My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Archive for August, 2011

A grand day kayaking the Grand River

Probably the most under used recreational outlet that there is in West Michigan is the Grand River. That’s certainly true among us kayakers, the Grand is hardly the first river that comes to mind when you think about rivers to kayak. It’s slow and it’s muddy, but it isn’t nearly as polluted as most people think, especially above the city of Grand Rapids. I know, it looks dirty, but that’s not pollution or the river’s fault, the Grand is a large mature river that carries tons of sediment each day.

Because the Grand is a large river, the largest and longest in Michigan, it has a very large flood plain by the time you get near Grand Rapids. That’s a good thing in a way, because few houses have been built on the floodplain, leaving the river looking very natural and undeveloped.

The Grand River near Ada, Michigan

As you can see, there are no signs of human encroachment in sight, and there are miles of the Grand just like this.

This trip started simply enough, my buddy Mike asked me if I wanted to go kayaking this Sunday, and my reply was that it would have to be close to home as I am saving money for my Labor Day trip to the Pigeon River Country to go elk “hunting” with my cameras. So, I suggested the Grand River near Ada, since I had grown up in that area and it has been at least 30 years since I have paddled that stretch of the Grand River. I made the mistake of suggesting that we paddle upstream to the Thornapple River, and then up the Thornapple to the dam, then drift back. It turns out that Mike has an aversion to paddling upstream, which I am going to have to cure him of. ūüėČ The mere mention of paddling upstream was enough for Mike to back out, but he didn’t tell me why until after I was back.

That left me on my own, which is one of the reasons the Grand River is great for a solo kayaker, it is almost as easy to paddle upstream as it is to go downstream since there is very little current in most places. I’ve done some tough upstream paddles in my day, I did¬†four miles up the White River a couple of years ago as an example, and I’m getting too old for that kind of paddling.

My plan was to put in at Roselle Township Park, since I had read that they added a canoe landing to the park. As you will see on the map that I’ll post here later, Roselle Park is on Grand River Drive, about halfway between Ada and the DNR access site on Knapp Street. I was going to put in at the park, paddle up to the Thornapple, then drift back to the park.

I say “I was going to” because when I got to the park, my plans changed. They built the canoe landing, they even built a road going to the landing, but they have the road closed, leaving you with a half mile carry to get your canoe or kayak to the water. It’s a great park, on what used to be the Ada Beef Company property that was donated to Ada Township. Why they don’t allow you to drive to the canoe landing is beyond me, the landing is about worthless the way it is now. (Since I wrote this, I received a reply from Jim Ferro, the¬†Ada Township Planning Director explaining why the landing and access is the way it is. You can read the explanation as a comment below the main body of this post)

Since I didn’t feel like carrying my kayak half a mile, I put in at the Amway DNR access site instead. I don’t think that its official name is the Amway access, but it is on land next to Amway’s headquarters, on land that Amway donated to the state for the access site. It is on M 21 also known as Fulton Street in Ada, on the north side of the road, and not signed. You turn into the east gate for Amway, just before the bridge over the Grand River, then veer right to the access site just before the Amway gates.

You can see where the Thornapple River joins the Grand from that access site, and it’s an easy paddle up the Thornapple. My day started well, once I got on the river, there was a great blue heron hunting on the flats where the two rivers meet.

Great blue heron

It was so focused on food that it paid me no mind at all as I paddled past it and started up the Thornapple.

Starting up the Thornapple River

It may be hard to believe, but this is right in “downtown” Ada. The only signs of development that you see are the three bridges that cross the Thornapple. One is the current automobile bridge, one is the old railroad bridge, and between them is the old historic covered bridge.

Historic Ada covered bridge

About 3/4 of a mile upstream on the Thornapple, you come to the first of many dams on the river.

Dam on the Thornapple River in Ada, Michigan

You can portage the dam, there’s a trail there for you to do so, but the impoundment above the dam is surrounded with wall to wall waterfront homes, and normally filled with jet skis and people waterskiing.¬†The portage is mainly used for people going down river anyway, not crazies like me going upstream. That was as far as I wanted to go on the Thornapple anyway, so I turned around and drifted back to the Grand, watching the kingfishers and hawks hunting over the river.

Redtailed hawk

It was a beautiful late summer day. Sunny skies, temperature around 80 degrees, and a light wind. I drifted back to the Grand River and just let the current carry me along slowly, about the only paddling I did was from one side of the river to the other to get a better view of something on the bank. I think I saw one house and two places of business along the way, the rest of the river is heavily forested and you would never know that you were on the Grand River just outside of Michigan’s second largest city other than some occasional traffic noise.

Different people paddle for different reasons, some like fast whitewater rivers like the Pine where the paddling itself is the focus. Some people like slower rivers such as the Thornapple or the Flat so they can hang their feet over the side of the kayak and relax. Some people prefer inland lakes, and some prefer the Great Lakes. Me, I love them all and then some. I’ll even paddle swamps and marshes if there is enough water to float my kayak and a way to get on them.

This day was a hang my feet over the side of the kayak and relax kind of day, and floating down the Grand works great for that. However, it is also a good river to get the paddling muscles in shape on, if you paddle upstream. I met at least a half a dozen other kayakers who typically paddle the Great Lakes working their way upstream. Talking to them, they were there because it was close to home and a way to stay in shape for when they go out on the big lakes. They all had the long, narrow, open water boats rather than the type of kayaks one normally uses for rivers.

