Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Upcoming Event - Winter Wildlife Walk (Saturday 21 FEB 2015)

On Saturday 21 FEB 2015, I will be leading a walk at Deerfield Nature Park.

This walk is scheduled to begin at 9:00AM and is open to the public.  The main focus of this walk will be on animal tracks and other sign.  People are asked to pre-register for this walk because space is limited.  Admission to the park is free for this walk. 

Deerfield Nature Park is located at 2425 W. Remus Road (M-20) west of Mt. Pleasant.  This walk will start at the Fussman Pavilion. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sylvan Solace Walk

On Saturday (24 JAN), I was joined by Chippewa Watershed Conservancy Executive Director Stan Lilley and eight other outdoor enthusiasts for a winter walk through the CWC Sylvan Solace Preserve.  Sylvan Solace is located on Pickard Road west of Mt. Pleasant and consists of 78 mostly-wooded acres.
Sylvan Solace Map- from the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy website

This walk was originally scheduled as a snowshoe hike, but lacks of snow cover removed the need for snowshoes.  Fortunately there remain enough snow cover to follow animal tracks.  We were able to identify tracks of White-tailed Deer, Cottontail Rabbit, Raccoon, Mink, Mouse, Shrew (probable), and Red Fox (probable).  We were found numerous subnivean tunnels formed by mice or voles - we dug up one tunnel to show its size.  Other animal sign included scat from rabbits and deer and evidence of feeding by both species.  We did see several deer and numerous birds during our walk.  Live animals also included several invertebrate species: snow fleas (springtails), winter midges, and one small spider.

For once I did not take a single photograph.  I want to say thank you to Stan Lilley and Neil Hopp for sharing some of their photographs and allowing me to use them here.  Because I did not take these photos I am in a disproportionately high number of them.

Talking about fur, tracks, and scat - photo by Neil Hopp

Examining a set of rodent tunnels - photo by Stan Lilley

Following deer tracks through the woods - photo by Stan Lilley

Looking at tracks - photo by Stan Lilley

Taking a closer look at deer scat - photo by Neil Hopp

The group standing along the Chippewa River - photo by Neil Hopp

A well defined mink trail and raccoon tracks on an ice shelf - photo by Stan Lilley

Me pointing out a set of shrew tracks - photo by Stan Lilley

Opening up a bird box to look for mice - photo by Neil Hopp

Monday, January 26, 2015

Field Trip - Munising, Michigan

Located along the southern shore of Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Munising is approximately 4 1/2 hours from Mid-Michigan.  This means that Munising is realistically outside the range of a day-trip, but it does make a good weekend destination.

So why go to Munising?

Rocks and water.

The Lake Superior shoreline to the east of Munising is designated as Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Some of the Lakeshore's cliffs and eroded sandstone features can be seen from shore, but they are best viewed from the water.

Miners Castle viewed from the shoreline - one of the two spires on this feature has since collapsed

Looking down at the lake from the top of the cliffs
This can be done from a private boat or sea kayak, or you can book passage on a tour boat operated by Pictured Rocks Cruises - 2014 prices were $36 for an adult with tickets for children ages 6 -12 priced at $10.

A sea kayaker paddling along the cliffs
Miners Castle viewed from the lake

If possible, take the sunset cruise for the best light.  The cruise takes you close along towering cliffs.

Pictured Rocks viewed from a tour boat

The low evening sun enhances the colors of the Pictured Rocks

Immediately north of Munising is Grand Island.  Grand Island, divides and protects the entrance to the Munising Bay.  The waters around Munising can be hazardous and two lighthouses were erected to guide ships into the bay.  At least 30 ships have sunk while trying to enter the bay.  Two boats operated by Munising's Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tours will take you to see several of these wrecks located in the east arm of the bay.  Tickets for these tours are $32 for adults and $12 for children aged 6 to 12.

East Grand Island Light

A portion of one of the Munising shipwrecks

Mature Bald Eagle on Grand Island

Rock and water also meet in the many waterfalls that can be found around Munising.  More than a dozen waterfalls can be found either within the boundaries of Pictured Rocks National lakeshore or on public or private land nearby.  Several of these waterfalls can be seen from the roadside or located just a short walk away.  A few are best viewed from out in Lake Superior.

Wagner Falls is located in a park just south of Munising

Scott Falls is located along the roadside west of Munising

Spray Falls viewed from tour boat

One feature of Munising that is rarely talked about is its relatively unpolluted night sky.  These photos were taken from a hotel balcony, the view from a few miles outside of town should be even better.

The northern sky from Munising

The same view enhanced to show faint curtains of the Northern Lights

Friday, January 23, 2015

Six month ago today

Where was I six months ago? 

Wandering through the field behind the office watching a freshly emerged Black Swallowtail Butterfly inflate it new wings.

Where will I be six months from now?  Hopefully, seeing something amazing

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Event Reminder - Sylvan Solace Snowshoe Walk (Saturday 24 January 2015)

Cottontail Rabbit tracks
Just a reminder that I am scheduled to lead a walk at the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's Sylvan Solace Preserve this Saturday at 9:00AM.  This is being billed as a "snowshoe walk", but I don't think snowshoes will be needed unless we receive several more inches of snow over the next two days. 

Providing that we find snow on the ground, the focus of this walk will be on finding and identifying animal tracks and other signs.

