Saturday, December 01, 2007

December 1st, Icy dawn

Cold, snow and ice predicted for later in the day. The river is steel grey over the Boys Dam, the only color a line along the horizon from the rising sun. Bits of ice cling to bare shrubs along the river. The woods along the Portage River look empty.

But the little skunk-cabbage sprouts (see October 4) are still sticking up above the dry leaves. They haven't grown any, but haven't died, either.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

November 26: First snow

Big puffy Christmas card snowflakes drift down over the Boys Dam. Just out of sight are three big white swans.

What a difference from November first!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

November 1st, Yellow and Green

Warm and beautiful; blue sky reflects in Hoffman Pond. So much is still green, but the maples are beautiful yellow, the viburnum in the swamp is pink, and many trees are losing their leaves. A trio of swans floats just upriver.

I love to look through the Portage River's clear water to see the jewel-like fall leaves lying on the bottom.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Light through the leaves

A stained-glass effect of light through the maples hanging over the Portage River this morning. A powerful storm blew through this week, tornado sirens wailing as the wind whipped the trees around. Fountains of greenish flame pouring out of great slashes in black clouds. But today is sunny and beautiful.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Skunk cabbages sprouting?

This doesn't seem quite right. Usually I first see my skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) coming up through the snow in January (see January 20th.) Why are they sprouting now? Or is this something I've missed in other years? Here is one with it's big pineapple-ly seed pod:

And another:

The spicebush by the river is turning yellow. It has tiny green buds at the tips of the branches.

A lichen and a mushroom on the bank.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

High Banks and Small Flowers

Not much fall color yet; silver maple and poison ivy hanging over the water are red and peach. The water-willow "islands" in Hoffman Pond and upriver from the dam are all red, slowly fading to brown. Some viburnum growing in the shade is also bright red. Downriver on the high banks all is mostly green. Leaves are falling from the maples. Little asters in purple and white are still in bloom.

On other rivers Indian Mounds are found on high banks like these next to the Portage. I wonder who lived here long ago.

This little aster is decidedly purple. Peterson leads me to "bush aster", Aster dumosus, it's something similar. This one has hairy stems.

This one has much longer, white petals. And longer leaves, leaf edges also smooth and flowers growing out of the joint with the leaves. It also is pretty much in the water of the marsh. I have a feeling that there are a lot of asters... possibly Seriocarpus linifolius?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The "Celtic", Portage River steamboat

"The Dentler Steam Boat in the foreground built by Frank Dentler to transport grain, wool, and lumber from the three mills east and west to the rail stations. The boat was also used to transport people up the river to dances. During the election of 1860, the Wide Awakes, a political group, used the boat for a trip up the river and on the return held a torch light parade through the town. On its first trip they knocked the smoke stack off going under a bridge. Mill in back had laminated 2x4s for grain bins. Burned on the first day of Prohibition. The mill workers stocked up, got drunk, burnt the mill, part of the steam boat. The boat was named "Celtic"."

From "Park Township Sesquicentennial", Township Officials, Eds. (1988)

(Prohibition began on January 16, 1920)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

End of September flowers

I can't quite capture how they light up the dark understory, but here is one plant caught in a moment of sunshine (Portage River in the background.) Fairy wands of glowing yellow, against the dark leaves. (Solidago that grows in deep shade; fairy wand goldenrod.)

Flowers of Indiangrass, (Sorghastrum nutans).

Various native asters are also in bloom right now, in many shades of purple and blue.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Tree Canopy

The National Geographic has articles about scientists who haul themselves to the tops of rain forest trees in the Amazon River basin, and find up there a whole separate world of living things. Looking up along the Portage River, inside the city limits of Three Rivers, I see that we also have a canopy full of life, eighty or a hundred feet and more above me. Birds, mammals, insects, lichens and mosses live in the sunlight above the shaded marsh. I wonder if anyone has ever bothered to study this unique ecological zone? True, it may not be as romantic as going to the Amazon. But it seems to me that there is a lot going on up there.

I'd like to know why the dragonflies choose to sit on exposed snags so high above the river. I'd like to get a good look at things growing in the canopy, and watch the inhabitants. But I'm not a mountain climber so I don't think that will be happening. I can watch from below, but the dense, thick cover of leaves hides all but an occasional glimpse. I can hear the sounds, though. Locust, woodpecker, squirrel I know; but there are also strange unidentified calls and cries, whistles and chirps. What is happening up there?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

September 1, 1007

Warm but not hot, clear blue skies. A single fisherman tries his luck below the Boys Dam.
Golden bits of jewel basalm flowers scintillate in the green and mostly shaded swamp. Other small white flowers are blooming, but mostly it is fruits and seeds. The marsh is strangely dry, although the river is very high. I could walk out on it, and found seedheads of the skunk-cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus.)
Hoffman Pond's "islands" (actually mats of vegitation) seem to be changing color. Ripening rose-hips of the marsh-rose (Rosa palustris) along the shore.

