Than THESE in the Bush

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For the past several years, one of the main items on my “bucket list” has been to attend one of the Michigan Audubon trips to Sault Saint Marie, Michigan in the winter. We had signed up a number of times, but something had always come up to keep us from going on the trip. I was determined that this winter, we were going to make the trip and see some terrific birds.

 

Let me tell you a little about winter in Michigan. If you follow my blog, you know that this has been an extraordinarily cold and snowy winter. We’ve had temperatures below zero degrees Fahrenheit on multiple occasions. While this is definitely not preferred weather for the human species, it’s perfect for some of the boreal species of birds. These birds are at home in the very far north of Canada and Alaska. This year, nothing was going to stop us – and it didn’t.

Snowy Rid

Snowy Ride

We left Friday morning for Sault Saint Marie “the Soo.” There were several snow squalls along the way, but it made for a picturesque, albeit a bit dodgy, ride. I was glad that my Michigan-born husband was behind the wheel.

The BIG Bridge

The BIG Bridge

The ride across the Mackinac Straits over the big bridge was uneventful (thank goodness). The huge chunks of ice attest to the temperatures we’ve seen this winter. I have, however, seen old photos where the Straits have completely frozen and people have been able to walk from Mackinaw Island right to the mainland.

Talk about ICE

Talk about ICE

The Audubon trip started the next morning with us all meeting at the local McDonalds. The weather was quite cold (in the single digits – Fahrenheit – and low 10s), but it was gorgeously clear and sunny. As we spent most of the time in the car, the cold and wind only got to us when we got out to scan for birds or to set up scopes and get our binoculars on some pretty darned spectacular birds. Let me explain here that most of these birds are rare for our part of the country. Most of our targets were boreal species which rarely venture out of the heavily forested, far northern part of Canada.

Pine Grosbeaks!

Pine Grosbeaks!

 

Pine Grosbeaks!

Pine Grosbeaks!

One of our first stops was at feeders at a Michigan State University station. Here is where I first saw the Pine Grosbeaks that I had so dearly hoped to see. There weren’t just one or two birds – there were lots of them. The males are a gorgeous bright red with gray wings. These birds are regularly seen in the UP, but these were my first ever. They are quite confiding, and had little worry about so many humans standing around. (Our group was comprised of approximately 15 birders and Skye – our guide extraordinaire.)

Grosbeaks!

Grosbeaks!

Other birds that rarely venture into the Lower Peninsula are Redpolls. We were lucky enough to see several flocks of Common Redpolls, and more than a few Hoary Redpolls thrown into the mix.

Redpoll

Redpoll

The real focus of the trip, though, was owls. There had been several Snowy Owls reported as well as Northern Hawk Owl and the ever-elusive Great Gray Owl.

 

There was a lot of driving involved in our “owl-prowl.” We covered lots of territory without seeing any owls at all. I have to say that I was surprised at how many ravens we saw. Ravens are not at all common in the Lower Peninsula so seeing those was a treat. We also got the rare opportunity to see a dark-phase, Rough-Legged Hawk. What a beautiful bird! It was almost solid black except for a band of white through its wings.

Great Gray Owl (thanks to Jeromy Hakyl)

Great Gray Owl (thanks to Jeremy Halka)

We did finally luck out in that another birder who was reporting in on the internet found the Great Gray Owl. We made a hasty caravan back to the area in which it had been seen. Fortunately, the reporting birder was still in the area and told us exactly where to look. Sure enough! There he was – sitting comfortably in a tree not more than 40 feet from us. As mentioned earlier, there are some birds which are not around humans very much, so they do not fear us. Great Gray Owls fall into that category. As you can see in these spectacular photos, we didn’t perturb the bird at all. Let me mention right here that these photos were actually taken on cellphones. Yes, I’m serious. A terrific young student named Jeremy Halka (who was fighting a terrible cold but still came out) patiently focused cellphone cameras over and over to get us these terrific shots. He had figured out how to use the camera on a cellphone to take photos through our spotting scopes. This brings bird photography to a completely new level for most of us.

Great Gray Owl (gorgeous photography by Jeremy Halka)

Great Gray Owl (gorgeous photography by Jeremy Halka)

After we had all spent many cold minutes observing and photographing the Great Gray, he flew off to hunt for his next snack. We all piled happily into our vehicles and the caravan was off again. This time, we were heading back to the area we had hastily left in search of the Great Gray Owl. We hoped against hope that the Northern Hawk Owl that had been seen in the area was still there. It was!

