Entries to Win Afghan

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Guess Who I Saw Again?

Look who was circling in the same area where I saw him (her?) yesterday. A little bit higher today, but I decided to use the picture because it is a perfect hawk silhouette- just what you are likely to be able to see if you spot one overhead. He cruised around and then settled in the pines that we had just walked through. Maybe we had disturbed him, and he just wanted to get back into the shelter of the trees. The wind was really nasty both yesterday and today.

See Red and White II
See Hawk and Mouse Are NOT Friends

Friday, January 30, 2009

Red and White II


We had another 6-8 inches of fluffy snow last night. And this morning the wind made it feel brutal outside. I wasn't too hopeful of getting a picture of anything interesting. And yet, I liked this stark view of layers of white on white.

And then... I can't believe I got these pictures. They are crappy pictures, but I got them with a cheap point and shoot digital. This is "my" redtail hawk, and it was flying rather low over the field. In this first picture you can see from the fact that it glides with its wings flat out to the sides that it is a hawk. If you look up and see a bird about the same size with its wings in a V, you are looking at a turkey vulture (also called a turkey buzzard).

Here it is at an angle. You can tell from the short, wide, blunt tail that it is a buteo hawk. All that means is that it is in a group with broad wings and short tails, but for identification it helps you eliminate a whole bunch of kinds with just a glance at the shape. You can see in this picture that the tail is much more red than the rest of the body.

I could hardly believe when I looked at my pictures that one of them was this good. The light really has to be right for it to show the deep rusty red of the tail. Sometimes on a sunny day when the light flashes on it, it can be spectacular. I don't really know what is trailing from its talons- didn't see it till I looked at the pictures.

Redtails are common in most of North America, and young ones are easily trained for falconry. It's Latin name is Buteo jamaicensis. I have no desire to train "my" hawk, but I love watching it soar over the fields. And I've remembered that somewhere I have a really good picture from several years ago of a snow story where a hawk picked up a small animal. Much better than the one I found two days ago. But I'll have to hunt for it.

See Hawk and Mouse are NOT Friends
See Red and White
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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Where the Deer Rest

Today we surprised a couple of deer again. I don't have a lens on the digital camera that can get a very good picture, but you can see two of them racing away across the top of the hill.

Here is the kind of track I usually see on my walks, just where one single deer strolled, or ran, through the snow. This pathway was made by one deer. Almost every day the trails are new. We either get a light dusting of snow that softens the old ones, or more likely, the wind blows and smooths the surface over entirely.

But the other day when I walked over to the son's trailer, I found where those deer in the top picture are running to whenever I scare them up from their munching on remnants of grain from the local farm co-op next door. That's the space-station looking thing just over the hill in the next picture.

Here you can see a very much trodden down path. It's so wide and compacted that you might think it's one that I've been snowshoeing. But it is all from multiple deer walking it, over and over. When I turn around in this same spot, I see where the deer have been hanging out to rest and find protection from the weather. They have trampled most of the area under a grove of cedars. I let Maggie stay in the picture so that it gives a sense of the proportion.

See The Local Deer Herd
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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sparkles and Snow Cones

The picture is better than I thought it might be, but doesn't do the morning justice. There was a fine snow falling, so fine that it was only visible where it could be seen in the sunbeam from the early sun. In the picture you can see the sparkles everywhere, but not really what I've just described.

And on my walk, here was this little oddity!

At the base of many of the little sumac trees were these strange little cones. I don't really know why they formed like this! Changeable light winds? Elves with a sense of humor? Mice building teepees? This single cone was the strangest of all- just sticking up out of nowhere. I was at least relieved to see that on the other side of it I could see that it had formed around a broken tree stub. Otherwise... aliens?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hawk and Mouse are NOT Friends

Sometimes I wonder, now that I've let the world in on my "Quality Day" game, if I'll be able to find something interesting enough for you, my readers. And I've also developed a slight sense of guilt when my entries aren't on nature topics. Yesterday, for example. So, today, I was especially eager to have an outdoor themed entry. And as Maggie and I walked over to the son's trailer (to fix that door latch), guess what we found? It's perfect... here you go...

Edited Sept 2009 I've decided that I called this whole thing wrong. I think what we have here is a crow walking around and then taking off. As it lifted off its wings brushed the snow. I've left the original post so that we can all learn from my mistake.

So here is Maggie checking out a spot that smells interesting. Fortunately, I was able to picture it before she messed it up. Can you see what happened?

The mouse was running over the top of the snow. But the trail ends abruptly. Why? Look closely on each side of the tracks. See the "scratches?" Those are the marks made by the wing tips of some large bird that swooped down and caught dinner. It could be an owl, but I've seen owl marks and they are larger, so I think this is a hawk.

