Travel Log: Michigan and Canada for fun and research

Charley and I just returned home from a two-and-a-half week long trip to Michigan and Canada in which we visited family and friends, looked for leaf mines (of course), and attended the Lepidopterists’ Society annual meeting in Ottawa. The meeting was the impetus for the trip and Michigan was “on the way.”

Our first stop was to visit our friend Eric LoPresti (who encouraged us to go to California last year, as I detailed here). Just a few miles east of East Lansing, he took us to a nice riverside park with abundant leaf mines, and veritable flocks of lovely Ebony Jewelwing damselflies.

On a tight schedule, we continued west to meet up with my parents at the Lake Michigan Recreation Area campground–a place my family used to vacation when I was in elementary school, but we hadn’t returned to since. Mosquitoes were abundant, but there was a nice breeze from the lake, interesting hikes into the Nordhouse dunes, and opportunity for refreshing swims in Lake Michigan.

After two days of hiking, swimming, cooking, and visiting, my parents had to drive home and Charley and I headed to Ludington to meet up with Charley’s mom, sister, neice, nephew, aunt and uncle. We enjoyed sailing with them aboard the Tiny Island, and kayaking with the kids. Cordelia even spotted a bryozoan colony in the lake, and we all got to take a look (sadly, no photo, but it looked like Pectinatella magnifica, pictured here).  Perhaps my favorite activity was building sandcastles with the kids.

Before the 4th of July, Charley and I left for the calm of the upper peninsula. First stop, dispersed camping at East Lake (well, after checking out some cool limestone “sea stacks” and buying very affordable wild rice).

Not our favorite camping for a variety of reasons including large numbers of biting flies, fishermen who hung out quite near our campsite, etc… BUT, we found nepticulid (tiny moth) leaf mines on a bulrush that were of great interest.

We did some sightseeing at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, enjoying the scenery, flowers, waterfalls, and I even took a numbing plunge into icy Lake Superior to escape the stable flies.

Heading north into Ontario, we began to experience biting flies in earnest! I resorted to wearing a headnet for moments of reprieve. The moth enthusiasts pictured below were impressively intrepid as we ventured into Algonquin Provincial Park.

The final portion of our trip was several days attending the Lepidopterists’ Society annual meeting. This was our first, and it was fascinating. Talks ranged from phylogenies of various moth groups, to caterpillar communication, to using CRISPR to alter butterfly wing patterns, to gynandromorphs (individuals with both male and female gonads and coloration), to butterfly surveys and conservation, to… you guessed it, leaf mines!

Arriving home, we discovered healthy, happy chickens (many thanks to neighbors who cared for them), a garden that looks like a jungle ravaged by rabbits, and a sad mulberry tree that a bear ripped in half to get at the berries.

I’ll leave you with these cool insects from Parc des Rapides-Deschênes, Quebec: a mayfly and a caddisfly.

Weekly Homestead Report 5: Sept 12, 2016

This week Hurricane (then Tropical Storm) Hermine  made its way up the coast. In Northfield, it manifested as two days of misty rain, high humidity, and relatively cool weather. I jumped on the opportunity to divide perennials and fill in the new flower beds by the driveway.  We got almost 3/4 of an inch of rain on Friday, and another half inch (along with serious wind and a little thunder) on Sunday, all of which should help the plants survive the uprooting.


This is the season of being overwhelmed by the garden’s productivity, so I’ve been busy preserving it. I canned another batch of tomato sauce, a big batch of salsa verde (tomatillo base), and a ridiculous quantity of hot pepper jelly. Tomatoes are ripening faster than I can keep up with them, so we’ve been trying to give away a lot, too. We’re getting lots of cucumbers, ground cherries, tomatillos, peppers, squash, and eggplant. We picked another outstanding watermelon, and made our first pumpkin pie of the season. I’ve been collecting dry legume seeds; we’ll plant the peas in the hoop house this winter to eat the greens, and the black beans are just plain food. Charley brought the first bunch of delicious fox grapes home from work on Friday. A few more beach plums were ripe (one bush makes orange ones instead of purple, we learned yesterday), and we’re still getting strawberries. The raspberries are going strong.

Last week (Wed, Aug 31st), I saw a monarch lay her eggs on a milkweed plant, and posted Charley’s photo. Nine days later (Friday, Sept 9th) the eggs hatched into these tiny caterpillars! On the third day, one of them had molted into its second instar.

Eager to get things going in the hoop house, I started building the raised beds. This one bed will have the highest quality compost, since we have only produced a limited supply and need to use some of it in other parts of the garden.

Our soil is dramatically different across our property. This is well demonstrated by the size and vigor of kale planted on the same day in the “upper” and “lower” gardens, but perhaps best seen by comparing these sunflowers. They range from about three inches to eight feet tall, with flowers of less than an inch to over a foot in diameter.

Having a “wild” yard means we get to see wildlife. On Friday a big flock of turkeys wandered through, eating grass seed and insects. I really enjoy their dinosaur-esq appearance, and I’m glad they’re not as damaging to the landscape as chickens (which seem to prefer bare dirt, and scratch the vegetation to death if allowed enough time). In the interest of full disclosure, this photo is from last year.


I’ve been mentioning different asters blooming in each post; this week belongs to the Smooth Aster (Symphyotrichum laeve). This particular plant seeded itself in right by the corner of our driveway turn-around. It’s over four feet tall, although someone drove over it in June and many of the stems were broken off. It has re-sprouted, but the flowers on those younger stems aren’t yet open.

Several of the perennials that I grew from seed this spring started blooming. The verbena started almost a month ago, but the hyssop and balloon flower just opened up this morning! Some kind of hypenoptera (a cuckoo bee, I think) was sleeping in the hyssop when I went out to photograph it.