Lights in the Night over Grand Rapids

UPDATE SEPTEMBER 30, 2012: This entry was in the ArtPrize Top Ten entries announced today. 

Lights in the Night

Lights in the Night, photo by Robby Ryke

Last night the skies of Grand Rapids lit up with 20,000 fire lanterns for the Lights the Night entry in ArtPrize 2012 (ArtPrize and Facebook pages). From everything I can find, it looks to have been an incredible spectacle.

View this on black and definitely (definitely) check out Robby’s HD video from Light the Night which is really tempting me to lift my “no videos” policy on Michigan in Pictures.

You can also see a video from high above of the fire lantern launch at mLive. See more photos from StacyBetsyLouWhoJackLisaDebbieflickaway, and Kevin and please add links to ones you took or found in the comments!

Things you may not know about Blue Jays

Back yard Blue Jay

Back yard Blue Jay, photo by kmenne

The All About Birds entry for Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) says that these birds are known for their intelligence and complex social systems. Here’s a few facts – click above for more:

  • Thousands of Blue Jays migrate in flocks along the Great Lakes and Atlantic coasts, but much about their migration remains a mystery. Some are present throughout winter in all parts of their range. Young jays may be more likely to migrate than adults, but many adults also migrate. Some individual jays migrate south one year, stay north the next winter, and then migrate south again the next year. No one has worked out why they migrate when they do.
  • Their fondness for acorns is credited with helping spread oak trees after the last glacial period.
  • Blue Jays are known to take and eat eggs and nestlings of other birds, but we don’t know how common this is. In an extensive study of Blue Jay feeding habits, only 1% of jays had evidence of eggs or birds in their stomachs. Most of their diet was composed of insects and nuts.
  • The Blue Jay frequently mimics the calls of hawks, especially the Red-shouldered Hawk. These calls may provide information to other jays that a hawk is around, or may be used to deceive other species into believing a hawk is present.
  • Tool use has never been reported for wild Blue Jays, but captive Blue Jays used strips of newspaper to rake in food pellets from outside their cages.

They add that the oldest known wild, banded Blue Jay lived to be at least 17 years 6 months old, and the UM Animal Diversity Web adds that one captive female lived for 26 years and 3 months. If you’re wondering where that ranks in the avian actuarial tables, it’s longer than a cardinal and shorter than a crane – click that link for the details.

Check this photo out bigger than a Blue Jay or in Keith’s nature slideshow.

More Michigan birds on Michigan in Pictures.

Thursday Morning Face-off: Michigan Moose Edition

Foggy Morning Face-off

Foggy Morning Face-off, photo by yooper1949

In their History of Moose in Michigan, the DNR notes that moose are native to Michigan and were present throughout the state except for the southwestern Lower Peninsula prior to European settlement. Due to extensive logging of their habitat, hunting and likely a parasitic brainworm, they disappeared from the Lower Peninsula in the 1890s, with only a few hanging on in the UP. You can click the link above for the story of the recovery to the current level of around 500 and see Moose in Michigan for more.

Nature Works page on Moose – Alces alces tells us that:

The moose is the largest member of the deer family and the tallest mammal in North America. It stands six feet tall from shoulders to feet. Females weigh between 800 to 1,300 pounds and males weigh 1,200 to 1,600 pounds. The moose has long, thick, light brown to dark brown fur. Moose hair is hollow, which helps keep the moose warm. The moose has long legs. Its front legs are longer than its rear legs. This helps it jump over fallen trees and other forest debris…

The male or bull moose has huge broad and flat antlers that can stretch 4 to 5 feet across. Antlers start to grow in the early summer. When antlers first start to grow, they are covered with a soft fuzzy skin called velvet. The velvet has blood vessels in it that deliver nutrients that help the antlers grow. By late summer, when the antlers reach full size, the blood supply dries up and the velvet starts to drop off.

Moose mate in early fall. During mating season, females attract males with their deep calls and strong scent. Bull moose use their antlers in threat displays when they are fighting over females. Sometimes they will get into a pushing fight with their antlers. These fights rarely get too serious because the antlers could catch together and both moose could die.

The UM Animal Diversity Web entry for Alces alces Eurasian elk aka Moose has a lot of great information and photos as well and they add that:

The word “moose” comes from the Native American tribe, the Algonquins, which means “twig eater” in their language. It is an appropriate name because moose primarily browse upon the stems and twigs of woody plants in the winter and the leaves and shoots of deciduous plants in the summer.

If you happen to come across moose and want to help Michigan out with moose management, consider filing a moose observation report.

Carl says that the two young moose locked horns and pushed each other around for a while, but no real battle ensued. Check this out big as a moose, see a close-up of the confrontation and in his slideshow.

More Michigan animals on Michigan in Pictures.

Puffball Palooza

Puff Balls........

Puff Balls…….., photo by smiles7

The Mycological Society of San Francisco entry for puffballs (Calvatia, Calbovista, Lycoperdon) says

Puffballs come in many sizes, some as small as a marble and some as large as a basketball. The name “puffball” is used here to refer to three genera of fungi, Calvatia, Calbovista, and Lycoperdon. Their surfaces may be smooth, covered with small or large warts, or ornamented with spikes. Puffballs are usually white and round, and are attached to the ground with little or no apparent stem.

Puffballs seem to prefer disturbed earth, and enjoy surprising the forager, for they are seldom the prey being sought. The largest ones are members of the genus Calvatia. It is estimated that the average mature specimen of C. gigantea contains 7 trillion spores stored inside the puffball!

Most puffballs are safe to eat, although rare reactions have been reported.

