. . . With A Little help From Our Friends,

Yesterday, at a park near our home on a rather nondescript winter day, we ushered out 2020 with a little help from our friends. These friends have been reliable companions through a difficult year, but on the year’s last day, or perhaps because it was the year’s last day, their importance hit home more forcefully. There is no need to reflect on the love that develops between a person and their pet as most of us have known that. However, to experience a similar connection with creatures that make a living in the environment of trees, brush, fields, and waterways that surround us, owing us nothing, is truly special. Some days, as we walk, their numbers may be less, and the cast of characters may vary, but with their often cheerful dispositions and curious antics they are always there. For just a moment in time we celebrate the shared experience of life.

Downy Woodpeckers are common winter residents in central Ohio,

There are always Mallards but in December we’ve also been fortunate to see Hooded Mergansers on a regular basis along the Scioto River.

The White-throated Sparrow is a favorite winter friend,

A few days ago we spotted Sandhill Cranes heading south. On that day there were numerous sightings around the city.

Song Sparrow.

In the past week we’ve enjoyed numerous Hermit Thrush sightings along the Scioto River.

It was a good December for Brown Creeper sightings.

We can always count on hearing, then seeing, Carolina Wrens.

Numerous pairs of Eastern Bluebirds occupy Griggs Reservoir Park in the winter. There almost electric blue never fails to put a smile on our face.

As long as there’s open water the Great Blue Herons will be busy.

On quiet cloudy mornings Bald Eagles can be seen along Griggs Reservoir.

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Wishing everyone all the best for the coming year. One where time spent with friends and family again becomes the norm.

Woods along Griggs Reservoir.

 

 

The Same Challenge

When photographing birds it’s always fun to catch them in a cute pose but it’s especially gratifying when they’re captured engaged in an activity that tells you something about how they “make a living”. The day to day task of survival.

Along the Scioto River Hooded Mergansers seemingly parade past a Great Blue Heron.

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A day or so after the “parade” we noticed the mergansers repeatedly diving in search of food. It wasn’t long before we saw what they were after. Clearer than normal water was undoubtedly contributed to the their success.

Female and male Hooded Mergansers, (Donna).

The female finds a fish. Hooded Mergansers eat small fish, aquatic insects, crustaceans (especially crayfish), amphibians, vegetation, and mollusks—their diet is broader than in other mergansers, which eat fish almost exclusively. (Donna).

The male also finds a fish.

The female takes notice but the male is in no mood to share.

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Other items were also on the menu.

The male finds a crayfish.

The wrestling match begins.

“This things got pinchers”.

Almost down the hatch.

Not bad!

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It helps if you enjoy just being in nature, appreciating what ever it has to offer, because on any particular day not much may be seen that would be considered out of the ordinary. In that context, when something special does occur we find ourselves enchanted, witnessing in real time something most folks rarely get to see. Humans undoubtedly reflect on it more, but on this ever smaller planet, whether one is a bird or a human, we are part of the same community and embrace a similar daily challenge. However, humans are unique because, unlike other living things, the pursuit of our immediate needs, comforts, and desires has the potential to threaten our the long term survival as well as that of the “merganser”.

Along the Scioto River. 

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Thanks for stopping by.

Best Wishes For The Holidays and The New Year

If there was every a year when it was a blessing to be a lover of nature, 2020 was it. We trust that everyone has made it through the year safely and thought it good to stop for a moment and give thanks for all that life has given us during this challenging year.

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 We wish everyone the happiest of holidays and a 2021 where the promise of the new year is fully realized.

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A Unlikely Door

Opening the door this time of year and venturing out into nature isn’t something most of us feel compelled to do. The landscape certainly doesn’t perk one’s curiosity. The wildlife that may be seen, which includes birds for the most part, have often migrated further south.

Along the Scioto River the landscape begs for a blanket of snow.

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However, with it’s lack of leaf cover, the landscape offers one good reason to pass through the door and see what’s still in the neighborhood or what may have moved in from further north. With their endearing behavior and colors that are often a cheerful contrast to their surroundings, birds are a welcome part of the December woods.

