July 1 – Finding Nature in the City

marie's walk 2017

It was a very nice and sunny day on the bike path in Montague, and very pleasant in the shade.  About 35 walkers, including children, decided to see what nature they could find in the city, with the help of local plant enthusiast Marie Johnson, and her sister, Chris.

Marie started off by expressing her views on observing nature. “This bike trail is one of Michigan’s “Rails-to-Trails” and Montague is fortunate to have this right in town,” she told us.  “Wilderness areas are nice to visit, but they require effort to get there. “Nature is as close as your front door! Observing nature is rewarding, as the rhythm of the seasons become familiar and comforting.”  She also made sure to point out upcoming sesquicentennial events planned for the city of Montague’s 150th birthday celebration.

Marie told us of her love of plants, and then we were all off on the path.  Well, most of the time anyway!  There were quite a few bicyclists, so we had to move off onto the grass, sometimes very quickly!

We found that there were many plants along what first appeared to be a rather uninteresting path.  We saw sweetfern.




monarch on milkweed bike path walk 2017 jg

Milkweed and a monarch!

There was lots of milkweed along the path. We were excited when one of our walkers spotted a monarch on one!

There was bladder campion, mullein, and a small pink flower, Deptford Pink, one of Marie’s favorites.

Deptford pink

Deptford Pink

After a while, we stopped in the shade and discussed the difference between tree-of-heaven and black walnut trees.  The key is the bark.  And, tree-of-heaven has a very unheavenly scent!


Tree-of-heaven vs. black walnut

And along that line of thought, we also saw skunk cabbage.

On the wetland board walk, we looked out at the water and saw very green duckweed, some phragmites, and surprisingly, no purple loosestrife!  In some areas in West Michigan, Eurasian beetles have been released to help control purple loosestrife.



We turned around and walked back slowly, enjoying the sun and shade.  Marie told us to be sure to take the path again, like she does, because things change constantly.

marie's walk heading back.jpg

Heading back!

Thanks to Jerry Grady for the photos in this blog!  See more at Watershed Wildlife!

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June 3 – A Walk in Paradise

nw paradise valley 1

Entering Paradise Valley

About twenty of us parked along the side of a quiet country road and walked down into Paradise Valley in the Owasippe Scout Reservation, a fantastical fern land, in the center of an old growth forest.

We were quickly filled with excitement at finding plants that looked like nothing special at first, but turned out to be truly fascinating seen through the eyes of someone like our exuberant guide, Connie Crancer.  She punctuated our walk with shouts of “Yes! Wow! Look here!”  We followed her lead to see plants right and left and along the trail and off.  Everything about the plants was enthralling – their parts, their function, and their presence –and we were quickly caught up in the thrill of discovery!

cinnamon ferns paradise valley jgfairy fern jg

Connie’s main goal was to show us the diversity of ferns in this small, but very unique valley on the Owasippe Scout Reservation.  We saw bracken, sensitive, maidenhair, royal, ostrich, evergreen woodfern, and the small oak fern.

And there were many other intriguing plants.  Star flower, spotted touch-me-not, squaw root, native honeysuckle, orange impatiens, buttercup, columbine, sedges, horsetail, cucumber root, May apples, Bishop’s cap plant, wild watercress, and more.

watercress jg


Some of us got a bit sidetracked at one point along the trail, puzzling over why the leaves on a tree looked so out of place until we realized it was poison ivy with huge leaves branching up and out along a tree. It looked very much like a snake waiting to strike at unsuspecting hikers!  Connie handed out a list of 31 species. We located all of them, along with a few other species to add to the Paradise Valley list.

study plants paradise valley jgConnie told us the way she identifies plants. It isn’t always easy.  :Usually a botanist will first look at the flower(s),” she says, “but when plants are not flowering, the leaves, habit and habitat will often clue you to the genus if not the species. For example, a young poison ivy plant has very nearly identical leaves with apparent side thumbs out like a box elder seedling, but the box elder will have opposite branching, while poison ivy has alternate branching.”

Connie taught us that plants fall on a wetness scale of -5, to 5, with zero being the ability of a plant to be in wet or dry areas.  Negative 5 is wet and 5 is dry or upland.  “This is useful for deciding what to plant in gardens, but often native plants are more adaptable to our gardens than what their wetness coefficient may indicate,” she says.

many ferns paradise valley jgParadise Valley was lush and green and still, with small, rippling streams winding their way throughout.   And then suddenly there was a refreshing vista of cool water — Cleveland Creek — with a wobbly bridge spanning its width. That was the far boundary of our walk.  We turned around and found our way back to the country road, with Connie stopping here and there to identify plants at the request of hikers reluctant to let their expert guide leave.  And then the valley was quiet again.

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August 2016, “Take Your Best Nature Walk Photo Ever” Photo Contest

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Well, guide Patricia Pennell had a great idea to accompany our August walk and nature walks tips session – a photo contest for participants! We had four submissions: two from Richard Jakus and two from Sarah Leybourne.  Since our informal … Continue reading

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July 2, Discovering Lost Lake

july 2016 lost lake group

Our group – almost 90 attendees!

On this walk, we had an all-time record high number of attendees in all ten years of our nature walk program –  almost 90 people!  It was another warm and beautiful day, a lovely Michigan summer holiday weekend.

April Scholtz

April Scholtz

Our guide was April Scholtz, of the Land Conservancy of West Michigan. She had been instrumental in acquiring Lost Lake in 2008 to add to Muskegon State Park, and knew it well.  Jim Keating also was present, on behalf of his late wife, Claire, whose family had worked with the Land Conservancy to sell the 68-acre property to the State.  More than 350 people and organizations contributed funds for the purchase, including the Alcoa Foundation, which awarded $50,000 to the effort.

