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

Archive for September, 2011

Only one (r)egret

I woke up on Monday morning, (I wouldn’t be typing this if I hadn’t) still thinking of the previous day’s hike and the turkey at my doorstep. I went through my usually routine of several cups of coffee while I catch up with people on Facebook, and read the news. Monday is a big news day for me, as the outdoor section appears in the Sunday press, but I seldom read it on Sunday, rather I read it online on Monday mornings. (There will be nature pictures later in this post, I promise)

I want Howard Meyerson’s job! He’s the editor of the outdoor page for the local paper, the Grand Rapids Press, and has been for decades. I’m not sure why. One of the reasons I read the outdoor section online is that I get the feed from many of the other papers in Michigan that are owned by the same conglomerate that owns the Grand Rapids Press. I get more useful outdoor news from the Kalamazoo Gazette, the Muskegon Chronicle, and the other papers than I do from the Grand Rapids Press. I better stop now, I could do an entire post on why I would be better at his job than Howard is, in fact, I may just do that, but not today.

The only reason I brought the subject up in the first place was that I read a one paragraph blurb about Cranefest. The blurb made it sound as though it was an event aimed at children, but it mentioned a bird sanctuary where the event was going to be held. Bird sanctuaries are places I like to hang out, so I looked up the one mentioned online, and I was somewhat stunned.

I drive truck for a living, and as part of my run every night, I take I 69 south from Lansing to I 94 near Battle Creek. There are a number of swamps, marshes, wetlands, small lakes and ponds in the area where the two highways intersect. As I have been driving by, I have noticed them, and the waterfowl that make their homes there. I have thought of driving there to see if I could get close to any of the wetlands. Well, it turns out that the sanctuary mentioned in the blurb contains one of the marshes I have been eyeing from the highway, how cool is that?

Further checking told me Cranefest isn’t just for kids, it is an event put on by the Michigan Audubon Society, and it sounds like a pretty big deal. The sanctuary where some of the events take place is the Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary.

Here’s a description of the sanctuary from the Audubon’s website….

Baker Sanctuary is North America’s first bird sanctuary dedicated to the preservation of a crane species, the Sandhill Crane. At 898 acres and the second largest of Michigan Audubon’s sanctuaries, it is a refuge for nesting and migrating Sandhill Cranes. The area is dominated by the 200-acre Big Marsh Lake, a restored wetland flooding. More than 200 species of birds and dozens of species of mammals have been recorded here. There are two groomed trails in the sanctuary.

If you follow the link above, you can see more about the place, and download a map.

I used to be a member of the Audubon Society, but as in the case of many conservation groups like the Nature Conservancy, they alienated me by making all their sanctuaries and nature preserves off-limits to the general public, and the membership. It seems these groups get too big or something, but they all seem to get to the point where they tell you to send them money, and they’ll tell you about the places they preserve, but you aren’t allowed there. If you send them enough money, they may even say thank you, and send you a crappy photograph of the places your money paid for.

I know, there are some places that are too environmentally sensitive to let the general public roam free on, but they should be the exceptions, not the rule.

I was glad to hear that the Baker Sanctuary is open to the public. I marked it on my GPS unit, and I’m sure I’ll make it there, if not this fall, then early next spring at the latest.

By the way, I am trying something in this post to make links to more information more visible. I like WordPress, but I wish I could make links stand out more for people looking for information.

As I was checking out Cranefest and the Baker Sanctuary online, a small thunderstorm rolled through the area, delaying my walk for the day. No, no turkey showed up this morning, clucking at me to get with it. Instead, I spotted a great egret at the first pond I came to.

Great egret

Of course it was on the wrong side of the pond as far as getting good, well lit, close shots. There was another guy walking on the side of the pond closer to the egret, and I watched, hoping the egret wouldn’t fly off. It watched the other walker, and stayed behind the grass, but didn’t fly away. So I took off to circle the pond, hoping the egret would still be there when I got around the pond.

Great egret

It was still there, and it had just caught a fish, which you can just make out in the egret’s beak. It swallowed the fish…

Great egret

…saw me, and took to flight.

Great egret in flight

Luckily, I was using my Nikon, so I got some great flight photos.

Great egret in flight

Great egret in flight

Even if I was leading it too much. I thought that it would keep going, but it turned at the other end of the pond and came in for a landing.

Great egret in flight

Egret flight 101 cleared for landing…

Great egret in flight

Landing gear down…

Great egret landing

ready for touchdown…

Great egret landing

You can see the muddy water from the storm run-off from the earlier thunderstorm entering the pond, creating the line in the water where the muddy water met the pond’s water. Now the egret was on the other side of the pond again, so I went back, trying to stay out of its sight.

Great egret

I could tell it was wary of my presence, a flock of ducks was also there in the pond, I was hoping they would distract the egret.

Great egret and mallards

No such luck.

Great egret in flight

Off it went.

Great egret in flight

And it didn’t stop on the other side of the pond this time.

Great egret in flight

I knew that I should have moved slower, and been more cautious in my approach! I could tell I was pressing the egret more than it wanted to be pressed. I was in a hurry to get back to my apartment and continue working on yesterday’s post. That is never a good idea, you can’t hurry critters.

My regret is that I didn’t take the time to let the egret get used to my being nearby. But I also find it a coincidence that I found information about a cool bird sanctuary where I will probably see many other egrets, cranes and herons to photograph on the same day as this egret stopped off here at the pond. I see herons there regularly, but this was the first egret, I hope it isn’t the last.

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A turkey stopped by my place on Sunday

No, not one of my relatives, a real turkey. I had finished my pot of coffee in the morning, but still wasn’t motivated to do much of anything. I’m not sure why, my allergies were acting up some, but not bad, and fortunately, I don’t have them as bad as some people I know. I was debating not doing anything other than some errands I had to run, I wasn’t even going to go for a walk around the complex. I was catching up with other people’s blogs, when I heard a turkey clucking like crazy, but not from the woods side of my apartment where I normally hear and see them, it was out front. I went to the spare bedroom that has a window that I can look out towards the parking lot, and there was a turkey standing right at the entrance to my apartment. I thought about shooting a picture of it, but changed my mind. But, the turkey just stood there clucking away, so I had no choice. I grabbed my Nikon and shot this really bad picture through the dirty bedroom window.

