Mighty Mouse: A Master of Survival

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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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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