Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

September 21, 2016

A Magnificent Specimen

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:12 pm

A Magnificent Pea Fowl Poo photo IMG_4342_zpswc0rlglf.jpg

On a recent trip to a country dairy farm with my grandson my eye was captured by a piece of natural art. It was an exceptionally well-formed bird dropping perched atop a fence post.  In an attempt to keep my young charge focused on the animals I did not direct his attention to the miniature piece of crowning perfection before me.  I wanted his “s” and “p”memory words, the ones he would proudly report to his mother,  to be standards such as sheep and peacock and not their fecal equivalents.  As an adult, I could not deny the thing before me so I present this feature to you for a totally non-scientific review. As surely as art can be nothing but poo, poo can sometimes be art.

Farms, by their very nature, are places of perpetual poo. The stuff was everywhere – mostly distributed unevenly across the ground or rolling about like marbles. As much as I tried to ignore this category of sightings on our farm visit, this specimen was highlighted by the low afternoon light and demanded attention.. The separation of the white from the solid material (the pee from the poo as it were) indicates that this was a bird dropping. But dropping is hardly the word to describe this product. It wasn’t dropped, it was placed and delivered like a whipped topping on a pumpkin pie. An extended point at the apex accentuated the form and elevated it to a work of near beauty. It transcended feces and appeared like a sculpture of a pensive snow white snail crawling about with a granular swirling shell upon its back.

The artist was undoubtedly a large bird. No House Sparrow or Pigeon could have survived such an act.  None of the chickens are capable of reaching such a high perch either, so it must have been “expressed” by one of the proud Peacocks or Peahens that roam about the place. One knows now why the Peafowl crows! Theirs is a world of feathered beauty but in the end it is also a world of earthy charms little respected by the world in general. Pea Fowl are Poo Fowl as well. I appreciate what you have done and some day so too will my grandson.

June 30, 2016

A Crocus Moth on a Summer Eve

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 2:19 pm

Crocus Geometer Laying Eggs 1 photo IMG_3578_zpsdhvzhs7i.jpg

The night air was just settling in after the sun dipped behind the oaks and pines lining the opposite side of Dollar Lake. A group of Green Frogs were performing their syncopated “ga-lumping” and the last dragonflies of the day were hovering about the Spadderdock. I was standing on the dock waiting for the muskrat to re-appear. This particular individual had an unusually large pair of ears – odd for an animal known for very small appendages in this regard. I’d taken some pictures of the rabbit ‘rat earlier in the day but wanted another crack at him. I’m sure he was less anxious for a re-meet and was deliberately waiting for the disappearance of the human at nightfall. I was about to give up, seeing that the light was dimming fast, when a movement in the brushy willow to my left caught my attention.

A fluttering yellow moth was treading among the narrow leaves. The critter decided upon a single dangling leaf and momentarily hung motionless. Although it was located about ten feet away, I noticed that it curled up its abdomen in the manner of an egg-laying female. A view through my zoom lens revealed that it was a Crocus Geometer Moth depositing a new generation.

The view was obstructed, and the light was poor, but in the absence of Peter Muskrat this nature scene would have to do. The satiny green eggs were planted on the leaf surface near the mid-rib. Her extended ovipositor placed each egg so that it was paired with another. The activity proceeded at a slow deliberate pace and I ran out of light before seeing how many she laid (nor could I located the leaf the next morning due to the long-distance nature of its placement and the fact that all willow leaves look pretty much alike!). I counted at least nine by last light.

Crocus Geometer Laying Eggs 2 photo Crocus Geometer Xanthotype sospeta_zpskigqm3xl.jpg

Crocus Geometers are members of a group of moths better known as inchworms. It just so happens that my previous post was about a larval inchworm and you might get the impression that I am a bit of a geometer geek. I am not, but will happily bear the mantle for the time being. Perhaps I will spot some of the larvae after they hatch out this week but I doubt it because these caterpillars are also twig mimics!

One last comment concerning this small natural event. There are several species of Crocus Geometers which are virtually identical, so my identification of this one as a “Crocus” Geometer is admittedly tenuous (there are False Crocus Geometers etc.). It takes an expert making a detailed examination of the genital parts to tell them apart. I offer it up to anyone wishing to enlarge these images in order to confirm the particular species. I, for one, am satisfied just witnessing one of nature’s small miracles.

