Lost on the Lakes

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1665acsNow, as the cold days draw near, close your eyes and dream…dream of a Michigan summer…

The sun shines brightly in an azure sky laced with fluffy white clouds. All is quiet but for the fading voices ashore and the rhythm of the paddle. Dip, swish, drip, drip; dip, swish, drip, drip.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Kayak_1527acsThe kayak glides effortlessly across the deep blue of Hamlin Lake toward an island of rich greenery and white sands. A cool breeze brushes warm skin and paints ripples on the canvas of the water.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Kayak_1546acsAt the small island’s tip, driftwood and old pilings bleach in the sun while a single tree keeps watch. A kayak rests on the shore, awaiting the return of its paddlers from an exploration of the island’s wild interior.

Across Hamlin Lake lies the inviting inlet of the much smaller Lost Lake. A spit of land barely ten feet wide separates the two lakes.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Kayak_1598acsThe Lost Lake Trail spans the inlet on an elevated walkway. Underneath, an uprooted stump has wedged itself under the bridge. This is the land of drowned forests, cut down and buried under water in the name of progress. Progress complete, the lakes are now a place for play.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Kayak_1550acsLost Lake is serene, and the water amazingly clear. Every tree stump and aquatic plant can be seen with clarity.

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1620The coves offer a sheltered place for water lilies and sedges to grow. On the isthmus, a tree leans at a precarious angle. The peacefulness of a summer’s day is deceptive; the Lake Michigan coast is a harsh environment, and whipping winter winds take their toll on trees clinging to the water’s edge.

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1661acsA towering sand dune offers a place to stop, rest and explore.

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1681acsIf snails would seek sanctuary from predators, they will not find it here. The shallows of Lost Lake offer no hiding place. Yet again, the crystal clear water astounds.

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1712acsA pair of damselflies patrols over a field of water lilies.

150820_MI LSP Lost Lake Trail_5156acsWee mushrooms loom large over moss and pine needles, a landscape in miniature on the forest floor.

150820_MI LSP Lost Lake Trail_5163acsTiny treasures such as this captivate the imagination and tempt the soul to linger.

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1728acsBut nearby the narrow entrance to a small cove beckons, dark and mysterious.

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1754acsAt its mouth, a fallen log has been eaten away by time like Swiss cheese. In one nook, new life has taken root.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Lake Kayak_1814acsNothing is so tenacious as a plant. It takes but a tiny bit of soil, tucked in a crevice of an old tree stump, for a new tree to sprout and grow. Water, soil, light. What more could a tree wish?

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Kayak_1900acsMallards splash and bathe by the roots of an overturned tree…

150820_MI LSP Lost Lake Trail_5134acs…while a green frog idles in the shade.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Lake Kayak_1846acsAn intricate entwining of twisted white limbs adorned with greenery graces the shore. Tree sculpture is but one form of Nature’s artwork.

All too soon, fierce winter will intrude upon peaceful meditations of summer. When it comes, find sanctuary in dreams of sheltered coves and sand beaches. The dip, swish, drip, drip of the paddle. The plants swaying sinuously beneath the clear water, the sparkle of the sun on the surface, the sand and the trees reflected there.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Kayak_1890acsSavor the moments spent lost in reverie… on the lost lakes.

Last Call

140702_MI Sunset 2_0416aThe sun is slowly setting on summer. The Fourth of July feels like yesterday. Now it is Labor Day, and autumn awaits.

One last glance at this summer’s Michigan memories.

MI 2 Buttersville South Breakwater_0223acsSand cliffs along Lake Michigan.

MI 2 Buttersville South Breakwater_0159acsKingfisher with fish.

MI 2 Buttersville South Breakwater_9945aFlowers in Buttersville Park, south of Ludington’s harbor.

MI 2 Buttersville South Breakwater_0242acsBusy bee.

MI 3 Buttersville Beach_0246acs50 shades of green.

MI US-31 Overlook_9332acsBarn in the mist.

MI US-31 Overlook_9319aUS-31 overlook on a drizzly evening.

140702_MI Sunset 2_0414acsSunset from the backyard.

140702_MI Sunset 2_0483aLake Michigan on fire.

140701_MI Sunset 1_9913aThe lights of Epworth Heights.

140701_MI Sunset 1_9910acsClub Mich at twilight. Time to bid farewell.

