Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Grand Day Out

This last week has been a classic Indian Summer.  Cool crisp nights and mornings, followed by gloriously sunny, clear blue sky days.  The only thing that is really lacking is autumn color.  Oh, there are some trees that are spectacular, but we are still over 50% green and many of the colors are dull, with lots of tans and browns.  And plenty of trees are just dropping their leaves.  No, this is not a fall to be noted for its color.

But, glorious weather is glorious weather.  It was a perfect day for a paddle and on Sunday GREAT had its final public paddle of the season.  We paddled the Grand River north of Jackson, putting in just off Route 127, south of Leslie, and did a six+ mile stretch to Dixon Road, where we took out at a DNR access.

Getting to the put-in was a bit of a challenge, unless one knows the area.  I don't, so I first ended up on a dead end road on the opposite side of the river.  I could see 'em, I could talk to them, but I couldn't get to them!  Then I ended up just off the highway (127) - with a fence between me and the rest of the group!  Finally, my personal "GPS unit" hopped in the car and we drove up to Leslie and back down the correct road (thanks, Kat)!

This trip turned out to be one of the smaller groups we took out this season - about 40 people.

As always, folks have to sign in for boats and PFDs, and sign a waiver.

There was plenty of help at the sign-in table.

Compared to many sites where we have launched, this one was great.  It has an easy slope down to the water and the river is shallow right along the edge - I barely got a foot wet, thanks to Jack's launching prowess.

 Before we hit the river, Don, our trip leader, made a few announcements, mostly about the condition of the river.  It was going to be a smooth paddle, but there would be a lot of debris to weave around.  The clearing crew had spent 32 hours on the river cutting through downed trees and limbs, opening up the way just enough for single boats to pass through.  We were advised.

I was borrowing a kayak from my friend Kat.  My Spitfire is still not repaired from the last trip.  The repair kit has arrived, but I'm hesitant to do it myself, even though I've watched the video.  I've gotten as far as flaking off the cracked "paint" and sanding it, but when it comes to mixing and applying the gel coat, I'm a-feared I'll get it wrong!  So...here I am testing out the borrowed boat.  It was a snug fit, but once I was in, it was comfortable.

This trip I was one of the two middle boats, so after about half the group launched, I put in.  As you can see, the launch was nice and easy.

And here are the first two bridges - Route 127.  We went under quite a number of bridges on this trip.

And even more trees!

The river is wide enough here that folks with few paddle skills won't have to worry about bouncing off the banks.  However, there is plenty of debris to dodge, so knowing how to steer and make some quick turns is a real plus!

This lovely old sycamore made a picturesque overpass.  I was going too fast to get a good shot, so as I was cruising under, I just held up the camera, snapped a shot and ducked to avoid hitting the branch, hoping for the best.

The start of this video is a bit rocky (I was trying to balance the camera between the top of my PFD and my chin), but it shows the loveliness of the river and what a great paddle it is.

This is a Youth Haven Ranch Nature Preserve along the left side of the River.  Public or private land?  No idea, but they've built a really nice bridge there.  

We also passed this little cabin. Actually, we passed a number of houses - only a few of which fell into the McMansion category. 

I thought this might've been one of those garden gazing balls that got washed downstream, but apparently it's a bowling ball!  We suspect Jim stuck it there while out clearing the river.  This next weekend there is a clean-up being held along this stretch of the river (f you want to help, contact GREAT at 517 416-4234), and we suspect he put it here so it would be collected when the crews come through on Saturday.

We saw three turtles:  one wee painted, a map, and this fella, which I'm not sure from this blurry photo if it is a painted or a map.  Darn boat was moving to swiftly to get a good shot.

We were also greeted by this black sharpei.

There are plenty of open stretches where one can just drift along without having to dodge downed trees and limbs.  Beware, however, of logs hidden just beneath the water's surface.  They leave no clue that they are there...and I think I found most of them.

Just past this lovely wooden bridge...

was our take-out point.  Jack was waiting for us to arrive.  

Somehow, despite all the boats that passed me, I ended up much closer to the front of the group than the middle.  So, I had plenty of opportunity to get photos of the rest of the group as they approached the finish line.  This was quite a change for me, since I am usually the sweep boat, bringing up the rear.

There was plenty of help to get all boats up the bank.

 We were on the river maybe 2.5 hours, give or take, depending where in the group one was paddling.  We had no swimmers on this trip - everyone negotiated the obstacle course without incident.

After all the boats were loaded onto trailers, cars, and trucks, many went to the Roadhouse for an early dinner and drinks.

It was a perfect October day.

Friday, October 4, 2013

September Come and Gone

It was a rather gloomy Sunday in September when I decided on a whim to go check out Seven Ponds Nature Center east of Flint.  I'd heard great things about this facility and decided to go check it out.

By 11:00 AM it was already extremely warm and humid.  The two-hour drive yielded one cloudburst, but it didn't clear the air.  It was the kind of storm that merely made the humidity worse.

