Welcome to SCHOCK MCCOY PRODUCTIONS by J.H.McCoy. This website will give you information about a variety of topics: nature, literature, history, and astronomy, as well as additional details about my articles in THE MINDEN CITY HERALD (989-864-3630). The last two pages are a tribute to my mother, Gloria (Schock) McCoy (1923-2013). The journal she wrote on our trip West (1977) can be found in "Writing/GSM."  It is my hope that you will always find something interesting and informative on this website and that 
you will visit often.  Please sign the guest book, and thank you for stopping by.       
        J.H. (John Herbert) McCoy           
 THE MINDEN CITY HERALD          SAND BEACH TWP.
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  ​ 
      
FEBRUARY 
      SKY
      RECOMMENDED READING
 (after a visit to Walnut Grove, Minnesota)
SKY CALENDAR
ABRAMS PLANETARIUM
SUBSCRIPTION/ $12
START ANYTIME
REMEMBERING HOW IT WAS
THE CAMERA SKETCH BOOK **
** With apologies to Washington Irving and THE SKETCH BOOK OF GEOFFREY CRAYON, GENT. (1819-1820).
    (Click on small "pics" to enlarge)
Canada geese fly by.
Mourning doves
TODAY
YESTERDAY
THE "BURN BOSS"  IN THE WHITE HELMET
J.H.MCCOY
 SATURN
     (SE)
​MORNING PLANETS
1621

A QUOTATION FOR FEBRUARY  
@
 WINTER IN SAND BEACH TOWNSHIP
"Yesterday was 'ground-hog day' in many parts of the United States, and Candlemas day in many other parts of the world.  From time immemorial, it has been a critical day in the affairs of the weather.  The character of the second of February is really of much more importance than whether the first of March comes in like a lion or a lamb.  The simplest form of the adage is: - 
If Candlemas be bright and clear, / There'll be two winters in that year." 
 
from Hartford Courant, Feb. 3, 1877



FEB. 14  VALENTINE'S DAY
FEB. 19  PRESIDENTS' DAY - U.S. HOLIDAY
FEB. 22  GEORGE WASHINGTON, 1732, U.S. PRESIDENT  VIDEO
FEB. 25  PIERRE AGUSTE RENOIR, 1851, FRENCH PAINTER
FEB. 26  VICTOR HUGO, 1802, NOVELIST, "LES MISERABLES"
FEB. 26  WILLIAM F. CODY, 1846, 'BUFFALO BILL"
FEB. 27  HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW, 1807. POET
FEB. 27  JOHN STEINBECK, 1902, "THE GRAPES OF WRATH"
from THE OLD TEACHER'S ALMANAC
THE NEXT FULL MOON WILL BE MARCH 1.  THAT MEANS ANOTHER "BLUE MOON" IN MARCH. EARLIER ONE IN JANUARY.
MARS
​  (SE)
GREAT AMERICAN BIRD COUNT OF 2018
++  all photos in THE CAMERA SKETCH BOOK are unedited  ++
JUPITER
    (SE)
MARK OF THE BEAVER AND THE MCSGA
             THIS WEEK IN    
THE MINDEN CITY HERALD
THE MINDEN CITY HERALD
        FEBRUARY 8, 2018
SNOWY OWLS - THEY'RE BACK!
from THE MINDEN CITY HERALD - JANUARY 14, 2018

In the winter of 2013-2014, snowy owls seemed to be everywhere.   They invaded the northern U.S. in unprecedented numbers and were even seen as far south as Arkansas, Florida, and Bermuda. Wildlife experts believed it was the largest southward winter migration (irruption) of snowy owls 
in fifty years – some said, “in a century.”

Naturalist author Scott Weidensaul, who bands and tracks these large circumpolar birds of prey 
for Project SNOWstorm, claimed this remarkable influx of owls was not likely to happen a second time: "We probably won't see something like this again in our lifetime."   

But it now looks as if he may have been wrong.

