Friday, June 21, 2013

Solstice

It's the first day of summer — but looking outside, here in Marquette, you sure wouldn't realize it. It's been a cloudy, rainy, foggy sort of day, and will be for the rest of the week. With the unusually cool weather, blossoms have held onto the trees longer: the lilacs are still flowering, and they looked (and smelled!) quite beautiful this afternoon.

Lilacs IILilacs I

After taking a short walk along the beach at McCarty's Cove, Steph and I spotted a dead bird on the wet sidewalk. At first glance we thought it was a young starling, but upon closer inspection, we realized it was a grackle fledgling.

Fledgling I 
The survival rate for young birds is low. Hatchlings are fragile beings: passerines emerge from their eggs blind, naked, and helpless. At that stage, when they're still bound to the nest, baby birds are a favorite food of crows and blue jays, as well as squirrels. Fledglings, having made it that far, are at an awkward stage of development: flight feathers have not yet fully erupted, and coordination is still limited. They, too, are easy prey. 

It's hard to say what happened to this young grackle. After photographing it, I moved the body off the sidewalk and left it in the shelter of the blooming, fragrant lilacs.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Drummond Island

Over the weekend, the Michigan Entomological Society held its annual meeting on Drummond Island. Situated about a mile from the easternmost tip of the Upper Peninsula, Drummond Island is one of the largest islands on Lake Huron, and is very close to Canadian territory. The geology of the land is unique in that it is made of limestone, with the bedrock exposed in many places. The Maxton Plains, which cover much of the northern half of the island, is an alvar grassland and is host to an incredible variety of plant species — some of which are only found in this distinct habitat.

As is the case with any open grassland, there is very little shade to be had. The sun beats down upon the stunted plants and dry soil; materials, no matter how sturdy, become weathered at an advanced rate. I happened upon several deer bones while exploring the Maxton Plains — they were bleached and brittle from spending years in the sun.


Old Bones

Though we were a few miles from the lakeshore, fish bones were also found on the plains. How they got there is anyone's guess. 


On the final night of our stay, we took a walk down to the beach. The sun was setting and the lake was restless — a warm wind was moving through the bay. Strewn on the sand, amongst crayfish carapaces and aquatic snails, were the remains of two different bullheads. Both had been thoroughly pecked at by the gulls.

Bullhead (I)


As the sky grew darker, the gray treefrogs began their evening chorus, singing from the towering cedars. Dragonflies hawked the newly-emerging mayflies, and a turkey vulture made one final circle over the beach, its silhouette passing the glowing half-moon.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Buttons

It's now the month of June, and that means deer: the birth of fawns — the sprouting of velvet antlers — the shedding of winter fur. It's a scary, exciting time to be a deer, especially for last year's fawns, who are just starting to get a foothold in this big, strange world. After a long, frigid winter — which is a trying time, most notably for yearlings — the first breath of spring seems to spell freedom. Food is abundant, the wind is no longer cruel and icy, and bedding down on warm grasses is so much more comfortable than curling up on a cold patch of snow.

Some yearlings are cautious or, at the very least, lucky. They might have a near-miss with a car or a coyote — but they survive, and they learn from their mistakes, and they grow stronger. Other yearlings are not so fortunate, straying too close to traffic, and many meet their end on the road.

Yesterday's button buck was one of the unlucky yearlings.

Roadside

He was hit along US 41 just outside of Marquette, near the Carp River bridge; the collision happened around five o'clock in the afternoon. On her way home from work, Steph saw the aftermath of the accident: the parked car, the deer's body. Two hours later, the carcass was still there, being experimentally pecked at by a crow or two; by nine o'clock, the setting sun had slipped behind the ancient ridges of worn mountains, and the deer remained. The crows had left, and the air temperature, hovering at 40°F, had kept insect scavengers at bay.

Deathmask

Occasionally I find that there's a strange sense of serenity that creeps in at unexpected, perhaps even inappropriate times. Last night was one of those moments. As I circled the deer with my camera, road noise disappeared — the chill in the air melted away — and all became quite silent and still. The world faded around me — and it was just myself and this young deer, with his dead eyes, his coy smile, and his patchy, transitioning fur.




There was no sign of a prolonged death. The ground was not stirred up by the kicking of legs, and the only blood to be seen came in a small trickle, seeping from the buck's nostrils. One velvet nub on his head had burst open from being scraped along the pavement; the other was intact.


The sound of traffic slowly materialized around me once more. The cars slowed, then sped up again once they'd passed: another dead deer, another weirdo taking photos of it. Save for the rivulet of blood and the pedicle with roadburn, by all outward appearances, the button buck seemed unharmed. His legs weren't broken and askew at strange angles; his vitals weren't smeared across the asphalt. 


On the way back to my car, I spotted tracks in the grit and sand alongside the highway — deer tracks, leading to where he had fallen. The path was stilted and erratic — visibly panicked. The final moments of this young buck's life were not nearly as peaceful as his gracefully-posed corpse belied. He had been spooked, likely quite confused by the glimmer of Lake Superior and the roar of rush hour traffic that separated him from it.

June is a scary month for young deer. For a list of reminders on how to better avoid a car-deer collision, read last year's Deer Month.

Sociable