Category: Allegan Forest
The pair of green darners joined in mid air, lumbered along as a pair for a few seconds, and then descended to the base of a small plant. I was in the north end of the field, almost half a mile from the pond that is the source of so many dragonflies.
The darners were either oblivious to or unconcerned by my presence, so I knelt down and manage to get several shots of the pair.
Leaving the darners to their embraces, I scouted the rest of the area. My hope was to find a few new species of dragonflies – new arrivals for this season, that is. I only found a few immature white tails and lots of dot tails, so I decided to head back to the car to try some different fields.
Just as I started the engine, though, a Spangled Skimmer landed on the honeysuckle bush next to the car. This was my first sighting of this species this season, and I grabbed the camera to get a couple of shots.
From there I moved on to the fields off 44th street, a few miles away. The lupine is blooming like mad and the coreopsis has started. It looks like this will be a great year for coreopsis. Unfortunately, I saw few dragonflies and so ventured on to the areas north of the river.
Like last spring, the fields here were full of yellow and black clubtails, and they are back again this year. I’m having a heck of a time identifying these – I think they are
Rapids Midlnads Clubtails, but the marking are not exactly like the ones I see in reference photos. At any rate – they seemed to love to obelisk on the sandy soil, and this one struck a pose that conveys the clubtail attitude:
Here’s a less interesting composition that shows the marking smore completely:
Every time I visit it, the seasonal pond has gotten higher. It did rain last week, but sooner or later the water should start to recede. The roadway a short distance off has been washed out for the last few months. Maybe some dike or levee broke, maybe someone forgot to close a valve, maybe it really is raining so much -but whatever the reason, the water keeps rising…
Saturday was an odd day. I arrived with hopes of finding more dragonflies (which I did) and with a lingering hope of again encountering the huge blue racers that I had seen the week before. But instead I had a couple of interesting encounters with other critters.
Despite a rather cool week, the woods are finally leafing out and the grass on the savanna is now long and green. The irises near the old farmstead have begun to bloom. The wet weather has really encouraged the wild strawberries, which seem to go on forever. Even the prickly pear cactus has started to perk up, and new growth is emerging from the withered, brownish segments that endured the winter.
There are a few walnut trees at the top of a sandy hill. Grass grows in their shadows. As I neared the top of the hill I was startled when a while turkey burst out of the grass from beneath the nearest tree. It literally ran circles around me, weaving and dodging but mostly just circling counterclockwise.
Here’s a couple snaps of the bird, taken with my insect close-up setup (200m lens):
After several circumnavigations the bird ran straight to the wood line, and took up position just inside of the brush. I expected it would disappear – wild turkeys are exceptionally good at that, but instead it paralleled my movements and tracked me for several yards, clucking a squawking the whole time. When I had advanced about 30 yards the bird suddenly broke out of the woods and charged past me, running like made through the field and making it to the pine forest on the other side.
I’m not sure what was on the bird’s mind. I’ve seen similar behavior from turkeys with chicks, but in those cases the mother bird leads an orderly retreat of the young birds away from danger. In this case, I saw no sign of young birds or a nest, but then I only took a cursory look by the walnut tree- if eggs or chicks were there I really didn’t want to disturb them.
I made my way down to the pond. As I neared the water’s edge, I spotted a young raccoon wading in the shallows – probably looking for some tasty frogs for brunch. The raccoon spotted me almost instantly, and ambled up a small tree where it paused and glared at me.
Raccoons are normally nocturnal animals, and there’s a risk that individuals who are out in the day light might be rabid or otherwise ill. Even though this individual was out and about in the late morning sun, it seemed perfectly well. When I returned to the spot after a short wander along the water’s edge, it was gone.
As I said, the pond continues to grow. The small pines and brush that are inundated are finally dead or dying. I don’t know what standing in a few feet of water will do to the mature trees – but the summer should reveal that. I see no sign of fish in the pond, which may be why the mosquito population near the water is staggering.
There were lots of dot tailed whitefaces along the water’s edge, along with hundreds of damselflies. I’ll leave off here with yet another Dot Tailed Whiteface. Later in the day I encountered several other species of dragonflies, and those will be the subject of the next post.
In the days ahead, I won’t be spending as much time as usual in the Allegan Forest. So last week I visited all of my favorite locations, and lingered extra long in the few places I feel closest to. I hit the Ottawa Marsh, the Coreopsis Field, the Swan Creek Dam, the bluff at the end on 125th Ave, the many empty fields on either side of 44th Street…
My favorite place of all in the Old Farmstead, off 48th street. You won’t find that name on any map – I made it up. But as a son of Adam I reserve the right to name things as I see fit.
On my last visit there, a chipmunk who lives near the entry point paused in its home – a hollow log. In the winter the snow in this place is a riot of fox and coyote tracks. They surely prowl the area, looking for prey like this little rodent. But somehow it manages to survive, and on this visit it poked its head out of its hole and watched me as I struggled to photograph dragonflies. Even as I turned my attention to it, the chipmonk remained unflinching – curious as to what I was doing, and more than willing to allow me to get close enough to make its portrait with a mere 200mm lens.
