Thursday, March 29, 2012

Brown Snake

I'm not that familiar with the Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi) but it seemed pretty easy to identify using online sources. Apparently they spend much of the time hidden under rocks or underground, where they eat worms and slugs. This one, that I saw on the Calumet trail in Northern Indiana, was probably moving from its winter hibernation spot.

This was just over a foot long, which is close to full size.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Calumet Trail

The Calumet Trail runs 10 miles through Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. It parallels US-12 and the South Shore railroad, with powerlines overhead, so it is not a tranquil wilderness path. There is, however, plenty of nature in the woods and marshes alongside the trail. On a ride last week, I heard Sandhill Cranes and Red-winged Blackbirds calling. Spice bush flowers brightened the understory with even brighter Marsh Marigolds blooming underneath. On the trail itself, I saw a Woodcock (dead) and a little Brown Snake (alive).

The surface of the trail is crushed stone, so it wouldn't work for rollerblades or racing bikes. There were major drainage problems on the day I visited with extensive deep puddles covering big stretches of the trail. Frogs swam in the bigger ones and water striders skated across the surfaces of many.

I started at Cowles Bog and planned to ride to the trail's end near Mount Baldy. It was wet enough that I gave up about halfway and enjoyed a ride on some quiet streets along Lake Michigan.

More info on the Calumet Trail from Indiana Trails Community or Indiana

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spring Events 2012

Despite a Winter than included an unusual amount of Spring-like weather, true Spring is on its way. Longer days and milder temperatures allow a greater variety of outdoor activity. Birds migrate, wildflowers bloom, morels appear, and many events occur throughout the region. 

Go to: Spring 2013 Events]

Spring events near Kalamazoo

March 1- April 30 Butterflies are Blooming at Meijer Gardens Grand Rapids

March 24th Wenke Greenhouse tour 9-10:30am Reservations Kalamazoo

March 24 23rd Annual Walk for the Homeless Kalamazoo River Valley Trail Kalamazoo

March 31 Rain Garden workshop 9:00am-12:00 noon reservations required $25 Grand Rapids

April 14 Friends of Indiana Dunes Native Plant Sale 8 am -1 pm Indiana Dunes State Park (free admission) Chesterton,IN

April 14 Annual Midwest Crane Count 5:30-7:30 am

April 20 WMEAC Earth Day 6-11 pm Grand Rapids

April 20-21 7th Annual Lakeshore Earth Day Celebration Grand Haven

April 21-29, National Park Week

April 22 Free Admission for Earth Day at Kellogg Bird Sanctuary 11:00am - 4:00pm Augusta

April 27-28 Thornapple Woodpecker Festival Middleville

April 28 Green-A-Thon 2012 Celery Flats Portage

May 5-12 Tulip Time festival Holland

May 9 Spring Blooms in the Dunes (and Native Plant Sale 9am - 3pm) Gillette Visitor Center Hoffmaster State Park Muskegon

May 12 Lees' Kayak & Canoe Demo day Kalamazoo

May 13-18 Kalamazoo Bike Week Kalamazoo

May 18-20 Great Lakes Kite Festival 2012 Grand Haven

May 19 Family Fishing Fair Ramona Park 10am-1pm Portage

Also consider

Maple Syrup Events

Vegetable planting dates

Earth Day Activities throughout Michigan

Earth Day events in Metro Detroit

Wild Ones (Kalamazoo Chapter) Programs & Field Trips

Battle Creek Cleanwater Events

Tawas Point Birding Festival Iosco County May 17–20

Event listings from Discover Kalamazoo

Gazelle Sports' calendar of West Michigan Races & Running Workshops

League of Michigan Bicyclists Michigan Bicycling Calendar

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

Spring weekend getaways

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Early Spring

So far, 2012 has been an exceptionally warm Spring (and Spring doesn't officially start until Tuesday.) Red-winged Blackbirds are returning to Michigan, as are Turkey Vultures. Plants are also emerging. The earliest wildflowers, Skunk Cabbage and Harbinger of Spring, are in bloom.

Other wildflowers, which typically bloom later, are also in flower. Spring Beauty opened in the last few days.

Hepatica were in full bloom by Thursday, three weeks earlier than 2011. (Although only a week earlier than 2010.)

Painted turtles were out enjoying the sun yesterday.