A resident all year long in Griggs Reservoir Park, the Carolina Wren’s song and chatter are especially welcome this time of year, (Donna).

Typically the only heron to hang around through the winter, the Great Blue is always a welcome sight along the Scioto River, (Donna).

A winter visitor from the north, the Dark-eyed Junco usually moves in small flocks and typically stays close to the ground. A fun bird to watch, (Donna).

A year round resident that’s always up to something, this Red-bellied Woodpecker has apparently found something to it’s liking, (Donna).

Another visitor from the north, this Tree Sparrow is an easy one to miss, (Donna).

The White-breasted Nuthatch arguably adds more cheer to the winter woods than any other bird, (Donna).

The immediately recognizable White-crowned Sparrow is another visitor from the north, (Donna).

Seen more often than the White-crowned, the the White-throated Sparrow is another sparrow we look for this time of the year, (Donna).

Assuming a graceful pose, a Ring-billed Gull preens on Griggs Reservoir.

Griggs Reservoir Park squirrels beware, this Red-tailed hawk is on the hunt.

In recent years, with the increase in the Catbird population, Mocking Birds have become a rare sight in central Ohio. Seeing this one was a real treat.

Carolina Chickees in Griggs Reservoir Park are always a delight.

Sometimes solitary and sometimes in a group of titmouse and chickadees the Downy Woodpecker is hard to ignore.

American Cardinals are abundant in Griggs Reservoir Park near our home.

As if out of nowhere a Brown Creeper suddenly appears. These birds may be present in the summer months but leaf cover makes them much harder to find.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are not seen as often a some of the other central Ohio woodpeckers. This view would have been obscured by leaves in the summer.

Year-round residents in Griggs Reservoir Park, Eastern Bluebirds also bring joy to the December landscape.

With a beautiful song, Song Sparrows are a year-round resident but are pretty quiet this time of year.

The Red-breasted Nuthatch is another migrant from the north. I had to content myself with a feeder picture of this one at a Greenlawn Cemetery.

Ice covered waterways further north have brought waterfowl south. In a local flooded quarry these Buffleheads were no exception.

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In recent days some really special birds have graced us with their presence.

Not far from our home an American Kestrel makes it’s it’s home in a nondescript area of tall grass, brush, and trees adjacent to a quarry.

Just close enough for a decent picture

Perhaps the most noteworthy was a immature Snowy Owl that had travelled from the north country to hang out in central Ohio. They typically eat voles, lemmings, and other small rodents as well as birds so a shortage of such goodies further north is undoubtedly the reason for the visit. Seeing one this close to Columbus is rare.

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Time spent in nature seldom disappoints. The observant eye will always find something that inspires and rewards. One only needs to open the door.

Graced with a light blanket of snow.

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Thanks for stopping by.

First Snow

It was a cloudy windy morning with temperatures near the freezing point. While not a day that beckoned, the enticement to get outdoors was season’s first snow. In this time we’ve learned to celebrate each day, “welcome mat” or not. Wishing that there had been a little more snow we contented ourselves with only a light dusting. It was enough to outline the sometimes graceful arc of a nearby branch or a pine tree’s seasonal shape. The path along the reservoir’s shore was quiet. With few people around there was no real need to worry about a Covid mask or social distancing. Walking, the north wind was strong enough to remain us that a scarf, as well as mittens rather than gloves, would have been a good idea, but we were thankful for the promise of the day. 

Griggs Reservoir.

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Not far from shore a pair of Hooded Mergansers were seen. The first spotted on the reservoir this season.

Hooded Mergansers are not a common sight on the reservoir.

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With the snow, hidden beauty.

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A few moments later a Bald Eagle passed high over head, flying out of sight so quickly that it was just captured by the camera.

Bald Eagle over Griggs Reservoir.

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Through the trees.