A Turkey waiting for me to come out to play

Before you give me grief over how bad that photo is, I live in a third floor apartment, and I’m not going to risk my neck hanging out the window to wash the outside of it. I keep the inside clean, the outside is some one else’s problem.

Anyway, the turkey stood there looking at the entrance to the building I live in, and it would rattle of a series of clucks every once in a while, as if it were wondering why I hadn’t come out for my daily walk, when I’ll often stalk the turkeys around here.

This is getting seriously weird. Earlier this summer I commented in a post about how much I like dragonflies and posted a few photos of them. Not long after that, I had dragonflies buzzing up to me, then landing on the nearest object to me they could find, sometimes landing on me. When I did the post of It’s been a good week, the icky stuff, I even made the comment that it seemed like they had read my blog and that they were hamming it up for the camera since then.

So in the post about hunting deer with a camera, I mentioned that turkeys are difficult to get close to, but that I love the challenge of trying while I am out on my daily walks, and now a turkey shows up at my door as if waiting for me when I didn’t go out for my walk at my usual time.

No, I don’t seriously believe that critters read and react to my blog. My friends say that it’s karma, that since I consider critters to be my friends, the critters sense that, and behave differently around me than they do around other people. I can sort of buy that one.

The turkey did motivate me to get off my butt, run the errands I had to run, then go to Saugatuck Dunes State Park for a hike in the woods, and along the Lake Michigan shoreline. I chose Saugatuck because I haven’t been there in months, and because I knew that the trees wouldn’t be as far along as far as changing color. The warmer waters of Lake Michigan retard the onset of the fall foliage near the shoreline of the lake.

I know, it’s fall, the trees are supposed to be changing color, and I am supposed to be photographing the bright fall foliage. However, I’m not ready for fall yet, and I truly miss the color green over the long Michigan winters.

On the trail at Saugatuck State Park

There’s not too many places I enjoy more than under the green canopy of a hardwood forest.

Hardwood forest canopy

It had rained just before I arrived at the park, there were a few breaks in the clouds from time to time, but short and fleeting. I hiked the south trail hoping to spot a few migrating birds, but there were few of them active at all. I don’t know if it was because of the rain, or if I just hit a lull in the number of birds present. It was a very pleasant hike, even if I didn’t see many birds. Taking the south trail meant it was about three miles to the Lake Michigan shore.

Dune grasses and dunes along Lake Michigan

It must have been an exceptional year for grass growth along the lake, because it was almost as tall as I am in many places.

Dune grasses

I thought that maybe there would be a great sunset to photograph if the clouds broke up a little, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen. The clouds seemed to be getting thicker overhead as I walked north along the beach.

The Lake Michigan beach at Saugatuck State Park

The dark object in the middle of the picture turned out to be a sawed off tree, and it made a convenient place to sit, rest, and contemplate the day. I was sitting on the log, looking out over the lake towards Wisconsin, when I noticed that the sky right along the horizon was beginning to turn a little pink, as if there would be a good sunset.

Lake Michigan sunset

What followed was awesome!

Lake Michigan sunset

I walked up the first small rise in the dunes, then watched as the clouds were churned by winds moving in different directions, as the fading sun painted the clouds in colors I’ve never seen before.

Lake Michigan sunset

It was just in a narrow band above the horizon, but there were four or five different layers of clouds, all moving different directions.

Lake Michigan sunset

The entire scene was changing every few minutes.

Lake Michigan sunset

So I stood there shooting every few minutes trying to capture what I was seeing.

Lake Michigan sunset

Lake Michigan sunset

Just when I thought it was over, the clouds would move more, and a new display would appear.

Lake Michigan sunset

Lake Michigan sunset

I shot almost 100 pictures of the sunset, I won’t bore you with all of them. By then, it was getting dark, and I still had two miles to go to get back to my vehicle, so I thought it best if I get started.

On the way back, I played with a couple of whitetail does, but couldn’t get any good shots of them. It was too dark unless I could have used the flash, but they wouldn’t let me get close enough to them for that. It was still fun trying though.

I really need to find that turkey and thank it for showing up at my door Sunday morning, and convincing me not to sit around the apartment all day. The hike was great, the sunset, fantastic!


A day in the life

No, not really, I wouldn’t bore all of you with the mundane details of my daily life. This is really about two days anyway.

Yesterday, as always, I went for a walk around the apartment complex where I live. We’ve been under what in weather terms is known as a cut-off low pressure system all this week. That means most of the time it has looked liked this outside.

Cloudy skies

Which I don’t really mind, this is Michigan, if you don’t like cloudy skies, you move elsewhere. It does make for crappy photography most of the time though. Every once in a while, a hole in the clouds would open…

Hole in the clouds

…and I could shoot some good pictures. Usually I bring my compact Canon Powershot with me when I go for my daily hikes, and I leave the big, clunky Nikon at home.

Oh, and that reminds me, I do this wrong. Looking at other blogs, the photographers always post what equipment they used, and the exposure settings they used when taking the pictures. I hope the other photographers aren’t offended when I ask, why? I can sort of understand stating what equipment they use, since that may help others decide on what equipment they should purchase. But as fast as new models of cameras are introduced since the advent of digital photography, a two-year old model is probably no longer available. For the life of me, I don’t understand the reason for posting the exposure settings though. Even standing completely still and taking three photos quickly, I find the exposure setting is slightly different for all three most of the time. So the exposure settings used by some one else aren’t going to help me in any way. I think magazines started that trend, I’m not sure though.

Back to my walk, I looked up to see a small hawk coming towards me, and I turned on the Canon and waited for it to go through its start-up procedure. By that time, the hawk had flown behind a tree, but I thought I would be able to see it once it cleared the tree on the other side. I could! But, I was still fooling with the Canon, trying to locate the hawk in the LCD screen and zoom in at the same time.