When I pulled into the parking lot, there was only one other car there - probably that of the girl who was working at the front desk.

It's a very nice facility - lots of open space and some great exhibits.  This beaver exhibit, for example, has a space underneath where kids can crawl inside and see what it is like to be a beaver.

They have a large bird-viewing window with comfy chairs lined up in front.

I just loved the expression on this raccoon's face!

Heading out on the trails, one passes two nice gardens:  The Herb Garden,

and The Butterfly Garden.  Bees were out in good numbers, but I didn't see too many butterflies.

I chose to take the trail that went through the woods and on out to the grassland.  Along the way, I passed a third "garden" - the Woodland Wildflower Garden, which is completely surrounded by an 8-foot fence - the only way to protect woodland flowers from hunger deer. 

Pine plantations might be dull, species-wise, and rigid in their layout, but they sure make for nice photos down a trail!

In less than 15 minutes I was at the edge of the grassland.  This field was part of a major habitat project.  I hesitate to use the term "habitat restoration" because historic Michigan did not have many grasslands.  Oak-hickory forests and oak savannahs were the primary habitat types in the lower part of the lower peninsula.  Oh, and wetlands (fens) - most of which have been drained.

Still, it is nice to see native flowers in non-garden settings, growing to their full height and splendor, like this silphium.

It was prime time for many native sunflowers, coreopsises (coriopsi?), black-eyed Susans, and the like.

I was surprised to find wild bergamot still hanging in there!  I have recently learned there are two strains of wild bergamot:  one blooms early in the season, and the other later.  I believe the eastern variety is the earlier bloomer.

A few purple coneflowers were in bloom.  To me these will always be garden flowers - they just seem so out of place in the wild!

Ironweed - the best of the purples!  This tall native wildflower is so purple you can almost taste it.  It is one of my favorites.

Grasslands are by nature rather flat, so it is great that they have put in this viewing platform for visitors!

And here is the view.  As you can see, lots of green and yellow.  But on foot one sees the patches of other colors.

Like boneset - patches of white.

And pale purple obedient plant - another one that I'm only used to seeing in gardens!

The native grasses were just getting going.

And there were one or two spikes of blazing star (Liatris).

Here we can see the tall waving heads of big bluestem grass,

and Indian grass.  Indian grass becomes so colorful in the fall - it is just glorious.

Blazing star comes in several varieties, but I believe this is rough blazing star.

The dogwoods have been just loaded with berries, and they were at Seven Ponds, too. 

Beautiful mountain mint was still in bloom.

The trail system at Seven Ponds is divided into two chunks, one on either side of the road that drives through the property.  I was wandering around the chunk on the north side of the road.  You can see three of the seven ponds here.

Continuing from the grassland and through the woods, I shortly came out at a mowed field, with a lovely oak standing sentinel. 

Hard by the oak was the largest of the ponds.  I could see the railings of the bridge, but no sign of water.  Must be this pond is quite aged, I thought - all filled in with vegetation.

Like these white turtleheads!  I watched a bumblebee for a while as she slipped in and out of the blossoms in search of nectar and pollen.  They must've been pretty well picked over because she didn't seem to be having much success.

Where there's a bridge, there must be water!

And so there was - a winding channel that was being filled in by cattails and other wetland plants.

Monarchs were few and far between this summer, but this milkweed tussock moth caterpillar seemed to be doing just fine.  Unlike the monarch caterpillars, these fuzzy caterpillars are just as happy to gnosh on the older milkweed leaves as they are the younger, more tender ones.  This helps spread the wealth, as it were - it allows the monarch to capitalize on the younger leaves without the tussock moths going hungry.

At long last, I saw the pond.  There was an observation tower here, but the view was narrow.

Much better was the view from the dock a short way down the trail.

The heat and humidity seemed to have put a damper on wildlife at the pond, though.  It was still and quiet.

This fenced in area caught my attention, though.  What could they possibly be fencing off here?  I still have no answers.

A spidery flower that I've only rarely seen was in full bloom here:  wild cucumber.  The plant is not rare, but usually I only see its fruits - spiky cucumbers about the size of a small plum.  

Once more back in the woods, and on my way back to the visitor center, my eyes were drawn to these brilliant berries.  Prickly ash!  This is another MI native that continues to fascinate.  I still don't have the plant memorized to the point where I can recognize it at 100 paces, but a close-up look usually yields enough clues that I recognize, like the distinctive thorns, and, in the right season, the berries.

The highbush cranberry was also in peak fruiting mode!  What glorious colors - and it looks like plenty of food for the birds this winter.

Overall, Seven Ponds was a nice enough place - but from the small bit I saw, I must say I like Dahlem better.  Maybe it was just the weather, but there didn't seem to be a lot there that spoke to me.  Views were limited, and the landscape has a lot of obvious  "unnatural" aspects:  plantation, non-natives, mowed fields.  never the less, it is worth a trip and I'll go back sometime on a cooler, sunnier day!