Richard Brewer


Richard Brewer 30 July 2014, Kalamazoo County MI

 30 July 2014, Kalamazoo County MI

Richard Brewer is a biological scientist and author.

Perhaps his best-known book is Conservancy:  The Land Trust Movement in America, published in October 2003 by the University Press of New England under the Dartmouth College imprint. It is currently available as a paperback and an e-book.

Other books include the first breeding-bird atlas of Michigan and a text book of general ecology.  He has broad interests in ecology, conservation, and ornithology.

A recent article is Conservation Easements and Perpetuity: Till Legislation Do Us Part.  It is in the fall issue of Duke University Law School’s journal Law and Contemporary Problems (vol. 74, no. 4), which consists of a symposium, Conservation Easements, New Perspectives in an Evolving World.  The fall issue with its eleven articles (Brewer’s is next to last) was published online 12 October 2011.

On 22 February 2012 Brewer was the first recipient of the Nancy Cutbirth Small Distinguished Service Award established by the Kalamazoo Area Chapter of Wild Ones, Native Plants, Natural Landscapes.

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February 2015, California and Kalamazoo

Katy and I gave February in Kalamazoo a miss for 2015, as did a few other people we know.  The Polar Vortex of 2014 was what prompted our and others’ decisions. And away to warmer climates was the right direction to take: The vortex was operating this year too.  Here in Kalamazoo, the daily low temperature  was below the long-term average low for the date  for 23 of the 28 days of February.

Unfortunately, we came back a week too early; the first seven days of March also had low temperatures below the long-term averages, culminating in  Friday  7 March when the low was -2 degrees Fahrenheit, to be compared with the long-term average low for that date of 24 degrees.

Snowfall for February 2015 wasn’t so bad, but  at the end of January there was already plenty of snow here in Oshtemo Township from the snows of  November.  In fact, I can still see a fair amount of that same snow as I look out my window today (20 March).  For the first couple of weeks we were back, driving through the parking lots of the big box stores  was like navigating among icebergs.

We spent February in California, in the Bay area, most of the time in Silicon Valley. The temperatures were mostly 50s at night and 60s during the day.  We saw a lot of birds, especially shorebirds and water birds in the Baylands around Palo Alto.  We  also saw a version of the future for a lot of other parts of the US , if we don’t change our ways.

In the next few weeks, I’ll try to write a little about California and also, of course, about what’s going on around here.

For example, I’m supposed to lead a field trip to the Brewer Woods Nature Sanctuary in Pavilion Township on Saturday 25 April to see–among other things–the spring wildflowers.  The SW Chapter of the Michigan Botanical Club  is the sponsor. I’ll say a little more about the field trip closer to the date.

That’s on the pro-environmental side.  On the anti-environmental side, the Colony Farm Orchard is once again threatened by WMU expansion.  The Kalamazoo Gazette is only a shadow of what it once was, but is still the main way most of us have for keeping up with the local atrocities.  The print version as well as the on-line version, Mlive, carried the 18 March story about the Colony Farm Orchard and Western Michigan University’s renewed attack on this  preserved land.

I’ll have a little more to say about Colony Farm Orchard too.

As I finish this short post today, Saturday 21 March, 2015, the sun is shining.  Almost all the snow is gone–not quite, not here in at the east edge of the snow belt.  With a temperature of 49 degrees. I wouldn’t call it warm. But the sandhill cranes have been overhead, flying north, red-winged blackbirds are back, and the flowers of winter aconite and snow drops are ready to open. The future looks bright.  Except for Colony Farm Orchard.


Posted in Birds, Conservation, Land Trusts (& other private land conservation), Michigan (including Kalamazoo), Plants and Plant Communities, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In Southwest Michigan, Vote Tuesday November 4 For Paul Clements and Mark Totten

Election day 2014 is coming up.  The Democratic party has some remarkably good candidates. Paul Clements and Mark Totten are two.  Clements is running for US Congress in the 6th district.  Totten is running for Michigan Attorney General.

Here’s a letter I sent to the Kalamazoo Gazette several days ago (published on-line at M-Live) about the first contest:

To the Editor–Citizens of southwest Michigan have the opportunity to improve the world this fall.  All they have to do is vote for Paul Clements. It ‘s time to take the anti-environment bat out of Fred Upton‘s hands. 

