1.  "Michigan State Parks Centennial" (5/24/19)  
2.  "Four Days in February - GBBC Diary" (2/28/19)
3.  "Deer Baiting Ban in the Lower Peninsula" (3/7/19)
4.  "Deer Season Survivor and APR" (2/7/19)
5.  "Pheasant Hunting Initiative in Sanilac County" (10/3/19)
6.  "'Christmas Bells' and the Poet" (12/25/19)
7.  "In Search of the Snowy Owl" (1/9/20)

The slogan for the Michigan State Parks Centennial is "Look Back, Give Forward." Michigan residents are encouraged to make a $100 donation to the state parks for 100 years of service. 
The 22nd annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is over, but data from bird watchers around the world is still coming in.   March 1 is the last day to submit observations to the website – www.birdcount.org.

When the final tabulations are complete, this year’s GBBC will set new records for participation with more than 192,000 checklists submitted and over 30 million birds counted.

The four-day event began on February 15, 2019, and continued through February 18.   As 
in other years, the rules were simple: participants counted birds for at least fifteen minutes (or as long as they liked) on one or more days and then recorded their tally of species and bird numbers electronically on the GBBC website.  Birds could be counted at any location: backyard, woodlot, field, park, or waterfront.  It wasn’t even necessary to go outside – compiling a list from the window was an option.

This year, I decided to count birds at different locations on each of the four days and compile a “GBBC Diary.”

Day 1 - February 15 - BACKYARD

The first day of the GBBC was cold and blustery; it was a good day to stay inside and 
count birds from the window.  I watched my bird feeders for fifty minutes, beginning at 
9:40 a.m. My checklist included:

Black-capped Chickadee – 2

Blue Jay – 1

Dark-eyed Junco – 10

Red-breasted Nuthatch – 2 (an irruptive species, discussed in my previous article – 2/14/19)

White-breasted Nuthatch 1

Northern Cardinal – 3

Mourning Dove – 4

Tufted Titmouse – 1

White-throated Sparrow – 1 (two immatures here all winter, a bit unusual)

American Tree Sparrow – 1

House Sparrow – 8

European Starling – 2

American Crow – 2

Sharp-shinned/Cooper’s Hawk – 1

During the first twenty minutes, I counted 13 species, but then a hawk showed up.  I did 
not see it come in, but the feeding birds suddenly scattered and disappeared.   Wondering what had happened, I finally noticed the feet and tail feathers of the hawk, partially hidden in a spruce tree next to the feeders.  When it flew up and made a pass through the area, I recognized it as an accipiter, a type of hawk which often preys on birds at feeders.

Because it was small, I thought it was a sharp-shinned hawk; however, the somewhat larger Cooper’s hawk is very similar.   In Sibley Birds East: Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, David Sibley says that the sharp-shinned is “our smallest accipiter,” but also adds that it is “very similar to [the] Cooper’s Hawk; [and] best identified (with experience) by shape and quick snappy wingbeats….”   Sibley also warns that “size [is] difficult to judge.”

Since I was not completely sure which accipiter I had seen, I chose the “either-or category” on the website checklist: “Sharp-shinned/Cooper’s Hawk.”   This option allows birders with less “experience” to list the hawk they have seen as “one or the other.”

Everything changed at my feeders after the “Sharp-shinned/Cooper’s Hawk” made its appearance.  I watched for an additional 30 minutes but not a single bird came back.  Of course, the best defense against a marauding hawk is concealment.  Hiding and remaining motionless until the hawk moves on is a survival strategy that all birds know instinctively.

I wasn’t counting mammals, but when the hawk swooped in, there were several gray squirrels on the ground under the feeders.  They ignored the small accipiter and continued feeding even though the birds had scattered.   A cottontail rabbit and a red squirrel rounded out my unofficial list of mammals. 

Actually, I was disappointed in the number of bird species (14) I saw on Day One.   I expected to list the three woodpeckers that are “regulars” at my feeder: the downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodpecker; however, none of them made an appearance.  Another no-show was the house finch, also a bird which could be termed a “regular.”   All four of these species showed up at the feeders later in the day, but were not included on my a.m. list.

After counting birds from the window, I drove into Harbor Beach and checked out the marina.   The harbor was completely frozen, but there was open water north of the breakwater.  At the corner of M-25 and Rapson Road, I saw an adult bald eagle.  What turned out to be “Eagle #1” flew southwest over the Brian Backus Memorial Nature Trail and the North Park Campground.

Bald Eagle - 1 

Day 2 - February 16 – SEARCHING FOR A SNOWY OWL
Early on the second day, I was “on the road” looking for snowy owls.   I knew some of 
these “winter visitors” to the Thumb were in the area because I had spotted one on the Huron County Christmas Bird Count in December and had photographed another in January at Fish Point State Wildlife Refuge in Tuscola County.   Earlier in the winter, I had also seen several “white owls” sitting on power poles along area roads.

My favorite place to look for snowy owls is in the Helena-Ruth-Parisville area.  Evidently, the flat, open farmland around these locations appeals to these “Arctic owls” and reminds them of their hunting grounds on vast, open tundra.