Long before the official first day of winter on December 21, snowy owls began appearing in large numbers throughout the Great Lakes region.   In Michigan, they were spotted in the U.P. in late October and early November, and their numbers continued to build.  Near Manistique, several snowy owls sat on power poles along a highway and caused a minor traffic jam; one showed up 
in downtown Marquette; and there were reports of snowy owls perched on the Mackinac Bridge.

Researchers are now saying that the current snowy owl irruption could even be larger than the 
one that occurred in 2013-2014.

The cause of this year’s southward migration is probably the same as four years ago - a snowy 
owl “population boom.”   When food is abundant, nesting owls raise large numbers of young, sometimes as many as ten or twelve in a nest.

Lemmings are their favorite prey, and when these small rodents (about the size of hamsters) are plentiful, so are baby owls.  If prey is scarce, nesting snowy owls will raise fewer young; or they may not even nest at all.

Evidently, 2017 was a good year for lemmings, and with plenty of prey available, the snowy owl population exploded.   According to Weidensaul of Project SNOWstorm, “There was a major breeding event in northern Canada this year.”

However, the downside was that eventually there were too many young owls and not enough food.  Driven by hunger, this year’s crop of owls headed south early in search of prey.   Most of the snowy owls seen in Michigan and the Great Lakes region are juveniles, also known as “hatch-year birds.”

In 2014, I wrote three articles for The Minden City Herald about snowy owls, including a story about one trapped at the top of a power pole when its wing was pierced by a long wire.   Jimmy Vogel of Palms, a lineman for Thumb Electric Cooperative, became a local hero after he saved the struggling owl and pictures of the dramatic rescue were posted on Facebook.

The story made the front page of the Huron Daily Tribune on February 5, 2014, and my article, “Snowy Owl Rescued in Sanilac County,” appeared in The Minden City Herald the next day.

Many dangers await migrating snowy owls as they wing their way south in search of better hunting and more abundant prey.  Collisions with cars, airplanes, utility lines, and wind turbines take their toll.  Freak accidents, like the one at the top of the power pole, can also happen. Sometimes, snowy owls have even been shot at airports when authorities determined they were a danger to aviation (“Snowy Owls on the Wing….and Airport Dangers” - The Minden City Herald, February 13, 2014).

Some young snowy owls die of starvation.  The learning curve is steep for juvenile birds, especially in unfamiliar territory; and nature is unforgiving.  Like many other bird species, only the strong and fortunate survive their first year. 

Sometimes, human intervention is necessary to save unlucky owls from certain death.   Recently, the Wildlife Recovery Association of Shepherd, Michigan, which rescues injured birds of prey, posted pictures on Facebook of snowy owls they helped in the past month.   Joe and Barb Rogers of the WRA have taken in four snowy owls so far this winter and have saved all but one.

Surprisingly, three of the four rescued owls ran into trouble hunting mice in cow barns.   By accident, they became covered with manure, which froze on their feathers and prevented them from flying and hunting.   Frozen feathers also mean a lack of warmth and insulation – certain death for any bird in subzero temperatures. 

The one snowy owl the Rogers could not save was badly injured in a cow barn.  Covered with manure, it was unable to fly and was trampled by the cattle.

Joe and Barb Rogers also rescued a young snowy owl that entered a duck and goose pen through a small opening at the top and was subsequently trapped inside.   The hungry owl killed a duck 
but then was attacked and beat up by the geese.   Luckily for the injured owl, the owner called the Wildlife Recovery Association.

All four owls rescued by the WRA were also infested with lice and had to be deloused.  Once owls get into trouble and can no longer groom themselves properly, the vermin population multiplies, which only adds to their misery and stress. 

The Wildlife Recovery Association has received several calls this winter about weak and starving owls, and Barb Rogers believes that one of the reasons is a lack of mice and voles in area fields. Unable to find prey in the usual locations, some snowy owls have resorted to hunting in more dangerous places like cow barns and poultry pens.

The four injured snowy owls the WRA took in this year bring to light some of the more unusual dangers these large birds of prey face as they struggle to survive the winter south of the Canadian border.  One can only imagine all the other perilous situations they encounter.   Who knows how many injured, sick, or starving owls die unseen and unreported…. with no Wildlife Recovery Association to intervene.

