Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Artwork--"Lady Blue"

Well here she is, all done up pretty-like. She's one of my favorites to date. Now I need to do the male to go along with her. The original is available, as well as 11x14 matted prints, at

I will be out of town for the weekend at a show in Manistee, Michigan, where I'm doing a double booth with both my photography and my artwork. Next week I will be able to start writing about my trip last week with our friend Karin to Lake Superior Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. Wow, what a place!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Paddling on Devoe

When you only have one full day at a place, you cram as much into it as you can. After our dirt road drive/observation tower/eagle watching and our nature trail walk we had lunch, then put the 'yaks in the water for a paddle around Devoe Lake. We were really hoping to find baby loons, as the pair last year had produced offspring. Unfortunately, no babies were to be found.

There were, of course, birds everywhere. Right off we were serenaded by a song sparrow.

Drifting along the shore we spotted many dragonflies, like this beautiful red skimmer. Not to say that it is a red skimmer--it may be a flame skimmer, or a four spot skimmer, or a...well, I clearly don't know what it is, but it's pretty!

As the girls moved over to one of the islands I paddled into a small lagoon, out of the wind. It was shallow but deep enough for my kayak, full of amorous dragonflies and pond lilies.

We did find the loons, feeding in the shelter of a cove.

The weather was staring to look a bit ominous, and the winds were picking up, so a bit later Karin and I ducked into another another sheltered cove. I caught sight of a kingfisher, landing in a tree at the far end of the cove.

I paddled as far as I dare and started shooting as the wind blew me backwards. First one blurry shot,

then this somewhat better shot.

It didn't take long for her to spook and fly off. I had been trying for years to get some decent kingfisher photos and I was elated to have finally gotten close enough--and had camera at the ready--to get a few good ones.

We stayed in the cove for a while, enjoying the relative calm. There were blue flag iris everywhere, and this is perhaps my favorite shot of the whole trip.

These yummy strawberries were just out of my reach. I decided they weren't worth getting wet for so I moved on.

As we were getting ready to head back across the lake in the face of some threatening clouds, I stopped for one more bird, singing in the cedars. Not sure which little sparrow this is, but he sang us a parting song to carry us over the waves.

We got back to the boat launch and got the 'yaks put up as the rain began to fall. Getting back to our campsite through the pouring rain we discovered Karin had left the rain fly off her tent, and we'd left all the chairs out. Oops. Good thing we had the RV, or we'd have been standing around for a good long time!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Rifle River Fen

By the time we finished our drive the drizzle had stopped and the sky was beginning to brighten. We drove over to the boat launch, hoping to find the rather tame roughed grouse the park employee had told us follows her around every time she's there. No luck, though. It was too early for lunch, so we decided to take the mile nature trail walk around the fen.

A fen is a rare type of habitat that is formed when groundwater seeps through bedrock up to the surface. There are a relatively high number of them in Michigan compared to other places thanks to the glaciers. We have several here in the Brighton Rec Area were we're doing invasive species removal. This fen seemed to be in very good shape.

It was a pleasant walk, and by the time we reached the water the sun had come out, turning the little pond azure blue.

Nothing had had a chance to dry out, though, and the world glistened and sparkled.

Ferns abounded,

making homes for all sorts of creatures.

Bunchberries clung to rotted logs.

The purple pitcher plants were in full bloom. When we were there last August, there were still flowers but they were dry and colorless. This time, the colors were bright and glowing.

The backside.

The purple pitcher plant is the most cold tolerant and the only one I've ever seen in Michigan--which is certainly not to say there aren't other species here. All pitcher plants are carnivorous, meaning of course that they eat meat. The tube-shaped leaves catch and hold rainwater. When an insect falls in it drowns, then sinks to the bottom and decomposes, at which time the plant can utilize it.

Here you can see down into the water filled leaves.

