Dowagiac Nature Sanctuary, photo by Brenda Hill
Natural Wonders of Michiana
Explore our community's wild side with Natural Wonders of Michiana. This series will feature different trails in the Michiana area for exploring wildflowers, birds, and other wildlife. Check back every Wednesday for a new activity!
Photo by St. Joseph County Parks, Facebook
Paddling at State and County Parks
For today’s edition of Natural Wonders of Michiana, we’re exploring great places to paddle. Being on the water allows you to see amazing birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and fish from a unique perspective in their habitat. Many locations offer equipment rentals. We encourage everyone to take lessons and learn safety tips before exploring rivers and lakes in our area.
Here are some places to explore:
Ferrettie/Baugo Creek County Park
This county park offers canoe and kayak rentals to explore Baugo Creek and Baugo Bay in Osceola, Indiana. And today (May 19) is opening day for canoe and kayak rentals! Rental hours are 11am to 4pm (vessels must be returned by 7pm).
Potato Creek State Park
This Indiana state park offers canoe, paddleboat, rowboat, and kayak rentals for use on the beautiful Worster Lake.
Indiana Dunes State Park
There are many lakes and rivers to explore in Northwest Indiana on this list.
Indiana Lakes and Rivers
There are many places to paddle in Indiana. Check out this website for more information, which includes safety information and groups you can contact or join.
Michigan Lakes and Rivers
There are lots of places to paddle in Michigan, and you can search by location on this website.
If you’re getting started, the library has some resources on canoeing and kayaking you can check out from the library:
Where do you enjoy canoeing or kayaking?
Identifying Plants and Animals in your Backyard with Nature Apps
For today’s edition of Natural Wonders of Michiana, we’re sharing apps you can use to identify plants and animals in your own backyard.
Have you ever come across a plant or animal and thought: “WHOA! That’s neat. What is it?” Good news: There’s an app for that! Identification apps can turn an ordinary walk into an interactive scavenger hunt. (For those of you who play Pokémon Go, it’s like that, but in real life.) Not only will you impress your friends by reciting the names of common flora and fauna, but you’ll learn fun facts, too. Here are a few of our favorite free identification apps.
PlantSnap (iOS and Android)
Take a quick pic with your mobile device to identify plants, flowers, cacti, succulents and mushrooms instantly. Learn the plant’s scientific name, its native region, its toxicity to pets and humans, its medicinal uses, how to care for it, and where to buy your own (when applicable).
Users get 10 free snaps per day but may subscribe for $2.99 per month to unlock premium features.
Merlin Bird ID (iOS and Android)
Designed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Merlin is designed to be a birding coach for beginning and intermediate bird watchers. You may ID birds by taking a picture, or by entering the date, location, color, size, and behavior of the bird that you saw. The app will then compare your report with those of over 5000+ contributors to find a match.
iNaturalist (iOS and Android)
A joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, iNaturalist connects you with a community of naturalists who work together to record and identify wildlife. When you spot something in the wild, take a picture, tag your location, and upload your contribution for others to verify and discuss. By doing so, you create useful data to Help scientists and resource managers understand when and where organisms occur.
Have you used any identification apps? What are some of your favorites?
Exploring Big Trees in St. Joseph County
In today’s edition of Natural Wonders of Michiana, we are looking up at big, beautiful trees: specifically, "The Big Trees of St. Joseph County 2020." A few trees in our county have made it on the Department of Natural Resources’ Indiana Big Tree Register.
The big Sycamore tree pictured above is at the University of Notre Dame, at the intersection of Corby and Holy Cross, and is listed on the big tree list for St. Joseph County. According to the list, referenced above, it is 73 feet tall, and at 4 ½ feet, its massive circumference is 256.5 inches (21.4 feet). The average crown spread is 124.25 feet.
To learn more about trees, place a hold on any of these titles at the library.
Rooting for more tree-rific content? Enjoy the following poem by Mary Oliver:
When I Am Among the Trees
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It's simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
This poem is found in Thirst by Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Mary Oliver. Thirst and other collections of her poems may be found at the library here.
What are some of your favorite trees? Are there books about nature or trees you have read and enjoyed?
Photo by nps.gov
Observing Rare Plants in Pinhook Bog
Today, our Natural Wonders of Michiana series is exploring Pinhook Bog, which was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1965 and is located within the Indiana Dunes National Park, in LaPorte County. It is a national treasure in our own backyard.
If you’re a nature enthusiast, Pinhook Bog is one of the most exciting and unique areas to visit in Michiana. The bog is highly protected because it contains rare plant species. It has the Tamarack tree, beautiful Sphagnum Moss, carnivorous plants such as the Pitcher Plant and Sundew, orchids like Pink Lady's Slipper, and ferns.
Pinhook Bog was formed 14,000-15,000 years ago when a glacier retreated and left ice blocks that melted. Over time, clay trapped the water in a basin, as explained here. (This link is a teacher packet for a class visit to the bog. It gives basic information on how the bog was formed and lists some of the unique plants that can be found there.)