Did I mention it was a beautiful day?

A beautiful day on the Grand

The large floodplain and forests along the Grand River also makes a good home for many types of wildlife. Like this spiny softshell turtle.

Spiny softshell turtle

It, along with many other species of turtles were out basking in the sunshine all up and down the banks of the river. There were also wildflowers on the banks, like this cardinal-flower.

Cardinal flower

Of course there were frogs, like this leopard frog.

Leopard frog

And as I was chatting with another group of kayakers, this flock of sandhill cranes flew past us.

Sandhill cranes in flight

I drifted all the way downstream to the canoe landing at Roselle Park in order to check it out from the water, and so I would have some idea how far I had gone, and how long the paddle back upstream was going to be. The float down was about as good as it gets, but I knew the paddle back was going to take some work, so Roselle Park is as far down as I went. If Mike had joined me, we would have left a vehicle at the Knapp Street access site and floated all the way down to there, a total of about 6 river miles from the Amway access site.

As it was, I turned around and started back up the river. It isn’t hard going at all, the Grand is like a long narrow lake rather than a river. I did stop a couple of times¬†for a break, and a couple of times for pictures like this one.

Bald eagle on the Grand River

That about sums up how great of a day it was, being able to get that close to a bald eagle as it was perched waiting for a fish to get too near the surface.

A couple other wildlife notes. There were reports of a black bear living along the river in this area a few years back, I haven’t heard of any lately though, but for as close to Grand Rapids as it is, the river itself is pretty wild. I saw a lot of clam shells in the shallow parts of the river, and along the banks, that’s to be expected. But, I also saw many clam shells on rocks and stumps out in the river. That leads me to believe that otters may have returned to this stretch of the Grand River! There are lots of raccoons living along the river, I saw their tracks all up and down the banks, in places, it looked like a raccoon super highway. And, raccoons are known to feed on clams, but I don’t know that they swim out from the bank, grab clams, and then eat them on rocks and stumps that are in the river. That sounds like the eating habits of river otters to me, but I could be wrong about that. It would not surprise me to see one there though.

I made it back up to the boat ramp at the Amway access site and called it a day, a grand day! Here’s a map of the area along with the GPS track of my paddle.

The Grand River, click on the map for a larger view

There are many options for you to choose from if you would like to give this section of river a try. The entire stretch of the Grand River from Ada to the Northland Drive bridge is like you see in the pictures, forested with very few houses or other signs of human development. The only road that crosses the Grand in this stretch is Knapp Street, otherwise it is about 12 miles of wooded undeveloped river. In fact, of all the rivers I have ever paddled in Michigan, this may be the least developed of any but a few, like the Jordan or the Pigeon. There are a couple of houses near Knapp Street, and some development as you approach Northland Drive, but that’s it.

For solo paddlers, it works great. I know, I did it backwards, you should paddle upstream then drift back, but even my trip was easy enough. But you can put in at either the access site at West River Drive (it is shown on the map above) or Knapp Street and paddle up as far as you want, then drift back down. If you want to use more than one vehicle, you can go downstream between any of the access sites, depending on how far you want to go, and how long you want to stay on the river. It may not be sparkling clear water, and there may not be much current, but if you are looking for a place close to home to spend a relaxing day on the water with abundent wildlife to watch, then the Grand River may surprise you as to how good it can be.


Explosions in white, Virgin’s Bower

I don’t typically devote an entire post to just one species of flowers, I normally do posts on a particular hike, kayak trip,¬†or other excursion, but this one may be the start of a new trend, I’m not sure yet. One blog that I read as soon as there is a new post is Seasons Flow, I love it, and learn something new with almost every post. ¬†Tracy, who writes that blog usually picks a subject and goes into detail about it, much more so than I do. I like their style, but that isn’t the real motivation for this post.

All this week, I have been posting photos that I took last week, when we had an excellent week for photography. Pleasant temps, and bright blue sunny skies for the most part. I have been going through the last of them, deciding whether or not to do another post with them. I have a good number of all one species of wildflower, Virgin’s Bower or clematis¬†virginiana as it is known scientifically. I couldn’t decide which ones to post, so I thought what the heck, I’ll do a post of nothing but them, so here goes.

Virgin's Bower

I was able to identify it online. It is a vine that is native to most of the eastern United States.

Virgin's Bower or clematis virginiana

There isn’t anything particularly special about this plant, other than the abundance of flowers it produces.

Virgin's Bower or clematis virginiana

Each flower is about an inch across, with four petals.

Virgin's Bower or clematis virginiana

Even though it is a vine that may grow up to 20 feet in length, it is part of the buttercup family.

Virgin's Bower or clematis virginiana

I liken each flower to the explosion of fireworks going off, the way the parts of the flower radiate out from the center.

Virgin's Bower or clematis virginiana

Maybe it is because I find fewer flowers blooming with each passing day as summer begins to fade into autumn.

Virgin's Bower or clematis virginiana

But, I love these flowers, even though the vines they grow on are a real pain to walk through. The vines are tough and seem to wrap around my ankles when I try walking through them.

Virgin's Bower or clematis virginiana

The flowers sure are pretty though.

Virgin's Bower or clematis virginiana

Even when they lose their petals, or have bees feeding on them.

Virgin's Bower or clematis virginiana

Just a couple more.

Virgin's Bower or clematis virginiana

Late afternoon photos.

Virgin's Bower or clematis virginiana

And one more to make an even dozen.