Other area writers with recent posts on Spring include Richard Brewer, CalArti, Ellen Rathbone, and Plants Amaze Me.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

60 Hikes within 60 miles Chicago

60 Hikes within 60 miles Chicago
Ted Villare

This guidebook by the author of Easy Hikes Chicago presents a wide variety of hikes in Illinois, Indiana, southern Wisconsin, and southwest Michigan. The hikes are organized geographically, with separate sections on Cook County, DuPage County and destinations west, North Chicagoland and Wisconsin, Northwest Indiana and environs, and South Chicagoland and the Illinois River valley. The complete list of hikes is available on the author's website. Each hike is described in detail, with a map and a profile graph showing changes in elevation, and a black & white photo. You can see sample chapters online. (More photos, in color, of most hikes are available on the author's website.)

A nice feature of the book is its 20 lists of hikes for particular purposes: good hikes for young children, hikes for seasonal wildflower viewing, river hikes, good hikes for runners, good hikes for cross-country skiers, accessible by public transportation, and more.

Some hikes, reasonably close to Kalamazoo

1. Warren Dunes State Park Loop
"One of the most beautiful spots on Lake Michigan's southern shore, Warren Dunes is a perfect place to combine a trip to the beach with a ramble through rugged wooded dunes and bottomland forest."
4.2 miles
Bridgeman, MI

2. Indiana Dunes State Park Loop: Dune Ridge Loop
"Indiana Dunes is one of the most beautiful and dramatic settings in the Chicago region. This hike is especially notable for its variety: after hiking through forest, wetland, and wooded dunes, you'll pass over spectacular sand dunes bordering the shoreline."
4.5 miles
Chesterton, IN

3. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore: Ly-co-ki-we Hike
"The name "Ly-co-ki-we"-- which means "sandy ground" in the Miami Indian language-- offers an inkling of what you'll encounter on this trail. Although you won't be climbing any monstrous sand dune, you will follow a couple of gentle dune ridges as they gradually rise and fall. Like other sandy ridges in the area, these mild slopes mark the shores of a once larger version of Lake Michigan."
12.2 miles
Chesterton, IN

4. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore: Cowles Bog Trail
"One of the more famous spots at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Cowles Bog is well known for its beauty and historical significance in the filed of environmental science."
4 miles
Chesterton, IN

5. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore: West Beach Loop
"It's not just the high dunes and a long sandy beach that makes hiking at West Beach such a satisfying experience. What makes this hike so engaging is how the landscape and plants magically transform every half mile or so."
3.15 miles
Chesterton, IN

6. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore: Bailly/Chelberg Hike
"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."
3.3 miles
Chesterton, IN

7. Oak Ridge Prairie Loop
"Oak Ridge County Park allows visitors to sample a variety of appealing environments within a fairly small area. During the hike, the landscape moves from lakeshore to woodland to prairie to marshland.
3.15 miles
between Griffith & Merillville, IN

8.Deep River Hike
"This hike takes you along the edge of the Deep River as it meanders through a large, diverse hardwood forest. At some point during your visit, stop in at the gristmill that was first built next to the river in 1837."
2.9 miles
Hobart, IN

Available from Amazon, Barnes&Noble, other bookstores and libraries. Kindle and Nook versions are available.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Winter blooms

Early March, with snow on the ground, isn't usually the time for flowers in Michigan so I enjoyed seeing Witch Hazel in bloom last weekend at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. The flowers were very small but fragrant.

Witch Hazel is a large bush or small tree widely distributed in Michigan and throughout the eastern U.S. and Canada.

The plants I saw were planted at the edge of the parking lot at the nature center and were tagged Hamamelis virginiana. But, I'm not sure. Several sources suggest Hamamelis virginiana blooms in late fall. Another species of Witch Hazel, Hamamelis vernalis, which is native to the Ozarks, does bloom in Winter.

Witch Hazel has been used and is still used medicinally.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Maple Sugar Tour

On Sunday, I took a maple sugar tour at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. It started with a half-hour video indoors then continued with a 40 minute walk through the woods. We saw buckets collecting sap in the "sugar bush". Other maples were tapped with more modern collection methods: plastic bags hung on individual trees or plastic tubing connecting several trees to a container. One tree demonstrated pioneer technology, with a wooden spile directing sap into a wooden bucket.

The tour then visited the sugar shack where the sap is boiled in an evaporator to make syrup. About 40 gallons of sap are needed to make a single gallon of syrup.

