Tuesday, Remi and I again traveled 10 miles west to Lumberjack Park to hike this time on the south section of a nature trail that I’m in the process of constructing for the park. Just east of the Pine River off Madison Rd., I followed a 2-track north for a short distance into a wooded area and parked the car. The early morning weather was party sunny, hazy with a temperature of 28 degrees and no wind. From the car, we followed a path west down a gradual bank to the edge of the Pine River where I noticed some patches of snow on the far side that remained from Sunday’s snowfall. Also, I recalled that this is the starting point for the 30-mile canoe trail to downtown Alma. Back up the slope, I followed the path north where the leaf litter revealed the presence of surrounding pine, oak, maple and aspen trees. Continuing north, I descended a steep bank into the river flats where I’m in the process of constructing stairs and continued on a snow-covered, temporary boardwalk I built over a seasonal wetland. Turning east, I followed the trail along the edge of Mud Creek where Remi’s hair color blended well with the snowy ground. Speaking of color, moss growing at the base of a Cottonwood tree was the only green to be seen in the late autumn landscape. Continuing east, I stopped at the point where we plan to build a footbridge next summer to cross and join up with the west section of the trail. Retracing my steps back up the steep bank, I followed the trail east and then looped south through a woodland of White Pine back toward the parking area where I spotted what remained of an old stone foundation from a building of unknown origin. Finally, we returned to the car and headed home.
Tuesday, Remi and I traveled 10 miles west to Lumberjack Park to hike on the west section of a nature trail that I’m in the process of constructing for the park. The early morning weather was mostly sunny with a temperature of 45 degrees and a slight breeze out of the southeast. Leaving the car parked just north of the Pine River off Lumberjack Rd., we headed east through a wooded area of mixed hardwoods & pines where I spotted a tree trunk whose barked was recently stripped away by a gnawing porcupine. Continuing east, I was amazed by the number of tree trunks displaying fresh Foliose Lichens. These often-overlooked organisms are colonizers of tree bark, decaying logs, rocks, soil, leaves and manmade structures. A symbiosis of algae and fungi, they serve as food and nesting material for many birds and mammals as well as habitat for small invertebrates. Next, as the trail approached the riverbank, I paused to admire the extensive growth of Oyster fungi on a large tree trunk. Also, I noticed water from recent rains had filled the river channel as it flowed rapidly to the east. Further ahead, I gazed across the river to see an adult deer lying dead near the far edge. Without examining the carcass and since this was firearms hunting season, I wondered if it was fatally shot and wandered there to die. Spotting the morning sun peaking through the trees, I continued east before turning north through a narrow corridor of conifers with reddish trunks of Red Pine on my left and blackish trunks of White Pine on my right. Glancing skyward, I noticed wind blowing the needles in the evergreen canopy. Climbing a gradual slope, I turned east again and came to Mud Creek where one day we hope to construct a footbridge and continue the trail on the far side. However, at this time, I turned around and followed my shadow west through another corridor of conifers toward the trailhead where I spotted a tree trunk covered with Whitewash Fungi. Finally, we got back to the car and headed home.
