Every February, usually the coldest and snowiest month of the year here in the Mitten State, a crowd of people flock to Dingell Park at the shoreline of the Detroit River. Some are photographers that set up tripods and use lenses the length of one’s arm, but most are ordinary folks toting binoculars, small cameras, or holding up their smartphones, all hoping to catch a glimpse, or capture an image, of the many Bald Eagles which frequent Mud Island.
Mud Island, a 21-acre uninhabited island across from Dingell Park, is comprised of dredge material, but has become a local habitat for a variety of songbirds, as well as the eagles, because of the abundance of trees in its naturally growing forest. There are Maple, Ash, Cottonwood and Willow trees on this property. It is rumored that deer, snakes and coyotes live on the island.
Here are some photos of Mud Island taken from the pavilion area.
A narrow passage of water called the Ecorse Channel is between Mud Island and Dingell Park. That water is full of aquatic plants which sustain the waterfowl, plus there is an abundance of fish which those same waterfowl and local fishermen covet and often compete for.
The eagles are savvy and know that during this time period the water generally freezes; if not solid, there are plenty of ice floes on which the eagles will perch and scope out the fish. The herons and seagulls at this venue are often found fishing on those same ice floes. So you can see why photographers are assured they will come home with a treasure trove of images from a visit to this venue in the dead of Winter.
Every year I usually hightail it to Dingell Park with my camera and binoculars two or three times during February and even early March. I suspect our brutal February likely took some of the pizazz out of this annual event, since never-ending snow, ice and cold pummeled this area for most of that month. But, once February’s incessant snow, ice and cold had departed, I was still hesitant to head there as the pavilion is fairly small and the crowd generally gathers, shoulder to shoulder, on the pavilion platform as it affords the best view.
Also, I kept checking the John D. Dingell Park Facebook page and it was NOT brimming with eagle and waterfowl shots by local photographers this year, so I suspected others were uneasy about social distancing just as I was.
But … I finally decided to throw caution to the wind and visit this venue on an early March weekday, but with a stipulation. If I saw the whites of anyone’s eyes, I wouldn’t even leave the car but instead head to Bishop Park, a mere two miles away, where the gulls pose and provide plenty of blog fodder.
It was a very cold, windy and gray morning and I left the house at 7:30 a.m. I figured no one else would be dumb enough to be traipsing along the water’s edge and I guessed 100% correctly, as I had the place to myself. Though I never saw a bald eagle, it was all good anyway as I took dozens of shots of the Mute Swans, a photogenic Canada Goose and a Mallard or two. I was patting myself on the back for going there, when it started to flurry. Soon big flakes were furiously flying and luckily I was under the pavilion, so I decided to wait it out.
The flurries persisted and then finally stopped, so I headed to Bishop Park, then Council Point Park, where flurries started and stopped at least three more times. Grrr!
So here’s a few shots of the waterfowl I saw at Dingell Park that morning. After my photos will be the second part of this long post, a tale that is sure to warm your heart despite the frigid locale.
Miracle on the Detroit River.
We’ve all heard about Sully Sullenberger’s Miracle on the Hudson and landing his plane on the Hudson River back in 2009 … well this tale is about Miracle on the Detroit River in 2021.
This story unfolded on the coldest day of this Winter Season. The 2021 Polar Vortex affected 86% of the country and 235 million people. Here in SE Michigan, the mercury had plunged to about -6F (-14C) that morning, and, like most Midwestern homeowners during this extreme cold spell, for about a week I had every tap trickling warm water and was washing small loads of laundry several times a day to warm the pipes.
On that bitter cold day, Wednesday, February 17th, a local photographer named Tim Epperly braved the elements and went to Dingell Park. Through his camera’s viewfinder he saw something which would soon captivate local residents, holding their rapt attention for the next four days (and even beyond that time period).
Tim Epperly used his camera’s long lens to focus on the object which was a small shaggy-haired dog. There was also a coyote. He watched the coyote chasing the small dog across the ice. This prompted Tim Epperly to capture the images he saw in the viewfinder, then he posted these images on Dingell Park’s Facebook page.
