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.
Tuesday, still dogless, I traveled 25 miles southeast of Alma to hike the White Pine Trail, located off Buchanan Rd in the Gratiot-Saginaw State Game Area. The early afternoon weather was partly sunny with a temperature of 77 degrees and no wind. Leaving the car, I followed a wide earthen trail south through a dense forest of broadleaves and pines where I noticed a Red Oak leaf on the ground cupping a pool of water which reminded me of the much needed rain that fell last night. Also, I barely spotted a triangular shaped Deadwood Borer moth camouflaged in the leaf litter. As the sun broke through, I approached a small glade where I found a couple of tiny Long-legged flies feeding on the nectar of a Knapweed blossom while nearby in a shady area I noticed a patch of ripe Dewberry. Continuing south, the path took me to the edge of a large, dried up wetland where I paused to scan the landscape and listen to the insect chorus. Nearby, I noticed a Buttonbush was starting to bare fruit. As I turned around and began to retrace my steps, a few colorful Sugar Maple leaves caught my eye as they signaled a new season to come. While continuing to hike back, I enjoyed the lush scenery and the Cicada choir. Along the way, I spotted some colorful mushrooms, including Yellow Wax Cap, Red Chanterelle and Wood. Finally, I found the car and headed for home.
Tuesday, while Remi was still at home recovering from a broken leg (he’s healing well and will be rejoining me soon), I returned to Lumberjack Park in western Gratiot County to hike a trail that I’m developing for the park association. The mid morning weather was sunny with a temperature of 64 degrees and no wind. Leaving a small, newly mown parking area off Lumberjack Rd, I followed the trail east into a wooded area where I noticed the leaves of Mayapple, some of the first green vegetation of spring, were losing their chlorophyll, an early sign of seasonal change. Up ahead at a fork, I took the path to the right and followed a high bank of the scenic Pine River. Leaving the path, I descended the steep bank to the water’s edge where I paused to watch a doe lead her two fawns as they walked across the shallow river. Also, while standing there, I spotted both a male and female (white spots on her wing tips) Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly perched on a Basswood leaf. On a nearby leaf, I saw an immature female with her wings yet to darken. On frequent visits to work on the trail this summer, I have seen several of these beautiful insects with their brilliant metallic green bodies and large black wings. Like other damselflies, they live underwater as nymphs before changing into adults. During their 2 weeks of adult life, they flit among the riparian vegetation feeding on gnats, mosquitoes and small flies. Back up the bank, I proceeded east through a wooded area of White Pine and Red Oak before turning north through a stand of mature Red Pine that was planted many years ago. Next, I climbed a moderate incline, turned north and arrived at the edge of a tributary called Mud Creek to enjoy the sights and sounds. Since the footbridge across the creek is yet to be built, I turned around, retraced my steps a short distance before turning west and following the trail below an old powerline through a dense woodland of White Pine. Near the end of the half-mile loop, I spotted a patch of Flowering Spurge. Finally, I got back to the car and headed home.
Tuesday, while Remi was still at home recovering from a broken leg, I drove 35 miles northeast of Alma to hike in Midland County’s, 130-acre Veterans Memorial Park, just west of Sanford. The early morning weather was mostly sunny with a temperature of 57 degrees and no wind. Leaving the parking lot, I followed the Grove Trail north into a mature forest of mixed hardwoods and conifers where the understory was dominated by Witch Hazel trees, many of which were displaying their seed capsules. The word “witch” refers to the tree’s pliant branches that were preferred by those who practiced water dowsing (water witching) to locate an underground water supply. However, it's not for dowsing but for its medicinal properties that this tree is best known today. Despite doubts of its efficacy in healing, many households still have a bottle of witch hazel extract in the medicine cabinet for application to minor scrapes and bruises. Continuing north, I paused at the edge of a nearly dry Teed Creek where I spotted several patches of Fringed Loosestrife. I crossed the bridge and followed the trail up a steep bank where I saw a few blossoms of the highly toxic Water Hemlock plant. Once again on level ground, the path continued north through a corridor of mature Red Pine where the forest floor was green with Bracken and Royal ferns. With the morning sun as my companion, I retraced my steps back to the parking lot and followed another path north, called the Upland Loop where I noticed a couple dozen small holes in a grassy area made by a skunk digging for grubs. Turning around to head back, a patch of Wood Nettles caught my eye as well as a tree trunk with a large growth of aquamarine colored lichen. Finally, I returned to the car and headed back to Alma.
Tuesday, while Remi remained at home recovering from a broken leg, I drove 35 miles northwest of Alma to hike in the 100-acre Bundy Hill preserve, a new acquisition of the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy. The early morning weather was mostly sunny with a temperature of 63 degrees and no wind. Leaving the car, I followed a two-track south through rolling terrain of hardwoods to a small meadow colored with patches of Knapweed, Trefoil and Alyssum. Wandering through the meadow, I spotted several large, bee-like insects pollenating the flowers. Upon closer look, I saw they were Cicada Killer Wasps. A female wasp will capture a much larger Cicada by paralyzing it with her stinger, dragging it into her sandy burrow and depositing eggs on it. After the eggs hatch into larvae, they feed on the Cicada carcass. Leaving the meadow, I followed the ridge trail as it began to ascend Bundy Hill. Along the way, reflection from the morning sun allowed me to clearly see a well-formed, 1-foot diameter spider web stretched between trees. On the ground nearby, I came upon a yellowish slime mold on a decayed stump. Because of its color and texture, it is also called dog vomit slime mold. Not only is this stuff harmless to people and pets, it is edible. Native people in parts of Mexico scramble it like eggs. Continuing to climb the ridge trail, I saw several large boulders, called glacial erratics including this one that is estimated to weigh 20 tons. Also, I found a few stalks of Indian Pipe poking up through the leaf litter. Finally, I reached the 1270 ft. summit and gazed at the hazy landscape far to the south. Assisted by gravity, I retraced the half-mile trail down the hill to the car and headed east to Mt. Pleasant to do some shopping.