Virgin's Bower

That’s all folks, for now, anyway. I still have more photos left from last week, along with a few from this week, guess there will be another post soon.


It’s been a good week, the icky stuff

I am by nature curious about everything in nature, and that includes some things that many people find to be less than pleasing, like insects for example. These things that some people classify as icky are in fact very often, colorful and harmless insects and other organisms that make great subjects for photographs. I am also interested in these things as they are part of the food chain. A strong case could be made that fly fishing for trout is really all about entomology. If you don’t know the life cycles of the aquatic insects that trout feed on, you’re not going to be a very successful fisherman. That applies to everything in nature, knowing the food chain from bottom to top will help you to find the things in nature that you do find attractive.

Let’s get started on the photos. The first is a cicada emerging from its nymphal body, and metamorphosing into an adult cicada. I am not quite sure why I gave this a second look. As I was walking, I glanced over and saw what I thought was a new shoot growing on a maple tree.

Cicada emerging as an adult

This is much closer than my first glance was of course, but there was something about it that did catch my eye, which resulted in these photos.

Cicada emerging as an adult

Cicadas lay their eggs under the bark of trees. When the eggs hatch, the nymphal cicadas drop to the ground, and live as burrowing nymphs for years. When they are ready to metamorphize into an adult, they crawl up into a tree to do so, much like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. I don’t claim to be an expert, but from what I have seen of this species of cicada is that it prefers maple trees. The color of the adult as it emerges acts as camouflage, the light green and pink on its body does make it look like new growth of the maple tree.

Adult cicada fully emerged

 You can see that parts of its body that were pink as it was emerging are already beginning to darken to a brown color.

Adult cicada fully emerged

 I could be wrong about them preferring maples, but the only shucks that I have found have been on maples.

Empty cicada nymphal shucks on a maple branch

¬†I know I did a full post of nothing but dragonflies¬†not very long ago, but I swear that they somehow¬†know that I am publishing their pictures on the Web, and they are hamming it up for the camera now. ūüėČ

Yellow dragonfly

Here it is again.

Yellow dragonfly

Then I found this brown one that’s new to me.

Brown dragonfly

And here’s a very good shot of a blue dragonfly.

blue dragonfly

This next one is my hero! If you look, you can see it has caught a mosquito and is in the process of devouring it for lunch.

Red dragonfly eating a mosquito

OK, so cicadas and dragonflies aren’t the cutest bugs in the world, how about a caterpillar?

Monarch caterpillar

¬†That’s where you normally find them, under the leaf of a milkweed plant where they are out of sight. However, every once in a while, you find one on top of a leaf.

Monarch caterpillar

¬†They look the same coming as they do going, but the end with the longer “horns” is the head end.

Monarch caterpillar

 They eventually become monarch butterflies.

Monarch butterfly

And there are many species of butterflies, most of which I can’t identify, but they are pretty even if you don’t know their name.

Butterfly

But even butterflies can look menacing if you shoot them at the right angle.

Brown butterfly

I know I shouldn’t include this one, but I can’t resist, it is grasshopper porn. So if you have any young grasshoppers looking over your shoulder, you may want to cover their eyes.

Grasshoppers mating

Enough with the bug porn, we’ll move on to something really icky, toadstools. Every one thinks toadstools are ugly, right? Not always, at least not to me.

Orange toadstools

One last picture, and it isn’t icky per say, unless you don’t want to see summer end just yet, and who does? I know it has been much hotter than normal this summer, but the last week has been as close to perfect as summer weather gets. As much as I like cool weather, I am not ready for summer to end, but autumn is coming.

The first signs of autumn

Some of the maple trees around here are just beginning to turn colors, and it will be all too soon that summer is over for another year. I love autumn and the cooler weather and the colors of the trees and all, and maybe it’s an age thing, but this summer has flown by way too fast for me.

 

 

 


It’s been a good week, the cute and cuddly

In my last post, It’s been a good week, I posted all flower photos from last week. I’m sorry that I can’t identify more of them, I really need to study up on a lot of things. I would love to find a set of Michigan specific field guides to help me identify plants, flowers, insects, etc. I have found a few published by university professors that are meant as text books for classrooms, but nothing for the average Joe to take along while hiking. I don’t need to get so deep in the taxonomy of a species that I have to count chromosomes, do DNA testing, or question whether¬†the mark on the second segment of some species of insects denote an entirely different species, or a sub-species.

In my perfect little world, I wouldn’t have to look through 50 species that are never found in Michigan, and have to read through the range distribution of all 50 to find that out. Sizes would be given in inches first, then in the metric system, and size comparisons would be to other Michigan species that I am familiar with, not a species that lives on the other side of the planet that I have never seen, or ever will see. There would be photos of course, good ones, and enough of them to enable you to make a solid identification. The books I have in mind would be simple enough for older kids, so they would be able to use it, but detailed enough for a serious amateur. I know I am asking a lot, but I am sure that there would be a market for such a series of books. So if there are any publishers reading this, get in touch with me. I’ll do the photography, find some college professors to identify the species for me and to write the details about each one,¬†then I’ll translate that into simple¬†English that every one can understand.

