birding, wildflowers, nature trail.

directions: From White Pigeon, West on US 12 then South on Burke Road. Park at intersection of Burke & Silver Creek Road.
White Pigeon River Nature Sanctuary

11. Pahl Point Park
"On the face of it, this small St. Joseph County park hardly seems worth going out of your way to visit." Diverse habitat, birding, covered bridge, wildflowers.
directions: from Mendon, 3 miles West on M-60, then South 3.3 miles on Silver St.
St. Joseph County Parks

This book may be out of print. Amazon and Barnes & Noble may have copies through their affiliates. I found it at my local library.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mourning Dove

The cooing of Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) is frequently heard in Kalamazoo. These native relatives of the common pigeon are abundant in Michigan and are found throughout North America. Some Mourning Doves migrate while others overwinter in Michigan.

They eat seeds and banding studies show they can live up to 10 years in the wild. Apparently they produce a rich "pigeon milk" in their crop to feed their young. Dove hunting is prohibited in Michigan.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Eagle eye

Eagles aren't that common in Kalamazoo and when I visited the Kalamazoo Nature Center on Friday I certainly wasn't looking for one. Yet, the moment I stepped on the observation platform overlooking the Kalamazoo River valley, my eye was drawn to the white feathers on the head & tail of a Bald Eagle and I immediately knew what I was looking at. From the observation deck, you can literally see for miles so the eagle was just a small shape, barely more than a dot, about a quarter mile away. Yet its black & white feathers stood in sharp contrast to the grays and browns of the landscape. Of course, the eagle's vision was much better than mine, but it seemed too focused on a dispersed flock of hundreds of crows to pay attention to me.

Later, when I looked for the trail name on the Nature Center's map, I saw the observation deck was on "Raptor Ridge".

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Snow tunnel

While field mice and voles are difficult to see in the wild during the summer, in the winter it can be easy to find their snow tunnels. Unlike the chipmunk or the woodchuck, these small mammals stay active all winter, building systems of tunnels under the snow. When the snow is shallow, like it was this week, the tracks are visible.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Love Creek ski trails

Kalamazoo's first snow was December 1st. Every day since then, I'd been tempted to get out my skis, even though I knew the snow wasn't deep enough for cross-country yet. Then I remembered that Outside Magazine's guidebook, Urban Adventure Chicago, recommended Love Creek County Park for its early lake effect snow. Love Creek is outside Berrien Springs, just over an hour southwest of Kalamazoo. On Friday, I decided to try it.

As the book promised, Love Creek had substantially deeper snow than Kalamazoo. The trails pass through a mix of woods and open prairie with some rolling hills. In many sections, they are groomed with both traditional double tracks and a wide flat section for skate skiing. I started with the 2.5 mile yellow loop with the intention of trying one of the three other loops afterward.

It had been overcast when I left Kalamazoo but, by the time I started skiing, the sun broke through the clouds making a glorious clear day. The trail was great until that bright sun softened the snow enough to make it sticky. Towards the end of the loop, I was stopping to scrape snow off the bottom of my skis every few minutes. Rather than slog through a second lap, I declared it a successful inaugural run and changed into boots and walked their winter hiking trail.

Ski rentals are available in the park visitor center. Current trail conditions are updated daily on the Berrien County Parks homepage. More information is available in the Berrien County Parks Cross Country Skiing brochure (pdf).

Love Creek County Park
9292 Huckleberry Road
Berrien Center, MI
(269) 471-2617

Directions: Take I-94 to exit 30. Follow Napier Avenue east to US 31 South. Take US 31 south to exit 15 onto M-139 (Old 31) southeast to Berrien Springs. Cross the river & turn left to Deans Hill Road, then immediately right onto Pokagon Rd. Follow signs to the park.

Entry fee. Trail fee. Season passes available.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Natural Michigan

Natural Michigan: A Nature Lover's Guide to 228 Attractions
by Tom Powers

This guidebook has over 200 pages describing natural areas throughout the state, with directions & small maps and the occasional black & white photo. It excludes Michigan's State & National Parks since the author covers them in a separate guide. The natural areas in this book range from pocket parks to large game areas.

Natural Areas near Kalamazoo

1. Kalamazoo Nature Center

"Most of the outstanding natural features-- including the Kalamazoo River and more than 200 acres of mature beech/maple forest-- that drew James Fenimore Cooper as a regular visitor to the area more than 100 years ago are even more impressive today." nature trails, DeLano Homestead, interpretive center, arboretum.

directions: From US-131 exit Avenue D (north of Kalamazoo). East on D about 3 miles to Westnedge Avenue. South on Westnedge, 1 mile to entrance.
Kalamazoo Nature Center

2. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary
"This large number of different birds, their closeness to the visitor and the hand feeding of the Canadian Geese make the Kellogg Sanctuary an ideal place for a first exposure to nature study and birding, especially for children."