Sweet dreams!

On The Ridgeline

MI Ludington State Park_9626aLudington State Park is only five minutes away from my family’s home in Michigan. Its lakes, dunes, woodlands and miles of trails draw me there time and again.

MI Ludington State Park_9390acsThe Island Trail running between Hamlin Lake and Lost Lake is my favorite place to explore. Birch, maple and pine trees line the sandy path.

On one hand, grassy marsh meadows soon give way to dark Lost Lake. On the other, big Hamlin Lake lies sparkling in the sun.

MI Ludington State Park_9420acsThis year I finally had a chance to walk the Ridge Trail and complete the loop. As you would expect from its name, the Ridge Trail runs along a sand dune ridge. Unlike the smaller grassy beach dunes, these dunes are wooded.

The trail climbs so steeply at first as to need wooden stairs, and then settles into a gentler rise. The top of the ridge is narrow; just on either edge of the trail, the land drops precipitously into deep valleys.

MI Ludington State Park_9516acsThe higher you climb, the more exposed the ridge becomes. Old tree stumps show the effects of wind, rain and sun.

MI Ludington State Park_9430acsIf you’re tired from the climb, you can have a seat. Dunes are living things, constantly shifting with the winds. Here the sand is slowly devouring this bench.

MI Ludington State Park_9541aAs the dune is blown away from the bases of the trees, it reveals a marvelous tangle of twisted roots. Lichen and moss clothe the exposed bark.

Roots like this and the weathered remains of old trees lie everywhere on the ridge, a sculpture garden left behind by elfin artists.

MI Ludington State Park_9578aFrom the summit, Lake Michigan appears, playing peek-a-boo between the fallen trees.

MI Ludington State Park_9586acsThe Old Sentinel.

MI Ludington State Park_9616acsFurther along, a side trail winds through open dunes to overlook Hamlin Lake. A great spot for lunch, except for the mayflies. Can you see that X-shaped thing hovering over the small bush in the center? (As always, click the photo to see a larger image.)

No, that’s not a tiny spaceship. It’s a mayfly that managed to photo-bomb my perfectly nice landscape shot.

FUN FACT: Mayfly naiads (the immature stage) live a year or two on the bottom of lakes, molting several times. The final molt produces the adult mayfly, which will live only a day or two. They’re harmless to humans – except that often they all mature at once, creating swarms that can really annoy the unsuspecting picnicker.

MI Ludington State Park_9695aWhat goes up must come down, and soon enough the Ridge Trail descends to rejoin the Island Trail.

Last winter was rough here in Michigan, and portions of the path must be traversed with care. Erosion along the shore of Hamlin Lake undermines soil and trees alike.

MI Ludington State Park_9760aIn a marshy bay of Hamlin Lake, a Great Blue Heron pauses from fishing to offer a fitting benediction to a happy day on the trail.

The Forest Primeval

MI Hartwick Pines 1 Old Growth Forest_9078acsNo cathedral built by man could match the majesty of this forest sanctuary.

MI Hartwick Pines 1 Old Growth Forest_9082aRugged russet trunks rise straight and true to the arched ceiling of deep verdant green.

All is hushed but for the small rustlings of squirrel and chipmunk congregants below, and the whisperings of the wind in the pines that tower above.

MI Hartwick Pines 1 Old Growth Forest_9104aThe floor is laid, not with stone, but lush ferns and wildflowers. Where some old giant has fallen, light streams through the canopy as through stained glass. Porcupines, pine martens and bears have all walked the aisles of this forest older than time.

The air is still, the mood solemn, the spirit mysterious, eerie, primeval.

MI Hartwick Pines 1 Old Growth Forest_9101aOnce upon a time, pine forests covered 10 million acres of the North Country. Now only small remnants remain. This 49 acre old growth white pine forest endures at Hartwick Pines State Park in Michigan.

The pines here are thought to be over 300 years old, stand 120 feet or more, and may reach four feet in diameter at breast height. Eastern hemlocks and red pines attend these kings. Below them is a shaded understory so dark, it seems eternally twilight.

MI Hartwick Pines 1 Old Growth Forest_9116aAt the edges, where maples and beeches mingle with the pines, rests a small chapel.

A church within a church.

Quaint and cozy, yet somehow superfluous.

Are not the pines themselves enough to inspire reverence in such a setting?

