April, Lincoln Road Journal, One year in the backyard76

Looking into the bloom of a tulip.
Looking into the bloom of a tulip.
Tulips reach for the sun in the garden.
Tulips reach for the sun in the garden.
A purple tulip has a regal color.
A purple tulip has a regal color.
From the side, the tulips glow with captured light.
From the side, the tulips glow with captured light.

Tulips

 

Friday, April 30, 2010

The kaleidoscope is breaking out in the form of tulips. Red ones. Purple ones. Pinkish ones. They contrast with abundance of yellow and white daffodils that are still hanging in there, though some are fading away.

So far the deer haven't discovered the tulips. In one bite the bright ovals of color become a deer's appetizer.

Still no rain to speak of, though thunderstorms are forecast for after midnight. Another windy day, hot for April in the mid-70s, near 80 in the sun.

Another tough day at work so I napped in the sun to prepare for tonight's work. I'm working a split shift today, though the combined hours likely will be ungodly.

Insects are hatching. Gnats. Wasps. Mosquitoes. Moths. Hard-shelled things I haven't identified.

The next soaking rain will not only turn on growth to full speed ahead, it will bring many more bugs to birth.

So amidst the beauty of tulips, marsh marigolds, colorful maple buds, we'll now also have to deal with bugs.

Our May flowers have arrived early, despite no sustained April showers.

We'll enjoy the tulips while they last. You have to take it is it comes.

A dandelion has a striking flower.
A dandelion has a striking flower.
A marsh marigold is pretty yellow, too.
A marsh marigold is pretty yellow, too.
The swamp is filling with the yellow marsh marigolds.
The swamp is filling with the yellow marsh marigolds.
A single goldenthread blooms.
A single goldenthread blooms.

Bright

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dandelions bloom in the supposedly grassed hill in the side yard. It's one place I've encouraged boring grass to develop. It is part of the yard immediately adjacent to the house. As grassy lawn, it looks fairly nice in green, with a slope and curve to it as it connects the front yard with the middle backyard via the slope.

The other reason I encourage grass to grow there is for erosion control. Without the grass to hold the soil in place, it erodes away in heavy rain.

But I'm no Scott's gardener. I feed the lawn a bit, but I don't use herbicides on it. Consequently we have a series of good crops of wildflowers over the spring, summer and fall.

Currently the predominate "wildflower" is the lowly, decried but beautiful dandelion. Their yellow heads dot the hard ground, that's thirsty for rain.

Dandelions are tough and though smaller than usual because of the dry conditions, there's an increasing number of them in the thinnish lawn. So be it.

Down in the swamp the marsh marigold is nearing peak and the swamp is bright with their yellow flowers.

nearby I found a curious, small, 4-petaled flower, goldthread (Coptis trifolia.) It's a member of the Crowfoot family and would be easy to overlook. We hadn't noticed them in the yard before, but they might have been there.

Spent part of the evening chasing another doubleheader of simultaneous fires, one destroying a barn, the other set off by sparks from an outdoor wood furnace.

A few sprinkles fell briefly this afternoon, but serious rain isn't expected until Friday night. Watch out until then.

The full moon after midnight early this morning. These are two images merged as one. At left, is the moon through tree branches, at right is an unobstructed view that's more difficult to find in the yard when the moon doesn't rise high.
The full moon after midnight early this morning. These are two images merged as one. At left, is the moon through tree branches, at right is an unobstructed view that's more difficult to find in the yard when the moon doesn't rise high.

April showers?

 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Little time for the yard this evening. The world of work got in the way. I spent a couple hours last night at a terrible house fire that started from a grass fire. Three structures ultimately burned.

Tonight, I spent a couple hours at house fire that spread to grass and burned the house, a shed , a grassy area and siding on a neighboring house.

Spring is fire season, but typically by the end of April we've had enough rain to slow the wildfires. It's so dry here, the U.S. Forest Service has a spotter plane in the air surveying for smoke. It's the modern version of the old ranger in a watch tower role. The spotter plane circled the fire last night watching for any possible spreading of flames off site.

The spotter plane discovered and called in tonight's fire. On the way to the fire -- it was on the other side of the county in area near the Manistee National Forest -- I saw another black plume of smoke towering above farm country near the town of Scottville. A call to the office and a reporter still there said a call for a grass fire in the area I had described had just came in. Two fires, one me.

I decided to go to the Ruby Creek fire. Passing through the national forest it struck me the woods are in a wide variety of stages of greening. Some are real green, some don't seem even to be budding much yet and that surprised me since eastward in the county, farther away from Lake Michigan than Ludington and my Hamlin Township yard, the air warms sooner and the growing season is longer.

The controlling factor undoubtedly is what areas received any meaningful rain in recent weeks. Those that didn't are kind of slowed in development.

Back home this evening, the yard helped me relax. Not only did we have three fires in the past 24 hours, we're dealing with the murder of a young girl and the stabbing death of a man at the same residence. It's an unusual and difficult story that is anything but peaceful.

Walking about the yard, the mind raced with concerns about the stories, about the people involved, about the work and stress that will result. The yard serves as my private park, a place to let the conflicted thoughts settle down, to quiet the stress.

I shot only the full moon after midnight this morning, and nothing else since.

Perhaps tomorrow will be saner.

If April delivered some rain, that would help.

Young maple leaves start red.
Young maple leaves start red.
Grasses are growing quickly on the sunnier, warmer, southfacing northside of the creek.
Grasses are growing quickly on the sunnier, warmer, southfacing northside of the creek.
A squirrel dines on acorn meat.
A squirrel dines on acorn meat.
Forger-me-nots are blooming in the yard.
Forger-me-nots are blooming in the yard.

The power of slow

 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lighting this evening was striking. All through the woods, small, new leaves were backlit by the low rays of the evening sun. It was if the woods was decorated in leafy Christmas lights. Looking west towards the lowering sun brought a vista of these little bright green highlights in cool, crisp air.