June 5, 2016

Sticking Around

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:58 pm

Twig-mimic Inchworm in Mimic mode photo IMG_3420_zps4uaiw7ik.jpg

There are over 1,200 species of Geometridae moths in North America – a group better known by their so-called “Inchworm” larvae. Because there are so many I feel justified in not identifying the particular inchworm pictured here. The exact name really doesn’t matter in this case anyway. This group of larvae are well known as twig mimics and this individual was such an incredible example that I felt compelled to bring it to your attention right away (in other words – hang the I.D.). Whatever it is isn’t as important as whatever it isn’t!

Upon prepping some twigs for a recent campfire I came upon this tiny inchworm clinging to one of the branches. I wouldn’t have noticed it at all if my disturbance hadn’t prompted an un-planned movement on the part of the caterpillar. Upon regaining composure it resumed its perfect twig imitation and once more vanished before my eyes.  The camouflaging skill of this fellow is successful due to two levels of mimicry.

Like all inchworm larvae, this one is typified by a long slender body and a distinct lack of legs at mid-body. There are three pair of prolegs next to the head, two sets at the hind end, and a long legless gap in-between. Most inchworms are cryptically colored to blend into leaves, bark, or twigs. This one is patterned in twig mode with mottled gray speckling and a clever set of fake bud scars located about a third of the way down the body.

Twig-mimic Inchworm photo IMG_3418_zpsuojnnw1d.jpg

This color pattern alone would serve well enough but an additional behavioral step improves the ruse to the point of near perfection. Make-up is only part of an actor’s skill. Upon disturbance, the caterpillar stiffens out and holds its body at a low angle away from the twig. The prolegs are gathered tightly into a bundle under the head to give the overall impression of a terminal bud and the creature remains frozen in place.

One might be tempted to believe that a green leaf might spring from the head of this living twig which isn’t.

May 16, 2016

Squirrels in the Hood

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:46 pm

Baby Red Squirrel 2 photo IMG_2953_zpskcd4w5uc.jpg

For the three people that occasionally read my blog, you may recall that I have a thing about Red Squirrels. I may appear un-naturally interested in them because I’ve featured the little red devils in several blog postings. Be advised, however, that my interest is forced -they have done everything possible to disrupt my life. I, on the other hand, have done little to stop them. In fact I have consistently forgiven them for transgressions such as filling my riding lawn mower with walnuts, nesting within the engine compartment of aforesaid lawnmower and cutting all the wires, shredding every storage box I own, and removing the entire insulating layer under my truck hood for nesting material. I have every right to wish famine and plague upon them, yet I am drawn to them like a hapless moth to flame.

Recently our paths crossed once again under the hood of my truck. Badly needing a muffler job…I said BADLY NEEDING A MUFFLER JOB, I….er, I parked the vehicle in the driveway for just under a week until I could get an appointment at Midas. On the day of the appointment I drove the truck five miles to the muffler shop for repair and returned at the end of the day to pick it up for another 5 mile trip home.

Walking up to my vehicle, parked at the far side of the lot, I spied a reddish-brown lump on the pavement under the driver’s side. “It looks like a baby squirrel,” I thought to myself, “but must be a squirrel-shaped leaf.”  Upon closer approach the lump turned out to be a squirrel-shaped baby Red Squirrel – so young that it could never had made it to that location under its own power. Deducing that the creature must have come with me as a stow-away in the engine compartment (no one else is plagued by Red Squirrels like I am), I corralled the feisty critter into a bag and returned home.

Baby Red Squirrel 1 photo IMG_2949_zps3uuf4owi.jpg

My plan was to plop it out into the yard and wait for the negligent mother to pick it up its long lost youngster with no questions asked. I never left one of my children under the hood of a vehicle, but who was I to judge? I placed the tiny orphan in the back yard next to the squirrel-infested lawn mower shed.

Hours later, I spotted the Red Squirrel baby in the driveway under my truck. The distance was a good 50 feet from where I had placed it. That would, indeed, have been an incredible journey for a barely mobile squirrelet had it of been the same animal but it was not! The original baby was still laying where I put it by the shed. No, this was baby Red Squirrel No. 2.  They were now issuing from the truck like manna from heaven. I put the two nest mates together and they immediately snuggled for warmth.