I find that when I am trying to locate subjects using the LCD display that it helps if I look over the top of the camera at the same time, which is what I was doing. Not only could I see the small hawk, which I think was a sharp shinned hawk, but there was a larger red-tailed hawk there too, and if I would have been quick enough, I would have gotten a shot of the two of them gliding very close to one another.

But, that’s one that got away. There are two things about the Canon I don’t like. One, is that it eats batteries almost as fast as my GPS unit. The other is that it doesn’t work well for shooting moving targets.

Here I go on another side note. I may have found a very good brand of battery to use. After my Labor Day weekend trip, I stopped at Batteries Plus to drop off all the dead batteries I had accumulated in the last couple of months, and it was a considerable number, again. As always, I talked to the guy there about available alternatives, and he suggested that I try a brand off battery they carry, which is Werker. I have been using name brand batteries, an eight pack worth every week, two at the most. I bought an eight pack of the Werker brand, and the first pair lasted almost a month! (Side tip to the side note, whenever you change or charge your batteries, turn your camera on right then to make sure that it functions. I’ve been with people who turn their camera on only to find the batteries are installed wrong, dead, or didn’t charge as they thought, and they’ve missed a picture because of that.) I haven’t been taking as many photos lately, but I have used the flash on a higher percentage of shots because of the weather. If the six Werker brand batteries I have left show the same kind of life expectancy, then I’ll let you know. This goes with the commitment I have made to refuse to pay for shoddy products or services. The Duracell and Energizer batteries I’ve been buying simply do not last.

Back to the Canon, it is slow, and the LCD screen is hard to use when tracking moving targets. There’s not much I can do about that, other than practice. I missed the two hawks together, but did get the red-tailed hawk.

Red-tailed hawk

And this one.

Red-tailed hawk

Neither are great, but they’re better than nothing. I was thinking about missing the two hawks together, and decided to stop being a wimp and that I was going to carry the Nikon with me most of the time as well. It is instant on, and I can track moving targets much better using its viewfinder rather than the Canon’s screen, or so I thought.

I stepped out the door this morning, and was stretching, looking around to see what kind of a day it was going to be, when a pair of great blue herons came swooping in towards me. I stood there like a bump on the side of the road, until I remembered I had the Nikon, but by that time they were almost directly overhead, and right in line with the sun. I turned around and shot, here’s what I got.

Great blue heron gliding

I swear! On my honor! It looked much better in the viewfinder when I pressed the shutter release! Actually, all things considered, that isn’t too bad. As you can see, the heron was below treetop level, so the entire event happened a lot faster than it took me to type this, probably less than 5 seconds.

On both days I shot a number of fall foliage pictures that I have already posted here, and I was taking as many insect and flower pictures as I could, since they won’t be around very much longer. Sometimes I got both at the same time.

Butterfly and flower

Sometimes it was just an insect.

Dragonfly

Or this one.

Dragonfly

Sometimes just a flower.

Blue wildflower

Even the berries were the berries.

Berries

But, you have to be careful with the berries this time of year. They ferment on the vines, and critters get drunk when they eat them.

Drunken raccoon

That sometimes happens with other animals as well, I read about a moose that got drunk on fermented apples, got its antlers stuck in a tree, and had to be rescued. Sorry, no moose pictures though. I do have one of a black-capped chickadee though.

Black capped chickadee

And I know that it will be all too soon that there are no leaves left on the trees at all, so I shot a couple of leaf pictures so I could look at them in during the winter to remind me that spring will return.

Virginia Creeper

And this one.

Green leaf

But mostly, it was flowers.

Thistle

and insects

butterfly

and flowers

Yellow wildflower

Even the goldenrod

Goldenrod

not only is the color pretty, but the shapes it takes on are pleasing as well

Goldenrod

it looks even better in full sun

Goldenrod

and up close

Goldenrod

But thistles are still may favorites

Thistle

They bloom all summer, unlike these asters that only bloom in the fall.

Asters

One last bug picture, another preying mantis.

preying mantis

I even saw a rainbow.

Sprinkler created rainbow

OK, so the rainbow was really a sprinkler-bow, it was still pretty. As were these small white flowers.

Small white wildflowers

Before I forget, I have found another blog that I can heartily recommend, Texas Tweeties by Bob Zeller. If you like birds and nature photographs and photography, you should check it out. I have added a link to Bob’s blog on the right side of the screen, along with the one right above here.

That’s about it for this one. I wish some of the photos had come out better, but I was fighting the clouds all week long. There were many times when I stood there waiting for a hole to open up in the clouds to let some sun shine through, but it didn’t always happen. Every once in a while a little rain would fall, not enough to put a dent in the mini-drought we’ve been having, but enough to make photography more difficult.

I am hoping the weather is better next week, and that I can afford to make a trip up to the Jordan River valley. That’s one of the most beautiful parts of Michigan at any time of the year, but especially so when the leaves turn color in the fall. The views from Dead man’s Hill and the Landslide are beyond my ability to describe them. I would love to make it up there next weekend, get an early start on Sunday morning (after breakfast at Darlene’s in East Jordan) and hike between Dead man’s Hill and the Landslide on the Jordan River Valley Pathway. I can’t find a good map that I like, if I make it up there, I’ll post one of my own when I get back, along with lots of pictures!

As always, even if I forget, thanks for stopping by!


The first full day of fall

Yesterday was the first day of fall, I have already forgotten the exact time it arrived, like it makes a difference. Notes on a calendar don’t mean much to nature, the transition to fall has been going on for over a month, and autumn will continue to push summer aside, a little at a time.

Autumn leaves starting to turn color

Fall seems like more of a transition from one year to the next to me, much more so than the New Years Day when our calendars say that it happens. Fall is when one year dies, and most of nature goes into its resting stage over our long, cold, snowy winters here in Michigan. So I am always a little sad when fall does arrive, to me, it signifies the passing of another year.

Some of that is old age talking. I swear that each year is at least a month shorter than the year before, even though the calendars I get in the mail say that there are still 12 months, and they are all the same length they have always been. As soon as I figure out where those months are disappearing to, I’ll be sure to let every one know. 😉

Fall is also the season of spectacular beauty, when nature pulls out all the stops in vivid displays of color unlike any of the other seasons.

