Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Of Turtles and Warblers

Pictured Rocks cont:

I finally dragged myself away from the Chestnut-sided warbler, who looked like he might sit in his cedar all day, singing. There was more to see, after all, and the girls were getting antsy.

The path crossed another boardwalk and Karin spotted this scat on the railing. Lori later identified it as from a five-lined skink, a small lizard that lives in Michigan. I am not certain after looking into it farther. It lacks the white tip that accompanies most bird and reptile scat. It is full of insect casings, which the skink eats, but I am just not sure. It's kind of pretty, nonetheless.

Mystery poo.

A beaver lodge sat perched across the far shore, but we did not see any beaver.

Beaver lodge.

We came to a bridge that crossed a creek and were startled by a rather large snapping turtle who came zipping through the water right towards us as we stood on the bridge. He was going so fast I couldn't get him in focus.

Then, as he reached the bridge, he stopped dead and started at us.

And stared.

And stared.

It was rather disconcerting, to be eyed like that by a creature that wants to snack on your toes. Lori stuck her shoe out over the deck of the bridge, which was only six inches or so above the water, and you could see the turtle's eyes flicker, just a hair.

He swam under the bridge to study us from the other side. It really was unsettling, to be studied so intently by another animal, especially one that can do you harm.  Did someone come out here and feed this monster? He seemed to me to be waiting for us to give him something, like a begging dog. He hung around for five minutes or more, watching. Yeesh.

Just past the bridge I heard twittering in the shrubbery. This time of year the only way you can find anything is to listen for it first, then watch where the sound is coming from. After a moment I saw movement and started shooting--always shoot first and ask questions later! You might not get a better look than your first, and if it is not a familiar bird, whatever pics you get may be the only chance you have to identify it.

Yellow-rumped warbler singing in the shrubbery.

Fortunately this little fella hung around, even posing for some nice portraits.

We eventually made our way back to the van, stopping briefly to check out the beach. Most of the swimmers and beachgoers had been chased off by the storm, although it never rained at the beach. But this was just a prelude to what was to come. We drove back to the motel and sat around outside our room, checking emails and snacking. Within a half hour it began to rain, and it rained and rained and thundered and hailed and then rained some more. We were all very glad we'd postponed our hike by a day!

Steam from the paper mill spreads out below the storm.

Next: We finally hit the trail!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Artwork--A Two-fer!

I have been busting my tail to get some new artwork done since we returned from Pictured Rocks. I have 10 shows in the next nine weeks, and a few of them do not allow framed prints to be hung in your booth. Once again I did not get nearly enough work done over the winter, and I've sold four originals in three shows so far this year. At that pace I will be in trouble by August, so I have been spending a lot of time in the studio, to the detriment of all sorts of other things.

First up is this pretty little American goldfinch I finished today. I've done a couple of them over the years, the last one about four years ago, a male perched on an purple coneflower. I really like the composition of this image but had a hell of a time figuring out the wing feathers from this angle. They are close but probably not exactly right. Thank goodness for artistic license....

"All That Glitters"

Next we have another American, this time the American robin. This is one of those birds that you see everywhere. It is so ubiquitous that I barely notice them at all anymore, except at 5:30 in the morning when they start singing to raise the dead outside the bedroom window. I got shots of this stately female while I was at a show last year in Madison Wisconsin. Let's just say the show was, well, slow, so I wandered off with my camera and left Lisa at my booth. The robin was working her way across the lawn of the park. I love this pose, so typical for this bird, always with its beak in the air, very aristocratic. I figured it was about time to draw Michigan's state bird!

"The Early Bird"

Both pieces are 10 x 8, framed to 14 x 11, and, for now, are $425 each.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Chestnut-sided Warbler at Sand Point Marsh

Pictured Rocks con't:

One of the reasons I wanted to walk the Sand Point Marsh trail is that I knew there would be birds there. Sure enough, one of the info signs talked about the various birds that could be found at the marsh, including the Marsh wren. I'd never seen one so we spent some time hanging out at a boardwalk overlook of one of the wetter areas but did not see any wrens. We did see Eastern kingbirds (I think!) hanging out in a ragged old white pine. (This is also where we saw the American restart from the last post.)

Pair of kingbirds, one right, one left of the trunk.

The trail moved through some woods of cedar, pine and spruce, then the boardwalk picked up again as the trail cut across the marsh. I could hear twittering in the shrubs so I stopped and waited to see who was about. I didn't know what it was when I first saw it, but finally figured out it was a Chestnut-sided warbler!

Playing peek-a-boo

I saw some of these at Tawas Point last year, hopping around in the canopy directly overhead, but did not manage to get very good shots of it. I hoped this one would move closer. I followed him through the cedars but he kept his distance.

The girls were waiting for me so I followed along. It was not long though before we heard a distinctly warbler-esque song very near the trail. We crept around a corner to find another Chestnut-sided warbler singing from the top of a cedar! I was really afraid he was going to fly off as we approached but he couldn't have cared less about our presence.