I banged on the truck hood with frustration and was answered by a muffled chatter from within. Either my oil filter was talking to me or there was a more realistic explanation. Popping it open, I espied yet another youngster of the Red Squirrel kind laying in the space under the air filter. This was baby no. 3.

Baby Red Squirrel 3 photo IMG_2954_zpsyq1ljnxh.jpg

Finding the third subject inside the engine compartment confirmed that the other two must have originated from the same spot. None could have climbed into that place on their own. Mother Red Squirrel undoubtedly brought them there for temporary placement while seeking a new nest hole. I must add that my truck is red, but can’t say if that was a factor in her decision.

Imagine the horror within her peanut-sized brain upon discovering that her children had been taken for a 10 mile joy ride. Imagine my horror upon realizing that Red Squirrel litters are usually larger than three individuals! (In other words how many of them dropped out along the way?)

I left the one baby in the engine compartment for the night and placed the other two on the ground nearby. They were all gone by the next morning and I can only hope that their mother removed them to safer surroundings. A raccoon may have feasted upon the ground babies but the lack of an engine baby points to a natural removal.

You might say that I missed a golden opportunity to rid my yard of three future Red Squirrels. It would have been so easy to hurl them into the creek and be done with it, but again I failed.  These little ones will grow up to be slightly larger ones and continue their legacy as chaos machines. I am a human moth and they are the flame.

Curious Young Red Squirrel photo IMG_2905_zpswjnwaa2i.jpg

April 22, 2016

A Shameful Case of False Advertising

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:21 pm

Cow Seeds photo IMG_2646_zpsq5lqu1px.jpg

I knew it was my moment. I purchased a pack of Cow Seeds at a garage sale. The package looked a bit worn, but thought the black & white contents might still be viable. The 10 cent price tag was ridiculously low, given that they could potentially produce 5 full grown Holsteins and, although I didn’t know exactly how much they were worth, I did know that cows were very expensive items. Keeping cool and poker-faced I boldly negotiated the price down to 5 cents and smugly walked away knowing I had bested the seller (Jack was his name – a beanstalk of a fellow who obviously didn’t know beans about value).

Because the season was late, I waited until this spring before actually planting the bovine seeds. Even though the instructions clearly stated that cow seeds did not need manure, (because they produced their own), I opted to throw them into a patch of manured ground on a small farm located west of Mackinaw City. I had no idea who owned the farmland, but thought that immaterial. My decision was hasty, but not udderly without thought. I’d return soon after and claim my animals – citing accidental planting and exhibiting the torn empty package as proof. I’d offer the farmers a few dollars for their time, feed and care of my stock and drive off with my cows in tow. Good sound reasoning, yes?

I even had it figured out that I could tap the animals for milk every few days using my left-over maple syrup spiles and buckets. If, by chance, any bulls turned up in the bunch they would have to be butchered for market using my Swiss Army Knife tool array.  But, since this package was clearly labelled Cow Seeds I doubted such a thing could happen. If it did then there would be a clear case of false advertising and the courts would back me all the way.

In retrospect, my naiveté couldn’t have been more profound. I could only have wished to deal with a simple bull issue! I suspect now that they were not, and never were, Cow Seeds but instead deliberately doctored knock-offs made to look like Cow Seeds. These seeds did not produce cows, or any sort of bovine – heck, you’d expect an errant pig or two in the mix but the trouble was much darker. Snow Buntings sprouted from the frozen manure when they were planted. Yes, Snow Buntings.

Snow Bunting photo IMG_2509_zpsfu2res6r.jpg  Snow Buntings photo IMG_2488_zpsdqbnfzsw.jpg

I’ll take some minuscule blame here. I’m not a completely ignorant. Perhaps it was a bad idea to plant the seeds on a bitter cold April day. There was always that slight risk that the resulting cows would turn out to be Yaks or Musk Oxen if the temperature was on the cool side. Perhaps Mackinaw wasn’t the smartest location either. They could have emerged as ready-tanned tourist Moccasins for sale in one of the main street shops.  Even cow birds would be on the list of expected potential unlikely outcomes, but for God’s sake who’d expect a flock of tiny flighty Snow Birds.

