Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

April 25, 2015

One Pic Post: A Bat at the Back Door

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 7:48 pm

Big Brown Bat photo Big Brown Bat_zpsvhuqoakw.jpg

After a chilly spring night dipping into the low 30’s, a Big Brown Bat was the last thing I expected to see in the morning (for that matter, I wouldn’t have expected to see a Little Brown Bat either or a Little Big Brown…whatever). The creature was perched gargoyle-like over the back door to the Monroe County Historical Museum – well above the keystone where the wall meets the overhang. The place was well out of the morning sun and not a very “secretive” location in terms of bat realty. I can only assume that the fellow was caught out late (or very early) attempting to gather in a few frozen midge-flies before deciding to seek temporary refuge. There were no droppings on the ground beneath his perch to indicate that this was a habitual hangout.
The museum staff had mixed reactions to the creature, but the overall impression was one of fascination. There were, of course, many stories generated and an excuse for a few minutes for some favorite bat tales. For the rest of the morning the little Big Brown was “our bat.” It ceased to be “my bat” upon leaving at noon and I’m sure it was left in good hands.

April 16, 2015

Delightful Divers

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 8:33 pm

Predaceous Diving Beetle photo Predaceous Diving Beetle 3_zps2ofggzir.jpg

We officially “opened” our tiny cabin for the season and I un-officially opened my lake eyes last week. Only a few weeks earlier the water was still frozen solid, but on this bright April morning Dollar Lake was coming to life.  Save for some pale Spatterdock leaves pushing up from the bottom there was very little flora visible in the dockside water. Only a sparse faunal assemblage greeted the eye. Small schools of Spot-tailed Shiners swam the shallows and a couple of water beetles cavorted among them. The beetles proved to be Predaceous Diving Beetles and, true to form, these critters were predating and diving.

One of the beetles grabbed onto an injured minnow and carried it under the cover of some floating debris. It’s not clear that it caused the original injury to the thing but obvious that it was intent on finishing it off. Adult Predaceous divers are, despite their name, more scavenger than killer.Predaceous Diving Beetle - Getting Air photo Predaceous Diving Beetle getting Air Re-charge_zpsarqelp4y.jpg

Another individual backed its hind end out of the water in order to take in a supply of oxygen into the bubble under its wing covers (see above). Although it should be no surprise, given that Predaceous Diving Beetles are air breathers, it was a bit surprising to see two of them eventually crawl out of the water to warm themselves in the mid-day sun. It was a bit like the “Predaceous Diving Beetle Show” and they were performing every trick in the little live book of water beetles.

Predaceous Diving Beetle photo Predaceous Diving Beetle 4_zpsyqf3racl.jpg

This particular species apparently has no common name to speak of, but is known as Acilius mediatus in the big book of Water Beetles.  The species name means something like “being halved or in the middle” in Latin and the genus name refers to a Roman proper name, so I guess we have to say the whole name means “Half a Roman.”  That is, of course, ridiculous but then again I never claimed to be an etymologist or even a trained entomologist.  Why not just call it “Simpson’s Bohemian Water Beetle” and leave it at that. Personally I think the “Mediator” would do the trick (it sounds sort of like the “Terminator” without the copyright infringement).

As for lifestyle there is little in the literature that is specific to this beetle. Like all members of the predaceous diving clan their larvae are voracious aquatic predators. This species prefers small forest pools with bare peaty bottoms. Dollar Lake is certainly nothing more than a glorified woodland pool, or half a lake, and would fit the habitat definition for this half beetle.

Whatever the real name, the Mediators are attractive little insects. The shelled portion of the body is very smooth and the brown elytra nicely marked with a wiggly tranverse design. Clearly displayed on the sunning individuals the back set of legs are equipped with an oar-like fringe for swimming. Short front legs are used for grasping prey (or simply holding onto half-dead prey).

I spent a half hour and took a half a dozen pictures of these beetles before the beetle show ended. A cold gust of wind rippled the surface and sent the beetles back into their element and I back into the warmth of my “half a house” to dream up a possible back story for justifying a glorious name like Simpson’s Bohemian Water Beetle.