On a related note, the basis for what I know and my interest in the out-of-doors came from my parents. My dad was the bird and animal expert, my mom was the wildflower and plant¬†expert. She knew the names of many of the species I can no longer identify, because I have forgotten what she taught me and my siblings. I never thought to question it at the time, but now I wonder, who taught her? I know she went to college, but to a business college to become an accountant, and I doubt they covered wildflowers in accounting classes. Both my parents were voracious readers, of non-fiction, mostly nature books, especially my dad. I know how and why my dad knew as much as he did, he was a hunter and a fisherman, and you have to know nature well to excel at either of them. But, I don’t know how my mom came to learn as much as she did. It’s too late to ask her now, Alzheimer’s has robbed her of her memory.

When you are ten or eleven years old and you ask your mom what that pretty yellow wildflower is, and she says “That’s a buttercup.”, then you know it’s a buttercup. At that age you don’t think to ask her how she knows that, or at least I didn’t, but maybe that comes from having two very intelligent parents, I don’t know. I do know that I can remember my mom telling us about the different species of flowers, but I never had call to use that knowledge over the years, and I have lost it. I guess what the point of this is, don’t wait until it is too late to learn all you can about your parents and how they became the people they did.

¬†Anyway, on to some photos. We had some heavy rain Saturday, and it was breezy on Sunday, good conditions for deer “hunting” with my cameras. The heavy rain the day before made it easier to be quiet in the woods, and a breeze also helps by masking any noise I do make, as long as the breeze isn’t too strong. Deer don’t¬†like high winds, they rely on scent more than sight, along with their hearing. Too much wind makes them nervous and skittish, as they can’t depend on their senses of smell and hearing to keep them safe. Sunday was about the maximum for wind, I was able to see a lot of deer, but they were at the point where they more nervous than they are typically.

For the first part of the day, I was getting shots like this one.

Whitetail deer

Or this one.

Whitetail deer

The deer were staying well back in the woods, and any attempt I made to get closer sent them trotting off with their tails up in the air. That may have been because there were still quite a few people in the park, many of them walking their dogs. Deer and dogs do not mix well.

Later, as the wind began to die down a little, I was able to sneak up on this one.

Whitetail doe

I think she thought that she was hiding in that fallen tree, and that I didn’t see her. She wasn’t the brightest deer I have ever seen. As she was feeding, she managed to get a dead leaf stuck to the side of her face.

Whitetail doe

She knew I was there, or at least had an inkling I was there, because she would never step out into the open. They sure are pretty animals in their summer coat.

Whitetail doe

In a few months, their reddish-brown coat will give way to their winter coat, which is darker, with much more black in it. Even though the wind had died down a little, the deer were still on edge, the next one stayed somewhat hidden as well.

Whitetail doe

I was trying to work my way to where I had a more open shot, but it was tough.

Whitetail doe

I did manage to get this one.

Whitetail doe

That’s why I gave up hunting with a gun, it would be too easy for me, and they are just too pretty to shoot. Well, I still shoot them, but now I shoot portraits. I did catch that deer out in the open, but just for a split second, and I was too slow getting the camera on her before she wheeled and ran off. That happens, I waited until she wasn’t looking, and started around a pine so that she couldn’t see me. I didn’t know that she had begun moving about the same time, and we startled each other as we both rounded the pine at the same time.

I really wanted to get a buck with velvet still on his antlers, but I didn’t see any. Not surprising as skittish as the does were, maybe this weekend.

I did get this bunny though, a cottontail rabbit.

red eye rabbit

I love it when I get so close to critters that they end up with red-eye from the flash!

red eye rabbit

Practice makes perfect, and practicing sneaking up on rabbits is what makes me so good at sneaking up on other things, like deer.

This guy isn’t cuddly, but he’s kind of cute in a turtle kind of way.

Eastern Box Turtle

They are becoming rare here in Michigan, yet no one seems to know why. I think this is a male, but I’m not positive. The males have reddish eyes, the females have brown eyes.

Eastern Box turtle

I think his eyes were redder than the photo shows, and I didn’t use the flash, so that doesn’t have anything to do with it. It is strange that the population of box turtles is falling though. We saw them everywhere when I was a kid, now it is rare that I see one.

Let’s see, what else do I have that’s cute and cuddly. How about a goldfinch? This one is perturbed by me interrupting his bath.

American Goldfinch

This one was too busy singing to notice me.

American Goldfinch

And finally I have one of a juvenile great blue heron.

Great blue heron

That’s all I have time for today, the bugs and creepy crawlies will have to wait until later this week.


It’s been a good week

I’ve had a pretty good week, all things considered. I was able to get quite a few good photos, which I will share in a minute here. The weather has been pleasant, with temperatures near normal, and most of the rain has been at night. The only downside to my week was at work, I won’t bore you with the details. But, I am going to have to get serious about my search for a new job, so I may not be able to post here as often.

OK, now for the pictures, what would you like to see first? Some flowers? Here goes.

I believe this is soapwort

Then we have a daylily.

Daylily

And another daylily, but taken on a different morning, after a rain the night before.

Daylily

After taking that one, I tried moving the leaf from in front of the flower, and for some reason, it doesn’t look nearly as good, so I won’t post it, but that’s what I get for fooling with Mother Nature!

Then there was this beautiful little yellow flower that I don’t know the name of.

Small yellow wildflower

And I took this one Sunday evening very near sunset. The flowers are very pretty, I wish they showed up better for you. I used the flash or I wouldn’t have gotten anything, but the flower was growing in a swamp, and I couldn’t get any closer without wading through muck.

A blue swamp flower of some type.

You may or may not find the next few to be interesting, they are the flowers and seed heads from grasses.