We took a trail to the property and walked around Lost Lake.  Fortunately, our very large group made it safely across busy Memorial Drive, right as we started our hike.  Thanks to the volunteers who helped to stop traffic and ensure our successful crossing!  It was a slight challenge to have so many on our walk, and at times it was single file on the trail and a little slow.  But kudos go to our group, whose members were courteous, and helpful – that made it work just fine!

nature walk 2016 lost lake view tc

Beautiful Lost Lake

The view of Lost Lake as you come the trail is always impressive.  You’ll be walking through woods and then, right there, is a magically serene lake surrounded by tall trees, low bushes, and a variety of interesting plant life.  Fragrant lily dots the lake and adds color to the summer greenery.   Described by local area folks as a “cranberry bog,” April informed us that Lost Lake is a mix of three different ecosystem types – a coastal plain, bog, and emergent marsh.

A coastal plain marsh is a shallow wetland with fluctuating water levels, dominated by grasses, sedges and rushes.  The name of this natural community comes from the fact that a number of these plant species are more commonly found along the Atlantic coast.

A bog is a type of wetland dominated by sphagnum moss, where peat accumulates and contributes to the acidic nature of the water.  Plants that live on a bog mat must compensate for the relatively dry, nutrient-poor conditions, and have special adaptations that include insectivory (eating of insects), which provides the plant with additional nitrogen and nutrients (sundews, pitcher plant, bladderwort), and thick, waxy, or hairy leaves, which helps the plant retain water (leatherleaf, cranberry).

An emergent marsh is a wetland with shallow water situated on the shore of a lake or stream, with herbs and grasses on the edges, and floating plants.

Lost Lake is surrounded by a hemlock woods. April told us that unfortunately, hemlocks are under attack by the hemlock wooly adelgid.  The tiny sap-sucking pest, native to Asia,can kill a tree in several years and likely came from nursery and landscape suppliers. The most recent outbreak is in Muskegon, Ottawa and Allegan counties.



The first signs that a hemlock is infested are small, woolly growths on stems at the base of needles, usually high up in the tree. Since hemlocks grow so slow, it will take many years to replace them.  Sales of hemlocks from the East Coast, where the adelgid was first found, have been banned to help to halt the infestation and the loss of these beautiful trees.


Other plant life we saw included:







cinnamon fern

Cinnamon fern





michigan winterberry michwildflowersdotcom

Michigan winterberry





bladderwort tc at july 2016


Jerry Grady

Pogonia, Jerry Grady

nature walk 2016 sundews jg

Sundews, Jerry Grady







Halfway around, we were able to see the new handicap accessible outlook on the north side that connects to the Winter Sports Complex by trails.

Near the end of our walk, April suggested coming back to Lost Lake in different seasons, to more fully appreciate its beauty and uniqueness.  I agree, and imagine all our hikers on that day would agree as well! See more nature walk photos at Jerry Grady’s site, WatershedWildlife.Com.

july 2016 tall pic of group

In the woods

nature walk july 2016 tc people taking photos

Taking photos

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June 4, Owasippe Bog Hike

This gallery contains 10 photos.

A bog is a bog until it is proven to be a prairie fen.  That is what happened on our walk at the Owasippe Scout Reservation’s Camp Reneker with horticulturist Connie Crancer. The day was without compare.  Warm, but not … Continue reading

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October 3, Sand Protection and Ecology

With April Schultz

With April Schultz

Any time I get a chance to be in dunes and talk about them, I look forward to it! I was very glad to be the guide for this hike, in White River Township’s Dune Sanctuary, to focus on the area’s environmental quality, and the effort to raise funds to purchase a final parcel, which will permanently protect the preserve from an access road that has been proposed to access the parcel and develop it.

We had a hardy group of attendees, as the day was quite cool and windy, especially close to Lake Michigan.  I was happy to have two trustees from the White River Township Board, Laura Anderson and Deb Harris.  Patti Sargent and Dan Parker, who led a committee that helped to raise funds for the effort were also on hand, in addition to April Schultz, from the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, which is leading the preserve fundraising campaign.

Shelter Tree Photo credit: Bernie Rolnicki

Shelter Tree
Photo credit: Bernie Rolnicki

We walked into the preserve to the “shelter tree,” which provided us some protection from the wind and cold, and learned how the uniquely shaped tree might have been made that way by Native Americans. The thought is that the tree’s branches were pinned down when they were when young and supple, which eventually provided a structure on which to hang blankets or other coverings, creating a shelter for area Native Americans.

We talked about the fundraising efforts and the decades-long effort aimed at protecting the township’s dune area.  Efforts to purchase the shoreline area by local leaders date back to the 1940s, according to newspaper articles provided to the fundraising effort by one of the sanctuary’s neighbors, Fred Webber.  Unfortunately, that early effort was not successful.  It was not until the late 1980s, that the preserve was purchased by White River Township with a grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, plus local match funds.  The township was not able to purchase one lot, as its price was too high for the funds available.  This lot is now owned by Bro G Land Co.

dune preserve jerry grady

Township dune preserve Photo credit: Jerry Grady

Three attempts were made to develop the property. Each time the township and community swung into action, and fought off construction of a road through the preserve. One attempt was made by the developer to access the parcel from the south.  It was not successful.  In 2008, the township tried once again to purchase the property with Trust Fund dollars, but the asking price was too high – about $850,000.

critical dune map (3)In 2012, groups such as the Michigan Association of Realtors and the Michigan Homebuilders Association persuaded state lawmakers to amend Michigan’s critical dune act, in particular, making it easier for developers to construct driveways in critical dunes.  (The township preserve is in a “critical dune” area, 70,000 acres of the total dune acreage in Michigan of 225,000 acres. Development in critical dunes is regulated by a 1989 law.)

