Monday, March 19, 2018


Last Saturday, as part of my goal to visit all 22 of the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy preserves this year, I joined a small group of fellow members to hike in the 40-acre, Audubon Woods Preserve. The early morning weather was clear with a temperature of 21 degrees and a slight northerly wind. Also, since today was St. Patrick’s Day as well as close to the Vernal Equinox, our quest included looking for any green vegetation, both old and new. Parking are cars along Gilmore Rd, we entered the preserve and followed the Water Thrush Trail north as it descended a snow- covered slope through a dense forest of tall, leafless deciduous trees. Patches of leaf litter on the path showed that many of them were Oak, Aspen and Maple. The understory included some small Beech trees that still held their dead leaves. Our first sighting of green included mosses and lichens as well as some evergreen trees scattered throughout the woods including: White Pine and Canadian Hemlock. Proceeding north down the slope we paused to observe a few clumps of Woodland Sedge beginning to green out. Nearing the river, we got off the trail and ventured down onto the flood plain to admire the Chippewa River as it flowed fast and full east toward Mt. Pleasant. Meanwhile, a member of the group brushed away some snow to expose green fronds of a Christmas fern. Continuing west along the riverbank, we noticed the green color of a Northern White Cedar on the far shore. Turning south, we followed the Flycatcher Trail up the slope where we spotted several large glacial erratics, large rocks transported by glaciers thousands of years ago. Also, we noticed one of many snags where a Pileated Woodpecker had pecked in search for food. Approaching the south boundary of the preserve, we turned east and followed the trail through hilly glacial terrain where we paused to listen to a Nuthatch and a Sand hill Crane. Finally, after crossing a small vernal stream being fed by meltwater, we continued east back to the trailhead to end the hike.

In the midst of March
Old man winter won’t let go
Seasons are about to change
Ground still keeps the snow
Hiking through a silent forest
Naked maples in a sea of white
Squirrel tracks to my left
Whitetail tracks to my right
Turning into a stiff north wind
Hands are cold, cheeks numb
Few sounds of singing birds
Few clues of spring to come

D. DeGraaf

Monday, March 12, 2018

March 12

After coming back home to Michigan nine days ago, I returned to Lumberjack Park to hike on the nature trail that I’m helping to develop. The early morning weather was cloudy with a temperature of 27 degrees, light snow flurries and no wind. Leaving the car at the south trailhead off Madison Rd., I headed north on a path covered with 4 inches of fresh snow where I immediately noticed several fresh squirrel and turkey tracks. Continuing north, I walked on the boardwalk over the wetlands where I paused to observe a partially frozen puddle while listening to a Cardinal sing, a sign of the changing seasons. Just ahead, I paused in the middle of the new bridge to look at and listen to Mud Creek. A short distance beyond the creek, I turned east, then south and followed the trail through a dense growth of tall Red and White Pines where a noisy crow greeted me. Continuing south, I came to the edge of the Pine River where I paused to take in this scenic riparian landscape. Following the trail west along the riverbank, I came upon a pair of swimming Canada Geese who suddenly took to flight while making quite a ruckus. Continuing west, I glanced skyward to note the open canopy of leafless deciduous trees. Just ahead, I spotted a patch of Foliose lichen growing on a tree trunk. After reaching the other trailhead off Lumberjack Rd., I turned east and followed the trail through a grove of mature white pine where a few small beech trees in the understory still retained their dead leaves. Nearby, I noticed lots of deer tracks in the snow as well as a White Pine tree trunk with several fresh holes made by a Pileated Woodpecker. This colorful bird chips out these large holes with its long sharp bill, searching for Carpenter Ants and wood-boring beetle larvae. It has a long sticky barbed tongue that it sticks in them to pull out its prey. Later on these holes will host a diverse array of other birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates which use them for feeding, shelter and nesting. Proceeding eastward, I looped back to an earlier trail, retraced my steps across Mud Creek, back over the wetlands and finally to the car.

Spring starts to pull
Winter won’t let go
One warms the ground
Other returns the snow
One thaws the pond
Welcoming the geese
Other refreezes water
Nesting efforts cease
One brings Redwings
Songs from the marsh
Other keeps the wind
Still cold and harsh

D. DeGraaf

Monday, March 5, 2018

March 5

Last week, near the end of our California winter retreat, Caroline and I hiked at the 10-acre, Pelican Cove Park on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The mid-day weather was sunny with a temperature of 58 degrees and a gentle westerly sea breeze. Leaving the parking area, we headed south to the trailhead and paused to gaze down at scenic Pelican Cove. Next, while descending the steep bluff, I spotted a Brown Pelican and some Double-Crested Cormorants perched on a rock formation just offshore. Reaching the rocky beach, I noticed a large strip of seaweed along the water’s edge. Referred to as “wrack”, this organic material is a mixture of marine and salt marsh plants deposited on the beach by high tides. It supports numerous species of invertebrates, including these tiny Kelp Flies feeding in a mat of Kelp. The wrack is also a source of food for several kinds of shore birds including this Juvenile Spotted Sandpiper I observed hopped among the rocks. Continuing on a path south along the base of the bluff, I spotted some colorful blossoms including: Flowering Ice Plant, Buckwheat and Sea Rocket. Nearby, I could barely make out a Rock Wren, well camouflaged against the rock face. Off shore, the surf pounding against the rocks reminded me how thousands of years of wind and water have shaped this coastline. After turning around to retrace my steps, I glanced skyward to watch some soaring Brown Pelicans. A feeding Pelican can spot a fish from high in the air and dive headfirst into the ocean, tucking and twisting to the left to protect its trachea and esophagus from the impact. As it plunges into the water, its throat pouch expands to trap the fish, filling with up to 2.6 gallons of water. Occasionally, it feeds by sitting on the surface and seizing prey with its bill. Finally, I ascended the steep trail and returned to the car for our trip back to Redondo Beach.

