Oak Savannah

Oak and the Day Lilies, photo by Diane Constable

“Too old to plant trees for my own gratification, I shall do it for my posterity.”
-Thomas Jefferson

Dianna writes:

So glad someone planted THIS Black oak some 200-250 years ago–maybe about the time Mr Jefferson made the above quote!

Do not know who or what planted the acorn–but this tree lived in grasslands just about it’s whole life judging by the spread of the branches.

Local history says Indians lived in the area and would burn the grasslands on occasion to keep the oak-grass savannah in much of southern/central Michigan–may have very well been what this tree witnessed. Slow burning grassfires would not have harmed the tree.

View the photo bigger and see more in Dianna’s Oak slideshow.

PS: Read more about oak savannahs and the flora & fauna they support from the Michigan DNR.

Michigan’s Loon Boom

Common Loon, photo by Ron DeHaan

So I sez to this loon, I’m seeing more & more loons every year…

At least I imagine something to that effect in the conversation above. I’ve definitely been noticing more loons again this summer. While loons are far from out of the woods, this is a real success story for conservation efforts that you can read about from the Michigan Loon Preservation Association.

The Michigan Nature Guy (Donald Drife) wrote about the rebound of Michigan’s loon population, saying in part:

No other bird signifies the wilds of northern Michigan better than the Common Loon (Gavia immer). When I wake up while camping along the shore of a northern lake and feel its eerie cry, I am connected to a primitive time and the primitive land.

…Common Loons breed in Michigan north of Saginaw. Our current population is 500-775 nesting pairs. While this is up from the estimated 220 pairs in the early 1980s, there are still thousands of suitable lakes without a nesting pair. Loons are diving birds with their legs placed toward their tails. This gives them trouble walking on land. It is rare to see a loon on land except at its nest. Loons return in early spring and it is not uncommon to see them on a lake the day after its ice melts. How they know that the water is open remains a mystery. Nests are built near the waterline and often touch the water. Nests are little more than bare ground when the eggs are laid. Both parents incubate the eggs and add grass, sedges, reeds, and other vegetation to the nest.

View the photo from kayaking in Lake Dubonnet near Interlochen bigger, see more in Ron’s slideshow, and follow Ron DeHaan Photography on Facebook.

Egg Season for Michigan Turtles

Snapping Turtle, photo by Kevin Povenz

I came across a cool video of a snapping turtle laying her eggs – check it out below! The Michigan Turtles page from the DNR says in part:

Turtles reproduce by internal fertilization and produce shelled eggs deposited on land. Most mating takes place in spring after a brief courtship, which begins shortly after turtles emerge from their hibernation sites. Courtship displays vary greatly. Male Eastern Box turtles chase their intended mates and nip at their shell edges, or chin. Female painted turtles receive soft toenail strokes from potential mates. Male snapping turtles may fight fierce battles to drive rivals away from a choice breeding territory.

Between late May and early July, a female turtle will leave the water and seek a sunny spot with little or no vegetation and moist, but not saturated, sand or soil. She digs a shallow nest cavity with her hind feet and deposits her clutch of eggs. Depending on species, the eggs may be round or oval and have either hard or flexible shells. The nest is then refilled by the female with excavated materials, without ever having seen the eggs and is abandoned to its fate. Many (probably most) turtle eggs are eaten by raccoons or other predators within a few days of being laid. Those that survive will hatch in two to three months. In most cases, the young head immediately for cover in shallow water (aquatic species) or leaf litter (box turtles). Young painted turtles have the ability to withstand partial freezing and often remain in the nest over winter, emerging in spring.

In most turtle species, gender is determined by the temperature of the egg during a critical part of incubation. In general, male turtles tend to hatch from cooler eggs, and females hatch from warmer eggs. Once hatched, baby turtles can grow quickly for the first few years, with growth slowing as they near adulthood.

Turtles are among the longest living animals on earth. Several species of turtles can live for several decades. With this longevity also comes a negative side. It takes several years for turtles to sexually mature (4 to 10 years for a Painted turtle, 14 to 20 years for a Blanding’s or Wood turtle, and 15 years for a Snapping turtle). Non breeding turtles are often the targets of predators, automobiles, and pet seekers. In addition, the longer life span allows turtles to build up environmental toxins in their tissues. These toxins can have serious affects on a turtle’s health and breeding ability.

About this photo from 2014 Kevin writes: While out on our hunt for Bald Eagles on Sunday we came across 5 different female snapping turtles laying their eggs. This one was on the bank of the Grand River that was probably 10 feet above the river.

View it bigger and see more in his Animals slideshow.

Fern Shadow

Fern Shadow, photo by Jay

Jay writes: While cutting my winter firewood I noticed this fern shadow cast on one of the cuts. So many beautiful things to see.