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On a day that held low expectations, with the sighting of the mergansers, the eagle, and a Carolina Wren that was almost close enough to touch but evaded the camera lens, we were awake to the moment. Having barely gotten out of the car, the question of what would be seen next was answered by downy woodpeckers, chickadees, and robins but only one other bird chose to pose .   .   . 

In a landscape of black and while, color. Eastern Bluebird.

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A hint of things to come.

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The coming of the first snow opens a door into a world of new perceptions, awaking the awareness of time passing and change, and leaving us with thoughts of things lost and things to be.

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Thanks for stopping by.

Autumn Quiet

While walking a few days ago we witnessed a unique display of natures beauty. Unlike many times in November when wind tears at trees and sends autumn color spiraling high overhead and then down to a final resting place, on this particular day the almost bare branches stood completely motionless, in the absence of even the lightest zephyr, while the late afternoon sun seem to transform their remaining leaves into glass sculptors of translucent amber and gold. An experience easily missed had we been absorbed in thoughts of the world or our country’s woes, past, present, or future.

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In spring and summer we enjoy the warm embrace of life in the form of trees, flowers, insects, birds, and other living things. Now we must quietly look much closer. Sometimes in doing so we may be rewarded with with a fleeting glimpse of a wren.

A Winter Wren moves mouse-like among the low laying exposed roots and branches at rivers edge.

A Carolina Wren adds it’s cheerful, bigger than life, voice to the autumn air.

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River reflection.

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Often when surveying the dull landscape of late fall, it’s hard to believe anything else will appear that will be as charming as the wrens, but surprisingly:

Fortified by poison ivy berries and similar delicacies Yellow-rumped Warblers often hang around well into the fall.

A Downy Woodpecker uses it’s tongue, (Donna).

A tiny group of mushrooms add their color.

Eastern Bluebirds also seem to enjoy Poison Ivy berries.

A lonely sentinel defies the season, (Donna).

A Ruby-crowned Kinglet refuses to display it’s crown.

A Golden-crowned Kinglet is a little more cooperative, (Donna).

While hiking at Battelle Darby Creek MP in early November, after already having a period of cold weather, we were surprised by the emergence of  Eastern Comma butterflies. There were so many that we lost count.

A Song Sparrow poses, (Donna).

Late autumn color collage, (Donna).

With most leaves down, the Brown Creepers are much easier to spot.

A male House Finch enjoys an invasive honeysuckle berry. Probably the main way this plant has spread, (Donna).

Winter can’t be far away when Dark Eyed Juncos are seen foraging for fallen seeds below your feeders.

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The late morning November sun plays in the branches of an old oak.

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Looking ahead to days wrapped in winter’s brittle chill I’m remined that no matter whether one spends time with a friend or among the trees there are always opportunities for discovery if one doesn’t live by rote and is truly present in the moment.

A Gray Squirrel huddles against a cool breeze.

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Thanks for stopping by.

 

 

 

Wonder Of Change

Along the path

a spot where water collects

is now a puddle of autumn’s amber leaves.

A few months ago,

as cliff swallows collected material for their nests,

it was place for spring rain, mud, and new life.

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Yesterday, as we walked, it was quiet,

nothing competing with the small voice of a chickadee in a nearby tree,

while along the path,

the leaves, in gentle release, drifted down like soft snow

and the sun struggled to warm us,

as it danced between the clouds.

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Today, into the wind, I lowered my head and grabbed the brim of my hat,

as leaves in wild flight,

having lost the battle,

were torn from almost bare branches.

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Tomorrow,

the journey continues

and with it

the wonder of change.

rsp

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Autumn On Griggs Reservoir

By mid to late October in central Ohio, should we be blessed with a nice day, we wonder if it might be the season’s last opportunity for an enjoyable paddle.

It’s true that on days with little wind, if colder temperatures can be tolerated, one can usually paddle through December on Griggs Reservoir. But once the trees and leaves part company, the landscape takes on a stark appearance, and the experience becomes less intimate. One feels more exposed with only bare branches to separate the paddler from shoreline homes and the now much louder traffic noise from the adjacent highway.