Down at the creek, grasses on the south bank were brilliant green and gave a savanna look to the floodplain. A birch rising out of the grass was stark gray in comparison to the lush greenness of the fresh, new grass.

I intended to make this a quick shoot this afternoon. I wished to spend time in orchard country 10 miles south of here where the rolling hills of fruit trees are now covered in blossoms. It's an awesome scene and I had some photographic compositions in my head I wanted to work on.

But the lighting in the yard was hard to ignore, too. It slowed me down to look more closely, to absorb the subtle beauty, and to study closely the emerging plants on the woods floor.

The forest horsetail are maturing. Ferns are emerging, unbending their rolled stems and reaching skyward. Grasses, dandelions, and , in at least one spot, a lady slipper, are starting to grow. Jack-in-the-pulpits should be soon, but I've yet to discover one.

As I walked from the creek to the house, it struck me anew that the most important lesson learned in this project -- and relearned weekly, it seems -- is slowing down to look closely, listen closely or just wait for a moment to occur brings with it rewards that can't be forced.

If I'd stuck to my shoot-quickly-and run plan, I'd have missed the grasses. I might not have kneeled to get a plant eye's look at the emerging fern. In turn, I might have missed the forest horsetail specimen I examined and might have given shorter shrift to the Christmas light effect of the backlighted leaves.

My final reward, though small, was enjoyable. Since I wasn't hurrying, a squirrel ignored me and began chewing on the yellow meat of an acorn it had removed from its shell.
Watching squirrels eat is humorous. They grasp the meat with their paws, turning it like a human might an apple to eat around the meat. It scatters a lot of crumbs and keeps a wary eye and a careful ear out for danger.

It was aware of my presence and as long as I moved slowly and didn't approach too close -- what that exactly is isn't known until the squirrel bolts -- it ate at the base of an oak tree, 20 feet from where I stood.

In the hierarchy of wildlife sightings, a backyard squirrel isn't hardly notable. But by slowing to watch it instead of hurrying by, one could learn about and enjoy the creature.

Call it the power of going slow. In a world where faster is generally considered better, this project is reminding me of the rewards of going slow. Maybe turtles know better than we realize.

Choke cherry leaves are still red. They contrast with the yellow flowers and green leaves of marsh marigold in the swamp.
Choke cherry leaves are still red. They contrast with the yellow flowers and green leaves of marsh marigold in the swamp.
Tulips are beginning to open.
Tulips are beginning to open.

Back home.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The yard is progressing. Dandelions are out in force. Tulips are beginning to bloom. The upper and middle yard is greening and in the swamp, the marsh marigold are moving toward a peak in the coming days. The colors are bold, vibrant and rich with life. A light rain while I was gone cleared the air and helped vegetation revive.

In short it was a pretty day.

Soon the leaves will be filling in, obscuring the view of the sky.

That's as it should be in the woods in spring.

Sunday's sunrise on Whitefish Bay looking east towards Canada.
Sunday's sunrise on Whitefish Bay looking east towards Canada.

Get up, or miss it

Sunday, April 25, 2010

This morning when I noticed the sky pinkening, I fought with myself. I was very tired from a full day Saturday and knew a five-hour drive awaited me in the afternoon after another day of work on the cabin. Sleep could be rationalized.

But I also had to counter that with the knowledge, the sunrise could be a good one. I don't really see spectacular sunrises or sunsets in the Lincoln Road woods. It's too closed in, too far from the lake to get that magnifying effect the large expanse of a calm Great Lake can produce.

I forced myself up. The sky was deepening in reds and oranges, but had a ways to go to peak. I put on pot of coffee to brew, a pair of slippers to keep my feet warm and headed to the beach deck in the 45-dgree coolness in my pajamas, trusty Nikon in hand.

For the next 30 minutes I made a couple dozen photographs, soaked in a Superior sunrise and congratulated myself for getting up early. I also decided I'd hit the sack again for more shuteye when the show was over.

As beautiful as the sunrise was, the photographer in me wanted to find a prop to contrast with the gorgeous sky. I remembered my sister and brother-in-law's cabin had a weather vane on the beach. Perfect!

So I walked down the beach and shot a series using the weathervane for contrast.

It was a grand start to a warm day that neared 70 degrees -- an unusually warm April day for a place that often would still have snow on the ground.

A female merganser swims by the cabin. The mergansers were in the calm pool between the first sandbar and the beach in front of the cabin Saturday on Whitefish Bay, Lake Superior.
A female merganser swims by the cabin. The mergansers were in the calm pool between the first sandbar and the beach in front of the cabin Saturday on Whitefish Bay, Lake Superior.
Light rays filter through road dust kicked up alont Tahqua Trail adjacent to the Tahquemenon River. It's unusually dry and warm in Michigan's UP for April.
Light rays filter through road dust kicked up alont Tahqua Trail adjacent to the Tahquemenon River. It's unusually dry and warm in Michigan's UP for April.

Surprise

Saturday, April 24, 2010

I rolled over and noticed the pink and melon sky around 6 a.m. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was asleep, so I reburied my head and slept a couple more hours. It was only 41 degrees when I awoke, made coffee, packed a cooler with lunch and headed back to my cabin that we're remodeling.

I was awaiting a contractor when I carried a piece of wood outside. I heard the cry of gulls flying towards me, looked up and was about 25 feet away from a bald eagle winging next to the house heading away from the beach and to the forest. A fish hung from its clenched talons. The gulls were giving chase hoping the eagle would drop the fish. It didn't.

I last saw it circling low at tree height in the pine and cedar swamp. The gulls had veered off and were heading back to the beach. This only took a few seconds to transpire, but it was a treat and felt like a fine omen for the cabin on the bay. Mergansers and gulls were my only wildlife visitors the rest of the day. I put in a long day of ripping out paneling, the studs of a wall, drywall, an old furnace and hauling trash to the transfer station.

