Thursday, July 26, 2012

Getting Loony at Seney NWR

 PIRO/Seney continued:

Loons are plentiful at Seney National Wildlife Refuge--it's one of the main reasons we try to stop there every time we're in the U.P.  We timed it well this year--as I mentioned in my last post, there were baby every things everywhere. We saw four different loon families, at various distances from the road. Without my tripod I was really handicapped, but I at least got some shots that I may be able to work from down the road (these images are all cropped).

This is a series of shots of one family whose parents clearly need to brush up on their spacial relations. The chick really struggled with this fish and I don't think it managed to eat it. We saw the same thing happen with another family too.

"Lunch time!"

"Are you serious? I can't eat that!"

"Mom! I don't want fish again!"

"Junior! Where's your lunch?!?"                 "I dropped it under the table and the dog ate it."

These are extraordinary birds and I could watch them for hours. Unfortunately we didn't have hours and had to push on.

There were more loons though, and this pair was even closer than the last.

I've gotta learn how to draw water!

Next: Osprey on a nest

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Babies Abound at Seney NWR!

PIRO/Seney continued:

We rolled into the parking lot at the Seney National Wildlife Refuge just as the ranger was beginning to shut down the visitor's center. He patiently waited while we ran to the bathroom, then chatted a bit with us in the parking lot. He was a very friendly fellow with a shiny, clean-shaven head and handlebar mustache. He told us a moose and wolf had been spotted recently in the refuge, and we hoped we'd get lucky and see one. We didn't, but there were still plenty of other things to see.

One of the first critters we came across was this pretty raccoon. Yeah, we see them at home, but there's something cool about seeing them when they're not hanging from a bird feeder that makes it more special, more wild maybe.

I chased a lot of birds around by the edge of the road, finally catching this Song sparrow peeking at me from within the sweet gale.

For the most part thought I rode in the van. Lisa drove while I hung out the passenger's side window with my camera. Lori sat in back watching the driver's side for critters. At one point Lisa slammed on the brakes, nearly sending me into the dashboard, and squeaked, "There's a Woodcock! Right there next to the road!" I tried to peer around her but couldn't see anything. "Get OUT!" she hissed, so I jumped out the door and snuck around the back of the van. I stood there and stood there but could not find the bird! I started to creep forward and it finally flushed. The darn thing had been right in front of me, perhaps on a nest, and I never saw it. That would have been my first pics of a Woodcock (or was it a Common snipe? We'll never know). Ah well....

These ducks were so far out that we couldn't identify them. After blowing this up I think they are Lesser scaups, but I'm not positive.

Now, as the blog title suggests, there were lots of babies around. This was the second week of June and the world was just bursting with life. This family of Canada geese halted our progress as they were in no hurry to leave the road. I think I had to get out of the van and start walking towards them to get them to move to the side.

 Looking back at the geese I spotted this log-full of painted turtles sunning themselves in the afternoon warmth. I really wanted to join them and take a nap!

Next: Loons!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Early Departure

Pictured Rocks Continued

After our day hike to Trapper's Lake we chowed down, then Lisa and I walked to the creek and sat a spell on the bridge, enjoying the evening. We were dead-dog tired but it was too early to turn in so we dangled our feet over the water and rested our heads on the handrail.

Beaver Creek bridge

Beaver Creek

 Back at the campground we watched another glorious sunset.

Lake Superior at sunset

We had another decision to make about our trip. It was Sunday, and we were supposed to stay through Tuesday morning. But the last weather report we'd heard was calling for potentially stormy to severe weather some time on Monday. If it came early (assuming it came at all) we would have time to dry out before packing up Tuesday morning. If it came late Monday, we'd be packing up wet. If it didn't come until Tuesday morning, we would be packing/hiking in the rain. Not only that, but we were to drive home Tuesday as well, a good seven to eight hour trip. We decided to sleep on it, but knew that if we were to leave early it would be Monday morning rather than later in the day. No sense sitting around waiting for the rain to come.

So Monday I got up early and hiked around the campground looking for birds. The only one who showed his face was this Red-breasted nuthatch. It was good to see the little fella since none of them came down to see us this past winter.

We deliberated again about what to do and decided that it would make the whole trip more pleasant if we packed up and left that morning, and took our time getting home. We could drive east to Grand Marais, the small town that lies at the east end of the park, then down to Seney National Wildlife Refuge. We'd get a motel room somewhere on the south side of the U.P. then head home Tuesday morning. It would get us home earlier and we wouldn't feel rushed.

So we packed up and hit the trail. My load was slightly lighter since I was carrying most of the food, but it was still an arduous hike. We stopped several times, once along side a creek where we filled our water bottles and cooled our feet in the chill water.

Back at the van we wiped down and took some time getting gear loaded and organized. We headed to Grand Marais, where we stopped at the Lake Superior Brewing Company for a wonderful lunch. This dog sat on the seat of this bike, waiting patiently for its owner. The little guy in the doorway was enthralled.