Exploring the bog may only be done with a Park Ranger on a planned guided tour and registration is required. The National Park Service is planning to open up a few hikes soon, but they will be limited due to COVID-19 and face coverings will be required. Keep track of future announcements by following their Facebook page.
If you have visited Pinhook Bog, what did you enjoy seeing? Let us know if you have discovered a natural wonder in the Michiana area.
Walking through Wildflowers at Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary
The Michigan Nature Association calls the Dowagiac Nature Preserve (also known as the “Dowagiac Woods”) the “crown jewel” of its sanctuaries. Tucked away in Cass County, Michigan, in an area of farm fields and farmhouses, the sanctuary is accessed through a small parking area off Frost Street, south of M62. The sanctuary is home to many species of native wildflowers, fungi, moss, and trees, as seen in the above photos by photographer Brenda Hill. The woods are located at 31748-32498 Frost St., Dowagiac, MI, 49047. For more information, click here. For a fact sheet, click here.
Hiking with your dog at St. Patrick's County Park
Encompassing almost 400 acres with woodland trails, St. Patrick’s County Park is a great place to explore the outdoors with your furry friend. There are many trails that connect together so you can make your hike longer or shorter depending on how you feel. Maple the dog (pictured below) is a regular visitor to the park and enjoys hiking along the St. Joseph River, through the Manion Canyon Loop, which goes by the historical Manion Cabin that is hidden within the park.
Plan your hike by looking at the trail map here.
Want to learn more about the history of the Manion Cabin? Download the brochure here.
One way to extend your hiking experience is to visit the trails across the street from the main entrance. This area contains the Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility (ND-LEEF) and is an area that provides scientists a place for conducting experiments. You can also walk to the Morrison Education and Outreach Pavilion to view the bald eagle nest and catch a glimpse of them in flight or sitting in the nearby trees. This designated spot for viewing minimizes nest disturbance, but if you want a more up-close look at what is going on inside the nest, check out the Live Bald Eagle Cam here.
When hiking at St. Patrick’s Park, remember to always keep your dog on a 6 ft. leash. The American Hiking Society also has some more helpful tips for hiking with your dog.
What local trails and outdoor places do you enjoy hiking and exploring with your dogs?
Stargazing at Dr. T. K. Lawless International Dark Sky Park
International Dark Sky week is April 5-12, and there's no better way to celebrate than by stargazing at Dr. Lawless Park, which is one of only 130 certified International Dark Sky Places (IDSPs) in the world. Located in Vandalia, Michigan, the park is a 45 minute drive from South Bend, and it's worth the trip. On a clear night, you can see thousands more stars than you can see within city limits, due to the absence of light pollution.
Speaking of light pollution: International Dark Sky Week was established to raise awareness about this modern problem and its impact on wildlife. Did you know that artificial light can negatively impact animals by disrupting migration, hunting, and reproduction? Learn more here.
To celebrate International Dark Sky Week, the park will be open to the public until midnight each night between April 5-10 (weather permitting). The park will also have several special events during the week, including an Astrophotography class on Wednesday, April 7 and a Basic Astronomy class on Saturday, April 10. Call (269) 445-4456 for more information.
Regardless of where you seek the stars, here are some tips for a successful outing:
• Bring a blanket (or two!). You'll have a better view of the stars if you're lying down, and your neck will thank you.
• Wear layers, and err on the side of warmth. What may feel comfortable en route to the park may feel inadequate once you're lying still on the ground. Be prepared by bringing cold weather gear with you.
• Be patient. Human eyes need 20-30 minutes to fully adjust to the dark, and until then, you won't be able to see the full breadth of the stars.
• Put your phone away! It can be tempting to use it as a flashlight, but nearby eyes will adjust to the bright glow of the screen and will need another 20-30 minutes to acclimate to the dark.
Be safe, stay warm, and enjoy the natural wonders of the night sky!
A Great Blue Heron wades in the shallow lake bed. Rain will help stimulate Chamberlain Lake’s aquatic life.
Birdwatching in St. Joseph County Parks
Natural wonders are never far away in Michiana. With lakes, rivers, forests and prairies nearby, the chance to enjoy diverse scenery, animals and plants doesn’t require a long drive. And while we're past the first day of spring, we are still a few weeks away from the lush greening of trees, blooming of flowers, and influx of migratory species. Though it’s still early, signs of spring can definitely be found while birdwatching in some of our St. Joseph County Parks (IN).
Beverly D Crone Restoration Area
This park south of town is a reclaimed landfill, improved with trails and incorporating grasses and trees that provide habitat for a variety of creatures. Birds are using dead grasses and other detritus of winter to begin building nests. Bluebirds, sparrows, chickadees, red-winged blackbirds and several other species are active right now, and wild turkeys have been heard in the distance. Grassland lovers like the meadowlark and bobolink are on their migratory journey and should begin arriving in late April.
