Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ramp-ant beauty

More observations and reflections from the UP trip...we tallied 70 bird species including american white pelicans soaring over Route 41 in northeast Wisconsin...I was hoping for a more remote campground, but Bay Furnace was fine. It's right off a state highway, but the views were so nice it was easy to forget that. The privacy wasn't exceptional, but it was good enough. We gathered enough collateral material on the trip that now we know where the other good spots are. Across the highway, Christmas, Mich., had the requisite Christmas gift shops, but some had fallen into disrepair--as evidenced by a giant headless Mrs. Claus...A NASCAR race was really popular in the steakhouse there and in the campground. Radios blared the call all night. It shows how far Indy racing has fallen that this was the marquee event on the day of the Indy 500...Our kayak outfitter, Northern Waters, was great. Our trip was unfortunately shortened because of a seasick member of our group, but I learned a lot and felt that we were all prepared for the experience. My rudder was jammed at one point and taking me out to sea and our guide, Carl, calmly paddled over, reached into the kayak and fixed the problem...Seney National Wildlife Refuge really is a pestilential, malarial place. As one would expect of a huge swamp in the middle of the UP in May, it's super-buggy. I don't think an extended visit there is really possible this time of year...I was fighting a cold during most of the UP trip, but it was easy to forget. The forest floor above the Pictured Rocks was carpeted with ramps and wildflowers. Warblers were calling everywhere.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Pictured swans

Kayaking under a cavern in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. More photos are now available.

Swan refuge

Today was rather like the first few chapters of "Trumpet of the Swan." Seney National Wildlife Refuge is a natural wonderland of bogs and swamps in the middle of the UP. Trumpeter swans, unlike anywhere else east of the Rockies, are everywhere here--we saw 48 on one pool alone. Other sightings included an osprey, on nest, ruffed grouse, common loons and pine siskin.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

May ice

Kayaking in Lake Superior, we had a stunning realization. The rock wall above us wasn't draped with quartzite, but with ice. Our guide spoke of a Memorial Day a few years back with ice floes on the lake.

It's hard to put into words what we saw today, but of course I'll try. Emerald waters, multi-hued sheer rock walls, sea caves, waterfalls plunging over stories of rock.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Blue water

There's no doubt that this trip is perpetuating the world demand for petroleum, but the scenery so far has been worth it. In Munising right now, camped in nearby Christmas right on Lake Superior. There's a merlin in our campground, and they sell sake at the local supermarket.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Late spring

Blogging live from Green Bay, Wis., where summer still seems a long way off. Most deciduous trees still don't have leaves (though it's quite balmy tonight and probably over 50). We're headed even farther north tomorrow--to Munising, Mich., and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Hope to have a chance to blog from there.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Field glasses

Today, after 18 years of using the same field glasses, I received a new pair of binoculars in the mail. The new nocs have an 8x objective lens and 42 mm field of view. I can already tell that the binoculars will improve my birding--images are incredibly crisp, the 8x42 setup allows for much more light and detail in dim conditions and the field of view is bigger than what I had before.

Also, the Lower 48 low for yesterday was 23 degrees in Tomahawk, Wis., about 325 miles north of here. There's a chance I could be reporting from a similar latitude this weekend. More to come...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Getting birdy

Today was one of those days for warblers at Montrose Point that is hard to top most anywhere in North America. We had 56 total species, and 18 species of warblers alone. And missed a few, too, according to Internet reports. The american redstarts and magnolia warblers really put on a show; they were everywhere flitting about just a few feet away at eye level. There weren't any especially rare birds at Montrose today, but species like wilson's warbler--typically elusive--were everywhere. We had several close-up glimpses of black-and-white warblers moving up and down tree trunks like nuthatches do. The weather today is impeccable, 69 and sunny right now. We're still about one week behind in terms of migration, but this is worth the wait.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Morning walk

I wish I started every day at a bird sanctuary. Yesterday, a pre-work trip to Montrose Point yielded 47 species in just about an hour. Highlights were 11 warbler species, four shorebirds (spotted sandpiper, dunlin, least sandpiper, semipalmated plover), and one confusing female orchard oriole.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Species bias

The New York Times printed an article about "biobigotry," the negative feelings one generates toward certain animal species. The author cites brown-headed cowbirds as a bird she dislikes for its malicious parasitic nesting. The article discusses how we anthropomorphize the characteristics of animals, e.g., calling squirrels gluttonous. Non-native species are also victims of biobigotry. House sparrows, rock doves and european starlings are good examples.

