Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wildflower progress

Spring feels a little late this year but it is progressing. Plants that were just budding a week ago are now blooming. Spring Beauty looks to be at its peak. Large patches of green foliage cover the forest floor bringing promises of future blooms.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is near its peak. The rain has beaten up some flowers while others remain partially closed to protect their pollen. Clusters of the white flowers, each backed by its own large, round, deeply cleft leaf, are quite striking.

Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) are probably my favorite early spring wildflower. There's something about the way the clusters of V-shaped flowers are suspended from the arching stem that's both attractive and amusing. They haven't reached their peak yet, this season, so they're about two weeks later than 2010.

A hint of more to come...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) are the most common hawk around Kalamazoo. I nearly always see one or more when I'm driving on the highway, either perched in a tree at the edge of a field or circling overhead. I regularly see them on my short commute to K College. They can be found from Canada to Central America.

Mice and other small rodents are their main food source, but they will also eat rabbits or birds. Young hawks with less hunting experience may eat roadkill.

Mobbing is an interesting phenomenon where groups of crows or blackbirds harass a hawk to drive it from its territory. Attacking such a fierce predator seems like it would be suicidal, but the smaller birds have enough maneuverability to make it a successful strategy.

The classic colors of a Red-tailed hawk are a dark head, back and wings with cinnamon-colored tailfeathers with a light underside. There is substantial variation across individual birds and juveniles don't have the red tail which can make them somewhat harder to identify.

The bird pictured above is used in education programs at the Kalamazoo Nature Center.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Emerging wildflowers

April 15 marks the end of the tax season and the beginning of Kalamazoo's wildflower season. It's a good time to look for the early woodland wildflowers: Hepatica, Dutchman's Breeches, Marsh Marigold, and Spring Beauty. Of course, like many things in nature, there is year-to-year variation. In 2010, these flowers were at their peak by April 15. This Spring has been colder (as illustrated by yesterday's snow) and the wildflowers are later. Only a few plants were in bloom at the Kalamazoo Nature Center, but lots more had buds bringing the promise of more flowers next week.

Bloodroot bud (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Trout Lily bud (Erythronium americanum)

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) in bloom.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Natural Michigan part 3 (near Lansing)

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. In earlier posts, I highlighted areas near Kalamazoo and areas in Southwest Michigan near the Indiana border. These areas, near Lansing, are just over an hour's drive from Kalamazoo.

Natural Areas near Lansing

1. Fox Park
"Activity and this 35-acre Eaton Conty park centers around a long, narrow manmade lake." Beach, playground, 2 miles of trails for hiking or x-country skiing.

Directions:From I-69 take exit 66. Go north on M-100 about 1 mile to Gresham Avenue. West on Gresham to park entrance.

Fox Memorial Park
3981 E. Gresham Hwy.
Potterville, MI 48876

2. Fitzgerald County Park
"Recently, geologically speaking, the Grand River cut through the rock and left a mile-log series of magnificent 270-million-year-old sandstone outcroppings." Trails, nature center, picnic areas, athletic fields, sled hill, cross-country ski rentals, canoe rental.

Directions:Take M-43 to Grand Ledge. Turn east on Jefferson Avenue to park entrance.

Fitzgerald County Park

133 Fitzgerald Park Drive
Grand Ledge, MI 48837

3. Woldumar Nature Center
"Located on an old farm amid expressways, residential areas and urban sprawl, the 188-acre Woldumar Nature Center is an oasis to both wildlife and people." Trails, nature exhibits, gift shop, nature programs.

Directions: From I-96 take Exit 98B onto Lansing Road North . Proceed through Creyts Road traffic light and bear right at the fork. Woldumar is one-half mile from the light, on the right, or south side, of the road.
$1 trail fee

Woldumar Nature Center

5739 Old Lansing Road
Lansing, MI

4. Riverbend Natural Area
"At Riverbend, there are plenty of opportunities for solitary walks, nature study, photography, or the search for wildflowers and birds along seven trails, which vary in length Timber Doodle Trail to the 1.3 mile Deer Run Trail." Hiking, cross-country skiing.

Directions: From I-69 take I-96 east to US 127. South on US 127 to Holt Road. West 2 miles on Holt to Aurelius. South on Aurelius 3 miles to Nichols Road. 3.5 miles west on Nichols to park entrance.

Riverbend Natural Area
6200 Nichols Road
Holt, MI

5. Legg Park
"The Red Cedar River is relatively small-- a good high school broad jumper could clear it in most places-- swift moving stream that almost twists itself in knots as it pases through deep woods southeast of Okemos." Trails, picnic area, cross-country skiing.

Directions: From E. Lansing, take M-43 (Grand River Avenue) east about 4 miles to Van Atta Road. South on Van Atta 2 miles to entrance.

