On Sunday March 15th we had a spectacular sunrise, and, while I waited for the sky to lighten up and the morning to unfold, I pondered on that day’s destination.
I’ve wanted to try Crosswinds Marsh and Nature Preserve in New Boston for a couple of years now. But, it seems there was always something holding me back – no, not the worry of getting lost, (even though I finally bought a paper map after getting lost in the boonies of Belleville enroute to the Sunflower Festival).
Since following Crosswinds on social media and reading comments on their site, as well as from other walkers, I have learned this 1,050-acre venue consisting of marshes, meadows and forest wetlands, has had its share of issues from torrential flooding to ticks and it is considered a hubbub of mosquitoes once our hot and humid days arrive. Last year Michiganders worried about mosquito-borne issues like West Nile virus and EEE virus … so did I really want to go there and risk a bite? (Who knew that 2020 would find us worrying about a bigger virus than ever before?)
I figured I’d give it a go since we’d not had rain, and mosquitoes and ticks may still be sleeping, but, after mapping out my directions, at the last minute, I changed my mind and decided to go gallavantin’ on Grosse Ile instead.
First, I stopped for a few hours at Elizabeth Park, hoping to get some more birds-hanging-out-at-the-feeder photos, so that trek will be fodder for a future post.
It was an afternoon of alpacas and “winged things”.
I made several trips to Grosse Ile last year. There was a 5K Memorial Run/Walk, a lighthouse tour and a few unsuccessful trips to the sticks to look for deer (only to see two bucks walking down the middle of the street while I was driving, and could not stop and capture their images).
But those trips paled in comparison to my visit to the Gibralter Bay Alpaca Farm in the Fall of 2018. I spent a few hours around the perimeter of the farm taking pictures of those fuzzy critters, then speaking with Gail, who co-owns the farm with her husband Richard. This is the post if you’d care to read it.
I sent that blog post to Gail and Richard via Facebook, then we had a back-and-forth about when the alpacas would be sheared as I wanted to see them at their fuzziest. Richard said late April, and since he is a beekeeper, he also invited me to stop and watch him taking the honey off the hives. Well both ideas piqued my interest, but with so many torrential rainy weekends in April 2019, I never made it back there.
I figured if I wanted to see fuzzy alpacas, I’d better hurry. Unfortunately, the Grosse Ile free bridge (pictured up top) is closing for repairs April 30th through October. The toll bridge charges $5.00 for a round trip to the Island and I haven’t a clue where that bridge is. And if this April was anything like the Spring of 2018 and 2019 … best get while the gettin’s good.
So, off I went to see the cutie pies and explore a little more of Grosse Ile.
I parked out front of Gibralter Bay Alpaca Farm and stepped out of the car. In my peripheral vision I saw a flurry of dark brown feathery bodies run by. I squinted from the sun and took a closer look to see turkeys running around the side of the barn. “Well, cool” I thought as I’d never seen turkeys before, wild or otherwise. I grabbed the camera and just then a woman appeared out of nowhere and asked if I had come to visit the farm. “Yes” I told her, “but just the perimeter area to look at the alpacas, like I did last time.” She told me the farm was closed due to the Coronavirus and worries about accidental contamination of the virus onto the alpacas’ long fibers and making them sick. I told her I was healthy, but I understood and didn’t intend to get too close to the alpacas as I didn’t want to get spit on. She smiled and said “okay then” and I added “I want to see those turkeys too!” She told me they were wild turkeys and to be careful. (Yikes!)
The turkeys evidently disappeared by the time I grabbed the camera and was ready to take pictures, so likely, if I hadn’t lingered as long at Elizabeth Park, I might have gotten a few shots of them.
Where the boys are.
“Where the boys are” is not just an old movie about some college girls’ quest to find boys during Spring break in Florida circa 1960, nor is it about the Connie Francis song by the same title. Step back 60 years and look at Spring Break then ….
Oh, I believe I digressed a bit. Where the boys are is in an enclosure to the left of the barn – this is where the male alpacas roam during the day. And, as I strode over to the fence, their curiosity got the better of them. In fact, one alpaca even interrupted his roll in the hay on this sunshiny day to inspect me. Well, did I pass muster? Just in case of a spit-attack, (and keeping with my promise to stand a few paces back), we had a bit of a stare-down, then he plopped onto the ground with his buddy to enjoy the sunny afternoon.
I got eye-balled by a few more of the alpacas as they sized me up, all with curious looks as if to say “hey, that wool cap with the pompom you’re wearing … did it come from me?”
The fact is, when the alpacas are sheared in the Spring, each one’s curly locks are bagged with their name, then all bags are sent to a processing plant and skeins of wool are returned, each bearing that alpaca’s name. The wool is pure, devoid of color or dyes and is sold in the farm’s gift shop. Knitters assemble for the gift shop’s knitting club and churn out items that are also for sale at that same store.
Here are some more of the boys’ pictures:
While admiring and taking photos of these inquisitive creatures, Richard, one of the owners, came over and introduced himself.
We chitchatted a little and I mentioned I was the one who had written the blog post and he remembered me. So, I got a little tour of the alpaca farm and we stepped over to the other side of the barn to visit the female alpacas, a/k/a “the girls” … Richard gave a whistle and a pack of alpacas immediately came running over to the fence.
This is “Charm” the leader of the female alpacas and she is front and center here.
The alpacas quickly snugged up to the fence, clustering around Richard as I stood a little bit back; others queued up perhaps for a pat or a treat of baby carrots. I learned that this was why this time, and my last visit, the alpacas came to the fence, thinking that I had a treat (not because of my smiling and friendly face).
Here are some of the pictures of female alpacas in and around their pen.
Richard offered me a quick tour around the property. I lamented a little over missing the wild turkeys and he said they show up every day as he feeds them grain, so they gather around him, sometimes hopping onto his truck around the usual feeding time. He looked near some brush where they sometimes hang out, but no turkeys (hmm, kind of rude to just eat and run guys!)
While touring the outskirts of the property, we were very close to the Grosse Ile Airport. There is a helicopter flight school and we watched one coming in for a landing, as well as a few planes.
I told Richard I always wanted to go to the Grosse Ile Airport when the Goodyear Blimp was in town for the Grand Prix. I saw the blimp up close and personal as we Downtown Detroit office workers leaned out office building windows to wave “hello” during the inaugural Grand Prix event when it was held right in downtown proper in 1982. The Goodyear Blimp would stay at this airport and travel to/from the Grand Prix each of the three days for Free Prix Day, time trials and race day. I’d see the blimp hovering high above the neighborhood as it made its way to Detroit on the weekend afternoons, then returning at night lit up like a Christmas tree. There are only smaller blimps that come to this hangar now unfortunately.
After scouring the skies for helicopters and small planes, and taking a handful of photos, we headed back to the farm. After we parted, I decided to walk the half-mile to the airport and explore some more.
There was really not much to see there to be honest; more was happening in the air, but I saw this plane and got up close to it.
My parting shot was this sign which grabbed my attention.
But wait – there were more “winged things” I saw that day.
I’d already seen turkeys and whirlybirds, but a few more birds awaited me, like this one:
I could hardly wait to get home to see what mystery bird of prey my camera had hopefully captured, thinking I might be crossing hawk off my photo bucket list. I took about ten pictures – this was the best shot. I have omitted the blurry shot of the bright-red head of a turkey vulture.
I also saw a few Song Sparrows along the way before I finally called it a day.