 

Northern Hawk Owl (Jeremy Halka)

Northern Hawk Owl (Jeremy Halka)

Perched in the very top of a pine tree, our sharp-eyed leader found the Northern Hawk Owl surveying the snow-covered farm land around it. Another amazingly beautiful bird. I understand completely how this bird was named. He does look like a hawk and an owl, combined.

Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl (Photo by Jeremy Halka)

Once again, we were able to get some terrific photos thanks to Jeremy and his patience.

 

By this time, it’s getting to be late afternoon, and we are all pretty tired from fighting the cold. Our last destination was an area where Snowy Owls were commonly seen. I have to say, THIS was the bird that I’d been most hoping to get a good look at. I’d been looking forward to this for so long. The Great Gray was such a surprise, I had no long-term expectations. The Snowy, on the other hand, well I knew chances were good.

A little aside here… Jim and I had actually seen a Snowy Owl before, so it wasn’t a “life bird.” However, the only looks we’d ever had were through a spotting scope of an owl sitting down in a field several hundred yards away. It was also cold and very windy that day and there was snow-shimmer. Yes, we saw the top of the owl’s head and its feathers moving, but hardly the kind of observation we longed for. We had also gotten in the car and driven miles and miles on many occasions to try to see Snowy Owls that had been reported. Every time, we were unsuccessful (skunked in fishing/birding terms).

First Time to REALLY see a Snowy Owl!

First Time to REALLY see a Snowy Owl!

I can’t truly explain the absolute joy I felt when we stopped at our first sighting of a gorgeous Snowy Owl (either female or juvenile due to the dark spots – an adult, male Snowy is almost completely white). Let’s just say I’m not sure the car had come to a complete stop and the door remained wide open. Oh my GOODNESS!!!! What an amazingly beautiful bird! We had hit the owl “trifecta!” As we left this owl (I believe all but a very few of us had been able to get good looks at Snowy Owls before), we were blessed to see three more in rapid succession. I begged a stop at the second one as I had not been able to get a good photo of the first. The group was very considerate and we piled out, once again, to observe yet another juvenile or female owl.

jeremySnowy

Snowy Owl (photo by Jeremy Halka)

After leaving that owl and seeing the other two flying and at some distance, we called it a day. The cold and the exhilaration had taken it out of all of us. We caravanned back to the McDonalds and made plans to meet up again the next morning at 7.

Yep! That's MINUS 24 Fahrenheit! (-31 Celsius)

Yep! That’s MINUS 24 Fahrenheit! (-31 Celsius)

Sunday morning dawned clear, bright, and exceedingly cold. As most of the group were planning to head back “down state – home” later in the day, there were a larger number of cars in our caravan. Instead of driving this time, though, we rode with Sault Saint Marie resident, Doris. We were so grateful to her for driving in such inhospitable weather. It definitely was the coldest I’d ever been in. Yes, it was 24 BELOW zero Fahrenheit! I had to laugh when I found out that Doris grew up in Florida just like I did. What were two southern girls doing in -24F with snow up to our derrieres? Birding! That’s what we were doing. Must be some form of “sickness.”

 

Our first stop brought us a tree full of Sharp-tailed Grouse. The snow was so deep that they weren’t dancing on their lek.

Tree Full of Sharp-Tailed Grouse

Tree Full of Sharp-Tailed Grouse

How deep was the snow? It was so deep that the cattle could have easily stepped over their fencing. They were standing on top of it as it had gotten so packed down that they weren’t sinking in. I’ve never seen anything like it. I have to say, that the snowmobilers were having fabulous weather for their races, but I don’t think any of us were properly dressed for the extremes we encountered.

 

After leaving the grouse, we headed back to an area where Boreal Chickadee had been reported. If you read my blogs about our trip to the UP this summer, you know that we had looked all over to hopefully find Boreal Chickadee and Gray Jay. For the first time on the trip, we didn’t see the bird we hoped to see. There were lots and lots of Black-capped Chickadees, but no Boreal Chickadees.

 

That was the trip. We ended up where we began – the McDonalds. We said our good-byes and went our separate ways. It was a terrific trip! We met lots of terrific people, learned a lot about the Soo, and saw fantastic birds.

 

Up Next: Not in Forty Years…

 

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When A Bird in the Hand…

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I know I’ve kvetched about the winters here in Michigan ad nauseum. There are, however, a whole lot of fun things to do. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed doing in the winter is visiting Kensington Metropark.

