Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Trumpeter Cygnet - Journey's End at Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery

As forecast, October has been a crazy month for us, so far, and I haven't been anywhere near Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery since we ended our fall walks there on October 3. However, some folks who do get out there every once in a while drop me an occasional email that keeps me in the loop about what is going on out there. The last couple of days, however, the news coming from the hatchery, via Carol Beurkens-Borden, was sad. She walks there almost daily with her dogs, and she wrote yesterday to tell me that the Trumpeter cygnet was sitting on the trail near one of the ponds, and didn't look well at all. She notified the visitor center staff, and, apparently, they were attempting to get help for the sick swan. By the time a wild bird shows signs of illness, however, its condition is usually extremely critical. This certainly applied to the young swan, as Carol found today when she walked that it had died.

We don't often get the chance to see more than the most fleeting moments of a wild animal's life. Getting to see the same individual repeatedly, to watch it almost from hatching, observe how the parents cared for it, and how its behavior changed as it grew almost to full size, is a special, rare opportunity. And to know, not only how the journey began, but how it ended, is even rarer. Most wild things live their lives unknown and unobserved. The Trumpeter cygnet's life was followed eagerly by folks from all over southwest Michigan, and it and its parents probably deserve some kind of recognition as the most photographed individual Trumpeter Swans in Michigan, if not the Midwest. It is easy to slip into our human value system, and say that it wasn't fair that the baby bird we watched grow up didn't survive into independent adulthood. It is easy to say that the parents deserved a better outcome for all their hard work and devotion. But nature has no concept of fairness or fairy tale endings. The vast majority of young things do not survive to their first birthday. It is so sad that the little gray cygnet we all enjoyed so much was a member of that majority. But I feel so fortunate and privileged that I was able to witness the family's story unfold. And I wish the cygnet peace, and better luck the next time around.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery Never Disappoints

Be sure to check near the end of the post for future information on the Hatchery walks! : )

A nice group of folks from all over southwest Michigan met at Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery today to enjoy the lovely day. We had fun puzzling over the plumages of fall Mallards and Wood Ducks. The Trumpeter Swans cooperatively showed off their growing cygnet. And the Common Gallinule family was in their usual location. I even managed to get some recognizable pictures this week.

The gallinule chicks can hardly be called juveniles anymore. Immature sounds better!

The single Trumpeter cygnet is thriving on all the TLC it gets from the folks.

Once again, Cedar Waxwings were everywhere, as well as Barn Swallows and a few Chimney Swifts. A male Belted Kingfisher stopped rattling around long enough for us to get some nice scope views. We worked hard over a nondescript sparrow in the grass, finally pretty much deciding it was a juvenile Swamp Sparrow. All in all, the birding is more challenging as the birds have mostly stopped singing and are concentrating on getting ready for the coming migration. And when we do find them, they are often in what the field guides call "confusing fall" plumages. Well, this is the perfect time to get out in the field and get unconfused. Join us on one of the many outings scheduled in various Southwest Michigan localities over the next few weeks. For complete information on  upcoming BBC events look here. Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery walks will continue on Wednesdays at 9am, weather permitting, but the last one will be the first Wednesday in October. They may start up again in November depending on the weather. I will post to BBCchat if/when that happens. Until then, hope to see you in the field. Bird on!


Star, the Basset puppy, recharges her batteries while Mom writes.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dog Days of Summer, Van Buren County Style, Part II

Checking for more turtles!

Today Storm joined me for a walk on the trails at Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery. Storm is our ten year old male Landseer Newfoundland. As he left answers to the p-mail he read on the bushes and posts, I remembered that it really is a lot more fun to walk Shine, most of the time. But after a few minutes, I reminded him that all those obedience titles before and after his name should be good for something in everyday life. Being the good-natured dog he is, he settled in to walk with me.

The big soft-shelled turtle was sunning itself again today. It uses one of the big logs in the small pond immediately south of the viewing platform. If you walk up quietly, as I did today, it might not spook. We ran across another big turtle on the back side of the big pond. Storm was highly intrigued by the big snapper we found sunning itself on the shoulder of the trail. I was relieved to find that I'm younger than I thought, or maybe we're both just equally old, because I was able to drag Storm back before the snapper latched on to him. It had a couple of good chances to get him, but was actually pretty mellow for a snapper. It didn't even hiss much.

After a refreshing stop to soak his paws in the pond, we made our way back to the car. Storm gathered in a few new fans around the visitor's center and parking lot. He loves people and it shows. After we shared a bottle of water, he surprised me by being able to leap lightly back into the car, since often after a walk he needs a boost.We headed home happy that we made the most of this beautiful day, in this amazing place.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Dog Days of Summer, Van Buren County Style

The rain the other morning left this field of asparagus plants looking like a family reunion for Cousin It and his relatives.

Shine, the Whippetish girl, and I spent a pleasant hour wandering the trails at Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery today.