The vegitation that makes up the "islands", which seems mostly to be water-willow. I don't know what the vining plant is that winds around it, thick with seeds. It is probably worth noticing that there is NO purple loostrife to be seen here. Not this year.

Bunches of cherries and grapes, elderberry and tooth-leaf viburnum hang over the water. In some places the grapes tangle with hanging branches of shrubs and trees, weaving a curtain of green.

Dangling from a fallen tree over the river, a large orb weaving spider has built an enormous web. It is almost four feet across.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

August fruit and flowers

This month has had the lowest water of the year and then, after torrential rains, the highest water. Some downed trees have opened up the canopy, letting plants bloom. Especially beautiful are the golden flecks of jewel balsam (Impatiens capensis). Mostly the golden-orange flowers, some are almost red.

There are also some golden lichens, under one of the oaks.

Purple fruits of Tooth-leaf viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) hang in bunches over the river. At first I thought they were elderberries, but the bunches of elderberry fruit are larger.

Another purple fruit in the woods is the Solomon's seal (Polygonatum pubescens?)

And I like this shot of a stained-glass effect of poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) leaves in the sun, showing the immature fruit.
It took a couple months (after the carp tournament), but the giant carp are back in their dozens or hundreds.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Freshwater mussels, catbird and buttonbush

August 1st, 90 degrees and very dry. I saw a catbird, it came very close to me, unusual since they are very shy. Lots of goldfinches feeding on the sunflowers, I wish I had a camera fast enough to get a photo of that! The kingfisher has stayed nearby all summer.

The Portage is very low, and I went wading down the river. This is Cephalanthus occidentalis, buttonbush, with it's orange-y (not brown) pods, hanging over the river.

Usually I see the freshwater mussels laying on shore, popped open and eaten by some animal. The presence of them usually means that the water is clean, but I still don't think I would eat one. Today I found some shells in the river. People here just generically call them "freshwater clams", but it turns out there are many different kinds. Many that I have seen here are very large, maybe eight inches or more long. This one is about four or five inches. I don't know what it is/was. They were all eaten in the past by humans, back when rivers and lakes were unpolluted; since they are so hard to tell apart, the existence of all those common names probably means they had some economic importance at some time, otherwise why would people in the old days name them?

Clams and mussels are much under attack from pollution and by invasive zebra mussels as well as loss of habitat and hosts.

Here is an alphabetic list of "freshwater clams" found in the St. Joseph drainage, therefore most likely in the Portage River too. The links to photos open in a a new window; web standards say that opening new windows frightens people, so beware.

Actinonaias ligamentina ("Mucket", previously Actinonaias carinata)

Alasmidonta viridis ("Slippershell", also called Alasmidonta calceolus)

Alasmidonta marginata ("Elktoe")

Amblema plicata ("Three-ridge")

Anodontoides ferussacianus ("Cylindrical papershell")

Cyclonaias tuberculata ("Purple wartyback")

Elliptio dilatata ("Spike")

Epioblasma triquetra ("Snuffbox", Michigan State listed as endangered)

Fusconaia flava ("Wabash pigtoe")

Lampsilis siliquoidea ("Fat mucket")

Lampsilis ventricosa ("Pocketbook")

Lasmigona compressa ("Creek heelsplitter")

Lasmigona costata ("Fluted shell")

Leptodea fragilis ("Fragile papershell")

Ligumia recta ("Black sandshell")

Pleurobema coccineum ("Round pigtoe")

Potamilis alatus ("Pink heelsplitter", previously Proptera alata)

Pyganodon grandis ("Giant Floater" - what's that mean?)

Strophitus undulatus ("Creeper")

Truncilla donaciformis ("Fawnsfoot")

Truncilla truncata ("Deertoe")

Venustaconcha ellipsiformis ("Ellipse")

Villosa iris ("Rainbow")

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Cooled down, grey skies and dragonflies

It has cooled way down, and its overcast. Here's something scary: I just took this picture of a silver maple hanging over the edge of the Portage, and its leaves are already turning color.

