Thursday, June 28, 2012

Swamp Milkweed

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is blooming in Kalamazoo.  Its eye-catching clusters of flowers are more vivid than the blossoms of Common Milkweed.  Like other milkweeds, it is an attractive source of nectar for butterflies.  The leaves are eaten by butterfly caterpillars, including Monarchs.  As its name suggests, this tall milkweed grows in wet soils.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Dragonflies are one of summer's most interesting insects.  I don't know much about them and I was surprised to see the number of different dragonfly species in Michigan.  I thought I'd do a quick internet ID on this one, but quickly got lost.  Even the beginner's guide to Dragonfly ID was intimidating.

I probably need to spend some more time reading about these airborne predators.  Mark Cassino's dragonfly photos and Mark O'Brien's blog on Michigan dragonflies and damselflies would be good places to start.

Photo by Maria Stull

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Slime mold

Slime molds are interesting creatures.  They look enough like a fungus that they have typically been studied by mycologists, who study mushrooms.  But, unlike mushrooms, slime molds move.  They're most closely related to amoebas.
We came across this one recently at K College's arboretum.  I'm pretty sure it's Fuligo septica (charmingly known as Dog Vomit Slime Mold) which was featured on XKCD.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Best in Tent Camping Michigan

Best in Tent Camping Michigan
Matt Forester

This guidebook is part of a series by Menasha Ridge Press for car campers who want a more nature-centered experience and who aren't looking for a slab to level their RV.  I've used several books in the series and have found some great campsites, so I was happy to see the Michigan book released.  The book divides Michigan into five regions: Southeast, Southwest, Northwest, Northeast, and the Upper Peninsula.  As might be expected, the book recommends many campgrounds in northern Michigan and the UP but there are some close to Kalamazoo.  Each chapter includes a description of the campground, a map of the sites, and recommendations for the best individual sites.

Best Tent Camping in Southwest Michigan
1. Warren Dunes State Park Rustic Campground
2. Yankee Springs State Recreation Area: Deep Lake Rustic Campground
3. Pines Point National Forest Campground
4. Highbank Lake National Forest Campground
5. Tubbs Lake State Forest Campground

The book has a Facebook page and is available from Amazon and other booksellers

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Owl Pellet

While I know Kalamazoo has owls, I hardly ever see them. Mostly, I'd guess, because they're active at night. I hadn't thought about owls in my own backyard until my daughter found this owl pellet on a tree branch. Since then, I've been looking on occasion but without success, so far. I don't know if it was from Screech Owl, a Great Horned Owl, or a Barred Owl.  The neat package of fur and bones was pretty interesting.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) are found in Alaska and Canada with a small population in some northwestern states.  Grizzlys are a subspecies of Brown Bear (Ursus arctos); other Brown Bears are found in EuropeYellowstone's Grizzly Bears are probably the best known in the continental US.

Grizzly Bears are omnivores, eating both plants and animals.  They hibernate in the winter.  They are significantly larger than the Black Bear.  Grizzly attacks on people are rare, but they can be fatal, so it's worth taking safety precautions.  
The bear pictured here, drew quite a crowd of spectators at roadside in Yellowstone National Park.

This post is part of series on a Road Trip from Kalamazoo to Wyoming.


Michigan's rattlesnakes are small and timid compared to their western cousins.  The snake pictured above is a Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  Like other snakes, rattlesnakes are cold-blooded (or poikilothermic) so they often warm themselves on roads.  Rattlesnakes eat a variety of rodents and other small animals.  In general they avoid conflict with people, but if disturbed their bite is venomous.   

This post is part of a series of Road Trip posts.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota protects badlands, formations somewhat similar to South Dakota's Badlands National Park.  (Although the North Dakota badlands were greener and not as uncomfortably hot.)  The park supports a variety of animals including bison, prairie dogs, wild horses, and rattlesnakes. 

The park was established as a memorial to President Theodore Roosevelt, who protected many of our National Parks.  Teddy Roosevelt made regular trips to the Badlands.  The park consists of three units, including Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch.  The South Unit, close to Interstate 94, is the most visited part.

Horseback rides are offered by a concession at the park's Peaceful Valley Ranch.

The Cottonwood Campground has reasonably large camp sites along the Little Missouri River.  The sites felt particularly roomy coming from Wyoming's crowded parks.  If you camp, it's a good idea to stock up on supplies before reaching the park, since neither the park store nor the small town of Medora have too much in the way of groceries.   

distance from Kalamazoo: 1111 miles
This post is part of a series of Road Trip posts.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Western deer

Deer are very common in Michigan; I see them in my backyard several times a week.  Our local deer are White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus).  Out West, the common deer are Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) who have much shorter tails, often with a black tip.  (Mule Deer are sometimes called Black-tailed Deer.)  Mule Deer tend to be bigger than Whitetails. Mule Deer are named for their long ears.