It only took me about 15 minutes to locate the first snowy owl: it was sitting on a pole at 
the corner of Ruth and Helena Roads.   However, my “first snowy owl” was also my “last one.”  I drove around for another hour but came up empty.

Snowy Owl - 1


The third day of the GBBC was rather frustrating.  The day before, there had been open water north of the marina, and I hoped to add a few waterbirds to my totals. However, the ice blew in overnight, and the gulls, diving ducks, and mute swans were gone.

Eventually, I walked out on the city dock in the late afternoon.   It was another cold, blustery day, with a strong wind off the lake.  I saw an adult bald eagle sitting in a tree south of the harbor and watched a lone herring gull fly over the ice and out into the open water beyond the breakwater.  Those were the only two birds I saw in fifty minutes!

Toward dark, the eagle left its perch and flew north over the frozen lake - past the dock 
(and me), past the gap in the breakwater, and past the lighthouse.  I could have shot some great pictures; however, my camera was in the car!  I had carried my heavy scope to the end of the dock and left the camera behind.  Instead of a picture of “Eagle #2” flying past the lighthouse, I have only the memory of it swooping low over the ice and disappearing north of the harbor.

Bald Eagle – 1

Herring Gull – 1

After walking back from the dock, I decided to take a short ride before dark.  I drove north 
of Harbor Beach and ended up on Port Hope Road. I noticed a small flock of what I thought were cedar waxwings in a tree quite a distance from the road.   While I was looking at them through my binoculars, I saw a bird that was definitely NOT a cedar waxwing – it was a ROBIN!  I only saw it for a few seconds and then it flew south toward some evergreens.   It was joined by two other birds, which flew up from below. There might have been three robins in the tree with the waxwings, but I definitely saw one.

Usually, robins in February are not a sign of an early spring, but rather an indication about how hardy and tough these birds actually are.  Robins can survive the winter in the Thumb if they find enough fruit and berries on area trees and shrubs. 

American Robin – 1

Cedar Waxwing - 20

The last day of the GBBC was Presidents’ Day, and I drove over to the Verona State Game Area in the morning.  It was a cold winter day with off-and-on snow squalls.   The first bird 
I spotted was a kestrel, the so-called “sparrow hawk.” 

Next, I saw a pair of bald eagles perched just inside the edge of the woods, riding out a sudden snow squall.    “Eagle #3” and “Eagle #4” were about a quarter mile off the road and difficult to see in the snowy landscape.  Later, the eagles flew off, and I was able to snap a few long range pictures of them in flight, perhaps redeeming my missed opportunity on the city dock in Harbor Beach.

One of the biggest surprises of the morning was the flicker I spotted on a dead tree branch about a half mile from the road.  I knew that it was a woodpecker because of its shape and bill, but I could not see it clearly in my binoculars or recognize any distinctive field marks. Finally, I took a picture of it with my telephoto lens and then zoomed-in the somewhat blurry image.   The red mark on the back of its head and its brown-barred feathers identified it as a flicker, a woodpecker on the GBBC checklist considered “RARE” for this area in the winter. 

I also saw a few other common birds in the two hours I spent in the Verona State Game Area.   Just before I left for home, I spotted a flock of about 50 redpolls flying near the road. These small finches nest in the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska, but move south in the winter when food is scarce in their home range.   Sibley says that redpolls are “common but nomadic” and travel “nearly always in flocks.”  Watching these winter visitors to the Thumb as they landed in a weedy field and then suddenly swirled up in choreographed perfection was a good way to conclude my four-day bird count diary.

Bald Eagle – 2

Northern Flicker - 1

American Kestrel - 1

American Crow -5

Horned Lark – 5

Common Redpoll - 50

In an earlier article about the 22nd annual GBBC (2/14/19), I made an observation which turned out to be true: “You never know what you might see!”   My checklists included: 
four bald eagles, a robin, a flicker, and a snowy owl, plus other interesting birds.

It was a memorable Great Backyard Bird Count!
A snowy owl surveys the open farm country from a power pole - Day 2 of the GBBC.
A bald eagle photographed at long range at the Venrona State Game Area - Day 4 of the GBBC.
Feeding deer for recreational viewing or close-up photos is no longer legal in the Lower Peninsula.
A deer baiting ban is now in effect in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.   After January 31, 2019, it became illegal to bait or feed deer for hunting or recreational viewing.   The Natural Resources Commission approved the measure in August 2018, in an attempt to stop the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a contagious, neurological disorder affecting white-tailed deer and other cervids like elk and moose.

According to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), “CWD is fatal; once an animal is infected, there is no cure or recovery.”  As the disease progresses, it causes “…a degeneration of the brain resulting in emaciation…, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and death."

A whitetail in the final stages of CWD is sometimes called a “zombie deer” because 
the severely emaciated animal, head down and drooling, wanders about aimlessly 
with a blank stare in its eyes.  Loss of energy, poor balance, drooping ears, and more aggressive behavior are other signs of the fatal brain infection.

