Passing the buck

This buck was headed to the water’s edge in Ghost Bay last week as we paddled in our kayaks. We don’t see bucks often, so he was quite a treat.

White-tailed deer are named for that large patch of white fur on the underside of the tail that you see as the deer beats a retreat. Odocoileus virginianus to you scientific types. There are many subspecies of deer in North America and those subspecies are very difficult to tell apart.

These are the Hillman Long Lake subspecies. This is the subspecies that especially likes to eat Japanese Maples in people’s gardens. They wait until the leaves fill out nicely, the rain washes away the Deer-B-Gone stinky spray, and then they enjoy a nice red-leafed salad. They are the subspecies of deer that eat hostas before the slugs can. And they eat every day-lily bloom just before the flower opens. That subspecies.

Oh well. We don’t really begrudge them feasting on what passes for our garden. We are completely undedicated to gardening. We do sort of wish they’d leave us something for our trouble though.

White-tail herds are a matriarchal society. But we’ve been surprised this year to see that the herd browsing in the morning and evening on our property still has a young male moving with it. We don’t think he’s the same buck we saw in Ghost Bay, though. The one with the herd is small, with just two dinky spikes. The Ghost Bay buck had four points.

Here’s a look at one of the females, drinking in the narrows.

Some of the deer in Montmorency County have chronic wasting disease. That’s why bait piles and other unnatural ways of drawing deer in to feed are banned here. When deer gather snout-to-snout the disease spreads more easily.

On our lawn, the deer gather this time of year to eat the acorns falling from the large oak tree near our deck. At the water’s edge, they will stand on their hind legs with their front legs resting on the cedar tree trunks to browse. And we even see deer jumping on two legs to reach some tasty bits of cedar.

Kingbirds in the Cupholder

Once again this year, as in the last two, an Eastern Kingbird couple decided that the cupholder in one arm of our dock bench would make a nifty home for their brood. Out in the baking sun. No shade. In a black plastic cupholder about 5 inches deep and 4 inches across. Good idea. Eventually, there were 4 eggs in the nest.

Eastern Kingbirds’ scientific name is “tyrannus tyrannus.” That tells you all you really need to know about what happens when the birds hatch. The parents both become fierce tyrants. We let the growing family have the dock and dock bench all to themselves except when we wanted to come and go from our pontoon boat moored about 8 feet away from the nest.

There was hell to pay for our passage to and fro. This first photo shows the kingbirds’ otherwise hidden red patch flared, about to bounce off Steve’s behatted head.

We’ve both had our heads and torsos bumped and wingslapped. They even took to flying under the pontoon canopy to go after us once we were underway.  Here’s sort of the gestalt of the experience.

I tried not to think about the Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds.

The parents had four growing babies to feed and they did not look kindly on intrusions. (These photos, of course, were taken at considerable distance.) And their definition of intrusion is born of a tyrannus tyrannus approach to the world around them. An osprey flying overhead? One parent, sometimes two, would mob it. They bounced off the osprey with the same abandon as they bounced off our hats. Their aggression bears no relationship to the threat, since osprey only eat fish and we don’t eat baby birds. Cornell reports that Kingbirds will defend their nest by attacking crows, hawks, squirrels and “have been known to knock unsuspecting Blue Jays out of trees.”

We let the tyrants rule the dock and only ran the gauntlet to get our pontoon boat out into the lake.

This next photo shows the scene on a nearly 100 degree afternoon. The parent, beak agape, seemed a bit stressed. The two parents rotated responsibilities. One would stand guard while perched on the back of the bench while the other hunted for dragonflies and other tasty morsels to feed the hungry babies.

The babies unstuffed themselves from the cupholder the day before they fledged. We think they fledged early. We’re imagining it was just way too hot out there to do otherwise. Anyway, we wish them lots of Long Lake buggy meals. We especially hope they are fond of mosquitos and deer flies.

Birding on Hillman’s Long Lake

It’s been quite a spring for birding on Long Lake.

This male Baltimore Oriole and his mostly yellow partner have been eating us out of house and orange. We think it’s only one pair. And for the last four days they’ve been eating an orange a day. The female seems to prefer this birch tree feeder. The male comes closer to the house and eats the half-orange we hung on a maple tree.