Vast waters
Mighty blue
East bound
Bid adieu
Setting sun
Scenic shore
Gulls hover
Breakers roar
Images stored
Thoughts adhere
Pacific Ocean
Back next year

D. DeGraaf

Monday, February 26, 2018

February 26

A week ago Sunday, my wife, Caroline, my daughter, Allison and I hiked in Griffith Park in downtown Los Angeles. With 4,300 acres of natural chaparral-covered terrain, landscaped parkland and picnic areas, Griffith Park is the largest urban park in the United States. The mid-morning weather was sunny with a temperature of 62 degrees and no wind. From the parking lot, we started a gradual ascent on the Observatory Trail where I spotted the pink blossoms of a Dog Rosebush. The name is attributed to a belief many years ago that its roots could be used to cure the bite of a mad (rabid) dog. As we continued our climb, I paused to look at and listen to a perching California Thrasher. Still climbing toward the Griffith Observatory, I noticed the colorful blossoms of Velvet Leaf and Fuchsia-Flowered Gooseberry. Nearby, I could barely make out a tiny bird called American Bushtit, well camouflaged in the dense underbrush. During a brief pause on our ascent, I gazed far off to the west at the iconic Hollywood sign and far off to the east at the Los Angeles megalopolis, shrouded in hazy smog. We finally made it up to the Observatory where I observed a patch of Spanish Lavender blossoms being pollinated by several honeybees. Starting our descent, I spotted an Acorn Woodpecker pecking away on a conifer tree. These birds form intergenerational groups that spend large amounts of time gathering acorns that typically are stored in holes drilled into a single tree, called a granary tree. One granary tree may have up to 50,000 holes in it, each of which is filled with a single acorn. Further down, I noticed a patch of Western Jimsonweed and a vine called Coast Manroot. Near the bottom, I came upon a Castor Bean plant. The toxin in castor seeds called ricin is estimated to be 12X more poisonous than rattlesnake venom. Finally, we found Allison’s car and headed back to Redondo Beach.

To appreciate forest solitude
You must mingle in a crowd
To treasure nature’s silence
You must hear traffic loud
To value a verdant meadow
You must walk a parking lot
To enjoy a rolling prairie
You must view a garden plot
To feel a freshening breeze
You must sit in a stuffy room
To admire a brilliant sunset
You must face a sky of gloom

D. DeGraaf

Monday, February 19, 2018

February 19

Last Tuesday, Caroline and I hiked in Dominguez Gap Wetlands, 5 miles north of Long Beach, CA. This 30-acre restoration project provides a freshwater green space for wildlife in a highly urbanized landscape. The early morning weather was sunny with a temperature of 60 degrees and a gentle easterly breeze. Leaving the car parked on a nearby residential street, we made our way to the trailhead and hiked south on an earthen path where I spotted a flock of Black-necked Stilts wading in the shallow water of the Los Angeles River. Continuing south along a bayou, I noticed the water was teeming with waterfowl including Widgeons and Blue-wing Teal. Also, we paused to observe a Northern Shoveler drake and hen performing a courtship maneuver. Nearby, I spotted a Great Blue Heron motionless in a dense patch of California Bulrush. Up on the bank, blossoms of Evening Primrose and Purple Sage caught my eye. The red blossoms of a Bottlebrush tree were noticeable as well. Following the trail as it looped back toward the north, I was pleased to see a perching Purple Finch and Allen’s Hummingbird. Also, next to the trail, I observed a flock of tiny, hyperactive Bushtits fluttering through the dense underbrush. The high bank to the west was covered with a blanket of yellow California Sunflowers. While examining an individual flower, I noticed several ants scurrying over the petals. Although difficult to see, my guess is that they are feeding on honeydew produced by a colony of aphids embedded in the flower’s central disc. These ants and aphids have a symbiotic relationship where the aphids produce food for the ants in exchange for protection from predators. Continuing north, I spotted some mud nests of Cliff Swallows under an eaves trough that were occupied by House Sparrows. One final scan of the water revealed a couple of Yellow-bellied Slider Turtles basking in the sun. Finally, we walked a few blocks to the car and headed back to Redondo Beach.

Midst of February
Where’s the snow
Where’s winter
I well do know
So many birds
Flowers bloom
Lilac and sage
Earth’s perfume
Frigid flurries
Or warm sand
Where ever I go
Nature’s at hand

D. DeGraaf