I decided that evening to treat myself to a pizza from the local pizzeria. I took it, a beer, and my camera to a viewing area on the bay I've seen eagle at before. So loaded, with camera dangling from neck and hands filled with food and beverage, an eagle glided by, again low, maybe 10 feet in the air, 15 to 20 feet from me. My plan had partially worked. I saw an eagle. I walked out on the spit of sand and settled in. I was almost done with my third piece of pizza when something made me turn around. I watched as an eagle -- wing to the south. Was it the same one? It looked darker. It might have been a different one; I couldn't say. Later it or another eagle flew by, again heading south. Various other birds, mostly waterfowl, flew along the bay -- a large flock of mergansers, a few plover or other beach birds, and some smaller ducks I couldn't identify.

Sunset was approaching and I decided to watch it on the river, or maybe at the Point, so I left. I had been at the spot 30 minutes or so and tallied three eagle sightings, three (maybe four) pieces of excellent pizza, a microbrew, a flock of mergansers, and a sense of relaxation that's hard to find,. Not bad, eh?

A drive down a dusty riverside road later, I headed back t the cabin for another bonfire, a late night trip to the Point again before heading in to sleep.

Frost crystals alight on myrtle Friday.
Frost crystals alight on myrtle Friday.

Frosty Friday

April 23, 2010

Left this morning for the cabin in the U.P. The sun was up and the temperature had dropped below the freezing mark so a light frost coated flowers and low-lying vegetation. The early-morning light made dramatic shadows in the yard. The cold air perfectly fit the description of nippy -- it had a chilly tingle to it, but nothing too bad.

I took off under clear skies and had smooth sailing on U.S. 31 until about Interlochen. Until then, the road driving was a cheerful, relaxing experience. By midmorning, traffic had increased, drivers seemed to be in a daze and that's the way the next 90 minutes to two hours went until I cut east and hit northbound I-75. The last two hours of the trip to Paradise and Whitefish Bay were again mellow and enjoyable.

I worked on the cabin until evening, grabbed a sandwich and a beer, then had a bonfire on the beach of wood debris from the remodeling project. I saw one fire to the north, but otherwise there was no life to be seen on the beach as far as one could see. A half moon produced enough light a flashlight was unnecessary, but also blotted out the Milky Way.

Around 10 p.m.. I doused the fire and drove to Whitefish Point. I wanted to photograph the lighthouse in the moonlight and expected to find a deserted place. Wrong. It's bird migration time and the birders were still out in force awaiting capture of saw whet owls for banding. The parking lot had dozens of vehicles in it. I stood and waited with them for awhile, before heading back to the family cottage for a shower, a gin and tonic and rest.

A choke cherry bloom is highlighted by the evening sun.
A choke cherry bloom is highlighted by the evening sun.
A white cabbage moth rests on juniper in the yard.
A white cabbage moth rests on juniper in the yard.

Earth Day

 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Many in the world marked or at least noted today as the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

It's difficult to remember the condition of too much of the United States 40 years ago. But we shouldn't forget. In those pre-Clean Air Act, pre-Clean Water Act, pre-Endangered Species Act and many other environmental laws, too much of America was an inhospitable place for any living creatures.

Lake Erie was deemed dead.

The Cuyahoga River near Cleveland was so dirty with wastes and oil it caught fire.

The Rouge River in Detroit was a sewer of industrial and human wastes. The only fish I remember in it as a child were carp.

Hazes of polluted air hung over all our manufacturing centers. The stinky stuff pouring out of factories could make you gag and your eyes water. We were fouling our air and water, in part, because we were blinded by the appeal of "progress" and wanted to accomplish it at any cost.
Today Lake Erie is again a fine fishery, still facing challenges though.

The Cuyahoga is in no danger of catching fire.

The Rouge now supports game fish and earlier this spring made news when stonefly larvae, an important freshwater stream species indicative of clean water, was again found in the river for the first time in decades.

We have a lot of canaries in the coal mine of this world and many of them were telling us we were harming our environment to the point of harming ourselves.

Air and water are visibly cleaner today, though both contain pollutants not easily seen but still potentially toxic. I don't want to get political, but most science seems to point to accelerated global warming. Non-political "thermometers" such as increased melting of the Earth's ice speaks volumes.

We're not done yet, and probably never will be.

Remember, each of our individual actions add to the whole. And while one action might of itself seem trivial, collectively we are strong. University of Michigan geophysicist and author of "A World With No Ice" contends man is the single most powerful influence on the well-being of Earth today. There are 7 billion people living on Earth today. At the end of the last ice age about 18,000 to 20,000 years ago, there were less than 100,000 million, Pollack said.

That's something to think about.

Marsh marigold reflect in the creek.
Marsh marigold reflect in the creek.
The swamp is in bloom and is a world of yellow-flowered marsh marigold and green leaves and algae.
The swamp is in bloom and is a world of yellow-flowered marsh marigold and green leaves and algae.
It's a half-moon tonight, though the tilt is different.
It's a half-moon tonight, though the tilt is different.

Cold front

 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Late this afternoon a cold front pushed through. Stiff winds made for ragged waves on nearby Lake Michigan. In the yard, it blew leaves about, caused branches to sway and ushered in frigid cold. A hard freeze is possible tonight with a low of 28F predicted.

It's the kind of day that has scoffers of global warming saying phooey, it's freezing out. One should note, no matter what one feels about climate change, that the cold we experience today or even this season is weather. Climate is much longer term. One can have a cold, day, week, month or even season and simultaneously be experience a warming climate because climate is a much longer term measurement. Vice-versa is true, too.

No matter, it's cold today. Frost is likely tonight. A hard freeze is possible and that could be troublesome to area orchards which the local extension worker said have fruit trees an unheard of 20 days ahead of schedule already this spring.

Odds are good there will be crop damage due to a killing frost before the frost season ends in June. There's just too much time to think otherwise.