Indeed! View the photo background bigilicious, see more in his slideshow, and have a wonder-filled weekend!

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)

Killdeer, photo by Jeff Dehmel

All About Birds says that the Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) is shorebird you can see without going to the beach:

These tawny birds run across the ground in spurts, stopping with a jolt every so often to check their progress, or to see if they’ve startled up any insect prey. Their voice, a far-carrying, excited kill-deer, is a common sound even after dark, often given in flight as the bird circles overhead on slender wings.

Killdeer get their name from the shrill, wailing kill-deer call they give so often. Eighteenth-century naturalists also noticed how noisy Killdeer are, giving them names such as the Chattering Plover and the Noisy Plover.

The Killdeer’s broken-wing act leads predators away from a nest, but doesn’t keep cows or horses from stepping on eggs. To guard against large hoofed animals, the Killdeer uses a quite different display, fluffing itself up, displaying its tail over its head, and running at the beast to attempt to make it change its path.

The male and female of a mated pair pick out a nesting site through a ritual known as a scrape ceremony. The male lowers his breast to the ground and scrapes a shallow depression with his feet. The female then approaches, head lowered, and takes his place. The male then stands with body tilted slightly forward, tail raised and spread, calling rapidly. Mating often follows.

View the photo background big and see more springtime goodness in Jeff’s slideshow.

More Michigan birds and more summer wallpaper on Michigan in Pictures!

Know Your Michigan Turtles: Common Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus)

Common Musk Turtle, photo by Nick Scobel

Happy World Turtle Day everyone!

World Turtle Day (May 23rd) was started in 2000 by American Tortoise Rescue to bring awareness about dangers to turtles worldwide. It’s also the perfect day to add the 10th and final turtle to one of the most popular posts on Michigan in Pictures, Know Your Michigan Turtles!

The UM Animal Diversity Web entry for the common musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus), a relatively small turtle with an average length of about 3 to 5 inches, says in part:

The habitat of the common musk turtle includes any kind of permanent body of water, like shallow streams, ponds, rivers, or clear water lakes, and it is rare to find the turtle elsewhere. While in the water, this musk turtle stays mainly in shallow areas. Sometimes it can be found basking on nearby fallen tree trunks or in the branches of trees overhanging the water

…The most prominent behavior of the common musk turtle is its defensive tactic. When disturbed, this turtle will quickly release a foul-smelling liquid from its musk glands. This kind of defense earned the musk turtle the nickname of “stinkpot”. Also, the male is particularly aggressive and will not think twice about biting. Another unique behavior the nocturnal common musk turtle exhibits while foraging is that they walk on the bottom of the stream or pond instead of swimming like other turtles.

Sternotherus oderatus is somewhat of a food generalist, as it is known to eat small amounts of plants, mollusks, small fish, insects, and even carrion. Foraging on the muddy bottom of streams or ponds is the chief way of collecting food.

Nick runs the very useful Herping Michigan Blog where you can find lots more of his excellent photos of Michigan’s reptiles and amphibians along with informative writeups.  View the photo bigger and see more of Nick’s awesome turtle photos on Flickr.

Get the complete list of all 10 turtles native to Michigan right here!

Fox Kit Friday

Fox Kit, photo by David Marvin

Spring is also baby animal season in Michigan, so here’s a little about baby foxes and what to do if you encounter one from Friends of Wildlife in Ann Arbor:

There are two species of fox in Michigan, the Red and the Gray. The Red prefer meadow areas and the Gray favor woods.

As with most wildlife, the kits are born in early spring. The vixen (female fox) chooses a hollow log, an empty woodchuck hole or a roadside culvert for the nursery. This nest site provides her young protection from predators, especially coyotes. The male fox helps with the rearing by bringing the vixen food while she nurses their young and keeps the kits warm. Then later in the kits development both parents teach them how to forage for food.

The foxes diet consists mainly of small rodents, moles and bugs. The benefits that foxes afford farmland, orchards and the general public is their consumption of these invasive pests. It is an absolute miss conception that fox eat cats, dogs or small children.They are very curious creatures but avoid contact with domestic animals and humans.

When fox kits are first born, their eyes and ears are closed, they remain secluded in their den with their mother. As they develop, at about one month, they start venturing out to play, attacking twigs, leaves and their siblings, but never far from the protection of the den.

If you do find an infant fox, please contact them for further instructions and see their website for information about other species!

View the photo background bigtacular and see more including some shots of these kiddos walking around in David’s slideshow.

PS: David has a video too. He writes: “Please note that the video was taken from quiet a distance away with a high power lens so as to avoid as much human contact with the kits.”