 

For those of you who have never been to this part of Michigan, a ‘metropark’ is an area set aside for recreation. One can either pay a small fee on a daily basis, or purchase a yearly pass. Kensington is one of the largest parks in the Detroit metro area. There are lots of things to in the park, including bicycling, running, dog-walking, fishing (ice fishing in the winter), boating, sailing, picnicking, and, winter tobogganing/sledding.

Ice Fishermen Enjoying the Sunny Day

Ice Fishermen Enjoying the Sunny Day

 

A Lady & Her Dog Out for a Walk

A Lady & Her Dog Out for a Walk

Here some folks enjoying the cross-country skiing trails (there are miles and miles of them).

Cross-Country Skiing - a Big Favorite at Kensington

Cross-Country Skiing – a Big Favorite at Kensington

Cross-Country Skiing at Kensington

Cross-Country Skiing at Kensington

Here are some photos of children (big and small) having a wonderful time sledding in Kensington.

A Dad & His Boys Out for a Slide

A Dad & His Boys Out for a Slide

A Wolverine Fan Gets His Slide On

A Wolverine Fan Gets His Slide On

 

Lots of Fun!

Lots of Fun!

My favorite activity in Kensington is birding. This is where Jim and I first realized that birding is a passion we can share.

A Bird (Chickadee) in The Hand

A Bird (Chickadee) in The Hand

For many years, people have been feeding the wild birds at Kensington’s Nature Center. Eventually, the birds got very used to people having seed to share. Now, especially in the winter, the small birds will come right down to your hands and eat out of them.

 

A Tufted Titmouse Gets a Peanut

A Tufted Titmouse Gets a Peanut

The first time I came to Kensington with my sister-in-law, she introduced me to the joy of hand feeding the birds. She was very interested in birding at the time and knew my love of birds. She also knew I would be charmed by the birds eating out of my hands. We were still living in Georgia at the time, so I knew this would be a place I would enjoy coming back to. Little did I know that I would one day be living within just a very few miles.

A Black-Capped Chickadee In for His Landing

A Black-Capped Chickadee In for His Landing

Next!

Next!

 

A Downy on My Shoulder

A Downy on My Shoulder

Here are some photos of the next generation of “bird feeders” in Kensington.

Birding's Next Generation

Birding’s Next Generation

While most of the birds that look to be fed are tiny (chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, even woodpeckers), here are the latest trying to get into the act. One piece of advice, DON’T attempt to hand-feed the Sandhill Cranes. Those bills are really big and sharp. The birds can also be somewhat aggressive. I was completely shocked that these birds stayed through the winter. Sandhills are common here from Spring through mid-Autumn, but they always migrate to Florida and points south during the winter (not unlike a large number of humans).

Did Someone Say Food?

Did Someone Say Food?

This Sure Isn't Florida. It's COLD here!

This Sure Isn’t Florida. It’s COLD here!

 

I hope you enjoyed our photos. If you are ever in the Detroit metropolitan area, try to make a trip out to Kensington. The birds are here year-round, and they are always happy to be fed.

127

Blue Heron Rookery

If you’re here in the summer, these nests will be full of Blue Herons. It’s quite a site.

 

Up Next: Isn’t Worth THESE in the Bush

 

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WIDMSV – The Kipling House

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WIDMSV? What I Did on My Summer Vacation!

This is the last of the posts on our Summer Vacation. It seems, somehow, appropriate as we’ve just passed Labor Day, schools are open, and football has kicked off. This is also the only post that completely focuses on one place – The Kipling House.

http://www.kiplinghouse.com/ 

Why would I do a whole post on one, particular Bed and Breakfast? Because it’s a great place to stay and an even better story!

 

First off, let me tell you where The Kipling House is located. It’s in Gladstone, Michigan. Gladstone? Like the old, English Prime Minister? Yep! Exactly! The town is named after the former Prime Minister. It’s very near to Escanaba, Michigan but it’s also closer to Seney National Wildlife Refuge (a place we’d hoped to be able to bird, but with the terrible fires this year we decided to delay). There really is much more history to the area of Kipling and Gladstone. I encourage you to go to the website and read the history – especially if Michigan history and/or trains are of interest to you.

Old image of The Kipling House
from their website

 

The Kipling House was built in the late 1800s, and has had many functions over the ensuing years. Now, it’s a comfortable, classy, bed and breakfast run by some of the nicest, most welcoming innkeepers you could ever meet.

