Thursday, March 31, 2011

Michigan Wildflower Viewing

Michigan's Department of Natural Resources has a brochure listing selected wildflower sites in 29 counties throughout the state. (download Michigan Wildflower Viewing pdf) Many sites are near Kalamazoo. The brochure identifies the habitat and best season for each area.
"Michigan’s wetlands and woodlands present the first displays of wildflowers each year. Blooming begins the first warm days of April and May. Early spring wildflowers include skunk cabbage, marsh marigold, spring beauty, wild garlic, jack-in-the-pulpit, bloodroot, hepatica, and Dutchman’s breeches."

Wildflower Viewing Sites: Southwestern Lower Peninsula
1. Kalamazoo Nature Center
2. Allegan State Game Area
3. Saugatuck Dunes State Park
4. Yankee Springs State Rec. Area and Barry State Game Area
5. Warren Dunes State Park
6. Warren Woods State Park
7. Fernwood Botanical Gardens
8. Love Creek Nature Center
9. Niles MDOT Information Center
10. Sarett Nature Center
11. Crane Pond State Game Area (map pdf)

Western Lower Peninsula
1. Aman Park, M-45, 6 mi. west of Grand Rapids
2. Howard Christensen Nature Center
3. Hoffmaster State Park
4.Loda Lake Wildflower Sanctuary Manistee
(Nat. Forest, White Cloud Ranger Dist)
5. Hart-Montague Bicycle Trail State Park

*Note: the brochure lists phone numbers for many of these sites but the listing doesn't reflect the change in area codes from 616 to 269

See also:
The DNR's Wildflower Viewing page
My suggestions for Kalamazoo Wildflowers
A big collection of photos of Michigan Wildflowers

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) are a reliable sign of Spring as they return to Kalamazoo to eat winter-killed carrion. They will spend the summer in the area, raise their young, and then migrate south for the winter. They are one of Michigan's largest birds of prey and are frequently seen soaring above fields and woods.

Their underwing has a distinctive two-tone pattern-- black at the front and silver in the back. Up close, their bald, red head distinguishes them from hawks or eagles. In flight, their profile is V-shaped with the wing tips above the body.

I've seen dozens of them throughout Southwest Michigan this week. The bird pictured was flying directly over the parking lot at Fort Custer State Recreation Area.

Turkey Vulture Society

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Russ Forest

Russ Forest is one of my favorite places near Kalamazoo for Spring wildflowers. Starting in mid-April, the woods are full of ephemeral wildflowers: Spring Beauty, Dutchman's Breeches, Mayapple, Celadine Poppy, Trillium, and more. The trails are relatively flat, making for an easy walk.

Russ Forest is operated by Cass County and Michigan State University's AgBioResearch department. The park has picnic areas and playground equipment and several miles of wooded trails. Horseback riding is permitted. Dowagiac Creek, which runs through the forest, is known for trout fishing. The forest is also known for big Tulip Poplars.

Fred Russ Forest County Park
Marcellus Highway, eight miles east of Dowagiac
(269) 445-8611 Office

Fred Russ Research Forest (MSU)
20673 Marcellus Highway
Decatur, MI 49045

Directions to Fred Russ Forest
From US-131 -- Just north of Three Rivers turn west on M-216 (Marcellus highway). Proceed 18 miles, traveling through Marcellus, to the research station office located on the left side. Travel another 1/4 mile to the roadside park entrance.

From I-94 -- Take the Paw Paw M-40 exit (exit 60). Travel south on M-40 through Lawton to Marcellus Highway. Turn west and travel approximately 5 miles to the research station office on the left side. Travel another 1/4 mile to the roadside park entrance.

See also:
Other natural areas in Southwest MI suggested by "Natural Michigan"

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Planting time

Springtime, for many, means vegetable gardening and the first hint of warmer weather can make us eager to start. Starting too early, however, leads to poor results. I try to stick to the dates below (my rough calculations based on the book Square Foot Gardening)

Kalamazoo Earliest Planting Dates
April 10: Peas, spinach (from seed)
April 20: Broccoli, parsley (from transplant)
May 1: Carrots, lettuce, onions (from seed)
May 15: Potatoes
May 31: Tomatoes (transplant), summer squash (transplant or seed), beans (seed)
June 15 Peppers (transplant)

Michigan State Extension has detailed information on gardening in Michigan.

