Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Artwork--white throated sparrow finished

Well here is the handsome songster, the white-throated sparrow, finished and getting ready for his first show this weekend up in Traverse City. Not sure what to call this piece yet--since the mnemonic for his song is "Poor Sam Peabody" it will likely either be "Poor Sam!" or "Mr. Peabody."

Monday, July 26, 2010

End of the Trail

Leaving the Baldhead River behind we continued to climb back up towards Orphan Lake. The trail passed through some marshy terrain, and we carefully navigated the slippery boardwalk.

The trail led back to Orphan Lake, now at the north east corner, where a small creek drains the lake into the Baldhead River. The shore was strewn with logs and debris, and I could hear the creek water trickling. I walked out along a berm-like structure before I realized I was walking along a beaver dam!

I went back to shore to get a shot of the dam. What amazing creatures to pull off such engineering feats.

We walked along the shore, and I stopped at another break in the trees to admire the stony bottom while Karin went on ahead.

When I caught up to her, she mentioned that a loon had just taken off from farther down the lake. I had my short lens on the camera but got a few shots as it flew past.

Loons are large birds, two to three feet in length with a wingspan up to four and a half feet and weighing up to 13 pounds. I expected the bird to continue in the direction it was headed and fly off over the trees, but it apparently didn't have enough speed yet. As we were turning to leave I heard wing beats behind me and the soft, whistling grunt of this heavy-bodied bird straining to take to the air. Karin and I both turned back to the lake just in time to see, not more that 10 feet away, the the loon fly past the opening in the trees as it banked along the shore.

For that brief moment time seemed to go into slow motion as the loon filled up the space before us. Like in a snapshot I could see every feather on its breast. Its huge paddle feet were tucked under its tail and I could hear its breath and the air beneath its wings. We stood there with our mouths hanging open long after the loon had vanished, hardly believing what we'd just seen.

Even though the terrain had started to even out as the loop neared the trail back to the parking lot, we were both getting tired. I sat on a log to rest a moment and Karin snapped this picture of me.

We were both kind of dreading the hike back to the car. The last leg is always the worst as it often feels like the hike is already over and you're just trudging along, ready to be done.

But as we picked up the last leg of the trail we both noticed prints in the mud that had not been there that morning. MOOSE!! Here's my foot for scale. We found other tracks that indicated it was a cow with a calf, so we kept a close eye out for the pair as we really didn't want a confrontation with a protective moose mother. No matter how badly we wanted to see a moose, we didn't really want it to be in the middle of the woods! However, while the tracks lead all the way to the parking lot, where we lost them, we never did see the moose, but the lookout did keep up occupied for the return hike.

There's no question this was one of the most beautiful hikes I've ever taken. The terrain is so varied; thick woods, marsh land, rocky overlooks, waterfalls and the Lake Superior shore. What a spectacular place.

Next: The South Old Woman River Trail

Friday, July 23, 2010

Baldhead River

After a vigorous downhill climb we emerged on the shore of Lake Superior. The gray-green water looked chilly, but at least the fog had lifted somewhat.

Wave-rounded stones covered the shore, making walking difficult.

We found a spot on the banks of the Baldhead River, down the side of a stone dune, to sit and have lunch, while the wind gusted above our heads. After lunch we continued down the trail, which runs along the right bank of the river.

With all the spectacular scenery it's easy to miss the little things.

We came upon an area where a short side trail led to an area of small waterfalls.

Trying to hand-hold my camera using a slow enough shutter speed to blur the water was a challenge. I had left my three pound tripod in the car, so I had to squat, elbows on knees, and hold my breath.

Every time I'm in Superior Country I am amazed at the resiliency of the plant life. My apologies, but I have not yet identified this plant.

Hair bells make the most of thin soil collected in a crack.

I had been checking out an eight foot deep crevasse under the cliff along the river, and as I turned to leave I noticed a rank smell, not unlike mouldering cow manure. I thought, huh, that's odd, there aren't any cows here, then stopped in my tracks. BEAR, some primal part of my brain hollered. I turned around and peered into the dank darkness, then got the heck out of there!

