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Entries in hiking (44)


Hiking Tawas Point

If cool, wet weather isn't great for beach going or campfires, it does not ring the same death knell for hiking. In fact, it is much easier to be happy and protected from poison ivy, biting flies, and ticks when it is cold enough to warrant the donning of long clothing and multiple layers.

We hiked every day on our camping trip, although some of those hikes might more accurately be called brisk walks. We hiked between rains on our first night, in a brilliant morning sun on our first morning, and in a varying degree of cloud cover every other time.

Tawas Point State Park is a fairly small peninsula, and seemingly shrinking. The park is a little over a mile long, and about a quarter as wide, so even though the trail was not well maintained, and parts of it seemed to be gone altogether, getting lost was neither a problem nor an option. Still, the park is teeming with relatively tame wildlife. There were so many frogs—leopard frogs, to be exact—that walking near any shore caused the ground erupt in leaping. The deer prints were equally plentiful, but it took us until our final day to actually spy a handful of deer. It was also on our last night that we met our first skunk—a very cute baby that was checking out our neighbor's site. Birds were plentiful, of course, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that we'd caught the front end of the fall warbler migration.

leopard frog

leopard frog

common garter snake

common whitetail

greater egret

great blue heron

american toad

cooper's hawk

white-tailed deer

eastern chipmunk

black-throated green warbler (fall plumage)

yellow-rumped warbler (fall plumage)

cape may warbler (fall plumage)


County Parks Tour (Manchester area)

Another installment on our county parks tour. When we printed out our map of the county with the parks marked for easy locating, Calvin and I decided that we would cluster some of the parks together to cut down on the amount of driving. Some of those cluster spots are in the southwest corner of the county, and today we visited two parks that make up one of them: Clark and Avis Spike Preserve and Sharon Shorthills Preserve. The Sharon Shorthills are a geologic phenomenon left behind by glacial activity in our area. They are characterised by long, rolling hills interspersed with broad valleys. The area is in stark contrast to the rest of southeast Michigan, which is fairly flat.

The two parks we visited today illustrate the best of the area for sure. Clark and Avis Spark Preserve is situated in one of the areas valleys. It is a fairly open and flat wetland between farm fields. Vague paths are mowed, marking out less than a mile of trail between the tall grasses. It was a peaceful visit for us. Early in the morning the sun was warming and the dew and mist clung to everything, creating a rather sureal look. We saw several interesting insects, beautiful wildflowers, and two bird species that were completely new to us, and we heard the Boblink again, although we were not able to spot the singer.

After CASP, we drove around the corner to our next stop at Sharon Shorthills Preserve. This park is situated atop and between rises in the hills, giving it the greatest elevation variation of all our county parks. It has only about a one mile trail, but the habit changes from field to wetland and pine forest to deciduous forest throughout. Our order of visits just happened that way, but in hindsight it would have been a great plan anyhow, since it was nice to be in the mostly wooded and shady perserve as the morning warmed up. This second stop also provided great wildflower and insect viewing, and we saw one bird species entirely new to us here as well. We also got to hear and see another wood thrush, and our first American Toad of the season.

Clark and Avis Spike Preserve

Pied-billed Grebe (seen not in the park, but in a pond by the side of the road on the way)

Cedar Waxwing

Willow Flycatcher (a first sighting for us)

Willow Flycatcher

Getting a good shot of some Common Valerian

Common Valerian, Photo by Calvin

Baltimore Checkerspot Caterpillar

Photo by Calvin

Eastern Meadowlarks (Identifiable by the yellow with black necklace: a first ever sighting for us, so worth the poor picture)

Golden-backed Snipe Flies, photo by Calvin

Yellow Coreopsis

Photo by Calvin

Pearl Crescent Butterflies

Spotted Lady Beetle

ID uncertain. Looks like a Little Glassywing Butterfly, but seemed larger and has a white spot under the wing.

Red Admiral Butterfly

Yellow Salsify

Unidentified. This was a flowering bush, not a wildflower.

Eastern Wood-pewee (identified mostly by his call)

Acadian Flycatcher (Identified using markings and call)

American Toad


Horsetail with its fertile cone

Hoary Alyssum


County Parks Tour (Fox Science Preserve)

It has been warm but dark and stormy around here as of late. We've visited a couple of our favorite county parks, sites that we were already familiar with, to fill out the site records for our summer tour project, but only today did we finally visit another park that was completely new to us. Fox Science Preserve is county park land on the site of an old gravel pit. The pit was used to mine gravel for the creation of I94 over fifty years ago, then the family that owned the land closed it to mining and gave the space over to the park system.

