Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Again

The holiday season is upon us once again, and I have to say that I have much to be thankful for.

I am thankful for my wonderful little studio, my little get-away place.

I am thankful for the mulberry tree, that brings in so many birds each summer.

I am thankful for the wrens, who honor me by raising their family in the house on my studio,

and for the gimpy doe, who brings her fawn around every spring. She could stop eating my redbuds, however. Just sayin'.

I am thankful for fuzzy little chicken butts,

and kittie lovin'.

But I am especially thankful for those who choose to spend their precious time with me,

especially these two silly girls, without whom none of the rest of it would matter much.

And thanks to all of you, who take the time to read. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Autumn Sun

It has been a very dry fall here in Southeast Michigan. Ponds and marshes are drying up, and we had very little in the way of fall color as most of the leaves just sort of dried up and died.

The upshot of this is we can now walk from our property to the trail at the southwest corner of the Brighton Rec Area. Usually we are separated by a marshy creek, which is passable only with the help of waders and a long stick. But this year we were able to navigate the marsh without getting our feet wet.

We took our walk on a beautiful late autumn day, a day the temperature hit 68 degrees, a record. Our journey starts here, on our property. We then cut across our neighbor's land, along a natural gas pipeline easement. The easement crosses the marsh, and then runs along the west edge of the state land, where we pick up the trail.

I love the woods this time of the year. I love the openness and the low, soft light of a winter sun.

We made our way round to our favorite place in these woods, where in the spring the ground is covered with ferns and wildflowers. In November, however, there are only the remains of the inhabitants, all tucked in and waiting for winter. Maiden hair fern stands brown against a browner background.

Milkweed sheds its shining seeds in the autumn breeze.

The swamp, which is usually pretty dry this time of year, yields no water this fall.

But all is not asleep. Witch hazel, or winterbloom, is showing its delicate yellow flowers. Its bendable branches were often used for divining rods, which would come in handy this fall.

The hepatica too is still lively, purple-veined leaves ready to wait out the winter snows. This will be one of the first plants to bloom in the spring.

There are many dead oaks around the swamp, palettes for bird and ant to create their abstract art.

As we were able to push farther into the usually swampy area we found some things we have missed in the past, like this young oak, witness to a by-gone time when fences created irrelevant boundaries.

Perhaps one day they will all be consumed, and we all will once again be able to move freely through our world.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chicken Update

I want to do a quick chicken update. We acquired four new chickens this spring to add to our flock of five, tiny little fluffballs that we raised in a dog crate in the basement until they were big enough to go out to the coop. I posted some photos back in May of the newest members of our flock. At that time, Kittie from The Block commented that Ginger (who went with our black chick, Mary Anne, you know, from Gilligan's Island) looked like she had an attitude, and was destined for MIT. Well, Kittie, you have no idea....

Here is Ginger in May:

And here is what "Ginger" became:

That's right. Ginger, it turns out, is a rooster, not a hen. We now call him Rhodie, as we believe he is a Rhode Island Red.

When chicks hatch they are sexed. Females are separated from the males and sent to feed stores all across the country, in a box, in the mail. Females will grow up to be laying hens, males, well, I am not really sure what happens to the males. Point is, when you go to the feed store and pick your chicks, they should be female. However, my understanding is that sexing chicks is tricky business, and sometimes males get through--lucky devils. Our first batch of chicks, back in 2008, were all hens. With this batch we were not so lucky--two of the four turned out to be roosters.

But my, isn't he handsome! He glows like the hens never will--their business is making eggs, not looking dashing. Metrosexual chickens, roosters are.

He takes his job of protecting and guiding his flock very seriously, although he really is quite gentle and something of a buffoon. It took him months to get used to his rapidly growing legs and feet, and would routinely fall off the deck or trip as he ran across the yard. But he has grown into quite a looker, and stands head and shoulders above the hens. Here he is keeping an eye on one of our two year old hens, Emily. He's really just a big marshmallow on the inside, though--he will take food from our hands, and lets me pet him in the evening when he's roosting in the coop.

Our other rooster, Ricky (he was Lucy, as in Lucy and Ethel) found a good home down the road managing a flock of 18 young hens. We kept Rhodie because he seemed the more easy going of the two, and so attractive.

And I have to hand it to you, Kittie, you sure did call this rooster out! Talk about attitude!

