Monday, April 18, 2011

A Disappointment

 After reveling in the appearance of round-lobed hepatica flowers yesterday at work,

you can imagine my disappointment to wake up this morning to this:

Still, it is only mid-April, and despite the fact that we keep thinking that spring is here, as in sunshine and flowers and baby birds, in truth spring IS here, as in unpredictable weather that lands between winter and summer on any given day.  The flowers are starting to bloom, but must be prepared for snow, frost and ice.  Birds are on their eggs and must be prepared to hunker down to keep them extra warm against the chill.  The sun may shine, or it may be hidden in a bank of clouds, obscured by a seasonal blizzard.

Flowers adapt by having flexible stems, woolly coverings, and stalwart dispositions (can flowers have dispositions?).  Birds adapt by fluffing up their feathers, trapping heat close by the body.  And the sun, well, the sun is always "out" - we just can't always see it.

So, it is spring in the truest sense of the season.  We've been spoiled these last few years with spring warming up earlier than "normal," the season jumping almost directly from winter to summer.  This is, no doubt, a more traditional spring.  Mother Earth keeping us humble.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

More Views of the Abode

 Drove out to The House this morning on a mission - drop some stuff off and measure the space for a fridge.

Looking in the window, you can (sort of) see the plants I took over.  That's all I could fit in the car with the dog along for a ride.

After giving Toby a chance to check out his future digs, we went out for a walk across The Land.  Something grabbed his attention, although I don't know what it was.

And here we are, at the northwest corner of The Property, looking back across The Land toward The House.  The red buildings are across the street - not mine.

And here is a view of the back of the house.  Blimey - is sure does look large!  That's the attached garage on the far right.  There's an enclosed porch next to the deck.

Walking around the side and down to the southeast corner of The Property, we have a front view of The House.

And the view from the southwestern side of The Property (although technically I was standing across the street).  Goodness, it looks even bigger from this angle!

I'm going to have to sponsor the Cut and Dab Society out at The Property one day to have these honeysuckles taken care of.  They are rather massive and tangled - I bet they've been around for many many years.

I love this sign across the street.  Hm...I wonder what it means.

And finally, the mailboxes.  But there isn't one for me!  I will have to do something about this.  I wonder if I have to contact someone first, or if I can just put one up.  Hm....

So, the space is measured, the fridge on order.  I should be officially moving in next weekend...if I can get a Uhaul!  That'll be my next call.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Check This Out!

I wish I could embed this YouTube video here, but I can't, so you'll just have to follow this link.  You won't be disappointed.

I never cease to be amazed by a) nature and b) artists.

Homeless No More

There it is - my new house!  I know - it looks like an awful lot of space for one person.  But that front bit is a porch, and the top bit is just two rooms, perpendicular to each other.  Total: two bedrooms, a living room, a "parlor", a dining room, a weeny kitchen (sigh), two bathrooms, a laundry room, two porches and a deck (!), and a genuine root cellar.  Built in 1910, on just over four acres, surrounded by some McMansions, but mostly agricultural land and state wildlife management land.

Moving day?  Next weekend - Easter!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Just a-Sittin' and a-Watchin'

This lovely sandhill crane is nesting literally a stone's throw from the roadside only a few short miles (two? three?) from work.  I stopped by this evening to snap some shots of her.  I'll have to go back with the tripod.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Sticky Walk & A Forestry Project

 With such beautiful (if a bit too warm and humid) weather on hand, I couldn't just take Toby for our usual spin around the block last night.  We needed to go where we could enjoy trees and grass.  Off to MacCready we went.

 The last time we were here, things were rather snowy.  I couldn't wait to see it sans snow.  And maybe, just maybe, we might find some flowers blooming!

The first thing that caught my eye was this:  strange blue tubes in the woods.  What could it be?

I had my suspicions, so I went and peeked into one of the tubes.  Yes - there was a small tree in there.  Must be some sort of reforestation project.

Instead of walking along the designated Red Trail, I decided to walk along this plot.  I wanted to know more.  Soon we discovered a section without blue tubes, but with individual seedlings tied with pink tape, behind a tall deer fence.  

Section by section, we noted a few changes - different colored tape,

tape and tubes, 

fencing and no fencing.