Next: The last leg.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Artwork--white throated sparrow

I would like to interrupt the Lake Superior blog series to post my latest work in progress, a white-throated sparrow:

We have these chipper little birds here at home, but there were all over the park in Ontario, singing "poor Sam Peabody" and chasing the ladies through the dense shrubs. This particular bird is one I saw up in the Bay City Rec Area this past spring.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Orphan Lake Trail, Lake Superior Provencial Park

I absolutely could not wait to get out on the trail that first morning in the park. Karin had suggested this hike, saying it is one of her favorites (she's been to the park nearly 20 times). So we loaded our packs, me with cameras and binoculars and Karin with everything else, and we drove out to the trail head.

The first part of the hike is a linear trail that is fairly flat and passes through a moderately dense second growth forest. I hate to say that I was unimpressed, but Karin had built this up to be such a spectacular hike that I was disappointed in the first leg of it. Oh, but just wait--it got better.

We reached the Orphan Lake overlook in good time. Oh, what a view! OK, I decided this was worth it after all. The fog-shrouded hills lent great depth to the view.

The overlook is more than 300 feet above Lake Superior, which was invisible thanks to the fog. I really enjoyed the moody feel the fog lent to the day. We had a snack (I eat a lot when I hike--keeps my energy up!) then began the descent towards Superior.

Down and down we went until we reached the shore of Orphan Lake. The fog grew thicker as we descended.

We emerged through thick forests into an area that had burned in a fire in 1998. In front of us, past the shrouded trees, was another ridge, not visible through the fog, and to the left, Superior. The fog was billowing through this gap, blown in off the big lake by a stiff breeze. I wish I'd had a video camera to capture the movement of the fog, at once beautiful and foreboding.

The trail appeared to be heading straight into the fog, and I could imagine us getting drenched by it, so I covered my camera with a trash bag and put the caps on my binoculars.

No too far down the trail we came to this moss covered tree, known colloquially as old man's beard.

Before the trail reached the foggy gap it made a turn to the left and plunged downward. The fog stayed above our heads and we stayed dry. Thankfully, so did the trail, which by now had become steep in places and strewn with rocks.

This was utterly spectacular scenery. I scolded myself for doubting Karin in the beginning as I now understood why she loves this trail.

How can you not love a trail like this!

Next: Lake Superior and the Baldhead River

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Morning on Crescent Lake

Dawn comes early in the north--5:30 am early, to be precise, which means the birds start signing at around 4:45 am. So I was awake before sunrise but couldn't bring myself to roll out of bed (since we were car camping I'd brought my cot--ahhhh). When I did finally get up and stumble down to the water, I wished I had gotten up when I first awoke--what a beautiful morning! I grabbed my paddle and hopped in my kayak. Karin had to stay and have her morning coffee, and came out later.

I had the lake completely to myself. Not a breath of wind stirred the surface.

I turned to look back at our campsite. Nothing of it could be seen but Karin's blue kayak laying on the shore.

A small creek flowed--into? out of? the lake. I thought this would be a prime spot to see a moose. All of the pond lily flowers were munched off just at the waterline, and I thought maybe that was moose-doings, but we discovered later that this was also from the beaver.

While I floated by the creek, movement in the trees caught my eye and I saw, above me in the cedars, a black-throated green warbler. How exciting! A new species for me!

Around a bend I disturbed a family of common mergansers resting on the shore. What a sight they were, chicks huddles around and under mom. Unfortunately I couldn't get my camera out before they spooked and hopped in the water.

Fog is a constant companion this near to Lake Superior. It thins and thickens, blows in in great clouds but can blow out just as fast. The fog was a much of a character here as the beaver and loons.

Speaking of beaver, on the far side of the lake from the campground, I finally saw the beaver lodge. Keeping my distance, I watched as two beavers busied themselves at the lodge.

