Thursday, December 29, 2011

Michigan Off the Beaten Path

Off the Beaten Path Michigan:
A Guide to Unique Places

by Jim DuFresne

In this book, the author of many outdoor guides turns to other attractions-- museums, restaurants, & festivals-- throughout the state. The book includes plenty of local history and fun facts, along with the descriptions and directions. Like his other books, this travel guide is organized by region. Kalamazoo is in the "Heartland" region and close to the "Lake Michigan" region. Here are some of the author's top picks near Kalamazoo.

Heartland Top Ten
1. Antiquing in Allen

2. Capitol Tours

3. Gerald R Ford Museum
Grand Rapids

4. Gilmore Car Museum
Hickory Corners

5. Hidden Lake Gardens

6. Rosie's Diner [closed]

7. Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum [Air Zoo]

8. Kellogg's Cereal City USA [closed]
Battle Creek

9. Michigan Library and Historical Center

10. Van Andel Museum Center
Grand Rapids

Other Heartland Attractions

1. Grand Rapids Art Museum
Grand Rapids

2. Grand Rapids Children's Museum
Grand Rapids

3. Honolulu House

4. John Ball Zoological Gardens
Grand Rapids

5. Kalamazoo Valley Museum

6. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary

7. Kingman Museum of Natural History
Battle Creek

8. Kresge Art Museum
E. Lansing

9. Leila Arboretum
Battle Creek

10. MSU Museum
E. Lansing

11. Michigan Women's Historical Center & Hall of Fame

12. Potter Park Zoo

Lake Michigan Top Ten
1. Gillette Nature Center
Hoffmaster State Park

2. Hackley and Hume Historic Site

3. Loda Lake Wildflower Sanctuary
White Cloud

4. Ludington State Park

5. Mac Wood's Dune Rides
Silver Lake State Park

6. Picking apples at Tree-Mendus Fruit
Eau Claire

7. Saugatuck Chain Ferry and Mount Baldhead Park

8. Shrine of the Pines

9. Three Oaks Spokes Bicycle Museum [museum closed, Three Oaks Bicycle Club contines.]
Three Oaks

10. Windmill Island

Other Lake Michigan Attractions
1. Curious Kids Museum
St Joseph
2. Fernwood Botanic Gardens

3. Pear's Mill Museum

4. Manistee Fire Hall

5. Southwestern Michigan College Museum

6. SS Keewatin Museum

7. Trillium Ravine

My library has the 8th edition; Amazon and other booksellers have the current edition. Jim DuFresne's other books include 50 Hikes in Michigan (reviewed here and here.) Michigan Sand Dunes, Michigan's Best Campgrounds, and Outdoor Adventures with Children.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Marram Grass

Marram Grass (Ammophila breviligulata), also called American Beachgrass, is a characteristic plant of Michigan's sand dunes. This pioneer species survives on Lake Michigan beaches by outgrowing the blowing sand. Its roots stabilize the sand, forming dunes. Prairie grasses, like Little Bluestem and Switchgrass, can grow on the stabilized sand behind the Marram Grass. Eventually, woody plants and trees grow on the stable dunes, ultimately forming a maple-beech climax community. Observations of these plant communities along Lake Michigan were important for the development of the theory of plant succession.

When the protective beach grasses are disturbed, wind erosion can cause a blow-out where whole dunes move rapidly, burying forests, and creating parabolic dunes.

Marram grass also grows on beaches along the Atlantic coast.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A 1000-Mile Walk on the Beach

A 1000-Mile Walk on the Beach:
One Woman's Trek of the Perimeter of Lake Michigan

Loreen Niewenhuis

This book tells the story of the author's walk around all of Lake Michigan. She started on Chicago's Navy Pier and walked through Indiana (Gary sounds like the worst part of the journey), Michigan (the most beaches), Wisconsin (not much beach), and Illinois back to Navy Pier. It took 64 days (spread across eight months), 3 pairs of boots, and 1,019 miles. She stayed in bed-and-breakfasts or motels (with a few nights of camping) and had help from relatives and friends for transportation and logistics.

The book is an engaging mix of descriptions of the lake, of her experiences walking, of the people she meets, and of the lake's environmental problems.

Some quotes from her west Michigan segments:
"A little more than an hour's hike north of Grand haven, I entered the P.J. Hoffmaster State Park. This park preserves several miles of shoreline and over 1200 acres of dunes and forest. This park came about through the efforts of P.J. Hoffmaster and E. Genevieve Gillette, who were friends. He was the superintendent of state parks in Michigan in the 1920s and 1930s, and then headed up the DNR for the next two decades. Gillette was the first woman to graduate from Michigan State University's landscape architecture class. Hoffmaster charged Gillette with scouting out areas that would make good parks."