An idea began to form.  I suspected this might be a reforestation project looking at the impact of deer browse on seedlings, and ways to prevent it.  Between aggressive non-native plants, and voracious (and way too numerous) native deer, many native plants have a rough time getting established and growing.  I took at look at the mud at my feet - deer tracks.

I stepped into one of the unfenced portions and looked at one of the untubed seedlings - it showed classic signs of having been browsed.

A little further along, I found this collection of tree labels.  Swamp white oak.  I have been told that this tree is not doing well regeneration-wise.  It is part of the historic landscape in this part of Michigan, but other trees are filling the understory (like black cherry), preventing this tree from reestablishing itself.  Suppression of
fires in these fire-dependent habitats (oak savanna and prairie) allow these other trees to take over.  Add to this the browsing pressure of deer, and you have the same situation we face in the Northeast with sugar maples - their disappearance from the understory, and ultimately from the landscape.

And then I saw it.  Very tiny, but it was there - my first wildflower of the season.  It was vaguely familiar  When I got home I keyed it out:  Whitlow grass (Draba verna) - one I learned from my friend Jackie just last summer. Sadly, it isn't a native flower, but it was still nice to see it.

By 8:00 Toby was really showing the effects of the heat and humidity.  Our walk slowed to practically a crawl as we oozed our way around the trail.  I think we were both glad to see the trailhead and come back home.  I had taken a bottle of water along, and we both made use of it, but it was good to get back where water flowed freely in bowl and glass.  I, at least, got to take a refreshing shower.  Poor Toby had to settle for finding a cool bit of floor to lie upon.

Thank goodness the wind kept up.  This was, however, a harbinger for "something" in the weather, and around, oh, 2 or 3 AM, "it" hit - a rip-snorter of a storm.  Closing the windows helped keep the din to a more tolerable level, but the thunder must've been right above us.  Thankfully we only had to endure a very few crashes before the wind swept the storm further northward.  This morning it is almost hard to believe the amount of rain that came pelting down only a few short hours ago.  And the temperature is once more back to normal. Ahhhh.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Winter to Summer in 24 Hours

 Wow!  Yesterday the started started off cold and grey and damp, and ended up about 50*F - quite pleasant.  Today we began overcast and chilly, but by noon it was 77*F, and by 4:00 it was 84*F and HUMID!

I had to go into the office today to do some work, and decided to also head out on the trails - primarily to get photos of the prairie three weeks post burn, after rain and warmth.

So, off I went, stopping first to visit my skunk cabbage friends.  Look!  New green leaves have sprung forth from the soggy ground!

And hidden within the modified leaf (the spathe) is the spadix, the actual flowering part of the plant, complete with little flowers.  There were even a few little flies buzzing around.

Reaching the "Dug Pond," which I refer to as the muskrat pond because there is a muskrat lodge out on it, I saw some interesting white "things" sitting on top of the floating vegetation.  What were they?  Some sort of seed pod?  Perhaps a bunch of white berries left over from last year?

Turns out they were snail shells!

Now, some of you may have noticed in last night's photos that the burn was looking significantly less charred.  If you did, then you get gold stars, each one of you!  Yes, indeed the burn is finally showing some green at a distance.  It's amazing what a little rain (okay, a lot of rain, actually) and some heat will do for plant growth.

I thought this was interesting, though.  The part that's really looking green is not the restored area, which is still looking quite brown by comparison.  My educated guess is that this demonstrates just why invasive plants are so successful - they out compete the natives, in this case growing more quickly after a disturbance.  Fear not, though, for when examined up close, the restored area does have quite a bit of new growth coming along, too - just not as significant an amount as the rest of the prairie.

The quaking aspen catkins were looking mighty robust today.  Another example of a flower that we ignore because it isn't showy (and on the ground).

I just love this tree.

I visited one of the coyote dens.  The bits of grass Mickey had placed across the entrance are gone.  Hm.  Activity?  Or merely strong winds?

Here's what I mean by strong winds (that's my hair blowing about):

There were tree swallows galore flying all over the grassland.  Plenty of insects on hand today, thanks to the extremely warm weather.  They were having a feast, and perhaps even enjoying flying on the strong winds.  I watched this pair for quite a while at the nest boxes.

 Might this box become a nest site?


...maybe we'll keep looking.