I would imagine that any plant as specialized as this must be quite ancient. Like so many of our native plants, their future is at risk as we continue to alter their--and our--environment. It's good to know there are places like these where this amazing plant still stands a chance.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Solitary Loon

As we drove down the dirt road we kept an eye out for anything of interest. Not too long after leaving the observation tower, someone yelled out "Loon!" There on Grebe Lake, around 50 feet or so off the shore, was a single loon, fishing in the shallows. I waited for it to dive and scrambled down the short bank, ready when it popped back up.

It dove again, and I could see a trail of bubbles on the surface, giving away its under water route. You can see some of the bubble trail in the foreground. When it came back up it had a mouth full of weeds.

It dunked its head, and revealed a fish.

Another dunk and the fish was gone, consumed, I imagine.

After a minute or so swimming around in front of me, the loon dove again and began working its way along the shore, moving farther away. I decided not to follow. What a treat to be so close to such a striking animal.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Soggy Morning

The rain started late Tuesday afternoon so we sat under the RV awning and talked until after dark--no camp fire for us! Just at dusk the whip-poor-wills began to sing, and Lori was thrilled. She said she hadn't heard one in nearly 30 years. The rest of us had never heard one. Our excitement was short lived, however, as the birds sang and sang into the darkness, then started up again at 4:30 in the morning. We started to wonder what whip-poor-will soup tasted like....

When dawn finally arrived Wednesday it was dark and wet, with a fine mist falling. It took us a while to get up and around--you kind of have to force yourself to go out in weather like that, but since it was our only full day at the park we dragged ourselves up and out. Since neither hiking nor kayaking sounded particularly appealing in that weather, we opted to drive the dirt road up to the observation tower. At least we could see stuff and stay relatively dry.

The view from the observation platform offered looks at Lodge Lake (foreground) and Devoe Lake (far in the background) to the west...

and Grebe Lake to the east. As you can see it was quite dark and damp, even at 9 am.

When we got out of the car at the observation deck we saw a critter swimming around that we thought at first was a beaver, and we were all excited. Once we climbed the tower we saw that it was a muskrat. Why a muskrat is any less appealing than a beaver is a mystery to me, but I must say we were all a bit disappointed.

Across Grebe Lake, in a tall, lone white pine, is an eagle nest. This one looks a bit dilapidated. Eagle nests are huge structures, usually weighing 500 pounds or more. Eagles will use their nests year after year, adding more nesting material every year. A park employee told us that one nest weighed in at 2 tons. It's astonishing that the tree can hold that much weight.

We never did see the adults but we could clearly see two large nestlings moving about the nest.

The area was replete with birds, including several warbler species, orioles, robins and doves. This great crested flycatcher perched on the top of a tree and posed.

As dark as it was it was difficult to get images of anything under the tree canopy. Here a blurry yellow-belied sapsucker works its way up a tree branch.

As usual, we heard the pileated long before we saw her. I think there was a pair working their way through the trees, but I only saw the female.

Lori's sharp eyes spotted these pine saps in the woods along the road. Like its relative the Indian pipe, which also grows in this park, pine sap does not produce chlorophyll. They get their nutrients from organic matter in the soil. I had to battle the mosquitoes to get shots of these!

The saturated air had left everything covered with shimmering droplets. Rain won't do this--the drops hit and splash and run. But the fine mist that was falling that morning turned the world into a diamond mine--without the environmental destruction.

Wild rose--not sure which variety. All I know is that it is not the invasive multi-flora, and that makes me happy.

Blue flag iris.

Ox-eye daisy. While not a native, they are not terribly invasive, and have become one of those flowers that I cannot imagine a summer roadside or meadow without.

Columbine. The cultivated varieties are nice, but I still prefer the more subtle wild variety.