In 2013, the Bro G Land Co. applied for a permit for a residence, garage, and access road through the preserve, which they termed a driveway in their application.  The township, a local citizens group, and many in the community opposed the application and in May, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) denied the application, citing among other things:

  • The access road was not a driveway per definitions in the statute.
  • Lack of permission from the township to cross the property.
  • The dune slopes the road would cross were too steep for development and would require a variance under the law, which had not been applied for by the developer.
  • The road would significantly damage the ecology of the dunes preserve and harm the
    Photo credit: Jerry Grady

    Photo credit: Jerry Grady

    public interest in the dunes preserve. (The road would have damaged the “open dune system” of the preserve, which supports biologically distinctive flora and fauna. This type of ecological system is ranked “vulnerable” by the DEQ.)

Some thought that the DEQ’s emphatic denial would be the end of the saga, but not so.  In 2014, the developers sued the township, but fortunately, a subsequent court settlement is allowing the township to finally purchase the parcel.  The total cost is $970,000. The township has applied to the Trust Fund, and local match funds of over $500,000 have been raised to date, but donations are still needed.

About Lake Michigan Dunes

I explained how the preserve is part of an extensive duneland ecosystem along Lake Michigan and Lake Superior in Michigan – 225,000 acres. It is the largest collection of dunes on a freshwater resource in the world.  There are dunes all over the world and small stretches in other Great Lakes states, but ours are definitely world class – for their expanse, environmental settings, proximity to Lake Michigan, unique species, and beauty and history! There are numerous stories of our connection to the shoreline dunes in our local histories. The loss of Pigeon Hill, once one of the tallest dunes on the lakeshore, is one such unfortunate story.

Pigeon Hill, formerly on the south side of the Muskegon Channel

Pigeon Hill, formerly on the south side of the Muskegon Channel

Lake Michigan’s dunes were formed as a result of the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago. They have distinct natural settings – the beach, the foredunes, interdunal wetlands or troughs, and barrier dunes.

Henry Chandler Cowles

Henry Chandler Cowles

They are the birthplace of ecology. In the late 1800s, Professor Henry Chandler Cowles of the University of Chicago explored in the Indiana dunes and came up with the concept of succession – where one natural setting laid the foundation for the next. This led to the creation of the field of ecology.  The dunes are the home of some unique plant and animal species that live only in Great Lakes dunes, such as Pitcher’s thistle, Houghton’s goldenrod, and Lake Huron tansy.

Dune laws in Michigan

Dune sand has been used for industrial purposes since the early 1900s, for making glass, and especially in foundries, to make engines for the rapidly expanding automotive industry. Dunes were not generally valued as ecologically and aesthetically important natural features as they are these days.

In Michigan, a law regulating sand dune mining was enacted in 1976, requiring permits and reclamation of mined areas.  In 1989, the legislative focus turned to development from increased home building on the lakeshore and fragmentation of the dune system.  The regulations were placed on critical dunes, a 70,000 acre subset of the total acreage, both public and private properties.  They include the most fragile and sensitive dune areas.  The intent of the law was not to stop development, but instead to situate construction on the least harmful area on a parcel, and to encourage protective measures, during and after building.  It was based on avoiding steep slopes, and has been very challenging to regulate.  Many critical dune property owners dislike the law, and subsequent changes to the law have downgraded the protective measures in the law.  A stronger public constituency for dunes protection, and more knowledgeable state legislators could help change this direction.

Thanks to all who donated at the walk!  Check out the Land Conservancy of West Michigan’s website for updates, and to make additional contributions. See more nature walk photos at Jerry Grady’s WatershedWildlife site. Make sure to view page three of the October walk photos!

Photo credit: Jerry Grady

Photo credit: Jerry Grady

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September 5, What Makes a Forest Work

Guide Dave Wilson

Guide Dave Wilson

I don’t think anybody who participated in this walk will ever look at a forest in the same way again.  Dave Wilson, a certified forester, who was our guide at Clear Springs Nature Preserve, encouraged us to ask questions as we walked, such as:  Why is the forest like this right here? Why is this tree or plant here?  He told us there are many factors that determine what a forest will be like:  soil, light, insects, wind, disease, natural distribution (what takes seed), and human distribution (what is planted).  One factor we can control is light. Dave directed us to look at the plants in the forest – he said that tells what the soil is like.  Different soils means different plants.

Straight red pines. Roger Scharmer found us! Photo caption: Jerry Grady

Straight red pines. Roger Scharmer found us!
Photo caption: Jerry Grady

Clear Springs Nature Preserve was a perfect place to explore due to its unique history.  In the 1930s, the area was planted with straight rows of red pine by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the CCC. This was during the Great Depression and a way to provide jobs for people, but also to address issues, such as in this case – serious erosion of top soil from farming.  Not only do red pines tolerate very dry soils, their needles and other organic materials from the trees, once on the ground, help to hold nutrients in.  The major CCC project in Michigan was tree planting – to build the soil back.