"North of Portage Lake, it soon gets rather remote and the shoreline becomes rugged with high, wooded dunes flanking me to my right, with the expanse of calm lake to my left. There are miles without any signs of civilization, and I pass curious tracks along a small stream that look like a bobcat made them."

"The slim St. Joseph River separates the cities of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, but they might as well be on different planets. St. Joseph on the south side of the river is a primarily white community, a lovely tourist town with shops and restaurants and kid-friendly Silver Beach. Benton Harbor on the north side is a primarily black community, with a gutted economic base, and a huge crime and drug problem."

While I don't plan to walk around Lake Michigan anytime soon, the day I finished the book, I was inspired to drive to the lakeshore and walk for several hours along the beach.

You can read more on her Lake Trek blog (which includes photos, while the book is straight text) or in this Kalamazoo Gazette article.

Available from Amazon, other booksellers and libraries.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rosy Mound Natural Area

Rosy Mound Natural Area is on Lake Michigan a few miles south of Grand Haven. (It's a little over an hour's drive from Kalamazoo.) It would make a nice stop on the Lakeshore Connector bike trail.

Rosy Mound has more of a back-to-nature feel than nearby Kirk Park since it doesn't offer a playground or large picnic areas. It does offer a well-constructed trail through a mature forest on a backdune, a steep climb up a sturdy sets of stairs, spectacular views from the top of the dune, and a boardwalk through the open dunes to a sandy beach.

The trails are constructed to preserve the dune environment from erosion and blowouts caused by casual trails. This helps protect the endangered Pitchers Thistle.

In mid-December, there were only a few other visitors to the park but the walk was very enjoyable. The forest was a mix of oak, maples, beech, and conifers, with ferns still contributing a splash of green. Nothing was in bloom, of course, but I saw some nice patches of Hepatica suggesting this might be a good spot for Spring wildflowers.

At first, I thought this might be a good cross-country ski destination since the trail starts with a wide, level loop through the woods. The 300+ steps over the hill convinced me to reconsider.

Rosy Mound Natural Area
13819 Lakeshore Drive North
Grand Haven, MI

Parking fee in the summer.
No dogs. No bikes on trail.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lansing River Walk

The Lansing River Trail isn't going to be mistaken for wilderness. It passes through downtown Lansing, close to the Capitol, on the banks of the Grand River that are lined with office buildings and industrial sites. It does make a popular urban walk and even on a cold weekday I shared the trail with a number of joggers and walkers. The trail connects several parks, museums, and the Lansing City Market.

The trail runs for several miles, with a branch on the Red Cedar river that connects to MSU, which would make a nice bike in warmer weather. Tire tracks in the snow showed some riders were still active in December.

The City of Lansing provides a trail map pdf

Or see this Interactive Trail map, with photos of trail landmarks.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Horned Grebe

Horned Grebes (Podiceps auritus) summer in western Canada and winter in the southeastern United States, passing through Michigan during Spring and Fall migration. This one was diving for food on Lake Michigan near the mouth of the St Joseph River, last week.

Grebes were once called Helldivers since they tended to disappear under the water at signs of danger, rather than fly away. While they look like ducks, the two families are not closely related. Grebes have narrow bills and their feet are lobed, rather than webbed.

The grebe pictured here is in its black-and-white winter plumage. The Horned Grebe's breeding colors are strikingly different, chestnut and black with a distinctive yellow tuft behind the eye that makes the "horn".

The Eared Grebe has a similar winter look, although I think they are less common in Michigan.

Horned Grebes are also found in Europe, where they are sometimes known as Slavonian Grebes.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Standing wave

This was just about the strangest water I'd ever seen. These waves developed on a small creek just as it entered Lake Michigan on the beach at Warren Dunes State Park. The water was flowing clear and smoothly until it reached the lake, when these bumps would appear. They didn't flow forward like a regular wave; they just stayed in the same place. It looked like the water was flowing over an invisible log about six or eight inches high. The water would stay that way for a half minute or so, and then either subside back to a smooth flowing stream or collapse backwards with a little whitewater crest.It was fascinating. I couldn't figure it out completely, but it was obvious that the moving stream hitting the lake waves caused some kind of interference that created the phenomenon. Later, I vaguely remembered the term "standing wave" from a physics class. A little internet searching suggests that these are a form of "hydraulic jump" that occurs when a shallow, fast-moving stream moves into deeper, slower water.