Predaceous Diving Beetle photo Predaceous Diving Beetle_zpspfzhkg7u.jpg

April 4, 2015

One Pic Post: A Portrait in Black & Red

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 4:45 pm

Turkey Vulture in the Barn Window photo IMG_8447_zps8al6jcrw.jpg

The Turkey Vultures are back and seeking out their old haunts. Once again, the old barn pair have returned to nest. I can’t say I know them well (can one ever truly know a Vulture?) but I’ve seen them hanging about a derelict barn in the vicinity of Somerset Twp., Mi. over the past few years. My observations are always fleeting because I pass them when in the process of coming and going elsewhere.

Let me say that I assume these vultures are nesting within the barn because they are paired, it is an old barn, and well….vultures have been known to take up housekeeping in old barns.  Turkey Vultures really don’t build nests, per se, but merely scrape together some scraps of debris or wood to function as a “this is my nest” perimeter. They defend their nest site with projectile shots of vomit and therefore don’t really need an elaborate nest. Nuff said on that.

These Somerset birds have a knack for being photogenic which is why I have been prompted on multiple occasions over multiple years to turn around and snatch multiple pictures. Sometimes they are both perched high upon the peak of the barn roof or singly upon the viney top of the nearby power pole or silo. On this latest sighting one of the birds was framed within the inky blackness of the loft opening. The late afternoon sun highlighted the brownish nature of the bird’s black feathering and ignited that wonderfully wrinkled red head.

March 30, 2015

Spider in the Sap

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 11:37 am

Frozen Fishing Spider photo IMG_8378_zpsgcsolaty.jpg

The spring flow of maple sap is just about at an end. In terms of the Red Maples I am tending this season, it is a stretch to say that the season actually ever started – it’s been a poor year due to sustained cold temperatures and the natural whims of the annual cycle. It’s a pressure thing, you see. Freezing nights generate the negative pressure for drawing sap from the roots and thawing days create the positive pressure responsible for moving that sap up the trunk to the branches (and into the buckets). We’ve had plenty of freezing nights but they’ve mostly been followed up by equally freezing days and thus the sap flow has been faulty. Follow?

Frozen Sap in the Tap photo IMG_8468_zpsctkwgs5a.jpg

This is not to say that the sap buckets have been completely empty as of late. They’ve generated a supply of six and eight-legged contents worth talking about as we wait for the sap to melt. Spiders and Stoneflies are drawn to the buckets like flies to …well, you know.

After all, you know what they say: “A spider in the sap means eight more days of sugaring.”  Actually no one says that- I made that up as a lame way to breach the subject.  A spider in the sap simply means that smooth-sided metal sap buckets are dandy spider traps. A huge Fishing Spider found herself trapped in one of the buckets early last week. I’m assuming she fell in when the bucket was dry and became immersed by a two day flow of sap. She was clinging to the bottom (aka water side) side of the skim ice and imprisoned thus.

Fishing Spiders in Sap Bucket photo IMG_8377_zpsofjnav4a.jpg

A smaller male Fishing Spider tenaciously cling to the dry side of the ice and passed eight-eyed glances at his potential mate below. I assumed the female was dead because she was totally immersed and obviously had been for some time. Jarring the bucket, however, stimulated some leg movement and proved otherwise. Long story short, I liberated the hapless couple and send them on their merry (if slow moving) frigid way. She was short one leg but otherwise none the worse for wear.

Fishing Spider photo IMG_8389_zpslojcdp1s.jpg

Fishing spiders are water spiders, so being in liquid is a natural thing for them. They are not long-term aquatic beasts, however. Like all arachnids they breathe oxygen through flap-like “book lungs” and they depend upon their coat of fine hairs to trap an air-filled bubble layer around them when diving. They can’t sustain this for a very long and need to come up for air. Apparently when frozen, or nearly so, the oxygen demand is nil and the hairs maintain a dry bubble wrap surrounding. The large female was dry as a bone when I rolled the ice over and removed her.

Winter Stonefly photo IMG_8473_zps0m9ytpek.jpg

Several of the riverside buckets contained their share of Winter Stoneflies. These dark bodied insects are the very essence of the winter spirit and the sugaring season is their crowning moment in life. Equipped with only poorly functioning mouths they must have been attracted by the sugary sap ice. Freezing concentrates the fructose sugar at the surface and it can be lapped up like a Popsicle. As they say “A Stonefly in the sap bucket bodes well for the river that flows near it.” Again, this is not a traditional saying, but it should be. Stoneflies are good omens and these individuals speak well of the purity of the River Raisin.