Dave explained why the tall straight red pine trees had no branches. He told us that red pines need full sunlight and as the tree canopy closes and reduces sunlight, the lower branches die.  White pine like partial shade – they grow well beneath other trees, not full sunlight.  Any straight tall white pines we see must have grown up in partial shade.

clear springs walk beginning jerry grady

A nice size crowd! Photo credit: Jerry Grady

Dave talked about the positive and negative aspects of logging, remarking that it was certainly shortsighted and irresponsible in the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. The Michigan forest was decimated, and the debris left behind, or “slash,” as it was called, contributed to wildfires across the state. Fortunately that was not the end of the story as the natural process of succession began after all this disturbance.  Because enough light was available after logging, oak trees, which require full sunlight, began to grow. Currently red pine is dominant in this section of Clear Springs, but there are oaks and cherry trees waiting for their chance – they have the ability to wait. In about 50 years, the red pine will be gone.  The full cycle will bring about a white pine forest in the next hundred years.

Tree hugger!

Tree hugger!

Most logging today is vastly different, according to Dave.  It can be a positive impact on the forest, for example, removing trees in a mature hardwood forest stand to give space to desired trees.  Clearcutting aspen provides good habitat for wildlife as new trees grow in the next year. There is bad logging – when the only goal is for the maximum economic return.  Dave says that logging has a negative image with people because we have strong emotional connections to trees.  One of our attendees, promptly demonstrated this!

Dave talked about a variety of different trees.  He told us that hemlocks were conifers, not pines.  They have needle-like leaves, with two white lines under the needle. They are shade tolerant and used often in landscaping.  Apparently deer love them!  He had us listen for aspen trees in the preserve – they have flat petioles, so when the wind blows, the leaves rustle.  Dave noted an area of red pine mortality – and said there is usually a progression of forces that will weaken a forest, allowing something to kill it. He talked about ash and the emerald ash borer and noted that most ash trees they will likely be gone in the next decade.  He also mentioned the loss of chestnut, and American elm trees, and noted another disease underway – oak wilt – which plugs up a tree’s vascular system, so nutrients and water can’t travel up the tree and it wilts.  Fortunately this disease is not as aggressive as others and although it is a serious threat to oak trees, it is unlikely to eliminate the oak forests of Michigan.

I happened to be in a forested area about a week after our walk.  I usually just walk my dogs and enjoy being outside, but this time I really looked around at the trees and wondered what the area had looked like years ago and what influences there had been on this particular plot of land.  Next time out, I will be wondering again and looking more closely.  Forests are fascinating!

Thank  you, Dave, for your help with this blog!

Going into the tunner! Photo credit: Bill Patterson

Going into the tunnel! Photo credit: Bill Patterson

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August 1, More Than an Arboretum:  A Dunal Forest Ecology—Part 2

Learning about trees

As I expected, our guide, Doug Paprocki, did not disappoint, and we had another very interesting and educational hike in his duneland forest.  Again this year, Doug set up educational stations throughout his planned route.

Last year, we had nearly 60 participants. This year there was a more manageable-sized group of about 15, which allowed for much greater hiker participation.

First, Doug asked us to identify trees along the beginning of our walk, leading us to discover that this dunal forest area is a northern hardwood forest community. The presence of evergreens, as well (eastern hemlocks and white pines), suggests it is a transition community between a boreal forest type to the north and a maple-oak forest type to the south.

As we progressed through Doug’s stations, we learned many things:

wood chip with age tags doug'sCounting annual tree rings on slabs taken from downed forest trees have provided a picture of the ages of various tree species. For example, some white ashes are over 100 years old. And there are northern red oak trees more than 150 years old.

There are slow growing hemlock trees that have been on the site since American Revolution times.

Even though the forest is in the dunes, the floor is not all sand.  Doug dug down into the ground about a foot to show us the organic materials that accumulated since the dune formed here, beginning probably some 3000 years ago. digging dougs

hornbeam leaves

Hornbeam leaves

We saw hornbeam trees. I had never heard of this species, which are “understory” trees usually growing under larger trees and are much shorter, reaching approximately 30 feet high when mature.

We learned that black cherry trees here are a pioneer species, which indicates the area was more open at one time. Pioneer species are the first to populate ecosystems that have been disrupted or damaged. Over time, other species, not as hardy as pioneer species begin to be established.  The leaves and branches of black cherry trees are poisonous to deer.

beech scale dougs

Beech scale

small white shelf fungi doug'sSome shelf bracket fungi feed on living material, in this case, a beech tree. Such fungi are parasitic and can weaken or kill a tree.  Doug told us that beech scale insects, which leave a white coating on beeches, were first detected in trees here about a decade ago.  The insects boring into the bark leave openings that can allow a damaging fungus to enter.

reddish fungi doug's forestReddish beech russula fungi tap into beech tree roots, providing water and nutrients to the tree, and in return receiving carbohydrates from the tree, a symbiotic relationship.

We saw several moss species, which are the most primitive of plants; they do not have roots or a circulatory system, but receive their moisture and nutrients directly from the air. They are a connector species in the evolution of aquatic to terrestrial plants.

We noted a moccasin orchid, found by Doug’s friend, Maryellen, and Connie Crancer on a previous hike. Orchid seeds are extremely tiny, and, for germination, must be in dark soil and then come into contact with a specific fungus which penetrates the seed. The young plant develops by feeding on the fungus.

Who knew? We learned there is a white rot and a brown rot that occurs in dead wood, the decay caused by different fungus species.

Regular hike attendee and plant expert, Marie Johnson, pointed out why some of the oak leaves are so large. There are “sun leaves,” which are smaller, and “shade leaves,” which are larger. Leaves that end up in the sun are generally smaller– they are called “sun leaves.”  They have different levels of evaporation.  Sun leaves are closer to the top of the trees and shade leaves are closer to the bottom.

Size does not necessarily correlate with age in the tree family. Doug noted how a tall white pine was bigger than many other trees in the area, but younger.

Indian pipe Photo credit: Doug Paprocki

Indian pipe
Photo credit: Doug Paprocki

We were excited to see Indian pipe, a ghostly looking plant, which has no chlorophyll–and must depend upon fungi for its nutrients.