I'd been to this creek numerous times in the past & never saw this happen. On Friday, I guess the speed and depth of the creek crossing the beach were just right. I'll certainly look for it in the future.

Here's a short video of the standing waves.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Kellogg Bird Sanctuary

The Kellogg Bird Sanctuary is a great place to interact with ducks, geese, and swans. At the entrance, buy an inexpensive bucket of corn and the birds will come to you. Some, like the Trumpeter Swans, are permanent residents and others are passing through. The sanctuary is about 15 miles east of Kalamazoo, just past Gull Lake.

Established in 1927 by cereal magnate W. K. Kellogg to protect waterfowl, the sanctuary is run by Michigan State University's Kellogg Biological Station. The main attraction for birds is the 40 acre Wintergreen Lake, which is an important migration stop for some and a nesting area for others. While Mallards, Canada Geese, and Trumpeter Swans dominated the areas where visitors threw corn, other species were more abundant offshore. We saw Canvasbacks, Redheads, Buffleheads, and Ruddy ducks on our visit last weekend.

The sanctuary also displays some exotic waterfowl including Mute Swans and Black Swans. A small series of cages contain rescued birds of prey: a Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, Red Tailed Hawks, a Bald Eagle, and others. A relatively new exhibit shows gamebirds, both native (quail, grouse) and imported (various pheasants.) Overall it makes a nice family outing.

Kellogg Bird Sanctuary
12685 East C Ave.
Augusta, MI 49012


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Winter Events 2011-2012

Despite cold days and long nights there is plenty to do around Kalamazoo during the Winter. Skating, skiing, and sledding are all fun local activities. Or watch a holiday parade, go snow-shoeing, or just enjoy a walk in the woods.

Winter Events near Kalamazoo
November 28, 2011 Marshall's 47th Annual Christmas Parade 7:00 PM Marshall

November 29, 2011 Parade of Lights 6:30 PM Holland

December 2, 2011 Sinterklaas Eve Procession 7:00 PM Holland

December 4, December 11 Holidays at Delano Homestead Kalamazoo Nature Center Kalamazoo

December 10 Free Admission Day and Local Gift Fair Kalamazoo Nature Center Kalamazoo

December 14 2011 - January 5 2012 Christmas Bird Count

January 6-7 2012 Ice Sculpting Competition Holland

January 11, 2012 Ice fishing seminar Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery Mattewan

January 21, 2012 Schrier Park Winter Sports Fest. 12 noon - 3:30 pm Portage

January 26 - 29, 2012 Winterfest 2012 Grand Haven

January 27-30, 2012 Duck Decoy Carving at Kellogg Biological Station

January 31 - February 4, 2012 Muskegon Snowfest Muskegon

February 3-5, 2012 Icebreaker 2012 South Haven

February 17-20 2012 Great Backyard Bird Count

February 18-19, 2012 Free Fishing Winter Weekend throughout Michigan

March 3, 2012 Quietwater Symposium East Lansing

Ongoing events

International Festival of Lights
Battle Creek

Holiday Kerstmarkt Holland

Millennium Park Skate Rink
opens December 3 2011 Portage

See also

2012 Maple Syrup festivals around Kalamazoo

Discover Kalamazoo's event listing

Outdoor Athelete's Winter Sports events

Gazelle Sports Races and running calendar

Kalamazoo in Winter
from CommunityLink

February Events from Pure Michigan

West Michigan Winter Weekends

Sarrett Nature Center's Weekend Programs Benton Harbor

The Department Of Natural Resources shows events in the State Parks for December, January, and February.

Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery winter events pdf

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) is found throughout most of North America and selected parts of South America. Unlike some of Michigan's birds, Great Horned Owls spend the winter here, nesting in January & February.

It's easier to hear these big predators, than to see them since they are active at night. Their hoot is the characteristic "who who." ( shares some recorded hoots.)

The owl's "horns" are not ears, just distinctive tufts of feathers.

Great Horned Owl territories often overlap with Red-tailed Hawks, with owls hunting at night and hawks hunting in daylight. Owl wing feathers are much softer than hawk feathers, allowing silent night flight. The stiff hawk feathers allow for higher speeds.

The bird pictured here is used in educational programs at the Kalamazoo Nature Center.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Michigan State and National Parks

Michigan State and National Parks
by Tom Powers

Tom Powers, author of Natural Michigan and other guidebooks, describes 100 Michigan parks with park maps and black & white photos. The National Parks are all up north, but there are several state parks near Kalamazoo.

