Saturday, November 8, 2014

Dune adventure

Sonja, Celeste and I walked around Montrose Point today to investigate the aftermath of the Halloween 2014 storm. The shoreline has been altered by the storm, which included 20-foot waves on Lake Michigan and water washing over Lake Shore Drive in places. We spent some time in the dune area and discovered that some of the beach is gone. There's now a little arm of water extending into the dunes (above). Much of the area seen in the picture was a sandy beach previously.

During the storm, water washed over the pier and into this area. The arm of water extends all the way here right now. There were a lot of stones and debris left from the storm.

This photo shows the high water line and was taken very close to the previous photo. The water rolled the marram grass and its rhizomes into the clumps you see at right.

Water would have been washing right into this section of the dunes on Halloween, likely at a height above little Celeste. You can get a good look at the marram clumps here.

This area is part of the foredune and is typically very dry. You could see that water had washed away much of the sand and vegetation in this area.

This is one of my favorite views in the city, looking north to the high-rises of Edgewater. The cottonwoods are at the top of the highest point in the dunes. Water didn't quite make it to the trees, but it came pretty close.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Camping - Day 3 notes

*Swimming -- Despite a Great Lake at our doorstep, we never made it into the water at Wells. There is a swimming beach in the park, but it was small and rather uninviting. The best bet would have been the shoreline near our campsite, or even a plunge in Bagley Rapids, but it just didn't happen.

*Beer -- We arrived with a Chicago IPA--Revolution Brewing's Anti-Hero--as well as Bell's Oberon. Along the way, we purchased a six-pack of Blackrocks Brewery's 51K IPA, from Marquette, Mich., and Bell's Two-Hearted Ale. As the Two-Hearted label states, ideal for "Hemingway-esque" trips to the Upper Peninsula. We stuck with Whole Foods' 365 brand organic whole milk for the girls.

*Wildlife -- It was a thrill to hear and see two loons in Lake Michigan, right off our campsite. Also, we saw a bald eagle soaring above Route 41, near Peshtigo, Wis. Perhaps the most stunning sight of all was at least two dozen American white pelicans soaring over the city of Green Bay, which has a thriving breeding population. Fun.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Camping - Day 3

It rained overnight, and storms were in the forecast for Sunday. Would it be possible to take the tykes on a day hike featured in Falcon Guides' "Hiking the Upper Peninsula?" Actually, the prospect of getting away from camp chores, and getting in two Celeste naps in the car, was very enticing. It started raining just as we pulled away from camp for the hour-long drive to the trailhead. Celeste slept most of the way, and Sonja was eager to be in our backpack carrier on a hike. It stopped raining as we pulled up to the parking lot for Piers Gorge, where the Menominee River narrows to a couple hundred feet across, hemmed in by rock walls. The gorge harbors some of the best whitewater in the Midwest. The geography nerd in me loved that the river, and gorge, served as the border between Michigan and Wisconsin.

The out-and-back hike traverses rolling terrain for about 2.5 miles. Along the way there are four "piers," rock outcrops that lead to nice overlooks of the river. We also crossed two "troll" bridges, little wooden bridges over a pair of small creeks. White pines towered along the trail, some of the trees at least 2 feet across. The dense forest and damp conditions gave the gorge a Pacific Northwest feel.

After the hike, we drove to the mining town of Iron Mountain in search of lunch. We opted to go to a well-known pizza chain, one that encloses each of its locations with the same geometric red roofs. I honestly haven't been to one of the red-roofed locations in decades, but it proved a solid choice for the children and a nice respite after the hike.

All trip long we had discussed what we'd do if Sonja needed to use the potty in certain scenarios. We were stopped at a grocery store when Sonja volunteered that she needed to go potty. With Celeste in her car seat it seemed reasonable to stay near the car so I made the dubious decision to put the potty on the passenger seat. I then deposited Sonja onto the potty. She peed, yes, but getting down from the perch proved a challenge and some of the urine sloshed over the lip of the plastic commode and onto the passenger seat. I mopped up what I could but ended up sitting on a changing mat all the way back to the campground. Lesson learned.

