Friday, November 17, 2017

Photography (03 - 16 November 2017)

 Here are a few photos that I have taken since November 1st.

Full Moon - Alma, MI (03 November 2017)

Cattails at Chipp-A-Waters Park - Mt. Pleasant, MI (06 November 2017)

American Beech and pedestrian bridge - Mt. Pleasant, MI (06 November 2017)
Blue skies and golden leaves - Mt. Pleasant, MI (06 November 2017)

Milkweed seeds at the Isabella Conservation District office - Mt. Pleasant, MI (10 November 2017)

Quaking Aspen trunks at the Saginaw Chippewa Academy - Mt. Pleasant, MI (10 November 2017)

Mushrooms and moss - Mt. Pleasant, MI (16 November 2017)

Buck rub at Chipp-A-Waters Park - Mt. Pleasant, MI (16 November 2017)

Chinquapin Oak leaves - Mt. Pleasant, MI (16 November 2017)

Jack Pine - Mt. Pleasant, MI (16 November 2017)
Swamp White Oak leaf and moss - Mt. Pleasant, MI (16 November 2017)

Scots Pine - Mt. Pleasant, MI (16 November 2017)

Closeup of a buck rub - Mt. Pleasant, MI (16 November 2017)

Cattail - Mt. Pleasant, MI (16 November 2017)

Motherwort - Mt. Pleasant, MI (16 November 2017)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

2017 Deer Deason

Today is opening day for the 2017 Michigan firearms deer season.  Good luck on a safe and successful hunt!

Friday, November 10, 2017

The witch of November come stealin'

Today marks the 42nd Anniversary of the wreck of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, the most famous shipwreck in the Great Lakes.

On the evening of 10 November 1975, the freighter S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald was approaching Whitefish Point, MI with a full load of taconite (iron ore) in a Lake Superior storm.   Despite the hurricane force winds, the 729 foot ship did not appear to be under distress before it sank suddenly at 7:10 PM.  All twenty-nine men aboard the Edmund Fitzgerald perished.  To this day, the exact cause of the ship's sinking is unknown.

 The ship was commemorated by Canadian singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot in his 1976 song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald".

The wreck site was visited by dive teams in 1989, 1995, and 1995 to survey the site and collect artifacts.  The ship's bell was recovered during the 1995 dive.  The bell was restored and now rests at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point, MI. For more information on the Edmund Fitzgerald visit the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum website.

Although the Edmund Fitzgerald is the Great Lakes' most famous shipwreck, 1975 was not the first time that "the gales of November" turned deadly.  A November storm in 1913 claimed the lives of approximately 250 sailors, sank 12 ships, and foundered approximately 30 more ships across the great lakes.  This massive storm which lasted for nearly five days became known as the "Big Blow" or the "White Hurricane' among other names.

On 11 November 1940, a storm known as the "Armistice Day Blizzard" sank three freighters in Lake Michigan with the loss of 66 lives.  The same storm caused the deaths of dozens of duck hunters along the Mississippi River.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Leave those leaves alone!

Did you ever notice that when you enter the woods during the fall, there is no effort being made to remove every leaf the second it hits the ground?  Yet if you look around your own neighborhood, or even your own yard, fallen leaves seem like an enemy that must be eradicated.  Homeowners and landscapers sally forth armed with brooms, rakes, and leafblowers to do battle with nature!


Fallen leaves are meant to be returned to the soil.  Insects, isopods, millipedes, and other invertebrates shred them and eat them.  Fungi and bacteria decompose the leaves into a rich organic matter known as humus.  This organic matter can then be absorbed by plants, including the trees that originally produced the leaves.  The plants use this organic matter to grow, and (surprise) produce more leaves!  A healthy fertile soil will be rich in organic matter.

Removal of the dead leaves disrupts this cycle of soil building and renewal.  I am not sure whether to laugh or cry when I see people remove all of their fallen leaves from their lawn and then apply fertilizer to replace the nutrients that were included in the fallen leaves.  The same logic applies to grass clippings; they should be left on the lawn after mowing.

Current social norms dictate that homes should have a lush green lawn.  Leaves allowed to pile up may smother the lawn over time before they decay.  So how can the average homeowner both keep their lush green lawn and avoid raking away all the nutrients encased in their fallen leaves?

