Friday, June 15, 2012

Wildlife Manhandling

As the photo above indicates, I have recently spent time within the range of the rare Kirtland's Warbler. So rare is this creature that birders from all recesses of the globe make the pilgrimage to see this gray and yellow spirit of the Jack Pines, and since my girlfriend Alison gets paid to show people the Kirtland's, I too have made the pilgrimage, mostly to see her but also to see the warbler. In addition to seeing many a Kirtland's and several different subspecies of birder (Homo sapiens aviaphilosis), Alison and I explored and wandered and roamed and rambled and otherwise adventured, trying to find as many forms of life northern Michigan could offer up last weekend.

Quite accidentally I discovered a family of woodcock chicks at Hartwick Pines State Park. I had withdrawn into some shade while waiting for Alison to attend to business matters, and, becoming bored, investigated a plaintive whistle from the undergrowth. It sounded like a fledgling, but not the one I expected!

The majority of our adventures took place at a certain boggy flooding in eastern Crawford County. Masquerading as a lake, this flooding is only about four or five feet deep in its center, as we discovered once we made an exploratory expedition on inner tubes. But, surrounded by wonderful marshes, bogs, and streams, the "lake" is extremely secluded and teems with wildlife, particularly dragonflies. At times trashing through blueberry thickets, others wallowing among lily pads, and still others precariously venturing across beaver dams, we chased these toothed masters of the sky, waging war with net and camera lens.

The dragonflies were quality, too, not just the run of the mill Green Darners or Blue Dashers. I believe this one is an Ashy Clubtail (Gomphus lividus).

Some of the dragonflies supplicated us for peace by landing on our arms, shoulders, and even the rim of the net. Foremost among the dragonfly hippies were the Chalk-fronted Corporals (Ladona julia).

Frosted Whiteface (Leucorrhinia frigida)

Beaverpond Baskettail (Epitehca canis).

Hudsonian Whiteface (Leucorrhinia hudsonica).

Lilypad Clubtail (Arigomphus furcifer).

Racket-tailed Emerald (Dorocordulia libera).

After many steps through the swamp, our bared legs tired of the merciless tearing of the stiff branches. Seeking a clearer route, we retreated upland to the forest. We had not gone far when we were confronted  with a plaintive bleating sound. Tracking it through the dense underbrush, we found the living skeleton of a young fawn hobbling through the forest. Having neither gun nor knife with which to humanely kill it, we left it to wander and die of starvation. Yes, the deer would die, but its legacy would live on; its molecules would strengthen the muscles of some raccoon or fox. Bacteria would break down its hide and whatever the scavengers missed, the nutrients would sink into the soil, only to be taken up by some plant, which would then be cropped by another deer--perhaps the fawn's father, or a cousin. The circle of life would remain broken.

A mite traumatized, and perhaps poignantly reminded of our own mortality, we retreated from the woods and returned to the treacherous tussocks and mud wallows. Eventually, Alison hit upon a brilliant idea and began wading through the thigh-deep water, thereby circumnavigating the scratchy bushes and deadly sinkholes. It was here that the tables turned and the wildlife began manhandling us. Much to my horror, we discovered leeches attached to our legs! Snakes, spiders, ticks--I am not bothered by them--but leeches! I coated mine with toothpaste; the fluoride worked some deadly magic and exploded the vile creature, causing streams of swirled red and white liquid to dribble down my leg as I drove. I gritted my teeth and attempted to ignore the sensation.

Speaking of driving, I must conclude with the reason for this flooding's seclusion: it requires some beastly driving! The Stinkpot, my trusty Taurus, carried us down logging roads and even off roads to avoid fallen trees and other such obstacles.

Yes, there is much more to Kirtland's country than just Kirtland's Warblers. I eagerly anticipate the next pilgrimage!

1 comment:

Zachary DeBruine said...

Neil, for kicks have you ever taken your Taurus through the dirt two-tracks of northern Allegan SGA? My Kia Rio managed those!