Monday, November 26, 2007

Nimrod beauty

The Sundance Channel began airing an eight-part documentary called "Nimrod Nation" tonight. The series chronicles the 2005-2006 boys basketball season in Watersmeet, Mich., home of the Nimrods (a biblical term for a hunter). The connection to this blog is tenuous--we camped last Memorial Day weekend about an hour from Watersmeet, which is in the rugged Ottawa National Forest and 375 miles north of Chicago.

The preview of the series was promising, and tonight's segments delivered nicely. Nothing ever could match "Hoop Dreams," but "Nimrod Nation" is definitely better than "Go Tigers," a documentary about football in Massillon, Ohio. One documentary that rivals "Hoop Dreams" is the PBS-produced "Country Boys," which follows the lives of two teens in eastern Kentucky during several years. There isn't a sports angle in "Country Boys," but it too traces the travails of young people in rural or low-income settings.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bird report

Highlights from driving to Livonia, Mich., and back to Chicago during the past several days. Three sandhill cranes flying over I-94 west of Ann Arbor on Friday; a great blue heron flying over snowy Benton Harbor, Mich.; at least three cooper's hawks including one on the campus of the College for Creative Studies in Detroit; at least two american kestrels; nearly two dozen mute swans including several at Wolf Lake along the Indiana-Illinois border; and several dozen red-tailed hawks all over the place.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Current unpleasantness

Two local stories lately seemed like driftless area fodder. First, some residents in Antioch, near the Illinois-Wisconsin border, are against a shopping center that will skirt the shores of a glacial lake. The shopping complex would sit beside Little Silver Lake, formed when glaciers receded thousands of years ago. Antioch is in the growing exurban section of Chicagoland, where undeveloped stretches of prairie and forest are being plowed under for McMansions and malls.

Second, a 29-year-old Illinois man was killed in Wisconsin while deer hunting. The cause was an accidental discharge while tracking a wounded deer. Also in that story is an account of a grandfather shooting a grandson after mistaking him for a deer. Grim stories for sure, but the dangers of hunting are always so scary. It is an endeavor where things can go horribly awry very quickly. There is no such thing as a minor hunting accident.

After these two anecdotes, a few positives to be thankful for: today's dusting of snow on the North Side of Chicago, the downy woodpecker I heard in our alley today and the golden maples leaves strewn all over our street in recent days.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Squirrel rampage

Squirrels really did go on a rampage in the North Woods on Monday. First, a squirrel in beautiful Ashland, Wis., close to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, was zapped by an electrical transformer--causing a power outage. Then, a squirrel in bucolic Ironwood, Mich., not far from Porcupine Mountains State Wilderness Area, took out power for more than 1,000 people. Now, I once worked with a man named Dane who claimed that he was late punching in because squirrels had chewed through the power lines outside of his house (thus causing an outage that silenced his alarm clock). I still don't believe him.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Treacherous treadmill

Yesterday marked a milestone in my knee rehab as I ran on a treadmill for the first time. There was something "Rocky IV" about it, I'm proud to say. But it was more akin to the first time Borat Sagdiyev steps on a treadmill in Da Ali G Show than Ivan Drago in the Soviet Union.

There has been a lot of local nature news of late. An aberrant green-breasted mango, a type of hummingbird, that appeared in Beloit, Wis., has been trapped and transported to the Brookfield Zoo. There also was a national story about a guy who shot a cat that was stalking a piping plover in Texas.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fake lake

November has become something of a fallow period at the driftless area. I did hear a white-throated sparrow at Halas Hall today, however. Here is some writing from 2006.

Artifical lakes are like non-alcoholic beer. Like many state parks in Illinois, Moraine View State Recreation Area has a large artificial lake. These dam-fed waters might be fun for some, but they only remind me that I'm in Central Illinois next to a fake lake. Moraine View actually has a nice walk-in loop in a woodlot next to the lake, though I fear it would be overcrowded in summer. The signs admonishing campers that "coolers will be searched" spoiled the wilderness experience even more for me. Still, the surrounding pancake-flat backroads of McLean County are laden with raptors and other birds in winter.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

'Polling place

I went to Montrose Point this morning with a very specific goal. There had been reports this week of common redpolls in the dune area. Redpolls are small finches of boreal and taiga regions that occasionally make it south to places like Illinois. To put it in perspective, just two redpolls were seen in all of Illinois during last year's Christmas Bird Count.

