Friday, April 30, 2010

Bay City Recreation Area

Boy, did we need a vacation. I know I've said it before but when you're self-employed it's easy to forget to stop working. It seems like it just goes on and on, especially if you work from home because then you never leave the office.

We were going to head over to the west side of the state to camp in one of my favorite places, Muskegon State Park. Wonderful campground with a great trail system that passes through many different kinds of habitat, thanks to it's being on the coastline. We decided instead to stay a little closer to home to save on travel time and to try out a new place. Bay City is on the east side of the state, on the west side of Saginaw Bay. It contains the Topico Marsh, which is supposed to be good for bird watching, has some trails of reasonable distance and is bisected by a paved rail trail.

It seems our timing was a bit off. We were months late for raptor migration, and several weeks to a month late for waterfowl migration. Songbirds don't start migrating in earnest for another week or two, so there wasn't really much to see. That's OK, we got away from the house and had a chance to catch our breath.

We rode our bikes over to Tobico Lagoon, which is the link between Tobico Marsh and Saginaw Bay.

Here a mute swan is on her nest.

It is a beautiful time of year filled with flowers and young leaves, but some places can be rather bland yet, like the marsh, whose cattails have not yet greened the place up. This red-winged blackbird tried his best to liven things up.

After leaving the lagoon we picked up the rail trail. I think these trails are one of the best ideas for reusing land. Built on top of old railroad beds, they offer an easy ride and usually some pretty nice scenery as well as, in many cases, serving as connectors between towns and cities.

These cinnamon ferns were growing along the trail.

Here are a few photos of horse tail. If you recall I posted a picture of one in my Earth Day blog last week. After seeing these plants I was a little confused, since these looked so different from the one I posted before, so I looked them up.

Turns out that these plants are considered to be living fossils. They have continuously inhabited the earth for over 250 million years--some of its ancestors grew to be 60 feet tall. Like many other ancient plants (like ferns) they to not actually flower but reproduce by spores or by spreading underground roots. Turns out the photo I posted last week is of a spore cluster of a horse tail, not a scouring rush as I indicated. Not every horse tail will produce a stalk with spores--the plants with spore cones are considered to be fertile, the ones that produce leaves are not.

Souring rush, on the other hand, is a taller plant that does not produce leaves like the ones seen below. Instead the plant grows as a hollow tube up to 4 feet tall, and each plant has spore-producing parts at the top of the stem. I will have to look for some scouring rush and do a post on the difference between the two.

Here is a trillium of a variety we don't have at home. We were a bit too early to see one in bloom, however. This plant will produce a much smaller flower on a taller stem than the large-flowered trillium. It is possible this will produce a maroon flower.

Now here's one I have only heard about but never seen--bloodroot. (I can't tell you how wonderful it is to have a naturalist in your back pocket when you're out on the trail. Lori is indispensable when it comes to pointing out plants.) Here again was a plant I knew nothing about so I looked it up.

Bloodroot, it turns out, grows from an orange-colored rhizome, and when the plant is injured will secrete a reddish-colored liquid. The flowers emerge before the leaves--you can see here that we were too late for the blooms, all that is left is the seed pod. The seeds will actually be spread by ants, who are attracted to a secretion in the plant and will take the seeds into their nest. The yummy coating will be eaten off and the seeds discarded to the ants' trash heap, where they might germinate.

Just so you can see what the plant looks like in bloom, here's a photo I found online, from the website The flowers will open up more than this.

And here is a wonderful illustration from 1791 by Sydenham Edwards, which I posted so you can see the whole structure. I thought this was better than yanking one up to see the roots for myself!

Next: More Bay City Rec Area


  1. Marie, something's nagging that bloodroot was used for medicinal purposes? poison? centuries ago. Any idea? Really interesting about the ants. Horse tail appeals because it's so solitary but very much the survivor. Loved your pics. Thanks!

  2. Yes, it has been used medicinally but it is apparently not very safe; it can kill you if you ingest too much and can cause disfiguring scaring if you apply it to your skin.