This post is part of a series on a Road Trip from Kalamazoo to Wyoming.

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park is immediately south of Yellowstone National Park.  It's known for its stunning mountain views across the Snake River.  It's also a great park for wildlife, including elk, bison, eagles, and bears.


Compared to Yellowstone, it's not as crowded and its easier to find a campsite and you don't need reservations.  That said, it's still a very popular park and prime campsites fill early.  We just missed the last spot at Jenny Lake but were very satisfied with a spot in the tent-only loop in the big campground at Colter Bay.  The campsites were reasonably big, with enough trees and vegetation to provide some privacy. 

distance from Kalamazoo: 1600 miles
This post is part of a series of Road Trip posts.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) were the first animals we saw in Yellowstone, although they weren't easy to see. We stopped at a parking lot where people were looking up at the mountains. Even with binoculars the sheep were difficult to spot since they were so high on a steep slope.

We got much closer to some young Bighorns in Badlands National Park since they were eating grass right at the edge of the road.

The mother shown here is wearing a radio collar, so the Park Service can track her as part of their restoration efforts.

The male Bighorn pictured below lives at the Syracuse zoo. We never got that close to a wild ram (and it's probably a good idea to keep some distance from them.)

This post is part of series on a western Road Trip.


Bison (Bison bison) or American Buffalo were once widespread throughout the United States.  The eastern part of their range extended from northern Florida to New York State and they were found in all the Midwestern and Great Plains states and up into the western provinces of Canada.  At their peak, their population has been estimated at up to 50 million animals. 

In the 1800s, the vast western bison herds were rapidly exterminated.  Railroads opened access to the west and international markets provided ready buyers for buffalo hides.  By the beginning of the twentieth century, only 2000 bison survived, included a small wild population in Yellowstone.  In 1905, the American Bison Society (led by William Hornaday and Theodore Roosevelt) campaigned to save the bison and to reintroduce them to the wild.  Bison today are considered a "near threatened" species, with about 20,000 bison in conservation herds and over 400,000 in commercial herds.

Buffalo are North America's largest land animal, with males weighing more than a ton.  Their large heads and massive shoulder muscles are adaptations that allow bison to plow through deep snow so they can graze through the winter.  Bison move surprisingly quickly-- over 30 mph.

In the late 1980s, an article sparked a controversial proposal to create a Buffalo Commons in the plains.  
There is currently a movement in congress to make the bison our "national mammal."

See these online resources about bison.

This post is part of a series on a Road Trip from Kalamazoo to Wyoming and back.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is famous for its thermal features: geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles.  The park is also well-known for wildlife: bears, bison, bighorn sheep, and the recent reintroduction of wolves.  Other attractions include numerous waterfalls, Yellowstone Lake, the grand canyon of the Yellowstone, and fly-fishing.        

Yellowstone is America's oldest national park, established in 1872 by an act of Congress that "dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people."  UNESCO designated it as a natural World Heritage site.  At over 2 million acres, it's the second largest park in the lower 48 states.  The park attracts over three million visitors each year, most of them during the summer.

Yellowstone's popularity means it is often crowded.  Reservations for the park lodges fill months ahead of time.  Four large campgrounds, operated under concession by Xanterra, use the same reservation system.  We made reservations for early August, a peak time, and some of the campgrounds were fully reserved several weeks in advance.  The big campgrounds don't offer a lot of space or solitude.  There are several smaller campgrounds that don't accept reservations; those usually fill early in the morning.

The Grand Loop is a 142 mile, figure-eight road that connects most of the park's main attractions.  We spent several days in the park and spent a lot of time on that road, often in traffic.  Next time, I'd reserve a campsite in the western part of the park for half the time, and then move to a campsite on the other side to reduce driving times.  Not only are distances inside the park long, there are frequent wildlife jams-- when a bear sighting or a herd of bison on the road, bring traffic to a stop.
Of course the easiest way to get away from the crowds is to get away from the roads.  A short hike is enough to get back to the wild.

distance from Kalamazoo: 1600 miles
This post is part of a series of Road Trip posts.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Moose (Alces alces or Alces americanus)  are North America's largest deer.  They are widespread in Canada and are also found across the northern part of the continental United States.  A closely related species (or perhaps the same species) occurs in Europe (where it is called the Eurasian Elk, to further the confusion.)

