Tuesday, Remi and I traveled 13 miles west of Alma to hike again at Camp Cutler, a 160-acre Boy Scout camp off Douglas Rd near Riverdale. The early morning weather was partly sunny with a temperature of 59 degrees and a gentle breeze from the west. Parking outside the gate, we left the car and followed a 2-track east along the edge of a small stream where I noticed a small Goat Willow tree with its fuzzy male flowers. Continuing east, the trail took me into a wooded area along a muddy floodplain that was covered with green sprouts of Skunk Cabbage. Further ahead, the trail entered a large open field where I paused to observe a sign of spring as 2-3 Chipping Sparrows were perched high in nearby trees declaring their respective breeding territories. Upon further investigation of the field, I spotted some Reindeer moss on the ground as well as a blossoming Serviceberry tree. Next, I turned around and followed another trail south where I recognized the tiny yellow flowers of Oak sedge growing along the bank of the North Branch of the Pine River. From here the river flows southeast about a mile where it joins the South branch to form the main river channel. Also, along the trail, I saw some newly opened umbrella-like leaves of May apple as well as a decayed pine stump with its reddish resin-stained wood. Turning around again, I started back toward the car where I unknowingly disturbed a nesting pair of Sand hill Cranes who suddenly took off and let me know I was not welcomed there. Finally, we got back to the car and headed home.
Tuesday, while visiting friends in Peoria, Illinois, my wife, Caroline and I hiked nearby at the 540-acre, Forest Park Nature Center. The early morning weather was overcast with a temperature of 50 degrees and a steady breeze out of the west. Leaving the parking lot, I noticed a deer watching us as we approached the trailhead. We followed the Wilderness trail through a mature oak forest where the ground was blanketed with Spring Beauty blossoms that were beginning to open as the morning sun penetrated the leafless canopy. As the trail turned north and ascended the hilly terrain, I noticed: Woodland Violets, Pincushion Moss and flowerless Prairie Trillium. Reaching the hilltop, I stopped to listen as a Red bellied and Downy woodpecker confronted each other on a tree trunk. Next, I gazed though the trees where I could barely see the Illinois River far to the east. Beginning our descent, I hiked past a large weathered rock of Ruby Pink Granite in the middle of the trail and paused by one of many small creeks to look and listen. Nearby, I spotted a log covered with Golden Curtain Crust Fungi. Back on level ground, the trail turned east where I noticed a Redbud tree beginning to blossom. Also, I observed some Horse Chestnut trees beginning to leaf out. We followed the trail as it curved south toward the parking lot and were pleased to spot a few patches of Virginia Bluebell. Finally, we found the car and headed back to the hotel.
Wednesday, Remi stayed home while I traveled 15 miles northwest of Alma to hike in the Edmore State Game Area. The early morning weather was overcast with a temperature of 36 degrees and no wind. Parking the car off NE County Line Rd west of Douglas Rd., I followed a narrow path into a forest of mixed hardwoods where I spotted old remains of a Wild Turkey. Further ahead, I paused to enjoy an avian duet sung by a Robin and Tree Sparrow. I turned west and noticed patches of Club Moss among the leaf litter including Running Ground Pine and Shining. Continuing to focus on the ground, I was amazed to find a 20 ft. fallen log that had been completely shredded by a Pileated Woodpecker. Nearby, also on the ground, I discovered a nice, 1 ft. diameter sample of Chert. This extremely hard sedimentary rock, consisting mostly of silica, can form when siliceous skeletons of marine plankton are dissolved, followed by chemical precipitation of solid silica. Continuing west, I first heard, and then saw a female Wood Duck fly up and perch on a tree branch nearby. Next, I came to the edge of the North Branch of the Pine River where I paused to look and listen. This tributary originates about 3 miles northwest of here in Montcalm County and continues another 3 miles southeast before emptying into the main branch of the Pine River just north of Lumberjack Park. Also, floating in a pool of water close by, I spotted the remains of a deer. Turning around to head back to the car, I noticed an immature White Birch branch on the ground. While most of us realize a mature tree has white bark, we sometimes forget it starts out as a young sapling with rusty red bark that it later sheds to reveal white. Finally, I found the car and headed home.