Of the larger birds that can still be enjoyed; gulls, Great Blue Herons, and Belted Kingfishers will remain throughout the winter in areas where there is open water. There is also some compensation in the fact that, along with the Red-tailed and Coopers Hawk, the bare branches make spotting the resident pair of Bald Eagles much easier. Concerning living things other than birds, on a December paddle a few years ago we did see a few turtles enjoying the sun. However, that was a rare exception as, for the most part, by mid-November wildlife becomes scarce. Great Egrets, cormorants, vultures, and osprey have all headed south. Of the smaller birds, with the exception of a few yellow-rumped warblers that may hang around all winter, the others warblers have long since passed through. 

Motivated by these thoughts a few days ago, we put the boat in the water on what could turn out to be the last really nice day.

Looking for birds and other critters.

Those of you that have followed this blog for a while may have heard us reflect that one never knows what will be discovered when paddling our local reservoirs. We often go some distance without seeing anything other than a few of the usual suspects,

High overhead this Great Blue Heron watched as we paddle by.

.   .   .  then just when we’re about to assign the outing “well, it was a nice paddle  .   .   .” status, we stumble upon something that charms and amazes us. Such was the case when we happened upon three killdeer at water’s edge engaged in what seemed to be some sort of dance. They postured, positioned, and pursued each other for as long as we chose to watch. Mating behavior in autumn? We were left to wonder.

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Griggs Reservoir is a long narrow body of water bordered by homes on one side and a highway and city park on the other.

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Paddling into a breeze that reminded us how long it had been since we were in the canoe, we left the killdeer behind and headed back to our launch site still excited about what we’d witnessed and telling ourselves that, even if we saw nothing else, it had been a great day.

A small Map Turtle cooperates for a picture which is not usually the case for these very wary turtles, (Donna).

A female Wood Duck’s portrait gets photo bombed by a mallard, (Donna).

These mallard Ducks are apparently not “locals” as they took flight as we got close. The year round residents would not have flown, (Donna).

We actually got close enough for an acceptable picture of this male Belted Kingfisher. Anyone who has ever tried to photograph these birds realizes it’s not an easy task, (Donna).

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While not possessing the beautiful autumn color of a Vermont maple this sycamore does it’s best.

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As we “headed for the barn”, our day just about complete, we noticed commotion in a dead tree at waters edge. Moving closer, a number of Eastern Bluebirds were observed very actively checking out what had been a tree swallow nesting cavity earlier in the year. Surely they weren’t getting ready to make little bluebirds this late in the year. (It turns out the bluebirds may nest more than once a year.) We were almost as entranced as we had been by the killdeer and moved on only when our curiosity had been satisfied and maintaining the boat position, in the increasing windy conditions, started to seem like work. 

Male and female Eastern Bluebirds check out a nesting cavity, (Donna).

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A few hundred yards later, we pulled the canoe out of the water and stowed the gear in the car. It had been a good day. Would it be the year’s last nice one for a paddle?

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Thanks for stopping by.

Embracing Autumn

On a recent hike on a rather cold but clear autumn morning a friend exclaimed how good it was to be outdoors on such a beautiful day, and that at this point in her life she is really trying to embrace autumn. She related that she was hoping to shed the, all too easy to acquire, mindset that autumn is just that beautiful but fleeting season between summer and winter. She was going to look closer, be in the moment, and appreciate. An admirable goal any time of the year, but particularly in the ever shorter days of early October when it all seems to go by quickly.

The morning sun accentuates the color across the reservoir, Griggs Reservoir Park (GRP).

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She talked about sketching, and how looking at a flower or other object in the effort to draw it really enhanced her seeing and appreciating. I couldn’t help but think of it as a meditation. Certainly photographs and words can also lead to a more intimate relationship with nature as we compose a picture or reflect on things not capable of being being expressed in a picture.

Autumn reflection, Wahkeeva NP.