With this in mind, Joe and Barb Rogers also posted a warning on Facebook for birders and photographers, cautioning them not to approach snowy owls too closely even though they may appear to be quite tame.  Owl watchers are encouraged to give the birds space and not cause 
them additional stress.  Every bit of energy the owls expend interacting with humans can reduce their chances of survival.

The WRA suggests using binoculars, a scope, or a telephoto lens rather than a nearer approach. Each time a snowy owl is flushed from its perch because observers get too close, it wastes precious energy, which it may need to survive.

The snowy owl irruption of 2017-2018 is a great opportunity for residents of Michigan and the Thumb to see one of the most beautiful and charismatic birds of the Great White North, but for 
the owls themselves their sojourn here is not a game - it is life-and-death with the odds often stacked against them.

J.H.McCoy

Notes: The Wildlife Recovery Association is a non-profit organization located at 531 S. Coleman Rd., Shepherd, Michigan.   Joe and Barb Rogers not only promote appreciation, understanding, 
and protection of wild hawks, owls, eagles, and falcons; but they also rescue birds of prey which get in trouble.  If you see a snowy owl that has been injured or cannot fly, you can call them at:  
989-772-1538.

Since the Wildlife Recovery Association is a nonprofit organization, they appreciate new memberships and any and all donations.   Currently, they have a matching grant from the 
Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, so all donations they receive are automatically doubled.  
Last year, the Wildlife Recovery Association received and treated approximately 100 injured birds (hawks, owls, eagles, and falcons).  They also continue to monitor and study peregrine falcons 
in the Upper Peninsula.

Every summer, Joe and Barb Rogers give a presentation on birds of prey at the Huron County Nature Center.   It is one of the most popular Saturday Programs and very well-attended every year.

The Wildlife Recovery Association is on Facebook. You can give them a LIKE there and then follow their posts. Their web address is: www.wildliferecovery.org.

Incidentally, I am a member of WRA, and I sent in my 2018 donation while writing this article.

In 2014, my third story about snowy owls was called, “Two Snowy Owls on Atwater….Maybe Three.” It appeared in The Minden City Herald on January 2,2014.

                                                                        +++++


ON A COLD AND WINDY NEW YEAR'S DAY, A SNOWY OWL FACES INTO THE WIND IN SAND BEACH TOWNSHIP.
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             "SNOWY OWLS - THEY'RE BACK"
"LAURA INGALLS WILDER AT 150" 
EVENING PLANETS
VENUS
   (W)
Anyone who spends time in the Minden City State Game Area (MCSGA) will eventually 
come across beaver sign.  It might be a well-constructed dam blocking a ditch or small stream.   It could be a large aspen lying on the ground and scarred with tell-tale tooth marks.   Or it might be the stump of a small tree or shrub, seemingly sharpened to a point and surrounded by wood chips.

The American beaver, Castor canadensis, is a rodent or gnawing mammal.  It is related 
to squirrels, gophers, and woodchucks, as well as to porcupines, muskrats, and field mice.  Weighing 20 – 60 pounds, the beaver is much larger than other members of the rodent family; in fact, it is the second-largest rodent in the world - only the capybara of South America outweighs it. (The only other beaver species in the world is the Eurasian or European beaver (Castor fiber) – superficially similar, but different from and not genetically compatible with Castor canadensis.)

Everyone knows what the American beaver looks like.  The Audubon Nature Encyclopedia gives a detailed description:

“The beaver is a chunky animal with dark brown back and sides, and with somewhat 
lighter underparts.   It has a large, deep head with small, rounded ears – which nevertheless are prominent, particularly when the animal is swimming.   In the front of the mouth are 
very strong, chisel-shaped incisor teeth, two above and two below, which serve as the 
tools and weapons of this animal.   These teeth are noticeable, not only because of their large size but also because of their yellow color.  The forefeet of the beaver are rather small and clawed; they are very mobile and serve as rather efficient hands.   The hindfeet are 
large and have webs between the toes – obviously to propel the animal through the water.  Perhaps the most characteristic external feature of the beaver is the broad, flat, trowel-shaped tail, virtually naked of hair and covered with overlapping scales.”