Must people seek the Creator within walls while all of Creation stands without?

MI Hartwick Pines 2 Scenic Drive_9214sStep from the forest cathedral, and other mysteries beckon the soul.

 

 

This dirt road, for instance.

Don’t you want to know what’s around the next bend?

Let’s see what we can find.

MI Hartwick Pines 2 Scenic Drive_9134aThe Au Sable River meanders its way through wetlands and woods, singing a soft hymn as it goes.

MI Hartwick Pines 2 Scenic Drive_9173aTwo very different dragonflies share a pew.

MI Hartwick Pines 2 Scenic Drive_9185acsA Northern Crescent butterfly preaches from a sunflower lectern.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MI Hartwick Pines 2 Scenic Drive_9211a

A choir of brightly cloaked angels.

 

MI Hartwick Pines 3 Nature Trail_9245acsGlory, Glory, Hallelujah!

Glory Lake reflects the glory of northern Michigan in the colors of azure sky, cobalt water, and emerald pines. At the top of a tall tree nearby perches an Osprey, looking for prey.

Glory Lake, and its sister, Bright Lake, are kettle ponds formed during Michigan’s glacier period. Ice blocks that broke off from the glaciers formed depressions that filled with water after the glaciers retreated.

MI Hartwick Pines 3 Nature Trail_9294acsA trail leads from the ponds into a diverse woodland.

Besides the aspen at left, there are white, red and jack pines.

Spruce, hemlock, and cedar.

Beech, maple and oak trees.

Shrubs, ferns, wildflowers, and a potpourri of plants are also abundant.

It’s a botanist’s dream.

 

MI Hartwick Pines 3 Nature Trail_9286a

Behold! – Lycopodium!

These are club mosses, but don’t be fooled by that name. They are not true mosses at all, but vascular plants.

Like teeny tiny Christmas trees a few inches high, they bring joy to those who spot them.

These little plants are much favored by the true of heart.

MI Hartwick Pines 3 Nature Trail_9281aAt trail’s end, a quiet spot for contemplation. From towering pine trees to miniscule club mosses, ferocious dragonflies to gentle butterflies, the mysteries of the land inspire reverence and wonder.

May Nature’s blessings be with you all. Go in peace.

Michigan Rara Avis

MI Grayling State Forest Kirtlands_8872acsHow far would you travel to see a rare bird?

I flew 800 miles and then drove 150 more to see this one: a Kirtland’s Warbler (Life Bird #188).

Okay, full disclosure; I was going to Michigan anyway. I did plan my trip for late June and then drive across the state for a glimpse of this bird, though. I didn’t fool around trying to find this rare, flitty little warbler by myself, either. I took a tour sponsored by Michigan Audubon and led by a very knowledgeable young woman.

What’s so special about this bird that people travel hundreds of miles and take tours to see it?

MI Grayling State Forest Kirtlands_8914aKirtland’s Warbler is a Federal Endangered Species, and it nests only in young jack pine forests in Michigan and Wisconsin. It was listed as an Endangered Species in 1967. In 1973 the Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery Team was created, with representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Audubon and other organizations. The following year 167 singing male warblers were recorded, a record low number.

Conservation measures enacted by the Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery Team are working. In 2011, 1,828 singing males were recorded, well beyond the plan goal of 1,000. In fact, the number of warblers has exceeded the recovery goal for over a decade.

MI Grayling State Forest Jack Pine_8868aTwo-track road through a jack pine plantation in Grayling State Forest, an area actively managed for Kirtland’s Warbler.

MI Grayling State Forest Jack Pine_9039acsPine cone of a jack pine tree. See how it’s closed up, with its seeds still inside? This is a serotinous cone. It only opens and drops its seeds under the high temperatures of a wildfire. Jack pines have adapted to take advantage of frequent fires.

MI Grayling State Forest Kirtlands_8892acsKirtland’s Warblers have adapted to take advantage of jack pines. Young pines, that is. They nest on the ground under cover of the drooping lower branches. One pair needs at least 8 acres, and maybe as much as 30, of small pines. Once those trees reach twenty feet, the birds no longer nest there. Historically, frequent wildfires maintained this young jack pine habitat. Since this is the only tree the warblers nest in, they are dependent not only on jack pines, but frequent fire.