Trying to make root beer out of the lemons handed me, I started to snap off pictures of the birds. Not only would these be valuable proof in the ensuing law suit but I really hadn’t been this close to live Snow Buntings before. Most of these temporary winter residents were gravitating back north to their high tundra breeding grounds by this time. The males were decked out in their glorious black and white courtship garb.

Snow Bunting photo IMG_2505_zpsadqw8euo.jpg

Snow Buntings don’t molt into breeding colors. They achieve the phase through feather wear. Earlier in the season most of the body feathers were tipped in yellow brown – in which case the males looked like the females. The feather tips deteriorate over the season and leave only the stark contrasting shades intact.

Now, don’t get the idea that just because I got some good photos of these birds that I am not fuming about the whole thing. The ungrateful visitors took off like a gust of winter breeze and vanished before I was done shooting. I was left with a pile of frozen dung and deep regrets. My Five cents was gone just like that. Never again, I said to myself as I snapped the lens cover back on and trudged through the drifting snow to my car.

I will get my comeuppance. I recently purchased some Red-winged Blackbird Seeds at the Farmer’s Market and plan to sell them to Jack as Scarlet Tanager Seeds. Yes siree, he’ll wish he’d never crossed me.

Red-winged Blackbird Seed photo IMG_2650_zpsxvqb0235.jpg

April 20, 2016

Dipsy Doodle at Mackinaw

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:48 pm

 photo IMG_2372_zps5vgf1o6m.jpg

My recent spring trip to Mackinaw turned out to be winter visit. No one should expect the first weekend in April at the Straits to be like Daytona Beach, but three inches of snow and teen-degree weather was a bit extreme. Nothing looks quite so desolate as a summer town in winter. Expansive empty ferry boat lots were blanketed in un-tracked whiteness and the giant wiener atop the closed restaurant on the west edge of town was dusted in a fine coat of sugar. No one puts sugar on a hot dog or goes to Mackinaw in the winter unless they have a reason.

What, you may ask, was my reason? I was invited as a presenter at the first annual Mackinaw Straits Hawk Watch Festival. This is a newly developed spring hawk-watching site and the festival was intended as a coming out party of sorts. Well, the events themselves went very well and the attendance was terrific because the planning was impeccable (and everything was indoors). One of the hawk-watchers later told me on Saturday night that the actual hawk migration count that day was negative 14. “Yes, he said, “all the hawks were heading back south!” Oddly enough, one of those birds was a Black Vulture, which is a southern bird with no business being there. It apparently turned south upon encountering the bridge fee. The Turkey Vultures never warned him of that.

I spent my spare time making tire tracks across the ferry lot. Without interference from pesky tourists, I was able to drive my car right up to the edge of the seawall. Safe and warm inside the heated car compartment I was able to lean out the window and observe the congregation of waterfowl clustered in the blue-green waters of Lake Huron.  The birds were fairly tolerant of my car because it was white and blended well into the spring, er…winter backdrop. The single Red-breasted Merganser swimming before me was a special treat.

 photo IMG_2370_zpseu2dmqif.jpg   photo IMG_2378_zpsi9tmjofr.jpg

Aptly called “Hairy Heads,” the raggedy plumed Red-breasted Mergansers sit squarely in the middle of the saw-billed clan.  The males challenge the bold patterns of the smaller Hooded Mergansers and are close in size to the plainer Common Mergansers. I don’t see them nearly as often as these other two. When I do, I am reminded of the vivid portrait of this species executed by the artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes- an artist of near Audubon importance (see below). One of his specimens was drawn in late March 1909 at Monroe, MI, so naturally his painting is near and dear to my artist/naturalist heart.

 photo Red-breasted Merganser - Fuertes_zpspgqmanio.png

Watching the bird cruise about the near shore beach, it appeared to be engaged in fishing but was, none-the-less, distracted. Repeatedly dipping his head below for an underwater view it often craned its neck as if looking for something and only dove under once or twice. As I clicked another shot, the fancy bird quickly revealed what was really on his mind. He performed a superb “salute-curtsy.”