The lawnmower is your ally in this fight.  Normally I advocate mowing as infrequently (and at as high of a setting) as possible, but in the fall I sometimes use my lawnmower on a daily basis.  My lawnmower is set up to mulch leaves.  There is no bagging mechanism or discharge chute attached; every leaf (and blade of grass) is chopped into tiny bits before falling to the ground.  Some of these small bits blow away, but by mulching the leaves I am able to help accelerate the process of decomposition.  More broken edges means more places for bacteria and fungi to infiltrate the leaf and fully decompose it into the humus that my lawn and I desire.  

Do I mulch all of my leaves?  No, those that fall in the flower gardens are allowed to decay naturally.  They slowly decay over the course of time.  Until they decompose they form a layer of mulch which helps to suppress weed growth.  So my advise to anyone who wrings their hands and frets as soon as the leaves begin to fall...  Relax and leave those leaves alone.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Native Species Profile - Shaggy Mane

Fungus can be very difficult to identify.  There are many species; estimates range to more than one million species!  Many species can only be differentiated by looking at small obscure features.  Identification can be extremely important if you want to forage and eat wild mushrooms.  Many edible species have toxic look-alikes. If eating wild mushrooms, a incorrect identification could result in serious illness or even death.

That being said a few species are incredibly easy to identify.  One of the fits the category of easy to identify is the Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus).  This mushroom is one of several species lumped together as "inky caps".  These mushrooms have caps that decompose rapidly into an inky black fluid.  Also known as the Shaggy Inky Cap is the largest of this group at 3 to 8 inches tall with a cap up to 6 inches across.

Shaggy Mane - note how edge of cap has yet to separate from the stalk

Shaggy Mane mushrooms have white caps with shaggy white, brown, or black scales.  The edge of the cap is initially attached to the mushroom's stalk.  As the the mushroom grows, the edge of the mushroom detaches leaving a white ring around the stalk.  Up to this point, the cap is roughly cylindrical, but as it ages it takes on more of a bell shape.  When the mushroom reaches full maturity, the edges begin to decay.

Shaggy Mane - note bell-shaped cap with inky black edge

Shaggy Mane - note "inky" decayed cap

Shaggy Manes are saprophytic - meaning that they decompose dead organic matter.  This species is commonly found in lawns, along roadsides and other disturbed areas; it often grows on leaf litter, fine woody debris (such as wood chips), and occasionally on animal dung.  The species if found across North America and Europe and has been introduced in other locations around the world.

A Shaggy Mane mushroom emerges from leaf litter at the edge of a woods.

The Shaggy Mane is considered a "choice edible".  However, it is best collected and consumed before the cap turns inky.  In Mid-Michigan the Shaggy Mane has not toxic look-alikes so identification is relatively easy.  However, when consuming any foraged food (especially mushrooms), I recommend confirming identification with multiple sources before consuming.  Mistakes are simply not worth the risk.

Basic Information

Shaggy Mane
Coprinus comatus

Size:  3 - 8" tall; 2 - 6" across

Habitat:  lawns, roadsides, disturbed areas, compacted ground; decomposes organic matter including woody debris, leaf litter, and animal dung

Color:  white with white to brownish (or blackish) scales; decomposes to form an inky black liquid

Bloom Time:  late summer to fall

Monday, November 6, 2017

Sparring bucks - Trail Cam pictures (18 October 2017)

I went out about a week ago and retrieved the memory cards from my trail cameras.  Both cameras are located along busy wildlife trails.  As Fall progresses toward Winter, the animals have become more active in their search for foods.  In the case of White-tailed Deer, they have also become increasingly active with the approach of mating season.  Also known as "the rut", mating season for White-tailed Deer is preceded by a period in which bucks actively seek does and compete with other bucks for mating opportunities.

As I tell students, "Bucks have antlers to fight, with other bucks, over girls."  This always gets a laugh.  Despite all the time I have spent in the woods, I have never seen this in person, but now I have captured it on a trail camera.

This small buck appears to be watching something in the distance...

It's another similar-sized buck.  The two size each other up for a moment...

Once they lock antlers, the goal is to push each other around until one buck decides that the other buck is more powerful and flees.

Most bucks will typically only engage a buck of similar size - a small buck will typically not attempt to fight a much-larger buck, but will submit without conflict.  Even if that occurs, the large buck may chase away smaller bucks in order to preserve his own mating opportunities.  The small bucks above would probably have fled immediately if confronted by the buck shown below.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Visiting four CWC preserves in one day (Part Two)

Yesterday I started to share a bunch of photographs from my Sunday (29 October 2017) trip to four Chippewa Watershed Conservancy Preserves.  I entered the first preserve (Sylvan Solace) at approximately 9:00AM and left the final preserve (Audubon Woods) at 3:45PM.  Add in driving to and from my home in Alma and the trip took nearly eight hours and covered 78 miles by car and (probably) 10 miles on foot.

