Monday, December 11, 2017

Upcoming Event - Chippewa Valley Audubon Club Member Sharing Night (13 December 2017)

Due to weather the CVAC meeting for 13 DEC 2017 was cancelled.

Join the Chippewa Valley Audubon Club this Wednesday (13 DEC) for the Club's regular monthly meeting.  The meeting will begin at 7:00PM at the Veterans Memorial Library at 301 S. University Avenue in Mt. Pleasant. 

This month's meeting is the Club's annual Club Member Sharing Night.  Club members are invited to share photographs, artwork, and other memorabilia highlighting their year in the outdoors.  I plan on sharing a dozen photos.  Some of these photos were taken locally, others date to our vacation in the Dakotas.  Here is a sneak peak of one of the images...

Summer Rainstorm along Interstate 90, South Dakota (30 June 2017)

Native Species Profile - Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)

Most people don't understand birders.  The idea of going birding (looking for and recording bird sightings) is seen as odd a lot of people.  Why would you go looking for birds - birds are just there.  They're around us every day - they are so common that they fade into the background and become part of the scenery.

Despite my other nature obsessions, I will admit that I don't bird (the verb).  It takes a lot of bird (the noun) to get me excited enough to go bird (the verb).  One of he few species that excites the general public (and me) enough to go birding is the Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus).  A Snowy Owl is not so much a bird (the noun) as it is an event.

Snowy Owl - Isabella County, MI (December 2014)

The winter of 2017 - 2018 looks to be a big year for fans of the Snowy Owl.  There have already been dozens of sighting of Snowy Owls in Michigan and birds have been reported as far south as Missouri and Virginia.  Some years the population of Snowy Owls moves southward in large numbers during the winter months.  This movement is known as an irruption - the last big irruption was in 2013 and 2017-18 looks like it will be even bigger.

The exact cause of irruptions is not well known.  It may be tied to downswing in the population of Arctic lemmings, the owls major food source.  When lemming populations fall, birds must come south to find enough food.  it may also be related to upswings in lemming population - more lemmings available during the breeding season means more young birds survive to adulthood. When there are more owls in the Arctic some of them must come south to find enough food.  I tend to believe this latter explanation because a large percentage of the irrupting Snowy Owls tend to be immature birds.

One of the reason Snowy Owls are so exciting is that they are large birds.  They measure 20 to 28 inches long and have wingspans of 49 to 57 inches.  As is typical of raptors, females are usually larger than males.  The Snowy Owl is the heaviest owl species in North America weighing 3.5 to 6.5 pounds; the Great Horned Owl, Mid-Michigan's largest resident owl weighs an average of 2.0 to 5.5 pounds.

Snowy Owls are primarily white.  Females and immature birds will have dark brown or black barring on the wings, back, and chest.  Mature males are pure white or nearly so.  Both male and female birds have bright yellow eyes

Another reason that Snowy Owls are so exciting is the fact that they are diurnal.  This means that they are active during the daytime.  Combined with the fact that they prefer open areas such as fields to wooded areas and they become easy to find.  (I say easy to find, but in January of this year it took us three trips to find one of several that had been reported nearby for weeks.)  Snowy Owls often rest on the ground - their native tundra has few trees and the birds are used to perching on the ground.  Birds that are part of the irruption often perch on utility poles so they can better see their surrounding.

Snowy Owl - Gratiot County, MI (January 2017)

Basic Information

Snowy Owl
Bubo scandiacus

Habitat:  Arctic tundra; birds may overwinter in the Continental United States, over-wintering birds usually found in open areas such as fields, prairies, airports, golf courses

Size:  20 - 28 inches long with a 49 - 57 inch wingspan, females are typically larger than males

Diet:  small mammals, birds

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Story of a Log (as told in pictures)

Last Wednesday (29 November), I posted several pictured from Mill Pond Park.  One of the photos showed a log partially submerged in a creek.  I mentioned that I had photographed the same location multiple times in the past.

Here is the picture that I posted last week.

