Friday, September 19, 2014


Another crazy summer, another three months with no blogging. I just have to accept that no coherent blog can be written by me in the summer. Since my last post I've spent 11 days in Alaska in June, had three shows in July, spent 12 days (and did two shows) in the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan's U.P., and traveled to Bloomington, Indiana and Atlanta, Georgia for shows in late August/September. I honestly don't know how artists who spend their summers on the road do it. I'm exhausted and I get to spend most nights in my own bed.

So I debated about which trip to blog about first--the Alaska birding trip I took with my mom and aunt; our trip last summer to North Dakota and Theodore Roosevelt National Park; or various birding trips of the past eight months. Alaska won out because, well, it's ALASKA.

This trip was a birding tour lead by Bill Sweetman of Bsweet Tours. It had been advertised on Michigan Audubon's Facebook page, and when I saw it in January, my mom and I were in the midst of trying to find a trip to do together this year. The price seemed more than reasonable for a 10-day tour, and included all travel in Alaska, lodging, breakfast and lunch. All we had to do was get to Anchorage and buy our own dinners. My mom paid for the tour itself, as that was beyond my artist's means, even at the relatively low cost. My aunt found out about our plans and joined us. In all there were nine participants plus Bill.

We arrived at Detroit Metro early on May 29th to catch our flight to Seattle. Mom had the window seat but I could catch the views too. I took some shots out the plane window with my iPhone. I had chosen seats that would place us on the north and east sides of the plane so the sun wouldn't be blasting in.

Potholes region of North Dakota. We drove through this area last summer.
It is a huge breeding area for waterfowl.

The sky was clear until we reached the mountains, where cracks in the clouds revealed snow-covered peaks below. I am not certain which peak this is, but it might be Mt. Ranier.

Mt. Ranier? peaking through the clouds.

Our descent to Seattle-Tacoma airport brought us above the city. You can see the Space Needle in the center of this image.

Seattle and the Puget Sound.

We had a layover in Seattle of a couple hours which allowed us to have a leisurely lunch. Several of the other tour participants met us there, including Bill and my aunt Terry. We boarded an Alaska Airlines flight to Anchorage, which took us up along the Northwest Coast. It was a spectacular sight.

Northwest Coast.  Canada? Alaska?

This is from my journal, written as we flew above the coast:

"Soaring along at 35,00 feet, high above the clouds, I look down through the gaps and see snow-capped peaks and the jagged edges of the coast, green islands surrounded by blue. I am struck by the vastness of it, the seeming endlessness of it all. There is so much to do, so much to see, that I would need three lifetimes to do it all. The world is an infinitely beautiful place. I want to experience as much of it as I can in the time I have left. I want to revel in it. I want to see it and feel it and taste it. I want to fall in love with it, over and over again. I've lived half my life. I've spent far too much time feeling afraid, or lonely, or guilty. I'm done with that. I'm done with negative things. I am ready for joy. For love. I am ready to be shattered."

Heady stuff at 35,000 feet!

As we neared Anchorage the clouds thickened and lowered, so that when we finally slipped below them we were flying low above what I believe is the Kenai NWR. The Chugach Mountains rose up in the distance.

Kenai NWR from the air.

By the time we got to the Coast International Hotel, which is right next to the airport, it was around 7 pm, which was 11 pm Eastern time. I was tired but needed to stretch my legs after so many hours sitting. I found a path near the hotel that eventually led to a park (I did not get the name). The first thing I saw was this notice posted on a board at the parking lot. Welcome to Alaska!

Moose warning! Cow separated from calf and she's mad about it!

The park offered good views of the nearby mountains, though I have no idea which ones these are. The unfamiliar surroundings plus the low clouds and flat light meant I didn't know which direction I was headed.

View from the park trail.

Who can resist paper birch!

I did not see an angry moose, thankfully, but did add my first new bird during my walk, a Black-billed Magpie. I would eventually add 66 new birds on this trip.

Back at the hotel, I did my best to sleep. The sun doesn't set in Anchorage in late May until 1 am or so. By the time I settled into bed it was 2 am Eastern time--I'd been up for 20 hours. That was doable when I was 25--not so much at 47!

Totem pole outside the Coast International Hotel.

Next: Flight to Nome, Safety Sound and Council Road.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Artwork--Palm and Chestnut-sided warblers

 So many trips, so little time!! So many birds! So many exciting things going on!

