Arctic Invaders Approaching Oakland County

 

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

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Discovering Addison Oaks County Park – on Horseback!

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

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Addison Oaks County Park is a beautiful 1,140 acre matrix of wildlife. It’s a landscape rich with woodlands, wetlands, meadows and miles and miles of trails, many of them equestrian friendly. Last weekend Addison Oaks hosted the second annual Equestrian Camp Out in partnership with the Addison Oaks Trail Riders: equestrians committed to the maintenance and expansion of bridle trails in and around Addison Oaks County Park.

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Almost 7,000 acres of parklands are managed by Oakland County Parks with horse-friendly trails at Addison Oaks County Park, Addison Oaks-East, Highland Oaks County Park and Rose Oaks County Park. The trails of Rose Oaks take riders deep into woodlands and over new boardwalks giving riders dramatic views of glacially sculpted landscapes, old farm fields and mature evergreen and hardwood forests. Nearly 100 equestrians participated at last weekend’s event. Most of the riders were from Oakland County, but others came from as far away as Bowling Green, Ohio and Glennie, Michigan to participate and were rewarded with spectacular woodland and meadow trails.

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Oakland County Parks is rapidly being recognized as a leader in trail connectivity with the understanding that by being receptive to user groups such as equestrians, other park visitors also benefit. Local equestrian groups, including the Addison Oaks Trail Riders, have partnered with Oakland County Parks to improve the recognition of horses as being an integral part of rural Oakland County.

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Highlights of the equestrian camping and trail-riding event included hours and hours of riding through Addison Oaks, a night nature hike, and a pot luck campfire dinner under a star-studded sky. Campers were rewarded with the songs of sandhill cranes at sunrise, coyotes yipping at night, and for a lucky few, the flight of a bald eagle over the meadows. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the sparkling waters of Buhl Lake, the gem of Addison Oaks. Participants renewed friendship, developed a deeper appreciation for park operations and perhaps went home with a new understanding of the timeless words of John Muir, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” It’s more likely than not that Muir’s words take on a new meaning when exploring on horseback.

If you missed this event or aren’t aware of the numerous four-season outdoor recreation opportunities available at the 13 Oakland County Parks, then perhaps it’s time to connect via Social Media. In addition to following this weekly blog on the Oakland County Website, look for Oakland County Parks and Recreation on Facebook. Don’t forget, you can also join the conversation on Twitter @DestinationOak, on Instagram @oaklandcountyparks and on Pinterest at Oakland County Parks. The Addison Oaks Trail Riders can also be found on Facebook.

Text and photos by Jonathan Schechter, Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Parks. schechterj@oakgov.com

Visit DestinationOakland for details on all 13 Oakland County Parks.

 

Witch Hazel: Mystery Tree That Flowers in October

The Wilder Side of Oakland County

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The witch hazel tree is a small, hidden in plain sight, understory tree with gnarly-looking branches. Perhaps one of the strangest and least recognized native trees of Oakland County, it thrives in most parks with rich woodlands. Witch hazel spans the American countryside, from the deep forests of Maine and the Green Mountains of Vermont, to the hills and hidden hollers of the Appalachian Mountains, down into the lowland forests of the South.

With Halloween just around the corner, this tree, with a delightful mix of myth, mountain lore and scientific fact, is flowering right on schedule. Unlike most northern plants, that select spring as the season of blooms, the witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) waits until the cool, short days of October to produce delicate clusters of spidery, fragrant, yellow flowers. Few, however, notice the flowers, for they are lost in kaleidoscopes of rich colors in the woodlands on the wilder side of Oakland County. But when the strangely beautiful, little blossoms are framed by a dramatic backdrop of red maple leaves in their deep crimson finery, they draw the human eye and make one wonder what the previously unnoticed blooms might be.

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The Woods are on Fire; with the Blaze-Orange Color of Sassafras

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) has set our woodland edges on fire with leaves that transformed from a dull green to a brilliant flame-orange color. The history and lore of this beautiful native tree of Oakland County is as rich and eye-catching as the autumn color of its uniquely shaped leaves. Three differently shaped leaves appear on the branches of this aromatic tree. As Michigan residents, we all recognize the mitten shape, the simple-looking leaf is known botanically as ‘entire’ and then there is the unmistakable three-lobed leaf.

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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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