Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Michigan Pine Barrens

As you move from east to west across Michigan lower peninsula, the soil changes to a much more sandy type in the west. These sandy soils give rise to different plant communities and in turn, many different herp species. A favorite vegetation type of these soils are pines. Many times these stands of pines become open sandy areas with a few scattered trees, this habitat is often known as pine barren. The best example of pine barrens exist is New Jersey, where thousands or square miles of this habitat exists. In Michigan, pine barrens or sandy pine flatwoods occur mostly in the west half of the state. However, across the central part of the state, these habitats begin to show themselves and there are some great examples of this community in western Isabella County, a mere twenty miles from CMU's campus. I'd never seen a racer in Isabella County, so a friend and I decided to investigate a nice pine barren habitat. Within a few minutes this beauty made an appearance.

 Blue Racer - Coluber constrictor foxii

This large individual had one of the most vivid blue colorations I've ever seen on an individual of this species. It was orginally out cruising before we crossed its path and it immediately proceeded to dart up this nearby Red Pine. Eastern White Pine; Michigan's state tree, and Red Pine dominate this particular site. There are also a few low lying shrubs in the area.

We watched the snake for a few minutes as it sat in the tree, observing our every move. Eventually it lost interest and began to climb much higher into the Red Pine, I grabbed a few parting shots as we moved on.

As we moved through the area, we kept our eyes peeled for another denizen of these sandy soil habitats, the Eastern Hognose Snake. This species is a toad lover, and its spends most of its time using its upturned rostrum to dig for its favorite food. We didn't happen to come across any Hogs, but we did manage to bump into another large Blue Racer out basking in the pine barren.

Blue Racer - Coluber constrictor foxii

After having good success at our first site, we decided to head south into Montcalm County and stop at another open pineland with sandy soil in hopes of turning up and Eastern Hognose. Along the way we bumped into two of these crossing the road.

Midland Painted Turtle - Chrysemys picta marginata

We checked our sandy pine area with no luck, but did score this racer crossing the road on our way out of the area in Montcalm County.

Blue Racer - Coluber constrictor foxii

Our final stop took us to the northeast in a tract of the Gladwin State Forest. This site is a clearcut area with lots of debris and is home to a particular species of Lacertilian. After flipping a few logs and lifting some bark, we found our quarry.

Five-lined Skink - Plestiodon fasciatus 

A day trip around the central areas of the state produced some awesome finds, and I plan on spending more time in those sandy soils as the year progresses...