Registration is required for this event.  For more information please visit the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy webpage.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

100 Species to Know by Sight - #9 Mallard Duck

It's time to add to my list of species that every kid (and adult) in Mid-Michigan should be able to identify.  The list so far includes:

     #1  Wood Frog
     #2  White-tailed Deer
     #3  Large-flowered Trillium
     #4  Black-eyed Susan
     #5  Skunk Cabbage
     #6  Monarch Butterfly
     #7  Viceroy Butterfly
     #8  Fox Squirrel

Species #9 is the first bird on the the list - the Mallard Duck (Anas platyrhynchos).  In Mid-Michign when most people think of a duck this is the species that come to their mind.  The Mallard drake (male) is one of the most easily recognized birds in North America.  It is characterized by a shining green head, bright yellow bill, chocolate brown breast, grey body, black rump and white tail.

Compared to the male, the hen (female) is rather plain looking - she has speckled brown feathers covering her entire body, a dull orange and brown bill, and a patch of dark blue on her wings.

Drake and hen Mallard - the drake shows his distinctive green head and yellow bill

Mallard Hen

Mallard hen - note her mottled brown and tan color and dull orange-brown bill

Mallard hen - note the dark blue patch on her wings

Mallard drake - showing all of his distinguishing marks

For more information on the Mallard check out this species profile on

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Animal Signs and Ice Crystals

Last Wednesday (14 JAN 2015) I was able to spend a little bit of time walking through the woods at Chipp-A-Waters Park in Mt. Pleasant.  I already posted some pictures of ice taken that day, but ice was far from the only thing I found.

Part of my walk took me off the paved trail and onto the frozen surface of an oxbow pond.   In Summer the edges of this pond are the home to rushes and bur-reeds.

Giant Bur-reed at Chipp-A-Waters Park

The center of the pond is home to a colony of Yellow Pond Lilies.

Yellow Pond Lily colony at Chipp-A-Waters Park

This time of year, the oxbow looks like this...

Ice and snow-covered oxbow pond

It's covered with snow and ice and criss-crossed with tracks from White-tailed Deer and Red Fox.  Many of the fox track passed near an old muskrat lodge along the edge of the oxbow.

Fox tracks converge on an old muskrat lodge

At least one fox took the time to leave its mark with a spray of urine.

This spot serves as a marking post for local wildlife

A yellow spot of urine shows that a fox has recently passed through

Fox tracks and urine were not the only interesting things that I found on the oxbow.

A fox-eye view through the rushes and sedges
Some of these emergent vegetation was covered with delicate blades and feathers of frost

Frost-covered leaves and stems

Some of these frost feathers were nearly an inch long.  This picture shows them in more detail.

Feathers of frost on a rush stem

Monday, January 19, 2015

Being Observant

There is an old saying that the key to photography is "f/8 and be there".

The first part of this statement, "f/8" refers to the aperture used to take the photo - the aperture is essentially how much light is allowed through the lens to record the image.  A way to imagine aperture is to think about your own eye.  If you squint you let in less light if you open your eye wide you let in more light - this is aperture.

While the part about aperture is important, the real key to taking photographs is to "be there".  It is impossible to take a photograph of something you never see.  This is good advice in general, even if you are not interested in photography.

You will never see anything unless you are prepared to see.

So what is the point of all of this discussion of "being there" and "seeing"?

Last week I had one of those opportunities to "see" something that most people probably would pass right by.  I was at the the Mt. Pleasant City Hall to drop off some paperwork and noticed a flock of ducks in a small retention pond between the parking lot and the Chippewa River.  At first glance most people would probably see a flock of Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) - this is not unusual, Mallards are our most common duck in Mid-Michigan.

However, one of the ducks was different than the others.

That duck in the center of the photograph is an American Black Duck (Anas rubripes).  This is not the first time I have photographed a Black Duck in Mt. Pleasant - I also took photos of one in April 2013.  American Black Ducks are not currently listed as endangered or threatened, but their numbers are on the decline throughout their range.  It is always exciting to me anytime I see one.

Be there (wherever that might be) and be prepared to see.  You might be amazed.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Shameless Self-promotion

A few weeks ago I received an email from a lady at one of our local phone book companies.  She asked if I would consent to one of my photographs appearing on the cover of the 2015 phone book for Isabella and Gratiot Counties.  They had two photographs of a young raccoon that they were considering - these photos appeared on this blog in June 2013.  I was also asked to write a short paragraph describing the picture and my photography.

This is what the final product ended up looking like. 

It's pretty cool to think that one of my photographs has ended up in thousands of local homes and businesses - even if its just the cover of a phone book.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Abstract Forms in Ice

New posts have been few and far between over the past few weeks.  Initially Christmas Break was to blame - I really had no intention of posting much during the time between Christmas and New Years.

Then once I got back to work last week my busy schedule got in the way of taking photographs and writing.

And through it all I kept getting sick.  I had a cold twice.  I managed to avoid getting the flu, even though Shara was sick with it.  Finally both of us got pink eye (conjunctivitis).

To top it all off, our home internet has been down for several days.

So today I am back at work (still taking a day off from visiting schools due to the conjunctivitis) and it looked like a good day to go out and get a few pictures.  I went to Chipp-A-Waters Park on Mt. Pleasant's southwest side and spent about ninety minutes walking around in the woods and along the trails. 

I took quite a few photos, but my favorites are these ones of jagged pieces of ice in the Chippewa River.