Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

September 25, 2012

Things I would have written Part 3

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 12:14 pm

Sept. 9    Button Bay, Vermont

Button Bay is on the Vermont side of Lake Champlain (named after the notorious Samuel de). By some this is classified as a “Great Lake” – except by those who actually live among the Lakes. It is a great lake, to be sure, but just not in the capitol letter sense. This long narrow body of water on the New York/Vermont border certainly has seen its share of human history from French-Indian War actions at Fort Ticonderoga & Crown Point to the War of 1812 Naval Battle of Plattsburg.

The very name of the place where we stayed at Button Bay stemmed from the English period when the British soldiers noticed the peculiar circular formations found about the place and declared “Why them looks just like button moulds, they do.” Metal moulds, or molds, were used to cast pewter and brass buttons.  According to the official word, Button Mould Bay later was simplified to Button Bay because the Mould part was too hard to say or explain. In other words, the Brits really meant to say “them’s buttons.” As a doubtful Michigander I don’t fully buy this.

There were many oval & round clay concretions found here and some do look remarkably like buttons but most simply look like blobs.  At the point itself, a barren piece of glacial scarred Ordovician rock (see glacial grooves here) there are quite a few true “button moulds” exposed in the rock (see above).  They appear to be iron based concretions with a softer material inside. They really do look like button moulds…er, molds. The soldiers were probably referring to these things. Why would they say mould when they meant buttons? I believe they meant what they said. One doesn’t see a spoon-shaped object and declare that it looks like a spoon mold – no, either it looks like a spoon or the mold from which is made.

Perhaps there is some linguistic thing going on here that I don’t understand so I’d better push the STOP button and let it drop before exposing my own ignorance. I did spot a pair of Daddy Long-legs (see here) on the rocks apparently arguing/discussing  the same issue (“thems buttons – no, them’s molds”…etc). Actually they were engaged in a more amorous endeavor but for the sake of visuals I will stick to my earlier statement.

The great Lake Champlain is down this year. It is really down, according to some of the locals, to record levels.  Multiple beach ridges – at least six – are exposed to create fresh-water tidal flats.  The place was attracting quite a few shorebirds picking through the exposed mire. Among the long-legged long-necked Greater Yellowlegs (see below) were pint sized Semipalmated Plovers (second below) and Semipalmated Sandpipers.

The Yellowleg name is pretty self-explanatory but the Semipalmated thing needs another “button mould” type explanation.  To be palmated means to be “hand-like”. To be semi-palmated literally means somewhat hand-like. In the case of these shorebirds it means that there is partial, or reduced, webbing between the front three toes – in other words their feet are more hand-like than duck-like. O.K. ,that makes more sense than the button thing.

These two small Semipalmated shorebirds are migrants making their way down to the warmer Gulf climes for the winter. The Semipalmated Plover looks like a Killdeer reduced in a shrinky dink oven – losing one of the neck rings in the process. It is in the same family as the Killdeer but looks more like a Killfawn.

One of the Semipalmated Sandpipers posed for me among the wave-washed rocks of Button Point.  I hate identifying shore birds because I am shore to get the identification wrong. There are far too many subtle points to consider. In fact, I might even call it a shorebird mold. In this case, I initially thought the bird was a Sanderling. It was very small and certainly looked like all those Sanderling pictures. As usual I was wrong – I think.

Because the bird was so co-operative I was able to take many shots of it (see above and here). This allowed me to take a closer look, after the fact, to note that the tiny fowl had back toes. Sanderlings lack a back toe and possess only three forward pointing (and un-palmated) toes. The Semipalmated Sandpiper was the only other thing fitting the fully-toed description.

Again I will need to push the STOP button and risk further ignorance exposure at this point.  Never publish a shorebird image unless you are willing to accept revision. I am therefore waiting for two revisions – one on my Button Bay theory and the other on this bird. Perhaps I should spend more time on vacation looking at the scenery rather than pondering such questions. At least the scenery is what it is – no more, no less.

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