Nature's Best by Elma Chapman - Quog Lake
This article was published December 8, 2017 in the LaGrange Standard & News
Earlier this year, ACRES Land Trust obtained the land around Quog Lake, a wetland area between LaGrange and Wolcottville, not far from Oliver Lake. It’s a closed property at present, but ACRES had a members-only hike there on Saturday, Nov. 11, at 6 a.m. I had just barely thawed out from the Sandhill crane viewing two days earlier, and there I was sitting in a duck blind before sunrise in 22 degree weather! At least it wasn’t windy!
ACRES has preserves in northeast Indiana, northwest Ohio and south-central Michigan. We intrepid explorers were from Marion, Huntington, New Haven, Avilla, and Middlebury so we represented a cross-section of the area ACRES serves. The participants were limited to six due to the difficulty of accessing the property. We were led by Evan Hill, an ACRES Land Management specialist. We met at the public access site on Oliver Lake to carpool to near Quog Lake, because there was almost no parking available. As we shivered at the access site, the half-moon was still high in the sky and there was a large halo around it, a spectacular view. With my limited astronomy skills I could at least pick out the Big Dipper and Orion in the sky.
We started out on a path that Hill had recently created with a brush hog. It was fairly smooth going at first, although the ground was uneven, but with the extra flashlights Hill provided we could make our way in the dark fairly uneventfully. That changed a little when we reached the willows. There were lots of little stumps sticking up trying to trip us, but we persevered and safely reached the temporary duck blind that Hill had built and furnished with folding chairs. Just before we reached the blind, the first glow of the rising sun was visible on the horizon, and then suddenly out of seemingly nowhere, at least 50 Sandhill cranes rose up before us, loudly voicing their displeasure at being disturbed so early in the day.
It didn’t feel cold while we were hiking in, but as we sat there not moving, the cold crept into our bones despite the long underwear, layers, hats, gloves, wool socks, and hiking boots. As it got lighter we could see why: Quog Lake was almost completely frozen over. The ice unfortunately limited our viewing, but we still saw birds. Hill had a duck call and tried to call in several species. We heard two or three Canada geese mumbling on the other side of a small island and were quite surprised when about 75 of them suddenly took off from there after we had been sitting there silently for about 45 minutes. A few ducks flew over and found some open water just out of sight from where we were. At first we could only see silhouettes in the sky, but as the sun rose we could identify some of them. The best find were some Northern Shovelers. They are dabbling ducks, meaning they don’t dive, just poke their heads underwater while their tails point to the sky. They have an elongated, spoon-shaped black bill which is where their name comes from. The male has a green head similar to a Mallard, but with a white chest and chestnut-colored sides. They breed in the western United States and Canada, but pass through here on migration on their way to the Gulf Coast, Mexico, the Caribbean and even northern South America.
Although we were there to view waterfowl and get a look at the new preserve, we were treated to a dispute between two or three barred owls in the forest at the side of the lake. You can tell a barred owl by its distinctive call interpreted as “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” We never saw them but we certainly heard them.
As we walked back to the vehicles we could finally appreciate the land and water around us. We saw several other birds as we hiked along: several species of woodpeckers, a small flock of bluebirds, and a nuthatch. The cranes were still in the area and several flew over and others could be heard calling in the distance. Despite the cold and early hour, I was glad that I had made the effort to see this new preserve.