I headed next to the glacial pond, where the spring peepers, northern chorus frogs and wood frogs were all in full voice.

Saw a nice pile of painted turtles out on a hummock.  How many can you count?

While I was sitting on a log, enjoying the sounds of spring, I heard a rustle and looked down by my feet.  A large garter snake had crawled out of a tuft of grasses and was sliding beneath my legs...until I moved my hand to get the camera, at which point it did a 180 and zoomed back into the grasses.  I waited patiently and shortly it crawled back up and onto the log.  I noticed its belly was rather large - perhaps it found a good meal in that tuft of grasses at the marsh's edge.

I also saw several dragonflies - they were out and cruising the marsh.  It was as though we skipped spring entirely and went directly to summer today.

The heat was beginning to get to me, though, and I had finished up the bottle of water I brought.  It was time to head back home.

Watching for Woodcocks

Yesterday evening we had a Woodcock Watch at work.  'Tis the season to go forth to open areas to watch and listen for the courtship ritual of this goofy bird.

The woodcock (Solopax minor - which translates as "little lover of bogs") is a chunky little bird, a bit bigger than a robin.  It looks like it was made by someone who hadn't much of a clue about birds.  It's got stubby little legs, a chunky body, and this dinky little head stuck on top.  The head is squashed in from the sides, make it very narrow when viewed from the front.  The eyes, which are huge, are placed back where one might expect ears - on the sides and slightly toward the top of the head.  This affords the bird phenomenal scope when keeping a lookout for predators:  it can see forward, backward and above. 

Then it's got this really long beak (about 2.5 inches).  The beak is designed for probing the soil for invertebrates, especially worms, which are it's favorite food.  The bones and musculature associated with the beak are specially constructed so it can manipulate the very tip of the beak (open and close it) while it is sutck in the ground.  Additionally, the lower side of the upper mandible, and the tongue, are very rough, allowing the bird extra grip when going for slippery foods, like worms.

Next we have the ears, which are located between the eyes and the beak!

And if all that wasn't enough, the brain is actually upside-down.  The cerebellum, which is usually located on top of the brain, has been relegated to the base, right above the spinal column.  Scientists speculate this arrangement is all because of the placement of those very large eyes.

So, like I said, this is one weird bird.  And we weird nature nuts flock out to fields every spring to watch the courtship ritual.

Because the bird doesn't start to do its thing until after the sun sets, we started our program with a campfire and marshmallow roast.

About 40 people showed up!  We brought supplies for s'mores for about 20, but fortunately we were able to stretch the goodies so everyone got a s'more who wanted one.

There were a couple boys from Korea there, for whom the whole experience was new.  They decided s'mores were pretty tasty.

It was heading for 8:00 when we started the walk out to the prairie.

Once out in the open, we divided the group into two smaller groups.  Carrie took one batch out around the north end of the grassland, while my group stayed near the southern end.

And we waited.  I had everyone sit - luckily the ground was mostly dry.  We wanted to stay low so that our very obvious human profiles would be less obvious to nervous birds.

What were we waiting for?  When the male woodcock decides it is dark enough, he starts to strut around in the open, making a nasal peent sound.  He does this for a while, and then, suddenly, he takes off, flying in an ever-widening spiral upwards, sometimes reaching an altitude of more than 300 feet!  As he flies, his wings make a distinct twittering sound.  When he reaches the apex of his spiral, he turns around and plummets to the ground, zigging and zagging left and right, banking sharply, while emitting a chirping sound.  Then he falls silent, puts down his landing gear, and lands nearly at the same spot from which he took off.  He folds his wings, and starts to peent again.  This display is repeated for maybe an hour or so at dusk, and again at dawn.

Meanwhile, if there is a female nearby, she is watching this display.  Should the male find her interested, he will strut stiff-legged in front of her, wings held vertically.  If everything goes as planned, he mates with her, then flies off to find another female to impress.  Needless to say, the male does not stick around to help raise the young.

Our group finally heard a woodcock calling near the southern end of the burn.  After watching the bird take off and land a few times, we waited for its ascent and snuck closer.  When the bird began its earthward plummet, we sat back down.  We repeated this sneaking about three or four times, ending up quite close to the bird.  In the video clip below (you won't see anything - just listen), you can hear the bird where it landed about eight feet in front of me (ignore my "it's five feet in front of me" statement on the recording).  Not only will you hear the peent, but also a little purr sort of sound it makes before the peent, and toward the end of the clip you can hear the twittering of its wings as it flew a short distance away - I think it caught on to our presence and was getting nervous.

