Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bird Hills

Yesterday was a perfect late fall day for a hike in Ann Arbor, Mich.--temps in the low 40s and clear. We walked about 3 or 4 miles through three contiguous parks that snake along the Huron River. First, Kuebler-Langford Nature Area, then Bird Hills Nature Area and then Barton Nature Area. The path began on a long uphill that afforded views of the Huron River Valley. It worked its way down to the other side of the divide before climbing again to a narrow ridge in Bird Hills. The trail stayed atop the ridgeline for quite a ways before dropping down next to the river. The Barton Nature Area offered views of Barton Pond, a reservoir behind a dam on the river--hence the swans on the list below. The amble continued through a prairie before returning to Kuebler-Langford on Huron River Drive. Sixteen bird species in all:

1. Northern Cardinal
2. Blue Jay
3. Red-bellied Woodpecker
4. Mallard
5. Mute Swan
6. Canada Goose
7. American Crow
8. Downy Woodpecker
9. Hairy Woodpecker
10. White-breasted Nuthatch
11. Tufted Titmouse
12. Black-capped Chickadee
13. Cooper's Hawk
14. American Tree Sparrow
15. Tundra Swan
16. Rock Dove

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Animal farm

A story in this week's Sports Illustrated discusses the decline of hunting and ties it to the surge in animal populations. It uses the example of a man in Canada who was killed by a pack of wolves in 2005; no human had been killed by a wolf in at least 100 years, according to the report. The article indicates that as herbivores spread (deer, for example), predators will spread also--hence coyotes on Sunset Boulevard and in Chicago's Loop, and a cougar on the North Side of Chicago for that matter. Even the black bear on the golf course in Colorado is part of the phenomenon.

As noted previously in this blog, Americans are generally spending much less time outdoors. As sprawl encroaches on habitat, more animals will become comfortable raiding Dumpsters and bird feeders. And the few people who still venture outside might be more susceptible to scary animal encounters.

(I happened upon an alley rabbit in our patio the other evening, for example.)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Autumn swim

On Sept. 20, 2008, I went for a comfortable autumn swim at Castle Rock Lake, near Necedah, Wis. That swim, with a young larva, came just 31 days before a low temperature of 19 degrees at the same site and about 50 days before a low of 13 degrees above zero. In Chicago, the seasonal change has also been precipitous. We went from a high of 70 on Nov. 5 to a high of 30 16 days later on Nov. 21. It snowed on Nov. 9 here and a few times since.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dune jaunt

Twenty-four bird species on a cursory dune ramble last Sunday. Temperatures were in the 30s with flurries and sleet. Snow buntings were the highlight--two groups of 10 along the beach. The sparrow-like birds arrived from their breeding range on the tundra and are possibilities throughout winter along Lake Michigan beaches and inland farm fields. Stops at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore included Miller Woods, Cowles Bog and Mount Baldy.

Monday, November 10, 2008

"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"
by Gordon Lightfoot

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy.

With a load of iron ore - 26,000 tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early

The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconson
As the big freighters go it was bigger than most
With a crew and the Captain well seasoned.

Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ships bell rang
Could it be the North Wind they'd been feeling.

The wind in the wires made a tattletale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the Captain did, too,
T'was the witch of November come stealing.

The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashing
When afternoon came it was freezing rain
In the face of a hurricane West Wind

When supper time came the old cook came on deck
Saying fellows it's too rough to feed ya
At 7PM a main hatchway caved in
He said fellas it's been good to know ya.

The Captain wired in he had water coming in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went out of sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the words turn the minutes to hours
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
If they'd fifteen more miles behind her.

They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the ruins of her ice water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams,
The islands and bays are for sportsmen.

And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered.

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed
In the Maritime Sailors' Cathedral
The church bell chimed, 'til it rang 29 times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they say, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early.

Today is the 33rd anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Locations throughout the Great Lakes are marking the anniversary, including along the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota and in Toledo, Ohio. I plan to fill a snifter with brandy, light a candle and listen to Gordon Lightfoot's masterpiece. I hope you'll join me.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Park statement

An article by the Chicago Tribune's Barbara Brotman is both a reminder that several beautiful state parks in Illinois are slated to close Nov. 30 and a paean to the aforementioned parks. You can review my thoughts on several of these parks at Sign the petition from Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn here.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Counting crows

The results of the 37th Annual Illinois Spring Bird Count arrived in the mail recently, and I'm increasingly enjoying the arrival of this and the Christmas Bird Count results. It must be the intersection of birding and geography that is so appealing. Anyway, here are some highlights:

--Holding the No. 1 spot for the millionth year in a row (10,000th?) is red-winged blackbird. Mind you, this survey takes place in May.

--The top 20 includes birds like indigo bunting (12th) and tree swallow (13th) but not american crow (25th).

--DeKalb County, just west of the Chicago area, recorded the most eastern screech-owls, 13.

--Iroquois County, 60 miles due south of Chicago and a strange mosaic of prairie, farmland, sand, savanna and woodlands, recorded the most brown creepers (12).

--The most red-winged blackbirds were found in McHenry County, northwest of Chicago (4,421 of 61,289 statewide). It's funny because you can see just about 61, 289 red-wings on any ride through the Midwest in May or June, I swear.

I could parse this data forever.