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

Archive for November, 2011

Some more rainy day thoughts

It’s pouring outside, it has been since last evening. I just made it home from my walk when the rain started, light at first, but it has been a heavy rain all night into this afternoon. I don’t mind being out in a light to even moderate rain, but the rain falling now would soak me to the bone if I wore just a water-repellent parka, and I’m not sure my rain jacket will fit over the parka.

That’s OK, I have a lot to blog about anyway.

Yesterday, I read Bob Zeller’s Texas Tweeties post, and in it he noted the poor condition of a bird blind he used to use a lot in a state park near where he lives. Some of the reason for the poor condition of the blind sounded as if it were due to vandalism. That happens way too much, everywhere. It is something I have ranted about in the past, and I’m about to again. One reason there is so much vandalism is that we, the public, don’t alert the authorities when we see it happening. Some how we have been brainwashed into thinking that it is wrong to “rat” on others. Some of that goes to our childhood when our parents told us not to tattle on others. Of course if we didn’t tattle on a sibling who was doing something seriously wrong, then we were in trouble for that. 🙂

Part of the don’t rat on others comes from the old gangster movies from the 1930’s and 40’s, you know, when James Cagney or Humphry Bogart killed a few innocent citizens while robbing a bank, the murders were a less serious crime than ratting them out for the killings was. That notion continues to this day, that it is wrong to get involved or to rat out wrong doers. I’m sorry, I no longer buy into that silly idea. The vandals are destroying public property, property that our tax dollars bought and paid for.  In a way, it is no different when a vandal breaks a window in a state park building than it is if the vandal were to break a window in your own home, you get stuck with the bill.

Back this spring, when the State of Michigan was talking about closing some of the state forest campgrounds in this state, I had a chat with the unit manager of the Pigeon River Country State Forest, and he told me that some of the criteria for choosing the campgrounds that were to close were vandalism and theft. It cost the state too much money to repair the damage done by vandals, and to replace items stolen from the campgrounds. What are people stealing? Fire rings, picnic tables, even the trash cans in the campgrounds. How hard up do you have to be to steal a trash can? I think the trash cans were taken just because some one could take them.

The same thing applies to poaching as far as I am concerned. We the taxpayers shell out millions of dollars for the state to manage and protect our wildlife. The deer aren’t the King’s deer, the fish aren’t the state’s fish, they are our deer and fish, and when poachers violate the game laws, they aren’t stealing from the king or the state, they are stealing from us, the public.

If we were to see some one dumping poison that would kill the deer or fish, most of us would be very quick to report that, but if we see some one killing the same amount of game while poaching, that is some how OK. Not to me, I’ve had it up to here with people bragging to me how many fish they caught and dumped because they didn’t feel like cleaning them all. I’ve had it up to here with seeing deer carcasses piled up in parking lots of trailheads because the poachers didn’t want to get caught with the carcasses. I’ve gone so far as to program the number to report poachers into my cell phone, and I’m not afraid to dial it. In Michigan, that number is 1-800-292-7800. Call me a rat, a ratfink, a snitch, a squealer, I don’t care, I’ve been called a lot worse in my lifetime.

On a somewhat related note, I promised to do a series on places to kayak in Michigan, and I started a post on my favorite river to kayak, the Jordan River. Then I read the story that I posted earlier, about the drunken rowdies that kayak, canoe, and/or tube the Jordan. I’m tired of them as well, and I have ranted about them before also. Now, I’m not so sure I want to do that series on places to paddle, I know the trouble makers are in the minority, but I don’t want to contribute to the problem by giving the rowdies ideas about places to go. I will probably get around to doing the series, after all, the people I don’t want to attract to the rivers I love to paddle more than likely aren’t able to read anyway.

On a more positive note, there’s a new swamp in town. There’s a small creek that flows behind my apartment, it isn’t much of a creek, it is more like a drainage ditch. This summer I noticed that it had all but dried up, we had a drought this summer, but I didn’t think it was that bad that the creek would dry up.

A few weeks ago, I began to hear more and more ducks back there, hearing ducks there isn’t unusual, but the numbers this fall were way more than normal. When the leaves dropped off the trees, I could see why there were so many ducks, and why the creek stopped flowing for weeks. Something blocked the creek, and several acres of woods behind the apartment complex have been flooded. When the water in the new swamp got high enough, the creek started flowing over what ever is partially blocking it. I can see ducks and geese in the swamp, swimming around, and I heard wood ducks back there before they left for down south. The ground is too soft for me to get back to see what has dammed the creek up, but the new swamp is pretty cool.

Now I’m going back to being Mr. Negative, sorry about that, must be the weather. Anyway, one of the news stories I read this morning was a list of things we can do to save money on energy. Here’s what I copied from the article that originated from Consumers Reports Magazine…

Make your TV more efficient
That’s right—today’s TVs can eat up just as much energy as refrigerators. If you have a set-top box, like most homes, consider trading it for one that meets Energy Star’s tougher new 3.0 specification. And if you buy a new TV, make sure it’s set to “home mode” which is more efficient than the retail mode typically used when sets are shipped. The $30 to $60 in yearly savings could pay for dinner—and a movie

……Really? Spend $1,000 on a new TV to save $60 a year? Wouldn’t there be like a 17 year payback before you saw a penny of savings? How much energy was used to build the new TV? Or the packaging for it, or transporting it from overseas?

I love it when people make recommendations without using an ounce of common sense. I’d be willing to bet that by the time you added up all the energy it takes to produce, package, and ship a new TV, that the environment would be better served if you kept your old TV, or do what I did, unplug the darn thing and never turn it on again. If you spend $1,000 on the new TV, you’re not going to see any “savings” until you account for the purchase price. I save that $30 to $60 on energy, and more. I don’t have a cable or dish bill, and my TV uses NO power at all. It just sits in the living room collecting dust so I have something to do between outdoor adventures, cleaning the TV that’s never turned on. 😉

The rain is letting up, looking out the window I can see turkeys and squirrels moving around, so I think I will get myself out of this funk with a good long hike. Thanks for stopping by!


What a wacky idea!

I was up before dawn this morning, so I started reading the news as something to do while I waited to see what kind of day it is going to be before I decide what I am going to do today. That was a bad idea, for one of the first stories that caught my eye was “Officials unsure what DNR reorganization will mean for campgrounds, trails, and of course I had to read it, since I most often camp in State Forest campgrounds, and hiking is one of my favorite activities.

First, a little background. There have long been complaints that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources was a huge bloated bureaucratic mess. That complaint even came from some of the people within the DNR. Back in the 1970’s, there was a push to split the DNR into two separate agencies, one charged with protecting the environment, and the other overseeing the State’s parks, hunting, fishing, timber, and so on. The idea was that the same agency that pushed for consumption of our natural resources, such as oil, timber, natural gas, etc, couldn’t be trusted to properly protect the environment at the same time.

Nothing happened with that idea until the 1990’s when then Governor John Engler did split the DNR, creating the Department of Environmental Quality, a move I supported. However, since Gov. Engler was a Republican, many environmental groups were all up in arms over that move, one that they had once pushed for. Our last governor, Jennifer Granholm, recombined the two agencies into one again, then the first of this year, our newest governor, Rick Snyder, split them again.

The way the different categories of our state’s parks have been managed has still been a mess, some managed by the Parks and Recreation Division, and some managed by the Forest Management Division, depending on what type of park it was. State Parks and some trails fell under the Parks and Recreation Division, State Forest campgrounds and some trails fell under the Forest Management Division.

The idea at one time was that the Forest Management Division would be somewhat self funded, with the money from the harvest of timber on state land funding that division. Of course that didn’t work out well. When the state implemented the Recreational Passport system last year, it required a complex formula for where the money from it went. Most went to the Parks and Recreation Division for the state parks, some is awarded to local governments for local parks, and the last part of the money goes to the Forest Management Division, earmarked for the State Forest campgrounds and recreational opportunities within the state forests.

This kind of mish-mash of a bureaucratic mess has long been one of my pet peeves. I have several lengthy posts started on the subject, don’t get me started on the Federal bureaucracy alphabet soup that controls our federal public lands.

One of the problems with these bureaucratic nightmares is how much money gets wasted with different departments billing each other , trying to use other departments to enhance their revenue stream, and turf wars between departments that often lead to protracted court battles.

Just a small example here, I have to try to stay focused, or this will become another lengthy draft that never gets finished. While overall I support the idea of splitting the DNR into the DNR and the Department of Environmental Quality, one of the results is that the state has to license their own campgrounds. I understand the concept, some one has to make sure that our campgrounds are environmentally sound, and that responsibility has fallen on the DEQ, which requires that the DNR licenses the campgrounds, which the DEQ permits and inspects to make sure that the campgrounds do meet environmental standards. But the idea of the state buying a license from itself seems silly to me. That’s what happens when bean counters take over and reality as we know it ends.

Back to the news story. The story doesn’t recount where the idea originated from, but the DNR is going to be reconfigured somewhat. The Parks and Recreation Division of the DNR is now going to take control over the state forest campgrounds, trails in the state forests, and other recreational opportunities within the state forests.

The Forest Management Division will be split into the newly created Forest Resources Division and an Office of Land Management, which will oversee oil, gas, and mineral responsibilities, as well as real estate work currently in the Finance and Operations Division.

The news story hints that this was the brainstorm of the new Director of the DNR, Rodney Stokes. I applauded his appointment by Gov. Snyder last fall when the announcement of Mr. Stokes’ appointment was made public, he’s the most non-political Director of the DNR that Michigan has had in some time now.

The idea of combining all the state’s parks, campgrounds, trails, and recreational opportunities under one division makes sense to me, probably too much sense. Why have one set of campground managers in the Parks and Recreational Division, and another set in the Forest Management Division?

There will most likely be some wailing and gnashing of teeth over this, along with the funding issues that go with it. The state nearly shut down several of the state forest campgrounds this last spring as the state didn’t have the money to keep them open. That included my favorite campground, Round Lake State Forest Campground. I hope this new alignment of the DNR helps to put all our campgrounds and parks on stable financial footing.

This may require some tweaks to the Recreational Passport system, which did slightly better than it was projected to do as far as participation and revenue raised for our state parks. As I wrote above, there’s a complex formula for allocating the money raised by the system. And by the way, we need a lot more people to take advantage of that new recreational Passport system, word is that there is about 30% participation by Michigan residents, good, but not great. Ten bucks a year to get you into any state park or recreation area in the state? Come on people, we can do better than that. I know times are tough, but this is the best deal the state has come up with in my lifetime. Take advantage of it, support our state, our state and local parks, and get out there and enjoy yourselves!

Anyway, being the practical, results oriented person that I am, having all the state’s campgrounds managed by the Parks and Recreational Division of the DNR makes perfect sense to me, it’s one of those wacky ideas that just might work, the devil will be in the details as always though. There may even be problems with this idea in the form of pressure from the Federal Government. The Feds are already threatening the state with withholding federal dollars from several federal agencies over some land use issues each of the goobledy gook of federal agencies are pushing. For example, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is threatening to cut off its funding to the State of Michigan because Michigan allows some equestrian use on lands purchased with Fish and Wildlife dollars.

Michigan’s State Forests were “assembled” by purchasing small tracts of land using funding from many sources, some of the parcels were purchased with federal dollars. Now the state is spending millions of dollars to identify where the funding for each parcel came from, and relocating equestrian camps and trails to parcels of land not purchased with money from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Because hunters are being pushed off from more and more federal and state lands, they are pushing back to stop any non-hunting uses of land purchased with their money. This nonsense of different factions all fighting over the public use of public land has got to stop, or pretty soon, all the money we pay in taxes, fees, and licenses will end up going to fight the battles over land use, and no money will be available to enhance our recreational opportunities. That’s the subject of another post though, one I should get around to finishing one of these days.

For now, I’ll just say that I really like the idea of combining all of Michigan’s parks, campground, trails, etc, under one division, it is a story I’ll be following closely.

I hope I haven’t bored every one to death with another of my rants, as always, thanks for stopping by!


The Weekly Photo Challenge: Family

I am going to fool every one and start with my real family.

My dad, who passed away in 1994

My mom

In reverse order, my brother Ken, sister Diane, and myself

My brother Jim

Now for some of the critter families, who are like family to me.

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe waiting for her fawn

Whitetail fawn

Whitetail doe and fawn together

Whitetail doe and fawn together

Whitetail doe and fawns together

Mama mallard and her ducklings

Mama mallard and her ducklings

A swan family

A swan family

A swan family

A family of geese

That’s it, thanks for stopping by!


Worth the wait, Ludington State Park

Regular readers of this blog know that I planned to go up to Ludington State Park yesterday, and camp in the back of my explorer. But things didn’t go as planned on Wednesday or Thursday, so I finally made it up there today, Friday November 25, 2011. It was worth the wait, it was one of the best hikes I have ever done.

