Last weekend I went back to the Black River State Forest a year after my first visit. Last year I was alone, this year I invited five friends. I was eager to play tour guide and I narrowed down the hikes to to my three favorites, which wasn’t hard. Hint: two of them I profiled last year. The other one is a short nature trail by the river that was unfortunately full of mosquitoes this time around.
I did go farther on the trails than I did last year, but since I already wrote about them I’m not going too add more detail on those areas. I consider those posts good enough introductions. Instead, I am writing about the amazing diversity of life in Jackson County.
It starts with the animals I only had residual evidence of. Two years straight of timber wolf (Canis lupus) tracks near Dike 17! At one particularly sandy spot, I saw wolf, white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), and sandhill crane (Antigone canadensis) tracks. Hmmm. I wonder if there’s a good story behind that. Maybe the wolves tracked the deer, successfully taking one down. The tracks were pointing in the same direction. Wolves also hunt cranes, but my money’s on the deer being the prey. Apparently wolves mainly go after young cranes and these tracks were pretty large. I can see an adult crane being able to fly to safety. Maybe the cranes flew off high into the sky and witnessed the kill from afar.
Then there were the sounds. Eastern whip-poor-wills (Antrostomus vociferus) and common nighthawks (Chordeiles minor). The magical fluting of the veery (Catharus fuscescens). The “drink your tea” of the eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus). The loud, crisp call of the ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla). These are all sounds I heard right at our site.
Then, of course, there was everything we saw. I had a remarkable glimpse of a golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) when I was without my binoculars or camera. It was flitting low through our campsite, in the low trees by the edge of the river, probably scouring the twigs and foliage for bugs. It stayed for a minute then flew off to the east. This brings my year warbler count up to 20. There were other birds too- the trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) and common loon (Gavia immer) on my Dike 17 hike. The pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) that flew in front of my car while I was driving down Cemetery Road. Brown thrashers (Toxostoma rufum) were everywhere, including one my friends saw tearing the wings off a dragonfly before devouring it.
The herping was decent. My friends rescued two Blanding’s turtles (Emydoidea blandingii) from the road and we got a good view of a spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) doing its best to hide in fallen leaves. No snakes though, but Jackson County as a whole seems like good habitat for many species.
When it comes to plants and invertebrates I’m only able to identify so much of what I saw. The woods are mixed conifer and deciduous. Jack pines (Pinus banksiana) are common especially in barrens. Lupine (genus Lupinus) was blooming but we were just past the peak and many of the plants were going to seed. There were a few types of fern, the one that stood out the most being the cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum).
The only dragonfly species I was able to identify is the chalk-fronted corporal (Ladona julia), a striking black and white dragonfly that was basically everywhere on one of my hikes. Despite its abundance, I didn’t get a picture I like. I got quite a few butterfly pictures and I’ve put them all below.
This is definitely not an exhaustive inventory of every species at the Black River. It is simply my post made in praise of the abundance of life I witnessed and the joy I felt over the weekend. This was my first camping trip of the year and even though 2018 is wet and buggy I hope for at least one more outing before the calendar changes over.