Brrr. It was near single digits this morning, but the sun was out and it wasn’t raining – it was going to be a good morning for a walk.
The Tuesday Morning Group was meeting with Matt from the Michigan Nature Association over at LefGlen, a nature preserve not far from Napoleon.
Matt is in charge of land stewardship for about 58 preserves mostly in SW Michigan, but LefGlen is also on his beat. We started in the small parking lot with a quick orientation, and then we headed down the trail.
Our first stop was not too far in. This small hill has recently been cleared. I was out here last spring and this was all a tangle of autumn olive and other unsavory invasives. Matt told us that they spent a good bit of time cutting out the undesirables and then they burned the area. It will be interesting to see what native plants sprout come spring this year.
LefGlen is a smallish preserve whose crowning glory are the prairie fens that surround the two small lakes on the property (you can see Lake Nirvana in the distance below). These wetlands are characterized by flowing, alkaline groundwater. If it wasn’t alkaline, it wouldn’t be a fen, and if it wasn’t flowing, it wouldn’t be a fen. Orchids and other prairie fen flowers are known to grow here (not that we were going to see any of them today). Matt and his crew of staff and volunteers are currently working along the north shore of Lake Nirvana to remove invasive species, freeing up the ecosystem from their strangling grasp. Mostly buckthorn, but all the regular aliens are also in attendance (Asian bittersweet, autumn olive, garlic mustard, multiflora rose, et al).
As we walked along the bottomland, we could suddenly hear the burble of quickly moving water. Considering how cold it’s been since Sunday, this was a bit of a surprise. Turns out, there’s an artesian well here. I’d be willing to bet a fair number of birds and other wildlife frequent this spot for a drink in the middle of winter.
American beech leaves are still clinging to their stems.
Much of this preserve was once farmland, which goes a long way in explaining the amount of invasive species here. The topography includes some gently rolling hills, and some rather steep slopes, with a fair bit of bottomland near the wetlands and lakes.
There have been a lot of blowdowns since I was last here. Limbo, anyone?
Matt said there are three trails through this property, but along this portion there is essentially one loop – the Blue Diamond Trail (the Purple Trail forms the second trail, but it is essentially just a small shortcut around a hill near the beginning of the Blue Trail). When we came to the fork in the Blue Trail, where the loop begins (and ends), we went left. If you stay on this section, you eventually end up on private property, so you have to be sure you make the right-hand turn up this hill. Now, normally, folks would take the switchbacks, but for some reason we were led straight up…and it is a pretty good incline! Luckily, despite some slick and slippery snow-and-ice-covered oak leaves, we all made it to the top without incident.
On the other side of the hill, was another area where the work crews have been doing some clearing. To the left of the trail, the woods were almost exclusively black locust:
Even though black locust is an American native, it is a tree that is not native to these parts, and it does very well here. It was probably established once upon a time to be used as a source of wood for fence posts, but soon it was growing like wild fire and now it is an invasive species that is difficult to eradicate.
To the left of the trail, was an example of oak savanna:
This is more typical of the original land covering in this part of Michigan. They have their work cut out for them to restore this piece of land to its former splendor.
Because this is old farm land, echos of the past are seen scattered throughout the woods.
And that past wasn’t too long ago – farmers still work the land that borders the preserve.
The highlight of our walk was right at the very end. One of the birders in the group noticed a hawk in a conifer along the edge of the wetland. “What kind of hawk is that?” I had a terrible view, but based on the size and what I could see I thought perhaps it was a red-tail – pretty common. But the birders looked and conferred and looked some more. Field guides were consulted, and we all looked again. It’s no surprise to me that I was wrong – but we we were all pretty impressed when it turned out to be a juvenile northern goshawk. According to one of the gentlemen in the group, this raptor (I used that word for you, Bill) is not common in the area (what with them being a more northern bird-of-prey). In fact, he said he hasn’t seen one in probably 15 years or more. It was a good find.
LefGlen is a nifty little preserve, located just south of Wolf Lake. If you aren’t looking, you’ll miss the parking area, especially if you are driving up from the south. Dogs are permitted, and you don’t even have to stay on the trail! If you want to get in some good dirt time and go for an explore, this is a great place to visit. Be warned, though: if you do it when the ground is thawed, bring your mud boots – they don’t call ’em wetlands for nothing.