Fred’s record is bad enough on other issues, but it is outstandingly grim on environmental and especially energy matters.  As examples, he voted Yes on opening the outer continental shelf to oil drilling and No on prohibiting oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Yes on barring the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, and No on cutting government subsidies for corporate oil and gas exploration. So the Upton record goes, all down the line, on the wrong side all the way. 

Turn out November 7 and vote for the good guy, Paul Clements.


Mark Totten‘s opponent is the current attorney general,  Bill Schuette, elected in 2010.  A highlight of the early part of  Schuette‘s political career is that  he was chosen by President G. W. Bush as his personal representative to Australian-American Friendship Week in Australia.

The Detroit Free Press today (October 30) endorsed Mark Totten  in glowing terms (see  The article provides a good run-down of Schuette‘s failing performance in the past four years.  He has, says the Free Press, “used his office primarily to promote conservative causes and sabotage federal initiatives that he opposes”–such as EPA clean air programs.

Totten is a Kalamazoo native, has a law degree and a Ph.D. in ethics from Yale and teaches at the Michigan State University law school. Early in the campaign, he was  endorsed by former governor William Milliken, probably Michigan’s best governor, at least within living memory.  Also endorsing Totten is Frank J. Kelley, who may have been Michigan’s best attorney general and certainly was its longest-serving one, for 37 years.  (Kelley holds the record as youngest attorney general of the state and 37 years later, the oldest.)  Kelley was a Democrat and Milliken a Republican, though Milliken’s strong environmental credentials might disqualify him from  today’s  Republican party.

Both Paul Clements and Mark Totten are remarkably capable. Michigan will be  lucky to have them serve.


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A Day at the Elkhart Jazz Festival, 2014

The Bucky Pizzarelli Trio at the Elkhart Jazz Festival, 26 June 2011.  Photograph by Richard Brewer

A Bucky Pizzarelli trio at the Elkhart Jazz Festival, 26 June 2011. Photograph by Richard Brewer

Elkhart, a middle-sized town in northern Indiana, holds a jazz festival every year on the weekend closest to the Summer Solstice. Katy and I drove down for the Saturday afternoon session this year.

Jazz musicians don’t tend to be early risers, so not much was happening until 10 or 11 AM other than high-school jazz bands performing either on the outdoor stage in the Civic Plaza or in the 1500-seat Lerner Theatre (built as a vaudeville and movie house in 1924 and re-opened after restoration in 2011). But the high-school bands that come to Elkhart are worth listening to; they’re well rehearsed, they swing, and they almost always have one or more excellent soloists.

The  jazz groups perform in several venues–the two already listed plus the Knights of Columbus hall (the only venue where alcohol is served),  the New Life Community Church, and a couple more. Performances last an hour. Half begin on the hour, the others on the half-hour.  By careful scheduling combined with fast foot work, it’s possible to hear four or five complete sets and get a good taste of four or five other groups before things wrap up for the afternoon.  There’s usually enough going on that you’re likely to miss 2-4 groups that you’d like to hear if you attend just one session of the festival as we did.

We began with a Dixieland band, the River Rogues. One of the strengths of the Elkhart Festival is that it includes a wide variety of jazz forms, old to new. The seven Rogues are from Grand Rapids, Michigan, so the river is not the Mississippi, the Swanee, or even the Wabash (It’s the Grand). The band provides an energetic, enjoyable romp through the Dixieland repertoire.

About 11:30 we hustled over to Alfonso Ponticelli & Swing Gitan, Swing Gitan is the name of the Chicago-based group and Ponticelli is the guitarist leader. Others involved were a virtuoso violin player capable of playing notes so high they resembled the call of the broad-winged hawk, as well as a bassist and a cimbalom player. The cimbalom, a form of dulcimer played with two spoon-shaped hammers, is popular in Hungary.

The Festival program identifies the musical style of the group as Gypsy Swing.  In their high-energy, lengthy renditions, the group has what I don’t doubt is a Gypsy sound, but not, to me, a sound very close to Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelly. Perhaps Gypsy Swing has moved on.

We moved on, to two other guitarists, the duo of Bucky Pizzarelli and Ed Laub. Bucky is 88 years old and has played guitar professionally for 70 years. I don’t remember if he performed at the first Elkhart Jazz Festival in 1988, but I’m pretty sure he’s been here all through the 2000s.  He is, of course, one of the great jazz guitarists, rhythm but also single-string improvisation. Laub, his current partner, plays guitar and sings in a relaxed style.

