Saturday, February 28, 2015

Winter Ducks

Yesterday some friends and I went to Port Huron to see the long-tailed ducks (formerly old squaws) on the St. Clair River in Port Huron.  Last year, apparently they were there in rafts by the tens of thousands.  We didn't see that many yesterday, but we did see many, many hundreds.

It was a stunningly (blindingly) bright day, with temps probably in the single digits.  I was borrowing a 300mm lens from someone to test drive it.  All my photos came out rather washed out, and none too terribly sharp.  I needed to practice more, I guess.  Still, I was having a grand time watching the ducks.

Bridge over St. Clair River to Canada

Here's what the scene was like:

video


 Male long-tailed duck stretching...

 diving...

and vocalizing.

Here's what it sounds like:

video


 Female long-tailed duck.


 I think that's a red-headed duck sleeping, but it could be a canvasback.




 Male red-breasted merganser.

 Male red-breasted merganser.


 White-winged scoters, catching lunch.  And a mallard (they weren't eating the mallard).


Red-headed duck.


Greater scaup (on right) and common golden-eyes.


Female red-breasted merganser stretching.


 I thought this was just a freighter, but apparently it was an ice cutter!

Another find for the day was a female king eider, but she was too far away fro me to get any photos of her.  Got to see her through the scope, though, making her my second life bird this day! 

Many thanks to Gary, Don and Robin for letting me tag along!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Monday, November 10, 2014

Mid-November Find!

As we were wrapping up the journaling part of a school program this afternoon, I looked down on the ground and saw what I thought was one of those coiled hair tie things.  When I bent over to pick it up, I saw that instead it was a wee snake!  It was coiled up on a leaf trying to eke out some warmth from the rapidly disappearing sun.


Being the snake-o-phile (ophiophilist) that I am, I, of course, had to pick it up.


It was very cold, and didn't seem to mind me holding it.  I showed it to all the kids - who thought, of course, that it was poisonous.  One said "venomous" and I congratulated him for using the correct term. I wasn't 100% sure what it was, so I brought it inside and dug out my snake book.  Still not 100% sure.  The book doesn't really show juveniles, nor belly patterns, which, on this snake, were beautiful.




Upon closer inspection and some searching online, I confirmed that it is a juvenile northern watersnake.   What was throwing me was that it was a goodly distance from actual water!  And it did look a bit like a juvenile black ratsnake, which is a species of special concern here in MI.  So naturally I tried to make that fit.


Still, a baby watersnake out in a field in November...that's still pretty exciting.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Another Trip on the Grand River

Last Sunday, Oct. 12, dawned chilly, but sunny.  It was gonna be another perfect autumn day, which was wonderful because GREAT (the Grand River Environmental Action Team) was hosting another paddle.  It was a 4+ mile trip on the Grand, from the put-in on Dixon Road to the take-out on Thompson Road.  By 11:00 our crew had the boats ready to go, and participants were starting to arrive.


Everyone has to sign a waiver, even those of us leading the paddle.  


Dogs and kids are always welcome.  Amelia and Caleb are regulars (Dad's on the Board).


It was chilly in the shade, with a good strong breeze blowing, so while we waited for everyone to arrive and get shuttled to the take-out, most people stood in the sun to defrost.


It wasn't long past noon before we launched.  


As always, I was the sweep boat.  This way I can take my time and enjoy the river, and also help out people who may be having difficulties.


Former Board member and owner of Quiet World Sports (kayak rentals and lessons) Kat joined us...fresh from paddling in Maine and Nova Scotia.  Her buddy is Pugsley B. Nitro,


who makes a great figurehead in the front of the boat.  Kat's busy with her business most of the summer, so we don't see her very often any more.  It was great to catch up as we drifted slowly down stream.


A real benefit about joining us on a GREAT paddle is that there are lots of folks available to help out those who might be having difficulties.  We can teach you some basic strokes to help you navigate turns and negotiate downfalls.  There's never a reason to get frustrated...we are all patient and want you to have the best possible time.  Take a deep breath and relax...the worst that will happen is you'll get wet, and no one has dissolved on us yet.


All too soon we were at the bridge - the take-out was on the other side.  



The lead boats were probably off the river in less than two hours; the last boats took out about 3:00/3:30.  


After all boats were secured on their trailers, and PFDs and paddles were stowed away, the group headed to Klavon's for pizza and beer.  GREAT paddles are great social events - for novices and regulars alike.  And what a perfect way to celebrate the glory of autumn!

If Happy Little Bluebirds Fly...

On the way home last night, we had a STUNNING full rainbow in the sky!  Usually, we just see one side of a rainbow, but this one was complete, and not only that, both ends were double!  And the colors...oh, my, the colors!  I've never seen such brilliant colors in a rainbow before.  Of course, the camera, which I conveniently had on the back seat, just did not quite capture the colors, and you can only see the hint of the double on the left side...but it was there.



And as I continued my drive, the sun was behind me and the very dark storm clouds ahead...what a gorgeous combination to show of our autumn colors.  Sadly, this is not easily done at 55 mph - just point and shoot out the window and hope you got something.



