Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fallen timbers

An update: the last seven miles on Monday were very difficult, sort of like the Ohio equivalent of the Himalayas. The biggest problem on the backpacking trip was that the big 15-mile loop had not been maintained at all this year (and maybe not for a few years). The inner 5-mile loop was cleared and made for easy trekking. But the outer loop was overgrown and clogged with treefalls--it was basically a game trail. By about Mile 10 on Monday, I was really tired of the downed trees. Every extra step, every maneuver over a log, duck under branches, dodging of thorns, took a huge effort. On two of the worst tangles, we were forced to take off our packs and crawl.

Thankfully, it was relatively mild (low 80s) and rain-free. The cold beverage at the end of the trail was worth the wait, as was the clandestine shower at the nearest state park campground. I'm looking forward to some time here in the park in Chicago and future backpack trips on short, wide trails.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

White pines

Memories can be distorted. Eleven years ago, the Wildcat Hollow Trail seemed a cakewalk. All flat ridgetops and broad-trailed lowlands. Today, a struggle through brambles and thick undergrowth. The trail, lightly trod, was wrought with treefalls and thickets. We made it 8 or so miles in six hours and thankfully located a brilliant campsite amid white pines at about 1,000 feet.

The avian highlight was a white-eyed vireo near a series of natural gas wells. Right now, we're oddly hearing bullfrogs in an old pond nearby. We've also seen and heard towhees, pileated woodpecker and turkeys. We also just observed either a meteorite or a low-flying satellite. Weird. There's a crescent moon rising and the air is coolish. Tomorrow, 7 miles more.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rain forest

Rain has shifted our plans today. With more storms on the way, we've set up a crude shelter that's supported by two trekking poles. I've seen some good birds during the breaks in the precipitation. I watched a hooded warbler eat a long worm in the ravine adjacent to our site. Not sure what to do the rest of the day but play cards and read. Not too bad really.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Rotten wood

My first impressions of this trip aren't so positive. We're 30 miles south of Zanesville, Ohio, near Burr Oak State Park. Upon asking for wood at the camp store, we were directed to a wormy, rotten old pile for our 3.00 bundle. Thank you very much. That's what we will cook on tonight.

The SE Ohio topography of rolling hills and woods is nice, tho. Tomorrow should bring some adventure and the next day we start a backpacking trip. Temps are stunningly comfortable for this part of the country.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Good walk

Few development projects can top golf courses for environmental disruption. Bulldozers, turf grass, fertilizer and lawn mowers don't do much for Mother Earth. Still, they harbor a surprising variety of wildlife. I've seen everything from foxes to kingbirds to muskrats on golf courses.

Yesterday, River Oaks Golf Course harbored a handful of great blue herons. Also, killdeer, indigo bunting and lots of barn swallows--maybe THE golf course bird of the Midwest. Today, gnatcatchers and catbirds at Robert Black on the Far North Side (the same place wher I once saw a squirrel eating a dead flicker). Golf courses are altered states for sure, but it's great fun to wildlife watch while hitting the links.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bivy thoughts

News from the current interglacial. Backpacker Magazine has some expanded online offerings, and hence the new link to the Daily Dirt blog on the left. There also is an Ask the Expert section with "medicine man" Buck Tilton, who answers questions like 'What are the chances of a rattlesnake crawling into your bivy?' (Answer: Very slim.)

Also, somewhere in my Internet wanderings this week I came across the landform of a monadnock or inselberg. I love obscure landforms. My favorite monadnock is the granite dome of Stone Mountain, Ga., which features the largest bas-relief in the world. The top of the dome includes rock pools that harbor a rare form of clam shrimp and used to have a now extinct fairy shrimp.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Crazy train

This actual video of Mother Nature is better than any computer animation created by Hollywood for this summer's blockbusters. And it took place just 75 miles northwest of Chicago. A tornado cut a swath from Poplar Grove, Ill., to Harvard, Ill., on Jan. 9, 2008. Funny thing is I don't even remember hearing about this twister. Yes, it is unusual to have a tornado in January, too.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Camp conclusion

The weekend ended with 33 bird species including a few gems from suburban camp. We also visited Rouge River Bird Observatory at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and added to our tally. Some of the highlights from suburban camp were a ruby-throated hummingbird, a family of baltimore orioles, a red-eyed vireo and a turkey vulture. We took a very buggy walk in the 290-acre natural area that circles Fairlane Lake, right, and skirts the Rouge River. The trails traverse woodlands, old fields and swamps. Highlights there were a blue-headed vireo (singing), great crested flycatcher (also singing) and blue-gray gnatcatcher. We also encountered six raccoon kits cowering in a small tree.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Suburban camp

My first camping experiences were in suburban backyards. I don't think I've ever been more nervous camping than when we set up our little dome tent in the backyard on a warm summer night. Loud insects would buzz all night--cicadas I think--taunting my fear and sleeplessness and muffling the sounds of potential intruders. I felt so exposed out in that backyard.

Last night, I camped in a suburban backyard in Livonia, Mich., a well-glaciated pancake-flat land among the branches of the River Rouge. Here wide subdivisions occupy former farmlands. The yard is blanketed by herbs, native plants, stunningly bright flowers and seedums.

The camping experience was far less scary than when I was 11. I'll admit: it didn't have the same allure as camping in a wilderness area, but the temperatures in the low 60s were quite comfortable for sleeping. We did hear our share of natural sounds. A small waterfall tumbling into a decorative pond, a red squirrel chattering and a chickadee calling. We also heard the din of cars from I-96, neighboring dogs barking and a few late-night fireworks. In the morning a young robin landed about three feet from the tent door, unaware we were watching a few feet away. Tonight, another evening in the suburban wilderness.

(Livonia took its name from Dutch settlers coming from New York. Fun fact: I played against Livonia, N.Y., in high school baseball.)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Cruel summer

This is turning into the year without a summer. We've had just one week's worth of 85-degree-plus temperatures and three 90-plus days. I'm not complaining--it's 65 right now and quite pleasant.

I had heard that Boston and New York were having mild summers and I did a quick check of the numbers. Quite mild indeed. Boston has had two days over 80--83 on June 7 and 84 on June 26, and 16 days of highs in the 60s during June. More than half the month with mid-spring high temperatures. New York City had five days in June with highs in the 60s and no day warmer than 83.