January 18, 2015
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.
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.”
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 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).
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.
January 10, 2015
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!
December 20, 2014
The Christmas season has gotten me in the mood to talk about things hanging on trees. Un-natural tree ornaments abound in the form of Christmas tree decorations inside and gaudy light creations draped on yard trees outside. We don’t do the yard light thing at our place, but we do tend to put quite a few atypical ornaments on our Christmas tree. I am constantly reminded on how unusual some of them are. For those raised within the low oxygen atmosphere of our family they make perfect sense but for those “outside” this tradition they invoke odd questions. For instance, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t have a few squirrel chewed walnuts or miniature muskrat skinning boards (decorated as Santa) hanging on their tree.
This year, my son-in-law had the audacity to ask my why we had a badminton birdie as an ornament. My silent reaction was one of slight shock – as in “and you ask this why?” Fortunately I recovered in time to explain that, first of all, this was a vintage badminton birdie of the type that used real chicken feathers as opposed to the modern plastic fringed examples, but seeing that was equally inexplicable I went on to explain that it looked like a shooting star – or the Star of Bethlehem. That worked.
In nature, ornaments of all types are evident. Like the birdie they require some explanation to achieve appreciation. Oak Bullet Galls and Bagworm cases are two good examples.
Rough Bullet Galls are the creations of a tiny big-butted wasp labeled with the tongue-twisting name of Disholcaspis quercusmamma (a species name literally meaning “oak tits”). They afflict Burr Oak Trees. The galls are clustered, woody, and acorn-like with pointed tips. Some trees are covered with these structures and retain them for years. Most of the winter galls are punctured by a neat little hole indicating that the adult insects have successfully pupated and emerged.
The simple version of the gall wasp story is that they chew their way out in October or November, seek out the winter buds, and lay their eggs on them. The larvae emerge the following spring and their activity stimulates the tree to form a new gall which grows larger over the course of the summer. The more detailed version of the story is slightly odder. Wasps emerging in the fall are all female. These gals produce their eggs without the benefit of male intervention (a horrid thought if you are a male reader).
The final details of this story have only recently been uncovered by researchers. Apparently they’ve discovered an alternate generation in which both males and females are produced. These sexual forms issue from little galls, mate, and proceed to lay their eggs in the usual fashion. So, you see, Oak Tit galls offer much more than their initial appearance would suggest.
Bagworms offer yet another ornament with a story. Winter bagworm bags fall into two categories: empty ones, with pupa casings sticking out, and those containing egg clusters. I present a single example here which I can confidently say was built by a male Bagworm. The bag itself was constructed out of cedar scales by the developing larva as it fed upon the leaves and this structure served as a mobile retreat until late last summer. At that point the creature secured the thing to a branch with stout silk lashings, reversed direction to face downward, and split its skin to form a pupa.
Look carefully at the lower end of this bag and you’ll see the empty skin of the old pupae sticking out. The resident emerged sometime in September or Early October and sought out a female.
Female bagworms never leave their bag immediately after pupation due to the fact that they are wingless. In fact, they are among the ugliest of natural females with no eyes, no working legs, and no functional mouthparts. Grub like and pale, they have an odd fringe of glossy “fur” around the terminus of their ample bottom which adds absolutely nothing to their appeal. Male Bagworms locate the females and mate with them through the opening at the bottom of the bag. They never actually see their mates and this is probably for the betterment of bagworm fertility (no jokes about bag ladies here). The impregnated female eventually lays her load of eggs inside the bag and dies. Usually she crawls out and drops to ground to complete her unglamorous life.
Two natural ornaments, two fascinating life stories that would make even an antique badminton birdie blush.
December 14, 2014
The best time to write about ice is early in the winter season when it is still a novelty. It loses much of its magic “fairydust” quality by mid-season and becomes downright evil by the time January is laid to rest. In short, ice rhymes with nice in December and with lice in February. Ice also photographs better early in the season before the rest of the landscape becomes coated with whiteness and all waters become solid. This perception is purely personal, I suspect, but don’t expect that many folks would disagree with me.
There is no deadlier combination than an amateur digital photographer and a frigid December day. Such a mix leads to multiple useless “Art Shots” suitable only for computer screen backgrounds and postings by amateur nature photographers. Thus, I explain the images attached to this chapter of Naturespeak.
