White-tailed deer

Deer have been visiting us nearly every evening. They aren’t as scrawny as is typical for March. That must be because, except for two spells of frigid weather, we’ve had fairly moderate temperatures. Repeatedly this winter, there’s been snows, and then thaws. The deer must have been able to find more food than during a usual winter. And they’ve been in larger herds than we recall from other years.

Soon after Steve shot this video with his iPhone, more snow arrived.

The deer keep coming. A few are habituated to our bird feeder. They are eating what must mostly be oiled sunflower seed husks. Well, the finches have been coming in large flocks and one of their pastimes is picking a seed out of the feeder and dropping it on the ground. So there must be at least some sunflower seeds down there too.

This deer hung around and ate under the feeders long after the rest of the herd left the property. In fact, she wandered off a few times and then came back for more. She knows we’re watching and is hyper-alert. But still she eats her fill.

Chowing down under the feeder isn’t anything new. Almost exactly one year ago, check out what we caught on our game camera one night.

Even if their habits along our county roads suggest that deer aren’t the sharpest crayon in nature’s box, they are beautiful and interesting creatures.

On the wing…and the paw

Well. I’ll be. Here’s the news. This pretty cool nature photo wasn’t taken by Steve. I took this one. Through the great room window. With my iPad. (But Steve cropped it.)

This Pileated Woodpecker was chowing down at the paddle suet feeder for quite awhile. He was making a big mess, dropping the chunks of suet that the squirrels so appreciate. There is a red mustache on his face, so this really is a he. Pileateds at the feeder are skittery. You’d think they had eyes on the sides of their heads or something. Sometimes even if you get up from a chair 15 feet from the window they fly away. This one let me rise and approach the window with my iPad. But he flew away just as I snapped a few photos. I thought I’d missed him. I found I had this photo instead. It’s just after the pileated flew up from the feeder.

Such a magnificent bird.

It’s been a bit of a drought this winter in terms of nature posts. I’ve been knitting up a storm and my blog reflects that. But nature continues to capture our attention.

Sticking to the theme of bird feeder adventures, and of my own photography, check out this sorrowful fellow.

Close, but no cigar.

This raccoon’s saga continued for a bit. He was emerging in the daytime to poke around at the seed and suet droppings under the feeders. And he was emerging from under our main deck. That was somewhat concerning to us, so we decided to try to trap him and move him to another location.

We set out a humane trap. With a little lunch buffet laid out inside the trap. I put a paper bowl of crumbled up aromatic brie, a soft cow’s milk cheese. I really didn’t know if raccoons like brie but I don’t and we had some left over from the holidays. Brie in a paper bowl in the trap, with the door open. We put the trap out toward dusk and brought it inside the garage after a few hours. If we caught the critter, we didn’t want it to have to spend a scary night inside the trap. First evening. Nothing. Second evening. The aroma of the brie must have been too much to resist. I was in the great room when I thought I heard something. Sure enough. A raccoon. In the trap. Pawing away trying to get out.

Steve had his hatchback ready to transport. The plan was to drive several miles away and then release the raccoon. I didn’t go with Steve. I heard a raccoon cry once when I was young when dogs chased it up a small tree. It’s not a sound I wanted to hear again or inflict. Steve says the raccoon was quiet and calm. In fact, it polished off the rest of the brie during the ride.

Steve released it. And came home. We watched out for it in the days after, thinking the brie might have been so delicious that the raccoon would find the way back to our place.

There is a raccoon prowling about at night. But we don’t know it’s the brie-lover. And it isn’t living under our deck.

Here’s a view of the water flowing at the dam at the north end of Long Lake. Can spring really be just around the bend?

Happy holidays

Our Long Lake neighbors worked harder than Santa’s elves to pull off this masterpiece. It’s another Christmaspalooza this year.

We have all the enjoyment without undertaking the zillions of hours of work that goes into creating all this seasonal glow. Thank you, neighbors. Congratulations on another year’s successful display!

Happy holidays to all!