I was in the dune area just after dawn. I made one circuit through the dunes and then stood sentry on the fishhook pier overlooking the site. A couple other birders walked below and then circled toward the beach. Eventually, they flushed two sparrow-sized birds. The birds flew right at me, fluttered upward about 20 feet over my head and landed beside a big puddle about 20 yards away. Sure enough, two common redpolls, even more stunning in person than in a bird guide. These red-capped, rose-tinged birds would look great on someone's Christmas cards. Another new one for the life list.

Early reports indicate this could be a good year for irruptions of winter finches. There was an amazing flock of american goldfinches (goldfinches are not winter finches, fyi) feeding in the central meadow at Montrose this morning. There was an unusual song mixed in with the goldfinches, and it turned out it was a winter finch: a purple finch (I confirmed this through a recording on All About Birds when I got home). There were just 97 purple finches seen in Illinois' CBC last year.

All told, 25 species this morning, which is pretty good for this time of year at Montrose.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Leaf garrote

I've been waiting all autumn for this, and Wednesday it finally came. It's the annual fall foliage disappointment article. Usually these articles come before the peak colors and say that this year will be a disappointing year for fall color due to not enough rain, too much rain, too much heat and too much cold. This time, the Tribune printed the disappointment story after the peak fall color season.

Now, I've been in Chicago all the way through autumn, and I have seen quite a bit of fall color. It's not the New England countryside, but the reds in the maples have blazed nicely. I'm guessing the yearly disappointments are because of the embellishments of state tourism photos and a mistaken nostalgia for the years of our childhoods when the colors were really vibrant. Sort of how everyone remembers winters with eight-foot snow drifts from their youth. And how it used to be a lot colder. And how it's been a lot milder in recent years. OK, well, maybe that is actually true.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Counting crows

Yesterday I received in the mail the National Audubon Society's summary of last year's Christmas Bird Count. It's a bound magazine-style publication with a vermilion flycatcher on the front cover. I participated in last year's count and so was one of more than 1,000 individuals who counted 3.75 million of 168 species reported in the great state of Illinois.

The publication is full of fascinating information. Like the high snow goose county count in Illinois was Union County with 8,000. Or that only 13 pine siskins were found on six different counts. Or that only 210 red-breasted nuthatches were tallied statewide (this is why I am so excited when I see one at a feeder in Minnesota or Michigan). Or the one pine grosbeak statewide, at Forest Glen Preserve.

Birders are known for meticulous list-making, and the Christmas Bird Count summary doesn't disappoint. One section is called "Summary of Highest Counts of Individuals for the United States." There are lots of California, Arizona, Texas, Hawaii, Alaska and Florida listings. The amazing ones include the eight northern goshawks at a dam in North Dakota, the 147 pileated woodpeckers at Fort Belvoir, Va., and the 89,000 american crows at Middle Fork River Valley, Ill. (Illinois!)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Writing headlock

The driftless area has not been so fertile lately, so here is a lost file from the Guatemala trip in April...

Kids everywhere--even those residing high on the slopes of Volcan Pacaya--had pro wrestling T-shirts. They featured the stars of the "sport." The Undertaker, John Cena, Rey Mysterio. Most featured the emblem "WWF," which hasn't been used for some years since World Wildlife Fund sued the World Wrestling Federation. (The wrestlers then went to World Wrestling Entertainment.) I suppose these shirts are not licensed merchandise.

This raises a number of questions: 1) Is wrestling this popular in Guatemala? 2) How did this pirated merchandise proliferate? 3) Did all of these kids persuade their parents to buy these shirts? Way up on Pacaya, the same child asking us for a pop was wearing a John Cena T-shirt.

An aside, Rayovac logos are everywhere in these tiny villages. Do multinational battery companies really have a marketing strategy for towns 7,000-feet up in the highlands?