Chamberlain Lake Nature Trail
To the west of the city, off Crumstown Highway, the many fallen trees caused by a devastating tornado create a forest architecture like no other. Towering sycamore branches overspread decomposing trunks, but every tree, standing or not, provides shelter, building materials or food for the many inhabitants of this preserve. Daffodil clumps, butterflies, and competing songbirds are sure signs that spring is in the air. Woodpeckers are busy now, and are heard before they are seen. From the little downy to the large pileated, this park may be the woodpecker’s idea of paradise. Follow the easy 1.1 mile trail all the way to Chamberlain Lake, and you may see a Great Blue Heron, ducks, swan or geese. Many birds on the way to Lake Michigan will make Chamberlain Lake one of their stops.
Ferrettie/Baugo Creek County Park
This 214-acre park on the eastern border of the county has several trails that offer a scenic way to enjoy the peaceful creek and hear some lovely birdsong. The trails pass under Lincoln Highway and the railroad tracks, which makes for a unique experience if a train is passing above. Beyond the road noise of the first part of Portage Trail, the woods and creek become the focal points, especially well-appreciated from the vantage point of the bridge. Hawks patrol the skies and cardinals, blue jays, finches and robins provide music in abundance. While not part of the Indiana Birding Trail, the park is home to many enjoyable birds, especially those who prefer access to water and lots of trees and shrubs.
If you’ve never been to these parks, you’ll be amazed how close and convenient they are. Any one of the three can be reached in 20 minutes or less from downtown South Bend. With shorter hiking trails, you can plan a quick outing without a long drive, but still have the chance to see a great variety of species.
To see a full listing of the parks, nature preserves and wildlife areas managed by the St. Joseph County Parks department, go here.
Check out these other great resources for birding in our area:
And to learn almost anything else you need to know about birds, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology here.
Photo by Potato Creek State Park, Facebook.
Hiking in Potato Creek State Park
The enchanting Potato Creek State Park is right here in St Joseph County, where you can find the 327-acre Worster Lake. This artificial lake was created in 1977 by damming Potato Creek.
Consider taking frequent walks to discover what might be blooming each week. You will find Spring Beauty, Trout Lily, Yellow Violet, Yellow Marsh Marigold, and many others. (The Skunk Cabbage pictured above is one of the first spring wildflowers, and it is blooming in the park right now!)
Worster Lake provides a unique habitat for all sorts of birds. Frequently in spring, you can hear the haunting call of a Common Loon, or spot a Bald Eagle, Osprey, or Blue Heron. People also visit this park to see the Woodcock perform its unique mating ritual.
This park is recognized on the Audubon Indiana Birding Trail guide, which recommends the best trails for birding in the park. It also links the eBird app for Potato Creek, so you can check for recent sightings of particular birds. We highly recommend you visit this park for Spring Renewal!
Exploring the Woods at Rum Village Park
South Bend’s largest city park, Rum Village Park, is a phenomenal treasure which boasts (on their website) 160 acres with 3 miles of hiking trails and everything is free! They are located at 2626 S. Gertrude St., South Bend. Once there, follow the signs to the Nature Center.
Park Naturalist and nature aficionado, Garry Harrington will be sharing the best kept secrets of this local forest during these Sunday walks:
Sunday, March 28 and April 25 at 2:00 pm
Discover beautiful wildflowers, such as Hepatica, Spring Beauty, Trout Lily, Bloodroot, Dutchman’s Breeches, Squirrel Corn, or Trillium
Hear a Barred Owl calling or see a woodpecker drumming a tree
Hear frogs and toads calling
Meet at the Nature Center, which is open from 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm on Sundays (but closed during the nature walk). Registration isn’t required, but you’ll need to wear a face covering and socially distance. Before or after the hike you’re invited to explore the nature center, which features a dozen live native reptiles, amphibians, and fish, and you can also view birds feeding at the feeders.
You can use this guide Common Spring Wildflowers of Indiana State Parks or take advantage of the many nature guides at the library SJCPL Nature Guides as you explore.
Birding at Indiana Dunes
Few places in the midwest can rival the incredible rich diversity of unique species here due to Lake Michigan and the wetland areas formed by the glaciers. We have 370 amazing bird species, many of which are migratory birds.
For an experience you’ll always remember, grab your binoculars and head to the Indiana Dunes during March and April on a warm day to see migrating hawks on the thermals. Contact the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center to find out the latest sighting of birds and where to go to look for them.
Or if you’re up for serendipity, you can use Indiana Dunes Self-Guided Birding.
Don’t wait too long to register for the May 13-16, 2021, Indiana Dunes Birding Festival. Expert guides will be leading field trips, but limited spots fill up quickly.
Are you an outdoor enthusiast? What local trails or natural beauty have you discovered?