Happy November

Another Tuesday morning – another walk on the trails.  The difference today is that it is November.  October has come and gone, with it’s buckets of rain, glorious colors, and the first hints of winter in the form of hard frosts.  November is often seen as the grey month – when the colors have gone and winter has yet to firmly lock its grip on the landscape.  But, as you will see below, there is still a lot of interest out in the November woods – and even a bit of color.

Today’s walk began with a mystery object brought in by Bill – a baggie of tiny bits that he scraped off his boat when he pulled it out of Brown’s Lake this fall.  We passed it around to see if anyone knew what the baggie contained.

Those in the know recognized the substance immediately:  zebra mussels.

These tiny molluscs are the bane of lakes and boats across much of our land, and they are spreading.  An alien invasive (originally found only in the lakes of southeast Russia), this critter came to our shores in the ballast water of ocean-going vessels.  When they dumped their ballast upon reaching their destination (say, a port along the shores of one of the Great Lakes), the mussels were set free in a new environment, where they bred and spread with great abandon.  They glue themselves to hard, stationary surfaces and from there their colonies spread.  They clog up drains, get into the workings of boat motors, and cut the feet of those who wade barefoot into the water.  Yes, they do make the water clearer, but that’s because they are consuming all the nutrients that float about invisibly in the water, thus taking food away from other small filter-feeders.  In other words, these are not good critters to have around.

What can one do?  Well, once zebra mussels are in our waterways, our options are very limited.  What we can do, however, is to make sure we clean our boats when we remove them from the water.  Clean them of mussels and plants before putting them into another body of water.


It was a beautiful frosty morning.  The crispy leaves upon the ground are all lined with frosty edges – a lovely decoration.

And you just can’t beat the early morning light this time of year.  At about 8:15/8:30 it has a warm orange glow that is just perfect for photography.  By 9:30 the light was more yellow, but still made for some brightly glowing leaves and berries.

We hadn’t gone far down the trail when Gary spotted this (there are actually two things in the photo):

The first, and most obvious item, is the scraped up ground.  Who is out this time of year pawing up the leaves and stomping about in the dirt?  Deer.  More specifically, male deer.  It is the rut, folks – that time of year when male deer do some strange things to a) impress other male deer, trying to make these potential rivals think a big, tough dude is around and they should steer clear, and b) impress the females, hoping to make them think a big, tough dude is around who is ideal fatherhood material.  The bucks paw up these scrapes and pee in them – olfactory signals are very important.

The other clue in the  photo is a bit harder to see.  See the twigs and branches below?  These are directly over the scrape.  Apparently (and I just learned this today on this walk) bucks select scrape sites that are located under low branches, which they proceed to chew.  Deer have glands in their mouths, and chewing these branches leaves behind another scent mark to impress any other deer who might be passing by.

Shortly after this stop, a small group of us got separated from the main group, so we missed some of the discussion in the pines, where signs of owl activity were the main target.  “White-wash” down the sides of trees (streaks of uric acid from owl droppings) are a good sign that owls are roosting in an area.  If one finds trees with whitewash, this is a good indication for one to dig around beneath the tree in search of owl pellets.  Some of the walkers were looking, but no one found any pellets.  We did find some old raccoon scat, though.

Leaving the pines and getting back onto the trail, we passed this wonderfully mushroomy log:

The colors were perfect for fall season!

Speaking of autumn colors, check out the gold below!

The Next Big Thing was this turkey vulture lurking in the trees about 30 feet off the trail.  He didn’t seem to mind about twenty people peering at him from the trail, but he certainly didn’t do anything to make our viewing any easier.

The frost was well melted by now, and even though the leaves were no longer outlined in crystals, the melted ice still left beauty behind.

So take advantage of these final days of autumn, especially in the golden morning light.  Head for the outdoors and take your camera with you – ’tis the time of year for some stellar photography.


About Dahlem Center

The Dahlem Center is a non-profit nature center/environmental education center located on almost 300 acres just south of the city of Jackson, Michigan. The Center is one arm of the Dahlem Conservancy, which includes land conservancy and stewardship in its mission.
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