MUSKRATS: Masters of the Murky Marsh

29 Jan

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY 

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With a bit of imagination, the common muskrat might be compared to a very large field mouse: one with a can do attitude that easily adapts to life in the wetlands and waterways of Oakland County. To muskrats, winter is not an obstacle for cozy living. For just like beavers, the muskrat prepares, with a few additional twists of its own, to guarantee Homeland Security during winter. This paunchy appearing rodent is covered with a rich, dark brown waterproof layer of fur (except on its scaly-skin tail). As soon as ice coats the lakes of the Oakland County Parks, the well dressed for the weather muskrats create pushups. Pushups provide a unique way for them to feed, travel and stay out of sight.

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Mighty Mouse: A Master of Survival

23 Jan

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Bird's Nest with white footed mouse

A re-purposed bird nest with a new roof is a perfect winter home for the white-footed mouse. Photo courtesy of Wendy Pellerito, Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy

Hike the snowy trails of Oakland County Parks – or search your own yard – and you may discover a finely crafted bird nest from last spring. It may have a new roof on top, and perhaps be wedged between the branches of a hawthorn tree or found in leafless shrubbery. Many of these nests are not empty. They have been re-purposed by Oakland County’s least heralded, but perhaps most abundant small mammal, the white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus). White-footed mice, while being masters of winter survival, home-invasions and kitchen-trespassing, also serve another role in the wilds of nature’s way. They are crunchy entrées on the winter menu for the eastern coyote, red and gray fox, screech owls, great horned and barred owls, red-tailed hawks, mink, weasel and even opossums.

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ICE: A Clear and Present Danger

15 Jan IMG_0085

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

The glaciers that shaped Oakland County have gifted us with beautiful lakes that support winter recreational activities of every imaginable focus. These lake activities range from high-speed ice boating to the peaceful solitude of a lone ice fisher staring solemnly into a dark hole, waiting for a fish to bite.

Sadly, winter often brings ice related accidents and sometimes fatalities. These tragedies result from a combination of four factors: excitement, poor judgment, poor decision making and inadequate information. The fact of the matter is clear; anyone that ventures onto ice must accept the fact that NO ICE IS SAFE ICE (a mantra of the United States Coast Guard). There is always risk. That is a lesson I learned last winter.

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Ice that appears solid may not be; my initial crossing was uneventful.

It was early in February, after weeks of record cold temperatures. I knew, without a doubt, that the ice on the small kettle lake I was heading for was rock solid. I was wrong. I shuffled across the lake in single digit weather with snowshoes strapped to my boots and a camera around my neck. I was without a care in my mind on a spectacular and sunny day. A few minutes later, after crossing the middle of the lake, I reached my quest. It was a snow capped beaver lodge and I happily captured the photos I sought. I rested for a few minutes, relishing the sparkling sunlight of the frigidly cold day. After, I headed for the closer shore to do a bit of exploring on the nearby hillside. Continue reading

Secret World of Beaver Freezers: Life Under Ice

9 Jan


WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

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Beavers are the largest, yet least seen, rodents found in Oakland County. Even though these creatures can weigh more than 50 pounds with their massive flat tails, it’s difficult to spot them because they are mostly nocturnal and semi-aquatic. They are without a doubt, the best dam builders in our county. During late autumn, beavers busied themselves preparing for winter by strengthening their dams, adding extra mud and sticks to their fortified lodges and most importantly, stocking their underwater pantries. Wildlife biologists like to call those winter food caches Beaver Freezers. Rarely does a human get to see these underwater food storage sites; for usually, as the ice begins to freeze, it quickly turns opaque and snow blocks any view. Not this year. On the second day of January, I had the unusual opportunity to inch my way carefully out over crystal clear ice and capture images of the top of a beaver freezer in one of the 13 Oakland County Parks.

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Arctic Invaders Approaching Oakland County

2 Jan Snowy Owl

 

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

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Two-foot-tall winged ghosts of the tundra are coming to town.  Bird watchers, nature lovers, naturalists, and Oakland County Harry Potter fans are wishing for the rare opportunity to see  the snowy owls of the Far North that have traveled thousands of miles south of their native Arctic home. These beautiful birds, adapted for life in the extreme cold, are the heaviest owl of North America and one of the largest owls on Planet Earth.  Reports of snowy owls across the State of Michigan are rapidly trickling into the  Michigan Department of Natural Resources and last week, acting on a tip from an avid birder friend in Lapeer, I set out for Tuscola County in the lower part of Michigan’s “thumb”  to search for snowy owls.  In less than 90 minutes we located three – – two sleepy ones on rural roadside utility poles and one in a plowed farm field with prey in its talons.  These are the owls that I photographed to feature in this special report. Continue reading

Winter Solstice: The Gateway to Winter Adventure in Oakland County Parks

26 Dec

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

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Winter officially began at 23:03 Universal Time on December 21. That moment marked the point at which the least amount of sunlight fell across the northern half of the globe. The earliest humans on earth may not have chatted around a campfire about the winter solstice, but they managed to grasp the fact that the sun’s path across the sky, the length of daylight and the locations of sunrises and sunsets all shifted in detectable patterns. Stonehenge is one such testament to the event. Winter, in all likelihood, was a time of great challenge, when many struggled just to survive. Today we have Facebook and Twitter to mark the solstice and here in Oakland County, we have 13 parks that take on a special beauty during the slowly lengthening days of winter. Addison Oaks County Park, Independence Oaks County Park and rural Rose Oaks County Park are three of our hilly and glacially sculpted parks that are rich in winter trails and wild land adventures on the wilder side of Oakland County. Continue reading

The Virginia Opossum: Oakland County’s Mysterious Marsupial

18 Dec
WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

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What animal lived during the age of the dinosaurs, gives birth 13 days after a honeymoon, has thumbs on their hind feet and is falsely accused of being, a big ugly rat? If you guessed Didelphis virginiana, the Virginia opossum, you are right. The opossum is the only marsupial found in North America; Oakland County is home for hundreds, if not thousands of these amazing omnivores. The Virginia Opossum has fifty teeth (the most of any mammal) and feeds on almost anything and everything. They will hunt, kill and eat mice and rats and relish rotting road kill and crunchy cockroaches. Bird eggs, berries, beetles, frogs, fish and fruits of all sorts are also on the delicacy list. Don’t forget to add snakes, slugs and snails too. To put it simply, if it produces a scent, the opossum will eat it. Continue reading

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