Michigan State Parks near Kalamazoo

1. Fort Custer Recreation Area
"A little something for everyone and a lot of potential outdoor enjoyment for anyone is packed into the sprawling year-round playground named Fort Custer Recreation Area."
Camping, cabins, hiking, x-country skiing, mountain biking, snowmobiling, hunting, boating, boat rental, swimming beach, picnic areas, horse trails.

Ft Custer Recreation Area
5163 W. Fort Custer Dr
Augusta, MI

2. Kal-Haven Trail State Park
"The route follows an old, unused stretch of the Penn Central Railroad from South Haven, on the shores of Lake Michigan to Kalamazoo."
34 miles of trail, hiking, biking.

Kal-Haven Trail State Park

Blue Star Highway/ South Haven
10th St/ Kalamazoo

3. Van Buren State Park
"A wide sidewalk leads through a single narrow opening, and it's not until you're almost completely through the sand wall that the view opens to reveal the park's main attraction: limitless blue waters of lake Michigan edged by a broad sweep of fine black-speckled sand."
Camping, beach, picnic area

Van Buren State Park
23960 Ruggles Rd
South Haven

4. Yankee Springs Recreation Area
"There's no doubt, though, that most of the 600,000 people a year who come to the park funnel to the beautiful picnic and beach areas lining the peninsula that juts so far out into the water it almost cuts Gun Lake, the park's largest, in half"
Camping, rustic camping, boating, water skiing, hiking, mountain biking, horse trails, hunting, fishing, x-country skiing.

Yankee Springs Recreation Area

2104 Gun Lake Rd

5. Saugatuck Dunes State Park
""The shortest route to the beach is a l...o...n...g one-mile slog over wooded dunes from the parking lot. That's quite a hedge against overcrowding."
Trails (14 miles), beach, x-country skiing

Saugatuck Dunes State Park

138th Avenue

6. Holland State Park
"Each year a million and a half visitors take advantage of the fact that the long, broad beach that edges Lake Michigan northwest of Holland is one of the most accessible and beautiful along the Lower Peninsula's west shore."
Beach, camping (separate unit), boat ramp, fishing

Holland State Park
Ottawa Beach Rd
Holland, MI

7. Grand Haven State Park
"Essentially, the park is the beach; only a slab of asphalt and a few buildings interrupt the wide, nearly flat expanse."
Beach, RV camping, fishing.

Grand Haven State Park
1001 Harbor Ave
Grand Haven, MI

8. Grand Mere State Park
"The dunes, forests, Lake Michigan shoreline and string of small interdunal lakes are part of the reason that Grand Mere is one of only a dozen Michigan areas listed among the country's National Natural Landmarks."
Trails, picnic area, fishing, dunes, beach

Grand Mere State Park
Grand Mere Rd

9. Warren Dunes State Park
"Even if you're a longtime resident who has seen what wind, water, and sand has created elsewhere along our 3,121 miles of Great Lakes frontage, you will be unprepared for your first-time visit here."
Camping, beach, trails, picnic areas, dune climb

Warren Dunes State Park
12032 Red Arrow Highway

10. Warren Woods State Park
"The unique area is the legacy of E. K. Warren, a local businessman who in the 1870s, when most people saw nothing but dollar signs in Michigan's great forests, had the unusual foresight to purchase the virgin hardwood stand with the sole intent of saving it for posterity."
Trail, birdwatching

Warren Woods State Park
Warren Woods Rd
Three Oaks

11. Coldwater State Park

My library has the Third Edition. You can order the Fourth Edition (2007) from Amazon or other retailers.

See also:
Michigan National Parks

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Black Squirrel

Black squirrels are a color morph of the Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) which is widely distributed throughout the Eastern United States and Canada. The black variety is relatively rare, with localized populations becoming something of a tourist attraction. Southern Ontario and Michigan seem to have relatively large numbers of black squirrels. Legend says W.K. Kellogg brought black squirrels to the area. (Personally, I'm somewhat skeptical of this; black squirrels seem too broadly distributed in the area to have come from a single source.)

My backyard is full of Fox Squirrels, Red Squirrels, and Chipmunks so I never see Grey Squirrels (of whatever color) in my yard. But, a few miles south in Portage (near Centre Avenue) I always see black squirrels. The squirrel pictured here was at Portage's West Lake Nature Preserve.