Fall maple

Not to mention there are no biting bugs left to bother me while I am hiking or kayaking.

Autumn colors

Some trees seem to turn all one color…

Fall maple

…while other trees seem bent on having every leaf a different color.

Fall maple

They’re all beautiful on a sunny autumn day.

Blue sky, red leaves

From the time they begin to change…

Burning bush

…to when most have changed….

Fall foliage

…until they fall.

Maple leaf

From either the bottom…

Fall foliage

…or the top

Fall foliage

Enjoy.

Fall foliage

This display of color is our reward for sticking it out in an area where winters are so long.

Fall foliage

Fall foliage

And fall is just getting started. It will be several weeks before we get the full display of color that happens most years. I say most years, because once in a while a storm will blow through just as the trees are near their peak, and all the leaves will be blown off from the trees. I hope that doesn’t happen this year.


Some updates

I have added an update to the hiking page for the High Country Pathway, the Pigeon River Country Association hired an intern who spent most of the summer on trail maintenance.

I have also added a page to the Lake Huron trips page covering the Presque Isle area, including both the lighthouses, Thompson’s Harbor State Park, The Besser Natural Area, and kayaking both Lake Huron and Grand Lake. You can find that one here.

Sorry this is so short, I spent all my time on the updates.


Help! I’ve been drafted!

No, I didn’t receive a letter from my Uncle Sam inviting me to join one of the armed services, I have started a half-dozen new posts and several new pages, all saved as drafts. So I thought I would knock out a quicky of photographs, just so I can remember where the “Publish” button is.

The posts that I have started deal with serious environmental issues, and few people read them, so there is no need to hurry as far as finishing them. But I have been in a serious mood for the last month or so, maybe it is because of the arrival of fall.

I know, fall doesn’t officially arrive for a couple more days, maybe some one should tell nature that. The swallows have been gone for a month, the red-winged blackbirds left soon after, and one by one, the species of summer bird residents have left for their winter homes south of here. There are still the migrating birds passing through the area, here today, gone tomorrow. The flocks of geese, cranes, and herons grow larger every day, and soon, most of them will depart as well.

The trees are well on their way to turning color for autumn, I am getting a bad feeling that this year’s fall foliage is going to be some what muted. A lot of trees are already turning brown or losing their leaves, not a good sign.

Fallen maple leaf

I hope to make a trip up to East Jordan, Michigan to shoot pictures of the Jordan River Valley at the peak of the autumn colors, but I don’t know if I will be able to afford it, which has me bummed.

I am also bummed because I have a love/hate relationship with fall. I love the colors, the crisp, cool mornings, and the fact that the skeeters and biting flies are gone for another 6 months.

I like winters here, except for two things, the trees are mostly bare, and it will cloud up sometime in mid November, and stay cloudy until next March. You can normally count the sunny days in winters here on your fingers, some years on just one hand. Our summers are too short, heck, the years are too short at my age, which is another thing that has me bummed.

It seems as if this summer flew by, in part because I didn’t do much, I couldn’t afford it. I love shooting pictures of wildflowers and insects.

Tiny blue wildflowers

Yellow butterfly

But they are about gone for another year. I’m not ready for them to be gone yet!

Yellow wildflowers

We had an early frost this week that about finished off the last of the flowers.

Yellow day lily

There are only a few flowers left.

White wildflowers found in a wetlands area

These won’t be back until next fall.

Blue wildflowers

The leaves turning bright colors help.

Sumac leaves turning red

But they will fall sooner than I would like.

Dew on a fallen maple leaf

Even the critters are preparing for winter.

Muskrat

The muskrats are gathering grass to insulate their dens.

Muskrat

And the squirrels are busy collecting nuts for the winter.

Fox squirrel

Although they do take a break from time to time.

Fox squirrel

And there are still a few great blue herons around.

Great blue heron

And a few hardy flowers holding on.

Small red flowers

I am still hoping that the last of the Virgin’s Bower….

Virgin's Bower

….makes it to the seed cluster stage so I can get some truly good photos, rather than the so-so one I posted a while back, but I’m not sure they will hold out that long.

There are other things bumming me out right now as well. One is my job search, there aren’t many good jobs available. The other is how rude people are these days. Last week I had some ass start honking his horn and cussing me out through his window because I slowed down to the speed limit while driving past a young mother pushing a baby in a stroller, while her toddler walked next to her. I’m sorry Mr. Ass, but I am not going to be responsible for killing a child if it darts into the street, or trips into the street. If you can’t leave home on time to drive like a sane person, then screw you!!!!!!!!!

That sort of goes with another crusade I have begun, I am no longer going to pay for shoddy products or services. I am dumping my Verizon wireless Internet service, it is slower than a sedated snail, when it does work. My contract is up the end of this month, but Verizon doesn’t want to end the contract. That’s funny, they have no problem rewriting the contract that’s in effect when it suits them. I may end up switching to another carrier for everything, including cell phone.

Then there is my old car insurance company. I made a payment through their website, the money was taken out of my account, but, the company cancelled me without notice for non-payment. Ha! I switched to another company, now the first one is trying to collect a fee from me for cancelling a policy they had already cancelled. Fat chance! That left me seeing red!

Red leaf with back lighting from the sun

Maybe I should cool down a little.

Yellow maple leaf

Didn’t work, I’m still seeing red.

Red maple leaf

Just kidding.

There are a few more reasons I haven’t posted lately, I am still cleaning and packing up stuff for the winter, for one. For another, I’ve got too many irons in the fire right now. I have started pages for photography, kayaking, and breaking down the Lake Huron shoreline into individual trips. That last one is a tough one, as I work on it, I want to drop everything and head back up there!

It’s dawned on me, about the only autumn foliage photos I’ve posted here are of fallen leaves, I guess I had better post at least one more picture of leaves still on a tree.

Maple tree turning red

That’s it for now. Sorry for the rants, but thank you for stopping by to read this.