By 5:00 pm we were rolling into Seney, one of our favorite places to go to see wildlife.  Everyone there seemed to have babies, but that will have to wait for next time.

The rain? It never came....

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Trapper's Lake, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks continued:

The hike from the Beaver Creek campground to Trapper's Lake was about two miles. We were really hoping for wind off the small lake as the stable flies were voracious. What a relief when I caught up to the girls parked at an empty site along the banks of Trapper's Lake and discovered that there were only a few of the nasty biting flies. As hoped a 15 to 20 mile an hour wind was belting across the lake and the flies were seeking shelter elsewhere.

Trapper's Lake campground

We sat down--what a joy to be able to sit and not be attacked!--and ate a lunch of very soft cheddar cheese with crackers, apples and gorp. We had ideas about dipping our toes in the water until Lisa talked to the only other people around, a group of young men who had been fishing for perch. They'd had five or six on a stringer only to discover later that a snapper had come along and eaten them all. I'll keep my toes in my boots, thank you very much.

Trapper's Lake

We came across this green frog hanging out along the shore. He let me get quite close yet seemed unconcerned.

Green frog

Lori found this dragonfly larvae casing. Yeesh. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up!

Dragonfly larvae

Since I had dragged my camera and big lens all the way out to the back country I was determined to get a few shots of something, so I left the campground after a while and picked up the trail. I could hear birds twittering in the trees so I stood still and waited for one to appear.

After a few minutes I saw something flutter across the path. I turned to look and saw this Yellow-rumped warbler working the undersides of the bracken fern. He was gathering food for his little ones and was not interested in sitting still for a portrait. I was happy to get any shots at all he was so quick.

Yellow-rumped warbler

When the warbler left I moved down the path a bit and found this chickadee in a fir. Such a cheerful little bird, they always make me smile.

Black-capped Chickadee

The chickadee led me straight to this Brown creeper, nearly completely camouflaged against this dying birch. Everyone was very busy and didn't stay long for photographs.

Brown creeper

We stayed at Trapper's for several hours, enjoying the solitude and absence of flies. Before we left I decided to check out the rest of the campground. The lake has a bit of an L shape to it, and the campground nestles into the crook of the L, so a few of the sites had views of the water on two sides. I walked over to a short trail that led down to the lake to have a look. I heard a soft honking from nearby on my left, so I peered through the trees and finally spotted this Common merganser resting on a log. She watched me carefully but stood her ground while I took some photos, then I left her in peace.

Common merganser

I am usually so busy taking pics of birds and scenery that I often forget to take any of my companions. But I caught the girls just as we were heading back out on the trail for this cute portrait.

Bear Girls Lisa and Lori

The hike back was pretty pleasant, except for the heat. While we hadn't brought quite enough water for the day out, staying hydrated was not the issue--staying cool was. We made several side trips down to the water to soak our bandannas and to rest. The winds had picked up throughout the afternoon, and by the time we reached Beaver Lake there were pretty impressive whitecaps pounding the sandbar.

Beaver Lake with white caps

We made it back to camp without incident. We didn't see any wildlife other than the birds and frog, although that is not surprising. We did see bear and moose scat, so at least we knew they were around. By the time we got back to camp we were exhausted, hot and sticky, so we went down to the mouth of Beaver Creek for a swim. The flies were bad there as the wind was off-shore but we went in with our clothes on (sans undies) and kept ourselves as submerged as possible. The water where the creek meets Superior was a mix of warm and cold, and the creek current was swift and very refreshing. It was one of the best swimming holes I've ever been in and it was a wonderful way to end a long, hot day.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Artwork and Award

Have to get in a quick post before I am back on the road tomorrow morning for a show in Saint Joseph, Michigan. Krasl on the Bluff is a great show, one of the best in Michigan, and I am proud to have been accepted for the second year in a row.

First, a new piece of artwork. Quite a departure for me, this one has very little detail. It's based on some shots I took of Sandhill cranes a few years ago at the Baker Sanctuary in Bellevue when we were there for CraneFest. We are afforded the luxury of camping on site so I got up early and went down to the marsh to watch the cranes. What a sight, watching 8,000--10,000 cranes take to the air in pairs or in large groups. Not the Platte River in Nebraska, perhaps, but still pretty darned awesome.

"Calling the Dawn", colored pencil and ink on artboard, 18 x 34, framed to 24 x 40

Another quick note to pass along, I was honored with an award at the Saugatuck Invitational Waterfront Art Fair on June 30th. Cora Bliss Taylor, for whom the award is named, was an artist and teacher in the Saugatuck area for 50 years, and was instrumental in helping establish Saugatuck as an artists' haven. Thanks to Krista for choosing me for this award, and thanks to Jim and Bonnie for putting on a high quality, well-run show.

Me with Krista Reuter, a judge with very good taste. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lake Superior and the Lakeshore Trail

Shewf! I am home and finally back together after a grueling four shows in eight days. I am ready to get on with the Pictured Rocks backpacking trip!

