Former Hartford Michigan Graduate
Writes Warren Dunes State Park
Almanac and leads natural explorations at the Park
Mike Latus has been keeping nature notes on his
observations of the different environments at Warren Dunes State Park
for almost two decades. He has been kind enough to distill his
observations down for park visitors and e-mail subscribers so that they
can share in his broad knowledge of what is actually happening each week
in each area of the park. The weekly
Warren Dunes Almanac is also on the State
of Michigan web site.
Warren Dunes Almanac for March 25 through March 31, 2012
Sunrise is 6:40 and sunset 7:05 on the 25th. We have gained almost 19
minutes of sunlight since last week. The typical high temperature is 48
(record 81 in 1963) and the typical low is 31 (record 6 below in 1960).
March averages 12 days with snow or rain, with 1 day having
precipitation of more than one-half inch. The average total
precipitation is 2.5 inches of rain, or snowfall of 8 inches with a
maximum of 26 inches of snow in 1960.
The moon will be first quarter on March 30th. In the southwest sky,
halfway up you may be able to find the V shape of Taurus the Bull. The
brightest star, Aldebaran is red. If you extend the V into horns, one
will poke into the corner of Auriga. The other horn ends in a dim,
unremarkable star, but near it you can find the Crab Nebula. This is a
cloud of gas left from a supernova explosion. You can find it with
In some areas of the forest edge the Sassafrass trees are blooming. They
produce female and male flowers on separate trees. Oak trees now have
strings hanging from their end twigs. These are the male flowers in a
part called a catkin. They are producing lots of yellow-green pollen
which will be blown by the spring winds to other oaks where the female
flowers wait to be pollinated. The twig ends are covered with miniature
leaves. Soon they will be full-sized oak leaves. The white flowers of
Shadbush are blooming. This tree was also called Preacher Berry or
Service Berry because its bloom declared that the roads were clear
enough for the travelling preacher to come and perform the spring
marriages. Paw Paw buds are emerging. By next week we should see the
flowers. On the ground, the first spring ephemerals are showing flowers:
Trout Lily (yellow blossom with mottled leaves), Gooseberry (on a
prickly stem), Dutchman’s Breeches (white V-shaped pantaloons with a
fringed leaf), and Cut-leaved Toothwort (pink/white tubular flower with
very narrow leaves) are all becoming easier to find.
Buttercups (five shiny yellow petals), Wild Ginger (three petals with an
inconspicuous flower), and Gill-Over-the-Ground (purple low flower on a
minty leaf), are showing up in the wetlands. Marsh Marigold lines the
creek where the banks allow.
Even the edge of the parking lot has beauty to show. Cranesbill (five
purple petals with lacy leaves), Speedwell (four blue/white petals on a
tiny plant), and Dandelions make every space a place of flowers. The
Dandelion’s name is a corruption of the French for “Tooth of the Lion.”
July 27, 2011
leads natural explorations at Warren Dunes State Park
SAWYER — Nature exploration has a name
at Warren Dunes State Park, and that name is Mike Latus.
“People ask me if we have a nature
center, and I’m it,” said Latus, an Outdoor Explorer Guide who has been
explaining the area’s natural wonders to park visitors since 1994.
“I’m hired for the summer to do nature programs for the campers, to
visit people on the beach and share information about the natural
history of Warren Dunes,” he said
Warren Dunes State Park is located along Red Arrow Highway in Lake
Township between Sawyer and Bridgman.
Outdoor Explorer Guide Mike Latus (right) checks out a rock found along
the Lake Michigan shoreline at Warren Dunes State Park near Sawyer
during a recent Fossil Hunt.
photos by David Johnson
Latus, who spends the rest of the year
teaching math and science at River Valley High School, runs the weekly
Exploring Nature Programs at Michigan’s busiest state park, mostly
between the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.
“During the week I do Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday day programs
— things like insect hikes, wildflowers, trail hikes, bird-watching,” he
said. “And then on the weekend I do afternoon and evening programs that
can be fossil hunting, more trail hikes. We do storytelling on Saturday
night. Around the campfire we watch the sunset and listen to Indian
legends and ghost stories.”
Latus also has access to three six-inch reflecting telescopes that
come in handy on summer weekends.
Mike Latus travels to a
recent Exploring Nature Program on a bike that carries a
portable museum and more.
“On both Friday and Saturday night we do astronomy. We’ve got
telescopes and sky maps. This year we’re looking at Saturn ... pretty
soon we’ll have the Parsed meteor shower.”
His office inside State Park headquarters is a veritable museum of
everything from the pelts of native mammals (raccoon, possum, red fox,
muskrat, mink, etc.) to examples of the typical fossil rocks that can be
found along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
Virtually everything has been organized into portable kits that
Latus can take with his on the vintage “Mountain Dew” edition Murray
bike that he uses to visit various parts of the park.
“The insect kit that I’ve got there has insect samples in it, it’s
got bug jars, magnifiers, I’ll put the insect nets with it, and it’s got
insect books,” he said.
Latus noted that most of the deceased inhabitants of his “museum,”
of the insects, met their end after colliding with vehicles on local
Mike Latus (left)
gives Barb Emery a close-up look at a dragonfly while her husband,
Ken, looks on during a recent Dragons and Damsels hike at Warren
Dunes State Park
On a recent “Dragons and Damsels” afternoon program, Latus led a
leisurely stroll through the Floral Lane section of the park in
search of dragonflies, damselflies and other winged inhabitants of a
wetland area that also proved to be rich in unique plant life.
Participants learned to indentify some of the plants they
encountered with the saying “Sedges have edges, grasses have sashes,
and rushes are round the whole world ‘round.”
A recent Fossil Hunt brought several
families to the beach on a hot Friday afternoon. Latus explained that
many of the fossil rocks found at Warren Dunes are the remains of an
ancient ocean that predated the dinosaurs. He explained the common
fossil often referred to as Indian beads is actually a portion of a
plant-like creature known as a crinoid. He also noted that volcanic
rocks now common on the beach came from Canada, deposited here by
glaciers. Latus said weekly Exploring Nature Program schedules are
posted throughout the park as well as on the Internet at
www.michigan.gov/natureprograms (click on “Schedule of Nature
Programs in Michigan State Parks”).
He added that some signage in the park also explains natural
phenomena including the frighteningly large, but generally docile cicada
killer wasps that tend to be active in mid to late summer.
“You would have to be really aggressive to them — grab a hold of
one (to get stung). In 18 years I’ve never been stung by one,” he said.
One of Latus’s portable kits contains both a cicada killer wasp and
its prey, the cicada
Mike is a 1973 Hartford High
More proof that when something needs to be done right, hire a Hartford
2011 - Thanks to Lois Latus, mother of Mike
Latus, for contributing the photos and interesting article
regarding another "Famous Folk" from Hartford Michigan.