If there’s an apt word to describe Canada geese, that’s the one. They’re always around, sometimes just a pair, more often honking in what seems like the hundreds. I tend to pay little attention to these loud-mouthed creatures.
But a few weeks ago, I woke to an eerily beautiful sight—a line of languid geese seemingly also starting their day. The group was strewn across Lake Allegan’s February ice. The air was misty…almost ethereal.
I wondered … did the birds spend their night on the ice?
Continue reading “Good Morning, Geese!”
Mergansers are a common sight–pun intended– on Lake Allegan.
Common Mergansers, or Mergus merganser in ornithology-speak, are social creatures that flock in groups up to 75 individuals. I usually see about half that number, most often in late winter and spring.
These small diving ducks seem to prefer the main channel of our river-turned-lake. In winter, the water beneath our home will freeze. But the main channel’s deeper, swifter water generally does not. So, as the lake began to thaw after the recent polar vortex, I was doubly surprised to see mergansers close to our shore. Not only were they diving for prey in very shallow water, but they were also fishing beneath the ice.
Picture whack-a-mole without the whacking.
Continue reading “Splish. Splash. Fish!”
How do birds stay warm in winter?
They huddle. They puff their feathers, tucking head and feet into the fluff. And they shiver.
I was looking for keep-warm behavior as I watched some Bald Eagles during a recent howling snowstorm. An adult and a juvenile flew nearby.
Our lake, an impoundment formed by damming a river, rarely wears a full blanket of ice. When the region’s smaller lakes freeze, Lake Allegan still provides open-water fishing. So, while eagles are a common sight, I was surprised to see how these two behaved in the frigid, snowy wind.
Their heads and toes remained untucked, and while likely parent and child, they were not in a huddle.
Continue reading “Winter’s Stoic Eagles”
It looked like a sno-cone.
Yesterday, I watched a squirrel make and eat miniature snowballs. As he ate, that frosty childhood treat came to mind. Then I realized my neighborhood creatures are experiencing a drought. Our snowy Michigan landscape looks eerily beautiful this week, but Arctic temperatures have frozen all the wildlife water sources.
This fellow ate his sno-cone with seeming gusto, and I wondered: How do tree squirrels cope with bitter-cold weather?
Continue reading “A Thirst for Snow”
A furry plume caught my eye.
Why, I wondered, would a squirrel enter a den to escape a raging snowstorm, but leave its tail hanging outside, waving in the wind? The animal could easily continue into the tree; there’s plenty of room in the hollow trunk. I have seen as many as four squirrels disappear into that den.
I watched, curious. When would the creature withdraw its tail and scamper the rest of the way inside? Twenty minutes passed, and the tail remained outdoors.
So, I turned to my zoom lens for a closer look.
Continue reading “Curious Sciurus”
Last spring, a mama squirrel was itchin’ to relocate her babies.
She moved them from one den to another—same tree, different apartment. That tree has four cavities whose entry holes are visible from the house, topped by a skylight. Mama carried each kid out of a lower cavity, up the trunk, and into a higher hole. Why? The most likely answer, my online search revealed, was to escape a flea-infested nest.
I wondered if the move really helped. The entire residential complex seemed likely to house fleas, as it was common to see birds and squirrels enter one hole and exit another. I suspected the fleas roamed freely through tunnels connecting the cavities.
I’ll never know if mama’s work was rewarded by a bite-free zone for her kids. I hope so! Nobody wants to think of babies enduring the misery of bug bites. But if she returns to that upper apartment, I suspect she’ll mark it off-limits for future nesting.
Two squirrels–not necessarily including the mama in question–recently lined the upper cavity with leaves. They’re sheltering inside. The other day, one of them climbed out and gave me ample evidence that a flea-festation has reached the upper abode.
Continue reading “Scritch Scratch Squirrel”
A place for everything and everything in its place.
That admonition came to mind as I watched a familiar bird engage in some very peculiar behavior.
Great Blue Herons are a common sight out my window. One fellow (or girl—they look the same) appears regularly on the edge of Eagle Island, about 1,000 feet from our home. He comes out to feed, stalking fish and amphibians as he tip-toes through shallow water in classic heron style. Step. Pause. Stare. Step. Pause. Stare. Step. Pause…Pounce!
But on that July day, something else drew the bird’s attention.
Continue reading “Great Blue Baffling Behavior”
I wonder. Does the standard onomatopoeia for ‘spitting’ apply to woodpeckers?
Ptooey is a brilliant onomatopoetic expression, but I’ve never had my ear quite close enough to hear a Red-Bellied Woodpecker spit.
I need to take a photography class, so I can show you the look of concentration on the bird’s face the instant he spews the chips. That class is on my to-do list. But the good news is, you can see the bird’s determined demeanor on video if you keep scrolling.
Continue reading “Red-Bellied Ptooey!”
Use your saddest raspy voice, and you’ll sound like a squirrel singing the blues.
Quaaa is how biologists describe the squirrel screech that catches my ear from time to time. If you live anywhere near a tree, you’ve probably heard it, too, along with the critters’ kuks and moans, the other documented squirrel sounds.
The scientists call the quaaa an alarm sound, but after seeing one mama perform an extended quaaa soliloquy, I think they’re misinterpreting the lady’s meaning.
Read more and see the video
The loon was wagging its tail.
Such a happy creature, I thought. Then I returned to my senses. Loons are not puppies, whose joyful exuberance might be measured in tail rotations per minute. Could the tail swish be aimed at keeping insects away? Not likely. Conditions were breezy on Farm Lake, just windy enough to keep flies and mosquitoes at bay. Surely, the loons enjoyed the same benefit of that day’s Algonquin weather. My kayaking partner and I headed for a closer look.
As we approached, the wagging continued. Six or eight shakes, then a pause, followed by another series of rapid flapping. The flag-like end of the bird’s tail seemed improbably large. I peered through the camcorder’s viewfinder and bumped up the zoom. The camera jiggled from the kayak’s unsteady movement, but the loon’s details came into view. That’s when I realized my mistake.
Read more and see the video