The DNR website states that CWD is spread “…through direct animal to animal contact or by contact with saliva, urine, feces, blood, carcass parts of an infected animal or infected soil.”  In Michigan, the disease was first discovered in free-ranging deer in May 2015.   Since then, about 60 cases have been confirmed in six Lower Peninsula counties: Clinton, Ingham, Ionia, Jackson, Kent, and Montcalm.

The DNR is desperate to stop the spread of this disease because potentially it could destroy the state’s deer herd and its deer hunting traditions.  In neighboring Wisconsin, over 900 cases of CWD were reported last year, and the disease has become endemic in the South Farmland Zone.  It is against this backdrop that the 
DNR has ordered a ban on baiting and feeding deer in the Lower Peninsula.

The ban on feeding deer not only affects hunters, but also those who feed birds and other wildlife.   According to the DNR website, you can only feed birds “…if done in such a manner as to exclude wild, free-ranging white-tailed deer…from gaining access to the feed. If a deer can eat the feed, that would be considered feeding deer and could be illegal depending on the area you are in.”

The DNR encourages the use of “…tube, hopper and suet bird feeders rather than putting seed directly on the ground or using platform feeders, which tend to attract deer and other unwanted guests.”   They also mention a radical solution for the problem: “You can also prevent deer access to your feeders by fencing around your feeders, if possible.”

The DNR is serious about stopping the spread of CWD in the state, and their website appeals to all Michigan residents to join them in this effort:

“WE NEED YOU!  Chronic Wasting Disease has now been found in both the Upper and Lower peninsulas of Michigan.   We need your help to control the spread by being responsible stewards of the land, following current regulations and keeping up with the latest news. YOUR ACTIONS MATTER.”

The ban on baiting and feeding deer in the Lower Peninsula will have wide-ranging consequences.  Without bait piles, whitetails will return to their natural feeding patterns, and it will be harder for hunters to fill their tags.  Fewer deer harvested could result in less interest and more hunters abandoning the sport.  Deer hunting is already declining in Michigan, and some believe that the new ban is likely to further that trend.  
However, the fact that the DNR is willing to take what can only be considered “drastic action” demonstrates how serious the problem is and how determined they are to stop CWD from ruining Michigan’s deer herd and its hunting traditions.


Notes: The DNR website addresses several CWD issues in the “Questions and Answers” section, including the following responses:

[1.] “CWD on the landscape could significantly reduce the number of deer and/or depress older age classes, especially mature bucks…. Michigan has about 600,000 deer hunters who harvest about 430,000 deer annually.   Hunting generates more than $2.3 billion annually to Michigan’s economy.  Without management of CWD, disease may spread across the state.”

[2.] “Mineral blocks/licks ARE considered bait.”

[3.] “Food plots are considered an agricultural practice and separate from baiting. They are legal throughout Michigan.”

[4.] “Infected animals may not show any symptoms of disease for a long period of time, even years.   The later stages of the disease in infected animals include loss of body condition, change in behavior such as a loss of fear of humans, loss of bodily control or movements, and excessive drooling.”

[5.] “It is not recommended to eat the meat from known CWD infected animals….”

[6.] “[In the Upper Peninsula] A 4-year-old doe has tested positive for chronic wasting disease.  The deer was killed in Dickinson County’s Waucedah Township on a deer-damage shooting permit in September 2018 on an agricultural farm, about 4 miles from the Michigan-Wisconsin border.   This event marks the first confirmation of chronic wasting disease in the Upper Peninsula.”

NB: During the Liberty and Independence hunts, there is an exception to the baiting ban for disabled veterans and hunters with disabilities.

[Visit the DNR website for more information: www.mich.gov/cwd ]

This year, the State Parks of Michigan are celebrating their 100th birthday.  It all began on May 12, 1919, when the Legislature passed Public Act 218 and thereby created the Michigan State Park Commission.  Its primary task was to acquire new recreational land for a burgeoning car-tourism industry.    When Henry Ford made it possible for ordinary citizens to “hit the road,” the Michigan legislature recognized the need for more public space, where citizens and visitors to the state could enjoy Michigan’s pristine outdoor attractions.   A century later, the Wolverine State boasts 103 state parks, covering more than 300,000 acres and attracting over 28 million visitors annually.

Actually, Michigan’s first state park dates back to 1885, when the federal government transferred old Fort Michilimackinac (on the south shore of the Straits of Mackinac) and parts of Mackinac Island to state control.   With the transfer of this previously held federal land, Michigan became one of the first states in the nation to establish a state park.

However, it was not until the next century that a statewide system of public recreational lands began to take shape.   In the early 1900s, Michigan’s population was exploding, and the automobile industry made the citizens of the state increasingly mobile.  Urban dwellers drove into the country to enjoy Michigan’s lakes, forests, and rivers; but there were few public destinations and many “Private Property” signs to keep the new travelers at bay.

Then a century ago, the Legislature passed Public Act 218 and started Michigan down the road to one of the finest park systems in the country.

Many of Michigan’s first state parks were acquired through land donations from wealthy private citizens and philanthropists.   In 1922, the Board of Directors of the Dodge Brothers automobile company donated ten park sites to the state (over 600 acres) in Livingston, Monroe, and Oakland counties in memory of their founders, John F. and Horace E. Dodge.
Sadly, both of these automobile pioneers died of influenza within months of each other during a deadly flu pandemic.   John Dodge was 55 years old when he succumbed on January 14, 1920; Horace was 52 at the time of his death, December 10, 1920.

