Pileated Woodpecker

Jim Griffs, Your Shot
Jim Griffs, Your Shot

Finally summer and time to rent the cottage on Old Mission Peninsula in Traverse City, Michigan. It was one of those sun filled afternoons just perfect for a nap. I heard the sound of horses clip clopping down the road….I loved to watch the horses.  I looked out the window, there was not a horse to be seen. What was that noise then?  There in a dead tree was a bird, a bird unknown to me. I found a bird identification book….a Pileated Woodpecker….so there was a Woody Woodpecker.

A few years later we made Old Mission Peninsula our home and have come to know this woodpecker well. Being one of the largest birds to live in the forest it seeks out  mature trees accompanied by a good number of dead trees for its home. Their territories are large and protected year around. Having strong skulls, long beaks housing a long barred tongues makes it possible for the Pileated Woodpecker to get its  nourishment. Carpenter ants make up 40-97% of their diet. They will also dine on wood beetle larva, termites, cockroaches in addition to some fruits and nuts. Suet in a backyard feeder is not out of the question for this feathered fellow.

Photo by Christopher Rieser
Photo by Christopher Rieser

As we walk in the woods my husband and I look for the rectangular holes drilled  to find food only by the Pileated woodpecker.  When it is time for the male to make a nest he creates a oblong hole that can be 16-24 inches deep. The nests are used only once by the birds. Owls, ducks, bats and pine martins will move in in later years. As the woodpecker carves it makes a drumming sound, like horses walking down an asphalt road. When we hear this sound we search for this majestic bird.

Photo by Chris Rieser
Photo by Chris Rieser










Fortunately the Pileated Woodpecker is fairly common with a worldwide population of 1.9 million birds  67% of which live in the United States and Canada. Next time you are walking in the wood look for these prehistoric looking birds.

Click for video by Chris Rieser.

Photo by Chris Rieser
Photo by Chris Rieser

2016-02-01 11.13.03









Out My Back Door

Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 11.10.29 AMOne of the great joys of living in Northern Michigan is being able to observe a variety of wildlife right outside your back door. Every season brings challenges to both man and beast. Presently it is winter. Snow, wind, and below freezing temperatures are a daily event. Many Michiganers flee to the warm sun of the south, for me, I enjoy the peace and solace of winter, and make no mistake there is plenty of action outside.

One of my greatest adventures occurred several years ago. The crows were alerting the world of some sort of event in the yard next door. My neighbors  yard is not just any yard but a large field adjacent to a grape vineyard and apple orchard. I walked over to see what was of such great concern. There on the snow lay a dead white tailed deer. The deer lay on its side completely intact but for a large wound in its thigh.  The crows collected in the orchard and surrounding trees by the hundreds announcing this hearty meal.

 Coyote Tracks Photo by Roger Lupton on Flickr
Coyote Tracks
Photo by Roger Lupton on Flickr

I visited the carcass daily taking pictures and observing tracks. There was a wide assortment of large bird activity. I observed both crows and vultures in the area.  On my next trip I noticed a  dog like tract which I later learned was coyote. I have never seen a coyote in the area being the shy creatures they are, however they are very much here.  Over the first several days the carcass became smaller. On one visit, to my great surprise, the carcass had been moved a few yards closer to the hills. Eventually it was torn in two at the hips and dragged to two different locations close by. On the final day of my observation the two pieces had been carried off to  a den or community place I am not a part of.
This was a superb example of  ‘the transfer of energy’ a concept I taught my students when studying ecosystems. The deer received its energy from the grasses, fruit, and grains it foraged. They received their energy from the sun, soil and water. The crows, vultures and coyotes received their energy from the venison etc. I have decided not include a photo of this raw but fascinating side of nature.

My bird feeders, the deer block and the apples and peanuts I leave here and there are  also of great interest to a variety of creatures. I check these areas for live action. I find birds, mice (he or she lives in the birdhouse – scared me when I tried to clean it), American red squirrel, gray squirrel (we have an albino gray squirrel here), rabbit and deer tracks with each new snow. I also find mouse, vole, or other small rodent trails under the snow….funny little subway system.

Rodent tunnel
Rodent tunnel
Rabbit Trail To The Pine Trees
Rabbit Trail From The Pine Trees
Rodent Tracks
Rodent Tracks


Rabbit Tracks
Rabbit Tracks


Crow Track They watch me all the time.
Crow Track
They watch me all the time.
Song Bird Tracks Junko (?)
Song Bird Tracks
Junko (?)


American Red Squirrel Tracks
American Red Squirrel Track
White Tailed Deer
White Tailed Deer







Gray squirrel
Gray squirrel

After the next snow fall explore for tracks. They are fun to find and identify.





Owney – The Post Office Dog

2c1f_1_owney2Anyone who knows a dog knows they are a gift to the world. Dogs play so many roles on this Earth: they are companions, nannies, guides, therapists, to mention a few. To list all the services provided by a dog would be unending. Sometime ago I learned the story of a special dog living a very unusual life of his own creation.

Owney, a homeless Border Terrier lived in Albany, New York. That night in 1888 it was windy, rainy and bone cold. As he traveled the alley Owney spotted a door opened, ever so slightly, with what appeared to be light and warmth on the other side. Not being the shy type he entered the back room of the Albany Post Office and slept among the warm leather mail bags. A postal clerk, Owen adopted the dog who became known as Owney.