The Grand Rapids Press published an article on last freeze dates in W. Michigan.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Red-bellied woodpecker

While this Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) is much smaller than a Pileated Woodpecker, it's still much bigger than the Downy Woodpeckers that usually visit my suet feeder. Its name is a little misleading since its belly isn't noticeably red while its red cap is very eye-catching. (Other species of woodpeckers also have red heads, so the more obvious feature of this bird might not make the better name.)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Natural Wonders of Michigan

Natural Wonders of Michigan: A Guide to Parks, Preserves, & Wild Places
by Tom Carney 1995

This guide suggests several dozen natural places to visit throughout the State, divided into 5 sections: Southeast, Southwest, Northeast, Northwest, and Upper Peninsula. The Southwest section has seven natural areas close to Kalamazoo.

Southwest Michigan Natural Wonders

1. E. Genevieve Gillette Nature Center
"Nestled among the sand dunes the Gillete Nature Center is a wonderful attraction, offering both education and entertainment. Situated as it is in the middle of the P. J. Hoffmaster State Park, which adjoins over two miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, and three other state parks within easy striking distances, there is a temptation to treat it as an overnight destination and stick around for a legendary Lake Michigan sunset."

recommended activities:beach, Dune Climb Staircase, Sand Dune Interpretive Center, hiking, camping, spring wildflowers, cross-country skiing
how to get there: From US 31, take exit 4 west on Pontaluna Rd, 3 miles to state park entrance.
general information: open year round, state park fee
P. J. Hoffmaster State Park

2. Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery
"What makes Wolf Lake a special attraction, however, is the fact that the hatchery houses the Michigan Fisheries Interpretive Center. This is one of those spots you wouldn't drive out of your way to visit but you don't want to pass up if you are in the area. The center is well worth the ten-minute drive from Kalamazoo and the hour or so that you'll spend there."

recommended activities: view exhibits, show pond, hatchery
how to get there: From US 131 exit 38-B onto M-43. Take M-43 west 6 miles to Hatchery.
general information: Free. Hours vary.
Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery

3. Warren Dunes State Park
"This is the busiest state park, probably because it offers the complete package: lake, beach, and 'dunal' experience all within a couple of miles of the interstate highway. Easy access also makes this park a desirable stopping spot for visitors from other states who enter at Michigan's southwestern corner."

recommended activities: climb Great Warren Dune, hike, beach
how to get there: From I-94 exit 16 onto Red Arrow Highway, two miles to park entrance
general information: camping & mini-cabins available, state park fee, Warren Woods Natural Area is nearby.
Warren Dunes State Park

4. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary
"In the mid-1920s, influenced by some of the pioneers in the emerging field of wildlife conservation and game management, Kellogg established his own project on beautiful Wintergreen Lake, fourteen miles northwest of Battle Creek. He bought the neglected farmland and had it restored and developed as a bird sanctuary, primarily for waterfowl. This proved to be a fortuitous move, for research eventually showed that Wintergreen Lake sits at the crossroads of three major bird migration routes. By 1928, Kellogg had deeded the the Sanctuary and Experimental Farm to what is now Michigan State University."

recommended activities: bird exhibits, self-guided trail, Birds of Prey display
how to get there: From I-94, exit 95 north to Dickman Rd. West on Dickman/M-96 to village of Augusta. In Augusta, turn north on Webster/42nd street to M-89. West on 89 to 40th street. North on 40th to C Ave. "The route is well marked with signs for the sanctuary." [From Kalamazoo, it would be quicker to take I-94 to 35th street north to M-96, then east to Augusta.]
general information: open daily. admission.
Kellogg Bird Sanctuary

5. Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary
"Encompassing about 900 acres, the Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary is one of the two top spots for viewing sandhill cranes in southern Michigan. Even in 1941, at the time Bernard W. Baker donated the original 491 acres to the Michigan Audubon Society, this spot was a primary nesting areas for sandhill cranes. Much of the development of the sanctuary has been undertaken in an effort to benefit these large, storklike birds."

recommended activities: view sandhill cranes from Kiwanis land (October, November), walk Doty Trail.
how to get there: From I-69 take exit 42 North Drive. Turn west on North Drive, then right on 16 Mile Rd for about 2 miles. Stay left at the split to Junction Rd. Driveway is 1/4 mile on the left.
general information: open year round. no charge.
Baker Sanctuary

6. Yankee Springs Recreation Area
"Currently the Yankee Springs Recreation Area covers over 5,000 acres and adjoins the 15,000-acre Barry State Game Area, creating over 20,000 acres of possibility. As with most places in Michigan, much of the natural appeal of Yankee Springs can be attributed to the 'facelift' the land was given by glaciers thousands of years ago."

recommended activities
:Graves Hill overlook, Devil's Soupbowl, hiking, cross-country skiing, mountain biking, North Country Trail, horseback riding, camping, boat on Gun Lake, canoe Fish Lake, Lime, Horseshoe & Tamarack Lakes.
how to get there: From US 131 take exit 61. East 8 miles to park.
general information: state park fee
Yankee Springs Recreation Area

