Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Minks in Michigan

For a phenomenal post on minks, you must go here - you will read a delightful (and humorous) post and see some enviable photographs of a member of one of my favorite groups of animals (weasels).  You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Blue Racer

One of the best things about moving to a completely new area, away from all things familiar, is that there is so much new stuff to discover.  You wouldn't think that Michigan would be all that different from New York, but surprisingly, it is!

One of the many new things on my list of Things I Must See is the blue racer, a native snake that can get up to four or more feet in length.  Noted for being very curious, these serpents have been seen rising out of the tall grasses to peer at people who are passing by.  Who wouldn't want to see that?  And besides, it's blue!  Blue is just not a color that is terribly common in nature.

About a year ago someone brought a dead juvenile blue racer into the visitor center - a tiny, black and white spotted thing.  We placed it in a jar of alcohol to preserve it - very sad.  But I wanted to see an adult...and preferably alive.

Well, I got half my wish last night.  Toby and I were headed down the road four our evening walk, and I saw a snake on the shoulder.  It was obviously deceased.  But when I looked at it closely, I just had a feeling it was a blue racer.  It had crawled out on the pavement to warm up in the next-to-last nice day were were going to have, and someone clipped it with a car (or truck).  

I gently picked it up - the injuries were minimal - and carried it home.  This morning I brought it in to work to verify the ID, photograph it, and see if we could preserve it.

So, here it is:

The white chin/throat is one of the keys to identify this species.

As is the gorgeous pale blue coloring on the scales along its sides.

Gary figured the snake was three to four years old, based on the size.  Saddened to see the waste of such a glorious life, we found a specimen jar into which I could coil it.  We'll fill with alcohol had have the animal available for programming...although we'd rather see it alive.

Word to the Wise:  if it's a beautiful fall day, toasty warm with winter on the way, please be careful when driving down the roads.  Snakes of all sizes may be out sunning themselves, catching the last rays of warmth they can find before they slither off to dens to sleep away the winter.  Like turtles crossing the roads in the spring, try to avoid hitting the snakes.  If possible, assist them off the road so other vehicles won't hit them...although they'll probably crawl back out because that's where they want to be:  soaking up the heat from the sun-warmed tarmack/asphalt/pavement.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Word Verification

Sorry, folks, but I've gone back to having the word verification on my comment form because ever since I removed it I have been swamped with spam.  So, we fall back on our only line of defense:  prove you're not a robot by answering the question(s). 

Thanks for your understanding!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Noggles Road

Monday was completely unscripted.  I had to make a trip to Saline, and on the way back home I stopped at the shooting range just up the road from the house.  Do they do archery, or is it only firearms?  Turns out, not only do they have a dinky little archery spot, but they are in the process of building a full-fledged archery range a distance from the firing range.  Huzzah!  

So, I have my loaner bow and loaner arrows...all I needed was a bow stringer and ear protection (archery may be silent, but the firing range is RIGHT THERE and it is best to be safe than sorry).  Where to go?  Cabelas, down in Dundee.  

I turned the car around and headed to Manchester.  Lots of road work going on there - Route 52 has been under construction for about a year now.  I didn't want to deal with all that, so I decided to hit the back roads.

Now, I didn't really end up lost...I just wasn't completely sure where I was.


I discovered some really, truly lovely land, though.  Noggles Road - you've gotta love the name!  It is a dirt road, and seems to go on forever.  Both sides were lined with lovely autumnal woodland.  There were even some little pocket wetlands along the way.

 The camera was lurking in the back of the car.  I should've taken it out sooner, for I came around the bend at one point to find a half-dozen full-grown turkeys, beards and all, in the road.

Mostly the drive was wooded, but a few fields zipped by (well, "zipped" is what it looks like in the blurry photo, but in truth I was rarely above 20 mph - bumpy dirt roads do not lend themselves well to speed).

The highlight, after the turkeys, was this hawk coming in for a landing.

I sort of pulled over to take some shots, but of course suddenly it was Grand Central Station!  I moved the car further off to the side to avoid getting grazed along the side.  The final vehicle to pass was a large, noisy truck, and the bird flew off.  Still, I got enough shots to say I think this is a juvenile red-tailed hawk.  The dark belly band is the biggest clue.  The tail was banded, not a solid russet like we expect on an adult red-tail, which made me think it might be a Cooper's or sharpie, the bird was just too big for either of those.  Looking through the field guide later, I confirmed what I suspected:  juveniles have banded tails.  

I eventually found my way out of the woods and onto a highway.  But I had such a good time driving Noggles Road that I was sorely tempted to do it again on the way home from Cabela's.  In the end, I stuck to 52 and got caught up in all the constructions...should've followed my whim and headed back into the woods.

