THIS WEEK AT BEAR CREEK: In the Forest – Hawks Hunting, Smaller Birds Hiding, Deer Stalking and Dabs of Color plus Important Safety Info

November rain

Cam in red winter coat BC

Blog Post and Photos by Cam Mannino

This week Bear Creek again slipped from winter to fall and back again.  The pond and marsh iced over and then melted in steady rain.  The Eastern Old Field (above) glowed russet as the rain saturated every color in the park and the combination of wind and wet earth felled a large tree.  And then heavy frost descended, edging everything in white.  Over in the woods, raptors silently slipped through the branches searching for a meal, while smaller birds found places to hide.  Mushrooms, lichens and mosses painted  the forest  with dabs of color,  and deer stalked in the distance.  A transition time at Bear Creek.

 First, Some Safety Issues – and Practicalities

If you enter the park from Snell Road, you may see caution tape across the path leading into the park.  A large tree has fallen into another on the trail and is in danger of falling across the path.  I got a quick shot to satisfy the curiosity of park visitors, so please avoid the area until our trusty OT maintenance crew can remove the danger.  Feel free to go west past the Playground Pond or north down the path behind the playground that runs to the Center Pond.

Edit:  As of Saturday, December 5, the tree was removed and the path in from Snell Road is now open!  Thanks again to the Maintenance Crew for getting this taken care of.

falling tree at BC

A large tree has fallen into another along the Snell Road entrance. Hence the caution tape that prevents entrance by that path until the maintenance crew can remove it.

And speaking of the maintenance crew, many thanks to Doug Caruso, OT Maintenance Foreman, for washing the slippery gray mud that had washed onto the deck at the Center Pond after the rain.  Doug washing deckThe deck looks better and feels safer underfoot!

And speaking of cleaning things up, can I please urge Bear Creek visitors to use the Pet Waste stations this winter?  The maintenance crew just installed a new one at the south end of the Eastern Path, New pet bag station near subso if you forget your plastic bag, please pick one up there or at the Snell Parking lot and clean up after your dog.  Dog waste on white snow is not a pretty sight, and pet waste spreads disease into our water and wildife! And remember that dog leashes keep both other dogs and other walkers safer and happier in the park.  Thanks!

 The Forest:  Raptors Hunt and Smaller Birds Hide

When I walked into the woods near the marsh early last week, I heard the high, raw cry of a young Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) and finally spotted it perched high in a tangle of branches near the water.  It flew above the treetops from there,  so here’s a photo of another young Red-Tailed Hawk on the hunt.

young redtail hawk soaring closeup

A young Red-tailed Hawk called and soared above the marsh. Young red-tails don’t have a red tail in their first year.

Nearby in the woods, a female Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) moved nervously from tree to tree.  When the hawk soared away, she quickly flew to  a branch very close to one on which the hawk had perched.  I thought that was odd until I saw her disappear into a hole on the bottom side of the branch.  In a few seconds, her head peeked out as if she was checking to see if the coast was clear!  Good hiding place, isn’t it?

Red-belly female in tree hole

A Red-bellied Woodpecker’s found a nice, safe hole on the underside of a dead branch near the marsh.

If you’re unfamiliar with the appearance of this female year ’round resident, here’s a closeup of a female Red-belly, like the one in the hole above.  The red on the her head reaches only to the crown unlike the male on which the red feathers extend from the nape to the beak.

red bellied woodpecker

A closeup of a female Red-bellied Woodpecker like the one hiding in a hole in the tree in the photo above.

Later in the week, a small, blue-gray Sharp -shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) shot by me on the western side of the woods.  As I’d crested a rise, this little woodland hawk, the smallest hawk in North America, had spotted me from a low limb, immediately leapt into the air and flew off with consummate skill among the tree limbs.  Here’s a photo of one scoping out prey from a bush in a previous winter.  Sharp-shinned hawks often pounce on mice and, unfortunately songbirds,  from low branches.  So I may have thwarted a hungry raptor, who like all birds was trying to bulk up for the winter months.

