Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Seney Wildlife Refuge and Lake Bailey: Spring at Last in the UP! by Sunwiggy

My guest blogger, Sunwiggy, returns with some tales of her birding adventures Up North, including a trip to the Seney Wildlife Refuge in Michigan's Upper Peninsula...wish I could have gone with her!

On May the 30th, my husband finally made good on his promise, and took me on a day trip to the Seney National Wildlife Refuge to bird. I knew it was going to be a good birding day when, as we approached the Refuge, an American Bittern shot straight up out of a roadside creek, giving us a splendid view of the bird, before disappearing back into the vegetation. (I have no idea why it would do that!) The Visitors' Center is snugged into the curve of what they call a "pool" (really lakes), and I was so distracted by the calls of common yellowthroats, which I had yet to see this year, that it took me half an hour to get inside. The pool was full of ringnecked ducks and trumpeter swans and common loons and Canada geese. The sight of a huge trumpeter swan sitting on her nest, out on one of the little islands, distracted me from the common yellowthroats, who are the very devil to spot. Then one of the loons made that haunting cry, a bird's version of a wolf's howl, and it made my heart hurt! It'd been several years since we'd heard that call; to me it is one of the most beautiful of all the bird calls.

I have to say that the volunteers who staff the Visitors' Center are some of the nicest, most helpful, and enthusiastic people I've ever met in one of these places. One lady led us out onto the deck to admire the huge ospreys' nest across the pool, complete with the head of an osprey, looking back as we looked at her! I went back inside to browse the bookstore, while my husband stayed outside, and he witnessed the mating ritual of a pair of trumpeter swans, complete with neck bobs, synchronized running over the water and flying, all accompanied by their trumpet blasts of love. Since I didn't witness this, I decided to sulk, but later. There was so much to see!

Behind the Center is a 1 1/2 mile trail through a lovely wetland, with some upland forest thrown in for variety. There are boardwalks and bridges to help you get over the muckiest parts, and the plants grow up very close, so you really feel a part of the environment. The commonest birds in the wetland were redwinged blackbirds, yellow warblers, common yellowthroats, and Canada geese. After our walk, we took the 7-mile drive that winds through more pools, accessible by car or bike, with lots of places to pull over and look around. The bushes were full of birds, such as purple finches and chickadees and yellowrumped warblers. At one stop, I saw a handsome wooden sign that read, "Eagles in Residence," with an arrow pointing at a huge pine tree across the pool In it was a nest so huge, my brain had trouble recognizing it as a nest for a minute! In this nest, we saw an eagle. Farther down the road, we saw another eagle, perhaps the proud papa? As it was growing late, and the weather was growing worse (it'd been spitting a little rain on and off all afternoon), we decided to head for home. I'm definitely going back soon. We never did find the meadows they manage for the bobolinks! And, I want to see cygnets.

My reaction to Seney and Schoolcraft County, where it's located, was: "This is a wonderful place! Let's move here!" It feels so lovely and far away and remote, surrounded as it is by state and national forests. The towns are tiny and far apart. Once upon a time, the town of Seney was the Sin City of the North, one of those Hell in the Pines places, but now it's a don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it town. It's very hard to picture it logged over, burnt down, drained and plowed up for farms that failed. I'm glad they decided to turn it all back into a wetland!

This has been a very chilly and laggard Spring. Today, June the 12th, has been one of the warmest, almost 70 degrees outside! To celebrate, my husband, and son, James, and I decided to try canoeing on Lake Bailey. It's a very shallow lake, and if you wait until August, you may be trying to canoe on mud. It's a pretty lake, with a tantalizing island, tantalizing because the water becomes so shallow around it that even a canoe can't quite reach it. Wading would not be a good idea. They could have named it Leech Lake. We even found a bloodsucker attached to the bottom of the canoe! Although we only saw crows and turkey vultures (but I could certainly hear plenty of birds), we did see lots of "bugs", butterflies, dragonflies, and pretty blue damselflies. One damselfly landed on my shoe, and rested there for a while in the canoe with us. There were also fish and turtles to admire, but the turtles were way too shy to be photographed. It was a gorgeous day. All of the flowering trees and shrubs are in full and fragrant bloom, to the delight of the cedar waxwings, who eat the flowers. Everything smells so good! The old timers planted lots of lilacs and apple trees, still going, although the people are long gone. American redstarts and yellow warblers are two "common" birds breeding around me, as well as those distracting veerys. In summer, I just love it up here! Spring and Fall are okay, too. Winter, well...maybe a birding jaunt to Florida would be just the thing! ~Sunwiggy

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