I try not to do this too much, but I do have blind spots. I sometimes dislike the invasives that rule our city, I say things like "the crows are having a convention" when they are cawing a lot, and enjoy seeing an underdog red-winged blackbird mob a red-tailed hawk. The implication for habitat restoration is interesting, too, as these endeavors are centered on removing non-native plants--serious biobigotry perhaps.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Goodbye Nau

Word came across today that Nau, the eco-friendly clothing retailer, is going out of business. There's a statement on Nau's Web site about the decision.

Chicago was home to one of Nau's four stores, and the store already appears to be closed. Nau donated $200,000-plus to charitable causes in its brief existence and gave customers a choice of social services, environmental and other causes to choose from on every purchase. It also used sustainable practices on everything from the way the clothes were made to how they were shipped. It only stocked a few items in stores in hopes of mitigating the environmental costs of shipping tons of merchandise around the country (customers were encouraged to have items shipped to their homes).

I'll miss Nau, even if some of the fashions looked kind of like Greedo's outfit in the first Star Wars movie.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Pond rodents

I had a moment of uncertainty yesterday when I saw that someone had mentioned online that they saw a muskrat at the golf course pond. But I checked some online information and consulted a guide to mammals, and I'm certain that the massive rodent I saw out of the water was a beaver. Somebody at the pond this morning said they had seen a beaver, too.

It was fairly quiet at Montrose today, but I totaled 35 species. There was a yellow-crowned night-heron at the pond. This is a rare sighting for Chicago as we are at the northern extreme of its range.

Elsewhere, in North Suburban Vernon Hills, a chimney caught fire because of a bird nest. No one can seem to figure out what kind of birds built the nest. I have a guess.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Avian day

Observations from a day driving around Cook County...the morning started with a common yellowthroat in our next-door neighbors' front yard...the great blue herons are back on their nests at Busse Woods, where you can see a rookery from I-90...I saw three turkey vultures soaring low over Paul Douglas Forest Preserve...The Cook County Forest Preserve sites in the Northwest Suburbs are a new frontier for me. There is also an extensive swampy area at Arthur Janura Preserve that looks promising...I saw an american kestrel dive onto something right off I-90...a pair of mute swans have taken up at an office park pond just north of I-90 near Schaumburg...three white-tailed deer were sitting in a highway easement just east of O'Hare...I heard a white-crowned sparrow call outside a church in the East Garfield Park neighborhood on the city's West the same church, house sparrows were clinging to the building's stone walls. I don't know why they do this...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Weather delay

Northern Minnesota was raked with snow a couple times in April. One unfortunate consequence was a mass die-off of songbirds. Warblers, kinglets, swallows and bluebirds didn't have insects to eat because of the white stuff. Let's hope these species recover swiftly.

Here in Chicago, spring still appears to be running behind because of the frigid winter we had. Our front-yard bulbs and ferns are not near as tall as they were this time last year.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Uptown rodents

I wish I had my camera. That was my first thought when I saw two beavers this evening less than a half-mile from our home in Uptown.

I was able to get some evening birding in today. The conditions were pleasant: mid 60s and clear and I found 39 species in a limited timeframe. I took a quick detour on the way home to a small, kidney-shaped pond that serves as a water hazard at Marovitz Golf Course. There is a tangled, fenced area with a bunch of downed willows that is usually good for a few spring migrants. Peering through the fence, I noticed a round form on a big log about 10 yards away. I assumed it was a stump until I saw it's paws, whiskers and matted fur (pelt?). The big rodent froze for a while, gripping a willow shoot. Then it proceeded to munch on the shoot in a fashion similar to a yard mulcher. A second beaver was in the water swimming away from shore. Meanwhile, there were two golfers finishing the hole about 100 yards away. The perching beaver continued to gnaw on limbs, this as golfers and joggers and cyclists passed within view.