No Rest for the Wicked…

Northwoods Journal

Saturday, April 19, 2014

…and the righteous don’t need none.  (As often quoted in Jan Karon’s “At Home in Mitford” series.)

It seems my hope for a relaxing weekend was overly optimistic.  You would think I would know better by now.  There really isn’t much time for relaxation in the northwoods!

The morning sky was clear and it was a frosty 26 degrees.  First on today’s agenda was a trip to the county dump, so after a breakfast of oatmeal and sausage, we started loading up the bags that had been piling up around here, including all the recyclables.  I felt awful about that, we try to be diligent about recycling but up here there is no convenient location for taking in recyclable materials and I was tired of empty gallon jugs taking up the tub.  We saw four deer in the clear-cut area at the end of our road as we drove toward town.

Thankfully, since all our bags were household waste, we did not have to go into the landfill this time, we could put our garbage in the huge dumpster close to the parking lot.  It’s a lot less odorous, let me tell you!

On the way back through town we stopped at The Baklava Shop but they were all out of shortbread and cinnamon rolls.  Tragic!  The girl assured us they would bake more shortbread and we could stop in later in the afternoon.  You can bet your sweet bippy we did just that!

Before I go on, I should add that this morning Mark was still obsessing over the ORV stickers!  He got on the DNR’s web site to look into it.  It seems that licensed vehicles don’t need an ORV sticker UNLESS they use 4-wheel drive.  If you use 4-wheel drive you then become an off-road vehicle and must have a sticker.  I would say that 75% of the time we are on the trails, we are in 4-wheel drive.  It seemed like the proverbial “splitting of hairs” to us.  For some reason it’s the TWO stickers that really has Mark’s goat.

Ruby waiting patiently for her hike.

Ruby waiting patiently for her hike.

As soon as we got home we grabbed the dogs and took them for their hike.  Since we had just gotten out of the car I didn’t relish getting back in so we chose to walk up the ridge across the road, following the power lines.  The first part of the hike is a lot of uphill which really does a number on me.  Far back in there is a nice clearing with a trailer called “Wayne’s World”.  There were people there this time, which meant we could not take the shortcut down their driveway and access road.  Instead we had to stick to the power lines, coming out at the ATV trail near Nickerson Valley.  It was a longer hike but the weather was perfect and even old Milo (who’s ten now) kept up like a champ.  The woods were very still and quiet, nothing to be heard but the rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker.

We had worked up quite an appetite and Mark was anxious to make grilled sandwiches using his cast iron griddle and the Coleman stove.  It was warm enough (barely) to eat out on the porch.  I did have to wrap up in an afghan, but it was worth it to be outdoors watching the birds.

I am really proud of this goldfinch photo.  I think it’s the best of all I took this weekend and it is now my laptop background photo.  (Please be sure to click on the photos for a larger view.)

Beautiful American goldfinch.

Beautiful American goldfinch.

Today I counted 15 species including two new sparrows – fox sparrows and tree sparrows – along with chipping sparrow, purple finch, goldfinch, dark-eyed junco, white-breasted nuthatch, blue jay, chickadee, cowbird, robin, red-winged blackbird, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker and mourning dove.

I also thought this female purple finch is pretty good, too.

Female purple finch.

Female purple finch.

I liked this dark-eyed junco shot, except for the shadow from a branch right across his face.

Dark-eyed junco.

Dark-eyed junco.

Here’s a different shot.

Dark-eyed junco.

Dark-eyed junco.

I was testing the limit of my camera with that one.

Determined to get his shortbread, Mark said we could go looking for more waterfowl and make a stop at the Baklava Shop on the way.  We were both happy to see the shortbread in the display case and bought 8 pieces, although I think we should have just gotten the whole pan and been done with it.  The common mergansers were still on the Thunder Bay River when we passed by so Mark pulled into the park so I could try and get more photos.  It seemed like they were closer to shore but they must sense human presence and quickly scooted upstream.  I only got one decent picture and that is of the backs of them!

