Friday, May 31, 2013

Evening Visitor

It was another "late" evening when I got home last night, but thanks to being at the far side of the time zone, it was still full daylight at 7:30, so I went out to finish trellising the peas that had poles ready.  Upon completion of said task, I headed back into the house.  Just as I was about to to inside, something compelled me to look back across the yard, and I saw I had a visitor:

I took a chance that it was content to stay there and munch, so I went inside to grab my camera.  The deer was still there when I returned.  After snapping a few shots, I decided to see how close it would let me get.  Do you see the fence posts directly in front of its face, to the right in the above photo.  I was able to get right up to the fence there, lean right on it.  Maybe 10-12 feet away.

It (I suppose I should say he, since the evidence bears this out) was quite content to just stand there and munch on the wild asparagus.  

As long as we each stayed on our own side of the fence, all was good.

Look at those whiskers!

Deer have no upper teeth in the front of the mouth.  Instead, the upper part of the mouth is equipped with a hard palate, against which vegetation is pinched off with the lower teeth - this is why deer browse has very characteristic ragged ends.  They also have rather manipulative tongues (the deer, not the browse).

We communed for quite a while, but once he had stripped off most of the choice bits of foliage, he slowly moseyed along in search of some more tender morsels.

As long as he limits his predations to the outside of the fence I am content to have him visit.

Because I shall be very unhappy if he decides my peas are the choicest morsels around!

Current status in the native gardens:  the wild columbine is blooming very well.

Got the rest of the native milkweeds (green, tall green, and purple) planted last night, too.  Then it rained a bit - everything is very happy for the rain.

And today, after completing our final "Our World of Water" program at a local school, I am off to the UP for the weekend.  The forecast is looking grim, but!  I will be in what the state has official labeled the Moose Capital of Michigan, so I have very high hopes of reporting here next week that I have managed to check "see a live moose in the wild" off my bucket list.  Wish me luck.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Grand Day Out

Can't say Sunday dawned sunny and bright, because it didn't.  And it didn't turn that way at any time during the day.  In fact, it went from partly cloudy to all cloudy to simply grey and overcast to rain.  

Still, that didn't keep us inside.  Nope.  We had planned to pre-trip GREAT's paddle on June 9, from Vandercook Lake to Ella Sharp Park - paddling the Grand River, and so we did.  This stretch of the Grand empties into Vandercook Lake, which is surrounded by houses (I rented The Hovel here when I first moved to MI)

and then passes under the causeway that is Brown's Lake Road, taking us into Brown's Lake (equally populated by houses - many of which are McMansions).

At the far end of Brown's Lake, the river turns northward and becomes more of what one expects of a river:

Eventually we found ourselves on a lovely pond (they call it Williams Lake), which only had one or two houses on it.  Ahhhh.  It was so lovely.  And no, it wasn't quite twilight.  By this time it was between 8:30 and 9:00 AM.  Yes, it was overcast and grey, but my phone, which was the source of all these photos, does not do well with lighting, so we have either washed out or dramatically dark images.

The spatterdock was juuuust starting to bloom, and was about the only spot of color we saw this morning (those chairs above being the exception).

We wound down stream, through wetlands, under bridges, and past many a well-kept lawn as the river passed through neighborhoods and "wild" lands alike.  (Well, as wild as one might expect in the city of Jackson.)

We encountered many (and I do mean many) areas where we had to scramble out of the boats to get around or over dams or blowdowns.  We learned how to stand in the boats while we climbed onto fallen tree trunks, having a seat while our boats were dragged underneath or over the tops of the trunks.  In a couple places we had to go through the mud.  As you can see, it is very rich mud.  The perspective of cell phone cameras leaves a lot to be desired - my feet are not really that tiny on the ends of gigantic legs.

And then, when I was downloading the photos from the camera to the computer, I thought I had transferred them all and deleted them (permanently) from the phone, only to discover as I was uploading to the blog that about half of them never made the transfer.  >sigh<

Still, I have the potential to redeem my photography in a couple weeks when we plan to paddle this again, when we'll potentially have another 80 people in tow, provided GREAT's crack river-clearing team gets through there first and clears out the many blowdowns.  Then all we will have to contend with is low water (thank goodness I was borrowing one of Quite World Sports' kayaks this day...and it's now been raining for two days), and 3 or so dams, one of which we can shoot over if there's enough water.

As the crow flies, the put in and take out are about a mile or so apart, but the paddle took us over three hours, thanks to all the scrambling we had to do, but also to all the bends in the river.  It is a very lovely stretch and I highly recommend it (water levels and blowdowns providing, of course).

And many many thanks to Kat from QWS who a) not only provided the boats, but also jumped into the water at every obstacle and, along with fellow GREAT member and QWS staffer, Rick, b) helped us hoist ourselves and our boats through each blockage along the way. 

