Tag Archive | wildlife

Everglades

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Everglades vista – the “River of Grass” dotted with Dwarf Cypress trees

I finally made it to the southernmost end of Florida and the greater Everglades ecoregion – I spent a week in and around Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve, adventuring by foot, boat, and bicycle and getting wet, muddy, and mosquito-bitten in the process!  It was different from what I had expected, and I discovered some fascinating facts to pass on!  Fresh water flowing slowly but steadily towards the ocean, over surface bedrock, has created five distinct ecosystems within those 4,000 square miles.  The next few posts will go into more depth on what I learned and experienced, and provide some recommendations for exploring this area in even greater depth!  Enjoy!

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Paddling

Yesterday  I had a few hours to kill and decided to do some exploration.  I had my kayak on my car, and thought it would be nice to put it in the water, so I set off so find a small lake to paddle around… somewhere between Sagola and Iron Mountain, Michigan.  Knowing me, it wouldn’t be any fun unless I drove my car a few miles down a road that isn’t really meant for anything without high clearance… even though there was an easier way to access the same body of water!  I found myself at one of the Groveland Mine Ponds, within the Copper Country State Forest, in Dickinson County, in the western Upper Peninsula.  The crumbling iron ore processing plant itself was visible at a distance, out of operation since the 1980’s.  The ponds used to be used as reservoirs to hold water for use at the plant, but they, and thousands of acres around them, were given to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources after the mind permanently closed.

At first glance it didn’t seem like much, and the 5 boat trailers in the parking lot made me wonder if I’d be able to get any peaceful paddling in with all the fishermen around.  A flooded forest made up much of the lake, and provided obstacles to dodge – sometimes a veritable field of small stems, other times widely-spaced larger pines, birch, etc, recognizable by the forms, wood, or scraps of bark hanging on. By the time I’d gotten around most of it, though, I was pretty happy with my new find.  In fact, I wished I had my camera to get photographs of some awesome events, like an osprey buzzing my boat, so close that I could see every feather in its breast and tail!  Or the deer that waded out nearly to meet me, deciding that my drifting boat wasn’t a threat, and idly using its white tail to shoo away flies, rather than raise the alarm.  So… even as all the other boats were pulling out in the face of an impending storm, I went back to the boat landing and grabbed my phone, so I could take a few shots of the wonders of the Pond.

View from the boat landing as I headed back out into the lake. The storm to the west and south made for some impressive scenery, but never actually hit the pond.

Choppy “seas”

There were 3 or 4 gulls that flew around the lake, sometimes being chased by tenacious swallows a fraction of their size, but they came back to roost in this grove of stumps, trading position on the prize – a comfortable seat 8 feet above the water.

Can you see the loon? It’s that tiny dot at the center, near the tree line! This bird swam around this sections of the lake the whole time I was out there, but any time a boat got much closer than this, it dove under and, second later, came up several hundred yards away.

Grove of stumps

The trees above the water are bleached by the sun. Below, they are stained by the accumulated tannins from decomposing vegetation. The water in this lake is so clear in part because of the presence of Zebra Mussels, an invasive species that eat many of the plants that otherwise provide cover, food, and oxygen to the fish and native invertebrates that live in aquatic ecosystems.

Some of the neat rocks cliffs that rise out of the water – these would have been the tops of hills before the land was flooded.

After the storm passed, the water was like glass, and I could hear some of the quieter songbirds that had been drowned out by the wind. In this bay, the Hermit Thrush, one of my favorites, was able to make himself heard over the crying Red-winged Blackbirds and warbling White-throated Sparrows.

One More Mystery

Today I’m looking for assistance from nature enthusiasts out there – what species is this??

I’ve decided that it’s time to give up the “Monday Mystery,” at least for a while.  In case you haven’t noticed, I rarely get it published on Monday, and I even more rarely deliver the answer on Friday!  It turns out that summer evenings and weekends are pretty full of outdoor adventure, and I don’t have much patience for sitting indoors plugged into the computer.  Maybe it’s a coincidence, but I’ve noticed that some of the other blogs out there that I’ve found most interesting have slacked on recent postings as well – perhaps we’re too busy enjoying the flora, fauna, and recreational potential of our various lands to spend much time writing about it.  So – I’ll keep writing, but won’t promise to adhere to any deadlines!