My December day, and resulting shots, issued from the banks of the Red Cedar River in Williamston, MI. I’m not sure how I ended up there, but it had something to do with a car and a half day to kill. There might have been a talking Chipmunk involved, but I can’t fully recall the details. The temperature was hovering in the low twenties and the earth was covered with a carpet of heavy frost. Even the trailside garbage looked attractive ornamented as it was with hoar frost, but I chose more photogenic subjects. A small South American monkey could have taken these shots, but no diminutive forest primate is capable of describing them properly. A talking Chipmunk could, but that is beside the point.
Another side effect of art photography is the use of overly poetic descriptions. As you can see I was intrigued by the shoreline ice which sent steely blue bayonets marching out to conquer the yet unfrozen water of the river. You see, that is what happens. Here are a few shots of shore ice and I am talking about bayonets. Sad, isn’t it? One must suffer for his art.
Sun is the enemy of frost. As the morning waned, old Sol was rising and melting the work of old Jack (frost). Shadows tried in vain to shield the morning ice from the warming rays but without hope of success. Of course, vain means without hope of succeeding and it was totally unnecessary for me to have said it in the same sentence but art required of me to do it. You must read this and feel the suffering of art as represented by repetitious sentences. Yes, repetitious sentences that repeat over and over like frost forming and dying day after day repeatedly.
Frost shadows hang onto the perimeters of the real shadows until they eventually lose the race and are vaporized. You can see this phenomenon dramatically depicted in a series I call my “Bottom Edge of a Chicken Wire Frost Shadow on a River Board Walk in December” set. I like the temporary nature of frost shadows. It’s too bad I caved into my South American monkey instincts and made them permanent.
My last shot is the least remarkable in terms of artiness, but I post it here because of what it represents. It is an effort to salvage some sense of scientific value to this blog. You see large fuzzy green Mullein leaves remain fuzzy and green throughout the winter months. Part of their resilience stems from the fact that they never indulge in art photography, but their fuzziness also has a role. Liquid water cannot freeze directly on the leaves because it is held above the surface by velvety hairs. Here you can see frozen beads of so ice suspended on a Mullein leaf. And you’ll notice that the ice beads have hoar frost attached to them – ice on ice. Nice.
Come to think of it, South American Monkeys have soft short hair too. I suppose they could also avoid freezing just like Mullein leaves do but they’d have to keep still and close to the ground in order to pull it off. Come to think of it, a minor monkey lying still on the winter ground and covered with hoar frost is called a dead monkey, so we’d better get off this line of narrative and put this one to bed. Art has reared its head high enough for now. Sleep well my digital camera; your human will take you on another adventure soon.
December 7, 2014
I’ve addressed the personal life of my backyard maple tree several times over the years. The Red Maple stands within clear view from the house and is situated directly opposite the back door. Sadly, the tree is slowly dying from within. It is riddled with cavities and rains down dead branches with every passing wind storm. Someday it may take out a corner of my ramshackle back porch if the wind spirits deem it so. Even so, I appreciate it too much to have it removed. Not yet. Even in slow decline it is full of life.
Some of the life present in, on, and around the tree are present only because the thing is in decline. A regular stream of woodpeckers, from tiny Downies to medium Red-bellies freely peck away at the dead branches to retrieve grubs. Large laughing Flickers hop about the base to lap up carpenter ants. Upside-down Nuthatches probe bark crannies from above and right-side up Brown Creepers investigate them from below.
Huge Horntail Sawflies show up from time to time to deposit their eggs deep into the wood. The hatching larvae spend several years tunneling through the trunk on their way to eventual maturity – spreading fungus as they go. The adults appear to be armed with a formidable horn off the end of their abdomen. They are not wasps, however, and this is not a stinger. It is only an ornament. The well-named horntails will assume a menacing pose and flaunt this pseudo-stinger in the air if threatened. It’s a good act and one certain to deter all but the most determined of predators and timid people.
One large cavity located in the main trunk has hosted a parade of alternating tenants over the past five years. The first major occupation, beginning about five years ago, was a family of Red Squirrels. This active little gang enlivened the tree with a half dozen little squirrelets which poured into and out of the cavity all summer long. The tenants enlarged the entrance to suit their needs and brazenly stole cardboard and paper from my shed (trashing it in the process) to fill it.