Tuesday, Remi and I traveled 20 miles southeast of Alma to explore a rare section of the Bad River Watershed in Gratiot County that is accessable to the public. The early morning weather was overcast, misty with a temperature of 39 degrees and slight breeze from the east. After parking in the Hamilton Township Cemetery, I walked north to a steep bank overlooking the Bad River. This river originates 15 miles west of here near Ithaca, runs for another 25 miles east through St. Charles and empties into the Shiawassee River which then continues east into the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. Descending the bank, I continued north to the river’s edge where I paused to take in the sights and sounds of this riparian landscape. Near shore in the shallow water, I spotted a few Unionid Mussel shells. As good indicators of environmental quality, their population around here has steadily declined due to polluted water. Next, I turned east and explored the river flats where I spotted: deer tracks in the mud, Sycamore leaves in the litter and various stages of Raccoon scat on a log. Turning around and heading west, I noticed many signs of Beaver activity including several gnawed stumps and a lodge. Growing on a nearby tree trunk, fresh Milk White Toothed Polypore fungi caught my eye while across the river, the song of a Field Sparrow caught my ear. I continued following the river west across Barry Rd and walked along a path just south of Edgewood Church of God property where I paused to scan my surroundings and listen to the sounds of early spring. Finally, I turned around, headed back to the car and took off for home.
Monday, Remi joined me to hike again at Forest Hill Nature Area and to celebrate the Vernal Equinox. The early morning weather was mostly cloudy with a temperature of 36 degrees and no wind. Leaving the parking lot, I headed west down Energy Hill to Mallard Marsh where I spotted a pair of Canada Geese that appeared to claim this area for nesting. Continuing west through Bobolink Meadow, I entered North Woods and paused at the large vernal pond that still had a layer of floating ice. Exiting the woods, I circled Succession Field and passed east through Birch Row which actually includes a mixture of Paper Birch and Quaking Aspen trees as indicated by some of the Aspen’s small fuzzy catkins littering the trail. Gazing skyward, I was drawn to the familiar call of Sand hill Cranes flying overhead. Turning south into South Woods, I came to the end of the boardwalk in Swanson Swamp where I was greeted by the sights and sounds of the opening of spring. Further down the trail, I came upon one of several Ash trees that was previously killed by the Ash Borer and recently blown over by strong winds. Walking over to examine the damage, I noticed the gallery pattern on the bark where the larvae had disrupted the vertical flow of nutrients to girdle and kill the tree. Exiting the woods, I made my way south past Sora Swale, around the south trail past Brady Cemetery and into Native Grassland where I paused to acknowledge the sun as it broke through the clouds and realized that a few hours ago it had crossed the celestial equator to begin warming our hemisphere. Next, I came to Grebe Pond where I caught a rare glimpse of a male Hooded Merganser as it rapidly swam toward the far shore. Finally, I continued north past the DeGraaf classroom building to the car and headed for home.
Tuesday, Remi and I hiked once again at Lumberjack Park near Riverdale where I’ve been working on a nature trail that should be open to the public in a year or two. The early morning weather was sunny with a frigid temperature of 10 degrees and no wind. Leaving the parking area, I was greeted by the morning sun while hiking east on a trail covered with 3 inches of new snow and marked with fresh deer tracks. Just ahead, I wasn’t surprised to come upon a large Aspen tree that had blown over due to a recent windstorm. Continuing east, I paused on a high bank of the Pine River to watch the gentle current flow west to east and listen to the distinctive call of a Red-bellied Woodpecker. Further along the trail, I spotted some turkey tracks followed by a loud disturbance as half-dozen turkeys noisily flew from their roosts high overhead in the tall pines. Next, I stepped off the trail and walked to the edge of the river where I paused to notice the lovely reflection off the water of surrounding trees. Turning north, I came upon another large Pine tree that fell during the recent windstorm. Unfortunately, this one landed across the trail and will have to be cleared soon. Turning east, I came to the edge of Mud Creek where I paused to examine the bank for a place to construct a footbridge that will eventually connect the west and east sections of the trail system. After turning around to head back, Remi took the lead as we passed an old snag full of woodpecker holes. Finally, we reached the car, turned the heater on high and headed home.