Hawk hunting

A small woodland raptor, this juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk keeps a careful eye out for prey

With these hungry raptors hunting around the woods, the American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea), which seems to be the only sparrow around right now, hid within the protective branches of a bush. Pretty effective camouflage.

Tree sparrow in marsh

A Tree Sparrow hides in a bush while raptors hunt nearby.

A flock of American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) could be heard in the distance, too.  Crows frequently mob hawks, harassing them with dive-bombing and noise to drive them from their territories.  This may have been just late fall group behavior (left), but I have seen hawks and crows in conflict before in Bear Creek (right). (Rest your cursor on the photos for captions.)

The woods provided a couple of other fun moments.  A wary doe near Gunn Road stalked along behind the trees, but curiosity about the cameras always seems to seduce White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus).  They just have to turn and look.

Doe through a scrim of trees

A doe peeks through small trees, curious about my camera.

And one of the fun natural features of the park showed up nicely in the snow the week before last – what I call The Mitten Stone. I forgot to include it in last week’s blog. Now that’s Pure Michigan, isn’t it?

Mitten stone

A Michigan-shaped stone in the woods between the two entrances to the marsh.

The Forest:  Dabs of Color in the Brown-Gray Landscape

Mushrooms (the seeding parts of underground fungi), lichens and mosses did their part again this week to add bits of color here and there to the rather somber backdrop of late fall.  I’m no mushroom expert so no specific identifications here.  Does anyone know a reliable site? (Click on images to enlarge. Rest your cursor on a photo for a caption)

I’m a firm believer that there’s no bad weather for walking, just bad clothing.  Try a rainy walk at Bear Creek in a sturdy raincoat and good boots – or with an umbrella –  and see how the moisture saturates the colors.  Or let the frost prickle your nose on a super cold morning.   A long walk or a short stroll, you’re bound to discover something worth the trip.

Crabapple tree dusk

Non-native crab apples hang like ornaments in the silvery light of a rainy sunset.

*Footnote:  As well as Oakland Township Stewardship Manager, Dr. Ben VanderWeide, my sources for information are as follows: Ritland, D. B., & Brower, L. P. (1991);Stokes Nature Guides:  A Guide to Bird Behavior Volumes 1-3, Allaboutbirds.org, the website of the Cornell Ornithology Lab at Cornell University; Wikipedia; http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org; Herbarium of the University of Michigan at michiganflora.net.; various Michigan Field Guides by Stan Tekiela; Butterflies of Michigan Field Guide by Jaret C. Daniels; University of Wisconsin's Bug Lady at www4.uwm.edu/fieldstation/naturalhistory/bugoftheweek/ for insect info http://www.migrationresearch.org/mbo/id/rbgr.html for migration info; invaluable wildflower identification from local expert, Maryann Whitman; experienced birder Ruth Glass, bird walk leader at Stoney Creek Metro Park for bird identification;Birds of North American Online; Audubon.org, Nature in Winter by Donald Stokes, Trees in My Forest by Bernd Heinrich, Winter World by Bernd Heinrich

 

THIS WEEK AT BEAR CREEK: A Golden Marsh, Frogs Meditate, Squirrels Munch and Mushrooms Arise!

Foot of a tree

The foot of a wet-footed tree at the north end of Bear Creek

This week we’ll leave the sunny Old Fields and spend more time in the north of the park where there’s more water and shade.  The marsh, like so much of the park, is now full of gold as fall flowers bloom along its margins. The Canada Geese are starting to emerge from the reeds with completely new sets of feathers.  The Snapping Turtle still cruises just beneath the water’s surface while dragonflies hover and soar above it.

Blog post and photos by Cam Mannino

Blog post and photos by Cam Mannino

In the pond  at the edge of Gunn Road, a few frogs hop between the toes of giant wet-footed trees,  while others sit quietly contemplating the coming season.  Squirrels and chipmunks gather acorns and nibble at colorful mushrooms that  mysteriously appear and disappear in the Oak-Hickory forest.  Let’s watch how the north end of Bear Creek settles gracefully into early fall.