directions: Take M-89 to 40th Street (between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek). North on 40th 1 mile to C Avenue. West on C to entrance.
Kellogg Bird Sanctuary

3. Allegan State Game Area

"Scenic beauty, easy hiking, two campgrounds, and some of the state's best birdwatching are good reasons to pay a visit to the Allegan State Game Area."

directions: From Allegan, take M-89 to 115th Avenue. West 6 miles on 115th to 44th St. North on 44th to parking lots.
Allegan State Game Area

4. Bernard W Baker Sanctuary
"This 871 acres of swamp and wetlands near Battle Creek probably is the nation's first Sandhill Crane sanctuary and definitely is the first and largest of the Michigan Audubon Society's 10 sanctuaries."

directions: From I-94 take I-69 north to exit 42 (first exit). West on N Drive North to 16 Mile Road. North on 16 Mile about 3.3 miles to sanctuary.
Baker Sanctuary

5. Jenney Woods Preserve

"The wild, untamed 142-acre tract of swamp, old-growth hardwoods and swamp forest has no trails, no interpretive signs, no restrooms, and no parking lot."

directions: From I-94, take I-69 south about 6 miles to F Drive South. West on F to 15 1/2 mile Rd. North of 15 1/2 to C Drive. Left on C, 3miles to the preserve.
Nature Conservancy

6. Whitehouse Nature Center

"Located on the campus of Albion College, the 125-acre center's other varied habitats-- including open fields, farmland, marshy areas, and the edges of the east branch of the Kalamazoo River, and 25 acres of woodland-- support nearly 400 kinds of plants and more than 175 species of birds."

directions: Take I-94 to exit 121 and follow Business-94 to Albion College. On campus, go south on Hannah across the railroad tracks and turn left to nature center parking lot.
Whitehouse Nature Center

Other areas near Kalamazoo covered in this book: Southwest Michigan Natural Areas

This book may be out of print. Amazon and Barnes & Noble may have copies through their affiliates. I found it at my local library.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Skiing in Southern Michigan

Adventure Guide to Michigan
by Kevin & Laurie Hillstrom

This guidebook has regional features and destinations for specific sports. They recommend these ski areas in south Michigan.

Cross-Country Skiing

1. Bald Mountain Trails
Seven miles north of Pontiac
"Bald Mountain Nordic Skiing is challenging and scenic with lots of rolling hills punctuated by the odd lake or stream."
Bald Mountain Recreation Area

2. Highland Recreation Area Pathway
Oakland County
"This no-frills (ungroomed, no shelter) system runs through the park's attractive Haven Hill natural Area which is off-limits to snowmobiliers."
Highland Recreation Area

3. Ionia Recreation Trails
"Six-mile loop that will challenge advanced skiers with its very hilly route."
Ionia Recreation Area

4. Maybury State Park Trails
Wayne County
"Nice getaway for more experienced skiers"
Maybury State Park

5. Muskegon State Park Trails
"Ideal for intermediate skiers, with varied terrain that ranges from mild rolls to more heart-pumping fare."
Muskegon State Park Winter Sports Complex

6. Proud Lake Trails
Commerce Township
"One of the most popular cross-country skiing networks in southeastern Michigan."
Proud Lake Recreation Area

7. Saugatuck Dunes State Park Trails
"Tough but handsome"
Saugatuck Dunes State Park

8. Sleepy Hollow State Park Trails
"The trails pass through a number of open areas, making for sometimes windy conditions, but the system does offer nice views of Lake Ovid."
Sleepy Hollow State Park

9. Yankee Springs Trails
Barry County
"Blessed with scenic countryside and an interesting blend of terrain, the Yankee Springs Recreation Area maintains half a dozen loops for skiers of varying abilities."
Yankee Springs Recreation Area

Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding
1. Alpine Valley
Detroit area
Alpine Valley

2. Bittersweet
North of Kalamazoo

3. Cannonsburg
outside Grand Rapids
Cannonsburg Ski Area

4. Mt Brighton
near Ann Arbor & E. Lansing
Mt Brighton Ski Resort

5. Mt Holly
1 hour north of Detroit
Mt Holly

6. Pine Knob
Pine Knob Ski Resort

7. Swiss Valley
north of Indiana border
Swiss Valley Ski Area

8. Timber Ridge
West of Kalamazoo
Timber Ridge Ski Area

In earlier posts I've listed some of their recommendations for Mountain Biking and Canoeing.

Or get the book from Barnes & Noble, or Amazon or Google books.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Holiday visitor

A few days before Thanksgiving this Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) appeared in our front yard. These birds aren't common in Michigan, but worldwide they have been very successful. Originally from Africa and Asia, they appeared in the Americas in the late 1800s and have spread throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and North & South America. While, this one really looked out of place in Kalamazoo, the species does appear on Audubon's Checklist of Michigan Birds.