See also: Myths and Realities of the Mysterious Black Squirrel
Michigan's Squirrels
Information on many Squirrel species

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wood Duck

Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) are such striking birds that I still remember seeing my first one, nearly 40 years ago at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in upstate New York. Living in Kalamazoo, I'm fortunate to see them frequently when canoeing on Portage Creek.

Over-hunting and habitat destruction nearly destroyed Wood Duck populations a century ago. [See USDA report pdf] Protection began with Migratory Bird Treaty in 1916 and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Hunting regulations and the development of duck boxes allowed the population to rebound. In Michigan, they are now reasonably common.

This is the time of year when many Michigan Wood Ducks migrate south.

Wood Ducks tend to more skittish than, say, Mallards, so I rarely get decent photos in the wild. The bird pictured above was at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Easy Hikes Chicago

Easy Hikes Close to Home Chicago
by Ted Villaire

This slim guidebook presents 18 short hiking trails near Chicago. Each trail description includes an overview, a map, directions to the trailhead, and a more-detailed discussion of the trail. Most of the trails are in northeastern Illinois with a few in Southern Wisconsin or Northern Indiana. All are within a day's drive of Kalamazoo.

The author's website provides more information about the book, including a complete list of the hikes and a few sample chapters.

The trails listed in the book's third section, "South Chicagoland and Indiana" are closest to West Michigan.

Easy Hikes Close to Kalamazoo

1. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore: Bailly-Chellberg Hike
length 3.3 miles
"Get a glimpse of early settlement life in northwestern Indiana by touring the homesteads of two frontier families. You'll also see wooded ravines, rich bottomland forest that grows beside the Little Calumet River, and a curious old cemetery."
directions: from I-94 take exit 22B to US 20, parking is on the left, 4.1 miles.
Indiana Dunes website

2. LaSalle Fish and Wildlife Area Loop
length 5.2 miles
"If you like riverside hikes and sprawling marshlands, you'll find them in abundance on this hike, one of the great undiscovered hikes in Chicagoland." The author also describes this hike in chapter in his guidebook 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Chicago. See this pdf. [West half closed for hunting season Oct 1 - Dec 1.]
directions: from I-94, go south on US 41 until you reach IN 10 (County Road 1000). West on IN 10 about 2.4 miles to sign for Parking Lot 3A.
LaSalle Fish and Wildlife Area website

3. Thorn Creek Hike

length 2.5 miles
"This lightly used nature preserve is a gem: after exploring the ravines, the pine plantations, the wooded hills, and the streams,= surrounded by bottomland forest, be sure to check out the former country church that now serves as a nature center."
directions: I-94 to I-57. South on I-57 to exit 339 (about 18.5 miles) to Park Forest [I got confused following the book's directions from this point: I'd suggest Google maps or GPS for the last few miles.].
Thorn Creek Nature Center
247 Monee Road, Park Forest, IL 60466

Available from Amazon, other booksellers and libraries.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Best Fall Color?

Fall in Kalamazoo is always colorful. At times, I'm stopped in my tracks by a spectacular tree. But, I want a bigger picture: a whole forest of colorful trees. I haven't found anywhere that I'd consider a "best place" for fall color near Kalamazoo.

Now, there are many colorful places for an Autumn walk, drive, or float, and I'm sure there must be places with a colorful panorama, but I don't know where they are. I'm thinking of the classic Fall pictures from Vermont or New Hampshire with a hill covered with orange, red, and yellow trees.

West Michigan seems to have all the individual elements: maple trees for beautiful red & orange leaves, rolling hills to display a swath of forest, and water to reflect the colors. Yet, I can't recommend a single spot for reliable breath-taking scenary.

Perhaps, I'm just busy with Fall classes & I miss the peak beauty. Or maybe I'm looking in the wrong places. If you have a favorite spot for Fall Color in West Michigan, please add it to the comments.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cowles Bog Trail

The Cowles Bog Trail in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is about a two hour drive from Kalamazoo. I stopped there recently on the way home from a trip to Chicago. The trail is about 4 miles long, with a couple of options. Parking is down a narrow dirt road, on the right, just before the guardhouse for the Dune Acres gated community. (There is another lot close to US 12.) See the National Park Service map (pdf).

The first mile of the trail is very level, lined with Sassafras, Red Maple, and White Birch and includes a short board walk over a wet section (which apparently is not truly a bog.) The next mile is hilly, through wooded dunes which eventually lead to a steep climb down to the beach on Lake Michigan.