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Fall warblers are sneaky. With the exception of the Yellow-rumped Warbler that stick around to enjoy poison ivy berries, warblers move through central Ohio on their way south quickly and quietly without the spring’s distinctive calls. Along with other birds that don’t have to depend on insects for food, cardinals, eastern bluebirds, and woodpeckers, some of which may be from further north, hang around all winter. Interestingly a fair number of Great Egrets, which don’t typically winter in Ohio, are still in the area. Some Great Blue Herons manage to make a living here throughout the winter but their smaller cousin the Green Heron has already left. 

A Black-throated Green Warbler passes through (GRP) on it’s way south, (Donna).

Magnolia Warbler (GRP), (Donna).

Eastern Phoebe (GRP).

For obvious reasons this Eastern Phoebe won’t be in the area much longer (GRP), (Donna).

Here some tapping? Look up, it’s probably a Downy Woodpecker, (GRP).

Cheerful Carolina Chickadees keep us company year round (GRP).

Great Egrets, O’Shaughnessy NP

Eastern Bluebirds seem more common in the autumn, (GRP).

A recent arrival from the north, revving up it’s motor, this Ruby-crowned Kinglet left the branch bare a fraction of a second later, O’Shaughnessy NP.

Some days if it wasn’t for the cardinals things would be pretty dull (GRP) (Donna).

A Coopers Hawk waits patently for a meal. It’s a year round resident (GRP).

The White-throated Sparrow is a migrant from the north. Some will spend the winter in central Ohio, Wahkeeva NP.

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Autumn along the reservoir (GRP).

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The flurry of insect activity has slowed down considerably over what it was just two weeks ago. Butterflies, and especially bees, had been incredibly active during the last warm days before the occurrence of a few cold nights where the temperature hung just above freezing.

Bald-faced Hornets nest (GRP), (Donna).

Traffic jam at the entrance to the nest, (Donna)

Eastern Commas are fairly common in the fall, Stages Pond State NP.

Green bee on aster (GRP.

The Common Checkered Skipper is usually seen in late summer and fall (GRP).

A busy bee (GRP).

Monarch on aster, Stages Pond State NP.

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Autumn color (GRP).

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Chipmunks were also in on the activity.

Chipmunk (GRP), (Donna).

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I finish writing this with memories of the smell and color of the autumn woods graced by the light of the seasons low laying sun and transformed into a branched “stained glass” cathedral of yellow and gold. Outside under gray 50 F skies a light rain is falling, perhaps nature’s way of saying in a quiet voice, “Pause, give thanks, for those warm, sunny, autumn days, and for all things with which you have been blessed”.

Cathedral in the woods, Boch Hollow State NP

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Thanks for stopping by.

***

Late Summer Along The Rifle River

In northern Michigan, early September weather has a edge to it. Nights can be cold, and even when it’s sunny, mornings are slow to warm. Just a few weeks earlier, the midday sun meant a warm embrace. Now lower, it warms only one side of our face, pierces the landscape, and evokes a feeling of uneasiness and foreboding of things to come.

Early morning on Devoe Lake, Rifle River Recreation Area.

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We were spending a few days at Michigan’s Rifle River Recreation Area to explore nature and do a little fishing. What birds would we see? How about wildflowers? What other wildlife would be spotted on this later in the year visit? Would any fish be caught?

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Amazingly there were a good variety of late summer wildflowers to enjoy. The most striking may have been the Burr Marigold that lined a creek explored by canoe. On this year’s trip we found a wonderful natural area adjoining Au Sable Lake, a short drive outside the park boundary. The launch site is surrounded by cottages and hardly an encouragement to the explorer, but it wasn’t long before we were exploring a creek flowing from Au Sable to Little Au Sable Lake and beyond. An area with no development and unique natural beauty.

Blue Vervain, not only lovely to look at but a herb that can be used to treat depression and promote sleep, (Donna).

Burr Marigolds along the shoreline of Little Au Sable Lake.