I'll be returning to Noggles Road another day - it warrants visits in all seasons.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Crane Counting

Monday was breezy and lovely - a day to get chores done outside.  But last week I promised a co-worker that I would come out to Haehnle Sanctuary to help with the weekly crane count.  So, after doing laundry, taking a cat to the vet, digging spuds and shucking dried beans, I showered and drove up to Waterloo.  By 5:00 it was still sunny and lovely, but the breeze was chilly - and it would only get colder as the sun set. 

A handful of watchers were already on The Hill, and it turned out that the folks for whom I was the stand-in counter arrived after all.

So, I was able to go down the hill and do some late afternoon photography instead!

Not too much was still blooming.  This delicate little aster, which is rather prolific around these parts, was still putting on a show.

And of course the milkweed was in full fluff.

Sweet everlasting is also in bloom right now.  A relative of the pearly everlasting I knew back east, this plant has a trait the other lacks:  it smells like maple syrup.  No kidding. 

Robins by the dozens (dare I say hundreds?) flitted back and forth across the sky, coming in to the to sanctuary for the night. 

The main event, though, was the nightly return-to-the-roost of the greater sandhill cranes.  When conditions are just right (water levels and mudflats), the sanctuary fills up every evening in the fall with cranes who are making their way southward for the winter.  Two years ago they had record numbers of over 5000 birds.  Last year water levels were too high and only a fraction of that number used the sanctuary for roosting.  This year, however, conditions are looking promising.

There were a number of gashawks making tracks across the sky, too.

I left the sanctuary about 7:00 - a bit chilled.  Crane watchers were starting to fill the parking lot, and apparently after I left the large flocks started to arrive.  Final count for the night:  1,855.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Reign of Arrows

Welcome to a cold and blustery day in central Michigan.  It was Saturday, and we were just outside Flint, where one of the members of the Barony of Cynnabar Shire of Stormvale was hosting an archery shoot:  Reign of Arrows.  We arrived about 10:00 AM and the clouds arrived with us...never quite departing.

Early arrivals kept warm by the fire.

But it was time to get warmed up to shoot.  Bows had to be strung...

the range had to be set up...


and soon we were on the line, stretching our strings and sending arrows down-range into targets (and the grass).

At these shoots, there are targets at 20, 30 and 40 yards, the usual fare.  Additional targets can be almost anything else.  In this case, about, oh, 75 or more yards down range was a "clout shoot" - which today was a large bear behind some bales of hay.

Anyone who can get their arrows within the boundaries of the hay bales is doing well.  To actually hit the bear is either blind luck or very good shooting!

After sufficient warm-up time, we shot a Royal Round.  This involves six arrows shot at each of the targets (20, 30 & 40 yards), and then a timed shoot at the 20-yard target (however many arrows you can loose at it in 30 seconds).  I never do as well at the Royal Round as I do in practice.

Then it was lunch time; hot soup was very welcome on this chilly day!

And after lunch the fun shoots began.  First up was a...well...I'm not sure what to call it.  It involved four separate shoots.  First, we had these small targets attached to hay bales that were only 5-15 feet away from us.  You'd be surprised just how difficult it is to shoot at a target that is so close.

For the second round, we had to shoot at the Black Knight.  Points were only awarded if we got our arrows in his arms or legs.

This was followed by round three:  Friend or Foe.  One of the small targets was placed on a pile of bales in front of the Knight.  If we hit the small target (Friend), it was not good.  But we got points if we hit any part of the Knight (Foe).

The final round was the clout shoot, but the bear was replaced by a large drawing of a pumpkin (see above shot, in distance).  We shot from the 75 (ish) yard line, then the 50 (ish) yard line, then sort of 30-ish...sneaking up on the pumpkin.  Various points were awarded depending where your arrow(s) landed on the target.

All points were added up and the winner was:  Forrester Dillon!

Next up was a "Stuffy Shoot."  An assortment of stuffed toys were scattered across the range.

Now you might think this was only for kids,

 but we are all kids at heart.  You got to keep what you shot:

It was a hoot.

Of course, every shoot requires that all arrows not lodged in targets are located.  Sometimes this is easy - they are sitting on top of the ground or poke into the earth at a great angle.  Other times, well, we have to hunt for them.  The group affectionately calls this QUASAR:  Quarrel and Arrow Search and Rescue.

Sometimes you have to bring out ye olde metal detector.  But bare feet are often just as effective...they just don't beep.

Despite the less-than-optimal weather,

a good time was had by all.  And why not?  Good food, good friends, and target shooting with traditional bows - how could it be anything but fun?