Tuesday, Remi and I traveled 20 miles north to Mt. Pleasant to hike in the 30-acre Chipp-A-Waters Park. The early morning weather was sunny with a temperature of 21 degrees and no wind. Leaving the car, we hiked directly south to the edge of the Chippewa River where I paused to observe the swift current flowing east. Following the paved trail west, I noticed a major change in the landscape since we visited in March of 2015, that being the placement of large boulders along the outside bends of the meandering river to mitigate bank erosion. Also, I saw evidences of a hard freeze overnight including a small pond glazed with ice and frosty margins on leaves of invasive Garlic Mustard. Continuing west, a colorful male Cardinal perched in the pale, leafless underbrush caught my eye. Turning south, I walked across the river on the Brandell Bridge, paused to scan the scenic Veits Woods and gazed through the leafless canopy at a clear blue sky. Leaving the paved path, I followed a dirt trail west where I noticed patches of Winter Berry whose colors are a portend to the Christmas season. This shrub is a species of holly native to eastern North America and Canada. The berries attract and provide a significant food source to native birds and wildlife. In fact, over forty species of North American birds rely on these berries as part of their food source. However, they are poisonous and extremely toxic to humans. Back across the bridge, I turned west again and circled a wooded area where the leaf litter revealed it contained mostly oak and beech with a few maple. Also while scanning the landscape, I noticed a major change since I was here before as several large ash trees that had been killed by the Emerald Ash Border were cut down. Heading back toward the car, I looked up to see and hear a male Hairy Woodpecker searching for food. Similar to the Downy Woodpecker, this bird is larger and has a thicker beak. Following our shadows, we made it back to the car, turned the heater on and headed home.
Last Friday, accompanying my wife to Grand Rapids where she attended a conference, Remi and I hiked nearby at the 100-acre, Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve. The early morning weather was partly sunny with a temperature of 43 degrees and a stiff breeze from the north. We left the car and headed east across a footbridge into a forest of mature oak and maple trees. Gazing up, I was pleased to view mostly blue sky through a leafless canopy. Turning south, the trail took me to an observation platform above a 1-acre pond covered with an invasive pondweed called Watermeal. From there, I watched a pair of Mallards swimming and feeding on this green surface. Most likely, these ducks are not residents but have stopped here to rest before continuing their migration to a southern state. Migrating Mallards are quite hardy and have been known to cover 800 miles in a single day. Greeted by the morning sun as I turned east, the trail took me into part of the forest dominated by American Beech trees where I spotted a smaller one that still retained its leaves and a large one that had late Oyster mushrooms still clinging to its trunk. Further ahead, I paused as Remi had a stare-down with a perching Fox Squirrel. Arriving at a 5-acre lake, I noticed colorful Red Oak leaves floating close to shore. Near the end of our half-mile loop while scanning the understory, I came upon one of nature’s anomalies- a small Sugar Maple tree displaying green leaves of summer. For some unexplained reason, unlike the millions of other leaves in the forest, they had not yet responded to the cues of autumn by changing colors, dropping and decaying. Finally, we got back to the car and returned to the conference center to pick up my wife before heading to Alma.
Thursday, Remi stayed home while I drove 17 miles west of Alma to hike a scenic section of the Meijer Heartland Trail between Edmore and Cedar Lake. The early morning weather was mostly sunny with a temperature of 46 degrees and a slight breeze from the west. Leaving the car parked alongside Deja Rd, I hiked east on the paved path where a familiar sign of the season caught my eye; white feathery plumes from the seeds of Old Man’s Beard. Continuing east, I walked over a thick layer of fallen oak leaves. Once in awhile the asphalt path provided a nice contrast for identifying individual leaves, including this Pin Oak. A little further ahead, I spotted several proximate Tamarack trees whose needles had turned brown and were beginning to blanket the path. Also called Larch, this tree is one of a few deciduous conifers found in North America. Nearby, I paused to observe a narrow creek flowing from west to east. According to the map, this un-named stream flows into Wolf Creek and then continues east to the Pine River. While most of the shrubs I saw were green or leafless, some displayed a few red leaves including: Japanese Barberry and Maple-leaf Viburnum. After about ¾ mile, I turned around into the teeth of a strengthening west wind and began retracing my steps when I noticed a large (2’x3’) Pudding Stone just off the trail. The name of this conglomerate rock is derived from its resemblance to old fashion Christmas pudding. Continuing west, I came upon a patch of Maidenhair ferns whose fronds were losing their color as well as a leafless Sumac shrub with its deep red “staghorn” fruiting bodies. Near the end of the hike, I paused to observe a gust of wind trying hard to dislodge and disperse milkweed seeds. Finally, I got back to the car and headed east for home.