Rogers City: the nautical limestone city

When you approach Lake Huron from downtown Rogers City, you easily find yourself at Lakeside Park. And, as the logo says, Rogers City is “the nautical city.” There’s a rich history here of mariners and all manner of watery endeavors. But there’s a lot of digging going on here too.

This “Liberty Torch” welcomes visitors to the park and marina. Tom Moran, of Moran Iron Works in Onaway, fabricated it in 2004.

In late November, we had Lakeside Park all to ourselves. The park benches were empty. Our butts were the only ones in the gazebo seats. From the gazebo, you look out onto the breakwater.
I’m thinking that breakwater is mostly constructed of limestone. My rockhound days are behind me so I don’t know that for sure. But Rogers City is also the Limestone City.

Here’s a closer look at the freighter that was anchored offshore, beyond the breakwater.

This freighter is the “Great Republic.” That’s what it says in lettering in that white area just above the gray and black vertical striping. It used to sail, if that’s the right term for a ship with no sails, as “American Republic.” But in 2011 a lease expired and it was re-named the “Great Republic.” You can read all about this freighter here. It launched in 1981. It’s highly specialized and tricked out to handle rock and ore-carrying duties. It’s considered to be one of the most maneuverable ship on the lakes, with eight rudders, bow and stern thrusters, and variable pitch propellers. I don’t know anything about freighters, but eight rudders is seven more than any boat I’ve been on. It’s a “self-unloader” and can carry 1000 tons more than freighters of similar size.

Honestly, it just looked like a clunky big freighter to me. But it turns out that it’s 641 feet and 10 inches of special. That flock of Canada Geese probably knows it’s special. That’s why the whole gang decided to paddle by for a closer look. The Great Republic was anchored. We assumed it was waiting to load up or unload at the Calcite plant nearby.

The “John J. Boland” was also at anchor, a little closer to the plant.

It’s another self-unloading bulk carrier. It launched in 1973 as the Charles E. Wilson. Boatnerd says that it was renamed in January of 2000 after the first Charles E. Wilson was sold and started sailing as the Saginaw. I knew nothing of all this name-swapping stuff. And I don’t know who Wilson was or is or who Boland was or is, but apparently they got their names welded onto another pretty specialized freighter. This one has an adaptable digital gyroscope steering-control system and is described as a vessel with very few mishaps. It’s 680 feet long and can carry 33,800 tons of stuff. So, having very few mishaps is a comfort to those who work aboard.

Here’s the historic site sign that stands near the gazebo at Lakeside Park and explains why these freighters are all lined up.That’s hard to read, so I’ll tell you the main points.

The sign explains that “since 1912, the skyline south of Rogers City has been dominated by the buildings, machinery, and storage piles of the Calcite Plant, the world’s largest limestone quarry operation.” The world’s largest. Right here in our backyard.

There’s a  bit of puffing about what accounts for the humungous success of the operation. And we learn that the company started out as Michigan Limestone and Chemical Company. It was founded by a New York investment banker, William F. White. But the company’s general manager, Carl D. Bradley, is the guy who ended up being dubbed the “Limestone King.”  He died in 1928. You may remember something about Carl D. Bradley that doesn’t get mentioned on the sign. A freighter bore his name. It was the largest freighter on the Great Lakes from 1927 to 1949. In November of 1958, the Carl D. Bradley sunk in Lake Michigan. It broke in two during a fierce November storm. Thirty-three men died. Twenty-three of them were from Rogers City. Fifty-three children were orphaned. Two crew members survived. There are many places to read more about the shipwreck, including here. But the sign at the park’s gazebo isn’t the place for a memorial.

U.S. Steel bought the Michigan Limestone company in 1920. Carmeuse Lime & Stone, a Belgian Company, bought the Calcite operation. That’s who owns it today.

The sign at the gazebo says that since the mining started in 1912, the Calcite quarry has produced and shipped more than 878 billion tons of limestone. The estimate is that its stone reserves will last another 50-75 years. The sign says that the quarry is 5 miles long, 2 miles wide, and up to 150 feet deep.