There is nothing about this place that suggests a farm – at least to the casual viewer. There is a crumbling corner of a small building’s foundation – you have to look for it to find it. There is a pile of field stones, rising out of the sandy soil. And that’s about it.
But the plants tell the story. In the spring the daffodils bloom. Apple trees rub elbows with dogwoods and redbuds in the forest. Near the pile of field stones one beleaguered apple tree still produces tempting fruit, and in late summer proffers a handful of bright red apples.
There are other signs. Lily of the Valley covers the forest floor. Palms – of all things, Palms – send their spiky leaves up through the sandy soil, right next to huge patches of Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus. Around this time of year, Irises push up from the soil – not one or two, but dozens. Only a few bloom, but their sword shaped leaves stab up at the sky, as if to say “I am still here.”
And then there are the strawberries. Acres and acres of wild – or is it feral – strawberries. Their thorny, wiry, stems make my style of “crawl on your belly” photography difficult – I often return with elbows and knees bright red from crawling on these inhospitable plants. In the spring they produce a few small, pale flowers. In mid summer they produce a few small berries. But year round they cover the ground with their spiny branches.
The soil here is very sandy. In places its breaks open with pure, white sand – the kind you’d expect to see at a beach. There are two – count them, two – asparagus plants in the sandy fields. They blend into the surviving vegetation every spring, and by midsummer wave their feathery plums in the breeze. The final remnants of a crop that some farmer may have pinned his hopes on, years ago.
The sandy hill slopes down to what I used to call a seasonal marsh, and now call a pond. There are some large white pines here, lots of wild raspberries, and other trees and shrubs. Many of the plants that lined the edge of the marsh are now dying – drowning under the now high water levels.
In the summer when I visit this place I frequently encounter deer. Sometimes it’s a fawn hiding in the tall grass under the walnut trees. Other times the deer have charged across the marsh as I’ve come close, kicking up spray as they run through the shallow water.
The marsh has been home to dragonflies, frogs, snakes, and turtles. I’m not sure how things will change now that it is an open body of water. These days, geese and ducks land in it, and frogs line the shore. I hear a lot more frogs than ever at this place – the twang of bullfrogs in particular.
On this last visit I wandered past the crumbling foundation stone, past the pile of rocks, down the hills along the pine forest to the pond. I followed the edge of the pond a ways, and then made my way back. I ran into two huge Blue Racer snakes in the dried grass – both verging on 6 feet in length – and we went our ways. I spent of a bit of time sitting on the pile of rock, and then made my way back to the car, passing through knee high Goat’s Beard as I left this place, leaving it to go its way in the summer months.
Here’s a quick rundown of the Dragonflies and Damselflies I’ve run into so far this spring.
True to their reputation as being the first spring dragonfly, Dot Tailed Whitefaces now dominate. This is their day in the sun, and they are making the most of it. They are now abundant in the Allegan State Game Area, and seemed to be equally abundant in the Barry State Game Area.
Many of these dragonflies have the glassy shiny wings of new hatchlings. I have yet to see any old-timers with torn and tattered wings, but am starting to finally encounter members of this species with their full adult markings – specifically, all black abdomen except for a single yellow dot.
I’ve encountered many mating pairs and expect more subjects throughout the early to mid summer.
The next dragonfly species to emerge is the common whitetail. I spotted one immature individual last week -sorry, no photo - but have yet to see others.
Several different species of damselflies are out, not uncommon but not abundant. I’ve seen – but not identified – several spreadwings and common blue damselflies. Here’s a photo of what I believe to be a Sedge Sprite.
The weeks ahead should bring an explosion in different species…
UPDATE: A couple of hours after writing this post, an immature male Common Whitetail appeared in my yard. It’s a rarity to see dragonflies in my very urban, very small side yard, so it was a real treat that this individual showed up.
Here’s a photo:
Hiking around the Allegan Forest earlier this week, I trudged down the remnants of a small two track that was cut into the side of hill along the Kalamazoo River. I guess people used to drive down there to launch small boats, but the DNR did a good job of dumping tree stumps at the start of the road, and it’s been unused for years.
Now the hillside is full of wildflowers. Earlier in the season I stopped by this spot to photograph some hepatica. This week the hill is covered with May Apple, the last few blooms of Spring Beauty, Canada Violet, and the green and waxy leaves of Hepatica.
Here and there were some wild columbine plants – pretty large and full of blooms. A splash of sunlight caught the front boom on this pair of flowers in just a little more light than the one behind it. It’s wonderful when things work out.
This spring has been a cool one. Here we are, late in the month, and the furnace still rumbles to life every morning. Frost settles onto the grass and rooftops at night. It melts once touched by sunlight, but tenaciously hangs on to north facing hillsides, or in the shadows of large trees.
Despite the cool weather, the season advances. Dot tailed whitefaces are now abundant in the Allegan State Game Area. Last Thursday I visited my favorite pond. For a change, I parked on the south end of the pond and hiked a bit through s scruffy stand of white pines. I came up on the south shore of the pond, rounded the west side, and worked the usual sandy fields on the north.