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Bird in the Hand

We are blessed, here in the Pinckney Michigan area, to be surrounded by parks. Within a 20 minute drive are three State Recreation areas, with approximately 37,000 combined acres of land with hiking, mountain bike and equestrian trails. The Huron River winds past nearby, and we have 50-plus lakes in our area. In addition, there are five MetroParks within that 20 minute radius. Kensington is the largest of these at 4,481 acres. A big chunk of that is Kensington Lake, but they also have a nature center and nature trails with an active heron rookery.

Lori and I stopped by Kensington recently with one purpose in mind--to feed the birds. I had seen others do it, and had been followed by birds as we walked the trails in the past, but we had never remembered to bring seed. So we filled a baggie with sunflower seeds and peanuts, made our way to a sunny bench, and sat with outstretched hands. It didn't take long for the birds to make an appearance.

What a sensation, to have the tiny little toes of a chickadee clasped to the end of your fingers. They are so light that if not for their pointy claws you would hardly know they were there.

First the chickadees came, but soon Tufted titmice joined the fray.

Lastly the nuthatch came in for a bite.

The birds were all around, on the ground below our feet, on the bench seat and back, even hoping across our shoes. To be so close to hear their wings beat and see the light glint in their eyes was a wonderful treat. No doubt we'll be going back again.

And while a bird in the hand may be worth two in the bush, I'll take 'em any way I can get 'em!

And just a quick mention, we here at Bear Track Studios are having our annual Open House at our home gallery, on Saturday, November 13, from 10 am to 6 pm. My studio will also be open. Walk the trails, watch the birds, look at (and buy!) great art, have a snack and a chat. We'd love to see you!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Wilderness Meadow

The day after my forest/fungus walk I rode my bike west toward the end of the point. Waugoshance Point Road is unpaved much of the way, and leads out to five state park cabins and a few parking areas. Essentially a dead end, there was almost no traffic. The road was flat and pretty smooth for being dirt, so the pedaling was easy. I haven't ridden my bike much, and it felt good getting out for a ride.

The road winds through cedar and black spruce, coming to a parking lot five miles or so from the campground. I tethered my bike to a post, covered the seat in case it rained, grabbed my snack/camera bag, and headed for the shore.

The Mackinaw Bridge, linking the Lower and Upper Peninsulas, was visible in the distance.

I crossed several gravelly berms to get to the water. I realized as I crossed the last one that these were old shorelines, left high and dry by the receding waters. Levels in the Great Lakes have been falling for years, and here was evidence of that.

My plan here, if I really had one, was to try to walk to the end of the point, a mile or so to the west. But the scenery wasn't doing it for me, and the wind was a bit brisk from the northwest. I looked to the treeline that bisected the point and noticed a faint trail. So I headed that way, and emerged through thick white cedars on the edge of a wet meadow.

It all looked rather desolate at first. But as I made my way to the two-track that cut through the meadow, I began to realize this place was full of grasses and flowers, now dried and stiff in the breeze. The "upland" areas were covered with clumps of little bluestem, its fuzzy seeds glowing in the afternoon light.

Small, stunted cedars clung for life in the rocky soil, and clusters of them provided shelter for other plants to gain a foothold.

I followed the track as far as I could, but as the trail slowly lost what little elevation there was, it filled with water.

I decided to cut across the meadow to the south shore of the point. I had to pick my way carefully as there was a great deal of standing water.

This side of Waugoshance Point is more protected from the wrath of Lake Michigan's storms and featured a multitude of tiny islands. I bet this is prime waterfoul/wading bird habitat in summer. The critically endangered Piping plover is known to nest here.

The plants changed as the ground became wetter. Cedars and bluestem were replaced with dogwoods and goldenrod.

I did not see much in the way of animal activity here. Some chickadees and nuthatches worked the treeline where I first crossed into the meadow, and I did flush a Common snipe from the grass at one point, but I half expected to see a fox. Here at least was a well worn trail.

This old nest was firmly woven in amongst the grasses.

I love big skies. I grew up on a lake and became accustomed to wide views. This area really appealed to me. I think that a lot of people would see this as a wasteland, but it is not. It's the kind of place that forces you to slow down and look carefully, to notice the small things.