Life around here has been absolutely nuts, and I have not found time to do any blogging. Spring is always busy as we get ready for the show season as well as cleaning up the place after a long winter. This winter was of course longer than most. We had snow on the ground until late April, and there is STILL ice on Lake Superior.

I have managed to get a good number of pieces done this year. I have such a backlog of images to wade through! I want to do some waterfowl--I get a lot of requests for ducks--but I decided to do a few "quickies" instead and picked some warblers (anything that involves water is NOT quick).  As I've broadened my birding experience, I wanted to also broaden the subject matter I do. It's a bit of a risk--my most popular pieces are the ones that depict birds and animals people know well, and warblers aren't really known to anyone but a birder. That said, birding is huge in this country, and getting huger every day, so it's worth the risk.

The Chestnut-sided warbler is one I photographed at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in June of 2012. We were hiking through a marsh when I heard him singing. He was not hard to locate, perched atop a white cedar right out in the open. I couldn't decide to do one of him singing or not, but I liked this pose best.

"Chestnut-sided"  8 x 10, framed to 11 x 14

The Palm warbler is a bird I saw in our front meadow last spring. I spotted him when I was walking the dogs. What caught my eye was his constant tail pumping--I knew right away it was not a common bird for us, just by that motion. I ran the dogs back and got my camera. He was still there, working over the previous year's wild bergamot, gleaning insects and spiders. This was the 84th species to be identified on our property.

"Eighty-four"  10 x 8, framed to 14 x 11

So it is going to be a while before I get to write again. I am headed to Alaska tomorrow with my mom and her sister for a 10-day guided birding trip! We will spend 3 days in Nome, several days down in Kenai NWR and will sail on Resurrection Bay, then a few days in Denali. I can't even imagine how many images I'm going to return from this trip with--I'm going to need a week at the computer just to sort through all the photos I keep taking, going back to our trip to Theo Roosevelt last August. It's kind of embarrassing, but I guess it's a good problem to have!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Rock Harbor to Mt. Franklin, and Saying Farewell to Isle Royale NP

 Isle Royale continuted:

Well, it's happened again. Over a month has gone by with no blog post. I was getting ready for my first show of the season, which happened to be all the way down in Houston, Texas, the last weekend in March. I had a lot to get ready, then four days total on the road, one day for set up, three days for the show, with a couple of days for birding on Galveston Island thrown in. I always think I will have more time than I do, and I just never managed to get to my office and finish this series. And so....

I had worked it out with John that I would be on the first boat back to Rock Harbor Tuesday morning. We loaded a bunch of gear into the skiff and Alan piloted the boat back to civilization. John and I picked out a shelter for our group to use. It was going to be a tight fit, with six of us squeezing in.

Once we were settled I got ready for my hike up Mt. Franklin. I was going to have to hoof it if I was to make it back in time for dinner. It is a nine mile hike up and back, so I figured if I left Rock Harbor by 11 am I would have time for lunch at the summit and then be able to get back down by 6 pm, get changed and ready for dinner at 7 pm. I borrowed a small backpack from John to carry rain gear, lunch and a miscellany of other things, and stepped onto the trail.

Before I had even left Rock Harbor, I ran into Sarah. Remember Sarah? She is the retired nurse I met on the Ranger III who was doing a seven day backpacking trip. Solo. With borrowed equipment. Never having backpacked before. I was quite relieved to see her, actually, and she told me all about her adventures and misadventures. She was sporting a black eye, compliments of one of many falls on the trail. But the parks folks had kept an eye on her, and given her permission to stay several nights at Three Mile campground (the first along the trail west from Rock Harbor and usually a one night only campground), then OK'd her to return to Rock Harbor and stay in a shelter for several nights. I suspect they figured that would be easier on them than having to go rescue her in the backcountry. It was decided that I would share her shelter as she was alone in it, freeing up some space in ours. Once I finally began my hike I was 15 minutes behind schedule.

I don't like hiking in a hurry. I like to take my time and see things and catch my breath. But I didn't have that luxury if I wanted to make it back in time for dinner, so I set a quick pace. My plan was to get to the top with enough time to eat and relax for a little while, then I'd know how fast I had to come back down.

Tobin Harbor Trail towards Mt. Franklin/Three Mile campground.

I really had to resist the urge to stop and look at flowers and butterflies, though there were a few things that forced me to stop, like these Red-breasted mergansers resting on a log.