A bumblebee searches among the myrtle.
A bumblebee searches among the myrtle.
A cabbage moth, considered a pest, flies away.
A cabbage moth, considered a pest, flies away.
As the sun settled low in the evening, not only did the riffles on the creek get highlighted, but flying insects make little dots in the top of the photo.
As the sun settled low in the evening, not only did the riffles on the creek get highlighted, but flying insects make little dots in the top of the photo.
The maple is sporting new leaves, still reddish in hue.
The maple is sporting new leaves, still reddish in hue.
The moon is slightly to the west and overhead before sunset.
The moon is slightly to the west and overhead before sunset.

Spring on the wing

 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A bashful moth and two nervous bumblebees are a sign spring is advancing. Add to that a cloud of winged insects holding above the creek this evening and it's clear, despite the continued threat of frost and cool temperatures, spring is winging in.

The moth and the bumblebees were active shortly after noon. They were checking out the myrtle, a thick groundcover with purple flowers. The myrtle was planted by the previous owners of the property. It is steadily spreading to cover the entire driveway north side hill where my wife continues the previous owners garden. It's a small bit of domesticity amidst the oak, ferns, chokecherry, autumn olive, maple-leaved viburnum, beech and pines that dominate the hill.

Later, in the warm, lazy days of summer, bumblebees will tolerate me getting close, photographing with a wide-angle, macro lens. Today, I had to use the big gun, the 500 mm and they still were nervous. If I moved a bit, they shot off out of photo range. One of the two bumblebees mainly worked the flowers of the myrtle.

The second one spent most of its time crawling beneath the leaves and flowers of the ground cover. I watched it by the motion it imparted to the myrtle. When it came out from beneath the plants, it quickly went back in or flew a short distance and then crawled back in. Curious.

The moth, all white except for a dark spot near the upper edge of each of its two main wings, was even more hesitant for me to get close. I could watch it from 20 feet, but any closer and it shot off.

Is it because they are early flying creatures and innately know they stand out so they could be easy pickings for hungry birds? Is it just too cold and they want to keep moving? Was I wearing something that warned them off?

I don't know the answer.

Down at the creek, the chickadees continue to work on a nest cavity on the opposite side of the same small tree trunk they carved a hole out of a couple weeks ago. I'm keeping a greater distance when I see them. I want them to succeed in nesting there.

Birds throughout the yard are in song all day. With increasing confidence I can pick out the chickadees, the red-bellied woodpeckers, the robins, the nuthatches, the over flying red-shouldered hawks, the raucous crows, and the noisy jays. When there's little traffic and little wind, it's quite a concert.

Another sign delivered by winged creatures spring is moving forward.

A raspberry bush grows in front of the daffodils.
A raspberry bush grows in front of the daffodils.
A crow I disturbed by arriving home rests on a birch in the neighbor's yard. After I went inside the house, the crow returned to our birdfeeders and pilfered a quarter cake of suet.
A crow I disturbed by arriving home rests on a birch in the neighbor's yard. After I went inside the house, the crow returned to our birdfeeders and pilfered a quarter cake of suet.
Windflowers add a touch of purple.
Windflowers add a touch of purple.
This could be white baneberry in a youthful state.
This could be white baneberry in a youthful state.

Steady

 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Clear, cool and dry conditions hold sway yet again. The yard is slowly adding new life, but a warm, soaking rain is needed. So the daffodils continue to dominate the color.

Crows continue to visit the feeders, making off with large chunks of suet. I may have to stop putting suet out, though it still is attracting woodpeckers. Between the squirrels and the crows, the woodpeckers are only getting leftovers, and that's not much.

At the creek, after a week of not seeing any activity at the chickadee nest in the dead tree trunk, today a chickadee was hard at work on the other side of the trunk hollowing either another nest or a second entrance into the trunk. I'll keep more distance this time in hopes the nest is put to use.

This evening I took another mushroom foray and while I was unsuccesful in locating morels, I gathered leeks for soup, saw more than 40 deer, a few turkeys and some wonderful landscapes.

A few mushrooms would have been nice, but reports of success are still spotty due to the dry, cool weather.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A red-bellied woodpecker in the south yard.
A red-bellied woodpecker in the south yard.
The daffodils continue to bloom in abundance. It seems a good year for them.
The daffodils continue to bloom in abundance. It seems a good year for them.
A robin searches for food among the leaf litter.
A robin searches for food among the leaf litter.
A squirrel freezes before scampering off.
A squirrel freezes before scampering off.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The angle of the sun changes with the season and the time of day. I'd not seen this particular arrangement of shadows in the Big Ugly before.
The angle of the sun changes with the season and the time of day. I'd not seen this particular arrangement of shadows in the Big Ugly before.
Marsh marigold on the south side of the creek are starting to bloom but the cold, blustery day may keep them from opening much.
Marsh marigold on the south side of the creek are starting to bloom but the cold, blustery day may keep them from opening much.
New life emerges in the swamp.
New life emerges in the swamp.
I just liked the triangular patterns of light in the Big Ugly.
I just liked the triangular patterns of light in the Big Ugly.
Stakes mark the corner where three parcels of property come together. I like that in the woods property, while marked in such a way, isn't fenced off. I hope it stays that way.
Stakes mark the corner where three parcels of property come together. I like that in the woods property, while marked in such a way, isn't fenced off. I hope it stays that way.
A wintergreen plant grows next to the bark that survived when the rest of the log it surrounded has rotted away.
A wintergreen plant grows next to the bark that survived when the rest of the log it surrounded has rotted away.
New life emerges from the leaf-cluttered ground.
New life emerges from the leaf-cluttered ground.
An old leaf disintegrates as new leaves grow.
An old leaf disintegrates as new leaves grow.

Month nine begins

 

Friday, April 16, 2010

This starts the ninth month of this project.

I've experienced late summer, autumn, winter, and now early spring. The final four weeks likely will go quickly. There should be much to experience, look at, photograph, puzzle over, wonder about and enjoy.

Daily already the woods and yard are coming alive with new plants, more bugs, different sounds.

The guide books will get a work out. I'll learn again how little I know about this natural world outside my doors.

But, I'll also be learning. Thanks for coming along this far. Here's looking forward to late spring and summer.