Winter Stonefly photo IMG_8472_zpswxs2mzjb.jpg

As aquatic nymphs they can only live in clean, flowing, high-oxygen water and are very pollution intolerant. Since cold water contains the highest amount of oxygen, these creatures restrict their activity to the cold season. The nymphs actually burrow into the river bottom and hibernate during the summer (yes, you read correctly- summer hibernation) to avoid the warm oxygen poor summer water. They come back out to finish up their life cycle as fall arrives and emerge as winged adults as soon as the ice breaks up in late winter. The cold-tolerant adults only live for a short time after mating but know a good thing when they find it in a bucket.

You know what they say: “A Stonefly in the bucket is worth two spiders in the Drink”

February 28, 2015

Captain Nemo’s Goldeneye

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 3:10 pm

Female Goldeneye in Threat pose photo IMG_7884_zps4uocldsf.jpg

Last week I returned to my favorite mid-winter wildlife watching spot, that being the River Raisin where it flows through mid-Monroe, to see what the bear went over the mountain to see (“to see what he could see”). What I saw were a variety of ducks reveling in the ice bound patch of open water. There were only two female Goldeneyes present in the crowd but two of a kind proved too much in this case. One of them simply could not stand the sight of the other and let her know it.

For the most part the dispute consisted of short wild splash ridden chases. Guttural grunts from the Goldeneyes accompanied each act, but most of the noise was generated by the other ducks trying to get out of the way. The aggressor, let’s call her “Maxima,” came at “Minima” with a direct frontal attack. Wings were employed like oars along with foot kicks to drive the attacker forward. The attackee made no attempt to rebuff the assault and fled with similar flair – occasionally diving to escape.

Feuding Goldeneye Females photo IMG_7866_zpso8nsfjrn.jpg

Although the action was fun to watch, the body posturing preceding each attack was even more entertaining. Leveling her head out even with the water surface, Maxima swam directly toward her rival at half speed before exploding into the previously described action. Often she dipped her bill into the water so that only the upper half of her head was visible. Viewed for the front, the bright yellow eyes were used to full intimidation effect. For all the world this behavior looked like the ship-ramming scene in “Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Sea” where Nemo’s submarine breaks the surface and speeds towards its hapless victim -the windows glowing with a fiery anger.

Female Goldeneye in Threat pose photo IMG_7885_zps5qkgxxup.jpg

Such aggression at this time of year probably relates to courtship. There was a male bird a short way up river, although he was not yet in courtship mode. The aggressive female was possibly having a hissy fit at the thought of this hussy hanging around just in the event that “her” man-duck decides to start the dance. The hussy never actually left the scene, however, so these attacks were merely an exercise in futility.

We tend to think of ducks as picture-perfect stamp art and it is refreshing to see them as living beings with fire in the belly and in the eyes!

Female Goldeneye in Threat pose photo IMG_7962_zpsou2el5eu.jpg

January 31, 2015

B.O.P s in the E.C.T. s

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe,Plants — wykes @ 3:24 pm

Kestrel in a Cottonwood 3 photo IMG_7559_zps0fc32a32.jpg

Monroe County is located on ancient lake bed. The flat land is the product of a time when Lake Erie had aspirations of grandeur. Flush with the melt waters of the great glaciers, the lake once lapped against the moraine hills around Ann Arbor (before the University was there, of course). Eastern Cottonwoods are the dominant tree here because they thrive in the moist clayey soils deposited during that time. They can attain great height and size and are, in a contorted and sad way, our version of the Redwoods. They lord over the landscape where you don’t have to get very high to lord over (it).

It is natural, therefore, that local birds of prey gravitate to Eastern Cottonwoods as their observation posts of choice. It is fitting, although bordering on sarcastic, to say that if you seek b. o. p.’s then look in the high branches of the E. C. T.s. I offer three examples – actually two and a half – as my exhibits in today’s blog.

Throughout S.E. Michigan, and especially along the Detroit River and Western Lake Erie, Cottonwoods and Bald Eagles go together like bad taste and reality television. They build their massive nests in them, roost in them, and generally perform their daily work among them.

Bald Eagle in a Cottonwood photo IMG_7382_zpsdf73871a.jpg  Bald Eagle in a Cottonwood photo IMG_7383_zps4f856179.jpg

I spotted one of the resident Bald Eagles eying the River Raisin on a recent bitter January morning. Perched high in the branches of a large Cottonwood on the opposite bank, the mature Bald Eagle technically wasn’t “working” at the time I observed it. It was looking around but not down – which goes a long way towards explaining why the hundreds of Canada Geese and Mallards cavorting in the icy water were unconcerned. Fish are the major item on the eagle’s menu, but waterfowl are often a preferred side dish so it is wise for them to pay attention to the moods of a nearby predator. This eagle was chilling – In more ways than one – and therefore not a threat.

