… in a deep and dark December.
This trek was taken on a gray and gloomy morning … Sunday, December 27th to be exact. Sadly, my long holiday weekend didn’t exactly go as planned – sigh. But, thank goodness I finally made it back to the Park after three long days. I was sure that three days felt more like three weeks to my furry and feathered buddies.
I had last walked on the Wednesday before Christmas and I left extra peanuts and sunflower seeds as they had predicted very high winds for Christmas Eve. As I tendered those treats, I told the squirrels “take some peanuts back to your nests and stay there ‘til you see the whites of my eyes on Christmas Day, because there’s a high wind advisory for tomorrow.”
Well that weather event indeed happened with winds clocked at 18 mph (28 kph), gusting even higher (21-25 mph) at my usual walking time. Because it’s wide open at this venue, high winds usually translate to difficulty walking, not to mention your hat going airborne.
When Christmas Day arrived, I peered out the screen door to see if we indeed got that predicted “dusting of snow, maybe an inch tops” that everyone had clamored for to make their Christmas Day complete. Yes, it had snowed and the traffic reporter called it “a bit slick” and naturally, due to the holiday, they hadn’t plowed the street and it was a totally white landscape. I lamented that just 24 hours earlier it had been clear as a bell and mild, albeit windy. I figured I’d walk in the street, but once outside, I saw the snow was a couple of inches deep and it was still snowing – sideways. I was glad I’d been generous when doling out peanuts and seeds on my last visit to the Park. I shoveled and hurried inside to get warmed up.
On Saturday, the 26th, my plans were thwarted again.
On Saturday I was up and at ‘em early, bound and determined to get to the Park, despite the additional nearly two inches (5 cms) of new snow; yes, I intended to make that two-mile roundtrip walk, no matter what.
That was my plan … until the plumbing emergency at 7:10 a.m. I won’t repeat my uttered words – they weren’t nice. While I stewed and fretted and pondered over this plumbing pain in the holiday weekend, I consoled myself with some of my friend Ann Marie’s homemade Christmas cookies, then put that tin away, before my morose mood had me finishing off the rest of them.
I shoveled and went to run the car. My boots were snow covered and rather than track snow into the car, I stood beside it while it was running and afterward until the exhaust had cleared from the garage. “Well that is interesting” I said while I gazed up at the top of the garage door and saw what appeared to be a clump of mud, about the size of my balled-up fist, in a place where mud would never be splattered. I didn’t have the camera, or I could have quickly zoomed in on it. I was perplexed – still am to be honest. It looked like a wasps’ nest. So, how long was it there? Did I need to hire a pest control service as the little buggers would go after me and I’d be held hostage in my car? I sighed deeply, then trudged back into the house to neaten it up before calling the plumber. While sipping my coffee I ruminated over my ruined Christmas weekend 2020 and had a few more cookies.
Once online, I Googled around and I believe it is a Mud Dauber’s nest, belonging to a type of friendly, spider-eating wasps that won’t harm you. The article suggested “no need to destroy the nest in Winter– they’re dormant now.” I have a few months to decide what to do, but suffice it to say that I hate and am afraid of spiders. I may just put out the welcome mat for these darling Daubers!
I finally made it down to the Park Sunday morning.
I was happy to leave the house with its calamities behind and headed to the Park, walking in the street, as the sidewalks were not clear, so the street was a safer bet. The Park’s parking lot had been plowed, but some glistening ice was evident, so I walked on the grass around the lot.
The perimeter path was snow-covered and evidently had not been plowed for either snowfall and there were drifts where snow had banked up in spots. I sure was glad I had worn my lug-soled boots and my high-water pants as I knew I was going to be traipsing through the snow to get to the Safe Haven Tree and/or I would cut across the snowy grass if the path was too slippery.
Well a pair of Cardinals, a Jay and a few squirrels were my welcoming committee. My heart hurt when I saw those tracks all around the memorial stone where my pals had arrived expecting to find food, but my heart soared that they had indeed paid attention to me where to show up for treats.
