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

My Week…Having a heat wave!

The My Week series of posts is a daily running journal that I do on the walks that I take daily around the apartment complex where I live. I’m located just south of the second largest city in Michigan, Grand Rapids, in the southwest part of the state. It was inspired in part by the phenology project done by Rebecca on her blog, Rebecca in the Woods.

Here you will find my thoughts about the wildlife that share this area, and maybe my thoughts on a news item I have read that pertains to nature or the environment.

This post covers the week from March 18 to March 24, 2012

Sunday

I went to a local park today. That probably wasn’t a good idea. I woke up grumpy to begin with, the people downstairs had a party Saturday night that lasted to the wee hours of Sunday Morning. Then, when I got to the park, it was jammed with people out there taking advantage of the warm weather. It’s too bad they are using the park for a dump, it was quite disgusting. Palmer Park is always trashed, but it seemed twice as bad yesterday. I was hoping to see some wildflowers, and there were a few, but 99% of the time I caught a flash of color, it turned out to be trash, not flowers or wildlife. The few photos worth posting will end up in another post I’m working on. That walk doesn’t really fit here anyway, so enough said about it already, on to Monday.

Monday

The warm, I should say hot temperatures continue, with a predicted high near 80 degrees today. Last day of the official winter, and I was wiping the sweat out of my eyes towards the end. Two more days, and the temperature is forecast to return to nearer normal for this time of year. Whew!

One thing about yesterday in the park that I should have included, no wading birds there, either. That’s a little strange, but it is still very early spring.

The wildlife is adapting to these warm temperatures much better than I am. They have all fallen into a summer-like routine. The red-tailed hawks are circling high…

Red-tailed hawk in flight

The mallards are now hamming it up for the camera..

Female mallard

The ponds have almost emptied of waterfowl, I see the mallards strolling around all over the place, I assume looking for nesting spots if they haven’t already found one.

There has been one swan in the long back pond on and off, that has me worried. Mated pairs don’t spend time apart, or at least I didn’t think they did.

The geese are getting braver, several times today I saw the gander go swimming toward the swan as if to chase the swan away, but it didn’t work. I found out today that geese can swim backwards, quite well when a swan turns on them.

Mute swan and geese

Add another species to the list of what I have seen around here at the Byron Lakes apartments and wildlife refuge, steelhead trout.

Two steelhead n a small creek

You know, it’s really hard to photograph fish in the water. Steelhead are a type of rainbow trout that are anadromous, they return to their original hatching ground to spawn after several years living in the ocean or Great Lakes. Similar to Atlantic salmon, but unlike their Pacific salmonid kin, steelhead are iteroparous (able to spawn several times) and make several spawning trips. The steelhead smolts (immature or young fish) remain in the river for about a year before heading to sea or the Great Lakes, whereas salmon typically return to the seas as smolts.

So what are steelhead doing in an unnamed feeder creek to Buck Creek? Wasting their time and spawning efforts. That’s one of the problems with hatchery fish, because of the way they are raised and planted. They don’t spend enough time in a river to become fully “implanted” to the waters they should return to. They follow the inbred urge to return upstream, and often pick the wrong streams to return to.

I seriously doubt that if those two do spawn that the eggs will ever hatch, the water in the creek here will be too warm, and even if the eggs did hatch, the young fry would die from heat and lack of oxygen in the creek. Still, it was pretty cool to see steelhead just a few hundred feet from my apartment. The thought of grabbing a fishing rod crossed my mind, but those two have been in the river some time already, they are dark and beat up, not silver like fresh run fish would be. Besides, hooking an eight pond steelhead in that little creek would be folly anyway.

That’s it for today, on to Tuesday.

Tuesday

Great, I got home from work last night and see that the weather forecast has been changed, they are now predicting highs near 90 degrees, double yuck! I am going to take advantage of it being cool this morning and get out there early, be back in a few.

I started out headed towards the new swamp, the frogs are singing almost as much as the birds are. A great way to start the day! A lot of the mallards are nesting in the swamp from the way it appears, I can see several islands of higher ground in there, and plenty of males that are on lookout duty.

The maple trees that just began to flower less than two weeks ago are already producing seeds.

Maple seeds

And, there was finally a visitor to the back pond, a lone male bufflehead.