One of the first tunes they played was Two Funky People which according to Bucky was composed by Al Cohn,  based on the chord changes of Street of Dreams (a Victor Young tune from 1932). One of Laub’s first vocals was a pleasant version of  Then I’ll Be Tired of You, an under-appreciated love song by Arthur Schwartz and Yip Harburg. Harburg also wrote the words for the songs in “The Wizard of Oz”–as well as Brother, Can You Spare a Dime and April in Paris, among many.

A new young singer that we wanted to hear was scheduled to start a half hour before the Pizzarelli-Laub set ended, so we slipped out and moved to the Knights of Columbus Hall, not far away, in time to get good seats for the Lena Seikaly trio.

Ms Seikaly–tall, dark-haired, and striking looking–is a major new talent. Several of the tunes were from her recent CD,”Looking Back”, which features songs mostly from the 1920s and 1930s, especially ones recorded by Ethel Waters, Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, and Ella Fitzgerald. As far as influences go, I didn’t hear much connection to Ethel Waters or Mildred Bailey but traces of Ella and Billie are there–as they almost have to be in any young female jazz singer. Ms Seikaly did Foolin’ Myself this day, beautifully — a nice tribute to the early Billie. Possibly Ms Seikaly’s scat singing on another couple of songs represent Ella’s influence, though in form they seemed more connected to the modern instrumental jazz of recent decades.

Ms. Seikaly has the vocal equipment, musical education (vocal performance, mezzo-soprano, at U. Maryland), stage presence, and enthusiasm for jazz to do great things.  My only question is whether the America of 2014 cares enough about jazz to support her efforts or the efforts of the many other excellent young jazz musicians that are coming along.

It would be unfair to say that female vocalists have been a neglected  category at Elkhart; there have been a couple  who were regulars for considerable stretches of time.  I’m thinking of Becky Kilgore and Joan Collaso.  Becky Kilgore was the key member of a group that used for its name the acronym BED. It stood for Becky, Eddie (Erikson, guitar), and Barrett (first name Dan, trombone). In later years, a bass player, Joel Forbes, sometimes joined the group, which might then be called the  Rebecca Kilgore Quartet.  Ms Kilgore did most of the singing–straightforward, unadorned readings of the American song book in a clear, persuasive voice. Barrett, a fine soloist, has played in many contexts including the sound-track of several Woody Allen movies. He was the trombonist in the band that Woody took to Europe (in the documentary “Wild Man Blues”) If my memory is correct, Barrett was the only  member of the band–except Woody (on clarinet)–who had a solo included in the movie.

Ms Kilgore is from Portland, Oregon.  The second female singer presented at many Elkhart festivals, including something like the last dozen, is Chicagoan Joan Collaso.  The Elkhart program states that “she blends the textures of jazz, R&B, Blues, and Gospel.” Other than these two women, though, female singers have been few and far between, so I was glad to see Ms Seikaly on the schedule.

About 2 PM, we started back toward the Lerner Theatre but stopped on the way to catch most of the set by the Gene Knific Trio at the outdoor stage in the Civic Plaza. This is probably the largest venue, with vast expanses of folding chairs. Its excellent  sound system  had no trouble with the nuances of the acoustic trio of piano (Knific), bass (Geoff Saunders), and drums (Evan Hyde).  The three young men are talented and well-schooled.  Knific and Hyde have western Michigan connections and all three have Florida connections.  Knific is a student of Shelly Berg, a well-known pianist and jazz educator at the University of Miami school of music–and performer at  several earlier Elkhart festivals.

Like nearly every group,the trio had a new CD for sale at the end of their set.  Their CD (“If I Could Find You”) includes some original compositions, some jazz-tinged classical music such as the first movement of Faure’s Requiem in D Minor, and popular songs such as  On the Sunny Side of the Street and I Hear a Rhapsody.  The trio’s version  of the latter could be named I Hear a Fugue.  The opening contrapuntal section is a refreshing contrast to the florid treatments of the song we usually hear.

After a late lunch at the beer-and-wine-garden tent next to the Lerner Theater, we caught the Pat Mallinger quartet with Bill Carrothers , a fine example of the saxophone-with-rhythm-section instrumentation that was the small-jazz-group model for decades. Mallinger, who plays all three saxophones, lives in Chicago.  Carrothers, the pianist, lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, far from any population center, but spends several weeks every year performing in Europe. At least that’s the latest information I found on the Web.