The following day I packed up and hit the road. It was nice having a few days of quiet and solitude but I was ready to be home. Wilderness State Park is certainly a place I will visit again.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fungus, Part 2

Ready for your second (and last) fungus lesson?

For whatever reason this post went much better than the last, where I easily spent four hours trying to positively ID every image. Perhaps these were more distinct, or maybe I am getting better at it. Whatever the case, I didn't have to spend much more time on this post than I do on most others.

On that note, let's get to it!

We'll start with a lichen, actually--Flavoparmelia caperata, or common greenshield. This is apparently one of the most common lichens out there. An interesting thing about lichens--they are extremely sensitive to pollution. According to Joe Walewski in his book Lichens of the North Woods, foresters and ecologists use lichens as indicators of the health of forests. The more diverse the lichen population, the healthier the environment. Common greenshield is one of the hardier varieties and is often the first lichen to return to a once polluted environment.

Here is a "young" Pellinus ignairius, a bracket fungus whose top loses its color as it ages and becomes charred-looking. This one is still very colorful.

This one was easy--a birch polypore, or Piptporus betulinus. Often, identifying the substrate upon which the fungus is growing is the most important information after a description the fungus itself.

Now this one was frustrating. I looked through the book three times and could not come up with a name for this one. It is a gill fungus (note the underside), perhaps two to three inches across, with a distinctive knobby stalk, growing off a yellow birch. I thought maybe Pluteus articapillus, or deer mushroom, but the book says it has a smooth stalk. Hmmm....

These tiny little guys are in the Mycena family, perhaps viscosa. The Mycena genus has hundreds of species, but this seemed to match what was in the book. They were growing out of the ground in a mixed part of the forest--you can see white cedar as well as maple leaves.

This one was easy, looked exactly like the guide photo, right down to the paper birch log it was growing on--Tramete pubescens. I was curious about the meaning of the name so I found this online: Trametes means "one who is thin"; pubescens means "with hairs of puberty, downy." I will have to look at one of these a bit closer next time to see if I can find the hairs.

Below is a nice bunch of honey mushrooms, Armillaria mellea. I have another image of a few of these whose crowns are not cracked like this. I assume then that these are older. Note the one at the bottom right of the frame, where you can see the underside and stalk--very important in identifying fungus, I came to realize.

Towards the end of the hike (yes, these have gone in the order I found them along the trail) was this little oddity. It looks like a Pileated woodpecker had been working over this red pine, only a few feet off the ground. In the wound was now growing the jelly fungus Dacrymyces palmatus, or "fairy butter". Can you get a better name than that? I can see little wood nymphs coming out at night with their little knives and spreading this on little slices of bread.

And lastly, the tooth fungus Hericium americanum. While not as impressive as some of the images I found of it, this was growing exactly where it was supposed to be, on the side of a hardwood log.


For anyone who may be interested in doing a little field work of their own, here are a few tips, gleaned from my own troubles in identifying these fungi (and this can apply to nearly everything):

1) Have a bit of working knowledge before you hit the trail so you know what to look for. Knowing what the differences are between each group, and therefore knowing what you should be looking for, is mighty helpful. Before I started to do this blog I wouldn't have known a bolete if you'd conked me on the head with one!

2) Carry with you a small ruler and/or a coin such as a quarter to use as reference with each subject. This makes size easily discernible when you go back to look at your images.

3) Don't just look at the top of the mushroom--peek underneath, look at the stem and the underside of the specimen and describe what you see. Make some notes if you can't get a good picture.

4) Pay very close attention to where it is growing! Is it on a log or stump? What kind of tree is it growing on? Some fungus prefer hardwoods, other conifers. Is it growing directly out of the ground? Look up--what kinds of trees is it growing underneath? Are you in a coniferous forest, hardwood forest or open grassland or pasture? All of these things will help a great deal to narrow the list.

5) Lastly, do not assume that the specimen in your guide is going to look exactly like your picture or the specimen right in front of you. While you can walk in a woods anytime from May through September and the maple tree before you will look pretty much the same, mushrooms are very short lived and can change dramatically in a short period of time. If the image in your book was taken early in a mushroom's life, and yours towards the end, your specimen may look totally different.

Like warblers in autumn, fungus can be tricky to ID. Give yourself as much information to go on and you'll increase your chances of getting a positive identification. Trust me, I learned the hard way!