It started to rain again as we approached camp, but we managed to stay dry. It eventually stopped raining long enough to make a nice fire, and we had hot dogs and mac and cheese again for dinner. Sonja and I went to a swing set in the evening and had ice cream at a nearby gas station -- Sonja opting for a sundae cone and a strawberry shortcake crunch for me.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Camping - Day 2

The next morning was chilly as Celeste and I had breakfast and made coffee. The mosquitoes were persistent so we re-lit the fire, which seemed to subdue the bugs a bit. We had soft-boiled eggs for breakfast, with French bread and butter. We set about dismantling camp before Celeste's first nap. By 10 or so, we were on the road--headed the 60 miles or so to Wells State Park.

We stopped for lunch across the border in Menominee, Mich. It was a lot windier there, right along Lake Michigan, but the temperatures were pleasant. There was a playground, and we spent a lot of time at the swings. We got lunch to-go from a little cafe-type place and ate on a blanket in a park along the waterfront.

Wells State Park was only about 20 minutes north of Menominee. Why Wells? I had a faint memory of passing by the park a few years ago and thinking that the section of Lake Michigan coast seemed very pleasant. While only 4.5 hours north of Chicago, it feels like the true north--conifers, birches, wetlands and rocky Great Lakes beaches. The whole setting resembles muskeg.

We lucked into one of the three best sites at Wells. The majority of sites at the park are in a crowded loop filled with RVs. We had reserved a rustic site perhaps a mile from the RV area. We pulled up to our site and encountered a group of friendly people playing bocce in the grass. The site was broad and grassy, with a nice view of Lake Michigan, about 50 yards away. There was a birdhouse in the woods, occupied by house wrens. We set up our things and took a walk down to the lake.

We were determined to have a better bedtime experience, so Kristin took Sonja to get ice cream back at the camp office around sunset. I rocked and rocked Celeste in the tent until she went to sleep. The strategy worked, though Celeste briefly stirred when we all went to bed.    

Camping - Day 1 notes

*Fourth of July -- You would think a public campground would be overrun with fireworks-crazy revelers on 7/4. One of the first things we saw at Bagley Rapids was a sign stating "Fireworks Prohibited in Campground." We did hear a fireworks display after sundown, perhaps from a nearby town. There were still a few fireworks late at night in the distance, but nothing that interrupted sleep (thankfully).

The working burner, on the left.
*A new stove -- We finally took the plunge and bought a two-burner propane camping stove. We were excited to use it on the trip. Some people may know that I've struggled with stoves in the past (see: MSR Whisperlite). So it wasn't a surprise when one of the two burners did not work on the new stove. To top things off, in perhaps a related issue, the fuel canister gushed propane upon removal from the stove.

*Wildlife -- The bird highlight of the day was an osprey over Highway 141 in Wisconsin. Ovenbirds were plentiful in the campground. There also were red squirrels and chipmunks. And it was fun to be far enough north to see ravens.

Camping - Day 1

Forgive this bit of navel gazing, but I haven't blogged for a while and wanted to capture a memorable trip with the kids.

Friday, July 4, dawned clear and cool in Chicago. The forecast was for mild temperatures and sun across the Great Lakes. We were preparing for a drive to northern Wisconsin, exact destination unknown. Still, the car was laden with camping equipment and other provisions for a family of four, including children ages 4 and 15 months. We had no room to spare in the car--a day pack rode at my feet in the passenger side.

The CRV, packed to the gills.
The ride out of Chicago was uneventful, without a stop until Manitowoc, well north of Milwaukee. Sonja's first comment of "I want to go home" came somewhere around Skokie on I-94--not a good sign--but Celeste slept well (it was her usual nap time). By 1 we were approaching our target destination: Bagley Rapids Campground, Nicolet National Forest, near Mountain, Wis. This is about an hour northwest of Green Bay. We were nearly there when we encountered a tangly detour and highway closure near Pound, Wis. We drove east to go west at one point, but soon were approaching Bagley Rapids. The terrain transitioned from farmland to forest along the way.

I had made reservations for two July nights at Wells State Park, in Michigan, sometime in May. The original plan was for a simple Lake Michigan circle tour. But plans changed and we ended up needing to leave July 4, one day before our Wells reservation, if we were to get a three-night trip in. We scanned for online reservations of campsites in northern Wisconsin and none were available. It didn't bode well for a small family looking for the ease of a reserved campsite and minimal driving. We didn't want to be driving vast distances in hopes of finding a site.