Since I originally posted this, I returned to Ludington State Park for a day of kayaking, which you can read about here.

I “rediscovered” Ludington State Park back in April, when I went on an excursion to photograph some of the lighthouses on Lake Michigan. As I wrote back then, my family used to go there often when I was a kid, but I have found many places on my own since then, and haven’t been to Ludington in years. The dirty little industrial town has cleaned up its act, and now is pretty little tourist town. The state has done a lot with the park as well, adding hiking, cross-country skiing, and a canoe trail. Here’s a link to a map of the hiking trails, here’s a link to a map of the canoe trail. Ludington State Park is on a strip of land, mostly dunes, between Lake Michigan to the west and Hamlin Lake to the east. Hamlin Lake empties into Lake Michigan by the Big Sable River that flows through the park.

Map of Ludington State Park

The weather started out beautiful, bright and sunny, although the wind was pretty stiff out of the south. I made a stop at the Ludington City Park to see if the waves were crashing into the lighthouse or the breakwater, they were, a little, not enough to spend time trying to get a photo. So I continued on to the state park. I tried finding a map, but they were all gone, the park gets a lot of use, even this time of year I found out.

I started out headed north on the Island Trail, and what a cool trail it is. There are a series of bridges and boardwalks connecting some of the islands in Hamlin Lake.

Bridge to the first island

Some of the islands are large enough that they have bogs and marshes on them. I could bore you to tears with all the marsh and bog photos I took.

One of the many marshes in Ludington State Park

Another marsh in Ludington State Park

There are more islands farther out that aren’t connected to the trail system.

An island in Hamlin Lake

I was under the impression that the canoe trail weaves its way around these same islands, but I was wrong. There are even more islands south of the island trail trailhead from where I started from, and the canoe trail weaves around those islands, not the ones I hiked today. Why the state hasn’t added these islands and marshes to the canoe trail, or marked these as a second one, I have no idea. The entire time I was hiking the island trail, I couldn’t help but think what a fabulous paddle it will make.

I can’t wait to paddle these marshes!

One of my fears was confirmed though, I didn’t see a wading bird of any species today, I am pretty sure they have all flown south for the winter. I did see some trumpeter swans, geese, and mallards though.

Trumpeter swans, Canadian geese, and mallards

And a huge flock of American coots.

American coots

That’s less than 10% of the flock, I zoomed in so you can tell what they are. The place looks like a waterfowl wonderland.

More marshes

There was a lot of fresh sign that beavers are in the area.

Beavers have been chewing on this tree

You can see the sap running, it hasn’t been too long since a beaver was gnawing on this tree. And here’s a shot just because I love it, nothing special, just an old stump in a marsh.

An old stump in a marsh

Towards the north end of the island trail, you can see where the dunes from Lake Michigan are encroaching on Hamlin Lake.

Sand dunes

I got to the end of the island trail, then cut over on the connector to the ridge trail. There’s a shelter there along the way, made from field stone.

Field stone shelter on the Ludington SP trails.

Here’s the view out the front.

View from the shelter

And out the back.

A downy woodpecker behind the shelter

The woodpecker stopped by as I was taking a break and changing the batteries in my GPS unit, and I shot the picture through the back window of the shelter.

Then it was time to start the climb on the ridge trail. I almost wish I had gone the other way around, as the ridge trail seemed somewhat anti-climatic after the island trail. It s a much more typical Michigan trail through mixed forests along the top of a sand dune ridge. You do catch a glimpse of the Big Sable Point Lighthouse from time to time.

Big Sable Point Lighthouse

But you have to look carefully through the trees.

Big Sable Point Lighthouse

You may even see one of the reasons for the light being there.

A freighter up bound on Lake Michigan

As you can see, it was getting cloudy and hazy, and not long after these last two, the clouds really thickened up and so I didn’t take many more photos. I got back to where I started from, but wasn’t ready to leave yet, so I wandered along the Big Sable River, from the dam to a footbridge across the river just downstream a way. I took a few photos, but they aren’t worth posting here, except this one of a herring gull taking off…

Herring gull running for take off speed

This one of the sand drifting like snow in the wind…

Sand blowing in the wind

And a close up of an American coot taken from the bridge…

American coot

Other than the sun disappearing on me, the only other negative was the number of people there in the park today, it surprised me. Most people walk the first half of the island trail to the lost lake trail, or walk along the river from what I could tell, so the time I was on the north end of the island trail, and all the time on the ridge trail, I was all by myself. The ridge trail has some steep hills to climb, so I think most people avoid it. I imagine that this park is like an ant farm in the summer, with people crawling all over it. I sort of knew that already, but I didn’t think there would be crowds the day after Thanksgiving.

Anyway, the island trail is worth dealing with the crowds, it is my new all time favorite trail! The only question will be will I hike it again? Sound funny? I am thinking that the next time I go there, it will be with my kayak next spring when the waterfowl and wading birds are back. With all those islands…

Islands in Hamlin Lake

All those marshes…

A marsh along Hamlin Lake’s shore

and dozens of nooks, crannies, and coves to paddle around in, I am sure I can spend most of the day on the water in my kayak, just getting out from time to tie to stretch my legs and explore the islands that aren’t connected by bridges…

A footbridge connecting islands in Hamlin Lake

What I should do is what I planned on doing this weekend, hike one day and kayak on the other. There are still a lot of trails there I haven’t covered yet, and it looks like it will be about the perfect still water paddle. How many days til spring?

Thanks for stopping by!


So much for that idea

I had planned to head up to Ludington State Park this morning for a weekend of hiking and kayaking, but my plans have changed. I woke up this morning, looked at the clock, and it was already after 9 AM, much later than I had planned, and I’ll get to why that was as I go. The second thing I noticed was I had a big old knot in the back of my left calf, and my right leg felt like lead, more on that later as well. The third thing I noticed was that instead of the bright sunny day that was forecast, it was cloudy, foggy, and damp outside. What the weather was like wouldn’t have bothered me, but if I am going to drive several hundred miles to a place and back on what is essentially a photography trip, then I would hope for better weather. Most of all though, I just didn’t “feel” it.

The trouble started yesterday, shortly after I decided to go in the first place. I had just unpacked all my kayaking gear for the winter last week, thinking I wouldn’t be going again until spring. That also brought up the point that I have been getting very lax about keeping all my gear ready to go on a moments notice. Since I haven’t been able to afford to go anywhere, I haven’t been keeping up on things the way I should.

I went into work, stopped for fuel, and didn’t even get the truck up to speed on the expressway before I hit the first of many traffic slow downs and stoppages. That set the tone for the night. Traffic was backed up about five miles for a wreck, but when I got to where the wreck happened, the firefighters who had responded were all sitting on the guard rail having a joke fest while they still had one lane of traffic closed for no other reason than they could. Don’t get me started on that one.

Anyway, I hit several more big traffic back ups last night, I was lucky in that I got to them right at an exit, or very close to one. I ended up running the old highways and avoiding the expressways for most of the night, which is the only reason I made it home as early as I did. But even at that, I was over an hour late getting home compared to a normal night. Then I had to stop at the grocery store for food for my trip.

That’s another reason I am typing this rather than driving up there right now. I hadn’t planned for this trip when I went grocery shopping last weekend, I’ve got a bunch of perishable food in the apartment that would be spoiled by the time I got home if I went up north camping. I guess I need to learn how to pack perishable food while camping.

That’s why I overslept this morning, between the traffic and grocery shopping, I was late getting home, and late getting to bed. Since I had been running late, when I got to the South Bend branch, I was flinging 2,000 pound carts of laundry around like they were toy cars, trying to make up time. I guess I over did it, which is why I have the big knot in my leg.

All the time I was driving last night, I was trying to figure out how I could pack everything I was planning on taking for a few days long trip into my explorer, and still have room to sleep in the back of it. I need a better plan. I suppose I could have taken my tent, the weather is supposed to be warm enough for that, but tent camping takes time. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to set up camp, but it takes hours to clean and dry everything for tent camping when I am packing up to go home. I don’t think that it is just me, or that I don’t know how to break camp, I watch other people, and it takes them as long or longer to break camp than it does me. It would be different if I had a place where I could set the tent back up at home and let it dry, but I have to pack up everything knowing it has to be packed for the long term.

Then I was thinking about what wildlife there would be to see, and would it be worthwhile to hike very close to the canoe trail on one day by taking the island trail in the park, then paddle the canoe trail the next. It’s been a very mild fall in Michigan, but many of the waterfowl and wading birds are on their way southward. I was chasing a great blue heron yesterday.

Great blue heron in flight

But, I also saw this large flock of egrets on their way south.

A flock of egrets flying south for the winter

Since Ludington is almost 100 miles north of where I live, I wonder how many of the critters I would hope to see would still be there. There would still be the resident birds, like cardinals.

Male cardinal

And blue jays.

Blue jay

Probably some mallards.

Mallards

And geese.

Canadian goose

It is also firearms deer season in Michigan right now, and parts of the park are open to hunting, so the deer would likely be skittish and not as easy to photograph as this one.

Whitetail doe bedded down

I was still planning on leaving today though, until the final reality set in. I was drinking my coffee and pacing the apartment, trying to work out the knot in my leg when the final reality did hit me. By the time I ate breakfast, was packed and ready to go, it would be almost noon, and I would arrive in Ludington around 2 to 3 PM. Sunset is at 5:30 PM, there wouldn’t be time to do anything today if I did drive up there. I would get there with very little daylight left, and be wide awake with nothing to do but sit around in the dark. Adding everything up, it doesn’t seem worth it to go today. A late start, few critters to shoot, sore legs, and not being prepared, not good.

It is now 1 PM, and the sun is trying to burn off the low clouds and fog, so I’ll go for a hike here instead and work the kinks out of my legs that way. I am also going to get a start on being more prepared for the next time, getting my gear back in order the way it belongs, and going to bed early tonight. Tomorrow I’ll get up early and head up there for just a long day hiking, the island and ridge trails, and that will be a good day scouting to see if the canoe trail is as good of a paddle as I think it will be. It should be excellent in the spring when the birds are back from their winter homes, which is why I wanted to go there in the first place.

So I am going to get off my duff and get going here, I hope every one has a happy turkey day, and thanks for stopping by!


Happy Thanksgiving to every one!

Just a quick post to wish every one a happy Thanksgiving, and thank those who have commented on my blog. I know I should probably thank each commenter individually, but when I look at the stats and see that I’m the number one commenter, it just doesn’t seem right. I know many of my comments are actually pingbacks, links to older posts, and I suppose that it makes sense that if you answer every one’s comment, that you will have the most comments, but it still bugs me for some reason.

I am thinking of travelling up north to Ludington State Park this weekend, Thursday and Friday are supposed to be fantastic weather, with rain late on Saturday. I am thinking of throwing my bedroll into the back of the explorer and sleeping in it this weekend, if I can find a spot to park.  I know I am going to do some hiking, I may bring my kayak along and paddle the canoe trail in Hamlin Lake, I’ll decide that tonight. I’d better get cracking and packing!

Happy Thanksgiving! And thanks for stopping by.


For Turkey Day, the Turkey Dance

Since Thanksgiving is Thursday, a day that normally features a huge meal centered around a stuffed turkey, I thought I would post a few turkey photos.

Back when I was a kid growing up, there were no turkeys here in Michigan, they had been wiped out by over hunting. It’s been a while, so my memory may not be 100% correct on this, but I think that back in the early 1970’s, the State of Michigan swapped some trout eggs from one of the hatcheries with either some turkey eggs or poults from the State of Missouri. However Michigan obtained the turkeys, the rest as they say is history, and a great history at that. The re-introduction of wild turkeys here in Michigan has been a huge success!

Wild Turkey

Now there are turkeys in every county in Michigan again.

Wild Turkey

But you need more than one turkey for a turkey dance. There are actually two turkey dances from what I have seen. One is done by females and juveniles as they determine their pecking order within the flock. If you have ever seen domestic chickens, it is about the same thing, but I have never seen turkeys actually peck each other the way domestic chickens do. But they do circle and bully the lower ranking member of the flock, and force them to the outside edges of the flock. That’s not the focus of this post though, the turkey dance I am going to highlight is the one done by the males, known as Toms or gobblers.

Wild Turkey

For this dance, the gobblers spread their tail feathers, drop their wing-tips almost to the ground, and ruff out the rest of their feathers to make themselves look as large as possible. In addition their wattles and snoods, the flap of flesh dangling from above their beaks swell, and turn red, blue, or sometimes white.

Wild Turkey

Then, if there is more than one male, the dance begins.

Wild Turkeys

Of course it is a mating dance, with each male trying to make himself as attractive to the females as he can, along with intimidating the other males.

Wild Turkey

It is a very slow dance, each male turns in slow circles, showing off to the females.

