Sunday, July 5, 2015

H is for Hawk, C is for Catbird

On Friday, after reading another set of glowing reviews, I purchased H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald hoping to begin reading it this long 4th of July weekend.  Sunday morning arrived and I still had not started reading.  This is thanks to other worthy distractions like a long, but completely disturbing, New Yorker article that I started reading before the book purchase.

I needed to do some gardening this morning, mostly pruning and weed pulling - baby maple trees everywhere - when around 9:30 am I heard a Carolina Wren calling from across the street and then, very shortly, calling in my yard - meaning that it was moving. I heard it again a couple of houses further in.  This was the first Carolina Wren in the neighborhood for me (but then I'm probably the only one left who pays attention anymore; all of the other birders have left) all spring and made a note of the time to enter in eBird later.  Its sudden appearance may also signal the early start of fall migration.  I called it quits on the gardening, different than finishing, to finally sit in the shade and begin reading H is for Hawk.

House sparrows flitted in and out of the pond and then a male robin with still bright plumage came to bath.  Then it was quiet.  Back to reading.  Movement around the pond caught my attention again.  It was obscured behind the blazing star and I thought the robin was back. But then a catbird jumped into view and hopped down on a rock and began drinking.  A couple of weeks earlier I heard a catbird in the neighbor's thick hedge across the street.  But this is the first time I have actually seen a catbird in my small backyard.  I wanted to get my camera but I knew that as soon as I moved the bird would be gone and the moment would be lost.  The catbird stayed for at least five minutes and then flew off to perch in my dogwood tree beyond the pond.

I went in for my camera and was rewarded with a brief appearance by a goldfinch.  This my third summer having the waterfall.  I have both regretted and enjoyed having it.  I payed way too much to have it installed (should have known better) and it's a lot of work (I had been warned).  Mostly I have enjoyed it and today was one of those days. Back to reading H is for Hawk.

Women's World Cup soccer at 40 minutes:  USA 4, Japan 2.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Bog hiking

This was a much anticipated event.  I, being the novice naturalist in the group, had never hiked in a bog before.  For sure Susan Kielb has because she does research on singing Palm Warblers and it takes her there daily when she is in the UP.  For sure Artemis Eyster has - at Warterloo NWR and other LP locations - but never before in the UP. Sarah Toner is currently working for Seney National Wildlife Refuge where she is doing marsh field surveys so, for sure, she has done some bog hiking.

In my many drives to Whitefish Point and other UP locations, I've seen bogs along the roadside and have thought that they appeared both inviting and forbidding.  It wasn't even clear to me that one could actually enter a bog and hike.  Turns out that, just by looking and seeing, I was right.  They are both inviting and forbidding.

On Sunday morning, we met up at 6:00 am and with Susan driving set off for the Farm Truck Road bog where she collects data for much of her research on the Palm Warblers song.  Susan is an intrepid GPS user and I was an admirer.  I've never used a hand-held GPS; indeed, don't even know how.  In addition to experiencing a bog hike of this extent, the focus of our travels was to see if we could find nesting LeConte's Sparrow.  Susan had the spot marked for a LeConte's sparrow found on a previous year and we headed off in the direction of that location.

We saw and heard so much. 

Goldthread (Coptis trifolia

From right to left:  Artemis, Sarah and Susan.

Bog footprint

The long view.

The short view.

We GPS'd in on our singing LeConte's sparrow only to find that it was a Savannah sparrow.  Startling to see what a wide range of habitats a Savannah is comfortable nesting in.  I am accustomed to the dry, grassy sites where Savannah can be counted on.  And, here it was in the wettest of the wet locations.

Above and below terrible photos of a beautiful plant:   Bog Rosemary (Andromeda glaucophylla).

Pitcher plant flower (Sarracenia purpurea).  Unfortunately, I neglected taking a photo of the plant itself.

Unidentified scat.

Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor).

I hesitate to call this Bog Cotton because I can't find this in the small, yellow Wildflowers of Michigan field guide - (by the way, a pretty good guide for novices like me) - but I remember that the word cotton was used in its name.

Above and below: Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule) in the bog.


I love the bright green of the fresh growth on the young tamarack trees.

Swamp laurel (Kalmia polifolia). Out-of-focus - really, how do I do this on a still flower?  Sometimes my photos drive me crazy.  But in this one instance I may have an excuse.  The mosquito intensity was fierce and my hands were bare and even though they were slathered in bug juice, it didn't seem to matter.  More on this later.

Above and below:  the fresh growth on the young black spruce trees.

A hummock.

Forgot which plant this is, but we watched a female hooded merganser flying around as we stood in this location, making us think we were close to her nest cavity tree.

The remaining photos are back on dry land and taken along Farm Truck Road.

Blue Flag Iris - again and a much nicer photo.

I thought this lichen was beautiful.

