Wednesday, September 13, 2017

September 11

Monday, I resumed my quest to hike the entire length of the Meijer Heartland Trail between Edmore and Alma. The early morning weather was sunny with a temperature of 45 degrees and no wind. From the eastern most point reached last time which was the parking lot off 2nd street in Vestaburg, I left my car and continued east on the paved trail through a semi-residential area where I spotted some skeletonized remains of Wild Grape leaves consumed earlier by Japanese Beetles. Nearby, I noticed both a Spiny Oak Gall and a Banded Tussocks Moth Caterpillar on a White Oak leaf. After crossing Crystal Rd., I discovered a mixture of lush vines including Bittersweet Nightshade with its red fruit climbing up a patch of cattails. While these berries are toxic to humans, they are a good food source for birds, especially Cedar Waxwings. Further ahead, Wild Cucumber vines with their green spiny fruit and white blossoms caught my eye. Even though the fruit smells and tastes like cucumber, it is not edible. Also, I came upon a type of grape vine rarely seen called Fox Grape. Growing among the vines, I noticed Pokeweed with its colorful stems, blossoms and fruit. Unlike most plants, this one can have pink blossoms, immature green fruit and ripe black fruit all showing up at once. Similar to Nightshade, the fruit is toxic to human but edible to birds. Continuing east, I followed the sound of one of several chirping Eastern Chipmunks to its source as it perched in the underbrush. Just ahead, I came upon a bristly Milkweed Tussocks Moth Caterpillar devouring a Milkweed leaf. More early foliage color changes included leaves of Wild Raspberry and a patch of Poison Ivy. After hiking nearly a mile, I turned around and headed back where I spotted a Hoverfly resting on a Milkweed leaf and a few blossoms of Butter-and-Eggs. Finally, I returned to the car and headed home.

September days unfold
Way it’s always been
Mother Nature artist
Dips her brush again
On the forest canvas
Dabs of orange and red
Among leaves of maple
Some yellow is spread
In the open meadow
Prairie grasses seen
Late summer palette
Few strokes of green

D. DeGraaf

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

September 5

Tuesday, I returned to a favorite hiking venue, the 60-acre, Mission Creek Park in Mt. Pleasant. The early morning weather was sunny with a temperature of 57 degrees and no wind. Leaving the parking lot, I hiked east on the Creek Trail where I spotted the bright red fruit of False Solomon Seals. These pea size berries are edible with a bittersweet flavor suggesting bitter molasses. Turning south, I entered the Overlook Trail where the trail took me through a dense forest whose canopy was dominated by leaves of mature Beech and Maple trees. Along the way, I noticed one of several Beech Drops which are chlorophyll-lacking parasitic plants that feed on the roots of the surrounding Beech trees. Also, I came upon fruiting White Baneberry. Also known as “doll’s eyes”, these berries are poisonous. Leaving the trail, I turned east and descended a steep bluff into a wet, muddy area covered with cattails and a few smaller trees including this Witch Hazel whose leaves were beginning to change colors as autumn approaches. Other examples of foliage color change nearby included: Sugar Maples, Sensitive ferns and Maidenhair ferns. Continuing to wander through these mudflats, I spotted a clump of Small flower Asters and circular blob of white  slime mold growing on a downed tree trunk. A few inch-long, immature cones of Canadian Hemlock also caught my eye. Turning north and trudging through a dense patch of cattails, I came upon some blossoms of Bottle Gentain. Since these blossoms never open, only a few insects are adapted to open the flower and tap into the copious amount of sugar-laden nectar that awaits them. Next, I came to the sledding hill, turned west and climbed the stairs. Finally, I returned to the car and headed home.

… sedges flaunt their harvest,
In every meadow nook;
And asters by the brook-side
Make asters in the brook,
From dewy lanes at morning
The grapes' sweet odors rise;
At noon the roads all flutter
With yellow butterflies.
 By all these lovely tokens
 September days are here,
 With summer's best of weather,
 And autumn's best of cheer…

Helen Hunt Jackson

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

August 29

Tuesday, in memory of Remi, I continued my quest to hike the entire length of the Heartland Trail between Edmore and Alma, one section at a time. The early morning weather was very foggy with a temperature of 57 degrees and a gentle west wind. Parking the car along Derry Rd., west of Vestaburg, I began hiking east through a shroud of fog where the heavy dew exposed many webs of funnel weaver spiders. Further ahead, I noticed webs of orb and mesh weavers. Continuing east, I spotted some green foliage that was changing colors with the season, including: bracken fern fronds, elm leaves and cherry leaves. Examining the vegetation more closely, I saw some Sassafras leaves that had been eaten by Japanese Beetles and White Oak leaves covered with Jumping Oak galls. Just ahead, I came upon some berries of Virginia creeper. Easily confused with edible Wild Grapes, these berries are highly toxic to humans and maybe fatal if eaten. Further east, as the trail moved out of woods into a meadow type landscape, I spotted a large patch of Common Mullein. Nearby, I spotted a green blob on a yellowing Milkweed leaf that turned out to be a tiny Gray Tree Frog. Also, a Field Grasshopper, hidden in the grass, caught my eye. After walking for about a mile, I came to a parking area off 2nd Ave. in the village of Vestaburg and turned around where I recognized the thick, waxy leaves of Black Oak. Continuing west, I glanced high up in a tall White Pine tree to see the orange fruit of American Bittersweet. This deciduous twining woody vine is best known for its showy, scarlet, berry-like seeds that will soon burst out of the orange casings and brighten up fall and winter landscapes. The fruit is poisonous if ingested, but considered to be quite tasty by many birds. Finally, I got back to the car and headed home.