We finished the afternoon by staying put in the same space to hear the EJF All-Stars. The All-Stars seem to be the 2014 descendant of Bill Allred’s Classic Jazz Band, which played at the Elkhart festival for many years. For 2014, the group has shrunk from an octet to a septet, and a few long-term members are gone.  But the All-Stars do a fine, professional job of producing the main-stream jazz of the 1930s-1950s. Allred on trombone, Eddie Metz, Jr., drums, and Terry Myers, saxophone, were returnees.

Halfway through, Shelly Burns, wife of guitar and banjo player Bill Dendle, one of the new guys, sat in long enough to sing a couple of songs. One was another entry in the under-appreciated section of the American songbook– I Thought About You, words by Johnny Mercer, music by Jimmy Van Heusen.  The impromptu rendition was nice but not as nice as Karin Krog’s recording of about 40 years ago.

The room filled up. At a little before 5 PM, only one other group was still performing. Things would  heat up again when the Saturday evening session started at 6 PM. One of the two festival headliners would play from 8 to 10.  This was Aaron Neville, a singer of whom I know little.  The other headliner–the Preservation Hall Jazz Band–had played Friday evening at 8 PM.  The festival typically begins around 5:30 PM on Friday and runs to around 4 PM Sunday.

Katy and I moved out to the corridor to help make room for late-comers for the All-Stars. We found a couple of seats and stayed a few more minutes–the end of  a pleasant day at the festival.

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E-book version of Conservancy: The Land Trust Movement in America

An electronic-book version of Conservancy: The Land Trust Movement in America by Richard Brewer has recently been made available by the University Press of New England.

It is available at various e-book retailers accessible on the web including  (Kindle) and Barnes & Noble  (Nook).

The paperback version of Conservancy is still in print and available at most web-based book stores and some brick-and-mortar ones.



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Wood Frogs Calling Today

After a cold March–very different from last year–there are a few signs of spring. Today, at the Oshtemo Township oak area I heard a few wood frogs call mid-afternoon.  The day had gotten steadily warmer and it must have been in the high 50s by then. Air temperature.  I didn’t have a thermometer so I’m not sure what the water temperature was.

Looking back, I see that wood frogs first called here last year on 12 March.  Not only that, I led a spring wild flower field trip to Harris Sanctuary on 7 April 2012.  That corresponds to this coming weekend.  I haven’t been to Harris yet this spring, but at the beech-maple forest in Pavilion Township, about the only things up are spring beauty, wild leek, false mermaid weed, and harbinger of spring.  The last is the only thing that was in bloom as of Monday (1 April). It came up a few days earlier, with flowers that looked like white pin-heads.

Here in the oak woods probably no native herbs are yet in bloom, but winter aconite, snow drops, and crocus are, and honey-bees were visiting the crocus in late afternoon with the air temperature at 59 degrees. Few native herbs are visible above ground, but the rosettes of rather heart-shaped leaves of golden ragwort  were green and healthy a little upslope from the same pond where the wood frogs had been calling.


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Quote 6. Practical Advice to Environmentalists, quoted by Stephanie Mills

Button found 14 April 2011 and reused


Save the Earth.  Pitch In. Help Out.  A very little goes a long way.  If you’re interested call.  Don’t stop trying.

This advice appears in the Stephanie Mills book In Praise of Nature (p.165).  Mills mentions that sometime around 1990 four little girls who had learned that the Earth was endangered were visiting homes in her neighborhood to spread the alarm by handing out colored posters they had made. The one they gave her showed “our blue and green planet rising in a field of eight yellow stars” and included the quoted text.

Stephanie Mills attended college in California, where she made an environmental name for herself at a young age with the commencement address she gave in the spring of 1969 at her graduation.  Under the influence of Paul Ehrlich’s writings on human population, she told the other graduates and their parents that we were breeding ourselves out of existence and announced that “the most humane thing” for her to do was “to have no children at all.”  It made a media splash and Mills joined in the very active environmental movement  around San Francisco.  Along with many talks here and there around the country, she was involved with writing and editing such publications as Earth Times and the Whole Earth Catalog.

In the mid-1980s Mills became a Michigander, moving to the Traverse City area near the tip of the Lower Peninsula. A few years later,  she began work on In Praise of Nature.

Published to correspond with Earth Day 1990, In Praise of Nature is a selection of environmental writings edited by Mills (assisted by Jeanne Carstensen) and published by Island Press, a California-based non-profit that aims to publish “the most advanced thinking on the conservation of our natural resources.”