Except that fire is a tricky thing to manage. In 1980 a controlled burn got out of control and led to a wildfire that burned 25,000 acres and killed a USFS biologist. So now the Recovery Team relies on that nemesis of many environmentalists, clear-cutting. Areas of about 4,000 acres each year are logged and replanted with jack pine seedlings on a rotating basis, ensuring that there is always suitable habitat for the Kirtland’s Warbler.

Also, Brown-headed Cowbirds frequently lay their eggs in Kirtland’s Warbler nests, leading the warblers to raise cowbirds rather than their own young. So cowbird control is a critical part of the plan.

MI Grayling State Forest Kirtlands_8901acsEven though the Kirtland’s Warbler has exceeded its recovery goal, the need to suppress natural wildfires to protect life and property means that continued management with human intervention will be needed. But it’s not just this little half-ounce warbler that benefits. Young jack pine habitat is beneficial for wild turkeys, badgers, white-tailed deer, snowshoe hares, numerous birds and at least two threatened plant species.

MI Grayling State Forest Kirtlands_9054aOh, it figures. My closest and sharpest photo of a Kirtland’s, and what do I get? A bird butt! Turn around, please…

Please?

MI Grayling State Forest Kirtlands_9055aThat’s better, but now there’s a stick in the way. Move a little to the left, please?

These fashion models, they’re just so flighty.

MI 2 Buttersville South Breakwater_9960acsHere’s a bird I did not plan for. This is a Piping Plover (Life Bird #189). I found him in Buttersville Park, just south of the Ludington South Breakwater.

On the Atlantic Coast Piping Plovers have Threatened status, but in the Great Lakes region they are officially Endangered. These little guys like to nest right on the beach and dunes, in cobblestones or sparse vegetation. Humans and pets using the beach disturb the birds, sometimes leading to nest abandonment. In addition, people and vehicles may accidentally crush eggs or tiny young chicks. Add in predation by wild animals and habitat loss due to beach development and it’s no wonder this tiny bird is in trouble.

People are helping the Piping Plover, though. Nesting habitat is identified and monitored, with human access restricted where necessary. Active nests are fenced to keep people and predators out.

MI 2 Buttersville South Breakwater_9976aWait! Don’t fly away mad!

MI 4 SLBE Port Oneida Grouse_0916aAnother completely unexpected bird, this Ruffed Grouse (Life Bird #190) is anything but rare. In fact, they are widespread all across the U.S. They are really elusive and hard to see, though – in some areas.

My friend Don, convinced he’ll never see a Ruffed Grouse, has made it his life’s goal to hear one drumming in its spring courtship ritual.

Imagine his surprise when I e-mailed this photo taken at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

MI 4 SLBE Port Oneida Grouse_0892acsFor that matter, imagine my surprise when I turned down a dirt road and came upon this bird strutting around. It paraded slowly down the road for quite some time while I took photos right from the front seat of my car. It didn’t seem at all concerned by my presence. It appears that, unlike shy Eastern grouse, Midwestern birds are much bolder.

MI 4 SLBE Port Oneida Grouse_0890acs

I’m ready for my close-up now.

Light Up The Sky

MI Fireworks_2027acsThe Fourth of July celebration in Ludington, Michigan moves to the lake in the evening. Fireworks are a great excuse for one big beach party!

MI Fireworks Beach_1892acsComplete darkness doesn’t arrive here until 10:30, so there’s plenty of time for other entertainment. People gather in droves at the city park, and bonfires stud the shore of Lake Michigan. Fireworks start going off up and down the coast long before dark.

MI Fireworks Badger_1844acsLucky boat owners will anchor off the shore for a unique view. Others will sign on for a special tour by the S. S. Badger, Ludington’s beloved car ferry.

MI Fireworks Lantern_1926acsUnique lanterns drift through the air.

MI Fireworks Lantern_1916acs

As darkness falls, another lantern is prepared for flight.

MI Fireworks Badger_1957acsThe Badger, maneuvering into position to give her passengers the best view. Let the show begin!

MI Fireworks_2001aMI Fireworks_2002a

MI Fireworks_2007aMI Fireworks_2010MI Fireworks_2011aMI Fireworks_2033aMI Fireworks_2040aMI Fireworks_2046a

After the grand finale, Mother Nature lights up the sky over Club Mich with her own brand of pyrotechnics.MI Fireworks Stars_2065acs