Wild Turkey

At the same time as they circle, they also circle around the other males, trying to gain the best position to show off from.

Wild Turkey

I have never seen them actually bump or push each other, but they come close at times.

Wild Turkey

The dance continues

Wild Turkey

The dance is also called strutting.

Wild Turkey

And strut they do!

Wild Turkey

Each one trying to out strut the other.

Wild Turkey

These were taken just a few days ago, and of course it’s fall here, so these dances are just the warm up for the real dances in the spring, when turkeys mate.

Wild Turkey

When the males do their strutting, it is one time when you can approach them fairly close. That holds true of many species of critters, when they have mating on their mind, they are much easier to get close to them. Whether it is a male songbird singing to find a mate…

Cedar waxwing

Or a whitetail buck thrashing the brush to notify other males in the area that this is his territory.

Whitetail buck

The mating season for most animals makes them at least somewhat crazy, just as it does we humans. It is a good time for photographers, as you can normally approach animals more closely, but you do need to use some caution around larger animals, such as deer, elk, and of course, bears. They can turn and charge in an instant, and I have seen one guy get thrown by a bull elk out in Yellowstone, and another nearly trampled by a bison. It is said that few animals are as ornery as a bull moose during the rut, and I know one person who was chased up a tree by one.

If you want to take photos of animals, then knowing when their mating seasons are, and what their mating habits are, can help you to get closer than you normally could. Most animals and birds are in their finest form in the mating season, and make better subjects for photographers then as well.

Thanks for stopping by, and don’t overdo it on the turkey on Thanksgiving, we need a few left to do the turkey dance next year.

Wild Turkey


The Weekly Photo Challenge: Breakfast

This one was too easy.

Bluejay finding breakfast

So I’ll throw in a few more of critters feeding.

Cedar waxwing feeding

Muskrat munching

More muskrat munching

Great blue heron with freshly caught minnow

Whitetail deer licking its chops

Fox squirrel eating its greens

Little green heron catching its breakfast

And, to make it legal, here’s my breakfast, a scrambled omelette with eggs, bacon, potatoes, red and green peppers, onions, toast, and orange juice.

Scrambled omelet breakfast

That’s not my normal daily breakfast, but what I eat the morning of a long hike or a day of kayaking. I’ve tried the “healthier” breakfasts, in fact, that’s what I do normally eat. However, I found that the old-fashioned “farmer’s” breakfast stays with me all day and I don’t need to stop for lunch after a breakfast like this. So, now that I’ve had breakfast, I’m going to go burn it off with a nice long hike.

Thanks for stopping by!


Saturday morning musings

First off, I have to give a shout out to Michelle Alzola  and her photo blog, My Photo Journal~ photography by ©Michelle Alzola. She sort of specializes in flower photos, although her blog isn’t limited to the incredibly beautiful flower pictures she posts. How I forgot to mention her before is only another sign that I am getting old and have an occasional senior moment. I have put a link to her blog over on the right side of the page, and I will be adding a few more this next week.

In other news, work on recovering the submerged oil from the Enbridge oil spill has been halted for the winter. The Enbridge oil spill happened in the spring of 2010, when a pipeline owned by Enbridge burst, releasing over 800,000 gallons of crude oil into a stream that flows into the Kalamazoo River.  Work will continue on the river banks, cleaning and restoring them over the winter. In my last update on this subject, I noted that Enbridge had missed a deadline set by the EPA to have the spill cleaned up. It turns out that because of the heavy grade of crude oil that was released, the chemicals added to the oil to get it to flow through a pipeline, and that it spilled into freshwater have made the oil sink to the bottom of the river rather than float on top the way oil normally does. That means that both the EPA and Enbridge have been learning as they go, and “innovating” new techniques for recovering the submerged oil. Enbridge has submitted an updated plan to remove the remaining oil from the Kalamazoo River, and the EPA has approved the plan.

To me, any deadline for completing the clean up is arbitrary, especially since both the government and Enbridge are dealing with the unknown. This is the largest spill of this type of crude in history, and it has to be cleaned up no matter how long it takes. From what I understand, the new plan submitted by Enbridge and approved by the EPA recognizes this fact, the plan is to wait until the core samples taken as work was winding down on removing the submerged oil come back from the labs, and then to see how much oil remains, and how best to remove what does remain.

How much oil spilled is still somewhat of a controversy, the EPA announced that 1.1 million gallons of oil had been recovered so far, and that Enbridge underestimated the size of the spill in the beginning. Enbridge is saying that the 1.1 million gallon figure includes oil from other sources from over the years, like road runoff, and that their estimate of 840,000 gallons of oil spilled is correct.

Who is right? Does it matter? Not really, any amount of oil spilled is too much, and it all has to be cleaned up, no matter what the source was. In all likelihood, the Kalamazoo River will end up being cleaner after the work here is done than it was before the spill. There are two reasons the size of the spill matter, one is that if Enbridge is found to have under or overestimated the size of the spill, then they can be fined heavily. The other reason is for damning purposes, the bigger the spill, the more damned Enbridge can be by environmentalists and the press.

One of the real stories here is that we still haven’t gotten a report from the government as to what caused the pipeline to rupture in the first place, when a report was promised back in February.

It was shown when the spill was first discovered that the reporting requirements set forth in federal law actually delayed work getting started on containing the oil spill. Enbridge was required to assemble an accurate estimate of the size of the spill and report that to a government agency that has nothing to do with responding to any spill, all they do is take the reports, when their phone lines aren’t all busy, then pass those reports on to other agencies that actually deal with the response.

Being the practical, results oriented person that I am, I would hope that the law is changed, so that if something similar ever happens again, response times can be improved. I would hope that the EPA would be contacted directly, with the conversation going like this.

“Hello, this is Mr. Bureaucrat from the EPA, how may I help you?”

“Hi, this is Mr. Soandso from Enbridge Energy, I have to report an oil spill.”

“OK, what, where and why?”

“It is crude oil from our pipeline 6B near Marshall, Michigan, and I am afraid it is going to turn out to be a big spill, we think the pipeline ruptured and released hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil.”

“Not good, I’m going to put you on hold for a second while I connect with that region’s office so we can relay the exact location directly to them so they can get crews on the way to get this contained.”

At that point, the regional office could get the exact location and dispatch work crews to begin containing the spill, but all too often, environmental laws are written to produce revenue for the government more than to protect the environment.

As an example, back in the early 1990’s, I worked for a supplier to the automotive industry. Some of the parts we produced were spray painted, using paints containing Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOC’s as they were called, in simple language, lacquer thinner. VOC’s are not good to breathe as any one who has painted probably knows, and it wasn’t good that we were pumping out tons of VOC’s out the stacks of our spray booths every year.

The industry was working to switch to water based paints, with poor results for the most part. If you’re old enough, you may remember cars that had the paint peel off not long after they left the showroom floor, further contributing to the idea that American cars were lower quality than their imported competition. At the same time, the EPA was looking into regulating the discharge of VOC’s into the atmosphere.

The company I worked for at the time was still family owned, and the person who started it was quite the hunter and outdoorsman. When word came that the lab had found a water based paint that would work on the parts that we produced, and would hold up as well as their counterparts that contained VOC’s, he didn’t wait for EPA regulations, he ordered all our paint lines switched over to use the water based paint. That meant all new spray booths, lengthening the drying conveyors, and adding more ovens to dry the water based paints. Adding it all up, it was over 5 million dollars to upgrade our plant’s equipment to use the water based paints. Over the two-week Christmas shutdown, we ripped out every old spray booth, installed new ones, and made the required changes to the drying lines to give the water based paints time to dry before they were packed for shipment.

A few months later I read in the local paper that the company was being fined 2 million dollars because of the changes the company had made to its paint lines, and one of the local politicians was quoted as saying it was a great example of “polluters pay” laws. I thought to myself, “How can this be, the changes we made reduced our emissions of VOC’s, which was a good thing.” At least I thought so.

We were fined the 2 million dollars because the permits we were required to submit to the state were filled out incorrectly for the work we had done. It had nothing to do with actual pollution, which we had indeed reduced. The company appealed the fines, on the grounds that the state DNR had approved the permits, and that we had reduced pollution by moving away from using VOC’s.

The judge sort of agreed, he reduced the fine to 1 million dollars, stating that the company had filled them out wrong, but that since the DNR had approved them, we shouldn’t be fined the maximum amount the law required.

Great, we get fined 1 million dollars for reducing the amount of a dangerous compound we were pumping out into the atmosphere, and in the meantime, our competitors are still pumping tons of VOC’s out the stacks of their spray booths, and they don’t receive any fines.

I don’t think the owner of the company was too happy either, for it wasn’t long after that, that he sold the company to a larger one, which quickly drove the company I had worked for into bankruptcy, and it closed for good.

I’m not say that the fines were responsible for the owner selling, or the fact that the company eventually went belly up, there are many other factors as well. That experience and others has helped shape my view on the pollution laws in this country, the State of Michigan, and on how the media report things.

The media and environmental reporting, there’s a subject I could write a book about. I was almost interviewed once while filling up the gas tank of my pick up at a local gas station. The cute bimbo reporterette and her cameraman walked up to me, asked me a question, stuck a microphone in my face, and when I started giving a reasoned, scientific explanation about what she had asked, she yelled “Cut!” and moved to the guy on the other side of the pump. She asked him the same question, and he asked her why she had cut me off, he said that he wanted to hear what I was saying, that it was making sense to him. The reporterette yelled “Cut!” again, and she and her cameraman moved down to the pumps at the other end of the gas station, looking for the answer she wanted to hear, not what people actually had to say, not a reasoned scientific answer, no way!

There have been several other incidents in my life that were reported on by the local media, and I can tell you they are more likely to get the story wrong as they are to tell what really happened. I have learned to take everything I hear from the media with a grain of salt, two or three grains if it is a report by a local broadcast “journalist”.

In other news, the United States House of Representatives passed a Coast Guard funding bill this week that contains an amendment that would allow the S.S. Badger ferry to continue the controversial practice of dumping its coal ash into Lake Michigan. The S.S. Badger is the last coal-fired ferry operating in the United States. It runs between Ludington, Michigan and Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The Badger, owned by the Lake Michigan Carferry Company, operates under a special Environmental Protection Agency rule that is set to expire in 2012. There is also a movement underway to get the Badger listed as a national historic landmark, which would also exclude the owners from complying with EPA regulations. The owners are also looking into converting the Badger’s boilers to use natural gas to make steam, rather than coal. The owners say that converting to diesel power would be cost prohibitive, but they may be able to obtain grants to pay for the conversion to natural gas.

I couldn’t find earlier stories that explained why the operators of the ferry couldn’t store the coal ash in an empty coal bunker on the ship until it could be off loaded in port, it may be due to the fire hazard, I am not sure about that. I know that the coal dust in coal bunkers is very explosive, more than one ship has been lost when the coal dust exploded. One hot ember in the coal ash in a bunker filled with coal dust, and it would be boom boom Badger, bye-bye.

Several environmental groups are all up in arms about this, in a way, I can’t blame them. Coal ash is not a good thing to be dumping into Lake Michigan. On the other hand, it is the last of what were hundreds of coal-fired ships sailing the Great Lakes, all of which used to dump their coal ash into the lakes. I also wonder how many and how much of the same stuff found in coal ash blows into the Great Lakes each year from all the coal-fired power plants to our west? I also wonder how many pollutants the Badger is keeping out of the Great Lakes if people take the ferry rather than driving the 460 miles around the south end of Lake Michigan?

I hope they do eventually convert it to natural gas, I don’t really want the coal ash in my drinking water, but then, there are lots of things in the waters of Lake Michigan I would rather they not be there, man, man-made, or natural. Let’s face it, millions of fish, mussels and other critters live, breed, and die in the lake. There’s all the stuff we dump into the lake, and I really hate to think of this as I am drinking a glass of water that started in Lake Michigan, but hundreds of ships have sunk in the lake. Not only is their fuel there, but the cargoes as well, and not all the bodies of all the sailors that have drowned in the lake have been recovered. I’d better stop there.

Anyway, when it comes to the Badger dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan, I’m not happy with it, but I’ll live with it, what troubles me more is the comment made by Representative Bill Huizenga, who has said the amendment is an example of getting rid of federal government regulations that threaten small businesses. He’s the Republican representative who sponsored the amendment to the Coast Guard funding bill that lets the Badger continue to dump coal ash into the lake.

That may seem strange after what I wrote earlier about the environmental laws in this country, but the problem I see is this, there’s no common sense, no middle ground. Democrats want to pass punitive environmental laws that serve to punish all businesses, whether they pollute or not, and the Republicans want to repeal most of our environmental protections, whether they work or not.