The book has a somewhat cumbersome format but manages to include brief reviews of and short selections from a good many books important in the 20th-century development of environmental thought.  Included are pieces by serious students and thinkers such as Aldo Leopold, George Perkins Marsh, Rachel Carson, and John Muir plus other more journalistic contributions that summarized the current state of various environmental topics.

There is a plenty of good environmental prose to be found in the book, but as practical environmental advice, not much of it is as strong or useful as the admonitions of the four young Michigan girls.

Save the Earth!  Pitch In. Help Out.  A very little goes a long way!  If you’re interested, call.  Don’t stop trying!

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Quote 5. William H. Whyte & Kalamazoo’s Own Walden Woods

Title page of Walden by H. D. Thoreau, Heritage Press edition. Photo by Richard Brewer November 2012

The woods and meadows that so attracted [new residents] disappeared as soon as developers got around to building on them, and if the residents wanted to find what other nature features would be next to go, they had only to check the names of the subdivisions being planned. When a developer puts a woods into the name, or a vale, heights, forest, creek, or stream, he is not conserving; he is memorializing.  Subdivisions are named for that which they are about to destroy.

–William H. Whyte

 William Hollingsworth Whyte, called “Holly,” wrote those words in his 1968 book, The Last Landscape (Doubleday & Company).  Whyte was many things–a keen and scientific student of human behavior, a planner and land conservationist, and an excellent writer.  He was the primary architect of the conservation easement, currently the most widely used method of private land conservation.

Whyte may not have been the first person to notice that developments tend to be named after the natural features they damage or obliterate, but I’m pretty sure he was the first prominent conservationist to state it as a rule. Most of us can come up with local examples. If we saw an ad for lots in a new development called the Preserve at Eagle Knoll, we would win more often than we lost if we bet that the knoll had been flattened, the eagles were gone, and nothing was preserved.

Recently, I came across a related but slightly different approach to naming developments right here in Kalamazoo.

A good many years ago, Western Michigan University bought some property a little beyond the west edge of the campus.  The property, sometimes held in the name of the WMU Foundation, adjoined a city well-field and the Arcadia plat and lay between Solon Street on the east and Drake Road on the west.  WMU had bought the land thinking they were going to need a bigger, grander football stadium, but the need didn’t materialize, and it turned out that the cost of such a project, especially the required utilities, was prohibitive.

The land, which for convenience can be referred to as the Arboretum, was mostly recovering agricultural fields but with a few relict patches of native vegetation.  On the northwest side of the property grew a few bur oaks of various sizes.  This was near the south edge of one of the eight tall-grass, black soil prairies of the county–Grand Prairie–and these trees were a heritage of the fringing bur oak plain.

Also on the north boundary but farther east was a small pocket, a little valley, of mesic forest, but an unusual type of mesic forest with few or no beeches or sugar maples, dominated instead by basswood trees.  Part of this little valley was on the WMU property, the rest on the parcel adjacent to the north.

For a good many years the land abided, the plants and animals cycling through the seasons, visited by no one except walkers and joggers, bird-watchers and berry-pickers, and an occasional ecology class.

Several years ago, things began to change.  Someone interested in the sequence and timing could probably work out the details from the Kalamazoo Gazette mlive archives if they wanted to spend the time.  Here’s a place to start.  A quick synopsis is that WMU wanted to monetize their land holdings, and the city of Kalamazoo desperately wanted an east-west street in the region.  Other business and governmental entities were or became involved. The Kalamazoo School system built a new middle school.  The city built a road, which they called a parkway, crossing the property from Drake Road to Solon Street.  I’ve never known just what a parkway is, but a prominent feature of this one is that there is no place to park along it. One result is that access to the arboretum for walkers is pretty much limited to some of the immediate neighbors.

And the land  began to be developed. A couple of months ago, I saw signs for a new condominium development. The literature on it mentions that it will be “set amidst 80 acres of woodlands and rolling  meadows–of which 40 acres will be preserved.” Just how preserved it will be is unclear; so also are who and what it’s preserved for.  The literature goes on with a set of bullet points one of which is “40 acres of private green space.”

The name of the new development:  Walden Woods.

Entrance to Walden Woods condo, Kalamazoo. Photo by Richard Brewer

Perhaps I’m jumping to a conclusion, but the name suggests a connection to Henry David  Thoreau, the famous  naturalist, conservationist, and environmentalist. In an earlier post, I quoted a characteristic passage from Thoreau’s journal that also pertains here:

Each town should have a park, or rather a primitive forest, of five hundred or a thousand acres, where a stick should never be cut for fuel, a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation…. All Walden Wood might have been preserved for our park forever, with Walden [pond] in its midst….