In accepting the Board’s gift on behalf of the state of Michigan, Governor Alexander J. Groesbeck (30th governor, 1921 -1927) said this of the Dodge brothers:

“Beginning in a small way, they had a large share in the development of the great automobile industry in Michigan.   This state is fast becoming the summer playground of the people of the central west, and the automobile is the main factor in this development.  John and Horace Dodge foresaw this condition, and I am sure, if they could express themselves today, the present action of your board of directors would receive their hardy approval….I agree with you that the recreational needs, particularly of our urban dwellers, are largely met by the establishment of such parks as this fine gift of Dodge Brothers Inc. has made possible.”

In northern Michigan, lumber companies donated large tracts of cutover land to the state for park development, and cities and counties followed suit, hoping thereby to attract the ever-increasing tourist population.   Some properties were added to the park system through foreclosure for delinquent taxes, and in a few cases desirable land was purchased outright.

In 1922, the state park system was placed under the control of the newly created Department of Conservation (now the Department of Natural Resources).   P.J. Hoffmaster was the first superintendent of Michigan’s state parks (1922-1934).  He was a man of vision and tireless enthusiasm. His strong policies and principles helped make the state park system what it is today.

In 1934, Hoffmaster became the director of the Department of Conservation and served in that capacity until his sudden death in 1951.  He is sometimes called the “founder of Michigan State Parks.”  In his public statements, Hoffmaster clearly articulated the dilemma facing Michigan in the 1920s:

“The appearance of ‘No Trespassing’ and ‘Private Property, Keep Out’ signs has been a growing one, all tending toward an approaching era of exclusion of the great mass of our residents and visitors from wonderful recreational advantages offered by the state.  Through this, if nothing else, has come the setting aside of tracts of land and water by the people for the use and enjoyment of all.”

Hoffmaster not only oversaw the development of new parks, but he also enlisted the aid 
of E. Genevieve Gillette (1898 -1986) to actively search the state for locations with park potential.  Gillette was the state’s first female landscape architect, and she worked tirelessly to expand and develop the park system.   She located and raised funds for some of Michigan’s most iconic state parks: Hartwick Pines, Wilderness, and Porcupine Mountains. She also founded the Michigan Parks Association and served as its president.

Even after Hoffmaster’s unexpected death in 1951, Gillette continued to champion the state park system.   When she died in 1986, The Detroit Free Press described her as “a saving angel to Michigan’s natural beauty.”

Ten years before her death, Michigan Governor William Milliken dedicated the E. Genevieve Gillette Visitor Center in tribute to her service and contributions to the state.   It seems fitting that this nature center is located in the P.J. Hoffmaster State Park in Muskegon County.   The two friends, who worked so vigorously to develop the state park system, are now honored together at the same location, an iconic Michigan state park famous for its sand dunes and extensive Lake Michigan shoreline.

The 100 year history of Michigan’s state parks is replete with countless stories of people 
and places that are now part of its lore and legend.  This centennial year is a good time to look back on the development of our state park system….from its earliest acquisitions to 
its more recent additions.

In February 2014, Belle Isle in the Detroit River became Michigan’s 102nd state park, and recently Watkins Lake State Park and County Preserve in Washtenaw County was added as park number 103.

Happy 100th Birthday, Michigan State Parks!


Notes: For more information on the history of Michigan State Parks, visit the Department of Natural Resources website at www.michigan.gov/stateparks100.  

A "survivor" of the 2018 deer hunting seasons - a legal buck last year, but not in 2019, 
if APR is approved in the five-county area.
I spent the entire afternoon looking for a buck.  I drove familiar roads around the Minden City State Game Area and sat in a deer blind for a couple hours.  I saw a few dozen does and fawns, but no bucks.  I was not hunting - it was January (before the big cold snap), and all Thumb-area deer seasons were over.   However, I wanted to get a picture of an antlered “survivor,” a buck that had made it through.

As I headed home at dark, I saw a whitetail cross the road and walk into some tall grass near Bay City-Forestville Road.  I pulled up in the car with my camera out the window.  I saw “horns” as the deer moved away in the darkening twilight.   At first, I thought it was a “one-horner.” However, when he stopped and looked back, I noticed the broken antler, probably a “souvenir” of the rut.

The “buck with the broken horn” was my “survivor” – he made it through Michigan’s three major deer hunting seasons: Archery, Regular Firearm, and Muzzleloading, not to mention the Liberty and Independence Hunts.

However, it was my guess that this buck survived the annual onslaught because hunters voluntarily “passed him up.”    He was a young deer with a small rack….and at some point, a broken antler.  Not exactly a trophy!   Hunters probably chose NOT TO SHOOT even though he was a legal target.

Next season, however, hunters in the Thumb may not have that choice.