Common mergansers swimming quickly away.

Common mergansers swimming quickly away.

I also shot a couple of photos of this gull getting some lunch.  I’m not sure what kind it is.

Gull - ring-billed?  Herring?  I have no idea.

Gull – ring-billed? Herring? I have no idea.

Next we drove to the headwaters of the Thunder Bay, off Lake 15.  I have always called this the headwaters but just today found out I have been wrong all this time.

Humble beginning of the Thunder Bay River.

Humble beginning of the Thunder Bay River.

The Thunder Bay actually starts farther south – at Bass Lake, I think.  I don’t know, there are so many branches of the Thunder Bay, it gets confusing.  Anyway, it flows into Lake 15 and then back out again.  After a stop at the river we drove all the way around and back again down Ryan Road to the old campground on Lake 15, hoping to see water birds there.  Imagine our surprise to see the lake still completely frozen over!

Spring has yet to thaw Lake 15.

Spring has yet to thaw Lake 15.

Lake 15 holds a very special place in my heart.  My earliest memory is of camping there when I was about 5 years old.  Not too many years later my parents would buy a place just a mile up the road.  I would grow up fishing and swimming in the lake, and riding my ponies there through the logging roads from our place to the lakeshore.  The campground was closed 20 years ago and now almost no traces of it remain.  All that is left is the boat launch.  When I was growing up, the area around the lake was undeveloped.  Now, cabins and homes line the western side.  The island, which used to be much larger (and we thought we were something swimming from the boat launch to the island back in the day) has now been eroded away by the pontoon boats that circle it non-stop all summer.

What's left of the island.

What’s left of the island.

Back at our place, Mark gave me enough time to upload yesterday’s post.  We got this Mi-Fi gadget from Verizon last year so we could have internet here but I’ve never had much luck getting a strong enough signal to do anything with it.  Surprisingly, this time it’s worked quite well, even allowing me to post my photos, although I did size them down a bit.

A leaf-covered Daisy was allowed to lollygag.

A leaf-covered Daisy was allowed to lollygag.

Lollygagging was not allowed though and as soon as I was done with my post Mark loaded the chainsaw in the FJ and we were off in search of firewood.  He had seen some lumber company rejects at the clear-cut area near Sportsmen Dam so we headed there.  Finding what he was looking for, Mark cut with the chainsaw while I loaded the 4 foot lengths into the back of the FJ.  Once home he remained the evil taskmaster and, completely disregarding my age, insisted we had to unload it, cut it and stack it all in one fell swoop.  At one point a nut came flying off one of the bolts holding the chainsaw blade on.  We crawled around on the ground, searching through the leaves but no luck.  I thought finally I was going to get a break but no, he found another nut the right size and we had to finish the job.  It will be a miracle if I can move tomorrow!  At least we have most of the wood we will need for this fall and winter.

During a brief break I took a whole series of photos of this hairy woodpecker on the suet.  I was quite pleased with how they turned out.

Hairy woodpecker

Hairy woodpecker

The beagles had done no hard labor so wanted another hike before dinner.  I suggested we just walk up Stevens Spring to the two-track that leads to Sportsmen Dam Lake.  It’s a fairly easy walk, one we’ve done hundreds of times by now, but it’s pretty and the dogs don’t know the difference.  There were two deer in one of the gas fields along the trail.  This area of the trail stays very shaded and was still snow-covered.

Still some snow on the trails.

Still some snow on the trails.

As the trail nears the lake there is a fork and if you go left it takes you into a huge rye field and there is a place people camp and a boat launch of sorts.  If you go right it takes you to the dam.  We went left to the rye filed and just before we came out of the trees I could see two large white birds.  I gave Mark Milo’s leash and crept forward, camera at the ready.  At first I thought they were cranes but as I got closer I realized they were swans.  Tundra swans, to be exact!  Mark and the dogs followed and the swans didn’t seem to be concerned about our presence.  There were four of them, two on the shore and two in the water.