Meghan & Bob
(from their website)

Meghan and Robert Micheau are a young couple who had a dream. The dream was to raise their family in the Escanaba/Gladstone area where Robert grew up and where Robert’s family still lives. Meghan is from the Hartland, Michigan area.

 

Meghan went to school in Hartland, Michigan and then went on to Oakland Community College (OCC). At first, she thought she would become a nurse; however, she found nursing just wasn’t what she wanted to do. OCC offered courses in culinary arts, so she gave that a try. Sure enough, Meghan found her passion (so much so that she was baking and decorating all kinds of pastries and using her parents as “testers.”) While she knew she didn’t want to work in the restaurant business (and I can certainly understand her feelings having been in that industry, myself, for several years), she felt that perhaps a bed and breakfast where her ‘calling.’

 

While visiting Robert’s parents (prior to their marriage), Robert and Meghan went for a bike ride. During their ride, Robert (oh, so casually) asked Meghan if she thought she could live in the area. Without missing a beat, she glibly replied that maybe so if he bought her the beautiful bed and breakfast they were passing. It just so happens, that this was The Kipling House.

 

Fast forward a short while and, as if ordained, The Kipling House came up for sale. The owners actually let Robert and Meghan run the Inn for a year prior to selling it to them so they could see what was involved in being innkeepers. The Micheaus did all the work and paid all the bills from the income of the inn. Sure enough, they were naturals, and the inn came under new ownership.

 

That brings us up to 2010. Here is a young couple running their inn – coming up to the Memorial Day holiday – with a very pregnant Meghan. As frequently happens, as soon as the inn filled to capacity, the baby made it known that it was time for him to enter the world. I can only imagine the scenario with Meghan in labor, Robert worrying about his wife, his baby on the way, AND an inn full of guests. Thank heavens, both mothers were there to help.

 

Apparently, the transition was pretty seamless and Meghan and Robert were able to bring home their beautiful, healthy, baby boy and miss very little time from their inn-keeping duties.

The Kipling House today

When we visited in July, The Kipling House was a warm, inviting place that felt as though we were staying with friends. We staying in the “Governor’s Room.” It was a pleasant, large room with adjoining bath.

The Governor’s Room

 

Governor’s Room Bath

The Kipling Cottage is a great place for couples! The downstairs is a sitting room with small kitchenette, while the loft is the sleeping area. It’s separate from the main house and would work for a small family, also. One might want to have a few provisions in the kitchenette for dinner or lunch, but you would never want to miss out on Meghan’s amazing breakfasts or desserts. Oh! Did I mention that Meghan makes dessert and puts on the table in the foyer for everyone who would like some after dinner? We were lucky enough to get rhubarb pie! They grow the rhubarb right in the back yard.

I must make mention of the gazebo! The minute I saw it, with the gardens and fountain around it, I knew it would be a fabulous place for a wedding. Anyone considering nuptuals?

The Kipling House Gazebo

Now, let me tell you about breakfast! The first day, we had pfannenkuchen which is a light, Scandinavian-style pancake with loads of butter, a lovely fruit salad, home-made (naturally) scones and bacon. There was enough food to prepare for a day of birding and then some. The second day, we had a slice of tremendous quiche, fruit, sausage and cinnamon rolls. Everything was delicious! The guests are able to name what time they would like their breakfast, so sometimes you sit – family style – with other guests. That’s a great way to meet new people and share stories. It’s so wonderful that a couple with such talent find their niche.

Meghan Micheau
(hostess extraordinaire)

One last little nicety that I must mention is afternoon snacks! After spending the day birding on the Stonington Peninsula, imagine our pleasure to walk into the foyer at The Kipling House to find a basket full of snack treats and cold, bottled water. Perfect! Such a nice touch, and one that is rare to find.

 

Finally, I have to tell you that I fell completely in love while visiting The Kipling House. I fell in love with a two-year-old, adorable boy named Bobby! This young chap has a bright smile and the sunniest, friendliest disposition one could hope for. Bobby, it seems, was born to be around guests just like his parents. He’s gregarious (which is remarkable for any child of two) and well-behaved. When I asked him if I could take his photo, he grinned up at me and said, “Yes!”

 

Once I took the first photo, he said, “Take another!” I happily obliged.

 

Then he chimed up, ”Take another!”

 

I think he would have happily sat there and posed for me all day. Sadly, though, it was time for us to take our leave. At that stage, I could have happily packed Bobby up in the car with us and brought him back over the bridge. I just don’t think his parents would have let us, though.

