Monday, January 14, 2019

January 14

After surviving 45 minutes of rush hour traffic, Caroline & I are relieved to find peace and quiet as well as wildlife at El Dorado Nature Center in nearby Long Beach. Under cool and clear skies, we begin our hike by crossing over a footbridge where a lovely White Pelican greets us from its watery perch. Following an earthen trail and passing a Toyon bush with its colorful red fruit, we pause to watch a wading Snowy Egret stirring up prey with its feet. While admiring this clever behavior, I wonder if it’s learned or instinctive? As Caroline leads the way through a dense corridor of trees, we notice the trail is busy with lots of seniors on their morning walk. Around the bend, we spot the fragile web of an orb weaver, sparkling with morning dewdrops as well as purple berry clusters on a California Privet bush. These berries are toxic for humans but edible for birds, which are responsible for dispersal of seed. Along the creek and over the bridge we go to see a few colorful leaves still clinging to a Sycamore tree while most of them have dropped to make up the dense leaf litter. Looking skyward, we catch a glimpse of a perching Kestrel and an immature Red-shouldered Hawk. Continuing our one-mile loop, we come upon a Chinese Flame tree withits display of seed capsules–clusters of two-inch long papery husks resembling little Chinese lanterns. Just ahead, we stop to count three soft, eight-inch needles per cluster on a branch of Ponderosa Pine. Nearing the trailhead, we pause to watch a Great Egret wading gracefully in a narrow creek while a pair of Mallards and a colorful male Hooded Merganser swim nearby. Perched high at a distance, we could barely make out a tiny Allen’s Hummingbird. With our tranquil hike complete and minds at ease, we find the car and gear up to join throngs of vehicles heading north toward our place in Redondo Beach.

Honking horns
Sirens sound
Smoggy air
Humans abound
Asphalt of black
Urban scene
Where’s the fauna
Flora of green
Plumage of emerald
Eucalyptus here
Hummingbird hovers
Nature is near

D. DeGraaf

Monday, January 7, 2019

January 7

So, here I am hiking on an earthen nature trail while listening to loud noises of passing cars, sirens and low-flying planes. It’s late morning when I make my way around Madrona Marsh Preserve, a wildlife habitat in the heart of Torrance California, a city of 150, 000 south of Los Angeles. The air is cool and calm under a gray sky as I glance through a tall, wrought iron fence at the concrete jungle that surrounds this land. What a contrast to my weekly wanderings in the hushed landscapes of rural Mid Michigan. At the start, I notice that neither the California Towhee foraging for bugs nor the bee pollinating a Bladderpod blossom seem to be bothered by the traffic noise. Serenaded by a siren, I follow the perimeter trail past an open meadow where Canada Geese are grazing and a Black Phoebe is perching. Nearby, I pause in amazement to observe the colorful plumage of a perching Allen’s Hummingbird. Also, far in the distance and far up a leafless tree, I spot the silhouettes of a flock of Cedar Waxwings. Soon I come to the edge of one of many ponds where I see some Northern Shovelers, a Coot and a Mallard drake. Continuing on the perimeter path, I catch sight of a tiny Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, camouflaged against the underbrush. Near the end of the mile long circular trail, I pause to listen to the familiar sounds of Redwing Blackbirds hiding in the tall reeds. After finishing the hike, I make my way back to the car, pleased to have been to a place where humans and wildlife can not only co-exist but also thrive. Urban property like this is important as a sanctuary for wildlife as well as a place where city dwellers can commune with nature.

Old year sets
New year rises
California hike
Welcome surprises
No dormant fields
Or ponds that freeze
Flourishing wetlands
Trees with leaves
East or west
No matter where
Nature’s wonders
Are waiting there

D. DeGraaf

Monday, December 31, 2018

December 31

On a clear, cold Christmas morning, I hiked west from Pingree Rd. on the paved Meijer Heartland Trail through a corridor of leafless trees. The dark asphalt surface provided an ideal backdrop for Mother Nature to display her images and tell her seasonal story. Patches of fallen leaves, along with a dusting of snow on this slate-colored aisle through the woods, spoke of the onset of winter. Nature’s portraits included leaves in various stages of decay, void of chlorophyll, painted on a smooth, black canvas, including Bur Oak, Red Oak and Elm, each showing their distinctive margins and venation. Further ahead on the surface of tar, the artist had created a collage of dry and brittle maple leaves sprinkled with snow. More tales from the tar included tracks of opossum and squirrel on a white overlay. While continuing to walk west, I glanced far ahead to see a sudden flash of a white tail from a whitetail crossing this man-made strip of bituminous pitch and gravel. Other images included posing leaves of Aspen and Cottonwood as well as needles of Scotch pine. From this blacktop surface here on planet earth, I glanced skyward through bare branches to observe the moon, 240,000 miles away and remember the amazing photo of our planet taken 50 years ago today from the Apollo 8 spacecraft as it orbited the moon. At Bliss Rd., I turned around and headed east as the rising sun began to shed its light on the straight path before me where trains once traveled. Continuing to walk the trail of tar, I watched in awe as sunbeams began to shimmer through the leafless brush as the Christmas morning star colored the southeastern horizon and highlighted a tangle of branches. Finally, I returned to the warmth of the car for my travel back home to celebrate the holiday with family and friends.