Again I wished I had my tripod, but it was a bright enough day and I was able to hold still and get some shots.

The blue background looks like clear sky but it is in fact a storm that just skirted us. Thunder rumbled but we stayed dry. The warbler sang and surveyed his territory from his lofty perch.

Next: more marsh finds!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Munishing Falls and Sand Point Marsh

Pictured Rocks 2012 con't:

After leaving Miners Castle we drove back towards Munising for a quick look at Munising Falls. It was near 11am by then, and the place was a bit crowded. It's actually within the city limits, and there's a nice big paved lot with bathrooms, and the walk to the falls is short and also paved, so lots of people stop there. We didn't stay long. I took the obligatory photos of Munising Creek and the falls.

Munising Creek

Munising Falls. Pretty dry for this time of year.

As I knew would happen after discovering the Red-eyed vireo at Sleeping Bear Dunes, I now see them everywhere. This one was performing some acrobatics in an aspen near the creek.

Red-eyed vireo

From Munising Falls we drove out to Sand Point, a beach on Lake Superior just north of town. We had a few snacks then walked the Sand Point Marsh Trail. The sky was beginning to darken but we figured we had time to complete the short paved trail. I was hoping for birds, of course. Places near water are always best for seeing all sorts of critters.

Sand Point Marsh

There were plenty of people on the beach as it was quite warm that morning but since there are no waterfalls in the marsh there were also no people. It was very pleasant once we moved beyond earshot of the screaming children.


I had packed one camera body and two lenses for this trip. I had decided to suck it up and bring my bigger telephoto lens into the backcountry. This is, after all, what I do, and I didn't want to take the chance that I'd miss a great shot because I didn't have the right gear. This lens weighs over two pounds so it was something I'd had to really consider. What I did not bring, though, was my tripod. Remember, we were supposed to be in the wilderness, not walking a paved trail watching for birds. I wish now that I had at least thrown it in the van, even if I wasn't going to carry it into the backcountry (it weighs over five pounds!) because I was left having to hand hold my camera. That's not always a problem but when your subject is over your head you get tired in a hurry!

That was the case with this American redstart. Lori spotted him overhead, singing away. I struggled to hold the camera still and get some shots.

American redstart

Not quite in focus but I like the composition

We would encounter a few more warblers as we made our way around the trail, but that's for next time!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Backpacking Pictured Rocks Nat'l Lakeshore

Our backpacking trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the U.P. of Michigan was one of those vacations that had a mind of its own. We had left three weeks in June open for a trip to Isle Royal. Lori had applied for an art residency there, but didn't get it, so PIRO was our second choice. I'd been there several years before with our friend Karin on what was essentially my first backpacking experience. (You can check out those posts here.)

Karin and I had hiked the Chapel Beach/Mosquito River loop, which is flat and pretty easy. We did the loop in three days, staying only one night at each place and backpacking each day. I wanted to take a bit more time so we planned on two nights at each campground, giving us a few extra days to relax or do a day hike.  I made advance reservations as this is a popular route, just to make sure we were covered.


Five days before we were to leave, the park calls and says that the road to the Chapel loop trail head is closed for repairs that week. I was at a show and didn't know what other loops were available so we decided to delay the start of our hike a few days. Parking was still going to be tricky though as the parking lot at the trail head would still be closed and we would have to park about 1/2 mile down the road, turning a 3.5 mile hike into a 4 mile hike--if we could find a place to park the van.

Once we got home and looked at some maps we decided to abandon the Chapel Beach loop altogether and hike to Trapper's Lake in the Beaver Lake Basin area of the park. I talked to Pam at the park and made the changes.

We drove up on a Thursday afternoon, meeting Karin on the way, and stayed in a motel in Munising that night. The hike was to start Friday morning, but there was a prediction of severe weather with very heavy rains for Friday afternoon and evening. I wasn't real excited about being caught in a storm but Lisa and Lori had never backpacked before and I wanted this to be a pleasant experience, one they would want to repeat. After much debate we decided to wait until Saturday to start our hike, and spend whatever time the weather allowed Friday to explore some other parts of the park.

Friday morning we stopped by the headquarters to pick up our backcountry permits, and after talking to Pam decided to spend three nights at the Beaver Creek campground. It was about a three mile hike from the trail head, one we felt we could manage. Trapper's lake is another two miles, and we just didn't know if we could make it that far, so we would stop short at Beaver Creek and make a day hike to Trapper's instead.

After getting our permits we drove out to Miners Castle. This is by far one of the most recognizable views from Pictured Rocks. The sun was bright and Lake Superior was very calm, a gorgeous morning.

From the Miners Castle overlook one has a great view of Grand Island. We also had a great view of the front edge of the storm system as it worked its way down from the northwest. After seeing this we were feeling better about changing our plans!

The overlook is maybe 100, 150 feet above the water, and to look straight down was dizzying but beautiful. Gentle waves were breaking on the sandstone shore far below.