Red-breasted mergansers, a life bird that I saw several times on this trip.

Calypso orchids lined the trail, along with many other wildflowers. June is the time to go if you're into plants!

Calypso orchids along the Tobin Harbor trail.

Butterflies were everywhere, all different kinds. This tiger swallowtail was feeding on blue-bead lilly flowers.

Tiger swallowtail.

Once the Tobin Harbor trail meets the trail for Mt. Franklin it takes a turn to the north, and crosses Tobin Creek, the marshy area at the west end of Tobin Harbor.

Boardwalk across Tobin Creek.

Up and up the trail climbs, passing a beaver pond where later I saw Wood and Ring-necked ducks.

Beaver pond.

After four and a half miles I finally reached the summit and the famous Greenstone Trail. A left turn took me to a look out over Belle Harbor and to Canada in the distance. I sat down, took off my boots and socks, and ate lunch.

View from Mt. Franklin.

Belle Harbor in the foreground, Canada in the distance.

The rocky summit was covered with wild columbine, and the sound of bees and birdsong filled the air.

Columbine along the Greenstone.

As it turns out, I did not actually reach the official summit of Mt. Franklin. Several hundred feet farther down the trail, past some trees, is the marker for the peak, I later learned. I didn't know this at the time, and I was tired enough when I got there to not care all that much. After 30-45 minutes I put my boots back on, shouldered my pack (which would give me a headache later on--no hip belt), and headed back down towards Rock Harbor. I was able to pace myself going down and spent some time photographing the flora along the way, including this Ram's head orchid.

Ram's head orchid along Mt. Franklin trail.

I had seen these poplars on the way up, but they were not so impressive from that angle. Coming back down they seemed to soar over the trail.

I spotted this old pile of wolf scat along the trail too. I even picked a tooth out of it, a canine from some smallish rodent, but I managed to loose it on the way home.

Wolf scat, with boot for scale.

Back on the Tobin Harbor trail I had the sun to my back, and I took a little more time to enjoy the views of the harbor. The trail also served as a butterfly highway, and I could see their shadows on the path in front of me as they approached from behind. They fluttered along in both directions, narrowly missing me as I walked along.

Tobin Harbor.

I made it back to Rock Harbor with plenty of time to get ready for dinner and stretch out sore muscles. I was exhausted--I don't know if I've ever hiked nine miles in a day, and I was not in particularly good shape. But, it's good to know my limits, and that I can take on such a hike as this and still be able to function.

It was a long night sleeping in the shelter, as I had finally gotten used to sleeping alone in my tent. I was warm enough, but Sarah snored, and I tossed and turned a lot. At dawn I got up and got my gear packed and onto one of the carts to be loaded onto the Ranger III, then made my way to the restaurant for a group breakfast. John and Allen had come up for breakfast and to make sure we all got on the boat.

The Ranger III at Rock Harbor.

It was another glorious day, and a fine one for the trip back to Houghton. I know we got very lucky with the weather, especially for those trips across Superior. It can be a very rough ride in bad weather, and many people experience terrible seasickness. I would suggest keeping Dramamine on hand just in case.

Leaving Rock Harbor aboard the Ranger III

I can't say enough what an amazing experience this was. I worked with some wonderful people, had some amazing experiences, and really fell in love with the place. I am looking forward to going back some day.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Last Night at the Dassler Cabin

Isle Royale continued:

Upon our return from the Peterson's and the Edison Fisheries we had dinner, then I spent the evening sitting on the bench overlooking Tobin harbor. While it was only Monday, and the Ranger III didn't leave for Houghton until Wednesday morning, John had decided to get those of us who were leaving the island over to Rock Harbor on Tuesday. There were six of us leaving, and to get all of us and our gear to Rock Harbor would mean two trips in the skiff. We would have to leave very early Wednesday morning to get everyone there on time. So he chose the less stressful option, to ferry us to Rock Harbor Tuesday so we'd already be there for the boat's departure Wednesday morning. He secured one of the shelters at the Rock Harbor campground for us to sleep in, and we would be ferried to Rock Harbor Tuesday morning.

