I met Trapper Dave and Bobcat Bill at Foote Dam on the Au Sable River. Mallards and Common Goldeneyes swam below the dam. Cold air, -10 degrees F, and a five mile an hour breeze stung my cheeks. We headed toward the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base and possible Snowy Owls. We scanned the snow covered runways for owls. We saw no owls. Our only birds were a flock of Rock Pigeons on one of the hanger roofs. We decided to continue our owl quest at Tuttle Marsh.
Tuttle Marsh National Wildlife Area covers 5000 acres and is managed by the Huron National Forest. A loop road leads around the impoundment and my imagination turns every snow covered stub or small snow mound into an owl. We stop frequently and at one stop we find an otter slide. The otters crossed the road, slid down the bank and then pranced across a frozen pond. They are the only Michigan mammal to play solely to have fun.
We continue to the mouth of the Au Sable River and walk out the catwalk into Lake Huron. Shards of ice, several feet across, line the shore. Ice chunks float down the river and several Goldeneyes swim among them. On the lake side of the walk several round ice disks spin with the wave action. The turning disks contact other disks or rocks and wear down any sharp edges. I can see the disks growing in size as small pieces of floating ice adhere to the outside of the disk. Red-breasted Mergansers float in the waves out in the big lake. A stiff wind blows and we don’t dare stand in the open too long at these temperatures. We flee back to the warmth of the truck.
At Loud Dam we see a hundred Trumpeter Swans below the dam. I hear them call as I get out of the truck. Trumpeter Swan recovery is one of the greatest conservation stories. In 1933 only 66 Trumpeter Swans existed in the 48 states, fewer than I have in my current view. They are a common sight now in the Grayling area and we find one or two nests every year without searching. Buffleheads, Goldeneyes, Mallards, Common Mergansers are mixed in with the swans. David Sibley has some helpful tips for separating Trumpeter Swans from Tundra Swans.
Ice crystals form unique patterns at these temperatures. We find pretty crystal shapes along small streams and at the edge of the river.
We spent the day wandering through Nature even though the temperature never reached zero. We dressed for it and knew when to seek shelter from the wind. Despite the lack of a Snowy Owl it was a fun day. There are things to see outdoors in Michigan no matter the season. Get out and look.
Copyright 2018 by Donald Drife
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