In addition to the story about where I used to work, I’ve held many positions where I have had to deal with environmental laws. Most of them are about record keeping, and sending reams of paperwork on to Washington, or be fined heavily if you forget, or make an error in the paperwork. They have little to do with actually protecting the environment, and are all about generating revenue for the government.

Another example, some years back, a number of companies in the northeastern US were fined heavily because the licensed hazardous waste hauler they used was dumping the hazardous waste in regular landfills or out in the woods someplace. The federal government licenses hazardous waste haulers, and collects healthy fees from them. But, the policing of hazardous waste haulers is left to the companies who employ their services.

So, you have companies who believe they are doing the right thing. They hire a federally licensed hazardous waste hauler to dispose of their hazardous waste. The guy’s got a federal license, so the companies think they are safe, wrong! The companies using the hauler in question got hit with larger fines than did the waste hauler who was dumping the stuff illegally, that’s not right, at least as far as I am concerned.

Morning is long gone, and I’m still musing away. I did take a break for my daily hike around here, and for the second or third day in a row, didn’t take a single photo. Hmm. I’ve still got some more musing to do though, since I have gone this far.

One other story on the environment I would like to relate has to do with bottled water, specifically, the Nestle Ice Mountain plant just north of where I live, in Stanwood, Michigan. This was also a few years ago, back when I was still driving over the road, still with my ex-girlfriend, and shortly after Nestle had opened the plant. The state and many environmental groups were working to shut the plant down, because of the amount of water that Nestle was pumping out of the ground.

The trucking company I worked for had a contract with Nestle, so I picked up many a load there, and one of the nice things they do is give drivers product that Nestle has made a mistake on when they bottled it. It may be that the labels were wrong, or in the case in the story I am about to relate, the labels were on the bottles upside down.

I came home from work that week, lugging a case of Ice Mountain water that had the labels on upside down, and Larri, my ex, about had a fit.

“How can you buy that stuff when you’re such a big environmentalist and fisherman?” she asked.

“I didn’t buy it, they gave it to me when I picked up a load there. You know that I wouldn’t ever buy water, I’m too cheap for that.”

“But still, I don’t know any one who stands on principle the way you do, I can’t believe you took it even if it was free.”

“Why?”

“Because of how much water they are pumping out of the ground, that can’t be good.”

“Look, people are going to drink the same amount of water whether Ice Mountain pumps it out of the ground, or if their local water system does. X number of people are going to drink Y gallons of water, whether it comes from Ice Mountain or the kitchen faucet. You used to live in Plainfield Township, right?”

“Yeah, so?”

“Where does Plainfield Township get its water?”

“I don’t know, Lake Michigan?”

“No, Grand Rapids gets its water from Lake Michigan, but Plainfield Township gets theirs from a series of wells near Plainfield and Coit.”

“That’s right, I remember that now.”

“So what difference does it make if it’s Ice Mountain or Plainfield Township pumping the water out of wells?”

“I don’t know, that’s a good question. But what about the water that gets shipped off to other parts of the country?”

“What about the water that gets shipped here from other parts of the country?”

“What do you mean?”

“I pick up a load of Ice Mountain water and haul it down to the Meijer distribution center in Tipp City, Ohio. Pick up a load of groceries there to take to the Lima store, from there go to Proctor & Gamble in Lima, pick up a load of liquid laundry detergent, that’s mostly water, and haul it back to Michigan.”

“I pick up a load of green beans, packed in water, from the farm co-op in Muskegon, haul it to Saint Louis, Missouri, then bring back a load of liquid fabric softener from Uni-Lever, which is mostly water, and bring that back to Michigan.”

“You know I’m always bitching about how heavy the loads I pull are, like the Campbell’s soup loads, they are mostly water too. This push for legislation to keep the Ice Mountain water in the Great Lakes watershed is ridiculous, because it opens up a whole can of worms where I don’t think they really want to go. The truth is that water gets shipped all over the place the way it is now, and if they start trying to limit the movement of water, somebody is going to figure out that products like Coke, Pepsi, and the things I’ve mentioned are mostly water, then where does it stop?”

“I don’t know, I never thought about that, but you’re right.”

“I’m more worried about the millions of plastic bottles that Ice Mountain is making, and people are throwing away where ever they empty them. That’s Nestle’s environmental sin, not the water itself, and you can’t really blame Nestle for the fact that people are pigs and will trash the environment, although I do blame them for the bottles in the first place.”

“I never thought of that either, but you’re right, all those plastic bottles are made from petroleum products. I wonder if they will extend the bottle deposit law to other drinks like bottled water?”

“We can only hope.”

Well, it is now Saturday evening, so I better wrap this one up. No, it hasn’t taken me all day to type this, but long enough. The State of Michigan still hasn’t expanded the bottle deposit law, I’m not sure why there hasn’t been a more vigorous effort to do so. Maybe they have enough headaches with the current system and don’t need any more, I can’t say. I do know I am tired of finding empty bottles, from bottled water to sports drinks to energy drinks dumped all over the place. Humans are such pigs!

I hope I haven’t bored you all to death, thanks for stopping by!


Weekly Photo Challenge: Wonder

I hard a tough time with this one, I couldn’t decide between going for a man-made wonder, or a natural wonder. If I would ever get around to having my collection of slides digitized, it would have been easy to find a natural wonder to go here from one of my trips out west. Michigan is a fantastic state, but we’re a little short on natural wonders. There’s the Pictured Rocks (on slides of course), but not much else leaps to mind.

We’re eve a bit short when it comes to man-made wonders, but I have chosen three that I think fit, two lighthouses and the sculpture of Leonardo Da Vinci’s horse at Meijer Gardens here in Grand Rapids.

First up, the Little Sable Point Lighthouse.

Little Sable Point Lighthouse

Then the Presque Isle Lighthouse, the tallest on Lake Huron.

Presque Isle Lighthouse

And finally, the cast bronze replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s horse.

Leonardo Da Vinci's horse

Sorry, that’s the best I could come up with.


Good hikes gone bad

I’d like to share the little story of one of my daily hikes that didn’t turn out as well as it should have. The title of this post is a bit deceiving, it was an excellent day, but I have a tendency to focus on my mistakes, hoping to never make the same one twice. Of course I do, or at least some variation of the same mistakes over and over.

It was about as nice of weather as we could ever hope for in Michigan in November, sunny and warm. Early on, I stopped to shoot this throw away photo of a few leaves remaining on a tree, and the goldenrod gone to seed in the background. I set my camera to aperture priority, since I had all the time in the world to get this shot.

Just a nothing shot of the area I live in

It’s an OK photo, nothing special, I wasn’t even sure I would save it, but I have because it became part of this story. After I took this shot, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to what I was doing as I turned the dial of my camera two clicks from the aperture mode.

(Pay attention to what you’re doing you big dummy, you’ll be sorry!)

I continued my hike, across one of the creeks here, past the first of several ponds, all the way to the back-end of the apartment complex. There wasn’t anything to photograph, but as I said, it was a gorgeous day! As I got to the back corner, two of the young groundskeepers pulled up in a pick up truck to drop off a load of leaves at the compost pile they have here. We chatted for a few, then I stood in place while they backed down to the compost pile. I looked up, and saw a great blue heron flying up the creek on the edge of the property, headed straight for me! I can’t miss this time I thought to myself.

(Wanna bet?)

I switched my camera on as I raised it to my eye, pressed the shutter release halfway down to get the auto focus activated.

(look at the exposure settings you idiot)

Waited until the heron cleared the brush along the creek, and when it looked great in the viewfinder, I shot.

Bad photo of a great blue heron

That had to be a great one, it looked so good when the mirror locked up.

(Yeah, but you should have checked the exposure settings)

I’ll keep tracking it and get some more! It’s flying past the pick up truck now, don’t want that in the picture, wait until it clears the truck….shoot!

Heron behind the ghost trees

Did I see trees in the viewfinder when the mirror locked up?

(Yes you did)

Where did they come from?

(You know, that’s a good question, I don’t remember them being there either.)

{I have walked past that spot hundreds of times, those trees do not exist, which I have confirmed the last two days. The only time in history that those trees have existed was for the split second the shutter of my camera was open.}

Keep shooting! Great, the auto focus has gotten confused by the non-existing trees, and now it has to cycle through its range to lock on to the heron again.

Great blue heron in flight

Not bad, but the typical heron flying away photo, I can’t wait to get home and see how good the first one of the heron came out!

(Are you ever going to be surprised)

Where did the heron go, anyway? There it is, on the other side of the pond. I’ll get a photo or two of it from here before I try to get closer to it. Hey, why are the exposure settings I see in the viewfinder so odd?

(I told you to pay attention to what you were doing way back in the beginning of this story)

How did the camera get set to the night mode?

(You turned the dial two clicks the wrong way back when you took the foliage shot)

What the heck is the night mode? That’s right, it slows the  shutter synch with the flash down to let the background “burn in”.

Oh, no, will that first shot of the heron come out as well as it should have if I had the camera set correctly?

(Of course not!)

Great blue heron

(nice shot of the power outlet, jerk)

I’ll walk around the first building here, and see if I can get more shots of the heron. There it is, but now it’s in the shade.

Great blue heron

That’s OK, I’ll shoot a few pictures of the ducks playing, and maybe some one will come out of their apartment and spook the heron into taking flight again.

Mallards at play

Now you see him…

Mallards at play

now you don’t..

Mallards at play

Maybe I can catch him part way into a dive..

Mallard at play

What’s the heron up to?

Great blue heron surrounded by mallards

It’s still sitting there, but it is acting as a duck magnet. That can’t be good for the heron, the ducks are going to scare away any prey the heron could hope to catch. Maybe it will take off for a better hunting spot away from the ducks.

(Not with your luck)

Great blue heron walking away from the mallards

That may not be all bad, the heron is walking into the sunshine again.

Great blue heron

I’ll circle around again, and come out where the heron is now, hopefully for some good shots of it.

(don’t count on it)

Of course when I got over to the pond again, the heron was gone, some one had stepped out of their apartment and spooked it off while it was out of my sight. At least I could get a few more photos of the ducks.

Male mallard flapping

One of them even let me know what it thought of me.

Male mallard mooning me

Mooned by a mallard, how fitting. At least none of them gave me the duck “laugh”, that would have added injury to the insult.

I did manage to get a few good shots of geese in flight.

Canadian geese in flight

And this one.

Canadian geese in flight

(You should have cropped that one, since you messed up when you took it)

Canadian geese in flight

What the heck, one more.

Canadian geese in flight

On the back-end of my hike, which is actually the front of the apartment complex, I came to one of the other creeks here, and it looked so pretty that I had to take a shot.

Along the creek

Feeding in the creek was a muskrat.

Muskrat

Every time it stuck its head underwater for more food, I moved in a little closer.

Muskrat

And closer

Muskrat

It was pushing its way under the ground you can see next to it.

Muskrat

grabbing more roots to eat.

Muskrat

Then I took one step too many, and it was off like a flash.

I stopped by the drunken raccoon’s hollow tree, but it was there on this day, so I’ll throw in a couple of shots of it from a few days before.

Drunken raccoon sleeping it off

I woke the poor thing up.

Drunken raccoon awoken by a nasty photographer

The raccoon hasn’t learned its lesson, and I probably haven’t either. Since the heron incident I have been looking at my camera when I change setting, rather than just counting clicks, but I am sure that one of these days, I’ll be distracted by squirrels playing in the trees, or geese honking as they approach, and I’ll mess up again. Or I’ll find a way to accidentally bump one of the switches on the back of the camera at the wrong time as I had in the last great Great Blue Heron fiasco.

That’s it for this one, the drunken raccoon and I would like to thank every one who stops by.


Squirrel day afternoon, and the Deer and I

In my last post I started out complaining that I was photographing the same animals time and time again, and one of those critters were fox squirrels. They are everywhere in an urban or suburban area, people refer to them as tree rats at times, because they breed prolifically, and can do a lot of damage if they decide to share your house with you.

Well, it’s not their fault that they have learned to survive our efforts to eradicate them from the face of the Earth as we have done with so many other species. In the course of writing my last post, it dawned on me that we humans only cherish what is rare, and curse abundance. I won’t say I have ever cursed the abundance of fox squirrels, but then I never had one destroy my attic either. All squirrels are rodents, and like their cousins rats and beavers, their teeth never stop growing. They have to gnaw away on things to keep their teeth worn down, and if they find their way into your house, some of their favorite things to gnaw on are ceiling joists, rafters, and electrical wires.

Anyway, on Saturday when I went for a long hike in a local park, I wasn’t seeing much else to shoot pictures of other than squirrels early on, so I decided what the heck, I’ll try shooting every squirrel I get close to. They are cute little fuzzy imps, even if there are millions of them. The only reason I had stopped photographing them was that I had many pictures of them already, but I thought what the heck, it’s digital photography, it doesn’t cost me anything and if I don’t like the photos, I can delete them.

