Friday, April 30, 2010

Bay City Recreation Area

Boy, did we need a vacation. I know I've said it before but when you're self-employed it's easy to forget to stop working. It seems like it just goes on and on, especially if you work from home because then you never leave the office.

We were going to head over to the west side of the state to camp in one of my favorite places, Muskegon State Park. Wonderful campground with a great trail system that passes through many different kinds of habitat, thanks to it's being on the coastline. We decided instead to stay a little closer to home to save on travel time and to try out a new place. Bay City is on the east side of the state, on the west side of Saginaw Bay. It contains the Topico Marsh, which is supposed to be good for bird watching, has some trails of reasonable distance and is bisected by a paved rail trail.

It seems our timing was a bit off. We were months late for raptor migration, and several weeks to a month late for waterfowl migration. Songbirds don't start migrating in earnest for another week or two, so there wasn't really much to see. That's OK, we got away from the house and had a chance to catch our breath.

We rode our bikes over to Tobico Lagoon, which is the link between Tobico Marsh and Saginaw Bay.

Here a mute swan is on her nest.

It is a beautiful time of year filled with flowers and young leaves, but some places can be rather bland yet, like the marsh, whose cattails have not yet greened the place up. This red-winged blackbird tried his best to liven things up.

After leaving the lagoon we picked up the rail trail. I think these trails are one of the best ideas for reusing land. Built on top of old railroad beds, they offer an easy ride and usually some pretty nice scenery as well as, in many cases, serving as connectors between towns and cities.

These cinnamon ferns were growing along the trail.

Here are a few photos of horse tail. If you recall I posted a picture of one in my Earth Day blog last week. After seeing these plants I was a little confused, since these looked so different from the one I posted before, so I looked them up.

Turns out that these plants are considered to be living fossils. They have continuously inhabited the earth for over 250 million years--some of its ancestors grew to be 60 feet tall. Like many other ancient plants (like ferns) they to not actually flower but reproduce by spores or by spreading underground roots. Turns out the photo I posted last week is of a spore cluster of a horse tail, not a scouring rush as I indicated. Not every horse tail will produce a stalk with spores--the plants with spore cones are considered to be fertile, the ones that produce leaves are not.

Souring rush, on the other hand, is a taller plant that does not produce leaves like the ones seen below. Instead the plant grows as a hollow tube up to 4 feet tall, and each plant has spore-producing parts at the top of the stem. I will have to look for some scouring rush and do a post on the difference between the two.

Here is a trillium of a variety we don't have at home. We were a bit too early to see one in bloom, however. This plant will produce a much smaller flower on a taller stem than the large-flowered trillium. It is possible this will produce a maroon flower.

Now here's one I have only heard about but never seen--bloodroot. (I can't tell you how wonderful it is to have a naturalist in your back pocket when you're out on the trail. Lori is indispensable when it comes to pointing out plants.) Here again was a plant I knew nothing about so I looked it up.

Bloodroot, it turns out, grows from an orange-colored rhizome, and when the plant is injured will secrete a reddish-colored liquid. The flowers emerge before the leaves--you can see here that we were too late for the blooms, all that is left is the seed pod. The seeds will actually be spread by ants, who are attracted to a secretion in the plant and will take the seeds into their nest. The yummy coating will be eaten off and the seeds discarded to the ants' trash heap, where they might germinate.

Just so you can see what the plant looks like in bloom, here's a photo I found online, from the website The flowers will open up more than this.

And here is a wonderful illustration from 1791 by Sydenham Edwards, which I posted so you can see the whole structure. I thought this was better than yanking one up to see the roots for myself!

Next: More Bay City Rec Area

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


This gorgeous bird is housed at the Howell Nature Center. A female rough-legged hawk, she came to the center not as an injured animal but as an imprinted one. A woman took her from the nest at an early age and raised her as a pet--a big no-no. Unable at this point to care for herself in the wild, she now lives in the Wild Wonders nature park, and goes to schools and other events to help educate and amaze people of all ages. She will be the subject of one of my next pieces.

We are off to the Bay City State Recreation Area for an overnight camping trip, hoping to catch some of the spring bird migration and wildflowers. Here's to hoping the furnace works in our aged RV!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day 2010

To celebrate Earth Day Lori and I took a walk in the woods, armed with trash bags and a camera. We were in search of this villain, a nasty little invasive plant called garlic mustard. This one is tiny, but it can do a great deal of damage to a forest. Growing as tall as four feet, one plant can spread tens of thousands of seeds. If not controlled it can crowd out native species in a number of years.

So every spring we go out to a very special place in the woods near our home and pull garlic mustard. This is a place where there is something worth saving, like Jack-in-the-pulpit,

blue violets,


and miterwort.

Marsh marigold,

scouring rush,

and the queen of the forest, large-flowered trillium.

Then there's wood anemone,

round-lobed hepatica,

maidenhair and

interrupted ferns.

We also do it for little frogs who peep in the spring.

For everyone who works to save what matters, Happy Earth Day.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Spring is for Chickens

Well, we did it. When we built the new coop last fall we intended to get more chickens, so last Thursday we went and picked out four little fluffballs.

I really don't think there's much cuter than baby chickens. All furry and peeping, ours were so young they didn't even know how to walk yet, and still had the little egg tooth on the end of their beaks. (The egg tooth is what the hatchling uses to break through the shell of the egg--I just took these pictures Monday night, and the tooth had already fallen off.) By Friday they had figured out what their legs are for and were zooming around their pen like fuzzy pin balls.

We have them confined in a dog crate with cardboard walls inserted to keep them from squeezing through the bars and escaping, as well as to keep down drafts. They have a ceramic heat lamp that keeps them warm while they're snoozing, which they do laying on their bellies with their necks stretched out--no roosting yet for these little girls.