The Enbridge oil spill, one year plus

Some one should write a book about this event, but I doubt that it would ever be published if some one did.

For those of you who don’t know, a pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy ruptured on July 26, 2010, a little over a year ago, dumping over 800,000 gallons of oil into a small creek that flows into the Kalamazoo River near Battle Creek, Michigan. This was, and still is, a major environmental disaster, and I believe that Enbridge should pay for the entire clean up, and be fined heavily on top of that. But, the real story, and what has interested me the most, is the incredible amount of red tape that Enbridge faces in trying to clean up the mess they created.

In the first few hours after the story hit the news, Enbridge was crucified for not reporting the spill to federal officials earlier than they did. It turns out that when a pipeline operator reports a spill, they are required to provide an accurate estimate of the size of the spill, or face heavy fines if the estimate is even a little wrong. It took Enbridge a few hours to get an accurate estimate of the size of the spill.

Then, a review of both Enbridge’s, and the federal agency to whom they report, phone records show that Enbridge did attempt to call earlier, but all the lines were busy. And that was just the beginning.

The agency Enbridge was required to notify has nothing to do with responding to a spill or the clean up of a spill, so that resulted in delays while the proper agencies were notified.

That was on a Monday morning. On Monday evening, Enbridge had crews on site, containing the spill. On Tuesday morning, top officials from the State of Michigan, including then Governor Jennifer Granholm, toured the site of the spill, proclaimed the sky was falling, and not enough was being done to clean up the spill. On Tuesday afternoon, President Obama promised a quick response. On Wednesday morning, federal officials arrived, proclaimed there was a problem, and sent for reinforcements, which finally began to arrive on Wednesday evening.

The section of pipeline that ruptured was excavated soon after the spill, and sent to the proper federal agency for an investigation into what caused the pipeline to burst. That agency promised a report in February of this year, but as of September 17th, no report has been issued. We still don’t know what caused the pipeline to burst.

It has been one thing after another. A story will break on some aspect of the clean up that points to Enbridge not doing enough, then we learn that Enbridge is waiting for approval from some federal agency before they can proceed. I could go on and on about this, but I am going to cut this short. In looking up a few things to refresh my memory, I came upon an editorial in the Kalamazoo Gazette calling for Enbridge to be sued. Why? Because federal regulators and federal agencies have failed. I know that makes no sense, let me quote you from the editorial.

“Yet, we would view a lawsuit as a positive development in this particular case — and not because there would be any real remedy that could undo the kind of environmental damage that has been done here. Taking the case to court would ensure a public hearing of the facts.

A lawsuit could shine a spotlight on exactly what transpired; compel information to be produced through discovery; disclose facts that may have a bearing on what happened; hold those who are responsible for what happened accountable for their actions or their failure to act; and penalize any wrongdoers with significant fines and costs that could be considerable.

When the legislative branch fails to protect the people — in this situation by not reforming how oil pipelines are monitored and maintained and adjusting the penalties for failure to adequately do so — the judicial branch can effectively act in the interests of the people.

Long before this Enbridge environmental disaster in July 2010, lawmakers should have promulgated aggressive legislation to compel improvements in pipeline maintenance. That didn’t happen.

That’s why we’re looking for a lawsuit.”

You can read the entire editorial here.

With all due respect to the editorial board at the Kalamazoo Gazette, we know who is responsible, Enbridge. What caused the leak? I am no expert in pipelines, but I did see the photos of the ruptured pipe after it was excavated, it was split lengthwise. We are still waiting for the report from the federal agency investigating why the pipe ruptured, but I think it is a safe bet to say that an operator who wasn’t paying attention flipped the wrong switch, or pushed the wrong button at the wrong time, causing a surge in the pressure within the pipe, causing the pipe to split along an old seam in the pipe. Enbridge will be fined copious amounts of money for not training their employees better, even if the operator responsible had 20 years on the job. As long as there are humans involved, there will always be human error, and as long as there are mechanical devices involved, there will always be equipment failures.

And again, with all due respect to the powers that be at the Kalamazoo Gazette, if you want answers, then maybe you should assign a reporter or two to do some real investigative journalism rather than sit at their desks and rewrite the news releases sent to them. (That’s one of my pet peeves, there is no investigative journalism being done these days, unless you count the paparazzi investigating the personal lives of celebrities.)

The media loves to go off half-cocked and call for action before we know what actions should take place. Until we know for sure what caused the leak, how can any one formulate legislation, regulations, or rules to prevent the same thing from happening again?

How is filing a lawsuit against Enbridge going to get legislators and regulators to perform the jobs they were elected or hired to do? A lawsuit against Enbridge is quite likely to have the opposite effect, officials will feel they are off the hook as far as their actions, and it would be prudent for them to await the outcome of a suit before they act once a lawsuit is filed. Once a case is in the court system, the judge’s decision would have a direct bearing on how new rules and regulations should be crafted, so everything would be put on hold until the judge makes his ruling to give the officials direction as to how they should proceed.

If the editorial board of the Kalamazoo Gazette is looking for quick actions, I’ve got news for them, the court system is not where you are going to find quick action. Such a lawsuit as the one they are proposing would take years or decades to work through the system before there is a definitive ruling.

And what would that ruling be? It’s hard to say. I doubt that any judge assigned to the case has the technical background to issue a decision until they have taken the time to educate themselves on the issues, and they would have to rely on expert opinions. Then you get into a situation where you have conflicting expert opinions, depending on what axe the expert has to grind. Which expert the judge chooses to listen to is hard to say.

That whole point should be moot anyway, the Kalamazoo Gazette is calling for a court to make law since the legislature and federal regulators are moving too slow as far as the Gazette is concerned. Perhaps the editorial board of the Kalamazoo Gazette should familiarize themselves with the document known as the United States Constitution. It is not up to the courts to make law, that duty is reserved for the legislative branch of our government.

If Enbridge was shirking its responsibilities in the clean up, then I would agree, file a law suit, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. When accusations have come up that Enbridge isn’t doing what it should, or as much as they could, the federal officials overseeing the clean up have defended Enbridge and the way it is handling the clean up.