Fall fox squirrel

I have a couple of photos of that one facing me, but I like this one better because of the background, and the fact that it has three feet off the ground as it turns to find another maple seed to eat.

This is the pose you normally see them taking.

Fox squirrel

It helps when they peer out at you from the sunny side of the tree.

Fox squirrel

We usually associate squirrels with eating acorns, and they do, but I see them gorging themselves on maple seeds when they get the chance.

Fox squirrel eating maple seeds

And if there are no maple seeds or acorns around, they’ll eat the seeds from pine cones.

Fox squirrel

This little clown almost hit me when he dropped the pine cone he was extracting the seeds from.

And this one thought that it was staying hidden from me by not moving.

Fox squirrel

This next one wasn’t eating when I saw it, it was gnawing on the stump that it is sitting on, to keep its teeth sharp and trimmed.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrels aren’t nearly as nimble or as good at aerial acrobatics as are red squirrels or grey squirrels are, but they are fun to watch up in the tree tops as they decide how to get from tree to tree.

Fox squirrel debating a jump

Fox squirrel still debating

I have seen them miss their landing point and come crashing to the ground, I could be wrong, but they seem to wave that big bushy tail around on their way down to act as a parachute to slow their fall. They don’t seem to be hurt when they land, they take off running as if nothing had happened.

I can’t do an entire post of fox squirrels, so I guess I’ll throw in a few whitetail deer shots as well. Early on during my hike, I came across three does lying down on an island of sorts in a marsh. We’ve had a lot of rain here the last few weeks, this week especially, and many areas I can normally walk through were flooded on Saturday. That limited how close I could get to the deer.

Whitetail doe lying down

It also limited me as far as finding a gap in the brush to shoot through, as you can see. But then, only I would complain about being able to sneak up on a deer lying down, and having a stalk of grass and a branch being between the deer and I. It is easy to pick the deer out in the photo when I have zoomed in to 48X, but I am sure most people would have never seen it if they had walked the same path as I did. I was in my 20’s the first time I was able to sneak up on a bedded deer, and I can still remember the feeling of accomplishment I felt for having done so. Now I do it routinely, of course it helps that there are a lot more deer these days, and I’ll have more on that later in this post.

One of the deer got up to stretch.

Whitetail doe

I couldn’t get a good shot of her either. As I was trying to move around to get better shots without frightening them off, yet another doe came trotting along to join them.

Whitetail doe

I think that some of the deer are beginning to remember who I am, I know I have seen the same ones many times, and can even tell one from another in some cases.

Whitetail doe

I say that because it seems that a few of them I see every week are beginning to pose for me.

Whitetail doe

They even come prancing over the hill to find me.

Whitetail doe

And when they realize its me, move closer.

Whitetail doe

Strike a pose…

Whitetail doe

Then continue on their way.

I walked right up on this buck thrashing the brush with his antlers.

Whitetail buck

Then he walked over to a clearing so I could get a better shot of him.

Whitetail buck

That’s not a bad 10 point rack (eastern count), but he needs a couple of more years to grow a really good one. This is still a young buck from the looks of him, he doesn’t have the dark streak down his back that gives rise to the name of moss back for older bucks.

Yeah, I know, I cheated and used the flash on my camera for extra light, but not even I get this close to a 10 pointer everyday, it was too good of an opportunity to take any chances on.

In a way, it is fitting that I haven’t gotten around to finishing this post until today, for it is November 15th, the opening of firearms deer season here in Michigan. Opening day used to be a really big deal in Michigan, some factories would close, and some rural school districts would as well. On the evening before opening day, the two lane highways leading north would be bumper to bumper traffic, and one of my earliest childhood memories is of waking up in the back seat of my dad’s old Ford as we waiting in line for the ferry to cross the Straits of Mackinac. That was before the Mackinac Bridge was finished, and there would be long lines of cars waiting for the ferry to get to the Upper Peninsula, the UP as it is called here in Michigan, all hunters on their way to deer camp.

This year the DNR expects there to be around 700,000 hunters in the woods, and that may sound like a lot, but it is around half of what there used to be. The state is so desperate for money that this year, they are going to allow ten-year olds to hunt if accompanied by a parent or guardian. As I have written before, the funds for wildlife restoration comes from two sources, hunting and fishing licenses, and a 10% excise tax on hunting and fishing gear.

With fewer and fewer hunters and fishermen, there are fewer dollars for habitat restoration of any kind. The idea behind letting ten-year olds begin hunting is to get them started early. I happen to think that letting ten years hunt is a bad idea, no matter what restrictions the younger hunters face. There have been a number of stories about this in the media of late, and most people want to blame the declining numbers of young hunters on video games and such. I’m not so sure about that, I think it is because kids are being brainwashed in school and the media into believing that hunting and fishing is wrong, heck, some are brainwashed into believing that even being out in the woods is wrong. I have a post started on this topic, so I’ll leave it at that for now and move on.

One of the other big news stories the past few weeks relating to deer hunting is the number of nature preserves that either are going to be open to hunting, or are thinking of opening to hunting in the future. This always creates a controversy whenever the governing body of a nature preserve decides to allow deer hunting on the preserve. After all, they are nature preserves, so shouldn’t they be preserving the deer too?

With fewer hunters each year, the deer population in Michigan is exploding, especially in nature preserves that are typically off-limits to hunters. In many of the preserves, the deer population is so out of hand that the deer are destroying the native plant life, and invasive species of plants are taking over. This is after people at the preserves put in decades of work removing the invasive species in the first place to allow the native species to return. The neighbors of the preserves aren’t particularly happy about herds of deer coming from the preserves to raid their gardens, but they’re split on whether or not hunting should be allowed on the preserves near them. Every one wants an easy answer, but as is usually the case, there are none.

There have even been reports of deer starving to death in some of the preserve, which wouldn’t surprise me. When I see the estimates of deer per square mile in some of the preserves, in some case double what biologists recommend, deer starving to death seems inevitable. We should never forget what happened on the Kaibab Plateau in Arizona, near the Grand Canyon.

The Kaibab Plateau is an “island” surrounded by lower elevations. The plateau, with elevation up to 9,000 feet  is bordered on the south by the Grand Canyon, on the east and the west by tributary canyons of the Colorado River, and on the North by tiers of uplifted cliffs. President Theodore Roosevelt, hunter, sportsman, and maybe the most environmentally friendly president the US has ever had, created the Grand Canyon Game Preserve in 1906. The game preserve which includes 612,736 acres of the Kaibab National Forest, is “set a side for the protection of game animals and birds,” and is “to be recognized as a breeding place therefore.” In 1908, the Forest Reserve north of the Grand Canyon, including the game preserve, was renamed Kaibab Nation Forest.

The idea in 1906 was simply to protect and expand the deer herd. Overgrazing by herds of sheep, cattle, and horses had taken place on the plateau since the 1880s. During that time, many predators were also killed by ranchers and bounty hunters. By the time Roosevelt established the game preserve, ranchers had moved most domestic livestock elsewhere. The primary change brought by the creation of the game preserve was to ban deer hunting. Government efforts, led by the Forest Service, began to protect the deer’s numbers by killing off their natural predators once again; to this end, between 1907 and 1939, 816 mountain lions, 20 wolves, 7388 coyotes and over 500 bobcats were reportedly killed.

With hunting deer banned, and their natural predators gone, the deer population exploded in a very short amount of time.  One estimate put the population as high as 100,000 deer inhabiting the range in 1924.  Shortly after that time, the deer population began to decline from over-browsing. By the mid-1920s, many deer were starving to death. After a heated legal dispute between the federal government and the state of Arizona, hunting was once more permitted, to reduce the deer’s numbers. Hunters were able to kill only a small fraction of the starving deer, however, and tens of thousands of deer died of starvation. Even worse was the damage done to the plant life on the plateau, it took decades for the plant life to recover sufficiently to support even a modest herd of deer again.

That of course is the desert southwest, and I don’t think that plant life in Michigan would take as long to recover as it did on the Kaibab Plateau, but in some places in Michigan, the deer have removed anything edible to as high as they can reach on their hind legs, 7 to 8 feet. And, I hope that I never end up posting photos of starving deer on my blog, some of the photos I took back in August showed some deer that I thought were in bad shape for that time of year. Either they have manage to put on some weight, or those deer have died, as the deer I have been seeing the last few weeks all look very healthy. Let’s hope it stays that way.

One more thing before I end this, November 15th is also my best friend’s birthday, Happy Birthday Susan!

That’s it for this one, thanks, for stopping by!


State, conservationists differ on how to protect Jordan River from overuse / Michigan River News

From the Michigan River News Blog

State, conservationists differ on how to protect Jordan River from overuse

By Andy McGlashen • November 11, 2011

If you’ve ever run the rapids of northwest Michigan’s Jordan River in a canoe or kayak, you know what makes it a paddler’s paradise. There’s the clean, swift water, the springs trickling out of shadowy cedar forests, and the chance of spotting a mink or a bald eagle.

And sometimes there’s the band of beer-drinking revelers, whooping it up on the riverbank.

Heavy use of the Jordan by party-minded paddlers is raising tough questions about how to preserve the wild character of Michigan’s first designated Natural River. Local conservationists want to build structures to protect the resource, but they face opposition from the state program that restricts development on wild streams.

“It’s a fragile resource that’s being loved to death,” said John Richter, president of Friends of the Jordan River Watershed. “Somebody told me we should let nature take its course. And I said, Wait a minute. This isn’t nature. It’s people.”

Richter says about a half-dozen sites on the river are being degraded in one way or another from overuse. Paddlers and tubers litter and relieve themselves on private land. Stream banks are eroding, which can ruin fish spawning habitat. And the landings where people launch and end their canoe trips don’t have enough space or parking.

“People are just pulling off the river where there’s high ground and converting them into campgrounds,” Richter said.

Perhaps the most popular party spot on the river is Frog Island, an area of riverbank surrounded by wetlands where repeated loading and unloading of canoes and kayaks has caused severe erosion.

“I understand their point of view, but the program isn’t working. They want no man-made features, but what’s happening is worse.”

“Frog Island is probably a third the size today of what it once was,” Richter said.

When Friends of the Jordan and other partners installed woody debris a few years ago to shore up Frog Island’s banks, “people just ripped it up,” according to Brian Bury, administrator for the Natural Rivers Program of the Department of Natural Resources.

Richter said he would like to see stream banks at Frog Island and other sites stabilized with logs—larger than the woody debris used there previously—to stop erosion. At Old State Road, where heavy paddling traffic creates problems with parking and trespass on private property, he favors building a new parking area and a landing with toilets and a boardwalk just upstream from the road, on public land.

But those ideas have met resistance from the Natural Rivers program, which was created in 1970 to ensure that development doesn’t diminish designated rivers’ aesthetic character, wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities.

“We’re looking for a natural river that offers a certain kind of experience,” Bury said.

For now, Bury said any ecological damage caused by overuse of the Jordan isn’t significant enough to merit changing its aesthetic character, and building new landings would just set the table for heavier traffic and more elaborate parties.

“The general thought is that, at this point, we’d do more harm than good” by building the structures, he said.

Richter said he respects Bury and his work, but thinks the state’s position is shortsighted. The “certain kind of experience” the program promotes has disappeared on the Jordan, he added.

“I’m not sure Brian has spent enough time on the river, say on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July,” he said. “I understand their point of view, but the program isn’t working. They want no man-made features, but what’s happening is worse.”

Richter said another solution proposed in public meetings is a limit on the number of watercraft on the river. But he and Bury agree that such a limit would be unpopular and hard to enforce. Paddlers need permits to float some rivers within national forests, but the state has no permit system.

“To control private use of watercraft, we’d need a legal mandate,” and that’s not something the state is interested in, Bury said.

Don Montfort, whose family owns the Swiss Hideaway canoe and kayak livery, said his clients are on too tight a schedule to cause much trouble. He said the main problem is the growing number of locals who have flocked to the river as canoes and kayaks have gotten cheaper, a position Richter shares.

“The locals say, ‘This is our river, and we’re going to stop wherever we want to stop,’” Montfort said.

Other ideas under consideration include increased law enforcement and more signs indicating restrooms, access rules and river etiquette. But enforcement has already been stepped up with little effect, said Montfort, and signs are unlikely to discourage bad actors.

“When you block off one area” from riverside partying, “it’s just going to pop up in another,” he said.

Richter agrees that it will be tough to find solutions that work for paddlers, conservationists, anglers, homeowners and the state, but his group will continue holding meetings and seeking input.

“We’ve got to do something,” he said. “Before we know it, I think we’re going to have a dozen Frog Islands.”

via State, conservationists differ on how to protect Jordan River from overuse / Michigan River News.


Ladies and Gentlemen, DUCK!

