Great Blue Hero in an Urban Wetland

Pond Life - UM Dearborn's EIC, Late May

Pond Life – UM Dearborn’s EIC, Late May

Now it is June. Daylight stretches further into each night. The gradual peeping and greening of early spring has flushed into an intoxicating lushness. I want to just BE outside, wander, see WHO is out. Find some green and maybe even some water.


Invasive Shrubs leafing out – Palmer Park, April

Siberian Squill carpet - April

Siberian Squill carpet – UM Dearborn’s Environmental Interpretive Center, April

Native Trees leafing out - Booth Park, Early May

Native Trees leafing out – Booth Park, Early May

Groundcover, Shrubs and Fallen Tree - Tenhave Woods, June

Groundcover, Shrubs and Fallen Tree – Tenhave Woods, June

There are several dynamic green spaces in Detroit and its inner-ring suburbs. Some are old favorites and well attended, like Belle Isle and Palmer Park. Others are hidden gems, like a drainage ditch that widens downstream into a creek and flows through under a highway, or the fenced woodlot behind the high school that’s actually a forest. I’ve had the chance this spring to explore a few of these spaces, attune the senses, and exercise some amateur naturalist skills.

Wetland - Valley Woods, Late May

Valley Woods, Late May

One recent morning at Valley Woods preserve in Southfield, I spotted a Great Blue Heron fly across the pond and perch on an extended tree branch. Only a few hundred feet away from the traffic of Telegraph Road, I stood snug in a Rouge River floodplain newly legitimized by the striking, authoritative presence of a heron. (Apologies for the low-quality bird photos)

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

That same week at Palmer Park, among the hordes of Canada Geese eating grass and the bustle of people tailgating, I came across a Black Crowned Night-Heron sitting calm and self-assured at the pond.

Black Crowned Night-Heron

Black Crowned Night-Heron

The presence of wild animals indicates to us humans that an urban green space or waterway is a healthy place for wildlife to live and forage in. Both the Great Blue Heron and the Black Crowned Night-Heron are considered Species of Least Concern (by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources), because they are fairly common and their populations stable. But, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology points out that these birds are still susceptible to habitat loss and pollution. Herons are secondary predators, and thus may be exposed to higher levels of toxins that have accumulated up the food chain. The other forms of life that make up the ecosystem in which the heron resides – plant, bacteria, fungi and other animals – are important, too, and also threatened by environmental degradation. It seems that megafauna are accessible catalysts for increasing public interest in conservation (like the American Eagle and the DDT-ban). Herons are not only majestic, but could be a mascot for improving the quality of urban green spaces.


I am still delighted when I see the bright green of the (common) male Mallard duck, which I encountered in the above pic at the pond in Tenhave Woods. Nice to see the species in a more historically natural setting (as opposed to flooded backyards and swimming pools), floating among a park rich with sugar maple trees and prickly ash shrubs, Downy Woodpeckers and Grackles.

And, some photos in celebration of all the foliage and flowers about:

Blue Phlox

Blue Phlox

Wild Geranium

Wild Geranium

Horse Chestnut

Horse Chestnut

Such strange elegance and personality among the flowers.

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