Thursday, December 11, 2008

December 2008

The apparently inedible red fruits of the cranberry viburnum hang over Hoffman Pond. The birds and animals will only eat them when there is absolutely nothing else. It's a very pretty native plant though, sold in most nurseries. (Viburnum trilobum, sometimes listed as Viburnum opulus var. americanum.)

Snow and sunshine. This year we had snow for Easter, and snow for Thanksgiving, but still, a lot of blue sky. Swans, geese, mallards and grebes. Signs of beaver.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Not sure what this is

Along the river. Could it be the elusive native bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)? It doesn't look very much like the invasive Asian bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). No leaves, just the fruit visible.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Because it's June

Right from cold to hot. The peonys in the garden opened today; round fat buds have been waiting, and all popped open at once. The green curtain has descended and the long winter views are gone, hidden behind the sugar maple leaves.

Everything is suddenly growing, moving. The baby birds have already fledged, heartstopping days as they crashed into the bushes and sat there peeping for food. Bad with feral cats everywhere. Twice this week we have had bats in the house!

Buds have shown up on the milkweed...

Friday, May 30, 2008


I seemed to have missed May.

It came crashing in on a wave of yellow pollen and I was washed under. The fast change from stark to lovely to lush to dank jungle happened while I wasn't looking, or at least not able to pay attention!

The fishermen and swimming boys are back at the Boys Dam. The dark woods are full of ticks. Jack in the pulpit is blooming and the skunkcabbages are especially big and lush. Puffs of cotton from the cottonwoods are floating around now; the tree flowers are done.

Friday, April 11, 2008


April 11: after a cold night and thunderstorms, flowers! Marsh marigolds pop into bloom while the skunk cabbages unfurl their new leaves. The red leaf-buds of the silver maples, that look so much like flowers, are opening where the trees hang over the water. Another tree is in bloom - I still don't know what it is.

Also various non-natives and invasives have started blooming, but I'm not counting them; since they are from somewhere else, their blooming doesn't signify anything.

Something I hadn't seen before: I've wondered why we are not infested with starlings, since they are so common in the downtown area of Three Rivers, which isn't that far away. Maybe an answer - I saw a starling this week. It was being mobbed by the grackles! I knew I liked grackles, with their shiny purple-black heads, yellow eyes and long tails. Lots of robins, lots and lots of house finches, a few nuthatches and cardinals. The woodpeckers aren't coming to the feeder. Geese are marching along the water's edge, the male watchful, his long neck stretched up high, while the female eats frantically. At one point a female was carried off by the swift current; she looked baffled, sailing backwards, while the male ran along the bank. They sometimes seem to forget that they can fly!

Clouds of mosquitos are rising in the swamp. Good for those that eat them. A sign of trouble to come; drifts of seeds washed into the swamp from the winter flooding. I recognize vast amounts of a twisty herbaceous vine that wraps all around the water willow growing upriver.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

High Water

In a tragic reminder of Nature's forces, a local school was seen washing over the dam today.

More here: Something Strange

Sunday, March 02, 2008

March 1, 2008

Sunrise over Hoffman Pond and the Boys Dam. March 1st was sunny and in the high 20s. Side roads are still hard going, but most of the main roads are clear. Lots of Canada geese out on Hoffman Pond.
(last year's March 1 picture and article)

***End of March Update***
Buckets and bags for maple sugaring are attached to the big sugar maples along the back country roads. Throughout the month we had snow, snow, snow. Kids built snowmen for Easter! One storm mid-month dropped about eight inches. It snowed again on the 26th. When it warmed up slightly, there was spectacularly high water.

It was sad to see the red red robin bob bob bobbin' in six inches of snow.

The skunk cabbage blossoms, pink and yellow, stuck up above the snow like Easter eggs in the marshes along the river.

Mergansers (common) were seen almost daily on Hoffman Pond throughout the month. Hooded mergansers were spotted right above the dam, doing a courtship dance, on the 17th. They would bow and flip open their "hood". Goldeneyes also were seen throughout the month. They make me think of penguins.

Usually the mergansers are gone by the end of March, but here they were, at the same time that the geese were walking the banks of the river, scouting for nesting sites. The geese think it is spring. And then it snows again.

At the feeder the pair of cardinals were daily visitors, along with nuthatches, house finch, an occasional bluejay, and downy woodpeckers. I heard the downy drumming his song on tree trunks in the woods.

On the 29th, a Carolina wren appeared on the redbud tree, head tipped back and singing his monotonous song for all he was worth.

(Lily's Easter snowman)

Saturday, February 02, 2008

February 1st, 2008

The end of January temperatures went up into the 40s, then down again. The first of February found about eight inches of snow on the ground.

---February update---
February continued cold and colder, at times sub zero. There was a lot of deep snow, piles of lovely white snow that made driving difficult and dangerous. Ice built up on top of the dam, especially on the channel along the side, where ice created a sort of funnel the water would go through. This reminds me; I don't actually know how an old power dam of this type would work. Everything I find on the internet has to do with newer type dams. I think perhaps that there was some sort of power wheel in the side channel. (Photo: Ice on the dam)

A few times the ice melted, and we had very high water. Mergansers were seen almost daily; early in the month the "Hooded" and later, the uncommon "Common". Beautiful, fast birds. The swans continue to dabble wherever they find a patch of open water. They look so ridiculous, tipped up like giant white mallards!
In the snow leading from alongside the top of the dam to the bottom I frequently saw a wide trail of some thick bodied animal sliding along. Beaver? Peripatetic carp? Too big for muskrat. The thing about the carp is a joke. I do see them below the dam, in the cold water, moving very little. Deer seem to have returned.
We had a return visit of the sharpshinned hawk. This time he was not so pretty, (but still pretty!) his colors not so bright. I don't know if it was a different hawk or if he had just moulted when I saw him before. He sat in the same place, and ate another small bird. A junco this time.