The Marsh – All Golden and Green

The green of the marsh – its reeds, its duckweed-covered water, the backdrop of trees – is suddenly offset by the bright yellow of Nodding Beggar-ticks (Bidens cernua), another lovely native wildflower with a singularly homely name!

Marsh in Sept_edited-1

In September, golden flowers with the strange name of Nodding Beggar-ticks surround the northern marsh.

These sunny flowers surround the water in the marsh, lining the northern dock and the edge of the reeds in the distance. Dr. Ben tells me that they are an annual that “can grow from a seed to a big flowering plant in just a few short months or weeks after the water recedes. They are really well adapted to the changing water levels of wetlands!”  Look at these flower faces which are currently full of bees!

bee on Nodding Beggar-tick marsh

Bees are constant visitors at the oddly-named Nodding Beggar-tick plants in the northern marsh.

Spray of Nodding Beggar-tick_edited-1

Nodding Beggar-tick are native flowers that nod a bit as they age.

The reeds and flowers are a great backdrop for the Canada Darner dragonfly (Aeshna canadensis), who likes to hover above the water searching for insects,  just as it does above the wildflowers in the Old Fields.

Canada darner flying marsh2

A Canada Darner finds the air above reeds and marsh flowers just as profitable for finding insects as the wildflowers in the Old Fields.

The Common Cat-tails (Typha latifolia) take on all kinds of strange shapes as they produce seed for next year. The male part at the top has fertilized the brown fuzzy female part below to produce seeds.  And cat-tails also grow by rhizomes, or underground stems.

Cat Tail seeding1 Cat tail seeding 3

Out in the water are the usual inhabitants.  If you come after a rain has cleared some of the surface plant life, you might see the ridged back (or carapace) of a Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina).  Its head  emerges several inches ahead of its body as it cruises leisurely across the marsh, stopping to dip down and feed on submerged vegetation.

snapper swimming

A Snapping Turtle moving slowly and deliberately across the marsh, stopping to eat submerged vegetation.

Of course, if you come on a hot, sunny afternoon when the duckweed and other surface plants crowd the marsh surface, you’ll have to look for  the trail of  two slowly moving blobs of green.

Snapper in the marsh2

On a sunny day with the surface plants thick and rich, look for the Snapper’s water trails to find the slowly moving green blobs of its shell and head.

If the sun is warm on a cool fall morning, you might see a small Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) sunning itself, all four legs, head and tail extended to soak up maximum warmth.

Baby turtle sunning

A small Painted Turtle suns on a log, all four legs stretched out to catch the sun’s warmth.

Some of the Canada Geese (Branta canadensis ) have now finished their molt.  This one seemed to be waiting for other family members to emerge from the reeds.  When they do, they’ll get some practice flying with their completely new feathers, wheeling about the sky and calling noisily.

Canada Goose after molting

A Canada Goose seems to be waiting on the edge of the reeds for the rest of its family group to finish their complete molt.

I’ve noticed this plant in the marsh for a while and finally learned its name.  Ben tells me that it’s Nodding Smartweed or Willow-weed (Persicaria lapathifolia).  It’s common in moist, disturbed ground.  I quite like its graceful droop!

Nodding Smartweed or Willow-weed

Nodding Smartweed (or Willow-weed) droops gracefully in the muddy flats at the edge of the marsh.

The Pond at the North End:  Mighty Trees, Their Munched Acorns and Small Frogs

If you wander away from the marsh toward Gunn Road, you’ll end up at another much quieter pond.  It’s the one in which so many Wood Frogs (Rana sylvatica) were courting in the spring. Some of these frogs breed more than once which might explain seeing two tiny Wood Frogs near the pond at this time to year. Wood Frogs can vary their skin color from brown to green/gray but they are always in or near the trees (as their name implies) and sport a dark eye mask.

Tiny wood frog

A tiny Wood Frog in its  brown color stretches out a hind leg to cling to a log.

Tiny wood frog near Gunn

A tiny Wood Frog in its green color  on a Bur Oak leaf near Gunn Road.

Nearby, as the sun dipped low, a male Green Frog (Rana clamitans) sat quietly on the end of a log, staring steadily into the distance.  It’s rare for me to see one so still and silent.