The image from last week

Looking back in my files, the oldest image that I can find of this location is one that dates from either 2005 or 2006.  I'm not exactly sure of the date of this picture.  It was photographed on 35mm film and scanned at a later date.  I like all of the angular lines in this picture - the branches, the creek, the reflections in the water.

 Spring 2005 or 2006 (scanned image)

This scene became one of my favorite recurring photography sites.  This next picture is from December 2008.  By this time I had converted to a digital camera.  I like the interplay of dark branches and shadows with the bright snow and sky.  I also like the sunburst coming from between the branches in the upper left.

December 2008

The next image is from January 2010 - another winter day.  The light in this image is not as good as the one above.  It looks like it was pretty much a grey winter day, but I still like the lines of the tree and the contrasting snow.

January 2010

The next picture that I could find dates to May 2013.  By this time the tree has died and fallen across the stream.  It has been dead long enough for the bark to have fall from the trunk and most of the branches.   In this image I like the vibrant green grass and its contrast to the muddy brown water of the creek.

May 2013

By January 2017 the tree had decayed enough that many of the branches had fallen away from the trunk.  Given enough time invertebrates and fungi would have continued their work of breaking down this tree and its remains would have turned into soil.

January 2017

This process was disrupted by the heavy rainfall that hit mid-Michigan in June 2017.  Approximately 11 inches of rain fell in less than 72 hours, causing the Chippewa River to reach its highest levels in thirty years.  Flood waters filled the floodplain lifting this trunk from its location along the creek.  When the water receded, the trunk was carried closer to the river before snagging in the creek where it rests today.

November 2017

Monday, December 4, 2017

Five field guides for holiday gift giving (2017 edition)

Hi, I'm Mike and I have a problem with field guides.  I simply cannot resist the pull of  a new guide.  Birds?  I have guides.  Trees?  I have guides for those too.  Flowers?  Lord, do I have guides for flowers!  Insects?  Not just general guides to insects - I have guide dedicated to bees, aquatic insects, and beetles.  (I love beetles!)  Lichens?  Who has a field guide for lichens?  Um, I do...  Actually, I know I have at least two lichen field guides.

Like I said, I have a problem.

In 2016 I wrote a series of posts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4) about some of my favorite field guides that I thought would make good Christmas gifts .  Here is an update for 2017.

1.  Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great lakes Region, Revised Edition by James H Harding and David A. Mifsud (ISBN 9780472073382)

This is not a new field guide.  The original edition came out in 1997.  Even if you own the older edition, go out and buy this field guide.  It has more photographs and updated (color) maps.  This book was published by the University of Michigan Press and costs $24.95 (paperback).  When I found out that this edition was in the works, it immediately went on my to-buy list.

2.  Mammals of the Great lakes Region, Third Edition by Allen Kurta (ISBN 9780472053452)

This is another update of a previous addition.  Like Amphibians of the Great Lakes, this book was published by the University of Michigan Press.  It retails for $24.95 (paperback).  The key updates to this edition include color photographs and updated maps.  Another nice feature that I like in this book is that origin of each species' scientific name is described in detail.  Did I need to purchase the updated version of this guide?  No, but I think it was worth the cost.  If you live in the Great Lakes region I definitely recommend this book.

3.  Mushrooms of the Upper Midwest:  A Simple Guide to Common Mushrooms by Teresa Marrone and Kathy Yerich (ISBN 9781591934172)

Mushrooms of the Upper Midwest is not a new book.  It was published in 2014 by Adventure Publications.  This book is one of an entire series of small pocket sized guides.  Some of the books that I have in this series include wildflowers, trees, reptiles and amphibians, and mammals,  Limited in scope, these are great books for beginners.

I like that this book lists many of the common edible and toxic mushrooms that can be found locally.  As always, I caution anyone against relying on a single source for information on edible mushrooms - Mistakes can be deadly!