Grass flower

It seems as if they photograph the best with some backlighting.

Grass flower

And of course I had to play.

Grass flower

There are two, almost in line with each other, and this is the result when I focused on the one in the background, rather than the one in the foreground.

Grass flower

I am not sure if I like the last one or not, I keep flipping back and forth on that one. Anyway, here are some small white flowers.

Small white wildflowers

These are extremely tiny little flowers that are growing near one of the creeks here.

Tiny wildflowers

I have been trying for a better shot, but they don’t last very long, and I am finding them hard to photograph. So we’ll move on to something easy to photograph, a black-eyed¬†susan.

Black eyed susan

And another.

Black eyed susans

This smaller yellow wildflower was growing in amongst¬†the black-eyed¬†susans, but I don’t know what they are.

Small yellow wildflower with a red center

And these white flowers with a yellow center.

Small white wildflower with a yellow center

Then there were these tiny white flowers.

Tiny white wildflowers

And the thistles are still blooming, and still attracting bumblebees.

Thistle with bumblebee

And finally, these orange flowers that grow in the shade.

Orange shade loving wildflowers

That’s all I have time for today, sorry. I didn’t get to the pictures of whitetail deer, cottontail rabbits, a cicada emerging from its nymphal shell, dragonfly eating a mosquito, or any of the other cool pictures I took this last week, I guess they will have to wait.


A future trip, the Les Cheneaux Islands

I am beginning to wonder if I do too much exploring online, and not enough on the ground trips. Given my current employment situation, I have to be content with putting together some future trips for when I can afford to take them. Michigan has so many great areas to explore, I know I will never make it to all of them.

One such area I want to spend more time in is the Les Cheneaux Islands, just east of the Mackinac Bridge, near Hessel and Cedarville Michigan. The Les Cheneaux Islands are a group of 36 small islands, some inhabited, along 12 miles of Lake Huron shoreline on the southeastern tip of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The name is French for “the Channels”, noting the many channels between the islands in the group.

I know a little about the islands, but have only been through Hessel and Cedarville a couple of times on my way to or from other areas and places. The area is quite busy during the summer months, as the islands and the sheltered bays around them draw large numbers of boaters to the area. The area is becoming very popular with kayakers as well, for the same reasons.

The motivation for starting to put this together came from a regular source, the Little Traverse Conservancy. They announced on their Facebook page that they are going to be having a work day at their Shelter Bay Preserve. They are going to dismantle an old cabin on the property, and remove it via pontoon boats. They included an aerial shot of the area that also showed a boat ramp nearby that is to be the gathering point for those who can make it to the work day.

Hmmm, a boat ramp on a sheltered bay near the Les Cheneaux, I need to check that out more for future reference!

One of the things that always holds me back as far as exploring new places, especially when the places are on one of the Great Lakes, is¬†knowing where the access sites are before leaving home. There have been a few times when I headed off to some new destination, and wasted entire days looking for access sites, places to camp or motels as a place to stay, or even how to get to my final destination. On the other hand, I have discovered many great places by accident while looking for where I thought I was going in the first place. But, I have limited time these days, and let’s face it, I’m not as tough as I used to be either. In the old days, pulling off to the side of the road and curling up to catch a few hours sleep on the seat of one of my old pick up trucks was no big deal if I couldn’t find a place to stay the night. That idea doesn’t appeal to me anymore.

Back to the Les Cheneaux, by checking the map the LTC included in their Facebook post, I was able to locate the preserve and the boat ramp in both Google Earth and my GPS software, now I have a starting point to go by! I knew the LTC also has other preserves in the area, including several on the islands themselves. So checking their website, Little Traverse Conservancy, I was able to pinpoint their preserves on a map done with my GPS software.

Les Cheneaux Island area

You can click on the map for a larger view.

All but two of the blue dots on the map are LTC preserves or points of interest. One of the blue dots is the boat ramp, and one is a township park where the LTC purchased the land and then donated it to the township for the park. It has free parking and access to Lake Huron for kayakers right in Hessel.

When checking the area through Google Earth, I discovered that there is a campground near the boat ramp, and another just up the Forest Service Road that leads to the boat ramp.

Now I am getting somewhere! I know where there are a couple of campgrounds on the mainland to use as a base camp, two access sites to Lake Huron, and where the preserves are in the area.

The LTC doesn’t allow camping on their preserves, which I can understand, but they are great places for day hikes. I was surprised to learn that the LTC owns a great deal of Marquette Island, the largest in the Les Cheneaux chain. I could easily spend a day or two there hiking the preserves and taking photographs. The LTC also owns a good portion of Boot Island.

Then there is Government Island. This is from Hunt’s Guide to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula:

Picnicking and camping are available on this beautiful, uninhabited island, just off La Salle Island and an easy 4 1/2 miles straight out of Cedarville. Of all the 36 Les Cheneaux Islands, it’s the only public land, because a Coast Guard Station was here from 1874 to 1939. Today it’s part of the Hiawatha National Forest. The pilings from its dock are on the cleared site at the island’s northwest end. Today, says the U.S. Forest Service, “the island is being managed to preserve the natural wilderness condition favorable to plant and animal life.” Birch and conifers dominate the two-mile-long island. It’s been a popular day-trip destination for the area’s many boaters.

