Thursday, May 25, 2017

May 24

Wednesday, Remi and I returned to the 90-acre, Forest Hill Nature Area, the place where our “weekly wanderings” began 6 years ago. The early morning weather was partly sunny with a temperature of 52 degrees and a steady northeasterly breeze. We left the car parked next to Brady Cemetery and headed north through Native Grassland as the morning sun broke through a thick layer of clouds. Continuing north, I paused at Grebe Pond to listen to the mating call of a Pied-billed Grebe coming from the far shore. Making my way counterclockwise around the pond, I was fortunate to get close to a male Baltimore oriole perched in an Aspen tree performing its territorial call. After passing the barn and classroom building, I turned west down Energy Hill and stopped to notice that several of the young cattail leaves on the edge of Mallard Marsh had yellow tips, a condition called Chlorosis, usually caused by an environmental toxin. I continued west through Bobolink Meadow where I noticed a fresh hole in the mud dug by a Burrowing Crayfish. Next, I came to North Woods where a few wildflowers were still blooming, including Geranium and Phlox. Exiting the woods, I circled around Succession Field to Birch Row where I stopped to listen to a Rose-breasted Grosbeak but was unable to see it through the dense canopy. Continuing into South Woods, I spotted some orange bracket fungi before taking the boardwalk into Swanson Swamp. I exited the woods and followed the trail along the edge of Sora Swale where more blossoms caught my eye including: Cherry, Dogwood and Autumn Olive. Turning east and heading back toward the cemetery, I quickly turned north and climbed up Reflection Hill to take a final glance at placid Grebe Pond. Finally, I turned around and returned to the car for our trip home.

Away from life’s hectic pace
Found a calm and quiet place
Away from lanes of concrete
Shady woods is my retreat
From a busy city scene
A verdant meadow green
From a noisy crowded room
Field where flowers bloom
From loud traffic sounds
Oriole song surrounds
When commotion captures me
Mother Nature sets me free

D. DeGraaf

Thursday, May 18, 2017

May 17

Wednesday, Remi and I traveled 20 miles northwest of Alma to hike in the 13-acre Sponseller Preserve, a new acquisition of the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy, located off Deerfield Rd. ,west of Wildwood in Isabella County. The early afternoon weather was mostly sunny with a temperature of 82 degrees and a stiff south wind. Leaving the car, we headed due north a 100 feet and crossed a footbridge over Johnson Creek. This narrow stream continues due north about 2 miles before it empties into the Chippewa River at Meridian Park. With no obvious trail to follow, I wandered north through lush undergrowth sprinkled with thousands of dainty blue Forget-me-nots. Since the Germans are given credit for this flower’s name, it’s natural that there’s a tale of two lovers walking along the Danube River seeing the bright blue blossoms. The man retrieved the flowers for the woman, but was swept away by the river as he pleaded with her not to forget him. Whether the story is true or not, it’s certainly made the flower a lasting symbol of remembrance. Nearby, I stopped at a large patch of May apples and looked under several leaves before finding a blossom. Turning south, I came across colorful blossoms of Pheasant’s Eye Daffodils, Beardtongues and Lunaria. In addition, some fresh Pheasant back Fungi caught my eye. Circling around to the east, I came upon Johnson Creek again where I paused to look and listen while Remi cooled off with a quick dip. Meanwhile, on the far bank, I spotted a Green Frog basking in the sunlight. Turning back toward the car, I noticed a snag that showed frequent foraging by woodpeckers. Next, I paused to look up at the closing tree canopy being swayed by the strong southerly wind. Finally, we made it back to the car for a water break before heading home.

Dome of autumn
Yellow on red
Oaks and maples
Begin to shed
Bare branches
Backdrop of blue
Winter clouds
Showing through
Curtain closes
Springtime scene
Forest canopy
Gathering green

D. DeGraaf

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

May 7

Last Sunday, my wife and I traveled 30 miles northeast of Alma to Chippewa Nature Center and joined a hiking group searching for wild flowers. The early afternoon weather was sunny with a temperature of 52 degrees and a noticeable breeze from the north. Leaving the Visitors’ Center, I immediately spotted colorful blossoms of Dead Nettle near the ground and Redbud up above. Also, I saw a few small bees pollinating Wild Mustard. We proceeded north on the River Trail where I stopped to observe a fork in the river channel that defined the confluence of the Pine (left) and Chippewa (right) Rivers. Continuing to flow eastward another 4 miles, the Chippewa empties into the Tittabawassee River in Midland. We continued to follow the trail north along the riverbank where we spotted blossoms of Swamp Buttercup, Cut leaf Toothwort and Dutchman’s breeches. Meanwhile, on the river, we noticed some Map Turtles basking in the sun. As the path moved into a Beech-Maple forest, I glanced skyward to see the canopy was gradually leafing over. Continuing to search for wildflowers, we found a solitary Trout Lily and some, often hidden, but lovely blossoms of Wild Ginger. Also, we found several patches of May apple displaying flower buds but no blossoms yet. Patches of ferns were also evident including Ostrich and Sensitive. Hidden in the leaf litter was a rarely seen fern called Maidenhair Spleenwort. As we turned around and headed back, I noticed a Cabbage White Butterfly resting on the leaf litter. Since it had 2 black spots on its wing, it was a female compared to a single wing spot for a male. Finally, we found the car and headed for home.