Thumb Area Hunters for Antler Point Restrictions (APR), a group supported by the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) and its local chapters, has made a proposal to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to protect one-and-a-half year old bucks in five local counties: Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Lapeer, and St. Clair.   According to their proposal, only bucks with at least four antler points (one inch) on one side would be legal targets during the 2019 hunting seasons.

“Spikehorns,” “forkhorns,” and even “six-pointers” would no longer be considered legal bucks and would be protected.

Currently, the DNR is conducting a survey to determine whether area hunters support the proposal.   Forms were mailed in mid-January to 2,100 hunters who have indicated that they hunt in the five county area.   Survey participants were chosen at random from those who previously answered DNR year-end surveys in 2016 and 2017.  The results will be available in April.

If the APR proposal is approved by 66% of the respondents and sanctioned by the Natural Resources Commission, only bucks with four antler points on one side will be legal targets in the area for the next five years.  (The regulation will not apply to the Liberty Hunt in September, including the so-called “Youth Hunt,” or the Independence Hunt in October.)  A later follow-up survey will determine if hunters want to continue the program after the experimental five-year period is over.

Needless to say, there is a lot of controversy and misunderstanding about the proposed change in the regulations, and so the DNR has created, THE APR CORNER on their website.   It features their responses to twenty-one “frequently asked questions” (FAQs) about APR.  Quoted below are five FAQs and the DNR’s answers: 

 What is the Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) position on APRs?

The DNR supports voluntary implementation of APRs on private land and will only recommend mandatory implementation if there is a clear majority (66% or more) of support within the hunting community.

What are the costs and benefits of an APR?

Fewer legal targets on the landscape
May see decreased hunting success, especially in the first 1-2 years
Potential difficulty in counting antler points

Larger bucks on the landscape

Why is the DNR not letting me hunt what I want on my land?

Michigan's deer herd belongs to the citizens of Michigan and they have entrusted the DNR to manage the herd for the use and enjoyment of current and future generations.  Many existing regulations already establish hunting dates, legal methods of hunting, and restrict what deer may be taken (such as antlered versus antlerless deer).  As with APRs, opinions on what constitute acceptable or preferable rules vary widely within the deer hunting community, but responsible hunters are expected to do their best to understand and abide by the regulations whether they are hunting public land, their own private land, or are a guest on private land.

Why don’t we ask every hunter?

It is not possible to conduct a survey of all hunters in an area of any significant size using available tools and financial resources.  The logistics of running a voluntary voting process would also be difficult to address, and such a system would be very vulnerable to bias in favor of any well-organized group with a particularly favorable or negative view on APRs.  The survey process of contacting a representative portion of a population is outlined in the current APR Proposal Process that we follow.  Furthermore, well-established principles of surveys and sampling statistics indicate that conducting a survey is a statistically accurate method to gauge how the entire community may feel about a particular issue.  In other words, we would expect very similar results if we surveyed a reasonably-sized representative sample of the hunting community versus a much larger sample of most or all hunters in the area.

What is a super majority?

A super majority is a 2/3 majority or 66%. A majority would be considered 51% but a super majority must achieve a much higher percentage. The reason behind this is because we want to be sure that this is what most hunters want. 


And so the survey will determine whether or not APR goes into effect in 2019.   If the proposal is approved, bucks like the one with the broken antler will no longer be legal in the five-county area.

Next fall, however, the “survivor” that I photographed will have grown a new and larger set of antlers; and his chances of being “passed up” again will not be good.  His fate will probably be determined by his instinct, brainpower…..and luck. If he survives next season, the “buck with the broken horn” will probably become a “wall hanger.” 


Notes: The current QDMA proposal for the five-county area is more radical than other APR programs in the state - some only require 3 antler points on a side.   Twelve counties in the northwest part of the state (“Northwest 12”) approved APR in 2013 by 68%; but the requirement was 3 antler points on one side, not 4. (The restrictions on a second buck harvested with a combo license were not changed. It still requires 4 points on one antler.)

When the “Northwest 12” APR proposal was resurveyed in 2017, it passed with 77%. 
Evidently, hunters were satisfied with their version of APR; however, there is a big difference between 3 ANTLER POINTS on a side and 4.

Local outdoor writer Tom Lounsbury of Cass City, president of the United Sportsman’s Alliance of the Thumb, recently voiced his opposition to the APR proposal.  He wrote an in-depth article in the Huron Daily Tribune, entitled “A Decision for Many Made by a Very Few” (12/13/18).  It was later republished on the OPINION PAGE of Michigan Outdoor News (1/18/19).

In his article, Lounsbury praises QDMA efforts in the Thumb for voluntary antler point restrictions (“It’s Your Choice” billboards etc.), but he opposes the current proposal and survey:

“Although I do not support MAPR’s [mandatory antler point restrictions] in any fashion, I do fully support voluntary QDM efforts.  I truly commend the Thumb QDMA for what it has accomplished in this regard, and it has required a lot of hard work, not to mention expense….Those billboards are an eye-catcher, which no doubt make hunters think and are actually quite a brilliant idea.”