We saw a black fungus called a clinker fungus. This strange looking fungus is also called a Chaga mushroom, and is said by some to have medicinal benefits.

Coming upon a number of white pine charred stumps, Doug talked about some of the history of the property and how, in the late 1880s thru the1890s, timber was cut from this duneland. In 1892, a Huston family began buying the property, and, shortly thereafter, they burned and seeded some flat acreage adjacent to the dunes we were in. Doug noted that old Montague Observer news stories told of area drought and many fires in the 1890s and that the charred stumps were likely from a fire that accidentally moved into this dune area from the lowland fire clearing.

down rattlesnake plantain

Downy rattlesnake plantain

Another orchid! One of the hikers, Lorraine, found an orchid species that Doug had not seen before on the property—the downy rattlesnake plantain!

No cinnamon rolls were identified or consumed during this hike, but we did see a pretty cinnamon-colored fungus.

doug's scat box 1The scat box was a big one this year. Like last year, Doug had a large number of scat samples collected from the forest, including that of bobcat, skunk, and river otter.

Doug concluded the hike with commentary on the age and type of the forest on his property, noting it is as close to a pre-settlement forest as can be found.  Many trees are from 80 to 180 years old — a “century forest.” Some trees are over 200 years old.  As the forest community, which is protected by a conservation easement, continues maturing in the half-century ahead, it will become an “old growth forest.”

And finally, because I am sure that inquiring minds do want to know: we noted a whopping 26 fungus species on the walk!  This helps illustrate that a forest is much more than trees—and how important other organisms are to its functioning.

doug kneeling with wood slice big smile

*Thanks to Doug for his help with this blog!

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July 11, Celebrating Shoreline Native Plants

Getting started! Photo credit: Jerry Grady

Getting started! Credit: Jerry Grady

We had a very warm and sunny morning for our nature walk!  Close to 50 eager attendees showed up to learn about shoreline native plants from one of our premier area plant experts, Connie Crancer.  Connie had prepared a plant list for us of species she had identified along the shoreline causeway between Whitehall and Montague; Michigan native species, as well as non-native “adventive” species and invasive species. (“Adventive,” provided to me by Connie, is defined by dictionary.com as “not native and not usually well established.”)

Her goal was to help us identify plants, and also learn about them if we want to use them in our gardens or landscaping.

Connie identifying plants, while Jerry Grady is taking her picture. Credit: Judy Siegel

Connie identifying plants, while Jerry Grady is taking her picture.
Credit: Judy Siegel

One of my goals was to explain about the natural shoreline restoration project that the sites were included in, and how it related to the delisting of White Lake as a Great Lakes Area of Concern. The $2.17 million dollar project, which encompassed 10 public and private sites on White Lake, helped to boost the lake toward restoration and delisting by removing the impairments related to loss of fish and wildlife habitat and degraded fish and wildlife populations. See Restoring White Lake for more information about restoration of White Lake.

Connie’s list provided us with the scientific plant names as well as their common names. She also included information on the types of areas they were suited to – wet or dry.  And finally, she included a code with a C or W.  According to Connie, “The C codes give the relative coefficient of conservation, which indicates the affinity of a species to the degree of man-made disturbance. The W code represents the species affinity to wetlands and indicates the likelihood of finding these species in a wetland.” Further she told me, “You can say the W represents the soil moisture content each species is likely to be found in, ranging from saturated to dry.”

canada goldenrod

Canada goldenrod

Connie talked about natives and invasives and explained how it was a complex topic.  She also pointed out the presence of poison hemlock, which is a concern, but told us that some invasives are really not as bad as others.  For example, goldenrod is a native, but even so, it can also be somewhat invasive. On the positive side, it provides benefits to local wildlife.

Japanese knotweed Credit:  Jerry Grady

Japanese knotweed
Credit: Jerry Grady



There was quite a bit of Japanese knotweed, an invasive that requires regular control.There was also spotted knapweed, an invasive that is also very difficult to eradicate. 

We had good timing with this walk as the causeway sites and coastal wetland were in nice bloom. Attendee Margot Haynes reminded us that not all the plants in the wetland restoration project were natives – some had been added for color.  The mix of plants in the sites will change over time, due to many factors, none the least being seeds carried by birds!

Spotted knapweed Credit:  Jerry Grady

Spotted knapweed
Credit: Jerry Grady



The restored coastal wetland had been a “grown over” landfill, once used by the city of Montague, filling up the original wetland area.  Due to extra funds available from the shoreline restoration project, the site’s trees were removed, it was excavated and debris removed, then it was landscaped and planted.  It is now part of the city of Montague’s park system and there is a local group of student volunteers that regularly visit to clean up remaining bits of glass.



Wild bergamot Credit: Jerry Grady

Wild bergamot
Credit: Jerry Grady

We saw many plants on our walk, including milkweed, elderberry, Indian hemp, red osier dogwood, wild oregano, white Echinacea, spiderwort, bee balm or bergamot  – two colors, one native and one not, butterfly weed, and blazing star.


july 2015 walk at the end



As usual, attendees did not want to leave – there was too much good information and knowledge to learn!  Some attendees visited the popular Celebrate White Lake festival at Goodrich Park in Whitehall, and then the walk for July was done.

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June 6, Using Photography in Plant Identification

Getting started!

Getting started!

We had great weather for our first nature walk of 2015!  Nice and warm, not too hot, with a cool, pleasant breeze.  Our goal for this walk was to learn how to take photos to help identify plants. Patricia does plant assessments as part of her consulting work, and she told us how it became hard for her to see the tiny details of plants, She came to learn how to take photos of the identifying parts of a plant or flower, to take home and make a more precise identification at home, while relaxing with a cup of tea, according to Patricia. Using photographs is especially helpful, because they can be enlarged.