Like some of the other stories in the snow that I've shared, a sad story for the mouse, but a happy one for the predator.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Dentist and the Riddler

Today was one of those days. The big event was a trip to the dentist, and now I have an extraction to "look forward to" next Monday. As much as I love the low-tech outdoor environment, I also love technology in certain situations.

One big change at the dentist is that x-rays are now ready for view instantly. And my dentist chooses to put those up on a computer screen so that they can been seen and talked about. That is great! One of the things I hate most about all encounters with the medical profession is how they mostly like to treat patients as if whatever the issue is is riddled with deep dark secrets. I prefer seeing, and learning, and understanding.

And, did you notice that I used the word "riddle" in that paragraph. We all pretty much understand that use of the word: to spread throughout.

Perhaps you think I'm referring to that nemesis of Batman? Nope.

While waiting at the dentist's office I was reading on old National Geographic book. There I learned that the word also describes a person associated with the making of champagne. A riddler is a person who turns bottles of champagne in their racks so that the sediment will precipitate evenly before removal.

The practice originated in the early 1800's when a young widow, Madame Nicole-Barbe Clicquot, took over her husband's champagne business. Prior to that time champagne always had sediment in it. But Madame Clicquot did not like that. So she drilled holes in her kitchen table and placed the bottles upside down in the holes and allowed the sediment to settle out. Before long she had devised an angled rack and hired people especially to shake and rotate the bottles every few days. When the sediment forms a plug in the bottle neck it is removed, the bottle is sealed and sent to market. This process is now done by machine, but it is still known as riddling.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Quiet River


Today, Maggie and I went on one of my favorite local short hikes, Scottville Riverside Park. The walk is about 1.5 miles when you can actually do the whole loop. If the water is high, you can't get to the back side of the loop by the river.

Here, Maggie begins to cross a bridge that is actually level with the ground. It looks as if it is high, with steps, because the snow is so deep on it. Below is one of my favorite places on the walk where the trail passes beneath a band of white cedars.

Finally, even though the water is fairly high, it is frozen. So Maggie, and I didn't even bother with the small bridge that leads across the swamp to the river edge. Here we found evidence of how high the water had been in December when we had a nearly complete thaw of the previous 90 inches of snow. In this sort of bayou of the river the water had backed up and frozen, then broken away leaving these table-top collars on the trees.

I was really quite surprised that the river is frozen almost solid. There are only a few openings where the water is flowing. Deer and rabbit tracks criss-crossed the ice.

I love the details of so many things, stark against the snow. Here are just a few of them: Cedar bark, cattails, a small unnamed creek, and ice trapped beneath one of the collars, sculpted and curled as the waters rushed away again.

See Patterns in the Fenced Wetland
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Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Lemonade was Free (and more)

Well, Ratty over at the Everyday Adventurer has decided that I should receive the Lemonade Award which is for blogs that show gratitude and a wonderful attitude. I think that he hasn't read the opening post for this blog which explains my real character! Nevertheless, I'll accept the award. I'm supposed to:
  1. Put the logo on my blog.
  2. Nominate at least 10 blogs which show great Attitude and/or Gratitude!
  3. Be sure to link to my nominees within my post.
  4. Let them know that they have received this award by commenting on their blog.
  5. Share the love and link to this post.

Well, I've got five blogs that I will pass this along to.
Northern Michigan Experience for always finding beautiful things to show us
From Seed to Table who makes food an experience, not just a meal
My Life With Boys for sharing the adventures of two happy, curious sons
Joyful Heart for a lifetime of gratitude and good attitude- she has me waaaaaay beat!
My Open Heart Journal because if anyone has a good attitude it's Kathleen. She's in the hospital right now, having had 5 stents put in this week. She's still smiling, but not blogging much right now

Now for today's entry. Lest you think that all I do is play outside, it sure wasn't that kind of day today. I fixed the son's toilet and storm door handle will have to go back to the store again to fix the storm door handle. I went grocery shopping. Then when I got home I made apple cake, raisin bread, and potato soup. So now I have meals to eat for the coming week. Hooray! I like that. The color combinations don't make for a stunning food picture, but it all tastes good. So the quality in today is that I got a lot done.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mouse Antics

One more day of fun from the hike two days ago. It was gray here today, and then the horizontal snow started again. But I'm still high from the NCT hike. The scene above just tickled me somehow. X marks the mousy spot? The ends of the trails plunged beneath bushes or were buried at the bases of trees. I've fooled with the image to show the pattern more clearly in monochrome.

And when I was almost at the end of the hike, here was one more little mousy joke. The little rodent ran over the top of the snow, but then for some reason decided to go "underground" for about a 18 inches, and then popped out to the surface again. I've altered the entrance picture so you can again see the details better.