Signs of the season
Timid and bold
Out of the mud
Marsh Marigold
Peepers in the pond
Killdeer on high
Lighting on litter
Cabbage Butterfly
Creepers climb
Bluebells ring
Nature’s glory
Expressions of spring

D. DeGraaf

Thursday, May 4, 2017

May 3

Wednesday, Remi stayed home while I met fellow outdoorsman, Joe Fox at Lumberjack Park near Riverdale to show him the nature trail I’ve been working on and seek his advice on further development. The early morning weather was sunny with a temperature of 39 degrees and no wind. We started out on the north section of the trail and walked east into a wooded area where I noticed a patch of May apple foliage and a single drooping Trout Lily. Continuing east, we paused on a high bank to watch the swollen Pine River flow rapidly from west to east carrying runoff from recent heavy rains. Nearby, we noticed where a woodpecker had recently tapped into the flowing sap of a pine tree. Further ahead, I made my way closer to the river’s edge where I spotted a young Cinnamon Fern with some edible fiddleheads. So, I picked one and enjoyed its subtle fresh taste. Then, we turned north into a stand of Red and White Pine where Joe used his chain saw to clear a large tree that had blown down over the trail while I picked and ate a fresh Morel Mushroom. Next, we turned east and came to the edge of a swollen Mud Creek. After planning the possible construction of a log footbridge over the creek, we turned around and headed back toward the trailhead where we spotted the Synsacrum bone of a wild turkey. This dorsal ridge of bone is located in the pelvic region and is formed by the fusion of vertebrae. Returning to our cars, we drove to another section of the park off Madison Rd and hiked the south leg of the trail where I spotted a few blossoms of Dutchman’s breeches. Before heading back to Alma, I walked west along the wooded edge of Madison Road where I was amazed to see large numbers of blooming ephemerals, including: Trillium, Blue Phlox and Wild Geranium. Finally, I hopped in the car and left for home.

You finally arrived
In the forest seen
You brought along
Your gifts of green
Ceiling above
Leaves take hold
Floor below
Fiddleheads unfold
Mid of the season
Mid of the year
Welcome back May
Glad you’re here

D. DeGraaf

Thursday, April 27, 2017

April 26

Tuesday, Remi and I traveled 13 miles southwest of Alma to the village of Sumner to once again hike the nature trail on the north side of Centennial Park. The early morning weather was partly sunny with a temperature of 59 degrees and a steady breeze from the east. Leaving the car behind a locked gate, we walked due west a few hundred feet to the edge of the Pine River where I paused to watch the water flow smoothly from north to south. A little further downstream, the river makes a gradual curve to the northeast and continues its highly meandering flow 8 miles to the dam in downtown Alma. Turning north, I walked along the riverbank, where I noticed the ground was littered with catkin flowers of nearby Aspen trees. Continuing north, I followed a walking trail into a wooded area where I paused to listen to another sign of spring, a singing Male Redwing Blackbird. Just ahead, the trail led to the edge of the river flats where I observed lots of sprouting Skunk Cabbage as well as a blossoming Marsh Marigold plant. As the trail looped away from the river, I glanced skyward to see that the forest canopy had a long way to go before leafing over. On the ground, a few blossoms caught my eye including Blue and Yellow Violets as well as Wild Strawberry. Winding my way back to the riverbank, I stopped to watch half dozen Water Striders scurrying about in the quiet water near shore. While this insect doesn’t bite people, it is a highly efficient predator. It can rapidly grab a smaller insect with its front legs, use its mouthparts to pierce the prey’s body and suck out its juices. This time of the year, the water is teeming with primary prey, mosquito larva. Since it breathes through a snorkel that pokes through the surface of the water, it is easy for water striders to grab and eat them. Finally, I took one more look at the river before heading back to the car and home.

Wildlife come forth
As April ebbs away
New green growth
Begins to overlay
Catkins hang like jewels
From twigs of oak
On the muddy soil
Rests a Morning Cloak
Marigolds of yellow
Common violets of blue
Mother Earth is ready
To give spring her due

D. DeGraaf