Bufflehead duck

Hey, it’s a start, the first time I’ve seen anything other than a mallard there in several months, not even a goose.

Before I forget, thinking about the steelhead from yesterday, I forgot to add a species I saw a couple of days ago, a woodcock, or timberdoodle as some people call them because of the crazy way they fly, especially when the males are doing their mid-air courting flights called preenting. I flushed it near one of the creeks, I’m fairly certain it was migrating northward. They are odd-looking birds with long bills with a flexible tip that they use to probe the ground in search of earthworms. They are described as shore birds who inhabit the forest.

Leaves are busting out all over, it’s nice seeing some green again!

New green leaves with old red berries

The birds refuse to sit still, they are all too busy mating and nesting. I have given up trying to get a photo of the goldfinches until they turn bright yellow. I have been spending too much time trying to photograph them while they are singing from the treetops. Those shots never turn out well.

The swans are gone again today, seeing just one of them on and off has me worried, did something happen to the other one?

Apparently, the parking lots and buildings here create some good thermals for the red-tailed hawks to use to gain altitude.

Red-tailed hawk soaring overhead

Two days in a row I have watched one of them swoop down below treetop level off in the distance, then, the next thing I know, they are right over one of the parking lots spiralling back up to the higher altitudes they seem to hunt from in warmer weather. I tried to get a shot of the pair of them together this morning, but they were between the sun and myself. One of these days, or maybe not. The female may soon be on her nest.

I swear, you can almost watch the leaves growing. As I type this, I can look out of the window, and it looks greener now than this morning when I started my walk. Only one more day of the heat, hopefully. On to Wednesday.

Wednesday

The heat wave continues. Yesterday we set an all time high temperature record for the month of March, we’ll break that record today, along with the daily high temperature record for the date.

I’ve said that the critters seem to have settled right into their normal summer routines, that’s true of the resident species who remain here year round, but I am beginning to notice that the species that migrate are acting a bit confused, can’t say as I can blame them. I can’t put my finger on anything specific, at least not yet, but the migratory birds aren’t acting the way I would expect.

Back from my walk, this place is amazing. I stepped out the door and saw turkeys to my left and as I was getting ready to photograph them….

Turkey

……I was nearly hit by a low flying mallard. Of course I shot a picture, but the mallards were flying directly away from me, way too fast for the auto-focus to keep up with them. What the heck, I’ll post it anyway.

Low flying mallards

I turned around and what did I see? One of the red-tailed hawks keeping an eye on the mallards.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

The hawk turned around and headed for the fields to the west, I zoomed out and shot this one of it disappearing behind the next apartment building down from me.

Hawk flying over an apartment

This was all less than ten steps from my doorstep.

The new arrival for today, a tree swallow, but I missed getting a photo of it, darn. That’s OK, they’ll be around here all summer, along with barn swallows that love nesting under the carports here. They’ll be here shortly, the tree swallows are always a week or so ahead of the barn swallows.

The big news, leaves!

Leaves on Tuesday

Leaves on Wednesday

Leaves and flowers, that is. The decorative azaleas have begun to bloom!

Azaleas blooming in March in Michigan

The rhododendrons are close behind, they’ll be flowering in a day or two, if it takes that long with the heat.

We could use some rain, we haven’t had any since the first few days of this heat wave, and things are getting dry around here. I bet that if we did get rain, the plants would be growing even faster than they are now, if that is even possible.

The front, center, and long back ponds all have one pair of geese and a few stray male mallards hanging around, the bufflehead in the back pond was gone today, I expected that. What I didn’t expect is that not even one pair of geese are nesting by that pond, that’s a first.

The swan was gone, the one that has been around on and off this week is the female, which probably explains why the geese have been crowding her, trying to chase her off. She won’t get really aggressive unless she nests here, then, look out. The male swan that’s her mate is the one that had the injured leg, I sure hope he’s OK.

I broke down and turned on the air conditioning in my apartment. It was above 80 degrees even though I had shut my windows when I got up this morning. This heat is getting to me, sapping all my energy. I would have held off longer before turning the air on, but the heat wave is going to come to an end tomorrow, I hope. That’s it for Wednesday, on to Thursday.