 

So, my friends, if you are ever planning to visit the Escanaba area, you really must stay at The Kipling House. Let me be very clear, here. I am not receiving any kind of remuneration or benefit for recommending the inn. I just love to share excellent places and activities with you. I know that we’ll be back when we plan to spend a few days birding in Seney. Besides, I just can’t wait to see that little boy again!

 

Up Next: “A Public Service”

 

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WIDMSV – Escanaba (In Da Moonlight?) and Birding the Stonington Peninsula

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We left the Eagle River Inn early to get a good jump on the day. We sure were doing better than the poor soul we saw laying on the beach. Too much of a good thing can sometimes be bad. I guess after all the partying the night before, this guy found himself a nice piece of beach to sleep on. (By the way, we know he wasn’t dead because we saw him roll over to get his face out of the rising sun.)

 

On our way out of the Keweenaw, we made a quick stop to pass on a message from one of my high school mates to an old friend of hers and grab a bite of breakfast. We hadn’t planned to stop again until we reached Escanaba, but we saw this giant ruler and sign on the side of the road and just had to check it out. I mentioned this in my previous post, but just in case you missed it…

 

 

Are you KIDDING me??!!

Are you kidding me??? A record three-hundred-and-ninety-point-four inches of SNOW???? I did the math. That’s over 32-½  feet of snow in one season. As much as I love the Keweenaw, winter there would not be for me (or Jim, either).

Photo courtesy of TripAdvisor

We made good time and arrived in Escanaba right around lunch time. We had read reviews in “TripAdvisor,” and Breezy Point sounded like the place for lunch. As I said in my review on TripAdvisor, it’s a local “dive” bar with a juke box, pool tables, cold beer and really good burgers. Service was slow, but it WAS the day after a holiday and it seems everyone was running a little slow. (Okay, I just have to say it. I’m from the south – y’all know that – and southerners are notoriously dissed for being “slow.” Honey, we ain’t got NOTHING on some of the folks in Escanaba, Michigan.)

Photo from TripAdvisor

If y’all ever decide to go to Escanaba and want to try out the really, good burgers at Breezy Point, I strongly suggest trying to sit outside. The views are really nice. If it hadn’t been record heat, we’d have opted for those tables, too.

 

We headed for our B&B. The Kipling House is actually in Gladstone, Michigan, but it’s close to Escanaba and we are so very glad that we chose this place to stay. As a matter of fact, there’s so much to tell you about this place that I’m giving it a complete post of its own. That will be the next one – the last in the installments of WIDMSV.

 

We set out to explore Escanaba. Most of you won’t have gotten the “In Da Moonlight” reference. Jeff Daniels (yes, THAT Jeff Daniels) is a native son of Chelsea, Michigan. Chelsea is a near-neighbor to where Jim and I live. Jeff Daniels wrote a comedy (play/movie) “Escanaba in Da Moonlight,” about Yooper hunters. He has quite a knowledge of Escanaba because his wife is originally from the town. We were lucky enough to catch Jeff Daniels in his one-man show, and he is absolutely hilarious. What a wit! Anyway, we decided that we needed to check out Escanaba.

 

Escanaba is a nice town. It seems, to me anyway, more like a Lower Peninsula town than others we’ve been to in the UP. Perhaps it’s the close proximity to Wisconsin that makes it “feel” different from the others in the area.

Photo from their website

 For dinner the first night, we went to The Stonehouse (http://www.stonehouseescanaba.com/Home.html ). The restaurant came highly recommended, and we know exactly why. Even though it’s going through some major renovations on the outside, the interior was calm and attractive. Service was friendly, yet professional. I had grouper (my very favorite fish) Panko-breaded topped with lobster and shrimp veloute. Jim had the “great lakes platter” (broiled whitefish and walleye with beer-battered perch. It was a delicious and enjoyable meal. We’d definitely go back.

 

From The Stonehouse website
(callout from me)

After dinner, we drove around Escanaba a little more. We drove down by the marina and found the Delta County Historical Society Lighthouse Museum. It was closed for the day, but we enjoyed walking around and seeing some of the static displays outside…

 

like this giant, wooden rudder

 

and this pile of logs (representative of the millions of board-feet of lumber harvested in the Upper Peninsula and sent to build America).

 

The next day, we went birding on the Stonington Peninsula. We were still in search of the illusive boreal species and this was our last chance this trip. Come to think of it, we didn’t even hear the first loon calling. Now THAT’S disappointing! We birded all along 28 Rd! We got great looks at Red-eyed Vireos (they were everywhere), PeeWees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, Hermit Thrush, American Redstarts, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Ravens, and a silent empid. Still, no boreal birds, but it seemed everywhere we went, there were deer of all ages, sexes and sizes.