Kestrel in a Cottonwood 2 photo IMG_7551_zps7046def9.jpg

Further east, and a week later, a male Kestrel chose the highest possible end of the highest possible branch on a medium sized Cottonwood at Sterling State Park along Lake Erie. Proportionally, however, this bird of prey was about the same size to its Cottonwood as the Eagle was to its tree. The tiny raptor was using his cottony perch to scan the grassland below for Meadow Voles. Occasionally it shifted its head from side to side in order to get a perspective view of a potential target and then nervously pumped its tail upon discovering that the movement was generated by a wind driven leaf.

Kestrel in a Cottonwood 1 photo IMG_7543_zps09fcbf4f.jpg

The bright colors of the American Kestrel are muted in the dull light of mid-winter. Feathers fluffed out as protection against the cold further diffuse this colorful attire. Even so, this bird could not hide its varying hues of orange, rust, and slatey blue.  Black “eye spots” on the back of the head were especially visible on this hunter. The Kestrel did not make a kill during the time I watched it and cast quite a few “act like a tree and leave” glances in my direction before I got the message.

 photo IMG_7574_zpsbf24b229.jpg

My final offering comes in the form of a pellet as opposed to an actual predator in a Populus tree. Found on the ground beneath the cover of a vine tangle, this large pellet (about 3 in. long) consisted entirely of Ring-billed Gull feathers and bones. I can state the feather identity with certainty because of the single Ring-billed Gull wing that laid atop the vine cluster overhead (see above).  Scattered down feathers and whitewash lay about the place. The branches of a huge Cottonwood towered over it all, of course. There is little doubt that a large bird of prey sat upon its branches while discombobulating the unfortunate gull – dropping pellet, parts, and poo in the process.

Gull-filled Owl Pellet 2 photo IMG_7722_zpsaa937367.jpgGull-filled Owl Pellet 1 photo IMG_7721_zps2170a66b.jpg

I cannot say for certain who the pellet perpetrator was in this case but will give it a hoot. Owls and raptors (daytime birds of prey) both cast pellets. I am guessing it to be from a Great-horned Owl due to the tremendous size and relatively good condition of remaining quills within. Snowy Owls also produce such pellets but rarely chuck them in a wooded setting. A Peregrine Falcon would be a likely raptor candidate – especially given their bird-oriented tastes – but from what I can decipher their pellets are much smaller and more amorphous (due to stronger stomach acids).

So there you have it. Cottonwoods and carnivorous fowl have a somewhat commensal* relationship in this neck of the woods (or foot of the water, as it were). These birds of prey were definitely barking up the right tree – even if it was really the only tree!

Eastern Cottonwood Bark photo IMG_7582_zpscd3fed88.jpg

 

*Definition time: Commensalism means a relationship in which one organism benefits while the other is relatively unaffected (in other words the Cottonwoods do not derive any benefit from the birds whereas the birds gain useful observation posts).

January 26, 2015

Wind Ghosts and Frozen Caterpillars

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe,Plants — wykes @ 11:30 am

 

Rose Mallow in Winter photo IMG_7598_zpse8eda74c-1.jpg

A walk out on the dikes at the Pointe Mouillee State Game area in the middle of winter can be a bit like walking the Arctic Tundra. It’s little wonder that wintering Snowy Owls choose this place because it feels like home. Only broken cattail skeletons and clumped grasses serve as cover and because the dikes rise well above these there is no cover at all for the winter walker.  An infant breeze entering at lake grows into ferocious adulthood as it traverses the open expanse. In other words, it can be bitter cold even on “mild” days. The winter version of the marsh is not devoid of life, however, it’s just that you have work harder to find it.

 

Pointe Mouillee Marsh in January photo IMG_7654_zps254870ce-1.jpg

My last foray out onto the dikes was on a mid-20 degree day (that’s F, by the way – I don’t speak C). There was little wind, so the dreaded “Mouillee chill” was minimal.  A light snow refreshed the place and turned every Rose Mallow pod into an open cotton boll and highlighted the dome of every muskrat lodge in the ‘rat-pocked landscape.

