I really look forward to my weekend excursions, when I can expand my horizons to explore a little more, take extra pictures, and I don’t have to be watching the clock to be back home for work. So, yesterday I did a different type of morning meander. Instead of walking solo, I decided to take a pair of organized nature walks through Lake Erie Metropark. This is only my fourth time to visit this very large park and I thought it would be fun to explore the woodsy trails as opposed to walking along the Lake Erie shoreline and taking in the sights from there.
When I made the reservation for the “Coffee Club” I was told this group meets once a month and it is fun, informal and these same folks had been gathering for coffee and donuts, then setting out on a nature walk for about twenty years. So, how cool is that … all these walkers and nature lovers – yup, it sounded right up my alley.
I left earlier than usual and the sun had just risen, a fiery ball of fire in the morning sky. If only we could have skipped the heat and humidity, it would have been perfect, but at least it didn’t rain … well the rain event came later, thankfully.
I turned off West Jefferson into the sprawling Lake Erie Metropark grounds. There were at least two dozen Canada geese and some goslings grazing by the road. It was such a peaceful sight. As I traveled the long and winding road to get to the Marshlands Museum, in the still-dim light I saw a doe about thirty feet ahead of me. How I wished I could have whipped out the camera and got its picture, but it paused for just a second, then loped away and disappeared into the nearby brush. So, that little bit of nature nirvana made my day. I don’t think I’ve seen deer in the wild, since we visited Algonquin Park when I was a youngster. I would later learn that the deer was not scampering across the road to provide me a potential photo op, but instead many people are feeding them corn, so the deer contingent hopes that the next carload of visitors to the Park may be providing them breakfast. (Actually, feeding any of the Park’s critters is forbidden here.)
So here are some tidbits from the trail …
Trek number one.
As mentioned above, the “Coffee Club” members meet monthly for coffee and donuts at the Marshlands Museum. Once fortified with a treat and some java, off they go on a nature hike. One of the Park guides leads the pack and is full of tidbits about the flora and fauna along the way. Though I was the new kid on the block, the rest of the group welcomed me into the fold and we chatted amicably as we started out on the trail.
Our guide was Paul, who has worked at the Park for a quarter of a century, and he not only filled our heads and eyes with info along the trail, but entertained us as well. Paul had just returned from a hiking vacation in the Bruce Peninsula at Georgian Bay, Canada. Coincidentally, this is where my boss is this weekend, in a cabin near Wiarton. Many years ago I visited Georgian Bay at a family friend’s cottage in Collingwood and it’s a beautiful area.
Our first stop was to pause by a raised garden bed just outside the Marshlands Museum, where we watched a Monarch butterfly caterpillar inching along a leaf. Then we headed to the actual nature trail. There are multiple nature trails at Lake Erie Metropark and this one is named the Cherry Island Trail. Thankfully, there was a bit of a breeze since the humidity was 95% and the temperature 75 degrees when I left the house.
I have always liked Black-Eyed Susans and here was a large patch of them.
The abundance of yellow continued as we went forward, only this time it was Goldenrod. Paul explained that most people blame their Summertime allergies on Goldenrod, when it is really Ragweed, a very common and ordinary-looking weed, which causes all our red-eye and sniffling miseries.
In the background you see tall reeds with frothy-looking tips and they lined this paved path.
They are an invasive plant that is known as Phragmites and some are ten feet tall or more. You can see how high they are near this lotus pond.
Just before we turned into a woodsy area with a grassy walking trail, Paul showed us a crayfish burrow or “chimney”, which was essentially a dirt mound with a hole about two inches in diameter where the crayfish pops into and it leads right to the marshy water. Snakes sometimes misappropriate these burrows for themselves … it was empty though, as it had sustained some damage, so no crayfish or snakes found here.
There was some beautiful birdsong by a bird I’ve never heard before. I looked up in the trees but I couldn’t see any birds up there.
This trail was woodsy and peaceful and our next stop was to visit the lotus beds on either side of the pathway. Paul referred to this area as a dike because the pathway comes between the two areas of the marsh.