My brother is an excellent musician, he has played in a number of local bands over the years, and one time he told me he wanted to name a band “Duck”. I guess that shows that I’m not the only one in the family with a warped sense of humor, as my brother’s reason for wanting to name his band “Duck” was so that when the announcer would walk out on stage to introduce them, he could picture the announcer yelling “Ladies and gentlemen, DUCK!”, then watching the members of the audience all ducking.

Hey, it was funny when he told it to me. I could use some humor about now, I am having a hard time getting motivated to finish any of the many posts that I have started. My idea when I began this blog was to set down in writing my grand adventures across the state of Michigan. What it has become is a recap of my daily walks around my apartment complex, and a weekly trip to a local park, not at all what I had in mind.

There are several reasons for that, one is that I made the decision to stick close to home more often since it is the environmentally correct thing to do. It makes no sense for me to hop into my old Ford Explorer and burn a tank of gas just to go for a couple of hours long hike some place new every weekend. There are many other reasons as well, but I won’t bore you with them, or turn this post into one like the many I have started, me whining about the situation I put myself in.

Anyway, I have found myself “reduced” to shooting photos of ducks, geese, robins, and fox squirrels, just to shoot something. It isn’t as if I don’t have a ton of mallard pictures already, but in looking over what I have shot over the last couple of weeks, it seems to be the same old same old. I know part of the reason for that is because of the time of year it is, there are fewer critters around to photograph. The wildflowers are done for the season, the insects are gone, and the migratory songbirds left for warm weather back in September. So, Ladies and Gentlemen, DUCK!

Three headless mallards

Where did their heads go?

Mallards that have found their heads

There they are, all three found their heads again!

Mallards in a flooded swamp

Don’t get me wrong, I think mallards are beautiful birds, especially the males, but how many shots of them does one need?

Male mallard feeding

I guess a few more.

Hey, where did she come from?

And then, where did she go?

Male mallard wondering where the female went

Don’t feel bad guy, I have had some pretty short relationships as well.

She didn’t leave him after all, she just swam ahead of him.

Mallards on a scenic fall pond

Then there are geese, which some people now consider to be a nuisance.

Canadian geese and their reflections

I recently read an article about the number of Canadian geese in Michigan, back in the early 70’s, there were less than 9,000 geese living in Michigan. Today, that number is just over 200,000, which I think is great, but not every one shares that opinion. I love the big honkers, to me, along with eagles, they represent the comeback that wildlife has made in this state since back when I was a kid. It used to be rare to see geese, except during their migrations north in the spring, and south in the fall, when I would see them high overhead flying in the familiar “V” formation. Now they live in the same apartment complex as I do.

Another bird making a comeback is the great blue heron.

Great blue heron strolling through the fallen leaves

And its cousin, the little green heron.

Little green heron

And the sandhill cranes.

Sandhill cranes

I can’t recall the first time I saw a sandhill crane, but I do remember how rare they once were around here. Now I see large flocks of them on a regular basis. Maybe I’m getting as bad as some other people who take wildlife for granted now that their numbers are rebounding, I hope not. I hope we never forget how close we came to wiping out so many species of birds and other animals, and how long it takes for them to increase in numbers again.

Within the last few weeks, there was an article in the paper about a whooping crane seen around 60 miles from where I live. It is a male juvenile hanging out with a flock of sandhill cranes, and the experts are hoping that it finds a mate over the winter and takes up residence here in Michigan next spring. Now how cool would that be? If I remember correctly, the number of whooping cranes left in the entire world was less than 50, the number 37 seems to come to mind. No, I was wrong, a quick check tells me there were only 21 of them left in 1941. Maybe the 37 comes from when I was a kid reading about them, and that was the number left in the wild back then.

Wouldn’t it be great if 100 years from now some one would be blogging that they were tired of taking photos of whooping cranes because it seemed like the same old same old!

So I guess I shouldn’t complain about taking shots of large flocks of mallards.

A large flock of mallards

They could all be gone before we know it, even though that doesn’t seem likely now. It happened before, and it can happen again.

Wait a minute here, mallards quack, and I am hearing lots of quacking going on, but I also hear the call of a wood duck from in the middle of that flock of mallards! What’s a wood duck doing in the middle of all those mallards? Could it be that it is hiding out from the sharp shinned hawk circling overhead? (That I didn’t get a photo of, darn!)

The mallards seem to pay no attention to the hawk, I think they are too large for the hawk to attempt taking on a mallard, but wood ducks are much smaller, would a sharpie try for a wood duck? I don’t have the answer to that one, but I do know it was darned hard picking this juvenile wood duck out of that flock of mallards.

Juvenile male wood duck and mallards

The wood duck is the small duck in the middle with the white eye patch. You can sort of see how much smaller he is than the mallards, sorry, it was almost dark when I took these. Luckily, he swam a little closer for this shot.

Juvenile male wood duck

It would be so great if the numbers of wood ducks increased to the point where I could get ho hum about taking photos of them, rather than these really bad pics.

Male wood duck

That’s as close as I could get, for a second later….

Male wood duck on take off

Of course I returned to the pond later on to see if he had returned, and he had, but by then it was very dark, as you can see.

Three male wood ducks

Not only had he returned, but he had a couple of friends with him.

Male wood ducks

You can tell I was hiding in the brush when I shot these, but the wood ducks were still on their way to cover, and it was way too dark to try to sneak up on them again. Wood ducks are so shy that it is very hard to get a good photo of them, but I’ll keep on trying, even if all I do end up with is more bad shots. 😉

Wow, this post went some places I had no idea it was going to go when I sat down to begin it. I am feeling much better now, having put some things in perspective. The fact that some species are becoming so numerous that I am getting blasé about photographing them is a good thing in a way, it means that the environment is improving to the point where they are becoming numerous again, and wasn’t that the goal when I began to work towards improving the environment?

So even though it is a dark grey day here in Michigan today, I think I’ll go for a walk around the complex, and shoot a few mallards or geese to celebrate the come back that they have made, even if the photos won’t be all that great. My legs are still achy from the long hike I took yesterday, and the long Thanksgiving weekend is coming up next weekend, so I’ll stick close to home this weekend, and go somewhere special over the four days I have off. Now that sounds like a plan, so I’m off. Thanks for stopping by!


Finding places to kayak or canoe

I can tell from the search engine terms that people use and end up here at my blog that paddlers are looking for information about places to paddle. I also know from my years of being involved in the sport that paddlers are much like fishermen, they have a few favorite places they love and return to regularly, but they are always looking for new places to explore and new challenges. What I am going to attempt to do in this post is share some of the tools I use in finding new places to paddle, whether they are small lakes, marshes, rivers, or the Great Lakes.

Many paddlers specialize on one type of water, some prefer lakes and seldom tackle a river, others prefer rivers and think that paddling a lake is boring. I love them all, if there is enough water to float a boat, I can probably be talked into paddling it. Some people paddle for exercise, others paddle to get out into nature, but no matter what your favorite type of body of water is or why you paddle, the process of finding places to paddle is the same, more or less. Finding suitable rivers and planning trips on them is a bit trickier for reasons I’ll get into as we go along.

After 40 some years of paddling, and several years organizing trips for a group of kayakers, I think I have a good idea as to how to plan a trip. It helps that I have paddled most of the rivers in lower Michigan at some point in my life, so I have a basic idea what the rivers are like to begin with. However, there are a lot of people who are new to the sport and are looking for good places to paddle. With the Internet, and possibly a trip to a book store, it is fairly easy to plan a trip on just about any body of water that is suitable for paddling.

Before I go any farther, I should point out that I live in Michigan and the laws and rules concerning riparian owner’s rights, road and bridge right of ways, and other laws make accessing rivers and lakes fairly easy here. In Michigan, for the most part, if you can get a canoe down the river it is considered navigable water, and it is open to the public. From what I understand, the laws in other states are not so friendly to paddlers. So your first step in planning trips is to have a basic understanding of the laws in your area, and is best if you contact the state agency that is charged with enforcing many of those laws. In Michigan, it is the Department of Natural Resources, and I think most states have a similar agency. The very best thing to do is talk to a conservation officer, or CO as they are called here. They know the laws better than some one who answers the phones or E-mails. It has been my experience that a CO would much rather explain the laws to you before they have to come out and issue you a ticket because a property owner called to report that you are trespassing.

When I was younger and paddled with just a few people who were as hardcore as I was, most of the time we did what we called bridge hopping. That is, we found a river that looked like you get a canoe down it, and paddled from bridge to bridge using the public right of way along the road as our access. Some property owners aren’t exactly keen on that idea, or of fishermen doing the same thing, so they make things as tough as they can for you. That can also mean some pretty tough slopes to slide down, or climb up, in order to get to or from the water. On smaller rivers in more populated areas, you may find a bridge every mile or two. On larger rivers, it can be any miles between bridges. All it takes is some ability to read a map and find the roads that cross the rivers.

Bridge hopping is one way of scouting sections of a river before tackling a longer trip, especially if you can’t find any information about paddling the river from other sources I’ll get to in a minute or so. I have found a few rivers that weren’t suitable for paddling by bridge hopping, the east branch of the Au Sable and some sections of the White River come to mind on that one. You may find that a river that looks great at every bridge is clogged with one logjam after another in between the bridges, and that you spend more time portaging the logjams than you do paddling. Or, on the east branch of the Au Sable, the logs were close enough together that in many areas, you could walk from log to log, dragging your boat behind you. Another that comes to mind is the Pigeon River between the Pigeon River State Forest Campground and the Pine Grove State Forest Campground. In that stretch of the Pigeon, the river “braids”, that is it breaks up into many small streams, some of which disappear underground, only to emerge some distance away. It does not make for an enjoyable day of kayaking. Another stretch of river that does the same thing is the Jordan River above the Graves Crossing State Forest Campground. It is illegal to paddle that part of the river anyway, but I have fished it enough to know that I would never want to try getting a kayak or canoe through there.

Another good thing about bridge hopping is that you may run into other people who are paddling the river the day that you’re there. I recommend doing scouting on nice summer days when you’re most likely to meet other paddlers for that, and other reasons. There’s nothing better than first hand information from people who have paddled a stretch of river that you’re thinking of trying.

Unfortunately, I have to offer a few words of caution about word of mouth info. If the people you run into on the river are floating it in equipment much like your own, it is a pretty safe bet to take their word for river conditions. If it is a group of young guys in whitewater boats, you should ask some serious questions, unless you’re looking for serious whitewater. If they aren’t on the river, they are just there at a bridge, or they are fishermen, then you should take everything with a grain of salt. It could be that the person you’re talking to is one of the land owners along the river that’s fed up with drunks trashing his property. Or it could be that it is a fisherman who really didn’t notice how many times they had to get out of the river to go around logjams. I can tell you from experience that I don’t notice things like that when I am fishing, unless I am also scouting the river at the same time for kayaking later. Then there are those sickos that love to tell you the river is open and a great float, then when you’re out of earshot, laugh their butts off at the thought of you trying to paddle the river through miles of tangled up logjams. It could be that the person is a fisherman who doesn’t want to share the river with a bunch of kayakers.

So where do you go for information? The bookstore is a good place to start. There are a couple of good books on paddling in Michigan, and I would assume that the same holds true for other states as well. In the books you’re likely to find information you can use, such as directions to access sites, maps, charts that show the distance between access sites and the time it takes to paddle between them.

I have two books on paddling in Michigan, not surprisingly, one is titled “Paddling Michigan” by Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom, the ISBN is 1-56044-838-5 and the other is “Canoeing Michigan Rivers” by Jerry Dennis and Craig Date, ISBN 1-882376-95-1. Both are good books, the first contains information on paddling still waters and the Great Lakes along with many rivers, the second contains only information on 45 rivers in Michigan. Depending on what type of paddling you prefer, you can pick up either of these books and plan many days worth of paddling from either.

Now then, a word of caution about books, and websites. No matter how hard the authors try to make sure the information that they present to people is correct, things change. Campgrounds, access sites, and parks open and close, and here are a few examples I have run into over the last few years.

The Pigeon Bridge Campground on Sturgeon Valley Road was closed for a while due to a bad well, it re-opened, then was slated to be closed again in the spring of 2011, although it did end up being open all this year.

The Forks Campground on the Boardman River was closed the last time I was there, I don’t know if it has re-opened or not.

There are several dams that are slated for removal on the Boardman River, I am going to assume that the stretches of the river near the dams will be closed to recreational users while the removal takes place. I don’t have a timetable for the removal, I’m not sure one exists yet.

The DNR has closed the one state forest campground that was on the Little Muskegon a few years ago, permanently. Every vestige of the campground has been removed, although there is still a long trail to the river if you don’t mind carrying your boat almost a quarter of a mile.

The DNR access site on the Pine River near Edgetts Bridge has been closed, I think permanently.

Several canoe and kayak liveries have closed or moved their operations, and that becomes important on some rivers, since it is often a livery service that keeps the rivers open enough, as far as logjams, to make the rivers suitable for paddling.

