Monday, September 27, 2010

Sliding island

There was some confusion last week when it was reported that an island in Wisconsin's Chippewa River broke off and came to a rest beside a bridge. It turns out the island didn't move, even though several people called a television station in Eau Claire. Given that we've seen lakes disappear in Wisconsin (near the Dells a couple years back) and dams burst in Iowa (this year), all sorts of geographical weirdness seem possible in the Upper Midwest. But I'm pretty sure an island couldn't just float away. Chicagoist posted about the story.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Strange combinations

Like many other birders, I mostly show up during spring migration. The charismatic avifauna of April and May are the allure. Fall migration, on the other hand, is mostly as boring as a nondescript sparrow. It's the Little Brown Job, if you will, of bird seasonality. Fall warblers are just not as colorful.

So I'm still learning things about fall migration. Yesterday, we had a nice view of several golden-crowned kinglets, a swainson's thrush and a black-throated green warbler in crab apple trees near our house. This morning, several more golden-crowned kinglets at Montrose Point. It's funny because last spring I recorded only ruby-crowned kinglets, not a single golden-crowned. So if this is a plague of golden-crowned kinglets, that's just fine by me.

What's strange is the timing of bird species in fall. This morning, there were reports of Baird's sandpiper, lapland longspur and horned lark on the beach at Montrose. And yet I also saw an eastern phoebe today, a warbler yesterday and a chimney swift a few days ago. These species would be less likely, in total, to occur together in spring. The longspurs and larks are typically winter species at Montrose that leave by March--before most phoebes arrive, before the kinglets, swifts and warblers arrive for sure.

Fall migration also seems to take place in reverse order of spring migration. So the last species to arrive in spring are generally the first to leave in fall. Sandpipers always seem to be on the move, passing through around May on their way to the Arctic and leaving by mid- to late summer.

I could probably clear all this up by talking to a veteran birder, but it's fun to discover on your own!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Free falling

In the jungles of parenthood, it's easy to let a few days (weeks?) slip past without keeping ye olde blog up to date. But since the last post, there's been some big news and I've enjoyed some outdoors experiences. Not to mention we ventured 13 days into meteorological fall--always a milestone worth noting.

First, of course, hizzoner, Da Mare himself, Richard M. Daley announced he would not run for re-election. A few days later he said that he would like to re-reverse the Chicago River.

Fall has been great so far--mild temperatures without much rain. Saturday we entered a sort of early fall rapture at sunset. We made our way to the end of the fishhook pier at Montrose Point (the closest thing to being in the middle of the lake without being on a boat). The sky was full of puffy clouds and there was an incredible alpenglow (is alpenglow ever not incredible?) that bathed the whole city in orange. The skyline in the distance looked like Cloud City, the beautiful capital of the Nooyd System. A single spotted sandpiper in nonbreeding plumage escorted us down the pier, teetering on the edge of the cement revetment.

There's been a definite change in the types and numbers of birds around, too. This morning, I saw at least three dozen mourning doves perched on the same set of power lines on the Southwest Side. I saw several common nighthawks fly over our building one evening last week (a new bird for the yard list). And warblers are around, too, in their dusky fall plumage.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Circular logic

So I’ve decided to write a summary of the trip in the style of Steve Rushin , who recently returned to Sports Illustrated with a new online column called Rushin Lit.

We spent most of our time on our vacation on 343-acre Bass Lake, near Traverse City, Mich. The simple names of places in Northern Michigan reflect the region’s past. Bass Lake, Long Lake, Loon Lake, Pine River. The loggers and trappers who settled the area didn’t have the time or inclination to come up with fancy names. So there are a few repeats. One wonders how many Bass Lakes or Pike Lakes or Lost Lakes there are in the Great Lakes State. We capped our trip by camping at the cleverly named Lake Michigan Campground. Not to be confused with the Lake Michigan Campground we camped at 12 years ago 220 miles away near St. Ignace. Fittingly, the fish caught at Bass Lake were fine largemouth bass specimens.

It’s easy to imagine Paul Bunyan when you’re in a place like Manistee, Mich., above. The tall trees, the high skies, the deep blue lakes would seem to suit the legendary lumberjack. So it’s no surprise that the tallest man in history, Robert Wadlow, died at the National Forest Festival in Manistee 70 years ago. James Earl Jones, a man known for playing another large figure—Darth Vader—started his acting career in Manistee’s Ramsdell Theatre.

The Old Mission Peninsula is a skinny strip of land that juts into Grand Traverse Bay. The vineyards and orchards make it feel like somewhere in Europe, like the Istrian peninsula of Slovenia and Croatia. Istria, too, just happens to touch the 45th parallel, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. The Sacha Baron Cohen character Borat would be proud of the Eastern European connection, especially since Kazakhstan also straddles the 45th parallel.

Members of the short-lived 19th century Free Soil Party were more tolerant than Borat in many respects. They were strongly anti-slavery for moral and economic reasons. The short-lived (1848-1854) political party grew into the Republican Party, which sprouted in the Midwest and Northeast. Freesoil, Mich., is just a few miles away from Manistee and about 150 miles north of Paw Paw, the seat of Van Buren County. The Free Soil Party’s first presidential nominee: Martin Van Buren.

Traverse City was founded where the Boardman River empties into Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan. A sawmill there drew commerce to the town. We happened to see a muskrat, a rodent sawmill of sorts, swimming in the river as we crossed near downtown. Captain Boardman, the river’s namesake, brings us full circle. He was from the Chicago area, in Naperville.