One side of the path provided a primo, up-close view of those beautiful lotuses that I told you about last month in my post “Lovely Lotuses” https://lindaschaubblog.net/2018/08/04/lovely-lotuses/
Even though the peak season for lotuses has already passed, they were still blooming, with many buds yet to open. Paul advised that these delicate lotus blooms only last two days after they open.
They sure were beautiful. I hope the photograph captures the size of the leaves here – they look as large as an elephant’s ear.
As we walked across a wooden bridge over the marsh, my head was swiveling back and forth – what do I look at first? On the left was a marshy body of water, and on the right, I was watching a kayaker and some mallards navigating the thick algae bloom along the Lake Erie/Detroit River shoreline. Suddenly, a group member cried out “look at the egret!” Well, there he was, sitting in the tree, a bright-white slash in the nondescript background. I zoomed in on him with the camera, but he was clear across the marsh. He didn’t seem to mind this passel of people gawking at him while he alternately preened, then gave us a profile from the left, then the right.
There were several opportunities to cross wooden bridges which rose above the many marshy areas. Barn swallows flitted everywhere and we were told that they were nesting beneath these bridges.
There were also long stretches where we walked through woodsy areas that ran parallel to the water and that shade was a welcome respite from the hot sun.
Here are some more pictures of the scenic trail.
At Council Point Park, there are pond lilies. Their leaves are very large and rest upon the surface of the Ecorse Creek. They have blooms, but they are smaller than a lotus bloom and sit right on the lily pad. I often scan those pond lilies for frogs as I hear them croaking in the still of the morning, but I’ve yet to see one. But, as our group crossed a wooden walkway, we peered into the water that is covered with different types of pond lilies, and we were lucky enough to see the proverbial frog sitting on a large lily pad. He made no sounds and blended right into the leaves. Can you see him?
Here’s a close-up …
There were also tiny frogs sitting on smaller water lilies, only these are an invasive type of lily pad, coincidentally called European frog-bit. I swear there was a tiny frog here when I took this picture, but I can’t find him now.
We walked and chatted while absorbing facts, but all too soon our trek was over and we were back at the Marshlands Museum. I returned to the raised garden to find that caterpillar and get its picture, but he evidently was munching away and hidden under some leaves. I did find a horned caterpillar and there was a beautiful butterfly hovering over the flowers. I thought it was a Monarch, but was told by a group member it was a Viceroy, which resembles a Monarch. It’s the first time I’ve seen this species of butterfly. Unfortunately, getting a butterfly to pose is not as easy as tossing a few peanuts out to one of my squirrel pals. These were my best out of about fifteen shots.
I wished I could have nudged him (or her), with the unfortunate tear in one wing, to go over to a greener and prettier leaf than this one.
Trek number two.
I enjoyed myself so much on the “Coffee Club” nature hike, I decided that I’d go on another interpretive walk. This trek focused on “Pesky Plants” and there were only two of us, along with our guide Kevin. Once again we started out on the Cherry Island Trail on a paved path, where we saw buckthorn which has overtaken much of the wooded area. As its name suggests, it is thorny and reminded me of a Pyracantha bush I have. It is difficult to prune due to its thorny nature and will grow out of control if you don’t keep it tamed. We saw the Phragmites invasive reeds then turned onto the natural pathway and the wooded area. Kevin pointed out a frilly white weed/wildflower which I recognized as Queen Anne’s Lace. What I didn’t know is that this plant could be “beheaded” and those frilly blooms battered and fried up to make it taste like an elephant ear pastry. Who knew?
We alternately passed over several marsh overlooks as we wove our way along the trail. Occasionally we’d walk on the gravel roads which were found in more shaded areas (thankfully), then we’d be back into the full sun again. By now it was 11:00 a.m. and getting steamy. The egret had tired of entertaining the Marsh visitors, but, in its wake, we saw what Kevin identified as a Cormorant, a large dark-brown bird with a huge wingspan that flew over our heads. We also saw a pair of Common Terns, but they, too, zipped by quickly before I had to chance to take their photo.
It was an enjoyable morning and yielded a wealth of pictures and info to sock away in my brain for future trips to Lake Erie Metropark.