Friday, September 23, 2016

September 22

Thursday, while Remi stayed home, I traveled 22 miles north to hike in Mt. Pleasant’s newest park, an 80-acre woodland on the corner of Summerton and Valley, called Indian Pines. The mid-morning weather was mostly cloudy with a temperature of 66 degrees and no wind. From the car, I followed a newly made trail south though a dense woodland into a clearing where patches of Asters were in full bloom. Turning west back into the woodland, I spotted a large Sycamore tree with its characteristic exfoliating bark on the trunk and large maple-like leaves. Soon the trail turned south again and led into a grove of mature White pine trees where I paused to look at their lower trunks, projecting lots of dead branches. Nearby, I noticed the trunk of an Aspen tree had been recently visited by a Pileated Woodpecker while on the ground, the edible but tasteless fruit of Partridgeberry mixed in with some Haircap moss. At 10:21 am, as if on cue, the clouds broke up so I could face the morning sun as it shown through the trees and acknowledge it’s crossing of the celestial equator to begin the fall season. Continuing south, I arrived at the edge of the Chippewa River and paused to observe the scenic riparian landscape. Next, I began to make my way back to the car when I spotted a few more signs of autumn: red leaves of a Maple tree, a Virginia creeper vine, red drupes of Staghorn sumac and dead brown fronds of Bracken fern. On the ground, I came upon an edible Berkeley’s Polypore Mushroom and some non-edible fruit of White Baneberry. Finally, I returned to the car and headed back to Alma.

From heights of summer
When you rule the day
To depths of winter
You’re now halfway
Your annual journey
In the earthly sky
Predictable path
On which we rely
Sun of the heavens
Celestial fireball
Glad you arrived
Welcome to fall

D. DeGraaf

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

September 12

Monday, Remi and I traveled 13 miles south to hike the Jailhouse Trail, located in Ithaca’s 164-acre, McNabb Park, south of town. The early morning weather was sunny with a temperature of 52 degrees and no wind. We left the car and followed the trail west into a dense woodland of mixed hardwoods and conifers where several dead, leafless ash trees opened up the canopy to reveal a clear, blue sky. Following the perimeter “orange” trail, I came upon a patch of lovely, but highly invasive Japanese Knotweed as well as a patch of Heath Aster. As the trail began to circle around the property, I was greeted by morning sunbeams along with clumps of an unfamiliar plant with huge basal leaves (one was about 18 inches long) and dried up flower heads on tall stems that turned out to be Great Coneflower. A little further ahead, I came upon a Wild Rose bush with an unusual reddish growth called Robin’s Pincushion or Bedeguar Gall. This growth occurs after eggs are laid on a stem by a tiny female Cynipid Wasp. When the eggs hatch into larvae, they feed on the plant tissue that prompts the growth of the gall. These tiny grubs will remain in the gall as pupae through the winter and become adult wasps next spring. Next, I continued to loop back to the beginning where I spotted some colorful berries including: white Dogwood, blue Virginia Creeper, green Chinese Privet and black Buckthorn. Finally, we returned to the car and headed home.

Swan song of summer
Nature has her way
Swallows are swarming
Wish they could stay
Queen Anne’s Lace
Fold up their flowers
Meadow shines golden
In daylight hours
Fungi are frequent
Berries abound
Frogs of the marsh
Surrender their sound

D. DeGraaf

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

September 6

Tuesday, after a 6-week absence recovering from a broken leg, Remi rejoined my weekly nature hike as we returned to Forest Hill Nature Area, the place where it all began 5 years ago. The early morning weather was mostly sunny, hazy, with a temperature of 68 degrees and a slight breeze out of the south. From the car, I hiked to the top of Energy Hill where I noticed the willow trees on the east side of Mallard Marsh had grown so tall and dense over the years that they now blocked the view of Bobolink Meadow and North Woods. As I descended the hill, a formation of Canada Geese flew above me heading east. Moving past Mallard Marsh into Bobolink Meadow, I paused to observe a Black and Yellow Mud Dauber Wasp resting on a Milkweed pod. Further along near the entrance to North Woods, I caught a brief glimpse of an insect resting on an ash leaf and based only on its silhouette, guessed it was a Conifer Seed Bug. While hiking through North Woods, decorated with morning sunbeams, I spotted the bright red berries of Jack-in-the-Pulpit, the first of variety of red berries I would see that are early indicators of autumn. Exiting the woods and making my way west around Succession Field, I came across the red berries of Autumn Olive. Next, I entered South Woods and wound up on the boardwalk over Swanson Swamp where I saw the red berries of Winterberry. Also, the forest floor was teeming with a variety of fungi including: Fly Agaric, Bolete, Fat-footed Clitocybe, Common Puffball and Ramaria Coral. From the woods, I moved south past Sora Swale and followed the trail east where I spotted an Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonfly perched on a dead flower head of Queen Anne’s Lace. I continued east past Brady Cemetery, turned north through Native Grassland and walked along the edge of Grebe Pond where I spotted my forth plant with red berries, this one being Nightshade. Moving around to the dock, I paused to watch a number of acrobatic Tree and Barn Swallows swooping and dipping for insects. As I passed the Classroom Building heading for the car, I couldn’t help but noticed the tall cherry trees had large numbers of nests of Fall Webworms that are not to be confused with the nests of the Eastern Tent Caterpillars that show up in the spring. Finally, we completed the circuit, found the car and headed for home.