I just thought these were cute.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fox Spoor


Today I want to show you some more of what I saw yesterday on my hike. I don't think it's cheating to count it for today because I'm still pretty excited about it. One reason winter is so great is because it's easy to see where animals have passed, and some of the things they have done. All of that evidence is called spoor. This is a word that comes to us directly from Afrikaans. So the footprints you see here are not only tracks, they are spoor.

First of all, these are dog-family tracks. You can see the pad and four toes. Usually the toenail marks will show too, since dogs can't retract their claws like a cat. Here, it's pretty hard to see the toenail marks, I think because the snow was packed from the passage of a snowmobile. There is also a ridge on the heel pad of the fox, which does not show well in these prints either. The larger print is actually from the front foot, it just happens to be behind the smaller hind foot print in this picture.

For a short distance yesterday, maybe a quarter of a mile, a snowmobile had run along the same line that I was following. This line of packed trail made a very convenient run for the fox, and probably for some other small creatures that the fox hoped to catch. In my last post about a fox (on my property) someone commented that they would not feel as positive about a fox as I do. But we are not overrun with them at all, and they do a fantastic job of keeping the mouse, rat and rabbit populations stable. Every animal has its part to play.

You may be wondering how I decided that this was a fox and not just some small dog, especially since one can't see those distinctive ridges on the heel pads. The answer is in the scat.

Now, here is where some people may lose interest in this post. But if you just accept that natural processes are part of life then you may find this as fascinating as I did. Scat is simply what wildlife watchers call the excrement or feces of an animal. Knowing what this looks like for various species will give you a lot of information. This can be particularly true in the summer when you may find only a pile of scat, with no visible tracks. Anyway, the picture below is where I first noticed that a dog-like animal had been on the same path, and not too long before I was there.
Here you can see where the fox urinated and then made scratch marks to try to cover the spot. It's not clear why canines do this, although one species of female dog has been observed to do so when it is in heat. A little farther down the trail, I found a similar spot that I did not picture.
And finally, the fox stopped to defecate. You can see where it planted its feet. From the pattern with urine so near the scat I am guessing that this was a female. And the shape of the scat itself was the clincher that this was a fox, not a dog. Fox scat has pointed ends and is usually filled with hair from all the smaller animals that it eats. Domestic dog scat has blunt ends. A close look at the scat confirmed both of those traits.

The fox and I both followed this snowmobile track until it made a right turn in a direction I did not want to take. The fox, too, did not like that direction, but she bounded off into the woods to the left leaving deep belly prints as she made three initial leaps. Then she resigned herself to walking through the belly-deep snow, and plodded away into the trees leaving a furrow of her passing.

See Death and Survival
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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Only a Few Miles- But O So Good

I got to add 4 new miles to my North Country Quest today. I was a tiny bit concerned about doing this hike. The plan was only for four miles, but I knew that they would be in completely unbroken snow, which can be very difficult to cover, even in snowshoes. I've done more than that several times in the past, but shhhh, I'm not getting any younger it's not good to take on high risk situations when you are alone. I wasn't worried about getting lost, even if I lost the trail. I could always just go straight north till I hit the road my car was on. Nevertheless, I hoped to stay on the trail. The trick with following the trail is that in the winter you can't see the treadway, so it is imperative that the trail marking be well maintained. Now, I would like to tell you that every yard of the NCT is clearly marked, but that would be a big fat lie little tiny fib.

A friend helped me put my car at one road crossing, and then drove me around to the other one, four trail miles away. Into the woods I went, following the blue blazes painted on trees. When the snow is deep you can't see the trail at all, so you must be able to see the next blaze from the one you are at, or you can lose the trail. I am happy to tell you that I did find the actual trail all the way through to my car. There were a couple of places where I couldn't see a blaze (can you find it in the top picture?), but having a fair amount of experience at guessing at trail-ish spaces helped me along until I found a blaze.

Oh, and I feel pretty good for several reasons. I have added four miles to my total, which is now 3518 miles of NCT. I had allowed four hours to cover the four miles, and actually I covered them in 2 hours and 50 minutes. I am not completely "dead"- hips are a little stiff, but otherwise all is well (and I'm safely home).

The pictures below are just a few details that I enjoyed: a strip of birch bark, flowers of the witch hazel (it blooms in the fall and the yellow-brown flowers persist all winter), and one painted blue blaze surrounded by moss on a tree. It's funny how you sometimes don't see things when you look at them. In the woods I saw a blaze with moss. At home, looking at the picture, I see an eye with a bushy white eyebrow and funny blue war paint!

See more at Four Miles in Tittabawassee Land
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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

More Veggie Fun - Meet Herbert & Mimi

I gave my program about my hiking adventures this evening at the library in Charlevoix. Tomorrow I'm going to add just a few more miles to my North Country Trail quest. It doesn't get any better than that, folks!