The Red-Crested, Tree-Whacker of Oakland County

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

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A male Pileated with a noticeable red cheek stripe creates a cavity to search out insects.

Pileated Woodpeckers are the loudest and most striking forest birds in the woodlands of Oakland County. They are also the largest woodpecker species to be found in North America, with the exception of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker: a magnificent bird that once haunted the southern swamps of the United States and forests of Cuba. Sadly, most ornithologists believe that the Ivory Billed is now extinct due to habitat destruction. In 2004, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and The Nature Conservancy put a team together to investigate a dramatic sighting of an Ivory Billed Woodpecker in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas. Their findings remained inconclusive but leaned toward credibility; the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker remains the Holy Grail of ornithology. Continue reading

Barred Owls: Ghostly Voice of the Swamp

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

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“Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” That’s the classic ghostly call of the Barred Owl, an owl very much at home in Oakland County. The rising and falling melody with a hint of a southern drawl in the last few syllables reminds naturalists that the owl’s breeding season is here. Yet, others less admiring of the raucous chorus of barred owls hooting back and forth may describe the sounds as the music of a troop of rowdy monkeys. That description  is very close to the truth.

Follow the Cornell Lab of Ornithology link to hear the calls of barred owls: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/barred_owl/sounds 

Every now and then, a hiker might hear or even see a barred owl perched on a tree limb in daylight. Oakland County Parks, Huron-Clinton Metroparks and the State Recreation Areas of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (located in Oakland County) all host these beautiful raptors of the night. Barred owls favor wooded wetlands with nearby open areas for hunting; that means trailside swaths of Addison Oaks, Highland Oaks, Independence Oaks, Lyon Oaks, Rose Oaks and Springfield Oaks county parks are perfect barred owl habitats.

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Fantastic Forest Fall Fungi

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

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The River Loop Trail of Independence Oaks County Park is a perfect gateway to autumn color.

An eye-catching world of fungal wonders has emerged in the woodlands and forests of Oakland County and much of the rest of our Pure Michigan State. No matter where you hike in the days of October, if there are trees and the forest floor is moist, mushrooms may be found. Some of these colorful mushrooms, the fantastic fungi of the golden days of October, make one wonder if perhaps they have not entered a secret world of elves and fairies.

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Outwitting Fall Foliage Poison Ivy

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

As the days shorten and the nights cool, the woodlands of Oakland County are transforming into kaleidoscopes of color. Golden hues of sugar maple, the deep crimsons of sassafras and the scarlet-red shades of red maple are the dominant colors on nature’s autumn palette. However, there is one troublesome plant that hides in the showy mix, a plant dressed in alluring shades of red: Poison Ivy.

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A Head Start Program for Turtles

THE WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

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The Detroit Zoo (located in Royal Oak) is 90 miles south of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge in Saginaw County.  But for 27 young Blanding’s turtles that slid from warm human hands into the cool duckweed-coated backwaters of the Shiawassee at the end of August, that journey to freedom took two years. These turtles were saved from near certain consumption by raccoons when they were still yummy munchies in their eggs. Multiple agencies worked on the project, a reminder to all who appreciate the wilder side of nature that all things are connected.

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Poison Sumac: Our Wetland Beauty with a Dark Secret

THE WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

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Erika Cole Pratt of Ann Arbor Parks admires a beautiful poison sumac tree in a Rose Township wetland.

Swamp walkers and wetland trail hikers need to keep a sharp lookout for one of the most beautiful plants of our wetlands: Toxicodendron vernix, better known as poison sumac. This scraggly, shrub-like small tree thrives in the swamps, bogs, marshes and other wetlands of Oakland County. It is one of the first plants to dress in spectacular autumn colors that can best be described as flaming orange with a dark red hue. Poison sumac, as alluring and beautiful as it may be, presents a far more prevalent hazard to hikers than an encounter with Michigan’s only venomous snake, the massasauga rattlesnake. In these early days of September, poison sumac stands out drastically among the trailside – let the color and leaf pattern be a warning of its clear and present danger.

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The Red Fox: Master of Adaptation

THE WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

A red fox watches closely after he detects a human ( Jonathan) watching him in the Brandon Township woods they both share.

A red fox watches closely after he detects a human ( Jonathan) watching him in the Brandon Township woods they both share.

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes fluva) is found in every county in Michigan, and is very much at home on the wilder (and not so wild) sides of Oakland County. These rusty-red colored predators with bushy white-tipped tails and black legs are not restricted to large woodlands, parklands and fields. Sometimes, red foxes will den near suburban homes or even in industrial areas that offer good hunting and a hiding habitat.  Fox commonly hunt near golf courses, where rabbits are easy to find and have no place to hide. It’s all a matter of adapting to opportunity and adjusting to the ways of humans that dominate their landscape.

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