4.  Bark:  A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech (ISBN 9781584658528)

This another book that is not new.  Bark was published in 2011 by the University Press of New England.  I have been aware of this book for several years, but have never come across it in a store until this year.  I most tree field guides, bark is an afterthought.  There might be a short description for each species, or even a single picture of the bark of a mature tree.  In this book, bark is the star.  There are photographs of bark at various stages of a tree's life - young, mature, and old trees.  Although this book is not specific to the Midwest/Great Lakes there are enough common species to make it worth purchasing.

5.  Michigan Atlas & Gazetteer by DeLorme (ISBN 9780899334424)

Okay, this one is not a field guide.  Instead it is guide that gets you into the field.  I currently own three different editions of this guide.  Whenever we go on vacation to another state, I am likely to buy the DeLorme Atlas for that state.  I know off the top of my head that we own copies for Maine, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin (at a minimum).  These guides are so much more than road maps.  They show waterfalls, geologic sites, museums, scenic drives, lighthouses, hiking trails, and much more.  There are many places that I would never have visited if I hadn't found them in a DeLorme Atlas.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Photos from Mill Pond Park (29 November 2017)

Today, after my school programs were done for the day, I was able to slip away for about an hour to Mill Pond Park.  Mill Pond park is located in the center of Mt. Pleasant. 

The park is bounded on the north by Broadway Street, on the South by High Street, to the west by Adams Street, and on the east by the Great Lakes Central railroad.  The park is bisected by the Chippewa River.  Most of the park falls within the river's floodplain and is covered by either wetlands or floodplain forest.  The park measures 90 acres in size.

Here are a few photos from my walk.

Virgin's Bower or Old Man's Beard (Clematis virginiana)

Sunlit Common Cattails (Typha latifolia)
A dozen Mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) were swimming around the small pond near the eastern edge of the park.  No matter how hard I tried to get a good picture, the ducks managed to stay in the shadows along the edge of the pond or to keep directly in line with the sun - both made photography difficult.

I have photographed this small creek dozens of times in the past fifteen years.  Today I really liked the golden colors of the dried grass, the blue sky and its reflection in the creek, and reflections of the logs in the calm water.  I took this photo from a small footbridge that crosses the creek.

This is the vies from the opposite side of the bridge.  In this picture I squatted down to shoot between the boards on the side of the bridge.  Getting at a lower angle allowed me to (somewhat) frame this steel bridge and its reflection between the grass covering the banks.  With no wind, the river itself was very calm and allowed the smallest details to be reflected.

This was my favorite picture of the day.  A pair of Chickadees was flitting around searching for insects in cracks and crevices of tree bark.

A Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) hangs upside down from a branch

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A highway in the woods

Logs are irresistible to kids.  They want to sit on them, roll them over, and above, all use them as a balance beam. 

This desire to walk on logs seems to cross the boundary between species.

These three images were all captured over the course of a single night. 

This log seems to be a highway for young Virginia Opossums - more than ten pictures over the course of a month.

The Red Fox also is a regular (although less frequent) user of this log.

The Northern Raccoon uses the log as a walkway, but much less frequently.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving 2017

*The Following Blog Post is a Public Service Announcement from Wild Turkeys of America.  Wild Turkeys of America is a fictional organization dedicated to the cause of protecting the glorious Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) from becoming the centerpiece of Thanksgiving meals across North America.  Any resemblance that Wild Turkeys of America bears toward any real organization is strictly coincidental.*

Wild Turkeys - notice the complete lack of gravy and cranberries!

Wild Turkeys of America would like to remind you that although turkeys were definitely eaten by the settlers at Plymouth Colony, there is no evidence that points to them being consumed at the famous "First Thanksgiving".

Instead, the aforementioned Wild Turkeys, would like to suggest the following more historically correct menu options for your Thanksgiving feast.


What's on the menu?!?!


I always considered myself more of a Christmas bird...


Sorry, we'll be traveling this holiday!


The turkey told you what?!?!

This message has been brought to you by Wild Turkeys of America.  Please enjoy a historically correct, turkey-free Thanksgiving.  To all of our Turkey brethren, keep your heads down. 

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.