We have named them Lucy, Ethel, Ginger and Marianne.

This is Ethel. She is the calmest of the group, and readily sits in the palm of my hand.

This is Lucy. We picked four chicks that looked like they might be Araucanas, a breed of chicken that has a short comb, no waddles and it smaller and sleeker than other breeds. They resemble pheasants in many ways, are fast runners and can actually fly a respectable distance thanks to their small body weight. In my mind this gives them an advantage over potential predators, which I like as we do allow them to range for several hours in the evening. The breed is sometimes called Easter Eggers as they usually lay greenish to bluish eggs. We have one in our current brood and she is our most consistent layer.

This head on shot shows off Lucy's beard nicely. The other chicks don't have a prominent beard, although Fancy (our grown Araucana) didn't have one at this age either.

Marianne, a gorgeous little bird who we named because we had...

...Ginger. We started calling her Ginger because she's, well, a ginger. Once we had Ginger the brunette had to be Marianne.

When we bought them, they had just the tiniest hint of wing feathers. Four days later, they're nearly an inch long. This morning I noticed tail feathers on two of them. You can almost hear them growing it happens so fast. I never got photos of our last brood at this age because before I knew it they were gangly adolescents who had already lost much of their fuzz.

So there you have it, our newest family members, to go with our dog, two cats and five adult chickens. Perhaps I will try to get some photos of the older chickens today or tomorrow.

The end.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mural Work

I have away from my blog for awhile and I apologise. Last Sunday was the first day of the season for the Artisan Market in Ann Arbor, which I am now managing, and I was working to get ready for that. Then this week Lori and I had a mural job in Lake Orion (about 60 miles from here) which took us three days to complete, and I just didn't have the energy at the the end of the day to post.

So the mural that we did was in a downstairs lavatory, a small space to say the least and one whose biggest challenge was figuring out how we were both going to work in it at the same time. We managed, though, with the help of one of those multi-position ladders and a lot of patience.

The client had requested a forest scene, having seen our work at the Moose Tree Nature Center just down the road. Lori designed the mural to be a spring scene, and worked in the requested features.

It was difficult to get good shots of the space so I picked two primary directions to shoot from. Here is the sink area from outside the door, before we began...

...after day one...

And completed.

This is the area behind the toilet before...


...and after.

It can be difficult to leave a mural in its in-between stages when the client is going to see it. Some people don't understand how rough it looks when all you have in are blocks of color and no detail. These folks were great, however, and didn't seem the least bit nervous about what they'd gotten into.

The mural was primarily for the client's six year old daughter, who had some special requests:

Deer and ducks...

...a blue jay...


and a pair of cardinals, "a boy and a girl" as she wrote in her note to us.

The job went well. I painted the birds (not bad for someone who rarely picks up a brush), Lori did the critters, and then I did the high stuff and she did the low stuff. I am quite pleased with the way this turned out.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Spring Hike

We have been blessed with some fantastic weather the past week or so. Highs in the 60's and 70's, which is 10 to 20 degrees above normal. The world has burst into life and so have I, finding any odd job I can as an excuse to stay outside. Prune trees? Sure! Caulk the RV? No problem! Scoop dog poop? Can't wait!!

The girls had a better idea this past Sunday and proposed a hike. We didn't plan this real well as we left the house around 11am without eating lunch first and without packing snacks, so we were whupped by the time we got home. Even though the trail we took is only about 2--2 1/2 miles long it took us nearly three hours. Hiking with a bunch of artist/naturalists is not a good way to get an aerobic workout, but it's awesome if you like to stop every 50 feet and watch a bird or turn over logs or inspect pond life.

Many of the trees, like this maple (probably a red maple) were in full bloom.

Not to be outdone, willows in the marsh were showing off their blossoms.

We often find ourselves off the trail, following a deer path to see where it leads (and to look for shed antlers). That often leads to finds like this ant hill, which was just teaming with activity. The mound was nearly four feet across, and it looked like the ground was moving there were so many ants crawling around.

One of my favorite things about hiking this time of year is the vernal pond. Full of frog and insect life, the creatures that live here have to act fast, procreating and developing before the heat of summer dries up this seasonal habitat.

In and around these areas, the skunk cabbage thrives. Fascinating plant, this. It is able to create its own heat and so will begin to grow before the snow melts and the ground thaws. The flower part is the shiny red bit (called the spadix), with the leaves growing up around it.

Housed within the spadix is the spathe, the part of the plant that gets pollinated. Botanists think that the heat produced by the skunk cabbage is what results in it smell (not unlike rotting flesh) which attracts flies and other insects who are the pollinators of this plant. I am pretty sure that if I smelled like rotting flesh, no one would want to pollinate me. Yeesh!

While we were examining the plant life, Lori spotted a bird hoping about in the trees near the water. Ah, an eastern phoebe, apparently building a nest under the root ball of a large toppled tree nearby. We watched as he flew in and out of this sheltered spot.

Handsome fellow, watching us as closely as we watched him, flicking his tail up and down.

Near the end of our hike we spotted a small bird in the underbrush. Not until we got home and looked at the photos did we know it was a fox sparrow, well camouflaged in the shrubbery.

On the drive home we spotted a cluster of small yellow flowers along the road. I of course had to hop out and take some pictures. This is colt's foot, not a native plant but one brought from Europe and used for medicinal purposes. Pretty, though, and apparently not invasive, and certainly one of the first flowers I've seen so far this spring.

Our heat wave is over, rain has moved in and the temperature is dropping as I write this--and it's 10 am. But that's OK with me--too warm and spring moves too fast, and too much of life moves too fast as it is. I'm all for slowing things down.