We’ve tried to tempt with oranges in the past, basically without success. But this pair is bringing us tons of colorful pleasure in exchange for a good dose of vitamin C.

The male tries to feed at the hummingbird feeder every once in awhile, without much success. His song is described on Cornell’s site as “flutelike” with a “full, rich tone,” consisting of “a short series of paired notes, repeated 2–7 times, lasting 1–2 seconds.” Yep. And I will add that it seems to get more insistent and irritated when the orange halves are depleted.

Earlier in the spring, Steve got this great shot of a Purple Finch, feeding on a sunflower seed.

And, of course, that’s a Chickadee off to the left. We see Goldfinches by the boatload. But Purple Finches? Not so many. They seem slightly bigger and more solidly built than the Goldfinches. They are red, not purple, though. This article gives solid information to help distinguish a Purple Finch from a House Finch. We’re pretty confident this is a Purple.

Purple Finches aren’t rare in Michigan. Neither are Spotted Sandpipers. But we don’t often see either bird.

This Spotted Sandpiper was bobbing around foraging in the grass near our dock, and eating, for about 20 minutes. This bird’s nicknames include teeter-peep, teeter-bob, teeter-snipe, and tip-tail. The first time you see their comical bobbing and scooting, the nicknames make every bit of sense.

The male Spotted Sandpiper incubates the eggs and takes care of the young. The female? She’s busy in a different way. In any breeding season she may mate with up to four males and lay four separate clutches of eggs for her male partners to tend.

Breeding adults  have dark spots on their bellies. This breeding plumage molts away as summer progresses.

Pretty bird, in a subdued way.

The Northern Flicker, by contrast, is not subdued. Flickers look like they were sewn together out of parts of several birds. Sort of a Frankenbird.

Red (at the back of the head). A Black whisker. A Black bib. Orange cast to his head. Spots. Stripes. Yellow on his tail and flight feathers. Plus there’s a white rump patch. It almost easier to list what colors a Flicker isn’t.

Flickers spend a lot of time feeding on the ground. And when they fly, like most other woodpeckers, they fly in a deep arc. This Flicker almost buried his long beak up to his eyeballs in search of tasty bugs.

For the first time this year, we’ve seen White-Crowned Sparrows. As with the rest of the birds featured in this post, they aren’t rare. But we’ve not identified them before. Since they are such a distinctive bird, we’ve convinced ourselves that they are new to our neck of the woods rather than that our powers of perception have improved.

That black-and-white striped helmet on his head is hard to miss. This sparrow spends a lot of time feeding on the ground. If “our” White-Crowned Sparrows are any indication, they also spend quite a bit of time mixing it up with one another. Over and over again a pair (or three) rise up a few feet from the ground and, wings fluttering, they go after one another. Whether this is aggression, courtship, or just a bird without a sunny disposition, we don’t know.

Common Mergansers are only on Long Lake for a few weeks each spring and fall as they pass through on their migrations. Here’s a pair, in the shadows near our shore.

The male was looking spectacular. Green head. Red beak, Mostly white (with black) body. The female? She’s got a white and gray speckled body and a red hairdo. They don’t look like a pair that would go together.

Here’s Ms. Hairdo, peering near the shore and heading under our dock.

Moving now from one kind of spectacular to…a very different kind of spectacular.

A major bunch of Turkey Vultures. They (along with about 10 others) congregated behind our neighbor’s pole barn this week. They weren’t on a kill. They were just socializing. Maybe they were planning how they’ll do their face makeup for the upcoming Vulture prom. I admit this gathering creeps me out some. It makes me think I should lose weight, exercise more, and get healthier.

Our industrious state bird, the American Robin–yep, the bird who LEAVES Michigan every year as the weather gets cold–is busy nest-building in a lower branch of one of our tall White Pines.

Female Robins build the nest. The last few days we’ve been watching her working on it, flying back and forth with long grasses in her bill. She builds the nest from the inside out. First, she presses grasses into a cup shape, using the wrist of a wing. Then she gathers worm-castings to line the nest with mud. HGTV house hunters probably wouldn’t approve. Worm-castings gray probably isn’t quite the “in” shade.

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.