Filing a lawsuit will only slow down the clean up. People will have to take the time to attend court hearings, give depositions in the case, and that will only distract them from the task at hand, cleaning up the spill and making sure that such a spill never happens again. Enbridge would have to spend huge sums of money defending themselves in court, and how often have companies been driven to bankruptcy leaving no money left to clean up the mess they created after fighting such lawsuits? I am not saying that Enbridge would be driven into bankruptcy, but it is a possibility, and then there would be no money left to clean up the spill other than public funds, and why should we force a company out of business, then pick up the tab for cleaning up after them?

That happens way too often in this country, but then there are those who have as a goal the putting companies such as Enbridge out of business. I see that as counterproductive. It is better that a company survive and pay for the clean up out of their profits than it is for Joe Taxpayer to foot the bill.

Maybe the editorial board of the Kalamazoo Gazette should inform themselves better before they go off on a rant. I know that Enbridge is installing new safety measures on pipelines they operate in the Pigeon River Country, including automated shut-off valves to limit any oil spills should a pipeline rupture. They are working with the Michigan DNR, and other state and local officials to come up with response plans should there be a leak, and they are taking other measures as well. I think I read that they are doing the same in other parts of the state, but I am not positive about that. Maybe we don’t have to wait for federal regulators after all.

The position of the editorial board of the Kalamazoo Gazette, that we should do something even if it’s wrong, is how we end up with bad regulations that do nothing to solve the problems they were intended to solve. I am not saying let Enbridge off the hook, I am not saying that the regulations  concerning the operation and maintenance of pipelines don’t need to be addressed, but let’s do it right for a change. Not as a knee-jerk reaction to a frenzy whipped up by the media trying to sell papers by creating a controversy where none exists.



In a heavy salmon run, poachers snag big fines / Michigan River News

I am blogging this news story, with permission of course, from the Michigan River News. They have many stories dealing with our rivers that never find their way into the mainstream media.

In a heavy salmon run, poachers snag big fines

By Andy McGlashen • September 13, 2011

Salmon-hungry scofflaws are flocking to riverbanks in northwest Michigan.

As MRN reported last month, this year’s salmon run has been a whopper.  “It’s two to three weeks early, and it’s a very heavy run,” said Lt. David Shaw, a Department of Natural Resources conservation officer whose district includes major salmon rivers like the Betsie, Manistee and Pere Marquette.

The migration of unscrupulous anglers lured by the big, tasty fish has also been above-average, keeping Shaw and his fellow officers busy.

“With the frenzy of a heavy run, we have a lot of illegal activity,” he said.  “In this district, we’re having major activity in Mason, Lake, Manistee and Benzie counties.”

That includes “some real blatant snagging,” Shaw said. Snagging, or catching fish that don’t voluntarily take the hook in the mouth, is illegal in Michigan. Many of the poachers use bare, weighted treble hooks to snag the fish, which often congregate and are easily visible in clear streams.

Shaw said he issued a citation last week to a poacher carrying the carcasses of three large king salmon from his pickup truck to the Betsie River, having put fillets from the fish in a cooler.

“It’s pretty widespread,” Shaw said, “and it comes at a time when we have six vacancies in this district.”

Tight budgets have left at least two counties–Mason and Benzie–with only one conservation officer, he added.

Shaw noted that illegally caught salmon can get pretty pricey, with a fine of no less than $250 for the first offense, plus $10 per pound of illegal fish and up to 90 days in jail.  Repeat offenders will pay at least $500 and will lose their fishing license for at least two years (though MRN has a hard time believing that losing a fishing license is a big concern for a poacher).

If you see someone snagging salmon on a Michigan river, you should contact the DNR’s Report All Poaching service.

And seriously, if you’re that crazy about salmon fillets, just go to Meijer.  They’re like seven or eight bucks, with very little chance of jail time.

via In a heavy salmon run, poachers snag big fines / Michigan River News.


Deer hunting with a camera

I haven’t hunted deer with a gun since the late 70’s, it isn’t that I am opposed to hunting, it just isn’t for me. I love venison, my aunt Shirley’s venison stew was one of my all time favorite meals. Her “secret” ingredient was parsnips, I add them to beef stew as well, yummy. If any one were to offer me some venison, I would gladly accept it, but I don’t want to be the person killing deer for venison though. I know, I’m strange.

By the late 70’s, I had become more of a shooter than a hunter, well, that’s not quite it either. More of a shooter than a killer. I still love to shoot a gun, and I like to hunt, but I no longer combine the two. Instead, I hunt with my cameras, and shoot pictures in the woods, and shoot targets at the range with a gun.

Many of the reasons I no longer hunt with a gun have to do with other hunters, and the way deer are hunted here in Michigan. I don’t really like being out in the woods with 3/4 of a million to 1 million people who get their gun out once a year for deer season, and can’t hit the broad side of a barn at 50 feet. I have heard enough bullets zinging through the brush or landing a few feet from me to last a lifetime, thank you very much.

I will not bait deer, I feel any one who has to resort to baiting isn’t much of a hunter, and I’ve heard all the excuses for baiting. They all add up to the fact that most deer hunters don’t know how to hunt.

Deer really aren’t very bright from what I have learned, but then, they don’t have to be to survive the typical Michigan hunter. I hate to say that, but it’s true. Even while I was still hunting with a gun, I saw how easily deer hide from and elude the typical hunter.

One time I was sitting near the top of a small ridge that overlooked a small fairly flat clearing on the side of the ridge. There were several deer trails radiating from the clearing like spokes on a wheel. As I was sitting there, a doe walked into the clearing and began to feed. I was hoping that there would be a buck following her, as often happens during the rut. The rut is the deer mating season. Anyway, I’m watching the doe, and she didn’t notice me at all from what I could tell. But, she started to become agitated, looking down the slope of the hill as if there were something there. I was still hoping it would be a buck, but soon even I could hear that it was another hunter crashing through the brush, coming towards the clearing.