That said, I have one more mystery – and this one I need help solving, myself!  That’s right, I don’t have the answer, and I’m hoping that some of my naturalist readers out there will be able to provide some insight.

I saw hundreds of these tiny frogs – or toads? – last weekend in northern Wisconsin.  They were as small as my little pinkie nail – 1/4 of an inch or so. It was in a dry oak-pine woods, with rather sandy soil, next to a small, shallow lake.

Anyone??  I have some more photos, but I think this is the best array.

Look how small it is next to an average-sized red oak leaf!

Here it is on my tackle box… next to some red pine needles!

Here’s one on my rear windshield (I put it on the trunk to try to get a photo, but it quickly hopped off and away.

Mergansers

Thanks to all who voted in my first multiple-choice style “mystery” post.

The correct answer, garnering 71% of the votes, was a Hooded Merganser!

I spotted these birds on a peaceful early-morning kayak down the Pine River, in Florence, Wisconsin.  I was on the relatively wide and slow-moving stretch just below the popular “Oxbow,” taking in the sights and sounds of nature on this undeveloped Wild River, when a bird flew out on front of my boat, splashing back and forth across the river.  Between the speed and all the spraying water, I couldn’t clearly see what it was, or why it was doing what it was doing… until I looked over and saw these cute little guys pulling away from the shoreline behind me.  I got several (mostly blurry) photos in before Mamma spotted her ducklings and got even more excited!  I could almost translate her squawking word for word: “What are you guys doing?!  I told you to stay put!  You never listen!  Get back in the bushes!  No, wait, come up here!  But hurry, as fast as you can!”  And the little ducklings did as she commanded, all four of them getting back to their mother’s safety before the menacing kayaker could cause them any harm.

Female Hooded Merganser flying in feigned distress

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uh-oh! Is this little guy going to catch up?

 

Phew, he made it!

 

It’s experiences like these that make every journey down one of our Wild Rivers exciting, even in a year like this one with low water levels.  Although I greatly enjoyed watching the fascinating behavior of this Hooded Merganser family without ever seeing another human on my trip, I could have done without the extremely slow-moving water and constant scraping along the bottom.  I probably won’t paddle the Pine again until we get some significant rain fall, but I may pull the fishing pole out for some stretched of rapids farther upstream.

Luckily, though, we have more rivers in our small county, and later on the very same day that I saw these ducklings, I found myself on the Brule River, which forms the border between Wisconsin and Michigan.  The flows there are much more consistent and paddle-able pretty much all summer long.  It is a wider river than the Pine, though, at least below where the Paint and Michigamme flow into it, and just before it becomes the Menominee, which forms the rest of the border down to Lake Michigan.   There is one nice little rapids that you can either go around (as my friend did) or through (as I did,

Common Mergansers on the Brule

with a little trepidation).  If you’re in a canoe or kayak, I would use some caution and planning even on those rapids, but if you’re in a tube, just go for it – it’s a lot of fun! We saw several cool things on our trip that afternoon, despite the fact that it is more developed and we were greeted by homeowners and boaters frequently along the way.  One of the neatest was several Common Mergansers along the way – I’ve never seen both the Common and the Hooded practically next to each other like that, and I was surprised at how big the Common Mergansers were, close up  – from a distance, I thought they were geese!

 

Haven’t voted yet on the Mystery Duckling Poll?  Well, here’s another clue – a vague photo of the distressed mother!  Get those votes in, and you’ll be rewarded by some less-vague photos and a nice story tomorrow!

Belated Mystery

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Whose poop is this???

You guys did so well on the last one, I have a new challenge for you!  Submit your guesses by Friday!

 

… and the answer is… porcupine!  See my upcoming post for more info on these curious critters!