Photographing a plant

Photographing a plant

Prickly pear

Prickly pear

Just like the last time we were at the Owasippe Scout Reservation, we were not long on the trail (the red trail) before we stopped to check out a few interesting specimens.  Many were interested in the prickly pear, and were not aware that it is common in our parts.

Rock rose, also frost weed

Rock rose, also called frost weed

After noticing rock rose (or frost weed, as it is sometimes called), hawk weed, Artemisia, and a lonely coreopsis plant, we were on our way again.  (With prodding.)

June 2015 walk little wood satyr butterfly

Little Wood Satyr butterfly

We saw tent caterpillars on an almost totally defoliated small tree.  Patricia recited many complicated Latin names flawlessly. Frequent walk participant Marie got out her trusty Newcomb plant guide and helped with identification.


Squaw root

Squaw root

We saw a grouping of one unusual looking plant that many had not seen before, squaw root, technically a parasite, as it lives on the roots of other plants. They look like little ears of corn growing out of the ground.

june 2015 walk group shot on the trail

Stopping to look at plants!



At about 11:30 a.m., the group reluctantly turned around and headed back, with a long line of slow stragglers. Plant people sure do like their plants!

Photo credits:  Jerry Grady, WatershedWildlife.Com, Patricia Pennell, Michigan.gov

Plant identification Internet resources provided by Patricia:

United States Department of Agriculture  This site has maps showing regions where plants occur, plus images.

Illinois Wildlflowers Great pictures and descriptions!

Wildflowers and Weeds  A nice introduction to the plant families online.

Michigan Wildflowers Really nice, well-organized images of Michigan wildflowers. These are the kinds of pictures to try to achieve.

Michigan Flora Lists of plants with links to illustrations and maps where plants occur.

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October 4, White Lake Shoreline Habitat Restoration

Our small group getting ready for the walk.

Our small group getting ready for the walk.

Well! Our last nature walk of 2014 was the coldest I can recall in a long time!  It was one of the first really chilly days of early fall, and it was windy. We also had some rain and sleet!  But that did not stop a hardy, brave band of nature walk followers!  I was the guide for this walk, as I am pretty familiar with White Lake restoration efforts, including a lakewide shoreline habitat restoration project.  (I am a founding member of the White Lake Public Advisory Council, the PAC, which has worked for 22 years with state and federal environmental agencies to clean up White Lake, designated a Great Lakes Area of Concern in 1985.  I have also been the education and outreach coordinator for the PAC since 2009.)

We started at the White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, walked south down the bike path a ways and crossed over to Goodrich Park.

The Whitehall causeway habitat site

The Whitehall causeway habitat site

The goal was to view and learn about several shoreline habitat restoration sites, part of a $2.17 million dollar project carried out by the Muskegon Conservation District, as part of the effort to clean up and improve White Lake and help to advance it to delisting as a Great Lakes Area of Concern.  There were 11 sites in the entire project, some public and some private.  Even though each site had its own design and plan, four major activities were carried out at each site:

  • Hardened shorelines (riprap, seawalls) were removed to improve the interface between land and water for better fishery habitat.
  • Soft, sloping shorelines were installed.
  • Invasive plant species (phragmites, invasive honeysuckle, purple loosestrife, canary reed grass, and broad leaf cattails) were removed. Invasive plants, from other areas, provide few benefits for native birds, bugs, and insects, and can also expand their reach greatly as they do not have the natural controls that are in place in their native area.
  • Native plants were established, which provide many benefits to our native species.

From there we walked along the sidewalk and viewed the first shoreline habitat restoration site, done on the Whitehall side of the U.S.31 causeway, then on to the Montague causeway site – completed just recently. The project took place between 2010 and 2013.

We then crossed the business highway to the bike path and viewed the site where the former Montague municipal dump (grown over into an area covered with trees) had been cleaned up and restored to a coastal wetland.  The newly restored coastal wetland was made part of the City of Montague’s parks program, and will eventually have several appealing recreational features.

Restored coastal wetland

Restored coastal wetland

As we crossed the bike trail bridge, I noted the coastal wetlands to the north and how eventually it will be necessary to restore the straightened channels (created during the logging era), to natural flowing wetlands to alleviate the sedimentation problem in White Lake.

I told the small group that I knew that not everyone was a fan of the new shorelines and that it was going to take up to five years for the new landscapes to be completely established.  The sites will be monitored and maintained – opportunistic invasives like the white clover have already been removed at many sites.  Hopefully, many will come to realize the benefits of the new shorelines for the lake’s fish and wildlife, and ultimately, area residents and visitors.

All photos are from WatershedWildlife. Thank you Jerry Grady!!

nw oct 2014 milkweed pods

Milkweed! Good for monarch butterflies! Essential, in fact!

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Simple Nature Drawing, September 6

Clear Springs Nature Preserve, Montague Township

Clear Springs Nature Preserve, Montague Township

We had a beautiful, clear, late summer day at Clear Springs Nature Preserve in Montague Township for our walk. The preserve, a commercial fishery in the 1950s, was saved from development by the township with a grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and local match funds. It was a beautiful place to learn how to create simple nature drawings with artist Sharon Smithem.

Artist Sharon Smithem, our walk "artist" guide

Artist Sharon Smithem, our walk “artist” guide

Sharon teamed up with Montague horticulturist Connie Crancer and the two chose a location in the preserve they felt was perfect for teaching nature drawing.  It had a pleasing mix of subjects, from evergreens and interesting bushes, to a few flowering plants, and of course a superb view of the preserve’s pond.

