From our house…
More than 15 years on Hillman’s Long Lake and we’ve never seen Hooded Mergansers before this week. Common Mergansers? Sometimes we’ve been up to our eyeballs in them. But Hoodies? Never before.
This group of 10 was just part of the tribe. At one point we counted 54 Hoodies in our little bay.
We are fairly confident that the duck that seems to be leading the parade is a female Common Merganser. That will give you a sense of how the Hooded Mergansers are rather dainty as ducks go. Hoodies are about 16 inches long with a 24 inch wingspan. The Common type are 21-27 inches long with a wingspan of closer to 34 inches. The duck in the lead doesn’t have the typical female Common Merganser hairdo, but she looks right (for that) otherwise, including for her size. That, plus we see very few Common Goldeneyes, they are comparably sized to the Hoodies, and her bill doesn’t look right for a Goldeneye.
Hooded Mergansers. Lophodytes cucullatus. These are ducks whose young make the leap from their cavity nest to the ground when they are one day old. Their leap can be up to a 50 foot drop down to a forest floor. Then they waddle over to their mom who’s been calling to them as she waits in a nearby pond. Definitely a leap of faith for the tiny day-old fluff balls. Also some rather nonchalant parenting. Still, it works. Mostly one supposes.
Hoodies have specially adapted eyes that help them find prey under water. They have an extra eyelid, a “nictitating membrane.” It’s transparent and helps protect their eyes the same way a pair of goggles helps humans see under water.
Here’s another look at a few of the Hoodies who visited Long Lake around November 13th and 14th.
The Hoodies attracted the attention of Long Lake’s Bald Eagles too. We watched as an adult and an immature eagle dove into the water looking for lunch. We saw five unsuccessful attacks in two different sequences. There were major splashes. And each time the Bald Eagles came up empty-handed. Empty-footed, rather. We know that the Bald Eagles need to eat. But we were rooting for the Hoodies.
Long Lake yielded a robust crop of muskrats this year. For several days in a row we met up with this individual every trip through the narrows, often on our passages both coming and going. You’re wondering how we know it was the same one? He has an unusual habit of floating on the surface with his long tail pointed up out of the water. That is so not a smart move for a muskrat. They aren’t particularly large and would make an excellent meal for a bald eagle or even a hungry mink or big snapping turtle. And, although muskrats are typically active at night and near dawn and dusk, Long Lake’s muskrats apparently didn’t get that message this year. Because they’ve been moving about a great deal in the daytime.
They are Ondatra zibethicus, the only species in the genus Ondatra and the tribe Ondatrini. Muskrats are rodents. You can’t look at that long hairless tail and think otherwise. Speaking of the tail, it’s an interesting muskrat bit. It has no fur, but it’s covered with scales and is somewhat vertically flattened. Muskrats are mostly aquatic, but when they walk on land it’s that flattened tail dragging behind them that makes their tracks easy to identify.
Keep a lookout near the shoreline, especially in the north section of the narrows just before it opens up into the bigger lake. They’ve also been very busy near the shore just to the south of the small island in the lower lake. If you see a bundle of greenery making its way through the water, that will be one of our muskrats gathering food. They are busy foraging, presumably bringing dinner home to the burrow where they stash their litter. But they also stop swimming and fill their own bellies. Keep a good lookout around the yellow water lilies. That’s a special treat for muskrats. And they look quite comical as they munch away on the long water lily strands.
This was Long Lake a few days ago. The weird snow-bridge is Steve’s path to an ice-fishing spot. When the ice melted more along the shore, with a light breeze blowing, the path moved about 30 feet north. The next day it blew back in front of our house.
Ice on the move is a definite “…almost there…almost there” sign of impending ice-out.
Yep. It’s melting.
This is April 20th. These two paddlers threaded their way around the remaining ice, enjoying the 60 degree sunshine, while our Adirondacks stared.
Soon we’ll be in our kayaks, checking for any beaver damage in Ghost Bay. I’ll also be sitting in the narrows watching for the large-mouth bass schooling through.
It’s been a L-O-O-O-N-G time since I wrote about what’s going on here that isn’t knitting. So, this isn’t knitting. This is blue ice and unless you aren’t from around these parts, you already know where this is. You’re looking at the Big Mac in the background. Mighty Mac.
One of the distinctive things about Michigan is that we’re two peninsulas linked, since 1957, by the Mackinac Bridge. So, we’re not all mitten. Our suspension bridge, nearly 5 miles long, links our upper and our lower peninsulas. Our state motto “Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice” (“if you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you”) should probably have been written in the plural.
Here’s a look at us in knitting:
This is Carolyn Watts’ freebie Michigan Dish Cloth, knit in Knitpicks Dishie. The key to these knitted picture cloths is to knit at a tighter gauge than usual. Mine were knit on size 6 US (the blue one) and size 5 US (the orange). You’ll just have to imagine Big Mac on the cloth, though. I was tempted to add it.
Anyway, what likely caught your eye in Steve’s photo isn’t so much the bridge but the ice in the foreground. Um, it’s blue. Especially at its base. Here’s a better look:
There’s no little gnome warming his toes at a blue hearth down under the ice shelf. Michigan ice (OK, ice elsewhere too) can be blue. At times. Some of our Great Lake ice forms slowly on calm clear water. It won’t have many air bubbles or a bunch of crud in it. So, Pure Michigan can indeed be pure. Ice formed slowly and purely will allow light to penetrate it more deeply. The result is that longer wavelength light is absorbed and shorter blue wavelengths pass through. And our eyes see the blue. Blue ice shows up, every once in a blue moon, mostly in February or March. This was March, 2018.
Ice also had something to do with this: a 22 degree Sun Halo. It appeared over Long Lake in mid-February, 2019.
This is not some kind of lens flare. This is what eyeballs could clearly see. It’s an ice crystal halo that forms in a ring around the sun, with a radius of 22 degrees. The optics of it are beyond my understanding. The beauty of it, well I get that. Scientists say that these sun halos are an unreliable sign of bad weather to come. That, I take it, probably means that a lot of people think that these halos are a sign of bad weather to come. And that was true in our case. We had a weird week of weather that week. Snow, rain, wintry mix, sleet.
But it’s spring now in Michigan. That means we will have…snow, rain, wintry mix, sleet. But there will be some sun too.
Spring is bringing out the critters. This guy is digging for sunflower seeds under our bird feeder. Since some birds like to sit at the feeders and throw seeds to their brethren below, there will be seeds under the feeder. (Goldfinches you know I mean you.) Stay calm skunk. You are too close to the house to be startled. I didn’t even want Steve to take a photo of this one for fear skunkie would startle. I never got a close look at a skunk’s face before. And I hope never to see one again without the protection of double-pane glass.