The road trip was long (for me anyway) … it was 20 miles from my house to Oakwoods Metropark in Flat Rock, Michigan. I had been leery of visiting there as so many of our parks are still flooded or swampy from May and June’s incessant rainfall. I figured I’d take a chance and try and make a day of it, so I took my red vinyl boots in case I needed them. It was beautiful weather, with low humidity and refreshingly cool for a late August day. I aimed to take a long hike, then settle in to learn some sketching techniques and implement them on the nearby trail.
Because I sometimes get lost when driving, as I am definitely directionally challenged, I left extra early. Oakwoods Metropark has been on my Trek Bucket List for over a year, so when I spotted this sketching class called “Walk, Talk & Sketch” … well, I was all in. I figured I could also fulfill something on my future Retirement Bucket List, i.e. learning to sketch or paint as a hobby in my golden years. Not only did I treat myself to the event (a mere $5.00), but I bought a sketch pad and some number two pencils too. I thought it would fun, and believe me, I was not ready to quit my day job and become an artist at the end of the day. If you read my most-recent post, you’ll see why. You can click here if you missed it.
I found a place to park near the Nature Center where we were to meet, so I left the art supplies in the car and went off to explore. Outside the building I checked out the enclosures and discovered an Owl and a Red-Tailed Hawk. I’ve never seen an owl before and this one preferred the darkest corner of its enclosure, so mostly all I could see were glowing eyes and tufted ears. I am going to ID it as a “long-eared owl” (no surprise there), but there was no name on its enclosure. I later learned it was injured, then rehabbed and this is its permanent home, since it cannot survive on its own in the wild.
The Red-Tailed Hawk was singing me a song here … it has a rather evil grin, doesn’t it?
I only knew this raptor’s name and ID because I passed its permanent home in the woods earlier that day. Because enquiring minds want to know, I asked Paula, our interpretive guide, if this was indeed “Hawkeye” and yes it is.
I meandered down the pathway where I saw a hut made entirely out of tree bark. I don’t know if it serves a purpose, but, as you can see it was roped off. I peered inside but there was nothing to see.
So what might be awaiting me in those woods anyway?
The preliminary exploration over, it was time to hit the Long Bark Trail. I had researched about Oakwoods Metropark in the past. There are three trails and reviews stated that it was a haven for critters.
So, I started on this trail which links up with the Sky Come Down Trail (one mile long) and the Big Tree Trail (3/4s of a mile long) depending on which fork in the road, er … trail you pick. I wondered what critters would cross my path? Furry, feathered? Perhaps a deer – now that would be nice. What about a friendly raccoon? That would make a great photo op. Maybe a cute squirrel? Metropark rules forbid feeding the wildlife, so I always leave the peanuts at home.
The Long Bark Trail had an overlook at a portion of the Huron River and watershed area.
At this wooden overlook, I could see a marshy lagoon and some pond lilies. Unlike Lake Erie Metropark which has several water lotus beds where the water lotuses rise high above the elephant-ear-sized leaves, these were just large lily pads floating on top of the water and there were no lilies blooming and since the pond lilies and reeds created an all-green and almost blah background in the marsh, it was very easy to see the stark white color of a pair of Mute Swans and a Great Egret who were companionably fishing in the lagoon. They were quite far away, so I was lucky to get this photo.
There were many benches dotting the River’s edge, but seating was also found throughout the woodsy areas. I found it interesting that every one of the wooden benches had a weathered look with splotches due perhaps to lack of sunshine as the wood never completely dries out.
Soon I was back onto a more defined path in a woodsier area. There were mushrooms in many areas where sunlight was scarce.
There was a definite Fall feel in the air and the leaves and acorns scattered about looked more like a September scenario.
The breeze made it seem a mite chilly so at mile marker #2, the sun felt good.
It was quiet and peaceful and the only critters around were the mosquitoes occasionally attacking my bare arms and hands, or buzzing around my ears. Sometimes I’d be startled by an acorn plopping to the ground from one of the many oak trees. It was very still and I saw just a handful of hikers or Saturday strollers as I meandered along, likewise on the Sky Come Down Trail and the Big Tree Trail.
Here is a view of some of the trees on the latter trail.
I lost count of the amount of trees that had fallen in the forest and I noted they were left as if they had just toppled to the ground. In many cases, those old logs presented an interesting pattern of decay …
…. or mysterious-looking holes …
… and sometimes branches or twigs looked like an over-sized game of Pick-up Sticks.
But what I found fascinating was the abundance of moss. It was everywhere, on old logs, and on the pathway. I’m guessing it was because only dappled sunlight was able to filter through the trees so there was moisture in abundance, especially given all our rainfall this year.
Moss was even on one of the walking paths. The sunlight made all the moss look almost emerald green.
A grasshopper caught my eye when it hopped onto some gravel. Once it saw the hulking human looming over it, that grasshopper went airborne but landed against my leg. A faint fluttering against my shin seemed to stun it and it landed on the gravel and scrambled off for good this time.
Just a gal and her butterfly.
The highlight of my Saturday morning meander was the butterfly which alighted on the ground next to my foot. I’ve never seen a blue butterfly, so I’m guessing, based on my research, that it is a Red-Spotted Purple. Yep, you and I know it is blue, but that is its name. It first alighted near a dried-up oak leaf, as you saw pictured above. That butterfly stayed in place for the longest time and I watched it opening and closing its wings. It was as if it was rejoicing to bask on the warm gravel in that patch of sun. Back when I had my butterfly garden, the experts advised to place large flat rocks around the garden so butterflies visiting your garden can bask in the sun. It was a chilly morning, by August standards, and this was the only area of the trail that was not moss covered or mulched up and in the direct sun. So Mr. (or Ms.) Butterfly was enjoying those sunbeams that were streaming down. It stretched leisurely, opening and closing its wings, then leaving the wings spread out, its beautiful colors displayed. It was during this display of colors that I noticed this poor creature’s wings were tattered in many places. However, when it finally flitted away, it did so by delicately landing on a wildflower without any hint of wing impairment.
I insisted on taking a selfie with my fluttery friend, albeit a shadow selfie.
The butterfly had his/her own shadow magic going on.
I found the most human activity at the paved bike pathway which winds around the Park. There were many bicyclists out and I walked along that bike pathway when I was done with the rustic trails. The flowers interspersed with cattails blowing in the breeze was picturesque considering it was a ditch.
It was a large park, 350 acres altogether, and I would have explored it more, but I didn’t want to get lost or be late for the sketching event at 2:00 p.m. I would have liked to visit the Butterfly viewing area and Monarch waystation on the other side of the Park, but I was lucky enough to see the blue butterfly so no need to stop there.
Meanwhile back at the Nature Center …
Had I arrived just a few minutes earlier to the Nature Center, I would have witnessed the release of four Monarch Butterflies into the woods behind the Center. I entered the building and saw the back door open and a few people gathered at the doorway. A Monarch butterfly was sitting on a woman’s hand and as I reached for my camera, she said “here, let him sit on your hand and I’ll take a picture of it.” Remembering what happened with the last friendly butterfly, I jumped at this chance and extended my hand only to have to fly up into the air. Maybe next time. The butterfly exhibit inside the Nature Center still had one Monarch that had just emerged and several chrysalises where caterpillars hung in their pale green sacs and will soon emerge as Monarch butterflies and be released just as these were.
I took pictures of the snakes and turtles inside the Nature Center, but this post is way too long already, so I’ll write about them my next time to this venue. We had a very rainy morning today – not lucky for racking up steps, but with a stormy day ahead, at least I was able to wrap up and put a bow on this post.