No colored lights
On pines of green
No shiny tinsel
On spruce are seen
No carol music
Disturbs the peace
Only the wind
Call of the geese
No angels on high
No child is born
Nature awakes
On Christmas morn

D. DeGraaf

Monday, December 24, 2018

December 24

Last Friday, I drove 10 miles west of Alma to revisit the new nature trail in the 50-acre Lumberjack Park, north of Riverdale. The early morning weather was cloudy with a temperature of 36 degrees and a slight breeze out of the north. Leaving the car parked by the south trailhead off Madison Rd, I followed the Sugar Maple Trail north through a corridor of leafless hardwoods while listening to the call of a White-breasted Nuthatch. Continuing north, I descended the stairs and walked on the boardwalk over mud flats that showed some ice cover. Turning east, I hiked a short distance before turning north and beginning to cross the bridge over Mud Creek. Despite overcast skies, I paused halfway, faced eastward and acknowledge the morning sun as it reached its lowest solstice to usher in the winter season. Continuing over the bridge, I proceeded north, turned west down a slope and picked up the White Pine Trail as it headed to the northwest up another slope where I spotted some turkey scat on the leaf liter. Noting the shape, it mostly likely originated from a gobbler rather than a hen. Also, the dark portion is the fecal material while the white portion is crystalized urine. Reaching the north trailhead, I turned around and retraced my steps a short distance before veering right to follow the Riverview Trail. Proceeding southeast, I paused on a high bank to observe the Pine River flowing gently by. Continuing on the trail, I marveled at the numerous patches of green Foliose Lichens on the tree trunks. As the trail turned northward, I spotted a soccer-ball size Bald-faced hornets’ nest suspended from a branch high in the canopy. Continuing through a stand of mature pine trees, I came upon a decomposing log covered with fresh and edible Oyster Mushrooms. Back up the slope, I turned south and once again came to Mud Creek where I observed a small flock of noisy Chickadees fluttering through brush near the bank. After hiking back across the bridge, I spotted a lovely red cardinal nestled in the tangled underbrush. Back over the boardwalk, I followed the Sugar Maple Trail as it looped east, then south and then west back to the car to complete the hike before heading home.

You had barely left
When redwings arrived
My memory faded
When cattails thrived
Forgot about you
When summer came
Autumn commenced
It was still the same
You finally showed
O heavenly sphere
Winter sun
Glad you’re here

D. DeGraaf

Monday, December 17, 2018

December 17

Last Thursday, I stayed close to home and hike on some private land just east of Alma. The early morning weather was sunny with a temperature of 17 degrees and no wind. Leaving the car, I headed north along a 2-track, accompanied by a small flock of Juncos that darted through the leafless underbrush where I couldn’t help but notice the huge wind turbines off in the distance. While looking more closely at the underbrush, I spotted the colorful seeds and husks of American Bittersweet. Since, there was a thin layer of snow on the ground, it was easy to spot some fresh coyote tracks. Following the trail as curved to the west and then south, I entered a forest of mature hardwoods and conifers where the leaf litter showed evidence of oak, maple and pine. Continuing on the trail as it ascended a steep slope and meandered westward across a high narrow ridge with wooded wetlands below, I marveled at what appeared to be glacial type terrain, a rare sight indeed in the predominately flat landscape of Gratiot County. Suddenly, a large raptor flew over the trail ahead and landed high in a nearby tree where I could see it was a majestic Barred Owl. Continuing west, I noticed a few green but frozen leaves on an Autumn Olive shrub beside me and a few fresh opossum tracks on the snowy path at my feet. Next, I paused to watch a family of wild turkeys cross the trail in front of me. Descending the ridge, I wandered over to the edge of one of several large wooded wetlands to scan the landscape. Near shore, I spotted a few fresh rabbit tracks on the snow-covered ice. Turning around, I began retracing my steps to the east when I came upon an unusual site- a healthy looking maple tree whose leaves had turned brown and had not fallen off. While this phenomena is common in oak and beech trees, it is rarely seen in maple trees. Continuing eastward, I exited the forest and came to a gravel pit surrounded by large pine trees where I spotted a set of deer tracks crossing the ice covered surface. Finally, I returned to the car and headed home.

