Monday, January 16, 2017

Snowy Owls in Mid-Michigan (2017)

For approximately the last month, two (or maybe three) Snowy Owls have been found in the fields a few miles southeast of Alma.  Twice Shara and I drove through the area where people sighted them.

No luck.

Several people that I know, both serious birders and casual birders have had success in seeing at least one of the owls.

Yesterday we decided to give it another try.  We drove right back to the same location that we had visited before and slowly drove down the road.

Success! Finally!  Shara spied the bird out in a field, about 100 yards away, perched atop a small snow bank.  We pulled over and observed the owl for about 15 minutes, with hope that it would fly somewhere we could get a better (closer) view of it.

It was not to be, but we can say that we saw it.  We both snapped several photos.  The pictures are nothing special, but as this is only the third Snowy Owl that either of us has seen they are special to us.

To find recently sightings of Snow Owls (and other birds) visit eBird.  This website allows people to post data and photos of their sightings and is a valuable tool both for birders and scientists.  The report that I filed for this owl can be found here.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Snow Day!

Ice storm photo from lat 2005 or early 2006

Today marked the third day in a row that most local schools were cancelled due to poor road conditions.  I hope that all of the students (and teachers) have enjoyed this unplanned mini-vacation.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Native Species Profile - Painted Turtle

Michigan is home to ten species of turtles.  By far the most common species is the Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta).  This species can be found throughout the Upper and Lower Peninsula.  The only species that approaches it in terms of distribution in Michigan is the Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina).  The Common Snapping turtle is also found throughout the Upper and Lower Peninsula.  However, it is not found on Isle Royale while the Painted Turtle is.   Overall the Painted turtle can be found across much of the northern United States and southern Canada, from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific.  It ranges as far south as the Gulf of Mexico in the east and southwest into Colorado and New Mexico.

Part of the reason for the broad distribution of this species is its adaptability.  Painted Turtles prefer still or slow-moving permanent bodies of water such as lakes and ponds., but they will use swiftly-flowing rivers and streams as well as season wetlands on a temporary basis.  Painted Turtles are often found traveling overland in search of new bodies of water.  They are often seen basking on log, rocks, or floating vegetation.

Painted Turtles often bask in large number on logs and other objects in the water

Painted Turtles are generally small.  Adults have a shell that measures from 4 to about 9 inches in length.  The upper surface of the shell (carapace) is olive green to black colored.  The lower half of the shell (plastron) is yellowish with a dark blotch in the center.  The outer edge of the carapace has red or orange blotches/spots.  The skin of the turtle's head legs, and tail is also olive green to black in color.  The head and neck have yellow (and sometimes red) stripes.  The Painted Turtles found in Mid-Michigan belong to a sub-species called the Midland Painted Turtle that commonly has red stripes on its head and neck.

Painted Turtle

Painted Turtles are omnivores.  They normally feed on aquatic invertebrates such as insects, crayfish, and snails.  They also frequently eat tadpoles and small fish.  A large part of their diet consists of algae and aquatic plants.

Painted Turtle - note yellow stripes on neck and orange blotches along the edge of the carapace (upper shell)

During the winter months, Painted Turtles bury themselves in the mud at the bottom of ponds lakes and rivers where they will hibernate from October/November until late March or early April.  It is not uncommon for Painted Turtles to be active in cold weather and people occasionally see them swimming around under ice. 

Basic Information

Painted Turtle
Chrysemys picta

Size:  4-9" long

Habitat:  Permanent water sources such as lakes, ponds, rivers, and creeks

Eats:  aquatic insects, fish, tadpole, crayfish, snails, plants

Friday, January 6, 2017

Sunset (05 January 2017)

Last night's sunset was quite dramatic.  Shara snapped a few photos with my camera while we were driving home from work.  Here is my favorite one of the bunch.