I had the beach to myself on a pleasant Sunday, except for the looming steel mills and the loud hissing from industrial smokestacks. With the Chicago skyline barely visible across Lake Michigan, it's clearly not a pristine wilderness experience. The area is important for birds, and I did see a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers flying through the trees. The Park Service has a restoration project to remove invasive species and improve the habitat for native plants and animals.

In some ways it's as interesting to see the resilience of nature amidst heavy industry, as it is to visit a more purely natural setting. It definitely made a nice outing.

Cowles Bog Trail
N. Mineral Springs Road
Chesterton, IN 46304
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Virginia Creeper

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is a common vine in the Kalamazoo area and it is widely distributed throughout the Eastern US and Canada. It grows in shade or sun and will climb bushes, trees, fences, and phone poles.

Sometimes it is confused with Poison Ivy since it has a similar form and grows in similar habitats. The leaflet count is the easy way to distinguish the plants: Virginia Creeper's leaves are groups of five, while Poison Ivy has groups of three. (In Spring, young Virginia Creeper plants may show only three leaves at the tip of the vine, making them harder to distinguish; usually, there are 5-leaflet clusters farther down the vine.)

Its leaves can turn a spectacular red in the Fall.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sarett Nature Center

The Sarett Nature Center is a great outing, not far from Kalamazoo, with trails, wildlife, water, and woods, but somehow it had been a few years since my last visit. Last week, on the way to Chicago, I couldn't resist a quick side-trip, particularly since Sarett is only 5 minutes from the I-94 + I-196 junction. (Exit 1 on I-196, then west on Red Arrow; Benton Center Road is the first right.)

The nature center had built several new structures recently: an expanded visitor center, a butterfly house, and an impressive elevated boardwalk on a trestle high in the forest.

Of course, the original attractions of the nature center were still in place: a series of trails and boardwalks through woods, marshes, fens, swamps, and fields along Cowslip creek and the St Joseph River. The habitat is great for birds and other wildlife. It's one of the few places where I've seen a Massasauga Rattlesnake. On my short walk this time, I saw plenty of birds, a leopard frog, and a couple of deer. I'd hoped to see some fringed gentian but the one plant I saw had already flowered.

Sarett Nature Center
2300 Benton Center Rd.
Benton Harbor, MI 49022

Admission $3
Free for members
Also free admission for members of the Kalamazoo Nature Center, DeGraff Nature Center, Blandford Nature Center and many others. See the ANCA Membership Reciprocal List [pdf].

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pretty Poison Too

Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) is a relative of poison ivy and poison oak and like those plants it contains urushiol, the chemical that causes painful, itchy rashes. While it acts like its cousins, Poison Sumac doesn't look like them. Poison Sumac is a small tree, with compound leaves, rather than a vine or shrub with "leaves of three." It grows in really wet areas-- bogs, swamps-- throughout the eastern US and Canada.

Poison Sumac's green leaves turn red in the Fall (like Poison Ivy.) Poison Sumac is not related to our common Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) which also turns red in Autumn.

Poison Sumac bears white berries (or drupes) in the Fall.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Praying Mantis

There are a number of species of praying mantises in Michigan, some native and some introduced. I don't really know them apart, but based on its size, I think this one may be a Chinese mantis (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis). Praying Mantises are famous for cannibalism after sex, but that doesn't seem to be strictly true. This one blended well with the prairie grasses at WMU's Asylum Lake Preserve.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Wooly Bear

Wooly bear caterpillars (Pyrrharctia isabella) are an immature stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth. Superstition has it that the width of the colored bands can predict the severity of the coming winter (more black = colder winter). Not surprisingly, there is no scientific evidence to support this.

There is, however, interesting science on how these caterpillars survive the winter. Unlike the Monarchs that migrate to avoid Michigan's cold weather, or other species that overwinter as eggs, pupae, or adults, the wooly bear hibernates as a caterpillar, producing an internal antifreeze that keeps it from freezing solid.

I've seen a lot of these guys in Kalamazoo over the last few days.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Bur Oak

The Burr Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) is a tree of the open grassland. They're native to the Great Plains and prairies and are a characteristic species of the oak savanna. They evolved to survive the frequent grassfires of these ecosystem, with thick corky bark that provides fire resistance.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

More Fall Color

Autumn continues its progress in Kalamazoo, despite the unseasonably warm weather. Silver maples seem to be at their peak (at least those growing by ponds & lakes); some have already lost their leaves but most are bright red. Sumac, Virginia Creeper, and Poison Ivy contribute more reds. There are a lot more yellow leaves-- walnuts, hickories, and ash-- than there were a couple of weeks ago. Some oaks are getting a little purple-red and the first sugar maples have started to change.