The reason I gave those examples is that I always try to have a back up plan in mind in case I run into something that stops me from doing what I had in mind. Rivers are worse in this respect than lakes, but it happens on lakes as well. There’s not much worse than when a group of friends packs up their gear, drive for several hours, only to find that the county park they planned to use as access to a paddling spot is closed for maintenance.

If you’re paddling a river, you should always know what the next access site downriver from the one you’re planning on taking out at is, just in case you happen to miss the one you plan to use, they aren’t always easy to spot from a kayak or canoe. I always research all the access sites in an area, so if one is closed, we can change our plans and still get in a paddle. If planning on paddling a lake, I find other lakes in the area as back ups, just in case.

Finding places to paddle

How do I find places to paddle? I keep my eyes and ears open all the time to anything that may lead me to a new paddling spot. Most of the places I find to paddle are rivers, lakes, and even marshes that I spot while driving, either for work, or when I am on my way to or from some other outdoor activity. Books are one source that I have already mentioned, but there are many others as well. The Internet is one, you may have well landed here because you were researching places to kayak. Often when I am researching a river I will type “XXXXX river map” as a way of getting useful information, of course I have to weed through many sites to find what I am looking for. If I know what county the paddling place I am researching is in, I’ll use “XXXXX county parks” and see if there are any parks that can be used as an access site. A lot of the Internet is hit or miss, sorry to say. Other than searches for specific rivers, one place to try is paddling.net. Some of the info is useful, some not so useful, but it is a place to begin.

Unfortunately, the Michigan DNR is way behind the curve when it comes to information for kayakers and canoeists, the state long ago shut down a series of campgrounds that were intended to be used by paddlers on rivers like the Manistee and Muskegon. It is hard to find any info from the state on paddling unless you know where you are going to paddle and look for campgrounds and/or specific access sites. Their web site isn’t the easiest to navigate either.

A couple of years ago, I was organizing a paddle on the Manistee, and called the DNR field office in Grayling about a section of Goose Creek State Forest Campground that is intended for paddlers, and the people at the field office didn’t know that the section of the campground existed. They had to check and call me back after a few days.

Other times I have had really good luck getting useful information from the field offices, so it depends on what you are inquiring about, and who answers your call or is on duty when you stop in. I find the Conservation Officers are a great source of information when I run into them and they have time to talk. I have never met a Michigan CO that wasn’t helpful, although one time I started chatting to one just minutes after he had a confrontation with a group of armed deer hunters, and it took him a few minutes to unwind from his enforcement mode, totally understandable as far as I a concerned. Once he had relaxed, he started giving me the lowdown on a river I was thinking of fishing, but then he got another call and had to cut it short. CO’s know their territories like the backs of their hands, and they know the law, so when a CO tells you it’s OK to use an access site, you know it’s OK to use. Overall though, the State of Michigan could do a much better job.

However, if the river you are thinking of paddling flows through a National Forest, you may be in luck. I have handouts from the United States Forest Service on a half a dozen rivers flowing through the Huron-Manistee National Forest. Most of the handouts have maps and include a table with the distance and paddling times between the access sites. I’ve looked online, but the USFS website has to be one of the very worst for finding what you are looking for. The handouts that I have I picked up at the local ranger station in Baldwin, Michigan. That ranger station is right on M 37 in downtown Baldwin and is open on weekends at least in the summer. The address is 650 North Michigan Ave, Baldwin, Michigan 49304 and the phone number is (231) 745-4631. There is also a ranger station in Manistee, Michigan, the address is 412 Red Apple Rd, Manistee, Michigan 49660 and the phone number is (231) 723-2211. I am sure there are other ranger stations as well, I think there is one in Cadillac, but I’m not positive on that. Ranger stations in other parts of the state may well have the same type of handouts for rivers closer to those stations.

Word of mouth is a good way to find new spots to paddle as well. I try to strike up conversations with other paddlers I meet while I am paddling to find out what they know.

You may also want to join a group or club, I was the organizer for a local paddling group through Meetup.com, and I know they have many other kayaking, paddling, and outdoor adventure groups all over the United States. Don’t let the name fool you, it is a great organization, and the reason I am no longer with the group I used to organize has nothing to do with Meetup, and everything to do with some of the members who joined the group I ran. There are other groups and clubs as well, an Internet search may lead you to one in your area.

What it all boils down to is keeping your eyes and ears alert for finding places to paddle. You may get a great idea from a news story, or somewhere else you may never consider. I keep a list of places on my computer, and as time allows, I plan trips to these places.

Planning a trip

I am going to focus on planning river trips, paddling on lakes or the Great Lakes is fairly easy to plan for, you find an access site, and paddle until you don’t want to any more.

For regular season day trips, I like to plan for 4 to 6 hours of paddling on the water, depending on the length of the drive to get to the place, and how difficult of a paddle I expect it to be.

For overnight trips, 10 to 16 hours of on the water time works well.

For winter paddles, I like to keep the time down to around 2 to 3 hours, depending on how cold it is.

If you do find information on a river that you would like to paddle, you probably won’t see the speed of the river listed, at least not as miles per hour of the current. What you will probably find listed is the gradient of the river, that is how much the river drops per mile of river. If you are fairly new to paddling, the gradient may not mean much to you, so I’ll try to explain it. All rivers flow downhill, and the amount it drops is the gradient. Here are the gradients for a few rivers in the lower peninsula of Michigan to give you an idea on how to use the gradient in your trip planning.

  • faster than 14 feet per mile, very fast and you’ll probably find some serious whitewater on any river that drops faster than 14 feet per mile. There are no rivers in lower Michigan that fast as far as I know.
  • 10 to 14 feet per mile, fast, often with at least some whitewater, but not always. This is the speed of the Pine, Sturgeon, Pigeon, and the infamous 6 to 9 mile bridge section of the Little Manistee River, which I think is the toughest paddle in lower Michigan, even though there isn’t much whitewater per say.
  • 6 to 10 feet per mile, a moderate flow, and rivers in this range are the Pere Marquette, the Au Sable, and the White Rivers as examples.
  • 3 to 6 feet per mile, slow, this is the rate of drop for the lower stretches of our larger rivers like the Grand, Kalamazoo, and Muskegon Rivers.

That’s for the average rate of drop, or gradient of the rivers, but no river flows at an even pace over its length, there are slower parts, and faster parts. There is a nice section of fast whitewater on the Muskegon River in downtown Big Rapids, but it is short and doesn’t get much written about it, even though it is as good as the Pine River is. On the other hand, there isn’t much whitewater on the Little Manistee, but it is fast, tight, and twisty, with log jams at every bend, making it difficult to negotiate with out going over.

In theory, the steeper the gradient, the faster the river flows, and the faster you’ll cover ground, but it doesn’t always work that way. On the faster rivers, there are often obstacles that slow you down, and the greater chance of some one going over, which also slows you down.

If you’re really lucky, you may find a map that shows you all the access sites, and a table or chart with the paddling times between them listed like on this website for a kayak/canoe livery on the Pine River here in Michigan.

If you’re not that lucky, you can figure you’re paddle time using the gradient of the river as a guide. Here’s how I figure the length of a paddle in time for given gradients, trying to stay within the 4 to 6 hour time frame for a day paddle.

  • 10 to 14 feet per mile of gradient, 12 to 16 river miles
  • 6 to 10 feet of gradient, 8 to 14 river miles
  • 3 to 6 feet of gradient, 6 to 10 river miles.

You’ll notice I used the term river miles, as rivers twist and turn a great deal. You may find two bridges a mile apart as the crow flies, but that is very often 2 to 3 miles of river miles because of the twists and turns. In general, smaller rivers twist and turn more than larger rivers. Back in the old days before computers, I would estimate river miles by finding the straight line miles and multiplying that by 2 for larger rivers, and by 3 for small rivers, and that usually worked out well.

Then, some one showed me how they measure river miles using Google Earth. You can use the ruler tool to measure the river miles. If you do anything in the outdoors, Google Earth is a great tool to have available, I use it often. Since I got a handheld GPS unit, I find it easier to calculate river miles using the mapping software that came with it, but I still use Google Earth a lot. You can even find access sites that aren’t listed on maps by using Google Earth. But using either Google Earth or mapping software, you can measure river miles by using the ruler tool and clicking along the river as the ruler keeps a running total of the distance. Here’s a quick example I did of a section of the Pine River, from the Meadowbrook access to the Skookum access sites.

Michigan's Pine River

You can click on the map for a larger view, but basically, I traced the river with the ruler to come up with approximately 3 river miles between the two access sites.

Here’s the disclaimers to go with what I have just written. That all applies to rivers that are fairly open, that is, not many obstructions to slow you down. The more paddling use a river gets, the more likely it is that the river is open, and you won’t run into many problems, if any. However, when you paddle rivers that don’t see many other paddlers, you’re likely to encounter many trees and logjams that will slow you down. The smaller the river is, the more likely that is to happen.

If there is a livery operating on the stretch of river you’re planning on paddling, the river is probably free of major obstructions, but you may find some obstructions if you paddle in the off-season as I do. Be careful if you check to see if there is a livery operating on a river by checking online, many livery operators will list a number of rivers that they supposedly serve on their websites, when they actually only operate on one stretch of one river. They list many rivers as a way of getting you to their website because they know people are looking online for paddling information.

If there isn’t a livery operating on the river you want to paddle, you’ll do well to scout it by any means possible, Google Earth, the Internet, word of mouth, etc. Some people don’t mind dealing with many obstructions on a paddle, often refered to as a wilderness type paddle. Back in the old days, many of my canoe trips were what are now considered wilderness paddles, so getting out of my boat a number of times to portage around trees and logjams doesn’t bother me too much. I still like to do one or two of the wilderness paddles a year, but many people don’t like that type of paddle at all.

I wouldn’t plan a ten-mile long day trip on a river that I didn’t know, and that I couldn’t find solid information about, because that trip could turn out to take a much longer time than the miles involved would suggest. That’s when I would go back to bridge hopping again, taking several short trips until I knew what the river was like. Be prepared, and don’t think that because one stretch of river is open that the entire river is going to be open.

Maybe I should tell you of one of my mistakes recently to show you what not to do. I had read that a canoe livery had opened a stretch of the White River above Hesperia, Michigan, and loving the White, I set out to scout that stretch of it. I started by paddling upstream from Hesperia, but only made it as far as the first bridge I came to. The river was open, but the current made it very difficult to paddle the river going up. I talked two other somewhat new kayakers into joining me to scout the rest of that stretch. We started at a roadside park on M 20 and spotted cars at the first bridge downstream. It was a breeze, a great paddle, and we could see signs that some one had removed many of the fallen trees that had once blocked the river. Then I made my goof.

Since I had found the last part of that stretch to be open, and we found the first stretch open, we didn’t spot a car at either of the next two bridges down, we decided to go all the way to Hesperia, bad choice as far as my fellow paddlers were concerned. The middle section of that stretch was one fallen tree after another, and we made close to a dozen portages to get around them. There were many other obstructions that we either smashed through, or jumped over in our boats when we should have probably portaged them as well. Neither of my fellow paddlers were dressed well for the number of somewhat difficult portages we did make, and they were not enjoying themselves with their legs getting all scraped up from the brush, or the hoards of mosquitoes that attacked them when they got out of their boats.

They were good sports about the entire affair, and they continued to help me scout rivers after that, but they both refer to it as the Hell Paddle. Oh, and I forgot to mention that when I did my upstream attempt at scouting, I talked to some locals that told me that the river was still open, yeah, right. To me, it was like the old days when many of our paddles entailed many portages, but most people are looking for an easier paddle.

This is the first of many posts I’ll do on paddling in Michigan. I was hoping to be able to have more photos and maps, but since it looks like that may take longer than I planned, I’m going to make do with what I have for now. Hopefully I will save others from a Hell Paddle of their own, unless that’s what they are looking for. I will include some wilderness type paddles in the series I do, and that will be duly noted.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Windows

I tried to be really creative and shoot some photos with the camera looking through hollow trees, but none of them gave me what I wanted, so I had to resort to plan “B”, real windows.

Windows

Windows at night

And finally this one of art work hanging in the new art museum building in downtown Grand Rapids when they first opened the building.

Windows before windows

I don’t know if that last one counts as a window photo or not, I’m not sure about this one either, a leaf that had fallen on some one’s car windshield.

Leaf on a windshield

That’s it for this one, thank you to every one who stops by!