The park is starkly different from those that we usually visit. Having been a gravel pit, it is a low, open valley surrounded by wooded hills. In my mind, the terrain is reminiscent of the southwest—a vast rocky landscape dotted with scrubby bushes—only it also has low lying wet areas. Because it was mined for gravel, the area boasts large rock that were uncovered, and a unique look at the geological underlayer, and the park system has used this to its benefit. Instead of the usual meandering hiking trails intended to keep visitors in specific areas, the entire floor of the valley seems open to exploration, and signs describing and explaining the topography and its geologic significance are located throughout. Apparently it is commonly used by local schools for field trips, although I don't remember having ever been here before myself.

We had a really great morning together here. It was cool and overcast when we started out, but sunny and warming as we left. Though the park trails only measure about .8 miles, we spent over two hours exploring everything there was to see, and looking closely for bird and animal sightings. We saw over thirty species of bird, including the Belted Kingfisher and the Northern Flicker, a wide variety of insects, and evidence of mammals, as well: a good haul for such a small area! I was surprised by how much we enjoyed the park, and because it is so close to home, I imagine we'll be back to enjoy walks together when we are short on time but longing for a little quiet space in nature.

Spider web in deer track

Igneous rock

Metamorphic rock

Sedimentary rock

Field Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Eastern Bluebird, female

Golden-backed Snipe Fly

Red-winged Blackbirds, female


This week's favorite hiking moments

It was a rainy week, and a little chilly again, too, but we had some good birding opportunities anyhow, like watching the swallows play over the lake at Dolph. We captured four different species on our camera card (can't say film anymore, eh?) to positively ID at home; the tree and barn swallows are easy to ID in the field, but the other two we weren't sure about. On another walk through the same park, we got within three yards or so of a Great Blue Heron fishing in the pond area. We also saw a bit of the fuzzier side of nature this week.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow (brown above with brown shading below)

Bank Swallow (brown above, white below with a brown ring, or "nacklace", around the neck)

Barn Swallow (blue above, peach/brown chest and chin, white belly)

Tree Swallow (blue above, white below)

Eastern Kingbird (not a Swallow, but he looks like he's wearing a funny hat here)

Eastern Cottontail

Great Blue Heron

American Redstart, female

Snapping Turtle (in the parking lot)

Robin, after a bath


County Parks Tour (part 1)

With the advent of real spring weather comes a decline in average birding success rates. What I mean by that, of course, is that gray, rainy days and thickly leaved trees make it hard to see the birds, and almost impossible to get pictures. On the other hand, though, hiking itself is more enjoyable in a greener environment, and the wild flowers are really starting to spring open everywhere.

Last year we made a goal for ourselves to hike every single county park and preserve in Washtenaw over the course of the summer. It's a big undertaking, with over thirty sites to visit, and with so many travel plans last year we never quite reached that goal. So this year we're going to try again. We've got a map and a checklist and we're methodically crossing them off, one park at a time. If we can visit at least two parks a week, we should be good to go, and we're off to a good start.

At each park we make a record of the date, time, and duration of the visit, and the weather conditions; we note the size of the park, and describe its basic terrain and type of ecosystem or habitat; finally, we make note of all the species we see there (that we can positively identify). This week we visited two parks in the Northeast corner of the county. The day of our visit was cold and dark, but at least it was dry, and we had a good time. We spotted a variety of birds, including a turkey that was trying to hide in the grass, and identified evidence of a variety of nocturnal or crepuscular mammals. We also added wildflowers and trees to our species lists.

Tom A. Freeman Preserve

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, female

Eastern Wood-pewee

Wild Turkey, female

Indigo Bunting

Raymond F. Goodrich Preserve

House Wren

Gray Catbird

We also made a foray into a new township preserve in our area. The trails are not yet well developed, but it's a beautiful hidden spot with lots of wet areas and islands to explore. The best part of the hike, aside from the fact that we got to do it as a whole family, was our encounter with a Wood Thrush. I've wanted to see one for as long as I can remember. They have a beautiful, almost haunting call that sounds a little like water, and it echoes through the woods even while the vocalist remains well hidden, usually on the forest floor. On this hike, though, we could hear that he was close. To verify that I had identified the call right, I got out my phone and played it on my Audubon app. Not only was it the right call, but our friend in the woods answered. We had a short conversation after that, with him getting a little closer every time I played his tune and he'd answered. Finally he hopped out of the woods and onto a branch. He only stayed long enough to figure out he'd been duped and shoot me a disapproving glance, but that was just enough time for me to get the good look we'd been waiting for, and for me to snap a quick (and thus blurry) photo to share.

Wood Thrush

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