I woke before dawn that first morning but resisted getting up for quite a while. I hadn't slept well that night. The first night anywhere is always rough for me no matter where I am. Throw in sleeping in a tent on the ground in a mummy sleeping bag and it just gets worse. I do have a 2" thick sleeping pad which certainly helps but it is not my bed, which is quite comfy, and so I toss around a lot. Add to that the fact that the pad squeaks on the tent floor every time I move, and it makes for a really long night.

I did finally pry myself out of my bag and stumble down to the water to watch the sun rise and shine on the sandstone cliffs that give Pictured Rocks its name.

The mouth of Beaver Creek with the Pictured Rocks in the background.

There were lots of tracks in the damp sand, including these turtle tracks which lead from the creek, out a-ways from the bank, then back in.

There were kingfishers zipping up and down the creek. I had meant to come back down when the light was better for shooting moving objects but I never made it. Here is one of their nests though, excavated into the side of the far bank.

Beaver Creek is not a particularly long river, linking Beaver Lake with Lake Superior, but there was an impressive log jam near the mouth of the creek. Some of these trees had been here for quite some time.
It stretched for at least 100 to 150 feet upstream. I can't imagine how high the creek would need to be to get trees this size this far. I know some of them fell from the bank, like the one in the background is about to do, but water definitely piled them up here.

When I got back to camp everyone else was up and around. Our friend Karin had had enough of the biting flies and decided to head back to the trailhead on her own. We decided to stick it out--I didn't want to go to all that work for just one night. We decided to take a day hike to Trapper's Lake, our original camping destination. We had discovered when we were picking up our permits that Trapper's was a five mile hike, and while we didn't think we could carry 40 pounds that far we still wanted to see it. We decided to hike out along the Lakeshore trail, then hike back along the trail that hugged Trapper's and then Beaver Lake.

The Lakeshore Trail is 42 miles long, running the entire length of the park along the bluffs and cliffs above Lake Superior. It affords spectacular views of the lake. It was also, thanks to an offshore wind, a haven for stable flies. I hung back with my camera, stopping now and then to take a few photos, and every time I did I was besieged. I tried to not freak out, kept my energy low so as to (hopefully) not excite the little buggers, and got some nice shots along the trail. 

Lake Superior, looking east along the Lakeshore Trail. The beach was utterly deserted.

A first for my butterfly list--an American Painted Lady!

Pink lady's slipper with two insect friends.

Superior doesn't get any better than this.

I caught up to the girls once at an overlook and there was a breakdown going on thanks to the persistence of the biting flies. I assured everyone that once we got to Trapper's Lake the flies wouldn't be so bad. We'd be on the north shore and there was a strong--20 to 30 mph--south wind predicted, and that would keep the flies at bay. The other option was to head back the way we came, and we already knew how bad that was. So we pushed on to Trapper's Lake.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Backpacking to Beaver Creek

After spending Friday sightseeing and missing some pretty nasty weather, we were anxious to get our boots on and hit the trail. We were nervous too, as Lori and Lisa had never backpacked before. We'd made a poor attempt at doing some training, getting out twice in May with half full packs to kind of get a feel for how they fit and the distance we could travel. Let me just tell you, a half full pack is NOTHING like a completely full pack, and when I shouldered this bag I thought, "I have to go how far?!?"

In the world of backpacking three miles is nothing. People who do this often go 10 miles or more in a day. We however are not most backpacking people, and we were daunted. We put on brave faces though so Karin could take our picture.

Before the hike at the Beaver Creek trail head. Photo by Karin.

It was a warm day but not unbearable. I think we got out on the trail around 10 am, later than I wanted but it's hard getting four people together in any reasonable amount of time. We stopped several times, once for lunch and the others mostly to adjust equipment. 40 pounds was doing funny things to my equilibrium. I don't know how long it took us to go three miles but I'm going to guess around 2 1/2 hours.

Crossing Beaver Creek. Photo by Karin.

The trail's namesake creek is in a valley of sorts.  The campground is, of course, on the other side. The last climb, from the eastern side of Beaver Creek up to the campground, darn near killed us. We did finally make it, and found at the top a completely deserted campground.

View of Lake Superior from Beaver Creek campground.

It took us 15 minutes to choose a site. I think everyone was too tired to think. I was happy with the site we settled on.

Site number six at Beaver Creek.

We puttered around, setting up camp, then walked back down the dune to the creek to get water. Karin, the poor girl, was besieged by stable flies, biting flies that look much like house flies. She dove in the creek to escape their wrath. They don't seem to like me all that much.

Mouth of Beaver Creek at Superior

After we had dinner it seemed too early to turn in so we went for a short walk along the Lakeshore trail, which runs along Superior on the top of a ridge.

I waited around for the sun to set, and noticed scores of monarch butterflies sipping blueberry flowers.

 The sunset was well worth the wait, and the stable fly bites I got on my ankles.

Lake Superior sunset.

Next: Day hike to Trapper's Lake