Connie Crancer, helping us identify plants by their parts

Connie Crancer, helping us identify plants by their parts

Sharon and Connie mingled with walk participants, answering their questions and providing advice.

people at clear springs walk 2014

Sketching by the water

Quietly drawing

Quietly drawing

People wandered off on their own to choose a subject.  Groups gathered together to chat and sketch.  The result?  A variety of surprisingly elegant and individualist  drawings and a certain amount of satisfaction among participants about their artistic talents!

Roger Scharmer drawing

Roger Scharmer, drawing

A group discussion

A group discussion

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Taking Better Pictures of Nature, August 2

Guide/workshop teacher Patricia Pennell

Guide/workshop teacher Patricia Pennell

We had another surprisingly large crowd for this walk, many of whom seemed pretty enthusiastic to hear tips from professional photographer, Patricia Pennell.  Patricia has guided several of our White Lake area nature walks in her role as an expert botanist and she provided a similar “workshop” on phototaking a few years ago, for those with “point and shoot” digital cameras.

This year I asked if she could provide tips for taking nature photos with digital cameras AND smartphones, iPads and tablets.  She delivered, and more, as usual!

Umbrellas used as "light filters."

Umbrellas used as “light filters.”

Patricia went over the basics, like using the rule of thirds and a grid to compose interesting pictures. Patricia said to think of the view as divided by two horizontal lines and two vertical lines, creating nine boxes.  Placing key images along these lines or at their intersections makes the photographs more interesting.

She showed us how to find the grid on our cameras and phones and also pointed out that most also had an HDR setting which creates better photos by taking the best elements of three photos in sequence.  Patricia also told us that YouTube is our friend — and it has many good tutorials on digital photography available for free viewing.

We learned how to use “light modifiers” to filter out bright sunlight, which also incidentally can create more flattering photographs of people’s faces!

After our “mini-workshop,” we branched out to the trails to try out our new knowledge and skills!  An educational and fun time, once again!

Getting some practice!

Getting close ups!

Getting close ups!









Patricia was kind enough to share her “tip sheet” in this blog. See more details below.

Patricia and her equipment

Patricia with her photography equipment

Hot Tips for Better Pictures RIGHT NOW
Patricia Pennell, Riverhouse Photography

Hot tip: You are (probably) smarter than your camera. Learn to use more than “program.”

Hot tip: Your camera manual is probably online in PDF. Download it and become an expert on your camera.

Hot tip: YouTube tutorials! on how to do EVERYTHING with your camera. If you want to do something particular, just Google it. If you would rather read, there will be an article somewhere online.

Hot tip: The size of your sensor matters. The size of your sensor has everything to do with the size of your actual image. Optical zoom is better than digital zoom. Digital zoom is just cropping the picture. If you have digital zoom only, it is better to simply get closer.

Hot tip: Light really matters. The angle, source and the amount. Even time of day makes a difference. Grainy pictures? Not enough light.

Hot tip: Carry “light modifiers.”  Light source and direction make a difference. Front vs. side vs. back light; diffused light. Bright sunlight is not a good thing for pictures! Block it off, filter it, or bounce some fill light.

Hot tip: Turn your flash on to fill in shadows in bright light.

Hot tip:  Blurry pictures; shutter is too slow. Prefocus your camera to speed up shutter lag. Hold shutter button down halfway to lock settings, then it will be fast. Shutter lag happens while your camera is thinking.

Hot tip: Use the rule of thirds (and your camera may have a grid in it). Learn composition, leading lines. Learn to see. I see what I want to shoot before I pick up the camera, in thirds, with backgrounds, etc. Use the lines to position subjects on one of the lines, or to straighten horizons.

Hot tip: Carry extra charged batteries and use huge, fast cards. Rechargeable batteries last longer in your camera than disposables. Format your card in camera for longer life. Do not format your card unless you have downloaded your images to somewhere else first!!!!! And check to make sure they are really there.

IPad tips:
Tap to focus on what you want.
Pinch or spread to zoom.
You can do HDR photos (3 combined photos).
Grid turn on: settings/photos and camera/grid.
Continuous shooting: hold down the shutter button.

Smartphone tips: There are likely tools and settings you have never explored. Take a look!
You have a flash. You can use it to fill in details. It only will work well within a few feet—don’t expect it to light up, for instance, a whole car. You can use it to fill in shadows in sunlight, but light modifiers will work much better for you. Flash pictures at night are going to suck. Pretty much.

LIGHT MODIFIERS>>> are good for you.

Touch screen to prefocus before you take your picture, just as on the IPad.

Editing images:
You can put all kinds of filters on your image, which can be great fun. However, you can do that off your device, too. If you shoot a picture in sepia, you can never make it go back to normal. So I recommend getting the shot normally and editing it later, on a computer or other device.

Adobe Lightroom is fantastic and great for editing and keeping track of digital images—nondestructive. I highly recommend it if you want to get serious.

Hot tip: Back up your files in at least two places. You should have three copies of everything. Don’t delete your pictures from your device until you copy it to your computer AND back it up!

Hot tip: Make some paper prints. Remember 8 track tapes? Can you play one now? If you have created a wonderful image, print it. Frame it. Put it into a book. Your children’s children’s children will be able to see paper prints, but probably not your digital files.