Foliage floods my senses
Summer starts to wane
Other colors appear
Nature’s green domain
Virginia creeper climbs
Boldly showing red
Yellowing of the ferns
Slowly starts to spread
Orange invades sumac
Maple trees as well
Seasonal cycle turning
August bids farewell

D. DeGraaf

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

August 22

Tuesday, Remi, weakened by cancer, stayed home while I hiked another section of the Heartland Trail between Edmore and Alma. The midday weather was mostly cloudy with a temperature of 73 degrees and a stiff westerly wind. Parking alongside Derry Rd., west of Vestaburg, I hiked west on the asphalt path where I immediately noticed a Whitetail deer far ahead and a Northern Green Striped Grasshopper near my feet. Continuing west into a cooling breeze, the blossoming Flat -Topped Asters lining the trail attracted a Bubble Bee and a Potter Wasp. Looking to the south, I spotted a healthy patch of Joe-Pye Weed and the tall, invasive reed, Phragmites. Further ahead, I paused to look at a Goldenrod Soldier Beetle on Canadian Goldenrod blossoms and a Red Meadowhawk Dragonfly on a branch. Nearby, colorful blossoms of Jewelweed and Blue Lobelia caught my eye. Next, I stopped on a footbridge to observe a small stream gently flowing to the southeast though the Vestaburg State Game Area. Still hiking west, I came to a water-filled ditch covered with a mixture of invasive Purple Loosestrife and native Cattails. This observation illustrated the problem with Purple Loosestrife as it will continue to multiply and push out the cattails. After a mile or so, I turned around and headed east where I paused to look at a Silver-spotted Skipper butterfly resting on a blade of grass and a beautiful Indigo Bunting perched on a branch nearby. Continuing east, I picked and ate the ripe fruit of a May apple that somehow the deer hadn’t eaten. Also, I picked and ate a few ripe berries of Autumn Olive that somehow the birds hadn’t eaten. Just ahead, I spotted a Wild Yam vine growing up a Tag Alder tree. Near the end of my hike, I caught a glimpse of some Maple foliage that had changed color and reminded me of the season to come. Finally, as the sun broke through, I returned to the car and headed home.

Pair of fawns
Mother deer
Rhythm of life
Beating clear
Meadow thistle
Showing seed
Finches of gold
Ready to feed
Cycle of nature
Continues to flow
Days of summer
Come and go

D. DeGraaf

Thursday, August 17, 2017

August 16

Wednesday, Remi stayed home while I drove 6 miles northwest of Alma to hike again at the 90-acre Forest Hill Nature Area. The early morning weather was partly cloudy with a temperature of 61 degrees and a slight easterly breeze. From the parking lot, I proceeded west down Energy Hill along the edge of Mallard Marsh where I noticed a patch of Canadian Thistle had gone to seed. Passing through Bobolink Meadow, I spotted some Common Teasel and ripened fruit of Autumn Olive. Near the entrance to North Woods, I stopped to observe the tiny flowers of Virginia Knotweed. Entering the woods, I continued west where I saw a small Wood Frog on the earthen trail and gazed skyward through a hole in the forest canopy created by a dead and leafless Ash tree. Exiting the woods, I circled west around Succession Field where the bright red fruit of Prickly Ash caught my eye. I entered South Woods and was amazed but not surprised to see that the huge, 200-year old White Oak had finally fallen down. Continuing through the woods, I paused at Swanson Swamp to observe the blossoms of the extremely poisonous, Water Hemlock. Leaving the woods, I moved south past Sora Swale where I could barely see a Small Meadow Katydid hidden in the grass. Turning to the east, I approached Brady Cemetery where I first paused to observe a ½ inch Carrot seed moth caterpillar inside the folded up flower of Queen Anne’s lace and then paused again to sample a few ripened wild grapes. Turning north at the cemetery, I passed through Native Grassland where many prairie wild flowers continued to blossom including: Yellow & Purple Coneflower, Bergamot, Mountain Mint and False Sunflower. After looking at Grebe Pond, I continued north where I spotted a perching Song Sparrow fledging. Proceeding toward the barn, I enjoyed the sound of the Orthopteran chorus. Finally, I returned to the car and headed home.

In the midst of August
Living things abound
Fledglings from the trees
Blossoms from the ground
Nature fills the senses
Pungent smell of decay
Taste of ripening fruit
Sound of a noisy jay
Grasses of the prairie
Grow dense and tall
A few crimson leaves
A harbinger of fall

D. DeGraaf