Shortly after this recording was made, the second group joined us, and the bird took off.  We called it quits for the night - it was about 9:00.  We heard at least three woodcocks, possibly as many as five.  Not too shabby for an evening's entertainment.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Strangest I Ever did See...

So, this morning I'm walking the dog around the block before having to dash off to work early, when I see what I swear is a duck sitting in a yard, and then fly up to a tree.

Now, if I was back in the 'dacks, a duck in a tree wouldn't be any cause for pause, because we have both wood ducks and mergansers in fair number there, and both are cavity nesters, which means they will fly to and perch in trees.  But here in a CITY, it made me do a double take.

Admittedly, I do live only a couple hundred feet from a small lake, which is nearly completely surrounded by development.  This is what threw me for a loop - wood ducks in a city? 

As I drew closer, the wood duck resolved into...FOUR wood ducks, who all took off as we the dog and I approached.  Their characteristic call as they flew away was a dead give-away that they were indeed wood ducks.

It just goes to show that you never know what you will encounter. 

And here's the icing on the cake:  a pair of loons has been spotted on the lake, too!  I thought I saw them last week, but I told myself no - that was wishful thinking.  What would loons be doing on a small, developed urban lake?  Four days later they were posted on the internet!  I will have to start trusting my eyes.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Another Roadkill

I left home with plenty of time to get to work this morning, but I was delayed en route by a napping marsupial.

I wasn't five minutes out when I drove past an opossum taking a permanent siesta in the road.  I kept going, but then thought "that 'possum was in pretty good shape."  My next thought was "I'd sure like it's skull for our collection at work."  So I hit the brakes, turned around, pulled over, found a plastic bag in the car, stuck the body in the bag, and headed back to work, arriving only a couple minutes late.

Of course, Carrie and I (that's her foot in this photo) had to do a photo shoot, because it's not too often that one gets to see an opossum this closely without it having some say in the matter.

As with many animals, I was fascinated by its feet.   Here's a close up of one of the back feet.  Note that there isn't much of a claw on the "thumb."

The front foot looks so much like a human hand.  Click on the photo to get a good look at the "fingerprints" on the palm pads - they are beautiful!  I wonder of those "fingerprints" function like the ridges on a gecko's foot: extra gripping power.

Rigor mortis hadn't set in yet, so we were able to manipulate the feet and mouth to position them for better images.  Lifting up the lips, we had a good view of the teeth.  Opossums have the greatest number of teeth of any North American mammal.  They are mostly conical in shape, too, enabling these animals to eat just about anything.  They are scavengers, so most things are on the menu.  If you look closely, you will see that this poor fellow bit his tongue when he was hit by the car that did him in.   Sadly, parts of the jaw were broken by the collision.  I don't know how good the skull will be until we get the whole animal skinned, but I'm thinking it may not be great.  Pity.

As is typical of these animals, our specimen here showed some definite frostbite damage on the end of his tail.  I love how scaly the tail is - reminds me of a pangolin.

The ears are also prone to frostbite.  This one's ears weren't too badly bitten, but the edges show some scaring.

I was very excited to see that we had a male here.  Why?  Because opossums have a bifurcated penis - it is forked at the tip!  Now there's something you just don't see every day.  This trait had naturalists flummoxed for generations.  Early on man believed that the reason for this unusual design was that the males fertilized the females through the nose (two tips to the penis, two nostrils to the nose), and (it gets even better) the female then sneezed her young into the pouch on her belly (remember, this is a marsupial).  

In truth, reproduction happens the same with with opossums as it does for most other mammals, with the exception that the young are "born" extremely premature.  When they are "born," the little pink things wiggle their way across the mother's belly and into her pouch, where each one attaches to a nipple.  Here they stay, firmly attached, until their development is complete.  It's a rather odd way to develop if one is a fetus, but it seems to work for marsupials, and aren't we lucky to have a specimen of these unusual mammals here in our own back yards!

As interesting as this up close encounter with the opossum was, I think I still prefer to see them in their natural, alive state.   So, let's end with ...

The End.