Shameless Advertising:  If you want to paddle at Vandercook Lake and check out this stretch of the Grand River, stop at Quite World Sports, right there at Vandercook Lake Park, where you can rent a kayak or paddle board and go exploring.  It's a great deal ($15 for 2 (or was it 4) hours or $25 for the whole day).  Kat and her staff also teach folks all sorts of paddling techniques and you can sign up for a variety of classes.  A great place for beginners to start!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Goose Creek Paddle

About 80 of my closest friends and I hit the water on Sunday.  It was GREAT's first paddle of the season (the actual first one being cancelled not once, but twice, due to high water). GREAT is the Grand River Environmental Action Team, and as of last month I am a board member of this group of paddling enthusiasts.

Once a month, from April until October (ish) they host paddling trips on area waterways, often the Grand River, to encourage people to get out and know their local rivers, lakes, ponds and streams.  With familiarity comes a sense of caring...and then we can get people to help clean these waterways and protect them.

Sunday's trip was from the Goose Creek Grasslands, a Michigan Nature Association nature preserve over near Cement City, to Columbia Lake (or is it Lake Columbia?).  It was a short paddle, and a good way to start the season.  The morning was sunny and soon it was well into the 80s.  Before the evening began to cool things down, we had soared into the 90s.  Bleh.  But on the water it was pleasant, thanks to a pretty constant breeze.

When one goes on a GREAT trip, one first must sign in.  Many participants are boatless, and GREAT has many canoes and kayaks that it loans of charge!  With each boat one also gets paddles  and PFDs - safety first.

Sometimes pooches come paddling, too.  This is Jozy - she remained a land lubber this day, although she had her share of time swimming in the cool waters.

Our trip this day started off with a talk from MNA's executive director, Garret Johnson, who told us a bit about the Goose Creek Grasslands.  These 70-some acres are a nifty habitat called a Prairie Fen, which is rather rare these days, since many of their original locations have been drained over the years for agriculture and development.  With rare habitats come rare plants and wildlife.  And while there is no formal trail here (yet), there are t-posts that mark where a trail will eventually go, which will help those who want to come out and see some of the beauties that call this place home.  I heard the word "orchids" mentioned, so I will definitely be back here in June/July to see what orchids are here!

Then one-by-one, boats went into the water and paddlers were launched.

Sometimes it took 'em a few moments to figure out which way to go.

I was in the role of sweep boat, so I was bringing up the rear.  This is my favored position on these paddles - I can take my time to do some photography, and I get to help out anyone who is truly having a difficult time paddling and is falling behind.  Luckily today no one fell into that category!

I'm not sure what made these holes in the bank.  I'd suggest bank swallows or something along those lines, but these were all under water a few weeks ago.  A rodent, perhaps?

And here is the view from the water.  The majority of the paddle was along a very windy creek, with prairie fen to the sides.  In many places the water was quite shallow (despite the rains of April).

Lots of red-winged blackbirds were nesting along the edges.  Males and females both expressed their displeasure at our disturbance.

Lots of tall plants.

The emergents showed their muddy tops, which were well below the water even a couple weeks ago.

You just never know what you'll find along the water's edge.

We are still in the season of woodland flowers, so grassland species are not yet ready to bloom.  Still, some of the trees and shrubs had some things for us to see, like these willow catkins going to seed.

Private property borders the creek along both sides.  It was kind of fun to see some of the structures folks have built so they can come down and enjoy the water's edge.

Eastern kingbirds were busily catching insects.  This one perched and gave us a good long chance to snap its portrait.

Spatterdock buds were tightly closed.  And we only saw a handful of dragonflies and one damselfly.

These three black labs were certainly enjoying the creek - they were all drippy and eager to greet us, the last of the paddlers.

Eventually we came to some more wooded areas.  Erosion was quite evident.

Our Rivermaster, Kat Kulchinski, waited to guide our boats under this old trestle bridge.  There were some potential hazards and she wanted to be sure everyone hugged the left side to avoid getting hung up on old pilings.

Some old bones rested next to an old cinder block.

Like I just never know what you will find along the water's edge.

All too soon we were back in "civilized" territory.

A low stone dam was the only real obstacle we had to avoid.  Some folks chose to go over...

but seeing the rocks from the other side, and knowing how Kat had to rock her boat to get over them, I'm glad I opted to carry my Spitfire around!

And within moments we were entering Columbia Lake.

Like many a lake in this country, it is surrounded by homes, cheek by jowl, many of which are McMansions.  Give me a wilderness lake any day.

We had the generous permission of the Lake Columbia Association (?) to use this boat launch to take out.  The rest of the time it is for private use only.

And so our paddle came to an end.  We were on the water maybe a couple hours, so it wasn't too trying for a first time out.  I've left my boat on the car since next Monday the goils from GREAT are doing a pre-trip paddle along next month's route.  But, I may take it down...cloudy, stormy weather is in the forecast this week and having it up there really does nothing for my car's mileage!  :)