After a lull in the squirrel action the following year, a colony of honeybees established themselves in the hole. They re-altered the hole to fit their needs. By applying thick layer of resinous “bee glue” (propolis) around the edges, they narrowed the opening according to the honeybee pattern book. Inside they constructed intricate hanging combs, according to the same book, and filled them with eggs, stores of honey, and pollen.
The colony thrived into the following autumn but was stopped cold – literally – by the intensity of last winter. It appears that they were doing fine as of mid-season, but the prolonged and intense cold was too much for them to handle and the entire colony died.
After a summer of vacancy, Red Squirrels moved back into the cavity this past fall. I doubt they were the original squirrels, but probably the offspring with a nostalgic opinion of cavity life. Pieces of the old bee comb began appearing on the ground at the base of the tree as the squirrels cleaned up the mess. Most of the old combs were simply cast out whole. Starvation drove the bees to completely empty the combs so there wasn’t even enough honey remaining for a squirrel tongue to probe. One of the pieces revealed the beautiful freeform design typical of a wild hive unconstrained by frames and supers.
Chewing away most of the old bee glue, the squirrels further altered the cavity to meet the requirements outlined in their design book. So, it looks like the Reds will once again rule the maple tree hole this winter. Out with the old and in with the renew.
November 30, 2014
I spotted a group of Wild Turkeys sneaking about the back woods of a Grand Rapids condo complex on Thanksgiving Day. Although they are totally unaware of the significance of the day and its deadly consequences, they somehow looked more worried than usual. That, of course, is purely a figment of human imagination. As a responsible naturalist, I suppose I should go on with this thread and discuss the importance of the turkey in human culture etc. etc. but I am not feeling responsible at this moment (perhaps it is the dose of triptipaine, or triptoknick-nack, or whatever you call it, that comes from a thanksgiving turkey meal).No, I feel like talking about turkey poo.
There were several specimens of the kind lying about the place for examination. Unlike their creators, these subjects sat very still for their portraits. As even marginal wild Turkey enthusiasts will tell you, the sex of an individual depositor determines the shape of its deposit. In other words, hen poo is different from gobbler poo. Gobbler and Jake (young males) droppings are “J” shaped while Hen or Jenny (young females) droppings tend to be spiral or just plain piled.
Unfortunately this is not an exact science and it leads to some interesting descriptions when discussed. For instance, male poo is also labeled as “walking cane” or “straight” shaped and females as “curly cued.” One website gets it a_ _ -backwards and attributes the “J” terds to the females. While it appears to be a fact that there is some sexual differentiation in Turkey feces, there is enough gray area between curly cue and j-shaped to create confusion. Diet also determines appearance. A bird eating lots of fruits and green plants will lay down a shapeless poo pile that would make any diarrhea ridden yip-yap dog proud. A good “fun fact” needs to be black and white, but nature rarely allows this. So, in this case it is best to use phrases such as “tend to be” to cover your own a_ _.
It is even funnier to track down some of the explanations offered to explain the difference between gobbler and hen poo. I offer these as someone who does not truly know himself, but is smart enough not to attempt one. One published account basically claims than hens have bigger butts – stretched out from egg-laying -and this creates less constriction and thus looser lay-downs. Given that hens don’t deposit their eggs through their poop chute, this is a problematic theory at best. Some claim that the gals wait longer between “deposit events” and therefore make larger creations when they do doo. The males, on the other hand, just let it go whenever and wherever they feel the need. They also claim that the males perform a little dance when finishing off their pooping event – like putting that final swirl on a soft-serve cone.
Again, allow me to state that I don’t really know anything in this fecal matter, but I would suggest that the latter explanation is wrong because turkey droppings, like all bird droppings, are pee-poop packets. Bird droppings are both No. 1 and No. 2 combined into a neat (or not so neat) package. The white part of the dropping (the uric acid or pee part of the dropping) comes out first as far as I know. This is the part that creates the curl when present. Unfortunately for the “dancing gobbler” school this means that a final twist of the rear would create a curl in the solid, darker portion of the poo – not the white portion. If slow motion photography shows a gobbler doing the dance during the initial, rather than the final, phase of deposition, then I will stand corrected in this matter.