Here are the photos from the second half of my trip.

Hall's Lake Natural Area

The Hall's Lake Natural Area is actually comprised of three connected preserves (the Schaftenaar, Kabana, and Neely Preserves) on the north and east sides of Hall's Lake.  A fourth, unconnected, Preserve (Fox Run) is located on the southwest side of the lake.  My trip took me mostly through the Schaftenaar and Kabana Preserves, with a short dip into the Neely Preserve.  Hall's Lake Natural Area is only three miles (as the crow flies) from Bundy Hill.  However, it takes six miles of driving to get from one preserve to the other.

Small American Beech sapling grows along the edge of a shrub swamp.

Lycopodium (a relative of ferns) will remain green throughout the winter.

A Tamarack sapling turns golden yellow before losing its needles.  It is the onlylocal conifer to lose its needles every fall.

In the previous post I mentioned that I found deer scrapes at every preserve I visited.  I probably found a dozen scrapes in total.  This scrape at Hall's Lake was the only one that I photographed with its overhead "licking branch".  Located directly over a heavily used trail, deer will both lick this branch and rub it with scent glands located on their nose and forehead.  The scrape acts like a sign drawing attention to the overhead branch.

A deer scrape located underneath an overhanging branch provides a place for deer to leave scent signals.

Located just a few short feet away, I found another type of deer sign known as a "rub'.  Rubs are formed by bucks scraping their antlers against a small tree.  Early in the fall, rubs are used to scrape velvet off the deer's fully developed antlers.  Later in the fall they are used much like the licking branch as a place to leave scent information for other deer.

A freshly rubbed sapling shows that one or more bucks has passed this way.

In this image both a scrape (left) and rub (right) can be seen. 

Green pine saplings and drying ferns add their own colors to the fall leaf palette.

Amanita mushrooms are toxic to humans.

Paper Birch trunks stand out in any fall forest.

Several benches provide a place to sit and view Hall's Lake.

Birch trunks rot within only a few years - the watertight bark holds moisture in!

Bronze American Beech leaves against a slowly decaying tree trunk

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) adds its own color to the woods.

A miniature forest of Ground Pine sprouts in the larger forest.

Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) leaves can turn a shocking shade of purple in the fall.

Water flows north out of Hall's lake into Pony Creek.

An old shelf fungus slowly decays, as does the log it grew on.

A bolete mushroom rises from the forest floor.

The bark on this tree formed an interesting pattern of cracks and fissures.

The preserve boundaries at Hall's Lake are well marked.

A large wetland divides the Schaftenaar and Kabana preserves.  An osprey nest platform can be seen in the distance.

Sometime in the recent past, beavers felled a large number of aspen trees at the northern edge of the preserve.

Red Oak leaves living up to their name for once.

Most of the canopy has fallen by now.

Audubon Woods Preserve

Audubon Woods Preserve is approximately 10 miles from the Hall's Lake Natural Area.  Audubon Woods is definitely the CWC preserve that I am most familiar with.  I have made many trips to Audubon Woods with school groups over the past few years and have written about that experience  several times.  Audubon Woods is a mature hardwood forest located on the banks of the Chippewa River.  The entire preserve slopes downhill toward the river's high banks.  Because I have spent so much time at this preserve, I decided to spend most of my time wandering off trail in hopes of finding something new.

Looking down the trail toward the river.

A small intermittent stream divided the property.

Northern Maidenhair Fern grows along the stream.
A pile of scat shows that a White-tailed Deer passed this way.

Bigtooth Aspen leaves turn golden yellow, but quickly fade to brown.

Looking up at Bigtooth Aspen leaves caught in an Eastern Hemlock.

A small fern grows deep in Audubon Woods.

Eastern hemlock forms several groves within Audubon Woods

Burls are irregular growths caused by damage to the tree.

Wild Grapes climb an Eastern Hemlock to the canopy.

This Sassafras seedling is near the northern limit of its range in Michigan.

Was it worth it?  I spent an entire day driving between preserves and hiking around.  I could have probably spent all day at any one of the preserves and still came away with the same number of photographs.  I did this mostly for the challenge - maybe other people have done something like this in the CWC preserves, but if they have I'm not aware of it.  I already have a more ambitious round of preserve visits mapped out in my mind, but that will have to wait until next summer when there is more available daylight.

Hopefully someone will see this and be inspired to challenge themselves to a similar photography project.