It was then I was distracted by a loon. As I watched the loon and tried to get some photos, I heard a tremendous splash. I looked around but all I saw was another family of mergansers swimming away from the lodge. I thought, "huh, that's odd, I wouldn't think a bird that size would make that much noise jumping into the water, but OK." I turned back to the loon, as I drifted slowly past the lodge.

Then I heard the splash again and wondered "What the...??" I turned and noticed that suddenly everywhere there were beavers. They were coming from several different places on the lake, four or five of them, and it was then I realized that the splashing was one of the beavers smacking its tail against the surface of the water in a warning to me that I was getting too close to their home. Ha! I really wanted to get some shots of the tail slapping in action but I don't like to intentionally disturb the wildlife so I moved away.

The loon in the meantime had totally disappeared, perhaps because of the warnings from the beaver. I never heard it take off--loons make a tremendous racket when they take off, running across the surface of the water for several hundred feet before finally taking to the air--but I also never saw it resurface. Later, as I was making my way back to camp for some breakfast, I saw the loon, not more than 200 feet from out campsite.

Nothing like hiding in plain sight!

Next: The spectacular Orphan Lake Trail

Monday, July 12, 2010

LSPP Crescent Lake Trail

After over five hours in the car and setting up camp it was starting to get a little late to do much in the way of hiking. However, after five hours in the car, neither one of us wanted to sit in a kayak. We were happy to see that there was a short trail off the campground road and decided to stretch our legs. The sun had begun to peek out and it was a pleasant evening so an easy walk seemed like just what we needed.

One of the things that surprised me about this park is there were no trail maps available. Each trail head had a sign with a map and description (in English and French) but I guess they figured you could memorize the trail map. I for one like to have a map handy as I like to know where I am and what I'm looking at. I don't feel like the journey is any more adventurous without a map!

There are a lot of lakes in this park and there are many canoe routes between them. Crescent Lake (bottom right on this map) is part of a canoe trail that includes portages to MacGregor Lake (top), Kenny Lake (left) and Mudhole Lake (middle). We had talked about the possibility of doing this water loop but we never got around to it. The Crescent Lake hiking trail crossed several of these portages.

Right off the bat we found the portage from Crescent lake to Mudhole Lake and saw this beaver track. Remember, this was before we saw any beaver, and I was excited to see more sign of them. I forgot to mention last post that I had only seen a beaver once before, at a great distance in the Seney Nat'l Wildlife Refuge in Michigan, so I was eager to see some on this trip.

More sign of beaver. They take down trees of this size in order to get at the branches, which they strip to eat the inner bark.

We followed the portage over to Mudhole Lake and found a beaver lodge on the far side.

This little plant was everywhere, and I could not for the life of me remember what it was while we were there. But just the other day I was reading a book about an island in the Puget Sound and the author was writing about wood sorrel. Ah ha!

Following the trail we came to MacGregor Lake. I was surprised to see how rugged this country is. Apparently this whole area, from northwestern Wisconsin on up through Ontario, was once a mountain range, way way back, and these are the remnants of them. From what I recall there was once a lot of volcanic activity here and the mountain ranges were created much like the ring of mountains and islands we see in the Pacific today, from Indonesia through Japan and up to Alaska.

There were a great number of yellow-bellied sapsuckers in this area. Signs of them were everywhere, including on this downed tree trunk. While downy and hairy woodpeckers make rows of horizontal holes, and pileated make huge oblong-shaped excavations, the sapsucker makes its holes vertically (remember, this log is laying on the ground).

I finally caught sight of a sapsucker on a snag and managed to get a few decent shots. I may do a drawing of this bird and add it to my woodpecker series!

By the time we'd gotten round to Kenny Lake it was really starting to brighten up. I can't get enough of the spruce/cedar/birch forests that line these lakes. All the shapes and contrasts are a treat for the eye!

The woods along the trail were a nice mix of young birch and poplar and some huge yellow birch. The birds were singing their evening songs as the sun turn the tree canopy to gold. It was a splendid evening indeed.

Next: Morning on Crescent Lake