 

From 28 Rd (they have some strange road names up there), we headed down to the boat launch area where there was a gorgeous log home. There we saw an American Bittern, several Common Yellowthroats, Red-winged Blackbirds, and one Black Tern.

 

We continued on to tip of the peninsula. There’s a tower that might be a good spot to look for wading birds, but the flats were conspicuously free of any form of bird. Needless to say, we were pretty disappointed, but we really weren’t there in a good “birding” time of year.

 

 

Escanaba from the Stonington Peninsula

We decided to call it a day. The trip home was coming up and we were hot and tired. It was time to start winding down. We went back to the B&B (remember, a whole post on this next time) to clean up, pack, and get ready for our trip home.

 

We went to Hereford & Hops for dinner. The restaurant is right on the main street in Escanaba. I must say that the beer was really, really good. The food (walleye) was, too, except the service was incredibly (and I do mean INCREDIBLY) slow. It was early on a Friday night and the place was still pretty empty. We really wonder how they manage when it starts getting busy (or if it actually does get busy at all). We even had difficulty getting our beer (and they’re a brew pub).

 

It was a wonderful trip. I have become a huge fan of the UP! I’ve heard my sister-in-law, Kathy, talk about it for years and how much she loves it up there. I knew that I would – for the same reasons, but you can’t imagine how amazingly beautiful it truly is. There are so many areas that we weren’t able to visit (the Porcupine Mountains, especially). We’re already talking about our next trip. I think late spring might be an excellent time (as long as the snow is gone).

 

Up Next: The Kipling House

 

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WIDMSV – Birding in Michigamme

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WIDMSV? What I Did on My Summer Vacation!

 

I had been really looking forward to birding the Pesheekee Grade! (To you non-birders out there, this is a road near Michigamme, Michigan that is known for great birding.) We were really hoping that we would finally get our two “target birds” (Boreal Chickadee and Gray Jay) here. What I did get was a new appreciation for black flies! (Hint: They draw blood and leave marks!)

Gray Jay

 

We left the Bed &  Breakfast without the ‘Breakfast’ part so that we could arrive at the Pesheekee Grade early enough to find some really terrific birds. There are all kinds of habitat along this road. There are areas of dense conifers, open grasslands, and bogs. Again, there were several large mixed flocks in which there was at least one ‘possible’ Boreal Chickadee. I’m not one to claim a bird unless I’m sure, so it stays off my life-list until I know for certain.

Boreal Chickadee

 

By far, the most common bird for the entire trip was Red-breasted Nuthatch. They seemed to be everywhere! We heard them at virtually every stop. The next three most-common species were Red-Eyed Vireo (surprisingly good looks at a usually concealed bird), American Redstart and Yellow-rumped Warbler. It was wonderful to see and hear so many warbler species this time of year. We in the Lower Peninsula get to see these gorgeous birds during Spring migration and then again in the fall (with their more muted plumages). In the UP, they were all in their spiffy-best feathers. Among other birds seen and heard at Pesheekee were Veery, Hermit Thrush, Wood Thrush, Rusty Blackbirds, Northern Parula, Palm Warblers, and Common Ravens. There were numerous House Wrens, Blue Jays, and many Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. I was somewhat surprised by the lack of Northern Cardinals.

 

Red-breasted Nuthatch

We also met a gentleman who was out walking his dogs. It was a little disconcerting to note that he had a holster with one BIG gun. (It was a 45 like Dirty Harry’s!) That was a reminder that you can never be off your guard as there are all kinds of critters out there. The area is known for moose – although we didn’t see any. I know that there are also bears and coyotes. We did see quite a few deer while there, as well. I would definitely like to go back to this road earlier in the day and at a time of year that would be more likely to find more boreal species. I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t note how rough the road is. It’s paved (after a fashion), but it’s got more rills and dips than a roller coaster. It could definitely could use major work!

 

Up Next: Visiting Houghton and The Eagle Has Landed

 

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WIDMSV – Munising: Miners’ Castle and Shipwreck Tour

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WIDMSV? What I Did on My Summer Vacation!

 

 

After the long, hot and ambitious day we had on Day 2 of our vacation (Birding, Big Bay, and Gwinn), one would think we would just sit back and relax. Not a chance! Hey, we only get to do this once a year – if we’re lucky. After another blueberry breakfast (Finnish pancakes with blueberry sauce and blueberry buckle; but, still, no meat), off to Munising we went.