The National Arboretum has an interesting page on the science of color, which explains why day length, rather than temperature determines when leaves change.

West Michigan Weekly has updated their Fall Color Report.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) are much smaller than the other squirrels I see around Kalamazoo. (Flying squirrels are even smaller but since they are nocturnal I hardly ever see them.) Red Squirrels also quicker than the Fox Squirrels and, for some reason, more charismatic.

Now they are busy filling their caches with food. While they aren't true hibernators, I don't remember seeing them during the winter. Perhaps they're spending the cold months in their nests enjoying their stored harvest.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Great Indiana Touring Book

The Great Indiana Touring Book: 20 Spectacular Auto Trips

by Thomas Hunt

This guide presents 20 driving tours in Indiana, each illustrated with black & white photos and full page maps. (The book also has a short section of glossy, full-color photos.) The routes average about 150 miles, so each can be done at a leisurely pace in one day. Three drives are reasonably close to Kalamazoo:

Northern Indiana Auto Trips

1. Touchdown Jesus and the Gentle People

South Bend - Mishawaka - Elkhart - Bristol - Goshen - Middlebury - Shipshewana - Topeka - Ligonier - Nappanee - Wakarusa - South Bend
144 miles

Selected Attractions:
Studebaker National Museum South Bend
Potawatomi Park and Zoo
Woodlawn Nature Center Elkhart
Menno-Hof Shipshewana
Potato Creek State Park

2. From the Heartland to Lake Country

Fort Wayne - Grabill - Saint Joe - Auburn - Pokagan State Park - Lagrange - Rome City - Fort Wayne
154 miles

Selected Attractions:
Foellinger-Freimann Botantical Conservatory Fort Wayne
Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum Auburn
McClue Nature Preserve (pdf)
Wing Haven
Pokagon State Park
Ropchan Memorial Nature Reserve
Pigeon River Federal Wildlife Area and Tamarack Bog Nature Preserve
Maplewood Nature Center
Olin Lake Nature Preserve

3. The Dunes and Beyond
Gary - Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore - Chesterton - Michigan City - La Porte - Valparaiso - Merrillville - Crown Point - Griffith - Munster - Hammond - Gary
132 miles

Selected Attractions:
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
Indiana Dunes State Park
Kingsbury State Fish and Wildlife Area
Deep River County Park
Lemon Lake County Park
Hoosier Prairie Nature Preserve
Oak Ridge Prairie County Park

Available from Amazon or the publisher, or electronically from Google Books, and from other booksellers and libraries.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Goldenrods (Solidago sp.) are among the last flowers to bloom in Kalamazoo, which makes them an important nectar source after many summer flowers have gone to seed. Earlier this week, the goldenrod flowers at the Kalamazoo Nature Center drew honeybees, bumble bees, yellow jackets, wasps, and other insects.

There are a large number of goldenrod species in Michigan and throughout the US. These identification guides may be useful: Wisconsin goldenrods, Ontario goldenrods, US goldenrods.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Early color

While tomorrow's equinox marks the astronomical start of Fall, the changing colors make autumn visible. Silver maple and sumac offer the first red leaves of the season. West Michigan Weekly reports a 5% color change in Southwest Michigan, which sounds about right.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Monarch butterfly

The Monarch (Danaus plexippus) is probably the best-known butterfly species found in Kalamazoo. Of course, it's a popular species across the US and has been named the official insect of seven states. The bright colors, while attractive to humans, warn predators of the monarch's bitterness. This protection comes from consuming milkweed. The Viceroy butterfly is protected by its similar coloring.

Michigan's Monarchs are currently migrating south where the will spend the winter in Central Mexico. A Western Michigan scientist's work on Monarch migration was featured in a National Geographic news story earlier this year. I'm impressed by the distances these small creatures can cover.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thornapple Trail

The Paul Henry - Thornapple Trail is a developing rail-trail in west Michigan. Only selected segments are currently open, including one out of Middleville, which is about an hour's drive north of Kalamazoo. The paved section of the trail is less than 4 miles long (one-way) so it's not a major adventure, but it runs along a pretty stretch of the Thornapple River. There are no hills and no road crossings on this section, which would make for a kid-friendly outing.