Autumn approaches
Summer subsides
Hike in the forest
Mother Nature guides
Her pulse of life
Is slowing down
Ferns and fungi
Turning brown
Her seasonal cycle
Continues to turn
More of her wisdom
For me to learn

D. DeGraaf

Thursday, September 1, 2016

August 30

Tuesday, while visiting Traverse City, my wife, Caroline and I hiked at the 9-acre, Fulton Park, located just north of downtown near the south shore of Grand Traverse Bay’s West Arm. The mid-afternoon weather was partly sunny, muggy with a temperature of 86 degrees and a light breeze from the west. Leaving the parking area, we followed the trail into a dense woodland where I spotted some fungi called Artist’s Bracket or Artist’s Conk growing at the base of a tree. A peculiarity of this fungus lies in its use as a drawing medium for artists. When the fresh white pore surface is rubbed or scratched with a sharp implement, dark brown tissue under the pores is revealed, resulting in visible lines and shading that become permanent once the fungus is dried. Next, I paused to watch a honeybee busy feeding on Goldenrod flowers. Nearby, I found a Goldenrod Soldier Beetle on other Goldenrod flowers. This insect produces droplets of an acid from openings in its abdomen that act as a deterrent to its predators. Continuing on the 1/3-mile trail, we took the short Aspen Loop where I spotted another fall bloomer called Sweet Autumn Clematis. Even though the flowers are lovely and fragrant, some consider this fast-growing vine invasive. Back to the main loop, I paused to look and listen to a male Goldfinch perched high in a dying Ash tree. Just a short distance ahead, I was alerted by an unusual sound that turned out to be a Gray Squirrel that I could barely see through the dense under growth. As the trail looped back, I saw some fresh, edible Pheasant Back fungi growing on a tree trunk. Near the trail’s end, I stopped to observe a butterfly called a Silver-spotted Skipper. Skippers resemble a combination of butterflies and moths. They are a dull, dark color yet fly during the day. They have knobbed antennae, but with a little point at the end. They are fast, intense fliers and look as if they skip from flower to flower. Finally, we got to the car and headed back to the motel.

Memories of summer
Fresh and new
Bergamots bloomed
Fledglings flew
Greenest forest
Longest day
Buzz of the bee
Call of the jay
Hints of autumn
Begin to appear
Farewell August
See you next year

D. DeGraaf

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

August 23

Tuesday, I drove 25 miles north to hike in Laur Big Salt River Park. This 40-acre Midland County park is located just north of Oil City off Coleman Rd. The early morning weather was mostly sunny with a temperature of 60 degrees and a gentle breeze from the west. Leaving the parking area, I followed a wide path into a dense forest whose canopy was dominated by Oak, Maple, Beech and Hemlock. Near the ground, I spotted a few patches of Maidenhair ferns with their distinctly whorled fronds. Soon, I came to the edge of a bluff and gazed down at the extensive flood plain of the Big Salt River. Next, I followed a stairs down the bluff, paused to take in the peaceful landscape and scan the slow moving river. The Big Salt River originates at the confluence of the North and South Salt River Branches just west of here and runs east about 20 miles where it empties into the Tittabawassee River at the village of Sanford. Looking around the riverbank, I noticed a few Ash-tree Bolete mushrooms. These edible mushrooms appear only under ash trees due to their symbiotic relationship with the Leafcurl Ash Aphid. Near the water’s edge, I spotted a few blossoms of Jewelweed. The leaves and juice from the stem of this plant are used by herbalists as a treatment for poison ivy and other plant induced rashes, as well as many other types of dermatitis. After ascending the stairs, I headed east along the wooded bluff where on my right, I observed the morning sun peaking through the dense canopy and on my left, the river far below. Finally, I turned around, retraced my steps back to the car and headed home.

Water in motion
West to east
Life for the fish
Food for the beast
Bullfrogs moan
Morning sunshine
Mallards quack
Cicadas whine
Rocky ripples
Night and daylong
Raparian Rhapsody
Salt River song

D. DeGraaf