One of the Formations
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

 

Munising is east of Marquette and is famous for its Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (http://www.nps.gov/piro/index.htm). A few years ago, we went on a Pictured Rocks cruise. I have to say that this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The water in Lake Superior is so clear that it is possible to see as far down as 100 feet in some places. The national lakeshore has been scrupulously kept pristine and, for that, we should all be grateful. No t-shirt shops or hot dog stands mar the incredible natural beauty. If we had more time available, we’d absolutely go on that cruise again.

Great Lakes
Superior – darker color

 

For all y’all who have never actually seen the Great Lakes, I have to give you some information about Lake Superior. Before I saw the Great Lakes for the first time, I had no point of reference. My idea of a big lake is Lanier in Georgia. I grew up in Florida, so had always heard about Lake Okeechobee. I did actually drive around part of Okeechobee, but you don’t get visuals like you do the Great Lakes. The only thing I can equate looking out on one of the Great Lakes – especially Superior – is looking at the Gulf of Mexico or the ocean. You absolutely can NOT see the other side. They are so vast! Nothing really could prepare me for experiencing the Great Lakes and I am still stunned every time I see them.

Lake Superior
(NASA photo from Space)

 

For some terrific facts on Lake Superior, I’m attaching the following link: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/superior/superiorfacts.html

 

Some of my favorite points from this website are:

 

  • Lake Superior is, by surface area, the world’s largest freshwater lake.
  • The surface area of Lake Superior (31,700 square miles or 82,170 square kilometers) is greater than the combined areas of Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.
  • The Lake Superior shoreline, if straightened out, could connect Duluth and the Bahama Islands.
  • Lake Superior contains as much water as all the other Great Lakes combined, even throwing in two extra Lake Eries.
  • Lake Superior contains 10% of all the earth’s fresh surface water.
  • There is enough water in Lake Superior (3,000,000,000,000,000 — or 3 quadrillion — gallons) to flood all of North and South America to a depth of one foot.
  • The deepest point in Lake Superior (about 40 miles north of Munising, Michigan) is 1,300 feet (400 meters) below the surface.

    Miner’s Castle

 

We had made reservations to take a shipwreck tour, but arrived too early. We decided to take a side-trip to Miner’s Castle. We’d seen the formation from the Pictured Rocks Tour, but it is also accessible from the land side. While Jim walked out to get a closer look, I stayed around the parking lot because it was full of American Redstarts. I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible and it sure paid off as I watched a female American Redstart gleaning bugs and take them into her nest. That was a first for me. I also got a charge out of watching her mate chase off every other bird who dared to come into their domain.

Lake Superior
Miner’s Castle in foreground

 

As I was watching the birds, a family (mom, dad and young son) came up and asked if I was birding. When I assured them that I was and that I didn’t at all mind answering questions (if I was able), they told me that they were from California and that their son was very interested in birds. I showed him the area to watch and he was thrilled to watch the female redstart going in and out of her hidden nest. Those moments, watching young people react to birds, are the best!

Female Redstart

 

Off to the docks we went. We have been so lucky, and our luck held! Both times we have planned and gone on boat rides on Superior, it’s been flat calm. I know y’all read my posts about The Edmund Fitzgerald (right?). Superior can be one angry, scary gal when she wants to be. For us, she’s been quite the lady.

 

We got down to the dock and boarded our glass-bottomed boat (http://shipwrecktours.com/) to three shipwrecks – the Bermuda, the Herman H. Hettler, and a French, Scow-Schooner that is, at present, un-identified (although it may be more than 400 years old, having been used in the fur trade) We also got the opportunity to go past the East Channel Lighthouse, both on the way out and back. The boat was quite full, but the tour operators were professional and made certain that everyone got an opportunity to see each of the shipwrecks. I knew that the waters of Superior were clean and clear, but this trip really brought that fact home. Although some of the ships were in 20+ feet of water, it was really easy to see the wreckage and make out boards, planks, fixtures (including a captain’s bathtub), passageways, and wheels.

Wreck of the Herman H. Hettler

 

I’m glad that we took the trip! It was definitely worth the time. If, however, you are only able to take one trip from Munising (either Pictured Rocks or Shipwreck), I’d strongly suggest that you opt for the Pictured Rocks cruise. As I said before, I’d definitely do that again!

