Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Day at Van Riper

After we left Hog Island Point Thursday morning we headed north and west across the UP to Van Riper State Park. We didn't have to set up for the show until Friday afternoon and we were hoping to see moose. The chances were slim at best but it was a good excuse to get out into the woods.

The trail system at the park is not extensive but it passes through some great scenery. Here Lori and Lisa are ahead on the trail, on the lookout.

A short distance along and the main trail passes by Beaver Pond, where we did actually see beaver activity, although no beaver. For me this is a classic UP scene, true boreal forest full of evergreens, small lakes and ponds and a serenity one doesn't find in many places down state.

The area has been heavily logged and mined in the past, and the woods were quite young, but the mosses and lichens gave the woods an ancient feel.

Later in the day we took a walk along the Peshekee River, still looking for moose. About 15 years ago moose from Canada were relocated in the Michigamme area, and not two weeks before we were at the park a moose was seen down at the boat launch at the park. No such luck for us, but no matter--any excuse to get out in the woods!

On the trail along the river Lisa happened to look down and saw this feather, off the path and sort of under some shrubs. She picked it up thinking at first it was a vulture feather, but Lori quickly identified it as an eagle feather. This feather was about 16 inches long! What an exciting moment! We all held it, examined it, carried it for a while, then I took some pictures. It is illegal in Michigan to possess any feather except those of game birds, but it is a federal offence to possess an eagle feather--unless you're Native American.

On our way back down the trail, ol' Eagle Eye Lisa spotted the eagle's nest, across the river in a huge old white pine. The sun was setting behind the tree so I couldn't get any detail, but it's the big blob in the center of the tree. Eagle nests can weigh as much as 500 pounds, and I find it remarkable that the tree can support such a structure.
Even without any moose sightings it was a nice break, short as it was. Friday brought us back to reality, and we headed to Marquette for setup. It was cold and rainy much of the weekend so sales were slow, but we did OK, and got to stop at Seney National Wildlife Refuge on the way home Monday, but that will be for next time!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hog Island Point

One of the good things about traveling to do art shows is you get a chance to see things that maybe you wouldn't take the time to do otherwise. For us the show in Marquette is a long way from home (eight hours or more) and we like to break the drive up if we can. This year we left a day early so that we could do a little hiking and sight-seeing before the show.

Our first stop was Hog Island Point State Forest Campground (its namesake island is on the right). We found this place last year on our way home from Lori's Artist in Residence in the Porkies. It's a wonderful rustic campground off US 2, which runs along the southern shore of the Upper Peninsula. The sites are big and there's lots of space between you and your neighbors. The beach is rocky in places, sandy in others, and last year when we were there we saw coyote and weasel tracks in the sand.

The rocky beach is full of summer wildflowers, and the backdrop of cedar, fir and tamarack made for some wonderful contrast.
Black-eyed Susans were plentiful, as was Joe-pye weed, goldenrod, and many other low-growing plants able to withstand the battering waves on this south-west facing beach.
Harebells were blooming in some of the wetter, more wooded areas.

Even the rocks get in on the colorful action, hosting a wide variety of fungus and lichens--which I unfortunately know nothing about!

We heard loons calling from some distant inland lake, and coyotes yipping in the dusk. Three times bald eagles scared up the gull colony out on the island, sending 1,000 or more birds screaming into the air--and each time I was without my camera. We weren't able to stay long, only had a few hours of evening light and then left around 9am or so the next morning, on our way to Van Riper State Park, west of Marquette. But the short stay only makes us want to go back all the more.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On The Road

After a busy week getting ready for a show in Petoskey (where I managed to win an honorable mention award, how exciting!) I had two days to get ready for this upcoming show in Marquette, so I have not had a chance to write or shoot any pics. We will be camping where wifi is available, and if all else fails we just got an iPhone (mostly so we can check weather on the road). I am looking forward to sharing the sights of the UP with you all and excited about blogging on the road!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Summer Meadow

The trail in the rec area nearest to our house has a nice variety of terrain. My last post included some photos of the part of the trail that's loaded with wildflowers, some of which are endangered. The trail passes by marshland full of tamarack and uplands with hardwoods. There are also groups of pines and some really hilly parts that sport vernal ponds. But perhaps my favorite place is the small clearing at the north-west corner of the trail.

I have always loved meadows, with their showy flowers and brightly colored birds. I had the great pleasure of watching an indigo bunting here in the spring, and in summer the air above the meadow is full of dragonflies zipping to and fro. Black-eyed Susans and bergamot are in full swing, and the meadow smells spicy and warm.

Butterflies abound as well, and here a rather tattered fritillary is having lunch. Maybe it was a late breakfast. Anyway, it was feeding on the aptly-named butterfly weed.

But perhaps the sweetest-smelling flower in the meadow in mid-July is milkweed, another butterfly favorite, and it's easy to see why. The large clusters of tiny flowers are perfect for the whip-like proboscis of butterflies, and a bright yellow swallowtail on a cluster of purple milkweed is a sight to stop you in your tracks.

