The River, the Season, the Weather: Tracking Fall 2019

I often stop on the footbridge during my walks in Eliza Howell Park, stop and take a picture, looking upstream the Main branch of the Rouge River. These pictures help me track seasonal changes and fluctuations in water level.

Below are 8 photos taken on different days during the four weeks from October 16 to November 13, 2019. Some from sunny days and some from cloudy days, these pictures presdent the progress of Fall this year.

October 16, 2019  (9:47 a.m.   Approximately 50 degrees F)20191114_172805

October 20, 2019 (3:04 p.m.   Approximately 60 degrees F)20191020_150414

October 24, 2019  (11:23 a.m.  Approximately 50 degrees F)20191024_112318

October 27, 2019   (11:57 a.m.  Approximately 45 degrees F)20191027_115727

November 1, 2019   (9:31 a.m.   Approximately 35 degrees F)20191114_173423

November 4, 2019   (10:22 a.m.   Approximately 45 degrees F)20191104_102257

November 8, 2019   (10:07 a.m.   Approximately 25 degrees F) 20191114_173718

November 13, 2019   (10:52 a.m.   Approximately 15 degrees)20191113_124144

The changes from the middle of October to the middle of November, always dramatic along the river in Eliza Howell Park, were even more dramatic this year because of the unusually heavy snow of November 11.

 

A Sunny Morning in Late October

The early morning sun was shining and there was a combination of dew and frost on the ground when I arrived at Detroit’s Eliza Howell Park on October 28, 2019. Here are a few images from the next three hours.

Bittersweet on Oak Tree

Bittersweet vines grow high on some trees in the park, most noticeable when the leaves of the vine turn yellow.

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Dew Drop on Sumac

In the blow up, one can clearly see the reflections.

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Three Hundred Year Old Bur Oak Tree

I stopped by a massive Bur Oak that has been estimated to be over 300 years old.

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Rouge River from Footbridge

I often take a picture from this spot, looking upstream. The look of the river changes with the season, the sunlight/clouds, and the water level.

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A Walk in the Woods

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Sugar Maple

Several Sugar Maple trees, seen from the park road, have inspired park visitors to pull out their cameras.

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A Favorite Cottonwood

There are some trees, friends, that I stop by to visit to see how they are doing. This Cottonwood tree is one.

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In my records, this is Walk # 1351. Another good one.

 

Seasonal Changes: The Same View over 12 Months

One way of noting the seasonal changes in Eliza Howell Park is to compare pictures of the same landscape taken at different times of the year. The 12 photos here, one from early in each month in 2018, were all taken from the footbridge over the Main branch of the Rouge River, facing upstream (north).

I think they speak for themselves, no commentary needed.

January 5, 2018

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February 5, 2018

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March 9, 2018

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April 4, 2018

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May 5, 2018

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June 5, 2018

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July 4, 2018

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August 4, 2018

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September 4, 2018

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October 3, 2018

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November 3, 23018

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December 4, 2018

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The Calendar Says Spring

March 21, 2018 (Walk # 1061)

This was my first walk after the vernal equinox and I was looking for signs of spring. I found a few, but winter is not over. A few observations from today:

The river water level is quite low for March. I use the extent of visible sycamore tree roots on the right for comparison purposes.

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One advantage to the nature walker of the lower water level is that there is more mud along the river edge, the area between the sides of the bank and the water. More mud means more mammal tracks and, at least for me, tracks in mud are usually easier to read than tracks in snow.

Here is an example.

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I circled two obviously different tracks here. The one in purple is typical of a raccoon and the one in red was made by a canine, probably a coyote.

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Robins are abundant in the park now and, in this time between winter and spring, are exhibiting both winter and spring behaviors. Many are feeding on the ground, but others are still foraging for fruit and seeds, as they do in winter.

I posted about sumac seed clusters last December, about how long they persist. Some of last year’s seeds are still present now and today both chickadees and robins were feeding on them.

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The number of bird species seen today – 18 – is the highest so far in 2018. A couple of these are winter visitors that have not yet returned north: Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrow.