That aptly named maneuver may sound like something Dick Button would say as part of his Olympic skating commentary, but it is actually a courtship move.  It is intended to impress female Red-breasted Mergansers rather than a panel of judges. It was a 10 (although the Russian judge only gave it a 6). As the photo shows, the bird stuck his neck out at an angle, opened his mouth (thus highlighting the bright orange mouth lining), dipped his chest into the water, rose his rump up high, and folded his tail straight down. The magnificent crest was lowered in this case to streamline the salute – like a saber being thrust in to the air.

 photo IMG_2377_zpsytzsy22o.jpg

Now, I’ve never seen this move except in books or on videos and surprised to see it here for there were no females about. The bird was solitary, as in completely alone, and without anyone to impress except the freezing naturalist in the white car. The only conclusion I can draw is that this individual was practicing. His mind was on courtship and no doubt getting ready for the big show.

I know the action was not intended for me, but this singular maneuver did put me on notice. In spite of the snow, wind, and cold it was actually spring according to the calendar and the bio-clock. Soon enough the sugar will melt off the dog.


June 7, 2015

Red-bellied Retreat

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 10:00 am

Pink Version of Red-Bellied Snake photo IMG_9761_zpsvv86xfzl.jpg

Sometimes life comes at you in themed bundles where things seemed related. We certainly notice this on days when nothing goes right but there are also times when a certain word pops up several times or speckled dogs are uncommonly common. As an interpreter I’m always looking to relate natural events together as a packaged unit such as a blog, article, or subject of a speech. The shore side yard at Dollar Lake recently provided me with a Red-bellied Day – sort of.

Raking away the accumulated oak leaves around the fire pit I exposed a small snake sitting upon the moist bare earth. Seeing that it didn’t immediately dart for cover I snatched it for a closer look. My initial glance pegged it as a Brown, or Dekay’s, Snake. The belly proved to be much pinker than usual for this species, however, and cast doubt upon my first impression (this is a nice way to say that I was probably mistaken).

Pink Version of Red-Bellied Snake photo IMG_9763_zpsud7lzdu8.jpg

During the following photo session the little beast did something unusual. Curling its upper lips back into a sneer, it revealed a row of tiny teeth set into black gums. This was Red-bellied Snake behavior. I was looking at a pink-bellied version of a Red-bellied Snake – species whose tummy color can run the gamut from scarlet red to pale pink.  Grouped with Brown and Ring-necked Snakes, Red-bellies are worm-eating snakes only slightly larger than their chosen prey.

As if a pink-bellied Red-bellied snake wasn’t enough, one of the local Red-bellied Woodpeckers showed up on the trunk of a nearby Red Maple later in the day.  Now, I’ve addressed this subject before, but for the sake of bundling I’d like to re-mention that Red-bellied Woodpeckers do not really have red bellies. True they have a reddish “rash” about their tummy parts, but this feature is the least remarkable thing about their identity. Red-bellies (Woodpeckers that is) have a remarkable red-backed head and were it not for the well named Red-headed Woodpecker should be called Red-headed Woodpeckers.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker photo IMG_9788_zpshjrcqzhg.jpg

The woodpecker in this case was an especially reddish individual, however, and even the tannish portions took on a pinkish or salmon-tinged glow when framed in green maple leaves. Please excuse the over use of “ish” in the previous sentence, but nature often requires it when describing creatures or flora that cannot be defined.

My Red-bellied Day, really more of a pink-bellied day, was yet another great Dollar Day on the lake.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker photo IMG_9792_zpsbcfxdqmd.jpg

May 17, 2015

Really Most Sincerely Dead

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 2:23 pm

Big Brown and Dead Bat photo IMG_9084_zpsgl4rts4w.jpg

Last month, I brought you a little story about a Big Brown Bat hanging around the Monroe County Historical Museum. The little fellow showed up quite suddenly during one of the spring cold snaps and appeared to stick around due to the sustained cold. His chosen location was well sheltered and, in fact, cave-like.  I figured he was in “semi-hibernation” and simply waiting out the cold. We all enjoyed his presence (named him Bruno) and expected an equally speedy departure when a real version of spring arrived later in the week.

When things warmed up and the creature was still present, I began to doubt my earlier assessment. There were no droppings under his perch, but figured this was due to it being a day roost. His pose was virtually the same every day, although “seemed” to shift slightly, perhaps, maybe….. Last week, I checked him out at night and found him still in position and realized something was wrong. When he later dropped to the ground – small, withered, brown, and very dead – at least part of the mystery was solved.