I happened to check out the Dingell Park Facebook site that evening, and, sitting here swaddled in my polar fleece jammies, the furnace roaring away, I was just as horrified as the many commenters who begged someone to do something to rescue that dog.
Patricia Trevino, Manager of the River Rouge Animal Shelter, doggedly pursued getting a rescue for this pooch. She pleaded with authorities to allow someone to go onto the ice, but, just a few days before, someone had jumped up and down on the ice a few miles down the River and plunged through (with no body recovered yet). The police were worried someone might lose their life trying to save the dog’s life and therefore immediately secured Dingell Park for everyone’s safety.
Over the next few days, within the presence of the police, people set up grills along the shoreline, hoping the smell of cooked meat wafting across the Ecorse Channel and the Detroit River would entice this shaggy pup to cross the ice and come to Dingell Park. But the idea, as brilliant as it was, did not work. Someone contacted WXYZ TV station and a reporter got involved as Ms. Trevino hounded and pleaded for someone to use an airboat or some device to rescue the dog as the brutal temps continued. There were many comments on each post that updated the status of the dog and situation.
Meanwhile, the plot thickened.
Across the Detroit River in Canada, the story likewise was a trending topic on their local news. The photographer, Tim Epperly, continued monitoring the dog, which was now closer to the Canadian side of the Detroit River.
Enter Jude Mead, Director of Operations at J&J Marine over in Windsor, who would relieve the angst of all of us animal lovers as he went on a mission on Sunday, February 21st to retrieve the poor pup, who by then had spent (at least) four days on the ice, after being chased by the coyote and was alone, cold and probably very hungry.
Jude Mead and another fellow hopped onto an airboat provided by nearby Wyandotte’s BASF Chemical Company.
The location of the pup was pinpointed here in Tim Epperly’s long lens image just before the rescue took place.
Next, Jude Mead sped across to the American side of the Detroit River. This was his arrival at Dingell Park’s boardwalk; look at the pup’s ice-covered legs and paws.
After placing the pooch in Patricia Trevino’s arms, amid collective cheers and tears, the nearly frozen dog was whisked away to the nearby Woodhaven Animal Hospital.
And they called it puppy love …
At Woodhaven Animal Hospital, Dr. Lucretia Greear went to work on this pooch, which we learned, via both Facebook sites, was someone’s pet named “Alfonso” who had escaped. The owner surrendered Alfonso and Dr. Greear promptly nicknamed him “Miracle” and upon examining him said the dog likely survived due to its heavily matted fur which offered some protection from the frigid temps. A crowdfunding site was soon brimming with donations to help pay for Miracle’s care. Thereafter, warm wishes, as well as many doggie sweaters and toys, were swiftly dropped off at the vet’s office.
Miracle was given sessions in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to assist in his recovery.
Photographer Tim Epperly captured these sweet photos of Miracle at the vet’s office after the matted hair was shaved off.
Here Miracle is sporting a sweater and showing off his haircut.
I’ve been following Miracle’s story in the news and via Woodhaven Animal Hospital’s Facebook site. Besides hyperbaric oxygen therapy for his frostbite injuries, Miracle had stem cell surgery for his existing hip dysplasia, medicine for prior pancreatitis woes and, after healing from those treatments and surgery, he was released to a foster family. He will be up for adoption in a few weeks. There are people from here in Michigan and Canada who want to adopt Miracle, as well as national and international inquiries about his adoption. What a heartwarming story with a good ending.
This was a photo taken of Dr. Greear and Miracle and featured in a March 6th update on his health on the vet’s Facebook site.
Thank goodness for Tim Epperly whose keen eye and his camera’s long lens spotted Miracle, Jude Mead for coming to the rescue of this poor pooch and Dr. Greear’s expertise and devotion to Miracle … all wonderful human beings who have given Miracle a new lease on life.
[Images used in this post about Miracle are from the Dingell Park and Woodhaven Animal Hospital’s Facebook pages and are mostly by photographer Tim Epperly.]