Wreckage of the Bermuda

 

Anchor of Herman H. Hettler

East Channel Lighthouse

 

Up Next: WIDMSV – Munising: Muldoon’s & Open Wings; Marquette: Irish Rover

 

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WIDMSV – Big Bay: A B&B in a Lighthouse; Gwinn: Up North Lodge

If you’re reading this in email or on Facebook, click on the title! It will take you directly to the blog (an easier viewing page.) If you’re already in my blog, WELCOME! (One more hint: If you click on any of the photos in the blog, they should open up in a browser window so you can get a better look!) 

Big Bay Point Lighthouse
B&B

WIDMSV? – What I Did on My Summer Vacation!

The next time we go to the Marquette area, we want to stay at Big Bay Point Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast (http://www.bigbaylighthouse.com/home3.html). What an incredibly beautiful location! We didn’t go inside, but the outside was breath-taking. The lighthouse still operates (although it is now automated) and it sits on a high bluff. The only sound – even during the heart of the afternoon – was waves lapping at the bluff and birds singing. The grounds were lush with rugosa roses which smell incredible. There were lawn chairs to sit in so that you can relax and enjoy the scenery. We had actually gone to the lighthouse to do some birding. We did find very confiding American Redstarts and Song Sparrows, however it really wasn’t a good time to be birding. It was, however, a great time to find a jewel of a B&B. I have read that the B&B is for sale. I can only hope that it remains a B&B. I would imagine that it has to be a wonderful place to simply relax and to enjoy the stars.

View from
Big Bay Lighthouse B&B

 

One thing worth noting if you go to the Marquette area – most restaurants are closed on Sunday. While I appreciate this for everyone in the restaurant business, it can be somewhat difficult for tourists and vacationers. Thank goodness we found The Up North Lodge in Gwinn, MI (http://www.theupnorthlodge.com).

(Photos Courtesy of
The Up North Lodge)

 

Gwinn is between Marquette and Escanaba (in the moonlight or otherwise – Michigan/Jeff Daniels joke). It’s a nice little community, but there really isn’t much around there. What is there, however, is The Up North Lodge. This is a log-built restaurant and lounge. It’s really a beautiful building on a nice parcel of ground. They have outdoor seating available, but it was so terribly hot on July 1, that we definitely wanted to be inside. What an inside!

Inside the Up North Lodge

 

The lodge is well laid-out with huge windows and comfortable seating. We were seated very close to the windows. I’d hoped to see some of the birds that they attempt to coax with feeders. It was (apparently) too hot for the birds, as well.

 

We started with ‘Squeaky Cheese Curds.’ Okay, y’all, this is a benefit of being up north and near Wisconsin. To explain cheese curds, I went to my old ‘friend’ Wikipedia. “Cheese curds are little known in locations without cheese factories because they should ideally be eaten within hours of manufacture. Their flavor is mild, with about the same firmness as cheese, but with a springy or rubbery texture. Fresh curds squeak against the teeth when bitten into, a defining characteristic, due to air trapped inside the porous material.”

Up North Lodge in Winter
(Great snowmobile destination)

 

For dinner, Jim opted for their “famous” barbecued ribs. I chose the filet. Both meals came with salad bar (which, by the way, was exceedingly fresh and well stocked). Jim really enjoyed his ribs (although, being from the south, we are used to ‘barbecue’ including some smoke). I just have to tell you about the filet. Now y’all know me (well, most of you do). I’m a southern girl who has been blessed to do quite a bit of traveling in my life. I’ve eaten filets in some of the largest cities and in some of the most ‘famous’ restaurants. This filet – in Gwinn, Michigan – at The Up North Lodge – was one of the finest, most tender, and tastiest I have ever put in my mouth. It wasn’t over seasoned or over-done and it wasn’t over-priced. As a matter of fact, It WAS downright reasonably priced. The first bite was one of those “Ah HA!” moments. You know what I mean? It was one of those times when you just close your eyes, taste the food, and know you are eating a great piece of meat. (To all of you vegetarians out there, I just have to remind you that I am an unabashed carnivore!)

 

I don’t know how, but we found room for dessert. (Funny, when not on vacation, we almost never have room for dessert.) We split a piece of ‘Snickers’ pie. In many places, this kind of pie will be something the restaurant buys frozen in a box. This pie did not taste like it had ever been in a box or in a freezer. It was just enough sweetness to finish off a terrific meal.

 

Between the heat, the birding, the black-fly bites, and the copious quantities of food consumed, we were ready to make our way back to the B&B for a good night’s sleep. As Scarlett once said, “Tomorrow is another day.”

Up Next: Munising

 

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