We took a trip further afield this month. A sunny day with clear roads, and we went to see Lake Michigan; I have never seen it in the winter. We took off late enough so that we would be able to see the sunset over the lake.

We stopped at the town park at Covert - no reason, it was just the first one we came to. The road was piled high with snow and there was no where to park, so we just left the car in the road. There were steps and a boardwalk, icy and snow covered but better than wading over the dune in knee-high snow. We got to the top of the dune and I took a few pictures. A long spread of beach, then some more dunes, then the open water. I thought. I didn't understand what I was looking at.

We got down to the beach (only filling my boots up with snow once) and walked toward the second set of "dunes." I'm glad I was with my "native guide"; otherwise I might have tried to walk out there! He pointed down at his feet--"That's the edge of the water." The he pointed out at those --things-- and said, "That's Lake Michigan."

What I had taken to be dunes were huge, enormous, frozen waves! They towered over us, terrifying. Like enormous swells on the ocean, like ocean breakers frozen hard. I still can't quite get my mind around it. (Photo: Frozen waves)

The final amazement of the month was the "blood moon" on the night before Lantern Festival. It was clear and we were able to watch the whole thing; from the start of the eclipse to its gradual reddening and darkening; and then lighter and then the shadow fell away. All reflected in the cold water of Hoffman Pond.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

Pink dawnlight across Hoffman pond, and the big oaks and maples above the Portage River stuck with snow.

2008 began with a heavy snowfall, about ten inches. After watching the ball drop on TV, we looked out the window and saw the most glorious sight, everything lit up brightly, brighter than any full moon I've ever seen. A strange light. Snow, trees, water, sky were all glowing. I've never seen anything like it.

Birds seen today at the feeders included a Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), 2 downy woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens), 1 red brested nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) and 1 white breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinenisis), male and female cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), 4 or 5 slate-colored juncos (Junco hymelas), 2 black-capped chickadee (Parus atricapillus), 4 or 5 tufted titmice (Parus bicolor), numerous house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) and maybe a purple finch (Carpodacus purpureus).

On Hoffman Pond something new today, two coots (Fulica americana). I didn't see them last year until the end of January. Also the usual suspects: mallards, Canada geese, and the three swans.

---------update for January---------

January began with snow and temperature in the high 20s, but then suddenly warmed. There was a springtime feel starting around the 6th, and very heavy fog, tule fog, making traffic invisible and driving dangerous. The temperature reached into the 60s, and there were thunderstorms and lightning! With the warming and rain came flooding. On January 11 the front page of the Kalamazoo Gazette featured a photograph of Three Rivers' flooded Scidmore Park (at the intersection of the St. Joseph, Portage, and Rock rivers) as well as reports of roads closed due to flooding and water coming into homes. Findley Road and Nottawa Road south of M86 were closed (water from the Prairie River and Lake Templain.) The park in Mendon was completely under water. The St. Joseph River reached it's highest level that weekend, but the Portage River did not start dropping for another week. More snow followed, as much as ten inches, and then the temperature began to plummet. Black ice on the roads; we had a near-miss spinout on the road to Constantine. Another couple on a nearby road were not so lucky and were killed.

Below zero temperatures showed up for several days and nights for about a week. At one point we were asked if we had seen the "pogonip"; I had just been looking at the sparkling little needles of ice in the air. But it was nothing like the "spiky ice" that settled on everything last February.

More snow followed, three or four inches. Then it warmed back up into the 20s.

Moonlight through the cloud cover and reflecting off the snow gave nighttime a strange, eerie glow. The fog early in the month swirled around the river, rising from the cold water into the warmer air. Then when it got really cold, great amounts of ice piled up on the Boys' Dam. The water ran under the ice, a strange sight.

On Hoffman pond gadwalls showed up, Anas strepera. Mallard-sized ducks, dabbling, but they seem most interested in harassing the coots and running at and driving away nearby mallards (but avoiding the Canada geese.) They were following the coots around, four or five of the ducks per coot. When the coot dives they 'pounce' on whatever is being stirred up. When the coot surfaced the gadwalls try to take whatever the coot has in its beak. When the coot tried to swim away, the ducks followed closely. However, the coots seemed interested in staying near the gadwalls, or at least made little effort to get away.

On the 18th, we had a redefinition of "bird feeder". A beautiful, tiny sharpshinned hawk (Accipiter striatus) came to the bird feeder and ate one of the regulars. He sat on the bare lilac bush for quite a long time, pulling out the feathers of his victim and scattering them. It took about fifteen minutes to eat the small bird, during which I got a very good look at him. Adult plumage, but very small, probably less than ten inches. Tufts of white feathers stuck out his back as if he was moulting. Grey above with brilliant, well defined red marks on his chest when seen through the field glasses; at a distance they just gave a pinkish cast to the white breast. He finished eating, had a nice poop and a nap. He was awakened by the return of a group of tits, coming back to the feeder. They ignored the hawk, who watched them from his perch, head swiveling around. He sat there until the neighbor came out and scared him away. The next day I heard his call in the woods.

On the 22nd most of Hoffman Pond was covered with snow and ice. In the open water three goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) were rapidly feeding- diving and diving. Also seen were two mallards and the pair of swans, dabbling. First goldeneye of the year.

Through the violence of the weather the little skunk-cabbage spathes have stayed tightly closed. No blooming yet! Two years ago they were open in January.