The closed flower of the Bottle Gentian make entrance to feed on pollen or nectar difficult for many species of insects. Those strong enough to enter through the top of the flower include some digger and bumblebee species. The eastern carpenter bee chews a narrow slit at the base of the flower and “steals” nectar without pollinating the plant, a behavior known as nectar robbing. The holes in the petals created by this carpenter bees allow smaller insects to also access the nectar and pollen, including the honeybee, the green sweat bee and the eastern masked bee. Ref. Wikipedia, (Donna)

The fascinating turtlehead is a plant used in natural medicine. Traditional practices create a tonic that is claimed to be beneficial for indigestion, constipation, and stimulating the appetite. It is also an anthelmintic (de-wormer) and a salve from the leaves may relieve itching and inflammation. Ref. USFS, (Donna)

The berries of Jack in the Pulpit.

In the woods, asters add a splash of color.

Exploring a wildflower lined creek that flows into Little Au Sable Lake.

A late in the season water lily showing some signs of wear, (Donna).

The seeds of the Yellow Pond Lily were frequently collected by native Americans as a nutritious raw food source. They were also used in the making of bread by grinding the seeds to create a flour, (Donna).

Brook Lobelia, (Donna).

Near the end of it’s blooming season, the beautiful flower of the Grass of Parnassus, (Donna).

Swamp Loosestrife was found along lakes and wetlands in the park, (Donna).

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Our campsite was in the woods, surrounded by maple, poplar, and birch. In their embrace the light of the late summer morning came slowly, and unlike the openness of the lakeshore nearby, evening seemed to greet us before it should.  Only occasionally would the sun find it’s way through a small isolated opening and warm my face. But as I sat there in the shade of early evening after a good day, sunlight and a soft wind played in the leaves high overhead, and in a quiet voice reached out as if to say, stay a little longer, be here with us, don’t leave.

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It’s just you, the canoe, the paddle, a pole, and the fish. A beautiful aesthetic for those so inclined.

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It was a great time to see fungi, albeit sometimes impossible to positively identify. Recent wet weather was undoubtedly the reason for the profusion. Fortunately, given the cooler than normal temperatures, the rain was very light and sporadic during the day which actually made for good hiking weather.

Along the trail colorful but tiny unidentified mushrooms emerge, (Donna).

Three, what we believe to be, Parasol mushrooms.

Yellow Patches Mushroom.

Different stages of development.

Another tiny mushroom, perhaps Orange Mycena, pokes through the leaf liter.

A bolete with a few friends.

Recently emerged Emetic Russula.

A striking display of Sharp-scaly Pholiota.

Another bolete.

Perhaps a type of chanterelle, (Donna).

Jellied False Coral, (Donna).

Toxic False Morel, (Donna).

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Lodge Lake, Rifle River Rec Area.

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The first few days of our stay, warm sunny afternoons really brought out the insects.

Autumn Meadowhawks were common along the park roads, (Donna).

A Slender Spreadwing perches along the Rifle River, (Donna).

Milbert’s Tortoishell, a first ever sighting for us, (Donna).

American Copper, (Donna).

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We were concerned that by early September the loons normally inhabiting the park’s lakes earlier in the year would have already headed south. With the exception of the one juvenile seen on Little Au Sable Lake, that proved to be the case. We did see kingfishers, bald eagles, and a few warblers, but the eastern kingbirds, so common around the lake in midsummer, were gone. Fishing on Devoe Lake one cloudy damp afternoon it was a real treat to see a merlin, perhaps a migrant from further north, as it flew from tree to tree noisily protested a group of harassing blue jays. A snapshot in time passing.

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In the late afternoon near weeks end I found myself paddling into a stiff breeze on a wind swept lake having recently left the shelter of a lee shore at it’s far end. A contest between muscle and wind where there there could be no truce, no middle ground. I was glad only a few waves broke near the canoe as spray blew over the windward gunnel. It was such a contrast with the glass smooth surface that had greeted us in the early hours of that day. The cool quiet of the September morning and the wind and spray of the late afternoon, as the sun hovered above the horizon, was once again a summons, a reminder, to embrace the present and live life fully.

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Creek flowing into Little Au Sable Lake, (Donna).

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Thanks for stopping by.

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