In Kalamazoo’s case, the 180+ acres of the Arboretum could have been turned into a city park–badly needed in this area of the city–along with an adjoining nature preserve. Something of this sort is what most of the neighbors and many other Kalamazoo residents wanted.  But, that, of course, is exactly what did not happen.  Instead, we have what we have, which includes Walden Wood in the form of a condo development.

It’s hard not to see this as another sad example of Whyte’s rule.  But perhaps we should try to take a little cheer from the situation. For example, if other developments follow in the arboretum, the names of dozens of other conservationists and conserved natural areas are waiting to serve. With Walden Woods honoring Thoreau, it would be only fair to have a Muir Woods for John Muir.  One of these already exists, but California is a long way from here so probably there would  be no confusion.

Among Teddy Roosevelt’s many conservation achievements, he set aside the first-ever bird sanctuary, Pelican Island.  How about Pelican Arboretum as a general name for the whole site?


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A Little More About Beech-Maple Forest in Late Summer

Fallen beechnuts. Photographed 20 August 2012 in Pavilion Township by Richard Brewer

In my last post I talked about how bland and uneventful the mesic forest is in late summer and early fall.  I was giving my impression from a good many years of experience with such forests.  But I spent a few hours on three days recently, actually looking at what was happening.  Partly I was hoping to see Triphora trianthophora and partly I wanted to check my memory.

I didn’t find three birds orchid, and not a lot was happening.  Not a lot, but still more than I had remembered.

For one thing, I had forgotten how important the shedding of fruit is at this time of year.  On 13 August, wild black cherry fruits were numerous on the ground, and there were more of them on visits in early and mid September. I have a feeling that birds that want black cherries eat the ripe–or green–fruit on the tree, but perhaps some mammals wanting the dried flesh or the stone wait for the cherries to drop.  That 60-year-old (but still unsurpassed) manual, American Wildlife and Plants, by Alexander C. Martin and two co-authors, suggests that cherries are eaten by red foxes and gray squirrels, but doesn’t comment on when they gather them.

By 20 September, there were lots of  samaras, the small key-like fruits of sugar maple on the ground.  Sugar maples are always the most common saplings in the mesic woods in Michigan.  There may be a rare year when the seed crop is low, but I think seed supply is rarely a limiting stage in the maple’s life cycle.

It’s not noticeable when you’re walking on the soft earth of the forest, but where the maple fruits have fallen on a hard surface, like a concrete walk, they snap when you step on them, like popping bubble-wrap.  Great fun, almost like popping ripe touch-me-nots.

On the 20th of September also, there were many light tan, prickly beechnuts on the ground, and more were coming down.  Some had one or two fruits inside and some were empty, but I had no way of knowing whether the two, sometimes three, fruits had been plucked out on the ground or in the tree or whether all had aborted.

There’s no question about what animals eat beech fruits.  The answer is everything.  Well, not warblers, but wood ducks, grouse, grackles, jays, woodpeckers, bear, squirrels, fox, chipmunk, deer.

I thought there were especially large crops this year from all these trees–cherry, maple, beech.  Whether some of this could be related to the unusual warmth of the summer is impossible to say.  Tree crops do fluctuate, with one very good year rarely being followed by another.

There were other good things to be seen on my visits to the woods. Lots of herbaceous plants and shrubs were bearing ripe fruit–American poke, or pokeweed, had ripe fleshy fruits.  Such things as Polygonum virginianum and Geum canadense had smallish, dry fruit.  The fruits of red-berried elder were long gone, eaten by birds, but there on the stems, two at a node, were large flower buds ready for next spring.

As I’ve claimed before, not much was in bloom, although Geum canadense had a few flowers with two or three white rounded petals still clinging.

Aster lateriflorus. Photographed 20 September 2012 in Pavilion Township MI by Richard Brewer.

But one species was definitely blooming and near its peak.  It wasn’t  three birds, which I didn’t find.  It was a little white aster, sometimes called calico aster.  The scientific name situation in not very satisfactory, but for our purposes we can refer to it as Aster lateriflorus.

It’s not showy, but it was blooming on August 13 and sill blooming on September 20, with no end to its season in sight.

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Bird Lives! Three Birds Orchid Still in Michigan

Last August (2011), I wrote a post mentioning that late summer is the flowering time of a rare plant of beech-maple forest, the three birds orchid, Triphora trianthophora. It’s rare nearly everywhere and seemingly was gone from most or all of the few known Michigan stations. I invited Michigan field naturalists to go out and find a place where the plant still lived.