As we approached Mountain, we saw a small sign pointing to the south of the highway "National Forest Campground," three of the best words in the English language. ATVs, piloted by overly young children, whirred on snowmobile paths as we made our way toward the campground. We were relieved when we saw that a few sites would be available. In fact, we got a pretty site not far from the latrine and within earshot of the namesake rapids. We knew insect life would be one of the potential challenges of this trip, and we were indeed greeted by swarms of mosquitoes at our site. We applied bug spray to all of us and put on long sleeves. Soon enough, we had set up our tent and took a short walk to investigate the rapids.

Bagley Rapids, on the Oconto River
The girls adjusted to camping fairly well. We set up Sonja's potty in a clearing adjacent to our site. The mosquitoes were no fun. They massed in the vestibule of our tent, which we nicknamed Mosquito Garage. The girls slipped into and out of the tent quickly so as not to let any skeeters in. Sonja especially liked the tent and even spent some time alone reading a new Frozen book.

Celeste, table climber
Dinner was mac and cheese and hot dogs. Then the challenge of bedtime came. Kristin went in the tent with both girls near dusk. It was after their bedtime, and the long day and the thrill of camping did not encourage sleep. Both girls lolled about the tent--Celeste taking belly flops across piles of pillows and bedding. Sonja emerged from the tent at one point, and we talked about the moon, the fire and the stars. Finally, well after dark, the cries and queries from the tent slowed and eventually ended altogether.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Yard birds

Typical view from our back porch.
A few years ago on a spring evening, I parked my car on our Chicago street and walked toward the front gate of our six-flat building. As I stepped on the sidewalk, I heard a tittering sound that I hadn't heard since standing in a Wisconsin prairie years before. A shadowy form burst from the ground and vaulted over the wrought-iron fence that frames our yard. It was an american woodcock, getting ready to spend the night in the very urban environs of the Uptown neighborhood.

Yard birding in an urban area is a very arbitrary and incredibly rewarding experience. Once, while I was parking on another congested North Side street, a Virginia rail ambled between cars and passersby. It was my lifer Virginia rail, and I was nowhere near a wetland.

I've kept a yard list at my last two Uptown addresses. Our previous home was situated on a North-South street: Kenmore Avenue. Neither home has had a yard any bigger than about 500 square feet. But the Kenmore building seemingly yielded more warbler species in the proper seasons--perhaps they followed the treetops of North-South Chicago streets as part of their migration. We tallied nearly 50 species in our five years at the location. Every year, almost to the day, we could count on a yellow-bellied sapsucker in a poplar that was clearly visible from our front window. It became a gratifying rite of April to see this bird.

For whatever reason, perhaps the East-West orientation, the yard list at our current home has taken longer to build. I decided that any bird seen or heard from the property would be counted as a yard bird. This opened up some great possibilities, including standing on our back porch and seeing birds from quite a long distance. That's resulted in peregrine falcon, black-crowned night-heron, great blue heron and some waterfowl. The total stands at 48, the last species a budgie on a frigid day--the bird likely an escape.

I still have a few target species--blue jay, common grackle, red-winged blackbird, fox sparrow, sandhill crane to name a few--but there's something fun about the low expectations and randomness of Uptown yard birding. Which will be the next new species? Probably not a Virginia rail.

Current list below:

American Woodcock
Canada Goose
House Sparrow
Rock Dove
American Robin
Northern Cardinal
Peregrine Falcon
American Kestrel
Chimney Swift
European Starling
White-throated Sparrow
House Finch
Mourning Dove
Ring-billed Gull
Black-crowned Night Heron
Dark-eyed Junco
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Chipping Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Common Yellowthroat
Swainson's Thrush
Great Blue Heron
Brown Creeper
Black-capped Chickadee
Gray Catbird
American Goldfinch
House Wren
Common Nighthawk
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Double-crested Cormorant
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Song Sparrow
Black-and-white Warbler
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Palm Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Eastern Phoebe
Cooper's Hawk
Hermit Thrush
Downy Woodpecker
American Crow
Budgerigar (likely escape)