There are a few signs of spring. Some birds are pairing off, preparatory to breeding season. One Downy Woodpecker now usually means another is very close nearby. Canada Goose is one of the earliest birds to nest along the Rouge River and this pair appears to be getting in the mood.

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While the park still has the brown winter look, it is possible to find a little bit of new green. As in home gardens, the first plants to emerge from the ground are those that grow from bulbs or rhizomes. I was pleased to see that a native species of marsh iris is back again this year.

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Today’s observations indicate that this March is both colder and drier than normal. I anticipate rapid changes in the park as the weather warms.

The Flood of 2018

On February 18, 2018, Eliza Howell Park still had the snow-and-ice look that has been typical this winter. This is the view upstream from the footbridge on that day.

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Then the heavy rains came and the snow melted. When I returned to the park on February 21, the Rouge River was at the highest flood level that I have ever seen. This is the very first time, in my thousand visits to the footbridge, that the water was actually over the bridge.

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Normally the bridge is perhaps 8 – 10 feet above water level, as can perhaps be seen in the next picture (taken December 1, 2017).

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It was not at all surprising that the river this week flooded the bottomland that gets covered whenever the river overflows the banks. What was unusual was the depth of the water there, greater than the typical depth of the river within the banks.

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In addition, most of the large wooded area from the footbridge to the southern end of the park at Schoolcraft was under water (the next picture). The entire area of the park flooded was the most extensive that I have witnessed.

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After a heavy rain, the Rouge River rises quickly in the park and reaches its peak within a day or less. It recedes quickly as well. The next day, February 22, it was much lower, though still over the river bank. This picture was taken about 23 hours after the one above showing the water flowing over the footbridge.

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It will be interesting to see how the Flood of 2018 has affected the park – the flow of the river (and the downed trees in it), the vernal pools, the spring woodland flowers that bloom in April, and the walking paths through the woods. We will see.

Where the Waters Meet

A number of years ago I drove through a small community in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that is called Watersmeet. It is at the confluence of Duck Creek and the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River. It is a lovely part of the state and Watersmeet seems to me to be a wonderful name for the community.

I have come to think of the convergence of the two branches of the Rouge River (the Main and the Upper branches) in Eliza Howell Park as “watersmeet.” Though it is off the path, I frequently go there to see what is happening; it is a spot that attracts wildlife.

This photo was taken recently looking downstream from the point at which the two branches meet.

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The map may help to pinpoint the location of “watersmeet” in the park.

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Over the years, this section of the river has been the most reliable place in Eliza Howell Park for spotting Wood Ducks. Wood Ducks nest in tree cavities and the young jump to the ground and head for the river with their mother only a day or so after hatching. The young ducks, usually 6 – 8 in number when I see them, spend the next couple of months in and along the edges of the river, cared for by the female parent, pictured here.

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Photo by Margaret Weber

As is true of most ducks, the male Wood Duck does not participate actively in parenting. it remains in the area, however, and is a “wow!” bird when seen in its full splendor.

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  Photo by Margaret Weber

In 2017, I saw a mink crossing the river here, a mammal I have seen in the park only a very few times. Also in 2017, in the fall, I observed a Green Heron here several different times. Green Herons have been only occasional visitors to the park in my experience, but I am hoping that this bird will return as part of a pair that makes EHP its summer home. A Great Blue Heron can frequently be found here from spring till fall.

Raccoons are active in the bottomland near where the waters meet and often use, for daytime resting dens, one of several cavities in the large black willows that grow in this area.

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I came upon one raccoon here last fall that had apparently decided it didn’t need to climb a tree for its daytime rest and went to sleep right on the ground.

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In an effort to increase my familiarity with mammal tracks, I often head to the “watersmeet” neighborhood in the morning after a new snowfall. And I always find evidence that a lot of activity has taken place while I slept. When the river is frozen, the Rouge itself is a bridge and/or a pathway.

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The path I take on my nature walk often varies from one season to another, depending upon what I am expecting or hoping to find. One location that is good every season of the year is “where the waters meet.”