While swimming, a beaver uses its flat, powerful tail to control direction and as an aid to propulsion; the tail also serves as a prop on land when a beaver stands on its hind legs.  
A beaver also uses its tail to warn nearby family members of approaching danger.   Just before it dives to safety, the beaver slaps the water with its tail, producing a loud, sharp warning sound to alert all others within hearing.   Beavers in the vicinity will usually follow suit, and a series of explosive slaps might echo across a beaver pond.

Seeing the “mark of the beaver” in the Minden City State Game Area reminded me that beavers have always been here.   Long before European settlement, native tribesmen hunted them in the Great Lakes region and locally in the so-called “Minden Swamp.”  
Later, their soft, shiny fur became an important trade item as white men penetrated the North American wilderness.

Fortunes were made on beaver pelts, and men like John Jacob Astor (1763-1848) got rich buying and selling furs.  The Hudson Bay Company, chartered in 1670, controlled the British fur trade in North America for centuries, shipping millions of beaver pelts to England.  
Their coat of arms featured a silver shield supported by two elk (similar to Michigan’s 
Great Seal) and a red cross with four beavers, one in each quarter.  The motto read: pro 
pelle cutem (“skin for leather”).

In 1680, the Hudson Bay Company began trading their famous 100% wool “point blankets” for beaver pelts.   The short black lines woven into each blanket indicated its size and could be seen when it was folded.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not true that the number of black lines on the blanket indicated the exact number of beaver pelts required to make a trade.  The lines merely indicated the blanket’s size, and that alone determined what it was worth in beaver pelts. During the fur trade era, the most popular sizes were 2 ½, 3, 3 ½, and 4 points; but that was before the size of beds increased dramatically.   Today, Hudson Bay blankets come in a 6 (queen) and an 8 point size (king).

In North America, the fur trade was the backbone of the economy for at least two hundred years, and the beaver pelt was the most lucrative and widely traded item.   The Audubon Nature Encyclopedia describes the close connection between the beaver and the settling 
of the North American wilderness:

“The trade in beaver skins formed a basis for the early settlement of North America, and the history of Canada particularly has paralleled the traffic in beavers.   New Amsterdam, which later was to become New York, was founded as a trading post, the most important commodity of which was beaver pelts.”

The Seal of New York City still has two beavers on it, symbolic of its historic link with the beaver trade; and the beaver is the official national animal of Canada and is featured on 
the Canadian nickel.   Even the scientific Latin name, Castor canadensis, reflects its close connection with Canada.   In most field guides, the large aquatic mammal is called the “American beaver,” but the Latin translation is “Canadian beaver.”

Between the 1600’s and early 1800’s, beavers were the most hunted animals in North America, and the most valuable.  In the late 1600’s, a man could trade twelve beaver pelts 
for a gun, and a single skin could purchase four pounds of shot, a kettle, or a pound of tobacco.

As beaver populations declined in the east, French, English and American trappers slowly moved farther west.  Much of the exploration of western North America was done by trappers and mountain men, who constantly searched for streams and rivers that had not yet been trapped out.

Although Native Americans hunted beaver and traded their pelts to the Europeans, they 
had great respect for the animal and its ways.  They regarded the beaver as a special creature, which had the power to create “new worlds” by building dams and producing 
life-giving ponds.

In his book Mammals of Michigan Field Guide, Stan Tekiela gives a modern twist to the old belief:

“No other mammal besides humans changes its environment as much as beavers.   
Beaver ponds play an important role in moose populations.  Moose feed on aquatic plants, cool themselves and escape biting insects in summer in beaver ponds.  Other animals such as frogs, turtles and many bird species, including ducks, herons, and egrets also benefit from the newly created habitat.”

Today, the beaver population of North America is only a small fraction of what it once was. According to The Audubon Nature Encyclopedia, “…conservative estimates place the [historic] number at no less than 60 million, and more probably at 100 million.”   Like the vast herds of bison on the Great Plains, beavers were nearly exterminated by unregulated slaughter.