Male moose have broad palmate antlers which are distinct from other members of the deer family.  Moose antlers are shed each winter and replaced by a larger, more elaborate set the next spring.  The male pictured above is probably a yearling, based on his antler development.  In early August, the antlers were still covered with "velvet" which provides nutrients for antler growth.

While some moose live in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, we saw these in Wyoming.

This post is part of a special Road Trip series.       

Devil's Tower

 Devils Tower is an impressive sight, visible for miles among the rolling hills of northeastern Wyoming.  Its vertical columns of phonolite porphyry are strikingly different from the surrounding geology

Devil's Tower National Monument was the first National Monument, established in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt.  National Monuments are part of the National Park System and are administered by the National Park Service.  National Parks are created by acts of Congress while National Monuments are federal lands protected by Presidential designation.  Devil's Tower was the first area protected under the Antiquities Act, a law sponsored by Congressman John F Lacey who is also remembered for the Lacey Act which protects wildlife.

distance from Kalamazoo: 1165 miles
This post is part of a series of Road Trip posts.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Pronghorns (Antilocapra americana) are America's fastest land animal.  While they look superficially like deer, they are more closely related to antelopes.  Instead of antlers, both males and females have horns with a bone core.  The males' horns are larger.  Unlike deer, Pronghorns are poor jumpers which makes fences a problem for them, particular during migration.  Like deer, Pronghorns have a split hoof with two distinct toes.

Pronghorns are natives of the Great Plains and their range is restricted to the Western US and Canada.  At its peak, the Pronghorn population numbered in the millions.  Overhunting, and changes in land use, caused a population crash; by the 1920s, only around 26,000 Pronghorn remained.  Conservation efforts by State and Federal governments, supported by hunting organizations, allowed the population to rebound.  Efforts to protect the Pronghorn continue today.


This post is part of a Road Trip series

Prairie Dog

Prairie Dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) are a ground squirrel of the shortgrass prairie.  They are social animals who form colonies called "towns" that can cover hundreds of acres. Prairie dogs warn their neighbors of danger with a bark-like call.  This "bark" gives them their common name.

Ranchers' belief that prairie dogs competed with cattle for grass led to a series of policies to eradicate prairies dogs, including widespread poisoning.  These policies led to a drastic reduction in prairie dog numbers.  More recent studies suggest Prairie dog colonies can have a positive impact on grazing lands.  For details, see this history of prairie dog policy [pdf].

This post is part of a Road Trip series.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Badlands National Park

South Dakota's Badlands National Park features multicolored peaks emerging from the prairie. The landscape is forbidding and beautiful. Temperatures over 100° are common in the summer.

Despite its desolate appearance, the badlands are home to a surprising amount of life (beyond rattlesnakes). We saw wild turkeys, pronghorn, prairie dogs, and big horn sheep.

The park offers camping but it was so hot we decided to get an air-conditioned motel room in nearby Wall, SD. If we'd planned ahead we might have tried the park lodge.

The park is located just south of I-90 and a loop road (240) goes through the park and back to the Interstate, which makes the Badlands an easy addition to a road trip.

distance from Kalamazoo: 1000 miles
This post is part of a series of Road Trip posts.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Road Trip

This week, as school winds down, Kalamazoo Seasons will take a virtual vacation, from Kalamazoo to Wyoming and back.  Whether the destination is a National Park, the seashore, or distant relatives-- packing the family in the car and driving long distances is an American tradition.

Author Bill Bryson:
“In my memory, our vacations were always taken in a big blue Rambler station wagon.  It was a cruddy car—my dad always bought cruddy cars, until he got to the male menopause and started buying zippy red convertibles—but it had the great virtue of space.  My brother, my sister and I in the back were miles away from my parents up front, in effect in another room.  We quickly discovered during illicit forays into the picnic hamper that if you stuck a bunch of Ohio Blue Tip matches into an apple or hard-boiled egg, so that it resembled a porcupine, and casually dropped it out the tailgate window, it was like a bomb.  It would explode with a small bang and a surprisingly big flash of blue flame causing cars following behind to veer in an amusing fashion.
My dad, miles away up front, never knew what was going on or could understand why all day long cars would zoom up alongside him with the driver gesticulating furiously, before tearing off into the distance.  “What was that all about?” he would say to my mother in a wounded tone.”

Posts in this series:

Badlands National Park

Devil's Tower

Yellowstone National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Prairie Dog



Bighorn Sheep


Western Deer

Grizzly Bear

Theodore Roosevelt National Park