Despite his praise for the organization, Lounsbury concludes his article with a “parting shot” at QDMA and their proposal:

“MAPR proponents claim to represent the majority of Michigan deer hunters, which is truly a very unrealistic viewpoint.  They are however a well-oiled, well-tuned and very vocal machine and only time will tell how the Thumb five-county MAPR survey will turn out.  A major factor I truly dislike about MAPR proposals and the impending surveys is that they turn hunters against one another during a time we truly need to be sticking together.”

The Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) also opposes the current APR proposal.   Andrew Vermeesch, legislative counsel for the MFB, summed up some of their objections:

“The State should be looking for ways to enhance hunter opportunities rather than enacting restrictions limiting an individual’s experience and possibly harvest success in the woods. Preference for larger antlers from some hunters are the main driver behind implementing mandatory APRs.  However, this is just one type of hunter preference.  There are a variety of other reasons why men and women go into the woods for deer season.

Some hunters are looking to provide meat for the family, (while) others are looking for the camaraderie or the thrill of enjoying Michigan’s wonderful hunting traditions.”

Vermeesch also voiced concern about disease transmission, which is implicit in the APR proposal to advance the age structure of bucks: 

“Unfortunately, this could result in increased risk for transmitting disease such as Bovine Tuberculosis or Chronic Wasting Disease, which has been more prevalent in older deer. Furthermore, disease migration from dispersal amongst younger bucks that are protected under APRs could lead to further spread over a wider area.  This additional risk is why other states which have confirmed disease areas have repealed all mandatory APR regulations.”

The rooster pheasant close-up on this year's Michigan Hunting Digest  calls attention to the DNR's new pheasant release program for the 2019 - 2020 hunting seasons.  

The cover of the 2019 Michigan Hunting Digest features the head of a rooster pheasant in a close-up side-profile.   The colorful “ringneck” seems to be eyeballing sportsmen and saying, “I’m back!”   At least, that is the subtle message the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) would like to convey to small game hunters across the state.

In an attempt to restore and revitalize pheasant hunting in Michigan, the DNR is conducting a limited pheasant release during the 2019 and 2020 hunting seasons.   For several years, pheasant hunters in the state lobbied Michigan lawmakers to support a release program; and in 2018, the Legislature responded by passing Public Act 618, which appropriated $260,000 dollars from the general fund for the two year initiative.   The actual release of the birds will be handled by the Michigan Association of Game Breeders and Hunting Preserves, whose members are currently raising the pheasants.

The 2019 Hunting Digest describes the procedure that will be followed:
“Association members will be releasing the birds on a weekly basis at the designated game areas.  Rooster pheasants will be released outside legal shooting hours beginning on October 19, 2019 [the day before the pheasant opener in Zone 3, which includes the Thumb], and ending November 10, 2019, for the October/November release period.   For the December release period, birds will be released beginning after legal shooting hours on November 30, 2019 [last day of the firearm deer season] and ending December 27, 2019.” (p. 55)

The pheasant releases will take place in eleven state game areas in the southern part of the state, including the Minden City State Game Area in Sanilac County. According to Holly Vaughn, DNR Wildlife Communications Coordinator, a total of 5,600 roosters will be released overall, or about 500 birds per site.

The Hunting Digest lists the state game areas (SGA) chosen for this year’s release:

Bay County: Pinconning SGA
Cass County: Crane Pond SGA
Clinton County: Rose Lake SGA
Lapeer County: Lapeer SGA
Monroe County: Erie and Pointe Mouillee SGAs
Saginaw County: Crow Island SGA
Sanilac County: Minden City SGA
St. Clair County: St. Johns Marsh SGA
St. Joseph County: Leidy Lake SGA
Van Buren County: Cornish SGA

At each location, pheasants will be released in areas where there is suitable habitat and cover.   As a general rule, “ringnecks” prefer wild, open land - large weedy fields interspersed with shrubs and brushy cover.   Old cutdown cornfields, abandoned orchards, and thick, overgrown “soil bank” or “set-aside” fields are also ideal pheasant habitat.

Since much of the Minden City State Game Area is peat bog and wooded marshland, the pheasant release in Sanilac County will probably take place on the so-called “Mullet Muck Farm,” an 857 acre parcel of land on the eastern edge of the state game area between Palms Road and Mills Road.

Originally developed to maximize habitat for wetland-dependent species, the Mullet Muck Farm is currently being managed for ring-necked pheasants, at least according to “Objective E” in the 2012 “Minden City State Game Area Master Plan”:

“Objective E: Initiate treatments designed to improve PHEASANT HABITAT on the Mullet Muck Farm portion of the game area on a minimum of 80 acres annually.”

The master plan calls for actions to improve the grassland habitat and to prevent the invasion of woody vegetation and exotic plants like phragmites.  
Since the DNR has made pheasant habitat a priority on the Mullet Muck Farm, it seems like the obvious place for an effective and successful pheasant release in 2019.

The first day of pheasant season (Sunday, October 20) is less than three weeks away, and for many of the state’s die-hard pheasant hunters, the scheduled releases will mean a better-than-average year.   However, no one believes that the DNR’s Pheasant Hunting Initiative will affect the state’s overall pheasant population.  Nor will it ever restore the “glory days,” of the 1940s and 1950s, when the Thumb area was the “pheasant capitol of Michigan.”  However, the planned releases are certainly a step in the right direction.