However, the Kaufman Field Guide to Mammals of North America claims that the beaver 
“…has been restored to much of its former range.”  The field guide’s range map indicates that today the beaver is common in the Canadian Provinces and in almost all of the fifty states, excluding Florida, Hawaii, Southern California and much of Nevada and Arizona.

Beaver trapping is now controlled and regulated by the states in order to protect the species, but beavers still run afoul of human settlement.  Road commissioners look askance at beaver dams because they might flood county roads, and as a rule, no land owner wants his trees cut down or his fields flooded by beavers.

But, there is still room for Castor canadensis on public land and in places like the Minden City State Game Area.

Tim Gierman, Wildlife Technician for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in the Cass City Office, believes the MCSGA is home to a sizable number of beavers.   He called the 9,000 acres of state land in northern Sanilac County “ideal beaver habitat” and 
a “beaver Nirvana.”

Unfortunately, some of this “ideal beaver habitat” borders roads and farm fields at the 
edges of the game area.  When “nuisance beavers” block drainage ditches and flood agricultural land or area roads, various state and county offices step in.   For example, during the closed season, the DNR can issue a special permit to trap offending beavers; 
and the road commission will supervise the removal of dams when local roads are involved.

Incidentally, it is legal to trap beavers in the MCSGA, and there is no bag limit. The trapping season runs from November 10 to March 31.

The beaver population of today is only a remnant of the untold millions that once lived in North America.  However, I am glad that some of these iconic animals can still be found in the Minden City State Game Area - itself a small fraction of the vast acreage that once was known as the “Minden Swamp.”

J.H.McCoy

Notes: “Active mainly at night, [a beaver is] often seen or heard at dusk swimming with
just its head showing above the water or slapping its tail on the surface of the water in alarm…. Beavers along rivers live in burrows in banks, but those in quieter waters build elaborate lodges with underwater entrances, dry living quarters, floors lined with wood chips, and vents for fresh air.  [They eat] the inner bark of willow, aspen, and other trees, using the stripped logs for construction.” from the Kaufman Field Guide to Mammals of North America 

“At the lodge, [a beaver] eats the soft bark of smaller branches the way we eat corn on 
the cob.  Doesn’t eat the interior wood.   Stores branches for winter use by sticking them 
in the mud on a lake or river bottom….Monogamous and mates for life.   However, will take 
a new mate if partner is lost.  Can live up to 20 years in captivity.... Dam repair is triggered by the sound of moving water, not by sight.   Most repair activity takes place at night.” from Mammals of Michigan Field Guide, Stan Tekiela

“The ponds created by well-maintained dams help isolate the beavers’ homes, which are called lodges.  These are created from severed branches and mud.  The beavers cover their lodges late each autumn with fresh mud, which freezes when frosts arrive.   The mud becomes almost as hard as stone, thereby preventing wolves and wolverines from penetrating the lodge.   The lodge has underwater entrances, which makes entry nearly impossible for any other animal, although muskrats have been seen living inside beaver lodges with the beavers who made them.” from Wikipedia

“Unlike most other kinds of mammals, beavers keep growing throughout their lives.   
Most beavers look larger than they really are because of the humped backs and thick fur. Thousands of years ago, the beavers of North America were about 7 ½ feet (2.3 meters) long, including the tail – almost as long as the grizzly bears.  No one knows why these huge beavers disappeared.”  from The World Book Encyclopedia.


from THE MINDEN CITY HERALD - FEBRUARY 8, 2018
          MARK OF THE BEAVER AND
THE MINDEN CITY STATE GAME AREA
The "mark of the beaver" can be seen on two aspen trees in the Minden City State Game Area - one gnawed at the bottom and the other lying on the ground.  The unchewed splinter in the middle of the fallen tree indicates that the beaver played it safe.  He let the weight of the tree and the wind bring it down after he was out of the way.
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HOW MANY 
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"BROWN-HEADED COWBIRDS"