***

One note today. The beech leaves from 2009 are all but gone. Only a few remain on trees, brown, withered and being ripped and torn by the wind. The new leaves should soon begin forming. The beech apparently are slow to add leaves in the spring. Their time is coming.

Marsh marigold -- by any other name -- still add a splash of color to the swamp and supposedly provide cover for chorus frogs. I'll have to check that out.
Marsh marigold -- by any other name -- still add a splash of color to the swamp and supposedly provide cover for chorus frogs. I'll have to check that out.
Trout lilies are almost ready to bloom.
Trout lilies are almost ready to bloom.
The first Eastern tent caterpillar hatched today. Judging by the egg masses, we're going to get hammered this year.
The first Eastern tent caterpillar hatched today. Judging by the egg masses, we're going to get hammered this year.
A primrose brightens the ground.
A primrose brightens the ground.

Breaking forth

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Another day of warmth has jump-started plants and insects.

In the swamp, the first of the marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris), a member of the buttercup family, are blooming. Soon the ditches, edges of creeks and swamps will be bright with the yellow flowers. In our swamp, they're mainly blooming north of the creek where the sun first melted the snow, where the grass first greened, where the water striders first slipped about the surface of a dank, dark pond. There the sunshine has created its own microclimate a few days ahead of the shadier south side of the creek. Marsh marigolds also are called cowslip -- but another smaller herbaceous plant () with small yellow flowers, Primula veris, is also called that more commonly.

Maybe it doesn't deserve that name. It derives from Middle and Old English, (cowslyppe in M.E.) according to Merriam-Webster, and literally means cow dung. In Britain it has several other colorful names, Marybud, Kingcup and mollyblobs, pollyblobs and horse blobs, to name but a few.

It's a humble plant, easily domesticated according to some gardeners. We're lucky enough to have them in the swamp and within a week that sometimes dark and odorous place will be bright with their flowers.

But they're not alone in breaking forth.

Elsewhere at the edge of the woods, fly honeysuckle are forming blooms. Trout lilies are greening and preparing to bloom. Most trees have buds of some sort. Spiders are increasingly common. And the first of the Eastern tent caterpillars have emerged, creating a small web with worms hardly larger than a grain of wild rice. Their egg masses are everywhere. It's going to be a large population.

Then, tonight when I went to town to print photos for an Earth Day auction, I looked to the west and a few miles away over unseen Lake Michigan a glorious sunset broke through what had been a gray, nearly-gloomy sky. The sun radiated through a cathedral-like opening in the clouds. It was, indeed, a heavenly sight to close a day where much was breaking forth.

Sunrise was golden with promise today.
Sunrise was golden with promise today.
Windflowers catch evening sun.
Windflowers catch evening sun.
The leaves of iris plants put green in the garden for now.
The leaves of iris plants put green in the garden for now.
Daffodils dress up the address sign.
Daffodils dress up the address sign.
A black morel found this evening in the Manistee National Forest in Mason County, Michigan. The allure of hunting mushrooms involves more than finding them.
A black morel found this evening in the Manistee National Forest in Mason County, Michigan. The allure of hunting mushrooms involves more than finding them.

Woods are calling

 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A beautiful and warm day in the yard, but I chose to spend little time here. I made a few photos intrigued by light and color. Then I headed to the Manistee National Forest to hunt for that spring delicacy, the morel mushroom.

Yes, I found a handful. Not a mess. Not enough to call over friends, but a start.

They were in what I call "my early spot." But they were very black, a sign they've been out for more than a day. They were also very small, a sign the lack of rain has slowed their growth and threatens the season here.

Even the beefsteaks I found -- another mushroom once favored to eat, but increasingly on don't eat lists -- were small and dark. The forest is dry. A soaking rain is needed.

The real reason to hunt morel mushrooms is to get out in the woods and afield.

For instance, this evening I was greeted at my second spot by a tom turkey and two hens running through the woods 20 yards away. A few minutes later, a whitetail deer thrust its tail up and moved out of sight.

The woods at the second spot were quiet. I saw no one else. I'm sure to the deer I sounded like a freight train walking through the woods looking for popples and/or dead trees ahead and mushrooms a few feet in front of me.

I found many promising areas -- I'm real good at that. But the second spot skunked me aside from a couple small beefsteak. Fiddlehead ferns are up and unfurling, though in small numbers.

Adder tongue were just beginning. I was not where the trillium grow in this particular woods, but I didn't expect to see any.

My mind wandered as I walked. I thought of how mushroom hunting has opened a world to me that was easy to ignore until I began walking woods in spring with my wife and in-laws. I've learned of Dutchman britches, adders tongue, trillium, mushrooms. I know where most years I can see a newborn fawn. I know woods full of aromatic and tasty leeks. I can think of forays with our children picking white morels from the banks of a river in a scene that seemed too good to be true. I remember getting lost, and finding my way again. There are swamps I now visit each year. And there are the unusual finds, deer skeletons, hognose snakes, abandoned homesteads melting back into the woods.

There are places I like to visit just for the enjoyment of the slant of the evening light warming a west-facing woods. And there are secret places only known to my wife where we count on finding at least a few mushrooms every year.

There are memories of walks and forays with friends, of picnics in the woods, of watching blue racers and searching unsuccessfully for bears in a woods they had been frequenting. These memories flooded through my mind as I scanned the ground in search of the black morels that are just coming out here in Michigan. Grays, whites and giant whites will follow in the coming weeks. If we're lucky and enough rain falls combined with the correct warmth, morels could be found through Memorial Day.

With luck, we'll even find a few in the yard. Some years we do, but not always.

In late April and through May I've always treated the Manistee National Forest as my extended backyard, spending many an evening after work scouring the woods for morels.

For me the season began tonight.

Morel hunting is a rite of spring in Michigan and beyond. The woods are calling. I'm ready.