Sunset - 05 January 2017 (photo by Shara LeValley)

To learn why we see the colors that we do at sunset (and sunrise) please check out this post on Roy G. Biv and the wavelengths of light

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Change over time

On Tuesday (03 JAN) I stopped at Mill Pond Park just to take a few photographs.  There is a small stream that runs from a cattail marsh into the Chippewa River.  Over the past 10+ years I have photographed this stream repeatedly.   The photographs are usually nothing special.  I mainly take them because it is a place that I have documented so many times in the past.  Here are two photographs from this place that show how things have changed in the past decade.

This is the first photo that I ever took of this location.  It dates from sometime in the Spring of 2006 and was taken with a film camera.  The picture was eventually scanned.  When I took this picture, I liked how the bend in the stream is matched by the branches in the Boxelder tree growing next to the bank.  I also liked how the tree was reflected in the stream.

Here is the same location, photographed this week.  The Boxelder tree has long since died and fallen over.  The remaining trunk and branches lay over the stream.  Given a few more years, the trunk will rot away to nothing - Boxelder is not a strong, dense, rot-resistant wood. 

 I like this ability to look back through time, to see how the landscape has changed.  Not for the better, or the worse.  It has simply changed.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Backyard wildlife

The mild winter (so far) means that my backyard bird feeders have seen very little activity.  We have the usual suspects visiting on a semi-regular basis: nuthatches, goldfinches, sparrows, house finches, downy woodpeckers, cardinals, chickadees, etc.. The most exotic birds to visit the feeders have been a pair of Pine Siskins - which seem to be rare in the state right now.

The most dedicated visitor to our feeders?

We have a group of three to five (or more) Fox Squirrels that spend a lot of time depleting our supply of sunflower seeds.  I don't worry too much about them.  They need to eat just like the birds and so far we have only bought a single bag of sunflower seeds this season. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year's Day hike at Bundy Hill Preserve

Happy 2017!  How did you begin your new year?  On New Year's Day, I woke up before 6:00AM and drove forty-five minutes to the Bundy Hill Preserve. In the pre-dawn twilight, I was joined by a group of other nature lovers for a sunrise hike.  Located in western Isabella County, the Bundy Hill Preserve is the newest property owned by the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy.  At approximately 1,270 feet above sea level, Bundy Hill is the highest point in Isabella County. 

From the parking area, a half-mile trail led us up and down over snow covered hills to the summit of Bundy Hill.  While most of Isabella County is flat or gently rolling, Bundy Hill is part of a glacial moraine that rises above the rest of the county.  The trail to the summit climbs about 150 feet from the parking area and can be a bit of challenge when covered with snow.

I took this photo in low light conditions while moving forward.  I think it's interesting.

Hikers climbing the first part of the slope.

The steep climb near the summit
We arrived at the summit just a few minutes before the sun peaked over the horizon.  This gave us the opportunity to explore.  Some of the group went west to a false summit that offers open views to the south.  The rest of the group remained at the peak.  While we waited for the sunrise, a few late arrivers trickled onto the scene.  By the time 8:09AM (the official time of sunrise) rolled around, there were fourteen people gathered at the top of Bundy Hill - with two more stragglers to arrive soon.

On the western summit

The main summit of the hill

Fortunately, we picked a good morning for the hike.  Right on schedule a brilliant reddish-orange sun rose on the eastern horizon.  The summit of Bundy Hill is surrounded by trees so we lacked a clear view of the sunrise, but it could be seen peeking through the trees.  The sun elicited all the appropriate oohs and ahhs from the crowd.  

The sun can be seen peeking through the trees on the right side of the photo.

Everyone smile!
Some of the happy hikers recorded the event with photos or videos; others were happy to just revel in the dawning of a new day and a new year.  A quick group photo with the sun in the background, and people began to trickle back down the trail to begin their day.  I lingered a while longer, taking photos from points along the trail.  

This was my second trip to Bundy Hill in less than a week.  Because I was leading the New Year's Day hike and had never visited the property before, I made an exploratory trip last Thursday just to check on trail conditions.  The highlight of that trip was seeing an immature Bald Eagle from the western summit.

Immature Bald Eagle (29 December 2016)