This meant, of course, that my work on the island was done and I'd have an extra day to explore. It also meant that Monday would be my last night at the Dassler cabin, so I wanted to take some time to sit and enjoy it. My journaling to this point had been mostly about what we'd been doing work-wise. I decided to sit and relax and take the place in for a while. Here's some of what I wrote:

So here it is, the last night at Dassler. Not sure how it happened so quickly. I am sitting on the bench that looks north across the end of Tobin Harbor. The sky is clear but hazier than it was earlier--perhaps a warm up is in the the works. The harbor is smooth and shimmering. 

Tiny, newly hatched spiders are floating everywhere on silken threads. I look up and see a pair of loons swimming slowly towards me. they dawdle in the water below, preening, foot waggling, diving. They come together and swim apart, and occasionally hoot softly to each other. A White-throated sparrow sings "Oh sweet Canada" beyond the cabin, his sharp song blending with the sound of low swells breaking on the point. I don't know that there's ever been an evening as perfect as this. 

Edwards Island (right) and Passage Island (in distance on left) from Dassler. The lighthouse on Passage is just visible to the right of the tiny island in the foreground.

Loons on Tobin Harbor.

--New cones on the spruce are soft and filled with sap. 

--No contrails mar the deep blue sky--it is absolutely, utterly flawless.

--Candy Peterson said some artists have come here and seen the accommodations and left. As if this place were about running water and electric lights.

--A seagull is perched on the Eastern-most rock of Smith Island, a splash of white on the dark rock.

--The loons linger on.

--As the sun slips closer to the horizon my heart aches. 

--If I am attacked by a wolf, please don't hurt the wolf. She is only doing what she needs to survive. We are not more important than them, despite our best efforts to convince ourselves otherwise.

--The gull has flown away.

--I look behind me and there is the half-full moon over the cabin.

Spruce cones.

Moon over Dassler cabin.

--The sun slips lower still and the chill air begins to climb the rocks.

--A breeze picks up and ruffles the surface of Superior.

--My fingernails are dirty--when was the last time I washed my hands?

--Sing me a lullaby, sweet little loons.

--The sun dips finally, fully, behind the trees and the loon--oh the loon!--begins her Northwoods song, as her partner swims past, oh so close. Thank you. A thousand times, thank you.

Next: Solo hike to Mt. Franklin and our departure.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Edison Fisheries and Peterson's Wolf Study, Isle Royale

Isle Royale continued:

After a few days of stormy weather Monday dawned clear and bright. We headed back to the Kemmer cottage to finish what we could of the boat house. It was not an easy job as the building sat on a rocky slope, and maneuvering the ladders and getting them level enough to work from was quite a chore. We ended up running out of paint before we finished.

Bob reaches up to the eaves. I worked on the green trim.

This is as far as we got the boat house. The second crew did some roof work and replaced rotted soffits and finished painting.

After lunch, four of us newbies took an hour boat ride down to the Edison Fisheries and to the Peterson's place, home of the decade's long wolf study. The Petersons have been studying the connection between the moose and wolves on the island, as controlled a study as is possible thanks to the confined nature of the island. I will not go into a lot of detail about their work, but you can visit their website/blog to learn all about it:  They are currently on the island doing their winter study, which is about the only time they can determine how many wolves are on the island, which last I heard was up to ten or eleven.

Map showing relation of Dassler cabin to the fishery and Peterson's.

It was a gorgeous, calm afternoon and we had a pleasant ride. We had to dock at the fishery as there was no room to dock at the Peterson's. We spent a little time exploring the buildings.

Edison Fisheries.

Alan chats with a Park Ranger while Liz and Annika look around.

I had to get a shot of these old motors. I grew up on a lake and I remember
there being one or two in the old boathouse.

There were some curiosities along the way, including this:

Sign on a picket fence that ringed a small area off the trail.

The Peterson's place was not really "their" place. Like all of the structures on the island it belonged to the Parks, and was known officially as the Bangsund Cabin after the family who last lived there. I love the cherry red paint and colorful window boxes.

Bangsund Cabin, headquarters of the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Study

One of the things the Petersons have done is to collect moose bones. They send several teams out every spring to bushwhack the backcountry and bring back any bones they find. The result is an impressive collection, which can be studied to determine age, health and cause of death of these huge animals.

Collection of leg bones, lower jaws to the left.

The sign says, "Yes, They grow new ones every year!"

A few of the more impressive skulls were displayed separately. The tag reads: "Found by EarthWatch volunteers SW of Wood Lake, 2001.Moderate periodontitis. BIG! - metatarsus 404 mm."

This one was out there for a while!

