Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

March 15, 2009

A Walk by Bloody Run

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 9:16 pm

Saturday was a fine time  for my annual spring excursion out on the dikes of the Pointe Mouillee Marsh.  I’d prefer it to be more like a weekly thing, but I never seem to get out on this extensive Lake Erie marsh more than a few times a year.  The early Spring season out here always holds out the promise of seeing some interesting migrant birds, picking up a few dead bodies, and enjoying a few muskrat watching opportunities.

The dead bodies? Oh, I mean animal remains of course. Even though Pointe Mouille contains ominous sounding location names such as Dead Man’s Point and Bloody Run, the place is chock full of life.  It’s only natural that a few critters end their careers there (outside of the waterfowling season). A naturalist is always on the spy for specimens. Last year at this time, the dikes were littered with the remains of dead muskrats who were the victims of starvation wrought by the tough winter. This year, I only found one skeletal ‘rat whose bones were bleached after months of exposure.

The skull of this particular muskrat (pictured here) was home to a pair of hibernating shamrock spiders (see detail here). The two chilled arachnids were firmly ensconced within the right eye socket. The location being un-occupied by an eye ball, it was a prefect fit for these rotund orbweavers.  I evicted the clumsy squatters with a gentle prod of a stick and they dropped heavily to the ground and crawled over to the pelvis bone to set up a new shop. An Asian Ladybug hid out in the brain case until I got the skull home, but it scurried out with haste when finally discovered.  Oddly enough, the eye socket of an equally bleached mallard duck skull  just a few feet away was also occupied by a Shamrock Spider. Apparently eye sockets are prime spider real estate at the Pointe.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of live things to see. There were a numbing quantity of Canada Geese and Mute Swans noising up the neighborhood. Between the honking pairs of Canadas establishing nesting territories and the heavy wing beats of swans chasing each other about, there was little sonic room for anything else. The Red-wing Blackbirds were able to rise above the clamor and add their own “Okaleeas” to the chorus every now and then. The prime real estate for these birds was any place up high, so the marsh unit sign posts served as their sentry posts.

In the world of official signage, most of  those at Pointe Mouille adhere to the standard black & white dictums of a Michigan State Game Area. The signs lining the Bloody Run Unit are a wonderful exception, however. The name alone is chilling enough, but when executed in a runny red spray stencil style they look more like cheap Halloween horror-house signs (see here) than DNR signage. Every sign along the Bloody Run unit is done in this manner but I don’t believe it was intentional.  I personally like them because it looks like something I would do intentionally. Ironically, this diked unit functions as a no-hunting reserve within the marsh system – it is a place where animals can go not to die, rather than the other way around.

I snapped a shot of a calling Red-wing as he looked down at one of the blood red signs (see above). It looked like he was just realizing what it said and raising his tail as if to say “Holy Crap, I’d better get outta a here!” He did leave right after the shot, but it was because of me and not any new-found ability to read. Back in the early 1900’s, when this place was a private hunting reserve, it was common practice for the hunter guides to pick off as many blackbirds as they could with their trusty 22’s, but now this bird has only to fear the rigors of the mating season.

Apart from the geese, swans, and blackbirds the open water areas hosted thousands of live fowl. I’m not one for lists, but among the species spotted were Mallards, Black Ducks, Buffleheads, Bluebills, Common Mergansers, Coots, Gadwalls, Widgeons, Pintails and Shovelers. The Pintails were a nice touch because these suitably named ducks are not a common sight here in the Great Lakes area. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any – due more to my not looking than anything else.

I do generally spot a few Shovelers every spring and this spring was no exception.  These colorful ducks with their exaggerated bills are always a sight to behold (here, behold). I can’t show you any other waterfowl pictures because most of the ducks were very very far off and I don’t do very far off shots well. So, well, I stuck to the closer stuff like the b-bird, the skull, and the sign. If I wanted to get some good close goose shots, then I could of had a field day, but frankly I found bleached bones to be more interesting.

There was one goose sight that I was tempted to record simply because it involved a muskrat. A pair of geese were perched atop a lodge as  a chosen nest site. In typical honker style, the pair went into slink mode as soon as they spotted me (it’s hard for a human to hide out on an open dike with nary a tree for miles).  In this case, the male bird hunkered down behind the lodge and froze while the female flattened out and laid her extended neck down against the lodge. This is instinctive behavior which doesn’t acknowledge that they are also out in plain view. I stopped to watch them just to see how long they would  keep up their ridiculous routine.

What I found interesting was that a muskrat, probably the one who owned the lodge, was placidly feeding at it’s base not a foot from the the geese. He paid no heed to them and they completely ignored him. While the ‘rat sat there munching contentedly for nearly ten minutes, the bird pair eventually gave up their ruse and climbed down into the water and swam away. I’ve often wondered what the muskrats thought about their lodges being used as nest platforms and it looks like the answer is that they could care less!

My walk along the “run” ended as the day’s temperature rose to a pleasant 45 degrees. I stooped to take in a detail shot of a goose feather be-jeweled with water droplets (see below) and pledged to return before this spring comes and goes.

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