The Albany Post Office became Owney’s  home. His primary interest were the mailbags, he never left their side and was particular as to who touch them. Railway Mail Service processed a great deal of the mail in those days. Owney rode in the mail wagon as it transferred bags of mail to the station. On one of these trips a mailbag fell off the wagon unnoticed by the postal clerk. Owney jumped off the wagon and laid with the mail bag until it was retrieved by the proper official. It was then Owney became the unofficial mascot of the United States Postal Service.Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 10.18.11 AM

Oweny’s life became a dog’s dream…he was free to travel by train wherever he wished, when he wished and was able to protect his precious mailbags. He traveled from one end of the country to other. When Owney was on the train there was never a wreck (wrecks were common in those days) and Owney was considered good luck. He often jumped from one mail car to another never quite knowing where he was headed. Owney was often gone for weeks at a time no one really sure where he was.

There was one period of great concern. Owney had been out of touch for a particularly long time. It so happens that he had landed in Canada. The  Canadian postmaster was not pleased. He caged Owney and wrote to the Albany Post Office telling them he would be returned upon receipt of $2.50 for dog food. Owney’s bill was paid and he returned to Albany.

The Albany Postal Clerks were concerned for Owney’s safety. They made him a sturdy collar with a tag so he would always come home safely. As Owney traveled people added tags. His collar became so heavy he needed a harness to help carry the weight.  Over his life time he collected approximately 372 tags.

Owney became an international star traveling to Mexico, Japan, Alaska, China, Singapore and the Suiz. He was loved by the world. He received approximately 1,017 medals, among them the medal of “Best Traveled Dog” in 1893 and “Globe Trotter” in 1894. It is estimated Owney traveled 143,000 miles.

0_052985_274_1a-thSadly, as with all of us the years took their tole on Onwey. At the age of ten he was in fragile health and banned from riding the rails. J.M. Elben ,a postal clerk from the St.Louis office, adopted Owney. Unfortunately they allowed Owney one more trip. It was on this trip Owney fell ill and bit a postal clerk and U.S. Marshall. Owney was shot. There was a public outcry. The Chicago Tribune calling it an execution. June 11, 1897 Owney was put down in Toledo, Ohio.

The postal community could not let Owney go. They had his body preserved and in 1904 put his effigy on display at the St. Louis Worlds Fair. In 1911 Owney was put on display at the Smithsonian Museum where you can still find him along with his collar and a few of his tags.   After a 2011 restoration Owney looks better than ever and is said to be one of the most interesting displays. In that same year the United States Postal Service issued a forever stamp honoring Owney.

Share in Owney’s stories through the following websites in addition to the books and videos recalling a very special dog.


















IMG_1042With the advent of February I begin to think of having fresh flowers in the house other than poinsettias. I begin to inspect the cut flower section of the grocery store and one day there they are, tulips. How special to have a vase full of tulips as the snow covers the ground.

As I admired the tulips on my dining room table I wondered about their origin. I began to research and found a lot more than I expected and can reveal in this short blog. My intention is to entice you to do more research on your own using the websites at the end of this blog.

Tulips began as wildflowers growing across Central Asia. In the year 1,000 AD the tulip was cultivate by the Turks and introduced to Western Europe and the Netherlands. Resembling a Turkish turban the Turks named the flower tulip the Turkish word for turban.

The tulip became a very popular decorative plant. They looked very different from the flowers of the day. Their intense color and petals were thought to be lovely. Hybrids were created and mutations evolved. One mutation caused by a virus carried by a louse living in peaches and Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 12.05.46 PMpotatoes, the mosaic virus or breaking virus caused the tulip to develop a frilly edge and multi-colored petals. They were highly sought after tulips due to their rarity.

The tulip soon became a status symbol. As time passed the price of bulbs became excessive. The peak of this excess came between 1636 and 1637 also called the Dutch Golden Age. This span of time became known as “Tulipmania”. In 1636 the tulip bulb was the fourth leading export from the Netherlands. Tulips were sold by weight while they were still in the ground. Selling un-sprouted tulip bulbs was called “wind trade”. At this time one could pay ten times the annual income of a craftsmen or as much as the cost of a house for a bulb.   Tulip bulbs were also used as currency  in the market place.

As bulbs became more plentiful the cost went down and it went down fast. This became known as the “Tulip Crash”. Many people went into the tulip trade some making a fortune and others losing a fortune.

The immigrating Dutch brought tulips to America. Tulip Festivals are still held in Holland, Michigan and New York City, New York.

A tulip can be developed from a seed or an offset. The seed takes several years to develop into a viable bulb. The offset will develop into a plant in less time.

The purpose of a tulip bulb is to protect the blossom and leaves during the cooler seasons. Leaves called scales surround the tender plant. The scales hold nutrient to feed the young plant. At the base of the bulb bulblets or offsets are formed. In the fall tulip bulbs are harvested. The offsets are removed and planted so that they might mature into bulbs. The mature bulbs are stored in a cool dry place until it is time to be replanted.

Today our tulip bulbs are healthy and genetically stable hybrids. The tulip is still a highly regarded  flower through out the world.  The Netherlands is the leading producer of tulip bulbs.

If you wish to travel to the Netherlands Keukenhof Park is the place to go. Keukenhof Park is a most famous and the largest tulip Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 11.44.44 AMpark in Europe. The seven million bulbs and 800 varieties of tulips create a fabulous color palate between April and May.


Who would have thought the tulip, this simple flower played such a vivid role in history. As you treat yourself to a tulip bouquet or watch the spring tulips appear think of the tulip as an influential and mighty flower.


Websites used and for further reading: