Schoolcraft 4th of July schedule

Some parade watchers from 2017’s festivities.

The Schoolcraft community is looking forward to this year’s 4th of July celebration! Organizers have thanked those who supported event by purchasing special edition T-shirts.

The day kicks off with the Firecracker 5-Miler Run (Schoolcraft High School) and then the Lions Club Pancake Breakfast at the elementary school. A coffee truck will be at DeVries Law Office.

The 25th annual Car Show will be held in Burch Park, with music and a food truck. The Schoolcraft United Methodist Church will be hosting its annual Ice Cream Social & BBQ as well. Several more food trucks will be at the elementary school parking lot throughout the day, including Fat Mike’s BBQ, Max & More, Lazy Man BBQ, Major’s Concessions and Ibison Concessions. 

Parents can take their kids to the Ladies Library for games and for a fire truck ride through the village. The American Legion will have food, dancing,and games all day long. 

The parade kicks off at 11 a.m. and fireworks begin at dusk behind the elementary school. “We look forward to seeing everyone celebrating throughout the village. Thank you to all the people out there who will make the day fun for all. Happy 4th of July!”

Fireworks show volunteers turn over the reins

Volunteers Rod Palmer, Randey Palmer, and Chip Mongreig preparing the fireworks display for a previous year’s celebration.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

When Schoolcraft’s 4th of July fireworks show resumes next week, the volunteer team who ran it for years will be watching from a new location: the sidelines.

Randey Palmer, retired fireworks director, and his team had the privilege and responsibility of running the community event for many years. Palmer is proud of the record of his skilled team of volunteers. They were highly trained, competent, licensed and insured. They were passionate about producing a safe show, and there were no injuries to crew or crowd during the group’s tenure.

“I began helping Chip Mongrieg with the show in 2006,” says Palmer. Mongrieg had run the show since 1998 after Thorne Angell’s years of volunteerism in the early 1990s.

Palmer explained some of the rules and regulations when working with fireworks. The shells — called mortars — are stored in a licensed and inspected “C-Box” — a type of shipping container. The interior is lined with wood with no metal exposed which greatly reduces the risk of sparks.

Palmer, his brother Rodney Palmer and Mongrieg comprised the main team. Palmer said for the most part it was a small group because the work is careful and precise. They always needed to keep safety in mind.
Palmer says over the years the show grew in length and complexity. “One of the things that set our show apart was our ‘front,’ a long section of eight stations in front of the main show that involved an intense display which started the evening’s show.”

Palmer says the size of mortar used also added to the beauty of each year’s display. Mortars must fit into tubes which hold the various sizes of mortars: Schoolcraft’s technicians used tubes ranging from three inches to even eight inches, which Palmer describes as “the diameter of a volleyball.”

This size enabled the team to launch displays that were bigger and went higher.

Palmer says as the years went on, the shows became longer and included some flashier things, all set to music. The show grew to nearly 1,000 shells—which means nearly 1,000 detonations, all triggered by carefully attached wire.

Palmer says Jon Krum was responsible for all the fundraising done for the fireworks, and because the operation was all-volunteer, all the funds went into the purchase of fireworks for the show.

“I won’t miss the stress involved in the preparation and especially the night of the show. So many things can go wrong, and we always wanted everything to go just right.”

Things did go “just right” for the team over the years, which their safety record proves.

“I will miss creating this show for our community, but it was time to pass it on.”

Palmer, his brother and Mongrieg will watch this year’s show together. They are interested in what’s happening and will enjoy viewing the show without the stress and responsibility.

Picture walks: There are cuckoos in Michigan!

The black-billed cuckoo. Photo by Jeanne Church.

By Jeanne Church

During the months of May and June this year, a few local birding enthusiasts posted pictures of black-billed cuckoos that they had seen at the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery in Mattawan. Up until a few years ago, I didn’t even know we had cuckoos in Michigan! My first sighting took place in May of 2018 while I was walking through the Asylum Lake Preserve in Kalamazoo. There was an unfamiliar bird perched high in a nearby tree and I took a picture.

After I got home and was able to use an app to identify it, I discovered that my mystery bird was a black-billed cuckoo! I had seen and heard cuckoos while hiking in Scotland, but never in Michigan. This one looked different than the Scottish cuckoos and, I later learned, the two birds have totally different songs. The cuckoos in Scotland sound exactly like a cuckoo clock! Michigan cuckoos do not.

A few weeks after my cuckoo surprise at the Asylum Preserve, I was walking through the Bernard Baker preserve in Bellevue, and found another mystery bird. That bird turned out to be a yellow-billed cuckoo! Apparently, we have two different cuckoos in Michigan!

The black-billed cuckoo and the yellow-billed cuckoo are very similar. Both are slender, dove-sized birds with relatively long, slightly curved bills and very long tails. The black-billed cuckoo, however, has a slightly smaller bill and a somewhat shorter tail. Both birds have white spots on the underside of their tails, but the spots on the yellow-billed cuckoo are much larger. The most obvious difference between the two birds is the color of their bills: one black, one yellow.

After my first sightings in 2018, I have never seen another cuckoo. I was quite surprised, then, and very interested in knowing why several birders in the area had recently reported multiple sightings. The answer has everything to do with diet! Cuckoos LOVE spongy moth caterpillars (formally known as gypsy moth caterpillars) and they follow the spongy moth caterpillar outbreaks. Cuckoos will even delay having babies to coincide with when the caterpillars are most succulent!

Last year, spongy moth caterpillars completely defoliated mature trees here in southwest Michigan. So, the fact that more and more people were seeing or hearing cuckoos in our area was not a particularly good sign. It meant we were having another heavy infestation of spongy moth caterpillars! Hopefully, these cuckoos will put a significant dent in the spongy moth population so that next year, they can follow the invasion somewhere else!

Not many birds like to eat these hairy caterpillars, but cuckoos love them, and they have a natural adaptation to digest them! Cuckoos can eat more than 100 hairy caterpillars in less than 10 minutes but they don’t actually have to digest the hairs. Instead, the hairs form a dense felted mass in the cuckoo’s stomach which the bird gets rid of by shedding its entire stomach lining, hairs and all! It then regurgitates this mess as a packet—much like a cat coughing up a hairball. There’s a new stomach lining all ready to go and the cuckoo can keep on gulping down caterpillars to its heart’s content.

It’s highly unlikely that you will ever see either of these cuckoos, but you might very well hear one. They are extremely secretive and prefer hiding in dense vegetation and sitting motionless for long periods of time. Cuckoos are more often heard than seen, so it’s particularly helpful to know what they sound like.

The song of the black-billed cuckoo has been described as series of three to five toots all on the same pitch that can be repeated many, many times over the course of several minutes. The yellow-billed cuckoo has a somewhat different sound. I find it much more helpful to go online and listen to recordings of their various songs and calls than to decipher a sound from a written description. One of my favorite sites for bird calls is Cornell Lab’s All About Birds, https://www.allaboutbirds.org. There’s also a free app called Merlin where you can make a sound recording of the birds you hear and Merlin will identify them immediately. I have the app on my phone and use it frequently when I’m out walking the trails or sitting in my backyard with a cup of tea.

Enjoy your birding adventures wherever they may lead you!