Deer Crossings

Deer were gathered at the ice’s edge.

Deer cross our lake in all seasons, moving back and forth from an island opposite our home. They swim until ice covers the water, and then they travel on foot.  I often see them at dusk, lined up like kids headed for recess.  But on this day, it was one p.m., an odd time to see deer in the open.

Two deer started the crossing. They walked for ten or fifteen seconds and then switched to a sprint. Another deer followed suit. My spotting scope was trained on that third deer when he abruptly halted. He slipped and skidded before coming to a full stop. I looked up from the scope for a wider view and saw what had spooked him.

The leaders had fallen through the ice.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

When a Woodpecker Proves You Wrong

Why was the woodpecker pounding such a puny branch?

The Hairy Woodpecker could only be seeking food. The branch was too tiny to surround a roost cavity.

I could see why a woodpecker might choose this red oak to forage. It has several branch stubs: jagged wounds where fungi can enter. Many wood-boring insects prefer laying eggs on decayed and damaged trees. The hatchling larvae can easily chew their way inside, where depending on species, they may overwinter.

But this particular branch? It’s so skinny—maybe four inches in diameter—it must have been frozen to its core in yesterday’s 14-degree weather. Wouldn’t an insect mom want an egg-laying site with more mass? A trunk or a thick limb that would retain warmth to help her babies survive a Michigan winter. I was sure the woodpecker wouldn’t find food in this branch.

He pounded and chiseled. It took him just six minutes to prove me wrong.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

Scratch that Itch!

Mites and lice and fleas: Oh my!

Have you ever watched a scratching squirrel? Those little paws move incredibly fast, and I swear, their under-the-armpit maneuvers mimic taking a shower. I wrote a blog post about itchy squirrels a year ago, surmising that their den was infested with fleas. This past week, quite a few creatures’ itchy behavior caught my eye: the squirrels, a juvenile bald eagle, adult and juvenile swans, and two kinds of ducks—goldeneyes and mergansers.

So, what’s with all the picking, poking, biting, and scratching?

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An Icy Eagle Encounter

The Bald Eagles were brawling on the ice.

At least, that’s what I thought I saw. I had been watching two juveniles for about twenty minutes.  Motionless in the frigid wind howling over Lake Allegan’s ice, the eagles appeared to be scanning for fish.

That was unusual, however. Our eagles typically conduct surveillance from high in the nearby trees. An island—aptly named Eagle Island by Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources—provides a broad view of the surrounding water. But these birds stood next to a narrow gap in the ice. Their horizontal line of sight would allow only a limited view of open water flowing in the lake’s main channel.

Then, as I pondered, one of the eagles dive-bombed the other. Perhaps they were not fishing, after all. Were they having an avian tiff?

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Splish. Splash. Fish!

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.

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Curious Sciurus

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.

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