I announced to the crowd I would remedy their growling tummies soon, then dribbled sunflower seeds on the memorial stone after sweeping away some snow with my booted foot. Then I spread some peanuts around. Several more squirrels came bounding over.
I dragged out the camera, not easy with my two-part, flip-up gloves and cold fingers. The camera had no case because I had accidentally dropped it into the snow the weekend before and I wanted to ensure the case was completely dry before using it, so I carried the camera in my coat pocket in a wool sock.
Time to move on to spread a little more joy.
With everyone happily noshing nuts, I continued on my trek along the perimeter path. As you can see, nothing had been plowed, yet the walking path had already had a few early walkers as evidenced by their footprints.
I rounded the bend and noticed the ice on the water and a pale sun which made it sparkle. It was only 24F (-4C) so no wonder an icy veil covered over the Ecorse Creek.
Snow had settled onto the bare branches and the scene was picturesque.
I stopped in my tracks when Parker came up to me, eying the peanut bag. (Well, you could at least look happy to see me Parker.)
Since the path was snow covered, there was nowhere to put the peanuts without them sinking into the snow, so I stomped a thick boot print into the snow and dropped some peanuts in that indentation.
That idea met with the Parker’s approval and he quickly grabbed a peanut and …
… Fluff came bounding over to nab a peanut “to go” too.
As I neared the stump and fallen log at the somewhat secluded spot where I’ve been feeding the second bunch of furry and feathered pals, once again, I noted many footprints near the stump and along the fallen log and felt good that I have convinced them to come here to look for food. But my spirits sagged briefly as I pictured them wearing a path through the snow looking for treats the past two days.
I sprinkled their food, a cache of peanuts and sunflower seeds, hoping I didn’t meet up with any wayward squirrels or birds the rest of my time at the Park; for sure they would beg for treats and I’d be out. They don’t always understand if I point in the direction of the Safe Haven Tree or the stump and log area, and, if they are persistent enough, I make them follow me and lead the way. It racks up steps for me and helps them out too. I feel badly for them dealing with the elements in our harsh Michigan weather.
I had one more stop to see if any ducks were out and about.
My last stop would be at the cement ledge and I had packed some more crunchy, whole-grain WASA crackers for them in case the fisherman had not beaten me here today.
Well, the fisherman, whom I had seen over the past week or so, was there and dressed for the elements, with several fishing lines propped up nearby.
From the top of the hill, I crept up slowly behind him and got some photos …
… then walked down the hill a little closer to say “hello” and see if any ducks were out and about.
I introduced myself and mentioned the escapade with the passel of ducks greeting me and begging for food the previous week. He laughed. I continued, saying “they missed you and your food and decided I was an acceptable substitute, but I had carried no camera nor duck food and apologized profusely to them.” I told him I tried to make it up to them by toting duck treats several times before they finally graced me with their presence again.
I asked his name and learned it was Jacob. I said I was taking photos for my blog and he pointed to the graffiti-ridden cement ledge and explained the row of peanuts in the shell and abundance of sunflower seeds on the top of the ledge were laid out because “I knew I’d be here fishing awhile, so I brought black oilers for the birds and peanuts for the squirrels.” He continued, saying “if you stick around, there are two Chickadees who’ve been feasting on those sunflower seeds that you could take photos of.”
I was pleased to hear Chickadees would be visiting and soon I heard their familiar call, the “chickadee-dee-dee” and true to his word, a couple of those cutie-pie Black-capped Chickadees came by, one at a time, giving me a chance to get these photos below and the image up top.
Jacob had multiple fishing lines propped up, but the one in his hand he kept loading the hook with cracked corn. I marveled how quickly he loaded that “bait” and then was catching tiny perch left and right. Each time he removed the hook and tossed them back.
I got this picture of Jacob holding a perch.
The time passed quickly and we discussed some of the more unusual species of critters and birds we’d each seen at this venue. He showed me where he recently saw a mink. I told him I look for mink each trip to the marsh areas at Lake Erie Metropark, yet I’ve never seen one. I mentioned the coyote sightings and he said last year while ice fishing, he saw a coyote cross the Ecorse Creek. I’d have loved to see that!