Notes: The Hunting Digest also refers to “One-time Recruitment Events” – two other pheasant releases in 2019, especially designed for young hunters. These releases and mentored hunts will take place on November 2, 2019, at the Allegan State Game Area in Allegan County and on December 14, 2019, at the Shiawassee State Game Area, St. Charles, Michigan.  Registration and additional details are available on the DNR website (www.Michigan.gov/Hunting).

A Base License, which all Michigan hunters are required to buy, also serves as a small game hunting license in the state.  However, a pheasant endorsement must be added to the base license in order to hunt pheasants. The pheasant endorsement is FREE.

The Hunting Digest explains the rule:
“Pheasant hunters will need a free pheasant/sharp-tailed grouse endorsement on their hunting license.   Anyone hunting pheasants will need this endorsement except those hunting pheasant only on hunting preserves” (p. 55).

The Michigan Hunting Digest is available from all license dealers, or it can be downloaded online (www.Michigan.gov/DNRDigests).
from THE MINDEN CITY HERALD (12/25/19)

On Christmas Day in 1863, the celebrated American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem called “Christmas Bells.”  His words were later immortalized in the popular Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

At the time, the Civil War between the North and the South was raging, and the year 1863 had seen some of the bloodiest fighting of the conflict.  The three-day Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania and the surrender of Vicksburg on the Mississippi River had tipped the balance in favor of the Union, but the war was far from over.

That Christmas, Longfellow was despondent.   Two years earlier in 1861, he had lost his wife Frances in a tragic accident at their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Her dress had caught on fire while she was putting sealing wax on an envelope.  Frances was severely burned and died the next morning, leaving behind five young children.

In an attempt to save his wife, Longfellow tried to smother the flames and suffered burns on his hands and face.  He was too sick to attend her funeral, and for the rest of his life, he wore a beard to cover the scars on his face.

Christmas had never been the same for Longfellow after the death of his wife.   The first Christmas after the accident, he wrote: “How inexpressively sad are all holidays.”   On Christmas Day 1862, he penned a similar lament in his journal: “‘A Merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”

In 1863, Christmas rolled around again, and another sad event marred the holiday for Longfellow.   His oldest son Charles had enlisted in the Union army against his father’s wishes and had been severely wounded in a recent battle in Virginia.  Longfellow brought him home to Cambridge and began the long process of trying to nurse his son back to health.

As he sat in his house on Christmas morning in 1863, Longfellow heard the church bells ringing throughout the city.   He thought of the joyous message of the angel, delivered at the birth of Christ so many centuries earlier: “Peace on earth, good-will to men.”   And yet, he was not at peace, nor was his country.

To the despondent Longfellow, the Christmas bells sounded hollow and false.   The bloody Civil War hung like a dark cloud over the nation, and his own son was now one of the casualties of the ongoing strife.   Longfellow wondered if the Christmas message, which had been proclaimed for hundreds of years, was just a pious cliché.   He questioned whether there ever would be “Peace on earth, good will to men.”

With these gloomy thoughts in mind, he sat down and wrote the poem “Christmas Bells”:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play, 
And wild and sweet 
The words repeat 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

And thought how, as the day had come, 
The belfries of all Christendom 
Had rolled along 
The unbroken song 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

Till, ringing, singing on its way, 
The world revolved from night to day, 
A voice, a chime, 
A chant sublime 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

Then from each black, accursed mouth 
The cannon thundered in the South, 
And with the sound 
The carols drowned 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

It was as if an earthquake rent 
The hearth-stones of a continent, 
And made forlorn 
The households born 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

And in despair I bowed my head; 
"There is no peace on earth," I said; 
“For hate is strong, 
And mocks the song 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!" 

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; 
The Wrong shall fail, 
The Right prevail, 
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Longfellow had no way of knowing that the words he wrote that day would be immortalized in a Christmas carol and sung at holiday celebrations around the world.

In 1872, the English organist John Baptiste Calkin set Longfellow’s poem to music.   He fitted the words into an earlier melody and turned the new song into a processional.  Because two of the middle verses referred specifically to the American Civil War, he left them out.   The new composition took its title from the first line of the poem: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

In the middle of the twentieth century, American songwriter Johnny Marks, who specialized in Christmas carols and wrote “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” came out with his arrangement of the song.  Bing Crosby recorded it on October 3, 1956.  “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” was released as a single, and it reached No. 55 in the Music Vendor survey.  Since then, the Marks’ version of the song has been recorded over 60 times, and sales have exceeded 5 million copies.

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” had one more revival.  In 2008, the Christian music group Casting Crowns recorded a new, updated version of the song.  It was featured on their album “Peace on Earth,” and it shot up to Number 1 on the Christian hit list.    Their version does not follow the traditional melody, and Longfellow’s words are rearranged and added to. However, the spirit of the inspirational Christmas carol remains the same.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow died in 1882 at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.   He was 75 years old and famous.  His legendary poetic career produced countless American classics like The Song of Hiawatha, “The Courtship of Miles Standish,” “The Village Blacksmith,” and “Paul Revere’s Ride.”  However, perhaps none of his lyrics is repeated as often as the lines from his poem “Christmas Bells.”  Every year versions of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” are sung and broadcast throughout the world. The song has become part of the modern Christmas tradition.