Outer edge of fall
Thin layer of snow
Creatures hunker down
Grasses cease to grow
Farewell sun of autumn
Winds from the north
Sweep the icy pond
Reeds sway back and forth
Gone, flowers of May
Gone, birds of June
Nature takes a break
Winter is coming soon

D. DeGraaf

Monday, December 10, 2018

December 10

Last Tuesday, I drove 14 miles southwest of Alma to hike in Centennial Park, located in the village of Sumner. The early afternoon weather was mostly sunny with a temperature of 34 degrees and no wind. From the car parked off St. Charles Rd., I headed a short distance west to the edge of the swollen Pine River to observe the water flowing fast to the south under the bridge. From there, the river will curve around to the northeast and meander for approximately 8 miles before reaching the millpond in Alma. Turning north, I followed the riverbank and entered the walking trail where I followed my shadow through a corridor of leafless trees and shrubs. Below my feet, I noticed a few dead maple leaves on a bed of moss while overhead, the naked canopy revealed a sky of blue and white. Just ahead, I paused to scan the extensive river flats while also noticing a thin layer of ice on a nearby vernal pond. I continued on the trail as it curved east and then back to the south where I spotted some small brown fungi growing from a decaying log. While they looked like Galerina Mushrooms, I wasn’t sure. Since these kind of mushrooms are difficult to identify, mycologists refer to them as LBMs (little brown mushrooms). There are hundreds of species found everywhere, in all seasons and all habitats. Many LBMs are poisonous and some contain the deadly amatoxin. Continuing south, I came upon the remnants of a Ground Cherry vine with some of its Chinese lantern-like husks. Up ahead, the trail displayed some deer tracks while a White Oak tree still retained its leaves. As I was exiting the woods, I noticed the bright red fruit of High Bush Cranberry. Despite its name, this fruit is not cranberry. However it looks somewhat like a cranberry, tastes like a cranberry and ripens at the same time of year. Finally, I wandered back to the river for one last look before returning to the car and heading home.

December arrives
Escorting cold
Dormancy and death
Have now taken hold
Fur on the trail
Bones in the mud
A patch of snow
Drops of blood
Creatures confronted
Predator and prey
One lives, one dies
Mother Nature’s way

D. DeGraaf

Monday, December 3, 2018

December 3

Last Wednesday, I drove 20 miles north to hike in Mt. Pleasant’s 90-acre Mill Pond Park. The early morning weather was cloudy with a temperature of 27 degrees and a slight breeze out of the west. From the parking lot, I headed south along the edge of the Mill Pond that was beginning to ice over. Along the way, a solitary Milkweed plant with a few seeds yet to be dispersed reminded me of the warm days of summer when it had fragrant pink blossoms and was sometime visited by Monarch Butterflies. Just ahead, I spotted some squirrel tracks in the snow as well as some of their nests high in a leafless maple tree. From near shore, I paused to observe some Sugar Maple leaves submerged in the murky frigid water. Retracing my steps back to the beginning, I turned east and followed the main trail where a few oak leaves were scattered on the paved pathway and a few leafless Buckthorn trees displayed some of their black berries. The presence of these berries at this late date indicated they were not the most desirable food source for wildlife. Even though the seeds are mildly poisonous, birds will eat them and their laxative effect helps with seed dispersal trough their droppings. Also, I noticed a few Musclewood (Blue Beech) trees were still clinging to some of their leaves. As the path continued east along the bank of the Chippewa River, I paused to watch the gently flowing current. Based on the current flow rate data from Mt. Pleasant, the water was moving at a rate of 387 cubic feet per second compared to a high of a little more than 2000 feet per second back in March. In contrast, further ahead I came to the river’s edge to look and listen as it passed over a dam and spilled north over some rocks. Crossing a pedestrian bridge, I turned around and walked along the south river bank where off to my left I could see how the snow helped outline the contorted trunks and branches of mature Box elder trees that were a dominant species in the flood plain. Not surprisingly, a few female trees still held on to some samaras. As the path turned south along the riverbank, I spotted a few wispy seeds of the invasive Clematis shrub (Old Man’s Beard). After turning around, I proceeded north over another bridge and retraced my steps west back to the car.

You speak to me
Waters of worth
Sustainer of life
Artery of earth
Raparian wonder
Born in a lake
Carving the land
You give and take
Soothing sounds
Resource giver
Rapids on rocks
Chippewa River

D. DeGraaf