After the syrup is finished it's filtered and graded based on color.

Maple Sugar Tours at the Nature Center continue this weekend (Saturday 3/10/12 at 1 & 3 pm, Sunday 3/11/12 at 1 & 3 pm). The following weekend is the Nature Center's annual Maple Sugar Festival with tours throughout Saturday and Sunday, as well as a pancake breakfast and other activities.

Kalamazoo Nature Center
7000 North Westnedge Avenue
Kalamazoo, MI 49009

There are also other Maple Events happening in area parks and nature centers.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Day Trips from Chicago

Day Trips from Chicago: getaway ideas for the local traveler
Elisa Drake

This guidebook features 25 trips within a few hours drive of Chicago. Each trip is illustrated with a full page regional map and includes directions and suggestions on where to go, where to shop, where to stay, and where to eat. The trips are grouped by geography: north (mostly Wisconsin), northeast (Michigan), east (Indiana & Michigan), southeast (Indiana), south (mostly Illinois), and west (Illinois & Iowa). While all of the destinations are within a day's drive of Kalamazoo, I've selected a few from Michigan and Northern Indiana.

Day Trips near Kalamazoo

1. Beachy Keen
South Haven
"The first inkling of South Haven as a resort town came in the 1880s when Jewish families from Chicago began landing there for summer stays. It exploded over the next 80 years, at its height boasting more than 200 resorts. But along came the Depression, which sent that number spiraling down to about 45 during the 1960s. Now, a tighter tourist community offers quaint stays at bed-and-breakfasts and lakefront cottages."
DeGrandchamp Farms U-Pick
Kal-Haven Trail
Michigan Maritime Museum
South Pier Lighthouse
Cafe Julia $-$$
Clementine's $$
Sherman's Dairy Bar $
Tellos Italian Bistro $$

2. Calm, Cool & Art Collectors
"It's no secret that Saugatuck-Douglas is one of Chicago's favorite driving destinations...and now that Budget Traveler magazine declared it in 2010 as the "Coolest Small Party Town in America," you really need to go see it for yourself."
Chain Ferry
Oval Beach
Red Barn Theater
Saugatuck Center for the Arts
Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Museum
Art galleries
Star of Saugatuck boat cruise
Belvedere Restaurant $$$
Everyday People Cafe $$-$$$
Phil's Bar & Grille $$
Restaurant Toulouse $$$
Uncommon Grounds $
Crane's Pie Pantry $ Fennville
Salt of the Earth $ Fennville

3. Windmills and Winsome Shores
Holland & Grand Haven
"Both cities have water at their hearts, with protected sand dunes and soft sandy beaches lending loads of recreation and natural beauty. Holland is famous for its Dutch flavor in its food, festivals, flowers, fancy footwork of the klompen dancers, and, of course, its grand 12-story-high DwZwaan windmill. In Grand Haven a recently refurbished boardwalk puts a brighter spotlight on Lake Michigan and the Grand River."

Holland Museum
Holland State Park
Nelis' Dutch Village
Veldheer's Tulip Gardens
Windmill Island
CityVu Bistro $-$$
New Holland Brewing Company $-$$
Pereddies Restaurant $$
The Piper $$
Windmill Restaurant $

Grand Haven
Grand Haven State park
Musical Fountain
Rosy Mound Natural Area
Tri-Cities Historical Museum
Harbor Trolley
Bil-mar Restaurant $$
Kirby House Grill Room $$$
Odd Side Ales $
Pronto Pup $

4. Take a Seat, Literally
Grand Rapids
"The public museum tells the story of the city's furniture glory days,while today its major contribution is in office furniture, with headquarters here for the $2.3 billion company Steelcase."
Frederik Meijer Gardens
Gerald Ford Museum
Grand Rapids Art Museum
Grand Rapids Public Museum
John Ball Zoo
Robinette's Apple Haus
Urban Institute for Contemporary Art
Beltline Bar $
Bistro Bella Vita $$-$$$
Electric Cheetah $$
Founders Brewing Company $
Green Well $-$$

5. Brews, Zoos & More
Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, & Marshall
"Just off I-94 this trio of Michigan cities takes you from a zoo of airplanes to a zoo with a heart for endangered species, from a microbrewery that's 25 years old to another that boasts a 250-year-old tradition."