Sometimes a splash of bright color is its own reward.
Sometimes a splash of bright color is its own reward.
These masses -- the egg masses of the Eastern tent caterpillar -- are seen in many choke cherry trees in the woods. Looks to be another bad year, if the amount of masses means much. They tend to hatch when the buds come out. That could be any day now
These masses -- the egg masses of the Eastern tent caterpillar -- are seen in many choke cherry trees in the woods. Looks to be another bad year, if the amount of masses means much. They tend to hatch when the buds come out. That could be any day now
At times I feel overwhelmed trying to decipher clues and match them with guidebooks, web sites and other sources of information (friends or my wife, for intance). This could be popple or a form of willow. It's in a swamp with popple and tag alders ne
At times I feel overwhelmed trying to decipher clues and match them with guidebooks, web sites and other sources of information (friends or my wife, for intance). This could be popple or a form of willow. It's in a swamp with popple and tag alders ne
I just like these proud-looking daffodils.
I just like these proud-looking daffodils.

Holding

 

 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A typical April day, yet it seemed less than ordinary. Light rain fell overnight. Grass is greening. Plants are growing. Buds are forming. But it just seems like we're stuck waiting.

The choke cherry leaves are forming. Adder tongue plants are showing in the woods. Reports of morel mushrooms being found are filtering in.

The season is progressing. Yet it seems like it's doing so in slow motion.

The daffodils are continuing to bloom and the coolness has meant the first batch is still in bloom even as later flowers bloom. There are splotches of yellow and yellow and white all around the edge of the woods, in parts of the woods and in the gardens from this spring flower.

A bumblebee was checking out the myrtle this evening, but he moved too fast to set up a photo. He wasn't waiting.

Bird calls are increasing in the morning. Nesting must be underway.

Tonight the distinct aroma of a skunk hung in the air just outside the door. He or she was nowhere to be seen, but its passing was easily noticed.

Clouds at sunset took on some orange and salmon tones that must have been nice at the beach. Here, they were swallowed by the branches of the woods. The sky overhead as gray as gray can be.

Another sign we're waiting, stuck in a pattern holding for real warmth to arrive.

Maybe tomorrow.

A forest horsetail,  (Equisetum sulvaticum) shoot rises from the forest floor.
A forest horsetail, (Equisetum sulvaticum) shoot rises from the forest floor.
Windflowers bloom in the garden.
Windflowers bloom in the garden.

Heavy with anticipation

Monday, April 12, 2010

A beautiful day following a weekend in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The sunshine and 62-degree warmth of noon promised something it couldn't deliver: a warm afternoon. A front began moving in in mid-afternoon with clouds dimming the sun's rays, dropping the temperature into the 50s. By evening, the air was heavy with the promise of rain.

In the yard, the daffodils continue to star. They're blooming in the woods, in flower beds, at points of transition. Since deer don't like them, they flower for days. Trees and shrubs continue to bud. Marsh marigold continue to green and grow and across the creek one clump in a sunny spot had a few bright flowers. Within a week the swamp should be yellow with their flowers.

Daily there are more insects, more weeds in the yard, more life in the woods. Yet spring in these parts is the cruelest season. Lake Michigan keeps us cool, slows growth in the woods and while perfect normally for orchards and fruit trees, it keeps a chill on humans don't cotton to.

We take it day be day, taking heart with each advance. Tonight more thunderstorms are expected and a warm day is predicted for Tuesday.

A few reports of morel mushrooms are beginning . Like the rain-heavy air, we're all heavy with anticipation of spring bursting forth in all its fineness.

Sunday on Whitefish Bay

A fishing tug places nets in Whitefish Bay, Lake Superior in front of our cottage Sunday morning. The different blues of the bay are caused by different water depths.
A fishing tug places nets in Whitefish Bay, Lake Superior in front of our cottage Sunday morning. The different blues of the bay are caused by different water depths.

UP weekend, Tahquemenon Falls, Saturday, April 10

The Upper Tahquamenon Falls is running full with spring high water season.
The Upper Tahquamenon Falls is running full with spring high water season.
The leaves of a marsh marigold reach toward the surface of the tannin-stained creek.
The leaves of a marsh marigold reach toward the surface of the tannin-stained creek.
Forty feet or less upstream from my property the creek looks pastoral.
Forty feet or less upstream from my property the creek looks pastoral.
A birch, still bare of leaves, contrasts with the blue sky.
A birch, still bare of leaves, contrasts with the blue sky.

Clear

 

Friday, April 9, 2010

The rains have left. Crisp, clear skies and brisk temperatures remain. Colors are bright and vibrant. The swamps are kicking out water as dark as Guinness stout.

But all is well. It's a beautiful day, one in which the earth around is awakening.

This fallen birch log generally rests above the creek. The high water from recent rains has forced the creek to run over it.
This fallen birch log generally rests above the creek. The high water from recent rains has forced the creek to run over it.
Yup. Snow on April 8.
Yup. Snow on April 8.
Flakes are caught in a strawberry plant leaves.
Flakes are caught in a strawberry plant leaves.
A scene in the swamp that puts the green in the word verdant.
A scene in the swamp that puts the green in the word verdant.

Snow

 

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The forecasters were right and wrong. It did snow today. In fact it snowed much of the day, but the snow didn't accumulate. The mercury didn't move either. All day it has been stuck between 37 and 34 degrees F. The winds have shown more volatility, from single digit speeds up to a top gust of 37 mph around noon when Lake Michigan was frothy with waves.

Upon arriving home this evening, a snow squall greeted me, one of the final few of the day before the sun broke through later in the evening.

Flowers and greening plants captured snow crystals which melted in a few minutes, but made for a chilly scene.

At the creek, the days of rain have produced enough water to have it running high, fast and root beer red again with tannins. The little swamp is either under water or mushy with water saturated soils.

The birds have mostly holed up this evening. Only a few were about.

Still, I found it surprisingly refreshing to have a face full of cold, biting wind. The snow didn't amount to an more than a person made of it. It came in horizontal sheets pushed by a north wind. But despite its attempt to be fierce, spring is winning. The snow not only didn't accumulate, it didn't even keep the pavement wet. The wind dried it off as fast as the flakes would melt.