Thursday

Another all time record high for the month of March yesterday. The official high was 87 in Grand Rapids, four degrees warmer than an average day in July!  We have now set seven record high temperatures in the last 8 days. They had been predicting that today would be cooler, but now they are saying it will be almost as hot as it has been all week, and that it will begin to cool off tomorrow. I sure hope so. I don’t do heat well at any time, when the temperature goes from 30 to 85 degrees in two or three days, it about kills me.

It was oppressive out there today, way too hot for me. I walked to the end of my dead-end street and turned the corner to begin the main part of the apartment complex, and I seriously considered going back inside where it was cool. I only went a short way farther and a somewhat cool breeze came up, or I probably would have cut my walk short for one of the few times since I have started them. Not only was it hot today, the humidity is increasing from what it has been. It has been hot, even by summer standards this week, but the humidity has been low. I sure hope it rains tonight as predicted, and it begins to cool down.

I saw one swan, in flight. I assume it came from the chain of lakes to the west, where it was headed, I have no idea. There are so many ponds and small lakes around the area, that’s one of the reasons there is so much wildlife around here.

That did help me put my finger on something though. I said earlier that there seemed to be something different about the behavior of the migratory birds, and it dawned on me today. I’m not seeing the typical small flocks come through, it’s one or two at a time. I saw one bufflehead, one turkey vulture, one tree swallow, one pair of ring-necked ducks, and so on. I wonder if the warmer than normal winter combined with the extreme warm up when spring did arrive has disrupted the migration patterns of the birds. Hmmm.

I did see a brown creeper, I think that’s the first time I have seen one around here. I also watched a flock of cedar waxwings feeding on the few berries remaining on the trees.

Cedar waxwing in flight

That one doubles as my bad action shot of the day, I’m not posting the blurry shot of the brown creeper I got. 😉

Cedar waxwing

That was all I was able to type yesterday, I was so wiped out by the heat that I had to go and relax in my recliner for a while before going to work. One thing I do remember from yesterday was standing near some of the pines and being able to smell them, but it was the hot, dry scent of mid-summer, not the fresh scent of spring pines.

The heat wave has broken, on to Friday.

Friday

Relief! That word does not do justice to how much better I am feeling today. It is over 30 degrees cooler outside right now than it was yesterday afternoon when I was trying to finish yesterday’s notes, and there is a wonderful light spring rain going on. I overslept this morning, partially because my body was trying to recover from the heat, and partially because I was rudely awakened by the sounds of a leaf blower early, well before I was ready to get out of bed. I hate leaf blowers! They are about the dumbest thing man has ever invented, a true waste of gas.

A couple of news items.

Back in August of last year, I did a kayak excursion on the Grand River near Ada, Michigan that I posted about. My plan that day was to put my kayak in at  Roselle Township Park, which is an Ada Township park. At the time, I wondered why they didn’t allow people to drive back to the canoe/kayak landing in the park, and this morning, I received a very nice comment from Mr. Jim Ferro, the Ada Township Planning Director explaining why. I would like to thank Mr. Ferro for taking the time to explain that, it does make sense since the path to the river is in the river’s floodplain. My little blog does get around!

Also in the news, the clean up at the old Eagle Leather Tannery in Whitehall, Michigan has about been completed. The tannery dumped a long list of nasty things into White Lake, which empties into Lake Michigan. This has been in the news ever since I was a kid. I’m not going to list all the toxins that had to be removed, I’ll just say that this is great news for any one who loves White Lake, or the Great Lakes. Also, a big thumbs up to Genesco, the company that now owns the tannery site. The tannery was founded and began polluting White Lake way back in 1865, long before Genesco existed as a company. They spent millions on the clean-up, which really didn’t begin until they bought it if I remember correctly.

When pollution is discovered and/or a company attempts to shirk their responsibility to clean it up, that makes headlines. I think that it should also be headline news when a company purchases a property known to be contaminated, then does the right thing and cleans it up. The way the news media reports things gives every one a distorted view.

On to my walk. It was heavenly! Cool and refreshing, I wanted to just stand there and drink in how good it felt. Because of the rain, which had let up most of the time I was out there, I didn’t get many photos, that’s OK, I have a huge backlog that I will post this weekend.