Two important notes:

  1. They must be all-white inside. Any shade of yellow or purple makes them inedible or upsetting.
  2. When cut, they must have a uniform internal consistency. The external appearance of immature Amanita species is similar to puffballs. However, the cap and gills of these unexpanded mushrooms become apparent when the egg-shaped fungi are cut in half. The Amanita genus includes the most poisonous species of mushrooms.

They note that puffballs are often known as the “breakfast mushroom” because they pair so well with eggs. Read on for some recipes.

You can also get a recipe for puffball fritters from the Cornell Mycology department where they note that if each of those 7 trillion (7,000,000,000,000) spores grew and yielded a ten-inch puffball, the combined puffball mass would be 800 times that of the earth. I’m not sure exactly what you can do with that knowledge, but here’s hoping it comes in handy.

Check this photo out on black and see more in Julie’s woods slideshow.

More Michigan mushrooms on Michigan in Pictures.

Fall is a great time to be nuts for Michigan

“The Rushing Tahquamenaw”   Tahquamenon Falls, Upper Michigan (explore # 258 Oct. 9, 2010)

The Rushing Tahquamenaw” Tahquamenon Falls, Upper Michigan, photo by Michigan Nut

Last week the Lansing State Journal asked Michigan in Pictures regular John McCormick aka Michigan Nut Photography about his favorite Michigan color touring destinations. His list is features five fantastic fall locations: Porcupine Mountains, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the Cadillac area, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the Tahquamenon Falls.

It’s a great list and John is a tremendous landscape photographer. About this photo John writes:

The Brown color of the water in the Tahquamenon River comes from tannins leached from the dense Cedar-Hemlock-Spruce swamps in the river’s headwaters. The river’s total watershed encompasses more than 790 square miles. The Tahquamenon River flows into Lake Superior, after winding nearly 100 miles through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to empty into Whitefish Bay.

This is the land of Longfellow’s Hiawatha (“by the rushing Tahquamenaw” Hiawatha built his canoe). The Objibwa Indians lived in this rich land of fish, fur, and big game. In the late 1800’s, much of the region was logged off, with the Tahq River being one of the main tranportation routes to drive logs to the sawmills. Today, the falls are protected by this wonderful Michigan State Park for all to enjoy.

See his work at Michigan Nut Photography or dive in to his spectacular Autumn in Michigan slideshow.

Lots more about Tahquamenon Falls on Michigan in Pictures.

September’s Full Moon … and lighting the Grand Rapids sky

Downtown Grand Rapids

Downtown Grand Rapids, photo by NightFox Photography

The autumnal equinox happened on Saturday, making the full moon that will rise this Sunday, September 30th the Harvest Moon. It’s also known as the Wine Moon, the Singing Moon (Celtic), Barley Moon (Old English) and the Elk Call Moon.

This weekend the skies of Grand Rapids will host another interesting phenomenon, Lights in the Night. On Friday (Sept 28) this ArtPrize entry will seek to launch thousands of fire lanterns downtown. Get all the details at

Check this out on black and see more in Cory’s Grand Rapids slideshow.

Doubling down: What makes a double rainbow and other rainbow science

This morning north of Ludington, photo by Debbie Maglothin

It seems only fitting to follow up waterspouts with rainbows. The National Center for Atmospheric Research has an incredibly comprehensive page about rainbows. After explaining the optics behind rainbows (complete with diagrams), they delve into double rainbows:

Sometimes we see two rainbows at once, what causes this? We have followed the path of a ray of sunlight as it enters and is reflected inside the raindrop. But not all of the energy of the ray escapes the raindrop after it is reflected once. A part of the ray is reflected again and travels along inside the drop to emerge from the drop. The rainbow we normally see is called the primary rainbow and is produced by one internal reflection; the secondary rainbow arises from two internal reflections and the rays exit the drop at an angle of 50 degrees° rather than the 42°degrees for the red primary bow. Blue light emerges at an even larger angle of 53 degrees°. This effect produces a secondary rainbow that has its colors reversed compared to the primary, as illustrated in the drawing, adapted from the Science Universe Series Sight, Light, and Color.

It is possible for light to be reflected more than twice within a raindrop, and one can calculate where the higher order rainbows might be seen; but these are never seen in normal circumstances.

You may have noticed that the sky is brighter inside the rainbow above. They explain why the sky is brighter inside both single & double rainbows:

Notice the contrast between the sky inside the arc and outside it. When one studies the refraction of sunlight on a raindrop one finds that there are many rays emerging at angles smaller than the rainbow ray, but essentially no light from single internal reflections at angles greater than this ray. Thus there is a lot of light within the bow, and very little beyond it. Because this light is a mix of all the rainbow colors, it is white. In the case of the secondary rainbow, the rainbow ray is the smallest angle and there are many rays emerging at angles greater than this one. Therefore the two bows combine to define a dark region between them – called Alexander’s Dark Band, in honor of Alexander of Aphrodisias who discussed it some 1800 years ago!

Read on for much more about rainbows including supernumerary arcs, why we don’t often see rainbows in winter and even lunar rainbows! If you want to go rainbow crazy, head over to Atmospheric Optics for tons more rainbow information & photos.

Check this photo out bigger on Facebook and see more at Debbie’s Cha Bella Photography page.

See more rainbows on Michigan in Pictures. Also, I’ve added a new “science” category to Michigan in Pictures. I’ll tag past posts like the post about sundogs, rainbow-like formations you often see in winter. If anyone has a favorite, just post a comment on it mentioning that it would be a good fit for science!