Anatomy of a murder, almost

One of the blogs I follow regularly is Galen Leeds Photography, and he runs a series of posts entitled “Anatomy of a photo” where he explains where and how he got the shot that he did. I like that idea, I was doing something similar in some of my posts like “Stalking the stalker“, so this post is a take off on those, and also a take off on the book and movie “Anatomy of a Murder”. The book was written by John Voelker who was a Upper Peninsula lawyer, judge, fly fisherman, and author under the pen name Robert Traver. He wrote several books on fly fishing under his real name, but didn’t think it was appropriate for a sitting judge to also be a crime novelist. The movie was directed by Otto Preminger and starred Jimmie Stewart, and is a terrific movie. I didn’t murder any one, but I had the urge to kill my camera, which I’ll explain in a few.

I did my daily hike as usual, taking a few fall foliage photos as I walked along, until I got to one of my favorite ponds around here.

Yellow

Blue skies, yellow leaves

As you can see, it is a beautiful day here in lower Michigan, and I was hoping for some good action shots of birds. I had taken a few photos of geese landing in the pond yesterday, but it was a horrible day for photography, dark, cloudy, with spits of rain.

Geese landing in pond

With the blue sky and lots of sunlight, when a flock of geese approached, I was ready.

Geese in flight

I was hoping they would land in the pond where I was standing, but no such luck, they veered off to land in one of the other ponds around here.

I was a bit bummed about that, but then I noticed a dark form in the tall weeds surround the pond, way over on the other side of it.

Great blue heron hiding

OK, I’ll work my way around the pond and see what that form in the weeds is. I took a few other photos on the way over there, like these.

Milkweed seeds against the pond

And this one.

Goldenrod

I stuck my head over the hill to see if I could identify the form in the weeds, it was a great blue heron.

Great blue heron

I ducked back behind the hill to remain hidden, and worked my way around the heron so that the sun was behind me, hoping for a great shot. I have many close ups of herons sitting still, I was after an action shot, the heron in flight. I walked over the hill, and everything was going according to plan. I was close to the heron, the sun was right, the heron lept into the air, and I snapped this photo.

Great blue heron on take off.

By the way, they may look ungainly, but herons can really jump! This one cleared the weeds when it jumped, I guess they have to in order to get enough altitude for those long wings to have room to flap. And that’s when I wanted to kill my camera!

It was perfect, the heron had dropped down a little as it began the first downstroke of its wings. I was slightly above the heron so the sunlight was shining off its wings, body and head, lighting the heron perfectly. I was all set to shoot again, and was timing the herons wings, and just as its wingtips touched the water on the first downstroke, I pressed the shutter, and the camera decided it was time to run through the full range of the auto focus a couple of times before it would fire again. I was ticked off big time! I had the perfect shot of a great blue heron in the viewfinder, and once again my Nikon failed me. I suppose I should have known better and been using manual focus for those shots. You don’t have a lot of time in that situation though, split seconds make all the difference, and I was hoping for the best, and didn’t get it.

It seems with the onset of cooler weather that the auto focus of the Nikon is not working as well as it did late in summer.

Anyway, by the time the camera finished fooling around, this was the second shot I got.

Great blue heron in flight

Good, but hardly like I would have gotten if the camera had done what it was supposed to when it was supposed to. At the time, I wanted to pitch the thing in the pond, but I calmed down and chalked it up as a lesson learned, next time the camera will be set to manual focus.

Thanks for stopping by!


Drunken raccoon says Hi, watch for the signs!

The pictures I have taken of the drunken raccoon are a bit of a hit on my Facebook page, and a number of people have commented that I was lucky to have spotted it. I don’t want to sound less than modest, but luck had nothing to do with it. I’ll get to why there was no luck involved in a second, but first, the raccoon wants to tell every one hello.

Drunken raccoon waving to his fans

Here’s why there was no luck involved in spotting the raccoon the first time.

Wood shavings in the crotch of a tree

In the crotch of the tree just below the raccoon, you can see a pile of light-colored wood shavings that on some days, stick out like a sore thumb. It was late spring or early summer when I first noticed the pile of shavings, signs like that are often clues about the types of wildlife in the area, their numbers, and of course, the places they call home. I walked over to investigate, I didn’t see the raccoon, but I took notice of the hollow tree, and the pile of shavings told me that something was enlarging the opening in the hollow tree, probably to live there. I made a mental note of the spot, then continued to check it out over time to see if I could catch whatever was making the pile of shavings in action.

Later in the summer when it was really hot out, I would sometimes see the raccoon as it would slide back into the hollow tree as I approached. It was probably pretty hot inside the tree, and the raccoon would sleep in the opening to catch any breeze to keep cool. That told me what had made the pile of shavings, and now that it is fall and the raccoon spends at least part of the night feeding on fermented berries, it isn’t as camera-shy as it was this summer. 😉

In an earlier post, “Doing it the hard way“, I wrote that I take notice of any splash of color, no matter how small when I am in the woods and looking for wildlife. Sometimes the splash of color isn’t the wildlife itself, but signs that lead to wildlife. In the case of the raccoon, it was the light-colored shavings that lead me to discover where the raccoon lives, then it was just a matter of time before I was able to get a photograph of it.

When you’re outdoors, there are many clues there for you to use to be able to tell you what’s going on in the area while you’re not there, if you pay attention to the clues. The old timers I used to hunt with called it reading sign. When most people hear that phrase, they think of tracks and tracking, but that’s just a small part of reading sign. It is like one of those popular crime shows on TV, there are clues everywhere, you just have to look for them, and understand what the clues mean.

Since I started with the pile of wood shavings that led me to the raccoon pictures, let’s start with wood shavings, or maybe I should say woody debris. Take a close look at trees and fallen logs, and you may well see tiny piles of sawdust left behind from insects burrowing into the wood. You may not be interested in the insects, but there are birds and animals that are, because the insects are food for them, and maybe you are interested in them. In order to eat the insects, the birds and animals have to get to them, that means they either peck or rip their way through the wood to get to the insects. That in turn leaves wood shavings scattered about on the ground near where they feeding.

If you live far enough north that your area receives snow, go out into the woods after a snowfall and you will probably find areas where the snow is covered with bits of bark and wood shavings from birds hunting for insects. Small birds such as chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice pry up the edges of the bark on trees to get to the insects hiding underneath, and flakes of the bark break off and land on the snow below. If you see wood shavings in with the flakes of bark, you can be pretty sure there were woodpeckers there too. Even if the birds are feeding on seeds, parts of the seeds will land on the snow and are easy for you to spot as well. Once you learn how to read the sign when there is snow on the ground, then you will be able to see it the rest of the year as well.

Piles of wood shavings at the base of a tree in late winter or early spring can often be your first clue that a bird or animal is making or enlarging nesting or living quarters, as in the case of the raccoon above. On one early spring hike with my ex, I noticed a pile of shavings at the base of a tree right next to the trail. As I got closer to the tree, I thought that I could hear the woodpecker working away inside the tree, making the cavity larger. I stopped, pressed my ear to the tree, and sure enough, the woodpecker was in there. Of course my ex asked me what the heck I was doing, and I told her that I was listening to the woodpecker inside the tree. She had that very dubious look on her face as I suggested that she give a listen, we were both good at pulling each other’s leg, but after a second or two with her ear pressed against the tree, her eyes lit up as she heard the bird in action, and then I had a hard time separating her from the tree. Hey, it was funny at the time, I guess you had to be there.

I’m not one to stake out a nesting site, that is to sit there for hours in order to take pictures, but if I find a nest in an area I walk frequently, I do slow down as I approach the nests so as to not disturb the birds any more than I have to, and once in a while, I’ll get a good photo that way. That tree would have been added to the mental list of nests I keep if it had been on a trail that I hike frequently.

Squirrels leave trails of bark and wood shavings behind as they work their way through trees looking for food just as birds do. Skunks, raccoon, and bear will tear rotting logs apart to feed on the grubs and salamanders that live in the rotten wood.

Another habit of squirrels is to gather nuts in their cheeks and then go to one of their favored spots to eat the nuts, it could be a stump, a fallen tree, or a branch. You’ll often find piles of the debris left over from where they ate, and squirrels are messy eaters, they leave bits of the meat from the nuts in the debris. Birds aren’t as dumb as we like to think they are, they know that the squirrels leave tidbits behind and search out the piles the squirrels leave behind for an easy meal of their own. Bluejays in particular seem to have figured this out, they will perch nearby while the squirrel is eating, then as soon as the squirrel scampers off to gather more nuts, the bluejays will swoop in to gobble up any bits of the nut meat the squirrel has dropped.

Then there are tracks. Most, if not all of the field guides that I have seen for mammals include a drawing of each animal’s tracks. I can identify the tracks of Michigan animals, but to tell you the truth, I don’t find tracks to be a big help in finding animals. I do take note of the tracks I do see to tell me what species of animals live in the area, but I don’t go looking for tracks. Instead, I look for trails. Most animals travel established trail systems that they use to move around on. Even animals as small as cottontail rabbits have small trails through the grass that you can see, if you know what to look for, and pay attention to what you see. Understandably, the bigger the animal, the bigger their trails are.

The trail of a cottontail rabbit is only three or four inches wide, and they often form “tunnels” through taller grass. The trails of whitetail deer are 12 to 18 inches wide, and if it is used a lot, the ground will be dug up from the hooves of the deer. The trails of elk are even larger and more worn, they often look like a hiking path that we humans would use, but not maintained very well. My favorite way of finding deer and elk to photograph is to still hunt my way along one of their trails that gets a lot of usage.

The reason I look for trails more than individual tracks is because of where I live, which is Michigan. There are only two species heavy enough to leave reliable tracks in the leaf litter in Michigan’s forests, or in the grasslands, and those two are moose and elk. Moose are limited to a few areas in the upper peninsula of Michigan, and elk only range the area around the Pigeon River Country in northeast lower Michigan. In other parts of the country where there is more open ground, tracking would be more important to me. I can track a whitetail deer through the forest, but it is a tough thing to do.

Luckily, animals do leave many other signs behind them that are as good or better than tracks anyway. I have mentioned a couple before, like birds dropping the hulls of seed on the snow and squirrels leaving piles of the shells of nuts in places. Often times you can see signs that animals were feeding in an area, sometimes by what they leave behind, the inedible parts of their food, sometimes by what is missing. You can often find places where it is obvious from the plants that something has been eating away at them.

And there is one thing that all species of animals leave behind, and that is their feces, or droppings to be a little more polite. It is a rather indelicate subject, but an important one, for often times, the animal’s droppings is the best way to identify the species that left them.

Even the lowly earthworm leaves droppings behind, tiny pellets of dirt called casts that are often seen piled up at the entrance to the earthworm’s burrow. OK, so you don’t want to photograph earthworms, how about robins or woodcock? Both feed heavily on earthworms, so the best places to find them is where there are many earthworms.

I will confess that unless the tracks are very clear, I have a hard time telling if a track was left by a small dog or, a fox or coyote. However, if I see the scat left behind, I know for sure whether it was a domestic dog or a wild canine. The scat of the wild canines usually includes the parts of their prey that their digestive system couldn’t digest, like fur and bones, which you don’t normally find in the droppings of dogs. The difference between the dainty tracks of a fox and the larger, more dog-like tracks of a coyote then allows me to make a positive identification of which species had been there.

Sometimes seeing the droppings can’t help you identify which species left them, but the fact that they are there, and the quantity of them can tell you many things. Paying attention to droppings will give you an idea which species make the area their home, and how many of them there are in the area. I have been told that people frequently find the nests of eagles when they come across the large and large number of droppings the eagles deposit while building and tending their nests. I have found the spots favored by male birds in the spring where they perch to sing their mating calls, which has lead me to get some terrific photos of the birds.

Male cardinal

I found the large pile of droppings this cardinal had made when he perched in the same tree day after day to sing his mating call. I made the area a routine stop on my daily hikes until I caught him in action on that day.

Droppings aren’t the only signs animals leave behind them, deer beds are a sign that the deer live in the area, and the number of beds is a good indication of the number of deer. In the fall as the rut, the mating season for deer, approaches, the bucks rub off the velvet that covers their antlers during the time the antlers are growing by rubbing their antlers against small trees. They rub to the point that they take the bark off from the trees, and rubs as they are called, are a sure sign that bucks live in the area. Bucks also use their hooves to scrape up patches of ground, then urinate on the spot as a calling card to all the females in the area. Bull elk do the same things, but on a larger scale.

What I have written here just scratches the surface of the number of clues, or signs, that there are to be found in nature if you take the time to look for them, and understand what the clues are trying to tell you. Most people don’t take the time to look, let alone try to understand the clues nature leaves behind, and they miss out on so many things that way. Taking the time will lead you to many more opportunities for good photographs, and there is an even more important reason as well. That is, you learn how interconnected everything is in nature in a way that I am not sure you can learn otherwise. Nature is one huge puzzle, waiting for us to search out the clues of how it all fits together, and I think that learning to read sign is one of the best ways to find those clues. And, if I get a cute picture of a drunken raccoon, or a photo of a brilliantly red cardinal during my search, so much the better.