I do believe that I’ve irresponsibly beaten this topic into the ground sufficiently to cut it off with a little dance step myself. I can not claim that the turkeys I photographed had anything to do with these droppings because they were old examples and because the birds in question were hens. I leave you with two poo portraits which I would claim to be male deposits – one due to its straightness and the other to its J-hook. Either way, however, this is good sh_ _.
November 23, 2014
One of the un-expected sights of late fall, framed within the background of burnt umber oak leaves and the lemon yellow Tamaracks of Northern Michigan, are baby snapping turtles. Such a thing really shouldn’t be unexpected, however. It is true that most baby snappers emerge in late summer and early fall, but a substantial number don’t surface until very late in the season. Some, in fact, overwinter inside their eggs and hatch the following spring.
I guess it’s all about counting backwards. It takes 11-12 weeks of incubation to produce a hatchling turtle. Snapping Turtles females do not attend to their eggs after they are laid so the incubating is performed by Ma Nature and the warmth of her soil. The peak time for adult snappers to lay their eggs is in June (at least in Southern Michigan), but individuals will lay their clutches throughout the summer. Those depositing their eggs in the latter part of August are responsible for the late autumn crop of young snappers. Those who opt to choose later dates (if a wild animal can be said to “opt”) will produce either frozen little turtles or spring babies.
On two consecutive late fall weekends up north, I encountered hatchling snappers. One was lingering in the shallows right at my dock on Dollar Lake and the other was traversing across a sandy hill, headed for the water, in Alpena. Hatchlings like this are distinctive due to their finely sculpted little shells – still soft and pliable at this stage – and their extremely long tails. No other native turtle comes close in the tail length department. I’m guessing this was evolution’s way of making up for the embarrassing lack of bottom shell on this species.
All hatchling turtles have a belly button – an umbilical scar indicating where the egg yolk was formally attached. This scar eventually disappears as the scutes of the plastron (lower shell) converge on the growing turtle. In other words, adult turtles do not have belly buttons but babies do – which could make for an interesting true/false question if you wish to trick someone or simply want to be an intolerable pain in the asterisk (just ask “do turtles have belly buttons?” A “No” or “Yes” answer would be equally wrong without explanation). My backyard turtlelet, as well as the sandhill individual, had fresh umbilical scars. They were both about the size of the egg from which they had recently escaped, which was about 1 inch in diameter. Most importantly they both still retained their egg tooth.
Take a good look at my pictures and you’ll notice the egg tooth as a whitish bump located just under their pig-like noses. It gleams like a date night pimple. This temporary structure is believed to assist the emerging turtle to cut open the leathery skin of the shell when hatching. Made of keratin (the same material that constitutes the tough body scales) the egg tooth drops off soon after the hatchling enters the big world.
Both of these little fellows are to be celebrated because they have successfully beat the odds so far. Sometimes nearly 90% of a yearly crop of snapper eggs are destroyed by raccoons, skunks, and other nest predators. Hatching is only one of the hurdles that a baby turtle has to clear on the way to adulthood. Since their parents can lay eggs as far as a mile from water, their young must undertake a dangerous overland trip to the nearest water. Crows, foxes, coyotes and all manner of beasts will eat tender young turtles. Even in the “safety” of the water large fish, herons, and even muskrats will feed on the turtles as long as they remain small and their shell soft. Once passing through this initial gauntlet, the rest of a snapper’s life is relatively free of trouble save for automobiles and turtle trappers. At this point they have the potential to turn the predation tables around, although they actually tend toward the herbivorous side of the scale.
My Dollar Lake snapperlet had reached the water on its own by the time I found it. I returned it to the water after subjecting the patient beast to a series of fashion shots. My Alpena hatchling was walking over a patch of open sand and was about as exposed as a turtle could be. The surrounding sand was littered with turtle shell pieces which had been scattered over the surface by nest robbing raccoons. I could not resist posing a fake hatching picture, shown below, before I was finished. Call it artistic license. The actual egg shell remains below the surface within the old nest.