On an afternoon ride earlier this week, I was impressed by the variety of birds & animal life. The mill ponds at Middleville had the usual Canada Geese & Mute Swans but they were joined by a Great Egret hunting in the shallows, a species I associate with Florida. A few minutes later a pair of deer ran across the trail in front of me. On the return trip, a garter snake sped across the trail and two Sandhill Cranes called from the adjoining wetland.

The paved trail ended at McCann Road, which made a fairly short ride. Across the road, an unpaved section continued east. I wasn't sure how well my bike would fare on the grassy path, but it had been mowed and cleared of obstacles so the riding wasn't bad. (Although wider tires would have probably been more comfortable.) That section of trail ended at Irving Road. Eventually the trail will continue to Hastings which would make a really nice ride.

Overall plans for the trail are ambitious. When complete, the trail will run from suburban Grand Rapids through Middleville, Hastings, Nashville, Vermontville, Charlotte, and Eaton Rapids-- over 40 miles. This Google map shows the current and planned route. West Michigan Trails also has a map and information on the trail

The Middleville trailhead is at the gazebo and stagecoach, near the restored downtown. The Village Hall provides restrooms and plenty of parking.

Middleville Village Hall
100 E Main St
Middleville, MI 49333

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Backroads of Michigan

Backroads of Michigan: Your Guide to Michigan's Most Scenic Backroad Adventures.
by Robert W. Domm
Voyager Press

This book falls somewhere between a guidebook and a photography book. It's full of large color pictures, taken by the author, along with descriptions of 25 driving routes in Michigan. The state is divided into four sections: "Pasties and Iron Ore: The Upper Peninsula," "Where the North Begins: The Upper Lower Peninsula," "The Sunset Coast: Western Lower Michigan," and "Under the Thumb: Southern Lower Michigan." Each route is illustrated with photos of the landscape and selected details-- a wildflower, a picturesque stairway, or a Victoria cupola-- along with driving directions, an area map, and a few pages of description of the attractions and the history of the area. Two of the routes are in Southwest Michigan.

Backroads near Kalamazoo
1. Dunes, Beaches,and Art: Saugatuck/Douglas to South Haven.
"The two-lane Blue Star Memorial Highway (also labeled A2) links Saugatuck/Douglas to South Haven and once was the main north-south thoroughfare between the cities. Nowadays most commercial traffic uses U.S. Highway 196, a modern four-lane highway that shadows the older road. For those interested in a closer look at the local scenary, the Blue Star offers a slower-paced route packed with interesting sights and mom-and-pop businesses. Along the Blue Star are numerous antique dealers, ranging from quaint shops to sprawling lawns cluttered with rusting metal curios. Bed-and-breakfast inns (including one for pets), art studios, small restaurants, and plant nurseries are interspersed with fields of highbush blueberry and small farms along the route."

Directions: From I-196 take exit 41 onto Blue Star Memorial Highway, which leads south to the towns of Saugatuck, Douglas, and South Haven.

2. Yankee Springs
"Between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, where the rolling cornfields give way to forests and clear, quiet lakes, is a place called Yankee Springs State Recreation Area. Steeped in colorful history and awash with natural beauty, Yankee Springs entices visitors with 5,000 acres of public land situated around nine lakes, including a portion of Gun Lake, one of the largest and deepest inland lakes in Michigan. Oak, maple, and hickory trees line the blacktop roads and hang in a green canopy over the narrow sand-and-gravel access roads leading to the park's secluded lakes. Every season offers something new at Yankee Springs."

directions: From US-131 take exit 61 onto M-179. Go east on M-179 to Gun Lake Road. South on Gun Lake Rd to park. Continuing on Gun Lake Rd to Yankee Springs Road, then north, makes a loop back to M-179 (Chief Noonday Road.)

Amazon offers a Kindle version. Barnes & Noble lists used copies. I found a copy at the library.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hart Montague Trail

The Hart Montague Trail connects a series of small towns in west Michigan on a former railroad right-of-way. It's about two hours north of Kalamazoo. The trail runs 22 miles from Hart to Montague.

We started at the Hart trailhead (a mile from downtown Hart, on Polk Road right next to Hansen's Grocer) and rode to Shelby, about 8 miles each way. The trail passed orchards, woods, and fields of asparagus. Like most rail-trails, it offered easy riding without steep hills. On Labor Day weekend, it was very popular, although not too crowded. It made a very nice ride.

The trailheads at both Hart & Shelby had plenty of parking, several picnic tables, exercise stations, and information signs. The "Get Off The Couch" website has detailed information on the whole trail.

Hart trailhead
3780 West Polk Road
Hart, MI 49420