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August 5 – Healthy Shoreline Flora

august 2017 walk beginningIt was a perfect and gorgeous summer day at Duck Lake State Park — one of many warm and sunny days we were fortunate to have in the White Lake area.  We had about 30 or so people who joined me and guide, expert botanist and photographer, Patricia Pennell.

patricia pennell green backgroundShe made sure to tell us a special story of getting coffee on another hike she guided as part of our nature walks program.  She had come early to the walk without any coffee a few years ago – not an auspicious beginning at all!  To her surprise and joy, a woman came by, took sympathy on her coffee-less state, and went to bring her back a hot cup of coffee!  She often remembers this small but important offering and the pleasure it brought her.

I provided some history of the state park area.  It had not had much intensive development at all, dating back to the late 1800s, when there was a fur trading post on Duck Lake run by a French Canadian fur trader and his Native American wife, Madame LaFramboise. She was one of the most high-profile women in our area, who moved on to live the rest of her life on Mackinac Island, a beloved and well-public figure. (She had lived there as a child.)

I also pointed out the lumber era settlement by Charles Mears, and how his daughter Carrie inherited the property after he died.  Adventuresome and strong Chicago Boy Scouts hiked from a reservation already established to the east, Camp Owasippe, to the Duck Lake area and urged their council to purchase the property, which they did. It was bought by the Nature Conservancy and then in turn by the state of Michigan in the mid-1970s, and opened in the spring of 1988.  It is a beautiful day-use park, not high profile and not generally very busy.

august walk 2017 underwaterOur walk was alongside the north shore of Duck Lake, in the state park.  The water was very high, and Patricia noted it was quite a bit higher than a reconnaissance visit she had made just about a week prior to our walk.  She pointed out areas that had been dry and that she had walked on that were now covered in water.  Sadly, the sundews that DNR staff had indicated were in this area, were now under water.

august walk 2017 pond duck lake shoreline.jpgPatricia noted how the sizeable wetland pond areas scattered along the shoreline are very good for filtering, water storage, and a home for valuable plant and wildlife species.  She said there is evidence that water levels were higher thousands of years ago – a ridge many feet from the lake edge, which probably used to be a shoreline. She also noted that certain plants that grow along the water’s edge are found many feet from the shore, struggling to survive in a now forested and dry area.

The shoreline was a good place to see grasses, sedges, and rushes.  Patricia explained how to tell them apart. Sedges have edges, rushes are round, and grasses are hollow.  There is a short poem to help: august2017walksnakegrass

Sedges have edges,

Rushes are round,

Grasses are hollow,

What have YOU found?



Patricia explained that she liked to know and use Latin names of plants because common names are different in different locales. She uses her camera to take photos and help identify plants.

Always an excellent resource for reference materials, she recommended we check out “A Field Guide to the Natural Communities of Michigan” published by Michigan State University Press, 2015.  It describes the communities and lists what is likely to be found growing in them.

field guide photo

A beautiful day at a beautiful state park.

Photos from Jerry Grady’s WatershedWildlife site.

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August 3, Taking Your Best Nature Photo Ever

Getting started! Photo credit: Jerry Grady

Getting started!

We were at beautiful scenic Duck Lake State Park for our nature photo session walk this summer.  Patricia Pennell, doubly talented as a botanist and professional photographer, gave us her best tips on creating nature photos, and promised us if we used them, we would take our best nature photo ever!  She even persuaded me to have an informal photo contest for attendees – you can see the results of that below! We had about 25 attendees, some long-time photographers, and others who were newbies.  Some had high-powered digital cameras and others used a point-and-shoot camera or their smartphone.

Patricia first reminded us that we need to learn how our cameras work.  She suggested reading the manual, and if there was not one provided, to find one on the internet.  “There’s a lot of good information in the manuals, if you take the time to read them,” according to Patricia.  “Your camera does stuff you don’t even know it does.” She also stressed practicing using what you’ve learned.  One important bit of information is learning the difference between using manual or automatic mode.  The automatic mode may be easier to use on an everyday basis, but exploring the manual mode functions may help to create better photos when they might be needed – for special events or for publication purposes.

Her next tip was to begin to “see” what your camera sees.  We heard her “horror” stories about thinking she got a great photo, but then seeing that what she saw was not necessarily what the camera saw and captured, such as a tree growing out of a person’s head!  See what is behind and isolate your subject.  Be sure to understand the depth of field, the area in front of and behind the subject that will be in focus

Patricia and her "tools" for using light. Photo credit: Jerry Grady

Patricia and her “tools” for using light.

Some of us had learned this from Patricia at other walks, but she emphasized again the need to consider

Car visor "light" tool

Car visor “light” tool







light – where it is coming from, its color and how you can use it, by trying a different angle, diffusing it,bouncing it, or using a flash.  She demonstrated the use of several “tools” to change the lighting for photos, including an umbrella and a sun visor for cars.

Yes, an umbrella is a light "tool!" Photo credit: Jerry Grady

Yes, an umbrella is a light “tool!”







“Compose carefully” was the next tip.  Patricia taught us some of the basic principles of composing images, using the law of thirds to create a pleasing composition.  In your mind, divide your image with two vertical lines and two horizontal lines – to help identify the “four sweet spots,” in Patricia’s words.  Put what you want to be the primary subject of the image along one of these lines or at one of their intersections.  Putting your subject off-center makes for a more interesting composition than direct center.

Patricia also taught us to “click with purpose,” using fast and slow shutter speeds, tripods, and the movement of both the camera and subject.

Her “secret sauce and gravy” portion of the instruction was downloading and editing, filter programs, and editing on your phone, especially cropping to the “sweet spots.”

Everyone was busy taking their photos after all the great tips!

Getting some good shots!

Getting some good shots!















And now, here are the contest winners!  Congratulations to Sarah Leybourne and Dick Jakus!   Thanks to Jerry Grady at WatershedWildlife.Com for the photos in this post!

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