The shore in general is surprisingly rocky and steep, though small boats can be beached at two places. The first landing seen from a boat coming from Cedarville is readily apparent on the island’s east shore. After beaching the boat, walk up the hill into a meadow where you’ll see two small outhouses. The cleared campsites and some picnic tables are nearby. Each campsite has a picnic table and fire ring. A second landing at the island’s south side is also readily apparent. It too is near a picnic area.¬†The view here looks out into the expanse of Lake Huron. Camping is permitted only on designated campsites. None are¬†reservable. Campers are asked to follow the principles of leave-no-trace camping and leave the area as clean as it was when they arrived, or even cleaner. A sandy beach stretches along the west shore for a third of a mile.”

Of course, since it is managed by the Federal Government, I can’t find a link to it other than through third parties. But, there are enough of those, plus what I have learned through books and talking to people is that camping is allowed on Government Island.

Side note, as bad as the Michigan DNR’s website is to navigate in order to find information on camping, access sites, etc., it is a dream compared to any of the Federal sites.

Since the weather around the Straits of Mackinac can be, how should I say this, uncooperative?, I may not be able to get out on Lake Huron or to any of the islands for a day, maybe more, in spite of the fact that they are somewhat sheltered compared to the open water of the Great Lakes. I don’t want to get up there planning on paddling the islands on to find that a stiff southwest wind has Lake Huron too rough for me to venture out on, and nothing planned as a back up. That’s where the nature preserves on the mainland come in, they will be something to do if the weather doesn’t cooperate with paddling the islands.

So now I have a basic plan with a back up in case of bad weather. The basic plan, arrive at Shelter Bay in the early afternoon and set up camp at one of the two USFS campgrounds there. Then, put my kayak in at the boat ramp marked on the map and paddle to the LTC’s Shelter Bay Preserve and hike that, and return to the campground for the night. The next morning, I’ll load my kayak up and put in at Hessel and paddle to Government Island and set up camp there. That will be my base for day trips to the preserves on Marquette and Boot Islands, hiking the preserves there.

My back up plan is staying at the USFS campground, and hiking the LTC’s preserves on the mainland.

That’s a very good start, I will continue to research the area for more places to go, more things to see, and more photographs to take, but it isn’t a bad start for just a few hours of exploring. I am going to add some more detailed maps and more information on the LTC”s preserves, as well as anything else I find.

I will post this as a page to my Places to Explore page as well.

Oh, and I haven’t given up on my Lake Huron/Ocqueoc Falls trip, I know I haven’t done anything with it in a month, but, I am going to the Pigeon River Country for Labor Day weekend, and I’ll spend one day verifying some things I have found online already before I continue to build that page any further.


Dragonflies

Dragonflies have always been one of my favorite insects, for one thing, they are colorful, and for another, they eat mosquitoes. They are related to Damselflies, another of my favorite insects, for the same reasons. Damselflies and dragonflies are both classified in the order Odonata. They are also among the most ancient of creatures and, millions of years ago, included some of the largest flying invertebrates ever. Odonates are carnivorous in both nymph and adult forms, with a large appetite for smaller insects. In turn, they sometimes provide a meal for trout and other fish. Their lives are closely tied to fresh water as the nymphs are at least semi-aquatic. Dragonflies can be distinguished from damselflies by larger eyes, that usually touch, different shaped fore and hind wings which they hold horizontally when at rest and by their more powerful flight. Damselflies have similar shaped wings which they hold close to the body when resting. Both have been around for over 300 million years, enough time to evolve into many different species of each.

How do you tell them apart? Here’s the easy way, by how they hold their wings at rest. A damselfly folds its wings back over its body like this.

Damselfly

Dragonflies hold their wings out, in about the same positions as when in flight, like this.

Dragonfly

Both are my buddies while I am fly fishing or kayaking, I like having them around. I have always noticed a sharp drop off in the number of mosquitoes in the area whenever there are either damselflies or dragonflies in the area. When I am kayaking, they will often land on my boat and join me in a leisurely cruise down a river, or around a lake, at least for a while. I read that some species are very territorial and will chase others of their species away from their favored haunts.

I also read that there are over 300 species in North America, but I haven’t found a good source to help me identify them yet. For the time being, I just go by their colors, and I’ll post a few of the wide array of colors that dragonflies display, starting with a green dragonfly.

Green dragonfly

There are blue dragonflies.

Blue dragonfly

Notice that the blue one above has clear wings, here’s a different species of blue dragonfly that has barred wings.

Blue dragonfly with barred wings

You can also see that the head of the second one is dark, while the first one’s head is blue.

Blue dragonfly with blue and black bars

I have read that the males and females of the same species may be different colors, which makes identifying them even tougher. Maybe that accounts for some of the color variations I see.

Dark brown dragonfly

Then there are these brown ones that are slightly lighter, and with more markings on both their bodies and wings.

Chocolate brown dragonfly

And another.

Chocolate brown dragonfly

Then there are two variations on yellow.

Yellow dragonfly

And from the front.

Yellow dragonfly

 And another.

Yellow dragonfly

This one looks similar to the last, but it is nearly twice as large.

Very large yellow dragonfly

Then there are the red ones.

Red dragonfly

And another.

Red dragonfly

He’s so cute, he deserves another shot!

Red dragonfly

Damselflies can be cute too, and I don’t want to leave them out.

Green damselfly

But as beautiful as the green damselfly is, it is hard to beat this red dragonfly.