Our one-day winter reprise is supposed to pass by Friday with spring warmth back by the weekend. Very likely this event was the last one of the season to come bearing snow.

A pool of rainwater rests where two trunks of an oak tree join together.
A pool of rainwater rests where two trunks of an oak tree join together.
Curiously, little areas of foam and bubbles could be seen near the base of several oak trees during an evening rain. Is it just water running off or is there a bit of sap or other substance from the tree helping make the foam?
Curiously, little areas of foam and bubbles could be seen near the base of several oak trees during an evening rain. Is it just water running off or is there a bit of sap or other substance from the tree helping make the foam?
A finch eats a maple catkin. Several could be seen pecking at the catkins this evening.
A finch eats a maple catkin. Several could be seen pecking at the catkins this evening.
A hoary woodpecker is on the left and a female red-bellied is on the right.
A hoary woodpecker is on the left and a female red-bellied is on the right.
A drop of rain water splashes into the creek. A marsh marigold is growing on the bank.
A drop of rain water splashes into the creek. A marsh marigold is growing on the bank.

Cold and wet

 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Heavy rain and thunderstorms overnight were followed a gray, cold and at times wet day. More than an inch of rain fell after midnight. Lightning turned the sky white and made the woods ghostly looking in brief flashes.

Birds descended on the feeders around noon. Several woodpeckers were jockeying for a spot at the suet simultaneously. Chickadees and finches were busy, too.

This evening after walking a woods near town with a friend who will lead an Earth Day bird watching hike there, we came home soaked by the shower that let loose at the start of the hike and persisted throughout the walk. With the temperature in the 40s, it was a chilly activity.

In the yard, I found several oak trees with bubbling foam at their bases. It seems a mix of water and maybe sap that creates the beer-foam-like froth. The creek is high and flowing with the runoff of the rain.

Tonight the rain is expected to change over to snow. By morning we could have up to three inches on the ground. Few are happy about that except for maybe the fruit farmers worried trees are awakening too quickly.

But we'll see. Snow doesn't always arrive as expected. Then again, sometimes it does.

A spring peeper -- a small tree frog -- clings to the screen of the basement porch shortly after midnight.
A spring peeper -- a small tree frog -- clings to the screen of the basement porch shortly after midnight.
A different view. One way to identify the peeper is by an X-shaped marking. Alas, it's there, the photos just didn't capture it well.
A different view. One way to identify the peeper is by an X-shaped marking. Alas, it's there, the photos just didn't capture it well.
A salamander crawled under a leaf on the patio. It's the first I've seen this year.
A salamander crawled under a leaf on the patio. It's the first I've seen this year.
A robin's red breast contrasts with the white clouds in a blue sky following a morning rain.
A robin's red breast contrasts with the white clouds in a blue sky following a morning rain.
Maple catkins are getting large.
Maple catkins are getting large.

Moisture

 

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The little bit of rain that fell Sunday was enough to jump start spring. Rain today put it in another gear.

Shortly after midnight I looked at the screen door to the downstairs patio and noticed a small spring peeper clinging to it. Upon open the door, I observed a salamander sliding under a leaf near the door.

I retrieved the wood for the fire in the woodstove. I had started a fire to drive out dampness not felt since early in autumn before the woodstove had been put to near continuous use over the past six or more months. At this time of year I keep the wood outside. The critters that live in it are out of dormancy. There are spiders and who knows what sometimes burrowing between the wood and bark. If there's fungus on any wood, it regains its sponginess and aroma once the weather warms and moisture returns.

The peeper and the salamander were living proof that the ground is completely thawed and the light rain had at least eased the brittle dryness of the past few days.

This morning, the clouds dropped significant rain, a real April shower on the area. Thunder rolled and grumbled (probably pleasing my farmer and mushroom hunting friends) and about half-inch of rain fell before lunch.

That, in turn, brought out the worms. You could smell them before you could see them. In the fresh, wet air the aroma of earth and worms smelled of life. Worms could be seen on the move on the pavement -- a place that would doom them to death if they didn't find their way off it before the sun burnt more strongly through the receding haze.

In the yard it was if the rain turned on grass and dandelions, both of which appeared now in what looked like barren soil. Green is returning to the yard. The maple is in full bud with its red catkins adding a brightness against the rich green hues of wet pines and wet lichen plastered tree trunks.

The rain brings moisture, that like sun and warmth are essential to growth. The combination moves the season toward solid spring. Winter is a receding memory, something for the record books and the journal.

More thunderstorms are expected here tonight. That was the personal forecast of the Grand Rapids district weather forecaster who taught a Skywarn class to local weather observers this evening in Ludington. It had been an eventful day in Grand Rapids with thunderstorms, high winds and golf ball-sized hail. Here in Ludington, we sit on the edge of a cold air mass that is colliding with a warm, wet air mass over Lake Michigan.

How severe the storms tonight will be is but a guess, but it looks like we're in for more moisture.

Not a bad thing so far this April.

Daffodils bloom after pushing through the leaf clutter on the floor of the woods. Note the old leaves on the stems of the flowers on the right.
Daffodils bloom after pushing through the leaf clutter on the floor of the woods. Note the old leaves on the stems of the flowers on the right.

Daffodils

 

Monday, April 5, 2010

In recent days, a little rain has fallen, the temperatures have moderated and the daffodils have started blooming. My favorite ones are found in the woods.

There their bright yellow flowers add a dash of sunshine to a leaf-covered terrain still brown.

A domestic plant, they still speak of the season and look at home in the woods.

Buds are forming on many trees now. Rain is forecast for tonight and maybe even a thunderstorm. A farmer I talked to Sunday in Lenawee County was bemoaning the paucity of thunderstorms compared to those in the memory of his youth. Not only does he long for the rain, he said the storms put nitrogen into the atmosphere that makes its way into the soil and thus helps crops grow. Various studies concur that lightning can help "fix" nitrogen from the atmosphere into forms used by plants, though how much is still debated.