Meadow Vole Tunnels in the Snow photo IMG_7651_zps87574d70-1.jpg

 

There was plenty of evidence that creatures were about on the previous evening. Countless Meadow Voles were taking advantage of the snow cover to forage on grasses under the snow. Their tunnels, evidenced by their fractured roofs and occasional exit holes, laced the dikes (see above).  Frustrated by such protective cover, predators can only hope to catch the slight movement of the snow in order to pinpoint the prey below. Brushed wing tips and talon marks indicate where one aerial predator attempted a halfhearted grab at an invisible morsel. White-footed Mice made frequent dashes across the open path during the night as well. Most executed a straight shot – slapping long tail marks from side to side as they went. The track of one individual, however, reveals a halted crossing, followed by a nervous retreat and then a renewed all-out dash (below). Perhaps it caught a glimpse of shadow from above or a movement from aside. You can never be too careful when you are a menu item.

White-footed Mouse Tracks in the Snow photo IMG_7672_zpsd408e265-1.jpg

 

Coyotes evidently patrol every inch of the place on their nightly rounds. Sitting down to contemplate the view, one of the canines left a familiar mark in the snow. Clear heel and hind foot prints and shifting front paw marks indicate that it might have paused to lick a small cut – as suggested by a spot of blood in the snow near the haunches. Last week my daughter’s Black Lab left a near identical mark (sans blood, of course) where it sat for several minutes to survey the back yard. Like two exclamation marks they mark the behavior of both wild and domestic dogs.

Coyote Sitting Tracks in the Snow photo IMG_7663_zpsa452103b-1.jpg

 

Perhaps the most surprising finds were several Tiger Moth caterpillars walking across the snow. I’ll remind you that even though the sun was peeking out from time to time, it was in the twenties. These hardy insects were slowly making their way across the surface. Due to their lightness they left no tracks and due to their speechlessness did not offer an explanation for their seemingly risky behavior.

Ruby Tiger Moth Caterpillar in January photo IMG_7603_zpsd58bcc54-1.jpg  Ruby Tiger Moth Caterpillar in January photo IMG_7608_zps9e6660d4-1.jpg

I believe they were Ruby Tiger Moth larvae – a worldwide species which feeds on a wide variety of plants such as goldenrod, ironweed and plantain. They overwinter under the snow as larvae and emerge to complete their growth and pupate in the late spring. They have a recorded habit of coming out onto the snow as caterpillars and can withstand freezing temperatures via a combination of anti-freeze saturated blood (full of so-called “crypt-protectors”) and solar energy trapping body hairs and black skin color.

Ruby Tiger Moth Caterpillar in January photo IMG_7612_zps06298f4d-1.jpg

 

I did not spot any Snowy Owls, and only found a loose feather of a Short-eared Owl, but was treated to the graceful moves a pair of Northern Harriers. These birds perfectly represent the spirit of the winter marsh.

Harrier over Pte. Mouillee Marsh photo IMG_7615_zps30e23b56-1.jpg  Northern Harrier (male) at Pte. Mouillee photo IMG_7613_zpsc8c099b1-1.jpg

These slender marsh hunters floated low over the cat-tails and canary grass hummocks searching for the sight and sound of mice and songbirds. Like ghosts they passed by on silent wings -riding the light breeze and rocking ever so slightly from its effect. Both birds were marked with white rumps and held their long narrow wings with a species-defining crook at the wrist. The male was pale gray – nearly white – with stark black wing tips (above) and the female was dark rufous brown (below).

Northern Harrier (female) at Pointe Mouillee photo IMG_76252_zps31d6cdcf-1.jpg

 

 

I tracked them for as long as I could but they vanished into the frigid landscape well before they should have been out of sight. Like many of the marsh secrets they probably chose to remain aloof and somewhat mysterious.

