Spring Things

Although the wind blew chilly, the sun was out and the sky was blue…that was enough to tempt anyone out for a walk yesterday.  But we had work to do out on the trails, so the nice day was just a bonus.

The first order of business was to see how the new surface on the Nature for All Trail had come through the winter.  The product we used was “new” for surfaces this far north, so we are really monitoring it to see how well it holds up.


Overall, we are very impressed.  Right now the trail is a little oozy in some places – you can walk on it, but be aware that your feet might get a little damp.


We looked to see what spots needed touch-ups, and where the benches will be placed when we put them back out.  More invasives need to be removed, and native vegetation will be planted.


We also considered some future projects for the trail, like possibly adding a second bridge over the stream, leading to a new trail out into the fields, or maybe putting in stepping stones to give visitors a dry pathway down to the water’s edge.


Mark saw a patch of bright green vegetation in the woods on the far side of the stream.  Even with binoculars, we couldn’t identify it, so curiosity won out and he found a way to cross the stream.


It turned out to be a patch of pachysandra – planted on the neighbor’s property.



I was fascinated by the large and very nobbly trees I saw on the far side of the stream.  Mark said they were black willows, but I wanted to see them up close, so I, too, crossed the stream to get a better view.


I don’t know anything about black willows, but I am now intrigued.  There are three or four of these trees, and each is covered with these growths.  Are they warts?  Not likely.  Burls?  If so, I’ve never seen a tree with more than one!  Are they caused by a fungus or some disease?  I have no idea, but I will be doing to researching to see what I can find out.  Maybe this is a natural trait for black willows.


Now that I was on the far side of the stream, I was going to go for a bit of an explore.  Okay, truthfully, I didn’t want to go back through the wall of brambles (roses, I think, with VERY sharp and grabby thorns), so I pushed through the small patch of trees and into the field.  A spot of bright blue caught my eye:  bluebird feathers.  Bluebirds are all over the fields right now – this one probably filled the belly of one of our resident hawks.


Out in the field a coyote left its calling card.


Soon I was back on the trail and making my way back to my coworkers.  I stopped to check out the skunk cabbage patch – were they blooming yet?  Maybe a dozen had poked their heads above the still cold and partially frozen ground, and one was actually in bloom (note the small yellow flower on the spadix inside the cupped leaf of the spathe.



Continuing down the Nature for All Trail, we stopped at the wildflower planting to see if there were any signs of life yet.  Sure enough, the hepatica leaves were up and green, and the buds are just waiting for some warm days to put on a spurt of growth and then bloom.


Shortly after we returned to the building, Gary and I decided to head back out to see the progress of the invasive species removal out at The Bug Field.  Any excuse to be outside, even if the clouds were now rolling in.  Along the way I found another collection of feathers.  We think this was the remains of a past-tense chickadee.


Ah!  The work our Cut-n-Dab Society folks have been doing is nothing short of impressive.  The last time I was out here was in late February or early March.  We had talked about girdling the some of the remaining trees – species that are native, but not necessarily desired in the ecosystem we are establishing here.  Sure enough, the crew had tackled them and soon these trees will provide snags for woodpeckers and other birds to harvest for insects and possibly turn into condos once the wood is softened with decay and is easy to excavate.


I was just amazed at the work that had been done.  We have on average 4-5 folks who come out for 3-4 hours almost every week to cut down undesirable shrubs and trees and treat the stumps with a strong herbicide to kill them off.  If you go out along the trail you will see several massive piles of brush – the remains of the removed.  The amount of vegetation that they have taken out is nothing short of jaw-dropping; it really drives home just how much of our land (and this is the land all around us, not just at Dahlem) is being overrun by these non-native plants (and that’s why they are called invasives).


Just look at the difference.  Here (below) is a spot that was to my right, where they haven’t cleared yet.  Note how dense and tangled it is.  These are honeysuckles, some autumn olive perhaps, and common buckthorn – three of the biggies.


Now look at what was to my left (below), where they have cleared.  See how open it is?  The remaining stems you see in the understory are all dogwoods – native shrubs that are very important to birds.  What a difference!  This is something everyone should see, so they can appreciate the damage that invasives are doing.


There are lots of wild grape vines in this area.  Birds love grapes.  Even though these are native plants, they can do damage to the trees they climb – their weight breaking off branches and limbs, and possibly reducing the vigor of the supporting tree by shading it from the sun.  But we don’t want to lose the benefits of this fruit producer, so many of the grape vines have been pulled out of the trees and redirected onto the brush piles, where they can cling and grow to their hearts’ content, so to speak.


Since we were out, I wanted to see the coyote den I’d heard so much about.  We had a visitor earlier this month who saw a coyote while she was out on the trails.  A couple weeks later she came back with photos of the den, which had all sorts of signs that it was active.  Some staff and volunteers went out to see it a week or two ago and reported that it was still in use.  So, we went in search of it.  We found the remains of a deer that no doubt nourished the animals part of this winter.


But the den was looking abandoned.  It is possible that the coyote(s?) had moved on – perhaps too many curious people had stopped by to see the den and, well, there goes the neighborhood, eh?  Still, the animal is probably around on the property somewhere – no doubt it has moved to a more secluded site.

DSC_0874So, as you can see, things are happening.  It may not quite feel like spring yet, but it IS only late March.  Where I come from there is still snow on the ground and there won’t be bluebirds for another two months.  So, here in our part of Michigan the season is quite advanced, at least from this easterner’s point of view.  Warmer days are just around the corner and the plants and animals are ready to spring into action as soon as the temperatures rise just a little bit more.



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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