Longfellow’s anti-war poem began in sadness and despair, but ended on an optimistic note: “The wrong shall fail / The right prevail.” Many still believe in the ultimate triumph of good over evil.   They hope that eventually the angel’s message of “Peace on earth, good-will to men” can be realized.   Then at last, the Christmas bells will ring out around the world and celebrate a dream fulfilled.

Merry Christmas!

A winter scene in front of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's house in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  It was here that he wrote "Christmas Bells" (1863) and other famous poems while teaching at nearby Harvard College.
Snowy Owl #1 (left) and Snowy Owl #2 (right).  Both have heavy dark markings and look like juvenile birds.  A female snowy owl also has dark streaks and spots, but not as heavy and pronounced 

Last Friday about noon, I saw my first snowy owl of 2020.   The large white Arctic visitor to the Thumb was perched on a power pole along a country road northwest of Harbor Beach.   At the time, I was not looking for owls or expecting to see one.  I knew that snowy owls had been reported in the area earlier in the winter, but I had not seen one yet.

As I drove along, I watched the power poles in the distance, something I do at this time of the year, perhaps unconsciously.  About a quarter mile ahead, I noticed an out-of-place white object 
at the top of one of them: it was my first snowy owl of the year.

I wanted to get a picture of the owl, but it was on the passenger side of the car.  Because of the upward angle, it would have been difficult to photograph the owl without getting out of the vehicle and possibly spooking it.  So I drove by as if I did not see it.   At the next intersection, I turned around and came back with my telephoto lens sticking out of the car window.

As a general rule, snowy owls are quite tame and usually ignore human activity.   Their existence in the far North makes them unacquainted with the dangers that men can pose, and they are usually more curious than afraid.

Needless to say, snowy owls are completely protected and cannot be harmed or harassed in any way.  Even a close approach by curious onlookers is discouraged by some wildlife experts.  They believe that invading an owl’s space could put stress on a bird, which might already be weakened by cold, hunger, or parasites.   Making an owl fly repeatedly causes it to waste precious energy and could put its survival at risk.

I took several pictures of the snowy owl at long range, just in case; and then I drove up closer to the power pole and snapped a few more.   The owl seemed unconcerned; it ignored me and kept swiveling its head around, surveying the winter landscape.  Occasionally it looked down at what 
it must have considered a rather strange object.   My first snowy owl of 2020 was still sitting on the power pole as I drove away.

The next afternoon, I wondered if I could find a snowy owl in the area if I actually went out looking for one.  About 3:00 P.M., I left the house and began my search.

I drove some of my favorite “snowy owl roads” and checked the tops of power poles along the way: Helena Road, Ruth Road, and Parisville Road.  I also scanned some of the bare brown fields along the highways, looking for an out-of-place white object.

I drove over thirty miles and saw nothing.   As it started to get dark, I headed home.  Since I was several miles west of Parisville, I decided to take a gravel road through the Verona State Game Area on my way back north.   I considered my “search for the snowy owl” officially over.

But then I saw another one!

It was perched on a transistor at the top of a power pole, close to the road and right out in the open.  Again, the owl was on the passenger side of the car, and so I followed the same procedure as before.

Each owl has its own personality, and this one seemed very distant and aloof.   It totally ignored me, even when I drove the car up close to the pole.   It kept its yellow eyes focused on the surrounding fields and only occasionally glanced in my direction.   Eventually, the owl looked down for a few seconds, and I got the pictures I wanted.

As I drove away, I could see the owl in the rearview mirror, still sitting high up on the pole. Suddenly the title for this article popped into my head: “In Search of the Snowy Owl.”

I realized, however, that technically my “search” was a failure.   I came up empty on all the 
“snowy owl roads” I had driven earlier in the afternoon.   Turning down this particular road and locating a second snowy owl was pure serendipity, proof positive that these Arctic visitors to 
the Thumb are “where you find them.”


Notes: I posted the picture of my first snowy owl on Facebook and got several comments, including one from a serious birder about a sighting just east of Minden City:

“Check out the Ruth Rd./Bay City-Forestville Rd. area. I had one there last Sunday 
(December 29, 2019).”

Both snowy owls that I saw last week were heavily streaked with black markings.  According to the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, “Dark bars and spots are heavier on females, heaviest on immatures; old males may be pure white.”

Many people say that they have never seen a snowy owl.  Chances are they have driven by one without noticing it.  If you want to see a snowy owl, glance at the tops of power poles as you 
drive along.  Also watch for out-of-place white objects in the fields near the road. Sooner or later, you will see one.

Here is some proof that if you are looking for snowy owls, you will find them:

On December 17, 2019, birders participating in the Huron County Christmas Bird Count recorded two snowy owls during their annual bird census.   More recently, Tuscola County birders topped that number and tallied an amazing twelve snowy owls on January 4, 2020, during the Tuscola County Christmas Bird Count.