Later that fall (2011), I received an email from Michigan botanist Charles Peirce with the following information:

1. There’s a photographer, Aaron Strouse, in Clare, Michigan who has superior photographs taken this summer. He has displayed them on flickr.

2. There is supposed to be a colony of Three Birds Orchid in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore [Leelanau County]. However, [the] location information covers a large amount of habitat and turns out to be of little use.

And now (2012), Indiana botanist Scott Namestnik has posted a comment to my 2011 essay:

I am happy to report that as of yesterday [3 September], Triphora trianthophora is alive and well in Michigan! (At least at one location). I was at a site in Berrien County yesterday botanizing with a friend when by complete luck I caught a quick glimpse of a tiny white flower on the mesic forest floor. After a double take, I realized that I was looking at Triphora trianthophora! We first saw a couple of plants, then a couple more, and then I realized that the popuation was much more extensive than we orignally suspected. In all, it covered an area ~30′ x 40′, and we estimated 100 plants, though there are probably more. From what I can tell, this is a different site from where it was previously known in Berrien County. I’ve notified a friend at MNFI [Michigan Natural Features Inventory], and we collected notes on the population that I’ve passed to my friend at MNFI.

The MNFI account for three birds orchid available on the web lists 12 stations in 10 counties. They run from Berrien and Cass in the southwest corner of Michigan to Leelanau County  three-quarters of the way up the Lake Michigan coast. However, the MNFI  web account includes only historic records, between 1880 amd 1981. None of the records is farther east than Ionia County; most are in counties directly adjacent to Lake Michigan.

From the information provided by  Charles Peirce and Scott Namestnik, we know that three birds still exists in Michigan, but it remains a rare plant.  It also is an inconspicuous plant–inconspicuous in ways that most plants never thought of.  It blooms at a time–late July to September–when few biologists, or anybody else, has much reason to be in its habitat. Under the dense canopy, the beech-maple forest is dark and buggy, with mosquitos and deer flies.  Mesic forest is outstandingly a site for spring ephemerals, though some other plants bloom through late spring and early summer. But by August almost no other plant species is in flower, except for a few late blossoms on thigh-high plants of horse nettle, Laportea canadensis.

Not much else is happening in these woods either. A few plants  have fruits ripening–bottle-brush grass and dolls eyes, for example. and there are a few fresh fungi such as large white puff balls and coral fungi; however, most of the prime mushrooms appear in spring, early summer, or a bit later in the fall.

So rare though it may be, three birds is also easily missed.

Here’s a little more information about the species reprinted from my earlier post:

Three birds is a short plant, 6 inches or thereabouts. There is much yet to learn about its habitat and life history.  Within its mesophytic forest home, it’s said to favor sites where there’s a build-up of leaf litter and humus.  Probably this means small depressions.  Leaves accumulate other places, such as between two large fallen trunks, but I’m not sure if that microhabitat would be long-lived enough to allow time for the orchid to invade.  But maybe it would. From observations of the Michigan botanist Fred Case in his Orchids of the Western Great Lakes Region (Cranbrook Institute of Science, 1987), I suspect that most dispersal is through underground tuberoids that are dug up, carried off, and stored in the duff and litter by red squirrels, or perhaps chipmunks.

Late in the summer, fleshy stems sprout rapidly from the underground tuberoids.  Each plant bears only a few leaves which are oval, alternate, and clasp the stem.  Usually there will be a few stems in a clump. Not long after the plants appear, one or occasionally more of the buds open.  Flowering is possibly triggered by a couple of chilly nights in a row.  It is reported that most of the plants in a given area produce their first blooms at the same time.  After a day or so, the first set of blossoms shrivel, and in a few days, a second round of flowering may occur, and perhaps a third.

The flowers (often three per plant) are recognizably orchids but small, perhaps about an inch wide and an inch tall and are mostly whitish or pinkish with a greenish bearded stripe on the lip.  The fruits last for a couple of weeks before slits develop that allow the release of the spore-like seeds in the following days.  Although the plants are not at their showiest when they’re in fruit, this is probably the longest period of their above-ground life.

If three birds is still in Berrien County and Leelanau , why shouldn’t it be in suitable habitat in the dozen or so counties in between?  Now may be the prime time to look.

Good hunting!