I'm not really sure what it is about a meadow that I find so appealing. I grew up on a lake and so maybe I feel more comfortable in wide open spaces. But to sit for a spell on the edge of a meadow on a warm summer day, listening to the buzzing and whirring of crickets and grasshoppers and the happy song of a catbird is without a doubt one of life's greatest pleasures.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Walk in the Woods

Summertime for me is not the time of year I generally spend in the woods. The dense underbrush makes for poor sight lines, the bounty of the spring flowers is past, and there's usually about a bazillion mosquitoes in a cloud around my head. I prefer to be near or on the water this time of year. However, Lori and I were on a search for gooseberries, a yummy but particularly pokey fruit that requires great patience and very thick skin to harvest.

Sorry about the image quality--hand-holding a camera in the woods in the low, filtered light of summer is not recommended!

As we walked the trail we were both surprised at the number of flowering plants there were. There's not room to post them all, but here's a sampling:

Pointed-leaved tick-trefoil, a delicate flower in the pea/bean family

Poke milkweed. This one threw me, but I finally found it in Newcomb's wildflower guide (a great book if you're looking to actually identify plants rather than look at pretty pictures).

Michigan lily, a plant I'd never seen before, was growing very near a small swamp, set neatly within a whole bunch of nettles, which kept me in my short-pants from getting a very good closeup. Need to bring a longer lens next time!

Hazelnuts. When you're out walking, you have to really keep your eyes open and try to look for the unexpected. Lori spotted these and thought at first they were some kind of leaf gall, then realized upon closer examination that they are really nuts. I would probably have walked right by this little tree but it caught the attention of her ever-alert eye.

We made it out of the woods with about 1 1/2 cups of gooseberries and several dozen mosquito bites--they have quite the knack for finding that one spot that you missed with the bug spray. Lori made gooseberry/blueberry muffins, after rubbing all the pokey bits off, of course. And you know, I just realized I haven't even eaten one yet!

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Young Buck

After many close calls and sightings when my camera was not at hand, I finally got a chance to photograph one of our young bucks.

This fellow stopped by yesterday evening to eat mulberries in the back yard. Lisa had just walked into the kitchen, then walked calmly back into the living room and stated "There's a buck in the backyard." Get too excited around here and our dog Jackson does too, and scares everything away.

I was not able to get great pics as I had to shoot through a window screen. I was afraid that if I opened the screen I'd scare him off, so I settled for some shaky hand-held shots and a lot of Photoshop.

While I was snapping pics two of our chickens came running from behind my studio all helter-skelter like, then stopped dead for a moment to check out the visitor.

Shortly thereafter something spooked him and he bolted a few steps, spooking the chickens in the process.
He settled down to eat some more berries, then walked calmly off the stage, our chicken Trouble following behind.
And as I watched him leave I thought to myself, "this is why we plant marigolds...."

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"Marshland Melody"

This is an image of my latest piece, "Marshland Melody". I actually finished this a few weeks ago but was so busy that I didn't have time for any in progress shots.

I got the shot at Kensington Metropark when I went out one morning to get pictures of the herons at the rookery. A deer caught my eye at the edge of the marsh, and as I was trying to get some pics of her, I noticed all of the red-winged blackbirds on the cattails right in front of me. I have wanted to do one of these for quite a while, so I swung the camera around and focused on this fellow, who was several hundred feet away. I saw him start to puff up, and got one shot just as he was bellowing his konkaree. You've gotta love good timing!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Life in a mulberry tree

We are blessed to have a red mulberry in our backyard. Some will think I'm a lunatic for making such a statement because many people hate these trees. They, well, they make lots of mulberries, which make quite a mess when they fall all over your yard or driveway or whatever. But for me, it is the Tree of Life--as soon as the berries begin to ripen in June, it is filled with birds of all sorts, sun up till sundown, and overnight the deer and raccoons come and clean up what's on the ground. And what's even better is the tree is right outside the second floor bedroom window and thus offers me an opportunity for some great shots.

Here is a young oriole learning the ropes of self-sufficiency. There have been three babes in the tree at once and I'm trilled to see them.

This is about the only time that I see cedar waxwings, and we'll often have 5 or more in the tree at once. This is a male in breeding plumage.

I am not sure if this is a juvenile or female red-wing blackbird.

I've seen two young red-bellied woodpeckers in the mulberry. This one was calling mom, who was none too happy about being bothered, and shortly after this came flying up and chased the youngster away. Guess her work raising her brood is done!

Cardinals abound in the mulberry too.

I was surprised to see king birds--I had no idea that we had any around here, I've always seen them near water. I originally thought these were young tree swallows, but the swallow has a much smaller bill and no white on the tail. A new species for the Farley Road bird list!

Here a female red-bellied woodpecker has words with (I think) a young starling.

Even the robins get in on the action, and the tree hosts juveniles and adults alike.
So before you have trees and shrubs removed because they make a mess on your patio, think about all the life they support. We lost a good chunk out of this tree in the spring during a storm, and I hope that it heals itself and hangs on for a good long while. We would lose so much life from our backyard if we lost this tree, and the birds and animals that sustain themselves with it's bounty every year would lose, too.