Here’s what the quarry looks like to Google Earth:

Little Rogers City is dwarfed by the Calcite quarry and plant. The freighters in the photos were anchored just north of the peninsula that frames the bay above that “v” of green grass south of town.

If you head out south from town on Business 23 you can meet the Calcite Quarry a little closer than at a satellite height. Turn left into the parking lot at this plywood sign.

Don’t be misled by that little “M” and “S” squiggle. There are no swans at the Calcite Quarry.

The day we visited no one was at the viewing site. We climbed metal openwork stairs to get a better look from a platform height about six feet above the parking lot.

This ancient tree guards the parking lot.

It’s really hard to convey the scale of this tree. That little greenish “growth” just below the branches to the right of the middle of the trunk isn’t a fungus or a glob of moss. It’s Steve’s baseball cap. I hung it on a piece of tree bark to try to show the scale, but the tree trunk just gobbled it up. And Steve has such a big head that he typically buys his hats at Big Head Caps. This tree’s trunk is about 5 feet across. This tree is so big it was probably shading picnic-goers back in 1912 when the Calcite Plant was just a gleam in Carl Bradley’s eye.

So, you climb the steps and look down into a gash so deep and so wide that it rivals the Grand Canyon.

If you haven’t seen this, go look. This photo can’t begin to show the enormity of the quarry. Eight-hundred-seventy-eight billion tons of limestone came out of this hole.

These gigantic limestone boulders must have been rolled into place to celebrate the quarry’s 100th anniversary.

Those are roads down there. Workers drive huge mining equipment and trucks on those roads. They pass each other on those roads.

Generations of quarry workers dug this big hole. It’s not pretty. Not from space and not up close. But it’s impressive. Go see.

Late October waterfowl

These female Mallards moved off from a group of about 50 female Mallards that have been sunning themselves on the skinny beach near the cut-through at the island in the lower lake. The big group is making a bit of Long Lake history. A group like this hasn’t been seen at least in the dozen years we’ve been on the lake. The group sits, splashes about, dabbles around, and just generally does all things duck all day long. Very weird. It seems like they should have someplace to go by now.

These three seemed to be practicing their yoga asanas. When the females are in the water that cobalt blue patch isn’t seen. Nice of this individual to stretch enough to give us a good view.

Mallards are very vocal ducks, especially the females. In fact, they are one of very few ducks that actually quack.

The adult Loons left the lake in September, early September we believe. And we’ve decided not to worry, but there seems to be only one adolescent loon left on the lake. The sibs hung out together, for the most part, in the first weeks after mom and pop flew south. But now we see only one. One of the chicks was a bit smaller and we’re hopeful this one is just playing it smart, bulking up for the long flight south.

On October 14th, this adolescent approached our kayaks within about 15 feet. Steve took his photo. We paddled into Ghost Bay and this guy paddled in too, calmly floating near us, diving, and then resurfacing close by. We’ve not heard any vocalization. I guess when there’s no one to talk to, a loon just keeps their own counsel.

We will worry if this guy isn’t headed south in the next 2-3 weeks.

Common Mergansers are back on the lake. As with the Mallards, we are seeing only females. We’ve been seeing them in small groups swimming in the shallows. They dive and come up with mostly major sloppy stuff spilling out of their bills. Or they come up empty. For no reason we can discern, they are prone to episodes of water scooting.They flap their wings, flap their feet, rise up just a few inches off the water, and scoot ten or fifteen feet. They are the slapstick comedians of the waterfowl world.

This trio of females was a real surprise. They are Surf Scoters. They aren’t rare. But we’ve never seen them on Long Lake. From a distance, we thought they were American Black Ducks. But then those two white patches on the sides of their heads caught our attention. And then we noticed their spectacular large bills. A Surf Scoter’s scientific name is Melanitta Perspicullata, which basically means Black (duck) Spectacular. Someday I hope to meet a male Surf Scoter. His bill is even more bulbous than the female’s. And, instead of dull gray, his bill is white, yellow, and red, set off by a white forehead outlined in black. Now that’s spectacular!