By the time we finished the drive the drizzle had stopped and the weather was starting to brighten up. We decided to walk the mile long nature trail loop that works its way around a fen. But before I take you there I have one more treat for you from the drive that morning.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Rifle River Orchids

With so many places to go, places I've never been, it was not an easy choice to make to go back to a place we had just been last August. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the impetus was that we knew there was a breeding pair of loons on Devoe Lake--or at least we assumed they nested on that lake and not a nearby lake. So we went back there hoping to find a fuzzy little loon chick or two being fed minnows by their red-eyed parents. Well, I'll tell you now that we did not find any chicks. We did see two pairs of loons, but the park employee we talked to didn't know of any nests this year, and we didn't see any. Ah well, there's more than just loons in this world--there are, for instance, orchids.

The drive into the park is gorgeous, if bumpy. For those of you who don't know, we have a 20 year old Gulfstream we bought a few years ago mainly for art shows, and we feel and hear every rattle and bump in the thing. The Ranch campground is a large grassy area with some young thick trees and tall grasses between the sites. The sites are large, with plenty of room for our RV and our friend Karin's tent and screen room. It's nearly two miles into the park, and the road crosses many creeks. The first of these is Gamble Creek, whose water was running high thanks to some recent heavy rains.

After we got camp set up and situated, (we opened the awning on the RV for the first time, hoping against hope to find it intact, and it was), Lori and I headed back out to explore the roadside. Why? Because on the way in we saw these:

Showy lady's slipper orchids. Now, I am not an orchid nut. I've only ever seen one orchid that I know of, the pink lady's slipper. It's possible I've seen others and not known what I was looking at. Newcomb's says that this is a fast disappearing orchid that thrives in marshes an bogs. Interesting that we found it along the road and a big paved parking lot.

Newcomb's, by the way, is perhaps the best guide for identifying flowers. It's not a lazy person's guide--you can't just flip it open and look for the picture that matches the plant you've found. It asks you questions about the plant--flower type, plant type, leaf type. Depending on your answers, it will send you to a page that best represents your answers, were you'll find an excellent illustration and description of the plant you're looking for. Answer the questions wrong and you'll end up at the wrong plant, which can be frustrating. But what I like about it is that it forces you to really look at the plant and learn something about it that may help you remember it the next time you run across it.

Anyway, it is hard to not be impressed with these plants. In Stan Tekiela's book Wildflowers of Michigan, he notes that they are highly specialized plants, requiring very specific habitats. They are aided in growth by a fungus that lives on its roots. It is therefore nearly impossible to transplant successfully, though many have tried. And while they are long-lived plants, they also take up to 15 years to reach maturity and produce blooms.

This photo makes me think of two English ladies having tea.

Here are some other showy orchids, with last year's dried seed pods next to them. The seeds too require an invasion by a fungus in order to germinate. It's a wonder any of them ever grow!

The photo below was actually taken the following day after a morning of drizzle, which left everything dripping and glistening.

I spoke to several folks at my last two shows about orchids. I have a set of three wildflowers that I did when I first started working with ink pen and colored pencil, one of them being the pink lady's slipper I mentioned earlier. I clearly remember remarking to them that I had never seen a yellow lady's slipper, so imagine my excitement when we saw these, also growing right along the road side!

More delicate and refined, they have a subtlety that the other, gaudier lady's slippers lack. Like the showy, they also prefer wetter areas, and it was certainly wet along the road. I love the corkscrew petals that twine around the flower like curls on a Victorian lady. Or perhaps Pippy Longstocking's braids. Take your pick.

I was thrilled to see these flowers and am excited now to draw them both and have a set of lady's slippers.

Again, this was taken the next day, after it rained.

Before we headed home Lisa, Karin and I took a short hike along the Rifle River that passed through some swampy areas but was mainly high and dry. Here we discovered the remnants of a pink lady's slipper. Earlier bloomers than the other two, and preferring drier ground, they were nearly finished--this was the only one we found that still had a flower on it.

So who knew the Rifle River Rec Area would be so full of surprises! The rain moved in that evening so we didn't do any more exploring that day, but we made up for that the following day with a visit to the observation tower, a nature trail hike, and kayaking on Devoe Lake.

More to come!