Northern Harrier (female) at Pointe Mouillee photo IMG_7625_zps941c309d-1.jpg

 

January 18, 2015

Whistler’s Mother

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 3:33 pm
Goldeneye Taking a Dive photo IMG_7485_zps0506cb7a.jpg
You may know, if you are one of the two people who actually read my blog, that I am a scientific name fanatic of sorts. I like them because 1.) you sound smarter than you actually are when you use them and 2.) they are quite fun and explanatory. With that in mind I’d like to introduce you to Bucephala clangula – aka the Common Goldeneye Duck. We’ll get to the fun explanatory nature of that name in a moment.
The frozen waters of the River Raisin open up along several stretches along its route. A short riffle section running through the downtown section, just ahead of the Monroe Street Bridge, serves as a major gathering area for the local waterfowl. On some days this gathering consists of what appears to be every Mallard in the western hemisphere but on others it holds a nice little selection of divers such as Redheads, Hooded Mergansers, Bluebills, and Goldeneyes.
The diving ducks take advantage of the open water to bob under the surface for tasty crustaceans, aquatic insects, and pill clams picked out from the bottom gravel. This year, the Redheads and Goldeneyes are the dominant species. The Goldeneyes have attracted most of my recent attention because they are elusive flighty birds. They are hard to approach in the wild. Those occupied bucking the current and feeding on the River Raisin will put up with your presence long enough to allow for some quality observation time. It is almost as if they are on a duck treadmill of sorts and they have to constantly swim in order to hover over a particularly productive spot in the river.

Common Goldeneye Drake photo IMG_7436_zps1e6ebef6.jpg

Male Common Goldeneyes (I have to keep saying “common” because there is another species called the Barrow’s Goldeneye and I’d hate to confuse anyone more than I normally do) are distinctive in coloration. Actually they display very little true color, but are startling examples of contrasting pattern. The sides and belly are white, the back black, and the sides exhibit a pleasing zebra stripe design. The most obvious feature, however, is their enormous dark green head equipped with a bright yellow eye and a large white eye spot located betwixt the eye and bill.
Like most puffy-headed diving ducks, the head appears much larger than it actually is due to the feathering. Perched atop a slender white neck the heady Goldeneye looks the part of a living bobble head figurine. It should be obvious where the goldeneye name came from but the head is the key to the scientific name Bucephals clangula. Translated from the original Greek the name literally means “Screaming OxHead.”

 photo IMG_7456_zpsb09aa090.jpg

In other words, Bucephala, the “Ox Head” portion, refers to the Greecian way to say big headed. Alexander the Great had a beloved battle horse called Bucephalus so named because of its large head with large eyes. Goldeneyes have large heads. The species name “clangula” is a bit more problematical. This means “screaming” but could be interpreted as “to make an attention getting noise.” Goldeneyes do not scream, and are not loud by any stretch of the imagination, but they do whistle. In this context the name makes sense.

Common Goldeneye Pair photo IMG_7417_zps9487b815.jpg

Common Goldeneyes are often referred to as Whistlers by duck hunters. Unlike Lauren Bacall these birds can’t put their lips together and blow, but instead create this noise with their wings as they fly. The rush of air through their rapidly beating primary feathers generates a pulsing whistle that can be heard from a great distance. This advance warning noise gives you just enough time to pull your thoughts together and declare “Look, there be a flock of Screaming Ox-heads approaching yonder.” On the water the birds limit themselves to quiet grunts and splashing dives and no such declaration should be made (especially if no one is in ear-shot).

 photo IMG_7487_zps42adb1e6.jpg

It would be wrong of me to end this account without acknowledging the females of the species. That would be Pig-headed of me. The hens have an attraction all their own. Their largish heads tend toward a cinnamon brown color and their eyes are hued with a duller shade of yellow (thus they do not look as continually surprised as the males). With mottled gray backs, white bellies, and yellow tipped bills the smaller females do not scream for visual attention. Yet are worthy of a portrait. You’d almost certainly have to call any such painting of a hen Goldeneye “Whistler’s Mother.” Well, at least I would.

Common Goldeneye female photo IMG_7457_zpsdd1410e8.jpg

January 10, 2015

One Pic Post: Cold Spell

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 1:00 pm
 photo IMG_7362_zps797da4c7.jpg
The winter temperatures have been hovering around the zero mark for the last few days. It’s been a mild season up to now so this first Arctic blast has seemed more brutal than usual. While we humans spent our time complaining about it, the animal world took it in mute stride. Of course, animals have no choice other than to deal with it. For active warm-blooded beasts, thermoregulation is the key. External warmth gained through cuddling or southern exposure enhances the ability to keep the body core temperature within safe limits.
I had to admire the thermoregulatory antics of a gang of Starlings hanging around a NAPA auto store on a 4 degree (F) day. The birds were soaking up what they could of the morning sun and assembling along the south-east facing wall. The only good perch was provided by the large plastic “Auto Part” letters.
True to their colonial nature, they were constantly shifting position to allow their fellow birds a place in the sun. Starlings do not have any self-spacing mechanisms so they happily crammed their puffy frames into minimal spaces allowed. The top of the “A” provided the least space while the con-joined “RTS” could accommodate up to a dozen fowl at a time. Taking a “P” took on a whole new meaning in this context.
This location was soon rendered nil as the low angled sun crept westward and caused the eaves to cast a warmth-robbing shadow over the spot. For a few moments, however, these hardy little birds were using their collective wit to avoid freezing their A’s off!