Just to set your mind at ease, I did deliver the creature down a substantial hill to the river before leaving. I’ve no doubt that the next time we meet this belly-buttoned Snapper will be more than happy to bite the hand that once helped it. I would expect nothing less.
November 15, 2014
A few weeks ago I spotted a minor buck – a meager example of a four pointer (actually a three and a half pointer) – approach a small herd of does in a field south of West Branch, MI. The sun was setting and the fellow obviously had high hopes for a wild party night. The big bucks were elsewhere and he was performing a bit of Cervid Carpe Diem. Unfortunately, the gals were not about to allow him to seize their day, or night, for that matter. One by one they scooted away as he approached.
My intention here is not to document the exploits of a frustrated buck and risk embarrassing him back at the dork buck club. Rather, I’d like to focus on one aspect of his behavior called the Flehmen response. Our minor buck frequently stopped to smell the “Eau de Doe” in order to determine the reproductive status of the females surrounding him. He lifted his head up, curled his upper lip into what could be described as an open-mouthed sneer, and held that pose for extended period. He was processing the air-borne pheromones which charged the air with sexual energy.
It is not enough to just sniff the air through the nostrils to detect pheromones. The Flehman response allows for a direct shot of scent laden air to enter the vomeronasal organ (aka Jacobson’s Organ) located between the upper palette and the nasal opening. The nostril openings are closed during this action and the air stream enters via a pair of openings located on the roof of the mouth just behind the lips. Sensory endings in the Jacobson’s Organ are quick to read the phermonal message and relay the information to the buck’s brain. It conveys either a green light or a stop sign for the buck’s aspirations.
All manner of mammals, from cats to horses, perform the Flehman response. In fact, if you have a few minutes and are looking for a laugh, just Google the term “flehman” and you will get a flood of ridiculous smiling horse pictures. A flehmening buck lacks the upper row of front teeth found on horses, so their appearance is slightly less cheesy looking but presents an equaling interesting picture.
November 9, 2014
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
October 31, 2014
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There may be a masked killer lurking in your bedroom or in the deep recesses of the closet under the stairs. He is an ashen ghost who moves slowly and deliberately yet will strike with frightening speed at the appointed time. He is the dust bunny you will never see until it is too late. Don’t look under the bed or shine a light into the closet unless you are prepared. Bwa ha ha ha! BWA HA HA HA! BWA H (cough, cough, hack…). Darn I hate these dusty places.
The Masked Hunter is a real creature. It lurks in the very places mentioned in my cheesy Halloween introduction but is not a threat to humankind. Rather, he is a beneficial beast that has taken up life in our abodes and feeds on un-wanted insects – some of which can be a threat to our existence. A member of the Assassin Bug clan, they are equipped with hollow stiletto mouths with which they drain the life juices out of their prey. Although ants, beetles and other unwelcome guests form the bulk of their fare, bedbugs are targeted when present (note the words “when present” – the presence of masked hunters doesn’t mean bedbugs are about).
A full grown Masked Hunter does not wear a mask. As an adult it is a stealthy predator that needs no disguise. As a nymph, however, it becomes a living dust bunny and covers itself with a mask of dirt and fibers. Long sticky hairs cover the body and accumulate the necessary material. The overall look is so well done that it is difficult to pick out individual features other than the six legs. The eyes are mostly covered and the antennae bent so as to look almost twig-like.
To enhance his appearance, the masked Hunter employs some method acting. Dust bunnies do not move so this dust clone moves very little. When prompted with a touch or a slight breeze it will advance with stilted stop-motion steps but only goes a short distance before freezing once again. The act is of Oscar quality. As a Halloween costume it is much better than any of the “Breaking Bad” or “Olaf” costumes that appear at your door, although a child acting like a masked hunter would take forever to get around the neighborhood and dearly try the patience of the attending parent.
The Hunter pictured here, although photographed within the setting of my house, did not come from it. It was found within the coat room of a very new and non-dusty church! Against the dark short carpet the thing stood out like a sore thumb. I will release it again so that it can continue to do good, but haven’t decided whether to bring it back to the church or let it go here. The more I think of it, I’lI put it into the bag of the child that comes to my door dressed as a bedbug….bwa ha ha ha HA HA HA H (cough, wheeze, hack).
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