Red dragonfly

I think I recall reading that dragonfly nymphs feed on mosquito larva, I wouldn’t doubt that. I have seen dragonfly nymphs and they look ferocious, but I don’t have any pictures to show you. I do know that the adults love mosquitoes. You’ll see the dragonflies perched somewhere, usually in the sun, and they dart out to capture smaller flying insects, then return to the same perch to wait their next meal. They don’t feed on mosquitoes exclusively, but every little bit helps, and if they pick off a gnat or two, that’s OK by me as well. I do like having them around whether I am hiking, fishing or kayaking.

I thought that I had this all done and ready to post, but when I went for a walk this morning, I got an even better picture of a red dragonfly. It is very similar to the last one, but even better I think.

Red dragonfly

That’s it for now.


Still more birds, bugs, and blooms, sorry, no bunny

Yesterday’s hike in Muskegon State Park left me refreshed, but a bit stiff and sore this morning. What better way to work it out than a walk around the old homestead. As I stepped outside, the first thing that hit me was that it was cool, the second thing was that there was hardly a cloud in the sky. Why couldn’t that have been the case yesterday, my photos would have turned out so much better.

The first thing I saw worth photographing was this dragonfly.

Red dragonfly

I know, I have dozens of pictures of dragonflies, and this one is good, but not great, so why did I take it?

I have this theory, it may be bunk, but I seem to have my best photography days if I take some type of picture almost as soon as I step out the door. I don’t know if it has to do with my frame of mind, or what, but if I wait for something special before I start shooting, I never see anything special, and never take any photos. If I start out taking photos, I almost always end up with some really good ones. So it was today, as you will see later in this post, and one on dragonflies I have almost¬†ready to post.

I played hide and seek, or ring around the rosy, which ever you prefer, with a few birds in the trees, never getting a chance for a picture. I could see them flitting around, but they never stopped in the clear long enough for a photo.

Even though it is a plentiful plant around here, I have never taken any photos of Queen Anne’s Lace, so I decided to shoot a few just to shoot something.

Queen Anne's Lace

I even switched to the macro mode for this one.

Queen Anne's Lace

As I was taking these, the white rabbit I have been chasing for months took off from not more than 4 feet from where I was standing, but I had never seen it in the tall grass. That’s the way it goes though, even if I had seen the white rabbit before it ran off, I had the camera in macro mode to shoot the flowers. Looks like I’ll be chasing it some more.

I did come across this guy though, a squirrel feeding its face.

Fox squirrel

What’s remarkable about this shot is that the squirrel is eating grass, I don’t know as if I have ever seen that before. Maybe he was pretending to be a bunny to make up for the fact that I missed the white rabbit yet again. ūüėČ

Continuing on, I came to another of the bridges over the creeks that flow through the complex here, and there was a goldfinch feeding on the thistles that grow along the creek.

American goldfinch

As I was taking pictures, another male goldfinch came along, and the two started fighting over the thistles. I thought I had a shot of the two of them going at it, but all I got was a yellow blur in the corner of the frame, darn! They had quite a tussle in mid-air, then one flew off with the other in hot pursuit. I thought that was the end of my goldfinch photos for the day.

Looking around, I saw these two grasshoppers on a blade of grass.

Grasshoppers

There’s another type of insect where there are many species, and I can’t identify any of them. They are all grasshoppers to me.

Grasshopper 1

¬†And here’s the second one close-up.

Grasshopper 2

I tried to reach forward and move that dead blade of grass so I could get an even clearer picture, but that was too much for them, off they went. Turning around, I saw that one of the male goldfinches had returned, and was closer to me than before!

American goldfinch

He must have been hungry, as he kept right on eating as I kept on shooting.

American goldfinch

You can see strands of thistle-down stuck to the top of his head from tearing the seed pods apart to get at the seeds. I managed quite a few good shots before he flew off.

When I came to yet another creek crossing, I saw this butterfly.

Giant swallowtail butterfly

It is a giant swallowtail butterfly, the largest butterfly in the United States and Canada! I had never seen one before that I can remember, their range is generally south of here, so I have read.

Giant swallowtail butterfly

It never completely stopped flapping its wings, good thing there was enough light so that the camera was able to freeze the motion for the most part.

Giant swallowtail butterfly

That was my walk yesterday, I am about to head out the door for today’s walk. I can only hope it is half as productive as yesterday’s.


Another day hiking Muskegon State Park

I was supposed to go kayaking today with the group I signed up with a couple of weeks ago, but the organizers called it off at the last-minute due to the weather. As I noted in a previous post, I have been coming down with a case of cabin fever of late, and wanted to do something more than my daily walk around the apartment complex where I live. So, I headed over to Muskegon State Park to tackle part of the Hearty Hiker loop, along with the Lost Lake loop.

I started up the Lost Lake trail, it winds along the base of the dunes through a conifer wetland of sorts. It isn’t a swamp, there isn’t any standing water, but the ground is boggy and several small creeks flow through the area.

Starting up the Lost Lake trail

There are parts of the trail where it seems as if you are in a tunnel because the tree canopy is so thick.

Looking back at the tunnel

It’s about a mile to Lost Lake.

Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park

The area around the lake is supposed to be a great place to find wildflowers, this is the first time I was there other than in the winter. While it is getting late in the year, there are certainly flowers there.

Wildflower

And these Cardinal flowers.

Cardinal flower

A closer view.

Cardinal flower

And of course, some water lilies.

Water Lilies

While working my way around the lake, I spotted this whitetail buck who had come to feed near the lake.