Above and below:  Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium montanum) - in the Iris family

This Rosy Maple moth (Dryocampa rubicunda) was found on the road. Believe it or not, it was still alive after being struck by a car.  We laid it off the road in some soft sand under under some protective plants after taking these photos.

Pink Lady's Slipper on Farm Truck roadside.

I am a complete novice about wildflowers and wild plants.  We discussed all of the plants identified by the others as we hiked though the bog, but I was not writing down the names.  Some of the plants in the photos above remain unidentified, but I did my best to identify the others.  Hopefully, I've gotten them right.  All except a few of my photos are quite poor, but as I mentioned conditions were not the best.  

As with our visit to Whitefish Point the day before to see the Piping Plover, the bog was an intense experience with mosquitoes.  More later when I write about our Sunday afternoon adventure.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Piping Plover

The first think to know about the UP and Whitefish Point is that it was very mosquitoey.  Sounds mild when I word it this way, but a truer telling may be to say that the mosquitos were intense.  We were greeted by the owner of Freighter's on the Bay Motel with instructions on how to use a new-fangled mosquito zapper - a racquetball-racket shaped thing with, instead of strings, thin, wire-mesh electric netting that was battery activated by a small button on the handle.  While pressing the button we waved the racket at a mosquito thereby giving off the sound of mini-fireworks popping when the buzzing insect was zapped.  It was very useful when indoors or in the car.  To enter any door was to bring in a wave of mosquitos on our clothing.  We spent whatever time it took to zap them.  If one remained unzapped it was buzzing in my ear at night.  We persevered and I'm glad we did.    

Unidentified dragonfly on the walk out to the point.

In jail for its own benefit.  During all three visits to the point we saw a hunting merlin.

But with a pass to leave whenever it wants.

 Very brief excursion from jail.

Sarah Toner found these footprints in the sand which we thought might belong to the piping plover.  The footprints were found a reasonable distance from the safety cage.

In each of the three visits we saw only one bird.

Overall the saftety cage was quite small, but more than adequate to protect a tiny shorebird.  In the photo above a straight orange line is seen in the upper third of the photo.  This is the "psychological fence" that marks a very large area kept off limits to people.  This little bird might be the highlight of my summer.  It is only the third piping plover I have ever seen and my first in Michigan.    

Susan Kielb, Artemis Eyster, Mike Kielb and Sarah Toner at the Kielb's house at Whitefish Point.  We spent a really terrific afternoon and evening with the Kielb's and Sarah.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Teets Road, Chippewa County

Last weekend Artemis Eyster and I took a long weekend trip to the UP just for the fun of it.  When we got to US 23 around Ann Arbor it began raining and the rain continued all the way up and well into the afternoon.  We stopped in the Mio area, got lost a little bit, but drove around looking for suitable Kirtland's warbler habitat.  We were hoping to break-up the drive, but with no suitable habitat and the rain we didn't even get out of the car.  The jack pines have really grown up in the Huron forest around the Mio area and we did not see or hear anything except a few blue jays and Nashville warblers. 

We stopped briefly at Hartwick Pines SP and saw evening and rose-breasted grosbeaks at the feeders before continuing north to our overnight stop in St. Ignace.  We stayed at the Driftwood Motel across the road from Shepler's ferry service and heard an American restart and red-eyed vireo singing from the neighborhood trees there.

On Saturday morning we checked out of the motel around 8:30 am to try to find Teets Road.  On an early June trip in 2009 I saw my life LeConte's sparrow here and was hoping for the same again.  

Along Prairie Road, just north of Teets, Artemis heard a buzzy song from the car window that, at first, we thought sounded like blue-winged warbler.  We corrected that and coaxed this clay-colored sparrow out of its dense habitat to perch in a roadside tree and sing for these (@#$% fuzzy) photos.  The sun was very bright and perhaps it was a bit hazy from humidity or whatever, but I am really beginning to be disappointed at this photo quality.  But, I love this bird and its song. This is the first I've seen for the past couple of years.  

Just at the Prairie Road and Teets Road intersections there were seven or eight cedar waxwings in the upper part of this hemlock (?), tamarack (?) tree.  Even in this terrible photo you can see their perched yellow bodies.

Cut to the chase, there were distant savannah sparrows in the [former] LeConte's sparrow field, but no LeConte's.  The habitat seemed to have changed and appeared less wet - even in this wet spring.  Also, behind the grassy meadow the field had been planted with some kind of crop, perhaps wheat.

We began hearing and then seeing Bobolinks.  My first this year.  The payoff for the drive to Teets Road was this cooperative, singing sedge wren.  The wren family is Artemis's favorite and this bird is completely cute.  

Again, best not to enlarge these photos unless you want to see the full, pixilated version.  

As we watched this charming little sedge, Artemis made a beautiful ink drawing of it.