Legg Park
3891 Van Atta Road
Okemos, MI

6. Baker Woodlot
"Michigan State University's 173-acre Baker Woodlot holds a soul-stirring fragment of the great beech/maple climax forest that once blanketed much of southern Michigan." Trails.
Directions: On MSU's campus in E. Lansing at the intersection of Farm Lane and Service Road.
Baker Woodlot

7. Beal Botanical Garden
"W.J. Beal Garden, located in the heart of the Michigan State University campus, is a living tribute to a long line of talented gardeners and botanists." Garden beds, plant collections, 5000 different kinds of plants.
Directions: On MSU's campus on West Circle Drive next to the Main Library.
Beal Botanical Garden

8. Sanford Natural Area
"Squeezed between the bustling Michigan State University campus on the south and a commercial strip bordering Grand River Avenue on the north is an exceptional wilderness area." Trails, birdwatching, Red Cedar River views, hardwood forest.
Directions: On the northeastern corner of MSU's campus in E. Lansing just south of the intersection of Hagadorn Road and Grand River Avenue.
Sanford Natural Area

9. Red Cedar Natural Area
"The Red Cedar Natural area-- because it's much less accessible [then the Sanford natural area] and, thus, less frequently used-- seems much more remote and wild." hardwood forest, paths, Red Cedar River.
Directions: On the western edge of MSU's campus in E. Lansing, where Kalamazoo Street crosses the Red Cedar River.
Red Cedar Natural Area

10. Fenner Nature Center
"The opportunity for solitude along an extensive system of nature trails within a city limits, plus a wide variety of fascinating exhibits and programs are reasons to visit Fenner Nature Center, a 120-acre city park located on the eastern edge of Lansing."

Directions: From US-127/I-496 in Lansing go south to Trowbridge Road exit, East on Trowbridge to Harrison. Harrison south to Mt Hope Road. West on Mt Hope 1.5 miles to entrance.

Fenner Nature Center
2020 E. Mt. Hope Ave.
Lansing, MI 48910

11. Rose Lake Wildlife Research Center
"The Rose Lake Wildlife Research Center is one of the most underrated and overlooked great birdwatching areas in the state." 231 bird species, 41 mammals, walking, cross country skiing, hunting, fishing, 3,646 acres.

Directions: from Lansing, take I-69 12 miles northeast to exit 94. Turn east onto old M-78, then .5 mile to Upton Road. North on Upton 1.5 miles to Stoll Road. East on Stoll to headquarters.
Rose Lake map [pdf]

Rose Lake Wildlife Research Center
8562 E. Stoll Road
E. Lansing, MI 48823

12. Maple River State Game Area
"The 1,200 acres of the Wetland Wildlife Management Units of the Maple River State Game Area make up the largest wetland complex in central Michigan." Birdwatching, photography, hiking on dikes, observation tower.

Directions: On US-127 about 8 miles north of St Johns, MI. Parking area 1/2 mile north of Maple River. For other parking areas go north to Ranger Road then east or west to first intersection then south to parking.
Maple River State Game Area

13. Brock Park

"Those in the know turn off M-21 and slip under the canopy of thick, towering hardwoods and evergreens that shelter a sprawling, secluded campground and a beautiful picnic area bisected by a bright, swift-moving stream." Picnic areas, trails, camping, cross-country skiing, sledding.
Directions:From Ionia go 3 miles west on M-21.
Bertha Brock Park
2311 West Bluewater Highway
Ionia, MI 48846

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, April 10, 2011

Spring Robin

Robins (Turdus migratorius) are a traditional sign of spring in Michigan. Their preferred habitat, open grassy areas for feeding with nearby trees and bushes for protection, matches typical suburban landscaping, so they are one of the easiest songbirds to see. My lawn has been brightened in recent weeks by groups of robins hunting for worms.

Their colorful breast, cheerful chirping, ease of viewing, and association with Spring make them a very popular bird. In 1931, the Robin Red Breast was named Michigan's State Bird.

While robins are known as Spring birds, some do overwinter in Michigan, which makes them a less reliable indicator than the Red-winged Blackbird or the Turkey Vulture. Their Latin name means "migrating thrush" and most robins do migrate south for the winter and return north in the Spring.

The American Robin is named after the red-breasted European Robin, but they aren't closely related.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Mutant Trilliums

Trilliums, as their name implies, are plants with three petals and three leaves. On occasion, a genetic mutation creates a trillium flower with multiple petals. These are known as "double blooms" and are prized by some gardeners. I saw the one pictured above growing in the wild at the Kalamazoo Nature Center in May 2010.

Growing a few feet away was this four-petaled trillium, with four leaves-- another genetic rarity. Some people call this a "quadrillium." I don't know if these mutations had a common cause, perhaps coming from the same parent plant.

While these individual plants have unusual appearances, they are still Trillium Grandiflorium (Large Flowered Trillium). I'm curious to see if they bloom again this Spring.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Dowagiac Woods

Dowagiac Woods, a nature sanctuary protected by the Michigan Nature Association, is one of the best places to see wildflowers in Southwest Michigan. Spring flowers start blooming in April with Hepatica and Bloodroot and continue into May with Blue-eyed Mary and Trillium. More than fifty different kinds of wildflowers bloom in the preserve.

A well-marked trail leads through the woods and crosses Hunter's Creek. In places, the trail can be wet and muddy.

The preserve's eastern boundary is the Dowagiac River, one of the largest coldwater streams in Southern Michigan. The river was dredged and straightened in the 1920s. This created high berms that mostly block views of the river from the sanctuary. In recent years, efforts have been made to restore the natural meanders to the river.

In 2009, the MNA purchased an adjoining tract of land to expand the preserve to 384 acres. You can support the sanctuary by making a contribution to finance the expansion.

Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary
31640 Frost Road
Dowagiac, MI 49047

From the town of Dowagiac go west on M-62. Turn left (south) onto
Sink Road. Then left (east) onto Frost Road. A marked parking area is on the left (north) side of Frost road.

Russ Forest is another wildflower destination in the area. (About 13 miles east of Dowagiac Woods.) I'll often visit both on a Spring afternoon.