While we were engrossed in conversation, out of the corner of my eye, I watched the chickadees bopping back and forth to the ledge, trusting us and filled with bravado for the sake of those sunflower seeds.
I learned about the various fish Jacob catches and always releases and that if he catches shad (a/k/a feeder fish), he throws them to the Creek bank for the mink or the ducks. He told me that Mallards love those shad but they only eat the heads and leave the rest. I know I must have grimaced at that statement, but who would know under my mask? I didn’t know whether to say “eww” or “oh” … I let his comment go, but mentally I wanted to unhear that tidbit about the Mallards’ dining idiosyncrasies and I know I may never view them the same way again.
Suddenly a few Mallards came close to the ledge where Jacob was sitting, obviously looking for handouts.
He pointed to the ledge, and, as if on cue, a Mallard flew up there. I was so shocked I didn’t take a picture and said “I’ve never seen them fly up to the top before and I’ve been coming to this Park since 2013” and he said “oh ya, all the time to get food!” The Mallard drake didn’t stay up there long and flew back into the water. I reached into my bag and said “let’s get a group of them up here – I’ve brought crackers.”
Oops! In my excitement to see the ducks lined on the ledge, I made a misstep.
I had the camera ready and one-handed, with the clumsy gloves on, I wrestled with the Ziploc bag to empty the contents onto the ledge and stepped forward and promptly fell. I was not hurt … unless, of course, you want to count my pride. Jacob didn’t notice as he was baiting his line, but I figured he saw me in his peripheral vision, so I remarked, from where I had unceremoniously plopped into the snow “now, I knew that slope was there and stepped into air under the snow. I’ve gone down this slope hundreds of time to take pictures!” Jacob said “I didn’t even see that happen – let me know if you need me to help you up, okay?” I sat there, on my butt and wasn’t able to get up right away as I was trying to hold the camera in the air with my left hand to avoid getting it wet and resigned myself I’d need to plunge my right hand into the snow with my gloved hand to push myself upright again.
I took this picture of the slope a few days later when the snow began melting so you could see what a dumb trick it was to step out into air off the slope you see in the foreground.
In the meantime, I laughed off my predicament saying “well I thought I’d get a different angle of the Chickadees from down here and commune with the ducks when they came for their crackers.” Jacob said the ducks are well fed as he had seen other people there feeding them just as he arrived and they had tossed down some corn. I said “of course, they’re like the squirrels – they give you the ‘I’m starving – feed me’ look – I know that look and I fall for it hook, line and sinker every time.”
I shucked off both pair of gloves, then took a few photos using my bare hands which were now very cold. I finally said goodbye after we had chatted amiably for about an hour in very cold temps.
[The next day I could barely sit down, having strained my quadriceps muscles in both thighs while getting out of the snow.]
Postscript to last week’s post about the brown ducks.
Even though this post is already incredibly long, I must mention this story.
Last Monday I wrote about some unusual-looking brown ducks at Council Point Park. You can click here to read that post if you missed it.
Since none of you could I.D. them, I reached out to Michigan Duck Rescue and Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization, based in Plymouth, Michigan. This organization does rescue and recovery of wounded ducks, rehoming them at their own home, consisting of spacious property with a pond. This organization’s purpose is giving “a lifetime retreat for injured and unwanted ducks” but coincidentally, when I sent the three photos to them last Wednesday night, I had no idea that the ducks at the Park were a domestic breed. I thought they were just a type of Mallard-Hybrid, but I was sure these folks could help me I.D. them. I received a quick response to my query. I was told they were male and female Domestic Khaki Campbell Ducks and was asked the next time I saw the pair to text the organization ASAP and a volunteer would be right over to retrieve them. It is believed they were pets and someone abandoned them. Of course, now I feel just sick I did not contact this place earlier. The pair, along with the Mallards, have been gone for over a week, likely the result of the Creek freezing over again on Saturday, January 9th. I researched a little about the breed – they are friendly and good to keep as pets. This likely accounts for the pair leading their brethren on a siege of the walkers … they no doubt thought we were toting treats and were not afraid of us humans at all.