Audio Guide to Spring: Skunk cabbage and the pink-footed goose
IPR's Red Pine Radio brings you nature spotting tips and wildlife news from northern Michigan.
Fifty is a magic number this time of year in Northern Michigan.
Things start happening when temperatures are above 50 degrees several days in a row. This week, birds, plants and butterflies are appearing faster than we can report them.
Today, we bring you news about spring peepers, a rare goose and a plant you may not have seen before: skunk cabbage.
SKUNK CABBAGE, APTLY NAMED
This stinky cabbage is one of the first signs of spring.
“It does smell a little like rotting stuff,” says Katie Grzesiak, plant ecologist.
The skunky odor attracts carrion-eating flies and beetles. Although not always thought of as pollinators, flies play an important part in pollinating the skunk cabbage.
Skunk cabbage is also one of just a few plant species that can generate their own heat. The cabbages' buds can warm themselves as high as 70 degrees, which enables them to poke through ice and snow.
The skunk cabbage is a plant that likes to have its feet wet, too. The plant is found most often in lowlands and wet, mucky areas in spring.
If you want to see it while keeping your own feet dry, look for a nature area with boardwalks or wear boots.
As spring turns to summer, the flower withers away and the plant develops bright green leaves as big as dinner plates.
Bears will eat the smaller plants, but not even a very hungry bear will eat the big leaves because they’re loaded with oxalic acid. That’s the same chemical found in rhubarb leaves, which can be toxic to humans.
If you're looking for edible leaves, keep an eye out for ramps. Red Pine Radio member Cheryl Bartz saw her first ramp of the year this week, and they’ll be springing up in greater numbers over the next few weeks.
SINGING SPRING PEEPERS
Another sign of warmer weather is the spring peeper. Walk by any small pond or swampy area and, depending upon the temperature, you might hear lots of these tiny frogs singing.
The large number of spring peepers may have you asking where they all suddenly came from. The answer? They never left. Spring peepers spend the winter months buried under leaves, in hollow logs or in soft mud near ponds.
They survive the long winter by producing a kind of natural “antifreeze." Despite this, hibernating spring peepers can still die at temperatures below 21 degrees Fahrenheit. An insulating blanket of snow and mud is crucial to their survival.
Even when peepers are hibernating, they still need an energy source to stay alive. They get that from the same natural antifreeze that allows them to survive the cold — it also serves as food.
AN ICELANDIC GOOSE
Birdwatchers flocked to Kingsley this past week to see a first: a pink-footed goose in northern Michigan.
Birders from the region and beyond lined the road trying to get a glimpse of the bird. Some drove hours to see it.
The birds typically reside in Iceland, Greenland and parts of northern Europe. But one appeared in the farm fields at the intersection of Clous and Schneider roads, likely knocked off course while migrating across the North Atlantic.
Let us know what you’re seeing! Send your photos of northern Michigan flora and fauna to email@example.com. Put "Audio Guide to Spring" in the subject line.
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