The bufflehead that stopped in the back pond did start something, there was a lone goose later this week, and today, the pair of mean swans were visiting that pond. The mean swans are the ones that were really harassing the swans in an earlier post. It’s nice to see some signs of life there for a change.

The nicer swans from the long back pond were both gone. Once again, I wonder if they will return?

The mallards have spread out everywhere, and I do mean everywhere! Most of the time they are near water, but I also see them waddling through the woods, or even down the streets here. I came across this male sleeping under the edge of one of the carports here to stay dry, and couldn’t resist sneaking up on him and using the flash for this one.

Male mallard with red-eye

About the only migratory birds that arrived as a flock have been the cedar waxwings, but they tend to stay in flocks most of the time anyway. I was watching the flock today, hoping for some good photos, but they all stuck to the tops of the trees except for these two eating berries that had fallen to the ground.

Cedar waxwings

After a week of being worn to a frazzle, today, I could feel my energy returning with every step of my walk. The weather tomorrow is supposed to be much the same, even cooler in fact, I will be loving that and the rain! On to Saturday.

Saturday

I’ve got some serious blogging I want to get done this weekend, I’m so far behind that I don’t think a weekend is long enough to get caught up. You may have noticed that the daily entries in this weeks edition are shorter than they have been. I didn’t mean for this series to be a step by step recount of my daily walks, but that’s the way I did the first few posts. It was a transitional time of the year with so much going on. Now that things are settling into a daily routine, I hope to just post the highlights from each day, and get back to doing other posts as well.

Back from my walk, I did two laps today. It was cloudy and cool for most of the first lap, the sun almost came out for a while at the beginning of the second lap, and it got too warm for the rain jacket I was wearing.

Everything is greening up nicely, after six months of brown and grey, it’s good to see some color again! And not just the color green, but the colors of the wildflowers beginning to bloom!

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

I watched the robins more closely than I normally do today, looking to see if any of them took advantage of the many worms on the sidewalks and streets. I did see two robins pick up and eat worms from the pavement, but even they left most of the worms they passed. One robin was feasting on the ants that were eating one of the dead worms from yesterday. An easy meal, one way or another I suppose.

Two people stopped me to chat for a while, and it struck me that most of the time when some one asks what I find to take so many photos of, it is younger people. In talking with them, they have learned what they know about nature in school, which is good, but they haven’t seen much of it in real life. The young woman who was talking with me has never seen a wild bald eagle. That’s a shame.

The birds around here are very busy nesting and mating. I thought it was crazy around here before, but it was even busier today than it has been. I wonder how many pounds of grasses, twigs, and mud are being moved around here to build nests? I think that the number would astound even me. The numbers of some species of birds here astound me!

I don’t know how many goldfinches there are here, but it has to be close to 100, maybe more. Either that, or the same ones follow me around while I’m walking, they are everywhere. 😉 Since the trees are beginning to leaf out, some of the male goldfinches are now singing from the tops of them. Rather than seeing 4 or 5 all singing from the same evergreen, they are spreading out more, and just starting to turn color.

Something else I figured out today, I had noted that I would see cardinals feeding on the mud flats of the creeks after the flats had been flooded and the water receded, and I wondered why that was. It was a slap myself in the forehead for being so dumb moment, the reason the cardinals were feeding on the flats is because the flood waters had washed away and/or melted the snow that had been covering the flats. Of course they are not feeding on the flats very often now, there’s no snow covering their other feeding areas.

I saw the first dragonfly of the year, March 24th, and there are dragonflies buzzing around already.

Still no wading birds, but I’m not seeing many during my runs for work either, once in a while a heron or a crane but that’s it. It must still be too early for them.

The turkeys are still displaying, and will be for some time yet. I never seem to find them on nice days when I could get really good photos, they stay back in the woods then. On cloudy days like today, they come right out in the open, and I end up with shots like this.

Two headed turkey monster

That’s a problem whenever the toms display, they crowd each other so much that it is hard to get a clear photo of one of them. I see that a few of them are showing the wear and tear of mating season as well, some are missing quite a few tail feathers. I had a shot of one, but didn’t prep it for posting, it wasn’t that good anyway.