Green frog male in evening light

In the late afternoon, a male Green Frog stares quietly into the distance from a log in the pond near Gunn Road.

An Orb Weaver Spider (family Araneidae) had rather daringly hung its web out over the water, attaching it to four different trees quite a distance away.  It looks as though it managed to snag a moth.

Orb spider web pond near Gunn

An Orb Spider web suspended between four trees over the pond near Gunn Road.

Some creature had dug a fairly large hole, with accompanying small ones, at the roots of a gigantic Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa). An Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) perhaps?   Here you can see one hole beneath a Bur Oak leaf and the remainder of the tree’s acorn with its bristly cap laying nearby.  Bur Oaks, a member of the White Oak family,  don’t produce large acorn crops every year.  Instead, they produce huge numbers of acorns some years in the hope that the squirrels and blue jays will not be able to eat them all and a few will survive to propagate new trees.

Leaf with burr oak nutshells

Bur Oak leaf with scattered acorn pieces and the bristly Bur Oak acorn cap half-chewed on the left.

Here’s a clearer look at the acorns from a Bur Oak that’s just south of the shed near Snell Road.

Burr oak acorn and leaves

The acorns of a Bur Oak with their bristly caps

But the one at the north end is very tall – and incredibly straight – with its crown so far up that you can’t see its acorns even with binoculars!  Or at least, I couldn’t.

Huge burr oak near Gunn

A very tall Bur Oak near Gunn Road with its straight trunk and branches only at the crown.

Eastern Chipmunks (Tamias striatus) are certainly dashing about the park collecting nuts and seeds to put in the storage chambers of their burrows.  This one started filling its pouch near the Center Pond in a previous fall.

Chipmunk Bear Creek_edited-1

An Eastern Chipmunk with his cheek pouches starting to bulge with the food he will store in his underground burrow

The Oak-Hickory Forest and its Mysterious Mushrooms

Dappled sunlight in the woods

The Oak-Hickory forest is blooming – with colorful mushrooms! I learned this week that there are fungi in the earth beneath those trees year ’round. Right now we can see parts of those fungi because they’re making spores above ground in what we commonly call “mushrooms.”

Some fungi break down dead materials to obtain nutrients.  Other fungi form relationships with living plants, including trees,  which generally are mutually beneficial.  This symbiotic association between a fungus and a living plant is called a mycorrhiza.  Mycorrhizal fungi feed on sugars from tree roots and trees in turn can get more minerals and water from the soil through their fungal partner.  According to BBC Earth, some scientists have shown that trees use this system to share nutrients with other trees, including their own saplings, in what some scientists refer to as the “wood wide web!” This web may include both the fungal network and tree roots that are actually grafted together.  I love this idea. Of course,  problems can spread through this web too ( just like our internet!) which is why we published the blog on preventing the spread of Oak Wilt.

Having missed the Parks mushroom workshop last weekend, I can’t identify most of the mushrooms I’ve seen lately. (Drat!)  They look so other-worldly and fascinating. Unless accompanied by a real expert who can make an absolute identification, though, please don’t try to eat them!  Wild mushrooms are notoriously difficult to identify and many are toxic to humans. And in any case, it’s always best to leave the park just the way you found it so we can all enjoy its beauty and surprises.

This amazing mushroom, which may or may not be a Sulfur Shelf mushroom, glowed in the dappled light of the woods.

Yellow and orange fungus

This mushroom, which might or might not be a Sulfur Shelf mushroom, glowed in the dim forest light.

Several of these pale orange mushrooms emerged from the wet soil near the pond at the Gunn Road entrance.

orange mushroom near Gunn

Pale orange mushrooms like this one appeared in the moist soil near the pond by Gunn Road.

Some animal’s taken a nip out of this little one.

Brown and white mushroom

Some animal’s tried a nip of this mushroom which may or may not be a Reddening Lepiota.

Someone’s been eating these red mushrooms, too.

red mushrooms?

These unidentified mushrooms may have been eaten by some small woodland animal, perhaps the American Red Squirrel.

One of the likely consumers of mushrooms in the forest is the  American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) which can safely eat some that are toxic to humans.