There's a huge snag (dead oak), maybe 80 feet tall on the bank above the river, and when there's no wind, the dragonflies sit at the tips of the dead branches. Each tiny branch end has its own dragon. What are they doing up there? No water, no females, and birds can come by and eat them. Why do they do it?
(photo by Joel Hartzell)

Here's some arrowhead (Sagittaria) on the riverbank, but I missed the flowers. They aren't as thick as they were last year.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

July 8: HOT

It's so hot that there are no boys at the Boys Dam; the kids are all inside watching TV. Instead, a family of Canada geese came out to wade, dabble, and frolic. I've never seen them below the dam before. I expect they have a picnic basket on shore.. watch out for the feral cats, guys.
Hard to photograph. The woods are so dark and the water so brilliant. It's in the nineties, but the humidity could be worse.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

July, still dry

In bloom is one of my favorite Michigan wildflowers, the beautiful Asclepias incarnata, pink milkweed, also called marsh milkweed since it lives along the edge of the water.
No rain. No humidity. Drought along the Portage River. All the California relatives and friends have been here, commenting on the California-like weather.
Along the edge of the river I spotted a stand of Saururus cernuus, which is called "water dragon" and "lizard tail" among other common names. There is nothing even remotely lizardy about it, but "cernuus" means "nodding"; and in the wind, the fluffy white plumes bobbed and wagged like the tails of little animals.

Also this, another water plant. It is everywhere along the edges and in the bog-islands in the river, but I don't know what it is. Flowers are small, notice the fly for size.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Marsh rose (Rosa palustris) growing by the edge of the water above the dam. We also saw a mink (Mustela vison ) this morning, running along the Portage River's edge with a large insect in it's mouth. The weather is still very dry and still quite cool. Same birds, titmouses, cardinals, robins. I can hear woodpeckers. A male grackle came to the feeder with three oversize "babies"; they were as large as the adult but sat on a branch and squaked to be fed. He would hop down to the feeder, grab a bite of food, stuff it in one of the "babies" mouths, then do it again. This went on for about ten minutes!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mid June - a big bug

A clickbeetle, Alaus oculatus. He is huge, maybe two inches long. Looking him up online, I found a description saying that Alaus oculatus are seldom found north of the Ohio River. The Portage River is WAY north of there! Global Warming? (Photograph by Joel Hartzell.)

Leaves are dense and shade is very dark along the river. Mayapples have fruit on them. The nonnative mulberry fruits are ripe. Ticks and biting flies are out and about. It's hot, but no rain so all is dry. Not so good for the corn. We've been to a wedding and a family reunion this month, good activities for June!

Haven't seen many carp. The carp hunters thinned them out quite a lot, hunting them with bow and arrow or with gigs, standing up in their boats. The blue heron doesn't come as often now that there are always kids swimming at the Boys Dam.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Big Jack

I'm falling behind but there have been a few more flowers. The Mayflower is now bearing fruit, but there are still some big jack-in-the-pulpit in the swamp by the dam. This one was a plant about eighteen inches tall!

A big storm this month took down many trees in the area. Tipped over irrigators, blocked roads, other damage. The horrid Norwegian maples have completely shaded out many areas.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Mayday and new leaves

Wow, what a difference in just a couple of days. It's 75 degrees; the trees have leaf-budded out in an echo of their fall colors--pink for the oaks, yellow for the maples--and from bare to green almost overnight. What you see here is, unfortunately, mostly Norwegian maple, a non-native that starts just enough earlier than the native sugar maples that it shades out the seedlings of other trees, wildflowers, etc. But the remaining sugar maples are leafing out too.
Last night I took a roundabout way home and was rewarded with wonderful frogsong along a dirt road, by a field that had been plowed but the ruts stood full of water. I pulled off the road and could hear chorus frogs clacking and wood frogs grumbling along with the ubiquitous peepers. A big snapper slowly crossed the road. As I was leaving, four stout and barefoot Amish women came walking towards me, in the sunshine.

The sunset was beautiful.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Fishing with a net

A man fishing with a net below the dam. A strange scene, like something from the National Geographic.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Marsh Marigold and Wood Duck

Snow for a week, then sun! We are so ready for some sun. The wind is very cold, but the flowers -- the natives anyway -- are coming back. Some of the violets look a little burned, but otherwise OK. And down in the swamp, the Marsh Marigolds have popped open! Before last week's snow I hadn't even seen any buds, just leaves. There are still some skunk-cabbage flowers but mostly they are now growing their big leaves, unfurling from the middle like an umbrella.

The tree with the tiny yellow flowers -- what is it? Is also in bloom. The deer seem to have eaten the dogwood tree right down to the ground, alas.
I still see the big flock of Coots out on the pond. And this morning I saw a male Wood Duck swimming near the dam!