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. ūüôā

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‚Äôs right‚ÄĒtoday‚Äôs 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‚Äôs tougher new 3.0 specification. And if you buy a new TV, make sure it‚Äôs set to ‚Äúhome mode‚ÄĚ 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‚ÄĒand 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. ūüėČ

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!

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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.