The doe calmly walked over to one of the few scrub oaks in the clearing, and laid down in the tall grass at the base of it, and stayed perfectly still. I had seen her lay down, but I still had trouble making her out as she laid there. Eventually the other hunter walked into the clearing, through the clearing, not more than 40 feet from where the doe was laying, and then he went crashing through the brush on the other side. He never saw the doe, or me sitting against a tree wearing a blaze orange hat and a red hunting coat. I could still hear him when the doe got up and began feeding again as if nothing had happened.

I have seen deer crawling along on their belly’s, not more than 5 feet from where I was standing, and I’ve seen them do the same thing to other hunters. They are very good at being unseen when they want to be unseen, after all, their lives’ depend on it.

So how do I see deer when others can’t? My “trick” if you want to call it that is to not act like a typical human out in the woods. It confuses the heck out of critters,all critters, not just deer. I have deer walk up to me trying to figure out what I am, since I don’t act human.

So how do you act like a non-human in the woods? The first thing is to be quiet, most people make so much noise in the woods the deer have them pinpointed long before the people approach anywhere near the deer. That doesn’t mean you have to be completely silent in the way you walk, no one can, not even wildlife is completely silent.

Next time you are in the woods, stop and listen, really listen. The woods are a noisy place. Birds knock pieces of bark and nuts off from the trees that hit the ground with loud thunks. There are squirrels that do the same thing, or that are rummaging around in the leaf litter for fallen nuts. The wind causes the leaves on the trees to rustle, and it knocks branches loose that come crashing to the ground. Even deer break twigs and branches when they move through the woods, but they don’t go crashing through the woods like a bull in a china shop the way most humans do, unless they have been frightened.

So you don’t have to be completely silent, but the noise you make should sound like the normal background noises already present in the woods. That means all sounds, not just the way you walk. Pay attention to all the sounds you make. No metal objects rattling in your pockets, nothing clinking or clanging in your backpack, and no footwear slapping the soles of your feet with every step, they are sure to warn animals of your approach.

And before I forget, one other thing before I get back to sounds, and that is pay attention to any un-natural glares that may be coming from your equipment. I find that the screens of both my GPS unit and my camera could both be used as a signaling mirror in an emergency. I make sure to carry both of them in such a way that the glare from the screens don’t signal wildlife that I am coming.

Watch animals in the woods, they don’t go walking along non-stop, they take a few steps, stop, look and listen, then take a few more steps, and stop again. Do the same thing, and you’ll sound like a critter, not a human. Walk as softly as you can, stop every few steps, look, listen, repeat, you’ll see a lot more wildlife that way.

The other trick I use is to go where humans usually don’t. We’re a fairly predictable species, the animals know where we humans go when we’re in the woods, and that is most people stick to areas easy to walk. I take the game trails through the thicker cover in an area, not the really thick stuff that is hard to get through without making so much noise that the deer all know I’m coming. I stick to edges, between where most humans walk, and the thickest of cover, and it seems to take animals by surprise.

Whitetail doe

Not great, but I caught her chewing, she heard the auto-focus of my camera going, which is what alerted her to my being there. Here’s her fawn.

Whitetail fawn

And the two of them moving off.

Whitetail doe and fawn

My being in a place where deer or other animals don’t expect me to be is one of the reasons I get the photos that I do.

Another trick, don’t look like a human. I shot those while kneeling on one knee so I didn’t present the human form as deer know it. Animals know humans as the two-legged beasts that walk upright, change that appearance, and they are not quite so sure that you are a human.

The doe trotted across the small field next to where we were.

Whitetail doe

Then waited for her fawn to cross.

Whitetail doe

Which it did.

Whitetail fawn

They joined up.

Whitetail doe and fawn

And walked into the brush together.

White tail doe and fawn

That reminds me, another tip. If you can, stay still, but like in the series above, I had to move to get all those photos. If you have to move, don’t go all stealthy, like a cat does. Animals know the typical stalking behavior of predators, mimic it, and your subject will be gone before you get any photos. Watch animals of different species interact, like squirrels and deer for example. They will each be watching the other, but they go about their regular business as they do so. Move towards animals, especially as if you’re stalking them, and they will flee. If you do move, walk parallel to them, or even away from them a little. Act like you are just another critter in the woods, not a human or other predator. That also means no quick movements either, quick movements are signs of a predator making an attack. Move slowly, but naturally.

Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, it is just a bad situation, and there’s not a lot you can do. That’s the way it was for this next photo, The buck and I came face to face at a curve in the trail, the brush growing on the inside of the curve blocked our view of one another until we were very close together.

Whitetail buck

The fence in the picture is there to try to keep the deer off from the golf course next to where I was, these weren’t taken in a deer ranch or similar place, they were taken in a public park.

Anyway, the buck and I met, he turned, I didn’t even have a clear view of him while I was standing. I dropped to one knee to shoot under the tree in the foreground, and managed a picture, even if it isn’t a good one. I didn’t even have time to zoom.

Is it a great picture? Nope, I wouldn’t even call it a good picture, but it was a great snapshot in hunting terms. A snapshot in hunting is shooting quickly, and I did that! There’s still a lot of hunter left in me. If I did still hunt with a gun, I would be stopping at the store tonight for some parsnips to make venison stew with.

There’s another reason to shoot quickly when the occasion calls for it, to stay in practice. To be good at anything requires practice, and lots of it. Because I take so many photos, I don’t have to think about where the controls on my cameras are, it is second nature to me. Because I constantly practice approaching animals closely, it is second nature to me. Heck, I even play games with animals I have no intention of photographing.

The other night at work, I noticed a cat sneaking around the building as I was getting ready to walk out the door. I have to admit, I get some kind of sick pleasure out of sneaking up on cats while they are hunting, and scaring the bejeebers out of them. For one thing, it is hard to do, and for another, cats seem to be the most prideful animals other than man. We both need to be put in our place from time to time.

Anyway, I slipped out the door, and snuck up to about ten feet behind the cat, clapped my hands and yelled “Boo” at the same time. I had a good laugh as it jumped, saw me, and took off like a shot.