Red squirrel

The American Red Squirrel can eat mushrooms that are toxic to humans.

Speaking of “fruits,”  the Pasture Rose (Rosa carolina),  seen in early summer on southern end of the western forest path, has left a lovely fruit, known as a “rose hip.”

Rose hip pasture rose

A Pasture Rose has fruited, leaving a “rose hip.”

Bear Creek offers so much variety – the buzz and sway of the meadows, the shady walnut lane, the small ponds, the big, wild marsh and the dappled light of the woods.  A niche for every mood.  Hope you find the time to sample  some of them soon!

*Footnote:  My sources for information, as well as Oakland Township Stewardship Manager Dr. Ben VanderWeide, are as follows: Ritland, D. B., & Brower, L. P. (1991). The viceroy butterfly is not a Batesian mimic; Stokes Nature Guides:  A Guide to Bird Behavior Volumes 1-3, Allaboutbirds.org, the website of the Cornell Ornithology Lab at Cornell University; Wikipedia; http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org; Herbarium of the University of Michigan at michiganflora.net.; various Michigan Field Guides by Stan Tekiela; Butterflies of Michigan Field Guide by Jaret C. Daniels; University of Wisconsin's Bug Lady at www4.uwm.edu/fieldstation/naturalhistory/bugoftheweek/ for beetle info http://www.migrationresearch.org/mbo/id/rbgr.html for migration info, and invaluable wildflower identification from local expert, Maryann Whitman.

Get Outside! September Nature and Stewardship Events

Color is touching the edges of some tree leaves, goldenrods color entire fields yellow, and the days are getting shorter. Maybe it will even get cooler some time soon! Either way, don’t miss the beauty of September – plan now to get outside this month by participating in our nature programs or stewardship events.

Nature Programs

Check out the Nature Programs page on the Parks website for the full list of events this fall. In addition to a Morning Hike Out at Cranberry Lake Park on September 16 and the Harvest Moon Walk on September 26, you really won’t want to miss the Fall Mushrooms of Michigan program on September 13.

The Fall Mushrooms of Michigan program from 1-3 pm on September 13 will be at Lost Lake Nature Park (846 Lost Lake Trail) and led by Phil Tedeschi from the Michigan Mushroom Nature Club! This program is for adults 18+ ($5 residents, $7 non-residents). Register as soon as possible (call 248-651-7810)! Here’s the description from our fall newsletter:

Take a tour of the amazing world of mushrooms. We will learn about where they grow while inspecting numerous samples up close. Discover the many types of mushrooms in Michigan in this unique and very practical program from a mushroom expert. We'll take a walk (no picking) to search for mushrooms in the park too! There is no substitute for the excellent opportunity of doing mushroom hunting with a true mushroom expert!
What kind of mushrooms are these? Attend the class to find out!

What kind of mushrooms are these? Attend the class to find out!

Bird Walks

We visit different parks every week on Wednesday morning at 8 am. Walks last about 1 to 1.5 hours. Join us as we find new birds passing through during fall migration. We have some binoculars available if you don’t have your own. In addition to honing your bird identification skills, we’ll also give you tips on the latest apps for identifying birds and citizen science. Here’s the schedule for the rest of September:

  • September 9, Cranberry Lake Park
  • September 16, Lost Lake Nature Park
  • September 23, Draper Twin Lake Park
  • September 30, Charles Ilsley Park
Sandhill cranes on the shores of Lost Lake Nature Park.

Sandhill cranes on the shores of Lost Lake Nature Park.

Bear Creek Nature Park Invasive Shrub Control

We will be working to remove invasive shrubs like buckthorn, autumn olive, and privet from our special natural areas at Bear Creek (meet in the Snell Rd parking lot). Join us from 9 am to 12 pm. SEPTEMBER 8 WORKDAY HAS BEEN CANCELLED. We still hope to be out there on September 15, 22, and 29. Hope to see you there!

SE Michigan Summer Conservation Corps crew, Bear Creek Nature Park, July 2014.

SE Michigan Summer Conservation Corps crew, Bear Creek Nature Park, July 2014.