We decided to walk down to the other overlook, which is pretty much on top of the rock formation. I hadn't seen this view before. On the way we crossed a park-like area with trees and benches, and we heard a bird singing. Lisa spotted it with her binoculars. A Scarlet tanager! By the time I got my lenses switched I managed only one shot before it flew away. Grrr!

Back in the day you could walk right out onto this formation. I don't know how long ago that was stopped, but there used to be two tall formations on the top of this outcropping. One has since fallen into Superior's chilly waters. Note the flat spot just in front of and to the right of the taller rock--that's where it used to be.

While we poked around one of the PIRO tour boats chugged past. This is a spectacular boat ride but if you ever get a chance to do it, pay attention to the time of day and where the sun is. I would recommend doing this only in the evening. This early in the day the rocks are in shadows and the sun is right in your face.

I don't know about you but for me nothing says "North Country" better than birch trees. All along the shore view after gorgeous view is framed by these delicate trees.

The trail out to the second overlook is lined with wildflowers. The U.P. is a few weeks behind where we are here in Southeast Michigan so we got another shot at the late spring ephemerals. There were scads of these pretty little starflowers, a new plant for me.

Eastern wood pewees were also plentiful. This little bird is easy to ID as his song is exactly like his name. He sat on this snag and sang and sang.

Next: Munising Falls

Friday, June 15, 2012

Fawn In The Lawn

One day last week Lori was on her way to the mailbox via a trail mowed through the front of our property. She came hoofing it back up the driveway moments later.  "There's a fawn, out front, bedded down in the grass," she said breathlessly. I ran to get my camera.

 Sure enough, there just five feet from the path was a fawn, perhaps a week old.

We have a lot of deer around here, and it is not uncommon to see them in groups of four or so from time to time. We have to fence everything we don't want mowed to the ground because of them. But even though they are a nuisance we like having them around, and we have had does and fawns nearly every year. This however is the first time we've seen one this young.

Such a sweet face. It has a cut on its forehead, between its eye and ear, but it doesn't look bad and I am sure mom is keeping it clean.  After Lori brought me down to see it, I went and got Lisa and showed her. By this time mom was snorting from the bushes so we left them alone.

I sure did want to pet it, though.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Green Darner Surprise

I am recently returned from a backpacking trip up in Pictured Rocks Nat'l Lakeshore in the U.P.  I can't wait to get hoppin' on the photos I took up there, but I haven't had a chance to take a look at them yet.  So I will share with you some images I shot a few weeks ago.

I was out in the Brighton Rec Area, near the swamp where we've been doing our volunteer work, doing a little garlic mustard recon.  It is getting late in the season already to be pulling it--as soon as the seed pods dry out you can do more harm than good by spreading the seeds when you pull, so it's best to leave it alone.  I wanted to make a pass through our target areas to check for stragglers, then do a little work in some outlying areas.

I came across a few plants near the trail and started yanking them out of the ground.  A had just reached for a plant, and started to wrap my hand around it, when I realized there was a very large insect clinging to the stalk. I instinctively yanked my hand back.

Anax junius, Common Green Darner

To my surprise, hanging motionless from the garlic mustard plant, was a green darner.  I grabbed the camera to take a few shots.  This insect was huge, at least as big as my iPhone.

I took several shots, then pulled the plant and laid it against some other foliage.  The darner never moved, except to rearrange it's feet. What a beauty! I have to assume that it was fresh from the larval stage, so clean and unmarred. Not a nick to be seen.

The eyes on this creature are amazing, wrapping almost all the way around its head. Was it studying me like I was studying it?

Wings so delicate and yet so strong.  We watched some dragonflies over the dunes at Pictured Rocks and their maneuverability is just incredible. They can go every direction but backwards, it seems. I'm not much of a bug person but these creatures are simply beyond words.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Empire Bluffs and Sleeping Bear Dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes, con't:

The highlight of the trip for me was, and always is, a hike up to Empire Bluffs. This is without a doubt one of the most scenic spots I have even been in.

The hike is about 3/4 of a mile, not long but mostly uphill as you climb the backside of the bluff.  The woods' spring wildflowers were mostly done, but the sweet white violet was in its glory.  Carpets of it blanketed the forest floor.

Viola canedensis

 It was hot, and by the time we reached the boardwalk that leads to the bluff we felt like we'd walked all day.  But the reward is worth it.

View from Empire Bluffs. South Manitou Island is visible on the horizon on the right.

At the end of the trail, which runs along the top of the bluff for perhaps a few hundred feet there's a seating area. No one was there, and we took off our shoes and socks and sat for a while, enjoying the sun, and wind, and the sand between our toes.

The Sleeping Bear.

This big old tree, having long since tumbled down the dune, marked the end of the trail. I liked the impermenance of the graffiti on it, constantly worn away by the wind-driven sand.

America got it right when it named this place the most beautiful in the country.