I think that about wraps this week up. No, one more thing. With the heat wave, everything is going quicker than normal. Some of the trees that just began to flower a few days ago are already dropping the flowers today. I was somewhat lax in shooting many photos of the flowers, I thought that I would have more time to get some better ones. I’d better be ready for round two of the flowering trees, which will be starting any day now.

Well, that is it for the week, I am so glad that the heat wave is over for the foreseeable future. This next week is predicted to be warmer than average, but by just a few degrees, not record setting heat day after day the way it was this week.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

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12 responses

  1. plantsamazeme

    Nice week except for the heat, I like the two headed turkey monster, the Cedar Waxwings are always so tidy looking, the red eye mallard is so perfect he looks fake, and the quirky female mallard she likes her picture taken, leaves popping, flowers, must be spring. Thanks for sharing your week. 🙂

    March 24, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    • Thank you, and thank you for reminding me that it is still spring! There for a couple of days I thought that I had been in a coma for several months and it was summertime.

      March 24, 2012 at 8:03 pm

  2. The female mallard had me laughing, but your posts usually make me laugh so I’m not surprised.
    That’s interesting about the trout. I never really thought about the mechanics of hatchery fish spawning.They must lose all of their natural instincts that tell them where to go. It amazes me that a fish can read water like that and I wish we’d learn to leave nature alone.
    When I was reading about your weather I was thinking that you could have been writing about New Hampshire, because we’ve had the same. All kinds of records have been broken all week long. I don’t like 80 degrees either, but at least it wasn’t humid. They say Canadian air next week and back to the 50s where it belongs! At least for New England, that is.
    Thanks for the laughs.

    March 24, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    • Thank you! Steelhead and Pacific salmon have somewhat different spawning habits, since they spend their adult life in the ocean or Great Lakes, and return to rivers to spawn. If it wasn’t for hatchery trout, Michigan would have no trout at all, no rainbows or browns. Our two native species, the brook and the lake trout, are both actually char, not trout. Of course if we hadn’t destroyed the rivers, many of them would still be home to grayling, a beautiful fish that is from the salmon family.

      Efforts to re-introduce grayling have failed, even though the rivers they once lived in are beginning to “heal” from the damage done by the logging industry. The rivers will probably never get to the state where they could sustain grayling again.

      The problem with anadromous fish like steelhead is that survival rates for hatchery raised fry are almost nil, but they implant to where they were planted and will return to that river. But, since the survival rate is so low, the DNR raises them in the hatchery until they are smolts, and the survival rate is very good. Those fish don’t implant well though, as they are ready to begin migrating downstream when planted. Much of the reason for that is because they are being planted in rivers that can’t sustain trout in the first place.

      March 24, 2012 at 8:27 pm

      • Wow! You sure know your fish. Thank you for such an in depth explanation. As I said…..if only we could leave nature alone.

        March 24, 2012 at 9:17 pm

      • I guess I did go a little overboard there. I do know about things with fur, fins, or feathers, not so much about plants.

        March 25, 2012 at 10:31 am

      • No, I didn’t think you went overboard. Knowledge is a good thing. I know about plants but not enough about fish, birds and animals. I wish I’d taken the time to study them more than I did.

        March 25, 2012 at 3:52 pm

  3. LOVE the cedar waxwings and that mallard photo is outstanding! We are record warm here too 😦 Hate it. So unbelieveable this winter and spring so far.

    March 25, 2012 at 12:16 am

    • Thank you Sheila!

      March 25, 2012 at 10:32 am

  4. I was weirded out by the heat as well- it reached the low 80s here, it’s normally 55. I was out in it for hours hiking around and I got wiped out, too.

    Great Mallard & Turkey shots, and I always appreciate seeing Cedar Waxwings- they’re such gorgeous birds. And they can’t get enough of the berries, can they? Nice color on that Spring Beauty!

    March 25, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    • Thank you! I should have gone to the beach during the heat wave. 87 degrees here, only in the upper 50’s or low 60’s right along Lake Michigan.

      March 25, 2012 at 6:52 pm

  5. I admire the dedication you place into your blog and in depth information you provide. It’s good to find a blog once in a while that isn’t the same kind of rehashed material. Wonderful read! I’ve bookmarked your website I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:02 am