November 9, 2014

Down in the Mouth

Filed under: Animals,BlogsMonroe — wykes @ 12:02 pm
Otter on Dollar Lake photo IMG_7212_zpsc1f973df.jpg
It was early morning on Dollar Lake and the dawn light highlighted the converging lines of a wake trail out in the icy water. I assumed it was the mark of a muskrat swimming across our end of the lake. The little rodent had been especially busy over the last few days and his antics provided some small entertainment as of late. All muskrats have the habit of raising their tail out of the water when they eat aquatic vegetation. Front paws occupied on the foodstuff, they assume a swayback posture that causes their tail to arch out of the water like a ladle handle. This Dollar Lake ‘rat habitually holds his tail at such a high angle that it appears to be the head of a miniature Lock Ness monster (see below).

Feeding Muskrat photo IMG_7105_zps69295ac2.jpg

Grabbing the binoculars (it was too cold to run out in my pajamas) I scoped the wake-causing creature through the window and was pleasantly surprised. Instead of the expected form of a muskrat, the unexpected lines of an Otter came into focus. This was only the second time I’ve seen this creature in the lake – the last time being a few years ago. Needless to say it was no longer too cold to run out in my pajamas, but I threw on a few layers of clothes anyway.
The Otter performed a periscope move to assess me when I arrived at the end of the dock. It apparently determined that I was harmless and opted to continue as if I weren’t present. Normally otters are fish-eaters but on this morning it was seeking an alternate form of seafood. The thing was crayfish hunting and obviously working a good spot. Over the course of twenty minutes I personally saw him nab at least eight crawdaddies and eat them with great gusto.

Otter on Dollar Lake photo IMG_7186_zps324eb18d.jpg Otter on Dollar Lake photo IMG_7176_zps73fbd74f.jpg

The sequence usually started with a contemplative full body float at the surface. They are long animals – ranging between 31”-51” in length -and appear very snakelike. The tail alone makes up nearly one half the body length. Plunging headfirst into the drink, the creature then dove down and rooted through the bottom debris. Rafts of bubbles marked the underwater search path as it sought the quarry.
If a catch was made, the otter bobbed to the surface and dispatched the prey with wide-mouthed bites. Occasionally rolling over on its back, sea otter style, it often handled the “cray” with nimble front paws. The sun highlighted the pink palette and substantial teeth of the predator as it gnawed away on the mudbug.

Otter on Dollar Lake photo IMG_7217_zps0a355d78.jpg

Otter on Dollar Lake photo IMG_7232_zps959d3921.jpg

Sometimes, instead of immediately eating the crayfish, it swam with it to the Northwest corner of the lake. There it dove under at a spot near the shore where it probably entered a bank burrow and finished the meal there. Oddly enough this was the same location where the muskrat also dives under and I wonder if the two were sharing this entrance to a common burrow. Muskrats and otter do not traditionally get along (as in – otters can eat muskrats), however, so I’m not sure what was going on there. The muskrat was active at the same time the otter was out so perhaps the two have come to terms somehow (aided by the fact that the otter was satiated by a more than ample crayfish supply).

Otter on Dollar Lake photo IMG_7257_zpsff1475d3.jpg

Otter on Dollar Lake photo IMG_7253_zps163d6882.jpg

Otters are not un-common in Michigan but they are widely scattered and rarely seen. One study in Northern Michigan showed their distribution to be about one per every 4.8 miles of river shore. Every sighting, therefore, is special. One doesn’t get the chance to look down the mouth of a Michigan Otter very often. Unfortunately I was somewhat down in the mouth because we were closing down the cabin for the year and this was our last day for the year. I can’t tell you how long the creature worked the lake or if there was any drama between the muskrat and the otter. The morning sun was still breaking over the trees and the otter was taking a break in its burrow by the time we left. We otter be back by next March to continue the story.

Otter on Dollar Lake photo IMG_7140_zps4a685a35.jpg

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

Powered by WordPress