This was such a wonderful experience it put me into just a terrifically happy mood.  Judy Garland, eat your heart out - I belted out "Over the Rainbow" all the way home.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Roadkill Cafe - Party of Fifteen

Last Saturday, driving home from work, I came up a rise over by the college and saw a large mass of darkness on the side of the road.  It turned out to be fifteen turkey vultures!!!

 

I was so excited - not only were there SO MANY of them, but they were RIGHT THERE!   A young deer had been hit by a car and its carcass was lying on the lawn, the birds (possibly a family group or two) had come in to feast.  Occasionally one would hop up on the body.  A few feet away, in the sun, three or four birds had their wings spread out.  Catching a few rays for warmth, or to help bake off parasites?


I was so fortunate that no one else was on the road (very unusual) - I was able to sit there for 5-10 minutes taking photos and video.  Eventually a car did come, though, and the birds took off, one by one.


Turkey vultures are really one of the very cool birds.  No feathers on their heads - so they can stick their heads into rotting flesh to eat and not worry about parasites getting stuck in their feathers.  Pee on their legs to keep cool.  Projectile vomiting to drive away pestering critters and people.  They are truly amazing, and along with crows, opossums, and other carrion-eaters, they make up Nature's sanitation crews.  We should do them homage.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

What's Bloomin' at the Homestead

Last week while mowing the yard, I found a tiny purple blob where I had planted some new prairies flowers this spring.  I was very excited - must go get a photo of i!  Well, it took a while, but yesterday when I got home from work I decided to grab the camera and shoot it...and whatever else was blooming, for right now the grass land flowers are starting their seasonal show.

First stop, the green milkweed.  I have several of these now planted around the house.  Hopefully some will permanently take and I won't have to buy any more!  I am constantly fascinated by this flower. It's rather unprepossessing, mainly because the flowers are green, but they are quite lovely up close.



And the horsemint is at its prime!  Usually by the time I get to photograph it it is looking pretty ragged.  I do love this flower.  First saw it in the Albany Pine Bush many many years ago.

 I missed the peak for the pale purple coneflower, but some are still not looking too bad.  Very narrow petals that are swept backward help distinguish this from the regular purple coneflower.


False sunflower, I believe.  There are so many yellow rayed flowers out right now, and they look so much alike!  


Culver's root - a favorite of many a bee!  Good to have these around.


Back in the coneflower department, we have yellow coneflower,


and purple coneflower.  I don't have any green- or grey-headed coneflowers planted at home, but I do have some three-leaved, and they are not in bloom yet.


Out int he side yard is the patch I don't mow and have planted with many natives.   Sadly, the non-natives (mostly daisy fleabane) have taken over.  You can see some tall yellow flowers, though - either a coreopsis or a sunflower...I did not do ID verification on them last night.  Sadly, most of hte other prairie plants I've put in here have not survived, like the early and late figworts, the prairie smoke, prairie dropseed, conflowers, et al.



And here is the afore-mentioned purple prairie clover.  I have planted this several times, and none of them have made it through more than one season...and some not even that!  I really hope this one takes! It is believed that this flower has now been extirpated from the wild in Michigan.  Very sad.


Another one I've planted is round-headed clover, which is simply delightful in the fall, with it's fuzzy bunny-tail like seed heads.


Back around the house the nodding wild onion is about to bloom.


And the rattlesnake master is doing quite well.


Out back and around what was the veg garden, the wildflowers are doing okay, like this compass flower.


The hoary vervain (or is this the common vervain?) is not as tall as it was last year, but it is a favorite of the bees.


Thimbleweed - another favorite.  I'm not sure why I am drawn to this plant.  Maybe it's just the name...regardless, I do like it.


By evening the great St. Johnswort isn't looking too great, 


but is is sure loaded with lots of buds right now!


The native bee balm is doing very well.  At work one of our fields is nearly solid with this flower!  I guess all bee balm falls into the "vigorous grower" category!


It's still a bit early for ironweed, but I imagine in a week or so I'll have flowers.


Same with the rose mallow, but isn't the bud fascinating?  Reminds me of Audrey from the Little Shop of Horrors.


It will probably still be a couple weeks before the rough blazing star blooms.


As I snapped this photo of the rosinweed flower, I noticed there was something wrong with the bee.


She had a beetle clinging to her mouth!  She was very lethargic (couldn't eat, I'm sure), and she was also missing a foot!  Poor thing.  I tried and tried to remove the beetle (thin sticks to grab it), but it would not let go, and finally, after enduring quite a bit of poking from me, she flew off, beetle and all.  I have no idea if she will survive.


One of last year's onions, blooming.


And them back around to the house and the wild garden that is by the patio.  The yellow giant hyssop is living up to its name - the plant must be close to six feet tall!   The three-leaved coneflower and the tall tickseeds are even taller - pushing 8-10 feet, and they aren't even blooming yet.  I will have to thin them out before next summer...they are choking out all the other plants in this garden.


And then there are the plant predators.  I'm not sure (yet) which beetle these are (I'm thinking they are clay-colored leaf beetles, but am waiting for Bug Guide to confirm), but they and the Japanese beetles have been devastating some of my plants, as you can see.


And just to prove you don't need a swamp to grow swamp milkweed, here is mine...doing VERY well and looking gorgeous!


Things are starting to look very colorful outside!