Dot tails were pretty much everywhere. The even flitted around the pine trees. On the savanna there were often 4 or five n a square yard – perching low on grass stalks or just landing on the sandy soil. A few green darners buzzed around in the air, and I spotted one or two damselflies around the pond.
It won’t be long till the meadowhawks and pennants appear – though the patch of raspberry bushes where they usually first make their first appearance is now several feet under water. Well, they’ll show up somewhere.
As May progresses, I lose interest in the woodland wildflowers and find myself drawn to the oak savanna. I don’t know why.
This dry and barren place comes to life more slowly than the fertile lowland forests. Maybe it is the sight of the first spring dragonflies on the wing. Maybe it is the fading redbud and the fresh dogwood. Maybe it is the weird creature – coyote? fox? dog? - that charges across my path as I wander into the woods…
But the Allegan forest still calls. Some days I just drive around in my car, listening to the radio, bumping along two tracks till they end with barriers made out of tree stumps, torn out of the ground, roots and all.
The lupine is blooming now. It started last week, it’s probably peaking now, and in a few weeks will pass.
I trudged around the woods today, toting the trusty Pentax LX packed will Rollei IR 400 film, hoping to get the IR effect in a few shots. The weather did not cooperate as a dense bank of clouds rolled in shortly after I started shooting. No matter – I shot the film and then turned my attention to the lupine.
I’ve shot this wildflower before, and have found the leaves and foliage to be as interesting as the flowers. But I never studied the immature flowers – the nascent buds building up strength, waiting to open. There’s always something thing new, waiting to be seen.
The Rollie film is hanging in my shower as I type - drying. Maybe something for a future post…
West Michigan is finally awaking from its winter slumber. In the last week or so the trees have leafed out, the grass has greened, and perennials are shooting up out of the ground.
The arrival of dragonflies is another sure sign that spring has taken hold. Green Darners are the first to arrive in mid April. The early arrivals are migrants from parts south. It takes several more weeks for the waters in the area to warm up enough to support the dragonfly nymphs, and for those nymphs to actually transform into the winged adults.
Locally, the Dot Tailed Whiteface is one of the first dragonflies to complete this process. Last Monday I was happy to see the first few adults flying over the dry grass of still brown fields.
The dot tails that I encountered last Monday all had the sheen on their wings that tells you they are newly emerged. Their coloration is in the immature form – they will lose most of the yellow and turn to black, except for the dot on their abdomen and their white faces. True to their nature, the dot tails clung to vegetation very low to the ground, making photos a bit difficult. But their arrival is welcome, and means it won’t be long before Calico Pennants, Spangled Skimmers, and other dragons abound.
Another year in all the millions of years that these creatures have graced the Earth….
A few days ago I wandered into the Allegan Forest. I was greeted with washed out roads, flooded ponds, and swollen creeks and drains. But walking through the sandy pine barrens I was also greeted by …
These harmless little snakes don’t grow over a few feet long. They are quick and agile, eating primarily amphibians and fish. I ran into the first one along the edge of a pine forest. I had to press the camera into the sandy soil to get a low angle shot of the serpent, but the subject was very cooperative and just watched me as I crawled on my stomach on the ground next to it. (I guess we had something in common.)
Later in the day, as I wandered out of the pine forest that borders the pond that used to be a marsh, a much larger garter snake slipped through the field, making its way through the dried grass. It was much more energetic than the first snake – perhaps because it was basking in full sun. It mugged for the camera briefly, and then glided away to the pond’s edge.
The sound of a Tom Turkey drumming can really take you by surprise. It is deep, really deep. At first it sounds like it is coming from within your own head, but then you realize this is an external sound. It starts out slow and then ratchets up to a faster pace, accelerating until it stops.
Wandering into the Ottawa Marsh last week, the sound of a drumming Tom was one of the first to meet my ears. This lucky Tom was close to the staging area, and so most everyone out for a spring turkey hunt had probably passed him by, heading deeper into the woods.
The drumming of the turkey got me thinking of the wonderful sounds of the forest, field, or marsh. As I wandered through the fields around the Ottawa Marsh, I tuned into the rich animal sounds all around me. Lying on the ground to take this shot of a Spring Beauty wildflower, I listened in to the calls of various frogs in the nearby marsh, the “huff huff!” of deer hanging out nearby, and the myriad overlapping calls of cardinals, robins, and song sparrows. Somewhere in the mix the “Woo-hala-woo-hala-woo-hala!” of sandhill cranes danced on my ears.
When I came to the two large trees, full of butterflies, bees and flies; I heard the buzzing whir of the bees and, more sweetly, the soft “thuddy-thud-thud” of Mourning Cloaks as they hovered over the trees exuding sap.
Down there in the marsh, I didn’t hear any traffic noises – the highway is far enough away, and you’re low enough below the roads, so automotive noise doesn’t reach you.
I did hear the steady pop-pop-pop of shotguns discharging. It reminded me the sounds of fireworks in small county displays. You sit out on a hill surrounded by cornfields or vineyards, and the fireworks start out slowly – one dull thud after another – until they reach a crescendo of steady thuds.
And then they fade away…