We had the privilege of speaking to Candy Peterson for a while--Rolf was busy working on the roof of one of the buildings. She was gracious and a wealth of information. Of course, we had brought them cookies....

We left after about an hour as we needed to get back in time for dinner. It was a remarkable experience, one I didn't think I would enjoy but ended up finding quite fascinating. During one of our rainy days I had read over the copy of the 2013 Winter Study that someone had purchased and left in the cabin, and that helped pique my interest.  Oddly enough, I would run into Rolf two more times on this trip, once on the trail with Candy and another fellow, and once on the Ranger III returning to Houghton.

Next: my last night at Dassler and a hike up to Mt. Franklin

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Rain and Fog, Isle Royale NP

Isle Royale continued:

After our day off and my very enjoyable hike to Rock Harbor with my new BFF Mary, I slept like a baby. John had caught wind of my chilly nights and gave me a wool blanket--what a difference! I woke at 6 am, and lay in my bag for a while enjoying being warm. I waited too long, though, and it started to rain. Not hard, but in a tent any rain sounds like a downpour. I crawled out of my bag, got dressed and donned my rain gear, and headed to the cabin for breakfast.

The rain never amounted to much, so I spent Saturday working with Mike, Jim and Bob at the Kemmer cottage, painting the boat house.

Mike behind the Kemmer cottage. Mrs. Kemmer, who wintered in Hawaii, kept gardens at her cottage, which are now overgrown.

Jim paints the boat house. 

We got a full day of work in, although by the end of the day a light rain was falling along with the temperature, and I could see my breath. After dinner we had a brief, heavy rain, and we started a fire in the fireplace to knock the chill back. Out of nowhere the wind started to howl. The sun had come out and we were taken aback by the sudden gusts. I grabbed my camera and ran outside. The wind was blowing up Tobin Harbor from the southwest, and menacing clouds plowed across the sky to the north and east.

Storm clouds pass to our north.

It was still clear to our west, so the sun lit the small islands, producing a beautiful juxtaposition with the grey sky and steely water.

As quickly as it had come up, the wind died back down. I sat and watched the weather for some time before fog started to roll in from the west, dimming the sun. Big swells were pushing in from the northeast, indicating weather and wind far out over Superior. It was eerie, since the surface of the water had calmed, but the swells were crashing against the rocks below me.

Fog and low clouds obscure the sun.

Just like that, visibility dropped to less than a half mile. I was struck by how quickly the weather changed, so dynamic near such a large body of cold water.

Scoville Point across the cove from Dassler cabin in the thickening fog.

Fog descends on the Stack cottage on Minong Island.

The bench overlooking Tobin Harbor, the Dassler cabin in the background.

Finally, around 4:30 Sunday morning, the storms caught us. Lightening flashed and thunder boomed, and I lay there trying to remember if there were any trees nearby large enough to reach my tent. By the time I got up at 6:30 the storms had passed and the sky was clearing.

Dawn from my tent.

We headed back to the Kemmer cottage Sunday morning. John was talking about sending us newbies over to visit with Rolf and Candy Peterson, who have been studying the wolves and moose on the island for nearly 50 years, after lunch. But I didn't have a warm and fuzzy feeling about the weather--it felt unsettled to me--and the morning forecast confirmed a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. I told John to count me out.

We worked on the boat house until lunch, then returned to Dassler. The sky began to darken, clouds chasing us across the harbor, and it started raining around 1:30 pm. It didn't let up until nearly 4:30, so no more work got done that day, and no one went to see the Petersons. We decided we would try for Monday afternoon.

Storms loom over Tobin Harbor, with the old pilings for the Dassler dock in the foreground. Due to the location of this dock, it was constantly getting ripped apart by ice and waves, and so has not been replaced.

After the rain passed I went down to the cove to fetch water to filter. A pair of Spotted sandpipers were making their way around the steaming rocks, which were now warming in the sun.

Scoville Point after the rain.

Spotted sandpiper looking for goodies.

Trees near Dassler cabin.

It was not long, though, before the fog pushed in again, thicker than the day before. I stayed in the cabin for a while, writing in my journal and sketching the layout of the cabin as well as a map showing the immediate area with the names of the small islands. (My plan, though I may not get to it, is to set up a page with my journal entries and I'll include those sketches there.)

Fog around Scoville Point

Next: Finishing the Kemmer boat house, and a trip to visit the Peterson's