And farmers aren't the only ones hoping for a thunderstorm. A friend who picks morel mushrooms is waiting for a thunderstorm for much the same reason.

Buy their arguments or reject them, a thunderstorm now would help jump start spring growing for another basic reason: we need rain. It's dry and a good, warm soaking would help.

It's sprinkling and damp out tonight. Maybe the forecasted storm will come and jumpstart the growing season.

In the meantime, the daffodils are out adding color to a world weary of winter wear.

Easter morning, Lenawee County

Easter morning fog lifts off my wife's childhood home farm in Lenawee County, Michigan. It's not our current backyard, but it's where she began to learn about the world around her and it's a place I learned to look closely at the natural world along
Easter morning fog lifts off my wife's childhood home farm in Lenawee County, Michigan. It's not our current backyard, but it's where she began to learn about the world around her and it's a place I learned to look closely at the natural world along

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A chipmunk near purple anemones.
A chipmunk near purple anemones.
A cowbird visits the feeder. Not all like this bird which can take over other birds nests.
A cowbird visits the feeder. Not all like this bird which can take over other birds nests.

Comments 3 comments

Petra Vlah profile image

Petra Vlah 6 years ago from Los Angeles

The photography is superb and I also enjoyed the writing very much. Thank you for such a beautiful journey into the heart of nature


Yard of nature profile image

Yard of nature 6 years ago from Michigan Author

Petra, many thanks.


PhotoTljn7 profile image

PhotoTljn7 6 years ago from United States

Beautiful nature photos! What an awesome journey through nature!

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    A robin stands alert. Michigan's state bird, the robin eats insects and worms off the ground.
    A robin stands alert. Michigan's state bird, the robin eats insects and worms off the ground.
    A male cardinal blazes a brilliant red this afternoon.
    A male cardinal blazes a brilliant red this afternoon.
    A yellow finch rests in a beech sapling still with leaves from last season.
    A yellow finch rests in a beech sapling still with leaves from last season.
    A female, on left, and male purple finch arrived in the yard today. A flock could be heard in trees at the edge of the swamp.
    A female, on left, and male purple finch arrived in the yard today. A flock could be heard in trees at the edge of the swamp.
    A male purple finch makes for an Easter weekend spring scene.
    A male purple finch makes for an Easter weekend spring scene.

    Singing sweetly

    Friday, April 2, 2010

    A warm day, near 80 degrees, sunny and breezy. Too much wind and waves for fishing out of the kayak, so I puttered around the yard and took stock of the returning birds.

    Brenda keeps a log of arrivals each year and the birds are on track, if a bit early.

    After the juncos arrived she said the purple finches and cowbirds should be next.

    Today the purple finches arrived. I'm fairly certain I also saw a cowbird down in the swamp, but I can't be positive as it headed into a clump of cedar before I got a good look at it.

    I set up a portable blind and waited for the birds to get used to it. Within about 10-15 minutes they started returning to the feeder area. First a robin. Then a yellow finch, brighter in returning yellows by the day. (Male yellow finches lose most of their color over winter. Undoubtedly it is partly a survival tactic otherwise its summer yellows would stick out in snow like a flashing neon light.)

    Soon the purple finches arrived, though only a few. I could hear a flock down at the creek, but most stayed in the trees there.

    It's quite interesting watching even little birds that close when they're not aware of human presence -- or don't care. I watched the yellow finch's neck puff up and down as it sang. I watched as it selected black sunflower seed, cracked the seed open and ate the meat of the nut within, all the time manipulating it only with its beak. And it rejected several seeds to each it ate. The squirrels, jays, cardinals and other ground feeders eat the ones that fall.

    The robin didn't particularly like the blind. It seemed to sense it was out of place. It'd raise up on its legs and straighten its torso, looking this way and that, listening carefully, before going back to the ground to find bugs to eat.

    Those of you contemplating putting pesticides and herbicides on your lawns, might consider that the bugs you kill might have been food for birds. The "weeds" you poison might have been small wildflowers or herbs. Use such lawn care items sparingly and carefully. Monoculture grass is not normal and, in the greater sense of the world around us, not all that healthy.

    Down at the creek, I've not seen the chickadees since Sunday. It looks as if they worked more on their nest cavity, but something might have spooked them away -- or I'm just not there when they are.

    Yesterday I scared up a rare visitor to the yard -- a woodcock. I've seen them once before in about the same place where the yard opens up and goes down to the creek. It startled me and flew away with no chance for a photo. Bashful.

    The mosquitoes that arrived aren't so bashful.

    And the spring peepers are again singing.

    Spring is progressing.

    A chipmunk peers from under the bird feeder.
    A chipmunk peers from under the bird feeder.
    A darkeyed junco peers at me as I photographed it.
    A darkeyed junco peers at me as I photographed it.
    The cat followed me to the swamp and around the yard today.
    The cat followed me to the swamp and around the yard today.
    I liked the reds, greens and whites reflecting in the creek with ripples from a pair of water striders.
    I liked the reds, greens and whites reflecting in the creek with ripples from a pair of water striders.
    Daffodils are now breaking through the ground. They could be in bloom next week.
    Daffodils are now breaking through the ground. They could be in bloom next week.

    A nice day, no foolin'

     

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    It might have been April Fools' Day, but the weather played nice with us. The last splotch of snow, still in the yard when I left for work this morning, was melted by the time I came home. Temperatures broke into the 70s and even tonight remain in the 60s. Sunny and clear, too, today. Wonderful.

    The dry conditions continue. Not much is growing yet, awaiting rain. though signs of renewed life are everywhere. Still, it's a brown, dry scene for now.

    After photographing chipmunks, the cat and a junco I went to Lake Michigan for a walk on the beach. Barefooting it along the edge of the wave wash and in the soft sand beyond the wash area, was a treat. I remember April 1sts here where new snow fell.

    Instead I luxuriated with an OK sunset, watched some deer, and enjoyed sand in the toes, a lake wind in the face and the sound of waves in the ears.

    Not bad for April 1, no foolin.

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