The birds were definitely in late summer mode, meaning they were pretty quiet, but there were still interesting things to see. A couple dozen Cedar Waxwings were pretending to be swallows, zipping around over the ponds flycatching. Actual swallow numbers were sparse, with only Tree Swallow and Barn Swallow represented. I counted at least 5 Pied-billed Grebes with striped faces, meaning they were young of the year. I saw at least three Belted Kingfishers, a Great Blue Heron, a Green Heron, and two Double-crested Cormorants out on the big pond. Waterfowl were represented by one Canada Goose, one Trumpeter Swan, and one Wood Duck. Towhees, Catbirds, Cardinals, Song Sparrows, Common Yellowthroat and Yellow Warbler were skulking in the willows.

Lots of turtles were around. A Painted Turtle was walking one of the trails with us. I spotted a few other Painted and an enormous Blanding's Turtle, but they were all pretty skittish and hard to photograph. I did get this picture of an absolutely huge softshell turtle. I think it was the first one I have seen at the hatchery. You can get an idea of size by comparing to the adult Painted Turtle on the log in front of the softshell.

And another shot.

I will be resuming regular walks at the Hatchery next week. If you'd like to join me, meet at the WLFH parking lot at 9AM on next Wednesday. Restrooms on site should be available. We'll walk the trails and meet for refreshments at That Coffee Place in Paw Paw afterward, if anyone is interested. Note the day change. I have another commitment on Mondays now that makes it necessary to make this switch. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sad Day in This Amazing Place

Today is a life review day. We're sitting with our old Golden Retriever, Molly, watching her draw her last breaths. The end is coming, we know that, but we aren't going to stretch out her life to the last miserable second. That's why, in a little while, she is going on her last car ride. In the meantime, the family gathers around her. Shine, the little rescue Whippet mix, who loves Molly more than she loves anyone else in the family, cuddles close. When Molly tries to get up and stumble around the house, Shine is right at her side. Some of the cats are stopping by for a rub and a sniff. We rub her ears and pet her soft gray-golden fur.

We don't really know for sure how old Molly is. She came to us from a rescue group as a middle-aged dog who had outlived her previous owner. That was in 2006. We are so happy to have shared her life for the last seven years, even though it cost us many loaves of bread until she finally trained us to put it away where she couldn't get it! She is remarkable for her unfailing resilience and joyfulness. Even as she started to lose her memory and become increasingly confused, until the last few days she would still have moments where you could see her old self light up her eyes, and she would give the joyful leap in the air that meant she was happy to join you in whatever you were doing. She was Shine's anchor as the little puppy from the hoard tried to figure out how to live with people. Several of the cats think nothing of using her for a pillow. When Bob was taking his first shaky walks as he recovered from his car accident, Molly was by his side. She is the embodiment of everything that is wonderful about her breed, and we have been so lucky to have her.

We love you, Molly B. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Blueberry Time

Last year’s blueberry harvest was pretty much nonexistent in Van Buren County. In fact, fruit in general was an almost total loss due to the drought. I have more of a personal connection to the blueberries, however, since my stepson has about 25 acres of them just down the road from where we live. He has worked hard on his blueberries the last few years. There were about 3 acres of them on the farm when he bought it, and he has singlehandedly planted the rest. About three years ago he put in a pond. As it turns out, it was in the nick of time, because if it hadn’t been for the pond, he would have lost all the baby plants that he worked so hard to get in the ground. As it was, he filled his water tanks from the pond and watered the young plants about every other day throughout the drought. Some blueberry farmers in our area wound up plowing all their blueberry plants under when they died, but almost all of Bob’s managed to pull through. 

Fast forward to 2013.

Some of the young blueberry plants

Maybe I'll check out the blueberries.

Poor blueberry bushes! They can't straighten up.

Here, I will help you!

      Godzilla makes sure the deer don't get too many blueberries. He is happy to work for biscuits and ear rubs.

     The blueberry patch is full of birds. Cedar Waxwings, Robins, Thrashers, Catbirds, Common Yellowthroats, Towhees and more are constantly present this time of year. I'm surprised they can get off the ground, the way they are stuffing themselves. Of course, I'm no one to talk. An awful lot of blueberries don't make it into the bucket. It's my duty to quality test them. It's a tough job. But some sacrifices must be made for the privilege of living here, in this amazing place.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cygnet Sign

One of the highlights of the spring bird walks at Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery was always a check on the breeding progress of the resident Trumpeter Swans. When we rolled up the sidewalks on the bird walks for a while at the end of May, the female swan was still on the nest, the outcome uncertain. A little way into June, even spotting her on the nest became impossible, as the cattails got so thick she was concealed from sight. The last time I walked there, about a week ago, I didn't see either swan. So I was relieved today to spot both of them on the pond as soon as I could see the pond. And when I got close enough, this is what I saw.

Both parents watch for danger to their single cygnet

        It was great fun to see the parents stir up the bottom with their feet to bring small food items to the surface for the little one to eat. I actually have some video of that, but upload times are gruesome on our connection for video.
        The few remaining Canada goslings are starting to look more like grown-ups.  The adults have all molted their primaries, so they are as flightless as their offspring.

Note the lack of primaries on these birds.

On alert!

     Although still downy, the facial pattern of an adult is starting to emerge on the two month old gosling above.


     On the home front, I came home the other afternoon, and spotted these guys in our walnut orchard.

Look closely for fawn number two on the left.

I think fawn number two is practicing fawn yoga here.
      On this last day of spring, my wish for you is that you find all the wonders that summer has to offer in your own amazing places!