Not only was the bat dead, it was mummified. I thoroughly examined it and can say, in Wizard of Oz fashion, that he’s indeed morally, ethic’lly, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably dead. And … “not only merely dead, he’s really most sincerely dead.”
In short, he apparently died soon after arriving and his death grip kept him suspended via his claw-like hind feet for those many weeks. In other words, my fellow munchkins, he’s been most sincerely dead for a long time.

Big Brown and Dead Bat photo IMG_9270_zpsbyuezuf2.jpg

I found a small hole in his side that might indicate an injury caused by a BB or shot pellet. Thus we can rule out rabies or distemper with such graphic evidence. Besides, I licked him and haven’t shown any sign of rabidity yet and it’s been a few days (although I am very thirsty as of late). My last theory on this matter, is that after being injured by an ignorant pellet gun shooter the creature sought a perch and died there a few days later. Wind gusts were shifting him about over the weeks and drying him out in the process. One final gust un-hooked his cold dead claws and sent the tiny corpse earthward.

I went back to the last photo I took of him (see the first picture – yes, that is a dead bat!) and saw the evidence I should have picked up on earlier. There was dust on his fur (something that never would be permitted by a live bat) and a sneer on his face that was very un-batlike. And the dropping thing?  Well that was just plain dumbness on my part. A live bat deposits dropping equally at a day roost and a night roost.

So Bruno the mummy enters the annuals of history and I am humbled by a dead bat.

March 21, 2015

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 11:21 am

River Raisin Ice Jam 2015 photo 2115 River Raisin Ice Breakup 4_zpsuudwca6f.jpg

There is no more dramatic expression of winter’s back being broken than the annual river ice breakup. Fighting against the ever present pressure of flowing water, river ice always exists on the edge. It gives way dramatically at the first sign of weakness. This winter, although it started otherwise, turned out to be another harsh one and enabled the River Raisin ice to reach a thickness in excess of one foot.  The river finally broke up last week and, true to form, it was a spectacular event.

River Raisin Ice Jam 2015 photo 2115 River Raisin Ice Breakup 2_zpsow3ydr6d.jpg

First piling up at the Waterloo Bend, the mass of fractured ice eventually jammed up downriver at Hellenberg Park last Saturday. The weekend flow temporarily backed up onto the flats and deposited a field of huge blocks over the grass. The Baseball diamond was populated with a hundred new “base pads.” There would be no spring training on this field until after a week of warm weather permits it. A few Ring-billed Gull outfielders, waiting for their first crack at a fly ball, waded through the puddles.

River Raisin Ice Jam 2015 - Gull in the Outfield photo Gull in the Watery Outfield_zpsn4jvwr1p.jpg

Out on the river the ice jam filled the channel from shore to shore as it waited out the breaking of the river mouth ice. The jumble of ice blocks created a tortured landscape – an icy version of a construction landfill filled with broken pieces of building concrete. Perhaps the most surprising aspect was the sheer amount of wood in the pile. The winter’s accumulation of mangled branches, tree trunks, and lumber was staggering.

River Raisin Ice Jam 2015 photo 2115 River Raisin Ice Breakup 3_zpskerbx0vy.jpg  River Raisin Ice Jam 2015 photo 2115 River Raisin Ice Breakup 6_zpsfs4wdxqd.jpg River Raisin Ice Jam 2015 photo 2115 River Raisin Ice Breakup 7_zpscmf3vs1x.jpg

Several robins and a flock of Grackles hopped among the branches in the ice field. They seemed to find assorted “goodies” amid the chaos, although one can only imagine what they were. If indeed Robins were a true sign of spring, I would title the photograph below as “Dual Signs of Spring – Red-breast riding the Breakup.”  Unfortunately, because this particular robin was probably one of the regular winter residents it would be wrong to assume he was a recent arrival. I’m not afraid of being wrong, however, so I’ll put the picture up anyway.

River Raisin Ice Jam 2015 - Robin riding the Flow photo Boulder caught up in Ice Flow 2_zpsblq8hwjm.jpg

The whole scene got me to thinking about the ice age. Much of our landscape was created by continental glaciers grinding their way across the continent, collecting boulders, rocks and soil along the way, and depositing them hundreds of miles away. Each chunk of river ice was a mini glacier of sorts – it is far from pure. Large rocks, and even some boulders, were embedded in their matrix. Buckets of soil, trapped within the layers of accumulated freezing, were being transported from their origin some 50 miles away. On small scale, the melting edge of each block could be mistaken for the leading edge of a glacier. I was hoping to find a tiny mammoth melting out of one of the chunks, but was disappointed.