Acknowledgments:  My thanks to Charles Peirce and Scott Namestnik.  Both have interesting blogs. Peirce’s Michigan Wildflowers, has photos of many of the vascular plants of Michigan, arranged alphabetically (separate indexes for common and scientific names),  The website  makes an excellent aid for identifying or verifying Michigan plants.  His photos of Triphora trianthophora are dated 2012, indicating that he has been fortunate enough to visit a Michigan site for the species recently.

One of Namestnik’s blogs, Through Handlens and Binoculars, is devoted to natural history observations by him and his wife, particularly in the highly ecotonal region where they live in the northwest corner of Indiana (lapping over into far southwest  Michigan.





Posted in Conservation, Michigan (including Kalamazoo), Plants and Plant Communities | Comments closed

Trail Threat to Calhoun County’s Harvey Ott Preserve is Back

It appears that the more-or-less satisfactory resolution (as of about this time last year) to the proposed wide trail through the Ott Preserve has fallen through.  The issue is again before the Calhoun County Board of  Commissioners.
Last year, the Board listened carefully to all sides and rejected the poorly conceived plan brought to it by the Calhoun County Trailways Alliance. In effect, the Board affirmed a compromise in which a route minimizing mileage and potential damage was to be sought.
I would have wished as part of the action at that time that a definite route had been chosen and agreed on or, if not, that the principles to be used in selecting a route be settled–no penetration near biologically sensitive areas, minimal alteration of ground contours, etc. None of this was done, but I–and I think most people–were left believing that the route would pretty much follow the Consumers Energy right-of way, an already disturbed section along the west side of the Preserve.
It now appears that choosing the route was left to the Trailways Alliance Board.  Furthermore, negotiations seem to have been left to the Alliance, so that when the Alliance decided that the trail ought to cut across some private property, it was the Alliance negotiating easements with the owners.
It does not seem surprising that the negotiations failed.
Neither is it surprising that the Trailways Alliance is now back, wanting a long route through relatively undisturbed areas of Ott.
Evidently some new alternative has been suggested. Possibly it has merits.  But I doubt that it should be accepted in the next week or month.  The Board’s stewardship of the Ott Preserve should include a real effort to let the public know exactly what is planned as to route, methods (construction, stewardship}, effects on vegetation and animals, hydrology, topography, and funding for all likely costs including ongoing remediation of damage produced by the trail traffic.
Essential to a final decision is a thorough ecological survey of the Preserve.  That such a survey should be done has been clear since such a trail project was proposed. Up-to-date information is needed on what features most need protection and where they are.  Baseline data is needed, so that the damage such a trail will do can be unambiguously detected.
Who would suppose that a large-scale project such as this could be started without such a survey?  The survey should have been done a few years ago.  It could have been done during the past year. Perhaps the Trail Alliance would prefer that no such survey ever be done.
This renewed attempt to run a trail through Ott has come up quickly.  It should not be acted on quickly.  People need well-advertised opportunities to question proponents–and opponents.  People need to be able to walk any proposed route and judge for themselves.  They need to be able to answer for themselves–Is this the route we want?  Do we want a 14-foot-wide swath cut through the Ott Preserve at all?
The foregoing is a slightly modified version of a letter I emailed to all of the Calhoun County Commissioners having email addresses this morning.  The Commission is scheduled to take up and perhaps vote on the new proposed route tomorrow night ( 3 May 2012) at their regular meeting. Information about the Preserve features, history including the 2011 attack and another still earlier incident are given here and in several other posts on my website around the same time.
Following is a list of the current county commissioners, most of whom were also on the board  in 2011:

Kathy Sue Dunn (Board appointed replacement for former Commissioner Behnke)

458 Country Club Drive Battle Creek, MI 49015 (269) 968-9758

Email form:


Terris Todd

135 Irving Park Drive Battle Creek, MI 49017 (269) 660-8717

Email form:


Jim Haadsma

146 South Lincoln Blvd.

Battle Creek, MI 49015

(269) 964-3472

Email form:


Steve Frisbie

148 Pheasantwood Trail Battle Creek, MI 49017 (269) 964-1693

Email form:


Julie Camp Seifke

8934 5 Mile Road East Leroy, MI 49051 (269) 967-0759

Email form:


Art Kale

PO Box 672 Albion, MI 49224 (517) 629-4774

Email form:


Blaine VanSickle

16828 21 Mile Road Marshall, MI 49068 (269) 781-4400

No email


Posted in Conservation, Michigan (including Kalamazoo), Plants and Plant Communities | Comments closed