Tundra swans on land.

Tundra swans on land.

Tundra swans in the water.

Tundra swans in the water.

These are not the best photos but the conditions were not optimal for photography.  The sun was pretty much behind the birds so it’s pretty amazing I got any usable photos at all.

We walked down to the lake and immediately saw ducks so I started taking pictures.  There were at least six hooded mergansers!  I can’t tell you how excited I have been, seeing all these new-to-me water birds!

Hooded merganser

Hooded merganser

On the way back home we saw a grouse, so it was a very good hike!

By now it was well past dinnertime and I could have “eaten the hind leg off a horse” as my dad used to say.  Since I had labored so hard, I let Mark fix dinner while I uploaded pictures to my computer.  We did not eat dinner outside.  We settled for the kitchen table where we could watch the birds and the gray and black squirrels.

It was nearly 8 o’clock when Mark suggested we take a quick drive to look for elk.  He wanted to drive back to this one area where we saw elk last year – even though we rarely see them in the same place twice.  We saw ten deer and then a fat porcupine waddling away from the road.  You don’t necessarily think of porcupines as fast creatures but let me tell you, they are like a Hollywood star who doesn’t want her picture in the tabloids the way they rush away from a camera!  Right after we saw the porcupine we rounded a bend in the trail and there went a huge herd of deer flying across right in front of us, so fast I could not count.  After that I pretty much gave up trying to keep track of the number because every time we went around a curve there were more deer running hither and yon.  We did not spot any elk, or anything else for that matter, in the field Mark was aiming for, but later we did pull into a gas field and there were three of them.  One wandered off right away, but two bulls stayed put, watching us closely.  Mark turned off the engine and we just sat there for several minutes.  Then we carefully got out of the car and crept forward.  I tried taking pictures but they turned out awful no matter what settings I tried.  The light was just too low, being nearly dark.  I am posting this one, even though it’s somewhat grainy, just because of the look on the elk’s face and how well you can see his beard.  Seriously, it’s incredible it turned out this well, but I admit to being disappointed at the graininess.  It looked a lot better on the camera screen.

Bull elk giving me the stare-down.

Bull elk giving me the stare-down.

It is now after 10 p.m. and I have had enough for one day.  Mark just went to put Milo out one last time and caught an opossum cleaning up under the bird feeders.  One last wild critter before going to bed.

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8 Responses to No Rest for the Wicked…

  1. Wow! You’re turning into quite the birder, and bird photographer! Congrats on the tundra swans and hooded mergansers!

    I remember the Lake 15 campground, we never stayed there, but we went fishing in the lake several times. It’s a shame that it’s closed, and that they are building around the lake.

    Like

  2. I’ve always loved birding but my poor eyesight has made it a challenge. In January I got new – very expensive – glasses. I caught so many things when we were hiking and driving, even Mark was surprised. He would say “good eye” and I said it must be these new glasses. LOL (I finally broke down and got bi-focals, surprisingly I adjusted easily to them.) We hated to leave because the birding was so good, with spring migration. It’s always exciting to see some new species!

    I’ve always felt sad about the Lake 15 campground closing. I remember our first camping trip with my own kids, we went there only to find out it was closed. That’s how we discovered Jackson Lake north of town. The campground has huge trees in it which are now marked with red x’s, so I assume the state plans to log it off. Are you hitting Montmorency County on your vacation? Be prepared that they have clear-cut just about everywhere.

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  3. tootlepedal says:

    You seem to have had a really worthwhile expedition.

    Like

  4. Bob Zeller says:

    Wonderful post, Amy. Being a birder/photographer myself I am really enjoying reading your posts. It is great that Mark as the same interest, and I agree I think you are doing really great on your photography now.

    Like

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