7. Maple River Game Area

"It's easy to catch a glimpse of migrating birds, if you are in the right place at the right time, and the Maple River flooding along US 27 is a prime place. Spring, when birds are in their most colorful breeding plumage, and fall, when the sun's descent in the southern sky urges them on, are the times."
recommended activities: Spring migration (March-May), Fall migration (September-November), observation deck to heron rookery, float the river
how to get there: In Gratiot County, 8 mile north of St Johns. Parking where US 27 crosses the Maple River.
general information: no fees
Maple River Game Area

Available from local libraries, and perhaps from Amazon or other booksellers.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fred McLinden Nature Trails

Fred McLinden Nature Trails are about 15 minutes northeast of downtown Kalamazoo. The main trail is a double loop centered on Comstock Creek. The inner loop is relatively flat. The outer loop features a fair climb up from the creek and, after a reasonably level section, a fairly steep downhill back to creek level. A side trail (too steep for me to ski) leads to a view of Campbell Lake.

Besides recreation, this area also serves as a wellfield for Kalamazoo's water system. The trail passes a few concrete structures that protect the water wells and an access road to the pumphouse.

Directions: From I-94 take exit 80, Sprinkle Road. Go north on Sprinkle about 4 miles to E.H Avenue. Go west about 2 miles on H to McLinden parking lot.

Fred McLinden Nature Trails
7405 East H Avenue
Comstock, MI

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Red Osier Dogwood

Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) or Red Twig Dogwood brings a touch of bright color to the late winter landscape. Its small fruits provide food for wildlife and birds. Native Americans used the twigs to make baskets and the bark for dyes.

See a USDA plant guide (pdf) for more information.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Spring Events 2011

Spring in Kalamazoo is a great time to look for wildflowers, ride a bike, fly a kite, birdwatch, or just enjoy the warming weather. Here are some Spring events near Kalamazoo:
March 1–April 30 Meijer Gardens: Butterflies are Blooming Grand Rapids

March 5, 2011 Quietwater Symposium. Lansing

March 25-26 2011 Michigan Bike Summit. Lansing.

April 15-16 6th Annual Lakeshore Earth Day Celebration Grand Haven

April 16 Earth Day free admission to the Kalamazoo Nature Center Kalamazoo

April 16 Annual Midwest Crane Count

April 16-24 National Parks Week

April 29-30 Thornapple Woodpecker Festival Middleville

April 29- May 1 Michigan Nature Association's Spring Adventure Dowagiac

May 7 TrailBlazer 2011 (pdf) South Haven, Kalamazoo, Bloomingdale

May 7-14, 2011 Tulip Time Festival Holland

May 8 First Kalamazoo Marathon Kalamazoo

May 12-15, 2011 Tawas Point Birding Festival

May 14 Lee's Kayak Demo Day at Ramona Park, noon-4 pm, Portage

May 20-22 Great Lakes Kite Festival 2011 Grand Haven

May 28 Lee's Kayak Demo Day at Ramona Park, noon-4 pm, Portage

See also:
Maple Sugar Festivals

Event listings from Discover Kalamazoo

Gazelle Sports' calendar of West Michigan Races & Running Workshops

Outdoor Athlete has lists for Michigan running, biking and triathlon events.

Pure Michigan's May Events & March and April Events

Spring events at Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery

Spring weekend getaways

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Maple Syrup Festivals 2011

As late Winter transitions to Spring, the maple sap begins to flow which means it's almost time for maple syrup festivals throughout the north.

Maple events near Kalamazoo

March 5-6 Maple Sugar Time 10am - 4pm Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Chellberg Farm Chesterton, IN

March 12-13 46th Annual Maple Sugar Festival Kalamazoo Nature Center 9am – 5pm Kalamazoo

March 12-13 Maple Sugar Madness 2 pm Sarett Nature Center Benton Harbor

March 12-13 Maple Sugar Time 10am - 4pm Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Chellberg Farm Chesterton, IN

March 19 Maple Syrup Day at Kellogg Forest, 11am-5pm Augusta

March 19-20 Sugar Camp Days St Joseph (IN) County Parks Bendix Woods County Park, New Carlisle, IN

March 26 Sugarbush Festival & Pancake Breakfast Blandford Nature Center Grand Rapids

March weekends Maple Sugar Time at the Van Raalte farm DeGraaf Nature Center Holland

April 15-16 Wakarusa Maple Syrup Festival, Wakarusa, Indiana

April 29 - May 1 71st Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival

See also:
Pure Michigan's March and April Events

Spring events around Kalamazoo

Singer Carl Newman's guide to making maple syrup.

Thomas Jefferson's failure with maple trees