River Raisin Ice Jam 2015 - Edge of Block photo Rubble caught up in River Ice_zps2pmk69bl.jpg  River Raisin Ice Jam 2015 - Rocks, soil in ice photo 2115 River Raisin Ice Breakup_zpszypjpbyk.jpg

The final stages of the breakup were starting as I observed the scene. Every so often the whole mass crept forward – robins, timber, rocks, and all. A dull rumbling, accompanied by tinkling ice cube notes, filled the air. It would come to a grinding halt after a few minutes.

Sometime over the course of that evening, the whole dam thing flushed out into Lake Erie. I’m sure it made an impressive sight and sound but I wasn’t there to hear it, (you know what they say about “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound?”).  Regardless of the lack of witnesses, the river was ice free and flowing freely in the following dawn’s light. Spring had arrived on the fractured back of a river.

March 7, 2015

Spirit Ducking

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 1:54 pm

Diving Bufflehead photo IMG_7948_zpshpfykjk4.jpg

The River Raisin duck population has provided ample grist for my winter offerings on this blog. I’ve focused most of my attention on the Goldeneyes but feel it would be a disservice to ignore their little cousins the Buffleheads. After all, who am I to deny publicity to the waterfowl John James Audubon called the “beautiful miniature of the Golden-Eye Duck.” The problem is that these little divers spend so much under the water that they are hard to observe.  Add to this fact that there are only a few of them present on the river and you have a duck with little air time.

Bufflehead Drake with Mallard photo IMG_7935_zpsl44kt7ms.jpg

On a rare sunny day last week I was able to have some air time with a drake Bufflehead. The bird, although tiny, stood out amongst the giant geese and mallards milling about it. Male waterfowl are always the pretty ones. I’d never say that the females of the species are plain but would say they are practically attired in brown with attractively placed white cheek patches. Bright colors would make the gals look fat anyway. Drake Buffleheads, on the other hand, are permitted to make full use of striking black and white patterning and reflected color (iridescence).

The white patch on the head is the best field mark to identify Drake Buffleheads. From afar and on cloudy days (another word for Michigan Days) the rest of the head appears to be black or dull dark green. Full sunlight transforms this muted darkness into a rainbow of Kelly greens, Royal blues, Barney purples, Lemon yellows, and rich deep Nick ‘O the Night blacks. The stunning iridescence of the dark portion of the head is a little appreciated feature. This certainly is a feature geared toward attracting the females during courtship since it has to be seen close-up in order to be fully appreciated.

Bufflehead Drake photo IMG_7826_zpsalo62lti.jpg

Buffleheads have many nick-names. Rainbow-head is not, regrettably, one of them. Scientifically they are burdened with the Latin name Bucephala albeola which means whitish cowhead, or something like that – referring to the distinctive large white patch on their very prominent head. The common name is a corruption of Buffalo head and yet another nod to the big-headed thing.  Alternate names, such as “Butter-ball,” “Butter-box”, “Dipper,” “Marionette,” and “Spirit Duck” are body & behavior references. Butter-ball, for instance, aptly describes the chunky round body; Dipper focuses on the bird’s constant habit of diving under to search for invertebrates; and Marionette defines the manner in which it bobs up and down like a cork.

Tracking down the reasoning for “Spirit Duck” is a bit more difficult.  This name is also applied to Goldeneyes from time to time, and could refer to the active – aka spirited -nature of both birds (suitable for membership in the college cheerleading squad – the big-headed kid with the flat feet). Another interpretation is that the ducks are always moving into and out of sight like a spirit (as in “Ooo-ooo-oo”). Hey, it could mean that these ducks look like mini-moonshine jugs (full of spirits) or that they look like little cows when viewed by people who are imbibing in a large quantity of spirits.  O.K., I don’t really know the WHY, although I have most of my money on the first interpretation.  Bufflehead is a perfectly good name for this elusive and spirited little cow-headed diving duck.

Bufflehead Drake photo IMG_7844_zpsmnx5lhoi.jpg

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