Friday, October 4, 2013

September Come and Gone

It was a rather gloomy Sunday in September when I decided on a whim to go check out Seven Ponds Nature Center east of Flint.  I'd heard great things about this facility and decided to go check it out.

By 11:00 AM it was already extremely warm and humid.  The two-hour drive yielded one cloudburst, but it didn't clear the air.  It was the kind of storm that merely made the humidity worse.

When I pulled into the parking lot, there was only one other car there - probably that of the girl who was working at the front desk.

It's a very nice facility - lots of open space and some great exhibits.  This beaver exhibit, for example, has a space underneath where kids can crawl inside and see what it is like to be a beaver.

They have a large bird-viewing window with comfy chairs lined up in front.

I just loved the expression on this raccoon's face!

Heading out on the trails, one passes two nice gardens:  The Herb Garden,

and The Butterfly Garden.  Bees were out in good numbers, but I didn't see too many butterflies.

I chose to take the trail that went through the woods and on out to the grassland.  Along the way, I passed a third "garden" - the Woodland Wildflower Garden, which is completely surrounded by an 8-foot fence - the only way to protect woodland flowers from hunger deer. 

Pine plantations might be dull, species-wise, and rigid in their layout, but they sure make for nice photos down a trail!

In less than 15 minutes I was at the edge of the grassland.  This field was part of a major habitat project.  I hesitate to use the term "habitat restoration" because historic Michigan did not have many grasslands.  Oak-hickory forests and oak savannahs were the primary habitat types in the lower part of the lower peninsula.  Oh, and wetlands (fens) - most of which have been drained.

Still, it is nice to see native flowers in non-garden settings, growing to their full height and splendor, like this silphium.

It was prime time for many native sunflowers, coreopsises (coriopsi?), black-eyed Susans, and the like.

I was surprised to find wild bergamot still hanging in there!  I have recently learned there are two strains of wild bergamot:  one blooms early in the season, and the other later.  I believe the eastern variety is the earlier bloomer.

A few purple coneflowers were in bloom.  To me these will always be garden flowers - they just seem so out of place in the wild!

Ironweed - the best of the purples!  This tall native wildflower is so purple you can almost taste it.  It is one of my favorites.

Grasslands are by nature rather flat, so it is great that they have put in this viewing platform for visitors!

And here is the view.  As you can see, lots of green and yellow.  But on foot one sees the patches of other colors.

Like boneset - patches of white.

And pale purple obedient plant - another one that I'm only used to seeing in gardens!

The native grasses were just getting going.

And there were one or two spikes of blazing star (Liatris).

Here we can see the tall waving heads of big bluestem grass,

and Indian grass.  Indian grass becomes so colorful in the fall - it is just glorious.

Blazing star comes in several varieties, but I believe this is rough blazing star.

The dogwoods have been just loaded with berries, and they were at Seven Ponds, too. 

Beautiful mountain mint was still in bloom.

The trail system at Seven Ponds is divided into two chunks, one on either side of the road that drives through the property.  I was wandering around the chunk on the north side of the road.  You can see three of the seven ponds here.

Continuing from the grassland and through the woods, I shortly came out at a mowed field, with a lovely oak standing sentinel. 

Hard by the oak was the largest of the ponds.  I could see the railings of the bridge, but no sign of water.  Must be this pond is quite aged, I thought - all filled in with vegetation.

Like these white turtleheads!  I watched a bumblebee for a while as she slipped in and out of the blossoms in search of nectar and pollen.  They must've been pretty well picked over because she didn't seem to be having much success.

Where there's a bridge, there must be water!

And so there was - a winding channel that was being filled in by cattails and other wetland plants.

Monarchs were few and far between this summer, but this milkweed tussock moth caterpillar seemed to be doing just fine.  Unlike the monarch caterpillars, these fuzzy caterpillars are just as happy to gnosh on the older milkweed leaves as they are the younger, more tender ones.  This helps spread the wealth, as it were - it allows the monarch to capitalize on the younger leaves without the tussock moths going hungry.

At long last, I saw the pond.  There was an observation tower here, but the view was narrow.

Much better was the view from the dock a short way down the trail.

The heat and humidity seemed to have put a damper on wildlife at the pond, though.  It was still and quiet.

This fenced in area caught my attention, though.  What could they possibly be fencing off here?  I still have no answers.

A spidery flower that I've only rarely seen was in full bloom here:  wild cucumber.  The plant is not rare, but usually I only see its fruits - spiky cucumbers about the size of a small plum.  

Once more back in the woods, and on my way back to the visitor center, my eyes were drawn to these brilliant berries.  Prickly ash!  This is another MI native that continues to fascinate.  I still don't have the plant memorized to the point where I can recognize it at 100 paces, but a close-up look usually yields enough clues that I recognize, like the distinctive thorns, and, in the right season, the berries.

The highbush cranberry was also in peak fruiting mode!  What glorious colors - and it looks like plenty of food for the birds this winter.

Overall, Seven Ponds was a nice enough place - but from the small bit I saw, I must say I like Dahlem better.  Maybe it was just the weather, but there didn't seem to be a lot there that spoke to me.  Views were limited, and the landscape has a lot of obvious  "unnatural" aspects:  plantation, non-natives, mowed fields.  never the less, it is worth a trip and I'll go back sometime on a cooler, sunnier day!


  1. Come on over and check out the Kalamazoo Nature Center sometime. Lots of great hiking trails, several different tys of habitats, great staff....

  2. I enjoyed the tour anyway. Thanks for sharing.