I guess I am like a kid that never grew up, one that still likes to play hide and seek, but rather than play it with people, I play it with animals. I play it all the time with the turkeys that live around my apartment. Now there’s a wary and worthy adversary! Turkeys are tough to sneak up on at any time. I can find no chink in their armor, they have excellent vision and hearing, and a very good sense of smell. They are always on guard, and show none of the curiosity that deer display.

From what I can tell, deer are nearly blind, you don’t have to do much to hide from the vision of a deer. As long as they can’t see you as a the two-legged beast that walks upright, they rely on their senses of hearing and smell to identify you. If you’re quiet and downwind from them, they will approach you to identify what you are. That, and deer are mule-headed, they make up their mind that they are going to feed in a certain spot, or travel a particular trail, it takes a lot to change their mind. Even if you scare them away, they will often circle, and come back as soon as they think you are gone.

So after I had spooked the buck in the picture above, I went a short way and sat down in a clump of grass, hoping it would come back. I never saw him again, but only a few minutes later, this doe appeared, coming from the other direction.

Whitetail doe

The grey in the picture is from my shooting through the grass I was sitting in. Behind her, was her fawn.

Whitetail fawn

Then another.

Whitetail doe and fawns

They could hear the auto-focus and shutter of my camera, but they couldn’t identify those sounds as human sounds. I thought that I was in a bad spot, with six eyes looking at me, six ears listening for me, and six nostrils trying to catch my scent. Actually, there were even more, because what I wasn’t seeing was another doe and her fawn just off to the side. But sitting in a spot humans don’t normally go, not looking or sounding human was enough, the deer kept coming, trying to catch me doing something human.

Deer have a couple of tricks they use to help them identify what they are not sure of. One is to stomp the ground with their forelegs. I am not sure why, other than to frighten off other animals so they can identify them. But, when you’re around when the deer are doing that, it drives home the point of walking softly. Not only can you hear their hooves hit the ground, you can feel it as well.

Another trick is to drop their heads down out of view, then raise back up quickly trying to catch you moving. That, and snorting by expelling the air in their lungs quickly. If you ignore all those things and remain still, they will eventually move closer.

Whitetail doe

That’s the first doe stepping into the clearing, she made one short lunge forward, and then walked up the hill.

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

Followed by her first fawn.

Whitetail fawn

While I was taking this next shot, the second of her fawns came out of the woods as well, but I missed it while shooting this one.

Whitetail fawn

Then the second doe entered the clearing.

Whitetail doe

She doesn’t look very healthy for a late summer deer.

Whitetail doe

And she was followed by her fawn.

Whitetail fawn

Who had to stop for a bite to eat on its way.

Whitetail fawn

And then went to join its mother.

Whitetail fawn

It hasn’t learned to avoid the sticktites yet. I thought that this would be my last shot of them as they disappeared over the hill.

Whitetail deer

But they stopped.

Whitetail deer

And began to try and identify what I was all over again.

Whitetail fawns

I think it was both that they were curious, and that they wanted to feed right where I was sitting.

Whitetail fawns

The fawn on the right must have thought that last mouthful was pretty tasty, because they started coming back towards me.

Whitetail fawns

But they didn’t let their guard down.

Whitetail fawn

I was mostly interested in the fawns, but their mothers were still there as well.

Whitetail doe

All five of them were milling about on the top of the hill.

Whitetail deer

That’s a terrible shot, I cut mom’s head off trying to get a good picture of the fawn covered in sticktites.

Whitetail fawn

The second doe looks way too thin for this time of year.

Whitetail doe

And I had figured out they want to feed where I was sitting, so I stood up.

Whitetail deer

Said to them “Thanks girls.”

Whitetail doe and fawns

and went on my way, which confused the heck out of them, partially because I had them in a bad spot. I was still between them and cover, they weren’t quite sure which way to run. I got this last one of the last fawn as it went back into the brush.

Whitetail fawn

So that was an evening of deer hunting with a camera. I hope you have enjoyed the photos as much as I enjoyed taking them, and thanks for stopping by.


Stalking the stalker

I know, I used that line about the great blue heron photos from The Big (photo) Dump, the birds, but I like it so I am re-using it for this post. In today’s post, the quarry was a little green heron, but I warmed up on this bird first, a mourning dove.

Mourning dove

Not bad, but I can get closer.

Mourning dove

Not bad, a mourning dove portrait from around 10 feet away.

On to the little green heron. I first saw it on the other side of a local pond. Not only was it too far away for really good shots, but the light was all wrong, as you can see.

Little green heron

But my motto is shoot a few anyway, you may not get a better chance. I wanted a better shot though, so I backed away from the pond and circled it, having noted some landmarks on the other side to go by to help me sneak up on the heron once I had gotten around to the other side. Sure enough, there it was.

Little green heron

Still not great, but I shot a couple more so I would have something.

Little green heron

Still too many weeds in the way, it seemed to be trying to keep weeds between us, as if I couldn’t see it through the sparse weeds.

Little green heron

This won’t do. I noted which way it seemed to be heading as it was hunting, and looking around the pond, I saw some cattails further down that I could hide behind, and let the heron come to me. So I backed away, and crawled into the cattails with just my head sticking out, and camera, of course.

Little green heron

It wasn’t quite as close, but at least it was going about its business and not watching me.

Little green heron

I could tell it was stalking something in the water by slow it was moving, and how low it was squatting down.

Little green heron

You can see that its belly is almost touching the ground, it must be getting close to what it is stalking.

Little green heron catching a fish

I can’t believe I got a picture at the moment of the strike, what luck!

The heron turned and ran up the shore a little way.

Little green heron with a fish

I suppose they run up the shore so if they drop the fish while they are positioning it to eat it, the fish won’t be able to swim away.

Little green heron with a fish

They swallow their prey whole, headfirst. The heron was working the fish around in its bill so it could swallow it.

Little green heron swallowing a fish

As it was swallowing the fish, it noticed me, and turned and headed the other way.

Little green heron

Of course I would have liked to have been closer, but I find little green herons to be very shy or skittish most of the time, so I don’t think these are too bad at all.