Air Zoo
Kalamazoo Institute of Arts
Kalamazoo Nature Center
Kalamazoo Valley Museum
Parkwyn Village
Bell's Eccentric Cafe $
Food Dance Cafe $$
The Union Cabaret & Grill $$
Gilmore Car Museum Hickory Corners

Battle Creek
Arcadia Brewing Company
Binder Park Zoo
Heritage Mile Walking Tour
Clara's on the River $$
O.T.'s Up-n-Smoke BBQ $

American Museum of Magic
Honolulu House Museum
Cornwell's Turkeyville USA

6. Wine, Dine & Wind Down
Michigan City, New Buffalo, Three Oaks & Sawyer
"Harbor Country cities brim with quaint bed-and-breakfasts for comfy lodging after a rough day of wine tasting, dune hiking, and even a little card playing at the two casinos in the area."

Indiana Dunes
Art and Earth Trail

Michigan City, IN
Barker Museum
Blue Chip Casino
Great Lakes Museum of Military History
Lubeznik Center for the Arts
Old Lighthouse Museum
Washington Park Zoo
Lighthouse Place Outlet mall
Matey's Restaurant $$
Shoreline Brewery $$
Swingbelly's Restaurant $$

Harbour Country
Acorn Theater
Dinges' Farm
Four Winds Casino
Fruitful Vine Tours
New Buffalo Railroad Museum
Round Barn Winery
Warren Dunes State Park
Brewster's $$-$$$
Fitzgerald's Bistro $$$
Kite's Kitchen $-$$
Red Arrow Roadhouse $$
Redamak's $

7. Touchdown Here
South Bend, IN
"Famous for the University of Notre Dame and the school's beloved Fighting Irish football team (and the enthusiastic tailgating that goes with it), South Bend is also a cache of industrial history and national landmark homes-- from the 1895 Copshaholm mansion, now a museum, to the tangible markers and historic tales left by Studebaker and the Oliver Chilled Plow Company, both of which provided substantial growth to this Indiana town from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries."
Center for History
College Football Hall of Fame
Potawatomi Zoo
South Bend Chocolate Company tour
Studebaker National Museum
University of Notre Dame
Fiddler's Hearth $$-$$$
Rocco's Restaurant $$
Sorin's $$$
Tippecanoe Place $$$
Yesterday's $$-$$$

8 Take Us Home, Country Roads
Elkhart, IN & Amish Country
"Black horse-drawn buggies clip-clop their wayalong rural byways; brilliant quilt designs patterned from thousands of flowers fill the farmland from srping through early fall; RV-ers roll through the area to pay homage to the place they were produced; and two prominent rivers converge in scenic vistas."

Elkhart, IN
Elkhart River Queen
Linton's Enchanted Gardens
Midwest Museum of American Art
New York Central Railway Museum
Ruthmere House Museum
RV Hall of Fame
Wellfield Botanic Gardens
DaVinci's Italian Family Restaurant $$
El Maguey Grill $-$$
Lucchese's Italian Restaurant $$
McCarthy's on the Riverwalk $$
Stirred $$$
Sweet Creams Soda Shop $

Amish Country
Amish Acres
Bonneyville Mill
Heritage Driving Tour
Das Dutchman Essenhaus $$
Mullet's Dining (by reservation only)$$

Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or directly from the author

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ski Al Sabo

Al Sabo Land Preserve is one of my favorite places to cross-country ski in Kalamazoo. It offers over 8 miles of trails through pine plantations, open fields, and hardwood forest. The trails offer enough variety,including some hills, to keep up interest. The preserve surrounds Portage Creek and the Atwater Millpond. Like the Fred McLinden Nature Trails, Al Sabo protects part of Kalamazoo's water supply, so a handful of industrial-sized pumps are found among the trees.

My most recent visit to Al Sabo was Sunday morning (before the warm weather made the snow too sticky.) By Sunday, Friday's snow had been pretty trampled by runners, snowshoers, dog-walkers, and even a snow bike. There had been plenty of skiers as well, but it was rare to ski in existing tracks.

There's no sign for the parking lot (which can be fairly rutted) but it is immediately next to the entrance for the Rota-Kiwan Scout Camp, which is marked.

Al Sabo Nature Preserve
6276 Texas Drive
Kalamazoo, MI 49009-9702

black & white trail map or color trail map provided by Texas Township Parks