Whitetail buck, still in velvet

Not great, but the weather was crappy for photography, and it still counts as a “kill”. I haven’t hunted with a gun in decades, I prefer to do my “hunting” with a camera.

Leaving the lake, I started the climb up into the dunes that gives the Hearty Hiker trail its name. I have tried taking pictures to show how steep hills are, it never works. You’ll have to take my word for it, you do a lot of climbing on the Hearty Hiker trail. It’s worth it though when you get to the top and work your way along the tops of the dunes. There is still a lot of up and down to the trail, but not as bad as the initial climb.

I met one other person on the trails today, it was like having the place to myself. I have written about the dichotomy of the Muskegon area before. South of Muskegon Lake is the decaying industrial city of Muskegon and all its ugliness. But, to the north or east, all you can see for miles are forests, and if you look to the west, there’s Lake Michigan.

Miles of forests

¬†This was my first time doing the Hearty Hiker trail in the summer, and if I were to complain, it would be to say that the forests are so thick that you can’t see either Lake Michigan or Muskegon Lake from the trail due to the trees. But I’m not complaining one bit, it was great up there in the forests, and if I want views of the lakes, I’ll do the same hike when the leaves have fallen.

I did come across a tree that had been struck by lightning from the storms that rolled through on Saturday.

Tree damaged by lightning

There were splinters from the tree covering the ground and hanging in the surrounding trees.

Splinters from a lightning strike

I sure wouldn’t want to be up on that ridge during a thunderstorm! I noticed the same thing when I hiked Green Timbers, the number of trees showing lightning damage along the tops of ridges is a bit frightening. But although the weather today wasn’t great, there were no storms to worry about. And one more thing about the forests, they were full of birds! The only problem was getting a clear view of them for a photograph.

A bird in the bush

That’s the way my birding went today. ūüôā It’s not that I didn’t try, I took my time today, in fact, I dawdled, making it last as long as I could. I was enjoying the comfortable temperatures, the birds singing, and being away from the crush of humanity for the day, I needed it badly.

When I started dropping down off from the ridge, and could hear cars on the road that bisects the park, I almost turned around to do the other half of the loop, but it was getting late. I wanted to check on the eagles and see how they are doing. They are doing fine, I only saw one though.

Eaglet

It was a crappy day for bird photography, not even the eaglet came out well, but this little guy did.

Eastern Chipmunk

He’s worth another shot.

Eastern Chipmunk

You can tell from his eye I was using the flash when taking his picture, it was that dark and dreary as far as sunlight is concerned, but the day sure did raise my spirits!


The John James Audubon Exhibit at the GRAM

I made it, one day before the exhibit closes. The Grand Rapids Art Museum has had an exhibition of thirty of the original hand colored etchings done by John James Audubon and London, England engraver, Robert Havell.

For those of you who don’t know, John James Audubon spent¬†years travelling the United States drawing and painting birds in their natural habitat. His goal was to draw every species of bird that lived here. Between 1827 and 1838 Audubon and his engraver Robert Havell produced 435 hand-colored and engraved plates of scope and standard never before seen in ornithological recording.

John James Audubon

Audubon was not the first to undertake the mission of painting every species of bird in the United States, he followed in the footsteps of Alexander Wilson. The difference between their works was that Wilson painted birds on a stark, bare background, whereas Audubon painted birds surrounded by their natural settings.

John James Audubon Californian Partridge

Audubon developed his own methods for drawing birds. First, he killed them using fine shot in his shotgun. He then used wires to prop them into a natural position, unlike the common method of many ornithologists, who prepared and stuffed the specimens into a rigid pose. When working on a major specimen like an eagle, he would spend up to four 15-hour days, preparing, studying, and drawing it. His paintings of birds are set true-to-life in their natural habitat. He often portrayed them as if caught in motion, especially feeding or hunting. Audubon based his paintings on his extensive field observations.

He worked primarily with watercolor early on. He added colored chalk or pastel to add softness to feathers, especially those of owls and herons. He employed multiple layers of watercoloring, and sometimes used gouache. All species were drawn life-size which accounts for the contorted poses of the larger birds as Audubon strove to fit them within the page size. Smaller species were usually placed on branches with berries, fruit, and flowers. He used several birds in a drawing to present all views of anatomy and wings. Larger birds were often placed in their ground habitat or perching on stumps. At times, as with woodpeckers, he combined several species on one page to offer contrasting features. He frequently depicted the birds’ nests and eggs, and occasionally natural predators, such as snakes. He usually illustrated male and female variations, and sometimes juveniles. In later drawings, Audubon used assistants to render the habitat for him. Going beyond faithful renderings of anatomy, Audubon employed carefully constructed composition, drama, and slightly exaggerated poses to achieve artistic as well as scientific effects.

The scope of “Birds of America” is amazing in and of itself. Audubon¬†painted every species life-sized, even the larger species such as Canadian Geese, Eagles, and Turkeys. Working from Audubon’s paintings and drawings, copper plates were etched to print the outlines, then each page was colored by hand. The shear size of the book is something to see, the pages are 39 X 26 inches and there are 435 plates depicting 497 species of birds. The book is as large as my kitchen table, but the copy they had at the exhibit was in a case so you couldn’t touch it to turn the pages. Another part of the exhibit is a slide show of all 435 original water colors that Audubon painted.

This is a travelling exhibition, on loan from the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont. If you get the chance to see it, I would recommend it, it isn’t often that you get a chance to see something like this.